We sailed over a couple of large logs that night, which slammed into the bow just below where I would try to sleep. I was just waiting for us to run into a container that some vessel had left behind. We smashed any container, but the engine smacked again. No one dared to find out about what was happening, so we slept on. I woke up when the anchor was thrown out, so I jumped out of the cabin to see where we were. It was still pitch black, it had not been more than two hours.
We were back in the same bay.
The gearbox had broken this time, so Paul decided to go back to the same spot. It was hopeless, Paul would never manage to fix the engine without help. How safe it was to spend the night in the bay where the Kuna-people wanted to get rid of us as soon as possible is a good question. We were however never robbed, the Kuna people left us alone. The next day, everyone woke up early and wondered what would happen next. Paul and Sindry slept in while the rest of us were stressed because we were already at day four of five and we still had not reached the San Blas. Eventually he told us that we should all try to find another type of transport. After Sindry made Paul a number of cups of coffee, she could finally go with us to the village to help to talk to the villagers. Again, we did not use the engine, and this time we lay anchored much further out so it took forever to reach the shore.
We could not leave Carreto by land, that was too dangerous. Besides, Paul had stamped our passports in Cartagena in Colombia, and we were outlaws at sea until we would reach an immigrationisland where he would stamp us in. According to a document we were passengers on the Ave Maria and therefore had to be stamped from the sea, not by any country control. Paul thought that we should try to go through Puerto Obaldía, an airport that was not very far away to be stamped in there and then fly from there. We really wanted to leave Ave Maria, but we didn’t like that option. Who would pay for the airline tickets? Sindry talked to the Kuna-people, but it didn’t seemed to be any available boats for either the airport or the immigrationisland. The only hope we had was a small cell phone as a Kuna-woman had taped on a bamboo wall. It was the only place in the whole village with reception, but only on that particular phone. We had not been able to contact anyone before, no one knew where we were or what had happened. When we named for Sindry that we would try to contact the company we’ve made the booking thorugh, she became upset and jumped into a canoe and asked a local to row her out to Ave Maria. She thought it was more important to cook lunch if we started getting hungry instead of solving the problem.
We finally got through to the company and a woman named Laurel. Megan asked for help with a jumpy voice and told her everything we had been through. Laurel wanted to help us, she just needed a confirmation call from Paul. We were pleased to have been talking to someone else outside the Ave Maria, but worried how we would tell Paul that we involved Laurel, or how we would even get him to go ashore to call her. We were worried that he would be hostile and aggressive. He did not want to ruin his reputation because it would obviously go against his business.
We went together to dare to tell Paul about Laurel, rowed back and was greeted by a speedboat that was next to Ave Maria. Apparently Sindry managed to organize a boat during the time we called Laurel. The speedboat driver explained that it was not a good idea to go to the airport. There were a lot of Cubans who wanted to leave the country and it could take weeks before an available seat. Besides it was very dangerous, and it was on the border to Colombia in the Darién Gap. Just then we realized how close to the border we were – we had barely moved somewhere. It had taken us 65 hours to sail a distance that had taken a bit more than 10 hours by bus. The speedboat-captain instead sugested us to go to the immigartionisland, El Povenir. We also had the option that Laurel gave us, but her boat would leave the next morning. Now we had a boat right in front of us, the problem was just money. Laurel would organize everything for us, we would not have to pay for anything. But Paul was not happy to hear that we brought Laurel into all of this. Trevor began to question Paul and his various so-called plan B, C and D.
– I can hear that your tone has turned more aggressive since you’ve spoke to Laurel. If you do not turn that tone down I’ll fucking slam you Trevor! threatened Paul.
As we thought Paul got very aggressive, he was stressed, angry and frustrated. We voted if we wanted to take Sindrys options and go just then, or wait for Laurels options next morning.
– You do not want to spend another 24 hours here, do you!? Paul continued with a sneering voice. After Thursday you are not my problem anymore. You are backpackers, not tourists, you can work this out, he continued.
We felt forced to leave Ave Maria and we did not want to stay there, even though we still had one night as we had paid for and meals left to eat. We did not have enough money to pay the speedboat captain. Nowhere on the islands had ATMs, and many of us had only a few dollars on us. As we collected all the money that we had, dollars and Colombian pesos, we had a total of $450. The boat would cost us $700 so we still needed a lot of money. After many attempts to haggle the price down by Paul and Sindrys, Paul had no other alternative but to give us the rest of the money. He gave us 400,000 Colombian pesos, which equals $160. We were still $90 short. The speedboat driver told Sindry that we would not be able to go directly to El Povenir that evening, it was a long journey so it would be dark and dangerous before arriving. He thought it was better if we waited til the next morning. But this they did not want to listen to and even though we still didn’t have enough money for paying the boat, they sent us away.
So happy to finally leave Ave Maria
As soon as we got out of the bay, the speedboat captain explained for us that we could only go halfway that evening. We would have to spend the night at another island. We explained that we did not have any money to pay for accommodation, the only money we had was his money and in that case we would have to pay with them. But this captain knew what he was talking about, and there was not even questionable to go in the dark. He drove us to the island called Playon Chico. As he had told us it was dark when we arrived and we were greeted by his friends with open arms. They wanted to help us with accommodation for a low price, only $5 each. We got to stay in camp beds and hammocks in a hut. We invited them for beers and rum, and they began to cook us coconut rice. We really had no money but these people just wanted to help us, they are probably the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
– Mi casa es su casa, somos hermanos, said the man who brought us the coconut rice. “My home is your home, we are all brothers.”
More people showed up, the whole family wanted to see what kind of strange fellows we were. When we ut up our cameras, a photoshoot took place. Everyone wanted to be in the pictures. We went to sleep early that night, we were not allowed to go outside the hut because it was not safe for us.
We are extremely grateful for all these helpful fellow human beings, thanks for everything, we will send a lot of pictures to them, and spread a good word about their village and the hut we stayed in. For those planning to visit the island Playon Chico in Kuna Yala, San Blas , contact Emiliano Alvila, his family is absolutely wonderful!