Curse of the Eclipse or Survivor, San Blas? Conclusion

Survivor, San Blas?

In part 1 of this series, I began the story of my stay on on a remote Caribbean island in San Blas off the coast of Panama during a full moon/eclipse. I was thrilled to be there since it was something I’d always wanted to do.

The Kuna indigenous, however, weren’t so happy. In fact, they were freaked out because of a superstitious belief that “bad things happen” during any full moon, especially when part of an eclipse. Despite not believing in curses, I found their fearful energy a bit unsettling.

I ignored what they said, of course, and went about my business–you know, the enjoyment of my time there.

And then, some things went wrong.

Some of it just happened. And some of it, I think, could have been avoided. (Note: this post doubles as a trip report.) At one point, because of the nature of our adventure (fewer than 10 people on 1 remote island), I got the feeling we were on the TV show Survivor without knowing it. I wondered if someone was hiding with a camera behind a palm tree…

Without further ado, here’s the conclusion to the story…

It did rain that night and I had to find creative ways to cope.


At first, it was gentle and sounded lovely, combined with the wind, and the palm trees somehow protected us from it. Eventually, the rain grew stronger and came all the way in through the top vent of the tent (no way to close it, by the way).

I had to open up my umbrella–inside the tent–to protect me, my backpack, my camera and iPad. I couldn’t yell out for help to Matteo, one of our tour guides, because he was a 5- to 10-minute walk away from us on the other side of the island. So with the umbrella shielding me, I attempted to sleep.

Fortunately, during the wee hours of the night, Matteo came and covered the tent with tarp and the rain stopped coming in.

Me, thinking, "Am I really camping on a tropical island?" (Notice the tent in the background.)

The fish mysteriously disappeared the day after the eclipse…and the crabs continued to freak me out

When Matteo, Nixia (his partner) and some Kuna men went fishing the next day, they caught nothing. They tried for hours and hours, too. Perhaps the fish were scared of the curse and the eclipse? :) Or maybe the full moon’s tide had affected them somehow.

I was disappointed since I really wanted to eat lobster again, or maybe something just about as yummy. But I dealt with it. It wasn’t the end of the world, of course. Also, Matteo was such an excellent cook; we ended up having pasta with a fresh sauce to die for. Well, maybe to live for.

Meanwhile, the crabs were still around–mostly at night. None, fortunately, made it into my tent. Phew.

I saw these guys, all soldiers in the Red Crab Army, on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. On the former, they came out at night. On the latter, it was early in the morning.

Also,  my travel mates and I got along quite well and there was no humiliating “getting voted off the island” type of thing. Of course, personally, I gladly would have voted that any and all crabs leave…immediately!

But the tent situation got worse the next night…

Unfortunately, the next night, we (a friend and I) made a serious mistake. We attempted to cover the tent with the tarp too soon, before the rain came and right as the wind was picking up. Under normal circumstances, this would have been fine. But, and we didn’t know it, the tarp was too small.

So, we used safety pins to hold it in place–attached to the tent.  Just as I was drifting off to sleep, the wind found its way through the space between the tarp and the tent, and this, for me, was a noisy nightmare. Why?

It sounded like thousands of plastic bags being slammed on a plastic tent coffin. That sound, combined with the warm/still air in the tent, almost pushed me over the edge.

Earplugs were useless. I had to remove the tarp, wait for the rain and then place it directly over the tent. Not fun. I worried that the red crabs might nip at my feet.

Looking back, I’m quite disappointed about the tarp incident because our guides did know it was too small and it was their responsibility to have the right tarp (or to discount the tour during rainy season to compensate for that).

We did what other ‘survivors’ would do: we made fire….

Before bedtime, we worked together to gather driftwood and dead palm fronds and then made a fire. It was wonderful to sit around it and chat.

Also, the Australian girl in our group grilled fresh pineapple with sugar–which was yummy–and we got to enjoy the sounds of the Caribbean water and the light breeze while warming ourselves by the fire. Simple things like that were a pleasure.

Faces in the fire? Spirits from previous eclipses that went badly? Or just a fire...?

…and laughed about the lunacy of “la luna llena’

Despite all of the madness of the full moon, the alleged curse and the things that did, in fact, go wrong, we enjoyed ourselves. The water was simply lovely and and having an island to ourselves was idyllic. Our guides had great information about the area and Matteo was a fantastic chef.

Would I do it again?

Yes, absolutely. There’s nothing quite like having a Caribbean island to yourself. You really feel a million miles away from everything–especially other tourists–and I love that.

But if I did it again, I’d double check the weather and ask about the quality of the tents before I go.

Were we on Survivor, San Blas, without realizing it? Maybe...

Your Thoughts/Ideas/Opinions?

Are you superstitious during travel or otherwise? Do you believe in bad luck? Have you spent time with indigenous folks who have certain beliefs that you find hard to swallow? If so, how did you handle yourself?

How do you feel when things go wrong during an adventurous type of trip? How much of it do see as tour guide error and how much is just “things happening”? In this case, I do believe it was the tour guide’s responsibility to have better equipment. With what they had, they probably should have been charging less for the tour.

For those who have camped on a beach….

What was it like? Did you encounter any creatures that made you uncomfortable (eg, red or white crabs?) Were you attacked by sand flies? (Fortunately, we weren’t.)  Would you do it again?

For those who have not camped on a beach…

Are you someone who prefers to be in a hotel? If so, tell us why…what about camping is not appealing?

This is where we stayed--the island we had to ourselves. The name: Cayes Hollandeses. Gorgeous, isn't it?


San Blas/Kuna Photo Essay Check out my photos of the islands and the Kuna and check out a lovely photo essay (slideshow with music). You’ll see over 100 photos in just 1.5 minutes.

Special thanks to Stuart and Will of Mamallena Hostel in Panama City. They offer a wealth of information about San Blas/Kuna tours and were extremely helpful to me when planning this one. The hostel partners with the couple running this tour, incidentally. While I do believe the tour isn’t quite what it should be (yet), I do believe it has potential and will be a great option once the kinks are worked out.

35 Responses to Curse of the Eclipse or Survivor, San Blas? Conclusion
  1. Claire
    August 28, 2011 | 3:14 pm

    Those crabs would probably unnerve me as well-I don’t like anything that skitters!

    I camped while on safari in Tanzania. Our tent was of old burlap, looked like old army issue. Needless to say, it wasn’t water repellent and it rained buckets! All 3 of us were crammed into the middle of the tent as the sides were overflowing. Next time I would spring for the next step up in accommodations, but the safari was well worth the discomfort.
    Claire recently posted..This Is What Panic Looks LikeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 28, 2011 | 3:32 pm

      Hi, Claire. Yeah, skittering is not a fun sound to hear!

      So you were in a burlap tent? Uh oh. Sounds like that rain situation was even worse than ours. Believe it or not, our trip was not in the super low budget range. The main reason is that we went out to one of the remote islands, which means more gas for the boat. Our food was fantastic, too. If only they’d had the right tent, all would have gone well.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your story! I believe you re: the safari being worth the discomfort. Nothing quite like it, is there?

  2. Iain Mallory
    August 28, 2011 | 6:09 pm

    I have a word for you ….. hammock! ;)
    Iain Mallory recently posted..Cultural Aveyron; Enchanting Villages and Mystical CastlesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 28, 2011 | 6:31 pm

      Hammock? In the rain? As in–embrace the water? You are much braver than I thought! :)

  3. Iain Mallory
    August 28, 2011 | 6:35 pm

    Haha unfortunately as Comment Luv only seems to be saying I have ever done one post cannot put up the relevant post on the art of hammocking, but they come with canopies Lisa ;)
    Iain Mallory recently posted..Cultural Aveyron; Enchanting Villages and Mystical CastlesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 28, 2011 | 6:45 pm

      A hammock with a canopy? Hmmm. I might have like that–as long as there was no thunder/lightning. Will keep that in mind for next time. If you’d like to post your link to the hammock post here in a comment, feel free to–no prob. Could benefit readers!

  4. Gray
    August 28, 2011 | 8:43 pm

    Whoa! That photo of the crabs creeps me out too! It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie.
    Gray recently posted..For the Best Views in Barcelona: MontjuicMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 28, 2011 | 9:40 pm

      LOL…that’s a great description of it/them! What’s funny is–I thought I saw the last of them when I left San Blas. Then, when I went to the Pacific Coast, I saw them again–but early in the a.m. and in formation. Even though I liked neither, I must say the ones I ‘heard’ in the evening were far worse. :)

  5. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    August 29, 2011 | 1:21 am

    I don’t like crabs mostly because they remind me of spiders… (*shudder*)

    I have camped on a beach before… a LONG time ago when we were living in Ecuador and visited the rainforest. We camped out on the beaches of the river every night. I don’t remember a whole lot about the experience other than it raining…a lot…like the entire time we were there! And the live chicken the crew brought with them to slaughter in the forest for Christmas Eve dinner…
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Exploring the World Through GeocachingMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 29, 2011 | 8:37 am

      Hi, Aaron. Crabs and spiders are a bit similar, aren’t they? Eek… :)

      Sounds like a lot of rain during your camping experiences–and that’s not unlike a few of mine. I’ve camped about 5 times in my life and it hasn’t gone well during any of the experiences (except Machu Picchu, where porters carried and set up the tents.) Poor chicken…

  6. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    August 29, 2011 | 1:24 am

    Oh and to answer the rest of your questions, I don’t take organized tours so I don’t really have an opinion on the guides responsibility. I suppose if you’re paying for it they should be prepared, but at the same time I also realize that nothing ever goes as planned when you travel…

    And I’m not superstitious (except for a certain theatrical tradition…) but I try and observe local customs and superstitions, mostly to keep from offending people (like stepping over doorways in Asia).
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Exploring the World Through GeocachingMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 29, 2011 | 8:42 am

      I don’t generally do organized tours myself, but in this case, it was the best option (because of disorganization, the complex nature of the Kuna’s governance of the islands and the language issues, etc). I normally show up and wing it. Even though some things went wrong, I don’t regret taking the tour. I do think they should have had better tents, however.

      I think it’s great that you observe the local customs/traditions, etc. Interesting re: the doorways in Asia. Now, I’m curious about the theatre, of course. :)

  7. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    August 29, 2011 | 9:20 am

    I am okay with camping as long as there is solid cover. I did an overnight hike with Quetzaltrekkers in Nicaragua, and it was awful because they told me I could take a tent but when we got to the top of the mountain, it was too windy to put it up. The guide was a jerk and said, “Yeah, I knew it was too windy for a tent.” And I said in a less polite way, “Maybe you should educate the people that sell these excursions.” I was not at all mentally prepared to sleep outside with just a sleeping bag. It was freezing. Did I mention there were scorpions in this area?

    Back to your story…

    I would love to visit this area when I pass through Panama again. Meeting the indigenous population and being on such a deserted island would be a special experience.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..My Decision to Go HomeMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 29, 2011 | 9:44 am

      Hi, Stephanie. How awful that you had to sleep out in the cold/wind with no tent. That is SO wrong. Scorpions? Um, that’s scary. Makes the crabs look like kittens. Sorry you went through that.

      I hope you get to go to San Blas when you return to Panama (PS–thanks again for your helping when I was looking into it). I think you’d love it! And I do recommend the guys over at Mamallena Hostel because they were super helpful/knowledgeable. The tour I was on, however, definitely needed some tweaking when I took it. Perhaps by the time you get there it will be just right. And if not, they have many other options on their list.

  8. Charu
    August 29, 2011 | 2:00 pm

    Not a fan of anything unexpected, so definitely no crabs. I would have been highly anxious. For my own nerves and peace of mind I can’t camp in unsettling conditions unless it’s a camp site or somewhere where I know people will be near. I suppose if I were REALLY brave…at some point, maybe but not alone like you did. :)
    Charu recently posted..Surviving Hurricane Irene: Bloggers Share Their Thoughts and StoriesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 30, 2011 | 7:24 am

      Hi, Charu. Glad to hear I’m not alone on this one–I feel less wimpy somehow! :) I’m not sure what I would have done if I had known. Perhaps it’s better that I didn’t? It might have been better if the tour guides were a little bit closer….

  9. Judy
    August 29, 2011 | 4:20 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this story. I smiled and liked the picture you took of yourself that was cute. I love the picture of the beach, maybe i will get out that way one of these days. So many places to see in this big beautiful world.

    • CB Driver
      August 30, 2011 | 7:25 am

      Hi, Judy. Thanks for reading…glad you enjoyed it! I’m glad I took that photo; I needed one to capture that particular moment (and the tents in the background). :)

  10. Judy
    August 29, 2011 | 4:44 pm

    Use to camp when I was a kid, had so much fun. I like the picture of the beach makes me want to jump in the water, Maybe some day I will go there. After reading Iain’s article on Hammocks, I am seriously thinking about buying one. just wondering how much space they take up? so many places in this big beautiful world that I want to see.

    • CB Driver
      August 30, 2011 | 7:27 am

      Hi. Great article by Iain! The hammocks were one of the best parts of the trip. Nothing better than lounging around in one (although two of ours were of lesser quality than the others). Note: A former student of mine from the Dominican Republic warned me, after the fact, about the possibility of coconuts falling on your head. I guess location is everything….everywhere! :)

  11. Rohrerbot
    August 30, 2011 | 12:48 am

    Fun, fun , fun. Crabs freak me out but I love that picture on the army of crab people. Very very cool. I posted the Geisha stuff today and thought of you. My Panama adventures are winding down on the blog which I have to admit is kind of sad. So am I superstishious….yep. Having a tent on the beach is awesome…..but it’s always best to be aware of how far the tide will come in during your night’s sleep. I think I would be freaked out waking up to salty water in my tent…or floating out to sea. That would suck! Tenting in a canyon next to a river….also very cool, but I remember watching some guys have their tent(with them in it) blown into the river….I was in 8th grade when this all happened and it was rather scary. Luckily the guys were pros and able to get out. Hope you are well.
    Rohrerbot recently posted..A Geisha ExperienceMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 30, 2011 | 7:31 am

      Hey…hi! Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Never thought about the tide coming in and dragging one’s tent out or one getting blown away (although the recent hurricane reminded me of the power of both water and wind). Yikes! :)

      So cool that you wrote about the Geisha..that’s coming up soon for me, too. I’m going to visit your blog later and see what you had to say about the $9 coffee. Glad we met there at that cafe, by the way! :)

  12. Steve
    August 30, 2011 | 8:05 pm

    Wow, the weather really took a bad turn. I was close in my earlier prediction that it would rain, but I didn’t say anything about wind. I think I get partial credit for getting some of it right though.

    The last time I camped on a beach, the tent didn’t get setup correctly. There was just a mesh at the top of it that rain could easily get through. Thankfully it didn’t rain.
    Steve recently posted..Do Great Lives Require Hardship?My Profile

    • CB Driver
      August 31, 2011 | 9:57 pm

      Hi, Steve. Yes, you totally deserve credit–you had a feeling what was coming next and were right! :) Re: camping…it seems to me like you really need to know what you’re doing. It could really make or break your experience. Glad you didn’t get rained on…

      Thanks for reading both parts of the story!

  13. Hogga
    August 31, 2011 | 7:52 am

    HAHA “I gladly would have voted that any and all crabs leave…immediately!”

    I’m seriously creeped out by crabs too… but that trip does sound amazing. I heart camping! I always end up sleeping in my car when it rains though. We always have leaky tents… and it ALWAYS rains haha.

    • CB Driver
      August 31, 2011 | 9:59 pm

      Hey, Hogga. You’re with me on this crab thing…cool. I wonder how Chicken Chunk would have handled them…

      The trip was really cool–despite the “challenges.” I really loved eating lobster while checking out the moon. We also had some beer, which was the Australian girl’s idea. Smart thinking…. I didn’t know you camped…very cool! But yeah, sounds like what tends to happen to me tends to happen to you. :)

  14. santafetraveler
    August 31, 2011 | 12:22 pm

    I love their molas!

    • CB Driver
      August 31, 2011 | 10:01 pm

      Me, too…they’re really lovely!

  15. Helena
    September 2, 2011 | 4:23 pm

    Loved the story, Lisa! The pictures are great, especially the one of the crabs. They do look like a little army!

    I went to sleep away camp for a month at a time when I was younger (8-10 yrs old), and we slept in platform tents and went on a couple of ‘real’ camping trips during the month, which included rain and the standard REALLY big, unidentifiable bugs. The camp was mainly run by 17-18 yr olds, and I felt like I was a character in Lord of the Flies. Not fun-permanently ruined any desire I may have had to camp again. Prefer a comfortable, clean mattress and electricity! (And NO red crabs!)

    • CB Driver
      September 2, 2011 | 8:33 pm

      Thanks, Helena–awesome to hear…glad you enjoyed it! Scary little army, no? :)

      I can see why your early experience camping was a bit of a turn-off–LOL. Rain and large bugs? Yikes. :)

  16. Erica
    September 6, 2011 | 12:33 am

    Not a fan of sleeping on the beach. Getting sand in my tent really bothers me.

    Sounds like you had quite the adventure!
    Erica recently posted..Coffee, Coffee, Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink – Until…My Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 6, 2011 | 7:42 am

      Hi, Erica. I hear you re: the sand. At one point, it was clinging to my feet and I just had to accept it. Still, that was nothing compared to the possibility of the crabs coming into the tent. :) Adventure? Yes, absolutely! :)

  17. Marky
    September 20, 2011 | 3:12 am

    Sometimes during travels, forces of nature tries to hinder but eventually only enriches our travel experience by holding on to our survival instincts. A great adventure episode there…
    Marky recently posted..Unforgettable Human Encounters on the RoadMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 21, 2011 | 9:53 am

      Marky–I like what you’ve said; it really helps me make sense of certain things that happened. Perhaps it’s why some of us choose the more challenging journey versus the easy one? Thanks for reading…

  18. [...] here for the exciting conclusion to this [...]

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