Friday, October 26, 2012

The Value of $20 in Kuna Yala

The San Blas islands - locally called Kuna Yala - consists of hundreds of beautiful, exotic islands. Some of them are uninhabited and others have a few families living on them, in thatched huts. A few islands are packed with huts and concrete buildings, resembling a village. Not much in the way of provisions is to be found. Most cruising boats are stocked up with groceries and alcohol from Colombia or mainland Panama before they arrive in the San Blas islands, and their tanks are full.

The town of Nargana has a handful of “stores”, where one can find basics like flour, rice, eggs, cornflakes, a small selection of cans, chicken and – depending on your luck – some or little fresh produce. Bread, diesel and gasoline are sold here too. The small settlement of Banedup in the East Lemmon Cays has a few of these items for sale as well. Other than that, cruisers rely on their own stores and the veggie boat, which might come once a week, or not. In the winter time (high season) the arrival of these boats full of produce is more reliable.

Living in the San Blas islands is relatively cheap, especially after spending hundreds of dollars on provisioning elsewhere. All you basically need to obtain here are fresh vegetables and fruit, maybe some chicken, and seafood if you don’t catch it yourself. A $20 bill goes a long way towards survival… But, what exactly can you get in Kuna Yala for 20 dollars?

Here’s a selection:
-          A week’s worth of produce (most veggies sell for $1.50/lb)
-          6-7 medium lobsters
-          10 big crabs
-          3.5 gallons of gasoline
-          3.5 gallons of diesel
-          Propane to fill a 20 pound tank, with $4 change
-          A week’s worth of fish
-          133 Kuna breads, which are tiny
-          A decently made mola (intricately sewn handiwork)
-          Permit to stay 1 month in Kuna Yala
-          5-6 dozens of eggs
-          4-5 bracelets or strings of beads
-          Unlimited amount of drinking water for the boat in one stop
-          60 coconuts on Nlakalubirdup, or 20 elsewhere

Prices usually depend on who you buy things from, what time of the year it is and how well your bargaining skills are. Mark and I have managed to trade stuff for food, but the Kunas always want some money as part of the deal as well. On average, we spend between $120 and $150 a month in Kuna Yala. 

Buying gasoline in Nargana

The settlement of Banedup, East Lemmons


Mark and Michele s/v Reach said...

Don't forget that overpriced case of Balboa beer from Serapio... Well, usually you can get him down to $18 :)

Janine said...

Loved the San Blas Islands and the Kuna Yala people, so very friendly! The best part of our time in Panama

Liesbet said...

Yes, that's right! But, we never bought it from him. I think Geraldo charges $16 a case, so $4 change. I should have added that, indeed. I didn't even think about beer. Who drinks beer, anyway? :-)