25th October 2022
Puerto Escoses, San Blas, Panama – Mordup, San Blas, Panama via Caledonia & Niagana, San Blas, Panama
When captain cook explored the San Blas islands it was like entering a different world. There he was in his bastion of modern technology, brimming with the latest gadgets sailing past villages that hadn’t changed in eons which were filled with people full of welcoming smiles, generous hearts and inquisitive eyes. As we have entered the San Blas islands, we have walked in Captain Cook’s shoes, entering a new world and experienced everything he did all those years ago.
Just like Captain Cook’s ship we were a focal point in Puerto Escoses. Every passing boat stopped, welcomed us to their collection of water bound huts and tried to engage us in conversation. It was all smiles and laughter as we are as fluent in Kuna as we are in Spanish and so all communication was through sign language, pointing and exaggerated facial expressions.
With all this coming and going we’d grown used to friendly calls, but as a big dugout approached something was different. There was worry and need in the voices we heard and suddenly we weren’t just a curiosity we were a necessity.
Far from help, the outboard that sat at the end of their dugout wasn’t sparking into life and they knew that a boat like Ruffian would be brimming with tools to fix it. Socket sets were broken out, tool boxes opened and the occupants set about open heart surgery on their engine. While this was all happening, we had offers of lobster, octopus and plantain, all for the simple lend of a few tools. The generosity of these people knew no bounds.
After a little reassembly, where the engineer was clearly very talented, as he had some bits left over, a plume of blue smoke erupted and the engine roared into the life. Overjoyed the passengers could now be on their way, but not before making sure that we’d not starve by insisting we accept at least a hand of large green plantain.
Ruffian’s facilities were once again about to add to the comfort of those living their aquatic life as we paddle boarded around their encampment. With no electricity, but with phone signal, keeping in contact was difficult for the inhabitants and so we accepted a quiver of phones to charge. Having charged the phones, in the pitch dark, a dugout approached and Iain flicked on deck lights, gantry lights and torches in order to help them find their way. The now full phones were passed over and back came yet more hands of plantain and now the dugout just had to make it back with no natural light, no man made light and not a scrap of night vision left.
Motoring out of Escoses we waved goodbye to our new friends and made our way to the first of our full blown Kuna villages. Anchoring off Caledonia life looked fragile as every quare inch of the island was inhabited with water lapping right up to people’s bamboo fences and under their roughly hewn doors while the breeze gently blew through their straw roofs.
Up close, life ashore looked anything but precarious as we walked the streets of the village. Not a single piece of litter adorned the swept gravel paths, every bamboo pole was solid and true and every roof looked like it provided warmth, shelter and security to the inhabitants. The people we met showed no sign of fragility as we were welcomed like long lost friends and schoolkids were equally fascinated by Iain’s stature and compelled to practice their English with Fiona.
On the other side of the bay was Caledonia’s big brother where once again we were received with open arms, but here the smell of freshly baked bread wafted around the huts drawing us in. Following our noses, we passed the big communal houses and down alleyways where the straw roofs nearly touched and ended at a little house which showed no sign of the industry going on within its walls.
Bread by the dozen was being baked for the whole community and no sooner had we made our purchase than we found ourselves in someone else’s house, sipping a local chocolate drink and admiring the intricate work that goes into creating their molas. Around us more molas were being sewn as other traditionally dressed ladies swung on hammocks while nursing children and pets lazed in the sun. We were witnesses to a timeless scene.
Everything we have experienced in the San Blas has been timeless and we have seen the same as Captain Cook many hundreds of years ago. Life runs in simple cycles here and simple pleasures have been given to us by everyone we meet* and in reciprocation we hope to have used Ruffian’s stores and technology to make those pleasures a little easier.
* As well as significant volumes of plantain.
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