MY TRIP TO SAN BLAS TO CELEBRATE THE GUNA REVOLUTION

Why am I writing about this? Why does it matter?

I’m sharing this with you because the Guna Revolution is a unique celebration of a fascinating culture that YOU can experience for yourself. This is something that you can travel to witness and even participate in. The Guna want people to see their Revolution celebration. It is open to the public and they are very welcoming and eager to share their culture with visitors! In fact, they asked me to tell as many people about it as possible. For those of you who are up for real adventure travel, you will be grateful for the journey. Following is my story from the 93rd Anniversary of the Guna Revolution:

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The traditional Guna dance to celebrate the Revolution, Isla Tigre

I made it back from the Guna Revolution! It was quite the journey to get out to Isla Tigre, which included getting left behind by the only boat of the day to make the long-distance journey. Now I know. . . if you want to go to Isla Tigre, you have to show up with the Guna passengers and NOT when the tourists show up. It was a happy accident however. I spent an extra night on a beautiful island called Nurdup and got to spend more time with this little guy, Cristian, who is the closest thing to a Pokemon that I have ever met. Adorable!

 

Tigre is my favorite community that I’ve been to in Guna Yala (formerly known as San Blas) on the Caribbean side of Panama, which is where I guide kayaking trips. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what the Guna Revolution is because I recently wrote a blog about that, which you can find here. However, in a nutshell, the Guna are an indigenous group of Panama, who fought the Panamanian police, which culminated in a battle in February 1925. The Guna won and gained semi-autonomy. February 25 is a day of grand celebration on some of the communities in Guna Yala, the territory that the Guna inhabit.

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Guna kids celebrating at the beach after their dramatic reenactment of the fight against the Panamanian police, Isla Tigre

The first day that I was there (Feb 24) the youth performed a dramatic reenactment of the fight between the Guna on Isla Tigre and the Panamanian police, who had been pressuring the Guna to cease practicing their traditional way of life. This had been going on for many years, building in intensity for the Guna. I was the only non-Guna there on this day. I was encouraged to sit in the front and had a few eager “interpreters” by my side, who were explaining the events to me.

The following day (Feb 25) was the reenactment performed by the adults. It is an hours-long, fascinating unfolding of the most significant event in “recent” Guna history. I’m extremely impressed with the acting of the Guna, who take this dramatization very seriously. It was actually quite amusing when young Guna kids would cry and run away because they thought that their parents were actually getting beaten up by Panamanian police. Don’t judge me. . . you would have thought it was amusing too! The following photos are of Guna actors and actresses during the reenactment of the fight with the Panamanian police.

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Community members of Isla Tigre watch the reenactment of the fight between the Panamanian police and the Guna

After the impressive reenactment there was traditional Guna dancing and merriment:) All of the actors and actresses held hands in a large circle and took a few moments to remember and to respect what their elders had experienced during this time. It was a very emotional display by the community. The youth on Isla Tigre will certainly not soon forget what their elders went through to enjoy the freedom that they experience today. I was told that this reenactment is obligatory to attend by all community members.

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I hope that you enjoyed reading about my experience during the Guna Revolution, and that you will consider making the journey with me in the future to experience it for yourself. We’ll go kayaking to celebrate:)

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Guna youth actresses relax at the beach after performing in the reenactment, Isla Tigre

 

¡Viva La Revolución Dule! ~ Celebrate the Guna Revolution with me

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Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, and I pose with a Revolutionary flag on Gardi Sugdup. This year is the 93rd anniversary, so they need to add one more year:)

*If you get this blog in your email, it looks way better if you view it on my website.* Enjoy!

I leave tomorrow morning at 4:30 (yes, in the morning) to go back to Guna Yala! Join me (if not physically, then vicariously by reading this) to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the greatest event of 20th-century Guna history. ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! By the way, the Guna are an indigenous group who inhabit the beautiful tropical islands of the Comarca Guna Yala, their semi-autonomous territory in the Caribbean of Panama. There are about 365 islands to explore in the Comarca. This area was formerly known as the San Blas Islands. The Guna are the wonderful people who I guide sea kayaking trips with in the winter months. Check out those trips here.

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Guna Revolutionary flags abound during the entire month of February, Gardi Sugdup

I have spent considerable time in many different Guna communities and my favorite one is a community called Digir, or Isla Tigre. It is one of the more traditional and “tranquilo” communities that I have encountered. I work closely with the people from Digir and have developed strong friendships with many community members. They have enthusiastically taught me an incredible amount about their fascinating culture. I am constantly learning new things from them.

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Adrian teaches me and my friend, Morgan, about Guna culture, Isla Tigre

THE GUNA REVOLUTION (IN A NUTSHELL. . . LET’S SAY, A COCONUT SHELL:)

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It is common to see phrases like this painted on walls in Guna communities ~ “Long Live the Guna Revolution!”

Ninety three years ago on February 25th, 1925 (during Carnival, when the police would be drunk) the Guna launched a rebellion against the Panamanian police, who had taken up residence in their communities. For over a decade, the police had been suppressing many customs they considered uncivilized, including the traditional practice of bathing outdoors, curing rituals, puberty ceremonies, meeting at the gathering house, traditional dance, and women’s dress. By the mid-1920s, police and bureaucrats had pacified about half the islands on the coast. The police had also quashed Guna resistance through jail and guns.  Enough was enough for the Guna! They fought. . . and they won! They continue to celebrate this significant victory.

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“For our Culture, for Religion, for Tradition and Custom – Long Live the Revolution!”

Fast-forward to the present; Many Guna have maintained much of their traditional way of life. Of course, they are also an adaptable people and certain aspects of their culture have changed, enabling them to be active citizens in the modern world. They believe (and I believe too) that a culture can succeed only if it can adapt to a changing world. A culture that tries to stay the same as it was a century ago will struggle to survive.

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A friend’s (Orais) daughter and niece celebrate their puberty ceremony on Isla Tigre

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Traditional Dance (Danza Guna) during the Revolution Celebrations, Isla Tigre

Each year the entire month of February is celebrated, especially on the islands that threw off police rule, such as Digir (Isla Tigre). The Revolution is commemorated with speeches, parades, traditional dances, Revolutionary banners and flags, and dramatizations recreating the events of 1925. Actors portray the abuses of the police, the traditional practices they suppressed, and finally the revolt itself. Through these dramas, the Guna address the continuing threats to their autonomy, as well as the value of traditional ways, currently threatened less by government policy than by changes they themselves are making.

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Revolution dramatization on Isla Tigre

Below is an awesome video of the Guna dancing in revolutionary celebration on Isla Tigre. If you watch closely you will see a flag that resembles a swastika. If you have been to Guna Yala you will have noticed many of these flags. (This is often one of the first things that people notice.) This is NOT a German Nazi symbol! I’m Jewish, so trust me, I wouldn’t be associating with that ideology. This symbol has a completely different meaning to the Guna. The Guna adopted this “well-being” symbol in the early 1900s. This symbol has been used by many different cultures and religions of the world to signify well-being, good luck and good fortune.

And now, because I am a tour guide at heart and extremely passionate about sharing what I have been blessed with, in this case the opportunity to be immersed in Guna culture, I must say that it is well worth it to experience the Guna Revolution in Guna Yala, especially on Isla Tigre! It’s exciting. . . entertaining. . . fun. . . fascinating. . . and like nothing else you will experience in your life. So mark your calendars for February 25th, 2019! Don’t miss it. Contact me for more information, and to come paddle with me in Guna Yala.

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Phil representing with the Revolutionary flag

 

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Guna men ready for the Revolution dramatization on Isla Tigre

While I was doing a bit of research for this blog I came across this YouTube video by Guna musicians. In this video, which features traditional pan flutes and beautiful scenes from Guna Yala, they sing, “For you I’ll fight and die. It’s all that I have. My land is wounded. For you, I’ll give my life,” referring to their islands, their land, their culture.

 

I leave you with ¡Viva La Revolución Dule! Long Live the Guna Revolution! Stay tuned for future blog posts, including one that I will write about my experience over the next 4 days participating in the Guna Revolution. I’m charging my camera, so there should be some great video footage. I’m looking forward to watching the little kids’ version of the Revolution dramatization, which I’ve not seen before.

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Revolutionary Mural on Gardi Sugdup

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Just because I love this photo, Guna Yala

YOGA/KAYAK RETREAT: A Coast-to-Coast Adventure in Panama

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Are jump-shots ever not a great idea? Guna Yala, Panama

Deep breath. Aaaah. I’m back in Panama City with a computer and time, so I can tell you about the awesome Yoga/Kayak Retreat that yoga instructor, Leigh Lubin, and I guided this past Jan 6-14. We’re excited to announce that we’ll be offering this trip again in January 2019. I’ll keep you posted with dates. Contact me if you’d like more info.

 


YOGA RETREAT ~ THE PACIFIC

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Beautiful sunsets every night on the Pacific Coast – 5-minute walk from the yoga retreat

We started our 9-day journey together on the Pacific Coast, with 4 days at a gorgeous Yoga Adventure Retreat, just a 5-minute walk to the beach. Relaxation paradise! It was pretty easy to sink into holiday mode at this lovely place. I mean, we were greeted with ice cold hibiscus tea and there was a hammock pavilion!

 

Leigh guided us in morning and afternoon yoga sessions with her Vitality & Vayus series, which invited us to deepen our yoga practice. She taught and encouraged us to notice how each movement and pose effected us energetically and mentally. A gifted yoga teacher, she created a beautiful balance of uplifting and energetic practices in the mornings, and grounding and calming practices in the evenings. I don’t have too many photos of practicing yoga, as I didn’t want to be behind a camera during practice. I wanted to be doing yoga!

 

 

We also got to play around with stand-up paddle boards. Leigh delighted in practicing her SUP headstands:)

 

Then there was the food. . . delicious! What a delight to come out of morning yoga practice to be greeted with fresh fruit and juice. Buen provecho!

 

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Happy. . . smiling. . . feeling good!


GUNA YALA ~ THE CARIBBEAN

After the yoga retreat, we traveled to Guna Yala for 4 days of tropical paradise; sea kayaking, snorkeling, lounging in hammocks, and immersing ourselves in the fascinating culture of the Guna. Check out a video of this tropical paradise.

 

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Sunset on Nurdup

A little background: I have been kayak guiding in Guna Yala since 2010, and have been in love with the place ever since:) Guna Yala is the semi-autonomous territory of the indigenous Guna of Panama. The tropical coastline stretches 140-miles and borders Colombia. It also comprises about 25 miles of mainland rain forest. We stayed on a tiny island called Nurdup (“Almond Island”, in Guna), and used that as our “basecamp” for day excursions to nearby rivers, mangroves, beaches, and Guna communities.

Click here for a video of our first sunset in Guna Yala. Beautiful.

Check out a cool video of snorkeling. And a kayaking video (this was my first trip with my new Olympus Stylus TG-Tracker camera, so you’ll have to excuse the warped quality of this one).

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Welcome to Nurdup

Here are some highlights:

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A heron passing in front of Guna fishing huts

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Gone snorkeling

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A lobster hiding under Brain Coral

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Paddle to a Guna community. The underwater pipe brings fresh water from the mainland.

Leigh continued with early morning yoga practice on Nurdup, and we were joined by our Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, who entertained the other Guna with his joyful interpretation of the poses. Namaste, Nemesio!

 

We also took our yoga off of the mat and donated many gifts to the Guna, especially art supplies, clothing, and books for the kids. Here is Meghan searching for Waldo with our new Guna friends. Dónde está Waldo? I don’t know why the girl looks so sad in this photo. She was pretty excited about her new Fairy book.

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Dónde está Waldo?

While on Nurdup we learned a lot about the fascinating lives of the Guna, who have fought to maintain their traditional customs. They are enthusiastic to share their culture with us.

  • We heard Guna legends from Nemesio
  • We learned Guna phrases (Nuedi= good, you good? i’m good, we’re all good!)
  • We went mola-shopping and marveled at this incredible craft. The mola is the beautiful hand-sewn panel that is sewn onto the front and back of the women’s blouse. Many Guna women spend much of their day sewing molas. Click here for a video of trying on a mola.
  • We learned about the intricate bead work that the women display on their forearms and calves (called wini, much to our amusement). Here is a video of Denali getting her wini on.
  • We participated in the traditional dance with a youth dance group from a neighboring community. Check out a short video of the dance. Here is a longer one (it starts off a bit slow, but it picks up and is is worth the watch).
  • We went for a ride in one of their small wooden sailboats (called urbipi). Click here for a video of Leigh and Phil going for a sail.

 

 

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“Wini” close-up

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Leigh and Phil go for a ride in an “urbipi”

And, of course, we went kayaking and had loads of fun splashing around in the water. One of the highlights were the post-dance festivities. We enjoyed the Guna Danza so much that we wanted to share with the youth dancers something fun from our group. We invited them to play around in our kayaks. Whoa! I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic reaction (I wish I had it on film). These teenagers (and one adorable 6-year old) leaped out of their seats, shrieking at the tops of their lungs and jumped right into the water with the kayaks. None of them had ever been in a kayak before. However, growing up practically in the water, they did just fine:) Future Guna kayak guides! They even organized themselves into a race. Click here to see the video of the kayak race. Check out this video of a fun, music-filled river paddle (and now I know who Charlie Puth is). Note all the kids we stuffed into the kayaks (that sounds bad, doesn’t it?). We just couldn’t turn them down when they wanted to join us for a paddle.

 

We invited them to return later that evening to join us in a party! Meghan and Denali, two of our participants, had brought all kinds of fun gifts to donate. They even brought glow-sticks, which everyone went crazy for! We used my paddle as a limbo stick and attempted a conga line:) Click here to see a video of our paddle limbo. Of course, the Alaskans put on the country tunes.

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Glow-stick party on Nurdup!


CASCO VIEJO – PANAMA CITY

After departing Guna Yala we made a visit to the Panama Canal and caught a large ship going through the Miraflores Locks. Check out the video. We then had a few hours to roam around Casco Viejo, a scenic part of the city, before an entertaining farewell dinner that included delicious Panamanian food and traditional dances from other areas of Panama. Check out the dancing here.


What a trip! Besides the gorgeous places that we visited, including both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama and Panama City, what made this trip so exceptional was the people. As a tour guide, it is a gift to be in the company of such open-minded, kind, adventurous, and fun people as Leigh and I had on this trip. Thank you to all of them! You made this trip extremely special.


I leave you with the one of the most adorable Guna kidlets that I have ever seen.

And because I loved this little boy so much, here’s a video of him playing catch. What a little biscuit!

Well, I think that’s enough photos and video links for now. Stay tuned for the next blog about a most wild and crazy kayak trip to Guna Yala with my parents and our friends.


Please follow me on Instagram to check out my photos of traveling and paddling in beautiful places (mostly Panama and Alaska). I love hearing your comments. Contact me for trip information (or just to say hi).

 

LIVE THE DREAM IN 2018: GLAMPING IN ALASKA (& Panama)!

GLAMP IT UP IN 2018! Read on for my favorite glamping gear.

Glamping: the activity of camping with some of the comforts and luxuries of home. 

Okay, glamping may not be quite as cozy as a hotel room in Fairbanks. . . but it still makes you want to jump up and down for joy!

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Jumping up & down for joy in Fairbanks, Alaska

When I talk with people about the trips that I guide in Alaska and Panama, there are those who automatically envision “roughing it in the wilderness” as a miserable experience; cramped tents, sleeping and sitting on the hard ground, instant mashed potatoes every night and plain oatmeal every morning, bugs flying in their face while they’re trying to eat, standing out in the rain, etc. I completely agree with them. That sounds like a horrible way to spend a vacation. Don’t sign me up for that! (However, if this sounds like fun to you I can certainly arrange for it. Although, I’ll be dining on Alaskan salmon while you’re stuffing yourself with those instant mashies.)

However, a trip with me is oh the contrary to the bare bones misery that may have scarred your memory from a Boy or Girl Scouts trip when you were a teenager. If you haven’t done much camping (or it’s been a while), fear not! The advances in glamping equipment have brought camping trips to a whole new level of comfort and ease. A trip does not go by without guests exclaiming to me how surprised they are in the equipment that allows a level of luxury they didn’t think possible on camping trips, especially sea kayaking trips when everything has to fit into the kayaks. Actually, it’s this very fact that we’re packing into kayaks that allows us to bring along such luxuries as the following list. It’s amazing what you can squeeze into a kayak. Tables, chairs, stoves, oh my! I love showing people the wonderful items that I use to enhance their experience. Here are ileneinakayak glamping must-haves. Scroll to bottom for links of the following products.

My Top Ten Glamping Essentials for Alaska

  1. Screen House Shelter – A 4-walled bug-netting structure with a water-resistant ceiling allows us to be protected from pesky insects, without sacrificing the gorgeous view. It’s the living room of the great outdoors. (Shown in photo at top)
  2. Camp chairs – Your butt shall not make contact with the cold or wet ground,  nor shall you struggle to lift yourself from the ground!
  3. Roll-a-Table – One of the greatest glamping innovations; a firm and sturdy table with detachable legs that rolls into a neat bundle with a handle. It only takes about 1 minute to set up and break down.
  4. A kitchen with all the bells and whistles – I don’t skimp on my kitchen, as this is where the magic happens:) I love having a single-burner camp stove (MSR Whisperlite), which boils water very quickly, and a two-burner stove to cook on. I cook with a full set of pots and pans, cooking utensils, plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, cutting boards, sharp knives, sponge, dish soap, and yes, even napkins. There’s not much that I can’t do in this outdoor kitchen. I would not consider a trip in Alaska to be complete without dishing up wild Alaskan seafood.
  5. French Press – To make the finest cup of coffee that you’ll ever enjoy gazing at a glacier.
  6. Thermos – I’m talking about a stainless steel 8-cup thermos, that allows piping hot tea and hot chocolate (and mid-day coffee) to be served up in an instant, 12 hours after I’ve boiled the water. I worship the thermos for dish washing too.  Have you ever tried washing bacon grease from a plate using glacier water? Exasperating!
  7. Self-inflating sleeping pads – A far cry from the thin foam pads of yore. These fill up with air on their own, insulate you from cold ground, as well as provide cushy comfort for a well-deserved sleep after a day of paddling.
  8. Roomy tents – If you come on a trip with a friend or your sweetheart, you’ll get a spacious 4-person tent. Solo? You’ll luxuriate in a 2-person tent. This gives you enough space for you and your gear.
  9. Rain tarps – No, I will not have you standing out in the rain! I bring along a number of different sizes of tarps, and can set them up quickly during lunch and rest breaks. If it rains, I’ll keep you dry out there!
  10. Soft food coolers – These allow me the ability to pack all of my food in an organized fashion. From glass jars of sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers to fresh Prince William Sound prawns and salmon, and cartons of Half-and-Half, these coolers protect what’s inside and keep things cool.

There you have it. . . glamping like a pro in Alaska! Stay dry, stay cozy, stay comfortable, stay well-rested, well-fed, and well-caffeinated in style.

Here’s a few photos of glamping in the Caribbean in Panama. A lot of the trips there involve the addition of a motorized boat that accompanies us, which opens up the glamping possibilities beyond your wildest dreams! Take a look:

Inspired to come glamping with me? Contact me. I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite glamping essentials?

Links for glamping gear

No, I’m not sponsored by these companies (although I wouldn’t say no to that). These are all items and companies that I have used as an outdoor enthusiast and professional sea kayak guide for many years. There are lots of other great options out there, and I will continue to search for and test out (then inform you about) new products and companies, especially those who can say “Made in USA, and who implement Earth-friendly practices. Please share your knowledge/suggestions in this regard. The following are simply what I trust and recommend.

  1. REI Screen House Shelter
  2. REI Flexlite Camp Chair and Camp Time Roll-a-Stool (Made in USA! Camp Time also sells brand new blemished bargains)
  3. Camp Time Roll-a-Table (Made in USA!)

    I am in love with this!

  4. Glamping kitchen: GSI: Cookware, Stoves, Utensils, Dinnerware, & Camp Furniture, MSR: Tents, Stoves, Cookware, and Water Treatment, and Coleman: Pretty much all things camping (I love this Fold-and-Go Stove)
  5. French press: GSI Portable JavaPress
  6. Thermos: Stanley Stainless Steel Thermoses
  7. Sleeping pads: Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pads
  8. Tents: Mountain Hardware Tents and MSR Tents
  9. Rain tarps: I use the Mountain Equipment Co-op Scout Tarp for an emergency, lunch, and rest break tarp. It is a Canadian company. The best heavy-duty rain tarp that I ever had the pleasure of using on a 3-week sea kayaking expedition in Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., Canada) is the La Caverne from another Canadian company called Chlorophylle. When I contacted the company wanting to purchase one for myself (Sept 2017), I was told that they were only shipping to Canada. If you can find a Canadian address, this tarp is well worth it! I guess Canada knows their rain tarps, eh?
  10. Soft food coolers: NRS soft food coolers

Here is an article that I enjoyed entitled 10 Must-Haves From Brands That Make the Earth a Better Place.

Thanks for reading. Please share this blog with anyone who might like it. Or maybe you’ve been trying to convince your partner or friends to come camping with you, but haven’t been successful yet. This is the perfect article to nudge them in the direction of glamping enlightenment:) Glamp on!

 

 

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, PANAMA-STYLE!

This year I’ll be celebrating the upcoming holiday in Philadelphia. In fact, my family has already celebrated the 8 crazy nights of Hannukah. However, this year I’m thinking fondly of the many Christmases and New Years that I’ve celebrated with friends and clients while on sea kayaking trips in Guna Yala (San Blas), Panama.

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Christmas tree, Guna-style

It’s a wonderfully unique and fun experience to us northerners to celebrate Xmas amongst palm trees, white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. I, for one, welcome the change from puffy down jackets and thermal underwear, to flip flops and bathing suits!

One of my favorite things to do as a child during Xmas was pile into the car with my brother and parents and drive around the neighborhood, admiring all of the Xmas lights and decorations. I’ve been enjoying this pastime the past few weeks.

While in Panama last year, prior to guiding my first kayak trip of the season, friends (Jared and Suzannah) and I were delighted to stumble upon a plaza in Panama City a block from our hostel. Lit up by thousands of lights and decorations, there were hundreds of families smiling and laughing together, with kids running around hyped up on sugar and holiday cheer. Suzannah and I may have also been hyped up. . . I forced her into a Xmas photo shoot, while Jared stood by in amusement.Oh, what fun!

Christmas on the Caribbean Islands of Guna Yala, also known as the San Blas Islands, albeit not as electrified as in the city, is none the less joyfully festive, with an added touch of colorful beach art decorations. My favorite are the soda cans cut into flowers and crafted into trees.

And then there’s the festivities we enjoy during the sea kayaking trips that span Xmas and New Years; the food, the drink, the fireworks, the bonfires, the dancing, the singing, and the merry-making! The Guna are a fun bunch, who enjoy a good celebration!

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Too much Xmas cheer for this one:)

So if you want a change of scenery next Christmas or New Year, and want to put presents under a palm tree and set off fireworks from a remote tropical island, let’s make it happen! Contact me for more information.

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From Ileneinakayak and the wonderful crew of Guna and Panamanians who help make the magic happen, have yourself a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and adventurous New Year. Stay tuned for more on my blog.

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Peace to you this holiday season and New Year

The above mural is one of hundreds crafted by Michelle, the lovely owner (and yoga instructor) of La Buena Vida; hotel, restaurant, gift shop, and yoga studio (one of my favorite places to do yoga) in Santa Catalina, on the pacific side of Panama. Check them out here.

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Merry Christmas. . . Panama-style:)

INSPIRATION FOR A CARIBBEAN WINTER HOLIDAY

Hi there! I’m getting amped up for another tropical season of paddling and adventuring in the Caribbean of Panama. To get you excited I’m here to inspire you with some scenes that will have you feeling a warm sea breeze on your sun-kissed skin. Close your eyes and you’ll hear the soothing sounds of palm fronds shaking in the breeze, and small waves lapping against the shore. Imagine sun-warmed white sand between your toes. Look around and you’ll see colorful hammocks swaying underneath bunches of Coconuts, while kayaks wait to take you on an adventure. Enjoy!

There are still spaces available on an upcoming Yoga/Sea Kayak/SUP/Snorkel Adventure Retreat January 6 – 14, 2018. More info can be found here.

Contact me for more information on how to create the trip-of-a-lifetime in Alaska and Panama. Thanks for checking in! Stay tuned for more on my blog.

HOLIDAY WITH A GREATER PURPOSE: 4 fun ways to enhance your vacation with good deeds!

First, a quick udate from me: Hello from Vermont! I’ve settled into my November annual three weeks of house/pet-sitting in the lovely Green Mountain State. This is a time for me to slow down a bit after a busy guiding season in Alaska. Late fall is when I finally get to spend an extended amount of quality time with my family in Philadelphia (and eat lots of Asian food, which Philly is exceptional!), as well as take the time to make plans and set future goals for myself. It is also the time of year when I amp up my cider, apple, maple, and woodstove game! Bring it on, New England!

With the recent horrific attack in New York City , as well as other tragedies playing out locally and globally, my reaction is to bring more joy and happiness into the world, as well as to seek out others doing good things. Yes, there are a lot of horrible things going on, and those are not to be ignored, however it’s important to acknowledge that there are also a lot of wonderful and positive things going on that you can be a part of. It’s more important than ever to be good to one another, and to show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.

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Jared and his crew of Guna boys, sharing the love of kayaking

One great way to do good things for others is to incorporate acts of kindness and compassion into your vacation. Maybe you are someone who wants to do good things for others, yet finds it difficult to find the time during your hectic daily life. It might even be difficult to do good things for yourself! Welcome: vacation! This is a great opportunity to do good! You finally have the energy and the time for yourself and for others.

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Lovely day for a paddle in Guna Yala. Do something good for yourself, as well as others!

The kayak trips that I run in Guna Yala, on the Caribbean of Panama, are a wonderful opportunity to travel with a greater purpose. Donations are always welcome and well-received. Opportunities for home-stays and volunteering abound. And of course each trip uses local Guna guides. We try to buy as much seafood from Guna fishermen as possible, as well as experience much of their fascinating culture and crafts. Check these trip options out here. Or maybe a Yoga/Sea Kayak Retreat is more your thing. Check out this 9-day all-inclusive trip January 6-14, 2018, that explores both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Panama. Click here for a detailed itinerary. Contact me with questions or if you’d like to book a trip. Read on.

Here are 4 ways to enhance your vacation by adding an element of good deeds.

1) Donations

Look around you. . . you probably have more than a few things to spare that others might find useful or even life-saving (i.e. medical supplies, shoes, or warm clothing if you’re traveling somewhere cold). I read something (I wish that I could remember, so I’m paraphrasing) that said “If you can afford to drink a beverage other than water, you have the means to give.” This might sound a bit extreme, and I’m not saying to stop drinking your tea and coffee. However, these words inspire me and made me realize how many material things I have that are not essential to my survival, such as that box of Chai tea that I love so much. Maybe next time I’m looking at all the Chai tea options, I’ll opt to spend that money on some art supplies for children instead.

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A sweet Guna girl wearing her new dress, made by donation from a group of kayakers

Collecting things to donate is fun, easy, and potentially free (no need to go out and buy things). It’s also a win-win situation; You clear out things that you don’t really need, and those you’re donating to benefit by getting things that can enhance their lives. It’s also a great way to have a positive interaction with locals. Here’s an idea: Next time you go on vacation, throw a party and have everyone bring a few items that will serve the people where you’re traveling. (Maybe don’t bring a bag of winter jackets to the Caribbean. . . but clothing for warm weather will certainly be useful.)

 

 

 

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A school in Ecuador that I helped donate supplies to, 2004 (I’m wearing my Jerry Garcia t-shirt on the left)

Donation ideas:

  • Clothing (in decent condition and appropriate for the climate)
  • Medical supplies (good condition, appropriate for the environment, and that the people fully understand how to use the supplies, as this could potentially be harmful)
  • Books (in their language and yours, lots of photos are great, do the people want to learn English?)
  • Art and School supplies (notebooks, paper, writing and coloring supplies, stickers, markers, folders, beads)
  • Games (appropriate for the age level, and the environment. i.e. As it’s quite windy in Guna Yala, and the kids love them, I always bring down a bunch of kites. Guna also love cards, dominoes and dice:)
  • Kitchen/bathroom supplies (appropriate for the environment. i.e. I get requests for graters from Guna women to use to grate fresh coconut for coconut rice – so delicious!)
  • Other useful items (appropriate for the lives of the people where you’re traveling. Some ideas: eyeglasses, sewing kits, fishing supplies (the Guna love it when I bring them different kinds of fishing hooks and line, as fishing is very important to Guna livelihoods), life vests, headlamps (I find these to be useful for everyone!), certain electronics, etc. . .)
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Young Guna artists at work on their masterpieces, after my friend, Suzannah, donated the supplies. They were so excited!

The photos below are from a group of 11 women, and my co-trip leader, Dave, who were part of a 4-day sea kayaking trip in Guna Yala earlier in 2017. These women collected bags of clothing to donate to Guna families, as well as sewing kits and eyeglasses for Guna women to use to sew their gorgeous molas. Check out a blog about this amazing trip and more on compassionate tourism here.

If you’re not with an organized group, it’s pretty easy (with the internet these days) to find schools, community centers, and other organizations to make donations. I love shopping at thrift stores, so whenever I go thrifting I always buy a few extra items and books to bring with me to Panama. And because I go back to some of the same Guna communities each year, it’s fun to see Guna walking around in clothing that my family and I have donated:) There’s a Guna man walking around with my dad’s neon pink Philadelphia Folk Festival t-shirt!

2) Home-stay and/or Volunteer

There are many ways to find opportunities like home-stays and volunteering while traveling. Home-stays are an excellent way to immerse yourself in another culture (this is a main reason why we travel, right?!), share your own culture, learn/practice a different language, and benefit a family financially, as home-stays usually cost money. I recommend the mighty Google machine. It’s actually overwhelming how many wonderful organizations there are that allow you to combine good deeds while traveling, whether this is the focus of your trip or not. Make sure to have good communication with the organization, so ensure a successful and positive experience! Keep in mind, it doesn’t need to take up your entire travel itinerary. It’s also important to do something good for yourself that fulfills you, like a kayak trip (hint, hint). Don’t feel bad about laying in a hammock on a beach. . . it is your well-earned vacation, after all! So, whether it’s dedicating two weeks to help build a school in a rural area, or spending an afternoon playing with kids at an orphanage, everyone benefits.

Personal story: Ten years ago I was traveling in Ecuador and wanted to find a home-stay that also included volunteering. The first organization that came up on Google was a women’s group of artists called Las Colibris (The Hummingbirds) that were making art from natural materials that the women would harvest. I thought I would stay a week, and ended up staying for 6 weeks because I loved it so much! I lived with a family, ate all of my meals with them, and helped them in their workshop everyday. I recall my home-stay mom telling me how much the income from this organization was helping her and her family. It also gave her a sense of independence, as she was making a living for herself, and not relying solely on her husband for money. Unfortunately, I could not find an active website for this organization anymore. Following are photos from that trip.

3) Tourism,Crafts and Food

In some places, especially remote and small communities, tourism and selling crafts and food might be the main source of income for families. Include in your travel plans activities that use local guides. Eat local food. Buy local crafts. Find out about local festivals and holidays. Check out a traditional dance or music performance. You’ll have a blast while learning about the area and making new friends and connections. And what better way to bring home a reminder of your wonderful holiday than to buy a hand-made craft from your travels!

4) Teach, Share, Learn, Play and Smile

I know, I cheated and combined five things. Basically, #4 is to enrich the lives of others by giving your time and having positive interactions. Just have fun! Share laughter and smiles. Get silly and play games! If you’re on a bike trip, kayak trip, climbing trip, fishing trip, whatever it may be, invite the locals to check out your gear and give it a try. Just keep them safe! You might plant the seed for a local to get the training they need to become a tour guide. Better yet, if you have the resources you might get inspired to start your own organization to teach locals the skills they need to guide/offer a certain activity/craft, or offer them something else they need, such as solar panels or language skills. The Guna always take to kayaking quickly, and it brings a lot of joy for them to play around in the kayaks. Smiles and laughter all around is a wonderful thing! Plus, I’m secretly training the young ones to be future sea kayak guides:)

Below are two of my closest Guna buddies, brothers Hectoriano and Ertaliano, who took to kayaking quickly. I’m hoping future Guna kayak guides!

I hope that this blog will inspire you to incorporate some element from my list for your future travels. Share your ideas with me! Have a wonderful day, and remember to be good to one another, and show each other love, compassion, and kindness. Let positive acts be your fuel to counter the negative ones.