Saturday, January 24, 2015

The San Blas Islands

After our amazing day traversing the Panama Canal and an overnight at Shelter Bay Marina, we departed early and headed south to the San Blas islands. We had a 7 hour (75 mile) cruise with swells up to 10 feet and winds topping out at 44 knots. Yikes!!

This was a rough slog for all of us, but everyone (except the men) had taken Bonine to keep ourselves sedentary. Poor Katrina had to use a seasick patch for her first time and it worked great! The only issue was that it made her feel woozy for a few days and blurred her vision a bit.
She had to use my reading glasses to read her book. Such a trooper! The excitement we all had to visit these islands and experience the Kuna Indians made it all seem worth it.
Luckily the Bonine worked and we were ready to celebrate Christmas Eve...island style! I have to fess-up and say that when you're in a tropical clime for the holidays, it doesn't exactly feel as festive as we're used to at Christmas. However, without all the holiday hoopla and pressure we put on ourselves, we enjoyed it just as much if not more!

The San Blas archipelago is comprised of 378 islands and runs approx 300 miles wide. 

We arrived in the San Blas archipelago on Christmas Eve 
and found a great spot across from some small islands that seemed protected from the rough seas. 
We were even flying a pirate flag in honor of the grandkids.

This looked like a perfect spot to anchor for the night. 

As soon as we dropped anchor, the vendors showed up in their dugout canoes... 
Paddling frantically to be the first ones to arrive.
First came a family peddling their cloth "molas" which are a Kuna tradition. I didn't need any, but felt obligated to make a purchase as it was Christmas Eve after all and just the experience of it all was simply incredible. The woman who made these had some of the best ones I've come across, so I was happy to have some new treasures. Once I paid her husband for them, he said the word "sweets", so I assumed he had some jungle candy to sell me. Ha! However, quite the contrary... 
He wanted something sweet for his children. 
I dashed inside the boat to find some treats and after handing them 
to his smiling brood, off they went. 

The women hand stitch these molas and provide for their families this way. The Kunas are a female dominated culture (you go girl!) where they are the breadwinners and own their homes. (Aka jungle huts) It is they who decide who they will marry, and the men move in with a woman and her family. There is some serious "girl power" afoot here....

As soon as I waved good-bye to the first sweet family, another two dugout canoes arrive. One with a Kuna man selling some beautiful seashells, and another one with two women and their little girls. These women were sellin more molas...Uh oh! 
I have read in multiple books that the Kunas are to be well treated and are revered in their society. Their culture has yet to be tainted and is still considered an indigenous culture. I also figured that however I treated these ladies would get around town, so I wanted to be respectful.
In my pajamas no less...who needs to put on an outfit when you depart 
the marina at daybreak and lie horizontal for the entire cruise? Haha! 
Wyatt was my expert "mola" inspector. A very important role.
One of these ladies was such a sweetheart in her traditional garb, the other had negative energy
(I dubbed her Negative Nancy) and was quite pushy. I heard her mumble something in French about "these people and their big fancy boat". What a sweetie. Not. I didn't care for her, yet I made a few purchases from each of them and was done with molas.
We also gave their daughters some sweets as we were getting the hang of this tradition. 

Once they left, the shell guy was still waiting and he had these enormous conch shells for $10.00.
He was so proud and the shells were beautiful.

The girls and I purchased a couple.  Brad had returned from
"checking in" at the little island village, and cracked up at all the ruckus going on behind out boat.
You'd think it was rush hour! We were muy popular.

The two ladies returned in their canoe after they had left, and "negative Nancy" handed me a note. It was written in good Español, (doubtfully by her) and I could ascertain that she was asking for more money so that she could feed her children and that it was a special time of year. What I neglected to read was the date of Dec 2nd on the letter as she obviously gave this letter to everyone she met.
I wanted to tell her "no thank you" as I'd already been generous enough with them, but again... being Christmas Eve, I knew it was the right thing to do and I didn't want a brouhaha with the locals starting up. I bought some embroidered mola headbands and decided that everyone would wear these for New Years Eve... We've gone "native" after all. 
Shockingly enough, she still looked annoyed and didn't even say thank you. O-well.. 
You can't please eveyone when they have crabby pants!

Then after everyone left, this man in the canoe below paddles over. He kept telling me something in Español, but had such a thick accent I couldn't quite ascertain what he was trying to communicate. He was pointing to the bottom of the ocean and made a swimming motion, and I thought he was trying to tell me that he could dive for some lobster for us. We didn't need any as we were stocked with food, so I kindly told him no thank you. One word he said had the word "zapato" contained in it, which is spanish for "shoe"... but it was a longer word than that & nothing made sense. It was a few days later (and we had already left) that it dawned on me he was asking for a pair of fins so he could dive for food. For himself. Ugh! That just broke my heart as it would have been such a nice thing to do for him. He looked so sad.

Maybe my poor translation skills are the result of having a Japanese guy
teaching me spanish in high school?

We cooked a nice dinner on the boat and watched some holiday movies. And then... The AC went out! We were so sad. Could this be happening on today of all days?
It was sweatier than Neil Diamond on a hot August night! 
We kept trying to boot it back-up and check out every possible  issue, but to no avail.

We opened every window and porthole to catch the sea breeze and all was manageable until late that night when the natives were restless and shot off fireworks until 3am. And we're not talking about some little bottle rockets...these were fireworks that would be considered the full fledged illegal kind at home.  So much for a restful nights sleep.
I wonder which Kuna Indian is their pyrotechnic advisor?
I think everyone got about 4 hours of sleep that night. Who knew Christmas Eve
fireworks were such a "thing" here?! 
Apparently it's a serious a tradition in most latin american countries. 

We awoke on Christmas morning and Santa arrived for the grandkids! 
They were so excited that he could find them so far away. They remembered the GPS in their iPads & that Santa is a serious Mr. Smartypants! I made a special Christmas breakfast for everyone and then... Matt, Kat, Wyatt & I set out to explore an uninhabited island.
Matt expertly deploying our special sand anchor.
A bat ray cruising the shore of a uninhabited island... so much for swimming!
A blue crab.. He was sizable at 7" wide. 
We found the most beautiful sea urchin shells on our island excursion.
Gorgeous natural beauty.
Kat working her beach moves as sand fleas dined on our flesh...
We called this spot Giraffe Island as the little Palm tree on the right looks like one. 
The huts are inhabited by Kuna Indians.

Brad performed a Herculean effort that Christmas took him over 5 hours to repair the AC. When that baby started to purr we all gave him a round of applause. 
It was as humid as can be...

and was such a relief to have the air conditioning back!!! Hallelujah!

It seems that if an island is flat and stable, a Kuna will build a hut on it.
What in the world happens at high tide?!!
Life here is remote with virtually no electricity. We saw them make fires on the beach at night and they live in simple huts.

So much color!
Local fishing boats.
Village rascals...up to no good. 

This is the communal cooking's the central hub for the community. 
Outsiders (that would be us) are not allowed in.
The locals boat garage.
The village Christmas tree. 

This was the fanciest store on the island. I was actually surprised that they had so much merchandise.  They even had solar panels on the roof. We were shocked. Cold beers were in order of course!
       They even sold cell phones at the beer hut.
This was a very sweet quote by Ghandi hanging in the store.
Something about how visitors are welcome and 
that they depend on our dollars and it's not seen as an interruption or imposition. 
Brad procuring our Panamanian Balboa beers.
They also had lots of colorful fabrics for the villagers to purchase. 
Kids were busy playing soccer and basketball... We had fun watching them!
Matt joined the boys in a game too... They kept wanting to watch him shoot the hoop. 
Laundry day in the village was colorful as can be. 
The gang walking through the village...I felt like such an intruder.
More shells for sale...visitors are not allowed to remove shells or fish from the sea. 
A Kuna woman peddling her wares...They all dashed out when they spotted us.
Such a fancy set-up for their rural village.

This local artisan wove a traditional Kuna bracelet directly on my arm. 
She told me that she will wear hers on her arms & legs forever and will never take them off. 

Here's a video of it..if it works that is. Click on the arrow in the center of the image. 
Video uploads have been on the fritz. however, so no promises that it will work.  

Our grandson Wyatt bought a wooden boat from this girl who had another friend with her. We asked if we could take the girls' photo with Wyatt, and the girl in the photo below pushed her friend out of the way so that she could be next to Wyatt. It was too funny! We didn't know Wyatt had a Kuna Indian girlfriend...maybe this is how they start early, getting "dibs" on their future hubby?
And then...Abuela (grandma) spotted us and stormed out faster than a bull at a bullfight. 
She may even be great grandma as they start procreating quite young here I would imagine. 
Just like Utah! 

I think Abuela gave us a good look over with her one strong eye...
"you wanna piece of me?" She was ready to rumble. 

I tried to make friends with Abuela...she was the real Kuna dealio. Isn't it amazing how she looks so dressed up in the middle of the day in her traditional garb? And I look like an Amazon next to her! 
Dig her gold nose adornment. Múy authentico. 
I bet this woman could tell a lifetime of stories we couldn't fathom.

Bananas (plantains) for  the village.
Home base. Pirate flag in check!
Luckily the seas were calm and Matt & Kat could get their yoga in. 
They didn't have an issue like this yogi...ha!

One of the taxi panga boats. Spot Santa on the front?

Brad and I at the village entrance.
After perusing the village & remote isles, getting bit by WAY too many sand fleas & no-seums, two nights at anchor and no accessible swim holes due to poor weather conditions...we had had our San Blas fun and departed north to Bocas del Toro, Panama. 

This map should give you a better idea of where the San Blas islands are... 
See top left of map in red where it says "Archipelago Bocas del Toro". That's where we are headed!

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