So after having enjoyed a couple of days of sunshine and no wind and then the weather not being great yesterday, the morning we awoke to begin our adventure to Panama there was a huge storm. In fact there were lightning strikes and the rain was pouring down.
We had packed our bags in bin liners so we were fairly confident our stuff was going to be okay but the weather wasn’t playing the game at all. So all we could do was wait. Still we had loads of people in our group so everyone was just mingling and getting to know each other. This was okay but really we all were getting a bit worried that we were going to have to stay another night in Sapzurro.
I wouldn’t say that the weather completely cleared but it lessened enough for us to pack the boats up and leave. Now these weren’t especially big boats by any stretch of the imagination but the captains were born and bred locals so we had faith. It was a fairly rough journey and we were completely soaked by a combination of the rain and the waves but we made it finally to border control in Panama.
Now I do respect the fact that the border point we were crossing at has had a lot to deal with in the past. It is one of the main access points for smuggling drugs north towards America. There were lots of “wanted” pictures on the walls of some fairly suspicious looking characters. So we were expecting to be given a thorough search and inspection.
Well it turns out that the soldiers manning the border didn’t do anything thoroughly except waste time!! It took a good couple of hours to simply get our passports stamped!! We were first in the queue! There was also hardly any cover so we were all huddled under a small tarp with our bags waiting to get to these fantastic islands we had been promised.
But still the soldiers would not do anything!! It wasn’t as if they weren’t going to let us into Panama it was just that they seemed to refuse to start the process. It was obvious though that the more we pushed about speeding the process up the slower they would go, so all we could do was wait and hope that the weather cleared.
Eventually we got through and the weather looked to be clearing on the horizon so we were off to paradise.
The San Blas is an archipelago of about 360 islands all protected by a reef and when the sun comes out they look absolutely fantastic!! The Kuna people live on and own the islands and usually a family will own its own island where the principle produce is coconuts and the principle pastime is fishing.
The first island we stopped at was a private island with only a volleyball court and a hut on it. In the hut they sold beer. Just perfect. The sun came out and we all enjoyed a swim in the crystal clear waters. We ate a late lunch of chicken and rice cooked in banana leaves and then spent the rest of the afternoon snorkelling. The place was just perfect.
We were spending the night in a town called Caledonia which had 900 inhabitants and was on another small island on its own. On arrival we were greeted by the locals performing a ceremonial dance and Marco, our guide, gave us a brief run down on the Kuna people and their traditions in this village. They are a matriarchal society. Their main source of income is lobster, fishing, panning for gold on the main land and also they find packages of drugs floating in the ocean that people have dumped and they pick them up and sell them to the mainlanders. There is a slight issue with rubbish with the Kuna’s as they believe that everything eventually must go back to the ocean. Which was all well and good until plastic, aluminium and glass started making its way onto the islands. They are slowly realising the effect it has on the environment and the clean up has been made easier by the fact that you can get money for every plastic bottle and aluminium can you collect.
The kids were all very excited to see us but we didn’t see much of the adults. We were each charged a dollar to use our cameras and then we were told to negotiate with anyone we wanted to take a picture of.
The kids were absolutely fascinated with us and we soon worked out that the best way to take pictures was to give one of them the camera and let them start happily snapping away! The girl we gave our camera to ended up wanting to see the pictures she had taken. Once we had shown here she started flicking through all of our photos and soon was surrounded, with us trying to explain where everything was.
After enjoying some conch for dinner. (Not sure how my conscience is coping with that decision). The evening descended into drinking and carrying on with everyone in the group. These trips are always fantastic but certainly made better when the other people you are doing it with are good value. This bunch certainly were.
The most amusing comment of the evening occurred when I met Rufus who also went to the RGS Guildford. After the initial chat I casually wondered what year he would have been in when I was there. He asked what year I left school and promptly announced that he wouldn’t have even been born!!! Much to everyone’s amusement!! T
Not the best start to the adventure!
A brief lull in the rain and we packed up the boats and headed for the Panama border.
Slightly soggy but still in good spirits.
We then transferred onto our actual boats that we would have for the 4 days. We met our Kuna boat captains and off we went to our first island in the San Blas about an hour and a half away.
The Panama border control. Pretty sure it would be rather easy to just drive your boat out a bit and enter Panama a little further down.
The first view of a Kuna village.
The building on the left perched out over the water is the toilet. All of their houses had this. Needless to say we had to be a little careful where we swum.
The island just around the corner from the village were we had our lunch and a relaxed for afternoon
We went for a snorkel around the island and there was some amazing coral.
I spotted this on the snorkel out. We think it is the conch eating the star fish but we are not 100% sure.
Back at the Kuna village, this was our lodging. Very basic and the bed was a little musty smelling and we may have seen a rat running around but it was still great.
The view through the toilet!
The Kuna people performing their traditional dance. The ladies wear these amazing beaded calf and forearm cuffs to show that they are married. They are sewn on and are constantly worn.
Kids were everywhere! The Kuna were recently given solar panels by the Panamanian government so they have tv now and interestingly enough the number of children has decreased.
A few shots from around the village.
The little girl who took our camera and proceeded to make us show her all our photos.