No, we didn't get naked to clean up a beach in Panama's stunning San Blas Islands. But a little helper named Christopher, seen here, did.
We shouldn't have been surprised--the kid rarely wore clothes both times we stayed on his island, a tiny teardrop of sand not much larger than a city block. Of course, considering he lives a Blue Lagoon-like lifestyle surrounded by swaying palms and clear blue waters, who could blame him.
While the San Blas Islands look and feel close to paradise, the Kuna people who live there are facing critical problems with clean water, sanitation, and trash.
Thanks to the steady stream of tourists and a growing local population, there isn't enough potable water to go around. In addition, all those people are producing lots of waste, which isn't being disposed of properly, leading to polluted oceans, contaminated drinking water, and trash in the water, wrapped around starfish, and dotting the beaches, which we did our best to eradicate with the help of little naked Christopher.
We even convinced some fellow travelers to join us on the clean up. Together,we walked the beaches, crisscrossed the island, and snorkeled the surrounding waters picking up trash.
If you do visit the San Blas, make sure to carry out everything you carry in (and more if you have room), and before you book, ask if the island you're on has properly-functioning toilet facilities. If it doesn't, stay elsewhere.
And of course, if you see garbage on the beach, recruit some fellow travelers, and take the time to clean it up. You'll be glad you did, and you might make some new friends in the process.