Posts Tagged With: Caribbean

Renting a private island at Kuna Yala


Our border crossing adventure starts at four in the morning when Ricardo, also Kuna, picks us up at the hostel.  He is the person that will take us for 25$ in Kuna Yala (which means ‘Kuna territory’ in the local language) as no foreigner can enter the district without the transport provided by one of the locals.  After driving through the jungle we arrive at the district border where several cars with Kunas, tourists and merchandises are waiting the opening at 7 o’clock.  Each tourist pays 10$ as entrance of the natural reserve of unexplored jungle and 365 white-sand-coco-islands protected by the second biggest coral reef of the world.  So after a brief passport check we get permission to enter, another hour of jungle passing by and finally we can see the seashore of Cartí.  Cartí, which existence is based on a small harbour and a tollhouse, is another invention to ask money and to pay a 2$ fee for accessing the islands and where a 5min boat trip to one of the three Cartí islands costs 5$.  On this island we have the family of Angel (see post A man, a plan…) waiting for us to spend at least one night.  Arriving at the island is a true shock for us. There where we expected natural sublimity we find human destructivity.  The Cartí islets are islands made from coral rocks with not one square millimetre unused.  It is overpopulated, noisy and dirty,… very dirty!  It really messes with our minds to see trash everywhere on the small dusty streets, in the houses and floating around the island.  They, as the matter in fact, empty their bin directly in the sea just next to their houses, right there where kids are swimming and playing in the already polluted water and by doing that enough time the community gains some terrain to build on… on garbage!

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San Blas, the north part of Kuna Yala has about 5 of those community super crowded islands near the main land.  The rest of the islands are further from land and less populated till even the farest unhabituated smaller dream islands.  We wander astonished around and by every corner we cross, every barbarity we see and every Kuna we speak with, it becomes clear we don’t want to stay here on this island.  We have a free place to stay but just can’t bare the sight of violating nature at this level.  It is infinitely sad to see how indigenous people, who live with and from the sea, mistreat their so valuable environment.

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So we go to the dock to find a solution, to find a way out here and find the real marvel that San Blas is.  But it’s not going to be easy.  Every island, every rock that peaks out of the water is private property of one of the Kuna families and for that they obligate us to pay access to each one of them.  This people see us as walking dollar notes and everything is to pay here.  Transport is another problem: it seems like 45$ sounds just perfect to them, so whatever boat transport they offer (most to an island nearby) they ask us to pay 45$ a person.  We are stuck here and they know it.  We can’t ‘jump’ from island to island till the border, paying every time 45$.  The transport Angel said there would be we can’t find and staying here seems the worst option.  So sitting at the dock, watching trash floating by, sitting here without options, without ideas nor inspiration, we look sadly at each other and assure ourselves that something will pop-up.  A motorized boat is coming to the dock as we sit here defeated, gaping through the transparent water at the layer of garbage covering the sea bottom.  We can hear loud shouting from youngsters and the closer they are the more persons are at the dock to welcome them.  “Mula, Mula, Mula!”, echoes over the water surface while a big trophy proudly decorates the front of the boat.  The football team of Mulatupo is making its victory round on its way home and stops at each population to show off their 2nd place trophy.

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It is not till we realize that Mulatupo is in Caledonia (the outer south part of Kuna Yala) that we get in action.  We ask the capitan for a ride, as he has to go anyway to Mulatupo, and as expected he asks us 45$. We get it down to 40$, not really a bargain but at least it will bring us to the total other side, even almost the border.  So a very reasonable price for Kuna standards.  Till now we have seen and heard from other travellers, ‘offers’ for the same distance for 150$ in a 75Hp open vessel, which means 8-9 hours on a boat under a burning Caribbean midday sun.  With this 2x250Hp transport it takes us 3 hours and we even stop at each main island to celebrate with the team and make a short walk in the different villages.

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We can watch the women working, taking care of the household and making their mola, a typical tribal handcraft considered art by many of world’s most important art galleries.

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We observe kids sharpening their amazing fisher skills at the water border.  After a long trip we finally get to Mulatupo, yet another dumping ground where we get in contact with Atiliano, kuna of course, who is owner of an island and is willing to rent it to us.  After a long day of driving, navigating, visiting the different communities, discussing prices at each occasion and for each buy, we finally set feet on a beautiful sand beach.  The island is as big as a ten minute walk. It has a small hut on the beach to put our tent under, some cocotrees around it conveniently providing shade and green mangroves at the other side.  It is just perfect, so peaceful,… happiness invades us.

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Several days of waking up at a two person sized beach bathed in early morning sunlight with views on an intense blue ocean is our destiny, climbing cocotrees and snorkelling is our labour and at nightfall watching a firnamiento dotted with millions of stars our duty.  Far away over the mainland where the mountains rise to the sky we watch lightnings striking down or thinning out at the bottom side of the clouds.  Mighty rainfalls and deafening thunders soundtrack the night while tropical birds with their happy tunes do the morning shift.  We eat delicious bread bought at the Caledonia Island with rice, lentils and coco of course.

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For the night we arranged that Atiliano would bring us some fresh fish dish with platains and a spicy sauce so we chat about the Kuna life and culture, incomes, habits, social structure, business and future projects in the community.  The son of Atiliano takes us on a telling- story-ride with stories about sharks, big waves and other sea myths.  It is a dream not easy to wake up from, but on this island there is no chance to find a transport to Colombia.  So time to wake up…


…to be continued crossing The Darién Gap!

Our recommendations:

-The further away from San Blas, the cheaper it is to stay on an island that is not a community (at least 20$ per night accommodation/food in San Blas while we pay only 7$/night for the rent of the island in Caledonia).

-Calculate the time you wish to stay on a desolated island and buy food on the cheaper mainland (Panama City has some very cheap supermarkets)

-All the different options, contacts and prices to cross the border will be displayed in the next post.

Categories: Panama | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Bocas del Toro y la Playa de las Estrellas


Dopo due settimane trascorse in paradiso crediamo sia arrivato il momento di scendere sulla terra e attraversare un’altra frontiera…quella tra Costa Rica e Panama. Da Puerto Viejo perció prendiamo un pullman per Sixaola (3,5 dollari a testa), cittá fronterizia situata a 30 chilometri circa di distanza dove riceviamo altri due timbri sul passaporto. Una volta aver superato il confine cerchiamo un trasporto per Almirante, comunitá portuale da cui poter prendere il traghetto per Isla Colón, l’isola principale tra le sei che compongono l’ arcipelago caraibico di Bocas del Toro di cui abbiamo letto e sentito solo favole e leggende.

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Dopo una discussione di mezz’ora con tassisti e conducenti vari che cercano di strapparti fino all’ultimo centesimo, affinando le nostre doti di negoziazione, riusciamo a contrattare un minibus fino al molo per 5$ e il battello per 4$ a persona.

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Sbarcati sulle sponde di Colón ci mettiamo alla ricerca del Coconut Hostel in cui ci aspettano degli amici viaggiatori con cui siamo in contatto da giorni. Mettiamo piede nell’ostello e dal fondo della stanza sentiamo la voce di André, il nostro compagno portoghese il cui percorso si intreccia ormai da tempo con il nostro. Ci sistemiamo in una stanza privata con bagno in comune e colazione inclusa (niente illusioni ragazzi, scopriamo con un certo disappunto che ció che qui chiamano colazione in realtá consiste solo di 1 pancake, 1 banana che guarda caso non é presente perché dicono scarzeggi questo periodo dell’anno e 1 tazza di caffé) per 9$ a persona, prezzo abbastanza normale per Panama. Neanche il tempo di riprenderci dal viaggio e metterci in bikini e ci ritroviamo su un’altra barchetta diretti verso l’isola Carenero per passare un pomeriggio rilassante in spiaggia e raccontarci le ultime avventure. Qui ritroviamo Fiona, una ragazza chilena conosciuta in Guatemala, e una coppia di ragazzi argentini, Belen e Exequiel, anche loro in viaggio per centro e sud America tra chitarre e fili di macramé. L’acqua é stupenda, tra il turchese e il verde smeraldo, la spiaggia assolata e isolata e il cammino per raggiungerla paradisiaco.

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Una doccia per togliere il salato dalla pelle e di nuovo per strada per scoprire da dove proviene quel frastuono che sentiamo entrare dalla nostra finestra. Appena girato l’angolo notiamo una banda di musicisti di strada intonando ritmi incalzanti con fiati e percussioni. Ci fermiamo per scattare due foto e riprendere la scena e ad un tratto scorgiamo due facce molto familiari: sono Ed e Sophia, ancora loro, ancora una volta, di nuovo insieme. Felici di esserci ritrovati, andiamo a cena insieme per metterci al corrente delle ultime tappe mentre ci godiamo una squisita cucina gourmet un pó fuori budget ma ne vale decisamente la pena.

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Il giono dopo trascorriamo un’incredibile giornata nell’altro lato dell’isola facendo snorkeling e avvistando delfini nell’incantevole Playa de las Estrellas raggiungibile in bici o trasporte pubblico. Una spiaggia idillica interamente costellata di stelle marine, come lo stesso nome suggerisce, dalle mille sfumature di rosso e arancione, l’oceano piatto come olio e una vegetazione selvaggia e incontaminata . Peccato solo per l’invasione di bar e ristoranti che non lasciano un centimetro libero per stendere l’asciugamano.

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Rientriamo in ostello e i nostri compagni di viaggio ci accolgono con un’idea impossibile da  rifiutare: pizza per cena. Exequiel si mette quindi a preparare l’impasto, lo lascia lievitare, lo lavora bene tra le mani e via nel forno per una cottura perfetta. Sono secoli che non mangio una pizza decente e questa…é davvero buona!!! DSC07458

Le giornate volano cosí tra mare, sabbie dorate e ottimi pranzetti preparati con amore e dedizione dal nostro chef argentino preferito (riesce persino a commuovermi quando, per celebrare il nostro ultimo pranzo insieme, decide di immortalarsi in un’incredibile PASTA FATTA IN CASA condita con una deliziosa salsa di pomodori freschi!!!)

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e le serate in buona compagnia tra cene, musica e birre fresche per festeggiare il compleanno del nostro caro André. Senza rendercene conto passano quattro giorni e quattro notti…é ora di avanzare, Panama City ci aspetta. É ora di risolvere un dubbio molto comune tra noi viaggiatori: come superare il mitico Tapón de Darien ed entrare in Colombia. Tutta un’avventura!


  • Quando si entra in Panama bisogna assicurarsi di avere un biglietto di uscita dal Paese di qualunque tipo. Siamo rimasti chiusi per un’ora in un ufficio poco accogliente discutendo con una poliziotta non molto cordiale per farle capire che non avevamo nessuna intenzione di stabilirci lí, mettere su famiglia e cercare lavoro illegalmente. Perció, se si vogliono evitare complicazioni o mance piuttosto salate per far si che gli ufficiali di servizio chiudano un occhio, meglio avere con sé un biglietto del bus/aereo che attesti la volontá di lasciare lo stato allo scadere  dei classici 90 giorni previsti dal visto turistico.
  • L’entrata in Panama costa 3 dollari. L’uscita da Costa Rica non costa nulla.
  • L’arcipelago di Bocas del Toro é costituito da 6 isole maggiori, ognuna delle quali offre una vastissima gamma di attivitá e attrazioni imperdibili. Informazioni su tours o luoghi da visitare sono disponibili ovunque, dipende solo dal tempo o dal budget a disposizione.
Categories: Panama | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Puerto Viejo, where beach and sea prevail.


The Caribe’s are as fancy as someone would imagine.  Good food, smooth live, easy going, blue sea and sunny sky are the daily tread, as well as the long rasta, reggae music and the ever smell of pot in the air.  We travel from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (1440C$) getting closer to the Panamas border without losing the Caribbean Sea out of sight.  Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, or just Puerto Viejo, is a bit bigger than Cahuita, has more shops, bars, restaurants, night live,… and at equal parts has it more tourists and is noisier at day and night, it is as we would call it a popular touristic destination.  With luck on our side today, we find ‘Cabins Larry next to a, good for breakfast and teatime, coffeehouse, a street away from the bus stop.  This rather minor apartment complex offers us, in low season and without any other guests, a full apartment (kitchen, bathroom with hot water, double bed, terrace with table, chairs and hammock and with a good Wi-Fi service) for just 9000C$ a day, a worthy price for a bit of rest, peace, safety and privacy.  We walk 50m and find ourselves crossing the main street with shops, supermarkets, banks and the bus stop and walking another 50m we are starring at the bleu horizon with sporadic Caribbean little waves.  After a 1000C$ fresh squeezed fruit shake at a terrace on the bay we ‘horizontalize’ us on the beach protected by the shade of the palm trees which leaves make tropical sounds when waving in the tropic breeze.

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Snorkelling is a must here: warm water, no waves, no currents and thousands of fishes displaying millions of colours.  We see a blowfish, octopus, and different starfish walking the bottom with their long thin tentacles, besides all the rest of the colourful fishes typical to coral reefs.  The day passes by fast and the night sets in soon, the village lights up and neon shows us the way to our needs: meat, vegetables, avocados and flour tortillas.  We have a kitchen, so we cook, so we have delicious burritos on the menu and so we save another couple of thousand Colones.

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Day two we do the main street and confirm what we sadly expected: every shop selling exactly the same. When it’s a cloth shop: it are the same trousers and reggae coloured sweatshirts, when it’s a grocery: the same small variety of vegetables and fruits and when we enter a souvenir shop we’ll get magnets, spoons and other useless stuff we can buy anywhere else but this time with ‘Puerto Viejo’ written on it.  So we advance fast and end up at the beach for another underwater-vision-swim, a long read and a tasteful coco and pineapple.

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The third day we discover the surroundings so after an easy hitchhiking we get to Punta Uva, a wide white sand dream beach to relax, swim and contemplate nature.  We observe how a pelican time after time flies high, circles around our heads, spots a school of sardines, dives and breaks into the water surface to catch his meal of the day.  Behind us Howler Monkeys clans are debating the territory with loud screams and as we turn around we can see them jumping from branch to branch in the big canopy of an old tree high above us.  Diving glasses and tube becomes more and more an extension of our body the longer we stay at the Caribe’s.  The water is crystal clear and the sun obligates refreshment and cooling off so snorkelling is the solution.

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To go back home we walk along the different beaches (Playa Uva, Playa Chiquita and Playa Cocles) observing how locals are fishing at the shore.  Stunning vistas pass by together with the seaboard while the sun bit by bit is getting closer to the vanishing point.

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From the beach to the road we pass through a few bushes full of oversized spiders in even more oversized spider webs and as neither of us is very fond of arachnids very soon we find ourselves in a nightmare of jumping human eating spiders trying to capture us in their webs… so running through this area our hair and faces are getting full of spider strings.  We are just disgusted by the idea and feverishly we try to untie the spider maze that is sticking strong on us.

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After this horror experience we reach the road and from there the village and at last our safe cabin at Larry’s.  After dinner we stuff our backpacks and prepare ourselves for tomorrow.  Another border will be crossed and another stamp will embellish our passports.


Our recommendations:

Puerto Viejo is beautiful, warm-hearted and cosy but not for those who look for something original / Desolated beaches at abundance just outside the village / For fruit and vegetables you’ll find the best buy at trucks which stop at the corner of the street, ask locals where to find them / Experienced surfers will be delighted with Salsa Brava (wave direction from the northeast and wind direction from the south), for some surfers the most powerful wave in Costa Rica

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Categories: Costa Rica | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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