In the summer of 2016, over a momentary lapse of judgement I decided to packraft over The Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia. What better way to enter South America than with a big bang… as long as its not the bang from my inflatable raft poping.
Sept 22, 2016
Puerto Carti, Guna Yala, Panama
Good news, I finally made sense of the sea charts on the sailing book – all that yellow stuff was not sandy islands but reefs. I found out its about 210km to Colombia… in a straight line. There are many towns and storms are possible during September and October. I gave up trying to rank my worries in order. Reefs poping my boat, storms, places to stay, sharks, narcos, farc, bugs, water and of course – getting hit by a coconut while resting under a palm tree.
After the impossible hills of the road to Carti, paddling felt great. The sun was baking hot and what about the glue holding the boat together? Would it melt? I kept checking pressure but it seemed fine.
From the port I knew there would be some tourists but this was bad. There werent any uninhabited islands and I was 15km away from the coast. I asked at one how much it would cost to camp and was told 45. Funny, I thought. I have 42, total. Then I was asked this.
“How much can you pay?”,
Nope. Go paddle 5km to another island.
Luckily I found an empty island and landed for the day. The ocean breeze and shade do wonders with the heat but perhaps the most upsetting thing was hearing all these coconuts fall without any means to open them. After a bunch hit the ground, I moved from under one tree, a coconut in the head would knock me right out or worse. Tourist found dead on an island, death by coconut, not a good way to go. (I also later found out that coconuts are a main source of income for the Kuna people, drinking one would be stealing.)
By noon I already bagged 20km and went on to chat with Breeze and Debbie, sailing “The Blue Sky”. The last thing I expected was to find myself adding books to kindle, in the ocean. They invited me to a nice breakfast – egg sandwich and watermelon and some amazing brown wonder bread with walnuts. They have been sailing here over the years and told me more about the area. They also told me they were fined 350$ for not stopping at a town. The locals and police arrived in the dark telling them they were smuggling drugs… They said they werent, so the fine was lowered to 250 but ended up going to town the next day and paying the full amount…
Before I left, I learned one more thing.
“Hold on, your paddle is upside down, its unidirectional, this way down – that way the whole paddle is under water.”
Wow. Nothing like being told 2 days into the ocean that your paddle is upside down. Haha. They also offered me a shirt but I was really into the Robinson Cruzoe look, even if I get some painful sunburn patches.
Its hard to adjust first impressions, especially when everything you see or hear confirms them. So far it seems that some of the Kuna people are always trying to squeeze money out of you. It is their land and they can do whatever but it feels that you get treated like a big bag of money. And there are wonderful people who I wont get to meet. Or it could be me – traveling the beautiful, vast and wild places of north america for free has made me ignorant and not very respectful of rules and regulations. I am not a tourist, I didn’t come here only to get suntanned, snorkel and party.