Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | February 2, 2013

A Friend in Playón Chico

N 9° 35.4′   W 78° 40.3′

The Swimming Pool, Holandes Cays, Kuna Yala



1/6 – Delion (dah-LEE-on) is my new Kuna friend. He paddled from town the morning after we arrived to greet the Mar Azul, the only boat tucked into the calm Snug Harbor anchorage. The green water is surrounded by reefs and mangroves and coconut-palm filled islands. Beside us is a Gilligan’s Island with a tiny white beach – gorgeous although too reefy for swimming.

In addition to some molas worthy of an addition to the growing collection, Delion offers bananas. No thanks, I have 14 that are ripening fast in addition to 10 plantains that need to be cooked soon. He promises to return the next day with my order for Kuna bread, a papaya and tomatoes, and perhaps some large crabs. Then he scraped the boat’s waterline and part of the bottom for a very reasonable $20. He is fit and agile for his 60 years, easily getting in and out of his round bottomed dugout craft that seems prone to tipping and diving for long periods under the boat with only mask and fins. The Captain is happy to share that chore, even if he has to do some follow-up scraping. He starts another book.

We decide to stick around for a few days. The seas are supposed to be worse than the day we came in and the next passage is going to be a three to four hour ride with no reef protection. Neither of us is anxious to face another rough day at sea. We might be stuck here until next week.

The town, Playón Chico, is about three miles away with another anchorage. There is a note in the guidebook that it is the only Kuna town with a poor reputation among boaters, where petty theft has been a problem. The implication was that the Kunas were the culprits, but who knows what happened there and needy cruisers without access to supplies can be criminals too. Still, we file that information away.

There is no cell signal or internet in this peaceful spot, where the distant roar of the crashing surf is a soothing white noise but also a reminder of what awaits us once we leave this haven. Delion says they have internet in town, but the Captain seems inclined not to trade the the solitude of this spot and less interruptions in his reading for the possibility of surfing. For me, I am enjoying my days writing, catching up on reading and Spanish self-study. I am happy to have the occasional visitor come by to chat, make a request, or offer something for sale. It’s fun to talk to these folks and learn a little about them, and I appreciate the chance to add some fresh food to my inventory.

I am gaining a better sense of how to respond to the requests for gifts. Research on what might be needed here had yielded all sorts of advice – everything from fabric for sails, to reading glasses, to magazines, to pencils and notebooks for the kids. It got complicated and with hundreds of Kuna or more in each village that would add up to some big charity projects. The advice that patronizing Kuna services was preferable to charity seemed reasonable since their basic needs of food, shelter and supportive community seem to be met. I had purchased a few books and crayons and frisbees for the kids and moved on to the bigger task of considering what we needed to have aboard. But after our experience at Mono Island, I decided that perhaps some extra goodwill gestures could help make sure we boaters are warmly welcomed at all stops in the future. A few modest gifts has not resulted in an unmanageable stream of ulu visitors.

A fisherman approaches to ask for a “regalo”. “Qué quiere?” What do you want? He doesn’t care what it is. I ask if he has use for English language DVD’s in his village and he says yes, so I give him one that contains several episodes of a series we had finished watching. He asks for a soda, and I give him one of the few remaining canned ginger ales. Soft drinks are mostly sold in large plastic bottles in Colombia and we have given up on stocking canned sodas at the moment.

The toll taker, Mr. Gonzalez, arrives to collect our $10 one-time anchoring fee, coordinating the long paddle from town with an early morning fishing expedition. He does not request anything other than water. I am constantly amazed that these guys venture out for hours in their little crafts without bringing along any beverages. I give him a large bottle of chilled water and a frisbee for the kids.

An albino Kuna paddles up to ask for sunscreen. God bless him, his white arms are scorched red and crusty. We had seen albinos in other villages and heard that this genetic condition is common since the Kuna population as a rule doesn’t marry outsiders. I spray his arms with a SPF 50 waterproof product, show him how the container works and give him the whole bottle. He too asks for water. After he leaves I realize a long sleeved shirt would provide more lasting benefits if he would wear it. He is about my size and I go through my things to see if I can find something suitable if he comes by again.

Delion arrives the next morning with Kuna bread but no produce or crabs. The trading boat from Panama had come in and he needed to buy food for his family of 6 children. He had run out of money. I was not totally surprised, as a past cruiser reported that orders taken here did not always materialize. The baker’s dozen of little Kuna rolls would be $2. I remembered $1 was yesterday’s quote but wasn’t going to argue since even at twice the price it seemed a good deal considering the long delivery trip. Delion says he can come back tomorrow with my order and asks me to write down what I need so he won’t forget. We make out the list which includes 2 giant crabs, 1 avocado, 2 or 3 tomatoes and 1 papaya, for a price of $15.

He is happy that I found a lightweight comforter to give him as he had asked for a blanket. I wasn’t sure why one would need a blanket in this warm climate and asked if he slept in a hammock, but he said no, it was for his bed. He tells me a little about life in Playón Chico and it gives me a chance to practice Spanish. He is patient, checks to be sure I understand what he is saying, and throws in an English word on occasion to assist my comprehension.

He asks if I can pay the $15 now and I tell him I don’t pay in advance. That’s okay, he understands. He will be back tomorrow. I’m not sure how he is going to resolve his cash flow issue but he seems industrious so perhaps he will work it out. Maybe he will sell the blanket. We later explore the area in the dinghy and I gain an appreciation of how tough it must be to paddle that heavy ulu all the way from town, upwind, around the reefs and through the chop that is much worse than it looks from the anchorage. I feel a few twinges of guilt that he has made such a long daily trek to try to attend to our needs in some fashion and wonder why I didn’t just take a small risk and give him the money up front.

The next morning passes and my friend does not arrive. I had planned to make crab cakes for dinner but had a back-up menu in mind since I put the odds at 50 -50 that the crabs would materialize. At 1 o’clock here he comes. No produce – the stores are closed for the weekend. Hmm. We saw Kuna stores open on weekends in other villages. Oh, well. There are no crabs today, but he shows me two live lobsters – one large and one small. I tell him I will take the large one which is $5 and he throws in the small one too. Needs today are a hat (he is wearing one) and new line for his spear gun. I tell him we don’t have any extra aboard, although make a note to check the inventory in case I am wrong.

I set to work steaming the lobsters and removing the meat and the spiny beasts get the last hurrah, inflicting irritating scratches. When I am done, here he is again. This time with more sea bounty – another lobster, small snappers, an octopus, squid and conch. I decide on the squid to make an appetizer of fried calamari, one of Bob’s favorites. The “calamar” is only $1 for me, his amiga who gave him the blanket. This is my first experience with a live squid and I find instructions in one of my cruising cookbooks on how to dissect and prepare this slimy critter with suction cupped tentacles that want to cling to my fingers long after being separated from the body. The seafood feast with lobster cakes, fried calamari and Kuna bread makes a nice change-up in our menu, even if the accompaniments of instant mashed potatoes and canned peas are sort of boring.

Delion invites us to tour the village and I tell him we aren’t sure when we might come to town. He asks if he can take our trash and while the stash is growing, I tell him I don’t need that service right now. A garbage line flows from many of the Kuna towns we have seen so far and I suspect our stuff might be pitched into the water. I have garbage well under control – another surprise at the three week mark with no access to dumpsters.

I tell Delion the bread he sold me is the best Kuna bread I have tasted and I love the sourdough flavor. He beams with pride. If we are still here next week I would like more. He tells me he is leaving soon for several weeks in the Holandes Cays to the north and asks if we will visit there. He says it is a vacation but I’m guessing he may be going there to work the more popular cruising boat stop. I say “yes” we will likely stop there some time in the next month. We shake hands, acknowledging that this might be our last transaction, and he says he will look for the Mar Azul in the Holandes.

Most days we are surrounded by a silvery gray haze. Occasionally blue sky peeks through. The jungly mountains ashore are swallowed up by the mist but we have had no rain here. The place has mesmerized us. Two cruising sailboats come, anchor in the distance for the night then go. The best sea conditions for the next week will be on Monday, and no better than when we arrived. We debate whether we should leave or stay longer in this peaceful paradise.



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