Thursday, July 5, 2012

Paradise aka Kuna Yala

The San Blas Islands.
The indigenous people that live here, the Kuna’s, call their home Kuna Yala. This was the name of the archipelago of tiny islands that dot southern Panama, long before the Spaniards arrived. Officially a part of Panama, the Kuna Indians have ruled autonomously over their islands for hundreds of years.
As we dropped anchor at Porvenir, a rustic dugout canoe containing two very diminutive ladies, pulled up alongside. The Kuna are physically small, rivalled only by the Pygmies of Africa. They were draped in multi-coloured dress, adorned with colourful bracelets and nose rings, and decorated with tattoos. They spoke a strange language, but soon we realized the purpose for their visit. They waved brightly embroidered and appliquéd squares of fabric, known as  ‘Molas’, a traditional local handicraft. These tiny, wizened old ladies are very persistent, and we purchased two items before they happily paddled off.
 Later we met Venancio, Master Mola maker and a real entrepreneur, who spoke English, and told us he had been perfecting this fine art for thirty five years. His beautiful Molas reflected the delicacy and elaboration of the traditional style. He drove a hard bargain but we eventually settled for one in return for some cash, half a bag of cookies, and a pair of reading glasses for his mother.
The view before us was almost surreal in its’ perfection; miniature white sand islets dotted with palm trees and grass huts, shimmering in a pool of aqua-marine waters. The Kuna are a matrilineal society where women control the decisions of their daily lives. They are forbidden from marrying outside the tribe, and there are a noticeable number of albinos in the villages. Cross-dressing is also culturally acceptable, and you may see men dressed as women, wearing jewelry and face paint.  The villages are a random assortment of bamboo walled huts with sand floors and palm-leaf roofs.
It is difficult to imagine how these simple island folk have adapted to, not only the influx of cruisers with their sailboats visiting the San Blas, but more recently the invasion of cruise ships, which often are bigger than the islands!  After seeing their photos on tourist stands in Panama the Kuna now often charge $1.00 for having their pictures taken.
Glug, Glug, Glug!
The snorkeling here at Chichime Island is amazing! At first it appeared that the only sea life on display was the usual sardines and a few very elegant Starfish. But descend a little deeper and an entire world of undersea delights appear: angel fish with black and yellow stripes, glittering mauve and purple flatfish that become paper thin when turned sideways, golden smiling sunfish, fish with both eyes on one side, polka dot fish, fish with just one giant black dot, schools of glowing silver and white fish (Piranha’s?!), all darting in and out of a living coral reef! Worlds within worlds.  Bite me! I think I even saw Nemo.


  1. Glad to see the canal passage went well. By your SPOT check in it appears you have also made it safely to your summer destination!
    I'll be in Seattle August 24th - 30th and will drop you a note. Maybe I'll be able to catch a ferry over for a day visit!


  2. Hey Nikki and John,
    Yes! Mission accomplished!We arrived in Cartagena a few days ago. It's a beautiful, old walled city from the sixteenth century. Tell you all about it when we see you in Victoria! Cheers. C and D (no GP!)