Saturday morning started early! We boarded a 12 seat air craft at 6 AM. Along with our luggage we watched the airport officials put boxes of supplies, fruits, and pouches of mail in the cargo hold. Then it was an hour flight to the San Blas Islands. There was a point during the flight where we could see the Pacific coast as well as the Caribean Coast. The lush green of the tropical landscape combined with the turquoise, crystal-clear water will be a permanent memory in my brain. We landed at the Kuna “air port” at about 7:00AM. When I say airport I really mean a paved landing strip with a small cement block building no larger than about 10 ft. by 10 ft. In place of security were smiling school children who walk right by the airport to get to their school. As we stepped off the plane we were met by Iguada, our Sapibenega host. He grabbed our backpacks and walked us to his boat (Tethered to the dock not 25 ft. from where we landed!). After a short ride we got off on the Sapibenega Island, put our stuff in our cabin and enjoyed a delightful breakfast in a gazebo over the water.
Our first adventure started about 9:30 when we boarded the boat with a few other guests and ventured to another deserted island covered in coconut trees and glistening white coral beaches. We snorkeled here until lunch at 2:00. Snorkeling was an adventure because of the coral reefs surrounding the island. This coral was much more diverse than Coiba, but the sea life was much smaller. Because these islands are populated and heavily fished, we did not see the diversity we enjoyed on Coiba. It was spectacular none the less. In the afternoon we were treated to the Kuna tribe’s native dances set to the music of their bamboo flutes. Their joyful music and dancing put everyone in high spirits.
As we prepared for dinner, around 8:00 PM Iguada began pulling on a fishing line he had strung earlier in the day. He pulled strenuously for a good 10 minutes. At last he heaved a large fish onto the wooden floor of our dining hall. The large fish turned out to be a young Hammerhead Shark. As he held it up proudly I’m sure he could not comprehend our surprise and amazement. As we admired the fish he told us that it was too young to keep and he did release it back into sparkling water as our dinner of lobster and crab was served. July 4th started out much the same as yesterday with breakfast and more snorkeling. Today, however, we ventured to yet another coconut covered island. (The Kuna people make the majority of their living selling their coconut crop to the Columbians, where there is a processing plant.) Wrasse, rays, parrotfish, and a lone bull shark along with many bright red starfish made up the majority of the sea life we encountered. Today was different in that in the afternoon we traveled into one of the Kuna villages on the island closest to our air strip. Our guide showed us around the thatched-roof huts situated closely together. In the space between, people were selling Molas (their traditional handicraft) and coconut jewlery. The children came up smiling wanting to take a picture with you (But you had to be careful because they charged a dollar for each picture they were in!). Their culture is so different from my own but it was clear that there were similarities as well. Watching how they interacted with their friends and family, really brought home the fact that regardless of culture us humans have the same priorities when it comes to loved ones. Our second day ended with a lovely dinner of coconut rice, crab and veggetables. Of course, fresh pineapple and watermelon made our dessert.