My group and I were in Casco Viejo in la Ciudad de Panama - the jumping off point for my month-long exploration of the Republic of Panama.
We decided to turn back the other way and get to bed early, before the sun went down. We did a quick loop of the market square and threw together a dinner from items bargained from street vendors - a coconut, green beans, mangoes, guanabana, and some chicken, white rice, and cow stomach from a local carneria.
Because of the remoteness of the location, we had contacted Germain of Cartí island to bring us out. I had spoken with him several times via spanish email, and once by phone, but we still did not know if he himself would be picking us up. It turned out that our 4x4 ride was simply somebody he hired to come pick us up.
The ride was dark for a good amount of time, but conversation flowed surprisingly smoothly between us, practicing our Spanish, and the driver, practicing his English. The landscape soon lit up with the rising sun, changing from shades of grey to every color of green. We were well into the middle of a tropical rainforest.
We eventually reached the Kuna Yala border, where we had our passports checked before entering the region. From that point, we began to descend down steep slopes to the Atlantic Ocean. From the Pacific to Atlantic had taken us about four hours ... and a lot of elevation.
We arrived at the port of Cartí, where a short, very stout dark skinned Kuna introduced himself: "tú debes ser Marshall - me llamo Germain, beinvenidos". He lead our group of severely confused gringos around the port for a while as we got our stamps and paperwork done (which basically consisted of paying a few dollars) and he got the boats ready.
Once getting on the boats, however, everything became pure bliss. We shot out into a sea of crystal-clear blue waters and pristine white sand beaches. Eventually, we made it to the island of Cartí - the biggest and most populated island in Kuna Yala, which can be circumnavigated on foot in about 30 minutes. The island had not an inch of open space on its shoreline - EVERYTHING was consumed by the myriad of types of hand-constructed docks. On the island itself, small corrugated tin roofs were held up by wooden stakes to make wall-less shelters, and narrow dirt alleyways lead the way between each of the shelters. Underneath the shelters, Kuna women swung in hammocks strung between the wooden stakes and sewed. A few of the larger shelters had real walls, making them more resemble houses, and Germain's house was constructed with heavy stakes and included an upstairs, complete with two hammocks and a few beds where we would stay.
After eating, we would head out on the boats to various islands. Most of the Kuna work during this time - the women sew and men usually either go fishing for dinner or, for the few like Germain who have decided to profit on the tourist industry, drive tourists around entertaining them. As tourists, all we did during this time was play on beautiful beaches, free dive, and have intense beach olympics.
After dinner, there was usually a bit of time for napping before the evening's festivities.
Later in the day, Germain picked us up in the boat and took us back over to Isla del Perro, where Jason was well on his way to becoming best friends with some Kuna children. He picked right back up where he left off and started a game of soccer. Of course, two coconuts marked the goalposts. I cheered for one of the Kuna boys, Mario, who we named 'Underwear Boy' due to his only choice of clothing, ever.