Adventures in Guna Yala – Greek friends – part 1

by | Apr 7, 2017 | CARIBBEAN - COLOMBIA - PANAMA

Sunday March 26, 2017
09°35.313N 78°52.935 W   Chichime Cays– Uchutupu Dumat
06.00 I open my eyes, look around in the twilight, and try to orient myself. The next second I come to reality. We slept in the second aft cabin, cabin- 2, the one we use as storage room as all beds in Filizi are full with  friends from Greece. Eddie sleeps in the fore cabin, Tatiana with the one of her two twin daughters, Elena, are sleeping in cabin-1, and Rozi the other twin, who’s a morning bird like me, is sleeping on the couch. Yorgos had a brilliant idea, how to arrange our stuff and transform the storage room back to a cabin: we lay  all the stuff,  extra sails, ropes and bags evenly over the wooden base of the bed, we put the bed matresses on top  and bingo!! The third cabin is ready for use.
I feel like I’m  in a dream, having our dearest friends here! Unfortunately, their arrival was at a bad timing. Three days ago, on Thursday morning, a group of students closed the border of  Guna Yala in protest. When Eddie arrived there with the 4×4 jeep, the blockade had just barely  started and they found themselves in an endless line of stopped cars. And so, his small odyssey begun.
After several hours of waiting and  many whatsapp text messages, Johnny Rojas the guna man responsible for transportation, suggested an alternate route. So, their car drove back to Panama city, and then after a long drive, they reached a seaside village called Miramar. Upon their arrival, they witnessed other boats (lanzas) arriving to the small harbor,  loaded with people fleeing from the blocaded Guna Yala.
The passengers were terrified. Because Miramar,  is located outside  Punta San Blas, out in the open sea and the small lantzas  do not by meet the requirements for navigation in the open sea waves. Eddie, very wisely, refused to board the lantza,  late in the afternoon and  so he and few more passengers, spent the night in an indescribable  hostel.
At 5.30 am next morning, he boarded the small boat and they started for a supposedly 2,5 hour trip. Unfortunately, their troubles were not over. The boat’s engine stopped running three times in the middle of the journey. They arrived in Waisaladup of Green island where we were anchored after seven long hours. We waited for him anxiously, with our arms open and a special menu. A 4 hours journey Panama City -Guna Yala lasted 30 hours.

On the next day,  yesterday, the lantza trip from Miramar was even tougher for Tatiana and the girls, as the weather got very bad, with strong wind and squalls.   To help make their journey shorter, we sailed west to Chichime islands.  On the way, we stopped to show Eddie, our beloved Coco Bandero cays and to greet our friend Giancarlo. The weather was bad, but even so the islands are heavenly.
We met the girls  in the afternoon and I was amazed to find them so cool, after such hard journey.
Their suitcases, their clothes, despite being wrapped in plastic they were all soaked.
They had a really hard time as the small lantza hit each and every wave in a difficult 4 hour journey, taking water from all sides.
As if that were not enough they were hit by  two powerful squalls  with strong wind and torrential rain. With 30 degrees of temperature,  my dear Tatiana was trembling because of hypothermia …  The Miramar – Guna Yala route has been named  “The Suicide Ride”
Fortunately, we learned this name after the trip. As we were told later, my precious and brave girls remained calm during the ride, they even encouraged the other passengers of the lantza. It is obvious that all three of them are born, true travelers!
I quietly get out of bed, wearing a big smile on my face.   Sweet Rosie is, lying awake on the couch playing with her ipad. Clasic!
– “Finally, nona (godmother), you are awake! I’ve been waiting for so long… Can we go swimming now?” says my almost 12-year goddaughter Rozy. She’s already wearing her swimsuit.
– “Good morning, darling!” I embrace her.
– “Good morning girls!”   Yorgos says with cheerful voice, still lying in bed.
– “Good morning nona (godmother)!”Elena says, coming out of the cabin.
– “Good morning sweetheart!” I kiss her and breathe in the sweet scent of the beloved child.
Pure happiness!

Soon, everyone on board is awake and we all dive in the clear, turquoise waters. Eddie, Yorgos and the girls go snorkeling at the nearby reef. After the Yorgos as a loving godfather,  prepars a great breakfast, his specialty omelette  , homemade bread, fresh pineapple  and watermelon. Tatiana  and   I chat happily as we hung the clothes on the lifeline to dry. The sun is hidden by white fluffy clouds and the sky looks like a drawing. Nothing seems to dry but it’s allright.   The trouble is, I can’t enjoy it completely,   because we must find a way to get Eddie to the airport tomorrow, one hour and a halfdrive from the port of Carti. His flight leaves 9:30 am
Yesterday evening I learned from a trusted source, Ortiz , our grocer!!, that the borders  will open  tomorrow morning, although it hasn’t been officially announced, yet. The borders of Guna Yala open daily at 7am, so the earliest a 4×4 jeep could arrive is 7.45. And that’s too late for Eddie.
Yorgos, Eddie and me, we are sitting at the cockpit considering the possible routes.
The ideal way would be to find a car already parked at the port of Carti, start at 6.30 am, cross the border at 7:00 a.m. and get to the airport at 8.00am.
Second alternative is to go to the port of Miramar, a solution that nobody wants. Miramar is 25 nautical miles from here, a five hours journey, and a … traumatic experience for everyone. Besides, we need to find a car to go Miramar- airport, a that’s also a very long drive.
After breakfast, we start to communicate with everyone to find a solution. With the poor but at least existent 3G signal on our mobiles (here in San Blas internet access is really hard), we start sending whatsapp and face time messages, to Johnny Rojas, Judy Lam the travel agent etc. They all try to help, but in vain.Eddie proposes a third solution, to sail to Porvenir island and from there he’ll take a boat to Miramar and a car to Panama. We send messages to all. As we are all caught in this situation, Tatiana and the girls return from one more swim at the reef. My dear girlfriend, overhears our conversation and our disappointed voices:
– “Don’t you worry. Our solution is Carti”, she says. And Taty has a great intuition.
12.00 We weigh anchor and set sail due west for Porvernir, continuing our search.
Judy Lam,the travel agent, texts me that a guna driver called Nibo, will be in Carti 7:30 am, willing to drive Eddie as fast as possible to the airport.

Johny Rojas texts Eddie, that there is no car available for Miramar, no boat in Porvenir. Captain Yorgos sets the course south towards the port of Carti and we all sigh with relief. Carti is located just ten miles from here, so we can  even stop at the Lemon Cays for snorkeling and lunch.
14.00 The sky clears and the bright sunshine dries Filizi and all the girls clothes. Shortly, navigating carefully through the shallow reefs, we anchor at 4 meters on sand, next to Dog island, between three, tiny paradise cays. We all dive in the sea but I come back soon, to cook. I prepare noodles with vegetables and  a guacamole salad. There are also a few lentil veggie-balls leftover from yesterday. When all is ready I dive again to cool off. I marvel at how different the islands look when the weather is good, the white sand at the beaches around is sparkling under the rays of the sun, the water is like a blue -green crystal, and all kinds of fish swimming around. Soon everyone is back on Filizi, and we are all really hungry.
15.00 Shortly after we finished lunch, an ulu approaches with three men on board. One of them, a strong looking Indian, wearing a pendant made of shark teeth, picks a huge fish and holds it high for us to see it:
– “Pescado?”Fish? he asks. Yorgos gets up and puts two fenders on the starboard side of Filizi.
Their ulu is full of large fish and while some look fresh, some other look somewhat stale. Among them, there are two huge parotfishes, with their bright blue-green skin and colorful tails. I feel depressed seeing them dead, I simply adore the shy, beautiful parotfish.
Yorgos, who has been spare gun fishing many times these last few weeks to feed our guests, points on a reddish seabass and asks the gunas
– “Quando costa?” The fish weights about four pounds and is certainly fresh. The three Indians all look at each other and consult silently.
– «Dies” the fisherman answered. Ten dollars.
The fish changes hands. As the ulu goes away Yorgos starts cleanig the fish, a really hard work as the scales are terribly hard. Without waisting time, we weight the anchor and set sail for Carti. I go to the galley and start preparing the fish, following my husband’s instructions, who is a specialist on the field: I smear it with a little vergin olive oil, sprinkle it with coarse salt gathered from the rocks of Koufonisia islands in Greece and put in the oven, it barely fit in the pan.
As I am doing this and much more, captain -Eddie gladly takes the role of the first mate.
16.00  Elena and Rosy are in the cabin reading their books, protecting themselves from the scorching sun and the we the grown ups are approaching Carti Islands with the genoa and engine.   Getting closer, Eddie furls in the sail. The captain is in high alert as  the depth in some places falls to five meters. With the help of the Bauhaus map, we carefully pass between the islands: Carti Yandup, Carti Tupile and Carti Sugdup.
The tiny islands are very densely populated and built, the houses are huts made of cane and leaves, with additions   of plastic covers.   I take the binoculars and see people sitting at the seaside, looking at Filizi passing , while we observe them back.
We hear someone blowing a whistle. We are passing close to the school, the only concrete building of the island painted white and blue. In the school yard the children are doing gym exercises, under the command of their teacher. In the south end of the adjacent island, is a small pier constructed of tree trunks.
– “This is where our lantza stopped for fuel!” Tatiana says recognizing the place.
The sea water is brown, from the soil carried by rivers after the three-day rain, but still it is full of life. Two dolphins swim beside us, yellowtail jacks jump out of the water, as do flocks of tiny, silvery fish looking like a sparkling, metallic rain. On the south side of the islands four sail boats are anchored.
– “They must have too blocked passengers in Guna Yala. Otherwise, why come here where one can’t swim?”
16.00 I observe Carti with the binoculars. On the coast, there are two small wooden  piers. Farther to the left, is one small pier made of concrete, a two low buildings and about a dosen cars are parked.
– “So it seems that there are cars in Carti”, I say. Eddie takes the binoculars. There is hope for solution #1. Yorgos approaches the coast, with great care. We drop anchor twice, because the first did not hold, we put the dinghy in the water, fit the engine and all. Captain Yorgos decides to stay in Filizi while Eddie and me, spray mosquito repellent and go ashore. The sun has dissapeared behind the hills in the west. We must hurry
17.30 I tie the dinghy to the small pier. A man approaches and greets us
– « Hola!” .
– «Hola! We need a car to the airport, “the say in Spanish. He says with a gesture to follow him. We reach a shed made of cane where three men are seated behind a desk. The youngest, who’s wearing a t-shirt, mirror glass sunglasses albeight it’s dark, sits in the center and he seems to be the in charge.   The man who brought us there, says something in guna dialect. The young man, sits back, folds his hands on his chest and looks at us, cool and apathetic.
– “There are no cars in Carti”
– “But we saw many…” I start saying
– “Coche privado . Private cars. Belong to tourists”
– “So what can we do? Eddie must catch the plane tomorrow. He must fly to Greece, viaje a Grecia muy lejos”, I tell him adding Greece as I thing it might help. I wear my sweetest smile. He sighs…
– “Eddie come early, 6am to search driver.”The young man picks his mobile phone, looking indifferent. The hearing with the “griegos” is over.
We return to Filizi filled with hope. The fish is eaten and the girls, tired from the jet lag, go to bed early. Eddie, Yorgos and me we stay up late to finish the  game of whist we started yesterday. It was an amazing game
Monday, March 27, 2017  
9°27.557N 787°58.842 W
Puerto de Carti
05.45 The alarm ring in both our mobile phones. I get up fast and make coffee andYorgos breakfast, muesli with almond milk for breakfast. Dawn is approaching and the clouds in the east become purple. The sound of a motor covers the melodic song of the tropical birds. A wooden boat loaded with guna men and women, all dressed traditionally passes close to Filizi. In two minutes, comes another boat and then another.
We must hurry! Without wasting time, we all three board our small dinghy. Fortunately, Eddie’s luggage is a small and hard cabin suitcase, on of those with four wheels. We arrive at the pier and tie. Yorgos and Eddie look around for a car while I go back to the shed, where we met the guy with mirror sunglassesNow, behind the desk sit a woman and a man, she writes the passenger names on a list and he collects the money and gives change. In front of the desk a queue of passengers is forming minute after minute. They are all holding a piece of paper with a Guna Yala flag and a stamp and they hold money in their hands. I approach to ask information. The woman behind the desk with looks at me sharply and cries out:
– “En la cola !!”
I do not understand. The guna women start chuckling. An elderly man looks at me in the eye and gestures for me to stand behind him. The woman behind him, squeezes in looking the other way. I look at my phone. The time is 6.25 and I have a text message from Judy Lam.
– “Good morning Karina. Nibo’s driver name is Giovanni and he has a black pick up truck. I hope he gets Eddy on time. Or any other driver ”
– “Thank you! Should Eddie pay for the port? There’s a long queue”, I ask her
– “Talk to Johnny, he is in charge of the port. Tell him that you wait for Nibo’s car, or for the first car that leaves Carti. And pay $ 2 tax for Eddie ‘
Judy Lam saved us!
– “Where will I find Johnny the boss;” I ask the gentleman who helped me.
He points to the other side of the harbor, where the parked cars are.
I make my way to the desk, pay the two dollars and run to the dinghy. Yorgos start the engine and we go to find Eddie who’s already at the other side..We arrive at the old concrete pier where the water is so shallow that we have to lift the outboard. The wind has gotten stronger and small waves are making the approach difficult. Eddie comes to help us and he grabs the dinghy line.   I step ashore and rush to find Johnny the boss. Eddie takes the suitcase from Yorgos hands, layes it on the pier and tries to tie the line. The small suitcase rolls and dives into the sea. Yorgos grabs the switcase but it slips from, his hands and falls back in the water. He grabs it again and drags it our of the water. I hear their voices, turn around and I see the scene that lasts some seconds.   The boys burst out laughing. What else can happen ?
We approach the concrete shed with the big sign Puerto Terminal Niga Cantle
I ask a girl at the counter about Johnny, she points at a man and I run to him.
I explain the situation. Johnny looks at me, says OK and leads me to the counter, where the cashier asks for two more dollars. Until I pay the senior Johnny is gone

06.35  Yorgos points at a car, about 50 meters away, a white pick up truck, with the engine running. I run to the car. On the side of the car is the inscription:
The driver is inside
– « Por favor, puedes ayudarnos;” Please can you help us; I tell him and explain that our friend Eddie must get fast to the airport as flies to Greece, the other side of the world.
– “Gladly, if Johnny says OK”, he replies.
I go to the guys to tell Eddie to get ready and find them rinsing the suitcase with fresh water. Fortunately, there was little salt water inside. I ask around and find Johnny at the restaurant, eating breakfast, a large  hot dog with ketchup. I hesitate to interrupt him but there is no time to lose
– “Sorry senior Johnny. Could you please tell  the driver of the car “Meduco” to drive Eddie to the airport?” I say hoping that polite use of “Usted” can soothe my bad manner.
He looks at me and then back to his plate.
The white car starts moving and then stops in front of a woman guna carrying a large bundle. The woman throws the bundle on back of the car and climbs in the front passenger seat. The car restarts and is approaching us slowly. Yorgos stands ahead of the car and stops it.   Senior Johnny gets up, wipes his lips, and walks towards the white pick up truck. Senior Johnny talks to the driver and then he turns and after he turns back to me.
– “The car will take your friend to the airport, without a stop,” he says. I thanked him warmely, and I was so happy I almost kissed him.
– “Eddie, come come, you are leaving immediately”
The time is 6:40 a.m. There’s enough time for him to catch the flight.   We all embrace and say goodbuy.
Yorgos and me, we are looking at the car, driving away. Three days with our dear friend flied fast like three seconds, three beautiful, and adventurus days. Who knows where and when we’ll meet again.   We head towards the dinghy.
At the seaside perch a herd of large, black birds. A speeding car passes by, the birds are scared and they take off simultaneously, filling the sky with wide open massive wings. Four young guna women, all dressed in their striking clothes, are approaching. They look at us and gigle. We must look funny to them, I guess.
We get onboard the dingy and start for Filizi.
Our dear girls are waiting for us and Eddie is OK.
Life tastes sweet…




  1. Vasso

    Loved this piece…brought back fond memories…Written very well! So much suspense, beautiful photos….

  2. Karina Sandri

    We are so glad you love it. Thank you Vasso!!

  3. Dan Littman

    Beautiful writing, you had me on the edge of my seat, worried about Eddie. We had nice FaceTime yesterday with Vasso, she looked great. We miss you very much and wish we could be with you. Love, dan & Laura.

  4. Karina Sandri

    Thank you, dear friends! We hope you come and meet us, soon! Love Karina & Yorgos

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  6. Karina Sandri

    Thank you, you are very kind! Today we are crossing the Panama Canal, heading towards the Pacific islands! Hope you can follow our journey

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