The San Blas Ar­chi­pel­ago: A Hid­den Trea­sure

EX­CE­LEN­CIAS SUG­GESTS A MINDSWEEPI­NG TRIP TO THIS SAFE HAVEN OF POW­DER-THIN WHITE SANDS, CO­CONUT GROVES AND CRYS­TAL-CLEAR WA­TERS

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Turismo Alternativ­o / Alternativ­e Tourism - BY JOSÉ CAR­LOS DE SANTIAGO PHOTO ATP

The in­hab­i­tants of this ar­chi­pel­ago are not tall, have short necks and large heads, with short legs and small feet. The cus­toms that gov­ern in this vil­lage are to­tally dif­fer­ent from the rest of the ar­chi­pel­ago, since each of the is­lands has its own rules, so its in­hab­i­tants are for­eign­ers when they leave their premises.

Here we find a sur­pris­ing com­bi­na­tion be­tween the most an­cient and the most mod­ern cus­toms, as is the case that the Ku­nas in­hab­i­tants, who charge you a dol­lar for ev­ery photo you take of them and ten if you want to take pho­tos of the main street of the vil­lage.

They are monog­a­mous and adul­tery is a crime. His boss is the Sahila, who has author­ity in the com­mu­nity where he lives. For his part, the Nele is the head of sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties. The houses are all made with reeds, they sleep in ham­mocks, and in­side their huts, there is a cu­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of ob­jects, clothes and fam­ily com­po­nents that are scat­tered all in the same room. Their liveli­hood is agri­cul­ture, ba­si­cally co­conuts, maize, co­coa and cas­sava, and now also tourism. In each Kuna house­hold, women make "mo­las", fab­rics em­broi­dered with cheer­ful col­ors that are used to make clothes, cush­ions, paint­ings and other el­e­ments. They also com­pose "wi­nis", bracelets they wrap around their wrists and an­kles, em­broi­dered blouses, masks and neck­laces, which they put on dis­play in each door.

An­other char­ac­ter­is­tic is the jewel they wear: ear­rings of com­pli­cated de­signs that jew­el­ers make es­pe­cially for each per­son, and or­na­ments that are put on the nose, tra­di­tion­ally made of gold, although now they have be­gun to make them of other ma­te­ri­als.

Life un­folds peace­fully in the vil­lage, un­der the swel­ter­ing Caribbean sun, as chil­dren bathe cheer­fully in the wa­ters sur­round­ing the place, af­ter at­tend­ing school, and joke with vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially those who of­fer them­selves to be pho­tographed. It seems that civ­i­liza­tion has en­tered the Ku­nas only to the point of not dis­turb­ing their way of un­der­stand­ing life and liv­ing it ev­ery day.

Kwad­ule is a new is­land, with a sur­face of about 8,000 square me­ters, that emerged spon­ta­neously. Its own­ers, fol­low­ing the rules gov­ern­ing the area, were the first two peo­ple to dis­cover their birth and planted the first co­conut palms. Be­long­ing to the Ku­nas eth­nic group, its in­hab­i­tants, fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion passed on to them from their an­ces­tors, man­aged to fer­til­ize the veg­e­ta­tion of the is­land by mix­ing the soil of other is­lands -they be­lieve that the grains of soil are males and fe­males, so to­gether they be­come fer­tile.

It's hard to de­scribe what it feels like to get close to Kwad­ule; all the fan­tasies of be­ing Robin­son Cru­soe or a cast­away on the thou­sand-time dreamy desert is­land, sud­denly come true.

The life in the area hinges on two vil­lages that, although united by a bridge, their dwellers live in them in­de­pen­dent, in line with their own stan­dards.

Yandup is the in­dige­nous name of Heart of Je­sus, where planes touch down be­fore fly­ing on to Kwad­ule. The guide in­tro­duces us to these vil­lages whose in­hab­i­tants greet us with in­cred­i­ble con­trasts: the first view is of messy houses, with col­ors and un­paved streets, but as we go on along, the bridge that joins them pops up, the one over the Nar­ganá River. This is no doubt an un­re­peat­able im­age, that of a group of school­child­ren, uni­formed in blue. And right be­hind them, Ku­nas women wear­ing typ­i­cal cos­tumes and their jew­els, live in per­fect co­ex­is­tence with their an­cient tra­di­tions and the perks of progress.

The dream comes to an end, although we will al­ways have the hap­pi­ness of hav­ing seen some­thing unique and per­fect, as only a par­adise can be.

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