As I write this, I sit at my desk, looking out the window at a stunning blue sky. To a seemingly normal outside world. Cars pass by, birds chirp in the background, and a young couple strolls by, immersed deeply in conversation. All seems very normal, however as you may likely be aware, it is not… We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, and the entire world has come to a raging halt. Countries battle to contain an outbreak of a new strain of deadly coronavirus – COVID-19.
What is the COVID-19 Coronavirus?
For those reading this years down the line, hopefully after all this madness has passed, COVID-19 in simple terms, is a virus. It is a newly developed strain of an already existing virus known as Coronavirus. Primarily carried among animals, this virus can be extremely contagious and sometimes deadly when contracted by a human. Currently the entire globe is shut down due to an outbreak of this new strand of virus, believed to have originated from either a food market, or a virology lab in Wuhan, China. With countries having closed borders and all but the essential businesses shut down, the threat of this microscopic enemy is seemingly very real. As the “curve” begins to flatten however, we can only hope that our global efforts to mitigate this problem will soon reap the benefits, allowing us to slowly return to our everyday lives.
Coronavirus in the San Blas Islands
Made up of 365 stunning islands and home to a myriad of wildlife, the San Blas Archipelago is one of the largest and most stunning coral reefs in the world. It is also the largest collective coconut farm in the world! This breathtaking stretch of islands is also home to an indigenous tribe of people, known as the Kuna (or Guna).
As a completely self sufficient and governmentally autonomous region, and due to its remote location, the Kuna Yala at first glance may seem to be almost exempt to the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus. In recent years however, it has become a hotspot for international travellers and backpackers, making it a substantially more vulnerable target for the quick moving contagion.
With this in mind, the Kuna Congreso (government) made the educated decision to close the Kuna Yala to all tourism as well as halt all traffic from nearby Panama City, effectively isolating it from the rest of the world. There are 42 individual communities within the San Blas Islands, and each one was instructed to isolate within their respective islands. For the Kuna people, travelling between islands is normally an everyday occurrence. Whether it be for sport, social gatherings, dance competitions or to trade supplies, all of this has been put on hold to minimise the spread of this deadly virus. With only a small number of cases reported in the Kuna Yala, it is likely this community lockdown will prove highly effective.
Given that the Kuna largely survive off natural resources, the lockdown has not had too much of an impact, however with the lack of trade boats visiting the region, a shortage of things such as flour, rice and sugar has occurred, leaving the Kuna to rely solely on the food they can harvest from the land and the sea. There is an abundance of fresh fish, lobster, fresh produce grown on the mainland, and of course all the coconuts you could dream of! Luckily for these versatile and resilient people, overall there is no shortage of natural supplies to get them through this unprecedented event.
When will the San Blas Islands be open again?
The San Blas Islands or Kuna Yala are governed by the Kuna Congreso. They work closely with the Panamanian government, Maritime offices and military, and as such the decision to reopen will follow the action of the Panamanian authorities, likely with some influence with neighbouring Colombia. As it stands, Panama is set to begin opening up businesses and reducing lockdown enforcement toward the end of May, however this depends solely on the complete reduction of new cases of the COVID-19 Coronavirus and of course the cooperation of the general public in following the lockdown instructions and taking all precautions to ensure the eradication of the virus.
It is likely that there will be a short period of time after Panama reopens before the Kuna Yala follows suit. Given that they are only a small race of people, it is a fair assumption to think they will want to remain isolated for a short. A wise move to ensure their safety and preservation. While tourism is a definite boost to their economy, they are a very resilient and self sufficient people, and as such it is not essential in order for them to continue functioning as a society. That being said, the local majority are already very eager to reopen their borders and are putting pressure on the government to make the decision sooner rather than later, so I imagine it is only a matter of time before they do so.
What about San Blas Adventures?
As you can imagine, the closure of San Blas and the subsequent cancellation of our trips due to the Coronavirus outbreak has been terribly unfortunate for us and the local people. It has left us with a giant hole in our operations! With that being said, we have the utmost confidence that San Blas will reopen in a short while, and so we have decided not to cancel our trips too far in advance, as we want to be ready to jump back on the wagon (or boat in this case!) as soon as we are able to do so.
Our staff and their families are all safe and sound in the meantime! While our physical operation has come to a halt, we are taking advantage of this time to brainstorm. we are coming up with new and exciting ways that we can improve the services we provide to our guests and the help we can provide to the local indigenous people! If you are interested in taking one of our Panama to Colombia or Colombia to Panama trips and would like to confirm what future dates are available, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
From everyone here at San Blas Adventures, we wish all the best to you all in this crazy unprecedented time. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers go out to every single person that has been affected by this unprecedented event. Families have been separated. Countless backpackers have been stranded all around the globe, and of course there has been tragic loss if lives worldwide. But it’s not all bad..
Amidst a global crisis, humanity has shown its true colors. There has been a tremendous outpouring of love and support for one another felt worldwide. New creative ways of communicating have developed, families are spending genuine quality time together, efforts are being felt globally to emotionally support and care for one another like never before. Mother nature has also received a well deserved break from the impact it receives daily from its inhabitants. It has been given a chance to regenerate, to clean itself and to recuperate some of its precious resources.
Focus on the positive, people! There is plenty of it to be found, if you look in the right places.