Peaceful moments, picture perfect sunsets and stories waiting to be written can be found on the sinking islands of San Blas. So sail the seas, snorkel the reefs, chase stingrays, or simply lay at your leisure as millions of stars illuminate the night sky. We promise the fresh caught seafood will make up for the lack of cell phone service. But trust us, the islands won’t be waiting for long.
My captain, a golden-haired, dreadlocks-rockin’ member of the Guna Yala tribe. Ani had just enough butt crack showing—I think that’s the sailor’s equivalent of “wearing one’s heart on their sleeve”—to remind me that life is meant to be enjoyed. His free-spirit demeanor and warm passion set the tone for what was to become one of my favorite experiences—exploring the hidden treasure that are the sinking islands of San Blas.
Cool, salty droplets hydrated my warm, sun-kissed skin as my millennial tribe-member sailor navigated us through the glistening waters of San Blas. Once my bare feet stepped onto the pristine white sands, I immediately felt like I was in a Jack Johnson video where the palm trees were the backup dancers, swaying to the rhythm of the waves. Pelicans joined the choreography from the sky; all in perfect harmony with my happy dance! And as I stood on just one of the 360 white sanded beaches that made up the archipelago of San Blas, I could feel a deep connection with my surroundings. But aboard my catamaran is where the real magic happened.
The Guna Yala tribe can be distinguished by their vibrant, geometric beadwork, winding from knees to ankles and their molas (handcrafted blouses).
As our catamaran prepared to set sail, a tribe member waved from a distance to signal permission to board. Venacio, a male master mola maker and a cross dresser, latched his boat to ours and carried two massive buckets filled with his hand-made crafts. One by one, he started to pull out the molas to explain the meaning behind each design. He told us that each mola takes weeks, if not months to complete. The passion reflected in his eyes as he spoke about his tribe’s art, culture, and people was truly contagious. He explained that Gunas celebrate gender equality, and he’s humbled to be esteemed amongst his tribe. I loved that. Despite the fact that the tribe is out of touch with modern technology, they’re more advanced than many cultures, when it comes to humanity.
How can I make a moment last forever? That was my recurring thought as we sailed through the glistening, calm waters of San Blas. As we navigated our catamaran to the Dutch Keys and set our anchors next to the island of Sibadub, we encountered one fisherman who lived with his best friend, a woofy, four-legged character. There were no others boats. No other families. No other stories. He had the island to himself, and for a while, we became part of his story—I was lost in the tranquility of the island. Blissful silence. Lost in awe—the sound of fish jumping out of the water brought me back to earth—San Blas, Panama, Earth. Perhaps it was the clear, jade water, or the perfect sunset. Maybe, I just had one-too-many glasses of wine, but in that moment, I was alive. As I watched the sun slowly deepen into the horizon, I felt at peace. For once, I was not worried about my problems at home, or my tasks at hand. I was present- mind, body, and spirit.
Unfortunately, my bliss was overshadowed by the sad reality that the islands are sinking and even the Gunas plan to relocate. In a few short decades, San Blas will cease to exist. Sadly, there is not much anyone can do, except appreciate and enjoy the dying beauty before it’s too late.