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Kunas and coladas

Gambling in Panama

View MAP OF THE JOURNEY on AnnaMickus's travel map.

The sun was shining and the weather was hot. We got to the docks just in time, 11 o’clock sharp. After a few minutes all 9 of us were there. But wait; there were suddenly 2 more people. Ok, fine, so we were going to be 11 people. Oh no wait, there’s one more! Ok so we’re 12. But Selma wasn’t there yet... Sooo 13 passengers plus the captain, Frederico; half Brazilian, half Colombian and half French. That’s cool. There’re four cabins for two people and we were 14 people. That’s cool. No problem. I guess.

Luckily we didn’t have to worry about anything because the captain proudly informed us that he could take care of everything without anybody’s help: he would steer the boat, cook food for all 14 of us, do the dishes and clean the place all by himself. In fact, we were not allowed to even touch the dishes because we wouldn’t know how to use the water economically. And he would never ask anybody for help because he was so talented. He also told us that he is actually bored of the sea, in fact, he hated it, and that he couldn’t wait to retire and start some other business on mainland. All righty then! Let the fun trip start!

We were lucky. We got one of the cabins. Four people had to sleep outside, two of whom on a broken air mattress. Unlucky bastards. The journey started otherwise stupendously as well: the captain had forgotten to hand in our passports to the migrations on time, so we had to wait by the docks the whole day. When we finally set off we spent 2 hours at another dock in order to get gasoline for the boat. This was the first time he already asked for help to carry the heavy barrels of gasoline closer to the boat. And there was to be many more requests for help. What a jerk. Before we finally set off for real we got this delicious instant noodles dinner. Just a tiny cup. Nice.


It might have been a good thing that the captain had us starving, because as soon as we hit the open waters the waves turned really big and nearly everybody got sick. We ended up lying in our beds the first two days and nights because it was just impossible to stay up in that weather. The captain even got sea sick (even if he claimed never to get sea sick), and since the boat was overbooked, he had to sit in a chair on deck during the nights. This made him tired and really grumpy and he didn’t even bother making us dinner the second night. What an asshole.

After the hideous trip we finally arrived in the Archipiélago de San Blás off the northern shores of Panama. The archipelago consists of almost 400 islands, most of them which look like islands straight from a fantasy land, you know the ones filled with palm trees and surrounded by white sand and turquoise water? The water was now really calm and the views were just fantastic! The area is also at a convenient spot just in-between south and Central America, so supposedly a lot of drug trafficking boats drive through there all the time. Just a couple of days ago there had been a chase between a high speed trafficking boat and a police boat. The traffickers’ boat, which the police had shot full of bullet holes, was on display on one of the islands.





The San Blás islands are home to the indigenous Kuna people who run the place more or less as an autonomous territory. They have their own language and customs, and the women still wear their traditional dresses including these colourful beads they wrap around their legs and a big golden ring through their nose. The language is totally incomprehensible with just some weird ”chck-chck” sounds that made no sense whatsoever in my head, but anyway sounded absolutely fantastic!




We stayed at a few different locations during our 4 day stay there. The longest time we spent just outside this island where a couple of Kuna families lived. They visited us on a few occasions selling us sea food or these special garments the women make. They said a Kuna woman isn’t Kuna if she doesn’t do these garments. Two or several pieces of different coloured cloth are put on top of each other and different motives are created by revealing different shapes of the underlying colours. Mostly the motives describe things from their daily lives, like fish, crabs or shamans. The things are really small pieces of art.

Kuna woman selling her stuff


One sad thing about this place is that you see how much garbage is actually thrown in the sea. All kinds of stuff wash up on the shore, and you can’t believe how stupid people can be throwing all these things into the water. And not to talk about all the food scrap and toilet waste that all the boats that run through here let into the water. Sometimes a container ship drops a big container in the water (by mistake of course) and the locals break it up and loot it. A while ago the locals found a big container in the water, and when they broke it up they found it filled with televisions. They didn’t really know what they were, so they decided to let them loose resulting in a long row of televisions floating through the Caribbean towards main land. Must have been a sight. But at times they are more resourceful: if you are in need of flip flops, this is the place to do some shopping. They have a huge collection of flip flops from which you can select your favourite ones. But you never get a matching pair, of course.

The captain mostly kept us starving by serving ridiculously small portions and having us wait for the food for hours. I’m telling you, it is amazing how painfully long it can take to produce a pot of rice with iddy biddy pieces of vegetables in it. Luckily we had some snacks with us and bought some nice lobsters from the Kuna, so we didn’t actually starve. And most importantly, the crowd (except for the captain) on the boat was so great and the places we visited were so spectacular, that we had an amazing time anyway. During the days we mostly did some swimming and snorkelling checking out huge sea stars and sting rays, or hanged out on deck having drinks and eating peanuts.













We also visited a few islands to see how the Kuna live. Some of the islands were so filled with houses that there was no free ground left; the whole islands were just covered with small shacks and narrow alleys. It was really cramped and claustrophobic. The living conditions didn’t seem too hygienic, either: everything seemed a bit dirty and run down, and the toilets were built on top of the water, which made the water a bit shitty... Then again some of the islands were almost uninhabited with just a couple of cabins here and there that were surrounded by palm trees and beautiful beaches. They, again, seemed to be living in paradise!






Happy Independence Day Suomi-Finland! We celebrated it with some genuine ice cold Finlandia Vodka.



Posted by AnnaMickus 16:26 Archived in Panama

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