April 17, 2007 San Blas Islands, Panama We left San Andres with Pelican's Flight at noon and arrived in the San Blas archipelago (Porvenir) on April 19 at 8:00 am (45 hour trip). The wind and seas were light and it was a motorsail most of the way, except for 9 hours when we were able to sail. En route, we caught two mahi mahi simultaneously (40" and 54") and a wonderful blackfin tuna.
The San Blas archipelago are a true paradise, comprising of 400 islands and approx. 55,000 Kunas who strive to maintain their traditional way of life. Most live in thatched roofs with no electricity or running water. The Kunas have a matriarchal society in which the line of inheritance passes through the women. The women, and some men, earn income from selling their molas, or blouses, used in their attire. The elder Kunas teach the young people this craft. The construction of the mola is called reverse applique comprising several layers of cloth stitched together, on which designs have been carefully cut out to expose underlying colors. Molas can run anywhere from five dollars to several hundreds of dollars, depending on the complication of the design and the skill of the mola maker. Some pictures below show Kuna women wearing their molas. The men make their living fishing and tending agricultural land on the mainland of Panama. A traditional village has a sahila (chief) who presides over the inhabitants of that village.
Recently new rules for the yachting community were issued. It is not allowed to: take any marine or natural resource, burn trash, take coconuts or wood, visit uninhabited islands, work on your boat, engage in non Kuna sport activities (water or jet ski, windsurf, diving, etc.). They ask that tourists respect their sacred sites, places of meetings, worship and dance and that no photographs be taken of Kuna without permission. On some islands, permission must be granted by the sahila (chief) in order to come ashore or to visit areas in their jurisdiction.
On our arrival, the Kuna ulus (dugout canoes) came out to greet us laden with molas, shirts, bracelets, carved gourds, fruits and vegetables. We bought some wonderful pineapples, avocado, peppers, tomatoes and a huge bunch of small bananas. After checking in with immigration, we anchored a few miles south in the Chimiche Cays. The waters here are gorgeous and full of marine life. There are many rays and it's fun to snorkel and watch them glide. There's also plenty of dolphins and nurse sharks. We had a caretaker family visit us one evening as they wanted to see our boat. In a traditional village, every family must live on an uninhabitated island in their area to work as coconut caretakers. The family usually lives there for three months, after which another family comes on a rotation basis. The family conversed with us in Spanish and explained that Spanish had been added to the school curriculum, although previous generations only spoke Kuna.
After a few days, we purchased some molas from Lisa on Rio Sidra, Venancio on Moremaketupu, and other Kunas who visited our boat. Mola fever is rampant in the San Blas; we've met several cruisers who, over the years, have collected more than 100 molas!
On the morning of April 24th, I (Susan) flew to Panama City in order to get money at a bank. We were low in U.S. dollars and there were no banks in the San Blas. Pat stayed on the boat in Nargana. I was a bit nervous flying in a small plane (a DeHavilland Twin Otter) on an old runway built by Americans many years ago, but all went well. I had a great view of the Canal and saw so many boats waiting to transit the canal. I had a great time visiting the city, which is very modern with tall skyscrapers. There is much activity here with many offices, banks, stores, casinos and malls. Unfortunately, in many places it's not possible to walk due to the heavy traffic, and you are obligated to take a taxi ; however, they are quite inexpensive and easy to get. I spent the day visiting the market, some shops and even had my hair cut. I spent the night at the DeVille Hotel, a wonderful hotel, where I got my TV fix. The next day, I flew back to Nargana.
We had another coconut caretaker family from Yansaladup visit with us.. I purchased a mola from the mother and gave her a pair of reading glasses which she was happy to receive. We gave candy to their youngest daughter. We visited them on Yansaladup and they gave us some limes. They are pictured below. Some fishermen came by our boat, and we traded gasoline for octopus and lobster.
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