Our Ocean Blog

Community Spirit in the San Blas

When the Blue Planet Odyssey was launched in 2012, the idea was to carry out local projects at some of the stops along the route in order for sailors to contribute their time and skills back to the communities that welcome them. As the rally does not spend very long in any one place, it has not been a challenge to set up more complex projects. However, the community spirit is very much alive, as demonstrated by this blog from Janet Hayes on Chapter Two.

26 January, Porvenir, San Blas Islands

There are certain moments in life when you realize how lucky you are to be a part of something big. Today was one of them. But first, I have to talk about the villager who paddled out to our boat to sell us bananas. I was trying to understand him in my very broken Spanish when he asked about lens for Molas. He intimated that a family member needed glasses to sew their fabric pieces. This is often their source of income. Sue, our crew member, had brought a bag full of reading glasses that she purchased at the $1.00 store before we set sail. I offered to trade a pair of glasses for bananas and he was happy to oblige. He acted like they were gold and paddled away a very happy camper.

Later in the morning, we were invited to the island of Nalunega to attend the local fruit and vegetable festival. Meaning, they had just received a big shipment of supplies. A local Kuna man named Nesto had paddled to our boat and introduced himself in very good English the day we arrived and invited us to his island. I said we would love to come and radioed the other boats to see if they were interested in attending. We caravanned to the tiny island where we were met by Nesto and his family. He showed us his home (hut) with all sand floors and minimal furniture. There were hammocks hanging for sleeping and an old TV with an antenna sitting near the middle of the room. The island is powered by solar panels and they get one hour of electricity every night. All of the huts are made with renewable fast growing material while the walls were made with sugar cane. There are no nails or fasteners with everything held together with jungle creepers. I noted that their trash was piled up in different areas on the island. The villagers burn what they can and let the rest pile up or throw in the ocean. They do recycle plastic jugs for light covers, water and various other uses.

I asked Nesto if they have problems with the rising water levels. He said in the month of December, the paths were covered with water because of a higher tide. They are literally at sea level and steps away from the ocean. The villagers already walk on sand, can you imagine wading through sandy water for a month? A few of the buildings were on stilts but not many. We walked across the island to the festival and discovered a beautiful bay with a picturesque view. A few village men were finishing work on a canoe and invited the men in our group to help push it into the ocean. Of course, they were happy to oblige. I was able to purchase carrots, potatoes, watermelon, cucumbers and tomatoes. Nothing is grown on the island because of the sand.

I asked Nesto if school was in session and he informed us the children were on holiday. I asked to see the school anyway. He walked us over to a concrete building and let us go into the classroom. It is one room with a tile floor with sand in every corner of the room, one chalkboard, no desks to be seen but it did have the alphabet letters on the wall. Also posted was a daily lesson plan and schedule. At that moment, I was humbled by their resourcefulness while educating their children. It was the barest of bare but they made it work.

The Kuna people are friendly, happy, inviting and genuinely willing to share all aspects of their life. As the day was getting hotter, we walked back thru the village and met young children doing cartwheels and handstands for us. Before we got into our dinghy to return back to the comforts of our boat, I thanked Nesto for inviting us to his island and sharing a piece of his life with us. The Kuna have very few material things in their lives but are a happy people who don’t need much. I am truly blessed to be able to travel the world and experience all the different cultures. The Kuna have one of the most beautiful views in the world with all the fresh fish they can catch, with most of them living to be in their 90’s. Let’s hope their little slice of an island won’t be underwater in 30 years but reality is that it will be and they will have to relocate. Awareness and change is important going forward.

Janet on Chapter Two

Janet on Chapter Two with her husband Pat

We left Porvenir and decided to drop anchor at an island called Tiadup. From the view of the boat, it appeared there was a small family living on this tiny island. Our AIS charts show us sitting literally on the island. The island is half the size it used to be according to the pictures in a Panama book we use for navigating. Sue and I decided to go ashore and check out the island. The villagers were selling beaded wraps for ankles and wrists, molas and conch shells. Sue had brought along a few pairs of reading glasses to bargain with and bought a beaded wrap for her ankle. We started chatting in broken Spanish. The head matriarch is named Rosaline and her husband is Roberto. As we were chatting, they asked for other strengths of glasses and we told them we would bring others the next morning. They asked if we had water and could we charge their cell phone. They have three cell phones laying around but only one was charged. We agreed to take the cell phone and charge it and to come back the next morning to get their jugs to fill with water. There were three men of various ages ranging from mid 30’s to 80’s and four women ranging in age from mid 20’s to mid 80’s and three young children under the age of ten running around. This is the only family living on this tiny island.

27 January, Tiadup

The day arrived with me sitting on the fly bridge of the boat and drinking my coffee and taking in the most beautiful island scenery you have ever seen. My cup runneth over… literally! Sue and I decided to head ashore and take the reading glasses and charged cell phone back to the village. We were greeted warmly with the charged cell phone in hand and glasses. Roberto immediately started trying on the glasses and picked his pair. He asked for a magazine and I asked if he still needed water. Rosaline jumped up and ran to grab 7 jugs for us to fill with fresh water. Pat and I decided to go back to the boat and fill the jugs. Rosaline asked if she could come and I said, “Si, vamanos”! She hopped up and ran to change her skirt with a huge smile on her face. One of her granddaughters decided to come along too. We loaded them in our dinghy and took them to our boat. They stepped on the boat and sat down on the outside bench while I ran to get a pair of reading glasses for her to try. She hadn’t been able to find a strength that worked for her from the selection we took to the island. I handed her a Time magazine and gave her glasses to sample. I knew she had found a pair that worked when she looked at me with a huge grin on her face. While we were sampling glasses, Pat, John and Josh were refilling the water jugs. Before we left the boat, she asked if she could see inside the boat and I was happy to oblige. She walked into the salon and immediately sat down and looked around. I told her it was “mi casa” and she smiled. Rosaline saw a simple ink pen laying on the desk and asked if I had another one. I quickly found one for her and put the pen, glasses and magazine into a baggie. It’s amazing that simple things we take for granted are life changing for them.

San Blas Islands

San Blas Islands

Once the water was filled, we loaded the jugs, Rosaline and her granddaughter back into the boat and headed back to the island. We deposited them back to their little slice of an island but it was apparent that it made them very happy to live there. It was a great feeling knowing that we helped contribute to the basic necessity of filling their water jugs. This simple act of kindness and generousity is one of our missions with Blue Planet Odyssey . As the sun sets on another day, I have to say again, “my cup runneth over”.

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