Cayos Holandes, San Blas Islands, Panama

If anybody has a right to complain about things, it’s the indigenous people of the world. Pretty much everywhere you find them, you also find a tragic tale. The tale is normally one filled with peaceful simple living for many generations in complete harmony with the land, the seasons, and the elements. Then at some point in the tale, the profit-seeking white man shows up on the shore, at which point the indigenous people are enslaved or slaughtered, the survivors relocated, their resources stolen, the land pillaged, the indigenous people almost completely written out of the history books. That is the historical norm.

We’re now exploring the island chain that belongs to the Archipelago de San Blas, a string of 378 tiny tropical islands along the Panamanian coast. Given their extreme proximity to Panama’s mainland, and just 70 miles from the mouth of the world’s most vital commercial shipping lane, it’s surprising this archipelago remains almost completely uninhabited and seemingly untouched by westerners, except the occasional passing sailboat like us. The few people that do live here are the Kuna Indians, an indigenous people who exist today exactly as they have for generations and have been spared (so far) the tragic fate of their compatriots in other (probably more resource rich) places. Thanks to the Kuna, the experience for those of us sailing through the San Blas archipelago is unique and totally unforgettable.

The Kuna are a simple people who seem to survive on almost nothing but fish and coconut water- they have no electricity or running water, and they don’t seem the least bit bothered by that. Each time we’ve approached a Kuna-habited island, we’ve been welcomed – they offer to sell fish, crab, lobster, avocados, and coconuts, and the prices seem laughably low to those of us accustomed to shopping in western grocery chains. Our Kuna-prepared dinner last night, including fish, rice, veggies, and beer (warm of course) was just $5…. the experience, as you can imagine, priceless.

Luckily for us, the Kuna don’t care too much about bureaucracy either, so we plan to keep exploring for another four or five days before reaching a Panama port of entry and formally clearing into this country. In most places, a border hopping stunt like this would be a serious crime, but in the San Blas, there’s no Coast Guard, no immigration officials, no Department of Homeland Security, no customs agents, no drug smuggling task forces, nobody at all who gives a damn, and certainly not us.

Now, some exciting news….. for those of you living near Los Angeles, we hope you’ll add the Hermosa Beach Art Walk to your calendar for next weekend (June 8-9) at the Hermosa Beach Pier. 100 artists will be exhibiting there, and thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Mary Clouston, there will also be a Jason Windebank Photography booth, including a bunch of prints from this voyage (no, you haven’t seen these ones on the blog)! So, check it out and there will be bonus points if you say hello to Mary.