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s/v Always & All Ways
03/02/2010, Nargana, San Blas

Tuesday, 2 March. Sunday was pretty much a duplicate of Saturday. It rained off and on, the wind blew strong and steady, and we did nothing. Well, we did not get to do what we planned to do which was more diving with the hookah. We were still in a beautiful place and had it all to ourselves and had plenty of books to read and cards to play so we didn't suffer too much. Monday was the last day to legally take conch. (Some say it ended at the end of February, but the “official” word on the Panama Connection Net this AM was that we had until 1:00 PM. And the day looked better. It was still pretty windy so there was quite a current, but the sun was out (at least off and on), so we donned scuba skins and weight belts, launched the hookah from the stern steps, and went hunting. We ended up with 10 conch, 1 of which I threw back as he was really too little. Deb and I have an on going debate about not only how small is illegal, but how small is too small to be worth the effort of cleaning for the amount of meat you get. This one we both agreed upon once we saw it with all the others. I quickly removed them from their shells and Deb cleaned them faster than I have ever seen. By noon they were in a bowl in the refer and we were underway for Nargana to hunt for fruit & veggies. Anchoring turned out to be a real fiasco and I still don't know why. Because of the wind direction, we sailed to the W end of the island and after rolling up gennie, motored along the lee, looking for a good place to drop the hook. The only place less than 30' looked too close to where the water pipe (4” PVC) ran from the concrete water tower on the island across the anchorage and up the Rio Diablo to bring fresh water to the town. I certainly did not want to risk hooking that! The chartplotter (which is often pretty off in these waters) showed an area of 16' which we tried to find. Find it we did, but also found that 16' quickly went to 4.2', the point at which we gently touched what sounded like hard marl bottom. NOT a place to anchor. We decided to anchor close to the shore of town although this can be dicey if the wind shifts as we had discovered at Tigre. We had just set the anchor in 20' and were preparing to add the kellet when Dances with Dragons called and reminded us that the noisy generator on shore ran all night here. (On most islands they turn them off ~10:00 PM.) So we pulled anchor and wander around some more. We finally dropped anchor in 28' just beyond the shoal and well from shore (though we could still hear the generator a bit). The anchor dragged even with 100' out. Pick it up. Set it again in about the same area, but let out 150'. It set nicely. Pick up 25', add the kellet, let the 25' back out (so kellet is on bottom) and add bridle and let out 25 more feet. We have less than 25' in the locker, but – hey – it doesn't do any good in the locker and we are (FINALLY) anchored securely and there are not boats close enough to have to worry about swing room, so we're set. Drop the dinghy and head for town. We could not find beer for sale except by the single bottle, but we did find an array of fresh fruit & veggies – pineapples, oranges, melon, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes. We stocked up. Only the most pitiful of limes however. They will make a decoration for a gin & tonic, but it would take a half dozen to make one mojita. They say they will have better ones “manana” but our friends said they were told the same thing yesterday (and nothing showed up), so I doubt we will wait. Today we are off to find another island to snorkel/hookah. We can still spear fish (well, spearfishing is always illegal, but everyone does it “discretely” - whatever that means). But we have plenty of food. The only things we are low on is rum and beer and those we will be able to get in Portobelo, but probably not before.

Just another shitty day in paradise.
02/27/2010, Gannirguinnitdup, San Blas

Saturday, 27 February. After all the excitement, we needed a down day. Yesterday we motored into 20 kts winds for about an hour to return to Gannirguinnitdup and found “our anchorage” empty. Once again we anchored in the crystal clear water over the stretch of sand inside the protective reef. Once we were settled, we took dinghy ashore and walked all the way around the island – not really a very long walk, but the “queen of flotsam” had to stop and examine every bit washed up on shore, not to mention the shells. Oh, and now we have added bamboo logs (at least 4” diameter, 5” preferred, to our list of collectibles. These are for a project involving the calabash gourds she has been collecting at home. Anyway between her shell collecting and my wading/swimming we finally circled the island and returned to Always. We had conch fritters for dinner and a delightful evening with a full display of stars and then clouds so high they looked like some far away dome arching up over us. This morning when I got up, it was cloudy, but it often is early. Actually it is usually cloudy @ 6:00, clearing by 7:00 and then cloudy again by 8:00 and finally clearing by 9:00 or 10:00, so it all depends on when you get up. Today started to follow that pattern so I helped Deb set up for laundry. I carried the “semi- automatico” washer to the cockpit and we ran the generator and the watermaker along with the washer, so by the end the batteries were full and the water in the tank was just about replaced. Unfortunately, it was about then that things went down hill. As Deb was hanging the last of the laundry, it started to rain. And then there was thunder (haven't heard that down here!) and it rained off and on all afternoon. We never did get to use the hookah to hunt for more conch as had been our plan. (All of San Blas is closed to taking any shellfish – lobster, crab, or conch – from March 1 to May.) And, of course, the laundry didn't dry, but it IS well rinsed! The sheets finally dried enough to be taken down, but most of the towels and clothes will remain on the line overnight and hopefully dry tomorrow. What we did do was read and generally relax. As Jimmy would say, “Just another shitty day in paradise.”

Viva la revolucion!
Mark & Deb
02/25/2010, Isla Tigre, San Blas

Thursday, 25 February. Eighty five years ago today, in a bloody battle with Panamanian police, the Kuna began their fight for independence. In the short-lived rebellion, they won a sort of qualified independence from Panama. Today Kuna Yala exists as an independent nation within the country of Panama. Today we experienced the celebration of Kuna independence. It actually began yesterday afternoon with a presentation in Kuna, Spanish, & English explaining the events of the next 24 hours. That evening we were invited to attend a series of traditional music & dances presented by members of the village. It started with men playing pan flutes and women with maracas is a sort of folk/contradance. This was repeated with variations and then there was a very symbolic dance presented by the children (4-5 and up) displaying the “weapons” of the revolution – the machete, ax, paddle and club ( a two ended affair used for threshing rice). Photographs were allowed (for payment of a $2.00 fee), but it was hard to get good pictures in the dark of the evening. This celebration went on until 9:30 although there were fireworks at midnight to mark the beginning of 25 February. Today, we met in the central plaza @ 7:30 AM (after a couple cups of coffee) to watch further presentations including a speech (in Kuna & Spanish) about the revolution from the sahila (chief). This was followed by more traditional music & dancing – essentially a repeat of last night, but with good light for pictures. Then came the “re-enactment.” It began with a demonstration of the cruelty of the Panamanian officials, separating husbands from wives and beating and torturing men for not adopting Spanish language and ways instead of clinging to their traditional Kuna ways. Then the elders met and plotted the revolution, and finally they rebelled, killing the Panamanian police and also half-blood Kunas in a rite of “cleansing.” All this was powerfully and graphically presented by members of the village in a production that took over an hour. When it was over, we all cheered the revolution and repaired to the Chicha hut to partake of this traditional alcoholic beverage. Chicha is made from fermented sugar cane, corn, and coffee and “fortified” with seco, a distilled alcohol made from sugar cane. It is used by the Kuna for ceremonial drinking and participants are expected to get quite plastered. It is, however, the only drinking the Kuna do. We were honored to be invited to participate. The only requirement was that we, too, got plastered and that no pictures were allowed inside the chicha hut. Inside the hut, men and women sit on opposite sides of the floor and drink in a rather different fashion. (Deb will write about the women in a separate entry.) The men first cleanse their mouths with water which they spit on the floor. A gourd of chicha is then ladled from the crock and held aloft while two men (one holding the gourd and one who is to receive it) do a brief dance that is a two step stomping of the feet while rotating left and right and chanting, “Huey!” After what appeared to be a variable length of time, they participants stopped, facing each other, with a long, “Hueyyyyy!” and the gourd was handed from one to the other. The recipient toasted, “Ito almundo.” (phonetic, I do not know what the Kuna words actually are, but it means “Salud” or “Cheers” but with perhaps more religious import), and then drains the gourd in one continuous drink. He then dips another gourd full and the dance is repeated with places exchanged. Getting to be the one passing the chicha can be dangerous because it means you drink every other round! During the course of the afternoon, most everyone got a turn in that roll. Most of the Kuna spoke Spanish as well or better than I and a few spoke some English. Lubricated with the chicha we gleefully exchanged greetings and stories with our new friends. I could only wonder at how accepted I felt among these people. How differently would they have been received at “Old Home Days” in Hancock?! We were total strangers who did not speak a word of their native tongue and struggled to converse in Spanish which was secondary to both, yet we were toasting each other and laughing and drinking for hours. Personalities clearly emerged and friendships were forged. It was an experience I will not forget and it may well lead me to return here for another 25 February.

Thursday, 25 February (Deb) The women of the village partake of the chicha ceremony in a very different fashion. This was not only a celebration of the revolution but also served as a memorial for a beloved woman from the village and as a rite of passage for two young women who had their first “Chica”, I.e. puberty. All of the married women of the village wear a red head scarf, which they often hide behind as most days Kuna women do not like their pictures taken. The morning ceremonies were held in the village square, among the thatched and reed homes. There was NO shade, nada. I was sitting next to Mark and a variety of small boys joined us, at my urging. Their eyes were so wide during the reenactment-talk about history coming alive. Many of the elderly women were in tears as their families actually fought and died on that day. Not only were the 2 Panamanian police killed, but many half-bred children were killed as well. The police also killed many Kuna children. One of the elderly ladies behind me kept patting my shoulder and reassuring me it would be okay, (through her tears), as she also noticed I was flinching at some of the violence. She took off her head scarf and put it on me explaining I could hide behind it or use it to wipe my eyes. It really was cooler and she sent someone to her house to get another scarf. After the reenactment she got her husband to tell me to keep her gift. Mark and I chatted with them and learned he was 82. But on to the chicha. All women, no one under 21, sat together on long, low benches across the room from the men. The relatives of the memorialized woman danced and passed out gourds of water from which you took a sip and spit it on the ground. Some of the women continued to dance back and forth while the rest of us lined up for a gourd full of chicha. It is important to note- you must drink all of the chicha at once and it is okay to spit afterward. Next women passed around Jolly Rancher candies and bowls full of tobacco and cigarettes. These were to get rid of the taste of the chicha. Many of the women brought their own pipes as well. We passed many gourds of chicha around, asking each other questions, names, and about each others”culture and customs. We sang songs in Kuna, Spanish and English. Laura, the other gringa, and I taught them Janis Joplin's “Mercedes Benz” and “Amazing Grace”. Of course the more they drank, the wilder the songs and jokes, until the sisters of the memorialized woman started to cry. Everyone sympathized and eventually we were laughing and joking again. One old grandmother took my cane and was dancing, imitating the old men and they were all cracking up. There were no less than 100 to 120 women and it was so hot and smoky with the incense and pipes and cigarettes. Oh I would also tell you that I learned that there is no stigma attached to barfing. The women would simply barf on the dirt floor and one of the designated “sand ladies” would come and pour on sand and everyone would continue to party. I was like nothing I have ever experienced. I was so accepted and included even though I can't speak Kuna and my Spanish is less than poor. I never would have believed I would be sitting in a hut with a roof at least two stories high celebrating a revolution. It was incredible.

02/28/2010 | SeaOrphan1
Holy god you two! That sounds awesome! Hope you well and safe and not too tired after this one!
02/24/2010, Gannirguinnitdup, San Blas

Tuesday, 23 February. Now that is a Kuna name. It is also a fantastic island! The morning broke dead calm with the sea like glass. We motored and made water (or thought we did – more later) about 6 nm. from Niadup to Gannirguinnitdup. This uninhabited island sits on its one stretch of reef about 2.5 nm. N of Tigre. It is surrounded be reef for 270*, but the opening to the S has a nice sandy spit about 12' deep which makes the perfect anchorage. Totally protected by the reef, but over sand in water so clear you can spot sand dollars on the bottom without difficulty. We anchored easily, watching the anchor hit the sand and stretching the chain out behind it, but then we moved just a bit so that with the kellet down we were still surrounded by sand (we had drifted out of the spit and were over grass so it wasn't as pretty). We were settled in by 10:30 AM. It was already hot and the sun was blazing, so we left the watermaker running and floated for a while behind the boat on Ron & Cynde's floats – we are definitely going to need to get a couple of these. When I came out of the water and checked the tank, it still read just over ½. Checking the watermaker control panel, it had not gone off on safety, but the green “Pure Water” light was not illuminated either. It turns out that the filters were clogged to the point where it could not generate the pressures needed for pure water, but the back pressure was not high enough to kick it off on safety. Four hours of running a 20 amp watermaker for nothing! Grrr. I changed the filters and we were back in business. There was enough sun to run another 3 hours before we had to shut it down. Before lunch, I did a quick snorkel around the sandy area, found two conch and a nice stretch of reef that was an easy swim from the boat. After lunch we fired up the hookah (ran like a charm!) and found a couple more conch and enjoyed the reef. Not the best we have seen, but nice fish including one large grouper (3+ feet long). Too bad I didn't have the spear gun – no, actually it was just as well. He would have been hard to land and it would have taken the two of us weeks to eat him. As we were finishing our dive, a powerboat came and anchored a safe distance away, but closer than we would have liked, right behind us. Fortunately the wind shifted as evening arrived and the breeze fell back off the mountains, so they ended up in front of us and we didn't have to look at them.

Happy Birthday, Eric!
02/22/2010, Niadup, San Blas

Monday, 22 February. Today is my brother's birthday. He is up in Maine freezing his ass off in the cold and snow while we are down here in the heat and sun. And today that is what we had. Wind died overnight and we had a few chitras, but I turned on our butane repeller and went back to sleep. It was hot today with little wind. By late morning we both decided to use the inflatable floats that Ron & Cynde left behind and soak in the water. Floating in the water was just the perfect temperature. Add sunglasses and a cold beer and it was great. Happy Birthday, Eric, I toast you! In the afternoon we took dinghy over to the mainland to walk around. At first it looked a bit daunting as there were breakers all along the coast. It turned out that it was all just sand, but the bottom went from 20' to 3' right at the shore thus creating the breakers. We stopped and pulled up the engine while still in deep water and then paddled in with a breaker without difficulty. The shore was a mess with lots of flotsam washed up, but it was an interesting black sand with light sand mixed in. Each wave would create a different pattern as it swirled the black and tan sands. After another swim to cool off, we got dressed (i.e., shorts & T-shirt instead of bathing suit) and went into town. The village, like all the Kuna islands we have visited, was neat and clean. We found the bakery and bought fresh bread (still warm) – 10 tiny loaves – about 8” long by 1½” diameter – for a dollar. Then Deb found yet more molas (but only bought one – we are improving) and also a nhuchu which is a Kuna spirit doll carved out of wood. More pads of paper and pencils for the kids. A young mother walked out to greet us and show us her 2 month old baby and we stopped and watched a very serious soccer game between two teams of 8-10 year olds. Kunas do not like having their pictures taken so we did not get photographs of any of this, but we have our memories. There is a little breeze now as we prepare for bed, so hopefully it will continue to cool off and we won't have chitras.

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