January 17, 2014-Kunayala
wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Judy in Panama
The Panamanian official stamped my papers with a flourish and handed them to me. “This is your Zarpe, it should get you through Kunayala” he said, which I thought was strange because it sounded like he was referring to a foreign country.
He was. Kunayala, the land of the Kuna Indians is autonomous from Panama. The Kunas maintain their own local government and customs and barely acknowledge the existence of Panama. They do not fly the Panamanian flag.
While there we did not fly ours either.
But they did honor my Zarpe. Other than charging us a fee every time we anchored in one of their towns, they didn’t bother us as we passed through their land.
That cruise however, has been interesting. We were fascinated by the Kunas. They are very traditional people living an existence which is more out of the 1800’s than 2014. Telephones are rare, banks are non-existent. We have not seen a single car, truck, or motorcycle.
The Kuna houses are made of sticks and thatched with palm fronds and have sand or dirt floors. But they are clean and there is little trash evident.
The Kunas paddle the waters in dugout canoes, outboards motors are also rare. They are forbidden to intermarry with outsiders and mostly do not permit photographs.
Tobacco and alcohol are not used. And they are small people, few over five feet tall. However they are beautiful people with high cheekbones, straight noses, and clear brown skin. The women wear bright red and blue dresses and scarves and colorful beadwork on their arms and legs. I’m going to try to get some photographs if I can without offending them.
And they are intelligent. The laughing eyes of the Kuna lady who sold me fresh baked bread, when she figured out what I was trying to say, told me that.
Then there is their choice of where to live. The Isthmus of Panama is mountainous; a hostile, and inhospitable place. It is and covered with dense, steaming, jungle. The valleys are swampy. Insects are fierce and diseases such as Malaria are common. There are snakes and alligators.
The Kunas don’t live there. They live on densely populated offshore islands which are cool and dry and free of the insects and other bad critters.
In fact, until you get close to the area of the Panama Canal, almost no-one lives on the Isthmus itself. It is roughly 100 miles up the coast from Colombia to the San Blas Islands, through Kunayala, and so far, along that distance, we have seen no sign of population ashore or in the mountains, just rows of jungle covered ridges and peaks disappearing into the haze. No roads are visible. It looks in penetrable. At night there are no lights there as far as you can see up the coast or down.
So this has been sort of a nature tour for us, away from the crowds. The sailing has been good, most of the anchorages peaceful and calm. We’ve enjoyed it. But we’ve been out a month and it’s time to be moving on.
Next we head to the San Blas Islands, where many cruising boats hang out and where we can buy cooking gas, supplies, and get our water tanks refilled.
And maybe we will put up our Panamanian flag.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Kunayala