Saturday, January 16, 2010

Palm trees and the Kunas

We finally arrived in the San Blas Islands that form a large archipelago off the coast of Panama. Each island is relatively small and only a few meters high with mostly palm trees on them. The water is clear and there is coral everywhere. It would be paradise if it wasn’t of the sand flies or noseehem. These little bugs are the nastiest beast known to us. When the wind is calm these little flying monsters send a legion to the boat for a rampage. They are about the size of a grain of salt and unless you are in bright day light with a white background you just don’t see them. Like mosquitoes they come out at night and pass through our screens to feast on us while we are sleeping. Even if they are tiny their stings are pretty painful and the bumps they leave are very itchy and last over a week. As I write these lines I have at least 100 stings all over my body but mostly on the legs all this from a single night where the word passed that it was “all you can eat” at Chocobo’s! After that the wind picked up in the archipelago and we got only a couple of bites since then, which is not too bad. Of course while I was the main meal Danielle barely got a sting!
Here you can see Chocobo anchored near Porvenir Island. For the gentlemen reading this post please note that Chocobo is the sailboat with yellow covers in the center of the picture. If you finally focus you attention a little bit at this location on the picture you will eventually see it!

The inhabitants of the San Blas islands are the Kuna Indians who leave here with their own semi autonomous local government from an agreement with the government of Panama. The archipelago is actually called Kuna Yala by the kunas. They mostly live in a very traditional ways although we can see many of them talking on cell phones and there are TV antennas here and there. At least they could use “traditional” cell phone made of coconut shells and palm leaves! Here you can see pictures of Wichubhuala island where basically the village covers the entire island and even some houses are built on pylons, which is interesting since most islands are inhabited. We see them all day paddling in their boats carved in a log; some will use a simple sail while others will simply use the good old outboard motor. But I guess they are traditional motor too!

With the corals everywhere and the shallow waters the bounty of the sea is plenty. We could go spear fishing to get our dinner but hey, why bothering doing what the Kunas are so good at and very willing to sell you crabs and lobsters for a decent price? Here we got all five lobsters for $10 and the crab, a bit more expensive, for $5. It took me forever to get the meat out of the crab but the crab chowder we made with it was to die for! The lobsters ended up in the fondue we had for my 43th birthday and in stuffed avocados that Danielle likes so much. One note about the prices; the price we paid may not be very much compared to what we pay in North America but by panamian standard $5 for a crab is a bit pricy. We could have dealt down the price but when we think that the kunas let us come to their island with no restrictions and greet us with friendship and large smiles we thought that paying a bit more to contribute to their local economy to allow them to get what the islands don’t give them is not a very big price to pay.

Here is a group of Kunas passing by in their wooden boat. Often they will stop at our boat to sell us stuff such as crabs, lobsters, fish or molas. The molas are complex and very artistic patterns sowed on a piece of fabric. We bought a nice one and it will make a very nice genuine souvenir of the region. Another interesting point is that the kids on board these boats will almost systematically ask for “caramelos”, which basically means candies. Of course it is almost impossible to resist and we give them some pretty much every time.