Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | January 24, 2013

Bounty in Mamitupu

N 9° 33.9′   W 78° 51.5′

Banedup, West Lemmons, Kuna Yala


Approaching Mamitupu, flying the Defever Cruisers flag on the bow until we are officially checked in to Panama.

12/28 – We did not stop at Ustupu, the largest Kuna town. The Captain was not enthused about the more exposed anchorage and thought it wise with a week of higher seas coming to seek better shelter. We picked our way into Mamitupu, which in Kuna means island (tupu) of the mami’s, which is a some kind of fruit. I didn’t totally understand the story and I’m not sure there are still mami’s on Mamitupu. We anchored off the pretty, less inhabited side of the island that according to the guidebook also houses an evil spirit which is why the town is crammed onto the other part of the island.

We were welcomed by Pablo, his wife Hyacinth and grandson. Pablo turned out to be the same Pablo mentioned in the guidebook, a friendly man with a business making coconut oil who also spoke a little English. Pablo had expanded his enterprise and now operates a small resort on the part of the island away from town. He invited us to visit ashore one day to see his resort.

Pablo said the Saila here had made a rule that the ladies were not allowed to paddle out to sell molas. I could shop ashore. I wasn’t sure if the problem was that the ladies were neglecting their household duties or if boaters had complained of being swarmed. So we had no mola vendors other than Alfonzo, who came to collect the $5 weekly anchoring fee. Alfonzo had stashed a few of his wife’s small molas in his ulu and I bought one with a parrot design. I’m not sure what the Saila would say about that, but perhaps the toll taker had special privileges.

The Mamitupuans seemed most industrious. Dozens of men paddled from the island to the mainland at sunrise and midday came back laden with coconuts, yucca, bananas, plantains, limes and oranges among their bounty. Quite a few stopped to see what I might want to buy and I was glad the Saila had not prohibited all sales in the anchorage. It was not our customary produce but was nutritious fare, and I added some of just about everything offered to my inventory. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when the bunches of bananas and plantains simultaneously ripened but it was nice to have some new stock.


Workers returning from the mainland laden with coconuts

Martinelli, a little old man selling coconuts stopped to chat several times. He seemed particularly needy and kept asking about “regalos” or if we were bringing gifts. He wanted to know if I could spare a little coffee. Still feeling very guilty about the minuscule amount of mayonnaise I had shared in Mulatupu with the man with the blind granddaughter (I had since found two more mayo containers in the galley in addition to the 7 in storage and one in the fridge), I gave him half a bag of my treasured Colombian stash. He wanted to sell me coconuts and I agreed to take one if he would open it for me. He paddled ashore and returned an hour later with the coconut hull shaved and a small white part exposed so I could extract the milk and the meat, for $1. He displayed a small cut on his thumb from working on my coconut. I imagined that I would not have any digits left after taking on that task. He came back later to try to bum cigarettes, which sorely irritated the Captain. I would have happily given away the whole inventory of that particular item.

Bananas, yucca, limes and a coconut were some nice additions to the dwindling produce supply

Bananas, yucca, limes and a coconut were welcome nice additions to the dwindling produce supply

Bob was in a rare grumpy mood after spending much of day in the engine room. The main generator had failed and the problem turned out to be a sensor issue. It is working now, and I am thankful that he is a skilled problem solver who is usually quick to accomplish needed repairs. We have a spare generator but being so remote it is disconcerting when anything stops working properly. The freezer seems to run more than it should and I am afraid it might die at this most inopportune time. I guess we could host a big party for the locals if that happened, but my carnivores would be very unhappy with their meals for a while.

A visit to town found another traditional Kuna village with winding paths among the tightly spaced huts. There seemed to be a high ratio of children to adults here and at that level of reproduction the Mamitupuans would soon have no choice but to expand into the haunted part of the island or start building huts over the sea. There was lots of cooking going on and some of the thatched roofs were singed with a coconutty aroma permeating the town. It is amazing they don’t have a terrible problem with fires from all the indoor hut cooking. We found a tienda that sold phone minutes, but no sim cards. I was offered Kuna bread, a curious creation of white bread shaped like small hot dog buns for pennies a piece. The baker used a bottled-gas powered pizza oven. The bread was denser and tastier than it looked and with creating slicing it made exceptionally good French toast.

Kuna bread is usually sold in long hot-dog-like bun shapes or little round rolls and tastes better than it looks

Kuna bread is usually sold in long hot-dog-like bun shapes or little round rolls and tastes better than it looks

We toured Pablo’s beachside resort, which includes four one-room huts with a bed and shower and a fifth hut under construction. Huts built over the sea provide the village’s latrines but for the resort Pablo had installed a small separate hut containing a white porcelain toilet, which he said was vital to his guest satisfaction. The location offers a most interesting seaside vacation with the chance to learn about Kuna culture. Pablo said the price of $75 per person per day US included three meals cooked by his wife, lodging and tours of the local area. Transportation is via Air Panama to the nearby Achutupu airstrip where Pablo meets visitors in a small boat to bring them to Mamitupu.

One of Pablo's guest huts

One of Pablo’s guest huts on Mamitupu

Pablo shows us a beachside room with bed, mattress & shower area in the Cabañas Kalu Obaky Resort

I added a small container of Pablo’s coconut oil to my Mamitupuan bounty and we wished him the best of luck with his resort. We didn’t ask about the evil spirits. With expansion needs evident, perhaps the spirits have moved on.


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