Trish and I sailed into the far NW corner of the gulf of San
Blas where the villages are even more traditional and virtually all the small
islands are inhabited with space at an absolute premium.
The Kuna Indians even collect dead coral and rocks to create
breakwaters for the island as even in the shelter of the outer reefs the strong
winds create waves that wash through the villages
that in some case no more than 1 or 2 feet above the level
of the calm sea.
We got to know Justino one of the Kuna Indians quite well,
visiting his home on the island of Isla Gerti to see his one month old baby
son, paying our respects to the Saila
(the Kuna chief) and taking them presents of pens, pencils,
paper and crayons for the school as well as some old reading glasses. We also
gave them some medication for
sore throats and colds that seemed to have hit the island,
or perhaps they were all a bit run down after drinking too much Chicha after
the festival on the 25th?
Justhino also took us in his Ula up the Rio Torti, the
nearby river from where the local islands collect all there fresh water. In
many instances it is not only the
men but also woman young and old who make this canoe trip
across a mile of open sea and another mile or so up the river. Returning
heavily laden and sometimes
against strong winds and currents.
Paddling these canoes is surprisingly hard and it is easy to
see why they are so slim and so fit, even the older men and woman are fit and
I’d given Justino an England football shirt a few days
previously and he wore it for this trip.
The land on each side of the river is parcelled into family
plots and farmed by each family group. In addition to coconuts they grow
bananas, pineapple, papaya,
breadfruits and a whole host of other fruit and vegetables
as well as plants and herbs for medicine.
All this produce has then to be carried to the ula and
paddled back to the village.
Usually it is not permitted to enter the Kuna burial sites
and definitely not permitted to take photographs, but because we had become
friends with the village and
Justino in particular the Saila allowed him to take us to
the village burial mounds and take photos.
Justino’s bigger sailing canoe was showing signs of
age and looked a bit moth eaten after 15 years of hard use.
It was a great experience to have been able to go up the
river and into the jungle and by the time we got back to the village my arms
did ache from all the paddling.
Justino is one of the more entrepreneurial of the Kuna and
his new England T shirt and wristwatch are badges of his enterprising spirit.