Thursday, February 25, 2010

San Blas Islands, Panama - First installment

We departed Cartagena on November 21, 2009, bound for the San Blas Islands of Panama, a distance of 150 miles. But first we made an overnight stop at the Islas Rosarios, just 18 miles off Cartagena, so we could scrape off the 1000s of barnacles that had grown on our hulls during the 10 days we had been in the heavily 'enriched' waters of Cartagena harbour.  It  took the 2 of us almost 4 hours but the water was clear a gorgeous.  Next day we left the anchorage and hoisted the spinnaker for a  21 hour overnight sail in light breezes.  Dolphins came to play at dawn.  Our first sighting of Kuna Yala, the native Kuna people's name for the San Blas, was of many low lying islands backed by misty, jungle covered hills of the mainland. In some ways reminiscent of the BC coast.  We worked our way through the reefs and anchored in behind a little palm covered island.  Locals in their dugout canoes, were paddling and sailing all around. They waved, but otherwise ignored us as they went about their business of fishing, lobster diving, heading up river to work their fincas (farms) or off to tend the islands.

 Kuna village with lush mainland hills layered behind. We had to wait a week until the clouds lifted to get a sunny picture - it was the end of the 5 month rainy season.

 Kuna father and son heading home from the fishing grounds.

 A typical San Blas island.  There are many hundreds like this along the hundred km coastline.  The Kunas tend the palms and harvest the coconuts.  Every tree belongs to a village.

 Kuna village waterfront.  The outhouse on the right just hangs out over the water. The reed and thatch houses are densely packed, with only narrow paths between them.  The islands are very low, with typical elevations of only 2-3'.  Storm surge and rising sea levels make fighting erosion a constant job.

The kids are alright!  Kuna kids were very friendly and would run up and take our hands to lead us through their villages.  In contrast to the adults, they loved to have their pictures taken.  Behind them is a dugout canoe or ulu, nearing completion.  Takes a long time with only hand tools.

These guys were up for a game of balloon volleyball - and anything else!

 Molas are the traditional front and back panels which decorate the blouses of Kuna women and have become a renowned form of folk art. They consist of intricate, often geometric designs, created from multiple cut-through layers of fabric and extremely fine embroidery.  One mola can take more than a month to complete.  She was one of only two woman willing to have her picture taken (in the six weeks we there!) and she crouched over so far that her mola can't be seen, though her nose ring can.

 Little girl and her grandmother wearing molas and navy wrap skirts. The grandmother is also wearing the traditional beaded leggings and bracelets.  She allowed us to take her picture because we bought two of her molas.

 Master mola maker, Venancio.  It was difficult to choose from amongst his dozens of fine works. So we bought several - actually, more than several....

 A more modern design with the upper part of the blouse cut away after we bought it.  The bits would be reused.

We should get sails like that!