Feeling a little nervous about the days to come. Sometimes travelling is the adventurous part of the journey but it’s also hectic, uncertain, squishy and a lot of thinking time. If I can burn through a couple podcasts, its great but sometimes I start listening and then my mind goes off on its own hectic, uncertain journey.
In terms of transport, San Blas was supposed to be a figure-it-out-as-I-go trip but after various conversations and some personal debate I decided to take a shuttled tour to the islands. It seemed expensive though and since I don’t swim I typically find myself with little to do on beaches and I’m not particularly inclined to them. For this reason, I thought about skipping San Blas but after a week in the city a change of pace seemed necessary. Also, a friend recommended San Blas to me (all her other recommendations were thus far on point) and I skipped Bocas del Toro so I figured I could shoulder the cost. Glad for that!
The Guna Yala Islands (renamed from San Blas by the indigenous people in 2011) are incredible. The moment I stood on the dock on Panama’s Caribbean coast I could feel that the environment held something new for me. Sometimes a city is a city or a beach is a beach, but sometimes you come upon an environment that is far out of ordinary and has its own ways which forces you to reset the things you think you know. This, I’m learning, is one of the beauties of travelling.
The magnificently clear waters and scattered beige islands with palm trees were unreal to me. It was like a postcard or a travel ad; a place that looks so beautiful it’s out of reach – or undeserved.
There are 355 islands and 49 communities, all belonging to the Guna people after their revolution in 1925. The Guna have designated some islands for their people to live on while others are for tourism. Tourism is currently what brings in the most money to the islands but the Guna don’t require much money between themselves. They still live on the philosophy that the land gives freely and so they should do the same with one another. Giving and trading is the way their people acquire what they need and it seems clear that the Guna people recognize that they don’t need much to live.
Personally, being out of my normal comfort zone in terms of the landscape, I didn’t set my expectations high but somehow it seems to chance that the right circumstances find me and give me more than I could have asked for at times I least expect it. So cliche but true. Part of this is meeting awesome people who share a similar mindset which is now starting to become a given wherever I go. I can’t have enough gratitude for this because when you’re constantly moving locations and meeting “strangers”, it’s the one thing that for me has created instant bonds and more significantly, it’s an encouraging sign to keep going in the direction I’m headed. However it was new friendships and encouragement that was highlighted for me this time.
Encouragement is so key and I’ve downplayed it’s value a lot in my own life I guess because encouragement has up until now been more like peer pressure. Not that I’m easily swayed by others but I’ve seen and experienced enough situations where this type of encouragement has opposed a person’s (or my own) better instincts and has oftentimes had negative results. However, it seems that when encouragement is a push that aligns with instinct it is transformational. New friends have encouraged a lot of amazing experiences into existence for me and in Guna Yala I got my first experience snorkelling because of it. There would have been no way I would have jumped off a boat into the sea (even with a life jacket) to see the variety of starfish metres below us if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of a new friend. It was like facing a fear of heights by jumping out of a plane with the life jacket as my parachute. Even after I managed to let go of my deathly grip on the boat, looking down into the depth of the water was another matter. But I did it and it was freakin amazing and worth it! Encouragement!!
Back from San Blas now and in 2 days I’ll be in a 10-day silent Vipassana Meditation. I’m looking forward to this but it has also crossed my mind that 10 days seated in silence will be intense. I’m intimidated but again encouraged to jump off the boat in my mind and let the meditation centre this time be my life jacket.