The San Blas archipelago is one of the top cruising destinations in the Caribbean. Lying only 70 miles east of the entrance to the Panama Canal, these 300+ islands range in size from a spit of sand with 1 perfectly arching palm tree seen by many only in beer ads to village islands with dwellings packing ever inch.
Cue the Corona commercial
Of the 300+ islands, only 30 or so are inhabited, Nargana is one of them.
But mainly you see uninhabited islands surrounded by the clear Caribbean sea. They lie off the Panama mainland which is mostly undeveloped.
Guarladup in Coco Bandero Cays is not
Kanlildup (Green Island)
Travel, other than by boat, into Guna Yala is an arduous dirt road jeep trip + water taxi or by small plane.
How is that for airport parking? Neko anchored at the end of the runway.
The Gunas are the indigenous folks who live in the islands and are proud of their traditional way of life and, though technically Panamanian, they have managed to live autonomously and preserve much of their culture.
Hard to see but this Guna lady is standing in her boat talking on her cell phone. Hey, I didn’t say they were Amish, a gal has gotta keep in touch. Many times Guna will come by your boat asking you to charge their phones as most islands have no electricity.
The Gunas are the primary residents of these islands and have their own language and refer to the area as Guna Yala (Panamanians call it the San Blas). Charts of the area label the islands with a bunch of hard-to-pronounce letters each ending in “dup” (pronounced doop), the Guna word for island. Doesn’t “Ogoppiriadup” just roll off the tongue?
Guna sail or paddle their cayucos all around these islands.
However, having once been a part of Colombia and now Panama, Spanish words pepper the area as well. And now that the Americans, Europeans and gringos in all shapes and forms have discovered this cruiser’s paradise, they have added names of their own. So the anchorages around Banedup, Quinquindup, Kalugirdup, Miriadup, Tiadup are referenced by clear-water loving cruisers as the ” the swimming pool” “the hot tub” and “the changing room”.
You can see why they call it the swimming pool. Mike and Dave night swimming. And if you look to the left of Mike you can see our anchor chain…now that is some clear water!
Neko & Apsaras anchored in the changing room. (thanks for the photo Rob)
In addition, there is a Dog Island, a Green Island and BBQ Island.
Snorkel gang on Dog Island
snorkeling on a wrecked ship
Peter exploring the wreck
Appropriately Lucy went to Isla Perro too
The Gunas are small-statured people, with large skills in fishing and mola making. Molas are multilayered panels of cloth cut away to achieve intricate patterns of abstract shapes or animals. Aappliqué is also used and carefully hand stitched to create the panels.
Guna women in traditional dress. I got this photo online to illustrate the mola panels on the front of their shirts. And intricate wini bead design around their legs.
The molas are used as a front and back panel of women’s blouses, but the craft has become their signature and the panels are seen now by many as folk art. While fishing, lobstering and crabbing are traditionally done by the Guna men, mola making is “women’s work”. However, the two master, and best known, mola makers are transgender women (completely normal and accepted by the Guna), the famous and talented Lisa and Venancio.
Lisa, master mola maker comes by for a visit.
Buying molas from Venancio
We dined several times on local lobster and giant red crabs sold to us by enterprising Guna fisherman working from their dugout canoes. We had the pleasure of our friends Mike and Holly joining us on Neko for a few weeks of sailing these beautiful islands. Fellow boat pals Rob & Rose on “R&R Kedger”, Dave & Melissa on “Apsaras”, Dave & Margaret on “Heart and Soul” and special guest stars Roger & Susan on “Second Wind” made up our fun loving “lobster” fleet. By the way readers, the SS Neko is now open for visitors, so let us know if you want to spend some time with us.
Peter, Mike and Dave aka the lobster executioners.
Mary and Holly ready to steam these babies.
Lobster Fest 2014
Next up, giant red crabs for dinner. This time kindly fishermen did the dirty work of cleaning them.
Thanks to R&R, Apsaras and Second Wind for sharing photos. Click on photos to enlarge.
Veggie, Fruit and Beer vendor. Always a happy sight.
Mary in her favorite pose
Working hard in the Lemmon Cays
For some reason, Lucy never looks at the camera.
Typical island grocery store
Yes, when there aren’t garbage cans you have to burn your trash.
Tons of starfish
Snorkeling with Rose
A horse’s skull in the Guna Yala?
Island Christmas Tree
My Guna friend Adelaida showing me how to wrap wini beads.
Drinks on the “lido” deck
Rose, Rob, Peter, Mary, Roger, Susan and Lucy
Margaret SUPing by
Nuinudup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays
Porvenir, the seat of the Guna government/
Mike & Holly
Who says we don’t work? Peter and Mike patching the kite.