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Published: October 22nd 2018
The San Blas islands are a group of 378 islands located in the Northwest of Panama facing the Caribbean Sea. Only 49 of the islands are inhibited by indigenous Kuna people. The Kuna tribes got their independence from Panama in 1925 and now is an autonomous region of Panama.
We took a 12 seater single prop airplane and flew 45 minutes from Panama City to the small Playon Chico Airport. Our guide Thomas was there waiting for us. A short boat ride dropped us at the Yandup (boar) Island. This ‘quaint resort’ constituted of 12 bungalows, one large dinning hut, a small sand beach and a boat dock. All the meals and two activities a day are included in the package. We got our bungalow with beautiful Mola pillows and hand quilted bed cover. Two hammocks and one rocking chair were on the veranda and we used them for our afternoon siesta. The power and hot water were provided by solar but there wasn’t any internet, WiFi or TV. We were totally unplugged from the world for 3 whole days, slept in until the diving pelicans woke us up. The meals were simple but adequate with lots of fresh seafoods.
Laying in the hammocks reading, watching local fisherman diving for lobster or fishing were some of our afternoon activitie. Ray and I couldn’t remember when was the last time we ever stayed put and totally relax for such a long time.
We joined a Canadian family and a couple from Columbia for our first daily snorkel trip. The white sand beach was nice but no bright colored corel nor brilliant tropical fish to speak off. I did put in a few nice long swim in the ocean. Thomas picked up star fish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers to show us. We also met an old man who stayed on his island for a month at a time to harvest coconuts. He showed us his hut and his kitchen where he smoked fish. He also artistically arranged corel and driftwood for his entertainment. I found some beautiful Nile lilies on this island.
One afternoon we visited the Kuna village where I finally met the local ladies who made bright colored Molas. Molas are hand-made using a reverse applique technique. Several layers of different-coloured cloth are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting away parts of each layer.
The edges of the layers are then turned under and sewn down. One picture shows the intricate technique of this fabric art. Molas have their origin in body painting. Only after colonization by the Spanish and contact with missionaries did the Kuna start to transfer their traditional geometric designs on fabric.
The total population of Kuna are between 50,000 to 70,000. The villages we visited has over 3000 residents and 60% are children. The community is governed by 3 chiefs and conflicts and issues are resolved in the large community building. Many ladies display their molars by their homes and I purchased 3 with various animal designs. These art works usually take anywhere between 2 weeks to a month to complete so $20 a piece is really a bargain. I took a picture of 3 sisters whom no ones knows how old they are. They have tattoos on their face and red blush on their cheeks to protect them from sun burn. We also saw several pale skin, blond hair children whom we took as missionary children. Later we found out that due to inbreeding, Kuna people have high rates of albino birth. The villagers consider these children are
special and only they are allowed to go outside during lunar eclipses to shoot down the dragon that ate the moon. How interesting!
The major income for the villagers is harvesting coconut, selling molas and lobsters fishing. We enjoyed a fresh lobster dinner at the lodge before a beautiful sunset. What a memory we will take with us of this tranquil paradise !
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