Z E N I T U D E
Blue Water Dreaming
The archipelago formed by the islands of San Blas in the Panamanian Caribbean ocean, also known as the region of Kuna Yala, is a necklace of coral islands which has become a popular destination for cruisers in the Caribbean.
There is little tourism, the so called eco-tourism. Basically, you find lots of cruisers living and trying to help the Kunas to maintain a clean environment and some very few back packer tourists. Here you experience two exciting things: Caribbean islands of spectacular beauty and villages of the Kuna Indians with their fascinating culture and way of life.
San Blas, Panama - The land of the Kuna Yala, a nation within a nation
The impression on arrival to Porvenir, San Blas is incredible, the feeling of having traveled back in time, the wonder of seeing how the Kuna Indians who inhabit this archipelago have remained intact for centuries, their customs, their traditions and their simple lifestyle, it is difficult to imagine.
The scenery, with islands that are formed by the accumulation of coral and are covered with palm trees and white sand beaches is hard to describe.
Kuna women showing their work, the typical molas
Transportation between islands, two options, by sail or by oars
Typical colourful clothing
One of one thousand beaches ...
Cruising around the San Blas Archipelago- 23 February to 16 March 2010
Porvenir - 23 February 2010 - (09.33.50N-78.57.00W)
We arrived at Porvenir, to do the official Panama check in plus the official Kuna Yala permit. In some of the remote islands you need to get special authorization from the island’s Chief to visit and stay with your boat but we are not planning to go that far. The islands for us to visit are already remote enough and unfortunately we do not have enough time to go farther east.
The anchorage in Porvenir is complicated as it is deep and there is not a lot of room, with many boats stopping here when coming and going (check in, check out). Our idea is to get the paper work done and go to another island for the night. It is easier said than done, as we have to wait for the authorities to show up. Eventually they do, in a very relaxed way. The place already looks fantastic, a different world.
There is a cruisers net every morning, there are many boats around but as there are many beautiful anchorages the net is a great way to know where people is, also a way for everybody to help each other as there are no shops in San Blas and trips to Panama city by land are expensive and long. There is also a lot of socializing and the net is the way to let everybody know what is going on.
West Lemmon Cays and Carti
On our first day we went to the West Lemmon Cays in search of a Kuna famous around the cruiser’s community for doing cleaning jobs and we wanted him to do our metal cleaning.
We didn’t find him but we found a very determined woman, adamant for us to take her and her little grandson to Carti, an island with a small Kuna village. She spoke almost not Spanish, just her native language but she made sure we understood, she climbed on deck, sat at the table, pointed to herself and said 'carti, mañana', no doubt she was coming back next day and we were going to take her to Carti.
With our Kuna friends and the promisse of 'chicha fuerte' we set sail towards Carti
Dinghy dock at the village in Carti
When we arrived to the village there was an old Kuna in the dinghy dock, he spoke good Spanish and invited us to come with him. He decided he would show us the village. He took us around the houses, showed us the school, the ‘congress house’, explained how the meetings were held, and how their society worked, showed as the pub, the streets and the houses until we finally were inside his own home, where many family members live. Houses don’t have doors, floors, or internal walls, just curtains, have very basic furniture and no beds, they use hammocks for sleeping. There is no electricity or any modern commodities. There is the interesting fact that houses are built in a way that are cool inside despite the over whelming tropical heat outside.
Their economy focuses mainly on agriculture and fishing. Women are famous for molas which are colorful textile artwork. Their diet consists mostly of plantains, coconuts, and fish. Kuna means “people”. Each community has their own political organization. Basically they go to work (fishing or agriculture) very early every morning and come back early afternoon in time for the daily community meeting at the congress house where all public decisions are made. Apparently this meeting goes for hours where people discuss their problems. We were really impressed with the size and construction of the congress house.
We had the great surprise of finding Peter and Brenda from Eleytheria in the anchorage in Carti. Peter is from Argentina and we met him the first time in Los Roques, Venezuela. We had a good time together during the celebrations and shared a chicha fuerte, offered to us by a Kuna chief as per tradition. After that we all went to the local pub. The day was complete with dinner at Eleytheria where Brenda cooked for us.
The pub in Carti, sharing a good time and many beers
Dance at the festival
East Lemmon Cays, East Hollandes Cays and Coco Banderas
The next couple of weeks were almost like a dream.
Excellent weather, every place better than the one before, great snorkelling, great fishing and on top of that amazing social life among the cruising community with lots of activities, club med style.
We ate fish and crabs that Oscar caught or bought from the Kunas. Twice a week the little barge came to our boat selling fruits and vegetables.
Images of Coco Banderas
East Lemmon Cays
It is time to leave and very sadly we go back to Porvenir to check out from San Blas and head towards Colon and the Panama Canal
San Blas is a collection of more than 365 islands (more than one island for each day of the year) where you can swim and snorkel, dive, kayak or fish.
The islands have been formed by the accumulation of coral and are covered with palm trees and white sand beaches. Different depths and infinite shades of blue and turquoise water, colorful underwater coral gardens, no wild animals and tropical climate make this the perfect cruising grounds.
As soon as we arrive here we wonder why didn't we come to San Blas before.
As it turned out Carti was one of the villages where the Kunas would be celebrating their annual Independence day, in a couple of days. This Kuna lady kept repeating 'chicha fuerte' like something we shouldn't miss and later on we found out that Independence day is the only day of the year when the Kunas are allowed to drink alcohol, and ‘chicha fuerte’ is same as 'kava', the national drink. Early morning the next day she came on board with her grandchild and we set sail towards Carti, to get there a day ahead of the celebrations.
The festival is to celebrate the Dule Revolution and it consists of street plays based on historical facts, dance shows and food and drink. It is considered the most important occasion of the year. It takes place February 21-25 and it celebrates how the Kuna people overtook the Panamanian police.
Eventhough it is hard to say which place was the best, I would probably choose Coco Banderas. It is a fantastic area and there is an outer reef where snorkeling and fishing are fantastic.
It was in Coco Banderas that we met Ze and Sandra from Tutatis. They are from Brazil and we spent many hours together snorkeling, spear fishing and having a fantastic time.
Ze got a big Garouper and Sandra cooked a delicious 'muqueca' that we greatly enjoyed. Oscar caught the biggest crab so far, an it was also delicious.