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SAN BLAS, THE MYSTERIOUS DARIAN GAP AND THE KUNA TRIBES, 21 FRIENDS FOR LIFE

PANAMA | Thursday, 16 January 2014 | Views [348]

San Blas Islands, small boat, lots of people, heavy backpacks, HUGE WAVES

If that doesn´t explain enough, just let me…

San Blas islands are a covetted área of well protected land inhabited by a few tribes mostly known as the Kuna people. They have maintained more distance from the developed world than many tribes around the world, however they do participate in some means of business which helps their survival on the very remote lands they inhabit called the Durian Gap. This área between Panama and Colombia is extremely rural and is rarely crossed directly via land mostly because the guerillas of colombia do their dangerous business in this area in the decades past. It is therfore typically a gateway for travellers to enter Colombia at sea. During the process of the 4 day journey to the country to the south, travellers of all walks of the world, but mostly Canadians (approx 14 of the 21) boarded two very small boats for a rough ride, lots of adventure, and a very bonding experience.

DAY 1

Early morning hours before, where about 4 of us meet outside of Lunas Castle  (the most popular hostel in P. City) at 5am with red eyes and barely a wink of sleep. Mostly that was because panamá was celebrating their typical 15th day of the month pay day meaning big party and happy hour in the bar below. Maybe this wouldn´t be so bad except that the alcohol led to a lot of lets say, bedroom exercise in a not so private setting, one couple even decided to participate atop a bunk bed with my friend in anquish below…come on seriously!!!

7 of us plus a driver crammed into a small jeep with lots of bags tied to the roof. For the next hour and a half, the group sat in anquish as people who never felt car sick held their bellies and I covered my mouth, head dangling by the window as I tried to hold on to all hope that I wouldn´t gush. Our driver could care less about anything but time so going through winding hills with climbs of a hundred feet while winding left to right at 90degrees meant nothing….why wait to pass the person in front of us on this blind corner when you could just save a little time by whizzing past with fingers crossed.

Our group was comprized of mostly canadians from many provinces, including a 3 piece male trio band ``Tcha Badjo`` from french canada who was travelling the world in their motorhome. Other members included a talented musician a very liberal and creative artist named Kurtz with a hard southern drawl straight from Texas, a hilarious couple from holland, and a few other characters like the sophisticated smart a$$ kiwi named Bryce.

After 2 hours, we arrive to our first uninhabited island, people could barely wait for the boats to dock before plunging into the crystal sea. We had to be careful though because the sand below was litterally covered by giant start fish and shells. The conches that were on the beach were so heavy, that lifting them in one hand was a challenge. I felt like lordess of the flies holding one.

Meals were great for a day or two, theyd arranged for a papaya 2 feet long for my first few meals, still fruit binging. I thought islands would be my best friend…wrong! Little did I know, you would be lucky to find a banana anywhere within a few miles, have as many fatty coconuts that you can retrieve though…I never thought I could be so tired of coconuts…I could live happily without another one for a year now.

We leave the island and arrive at the village of our first Kuna families. These Kunas were sort of on the cusp of civilization, although their culture remains, living in bamboo and grass hut homes, cooking atop live fire, grabbing their meals from the sea, they do wear our style clothing and love to talk to the gringos. A game of barefoot on cement futbol erupts within minutes so I sit to watch the men play with the boys, except the Kuna boys were more like the men, one boy decides to score by doing a backward overhead kick straight into the goal landing his back on cement, no harm. He prances away doing his victory dance, leaving the gringo men to feel the defeat and one of our Austrian compadres with a huge chunk of skin gone from his underfoot.

I sit with little chickas who talk to me in spanish I barely understand but finally realize they want to know how I have made my hair, and is it fake. They obsess over the dreadlocks and start to braid all the straight parts, look for the photo below. I braid their hair too in a style they´ve never seen and they are soo excited to show their cousins….who must be everyone on the island, I get the feeling interbreeding is common here…they must because where can you go to find a mate, you´re on an island!

After and hour i whip out my hula hoops to perform while the  bass player of the Canadian band, Tcha Badjo, teaches the kuna boys to sing as he strums beautifully singing some Bob Marley hits with a slight French undertone. I make great progress with the kids and the hoops and even teach 2 of the girls 4 tricks in a few hours.

Dinner presents 24 huge lobsters who are so beautiful, but fully dead on plates, and me with a gigantic papaya and banana fruit salad. We enter the sess pool of hammocks, seriously like 15 in one room, everyone is touching their neighbors. We barely sleep, interupted by horrid sounds as if someone is dying, one of the boat crew has some serious breathing problems and I cannot say he is even snoring, more like an animal who has climbed into his throat and is suffering a painful death. We are laughing at 2am at the pain we are suffering from lack of sleep and complete and utter torcher from this guy who lays next to me but refuses to wake up even while I kick him. oh well.

Morning yoga in the kids park, fruit salad breakfast…bathrooms that are tin boxes above the sea where you can watch your waste below you be consumed by the fish…sorry for the details but again look at the photos below to understand why any sane person would never swim near their shores.

DAY 2

This morning at sea was complete torture as the winds blew and the sea was rough. Swells of over 4 meters were near us as we held tight to the boat. The boat flew out of the wáter at least 10 times and at first it was an adventure, after being drenched by wáter, having no sign of land and a butt in pain, all of us were over this experience, I´d rather swim to the next island than be overturned in this small boat.

Finally land, a beautiful and large island with a meadow of coconuts. We laugh over the idea of aqua dumping, which is apprently required because Kuna law says no one is allowed to put waste into the land. hahaha

The night is brought in with the best time of the trip. 2 guitars, 6 singer songwriters, and a few on the spot instruments of jugs, sticks, and spoons makes for a great jam. For hours we sit listening to music of gypsy russia, hippie texan groove, and french inspired love songs. The group climbs coconut trees in anquish, harder than you think, as everyone cracks open coconuts and adds rum for the true malibu dreamy drink.

Everyone gets a bit toasted into the dark as we all gather firewood and créate a blazing flame for smoores and songs. Several people have never had the tasty treat and think we northamericans are insane, but it doesn´t stop them from consuming two large bags of mellows and a few kilos of chocolate. We scatter our hammocks and I rock the night away with the flames in my periferal and the stars above my coconut tree bed.

DAY 3

As sun rises I practice  yoga and watch as people try to be secretive as they waddle at 6am into the ocean for an aqua dump before other people awake...oh the things you can experience during meditation.

Sea is not so horrible today but our final island isn´t the best as we arrive to a very small island with barely any shade. At this point, I have barely any fruit for lunch, and I am ready to get to shore as are my sun burnt friends. A finally group photos session (see photos) and we are headed to our last village.

The final village we get to stay at is wonderfully organic. Women dress in mola fabrics which are sewn paintings, their arms and legs are covered in beaded leg and arm wamer type of things, most women have their septem peirced and they shy away from us besdies a few who help with tourists. The homes again are grass huts but this village has a solar panel atop every roof. An investment panama made when tourist industry through the islands boomed last year. These kunas live simply, but it´s apparent, this is not your ordinary village, they are extremely wealthy. Makes you wonder how...they boarder colombia by a few kilometers, so take your guess.

Unlike the othe kunas, the kids hide their faces and run away. Apparently as we take photos, we steal their soul so the kids are afraid of us. Walking through the village we hear moaning and crying from a hut shoved with kunas and find out that a man has just died. Earie feeling. Apparently the body will be boated aroudn the island for mourning and eventually be taken to an island for burrying the dead.

Dinner brings me a big bowl of canned dowl fruit covered in corn syrup and a parrot sitting on my shoulder licking the salt from my hair for at least a half hour. So funny. Another hammock night but a great nights rest.

DAY 4

We rise very early for an hour long ride to the boarder where we all unload our bags lay them on cement and watch as drug sniffing dogs rummage our things and our passports are questioned. We all manage to escape drug prosecutions and are allowed back onto the boat and headed for colombia!!

We stay the night in Capurgana, a sleepy touristy town with lots of hippies who have landed here and aren´t leaving any time soon. They crouch on streets selling hand woven bracelets while the mule drawn carriages trot past. No cars in Capurgana, very nice. Tomorrow our troup of 19 people head to Cartagena as a big team awesome!

DAY 5

We are so stressed out by all the on and off boat transfers, pained bodies, achy bums, and stressful local mentality. But our team now like a big family was so supportive and kind to oneanother. Such a blessing to know them all.

Now getting our 3 hours boat ride into colombia was a huge mess. You have to pay for each bags weight and wait in a huge mess of disorganized people. Basically the boats were flooded with extras so although we were supposed to be aboard the first or 2nd big and safer boats, we landed on a much small boat crammed with about 30+bodies. An amazingly fast and somewhat bumpy ride causes yet another painful bum.

In the land of Turbo, we fill an entire bus with our crew of 15 now and we all head into Cartagena on yet another very dangerous blind corner winding 4 hour ride that should have taken 5 1/2 hours. Getting a hostel for us all was a bit tricky and we all scatter into the late night for very expensive hostels in the most expensive city in Colombia.

Cartagena so far is my favorite city abroad...and this is another journal, another day..

 

sorry for the detail,,,but ya really had to be there.

 

 

Tags: atlantic ocean, colombia, darian cap, panama, san blas, tcha badjo

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