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

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. 

PACK YOUR BAGS. PANAMA IS WHERE IT’S AT! (part 1)

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Kayak guides celebrating another season

Hi there! It’s been a while. The end of my 6th season sea kayak guiding in Alaska sadly came to an end a few weeks ago. What an amazing season filled with adventure, wonderful clients, and exciting camping trips. The other kayak guides are all off to start new and exciting chapters of their lives. Whether staying in Valdez to enjoy backcountry skiing and ice climbing, which Valdez is a world class destination, or venturing off to Idaho, California, Utah, New Zealand, or Central and South America, we all share a tight bond formed in Prince William Sound.

 

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Dalton and I topping out in City of Rocks, Idaho

As for me: Since I’ve left Alaska I have been road tripping with a fellow kayak guide through Washington, Idaho and Utah, mostly rock climbing (Leavenworth, WA and City of Rocks, ID) and hotspringing (Idaho is amazing for this!). I am currently in Park City, Utah, recertifying my Wilderness First Responder (medical training). As much as I love sea kayaking, the shoulder season sure is fun, when I get to experience other places and activities!

PANAMA, HERE I COME!

I’m getting excited for the upcoming paddling season in Panama. There is still space on an all-inclusive 9-day sea kayak and yoga retreat. This is a wonderful opportunity for people of all experience levels to escape to warm, tropical sea breezes and to do something healthy and nourishing to welcome 2018! This trip explores both Caribbean and Pacific coasts and also includes touring a scenic area of Panama City, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, and a visit to the famous Panama Canal. Contact me for more information (but hurry, as it’s right around the corner and space is limited!).

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Here are some scenes that await you in Panama!

WANT TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF PANAMA?

I figured that most people who join this trip will travel from pretty far away and will want to extend their stay in Panama, which is an incredible and diverse country that has a variety of unique and beautiful areas with fun activities to check out. I’ve been going to Panama since 2010, and each visit I discover new places that I love, as well as make annual trips to my favorite spots, where I’ve developed close connections with the people there. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries. (It was hard to choose just a few.)


GET YOUR CITY FIX: PANAMA CITY

Most likely you’ll fly into Tocumen International Airport, and it’s worth it to spend a couple of days exploring this modern and colorful city, located right on the Pacific Coast.

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Panama City

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Fishing boats at the Mercado del Mariscos

The yoga/sea kayak retreat does include some of the best-to-do in Panama City, including a visit to the famous Panama Canal and museum, as well as an overnight and farewell dinner in Casco Viejo (a charming “Old City” on the waterfront, also where the President resides). More time spent in this area offers visits to historical sites, churches, museums, theaters, beautiful plazas, galleries, and some of the best options to dine on Panamanian cuisine and to shop for traditional crafts from all over Panama. There are many colorful craft markets to enjoy. One of my favorite spots is the Mercado Del Mariscos (Seafood Market), where you can eat as much fresh seafood as you like, while you watch fishing boats bring in the fresh catch-of-the-day, while Pelicans dive all over the place. I like to sample the different kinds of ceviche. This is extremely popular for both tourists and Panamanians.

I have spent hours strolling along the Cinta Costera, a long path right along the coast, which is very popular among Panamanians to spend time with their families, as well as a popular biking, jogging, and exercising strip. The Cinta, as it is often referred, will take you all the way to the Amador Causeway, a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Canal. Here you will find lots of restaurants, shops, and the Biomuseo, the Biodiversity Museum (the colorful building in the bottom left photo).

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Amador Causeway

 

If you’d like to take in great views of the city, as well as get exercise and see wildlife without leaving the city, head to the Parque Metropolitano, which is an unspoilt tract of tropical rainforest that is home to more than two hundred species of birds and mammals, including Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, white-tailed deer, sloths and agoutis.

Beautiful vista in El Parque Metropolitano


HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS: SANTA FE

If cool mountain air, more solitude, and adventure is your style, head to Santa Fe in the province of Veraguas, about 5 hours from Panama City. I love this small mountain town and make a trip here each year. Some of the activities here are swimming, rafting or tubing down one of the many unspoiled rivers (lots of waterfalls!), horseback riding, hiking through virgin rain forest as far as the Caribbean coast, birding, and visiting organic (coffee, flowers, and produce) farms and orchid gardens.

Whenever I’m in Santa Fe I love to stay at Hostal La Qhia, a beautiful mountain retreat, which offers tranquil respite from the bustle of the city. This is a great place to launch local adventures and you will find lots of information (and maps) there about what to do in the area. You can conveniently arrange tours here as well. The above photos are from my last visit (Dec ’16) with my good friends, Jared and Suzannite. We hiked through a beautiful mountainous landscape to an organic farm, where we sampled delicious and fresh food and coffee, as well as hired a local guide to take us to gorgeous waterfalls.

We also discovered the most amazing Cambodian food that I’ve ever eaten at Anachoreo Cambodian Restaurant, which also offers lodging. We were so delighted to discover such authentic food so far away from Cambodia, that we ate there two nights in a row!


REMOTE BEACHES, TRADITION, ADVENTURE & CONSERVATION: AZUERO PENINSULA

The Azuero Peninsula, which many Panamanians proudly refer to as the “heartland” of their country, was a new discovery for me, filled with many unexpected and memorable experiences. This area is extremely rich in tradition, folklore, farming, and partying! That’s right, you will find town-wide parties every weekend (probably multiple parties a week if you’re really gung-ho!) with traditional live music and all-night dancing. Not to mention sampling Panama’s Seco Herrerano, something of which they are also very proud of. Seco is a white spirit distilled from sugarcane. We became friends with a family who invited us to a couple of these parties. Talk about dancing all night! My friends and I were also the only non-Panamanians at these parties. . . I’m talkin’ authentic Panamanian partying!

Traditional Panamanian music

Heading south my friends Jeff, Jared, and I took multiple buses down the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, an area of great beauty (and remoteness in many parts). We stayed at a lovely locally-owned place in the small beach town of Malena called Hostal Iguana Verde. Upon our arrival the hostal owner, Anna, invited us to join her to liberate dozens of newborn sea turtles to Mama Mar (Mother Sea). What an experience! Anna is part of a group of local conservationists who strive to increase the survival rate of these sea turtles. You can easily get involved in a project like this. Visit the Facebook page for Marine Turtle Conservation Panama for info on how to get involved. It feels good to help out such a worthy cause while you’re on vacation! Plus, these sea turtles are ridiculously adorable.

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Go little buddy, go!

From Malena it is a short ride to another, more developed beach town called Mariato, which offers a variety of accommodations and activities, especially surfing. Anna told us it was possible to walk along the beach from Mariato back to Malena, so we enjoyed an afternoon sampling food and beer (some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had, and patacones) to fuel up for a gorgeous sunset beach hike.


GET REMOTE: CERRO HOYA NATIONAL PARK

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The boys get loaded in with the pigs, Las Flores

Continue farther down the peninsula if you really want to get remote adventure! I had read about an infrequently visited National Park called Cerro Hoya. You’ve got to make sure you catch the sometimes only once-a-day bus to a tiny end-of-the-road town called Las Flores. (There are more populated and accessible routes and towns on the eastern side of the Azuero Peninsula.) Created in 1984, this 80,450-acre national park contains some of the last remaining primary forest on the Azuero Peninsula. Until recently, the park was extremely difficult to reach and only explored by intrepid travelers. We got off the bus and immediately met a friendly pig farmer named Rueben, and his son, Ruebencito, who loaded Jeff and Jared into the back of their truck with the pigs (to my extreme delight and amusement – they made me sit comfortably in the front, the pig-free seating). We were welcomed into their home by Rueben’s wife, Celmira, where we stayed for a few days and enjoyed river walks, traditional food, and becoming part of their family.

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Las Flores, Azuero Peninsula

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The pig farmer, our guide, and new friend, Rueben

It would be hard to write here how to be in touch with Rueben and his wonderful family, who are very interested in tourism and acting as local hosts and guides to those adventurous travelers who wish to get an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. Contact me for more information. It was well worth the travel and planning to get to this beautiful and remote part of Panama. Jared and I have a plan to return to Las Flores and buy a few pigs for a giant pig roast for the whole town! You’re invited:)


I know I said I’d only highlight just a few places in Panama, but as I write this I still have more places that I’m itching to write about. I will be continuing my “Panama Is Where It’s At” series. So look forward to more about Panama, as well as Alaska (because Alaska is where it’s at also!).

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska


I will sign off by saying that of all the places in Panama that I have visited, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) remains my all-time favorite place. This is where I guide sea kayak tours in the winter and this is where the sea kayak portion of the aforementioned retreat will be held. This is why: It is one of the most spectacular places for sea kayaking. The Guna are my favorite people. It’s as simple as that. Click here for more info on Guna Yala.

Thank you for reading. I hope you are inspired to join me January 6 – 14, 2018, and that you visit more of the beautiful country of Panama. Stay tuned for more blog posts. You can also follow Ileneinakayak on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

 

TROPICAL PADDLING & YOGA: A MATCH MADE IN PARADISE

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: JANUARY 6 – 14, 2018 CARIBBEAN & PACIFIC OF PANAMA

ALL INCLUSIVE~YOGA~SEA KAYAKING~SUP~SNORKELING~PANAMA CANAL

Book by Sept. 15th for the Early Bird Special! Contact me.

I know, I know. . . summer isn’t over yet! Although, here in Valdez, new snow on the mountaintops greeted us yesterday morning. All the more reason I’ve started daydreaming of colorful hammocks beneath swaying Palm Trees, sipping from coconuts, kayaking in flip flops and a bathing suit, and practicing some nourishing yoga!

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Chillin’ out, relaxin’ all cool. . . on the island of Misdup

September is right around the corner, a time when school starts up again and calendars get filled before you know it. That’s why I’m encouraging you to set aside this week to treat yourself to an adventure in Panama. You might enjoy your fall work days more knowing what you’ve got coming up in January. At least it’ll make the shorter days more tolerable:)

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Treat yourself. . . you deserve it

Not a kayaker? No problem. Been meaning to start doing yoga but wouldn’t know downward-facing dog from warrior pose? No worries. Never left your hometown? Think nothing of it! Newbies and those who are more experienced will find that this trip was created with everyone in mind. After all, there was a time when I sat down in a kayak for the very first time (now I’ve been guiding for 6 years) and did my first downward-facing dog. I will be joined by founder of Yoga Currents, long-time yoga instructor and seasoned kayak guide, Leigh Lubin. We’re here to ensure that everyone who joins us has a spectacular and unforgettable time. It’s time to plan your winter holiday in paradise. What could be better than treating yourself to a nourishing, sunny, tropical get-away? Click here for more info and a detailed trip itinerary.

Why yoga and sea kayaking in Panama together? It’s a match made in tropical heaven. . . they’re perfect for each other. A beautiful retreat on the Pacific side offers tranquility and beauty, an ideal setting to sink in and reap the benefits of a yoga practice. Then we’ll travel to the Caribbean coast, where the San Blas Islands (called Guna Yala) offers us the perfect location for sea kayaking and beach yoga, as this tropical archipelago is comprised of hundreds of palm tree-dotted islands.

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Tropical Paradise, Guna Yala

I’ve been practicing yoga on my own (my active lifestyle of moving every 5 months hasn’t quite allowed for much time in a yoga studio) for only a few years. Like many people, it took me a couple of years to begin to scratch the surface of all of the amazing benefits of yoga, from the physical to the sometimes more subtle emotional and mental ones. Yoga isn’t only something that I love because it feels amazing, but I consider it an important part of my life as a professional kayak guide, a job that is extremely physically demanding. And now that I’ve entered my 30’s it’s become even more important to grow my yoga practice (what I mean is, I ain’t gettin’ any younger!). I spend about half of each year sitting in a kayak, paddling for hours and hours, loading and unloading hundreds of pounds of gear into boats on camping trips, carrying these heavy kayaks and gear up and down docks and beaches, and bending over a lot to assist my guests getting in and out of their kayaks. But I absolutely love what I do and I want to be able to go kayaking when I’m a little old lady, like Ernestina (below left), who thoroughly enjoyed her first time in a kayak! Also noteworthy is the group of 11 women ages 55-75 (right photo), who joined me in the Caribbean for a paddling adventure earlier in 2017. You can bet some of those ladies practice yoga!

Even if a busy day allows for just 10 minutes of stretching, this will have a positive impact on how my body fares as a guide. You’ll be amazed at how good it will make you feel too. It’s important to awaken and enliven the muscles each day, as well as strengthen and lengthen them. I feel stronger and more flexible now than I did as a 20-year old, before I started doing yoga.

Here’s what Leigh has to say about the benefits of yoga, as well as some insight into why practicing yoga for four days prior to going kayaking on our trip will revitalize you and leave you feeling like a better and more open version of yourself:

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Tropical sunset, Guna Yala

Yoga can make the difference between feeling fluid, alive, healthy, connected, and having fun or not. On this retreat we’ll create space in the hips so it’s easier to stay upright in your boat. Tap into your support instead of fighting it! We will strengthen the core and stimulate innate energetic pathways that move supportive energy upwards to sustain you from the inside. We’ll learn to internally float over our pelvis, riding our own inner waves and wind, as we increase shoulder mobility and strength. By the time you get to your kayak you’ll feel stable, fluid, grounded, engaged, and playful. We’ll take those feelings to sea.

During the sea kayaking portion, you’ll enjoy playful white sand beach yoga sessions to stay supple and strong throughout the trip. Yoga and sea kayaking are the perfect opportunities to sink in, revitalize, discover, and connect to yourself and the wonders of the sea!

We’ll also be eating fresh, healthy food on this trip, as well as doing other fun activities, such as standup paddling, snorkeling, hanging with the Guna (the indigenous group who live on the Caribbean islands who I’ve worked with for the past 4 years and who we’ll be visiting), exploring the scenic Casco Viejo (“Old Town”) on the waterfront in Panama City, and visiting the famous Panama Canal. All of these are included in the trip. See you in Panama!