2019 HAL World Cruise
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The San Blas archipelago consists of 365 islands (49 of them inhabited) and a small part of the mainland. It lies off the north coast of the Isthmus of Panama, just east of the Panama Canal. These islands are part of the coastal district, Guna Yala, along the Caribbean coast of Panama. This is the ancestral home of the indigenous Kuna Yala tribe. During the Spanish invasion, the Kuna people were driven off Panama and fled to the current-day San Blas Islands. Their chief lives on the island of Acuadup. At some time, the tribe received self-governing authority of the islands and a part of the mainland. To this day, they continue to practice their age-old customs surrounded by the modern world. They are friendly and welcoming of tourists.
We tendered to the island of Gardi Sugdub and found the entire village had set up tables and displays of their handwork. The ladies oversaw the commerce. The children posed for photos (US $1.00/photo), usually holding a kitten or puppy or parrot. The men were out fishing; or transporting tourists in Cayukos (a type of dug-out canoe) for US $15.00 (so we were told) to other islands for sightseeing; or they manned the “beer garden” hut where we could get a cold can of Balboa beer for $2.00; or they could be seen in the “town hall” attending to paperwork.
The villagers live in traditional huts. There is no running water, but they do have generators for electricity. The electricity is limited as the generators only run a few hours per day. Many of the islands with beautiful beaches have only one member of the Kuna tribe on site who collects US $1.00/pp for use of the island for sunbathing or swimming (are you getting a sense of how these dollar fees begin to add up?). The native people wear very colorful clothing. They make and sell beaded jewelry and molas (creatively stitched squares and articles of multilayered cloth that can be very elaborate.) They also incorporated the mola craft into shirts, skirts, and other items clothing. These items can take weeks to make.
We found the San Blas Island an interesting place to visit. We wonder how long the native population will continue to be uninfluenced by the modern world.
Here are some photos we took while visiting Gardi Sugdub: