San Blas Islands

13 01 2011

very colorful dress and traditional stoic pose of the Kuna women

Do you know those background images for your computer?  How about the one with of a small desserted island?  Well, I am pretty sure that background is a picture of one of the San Blas Islands.

There are 378 islands in the San Blas chain, 90 or less are inhabited by people.  The islands are lived on by the indigenous Kuna people.  While the majority of the Kuna now speak Spanish many still use their native tongue for everyday conversation.  These are just a few of the things that attracted Vanessa and I to visit the islands.  That is not to say that they are untouched by the western world, obviously since Vanessa and I were visiting and people have for the last 15-20 years.   The west has had an impact on the Kuna, but it is very obvious that they still cling to their roots, their traditions and the simplicity of an isolated life.

a single boat drifting

Vanessa and I booked a trip through Luna’s Castle (the hostel) to stay at an island referred to as Cabina’s Iron (pronounced E-ron), this is located in the Robinson Chain of the San Blas Islands.  The adventure began with leaving the hostel at 5 am and traveling to the Caribbean coast, then boarding the craziest, waviest, roughest, adventuresome boat ride I have been on.  All-in-all, it took us just under 8 hours to arrive at the football field sized island.

Our boat “Captain” pulled the T-Pain and Missy Elliot-music-thumping boat, emblazoned with “God of the War” on the side, directly on to the white sand beach in front of Iron’s.  With a blush of embarrassment, because of the ridiculously loud music that contrasted with the surreal quietness of the island, I made a quick assessment of the island that told me it was…small.  Come to find out there are only 3 families that live on the island and there were 4 other tourists staying with another family; we were the only one’s with Iron.

Iron helped us from the boat and showed us to our hand made hut built by Iron and his sons (there were 3 other huts that were unoccupied).  Our hut was no more than 10 feet from the lapping waves.  He then showed us to the bathroom, which, to our pleasure, actually had real toilets- just no running water and no roof (which was funny later when it was raining and Vanessa had to go) and to the kitchen and the place where we would eat.  It was very obvious that all of the buildings were constructed by careful and confident hands, with the palm topped roofs woven together expertly and the bamboo walls tied together with sturdy knots.

Our cabin. I was standing in the water while taking this picture.

the inside of our hut

Cabina's Iron. This is the dinning room

the bathrooms!

While Vanessa and I organized our things in the cabin we could hear the laughter of native children playing games outside our hut.  After unpacking we left the hut, entwined hands, and walked down the picturesque beach to explore.  We made our way to a small cove and doubled back while watching birds and Kuna’s fish along the island spotted horizon.  It had been a long travel day and we plopped down, Vanessa in the hammock and me in the sand, to rest for the next two days!

Kuna children going fishing!

The only thing that tore Vanessa and I away from the beach, the turquoise blue water, and our books, was food.  Our food was prepared by either Iron’s wife or his mother-in-law and it was amazing.  We had fresh caught whole fish and the freshest crab (we saw them catching it earlier in the day) I have ever eaten while there.  It was expertly prepared on spits over an open fire.  We enjoyed each delicious meal (except one breakfast which was a hot dog with cheese and bread; I am not sure what happened there…) prepared by the lovely ladies.

Fish was GREAT!

The 3 days went by quick although they were filled with simple things:  I enjoyed watching birds dive bomb from the sky and, with a loud thump, dive into and under the water and re-surface with a fish in its mouth.  Vanessa took full advantage of her new kindle, finishing her 10 or 11th book in 2 weeks while on the island.  I also enjoyed playing in the glass clear water trying to catch fish with my hands (I failed), and watching the Kuna’s sail around in their hand dug canoe’s.  However, we soon found ourselves back in “God of the War” making our way to the mainland.

Me watching the Kuna's sailing in their dug out boats

This boat trip was filled with it’s own excitement.  With “Work it” by Missy Elliot vibrating my head and while adjusting my back after we sped off a 5 foot swell and the boat smacked on flat water, I looked to the side to see a boat flying toward us.  I thought that we were going about as fast as the water would allow, but this boat was plowing through the water like Shaquille O’neal driving the lane.  As it pulled closer, everyone realized…holy shit…we are being stopped by the Panama Drug Police!

The police boat pulled up short of us and circled us slowly while the officers were yelling words I don’t yet have in my spanish vocabulary.  I knew from our trip to the islands that our boat was running an illegal motor (it was 125 horse power  and the water surrounding the San Blas Islands only allow a 75 horse power engine).  The “Captain” of our boat scrambled to silence Missy.  It was obvious that he and his second mate, a graying black man wearing what I think were “apple bottom jeans”, were a bit nervous.  They quickly explained to the 6 officers where we were coming from and what they were doing.  When he offered to let the Police see all of the passengers passports it seemed to appease the them and they turned their Shaq-esc boat, reved their thunderous engin and destroyed waves in the opposite direction.

When we arrived at the port we were again greeted by the Panamanian police.  As we quickly found out they were on the hunt for a Colombian boat that was believed to be transporting drugs, and that our illegal motor was not high on this list of concerns.  After having our passports inspected by a grizzly looking sergeant, we passed to an SUV waiting to take us back to civilization.

Watch the slide show to see some more of the GREAT pictures we took:

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3 responses

13 01 2011

Book it for June, please. All of June.

14 01 2011

Insane. Seriously.

But, all I could hear at the end of that post was Marcus singing “boot with the fur…” in his beautiful voice.

16 01 2011
Renee G-Orness

A-freakin-mazing! what else is there to say!

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