We spent another full day at sea sailing from Cartagena to the San Blas Islands, some 180+ nautical miles. The San Blas, an archipelago of 365 islands, runs along the Caribbean coast of Panama and borders Colombia and the Darien Province.
About 36 of the islands are inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people, an autonomous territory in Panama. Special permission, granted by the tribe chief or El Jefe, was required for our ship and its passengers to enter and visit the islands. El Jefe and his family came aboard to collect the ship’s fee and present a special display of their culture’s wares and colorful molas.
We were allowed to visit two islands, one for a village experience and one for snorkeling and swimming. The village was named Cartisugdub according to the welcome sign. It consisted of many primitive thatched and framed houses, community meeting places, and even schools. The vendors were plentiful, selling their handmade clothing and molas which are much like place mats or possibly wall hangings, and usually feature bright woven birds or fish designs.
Nothing was negotiable though we bought a pair of molas that seemed of better quality than others we saw, for $20. Photos cost a dollar or two and everyone, including their pet monkeys, will pose for a fee.
It was extremely hot and humid; the first time the heat has really gotten to me. We were quite ready to return to the ship’s air conditioning after about 45 minutes of walking the dirt streets and paying for pictures and admiring the crafts.
The snorkeling trip sounded less and less appealing as the afternoon heat gathered, and we became comfortable sipping a cold Corona. Remember that most of our trips ashore require walking down the steep gang plank and being assisted into the rolling tender for perhaps a 10-15 minute boat ride to our destination! Not always an alluring choice…