Tag Archives: Nalunega

Team Rock Questions/Answers

Here is another set of questions posed by the Team Rock! 7th graders, and my attempts to answer them.

In Science class we are learning about adaptations and evolution, especially with Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos! It’s funny how you mentioned them in your blog, what a coincidence! Have you seen any finches with noticeably different beaks? What do you think about their evolution?

I’m afraid all the finches look pretty much the same to me, other than the coloring if males/females. Many of the finches I’ve seen have been in the towns, often hanging around restaurants. Do you think their beaks will eventually adapt to foraging human-food…?


Has there been any recent droughts that affected the large finches?

I don’t know. I will relate one thing I learned, though, that impressed me about the impact of climate change. Back 30 years ago (I think, I may be off with the years) there was a very strong “El Nino” year — where the usual ocean currents are disrupted, and with them the weather. Our guide on one of our tours said that in this one year 90% of the coral around the Galapagos died off. He attributes this to the ocean currents. One day the waters would be cold, brought north by the Humboldt Current. The next day the water would be warm, from the Panama Current. Coral can live in both temperatures, but he said that he believes the constant switching back and forth killed the coral.

This year is a strange one, in that we are now in the rainy season, but there has been almost no rain. There was a lot of talk about this among locals, though no one seems to know why or what the impact might be.


Were the iguanas mean?

For the most part the iguanas ignored people, and while the tourists didn’t ignore them, we never touched them or tried to scare them. I did have one “spit” at me once though.


Would you ever find yourself wanting to return to the Galapagos Islands?

I did not fall in love with the Galapagos. But I probably would if we were free to explore the remote areas. What a great cruising ground! But as I’ve reported, it is increasingly “protected” from tourists. So I doubt I will go back.


Were you able to touch any of the animals on the islands?

There was a strong local ethic of not touching animals, and we almost always adhered to that. I did touch the back of a sea turtle that was swimming with me. He didn’t care; maybe he (she?) even liked it.


What was your favorite part of being in the Galapagos?

Three things come to mind. First, the sea lions were a hoot — very entertaining. But that got old quickly as they “invaded” our boat. Second, visiting the island of Isabela (going by ferry and spending the night there in a little hotel) was fun. The town was smaller and life seemed more relaxed, and it was fun to explore a little on my own. But the winner has to be snorkeling around Kicker Rock, where both the cliffs above and the cliffs underwater were incredible.


How many different species of finches did you see? What was the most unique species you saw?
Sorry — I don’t know!


We are learning about Darwin’s finches and I would like to know if you saw any of the birds dying or fighting for food?

This is not apparent. The birds all looked healthy and “happy.” I think the competition that leads to some birds having advantages over others happens over many thousands of years, and would be very difficult to detect at any one moment in time.


What your favorite place you have been so far?

Hard to choose one. Some of the places in the San Blas islands were interesting and fun. The Panama Canal was a cool experience. Parts of the Galapagos were unique and wondrous. And another favorite is right where I am now — in the middle of the ocean, where there is nothing around by more ocean, and the night sky is amazing in its brilliance and its vastness!

Life in San Blas

We were thinking of moving to one of the nice reef areas, about 15 miles east. But first Tim suggested that we visit the island/town behind us. I hesitated, wondering if “outsiders” would be welcome there. But one of the great things about traveling with Tim is his uninhibited interaction with everyone. I get to tag along and see where it leads.

The town consists mostly of houses with thatched roofs, plus some with metal roofs with water catchment systems. (There is no fresh water on the island — only rainwater or water brought from the mainland.) I had assumed that it was houses only, but there was a sign near where we landed the dinghy indicating crafts for sale. Then as we ventured further, along paths winding between closely-spaced houses, there were more signs…for stores, for the church, for the school, for a meeting house, for the medical clinic.

Enter Nestor, who speaks reasonably good English (slightly better than our Spanish), who introduces himself and adopts us. He answers dozens of questions; he has a cold beer with us (at our expense, of course); he guides us to the bakery, where the bread will be ready in 15 minutes. Ten minutes later, when it still will be ready in 15 minutes, he suggests we go to HIS island, Nalunega, just across a short stretch of water. We go, we visit the store there, we buy hot empanadas, we say no to many, many molas, we see the school (closed for vacation until March), and then he asks if we would like him to prepare a dinner for us I his house that evening Yes!

We go back to the first island, Wichubwala, to pick up our bread. Nestor takes his dugout canoe, and Tim rides with him. Bread in hand, we go a few yards to another island (or is it just some structures built over the water?) to buy lobsters for the meal Nestor will make. And finally we get back to the boat. This has been a much bigger outing than I had anticipated, and I’m hot and tired and thirsty. But what a great opportunity to learn how the Guna people live!

When we return in the evening to Nalunega, there is much more activity than earlier in the heat of the day. Lots of kids running around, lots more people on the paths among the houses. And a basketball game, complete with referee! I was going to ask if people played soccer, but I realized there was no space on the island for it. Nestor reports 700 people live on the island, which is a most a 3 minute walk from end to end.

Solar panels sprout between the thatched roofs. They attach to batteries, wired to LED light bulbs. And an occasional TV! There are even some satellite dishes, but Nestor says they don’t always work; his is primarily for DVD’s for the kids.

Dinner is lobster (the tropical kind has meat inn the tails only, no big claws) and coconut rice and breadfruit and beans. All is delicious! Nestor does the cooking. His wife helps with serving. His daughter minds the younger kids in a hammock. It is clear that all sleep in hammocks. They can be swung up into the rafter to make room during the day. Clothing is stored hanging from rafters. Most of the cooking is done next door, and the results are carried in to us.

Nestor shows us his passport, which has several stamps in it. He is proud of it, and he speaks of going to Columbia next, to work for a while and then return. He says that he goes to Panama City to work, but Panama City is “not good.” Tim asks about the city of Colon, and is it a dangerous place for “gringos.” Nester considers this for a moment and says, “For Gringos, si.”

We try to ask if the community has been affected by sea level rise, but he doesn’t exactly understand the question. Yes, he says, last November when the winds blew hard from the east, parts of the island were flooded. We ask about what the young adults aspire to — do they want to stay on the island. I couldn’t fully understand the answer. Many go to Panama City. At first I thought he said that the Guna customs are retained by them, but then I think he may have said the opposite.

There was traditional dancing that evening. We watched for a few minutes before we said we had to get back to the boat, as it was getting dark.

I must say that my impression of life on Nalunega changed dramatically during the course of the day. My predisposition was to think of the people as poor, and thus unhappy. But the people seem to be quite happy. The children are beautiful and playful and appear to be very healthy. My idea of “poor” morphed as I saw more of their lives. Were they lacking anything they needed? Would they trade places with any of us?