Saturday, January 7, 2012

Panama City...or not so much!

Panama City...well, we accidentally ended up on a private island in the Caribbean...

After 2 hours of sleep at Los Santana, we headed out in a "jeep" for San Blas.  The flyer and the lady at the front said it was a day trip to a beach.  I assumed it was a beach on the Pacific Coast, because there are quite a few a stones throw away from Panama City.  My bad!  We started unraveling where the San Blas Islands were as soon as the next group of people got into the car. The next stop was to pick up 2 Canadians on holiday for 3 weeks.  They were surprised we wanted to do a day trip and said the destination was about 3 hours away.  I though- eh, that's like going to Santa Barbara for the day.

Things were confusing for everyone.  The driver didn't really speak English and there were two girls from Argentina trying to get him to stop at a grocery store for a good hour. We finally met this American woman (Amy from Vermont).  She was waiting to fill out paper work.  Her Spanish was good and she could talk to the tour operator.

The guy in charge of LAM tours told us that there was only one pick up each day (at 9:45am) he wouldn't come pick us up later in the evening/afternoon.  We'd have to sleep over on one of the islands (the island was picked randomly, but luckily, we ended up on an island with Amy and Amy (another girl working in Honduras from Virginia)).  Luckily, we didn't need much - a bathing suit and towel and that's about it.

We arrived at the place where the boats would take us to the island.  The islands are operated by the Kuna people.  They are an indigenous group of people that can live an autonomous lifestyle on the coast of Panama.  The islands are really close to Columbia.  The area consists of about 400 islands and only 29 are inhabited...ideal for the Colombian drug trade.  The Kuna do not speak Spanish as their first language and so communication can be more difficult.

Boat Ride

View of the Island

View of the Water from the Island

We ended up on Tony's island.  It was actually called something else but the name eludes me at the moment.  The island was actually split between two people (Tony and Franklin).  There was a fence in the middle that separated the huts operated by each Kuna family.  Tony's side of the island had about 6 huts where there were about 3-6 people per hut.  We ended up sleeping with 2 Australians (Emma and Kristin) and 2 Americans (Amy and Amy) - 6 total in the hut.  Coincidentally, we ran into some people we met our first night in Panama City at Luna's Castle. It was weird. Everything seemed to circle back to Luna's Castle.

Everyone in front of the hut.  From Left to Right: Me, Emma, Kristin, Amy (Virginia), Rebecca, Amy (Vermont)

Relaxing in a hammock! 

So nice!

The Kuna provided 3 meals a day and some boat access.  Some people decided to see a sunken boat off the coast of another island.  I decided to take in the island (in fact, I swam around the island in about 10 minutes).  I was also pooped on by a bird- good luck right?  There was an older guy, Boris, originally from the Soviet Union, now living in NY.  He was nice and really liked to wear his speedo. The image will be with me forever. Later that night, we were invited to another Kuna island.  The whole week the other island had been celebrating one girl turning into a woman. There was supposed to be a tradition dance and drinking...there was way more drinking by the Kuna than dancing.  From what I gathered, the Kuna men had to drink copious amounts of rum before the dance could begin.  The men started coming up to us and regaling us with drunken stories of their wives with long hair and trying to speak French and English and Spanish. Most Kuna men could barely there wasn't going to be a dance.

Best fried chicken! (And for those of you wondering, I make exceptions on food for I'll eat chicken and fish...or pretty much try anything because traveling is all about the experience)

After dark, it was time to get back on the boat and head back to Tony's island (sans the dancing - there was a little dancing but not much). We were on the boat for about 5 minutes and the engine broke down.  We were floating adrift in the dark in the middle of the Caribbean with 2 drunk Kunas operating the boat.  It was comical for a while until we really weren't getting anywhere. There was one paddle and that's it.  We tried signalling to another island but nothing. Everyone was drunk and/or inside. We all (about 17 of us) started yelling for help, but it's not like anyone could hear us.  We all really didn't know how long we'd have to be floating for before we reached land, drug dealers or another boat. After about 45 minutes - 1 hour, they got the engine to work. Hooray!

New friends from the trip! (Before the broken down boat trip)

The rest of the night was spent talking, playing cards and drinking.  The folks from Argentina, Chile, UK, Israel and Belgium started playing a drinking game.  The objective was to count to 10.  Yes, someone yells out 1, 2, 3, etc. They set a language before starting (English, Spanish, etc.).  If you and someone else say the same number at the same time, then you both drink - so if I say 9 and you say 9 then we both drink.  The game was short lived and people were drunk and dancing by 10pm.  It was fun!

The Kuna Island where the dancing was supposed to take place...but didn't

I fell asleep to the waves crashing against the sand and the sound of laughter from people still up, playing cards in the dark (since the generator goes out at about 10:30pm).

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