Monthly Archives: September 2014
Nuthin But Islands
Kuna Tribe Story #2
The second time we spent with the Kuna tribes was actually never supposed to happen… I’ve already written about the storm that I thought would literally claim my life and that we ended up having to stay an extra day on the islands, taking shelter nearby one because of the storm. Well, it was because of that storm that we got to have some more time with the indigenous tribe.
In the morning after the storm I remember waking and getting out onto the deck. Circling the sailboat in canoes were tribesmen. I went to alert one of the crew and after a chat with them, we all learned that we had been invited onto the island for a look-see. Apparently not far from where we had docked for the night in the storm another boat had been, but sadly had suffered a different fate… For it ended up sinking and having seen this occur the Kuna people had been busy all morning going back and forth from the sinking boat collecting goods aboard it. Since we were on the way, they stopped in to say hello!
The funny thing here is that unlike the previous island and tribe, this second island was much more advanced! The first island only had a few shelters in the “town” which were basically just the homes of the tribe. The second island by comparison basically had a proper town with a school, several houses with yards, shops of sorts, and even roads (albeit unpaved:))!!
We canoed our way onto the island where we were invited on by a very chatty native. He was young, only about 20 but was already married with a couple of kids. You could tell this guy really knew business and how to work people! He was charming and proud of his home and his village and he knew how to get what he needed or wanted to support his family and village. He showed us around the village and even showed us inside his own home. Now, in order to take pictures even of the people or the village, we had to ask permission. It is considered very rude to take pictures of the people and their homes or villages without their consent first. So while I did ask permission to take pictures and was granted permission, I won’t include any that may have people in them to respect the tribes people. However, I do really, REALLY with I was able to take a picture of the inside of the guys house… The outside was basic, just cane tied together to form walls and leaves as a roof… However, when you stepped inside you noticed a dirt floor, several hammocks hanging (one for each member of the family) a chest of drawers and on top of the drawers…. A 50″ flat screen TV!!!! Not kidding either!!! The place was absolutely basic to the bones in every respect and then there was a brand new flat screen TV…. Seriously made me laugh!! And once again supported that the guy knew business!! Apparently he would go onto the mainland of Panama every so often and pick up supplies for the village…
Anyway, that was that. We wandered the island and village, had some coffee at the house of our host then got canoed back to our ship so we could travel on.
Time with the Kuna Tribes
The fist time we spent some time with the Kuna indigenous tribes was on our second or third day. We were invited to have a lobster dinner on the island with the tribe. Before dinner we basically spent our day wandering the island and snorkeling the waters. I found a shell that I wanted to keep, so I kept it with me to later ask the chief if it was ok that I kept it (he said yes:))
Now, while most of the islands are absolute paradise, one must also keep in mind the currents. The currents tend to bring trash from the ocean and basically dump that trash onto portions of the island. The tribes basically just burn all their trash (since they don’t make much of it to begin with) and to my knowledge don’t clean up the trashed areas from the currents. So not to get back up on my soap box here, but really if any of you reading this make it to the San Blas Islands, please be cognizant of the waste you produce and leave behind. Otherwise some of that waste that is neglectfully dumped in the ocean could ruin an otherwise perfect island vacation… I’m just saying lets all do our part!! 🙂
Ok, I’m done with that rant… Anyway, so as night came we went onto the island and had a lobster dinner caught fresh and prepared for us that evening!! Of course we did have to pay a small fee for the dinner (another way the tribe makes money) but it was worth it:) Just to have the experience of that nature, it was worth it!! The people of the tribe weren’t necessarily very social by any means, rather they were quite shy in a lot of ways, but they were very courteous and pleasant! The island chief ate a little distance away from us sitting near a campfire and an old TV set. I don’t recall it actually being on, but there was an old radio nearby that was… There was a game on that night… LOL!!
Anyway, the evening was basically spent enjoying the food and the company. At one point I wandered off to the water and once again became mesmerized as I watched little waves crash on the shore, each one lit up by that ever beautiful phosphorescent algae!! I wandered in a bit as well just to play my hands in the water, disturbing the surface to make my own glowing shapes in the sea. So peaceful and beautiful!! And talk about a night sky!! My goodness!!!! So brilliantly full of shimmering lights… I thought I was impressed with the night sky of Puerto Viejo, but my goodness, literally being in the middle of “nowhere” with no lights coming from anywhere except a bonfire, that night sky really glows!! It was just a very awe-inspiring moment for sure.
Before leaving for the night, myself and the German woman bought an anklet from the tribe women. I still have mine on my ankle to this day, and it’s now been over 2 years since I’ve been to the islands! I figured that when it fell off naturally that would be it but its still holding on strong! On our way back to the boat the boys started a little bonfire for us to hang around as we waited for our “taxi” back to the boat:)
Not a huge story here… Just a little fun story about how the regular crew of the sailboat sometimes killed time on the boat… They had actually quite the impressive array of nail polishes!! And to busy themselves when nothing else was really going on they would paint their nails! So on one day when myself and the German woman were also looking to kill time, we asked if we could join the fellas in painting our nails too:) They shared their loot of polishes with us and we began the fun times of painting our nails colors and designing random images or symbols on each nail. At one point I painted one of my nails black with a white skull and crossbones… The crew noticed this and each ended up wanting one of their own! So for the next, at least half hour or so, I was busy painting skulls and crossbones on fingers and toes of the crew boys, lol!! Just a fun time! You can see pictures of the nail “art” in the pictures section:)
On to Time with the Kuna tribes
Storms, glorious storms! And a sparrow?
Another reason I’m quite glad we really didn’t have any days really going way out into the ocean was because of the storms… aside from the night that we left Portobello, we pretty much had a storm every night thereafter. Now personally, I absolutely LOVE thunder and lightning storms!! It’s actually a criteria of where I live! If the place doesn’t have sufficient thunderstorms year round, I won’t survive there long. But I digress…
The first storm that we traveled through is where the sparrow comes in… The Captain of the sailboat (the American) absolutely cracked me up!! As the winds whistled violently through the air sloshing the boat one direction then the next he stood at the helm, legs wide so to have a solid stance. His bandana over his head flapping in the wind. As the rain came down on our heads he held a cigarette in one hand and a glass of rum in the other all while he held the wheel and jerked it this way and that against the force of the wind! Periodically he would release one hand from the wheel to take a drag or sip of his booze, then on again he went. He literally looked like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean with Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm through the storm! I couldn’t help but just watch him in awe and absolute humor! Seriously wish I had a video of that!!
So that was one of the storms… Other storms we had while simply trying to stay off shore of an island for a night. But with the currents and wind we had to keep moving around so we wouldn’t get pushed too close into the shore. The lightning and thunder was absolutely glorious and I never felt any fear whatsoever until one particular storm…
It was on the night before we were supposed to be in our docking area to get “smuggled” into Columbia. Because of this storm we had to pull in to another island area that was more protected from the ocean. It worked in our favor after all because we got to spend yet another day/night in the islands. Anyway, I had gone to bed before the storm struck but was woken at some point during the night by the sounds going on around me. As I opened my eyes, the first thing I really noticed and registered was the severe rocking of the sailboat. The German woman and I were given the room at the very front of the sailboat and in the room, aside from small windows along the side was a window on the roof that essentially went on the top deck. Essentially what I saw was nothing but rushing water through the side windows and at times the windows were completely submerged. The top window, as the nose of the boat dove deep into the water from the waves, had a steady stream of water rushing back and forth over top. The whooshing sound and the up and down rocking as the nose dove over and over again into the ocean was already quite a concerning feeling. Then the sounds from the living area started to register. I looked behind to the living area to see one of the crew members holding on to any surface he could to stay standing. Plates and pots and pans and food and literally all other contents of the cabinets in the living and kitchen area started clashing and clattering to the ground as the violence of the boat movement was simply too much for the cabinet latches to keep everything shut. The crew member tried over and over in vain to rig the cabinets to latch closed…
At this point, a very real realization came to mind. I thought honestly, that this was it. We weren’t going to make it. There was no way this little sailboat could make it through what sounded such a violent lashing from the ocean. As I thought about how this could literally be the end, a thought occurred to me. I had no control over the situation. There was absolutely nothing I could do. So if in fact it was to be the end, I wouldn’t be afraid but simply would think about those I loved. The fear of the situation then subsided and I fell back into a deep sleep.
The next morning I woke to another day. We docked near another island not too far from the Columbian border and spent the day visiting the Kuna indigenous people of that island. I will certainly never forget that particular storm…