23 February 2010 | Kuna Yala, Panama
I arrived at the Albrook Airport in panama city bright and early at 5am. Albrook airport serves the domestic airports in panama and most of the early flights are to the islands of Kuna Yala…one of which I was flying to. I was literally 2 feet taller than anyone else in the airport and not having seen the sun in 4 months looked like a ghost in comparison to the rest of the people…the terminal was full of Kuna.
I flew into Playon Chico which is a small island that has a walking bridge to mainland Panama where the airstrip is located. The strip is like something you’d see in a movie…built in a place with just enough room between a steep mountain and the ocean. I landed and actually bumped into another Accenture guy. After paying a $10 island entrance fee, I grabbed my bags and decided to cross the walking bridge and check out the town. On the bridge, I started talking to a guy who told me I was getting thrown in jail but I didn’t understand why and had to come with him and pay him a dollar. So he grabbed my bag and we went into town. He was a friendly guy (the Kuna have a reputation as being very hospitable people) so I really wasn’t that worried. We walked into a hut and he gave an old guy a dollar. I didn’t realize that it was the beginning of the celebration of the Kuna independence and they were celebrating the Holocaust de los Razos (or something like that). In 1925, the Kuna killed all the white people and mixed race people on their islands. It obviously sounds terrible, but it helped them gain their independence and now the islands have been protected from development and the people have been able to preserve their traditions. Anyway, they explained this to me and then I was invited into another hut to either sleep or hang out until the boat arrived to pick me up. I met an irish guy and a woman from florida who were headed to an island to hang out and swim, so I jumped into a boat and headed to the island. It was a white beach island with only palm trees which seemed special at the time, but it turns out nearly every island is like this. We headed back to the island and I noticed a new sailboat anchored just away from Playon Chico. I grabbed my bags and got delivered in a dugout canoe to ‘Bubbles’ where Alex and the crew were waiting for me. They had sailed through a terrible storm coming from Cartegena to meet me.
There was a pretty diverse crew on board: Alex from Indiana, Doug from Bogota, Shaila from Boston, Roy from Israel, Jesse from Australia, and Yvon from Belgium. We spent the next few days sailing, diving, and exploring the Kuna Yala. The second day we delivered some gifts to a Kuna guy named Victoriano that Alex met on the way through before I was on the boat. Victoriano is a Kuna fisherman who has a few islands that he lives between. He ended up joining us on the boat and hanging out for the rest of the night and at one point he climbed the mast and dove in head first (he won the Kuna diving competition in the jungle where they win by jumping from the highest tree). We had a campfire on a little island with a few other boats and Roy and Shaila showed off their fire dancing skills. With a full boat, I ended up sleeping on one of the benches of the cockpit and Victoriano took the other. He typically sleeps in a hammock and for some reason every 10 minutes while sleeping he would lean over and spit while sleeping. I told him to spit in the ocean, but he was out and eventually the spitting got closer to me. When it started hitting the seat cushion that I was using as a pillow, I moved to the galley to sleep. Needless to say, I didn’t get a great night of sleep, but it was a great day. We took off the next day and stopped at the swimming pool anchorage. It’s name is very appropriate with the 15 ft deep water with a white sand floor…we could see to the bottom during in moonlight and while snorkeling the visibility was around 50 ft. There were a few nurse sharks, eagle rays, squids, sting rays, and loads of other fish. Another boat in the anchorage was a group from Vancouver. They had a whole bunch of surfboards on board that they needed to get rid of to free up some space. We got two barely used surfboards with bags for $100, which is a steal anywhere. We speared a small fish and lobster and then met up at BBQ island for a yachting party before heading out for the atlantic end of the panama canal, Colon. With no wind, we had to motor the entire way, but everyone got a lot of rest. We pulled into Colon around noon and had to navigate between all of the tankers waiting to pass through or leave.
We’re setup to go through the panama canal tomorrow around 430pm EST. You can actually watch it live at www.pancanal.com if you’re interested. It takes 24 hours to get through the entire canal, so we should arrive in Panama City to begin a few boat projects Thursday around 5pm.