Monday, January 16, 2012

Life in Kuna Yala

Mark and I have been in Kuna Yala (the Comarca de San Blas) for over two weeks now and we are enjoying it, just like every other cruiser who has spent time here. Of course it sounds promising when people rave about a place, but more often than not, we have then arrived at that place and been disappointed, because we expected too much or because what is fabulous for some people is just blah for others.

By starting our San Blas adventures in the eastern end, we had a chance to stop at the most primitive and interesting villages of the Kuna Indians. From the moment we would anchor, an ulu (dugout canoe) would paddle by to charge us $10 to be in that certain area (which allowed us to go ashore and explore their island) or to offer us some of the vegetables or fruits gathered on the mainland. Every morning, the Kuna men leave the village early, to row to the mainland (up to about a mile away) and collect coconuts, sticks to build, bananas, plantains, yucca or other fruits off their plots of land on that side. The women would sew their colorful molas and the kids play on the dusty streets, concrete basketball courts or dilapidated soccer fields. School is out for three months. We noticed the boys play basketball and soccer, while the girls play volleyball. In the afternoons, the families spend some time together and rest.

The small villages are relatively crowded with thatched hut next to hut and small alleys or wider dirt roads in between. While the first villages we visited didn’t have electricity, running water or sewage, the last few towns we stopped at did have electricity and satellite TV. Some have running water. Toilets are non-existent and outhouses at the end of a rickety dock are used for that business. Strolling through these towns is a very interesting experience, especially when you are the only two white people around. Sometimes we would be followed by hordes of curious kids, other times, nobody would respond to our ¡Hola! Most locals speak Spanish. Kunas don’t like their picture taken, but with the kids it depends. They either run away or cover their face, or they smile and make funny faces and compositions. I have only been yelled at once when I took a picture of a bridge… :-)

The off lying and uninhabited islands are another part of the San Blas picture! Never have we seen so many palm trees… Visitors are not allowed to take any coconuts; Kuna rule #1. They are used for export and to trade for goods with Colombian trading boats. Near these tropical islands, the water is cleaner and clearer and swimming is very nice. We haven’t had a chance to go snorkeling yet. The anchorages are surprisingly deep, very different than in the Bahamas, but that’s a small price to pay. Our biggest price to pay is the inconsistency and excruciatingly slow internet over cell phone service (1G), but we manage.

The sky has been very grey so far, even though the rainy season is finished. The mountainous mainland of Panama is constantly shrouded in clouds. We have been lucky to receive just enough sunlight at times we have to navigate the tricky reefs to arrive in a secure anchorage. Irie has reached the more popular and populated central San Blas now and that means: more cruising boats and more exotic islands!

Traditional Kuna village.

Playful and happy Kuna children in one of the "big" towns.

Kuna Indians keep their pigs in separate structures above land or water.

Stored ulus and a rickety bridge connecting two parts of land in Ustupu.

Outhouses in Ustupu.

Colorfully dressed Kuna woman in Mamitupu.

One of the many Kuna men coming back from his mainland chores in his ulu.

Four children and their dog rowed by Irie for a friendly visit in Snug Harbor.

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