A designer pal of mine from Barcelona got fed up with looking for a new job a few years ago when the recession hit. She took up sailing as a pastime. It became an obsession, enough to inspire her to crew across the Atlantic in a relatively small yacht. She now runs a micro business in the Caribbean with her partner who is a seasoned professional sailor. They own and manage a charter sailing boat that takes small groups of guests out in the San Blas Archipelago off Panama.
I went to visit her last month on a weeklong vacation and found that it’s something of a paradise there. I’m sending this note out to encourage you to think about this trip yourself. If you want to get off the grid and if you crave an accessible, affordable, balmy, sensuous adventure, check this out. If you decide to make the trip, let me know. I need to get a small package of kitchen tools to them, and neither DHL nor FedEx nor anyone else delivers parcels to the San Blas Islands.*
Ten Reasons to Make this Trip
- Explore the San Blas Archipelago before the global tourist industry gets there. I’d say you have maybe two years before this remote area gets television, logowear, soy lattes, and the other trappings of modern civilization.
- See great design. A classic sailing boat like the Pantalasa is the very definition of elegance and simplicity in form and function. The local peasant Kuna boats are equally beautiful. Simple island architecture and traditional crafts are ubiquitous and exceptional.
- Spend four days (or longer) wearing nothing but shorts, swimsuits, and t-shirts. Dive off the boat and swim to the small island of your choice anytime you feel like it. Snorkel around reefs and meet all kinds of friendly fish.
- Neither see nor hear anything about the Republican primary or politics or the economy for a week. Imagine.
- Cook and eat fresh lobster, crab, octopus and fish everyday. You’ll either catch it, spear it, or have it delivered by the Kuna fishermen who paddle up to the boat with their daily catch.
- Get to know Panama. Panama City is a great overnight layover. The older part of the city, Casco Viejo, is where you should stay. Las Clementinas is a terrific hotel there. The Panama Canal and other eco-excursions are worth a couple days.
- Have witty and engaging conversations with your hosts and the other international travelers you will meet there. This place attracts non-traditional tourists. You’ll feel like a traveler, not a tourist.
- Meet Lisa, Venancio, and Prado, some of the of the Kuna artists who make beautiful local crafts and paddle up to your boat with molas, beaded jewelry, and other indigenous crafts.
- Sail. Determine your itinerary on a daily basis according to the winds and your personal preferences. Learn how to tie perfect sailor knots and about the difference between a ketch and a sloop. Or not. The captain is a 30-year sailing professional.
- Fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves and mild winds. Wake up to the sound of lapping waves and mild winds.
Getting there is pretty easy and doesn’t take much preparation. English is spoken widely and the US dollar is the common currency . This is a great and relatively simple escape for small groups of friends, family, and lovers. The cruises go from November through May. Cell phone reception can be found there if needed in a pinch.
*I'm dead serious. My friends Judit and Ignacio need some Heller dinnerware and a couple small Zyliss kitchen tools. Be a courier. You will be rewarded in lobster dinners or the equivalent. Send a note to me here and I’ll give you the details.
Maira Kalman at Chez Panisse - Super Bowl Sunday
And as long as I’m here promoting friends businesses and kitchen tools, I’ll plug Food Rules, Maira Kalman’s new book with Michael Pollan. Maria Kalman is an utterly unique and talented artist, illustrator, writer and author, and you can meet her and Michael Pollan, and get a signed copy of their charming new book, Food Rules, this Sunday Feb 5th at Chez Panisse. The event is a benefit for Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard Project which dates back to the 90’s and presages the ”locavore” trend that has now become mainstream. RSVP here to join us for a glass of wine (and a signed copy of the book).