San Blas

May 31, 2011

A small group of us went to San Blas this past weekend to visit the Kuna in Kuna Yala. We had a great time, despite the serious sunburn I managed to get. I’m still in awe of the fact that there are 365 islands in the archipelago. It seems impossible, even with as small as they all are. That’s a lot of islands. I’ve never been any place like that before. Tiny communities exist on many of the islands, all of which interact with one another by boat, constantly traveling back and forth from island to island in order to go about their daily routines. The hotel where we were staying was previously a Smithsonian research site for marine biology. It’s a tiny man-made island owned by Juan, a Kuna that we met during our stay. The Smithsonian used his island and built various structures on it for their researchers, and once they had finished with their project returned the island with all of the new structures to Juan and his wife Tina (and their mean parrot Flammy). Fabio explained to us how they create these man-made islands, planting palms in the shallows and waiting for them to slowly push the sand up from the sea, a very long process. It was very interesting to spend time with the Kuna, observing how they interact not only with one another, but also with tourists and with their environment.  I have to say the tiny sailboats on the open ocean make me a bit nervous, and I don’t think I could handle having to travel that way all the time. We watched a couple of them get caught in storms also, which I found pretty nerve wracking. The men sailing them didn’t seem too phased though.

Their ability to keep track of which island is which is incredible to me. With 365 islands scattered throughout the Caribbean Sea along the coast, it would seem almost impossible to remember exactly where they all were. Some of them obviously don’t know where all of them are, but many of the older Kuna are extremely knowledgeable about the geography of their comarca.


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