February 24,2017

09°30.770 N 78°37.093W
From Coco Bandero cays to Nargana island
Vasso’s arrival

Map  —- green =reefs , yellow = land —-

13.00 Nargana island, where we are headed, is very close to the Guna Yala mainland and as we read the sea over there is muddy, from the river water flows. So, we decided to stop on the way at the Coco Bandero Cays to swim and have lunch.

Yorgos opens the Bauhaus Panama Guide and finds the chart and the aerial photo or the four islands. The book is very helpful for the safe approach to the anchorage but to be sure, I climb again up the mast. The weather helps, clear sky and sunshine and so I can see the reefs perfectly.
-“Five degrees to the left!” I shout so the captain can hear me from up here.
-“ Five degrees to the left” he repeats
We cross the narrow passage between Dupwala and Guariadup and anchor at 9 meters deep on sand, between Olosicuidup and Tiadup. The beauty of this place is beyond words.

All four tiny islands are covered with white sand and high palm trees. To our right we see the north side of Olosicuidup. Many uprooted palm trees are lying in the shallows, their dark silouettes look like dead sea creatures, victims of global warming and rising sea levels. As Bauhause wrote, the San Blas islands disappear year after year from this reason. Beautiful Earth, how much you suffer…


On the other side, on Tiadup island there are a few bamboo huts with green roofs. The sea is calm here, but the sound of the waves breaking on the external reef is distant but distinct: the Ocean is here.

We wear masks, snorkels and flippers, dive into the sea and swim, against a mild current . I never felt comfortable swimming in deep water ,so I am at ease only when we reach the reef.

We snorkel around watching the colourful abundance of fish and corals. The water is clear and the visibility terrific. Every few minutes, I turn and look all around us: we saw three nurse sharks the other day and even though I know they are not aggressive, I prefer to spot them before they spot me.

As we are watching a french angelfish, Yorgos touches my hand. I turn and I see a beautiful spotted eagle ray swimming by. The graceful undulations of its winglike pectoral wings immitate a flight in slow motion in the blue underwater space. Its tail is more than 2 meters long. A silver remora is swimming next to the ray following its every move, as all commensals do. It’s the first time we see a remora with a ray, we usually spot them accompanying sea turtles. We go closer and we are lucky to capture the scene with our GoPro camera before the ray swims away.

14.00 We swim back to Filizi, We need to have lunch and leave for Nargana before 4pm. Later, as the sun is lower in the horizon the visibility gets bad and navigating in Guna Yala becomes dangerous. I go to the galley and start cooking. Three hours ago, I put dry lentles to soak in fresh water.

In one pot I boil brown and wild rice, and in another I put a just a little olive oil and cook onions cut in thin slices, two garlic cloves, buttersquash cut in small cubes, pieces of fresh coconut, thin slices of carots, cabbage, ginger and the lentles. I add half a teaspoon tumeric, a pinch of nutmeg, two hot chilly pepers, ground peper and soy sauce. I fly the vegetables in high heat until they start giving their own juices. Then I put on the lid and liwer the heat to minimum for 10′.  I mix the rice with the vegetables in the pan. Food is ready. Delicious and healthy..

As we eat, a dugout canoe – called “ulu” by the Gunas- with four men onboard, is approaching the Cocos with its lanteen sail. Coming closer, one of them takes down the sail, wraps it around the mast and lays it on the canoe. They come close to Filizi. The man sitting on the bow  raises his hand holding a big fish. No we don’t want fish…
-“Pulpo?”octapus, he asks again, holding up a medium sized octapus. We know  that our friend Vasso likes eating sea food of all sorts
-Pulpo, si! Quando costa?”
– “Cinco ” he answers, showing five fingers. Yorgos brings the five $ and takes the octapus.
-“Tienes agua?” the indian asks. We give them a bottle of water – water is a problem for the Guna people. As the canoe takes distance Yorgos is examining the octopus.

-“It’s very fresh” he says
-”I will cook it with red wine and short macaroni, Edwin’s recipe. Vasso will love it” I say
” Great idea but first I have to tenderise it” he says, refering to the Greek technic. I don’t want to think about the mess this will cause on Filizi. And I know who will have to clean it….

16.30 We enter the narrow channel between Nargana island, Yandup in Guna language, and the land from the west. I climb to my favourite place, the spreader and admire the view. The coast, as far as the eye can see is covered by thick tropical vegatation. No buildings, no houses, just nature, untouched, pure like no man ever set foot on it. A flock of birds fly above the trees and a dolphin is swimming lazily before our bow.
-“Dolphin, port” Yorgos cries out.
The rays of the sun turn the calm sea surface into gold.

The island as all San Blas islands is flat, rising maybe just one meter from the sea level. There are no palm trees here, the village is spread everywhere. Many of the buildings are concrete, the rest are thatched huts made of bamboo. A long pedestrian bridge is connecting the island with Corazon-de-Juesus, a smaller island to the east side. We drop our anchor and prepare the tender. Yorgos rushes me to go ashore but I’m hot, exhausted and moving in slow motion. Mate, cook and cleaning lady, trying to do it all .
-Come on chief mate! Hurry up! We don’t want to see Nargana in the darkness, do we?”. I grab my backpack, I throw inside some  candy, a tennis ball and my mobile. I turn on the anchor light and lock the hatch.
-“Ready!”
17.00 I jump in the dinghy and we motor ashore, looking for the dinghy-dock mentioned in the book but all we see is slum huts. By the bridge are two men, unloading cartons of beer from a wooden boat. We read on the guide that the communities of Nargana and Corazon de Jesus have decided to give up the traditional Guna way of life, so they have bars that sell alchohol and their houses have TVs . Modern times. At the far end, there’s a sign writing “Gasolina” in big faded letters. We head there and find a kind of wooden pontoon in front of a house. As we set foot in the  garden  two dogs  start barking, thankfully keeping a distance from us. A man, sitting on a plastic chair tells them to stop.
-‘Hola senior! Podemos …nuestro barco aqui?” Hello sir, can we ….. our boat here? I say showing our dinghy
-“Si. Bienvenidos!”
The dogs are still barking, as we try to find our way out. We pass by a large, plastic  fuel tank . This place must have been a bar, in the past and now it’s the village’s gas station.  We get out from the garden by a narrow corridor of bamboo plants.
-“How will we ever find our way back to the dinghy?” I ask Yorgos. He smiles.
-“Look here! I took a photo of the village map.” he points on the picture on his mobile. Relieved, I follow him out in the open. The sun is low on the horizon and under the soft light the village looks tranquile We pass a big, white and blue two story building that must be the school. The walls smell of fresh paint. The road, made of pressed sand is clean and looks empty until a couple appears.

The man is dressed with a dark shirt and an old trouser. The woman is dressed the traditional way: short hair, bright red blush on the cheeks, gold nose ring and a bright head scarf. Her blouse is made from elaborately patterned sheer fabric, decorated with handmade Molas. The skirt is made from black fabric with bright designs of turtles. She wears the traditional intricate beads on her calves, called wini and more on her forearms , called chaquira, worn by Guna women.

The molas are handcrafted aplique’, made of cutting and stitching together multiple fabrics.
-“Hola!” we say and they salute with a motion of the head. I would die to take her picture …
The houses are made of concrete and many of them look uninhabited. Next is a bigger building, the bank! Yorgos takes a closer look and he bursts in laughter seeing the sign on the window: Guns are not allowed!!!

We walk further and we find ourselves in a plane. In the middle there’s a statue of a man holding something like a book in his hands. A bunch of children play around the statue. We come closer and they say “Hola”. We ask to take their picture and they immediately pose for us, making funny faces.

I give each of them a candy and the tennis ball. More childeren come, saying “Yo quiero, yo quiero” I want. I want .The candies are finished and the kids run barefoot away continuing their game. They seem really happy.


At one of the benches are seated three teenagers, two girls and a boy, all dressed in western clothes. One of them is holding a smartphone and they are posing for a selfie.


Walking further in the village, the sceene changes. Some houses in this part are made of bamboo and some of concrete but they all have thatched roofs
17.30 Vasso our friend, should have arrived to the Panama airport by now. I check my phone, there are no WhatsApp messages. I call her but there’s no answer. We’ll have to wait. Yorgos takes me by the hand and we walk further.

To the left there’s a volleyball court where two teams of kids are playing. The kids look really young for a voleyball team, but, as the tribe are physically small, we guess that they could be older.

We enter the grocery shop just opposite. On one side is a wide TV screen showing a baseball game. A man and a woman are seated at a table. The woman is painting big letters of the alphabet on colourful cards, a toy for children maybe. The man turns, stands up and greets us

-“Buenas tardes!” he says and walks towards the counter. On the shelves there are few things: cans of beans, meat and milk, half a dosen bags of beans or lentles, some boxes of dehydrated milk, eggs, rice and a few packs of pasta, sauces, sugar, flour, toilet paper, soap and chlorine. This must be one of the richest grocery shops in Guna Yala. We pick a pack of short pasta for the octapus and go to the counter.
-“De donde eres?” asks the man
-“De Grecia” I answer. He looks surprised
-“Griegos!Yo conosco la mytologia, la philosofia griega. I am familiar with the mythology, the philosophy and the history of Greece. I studied history in the Panama Univesity and I find there is a similarity between the Greek and the Guna mythology. “ He tells us about the beast Mono, the chimpangee that was transformed into Man, about Pulpo the octapus, about the Wind and the Sun.

We get carried away with the interesting conversation and we forget to ask him where we can find Johny Rohas, the man with the boat. We leave and when we go back to ask him, the doors of the shop are closed.
18.30 The sun sets and the calm sea reflects the purple and magenta of the sky. The magical birdsongs and chatters coming from land are mixed with the distant music coming from Corason de Jesus.

We walk on the pedestrian bridge, side by side with some local men. From the other direction comes a tall lady, the white person we meet on the island.
-“Hola!”
-“Hola! We are looking for Johny Rohas…”
-“Come with me I’ll take you to him”

…..

  1. 19.30 When we arrive back to Filizi, it’s almost dark. We set the table and eat the remaining vegatable rise. Delicious. I bring my iphone and ipad and continue the translation of a greek post to english. The internet is working here, slowly but it’s working and I must take advantage of it to upload pictures to the posts.
    -“Ouch!” What was that?!” Something bit me and it really hurt.
    -“Ow!” goes Yorgos and he smacks his thigh. “We are under attack from mosquitos, I think” he says. I go, bring the insenct repellent and we spray ourselves thoroughly. This is the first time we use this stuff, since we got to San Blas.
    -‘Yeow!!” that bite was strong! Helpless before an invisible enemy, I gather my things.
    -“We better take cover, baby. Let’s go inside.” My mobile beeps, a message from Vasso:
    20.30 << I am at the hotel, can’t reach Johny and my guide, Roger doesn’t answer his mobile. I’ll keep on trying>>
    I am worried but hopefull. Tomorrow, before dawn at 5am, a 4X4 car should pick her and drive her through the jungle over the mountain to the Guna Yala land and the port of Carti. Once there, she must get a boat to Nargana, the Johnny Rohas’ boat. If all goes as planned the boat will bring her to Filizi about 10.30 am and then all together we leave for Isla Tigre, to attend the Celebration for the Revolution. I cross my fingers
    Beep – message from Vasso
    20.45 <<Can’t find Johny, but I found Roger and he’ll pick me up tomorrow and take me to Carti. We have to arrange the boat . Good night>>
    No wonder she can’t find Johnny, the music plays too loud. The Carnaval party started an hour ago and it will go on until sunrise …
    ….
    February 25, 2017
    06.00 What a nightmare, what a torture from mosquitos all night long! I had a terrible sleep from 23.30 to 02.00, either covered up to my head with the bed sheet and soaked in sweat, or uncovered with the invisible monsters devouring me. These are not mosquitos, these are invisible giant crabs, visious, with an unquenched thirst for blood. The good thing is that I worked all night and almost finished my posts. So, I’ve been up all night, betten and betten again and again, working on the blog. A torture becoming worse from the slow, very slow connection. “At least there is a connection!” I say to myself and decide to make two cups of colombian coffee and forget about it.
    Beep. Vasso sent a message
    06.03 <<Good morning. We left for Carti with Roger’s driver 15’ ago . Call Johnny to arrange the boat. We’ll be in Carti in about 3 hours>>

06.50 I make some more coffee and go out in the cockpit and I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of this new day. The clouds are reflected on the calm surface of the water, like a huge mirror. A man is rawing a dugout canoe. We sallute each other.

06.59 beep<<The road is terrible and there’s a lot of traffic>>
I send Johnny a message in bad spanish and he answers back in bad english. She must be in Carti at 8.30. I text her that.
06.60 <<We are driving on the mountain with thick fog>>
Oh my….
07.11 <<The jeep just broke down,on the mountain, in the middle of the jungle. The driver called for assistance. >>
I can’t believe what I’m reading! I burst to a nervous laughter.

07.18 <<We are exactly at the Continental Divide, to our left the Pacific ocean and to our right the Atlantic>>
07.19 <<The engine is running again; it was probably overheated from driving uphill. Now he’s driving fast downhill>>
Meanwhile in Filizi we are drinking coffee, still fighting with the mosqitos. Suddenly an idea comes to my mind:
-“We have used all kinds of repellents without success. How about trying the old fashioned coil ? We have one pack somewhere…”I say and go to fetch it. After a while the coil smoke seems to be working, in the broad day light we can see a dense cloud of miniscule, silent insects fly out from the open hatch.
-“ Did it have to take us so long to think about it?”


Beep
07.51<<We arrived at the Guna Yala border. There’s an endless line of jeeps.
07.52 <<I can’t believe it. We have a flat tire>>
I read the messages to Yorgos. The situation is so crazy that it sounds funny. It’s almost 8 o’clock. She has thirty minutes to catch the boat to Nargana.
08.28 <<The road assistance arrived. We lost 30’, I don’t know if we’ll make it on time>>
In the meanwhile, Johnny and I exchange anglo-spanish messages. The boat is about to leave. I try to stall him.
08.33 <<We are in Carti>>
We text with Johnny and soon Vasso is onboard the boat.
Most of the …flying crabs are gone from the coil smoke but not all of them. In the broad day light, every now and then one is bits hard on me.
-”Ouch!!!” We decide to take the dinghy, go ashore to Nargana for some supplies. and leave the coil smoke drive the insects away.

The village seems to still be sleeping, after the party night. A delicious aroma of freshly baked bread fills the air.
-“Let’s follow the smell” Yorgos says.

We meet three young girls dressed in traditional clothes and ask them where the bakery is. They show us, behind the next thatched hut. Behind the hut is another hut and the smell comes from there. A man appears at the door
-“Buenas dias! La panaderia por favor? The bakery, please?”
-“Buenas!” He nodds to follow him and we enter. Coming from the bright sunshine, the hut inside looks dark. After a minute my eyes adjust and I observe the small room with the bamboo walls. There are two metal structures with shelves and an oven lying down, on the hard sand. The oven is baking some kind of french baguettes. We buy one, but I can tell by it’s look that I won’t like it much.

We walk around and find a small grocery shop. There are fruit and vegatables on one corner and four women of all ages on the other. Only the old woman wears the traditional clothes. As we buy plantains, potatoes and pinapples I ask one of the younger women, why she doesn’t wear wini on her calves.
-“No quero! Yo moderno!” she answers and they all laugh.
10.00 We take our groceries and head back to Filizi. Soon our friend will be here and we should get ready to leave for Tigre.
10.44 Beep <<I arrived !>>
We look around and see two small boats heading to the dock of Corazon de Jesús. Yorgos brings the binoculars. She’s not in any of those.
I text her Where are you? Can you see us?
10.45 <<People are disembarking to another boat>>
11.01 <<We are in Green Island. Next stop Filizi!>>
11.15 It’s too late to make it to Isla Tigre on time to see the revolution festivities but so what? We can visit the island together with Vasso

11.35 A small boat approaches.
-“Yo soy Jorge!Hola capitan! “ says the man standing on the bow.
-“Yo soy Jorge el capitan” says Yorgo
I record the scene, looking for Vasso. Our friend stands up. She’s wearing sunglasses, a hat and one of her brightest smiles.
– “Welcome!! So happy you made it!