Winnie M; Death of A Warrior Queen


MandelasjpgRecent history knows many freak phenomena. The system of Apartheid was one of them. Being an 80s kid, I vividly remember the repeated news stories of black civil unrest and fierce repression in South Africa and the many anti-Apartheid campaigns that ran in the Netherlands. I remember the hits Free Nelson Mandela by The Special A.K.A and Sun City by Artist United against Apartheid, initiated by musician and activist Little Steven. I might have only been a kid, but I found it most baffling that people, who looked just like me, had absolutely no rights in their own country. As a grown-up and after almost a quarter of a century since the declaration of a free South Africa, I’m still astonished that the Apartheid system lasted for that long. One of the icons of that great struggle against Apartheid, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela has died recently. Since those days up until her death, she was considered a heroine and a controversial figure, as many women of that calibre and with similar profile tend to be.

Fearlessness and Militancy

A young Winnie met the much older Nelson Mandela in the late 1950s and they married about a year after their first meeting. They only spent a few years together, as in 1962 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. During her husband’s incarceration Winnie Mandela campaigned tirelessly and fearlessly for his release and civil rights for the people of colour in South Africa. She was arrested, tortured, put under house arrest, intimidated and put under surveillance, yet this never stopped her fighting for the cause. As an intelligent and charismatic warrior queen she had a huge following and as the Apartheid government intensified its campaign against any opposition to keep the racist system in place, so did Winnie Mandela intensify her battle. This meant she was unforgiving to those she suspected of being informers of the regime and reprisals were brutal. In 1989 Winnie Mandela was found guilty of instigating the kidnapping and brutal murder of the 14-year old Stompie Seipie.

Ultimate Victory

Winnie Mandela leading her husband out of jail that sunny Sunday in February 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, might remain one of the biggest historic television moments of my life. It was an image of strength, joy and ultimate victory. Yet, after that historic day, Winnie Mandela would get several more stains on her image as Mother of the Nation.

The first free elections for all South Africans in April 1994 brought an end to white minority rule and made Nelson Mandela president of the multicultural country. The struggle was over. Winnie Mandela held a post in her husband’s cabinet, from whom she had been separated since 1992, but was fired a year later after allegations of corruption. The couple divorced in 1996. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by another anti-Apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was to assess what atrocities had been committed on both sides. Winnie Mandela showed no remorse for  the kidnappings, tortures and murders that she had ordered. However, the Commission came to the conclusion in its final report that Winnie Mandela was “politically and morally accountable for the gross violations of human rights committed by the MUFC “ (the Mandela United Football Club, Winnie Mandela’s personal bodyguards).

Despite several accusations and convictions of fraud, she remained very popular and politically active. She was a fierce critic of her former husband’s policies as president, yet seemed to have remained close to him until his death in December 2013. After Nelson Mandela’s passing she got involved in a bitter dispute concerning his estate and legacies and lost a court case two years ago after having gone to court to lay claim on Nelson Mandela’s Eastern Cape home.

Fallible Heroine

The fight against the white minority Apartheid regime was addressed by the racist system with military might and on the television screens it looked very ugly indeed. All the atrocities not captured on camera or written about in newspapers, must have been far worse. As a warrior queen Winnie Madikizela- Mandela was militant, determined and fearless. She must have sacrificed a lot for the struggle. A big cause can blind and power corrupts. Madikizela- Mandela clearly wasn’t infallible, however I wondered if she would have been looked upon differently if she had been a man. Male political leaders and activists tend to be praised for their statesmanship, vision or determination when they pass on, even if wasn’t all that rosy (Nixon, Arafat). Yet, women of the same profile don’t seem to get the same treatment (Indira Gandhi, Thatcher).

Madikizela- Mandela was and will remain a great heroine for many in and beyond South Africa. With her passing we are just being reminded that heroines and heroes are not saints and that our fallible heroines could be reviewed with the same kinder eye as their male counterparts, when they pass over to other realms.


The Raid on Long Beach; or State-endorsed Dick Swinging


Buffalo Beach, Koh Phayam

I was in the island of Koh Pha-ngan, where I planned to do a yoga course at Agama, a well-known yoga centre with branches all over the world. Once I was there, I wasn’t quite feeling the vibe and decided to make a move. One of my dorm roomies at Mythai Guest house, a young woman from Zürich, Switzerland, recommend Koh Phayam, a small island in the Andaman Sea near the city of Ranong. The city of Ranong, has not much of interest, but is on the travellers trail nevertheless as a gateway to reach nearby islands or to go to Myanmar, either to visit the country or to do a visa run.


The Chill of Koh Phayam and Trouble in Paradise

Koh Phayam, as I was informed by Swiss chick Stephanie, is very chilled. There are no cars on the island and one can explore the beaches, jungle and/or attend a party if one feels in the mood. The island seems to attract a more mature crowd, with 30-plus being the norm and it is popular with young hippy and hipster families. Quite a few western foreigners have made Koh Phayam their home for at least parts of the year. Although you can easily avoid it if your not in the mood, you can have a decent party on the island including the ‘necessary’ intoxicating means. Although drugs like weed, ecstasy and MDMA are illegal and possession of even small quantities can lead to stiff penalties, they are easy to get, once you know where to look. Koh Phayam never had any issues with the police interfering with islanders drug consumption and the odd visit from Ranong police would immediately be tipped off. So last half-moon people attended a party at Long Beach at the southwestern corner of the island without a care in the world. Until the beach was raided by the military. I wasn’t there- luckily- and only heard the story from other people, most of whom weren’t there either, but the story was the talk of the island for several days as you can imagine. What happened is that the military- not the police, but the military, mind you- entered the beach with sniffer dogs. All those, who couldn’t get away and in possession of illegal intoxicating means, were arrested. Others were made to pee to be drug tested and if the test turned out positive, you were taken away. This means that even those who were not in possession of any sweets, weren’t using anything, so didn’t violate any laws in that sense, but had just arrived from another country, where they had been indulging, could’ve been arrested. In total 45 people were apprehended and put in jail. One Dutch guy, who just had a couple of puffs from a joint, was thrown in jail, humiliated, told he had to ‘serve’ four months, not given access to any information or even a lawyer and luckily released after paying a 50,000 baht fine with the help of a Koh Phayam local, who owned the Ranong police chef a favour. This stuff is terribly fucked up on multiple levels.

First of all, this could have been me or almost any of my friends, who like to indulge now and again and especially when they are on holiday in such idyllic settings. Now, you could be a bit more square and might think; the law is the law and you need to obey it, especially if you are in a foreign country. I’m not arguing in favour of dissing a foreign culture and its rules, yet I think a clear distinction needs to be made, anywhere in the world, between legality and morality, which are not one and the same. During my lifetime Apartheid was legal, yet, most of us would agree, morally wrong. In Saudi Arabia women are still not allowed to drive a car. This is finally about to change in June of this year. Yet, grown Saudi women still can’t open a bank account, get a passport or even have some types of surgery without the permission of a male ‘guardian’. This is the law, but, in terms of our idea of equality, unjust. You might think, that is just the past or some backward nation. However, meanwhile in Europe, constitutional monarchies like the Netherlands and the UK still uphold the law of lèse majesté. This means that insulting the monarch, an unelected individual, who is the head of state, not based on any skills, but on her or his bloodline, is a criminal offence. So much for equality and freedom of speech.

The Case against the War on Drugs

With the exception of a few countries, drugs laws and policies are not treated as a health issue, but as a political and economic issue. The drugs that are most dangerous and cause the most harm, alcohol and pharmaceuticals are legal in most countries. Cannabis is used recreationally world-wide and is known to be a tremendously effective natural medicine in the treatment of a whole range of conditions like sleeplessness, arthritis and MS. No one has ever died, as far as we known, as a direct result from cannabis usage. Yet illegal it is.

The war on drugs, being waged world-wide, takes far more casualties than the drugs themselves. An estimated 1 per cent of all drugs on the market are confiscated. One percent! So much for effectiveness. Talking of war, the raid on Long Beach in Koh Phayam, was executed by the military and not the police, which can be considered state-muscle flexing on steroids. What threat to national security do a small group of intoxicated revellers on a far-out beach form exactly?

I acknowledge that there is a lot of nastiness going on in the drug trade and that drug abuse is the cause of great problems for individuals and whole communities alike. I believe that a majority of those problems have to do with poverty, a lack of information and the illegal status of drugs, of which real criminals take advantage. Countries with the most progressive drug laws have the least problems with drug-related crime, diseases and other problems. Also, these countries have considerably less users. Drug usage is a moral issue. If I own my own body,  who is the state to deny me the right to mess with my own body, if I choose to intoxicate myself without infringing on someone else’s freedom and rights? (Some) people like to mind other people’s business. The state should stop being the nosiest of them all.

image: Cornelia Seitz

Thailand’s Koh Pha-ngan; Crazy Crowds and Lunar Hedonism


Cooler indoors; view from the hall of Mythai Guesthouse, Koh Pha-ngan

After returning from el Maghreb el Aqsa, or Morocco in plain English, I returned to Lowlands Country for a couple of days to make the last arrangements for my trip to the East. I would also be meeting up with an old friend, who I have known since my early teens. I hadn’t seen her in at least 18 years, but we had reconnected via FayzBook a few summers ago and we had finally agreed to meet in person. An awful lot has happened in the years that past; marriage, steady career journey, four kids and a recent divorce for her. Migration, travel and an unconventional career path for me. The beauty of these old friendships is, that you instantly find each other’s wave length, just like you did in the good old days and I am very grateful for the reconnection.

The East Calling

There were sub-zero temperatures on the weather menu in the country, where they speak my mother tongue. As I had been out of practice in terms of wintry weather for several year, it was a high time to set off yet again to warmer climes. During my time at Hridaya, the yoga centre in Mazunte Mexico, where I developed my practice last summer, I had planned to do a course at their sister school Agama, which has its headquarters in Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand. As affordable flights were already thin on the ground back then for the period I wanted to go, March 2018, I decided to buy a ticket, so the trip would be ‘certain’. I can’t remember to have ever made a booking that far in advance and I felt rather grown up and excited about my plans.

To the Land of Siam

After a 13-hour journey I arrived in Bangkok in the early afternoon. Initially the idea was to travel to Koh Pha -ngan straight away, but on the day of my departure I reasoned I could do with a place to crash after a 13-hour trip. This turned out to be a wise decision as, embarking on another 19- hour train-bus-and-ferry trip with a jet-lagged arse to reach the island, about 760 km from the capital, would’ve been madness. As I’m not exactly 18 anymore, that shit would have seriously fucked me up.

On my first night in Thailand I had no trouble falling asleep,  but woke up in the middle of the night to lie awake for several hours. After almost two weeks in Thailand, my body still doesn’t seem completely adjusted, but as I’m hanging at my bamboo bungalow not far from the beach, with fabulous, inexpensive food at my disposal and it’s about 30 degrees, I sure ain’t complaining.

Koh Pha-ngan, is one of the country’s main tourist destination and attracts a mixed crowd of young party-goers, pensioners, and bohemians and spiritual seekers of all ages. The island is (in)famous for its full moon party, that started out has someone’s birthday celebration on Haad Rin beach sometime in the 1980s. It’s a busy time of the month , as trains, buses and ferries to the island are full and accommodation on Koh Pha-ngan is more expensive than during other stages of the lunar cycle. The concept of parties linked to the stages of the moon is being milked to the full, as the island also knows half-moon and black moon parties, so whatever time of the month you visit, you can get your party-fix (sort of).

My arrival coincided with the full moon party, which I hadn’t planned to attend, as I expected it to be a busy beach gathering full of kids pissed out of their mind. I was lucky to stay at a fabulous guesthouse in the north of the island, that is considerably quieter and houses a more mature crowd than southern parts. I met some lovely peeps and decided to go to the famous gathering, as I was there anyway.

What’s in a full Moon


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See no Evil; Lena, the Bucket and I at Koh Pha-gan’s Full Moon Party

Koh Pha-ngan’s full moon party is not just a famous party; it’s an industry. Once you enter the region of Haad Rin on the night, you enter a festival atmosphere; all shop, bars and restaurants are open and plenty of stalls sell buckets of alcohol. That’s no joke. You buy a bucket, with a content of about three quarters of a litre, with a can of cola or another soft drink and a small bottle of spirits for a ridiculously cheap price. At plenty of places you can get fluorescent paint and get a beautiful drawing on whichever part of your body- I’m sure there are limits to this- or get creative yourself. Besides paint, there are plenty of other fluorescent accessories you can buy and, of course, heaps of full-moon-party merchandise. As this is Asia, there is plenty of food, but very much geared towards bad western taste, as the kids could complement their drunkenness with overpriced slices of pizza, kebab and other grub of dubious quality. The actual party is on the beach and for a €2.50 entrance fee you get a colourful wristband, that makes a cute souvenir. The party was, luckily, not as busy as I expected and there were plenty of people considerably older than 18. There were about eight sound systems lined up, at least one playing so-called urban music and the others predominately techno. Neither music type would feature on my ideal party. I had a really nice time, though, as I was with cool and entertaining people. Yet, if you’ve ever attended a fab festival or party or two, you know the Koh Pha-ngan full moon party is not one of those. It might have been an edgy and more original event once, but after three decades, I guess it got pretty tired.


Cooler than Cool; Funky Thai Soda Water


Twice Upon a Time in Morocco


Camel beach, Morocco

After my Latin American adventure, I returned to Europe, where I got a warm reception, as always, from my dear friends Rick and Louis and a cold reception from the weather. The weather was manageable, as I connected with family and friends and planned to go to Southern Africa within the next couple of weeks for more sun, surf and family time. African care and efficiency was not what I hoped and expected it to be however, much to my disappointed and my visa couldn’t be arranged in time, despite having booked five months in advance. As I wanted more surf and didn’t want to waste a ticket or spend winter in Europe, I decided to go to Morocco instead.



El Maghreb, Ya3nie (So, Morocco)

Although Morocco, or el Maghreb in Arabic, wouldn’t be as hot as the southern hemisphere and I wouldn’t be connecting with blood relatives, I would still be visiting Mother Africa and connecting with my surf family. In Rio I met surfer Kareem, a lovely and very talented guy, who owns a surf camp in the village of Tamraght near the more well-known surfer village Taghazout, located just north of Agadir in Morocco. I had my very first surfing experience in the same village about nine years ago. Kareem made me an offer, which was hard to refuse and my Finnish surf sister Leena- say Layna– who I also met in Rio, would be there as well, so off to Morocco I went. It was great meeting Kareem and Leena again and to get to know other surfers and non-surfers at the camp, yet Morocco was a bit of a shock to the system. In Morocco too, the weather did unusual things and in the first week in particular, it was exceptionally cold for the time of year. In general, in northern and western Europe, it’s warm indoors when it’s cold outside. North African houses are not built for the cold, however, so you’re wearing a coat and a million other layers indoors, which is wrong on so many levels. In addition to that, the waters were also colder than usual and I was really suffering. I was cold before I entered the water. My wetsuit was too thin, I didn’t have any boots, wearing two wetsuits made me feel very restricted, I couldn’t get a thicker wetsuit; all in all, I mainly felt uncomfortable in the waters. As a bad carpenter blaming her tools and circumstances, I barely caught any waves and I don’t feel I’ve made any progress, which was quite disappointing, but that is surfing and that is life. Surrender to what is (and isn’t) and all that jazz.


The times they are a-changin’


Tamraght village mosque

Tamraght hadn’t changed much. I’m sure more surf camps have opened their doors in the last decade, but the Berber-community-on-a-hill still has an authentic and sleepy village-feel, unlike nearby Taghazout, which is a surfer’s town and completely geared towards riders from abroad. The camp’s instructors took us to nearby beaches, like Banana beach, Camel beach and Desert point and we made an excursion to Imsouane, which is about an hour and half’s drive away towards Essaouira. Imsouane is a small fishers’ village located in a bay and known for the longest rideable waves in Morocco. I had visited the village nine years ago and it had changed considerably. In 2009, you would only find locals on the waves and there wasn’t a tourist infrastructure whatsoever. Now you have camps, hostels and guest houses offering surf and yoga, surf shops, cafes and restaurants. The latter three are mainly housed in shacks and Imsoune still has a very chilled vibe. I hope it stays that way. Nine years ago I was mainly a nuisance to the local boys in the waters and didn’t catch anything at whichever beach. This time I was better informed about surfing etiquette, yet caught very little. I hope it’s a case of third time lucky, as I really like Morocco and I would like to enjoy its famous waves. One thing is certain; I ain’t returning in winter. I’m a wimp; I don’t like cold weather and I like surfing in waters colder than 17 degrees even less. Another splendid excuse to hit tropical waters.

Life is a Beach: Riding the Good Vibes of Rio


Rio Sunrise

Initially, the idea was to travel in the Americas for a few months and return to Europe after summer to settle myself somewhere at the southern edge of the continent. Within the first week of my Latin American travel ball, I decided, that there would be no such thing as settling down just yet. Why would I play four-seasons, if I can have an endless summer. Some time in November I came across a digital nomad retreat in Rio de Janeiro, to be held in January, filled with surf, yoga and fantastic vibes. Since I had been missing some sort of community-feel on my journey and was wondering where all the other travelling workers were hanging out, I reasoned it would be great icing on my travelling-lifestyle cake.

Mellow Days in Rio

The retreat would start on 5 January and I planned to arrive on or just before that date. The issue was, that checking about 7 weeks in advance, flights from Bogota to Rio around that date cost an absolute mint. The price of air fares from one (Latin) American country to another can be a quite shock to the system if you are used to European budget airlines, where a flight to another country can be cheaper than your trip to the airport. After a fair amount of searching I found the most reasonably priced ticket- yet still not cheap- flying on 31 December at 10.30 arriving in Rio at 7.30 the next morning. I guess flying on New Year’s Eve is not that popular, but the other side of the equator has summer holidays, so it’s a busy time of the year. I arrived at the hostel in Rio, located in the neighbourhood of Botafogo, at around 9 in the morning, ready to crash. New Year’s Day is being milked to the max in Rio and my hostel bed cost four times the normal price, which was just terrible value for money, especially on a day when almost everything is closed. The first days of the year I spent my time in bookshop cafes and the local Starbucks. Besides visiting Christ the Redeemer, Rio’s famous Jesus statue overlooking the city, I didn’t do any touristy stuff.

Retreat Treat

At the end of the first week of the year I moved from Botafogo to the Recreio (say Ree-CRAY-yoo) at the outskirts of this enormous city, which would be my home for two weeks. Recreio has beautiful beaches and in summer, which is now, as Rio lies in the southern hemisphere, there are some good waves for beginning and intermediate surfers. I stayed at one of the few surf hostels in Rio,  owned by a fantastic Argentinian woman*, which has an excellent vibe, great staff and surf sessions twice a day. In addition to that, there were tons of other activities including yoga classes, capoeira workshops, fitness training, dance classes, hikes and other excursions. It was so full on, I found it hard to reserve time to actually work.

Marvellous Times


View on Ipanema Beach

I had a fab time. Spending time in tropical weather in the northern-hemisphere winter is always special when one usually tends to wear a big fat coat that time of year. Despite my two-and-a-half week stay, I have actually seen very little of the Marvellous City. It takes an hour and a bit by car to reach central Rio from Recreio, depending on traffic, and more if you take public transport. This made a trip to down town rather time consuming. As there was plenty of entertainment at the surf camp, there was no real need to go into central Rio. One day I made the monster journey to central Rio to see the famous city beaches and buy tons of souvenirs, as one can’t stay away for almost 9 months and return empty handed.

I found Ipanema beach quite underwhelming, as it’s narrow and very busy, even on a random week day. I was more impressed with Copacobana, which seems one of the greater city beaches, where each stretch of sand has its particular crowd and pretty much everything, legal or illicit, is for sale.

There is probably always an excuse to return to Rio. I would like to visit other Rio attractions like Lapa, Sugar Loaf mountain and Santa Teresa, I’d love to catch more waves and see other parts of the enormous country that is Brazil.


Board Porn


*I heard through the grapevine, that one of the  other organisers of the retreat had taken over the hostel.

Into the New Year from heat to retreat to Rio Beat


Beach at Paraiso Secreto, Islas Rosario

My Caribbean boating adventure, which seems like a lifetime away, brought me from Porvenir in Panama past the San Blas islands to Cartagena in Colombia. The colonial town was as beautiful as during my first visit, more than two and a half years ago and it sure was hot. People who, have known me for more than a decade know, that I totally used to dig hot weather. Something happened on my way back from my adventure at the African Med seven and half years ago, and during my stay in Mazunte I have experienced weather too hot the handle, much to the surprise of old friends. In Cartagena I played outside until 1 pm and hid in my small, but cosy and airconed hotel room in Getsemaní during the afternoon, only to get out again at around 5.


Cartagena vs. Medellin

After a few days in Cartagena and a couple of nights on the main island of Islas del Rosario, a paradise archipelago and natural national park an hour and a bit by speed boat from the city, I made my way to the city of eternal spring; Medellin. As I had also been during my first Colombia trip, I didn’t do any sight-seeing and ‘just’ engaged in yoga and parked myself and my laptop in the cool cafes of Medellin’s hipster hood el Poblado. The weather was most pleasant, day and night, yet despite yoga and the availability of plenty of hippy food, the city just doesn’t have Cartagena’s charm. It has to be said, though, that Medellin is far more digital-nomad friendly.

rango hostel

Coolest hostel on the block: Rango Boutique Hostel, Medellin

The Failed End-of-Year Retreat

Just before Christmas I made my way to the outskirts, to La Ceja, a town in the mountains an hour from Medellin. I had booked myself a yoga- meditation retreat several months in advance to spend my time between Christmas and New Year in contemplation and reflection, rather than indulging in all sorts of earthly goodness. The retreat turned out to be quite a disappointment. The natural surroundings were tranquil and beautiful and the other retreat participants an eclectic and really interesting bunch. The retreat, however, was quite different than was advertised. I received an email with literature to read in preparation and when and how to get there, two and a half hours I was due to arrive. Instead of only silent evenings, the whole retreat was silent. Yet, it was okay to great each other in the morning and it was expected you answer the lady, who cleaned and cooked at property, when she asked how you were and how you had slept. After my silent retreat in Mazunte, where the idea is, that you do not speak a word or even make eye contact for ten days straight, this idea of mauna, noble silence was totally half-arsed in my not-so humble opinion. The yoga classes were rather peculiar; as if the instructor had done an awful lot of it himself, but didn’t really know how to teach it or give a class with a proper structure. Furthermore, we were unlucky with the weather, as it rained a lot and it was cold and damp. None of the indoor spaces had heating. There was a programme, but besides the yoga classes, none of the sessions were led. Food was good, but portions very small for a healthy eater. The retreat leader talked about the principle of ahimsa, non-harming and we were encouraged not to do harm, not even touching a mosquito or other insects, yet chicken was served for dinner every night. On the day of my return to Medellin, I ate for three people and hooked up with one of retreat participants and his friend, who had just arrived from Austria, happy to satisfy my appetite and not being cold.

Moving on

The next day, the last day of the year, I spent most of the day at the airport in Bogotá and the transition into the new year on a plane high above the Amazon rainforest on my way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

1 January often tends to be a day that doesn’t really exist. After a night of partying one tends to sleep through the day and/ or generally take it very easy. Although the Avianca crew had made a little party on board for the occasion, it was by no means a mad house. The flight from Bogota to Rio is only 5 hours and a bit, and as I seldom sleep well on night flights, at around 11 am in Rio, which is three hours behind Colombia time, I absolutely felt like crashing. The hostel I stayed at, yet another disappointment, had a relatively early check in. By 1.30 pm I was sound asleep. I woke up at 7-ish, went for supper with some newly found friends and had a fabulous night sleep after that. I guess I most have been really tired.

Top image: Juan Francis

From Beach to Beach through Kuna Land


A Guna Yala (San Blas) Island

After two weeks in Panama City, where I could enjoy some urban delights, like regular yoga classes and hippy food, the smells of Casco Viejo got the better of me. So I travelled to Playa Venao, a remote, but therefor not less touristy beach a five to six-hour bus ride south of the capital. Although I was grateful for the hippy food and the excellent ashtanga yoga classes in town, I was very much done with the city. There are some interesting aspects to La Ciudad, like the neighbourhood of Casco Viejo and the Miraflores locks of the Panama canal, which houses an interesting museum. Yet, although the city is popular with digital nomads and so-called expats- which are just migrants, from western countries, who are predominately white- I do find Panama City quite overrated. Therefor my earlier statement about Central American urban vibes not being all that, still stands.

Life is a Beach at Playa Venao


Playa Venao Residency

I spent more than two weeks in Playa Venao at a chilled surf camp, to enjoy sun, surf, and kind and fit men. After more than a month of Panama, I left the country touring the San Blas islands and making my way by boat to my beloved Cartagena in Colombia. The San Blas islands are a very popular tourist destination, visited by locals and foreigners alike. People, who are short on time, do a day tour from Panama City. Many travellers on the backpacking trail tend to take a four or five day boat trip to Capurguana, just across the border or Cartagena in Colombia.

Indigenous Panama: San Blas/ Guna Yala

The San Blas islands, which since 2011 are officially called Comarca de Guna Yala, are an archipelago of more than 300 islands,  which are scattered in front of the Caribbean coast of Panama’s mainland. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna people, who are Panama’s native population. The Kuna have a distinct culture, which is reflected in their language and the women’s distinct sense of dress. Most, if not all islands, are very small and you can walk around them in 15 minutes or less. The Kuna seem to have a simple lifestyle living in modest accommodation, but I suspect they make an absolute mint from tourism. Touring the San Blas islands is by no means cheap. When entering a harbour to visit any of the islands you pay a 20 USD ‘entrance fee’ as if it were a zoo. At the dock you pay a few US dollars ‘docking fees’ and you pay transportation fees varying from 5 to 30 USD depending on where the boat you will be sailing on is moored. Then you pay the captain of your boat, the price depending how far you travel, how long you are on the boat for and what is included.  You have to pay ‘entrance’ to every single island you set foot on. It’s not that every island has a ticket booth, but the captains of the boats have to pay for their passengers and that is obviously reflected in the price they charges. I have heard of people with less time on their hands, who did day trips from Panama City visiting a couple of island and ended up paying between 200 and 250 USD for the pleasure.


Kuna Women

To Boat or not to Boat

During the five-day boat trip on Perla del Caribe, with eight other people and a fantastic crew of two, we visited six islands in total, which have all terrible clear waters and are great for snorkelling. The islands furthest to the west and closest to the mainland are very popular, especially this time of year. Touring the islands and being on a boat, was a very chilled experience and besides reading, eating, laying in the sun and swimming and snorkelling, one doesn’t do an awful lot. During our ocean crossing we were accompanied by dolphins and another type of fish of more or less the same size I couldn’t identify, which I thought was pretty cool.

Are the island worth visiting? If it’s in your budget and you have yet to actually visit a tropical island paradise, I would say, ‘yes, go for it’. If you’re already rather spoiled having visited several tropical islands in the Caribbean and/ or Asia, I would say ‘save your money’, as you might not be that impressed. It’s very difficult to travel from Panama to Colombia overland and it’s not recommended, as the border region consists of dense rainforest and there is no official road. There is also considerable trade in illegal wares in the region and getting accidentally caught up in dodgy traffic is not ideal. Unlike in Europe, where air travel within or just outside the continent can be very cheap, it’s not easy flying on a budget between Central and South American countries. If you are hard pressed finding an affordable flight from Panama to Colombia, do consider the boat, which might not be a cheaper option, but at least lodging, all meals and a chilled adventure are included with transportation.

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