Paradise at The End of The Sea; Kuna Yala

Categories: On The Water

preserved, to a large extend, their way of life outside of the rest of modern civilization, and where foreigners are forbidden to own property, to settle, or to marry to Kunas and remain in the communities, and only recently (since about twenty years) outsiders are allowed to visit.

Maya aboard Fata Morgana at The Swimming Pool, San Blas

Rodencio Garcia invites us on his island. We arrive there paddling in our plastic orange kayak and are greeted by everyone, about a dozen of men, women and children. The women are dressed in traditional skirts and colorful blouses called molas with bright red scarfs loosely hanging over their short black hairs, long strings of colorful beads coiled around their ankles and wrists, and a gold ring under the nose. They immediately start taking out and showing us their molas for sale. Only one of about five women knows Spanish. The rest speak their native tongue- Dulegaya.

A Kuna woman

Molas are made of brightly colored fabrics collaged layer over layer, forming intricate abstract patterns. They are the most important part of the Kuna women’s traditional clothing, and since cruisers and tourists started visiting the islands, molasbecame an important source of income too.

A Kuna woman showing us her molas for sale

We choose a few molas and beaded bracelets for which we give them rice, flower, beads, and other food products and things we have brought to exchange. This is one of the most isolated islands, and getting cooking oil, coffee, rice, even fresh drinkable water means a long journey by small improvised sailing “ulu” or a small motorboat to some of the bigger islands, where Colombian trading boats loaded with various goods like gas, clothes, plastic bins, food products, beer and coca-cola, as well as all sorts of other “indispensables”, arrive regularly to sell stuff and buy coconuts, the Kunas main source of income, which they export back to Colombia.

Trading with Kuna women

On most of the larger islands electricity has made appearance a few decades ago, providing the islanders with refrigeration and television through generators running on gas, or solar panels. Here there are local tiendas (small stores), panaderias (bakeries), small schools and clinics. It’s almost like any other town, only there are no paved roads and cars, and most of the houses are tiny, made of thin bamboo sticks or cane, with palm-leaf roofs and no running water.

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