San Blas Islands, Panama
The guide books told us that Wichub Huala was the
only place nearby with a store, and we needed some provisions. The island was just across from Porvenir, so we raised
anchor, plotted a course through the shallows and coral heads, and
slowly headed that way. As
we got closer to the island we could see a local boat unloading some
supplies on a long concrete dock and we decided that must be the
“tienda” or market. We
motored Stray Cat close to the dock before anchoring and the
local school children, who must’ve been on a break from school, were
out on the dock waving to us as we prepared to enter the island by
dinghy. The five of us
loaded into the dinghy for a grocery trip, motored the short distance
over to Whichub Huala, pulled in next to the dock and tied off the
dinghy. The island was very
primitive for the most part, with the majority of the houses and
buildings being bamboo huts. Most
of the younger people were dressed as Americans would be and the older
women or mothers were wearing the traditional dress, which consisted of
a red and yellow bandana or scarf on the head, a floral print shirt on
the top and a “Mola” sewn in to the middle with a long navy printed
sarong and bracelets on the wrists and covering their legs, from the
ankles to the knees. They
were gorgeous. Molas, the
local traditional craft, are hand made colorful appliqués sewn into
many different layers of cloth, almost like an incredibly intricate
needlepoint, that is layered with very colorful & unique designs and
in most cases animals, flowers or geometric shapes.
We headed straight into the market and found a good
supply of items - plantains, beers, sodas, canned veggies, pineapple,
cereal, & even peanut M&M’s!
They also had some nice ball caps for $2.50 ea.
The young Kunas who were managing the store were very nice and
helpful, and we were all impressed by their professionalism.
After we had purchased our supplies, we headed out into the
village for some bread and rum, two things that were not available at
the store. The island was
built in a very traditional way - bamboo huts were used for almost every
home & also for the “congreso”, the large gathering place for
the nightly tribal meetings. There
were only a few buildings that weren’t made from bamboo and thatch,
and those were the school and the clinic.
We made our way through the dirt streets or paths
between the homes, and immediately noticed tables set up with women
selling their wares. It was
strange to see tables like at a craft show every 15 feet.
They knew we were coming! We
found out that occasionally Cruise Ships will pull into Porvenir, so
that is why many locals had tables to set up for vending. At every table there were Molas, bracelets, jewelry, purses,
pot holders, shells, and small flutes made from a local seed.
We bought a few things on our way to the bakery.
The “bakery” that we found was actually a person’s home –
a bamboo hut - and we were fairly certain that the bread was made over a
fire, although we did not get to see it being made. We purchased what
looked like bread sticks for 10 cents each – we now know that that is
the only kind of bread you will find in Kuna Yala.
Next, we weaved through the huts and craft tables and came to a
small store where they did have one kind of rum, Ron Abuelo Anejo, which
we tasted before buying, and it was good enough!
That was our last purchase on Wichub Huala.
We did have some interesting conversations with a few locals
about the “Cayucos” - they told us how men traveled to the mountains
on an expedition to find a huge tree to make their boats.
It would take many men a very long time to find the right tree
and even longer to get it back down to the island from the mountains.
The boats were incredible and beautiful – each crafted from a
single gargantuan tree. We
bid farewell to the wonderful people and took all of our supplies and
souvenirs out to Stray Cat. Our
next stop would be the Eastern Holandes Cays.
Bamboo huts on Wichub Huala
Almost all of the homes were made this way
An occasional cinder block style home
The drinking water is in the blue tank on the left hand side
of the photo, the water comes from a local river
Stu dropping anchor
A cabana with a pop up tent underneath of it
The local grocery store or "mercado"
This place was a mansion! Notice the small wooden square
cage on stilts over the water in the middle of the picture, that is where you
keep the pigs
All laundry is done by hand and hung out to dry, notice a
couple of TV antennas on the huts
The local school children at the market
This is the govt dock where supplies are being brought in to
The local children wear school uniforms and were on a break
Chips & sodas are very popular with the children
Our helpers at the mercado
The local women selling "Molas" the tapestries or
needlepoint that the women wear
The traditional Kuna style was worn by these ladies
Casa Angel was another market where we obtained the
"Ron" or Rum
Your own private island
The bamboo huts have dirt floors and are mainly just open
space with hammocks and maybe a partition or 2
The Kuna church