Thursday, January 8, 2009

Comarca de Kuna

Our small wooden boat reeled in the five foot swells, slamming down time after time as we motored against the wind. We were soaked through -- cold to the bone, eyes stinging from the salt water, and only one hour into the trip. Maybe we were hunting some gargantuan beast of the depths -- but if we were, the two Israeli girls screaming behind us were going to be of no help; maybe we were sole survivors from a sinking ship, in which case those same girls were going overboard the minute we needed to start rationing water. I looked over at Jina as she continued to bail water. What a way to finish the honeymoon.

The Kuna are an indigenous people, living on several hundred small islands on the Northeast coast of Panama. They settled there only about four hundred years ago, but have completely staved off any colonization or westernization since then, maintaining their own government and regional control separate yet part of Panama as a whole. Theirs is a matriarchal society; when a girl comes of age, she receives her real name in a great ceremony (until then she is known only by a nickname). Then, when she marries, her hair is cut short and wears the traditional septum ring and face painting. And while the men have, on the whole, assumed western-style clothes, the women still wear traditional "monas" and complex beadwork along their arms and legs.

With only a handful of days left of our honeymoon, we decided to visit the Kuna, not only to learn more about this unique culture, but also to enjoy their pristine paradise islands and relax on the beach. A river-fjording jeep trip and a harrowing boat ride later, and we arrived cold and wet at Pelican Island, our home for the next four days. And while the weather careened wildly from sudden squalls to tropical sun, the pace of being stuck on an island the size of four tennis courts suited us just fine. We lounged in the hammock, went snorkeling, read books, and became wonderfully bored. The same stormy weather we faced on the way out had stymied any supply boat from setting out from the mainland, so while water was running out, we still enjoyed our meals of rice and whatever the cook could find. Jina, channeling her Madagascar days, caught a good-sized fish and found two spiny lobsters, which fed everyone on the island.

After a much more pleasant trip home, we're now back in Panama City, refreshed and a little sunburnt.

1 comment:

Jebediah T. Wilson said...

My ghostfish saw that picture and subsequently burst into tears: that was his grandfather, you bastards!
I know better now than to have my aquarium face my computer, so they can watch the internets over my shoulders. They are scarred for life. Thanks alot.
Way to go, and indeed, what an end to your honey moon :D

PS>the secret word is sclangio