After our rude 5 day interruption by the police we were keen to put in some miles, and get the trip done. When we arrived in Nargana it was 10 days since we’d left Carti Sugdup and we had only done 42km; we still had 178km to go! Would we ever finish? The honeymoon period was now over and the coastline and sea state was due to change significantly as we left the protective waters of the first stretch of islands. But we felt ready and rested after our period in Porvenir.
The first full day after Porvenir required a 28 km effort from Isla Niadup to Isla Yauala (near Playon Chicon) which was double anything we’d done before. I was unsure how we’d cope with the distance. Locals and our navigation charts informed us that this stretch would offer no easy or obvious opportunities to stop on land since the reefs were right next to the coast. Without specific knowledge it was too risky to pass on the inside of them. Therefore we had to pass on the outside with the open seas and swells of two to three metres; how would our heavily laden unstable cayuco cope? We were unsure. A capsize there would be serious – after righting it, one needs to bail out the water whilst tredding water. Hard enough in calm waters but with choppy seas and swells splashing over the side and trying to stop our kit floating off / sinking, this would have been hard or close to impossible. This stretch had remote sections too, who would realistically come to save us if something serious happened?
It was illegal to travel at night (due to drug tafficking) besides being just a bad idea from a safety perspective. So it was very important to arrive before dark. We set off early and the change in sea state was immediate, it was a lot rougher than anything we’d experienced and felt pretty menacing. With dark clouds on the horizon and the knowledge we couldn’t stop on land for 28km I admit to feeling a little nervous. Should we turn round and wait for a better day? That would have been too tedious to bear after 5 days sitting around in Porvenir; we continued. At around 20km we surprised ourselves by managing to beach the cayuco for a short unexpected rest (Playon Grande – only possible at low tide) and met some rather surprised locals before pressing on. (“You’re going all the way to Colombia? In that? Pura canaleteando (rowing)?? Whaaaat??!” – except in Spanish).
Four or five 30 to 40 minute storms passed during the whole day with severe torrential rain. The final one hit shortly before the night’s campspot and was easily the storm of the trip. The winds were ferocious and seemed to last for ages as the sea state started picking up significantly. It took all our energy to not lose too much ground as we paddled directly into its enormous power. It seemed to never end and I became concerned that perhaps it would last all night, we were not in a good place to reach land safely. However, it eventually passed and we arrived on a beautiful island infested by the horrific jejenes (tiny biting flies), tired but happy with our progress. The next morning a Kuna local turned up to charge us $2.50 for camping on ‘his’ desserted island. This was unusual with nearly all our campspots being entirely free.
The next day we made it 12 or 13 kms to Isla Nublado. The frayed rope here snapped when tied to a tree on this tiny jejene free island and we realised we had nearly lost the cayuco again. We finally learnt the lesson and started to double tie the cayuco for fear of it drifting off at night.
Day 14 we camped on Mamitupu’s neighbouring island which was full of jejenes and we lost our good paddle. Fortunately Mamitupu is a boat yard so we picked up an even better new one there.
After stopping on Ustupu (the biggest community in the Kuna Yala, I believe) for the night we had another big day to Isla Pinos, day 16.
This video details this section (day 10 to 16), scroll on for photos taken by me and Cary and to the bottom for a link to Cary’s blog.
Action hero and unicycle record holder, Cary Gray’s blog: http://CaryOutThere.com.