Travel is Our Drug

Panama: Private Island and a Cemetery (San Blas)

This morning was nice.  I woke without an alarm clock at 7:30.  I’m pretty sure that’s a first in my life.  I woke feeling incredibly rested, stress-free and ready for another full day of sun, sand and relaxing.

I slept well, for the most part, last night.  The bed was really comfy.  With the fan and the ocean breeze, it was fairly cool in the room.  Okay, not cool, but comfortable.  And humid enough that it felt like the bed just stuck to us.  And – the worst part – I woke up three times in the night and had to flick lizards off my legs.  I would wake up, feel them crawling on me and flail my leg about trying to fling them or scare them off, but they just stuck there.  I literally had to flick them to get them to jump off.  Not my favorite part of this place, but hey, at least they were on my legs and not my face!

We got up and got around slowly and headed to breakfast.  This morning was a slice of ham, scrambled eggs and baguette slices – just enough fuel to keep us going for snorkeling.

Breakfast_YandupEvery morning they put out a chalkboard with the day’s activities.  Today it’s another beach trip in the morning, and a trip to the Kuna cemetery on the mainland in the afternoon.

Yandup_Activities_BoardAfter breakfast, we headed back to our cabaña to let our food settle and read on the porch for a while.  I really could get used to this lifestyle.

RHammockYandupToday we headed out to a different island for our morning trip.  It was quite a bit further out, and the water was pretty rough getting out there.  There are a lot of shallow spots, which meant they had to maneuver the boat parallel, then perpendicular to the waves several times.  We were all required to wear PFDs for this one, and everyone was pretty somber.  I’m not typically one to get seasick, but I was even feeling a bit queasy.  As we rose and fell with the waves, I lost sight of the horizon, and I really thought I might lose my breakfast.

As we were all in the back, desperately trying to keep our breakfasts down, Domi was standing up on the bow of the boat, like he was surfing, keeping his eye out for shallow spots and directing our captain.

DomiStandingOnBoatWe stopped a couple of times so that Domi could reach into the water and pull out floating garbage.  It’s a bit sad how polluted the area has become, but nice that they at least care enough to clean it up.

After about 30 minutes, we slowed down and headed toward our island.  Another secluded island with beautiful beaches, swaying palm trees and brilliant blue water.

YandupPrivateIslandThis island was much bigger than the one yesterday.  We couldn’t see the entirety of the island from one spot, and it was dense with palm trees.  There was a single hut on the island, but no people other than us.

YandupPrivateIsland2YandupPrivateIsland3There was a poor, bony puppy that someone had left.  She was really friendly and obviously starving.  I wished so badly that I had some food to share.  It made me really sad to think about what type of person would bring a dog all the way out here and abandon it with nothing for it to subsist on.

YandupIslandDogAfter we dropped our packs, a few of us headed off with Domi, following a narrow dirt path cut through the palm trees across the island, to do some snorkeling.

YandupPrivateIsland4The snorkeling here was a lot better than yesterday.  There were large rock corals with lots of fish.  Several of the coral were large walls with dozens of ledges for fish to swim into.  We saw a couple of rays, but nothing overly exciting.  We swam out pretty far, and by the time we got back to shore, my legs were so weak I was wobbly when I stood up.

We grabbed a couple of beers from the cooler and explored the island, following narrow dirt paths cut in the ground brush, winding through palm trees, and emerging in solitude on the beaches on the other side.  We spent a good hour exploring by ourselves – nothing but the sound of waves and a warm breeze rippling across the ocean.

YandupPrivateIsland5YandupPrivateIsland6It was incredibly serene being alone on the beach with an infinite horizon spread out in front of us and no distractions, listening to the breath of the ocean as the waves rolled in and back out, wiggling our toes down deep into the warm sand.

YandupPrivateIsland7YandupPrivateIsland8Panama2014Around 12:30, we climbed back in the boat and headed back to the lodge.  The return trip was way smoother and seemed to be a bit faster.

Lunch today was fried fish (without the eyes this time), carrots and yucca.  It had some sort of citrus sauce drizzled over it, and it was good.  I was really pretty nervous about staying in a place where the menu is set and I have no choice in it, but so far it’s really not been too bad.

YandupFriedFishAfter lunch, back to the cabaña for more reading-in-the-hammock time.  I laid in my hammock and let the breeze rock me while I finished my book (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green), then napped until time to go on our cemetery tour.  Life is rough here.

At 4:30, we walked down to the dock and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was just us and one other couple going on the cemetery tour.  So we ended up with an empty boat and pretty much one-on-one attention from the guides.

RKYandupBoatWe docked the boat back at the landing strip on the mainland, and off we went.  We walked all the way down the landing strip, which gave me a sort of eerie feeling – like I was flirting with death or something, even though we knew another plane wouldn’t be landing until tomorrow morning.  As we walked along, there were lots of Kuna kids playing soccer and other games in the grass alongside the strip.  We also, unfortunately, saw quite a bit of garbage scattered in the grass nearby.

PlayonChicoRunwayPlayonChicoGarbageAt the end of the runway, we veered off on a narrow dirt path worn into the grass, and wound past a beautiful medicinal garden with bushes and trees dotted with bright-colored flowers.

PlayonChicoCemeteryTrailWe then climbed up a short, fairly steep hill.

PlayonChicoCemeteryHillAt the top of the hill lay the cemetery, spread out in front of us as far as we could see.  From the cemetery, there was a beautiful view of the islands and ocean spread out below; all of the Kuna’s departed beloved, looking down over them.

PlayonChicoCemeteryWe stopped for a bit at the top while our guide explained the funeral rituals of the Kuna.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the hammock plays a huge role in the Kuna life and rituals.  When a Kuna passes away, the person is laid in their hammock.  The body is transported to the mainland in a cayuka, often with a procession of cayukas and the men in the group chanting.  The body is carried up the hill and placed to rest.

The kuna burial plot is a hole, dug 6 meters deep.  The hammock-wrapped body is placed in the hole.  Roughly 3 meters above the body, a layer of sticks is placed across the hole and all of the person’s belongings are piled into the hole with them.  On top of the possessions, dirt is piled to form a rounded mound above the hole, meant to symbolize the swollen belly of Earth Mother Gaia.  The dirt is mashed down into a concrete-like consistency and often covered with blankets.

Structures are built over top of the bodies to shelter them from the weather.  The construction materials, and elaborateness (I think that’s a word…) of the structures depend upon how wealthy the family is.  Most are open structures build with wood and leaves.  The families leave items such as plates, cups and silverware for the loved ones, as gifts for their use in the after life.

The Kuna women, particularly the elders, visit the cemeteries daily.

Visiting the cemetery was really neat.  I actually enjoyed it more than the village tour yesterday.  I always find it incredibly interesting to learn about the traditions of other cultures, and this was a lot more genuine, to me, than the forced tour yesterday.  It was peaceful and serene, and beautiful up there.

One thing I would recommend is plenty of bug spray.  Even with high-level DEET and a constant breeze, we were eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Dinner tonight was some sort of shellfish.  The meat had the red coloring still on it, so lobster or crab, diced up with a spiced sauce.  It was pretty good.  And that should mean something coming from a non-seafood person.  The dessert was phenomenal, though.  Some sort of vanilla cream pudding-like stuff, served cold like ice cream.  I nearly licked the bowl clean.  It was GOOD.

After dinner, we cleaned up the room and packed up to get ready to leave tomorrow.  Wake up call is at 5:15 so that we can eat breakfast and be over to the airport before the incoming flight arrives at 7:00.  Then spent some time reading in the hammocks on the porch again with our headlamps.  I did my best to chase the lizards off tonight and hope I won’t wake up with creepy crawlies on me tonight.  I’m going to miss this peace and quiet.

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