‘Refrain form kissing, nudity and auto, hetero or homosexual acts on inhabited or uninhabited islands.” Who knew paradise had so many rules. Or that anywhere could be quite so beautiful.
Guna Yala is a unique place. On the map it looks like these 365 ish islands are part of Panama, but since 1925 it has been an autonomous region. The Kuna, as the indigenous people are called, make their own rules, run their own government, control their tourism and own everything. There are no chain hotels, there are very few restaurants; you provision from the veggie boat.
It is a unique culture. Panamanians were eager to tell us that the Kuna often dress and raise their sons as girls particularly if the family does not have daughters. They even find them husbands. Girls, whether biological or not, inherit all in this matriarchal society. Any Kuna who marries a non-Kuna is banished. Husbands move into the wife’s family compound upon marriage.
About 49 of the islands are inhabited with Gilligan’s Island style huts. The rest are perfect white sand beaches dotted with palm trees. Until you get close. Every beach we swam to was littered with garbage, mostly plastic bottles. It is heart breaking the damage plastics are causing to our oceans. Time to drink tap. But I digress….
Though tourism is a growing revenue source, coconuts are a major export. Every palm tree and every coconut has an owner. We learned the hard way you cannot just pick them up off the beach. We were fined $1 for each one we took. OOPs! Until quite recently they were used as local currency.
These islands, sometimes called the San Blas are so stunning they seem unreal. Sadly photo shopped islands may soon be all you see. The Kuna people are trying to protect their culture and their land but they are up against forces beyond their control. Years of coral mining combined with rising sea levels have left these low islands extremely vulnerable. We saw many fallen trees lying in the water, the sand around their roots completely eroded. A BBC article predicts the whole archipelago may be underwater in only a few decades.
It is hard to get here (I was sick for 8 hours as we sailed through huge swells). With sex on the beach outlawed and Internet virtually non-existent there is nothing to do but snorkel in tub warm water, read books in the sun and walk on the sand. It was the perfect way to spend three weeks, possibly a lifetime.