Isla Pinos, Kuna Yala, San Blas archipeligo, Panama
Friday 14th December 2012
Distance run: 141 nmiles
We left Tintipan on Wednesday morning, rounding the top of the island and expecting light and variable winds into which we would have to motor. Instead we had 15-20 knots of wind on the nose, and so we had to sail our best course to windward. The southerly wind was kicking up a chop against the northerly swell and it was quite unpleasant. After an hour we were heading towards Nicaragua, which meant our course had way too much north in it, so we tacked - and ended up going back the way we had just come! This was going to be a long hard slog if the wind didn't change. Fortunately, it did, although it waited a a few more hours before doing so. Eventually it came around so that we were able to sail a good course towards Isla Pinos. The sea was absolutely horrible though, and a huge swell picked us up every few seconds and had us rolling from side to side in a sort of corkscrew motion. Scott-Free wasn't at all bothered, she took it all in her stride, but it made sleep difficult in our off-watch night hours.
When day dawned it became possible to see the sea state that was giving us such an uncomfortable time, and it was not a very pleasant sight! These are the typical Colombian seas, and we were glad this was the only real glimpse we'd had of them. At least the wind had stayed fair and we had made very good time during the night. Around mid-morning the whale-shaped island of Isla Pinos appeared through the haze. The Kuna name for this island is Tupbak, which means 'whale'. This was our first sighting of the Panamanian coast, and very welcome too! We had chosen Isla Pinos as our landfall as there are no surrounding reefs and the approach is straighforward - just as well in the lumpy seas. They remained lumpy until we were well behind the island, where the wind and seas dropped away and the waters were calm. We dropped the anchor off a palm-tree lined beach and cooked a hearty breakfast before turning in for some shut-eye.
We were later visited by a group of four Kuna men in a dug-out, one of whom waved a slip of paper at us. This was a receipt for $10, so we paid up. The Kuna indians are indigenous to these islands which they call Kuna Yala, which governs itself. Only recently have they accepted being part of Panama. They continue to live in their traditional ways - in these easterly islands of the San Blas archipeligo more so than the westerly. The small village on the south of the island is mostly traditional housing - huts with bamboo for walls and a thatched roof - with two brick built buildings - a shop and a church. One of the bamboo huts had a red Digicell sign outside, but there was no mobile phone signal to be had. Two public phone booths stand in the centre of the village, powered by a solar panel and looking rather incongruous. We could hear a generator running somewhere in the village, but street lighting was minimal and rudimentary. Two ladies were sitting outside the shop, sewing molas, and a couple of men sat on the jetty apparently doing very little. They smiled and nodded in a friendly greeting, but as they speak Kuna, we had no way of communicationg. It is very interesting to see how a community of people has maintained this traditional way of life in these modern times.