Waiting for Godot

July 29 to August 6, 2013, Kuna Yala, Panama

Cameron and his son Ruaridh had a fantastic week with the On Delay gang sailing up the east coast San Blas Islands, otherwise know as Kuna Yala.

Map showing Kuna Yala in relation to Panama.

Map showing Kuna Yala in relation to Panama.

Puerto Obaldia is a timeless place on the Panama/Colombia border consisting of a few ramshackle buildings, a small military post, dogs, chickens and turkeys. It is remote in the extreme but is a way station for backpackers, Cuban refugees, local traders, drug runners and the occasional FARC guerrilla. This motley crew is mostly waiting for the next boat or plane out, an unpredictable and seemingly endless pastime.

Arriving at Puerto Obaldia.

Arriving at Puerto Obaldia.

A Colombian trading boat.

A Colombian supply boat. (Aka a Kevin boat — see Glossary.)

A Colombian supply boat at Puerto Obaldia preparing to ply the East coast Kuna Villages, trading toothpaste, dry crackers, beer etc for coconuts and bananas: you can hitch a ride for the four day trip up the coast if you’re prepared to sleep on deck.

On Delay eventually sailed after two days waiting for our delayed luggage to arrive.

Day 3: Waiting 3 hours at the airport (again). Maybe the luggage will arrive on this flight.

Day 3: Waiting for hours at the airport (again). Maybe the luggage will arrive on this flight.

Third time lucky. The luggage arrives. Now time to get out of these borrowed clothes.

Third time lucky. The luggage arrives. Now time to get out of these borrowed clothes.

The Kuna have some degree of government autonomy granted to them by the Panamanian government over the islands in Kuna Yala. It was refreshing to visit villages up the coast unspoiled by modernization or commercialization. We were however required to check in with the village chief or ‘Saila’, and duly drink from a coffee cup passed around as a welcome gesture, and to pay $5 “tourist tax”.

Carreto viewed from the sea. Photography is forbidden in the village.

Carreto viewed from the sea. Photography is forbidden in the village.

Carreto… we went ashore as the soccer team, complete with cheerleader and chef, were departing in their panga for a two hour trip up the coast for the annual soccer tournament. We didn’t see any cleats so presumed barefoot soccer.

Gayle scaling and gutting dinner purchased from the local Kuna dugout.

Gayle scaling and gutting dinner purchased from the local Kuna dugout.

Being Scottish we thought it a patriotic necessity to visit the Darien Bay where, in 1700, Scotland tried to establish a trading colony in order to compete with England and other European countries in world trade. It proved to be disastrous as most colonists died of disease or starvation and it was soon abandoned. Our attempts to anchor overnight in this remote, isolated inlet were thwarted by a Panamanian Border patrol boat which advised that due to possible FARC presence, this was not a safe place. Needless to say we didn’t argue and were kindly escorted out of the bay.

A Kuna fishing camp in Darien Bay (Puerto Escoses).  Tony was determined they were burial sites but was outvoted.

A Kuna fishing camp in Darien Bay (Puerto Escoses). Tony was determined they were burial sites but was outvoted.

Sailing vessel Joana.

Sailing vessel Joana.

The only other cruiser all week. The trip was blissfully free of tourists and we only met one other cruiser in the week….two twenty something girls with dog and two cats. I for one was impressed.

As we sailed further north there became more evidence of commercialism, and we actually sat in a restaurant of sorts, although Pete got a bit carried away when his request for a post dinner coffee was met with a smile and shake of the head from the owner.

Tony and Ruaridh having scoped out the local restaurant, made a reservation, and taken our orders.

Tony and Ruaridh having scoped out the local restaurant, made a reservation, and taken our orders.

We finished the week maneuvering through shallow waters into the village of Playon Chico.

We finished the week maneuvering through shallow waters into the village of Playon Chico.

Pete and Gayle.

Pete and Gayle.

Ruaridh, Tony and Jane at Playon Chico airstrip.

Ruaridh, Tony and Jane at Playon Chico airstrip.

A special thank you to our On-Delay friends, Tony, Jane, Pete and Gayle. We had a wonderful time with only one really scary moment. We ended the way we started..waiting for that plane that may never come…or maybe it will, or maybe it won’t. After all it’s Panamanian time.

6 thoughts on “Waiting for Godot

  1. enjoyed reading and viewing the pictures; however, I am also curious as to what the “one really scary moment” was.
    1. possibility of having to wear “borrowed” clothes for the entire visit
    2. possibility of the plane never returning
    3. Ruaridh getting a sun burn
    4. seeing two twenty something girls with a dog and two cats
    5. Tony being correct about the “fishing camp” actually being a burial site
    6. Pete getting carried away when refused a post dinner coffee

  2. Enjoyed reading the link about the Darien Scheme/Disaster. An interesting turn of phrase that several years of failed crops and famine in Scotland in the 1690’s were referred to as the “ill years”!

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