Atraxia Part III – San Blas Island Culture

From the Panama Canal we sailed through the night towards the San Blas Islands.  After a couple of weeks of relief from the sea sickness it returned with a vengeance in the Caribbean.  The water was much more turbulent than it had been on the Pacific side.  My first watch was at midnight and I was in no condition for it so Brian took it thankfully.  I woke up about 45 minutes later still feeling awful and managed to stay focused for about  an hour and a half.  It was the best I could do.

Later in the morning we arrived in San Blas home of the Kuna Indians.  Captain Ron had to clear us in again.  Apparently San Blas considers themselves a separate region from Panama.  While waiting on board Atraxia for his return, we were approached by several Kuna men in dugout canoes asking if we wanted diesel and to take our trash, for a fee.  Not sure where they were intending on taking the trash as it is doubtful there is an actual sanitary garbage site in the area.  None of the islands are more than a 10 minute walk across and are barely above sea level.  We chose to hold on to our trash for now.

The San Blas islands don’t seem to be more than about 1 meter above sea level and some near the main village of Porvenir appear to be built up with berms and are possibly slightly below sea level.  Many of the structures are built out over the water on stilts including the outhouses which are reminiscent of the opening scenes of the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  The Kuna people live off the grid for the most part, with no running water or electricity or sewage treatment.  Touring the village it was hard not to notice the solar panels and bright red Claro Satellite dishes on the palm thatch roofs.  It was also apparent that the roofs are the fresh water catchment areas with troughs leading to big plastic collection barrels.

A major source of income for the families are the needlework craft made by the women called mola.  The Kuna women typically dress in traditional brightly coloured wrap skirts and blouses with a patterned mola panel on the front and a second on the back.  The outfit is finished with a colourful headscarf and bead bands covering their lower legs from ankle to knee and forearms from wrist to elbow.  They shy away from the camera and move into the shadows unless, of course, you offer money for a good photograph.  Another source of income is coconuts which the men are primarily responsible for harvesting and selling.


Shopping for molas




My newly acquired tortuga mola! :)



Outhouses and dugout canoe


Hmmmmmm ………. is this where the trash ends up?




After a brief introduction to the Kuna culture, we are ready to board Atraxia and again set sail for some lesser populated San Blas Islands.  After all, there are almost 380 islands in the archipelago and according to wikipedia only 49 of them are populated.  Looking forward to some great snorkeling ………..

Read the continuing story here:

Atraxia  Part I – The Open Ocean

Atraxia Part II – The Panama Canal

Atraxia Part IV – Snorkeling San Blas

One thought on “Atraxia Part III – San Blas Island Culture

  1. Pingback: ATRAXIA » Brian’s Testimonial

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *