Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

San Blas Culture Shock

After all these weeks in the Caribbean islands where tourism is commonplace and home comforts can be found, albeit at a price, the San Blas islands come as a welcome and intriguing change. Although part of Panama, the islands are a self-governing state and the native Kuna Indians go about their uncomplicated lives (mainly based around fishing and agriculture) without pandering to the visiting foreigners in yachts (the place is off the more general tourist track, though a few small cruise ships do visit a tourist-orientated island a few miles along the coast). That's not to say that the locals don't come and try to sell you things, of course; within a couple of hours of arriving two women in a dug-out canoe arrived alongside and were quietly persistent in their sales pitch (not in English of course) for their beautifully hand-stitched molas (multi-layered embroidery for which they are rightly renowned). We had an entertaining half hour of viewing the range of molas (stuffed into a large plastic bucket to protect them from the not inconsiderable amount of water sloshing around in the bottom of the canoe) and bought two bags embroidered with brightly coloured fish designs.
Since the dug-out canoe is still very much the transport of choice here we decided to launch our inflatable kayak, rather than the dinghy and outboard, to go ashore to clear in on Porvenir. There's a tiny military outpost on the island, staffed by very bored Panamanian conscripts, and we discovered that the Immigration Officer wouldn't be here until tomorrow. However the charming Customs Officer gently relieved us of nearly $200 US for a Panamanian Cruising Permit then the tiny Kuna Council Officer (Peter and I must look like giants to the Kunas, who come runners up to the Pygmies in the world's shortness awards) took a further $30 for a San Blas Island permit; can't wait to find out how much the Immigration Officer will demand....
Formalities completed we explored the island fully. Ten minutes later, our exhaustive tour completed, we decided that food and beer would be a good idea and crossed the airstrip runway to the 'restaurant' (a wooden shack by the east beach); the smiling Kuna gentleman in the tiny kitchen produced deliciously-cooked fish with rice and lentils, accompanied by tins of Panamanian beer, for very little money. Everyone we have met has been friendly and welcoming and we've managed to communicate the basics in pigeon-Spanish as English is not spoken here.  Refreshed and replete we walked back to the quay to discover, to our delight, that the weekly floating supermarket had arrived from the mainland – an open boat stocked to the gunwales with fresh fruit and veg plus beers and soft drinks – so we had more entertainment selecting additional stores which were tossed up to us on the quayside (a new sport is born – Grocery Catch; just how much more fun would this be in Sainsbury's? Not only would it relieve the monotony of pushing the trolley around the aisles, it would improve the nation's hand-to-eye coordination and even encourage a new and better generation of cricketers). Our new purchases made for an excellent salad supper; we slept very soundly afterwards.

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