As we move our way west along the coast of Panama, we continue to move within Kuna Yala land. All the while we learn more and more about the Kuna, trying to appreciate their cultural complexities and try stay within their laws (which are numerous and ever changing). Historically the Kuna's have been a matrilineal society with women controlling who they marry and the money, but today when we ask permission to anchor near a village, we have to visit the male chief. I mentioned that coconuts are Kuna currency and that is still true today. They trade the Colombian traders for a few dollars, but from what we saw, they are mostly a subsistence society and probably don't have a need for much money. Interestingly, the Kuna traditional dress includes a gold hoop through the women's nose and often gold earrings. The rivers in this area of Panama are known to have gold, but the Kuna, by self-imposed rule, do not pan for gold, but instead use their earnings to buy gold in Colon or Panama city. They recognize that every time, in the past, Kuna's have dealt with miners it has ended badly fom them and they deem it (mining) an evil process. They recognize the greed and corruption that is often associated with mining and have the self control to avoid it entirely. Some of the villages have water towers and have water piped from the mainland (usually less then 400 meters from the island), but those near rivers often do not. In the far eastern island we were not allowed to explore on the mainland, but further west we have been permitted. Locals go up river to collect water, wash clothes and bathe. In a few areas we've been permitted to do the same and it is a luxury to swim in fresh water.
Also, the further West we go, the more sailboats there are and the less traditional the villages and villagers are. We only saw one other sailboat for the first 2 weeks of our stay in the eastern section of the Comarca (Kuna waters) and now we are in an area where it is unlikely we will get another anchorage to ourselves. The Kuna embrace tourism, but very much on their own terms. They have rejected any mass tourism that the Panamanian Government has proposed in the past. Instead, they allow some camping on their islands and a few of the islands host small hostels (hammocks hung in a thatched hut). In the less traditional villages of the West many of the boats have outboards and a handful of people service the sailboats, bringing them petrol, fruit and goods from the closest village. Things have changed quite substantially in the Western islands from the time we were here in 2002, but the Eastern island have retained most of their indigenous culture.
Another new thing since our last visit is that the Western islands can now be reached by road from Panama city. It takes up to 8 hours by four wheel drive in the rainy season, but goods and people move back and forth now. As usual we have provisioned for a nuclear holocaust, but there are a few villages with small shops carrying some dry goods, if we were to run low. We are out of fresh fruit, so it has been nice to get a few pineapples and bananas here and there.
Now that we aren't spending as much time in the villages (they aren't nearly as charming in the western islands), we keep ourselves busy snorkeling, beach combing, fishing and exploring by dinghy. Our mornings are still taken up with home-schooling and boat chores, but our afternoons are usually free. While there are villages on many of the larger islands throughout the Comarca, there also many uninhabited cay's. If you are lucky, you can tuck behind a small cay in beautiful turquoise water and snorkel right from the boat. The setting is idyllic with palm tree lined islets, white sand and dazzling water. We've enjoyed drift wood bonfires on the beach and aside from the ever present plastic flotsam, the islands are often devoid of any traces of humans. We've explored a few rivers when permitted. In the anchorages the crystal clear waters are very inviting and the kids snorkel under the boat or we all pile in the dinghy and motor out to a reef. We've inflated all the toys and we have a small flotilla trailing behind us as we move between anchorages; sailing dinghy, inflatable kayak, hard kayak and paddleboard. Its been a while since we've stayed in one place long enough to merit pulling them all out. It has been a relaxing few weeks of low mile days.
The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.
Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.
Our favorite sailing quote:
"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron