Yachting Monthly|November 2019
The yellow skins of the papayas caught my eye as a dugout canoe moved alongside us. Three Guna Indians, returning from harvesting papayas, coconuts and pineapples from their fields on the mainland, had clearly been curious about who had anchored next to their home island of Mamitupu, with its golden sand and palm-tree shade. They nodded to us as they inspected Eastern Stream’s hull and deck, and we decided it was time to go ashore. After beaching the dinghy, we were met by a villager who asked us to follow him to a small house. Inside were the chiefs of the village, the Sahilas, who officially welcomed us to Mamitupu and explained the rules. We were more then welcome to visit the island and look around, but the coconuts were off limits as each one was owned by a villager.
Once we had paid the anchor fee, the official part was over and we explored the narrow sandy paths which snaked around the houses and small courtyards where the Guna Indians cooked, washed and relaxed in their hammocks. Other than smartphones and solar panels for energy, there were no other signs of modern technology. As we continued walking we could see flashes of red in between the small wooden houses with their banana leaf roofs as the women, dressed in traditional bright clothing, went about their daily chores. Their forearms and legs were wrapped in chains of tiny beads. It is a beautiful and typical way of dressing in the Guna culture.
San Blas or Guna Yala, to give it its local name, had always been part of our cruising plan. My partner Jaap and I had set out from the Netherlands aboard our Chiquita 46, Eastern Stream, a year earlier. Having sailed Europe and crossed the Atlantic, we explored some of the Caribbean islands before heading to Colombia and then towards Panama, where we were joined by Jaap’s sister, Nynke, her partner Harald and their four-year-old son, Ebbe.
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