We were not moving fast that night. The friends woke up all excited to see how far we had come. To our great disappointment the land we glimpsed had not come much closer. The wind was still non-existent and we all realized that it would take an additional day to arrive – or even weeks. We began to feel hopeless, it seemed like we would never arrive.
Paul started to sail in circles. He meant that he had to retrieve wind further out to gain speed. The sailing sisters looked thoughtfully at each other and wondered how sailing techniques worked in Australia. But since we were girls, we had nothing to say.
At mid-day, Paul began scratching his head, he thought we should turn back a bit to go in to a bay so that he could fix the engine. He began fiddling with the engine again so that we could get anywhere, and that strip of land was finally starting to approach. The engine coughed on and managed to take us all the way to a bay at the mainland, outside the Kuna village Carreto.
– First, I’m going to sleep, and then I’ll try to fix the engine ok? Paul said when we put out the anchor.
He thought we should row in to the beach and explore the place. We were all very excited to come ashore after 65 hours on the open sea. Paul had never been in Carreto, but he said it was the beginning of the San Blas Archipelago. We got to read the only small square that was readable about the village in his guide book. It said that the villagers are friendly as long as you try to get out of there as quick as possible. If one were to take a coconut or banana he would be accused for steeling. We were a bit unsure if it was a good idea to visit when we saw people sneaking around in the bushes along the beach, but Paul hushed us away.
We jumped into the leaking dinghy that barely had any air left, so we got an unfunctional pump to try and pump it up with. Using a plastic bag, a lot of time and some tricks we got it in a reasonable shape. We got one oar, but the engine he did not want to put on. We rowed on for our lives, one with the single oar and the rest of us with our facemasks or bare hands. There was a strong current so we drove sideways, but eventually we got there. To our disappointment the first thing we saw was a mountain of garbage. The whole beach was full of bottles, cans and a lot of leftovers where a flock of vultures sat and ate. A Kuna woman just went down to the beach with two buckets of garbage that she poured out right in front of us. This was not quite the San Blas we had expected. We still tried to entertain ourselves by swimming and snorkeling, but the only thing we saw was four fishes and junk covering the ground.
Picture of the Kunas from google
Paul thought we should visit the village, but we were a little unsure whether it was a good idea. However we decided to go and buy a soda. It was very strange to walk into the village, all eight of us gringos. Those Kuna-people probably had not seen tourists many times in their lives before. We prepared to turn around, but they waved at us to come to the store. There we bought some sodas, they gave us plastic chairs so we could sit and have a nice time and every kid in the village gathered around us. They stood around the fence and just watched us. We tried to talk to them, but they didn’t speak Spanish and were very shy, they grinned and hid their faces behind hands and hair. They were extremely curious and someone asked them to show us around the village.
A bunch of 10 – 15 children of all ages ran hand in hand in front of us, giggling, and took us around the maze paths between the huts. The village consisted of small shacks built of bamboo sticks with thatched roofs. It was very cozy and genuine. We were shown to various Kuna-families who all wanted to look at us, touch and laugh at us. We were a lot bigger than their people, so they grabbed our arms and called us “gorditas” – a compliment for fat. They also laughed at our feet, but it was unclear what was so funny about them. They wore colorful dresses, they had bracelets in yellow and red on their entire forearms and legs, and a pierced bull ring in their nose. They did not want to be photographed, but the kids were very curious about our cameras. It was a unique experience to meet these friendly people, but it was also a bit scary to intrude in their village. When we asked where we were, they said that we were in Darien, and we knew it did not bode well. Darien is a province that you should avoid because it’s so dangerous, it consists a lot of drug trade and criminality. That was why we chose to sail over to Panama, to cross the border of the Darién Gap is like asking for being kidnapped. We could either sail or take a flight to Panama. Paul had lied to us, we were not at all in San Blas. We did not know if the kids would take us to an unpleasant place where we could walk right into a trap, but I guess we’ve seen too many movies.
We rowed back to Ave Maria again. After being on our own for a while we had been able to vent our feelings with each other. We now knew that everyone was unhappy with how the journey had taken shape, and we began to feel stressed because we would never arrive when most of us had a schedule to follow. When we arrived at the boat Paul had just started to fix the engine, just in time for the dark. We went swimming around the boat. For the first time we had the opportunity to shower because we were laying still. We were strictly forbidden to use the shower in the boat, or even wash our hands after visiting the toilet. We felt that we would get a bit fresher if we showered in the salt water. Because it was dark, we could catch a glimpse of the plankton around us, it was like a starry sky that glittered as soon as you touched them.
Christine swimming with planktons
When Paul was finally done with the engine he decided that we would head out to sea again. However, we had 15-20 hours in front of us. How those four hours suddenly turned into 20 is an unanswered question. We were at least more than consenting, so some of the guys started helping him to leave the bay. The rest of us were asked to go inside the boat with all lights off, so there was not much else to do than go to bed. Paul began to jump start the engine so that sparks flew in all directions, very close to the beds so that the sheets almost caught fire. It really didn’t feel great anymore, we all had lost confidence in Paul, even if the trust was minimal from the start, and it no longer felt safe staying at Ave Maria. We never knew what happened because he never told us anything.
I had a bad feeling in my stomach so I went up and asked what was going on, if it really was safe to go out in the middle of the night with an engine that still does not seem to work? Paul became angry and stressed, he told me to stop questioning his safety, I’d go to bed again, and that he was just very tired and frustrated. He took a joint of marijuana and said that it is quite normal to jump start a motor like that and that everything that happened was normal, things like these can happen at sea. Megan also got upset; if he was so tired, it would be a very bad idea to get out on the ocean and rely on the guys’ non-existing navigational skills. In addition, Paul had mentioned that he himself was unsure to navigate out of the bay, because he did not have enough equipment. We had no power on board, so none of us could charge our cameras as we were promised, and not even Paul could charge his laptop where it had been the only map on the boat. He had some battery left, so he only started the computer in emergencies.
– If the captain makes a decision, you can not come and try to change that decision, Sindry said with an aggressive tone.
After me and Megan had been talked down to, Ave Maria left the bay and took course towards the San Blas Islands.