Memories of Cruising: San Blas Islands

So many unimaginable experiences in this lifestyle called cruising…..   For our friends headed to Kuna Yala (the San Blas Islands of Panama), click the links below to enjoy our experiences, we wish we were going with you!

Kuna loading plantains.

Kuna loading plantains.

Everything about Kuna Yala is fascinating … the fact is that the Kuna have maintained their culture through the Spanish invasions in the 1500’s through the Panamanians in 1925 and continue to struggle every day to integrate the world into their way of life.

Skilled boat carvers are often tribal elders and this gentleman was no exception.

Skilled boat carvers are often tribal elders and this gentleman was no exception.

There’s nothing like anchoring your floating home in a unique culture’s “neighborhood” and literally living in that neighborhood for however long you choose to stay.  Cruisers experience culture differently than most other travelers.  We get to actually LIVE there and if we choose, get to know the people, their neighborhood, their culture.  It’s a privilege and an honor!  But appreciating it makes most cruisers want to give back to the communities they experience, but how?

Adorable (and persistent) mola salesperson at Achutupu in the far Eastern San Blas

Adorable (and persistent) mola salesperson at Achutupu in the far Eastern San Blas

Tips to Enjoy Interacting With Local Culture  Our favorite, the Kuna culture of Panama was reinforced by our first experience anchoring beside the easternmost isolated traditional village, Anachucana.  Unlike modern day indigenous cultures, the Kuna’s relative isolation has allowed them to preserve their culture and traditions far beyond similar cultures.

There's no doubt the islands are picture perfect, but it's the people that made it even better for us...

There’s no doubt the islands are picture perfect, but it’s the people that made it even better for us…

Two books, I highly recommend – unfortunately both are out of print, but we were able to get both via online used bookstores – first “The Art of Being Kuna” by Mari Lyn Salvadore, all about molas, history, the meaning, the making, types of molas accompanied with beautiful photography.  And for a fascinating history of how the Kuna were able to preserve their culture in today’s world, “A People Who Would Not Kneel” by James Howe.

Master Mola Maker Venacio in his home village of Maquina with his sister.  This mola is framed on the wall - artwork to be treasured!

Master Mola Maker Venacio in his home village of Maquina with his sister. This mola is framed on my wall – artwork to be treasured!

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to See Molas  Experiences in Playon Chico, a less traditional (or so we thought) Kuna Village

San Blas Cruising Reality:  Heaven With Challenges  A collection of thoughts, photos and places in the San Blas Islands.

Traditional cayucos are carved out of a single log and have sails pieced together out of any material available.

Traditional cayucos are carved out of a single log and have sails pieced together out of any material available.

Every Kuna Village Has A Story     Every Kuna village has a story, all of them different and all fascinating.  Some we like, some we don’t, but all are different.  We’ve now visited six Kuna villages, Isla Pino was the smallest with under 300 residents, then Anachucana with 600 Kuna, then Caledonia with 1,200 and now Achutupu with 3,000.  We had incorrectly assumed that the smallest villages would be the most interesting from a cultural perspective, but each village has it’s own personality.

This young man ran out of gas on his way home and traded us this huge crab for a gallon of gas.

This young man ran out of gas on his way home and traded us this huge crab for a gallon of gas.

Please Mr Big Bad Wolf, Let Go of My Isobars  Weather and the San Blas Islands

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The “waterslide” Hot Tub/Holendes Cayes. Current rips between the islands, perfect for swimming along the mangroves up and then letting the current drift you back – watching the sharks, eagle rays and other fish 10 feet below.

Super Bowl Sunday Cruiser Style  Cruising Super Bowls through the years … halfway down is our San Blas Islands Super Bowl Party.  It should come as no surprise that the rest of the world doesn’t understand American Football.  But by far the best was 2008 in Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands), Panama.  The little Kuna villages mostly didn’t have any electricity and lived in bamboo huts with grass roofs.  Then our “organizing committee” decided we should find a place to watch the Super Bowl and the adventure was launched!  First we had to find a village with electricity — enter Nargana and Corazon de Jesus.  We enlisted a Kuna friend, Frederico to help….

The Pelican Ballet:  San Blas Islands  One of my favorite magical moments cruising the San Blas Islands of Panama was the evening the kamikaze pelican’s treated us to The Pelican Ballet.

Enjoy your visit, tread lightly and give back when you can.    Cheers!  Jan

 

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