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Pirates of The San Blas Islands


11825794_10153386624225700_4498613754751506459_n-768x576A B O U T ~ D A N

Daniel. Dan. Dingo – these are the three most common names that this 28 year-old gypsy answers to.

Originally a primary-school teacher from Southern Australia, one day Daniel packed his unconventionally small backpack and bought a one-way ticket to become a scholar of the world. It would turn out to be a fruitful experiment.

Two years, a dozen countries, six tattoos and one pair of underpants later, he found himself working and living as a captain in the Caribbean. Rarely wearing shoes, always wearing a smile, Dingo Dan recognises travel as the most potent form of education – of place and self.

Panamanian Paradise 2014

As the evening Caribbean breeze freshened on my face the little yacht began to show his true colours. We popped open a bottle of fresh rum. The first drops went over the side to Mother Ocean, a habit acknowledging Her force and asking for a safe passage. After sharing a shot of the smooth-golden liquid we settled in to watch the sun and stars go about their arm wrestle rearrangement, as they have done for eons. The journey had begun.

You can’t underestimate the romantic exhilaration constructed by two pieces of cloth, a stick and a floating base. Harnessing the ancient forces of air and fluid whilst feeding your own instinctual appetites of adventure, connectedness, and being. Moving by sail. It is one hell of a way to move and every part of it makes my soul sing sing sing.

We had set sail from an island nestled deep in the San Blas Archipelago – a place that makes you believe in magic. A place that nourishes your being with the electric pulse of life. Over and over again. Our destination was a marina nestled in the jungle on the Caribbean coast of Panama, about sixty miles to the West. The journey was unusual because only a week earlier I had removed the ageing diesel engine from Chappy, the modest little vessel. We were to complete the voyage using only the power of the wind. Old school, baby.

I was sailing with a good friend and fellow adventurer. A Kuna Indian, indigenous to the San Blas Islands, he was at home on the ocean. He was salt. Our conversations meandered around his people’s stories, lore and connections to the natural – not to mention the usual topics you might expect from two sailors sharing a journey. Stars, women, shitting your pants. There were eternities when we said nothing at all as we were swept up in the briny goodness of being. That didn’t matter. We were connecting.

Every traveller has experienced those sensational seconds when the conscious and that of the universe are locked in a moment of higher feeling. The notion of coincidence is not strong enough to explain the twists and turns of the cosmos that yield this connection. That ignition of now. Whether you are connecting to culture, language, people, places or self – it is the very reason some people travel. It sets our sacred fibres on a course of cohesion. It reminds us of the fragility and force of oneness.

As the compact yacht stiffened up his nose and began surging through the swell towards the infinite horizon, I pulled out the familiar security of my favourite old fleece. It’s the little things when you live at sea. The small comforts that remind us to be hard but to feel soft. Like a hot bowl of soup over the cool night breeze. Or the ribboned dancing star trails of a pod of dolphins rejoicing in a sacred bioluminescent dance off the bow. Turning off all of the lights and electronics and navigating through totality using nothing but feeling and instinct and human. The enchantment of the simple life was, as it always will be, completely intoxicating. Neither of us slept that night because the magic of the sailing was just too bright.

At dawn, bleary-eyed and oh-so-stoked, we altered our course, steering south by west towards the mountainous mainland of Panama. With a light breeze blowing from the rear quarter we gently manoeuvred the twenty-four-foot cutter through a maze of hazards and into the mangrove lined respite of the marina. Two hours later the yacht was machine-handled out of water, and into dirt. A changing of the elements from the dynamic to the static. It was safe for the off-season.

Our fourteen or so hours on the ocean slipped quietly into the past leaving behind an incurable hunger for more. More adventure, more salt, more magic, more connection. The thought of ancient cultures, hidden stories, and magnetic horizons breathed wind into my sails. It drove and still drives me to search for more, to connect to the flow of my inner currents and sail confidently in a direction that doesn’t matter.

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