We arrived in Nargana, after 42 km and 5 days, reasonably happy with our progress. It had been slow but consistent and we’d had time to enjoy the epic islands. We were looking forward to getting some supplies and making a couple of phone calls. Nargana is one of the largest communities in the Kuna Yala. Hot and dehydrated in the brutal midday sun we found ourselves unwittingly docking at the police military post of Nargana. Having been advised by certain captains of sailing yachts that it wasn’t necessary to inform the AMP (Autoridad Maritima de Panama) of our trip, we openly told the police the full extent of our ambitious plan to paddle to Colombia in the over-laden cayuco. Gasping at the craziness of our project they told us it was far too dangerous and that there was no way we’d be able to make it. They then asked us for our ‘licenses’ (which we felt absurd in human powered transport and totally unecessary). Without these ‘licenses’ or official permission, the officious Captain told us our trip was over and we would have to take the next boat to Colombia, leaving the cayuco in Nargana. That was a tough moment. I seriously thought it could have been over. We objected, Cary flashing various bits of paper in his face to do with his world record on unicycle and we went through a cycle of objections. We hinted at offering him a ‘tax’ (read bribe) but he wasn’t interested. He demanded we empty the cayuco and his staff proceeded to search every last item in our bags. (Because obviously two gringos in a large cayuco are going to be carrying a ton of weed to Colombia!!)
After a few hours of waiting around he then told us that he was sending us to Porvenir (the administration centre for marine activity for San Blas and the Kuna Congress). A team of police then hauled our cayuco up on a pulley system and dumped it a much larger military boat along with all our kit. Then they powered us at high speed to Porvenir (50km away, in half an hour) and we rapidly passed all the islands we had camped on only a few days before. A frustrating day indeed. What would happen next? What did the police have in mind? I had no idea, they told us nothing and they were unable to smile even slightly.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. After dumping everything ( including our large cayuco) on the pier, the Kuna officials took one look at the cayuco and asked us a couple of questions about our plans. They called the owner who we bought it from in Carti Sugdup to check it wasn’t stolen as this had been one of their concerns, they told us, which was why we were there. Two gringos stealing a cayuco? I chuckled at the absurd proposition. Trying to paddle away from a Kuna island in the middle of nowhere with a $50 to $100 cayuco at 2 km/hr. When would that ever happen?
After granting us permission without any charge or complaint, we turned to head back to the police boat which had…gone! We were stuck on Porvenir island with a cayuco behind the startline…
Each day we waited for a cargo boat to take us back to Nargana so we could continue our journey. The Captain of Porvenir was a friendly Kuna official who felt sorry for us and let us sleep free on his floor; nice chap, much more helpful than his counterpart in Nargana. He fed us fresh crab that he made us kill, which was rather gruesome since they didn’t particularly want to die. He told us a boat would come but each day we were disappointed. It seemed as though in order to convince us that a cargo boat would arrive the next day and make up for being wrong that day, he would double the number of boats due to arrive. “Dos vienen hoy..” “Cuatro vienen hoy, 100%…”. No viable options showed. The weather was atrocious too. After consistently being told about how we were going to die doing this trip I confess to having a certain amount of doubt as to whether it was a good idea to continue as the torrential rain and strong winds consistently kept rolling through. One Captain from Spain, experienced in the San Blas, joked with me in front of others that I was totally crazy but “I had a big heart” after I gave him and his crew a lift to his yacht in our unstable cayuco. He talked about the severe storms that could come through this season on the peripheral edges of the hurricanes. Err…
Eventually after a few days of killing time the cargo boat arrived to take us back to Porvenir. We stuffed our kit onto the packed boat and clambered aboard in the early hours of the morning. Towing the cayuco with a rope to the back of the boat, the crew were flabbergasted at our intended plans. You’re going to paddle to Colombia in that?? Cary’s response amused me – yeah, yeah whatever; totally uninterested in their comments. On arriving in Nargana we were still concerned that the initial Captain of police who had stopped us would not allow us to continue. Even after the Kuna had given us permission he had refused, by phone, to give his approval and disagreed with them. I guess it was a pride thing.
This time we were on the other side of the Nargana. Once we docked, we leapt off the boat and Cary went to untie the cayuco. It was hanging on by a thread where the rope had worn down. We were lucky to have it at all. For fear of being challenged by the police, we had no time to consider our foolishness for not double tying it. We quickly loaded the cayuco and started paddling off. Two casually dressed Kuna locals shouted at us from the pier. “Sorry! We’re in a hurry!”, we replied. “Where’s your permission?”. “We have it, don’t worry!! Bye!”. Separated by water polluted by human excrement from the Kuna community, catching up to us would have been too much bother. We paddled off as fast as possible (which wasn’t very fast).
10 km later, we arrived at Isla Tigre. A jobsworth Kuna local approached us. “Where’s your permission?”. “It’s here!”, I replied. “Oh good, because I’d have to send you back to Porvenir otherwise”. “Yes, thanks, we know.”.
Here is the video we put together for this section with captions. Scroll down for photos taken by both of us. Scroll to bottom for link to Cary’s blog.
Action hero and unicycle record holder, Cary Gray’s blog: http://CaryOutThere.com.