Broach! One moment we were sailing on a pleasant broad reach, the next we were lying on our side, the rudder was out of the water, and we had no steering control. Chaos reigned in the cockpit as everyone scrambled to follow Bobby’s commands. “Donny, ease the mainsheet.” “Kenny, let out the jib.” “Boys, grab the turtle.” “Everyone, hold on!”
Immanuel righted herself and Bobby regained steerage. We were in the middle of a squall that had appeared to be just another Caribbean rain shower until we ran into it. The wind was high enough to almost knock us down and the rain was so dense we could not see the shore. The shore that was only half a mile away--too close for comfort.
Bobby had me steer while he and Kenny put a reef in the mainsail (better late than never) and Donny trimmed the mainsheet. And then, as suddenly as the squall arrived, we were through it and back into calm seas and sunny skies.
Kenny was the first to say, “Grab the turtle?”
Robby and Michael have two pet turtles they keep in a plastic washing tub on deck. When we broached, one of them took advantage of the angle of heel to try to crawl out of his cage. Robby grabbed him just in time. We all had a good laugh at how calmly Bobby had added a command probably never heard on a sailboat before. We needed the release from nervous tension.
Our first couple hours of our four day and four night passage from Curacao to San Blas, Panama, foreshadowed just what kind of passage it would turn out to be.
Bobby and I had asked Bobby’s brothers, Donny and Kenny, to fly in to Curacao to make the passage with us. We plan to transit the Panama Canal during the last half of February in order to start our South Pacific cruise at the tail end of the Southern Hemisphere cyclone season. We knew we could expect difficult conditions sailing to Panama at this time of year. Sailors call the area “the Horn of the Caribbean” because the waves pick up all the way across the sea with no land to stop them, pile up on the South American shore and bounce back out to sea. Wind funnels through gaps between the Andes and blasts out across the area. We were thankful when Donny and Kenny agreed to come.
After we passed through the squall, Bobby and Kenny went below to sleep. Kenny was feeling a bit queasy and Bobby wanted to get some rest while he could. Kenny goes out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico frequently in power boats and visited Donny when Donny lived on his sailboat in the Bahamas. This is also his second visit aboard our boat, but he has never made any passages on a sailboat. This is the first time Kenny has ever felt seasick; therefore it is even worse as it is so unexpected.
Donny was on watch and the boys and I were in the cockpit with him. The wind steadily declined until our speed was down to three and four knots. Donny wanted to start the engine, but I misunderstood what Bobby had said before he went below and suggested we wait until Bobby woke up. Finally, Robby helped me realize that Bobby had not said to keep everything as it was so we fired up the engine. It was a relief to speed up to seven knots.
When Bobby woke up, he set up the following watch schedule:
Robby 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Lona 9:00pm to 11:00pm
Donny 11:00pm to 2:00am
Kenny 2:00am to 5:00am
Bobby 5:00am to 8:00am
Michael 8:00am to 9:00am
Daytime watches would be looser with whoever felt like taking a watch doing so. I was looking forward to only having one scheduled watch and being able to sleep all night. Usually Bobby and I trade off every three hours around the clock. I was given this luxury because I was responsible for preparing lunch and dinner for the six of us. Everyone was on their own for breakfast.
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Kenny ended up with the worst watch--right in the middle of the night with no long stretch of darkness on either side for sleeping. The closest he came to complaining was to say, “Boy, my stomach’s tor’ up.” And he never balked at doing anything he was asked to do.
Bobby had to be on the single-sideband radio (SSB) at 8:00am to get weather so it only made sense for him to end his watch at that time. Both boys expressed an interest in pulling a watch on their own, giving everyone plenty of time to sleep. We’re hoping this will be our first passage where we all arrive feeling rested.
As evening fell, the wind slowly built until we were able to sail at six to seven knots. We could see the glow of Aruba off the port bow as the boys went to bed after Robby’s watch. Donny and I saw fireworks occasionally bursting above the island, leftover from the New Year’s Eve celebrations of a week ago. There was no moon so it was pleasant to have something to see other than blackness.
Donny stretched out in the cockpit while I pulled my watch, but didn’t really sleep. He took over at 11:00pm so I got to go below and read for a bit before showering and getting in bed for the whole night. This is true extravagance.
By the time I woke up the next morning, the wind was blowing 20-25 knots with gusts of 30. The seas had built to 10 feet. The autopilot had made groaning noises all night and was now about to give up. It worked so hard keeping us on course through the night that it burned up its hydrolic fluid pump. Bobby decided we would have to hand steer, only using the autopilot if we had to while we woke up the next watch.
Our sails took a beating during the night. The headsail had a five foot tear about three-fourths of the way up, so Bobby rolled it halfway in so we could use the remaining portion. We had torn out a batten pocket in our mainsail. Bobby noticed the batten sticking out about a foot, wearing paint off our mast. He and Kenny pulled the batten out and lashed it along the side of the deck.
Everyone was in the cockpit while I was cooking lunch. I was having a hard time of it with pans and bowls sliding back and forth when I only had one hand to cook with because I was holding on with the other one.
Robby yelled, “Dolphin!” Then everyone was exclaiming over them.
I had been dreading the day when dolphin became so commonplace that I wouldn’t make the effort to go look at them. This seemed to be it, because I continued cooking instead of running up top.
Robby hollered down, “Mom, you’ve got to come see. They’re jumping way up in the air!”
That did it. I piled everything that could get loose into the sink and ran up top just in time to see a dolphin jump 20 feet into the air before crashing back into the water on his side. This monster jump signaled the end of the show. The ten foot waves hid the dolphin from our view. Just the sight of this one dolphin doing something so unexpected was enough to quiet my grumbles to myself about how hard it is to cook when nothing stays where I put it.
The seas continued to build, mostly coming from behind us, but at uneven intervals a rouge wave would slap us on the beam. These rouges were what were giving us such an uncomfortable ride. They were also tossing books off shelves and cushions off furniture. Bobby’s charts~that he had painstakingly numbered and ordered so when we sailed beyond the bounds of one, the next one would be right on top~continued to fly off the navigation table along with Bobby’s other navigation tools.
Donny was finding it impossible to sleep. He had the lower bunk in Michael’s bedroom, the only bunk without a fan. We were sure we had two extra fans on board. After Kenny installed one over his bunk, Bobby couldn’t find the other one for Donny. We had to keep all hatches shut in these seas so it was simply too hot for Donny get any rest. He finally moved to the settee in the salon and was able to sleep there.
Robby mentioned extraordinary phosphorescence during his watch. I noticed flecks glowing off our beam as we crashed down off the wave crests and assumed this was what he was referring to. It wasn’t until I was at the helm that I saw entire troughs light up with an intense green glow as our bow slammed into them. I told Donny to watch for it when I woke him to take his watch.
I knew the seas were higher still and that the wind was steady in the thirties, but it wasn’t until I went below for the first time since washing dinner dishes that I realized how much worse it was. More items were strewn across the floor since the last time we picked up and it was even more difficult to walk. I was concerned about Michael because the rogue waves were heeling us to port each time they hit and he is in a starboard bunk. I was afraid that he would be thrown out of bed. I tried to get his leeboard out from under his bunk, but didn’t have the strength to lift his mattress high enough with him on it, while getting tossed away from his bed, to be able to remove the board. I made my way to the galley and dug out our long cutting board and propped that up beside him as a substitute.
By this time, I was feeling decidedly queasy but thought I would be all right if I took a quick shower and jumped right into bed. I had just put on my night dress and was standing in the bathroom brushing my hair when a high wave slammed into our starboard side. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet closed the porthole over the shower. Cold saltwater rushed through and covered me, the floor and the cabinet.
I considered leaving everything wet and getting in bed. But I really didn’t want saltwater all over the boat, so I went and got the mop. After I had rinsed everything with fresh water I got back in the shower to rinse myself off.
I had just put up my own leeboard and lain down in bed when I heard Bobby yell from the cockpit. I rushed out of bed to see what was the matter. When I got to the galley, I stepped right into a big puddle of water. I called up the companionway to see if Bobby was all right. All I could see were his eyes and a wry grin on his face peeking through his foul weather hood. A giant wave had broken in the cockpit, drenching Bobby and sending water through the porthole between the cockpit and galley. I grabbed my mop again.
This time, I only lay in bed for a moment before I had to make a run for the head. Bobby found me on my knees before “the porcelain goddess”. Now I have to say, when people ask (and they often do), that I’ve been seasick twice.
Routinely, in this part of the ocean, the wind and seas pick up in the evening and lessen in the morning. Not today. Conditions gradually worsened all day. By evening, the wind never went below 35 knots and the seas were even bigger. More of the waves were topped with white. I asked Bobby if he was going to put a second reef in the sail. To my relief, he said he would if I’d be more comfortable. Bobby had what sometimes can be a disadvantage~a weather report that said conditions would stay as they are. I was afraid that the wind would strengthen at night as it usually does.
Bobby and Kenny went to bed while Robby started his watch. The wind rose to 40 knots. Robby was getting tired hand steering but kept at it until the end of his watch. We’re proud of both Michael and Robby for the responsibility they have shown. Michael was ready to stand his watches every morning at 8:00am and both boys put in extra time during the day. I think they actually looked forward to doing their part. Robby must have had sore muscles from holding Immanuel on course for two hours in these conditions, but he never once complained.
Donny asked me if I wanted to pull my watch. As the wind and seas increased, my confidence declined. I answered, “I will steer for as long as I can, but I don’t want to.”
Donny took my watch and Bobby woke up as the moaning in the rigging turned into shrieking and the rollers behind us started breaking on the deck (the caprail on our stern transom is eight feet above normal sea level). The seas were easily 20 feet, most waves having breaking crests. The wind, at 45 knots, was blowing foam off the wave tops, leaving white streaks on jet black, mountainous seas.
Bobby and Donny decided that they would take turns at the helm and let Kenny sleep until conditions started to improve. They knew Kenny could handle it, he’s stronger than either of them, but Bobby and Donny are accustomed to steering sailboats and Kenny is not. Besides that, Donny seemed to be having the time of his life.
Bobby and Donny traded off steering for a while (time lost all meaning). One particularly violent set of waves sent our dinghy, which was tied tightly in its cradle, sliding back and forth. Bobby grabbed more line and went on deck to tie it fore and aft. Next, Donny went to the stern deck to duct tape the runaway lid on our barbecue mounted on the stern pulpit. Thank God for tethers. If anyone had fallen overboard in these seas they would have been swept out of sight in a millisecond. And turning around to look for someone, beam on to the waves, could have caused us to turn turtle.
Bobby went back to sleep, Donny stayed at the helm, and I stayed up as prayer support and runner. The autopilot would not work for even a moment, let alone long enough to wake up the next watch. I also thought it would be best if no one had to be up alone in the dark, thrashing world our cockpit had become and wanted to be useful in some way since I had shirked my watch.
This is the first time I’ve been truly afraid at sea, so prayer came naturally. God showed his faithfulness yet again. He not only kept us safe, he gave me peace. I was reminded of the story where Jesus and the disciples are sailing on the lake when a squall comes upon them while Jesus is sleeping. The disciples were afraid and woke Jesus with exclamations about their peril. Jesus rebuked the wind and waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” He asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
Occasionally, stronger gusts of wind would hit us and the boat would try to round up. I was sitting there watching and still don’t really know what was happening. It felt like we were sliding out of control down the entire face of the wave (which seemed much taller than our 56 feet of length), while whoever was at the helm put his whole body into pulling the wheel as far to starboard as possible. All I could see was a wall of black speckled with white foam immediately off the starboard beam with nothing but more wall above it. The rushing noise of the wind seemed to subside while the hissing sound of the water along the hull increased. I understand now why this is called a “sleigh ride”. Donny saw 50 knots on the wind indicator more than once, but usually was too busy to shine the flashlight on the instruments to check wind speed.
Bobby and Donny traded off steering until the wind lessened to the mid-forties when Donny woke Kenny up for his watch. Things seemed to have settled down a bit until we heard a rushing noise above the background shrieking sounds. Kenny turned around to see a white foamed, ebony cliff of water towering above our stern. He faced forward ready for the hit and quietly uttered the understatement of the night, “That’s a big wave.”
Since I was facing backwards, Kenny later told me he would judge the size of the waves coming up behind us by the size of my eyes. Kenny and I only had two or three of those wild rides down the face of the wave before his watch was over and Donny came up to take over.
We were both feeling tired as the sky started getting lighter. Suddenly, we heard a panicked voice on the VHF, “Return, return, return!” At least that is what it sounded like the voice was saying in heavily accented English. We came up on the top of a wave, Donny looked over his shoulder, and there was a freighter right behind us. Donny turned to starboard and we watched the freighter rolling and pitching through the seas right where we would have been if Donny hadn’t turned.
Donny said, “This whole, big ocean and we’re both in the same place at the same time.” It was hard to believe that the seas were so big, we couldn’t even see the freighter until it was almost on top of us. Seeing the way the container ship rolled and sank into the troughs gave us a reference to see just how huge the seas really were.
Bobby came up to take a watch and Michael woke up not long after. The conditions were improving as the sun rose. I never thought I would consider low forty's improvement. I went below for some rest and, amazingly, found it easy to sleep.
Kenny and Donny decided to have some fun with Bobby. They called him up to the foredeck so he could “see if they had trimmed the sail right.” Bobby went out to see a twisted, shuddering mess. One of the reefing lines for our jiffy reefing had chafed through, leaving the foot of the sail billowing out uncontrolled. Since the wind had decreased until it was in the thirties, Bobby shook out the second reef. The mainsail was all in one piece, but had small tears and frayed stitching scattered about from head to foot.
I slept until it was time to get lunch made. I reminded myself that our boat was a mess and got mentally prepared to wade through all the debris on the floors. To my delight, Donny had picked up and put away everything that was littering the salon sole.
When I opened the pantry to get out some rice to prepare for lunch, a can of corn came flying out and landed on my bare foot. Ouch! This is the first time anything has worked itself loose from the restraining cords in that cupboard. Of course, we’ve never sailed through such a strong gale before.
While I was sleeping, Bobby smelled smoke and went to check on the engine. He noticed that the oil breather hose was cracked so he started digging through his spare hose in the cupboard across from the engine room. A rogue wave hit and sent him flying through the closed engine room doors. Now the doors were broken, too. Kenny gave Bobby a hand to help him off the 180 degree engine. Bobby located the correct hose, turned off the engine, and replaced the cracked hose.
Everything appeared fine when Bobby restarted the engine. But it wasn’t long before he smelled smoke again. When he opened up the engine room doors, he saw even worse smoke than before. It was coming from the refrigeration compressor. He turned the refrigeration off at the panel but it continued to smoke. Next, Bobby cut the drive belt so the belt couldn’t spin. This solved the problem, although now we can’t use our engine-driven refrigeration. Thankfully, we still have our AC refrigeration. We just have to run the generator to use it.
This is our fourth day at sea~the day we were supposed to make landfall. We’re all a bit disappointed that we have at least another day to go. The gale forced us to sail with the swells on our stern so we couldn’t keep to our rhumbline. On the other hand, we are relieved that the wind is down to the thirties, the seas are not breaking on board, and we’ve made it through the worst of it.
Everyone was sleeping except Bobby during my watch. Bobby calculated that we were unlikely to make it to Porvenir, our destination in San Blas, before evening tomorrow. There are islands and reefs scattered throughout San Blas, many of them uncharted or poorly charted, and we need to have good light so we can pilot by eye into the anchorage. We really don’t want to spend yet another night at sea, especially such an uncomfortable sea. We are all tired and everyone has an assortment of bruises and sore spots. Bobby decided that we would change our destination. Instead of going to the Western end of San Blas, we would go to Puerto Obaldia, an island at the Eastern end with a Customs and Immigration Office. This will put us over one hundred miles farther from the Panama Canal, but we can island hop after Kenny and Donny leave.
We altered course and Bobby went to bed. I had a peaceful watch. The stars shone like pixie dust in the moonless, black-satin sky. I was praising God for the beauty and the evidence of His power in the night sky when a star shot glittering across the heavens as if in answer to my prayers.
When I woke Donny for his watch, we talked for a while before I went to bed. I explained why we were headed in a different direction and he thought the change was a good idea. He suggested that the incredible phosphorescence we had seen off the bow was actually the starboard navigation light reflecting off the water when we went bow down into a big wave trough. He’s probably right, but I still prefer Robby and my explanation.
Sometime in the early morning, while I was sleeping, we passed south of 11 degrees north latitude. Just as forecasted by David Jones, the wind died down and the seas calmed to six to eight feet. Bobby talked by SSB to Bob, on Compass Rose, whom we met summer before last in Venezuela. He suggested we may not want to make landfall so close to Colombia. Bob said we wouldn’t have a problem with immigration if we didn’t go to one of the islands where there is a Customs and Immigration Office, so Bobby altered course once again. We are now headed for Isla Pinos and should be there in the early afternoon.
Donny started a contest with the boys to see who would spot land first while Bobby worked on the engine. He had noticed a belt slipping. Bobby adjusted the belt and restarted the engine. Our alternator started making a grinding noise. Grinding is never the sort of sound one wants to hear on a sailboat. Because we replaced our alternator with a new, smaller one in Bonaire, the old adjustment bracket was rubbing against the fan on the new alternator. Bobby got out his rattail file and started filing away on the fan blade with the engine running and the belts spinning inches away. This cured the problem.
Bobby went up top for some air and promptly spotted land, straight off the starboard bow. Everyone went to the foredeck to look at it. We were going to make it by early afternoon! No more nights at sea. Donny, after coming through the gale almost unscathed, stepped back and to the side. His foot tangled in the liferaft bracket and he fell to the deck. His foot swelled, turned pink, and hurt.
We watched the land grow closer and closer. The blue-gray mass slowly gained color. We could differentiate the high, verdant mountains of the mainland from the green, palm tree covered island. The water color lightened from sparkling sapphire, to spring-sky blue, to cloudy aqua.
We turned the corner between Isla Pinos and the mainland and saw a small group of thatched huts. Further along, there was a village with a concrete dock and huts with bamboo walls and palm-frond roofs lining the shore. After 103 hours at sea, we had arrived!
Once we had settled on our anchor, we got in the dinghy to go see the village. As we neared the dock, a group of boys came out to watch us. They smiled and shouted “hola.” Several of the boys asked each of us, as we stepped ashore, “Como te llama?” We asked them their names and followed them up the swaying dock. At least it felt like it was swaying since we hadn’t stepped on solid ground for five days. We call it land sickness. After a couple of hours it goes away and the land stops feeling as if it’s moving under our feet.
It was hard to believe we were really here. It was like we’d left life as we know it and stepped into the pages of National Geographic. The people around us were like none we’d ever seen. The Kuna Indians are shorter in stature than we are so we all felt abnormally tall. We had to watch that we didn’t hit our heads on the overhanging roofs as we went by and duck to go through doorways. Many of the people had black dots or the symbol from the Kuna Yala flag, which is highly reminiscent of the German Swastika, painted on their faces.
The women are especially exotic. They paint a black line from the bridge of their nose to the tip, where they wear a gold ring through their nasal septum. A red circle, like a Western woman’s blush before it is rubbed in, adorns each prominent cheekbone. Colorful beads are strung on monofilament and wrapped tightly around each wrist to elbow, and ankle to knee. They wear their famous molas, highly detailed appliquéd panels on the front and back of their blouses. Each panel is entirely hand-stitched and takes up to a month to complete. The women tie cotton print fabric around their waists as a skirt. Many wear a red scarf, patterned with yellow symbols. They look stern and fierce as they stare at us or bark orders to the many children. But when they smile, as they often do, their faces take on a radiant glow and their eyes dance with mirth.
The children led us to the Congreso, the meeting house where the village government meets, worship services are conducted, and village ceremonies are performed. The chief is called Sahila, pronounced like Sila with a long “i”. He and his second in command have the privilege of swinging in hammocks while the lesser dignitaries sit on hard, wooden stools or benches.
Brigilio, the secretary and only English-speaker on the island, translates for Bobby as Bobby meets with Sahila. Bobby gave the chief our five dollar fee and a gift of canned meat and coffee. He told him we would like to walk around the island, take pictures, swim, and snorkel. The Sahila gave permission for everything except picture-taking~this was absolutely forbidden as was the taking of any coconuts. Bobby was also told not to buy molas from any of the three families that live at the other end of the island. They either left, or were expelled from, the village for reasons Brugilio obviously didn’t care to speak of. Bobby arranged for Brugilio to pick Donny and Kenny up on Friday and take them to the island of Soskantupu, just southeast of us, so they could take a small plane to Panama City for their flight out.
Donny, Kenny, Robby, and Michael had been standing in a circle around Bobby during this meeting. I stood in the doorway as I didn’t know what the rules are regarding a Congreso. There were only men inside and I was concerned that women may not be allowed. Children kept running up to me and touching me. The braver ones asked me name and then giggled as they repeated it. I took a special liking to Claudia, a ten-year-old girl who leaned against me and held my hand as she searched my face with her big, brown eyes.
When Bobby’s business with Sahila was finished, he motioned for me to come inside. I walked self-consciously between the men to our group which was following Brugilio out the far exit.
We were going on a tour of the village. Brugilio first showed us his hut, one of the larger in the village. Next, we followed a path between the huts to the river. Brugilio pointed out the clothes washing station~a log splint in half lengthwise and smoothed through use, laid across two sticks which had been pounded into the mud along the shore.
We were shown the school, a concrete structure on a point of land that had been planted with grass. The school was closed for vacation, but we had gathered so many children on our walk through the village that it seemed they must all be there now. We peered into the “windows” of the school. There was no glass or screening, just rectangular openings in the concrete. Hand-drawn posters of teeth were on the schoolroom walls. Brugilio said the children were being taught how to care for their teeth.
An old woman, naked from the waist up walked by us on her way home after her bath. Robby and Michael didn’t even notice that she was missing some clothing, there were so many other unusual things to see.
Donny pulled out a large pack of gum and passed pieces amongst the children before Brugilio led us to the store at the end of the dock. This is the village’s only other concrete structure. There were shelves sparsely filled with canned goods, a glass case of thread and batteries, and a propane refrigerator filled with 7 UP, Coke, and Atlas Beer. A huge pile of shelled coconuts filled the wall at the far end.
Each coconut tree on every island and in the “plantations” along the shore of the mainland belongs to someone. Coconuts have been used as currency for many decades among the Kunas. While today they prefer to trade in cash, they still trade coconuts which are worth twenty-five cents each. Michael has taken to calling the palms “money-trees”.
The guys bought the last of the island’s beers, including one for Brugilio. They all thought it was some of the best beer they have tasted and especially liked the size~approximately one-and-a-half liters each.
We promised to come back tomorrow when the ladies would bring out their molas for us to see (and buy). The children, led by the friendly Barciliano, crowded onto the dock to walk us back to our dinghy. They stood on the dock and waved until we were a quarter-mile away.
Three girls from the “outcast” families came out to Immanuel in their dugout canoe. We exchanged names and gave them some candy. Then, we all jumped in for a swim. It was refreshing after the hot walk through the dusty village.
In the morning, we went back to the village for the mola display. The whole village was dresses up in their best clothes. Molas were hung on lines and spread on sheets of fabric on the ground in the square next to the Congreso. Cruisers from two other boats in the anchorage were there, as well.
Donny, Kenny, Michael, and I each bought molas. A young man approached Michael and I with a hand carved model of a canoe. I pointed to Kenny and said, “Kenny.”
The young man, with the ever-present group of children, rushed over toward him yelling, “Kenny, Kenny.” The villagers seemed to be most intrigued with Kenny, because of his large stature, and one of the other cruisers, John, because of his bushy beard.
We went back to Immanuel for lunch before returning to the village for our three hour guided tour around the island. Brigilio told Bobby to have an older man, Robert, take us because this was one of the few ways he could contribute to their communal society. It turned out that Robert also knew some English.
Our walk was pleasant although Donny’s foot swelled and increased in pain with each mile. Robert told us about the huge boa constrictors he has seen on the island and took us by scenic spots with giant sea grape trees or picturesque sandy coves. We saw butterflies in bright and bold colors that we have never seen before. Robby found a Mary’s Bean, a sea bean that has heretofore eluded his search. Donny found a beautiful, six inch long shell similar to a Triton’s trumpet.
When we passed through the outcast’s village, Robert kept his eyes averted from the families and their huts. He told us not to buy molas from them.
We next walked by the cemetery. The Kunas choose choice pieces of property for their burial sites and this was no exception. A cleared section of hill overlooking the anchorage was filled with graves. Some of them had thatch roofs over them. Many of them had cooking bowls nearby for the departed’s use in the afterlife. Several of them were marked by crosses. The entire yard was covered in thick, cultivated grass.
The last sight before we returned to the village was a Christian Church. The building is constructed of concrete block and painted white. There is a plaque by the door honoring an English missionary who spent her life among the Kuna Indians, living as they do and sharing her faith. It appears that most on this island profess belief in Jesus Christ but many have mixed Christian practices with shamanism. Robert told us that church services are regularly held here.
As we were leaving, Barciliano, the ten-year-old boy who has been most friendly, asked Bobby if he could come out to our boat. Bobby told him maybe we would bring him out tomorrow.
The next morning, Kenny set about putting his carpentry skills to use. Robby and Michael’s bedroom doors have swollen in the intense humidity in these latitudes. They have become very difficult to close. Kenny removed them and planed down the teak under the hinges. Now, we’re having to remind ourselves not to slam them because they close so easily. He also repaired the engine room doors that Bobby broke when he was pitched through them. Thank you, Kenny!
Bobby went to town to buy some more bread. The village has a communal hut with a propane stove that is used for baking scrumptious bread that is roughly the size and shape of a hot-dog bun. The Kuna women sell the loaves for five cents each.
When Bobby returned, he had Brugilio and Barciliano with him. He gave them a tour of the boat while Donny kept his swollen foot propped up and Kenny worked on installing our cockpit speakers. Bobby gave the Kunas something to drink and some raw baby carrots to snack on. This must have been a first for them because Brugilio looked at the carrot strangely and asked for another while Barciliano made a face, gave the uneaten end of his carrot to me, and said he didn’t like it.
Barciliano went back to learning how to play checkers with Michael. I don’t know how they did it with no language in common, but Michael was able to teach Barciliano and they played a game together.
Some of the outcast villagers started rowing out for their daily visit. As soon as they saw Brugilio they altered course for another boat. We have been giving the children candy each day and Donny and I had each bought a mola from them secretly. Bobby asked Brugilio about them again and this time Brugilio said that they were hungry and if we were low key about it we could buy from them but that the Sahila didn’t want us to. The mystery remains because Brugilio didn’t want to say anymore about it.
Brugilio was interested in our computer and printer. He asked Bobby if he could print a letterhead for him. Bobby delegated the task to me. Brugilio’s eyes lit up when he saw it. After asking me to add a picture of their island and finding out I couldn’t do that, he put the letterhead into a plastic bag along with a magazine Bobby had given him.
As dinner time approached, Brugilio and Barciliano gathered their new treasures in readiness for their return home. Michael still loves his stuffed animals, yet he gave one of his Beany Babies to Barciliano. I had given him a photograph of us. It’s nice knowing that a small part of us will remain with these wonderful new friends.
The next day is Kenny and Donny’s last before they leave for Panama City. They want to spend one day touring the mainland and seeing the Panama Canal before they fly home. Kenny continued work on the cockpit speakers while Donny and Bobby went to the village.
Donny returned with a three-legged, wooden bowl used for cooking and one of the clay bowls used for ceremonial purposes. We had seen many of these bowls in the cemetery. They looked like items one would find in a museum of ancient Indian artifacts. Kenny had to go buy some, too. One of the women was actually cooking food in her bowl, but washed it out to sell it to him.
Kenny finished installing one of the speakers, but didn’t have access to cut a hole where Bobby wanted it for the other. Donny and Kenny finished packing and were ready for their early morning departure.
Bobby was up in the morning to see his brothers off. Robby said his good-byes from his bunk, and Michael stood up in the hatch above his bed and waved. I woke up just in time to see the dugout canoe, equipped with an outboard motor, pull away from Immanuel with Donny and Kenny. The whole day was tinged with sadness for us. We truly missed them and couldn’t believe their time to leave had already come.
Note: The preceding 19 pages almost certainly have some errors in them, especially as to sequence of events, due to the writer exercising total negligence in keeping notes.
Bobby went to the village for more bread and returned with two reams of printer paper. The village elders had been working all day yesterday, along with the school teacher, to compose six different forms they wanted printed up. Bobby explained to them that 1000 forms might be more than I could do, but that he would ask me to do what I could.
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. The letterhead they wanted was fairly simple, although they had drawn a picture of their island for me to copy. Bobby had, again, explained to them that I couldn’t do that. They said they would just have the teacher hand draw the picture on each letterhead and I should leave space for it. The Kunas wanted 250 passes printed, three to a page, with fancy borders. Their constitution requires any Kuna who wants to travel to obtain a signed permit from the Sahila. They also wanted a letterhead with the names and offices of all their congreso members printed on it. There was a receipt form and what appeared to be a form to keep track of credit given in the village store. Finally, there was an inventory sheet listing village assets and trade goods with spaces for their value. I set to work.
I continued working on the printing all the next day until dinner. Bobby had procured an invitation for us to attend a tribal ceremony for the christening of a month-old baby girl. With little idea what we were getting ourselves into, we got in the dinghy to head to the village.
Brugilio brought us to his house so he could explain the etiquette involved in the ceremony. He also explained that the father was a “wealthy” man as he worked as a policeman on the mainland, but he was from this village and maintained his ties with the people. We then went to the congreso hut with Brugilio, presented the Sahila with a gift of rum, and took our places on wooden benches along one wall of the hut.
The father provided fermented sugar cane and cigarettes for all. The moonshine was drunk ritually in calabash bowls with handles carved in the shape of pelicans. A line of six men-all dressed in black and wearing pelican bone breastplates-would take the full bowls across the meeting hut where they would join another line of six men who hooted and hollered before taking the bowls and drinking down every drop. Each calabash was roughly the size of a volleyball cut in half. The facial muscles of each drinker would immediately slacken and their eyes would glaze over upon draining the bowls of this potent liquor. Cigarettes, not normally smoked by the villagers, were puffed furiously before and after each drink.
After every man had two bowl fulls (the women were in a separate section drinking the same drink but not in a ritualistic manner), the baby was brought in to a teepee which had been set up in the meeting hut. Three village elders had been burning cocoa inside the teepee. The midwives who delivered the baby danced around the meeting hall carrying the baby before giving her to the men. The teepee was screened from our view while the men were supposed to pierce the baby’s nasal septum and ears.
In this case, the parents had decided not to pierce the baby until she
was another month old. The baby was carried out of the teepee and the mother
was brought up to the door where one of the men ran a needle with thread
through her ear.
This was an incredible experience for us. The entire time we were in the meeting hut, one of the older children was petting one of us. The girls were interested in the feel of my hair. The boys were fascinated with the hair on Bobby’s legs and arms since the Indians have very little body hair. Robby and Michael joined in games where the boys would tap one another when they were not looking and then pretend to be innocent while the “tapped” boy tried to figure out who had tapped him.
After the ceremony, I was allowed to hold the baby for a few minutes before we left for home and the Indians continued their party all night.
The following day Bobby went to town to try to buy some more bread. The village appeared deserted. Everyone, even the ubiquitous children, were inside their huts, swinging in their hammocks. There is no bread to be had-the village is recovering from last night’s festivities.
When the three girls from the outcast village canoed out for their regular evening visit, they asked (in Spanish and with hand gestures) yet again if they could come aboard. This time Bobby invited them in. Robby and I were cooking a meatloaf. The girls were amazed at juevos, cebollas, sol, and so many other items they were unfamiliar with being used to prepare one dish. The Kuna diet consists mainly of rice, bread, and fish. It is a luxury to have coconut oil to add to the rice. These girls are especially deprived as they are not allowed to share in the village’s communal meals. Another reminder of how blessed we are. Before they left, they invited us to come to their house. We told them we would come by tomorrow.
In the afternoon we took all of the printing I had done to the congresso. The tribal elders jubilantly showed each other the various forms. One of the men asked how long it had taken me to print up all 1000 sheets. When I answered that I spent three days doing it, he thanked me profusely. I wanted to feel gratified about being able to return some of the goodwill they had shown to us, but I was concerned about the Sahila. He was slowly turning each page, saying nothing, and showing no expression on his face. Finally, he solemnly walked toward me. He got within three paces, stopped, and looked me straight in the eye. I tried to return his gaze just as seriously. I couldn’t keep from smiling when he said, with great dignity, “Thank you.”
I felt so honored. I had been paid in full for my labor. But the chief wasn’t finished. He exchanged words with Brugilio who told us we had just been given permission to photograph the village.
We wasted no time running back to Immanuel to get my camera. The Sahila met us as we returned to the congreso. He led us to his hut and motioned for us to take pictures. He went inside so I didn’t get a picture of him, but Brugilio led us around the village, with more and more children joining the procession as we proceeded. The women, the most photogenic, hid as we approached. Conversely the children tried to outdo each other with their antics, hoping I would take their pictures. They particularly liked it when we were in the forest and I had to use a flash.
Brugilio had his family get all dressed up and allowed us to take their pictures outside their hut. His wife refused to smile, but I was able to get some pictures of a traditional Kuna woman. Brugilio asked us to send him a copy of one. I certainly intend to send him several. It’s the least I can do after this rare opportunity to photograph the village and some of its people.
Brugilio doesn’t know his address since he uses a friend at the airstrip when he has the rare need to receive mail. He asked me to get the address from Donny since Donny has promised to send him an English/Spanish dictionary.
We plan to leave in the morning so we said our good-byes to these warm people we now count as friends. I feel as if I’m leaving a slice of my heart here.
After we returned to Immanuel, we prepared to visit the outcast family. We have no idea why these people are shunned in the village, but Brugilio had said they are hungry so we stocked a bag with as much flour as I think I can spare, powdered milk, canned fruit, and some other food items.
The children that live in the three huts here met us on the beach and helped us pull up the dinghy. We followed them to a bamboo fence enclosing the huts. They invited us to come through into the courtyard. A tiny puppy ran out to greet us. The children’s mother was sitting in a hammock next to the mother dog. When the dog started growling, she gave it a swift kick in the ribs. Several other puppies came up to us and let us pet them.
We communicated as much as we could with the Kuna woman. After we exchanged names and greetings, the grandfather came through a gate in the other side of the courtyard. He was carrying a jug full of hermit crabs that he had removed from their shells. He dumped the jug into a bucket and explained that they are what he uses as bait when he goes out in the canoe every morning to catch the three-inch fish they eat.
I gave the bag of food to the mother. She lifted each item out in reverence, caressing the flour, yeast, and milk. It appeared as if this fierce woman was trying not to cry. She scooped everything up and ran into the kitchen, an open lean-to on the outer wall of the hut, to start cooking over the wood fire. She was so excited, she neglected to thank us.
We were able to request estimates on new sails using our new Pinoak e-mail system over the SSB radio. It seemed unreal to be sitting in an anchorage with primitive peoples, in a place where little has changed over one-hundred years, and be able to use the most advanced technology to contact a sail maker in Barbados, Doyle Sails, and a sail maker in Chicago. Doyle emailed us back immediately and we have already sent them our preliminary measurements.
It was hard emotionally to pull out of the anchorage the next morning. We have truly enjoyed our time with these special people. There are so many good-byes said when one lives as we do. However, there are also many new, exciting places and people to meet.
We don’t know exactly where we’re going. There are so many islands in the San Blas to choose from that we are simply going to continue northwest until we are ready to stop.
The seas were ten feet, hitting us on the beam, making for an uncomfortable motor-sail. We don’t have much jib left to unfurl with the huge tear in it, so we have to leave the engine running to have any speed at all.
We decided to pull into the island of Mamitupu while the sun was still high enough for us to see the reef we have to negotiate to get into the anchorage. There is not another boat in sight and the island is straight out of a travel brochure. There is a dense collection of thatched huts at one end and a palm tree lined beach with one fancy hut, white sand, and aquamarine water at the other.
The Kunas were just rowing across from the mainland after working their fields all day. We were soon surrounded with smiling people in dugout canoes. Most just wanted to look at us, but a couple tried to sell us limes or coconuts.
We went below to check email and are pleased with the estimate Doyle Sails has provided. Not only is the price good, but they can deliver them to Panama Yacht Club within three weeks. Surrounded by people in dugout canoes, we email an acceptance.
In the morning, we set about taking accurate measurements for our new sails. Our entourage watched quietly from their canoes while we strung lines from genoa clew to forward and aft ends of our track, from mast head to mainsail tack and car. We raised the sail and lowered it, marked our measuring line in indelible ink and spread it up and down the deck to measure with our tape. All in all, we had the Kunas thouroughly confused but they never missed a chance to smile and wave when one of us caught their eye.
It was well after noon by the time we finished measurements, emailing, and the boy’s school but we took the dinghy into the beach by the fancy hut. Pablo, the man who owns the hut, came out to greet us. He was once married to a British woman who lived on the island, taught Pablo English, had children with him, and then divorced him before moving back to England. They are still on good terms with each other, but Pablo’s new wife is a traditional Kuna woman.
Several children gathered around us as we spoke with Pablo. He took us on a tour of the village and the several increased to many, and, finally, swelled to hordes. Each of us had a child holding our hands on both sides. We could barely walk without stepping on someone. Michael almost panicked once when we were being tugged away and he was so hemmed in he couldn’t move to follow us. Pablo saw what was happening and told the children to give us some space. They have so few visitors here, especially cruising children, that the kids just wanted to look at and touch us.
Mamitupu is much larger than Isla Pinos, and not as traditional. The huts in the village were the same, but multiplied tenfold and packed in close to each other. The school was larger and the basketball court was floored in concrete rather than packed dirt. Most of the women wore traditional dress, but some wore bras instead of molas and all were more bold and less apt to hide from us. Mamitupu also has its own factory which produces coconut oil for export to the mainland to sell. We bought four small bottles.
We were surprised to learn that Pablo had a hut in the village. When we asked him why he had two houses, he replied, “I have my city hut and my beach hut.” We were even more surprised when we saw a TV antenea protruding from the thatched roof of one hut. Pablo explained that this family has a 12 volt TV and battery which they take across to the mainland in their canoe where they charge it on another village’s generator.
We made the mistake of asking Pablo if we could see some molas. When we went into town the next day we were virtually swarmed with women holding up molas. Some of them grabbed my wrist and drug me over to their display. Most of the throng packed tightly together on all sides of us leaving noone with room to move. Others quietly gathered in a circle around the multitudes holding up their wares. I saw a turtle mola that I was drawn to but was so overwhelmed with desparate women I could only tell each woman how beautiful their handiwork was as I struggled to move through the mob.
Pablo took control of the situation and told everyone to go home. He told us he would select some of the best molas and bring them to his beach house where we could look at them unmolested. We were relieved with Pablo’s suggestion and only asked him to make sure he brought the turtle mola.
After we made our purchases, the turtle mola which was the most intricate design of all that we’ve seen and a mola made by Pablo’s wife, Jacinta, Pablo asked us to come back in the evening for a barbeque with his family. We readily agreed but asked if we could bring food to share. It was decided that we would bring some fish to fry and a chicken pot pie. Pablo would supply coconut rice and some additional fish.
We dinghied to the beach just as the light was fading from the sky. We were startled to see fifteen people at Pablo’s house. When he said family, he meant inlaws and cousins, too. My chicken pot pie looked rather paltry.
We sat on the dirt patio of the hut talking to the men with our bad Spanish, hand gestures, and Pablo’s translating efforts. It got absolutely dark inside and we couldn’t see each other for hand gestures. Thankfully, Bobby had brought a flashlight.
Robby and Michael were playing with their yo-yos. The men had apparantly never seen such a thing. They had each boy stand up in front of them and show their tricks by the spot of the flashlight. Then, the boys gave lessons to these macho Kuna Indians who reverted to gentle children as they moved their hands up and down with the yo-yo dangling at the end of its string until they got the hang of snapping their wrists to make the yo-yo work.
I gropped my way through the darkness towards the fire outside. The women were frying the fish in a heavy iron skillet over the open flames. A tremendous pot of rice sat in the coals at the edge of the fire. These women were able to put their hands over the fire and pick up the pots with their bare hands and a stick.
Jacinta asked me to come into the hut to help her serve. She had our plates on the packed dirt floor filled with rice. She didn’t know what to do with the chicken pie. I took the serving spoon that we had brought and dished up small portions to put on top of the rice. Juacinta added to each of our plates and shooed us out to the patio to eat. Plates then appeared in the hands of some of the men. As we finished eating, Jacinta washed our plates and forks in sea water before using them again for someone else. We had four plates and forks while Jacinta had several plates. The people who didn’t get one of our forks ate with their hands. I don’t know how the rice would have been served were it not for our serving spoon.
Somehow, everyone had at least a taste of the chicken pie and all wanted to know what was in it. I felt like an obscenely wealthy woman as I recited the long list of ingredients that I was able to put into one dish. I brought out my dish of brownies unsure of how the Kunas would feel about this additional display of wealth.
I had to break them up into roughly one-by-two inch squares with my hands. I needn’t have worried, this was accepted as a marvelous treat by all. One woman came up to me, stuck her finger in her mouth, and rapidly pulled it out. I had no clue what she wanted but asked Pablo after she repeated the gesture three times. He explained that that was their way of asking if there were any more “sweets”. Alas, I had to say, “Lo siento, no.”
When it came time to go, everyone walked us to our dinghy to wave good-bye. It had been an enjoyable, enlightening evening for all.
Bobby had arranged with Jacinto, Jacinta’s brother, to go out spearfishing with the boys today. They left with visions of fat grouper and succulent lobster dinners upon their return. They came back with one dinky and one small lobster. The water was so murky they could barely see. Jacinto was using a crude, wooden spear that worked better for scaring fish away than catching them.
Michael has a pole spear that he seldom uses, prefering the Hawaiian sling. With his permission, Bobby gave it to Jacinto after giving him a tour of our boat. He was like a four-year-old who received a golden retriever puppy for Christmas. He insisted that we come to his house after lunch.
Jacinto introduced us to his entire household--mother, grandmother, sisters, brothers, cousins--who treated us as honored guests. In this communal society, Michael’s gift would give them all fish to add to their diet of rice. Jacinto gave us treasured limes, mangoes, and oranges from the scraggly trees growing in his courtyard. We hated to take the few fruits available in the village, but felt that we would insult the family should we not accept their gift.
We gathered the usual retinue of followers as we walked through the town to Pablo’s beach house. This time, there were two girls following Robby. They vied for the privelage of walking behind his right shoulder with some shoving and angry words. When we reached Pablo’s yard, the shoving erupted into a full-blown fistfight. The vanquished girl left crying while the victor couldn’t find a way to use her victory. These girls are looking for a marriage partner and Robby, at fourteen, has more interest in food than girls.
Much as we’d like to stay longer, we have to move on if we hope to make it through the Panama Canal by the end of February. We said our goodbyes now with plans to leave in the morning. Pablo, Jacinta, and Jacinto each gave us hugs before we got in the dinghy. Jacinta and I shared a searching look into each other’s damp eyes.
We left another slice of our hearts in Mamitupu. As we pulled up anchor to head towards the cut, several villagers lined the shores waving good-bye. Fortunately for our emotions, exiting the cut took all of our concentration. Bobby stood on the bow guiding me at the helm. There was a reef dead ahead that he guided me towards before we turned sharply to port to follow a passage between two reefs and out to open sea.
The passage was the same as the last--ten foot seas on the beam with little wind. We pulled into the aptly named Snug Harbor in the early afternoon. The mainland to starboard and five sandy, palm tree studded islands to port form a placid lagoon of clear, Caribbean blue water. One of the islands is home to a Kuna-run hotel of thatched bungalos. A dugout canoe glides along with the wind in its flour-sack sail along the shore of the farthest isle.
It would be perfection were it not for the 14 other boats at anchor here. The Blue Water Rally, a group of 25 boats sailing in company around the world, has designated this as the contact point for all their participants to meet before heading to the Panama Canal together. But, we enjoyed meeting a Welsh family taking part in the rally and one of the beauties of cruising is having the option of being off by oneself or meeting others from every corner of the globe.
This is a fine harbor for sailing Gabby, which the boys took full advantage of. They beached her on deserted beaches and explored islands they had all to themselves. They paddled through mangroves and picked seaweed out of the water to inspect for tiny shrimp, crabs, and fish.
Each evening, we sit in the cockpit to watch the snowy egrets and pelicans come in to roost. The island off our port beam is blanketed with coconut palms where the birds make their homes. Large birds sitting on flimsy palm fronds make a peculiar sight.
I was dreaming that we were in a terrible storm. The wetness and freezing cold woke me in the wee hours. It was raining heavily and there was a new leak in our deck--directly above my bunk at knee level. I found a second use for my blowdryer. Not only is it good for defrosting the refrigerator quickly, but it does a fair job of drying sheets and mattress pads. Unfortunately, it rained off-and-on throughout the night. No sooner did I get everything dry but rain was dripping in again. I piled up towels and slept with my legs in the six-inches of remaining space. At least it’s fresh water.
In the morning, Bobby located a crack between the deck and hatch above our room that appears to be the culprit. He filled it in with some silicone sealer. We only had to wait until evening when it started raining again. Oh, happy day--no leak!
Next stop Corazon de Jesus or, as our US DMA chart calls this Kuna village, Rio Diablo. Often we have found our charts do not use the same names for places as the people who live there but this is the worst instance--calling Heart of Jesus by the name of Devil River. However, the river which really is called Rio Diablo exits the mainland directly across from the island of Corazon de Jesus, so the confusion is justifiable.
The village itself is a mixture of Kuna and old Spanish. The people here are moving away from their traditional way of life. They have a bank at the top of crumbling concrete stairs. There is one teller window fashioned from plywood which separates the open air lobby from the ancient oak desk and electric calculater. A fax machine juxtaposes primative with modern. Three-fourths of the buildings are thatched huts but a quarter are concrete. One even has glass jalousie windows.
There are several grocery stores. We walked into one and, as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we stopped short. There were cardboard boxes of fresh vegetables. We haven’t seen any produce since we left Curacao. As we excitedly gathered potatoes and onions, a gecko watched us from between two short but stubby carrots. I let Bobby reach into that box.
There are a few women who wear molas, but we see none with tatooed faces or bead bindings on their wrists and ankles. Most of the people are dressed in western clothing. Many of them appear to be a mix between Panamanians and Kunas. There has been one Albino in each village we have visited, caused from intermarrying, but this village has many white-skinned young people with blond hair and colorless irises which quiver in their eye sockets. The Kuna Indians used to kill Albinos at birth but the practice is said to have been stopped. We can’t help but wonder why we haven’t seen an Albino over the age of twenty. Do they have a short life span or is the change in practice very recent?
We followed our noses to the bakery. This one is two-story wood siding, but the bread isn’t “modernised”. It is the same we have bought at other villages, the only differences being subtle variations between bakers.
The advantage to this anchorage is its proximaty to Rio Diablo. We savored our dinghy trips up this cool, clear river. The jungle on either side is a bird-watcher's haven. Parrots are commonplace. We lost count of the different colors of woodpeckers we saw. The most prominent were midnight blue with white heads and black racing stripes, but we also saw woodpeckers in crimson reds, blazing yellows, and muddy to tawny browns. There were herons of every size and pure white egrets. We saw several fawn colored birds with white chests and long, black beaks and legs. We drifted while we watched two perform an intricate mating dance. The ultimate bird sighting was a toucan sitting on a branch twenty feet above our heads.
There was some dugout traffic near the mouth of the river as this is where the Kunas collect their water by standing in the river and filling plastic jugs. There are also some coconut plantations and a cemetary along the river bank.
As we went further up the river, all signs of human habitation ended. We were utterly alone on a jungle river. The water was so clear we could make out the eyes of hundreds of tadpoles lying on the sandy bottom. We kept our eyes open for caimans, Central American crocodiles, but didn’t see any.
We saw a branch which projected from shore, dipped deeply into the water, and surfaced again six feet from the bank. We were curious about a drab brown lizard as long as Bobby’s arm sunning itself at the end of the branch. We cut the engine and drifted closer to see it when, instantaneously, there was a thrashing of water and it was gone. It happened so fast we had to recreate it in our minds before we were sure what happened. The lizard had lunged away from its branch, spread out the hood that opens around its face like an umbrella, landed on the river with tail and hind legs on the water and front legs held up in front. It ran across the surface of the water and disappeared into the jungle. I don’t know who was more startled--us or the aptly named Jesus Lizard, also known as the Saint Peter Lizard.
We turned around to float back down the river, hoping we would get back before it got too dark. Accompanied by more lizards and bird life, we alternated between feelings of delight at the surprise of a flash of color flying across our bow or flowers littering the water as they made their lazy journey from trees and shrubs upriver and unearthly feelings of being stalked in the twilit South American Jungle.
Still feeling that things were a bit eerie, we made our first human contact this evening. An Indian was standing next to his dugout on the river bank to our right. He was holding a shotgun and motioning for us to come to him. We did what he wanted, hoping that we weren’t in as bad a situation as it looked. Were we trespassing? Rich Americans with more money than sense? Dinner?
As we got closer, we made out an ancient, withered-apple face on a small, wiry body. The toothless mouth appeared to be smiling at us. We didn’t relax until the old guy lowered his rusty gun and said, “Hola.” Through our routine of charades and broken Spanish, we learned he was on his way to hunt wild hogs. He planned to be out in the jungle with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing, a dirty burlap bag, and his shotgun for three days. We wished him good hunting and he told us to enjoy our stay before we continued down river.