Tuesday, January 5, 2010

All at sea II

At my 3rd hostel in Panama City, I met

Lani. Australian. Glasses and curly hair. So easy going it´s ridiculous. Such a warm, open, friendly heart. Teaches English as a foreign language to immigrants coming to Australia. Loved her life, and cut right out at the pinnacle to travel for an indefinite time in Central and South America. Hoping to teach English here. Makes friends easier than almost anyone I know. No one can fail to respond to the openness and goodness that radiate from her. Apparently rolls the best joints ever.

We girls hit up the grocery store to stock up on necessities for the trip.

Headed out at 5 AM. The trip was gorgeous as the sun rose, but I couldn´t for the life of me keep my eyes open. I did however notice when the road turned into a river. Awesome. You have to take a 4x4 Jeep out there for a reason.

Carti is not, as I had expected, a town. It is merely a port (I think there is another Carti, on an island close by, which actually is a town). Our plans for reuniting with Joe were foiled as there wasn´t much of a way to contact him, nor a comfortable place to wait for him. The sand flies in Carti were outrageous.

Allow me to introduce you to the sand fly. Think of a mosquito. Then imagine something even worse. Something tiny, that travels and attacks in swarms. Something that actually draws blood and on which insect repellant doesn´t work. If you´ve magically predicted the presence of sand flies and kept your baby oil at hand, congratulations. (Baby oil makes your skin too slippery so they can´t get enough of a grip to bite). If not, be prepared for what, 50 bites? Probably more. And that insane itchiness lasts twice as long as a mosquito bite´s itchiness. And one sets off a horrible chain reaction to insanity. And they leave tiny scars.

I caught my first glimpse of the Kuna in Panama City. They immediately grabbed my eye as they look different. In Central America, the indigenous people tend to naturally evolve into each other in dress and general appearance. So everyone kind of blends together (this is not in any way meant as a racist statement, stop that thought right now). You can see how they´ve influenced each other over the years, you know? But the Kuna, abruptly, were different than anyone else I´d seen. In dress, bone structure and shape, behavior, certainly, as I learned, in customs and history. More of that later.

I, torturously, didn´t take any real pictures of them besides that one I nabbed on my iPhone. They charge by the dollar generally, or just don´t like it. But I wanted to take 100. So beautiful.

Carti is the gateway into the San Blas Islands, which have been given to the Kuna people. (I find it amazing that such a beautiful area, so ripe for tourism dollars, was given to an indigenous people previously disliked by the Panamanian government. My experience is that native people are generally given land that not many other people want...) There are over 400 islands, though not all of them are inhabited. Many are inhabited by one or two families in one or two huts. One of the perks in being on a private sailboat as that we got to go to islands many others don´t generally go. Imagine the perfect deserted island. That´s what every island looks like. White sands, achingly blue waters in a hundred shades, brilliant blue skies from horizon to horizon, palm trees.

After a couple hours of waiting around (I do, at this point, feel like this is one of the least touristically developed experiences or places I´ve been. I was right, and in for more of this feeling,) we finally hopped onto a launch (a motor boat driven by a Kuna man, Federico). And we sped off, Kathryn, Lani, and myself, into this world of water. This world of countless shades of blue, the distant land misting into a hazy green. The water was as placid as a lake. Yet again, I´ve never been anywhere like it. An inverted place where the ground is water, and instead of pockets of water you have pockets of land.

Our instructions, by the way, are extremely vague. We are supposed to get to Chichime, which, according to the Kuna, will take $90. No way. We opted for $5 to Porvenir where we would wait for Joe and then figure out how to get Dennis to come to us. So, things seem a little tenuous. But that doesn´t matter when you´re in such a place.

Porvenir is where the immigration office is, and where there is a small hotel and restaurant. Dennis has to come to the immigration office eventually (calls to him of course go unanswered), and the restaurant will keep us fed for as long as we wait. And the hotel has a lovely little beach, and delightful Kuna owners. Not a bad place to spend Christmas Eve. Though I can´t deny I was pretty frustrated with Dennis at this point. I figured I was paying so much for this cruise, he should be catering to me a lot more than he was. I was extremely stressed about money. That feeling tends to come and go in waves during my travels.

Kathryn recognizes a boat from when she was here before-- Glen´s sailboat. He is sailing his friend`s boat all the way up to Portland, Oregon (and looking for crew to join him!) He invites us for dinner on the boat, but beforehand we all go to Wichiwalla, the island where there is a town and little mercado shop, to look for ingredients. The Kuna live in sugarcane huts, so that´s what this little island is covered with, from shore to shore. The Kuna women are dressed traditionally in Molas (shirt), printed wrap skirt, and patterned beads covering shins and forearms. Frequently pierced noses and perhaps painted lines on forehead and nose. The men wear modern clothing. We asked why this was, the answer-- the men have to work all day and fish and bring in food, so they don´t have time to make nice traditional clothing like the women do.

We take a walk through town...


Elizabeth said...

I am fairly certain my dad and step mom have vacationed here. It sounds faaaantastic. Is this the post where you mention a black Jesus - cause can I tell you there was a woman in my apartment complex this year literally named "Black Jesus" -- see, you shoulda just come to Las Vegas...