Seen one, seem 'em all

Sun 25 Nov 2007 19:30
Position 09:07.70N 77:85.70W
Kuna Villages, I mean, but not quite true, as each village reveals something new, together with the usual third world hassles. Currently we are off Ustupu: the largest village of all, with 4,000 inhabitants. Most of them have been to visit in their ulas, dug out canoes, wanting to sell something or other. I made the mistake of placing an order for three mangoes for 50 cents each. An hour later I was presented with two tiny unripe mangoes and some cucumbery fruits which were quite inedible, and the guy wouldn't go away until I had given him three dollors. Am staying below with the computer and the windows closed, but the dugouts keep banging on the topsides with cries of Hola, from their owners!
This morning I dinghyed up one of the mainland rivers (Ustupu, like most villages is on an offlying, and very low lying Island). This was an interesting trip. The river mouth is almost blocked by tree trunks lying on the sandbar at the entrance: the trees get washed down on the floods each year.For about a mile the river meandered through mangrove swamps, then the banks became higher and cultivated areas of banannas (the vegetable type, not our familiar fruits) and coconuts appeared. Each plot is owned by a Kuna Family, and they travel to their farms by dug out canoe each day. A couple of wealthy farmers had outboard motors, but hundreds of others had simple paddles in their one or two man boats. The men do the important farming work, whilst the women, wearing thier traditional costumes (Molas), do more menial tasks: specifically dredging the river where it is shallow, filling their ulas to within an inch of the gunwale and then paddling back to the village to deposit the shale as landfil on the village pathways. Like Venice, the Kuna Villages, or rather their islands are sinking?or is the sea rising? Ayway each year islands become submerged reefs. Its difficult to know whether Tourists like ourselves will destroy this unique culture before the forces of Nature.
The downside of this part of the trip is the hot humid weather, with a lot of rain: I have arranged a rainwater collecting system on the bimini cover, and often get twenty litres of drinking water overnight. this is good because the water is too dirty to use the ships watermaker. Mostly the dirt is mud from the rivers, but the village toilets are wooden huts built out over the sea, and they also keep pigs on the Islands in similar huts, so they never have to clean them out!! It certainly puts you off swimming.
Later next week I should be in the Western San Blas, where there are coral reefs much further offshore: clear water and swimming are promised by our guide book, but you learn to wait and see!
Did you know that there are no roads between Colombia and Pamana: everything, including backpackers, goes by sea or air. The Darien Region, where we are, is the most unspoilt rainforrest in the World. Having gone for a walk in it two days ago, I would say that this claim is probably true. Legs still raw from plant scratches and insect bites.