Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | February 19, 2013

A Birthday Regalo

N 9° 31.19′   W 79° 03.3′

Between Isla Gerti & Isla Elsie in the Islas Robeson, Kuna Yala.



We usually keep birthday celebrations pretty low-key. Being in the San Blas this year I fully expected to cook my own celebratory meal as Bob’s galley skills are almost nonexistent. With our travels to the western portion of the Gulf of San Blas and the Islas Robeson (Tadarguanet in Kuna, meaning “where the sun sets”) we figured we would have a simple dinner aboard, as usual.

Arriving in this less frequented anchorage we were greeted with quite the entourage before we had even gotten the anchor set. Our first visitor offered an enormous bunch of bananas. I handed him my kitchen knife so he could whittle it down, ending up with no less than 40 small bananas for the grand sum of $2. More banana bread is in our future. A fisherman came offering 3 small lobsters for $5. I couldn’t pass that up and saved the tails for a future seafood chowder. Many mola makers crowded around in their little boats and I sadly had to say “no, gracias”. There were just too many and it was chaos. How could I buy from one and not all? Then we met Justino, who offers a variety of tour and boaters services including labor – like polishing and sanding – for $20/day plus lunch. Justino also collected the town’s $7 weekly anchoring fee.

The next arrival was Bredio and family. Bredio also offers boat work, excursions to the rivers and waterfalls ashore, and laundry services. Bredio’s services guide, written in English, noted that his family offered traditional Kuna meals in their home for $3 per person. I made reservations for my birthday dinner, figuring it would be both educational and memorable. We invited the other two boats in the anchorage – Jim & Jean on Windsong, and Rob & Sue on Catalyst – and they gamely joined us.

And what a memorable evening it was! We had the chance to see some of tiny Isla Elsie, home to 9 families with about 50 people, before dark. We visited Justino’s home next door to Bredio’s. Justino’s was the happening place to be in the evenings. When he has sufficient power generating from his solar panel he shows DVD’s to entertain the island’s many children, including his three kids. The hut has three hammocks for sleeping that fill the majority of the dwelling. One hammock is for Mom and the baby, the 9-year-old boy has his own hammock, and Dad shares one with the two little girls, ages 2 and 5. When the girls get bigger, they will add more hammocks. Constant closeness to other people, little privacy and sharing in this communal environment is the norm. Those who live on the waterfront share their docks with those who live in the center of the island and don’t have docks. It would not be uncommon for people to walk through other people’s homes at all hours to get to and from the waterfront.

There were few lights in the village and after dark it was amazing to see how people found their way through the maze of huts. We fortunately had remembered to bring flashlights. We were served outside the family hut in a shaded patio area, with a plastic awning strung to protect from the elements. Bredio had several plastic chairs and a makeshift bench for seating at two tables put together and covered with the same colorful print cloth that we often see fashioned into the womens skirts. He hung a small lightbulb charged from his solar panel so that we could see what we were eating. He served the meal while his wife minded his family of three small chidren including a baby.

The dinner consisted of a filling sopa (stew-like soup) with chunks of plantains (starchy and potato-like, not sweet), yucca and coconut water, and small whole fish that had been roasted over the fire. Lime juice and salt seasonings were served on the side. It was bland, not to die for, but tasty in its own way and nutritious. Actually, the opinions of the group were varied. Jim, who was most skilled at extracting the sweet white fish meat from its many tiny bones declared it was absolutely delicious, and devoured his portion as well as Rob’s. Rob doesn’t do seafood and had come along anyway as a good sport, knowing that seafood would be featured. We brought our own preferred beverages to be safe, and knowing the very traditional Kunas normally don’t drink alcohol. Later we adjourned to the Mar Azul for fresh pineapple and rum cake.

I was treated to a few gifts – a pleasant and totally unexpected surprise – including a DVD, an Oprah magazine, some homemade trail mix – a perfect passage snack- and a box of the coveted Clos wine. Our cruising comrades were most generous and creative with the limited stash they had aboard. We had just met Rob & Sue that evening, but you would have thought we were long time friends. Likewise, we heard on the SSB net of a baby shower being held in another anchorage and cruisers showing up with gifts and good wishes who didn’t even know the parents-to-be. I think cruisers are a really special group of people. We know that our friends today may be gone tomorrow and we should take advantage of the camaraderie of the moment.

One day later we have experienced no ill effects so it appears the Kuna fare agrees with us. Although Bob has changed his mind and probably will not be signing up for the very economical Kuna meal plan. I’m with him. We aren’t used to so many bones in our fish. Guess it’s tough to land the big ones – like mahi and tuna – in their small boats.

Bredio and family wanted to come by the Mar Azul today to drop something off and we invited them aboard for tea, banana bread and apple juice for the kids. He told us more about their lives here, and we gave them a tour of our home. He presented me with a birthday “regalo” (gift) that he had carved himself, a figure of a Kuna chief playing a musical instrument. It was the second time a kind Kuna family had given us a gift, and it brought tears to my eyes.

I will always have a special place in my heart for the warm people in the Islas Robeson and some great birthday memories.


Isla Elsie, known as Tupsuit Pipigua in Kuna, meaning “small long rope”, is home to Bredio’s and eight other families


Rob, Jim, Bob, Jean, Sue & myself seated on Bredio’s patio. His hut is in the background.


The birthday meal, Kuna-style


Bredio and his beautiful family


It’s an upwind paddle back to the island in the family vehicle



  1. Happy belated birthday Elaine. Enjoy San Blas & hope we can catch up soon.

    • Thank you, Captain George. Safe travels to you and crew!!

  2. Happy Birthday Elaine! It sounds like you had a fun and memorable day.

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