Comarca de Guna Yala, San Blas Panama
17 December 2016 | Isla Nargana
The Comarca de Guna Yala is a narrow, 226km-long strip on the Caribbean coast that includes the Archipiélago de San Blás, which stretches from the Golfo de San Blás to the edge of the Colombian border. The islands are home to the Guna, with a population of 34k, who run San Blás as a comarca (autonomous region) with minimal interference from the national government. While the majority of these islands are magazine-cover beauties, the Guna choose to inhabit only a handful of acre-sized cays, which are crowded with bamboo huts and people. The Guna have chosen to live in these crowded conditions which lends itself to its incredible sense of community and identity that has allowed the Guna to achieve their remarkable degree of independence.
Our first entry into the San Blas was at Punta Brava and our time in the San Blas was short, so we've been selective and spent either end of a few days at each of these locations: Maniputu (traditional Guna village), Achuputu (traditional Guna village; cost effective Mola's), Isla Tigre (traditional Guna village), Nargana (larger non-traditional Guna village; reasonable provisions) and the Rio Diablo (3nm dinghy ride up the fresh water river), Tupile (non-traditional Guna village), Coco Bandero Cays, Islas Maqui (aka Cayos Holandes; our favorite - which reminded me of our time spent in Chagos however without coconut crabs and abundant fish); Cayos Chichime.
Just hanging out in secluded anchorages with the sound of the surf crashing over the protective reefs, a few other neighborly yachts, clear waters and palm islands was great and just what our old souls missed. Its places like this that we can just chillax, swim, dive for weeks.
Our impressions of the Guna Indians are indeed that they are a friendly, social and spirited people. We were glad to have met many and fortunate that a few spoke some English. Some notables; Benico, the Saila (chief) on Achuputu, who spoke soft spoken, well phrased English, as one would only expect from the superior Saila - we chatted and he later gave his permission to visit his island village; an elderly man in his ulu (dugout) who needed reading glasses that we gladly gave him (along with a home made lunch); Sammy, a retired Spanish school teacher from Oklahoma, now back at home on Nargana with his children and grand children - ever helpful and full of info on the insights of the Kuna culture and daily life; friendly Fredrico, also on Nargana, who's met most cruisers as he offers his various services. And the locals who invited us into their cozy homes to see their home made Molas and bead work. Let me not forget Venancio the master mola maker, whose detailed art work is impressive and whom we bought two more mola's from - beautiful work (Rose spent a lot of time negotiating with him!).
It's meandering through the maze of treacherous reefs and bommies that highlight how much I love the upper helm position of our Lagoon 450! The surface visibility of the water in the nearshore regions is dodgy at best, worse after a rain and while following published waypoints (E. Bauhaus guide; Ed 5), constant glancing at the depth sounder, you still need to keep a constant eye out. The outer islands and cays with improved water visibility made it easier to see and dodge the hazards.
What is horrendous is the amount of trash that is floating around this region; on and along the shores of the villages, dumped into the sea. On the island villages it seems there is no discipline or will or laws to have locals clean up their mess - its scattered everywhere; they throw full garbage bags into the water. Its astonishing. At sea, some of this garbage and flotsam just arrives in with the westerly winds and currents from the rest of the Caribbean - this is the end of the road for it - this can be blamed all the other nations! But its a pretty disappointing sight and takes away from the beauty of this location.
A few events ....
Rose is certainly picking up on the scuba - she has now completed a few of dives while in Bonaire and now here in Cayos Holandes. Her fear of depth, and heights, is slowing being overcome!
Found a water leak on the upper deck which found its way into the aft toilet woodwork and down to the port bilge. Earlier, I was wondering why the bilge went off more often during the rain. Took a bit of exploratory digging around but eventually found it, cleaned out the old sealant and replaced it with 3M5200 - hopefully never to emerge again! Fixing your boat in exotic locations?!
Officially we are in the (start of) dry season but mother nature didn't pick up on this calendar date! Its been mostly overcast and thundery during our time here. Lots of lightening around, squalls. We had one significant squall blow directly over us while at anchor near Achtuputu - lightening and cracking and downpours. Scared the shit out of me!
I also spent some time getting our ducks in a row for the Panama Canal transit as we will be doing this without an agent. We are planning to transit the canal before the new year - should all go well!
See the selection of photos in the Gallery (San Blas).