Arrival 12 March 2014
Lack of support for the canal from Columbia and political maneuvering from President Roosevelt lead in 1903 to Panama's declaration of independence from Columbia. A treaty with the US followed, permitting a third attempt to construct the canal, this time by by the US. This attempt was successful and in 1914 the canal was opened. In 1999 the administration of the canal was taken over solely by Panama.
Apart from being synonymous with the canal the country also is home to the Kuna one of the few indigenous Indian cultures in the world who have refused to be influenced by the western world. As a result they now have some of the most ecologically balanced environments there are. Like their Kogi Indian neighbors, they are followers of 'Aluna' ! The Kuna live in an area to the east of Panama on the mainland and 340 islands known as Kuna Yala or San Blas. The islands are the most pristine white sand islands in the Caribbean which in beauty and weather equal many islands found in the Pacific.
12 March 2014
We staged the passage from Islas del Rosario, 12NM south of Cartegena where we waited for favorable winds. We followed a straight line to the Holandes Cays, San Blas with 20kts of wind stern of the beam. With speeds averaging well over 8kts, sometimes 14kts, we covered the 180NM in 24 hours. For the first time while in Columbian waters we experienced the rough short following seas which the coast is known for.
We sailed with 2 reefs to slow us down and made landfall during early daylight hours. We have the 4th edition of Eric Bauhaus´s pilot-book and Richard had scanned the charts into our chart plotter. Neither Navionics nor Jepesen have sufficient details on their charts of the area. Eric Bauhaus is a young German Sailor who surveyed this area with his father, his guidebook is a must when sailing the Kuna Yala and going through the Panama canal.
We anchored near the most popular area in the Kuna Yala, what is known as "the swimming pool" near the BBQ Island. The number of boats there surprised us, we counted well over 30 boats while approaching the chain of islands. Islands near the mainland you can have to yourself, the water might be not as clear and the islands perhaps mangrove and bug infested. But in the more attractive spots, you find a number of sailors hanging out for years or waiting for the right time to cross the Panama canal. There is also some Tourism on a small scale, we found eco-lodges in the Lemon Cays, with toilets over the waters edge on stilts and a small generator for lights. They even serve cold beer, which is forbidden for the Kuna´s to consume.
We found a beautiful spot behind one of the islands, what a difference to noisy, dusty and windy Santa Marta! The Chief of the Holandes Cays came paddling in his dugout to our boat, we invited him on board. We even got a welcome present, Avocados from the island, there are also breadfruit, plantains and of course lots of coconuts available. We paid happily our contribution of $10.- (anchoring fee for one month) and could exchange a few niceties, since the Chief spoke more English than we speak Spanish. All the discomfort of the last 24 hours were forgotten, we jumped in the water and snorkeled the reef, saw the biggest swarm of little fish ever, it must have been millions, we were enveloped in a huge cloud of sardine sized school of fish for many minutes. From a distance the school of fish looked like a huge hump back whale. My only hope was that there was no shark at the end of the line, in fact there were 5 big cravelles chasing them.
Many of the women still dress in a traditional Kuna costum. The blouse front is a typical 'Mola' panel. The geometrical paterns used to be painted directly on their bodies until the church missionaries came along !
Some islands have been totally 'populated'.
The big pigs live in the two pens. The baby pig is sharing his dinner with the cat !
One of the few islands that are 'developed'
The Panamanian government has provided each hut with a solar panel and a 12v battery. There is no running water and refuse collection and each house has a 'bathroom' built on stilts on the beach.
Kuna 'bathrooms' !
The most important possession for a Kuna is an ulu. A cut out tree canoe. This one is being water proofed with hot tar. The trees for making these are now rare and have to be transported from the main land with great effort.
The next difficulty to obtaining a big log of wood to make the canoe is finding material to make the sail. Many visiting sail boats donate their old sails
This is one of the few islands with a 'back packer hotel'. Guests are transported with a small launch but some Kunas paddle their ulus many miles against the wind and waves.
A typical Kuna shop.
Sanitation facilities are well constructed - a Bamboo Built Sh..t House !