You know those cartoons of a desert island with only one tree? That’s what many of the San Blas Islands of Panama look like.
I stay on one of the bigger ones where my “hotel” turns out to be a ramshackle hut with a bare bulb, powered erratically by a solar panel. My mosquito net merely trap the insects inside once they have come in through the many holes.
That is part of the appeal of the San Blas: they are true desert islands. I take a boat to explore further and soon find myself alone on one, my boatman having promised to return later. Given the condition of his boat, I am not sure it is a promise he can keep but I don’t really care.
Being cast adrift on a literally deserted island of pure sand and a lone palm tree, with crystal clear water and a small coral reef offshore, is a vision of paradise. I make the most of it, swimming and snorkeling, before the boat returns, its noisy, smoking engine truly disturbing the peace.
We head off to a larger island for lunch. Here, a small shack is selling freshly fried fish, lobster and plantains for lunch, with beer from a cool box.
A few days later, I meet a man who was born on San Blas but now lives in Panama City. “Life here is much better,” says Gilberto. “No stress, no noise and you are close to nature. But I want to give my children an education and, once you have left, it is very hard to go back.”
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