Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Islas San Blas

Location: Islas San Blas (Kuna Yala), Panama

Rundown: Spent a week on an archipelago of 365 tiny Caribbean islands off of Panama.

Took off in the early morning from a small airport in Panama city. Watched the sun come up over the city as we few bleary-eyed out.

Flew an hour over the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. The tiny islands of the Kuna Yala drifted in the current below us. The bright sand and palm trees ringed by blue-green coral reef.

Touched down on a tiny island and we immediately jumped off. Wrong island! The little prop-job serves like a bus! Made a few jumps, which were fun since you can see through the windscreen and watch the landings. Eventually made it to El Porvenir, one of the islands big enough to land a plane on. The plane touched down a few meters from one side of the island and bounced to a stop on the grass and broken concrete tarmac and turned around in the sand at the far end. I could hear Gramma saying, "I've OWNED planes bigger than this!"

Finagled a ride on a lancha out to our island, some twenty minutes away to our barely inhabited island. Jumped off in the shallows to the white sand and were met warmly by Iron's family who showed us to our little cabaña on the beach.

Not a bad view, and not too far from the beach. You didn't even need to worry about getting sand in the cabañas, because often the floors were sand too!

The island was smaller than a soccer field, with a small stand of palms, a few huts, and beach. A walk around the island took only five minutes

With nothing much to interest us on land we hit the water immediately!

We imported snorkel gear and were happy to have done so! The snorkeling was wonderful, right off the beach!

A few jellyfish to watch out for, but aside from that, nothing but warm, clear water, coral, and fish.

After surfing and diving in the Pacific with wetsuits it was a pleasure to be in warm water again!

Finally dragged our water-logged bodies out of the sea... but only with the promise of seafood!

Iron's family made us meals, is no running water or light, let alone restaurants on the island. Had lots of fish and lobster fresh from the sea!

Thought of supplementing my diet with this little guy too...

The evenings were pretty quiet. Read, walked on the beach, and listened to the sea.

With no light pollution the stars were out in force. Out on the horizon you could occasionally see a light from another island, but rarely.

One of the days I swam to a nearby island, only a half-mile away and spent an afternoon enjoying the solitude.

Nothing but a stand of palms and a few birds.

A different day we took a lancha to visit Isla de Perro to do some snorkeling on a shallow wreck.

Loads of great corals and fish at the site!

Taking the lanchas for a spin was an event in itself as we zipped past islands that you'd see in cartoon, with only a tiny patch of trees.

The Kuna are the people who live a very traditional lifestyle in this region, Kuna Yala, now known as Islas San Blas. They dress and eat traditionally, and speak Kuna, the native dialect.

Some of the Kuna people use motors on their boats, but others use traditional 'ulus' or dugout canoes to fish and transport themselves from island to island.

The Kuna women make these intricate, hand-made quilt pieces called molas. They use them in their traditional garb, typically one large section for the front of their dresses and one for the back. Each mola takes them a few weeks to a month. We bought a few from them to bring home!

We had the good fortune to be on the islands the day of a great festival, a coming of age celebration. Our host, Iron, invited us to the celebration on a different island and we acquiesced.

The tiny island was heavily populated by the social Kunas. Sand streets and thatched houses were all that occupied the little fishing village.

Surprisingly, we were somewhat of a novelty on the island, and attracted a lot of attention from the local kids. I tried to teach them how to hand whistle, which was pretty hilarious.

This little guy escorted me all the way to the huge festivities hut. We couldn't take pictures inside, but all the men were in one huge hut, and all the women were in another. They had been brewing chicha, cane sugar and coffee, left to ferment in terra-cotta pots for two weeks, which was quaffed out of coconut bowls. Everyone smoked and the visibility in the huts was only a few feet. The chica wasn't too bad either!

Early the next morning yet again took a lancha back to El Porvenir, leaving in the dark and cruising over the glassy Caribbean while the sun came up pink and orange on the horizon. Pretty fantastic place.

Ciao Kuna Yala!

No comments: