Wednesday, January 6, 2010

All at sea III

Walking through this Kuna-filled island is surreal. It is the most legitimately indigenous place I have been. San Blas won´t be this way for long. In 5-10 years I think it will be completely different, completely touristy. So I feel so lucky to have been able to experience it before this explosion of gringos alters everything. Glen is particular friends with a Kuna, Hector, who lives on this island. Most backpackers don´t come here, so wandering through the sugarcane huts I don´t see any other gringos. The Kuna women are often gathered together, sewing Molas which they will either wear or sell, or beading bracelets to wear or sell. I love the beads, wrapped into patterns on their calves and forearms. They use very old Singer sewing machines, the kind you crank as you sew, or simply sew by hand. I walk through, greeting everyone with the typical 'Buenas', being answered in a chorus of 'Buenas' in return. Children are especially eager to be acknowledged.

I am thrilled to stumble upon a museum, run by a Kuna man. The sugar cane hut contains many carvings and paintings depicting the myths and legends of the Kuna people, in addition to countless branches, shells, animal skulls, knick-knacks. Lani and I listen, Lani translating his spanish for me because there is much that I still don´t pick up.

The Kuna are a matriarchal society. Their god is a Mother Nature or Mother Earth, essentially. She gave birth in the beginning of time to two sons and two daughters, who in turn spawned humanity. There are a few legends vaguely similar to Noah´s Ark and the Tower of Babel, there was a dark time when humanity was destroyed and then created again. Albinos are considered sacred. There is a legend of an eclipse, when sickness surged in the Kuna people. An Albino saved the day by shooting an arrow at the moon, fighting off the dragon that was eating it, and as the moon came back the sickness retreated. Whenever there is an eclipse now, only albinos are allowed out, and they continue to defend the people and the moon by shooting at it. The Kuna are a fiercely close group, in the 20's they went through their population, killing anyone of mixed race so that they would be a pure people. Everyone stays on the island where they are born, though men move in with their wives when they marry, so there may be a change of location at that time. In the 20's, I believe, the Panamanian government tried to destroy the culture, attacking and suppressing the Kuna. Apparently the US backed the Kuna up and saved the day. Now the San Blas islands are the realm of the Kuna, and only Kuna can live there.

We were there as the Kuna were preparing for their annual naming ceremony, when they name girls, 7 years of age, their special Kuna name. Kuna men don´t get this ceremony.

Joe finally found us, his motorcycle transported in a launch to Porvenir, apparently the first time a motorocyle had been on the island. We made dinner on Glen´s boat and fell asleep on the deck underneath the stars.

At this point the knot of stress and anxiety in my stomach about money had dissipated somewhat. I really didn´t like how expensive the sailing trip was. And the fact that all this uncertainty surrounded it. We had no clue where Dennis was, when or where he would pick us up, when exactly we would get to Cartagena. I was also worried about time as I need to be in Cusco on the 24th for the Inca Trail. But I needed to get to Colombia, so I was roped into this sailing trip no matter what, and all I could do was release my negative feelings to enjoy the moment. San Blas made that easier. It is many people´s picture of paradise, it is tranquil, it is fascinating. Being on a sailboat, bobbing out in the sea, disconnected from land and the rest of humanity, is pretty relaxing. I was really happy.

The 4 of us spent Christmas morning and afternoon on the beach of Porvenir. Beer o'clock arrived quite early for many, and the general atmosphere was easy and content. Our radio and phone calls to Dennis continued to no avail, though none of us were worried. We sent word with someone heading to Chichime that if they should see Dennis, to tell him we were waiting for him at Porvenir. And finally our boat sailed in.

Captain Dennis. Maybe 50 years old. Blonde, unkempt hair, scruffy chin, potbelly. The reference 'Captain Ron' seems to work for a lot of people. He is, essentially, an overgrown child. Though at times his intelligence definitely emerges, he could be a very smart man if he wasn´t drunk so much of the time and giving in to self-righteous or childish indulgences. He is unpredictable. He is loco. He says one thing today which very well may change by tomorrow morning. You can´t pin him down, and it´s difficult to get a straight answer out of him. I felt completely confident in his technical abilities as a captain. He is very perceptive of what other people feel towards him. For most of the trip I just accepted who he was and how he functioned. It makes life easier and more fun. But I did, in the end, become thoroughly frustrated with him. For most of the trip I recognized that ultimately he´s a good one, he´s got a good heart and really does try to do right by people. But sometimes his own indulgent tendencies overshadow this. He is a complete character. He´s had a girlfriend for a number of years, Negrita, who is half his age and pregnant with twins. He talks about her all the time. He loves to lecture.

I was happy to be on the boat, to be, seemingly, on my way. I am always happy to be on the move, to be forging ahead into new territory. This is one of my faults as a traveler, I have a difficult time enjoying where I am, thinking too much about where I need to go. This has only increased as my Inca Trail date draws ever closer. Things would definitely be different if I wasn´t roped into Cusco at a specific date.

As we sail through this world of blue, I can´t believe I could have missed this. It was another moment when I knew that any of those hardships were worth this moment, this experience. I can´t believe Sarah left and missed it. I can´t believe she´s missed a lot of things. I know she doesn´t know what she´s missing, but I do. And I can´t help but feel a little smug about it. My Christmas surpassed my wildest dreams, I was so, so happy with my life.

Chichime is paradisical. Perfect waters for swimming, perfect beaches, a couple of Kuna families who sell a few necessities. The crew Dennis had brought up from Colombia were waiting for us there. 3 Swedish boys, 2 Quebecoise girls, a Mexican guy, and an American guy. It was a very full boat for the few days before we dropped them off at Porvenir to continue on our way back to Colombia.

We made dinner of Wahu fish and pesto pasta, and everyone drank a lot. Lani´s bottle of rum was put on the table and disappeared within 20 minutes I believe. Everyone was merry, vibrant, happy. I sat with Kathryn, Joe, and Lani, and couldn´t believe how smashingly my Christmas had turned out.

And it finished with some skinny dipping into the clear, warm, night waters of the Caribbean.


Elizabeth said...

Those beaded bracelet/shin things sound/look amazing. I saw that picture you posted and then I looked up "Kuna jewlery" online. If I were them I would charge big bucks for a picture. Great plan.