The Road to Cangandi

22 Feb Alex on the banks of the Cangandi River, Kuna Yala, Panama

So…the trip with Bredio. The Kuna islands are a chain of 365 islands strung out on the coast of the indigenous region of Panamanian jungle which stretches from the canal zone to the Colombian border. There is a mountain range that runs down the coast of Panama, separating the indigenous jungle from the civilized side of Panama.

 

We found ourselves in the very Western portion of Kuna Yala, crammed up against the Panamanian coast in the Robeson Islands. The Kuna indian lifestyle is split between the island villages down in the sea, and the thatched villages high in the mountains. The Kuna split their time between the villages of each province and, each day, Kuna from the sea make their way in dugout canoes, called ulus, to the mainland to gather fresh water, wild produce and building materials such as roof thatching. The island villages are quite accessible to visitors, known as “touristas” locally, and the islanders are therefor used to the bombardment by “gringos.” Surprisingly, Americans are not the most common visitors to the province any more. The local tourists are often mainland Panamanians from the other side of the mountains, as well as Colombians, French and Italians. We have also crossed the paths of Argentians, Brazilians, Australians and Germans.

 

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 Islas Robesons

The last time Greg & Laura were here, they had made the acquaintance of Justino, one of the Kuna from Robeson. It was still early on in the trip, so we weren’t sure if people would remember the Alliance or not but, within ten minutes of dropping the anchor, an ulu came alongside with a message written in Spanish that translated “Hi Greg and Laura! I’m working now, but will come by at 5 when I get done. – Justino” Obviously, they had remembered the big green Colvin from Virginia!

 

The Cangandi river, working our way up to the cayuco landing.

The Cangandi river, working our way up to the cayuco landing.

 

Justino came by as promised and, after visiting with him and his family, we arranged a trip up the Cangandi (SP) River to see one of the mainland villages. This very awesome bit of legwork involved a trip to the Saila, the chief of Isla Gertie, to pay anchorage fees as well as ask permission to use the PANGA, one of the larger, communal boats. A trip was also made to a different island to secure an outboard engine to power the PANGA for the trip upriver, and the plan was for two groups of five to trek into the mountains, as we still had volunteer crew aboard from the delivery.

 

The guys headed upriverBold explorers headed into the jungle

 

The next day, Justino’s brother in law, Bredio, showed up instead and took us up the river Cangandi. I was in the second group, so after spending the morning tooling around Alliance, we boarded the panga around one pm and headed in.

 

The old banana docks, circa 1940The banana docks, circa 1940

 

As soon as we came around the mouth of the river, we started to see signs of ruined enterprise. The pic above shows the old pilings of a substantial wharf. As we continued up river, we saw more signs of a past civilization, inlcluding a narrow gauge railway and an overgrown runway. In fact, the majority of the path that we were to hike to get to the village in the mountains was the old rail bed. Although my Spanish is quite rusty, I have been able to communicate with the Kuna, and Bredio told me that in the early part of the past century, an American corporation came to Kuna Yala and set up banana farms. They hired the Kuna and tried to teach them how to farm the land. This lasted just long enough for the Kuna to figure out they didn’t like the modern way of life, and they no longer had any interest. Some time around 1940, the banana farms were abandoned. The American corporation pulled out; the runway and railway has been left for reclamation.

 

The old airport officeThe old airport office

Bredio on the old runwayBredio on the abandoned runway

 

The old narrow gauge railwayThe old narrow gauge railway over a creek

 

The endeavor was not completely lost however. The leaf cutter ants still use the narrow gauge railway in order to cross a stream that feeds the river.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeafcutter ants using the old narrow gauge as a bridge crossing

 

So off into the jungle we trekked. Past the narrow gauge. Past the leafcutter ants. Past the unnamed lake we called Lago Bredio. Past the 4000′ runway. By the way, it is incredibly handy to have an army ranger candidate around if you ever need to know the length of a random runway in the Panamanian jungle. Two hours we hiked, along the old railbed, before we finally made a turn and headed up a hill. Almost to the crest, we stopped. We were warned; pics of the village and the view, okay. Pics of the people, not cool. We had reached Cangandi. All of a sudden, I had walked onto a National Geographic set. Thatched huts on a mountain top, overlooking terraced gardens. While they do have solar power and, subsequently, radio and tv now, the villages are very primitive. We met the Saili of Cangandi and he allowed us to enter the Congreso to take a break. The Congreso is the communal meeting hall which the Kuna use for special meetings and gatherings. No pictures were allowed inside the Congreso, but below are the pics of the village itself.

 

The two trees lashed together make a press. A Kuna man will bounce up and down on the extended, top tree. In turn, it bounces up and down on the lower branch wedged in the tree. Two Kuna women will then feed sugar cane through the gap between the two trees, squeezing all of the cane juice from the plant. This liquid is used for lots of different beverages but, most importantly, they ferment the sugar cane into the chicha beer that they use for special ceremonies. The Kuna society is a matriarchal society, meaning that everything is dominated by women. The women handle the money and the day to day affairs. One of the biggest reasons to celebrate in the Kuna society is when a young Kuna girl reaches puberty. It is at this point that the girl chooses between modern way of life, long hair, blue jeans and such, or cutting her hair and wearing the traditional garb.

 

Here are the village pics;

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The view from Cangandi

 

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The Cangandi River

 

 

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The Congreso, or communal gathering hut

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The chicha press

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Some of the Kuna huts

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Bredio on the chicha press

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Bredio in the village

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Alex on the Cangandi

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Alex again on the Cangandi river

 

 

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New home construction in Cangandi village

 

That was it.  That last shot was us headed back out of the village, and back to the boat.  I’m sorry for the curtailed end of the description…time is short for me here.  We are now in Portobelo.  I have a limited amount of time here at Captain Jack’s (Awesome, by the way) in order to blog, make phone calls and download the weatherfax data for the upcoming trip to Providencia.  We arrived here Thursday.  We haul back and head for Providencia Monday.  It’s a Columbian island off the coast of Nicaragua, 250 miles to the North.  It is also the third largest barrier reef in the world.  A couple of weeks of diving there, and then it is off to Honduras and then the states.  I’ve got a ton more photos and info to post….Portobelo is awesome.  Francis Drake is buried here.  We’re going diving tomorrow…I’m finishing my burger and then headed to Panama Divers to arrange the trip.  There are old forts and ruins.  Portobelo was the primary port for the export of Inca gold back to Spain, and was once captured and held by the pirate, Henry Morgan.  More on that later, though.  I hope you enjoyed the pics and update.  Ciao for now!

 

- CC

 

 

Last Night in San Blas

19 Feb

Anchored in Chichime.  One World is here.  0530 turn to for coffee and a 0600 haulback.  Underway for Portobelo.  3 days or so there before departure for Providencia.  Arriving in Guanaja on or about 12 March.  Departing 17 March for the US of A, with a rough arrival on the bay somewhere about 30 March.  Spot is live.  Let’s kick it.

- CC

Last Night in San Blas

19 Feb

Anchored in Chichime.  One World is here.  0530 turn to for coffee and a 0600 haulback.  Underway for Portobelo.  3 days or so there before departure for Providencia.  Arriving in Guanaja on or about 12 March.  Departing 17 March for the US of A, with a rough arrival on the bay somewhere about 30 March.  Spot is live.  Let’s kick it.

- CC

Let’s Roll

17 Feb

3 days.  3 more days and we start the month long trek home.  First stop; Portobelo and, hopefully, first world internet.

Quick Update

4 Feb

I’m in a “bar” in Elefante, in the Lemon Cays.  Actually, I’m at a grass hut that happens to have a shaky internet connection and a very large stereo.  I had planned on a second post about the trip with Bredio up the river, but the internet is just too unreliable to post pictures and information of any size.  It took me forty five minutes just to check my email.  I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging though, so a quick update.

We are in Lemon Cays, headed to Porvenir this afternoon to tuck up in the mangroves so we can paint the hull of the ship.  Our next set of guests arrive Monday in Carti.  We will be leaving the San Blas on the 20th, bound for Portobelo.  I am told that that is a proper city, so I should have proper internet there.  I will be doing a bunch of diving, as well as uploading anything and everything I have to bring you guys up to speed.  The departure from San Blas will bring the slow return home…first Portobelo, then Isla Providencia and finally Guanaja before heading back to the states.  Panama, Columbia then Honduras.

In the meantime, I am short a camera.  My GoPro fried my microSD, which a quick internet search revealed to be a common problem.  I am hoping to pick up another card in Panama City…Laura is headed in Friday.  I am not sure if I am going…if I do, I’ll update the blog then.  If I don’t then I’ll send some money for a card with whoever does go in.

Greg’s getting ancy.  Time to get back to work.  We met some cool people on Drummer and One World.  I’ll be spending my nights typing up blogs and saving them locally, in anticipation of posting them at the first opportunity.  Sorry for the brevity.  Time to roll.

- CC

Beware the fertile ants.

25 Jan

 

Well…it’s been a while. We don’t carry satellite comms on Alliance, so internet has to be begged and borrowed from the locals in a place where power was only first introduced a year ago, and indoor plumbing does not exist any where in the 365 islands. I’m speaking, of course, of Kuna Yala.

 

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Rewind a few weeks. We left Cape Charles, Virginia on Christmas Eve, heading out late in the afternoon. We cleared the colregs line bound for sea and broke into watches for the first time at 18:00, with alpha watch assuming the ship. A watch was made up of Laura as the watch officer, myself and cousin Will as the deckhands. The watch schedule was to be a Swedish watch, wherein we would start at 0700 with two sixes followed by three fours. This meant a minimum of 8 hours off watch, with a 12 hour break every three days, and it was AMAZING. Unlike my past trips where I slowly got more and more tired, I always felt rested and well this trip. The first three days we met mild rolling seas, and half of the crew was plagued with seasickness. Of 10, six of us were offshore veterans, with four making their first trek into the wild blue. All told, we made the 1700 miles from Cape Charles straight to Cayo Holandais in 12 days, clocking multiple 200+ (nautical) mile days.  We faced very mild weather with nothing extreme to speak of.  Fishing was also excellent, with A watch being the proper fishing watch.

Will's first mahi!

Will’s first mahi!

As was the case last time, the night watches were the most amazing ever, and many times I couldn’t help smiling wildly in a moment of pure bliss.  It was odd to me to suddenly be completely overcome with a feeling of happiness, and I liked it. I now know many more stars and constellations than ever before, thanks to Laura. It was truly enjoyable to stand watch with her as officer. A few of my future posts will be direct transcriptions of my journal posts at sea.

 

Alliance at anchor in the Robeson Islands

Alliance at anchor in the Robeson Islands

 

Having arriven in Kuna Yala, we spent the first night in Cayo Holandais before pulling anchor and moving over to Porvenir in order to clear customs. After some minor paperwork issues involving proving that the volunteer crew was departing Panama once they left the ship, we went for our first local meal ashore and retired for the night. The next morning saw us to Las Islas Robeson, where we met Justino, a local Kuna guide who had served as a guide to Greg & Laura on their last visit. After arranging a trip for the next day, we once again retired. I should mention Eno hammocks. They are awesome. I have not used my bunk since we arrived in the San Blas. The Kuna sleep in hammocks, and I am doing a fine job of living like the locals do.

The crew looking out for the Robesons

The crew looking out for the Robesons

 

 

The next day, Bredio arrived (Justino’s brother in law) and we promptly set out in a giant ulu canoe headed up the Cangandi River. (Pronounced Khan Ghan Dee) I’ll continue the story of the trip with Bredio in the next post. For the time being, I am writing this in a hostel in Carti Sugdub known as the Carti Homestay. The proprietor of this fine establishment, Eulogio Perez, is an excellent host. Again, Laura & Greg have been here before, and he remembers them from the past. 2000 people make their home on the tiny island of Carti Sugdup. The volunteer crew have departed. They have been excellent shipmates, and it is nice to have made three new friends of the seagoing variety.

The volunteer crew departing Kuna Yala via panga.

The volunteer crew departing Kuna Yala via panga.

I am now in Panama City on a provisioning trip with Laura.  Our first guests arrive this coming Tuesday.  She and I will make the trek back through the jungle this afternoon, and will be back in Kuna Yala aboard Alliance by sundown.  We’re currently anchored in Carti, and we’ll haul back and head for Corazon de Jesus some time tomorrow.  Theoretically, I SHOULD have internet on the boat now…I’ve secured a smart phone with which to tether my computer and, although the network is a spotty microwave repeater that is prone to downtime, the cruisers all have net via this same process.  Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to post straight from the boat before too long, and then I can get the massive backlog of blogs and photos going.  There are more photos on my facebook as well as that of the Alliance facebook page.

Alliance way outside at Naghandup.

Alliance way outside at Naghandup.

 

Right….Almost forgot; the fertile ants.  So…we make this plan to go trekking in to the jungle with Bredio to see a mainland village (pics on facebook, blog post describing the trip is the next one to be posted) and Jim says to me “beware the fertile ants.”  Or at least, that is what I thought he said.  Jim was one of the volunteer crew.  He has sailed Alliance before as a relief captain, and he has extensive experience around the world as an unlimited ocean’s master and as a pilot.  He has also spent a considerable amount of time in Panama, having done the canal run many, many times.  He is a great guy with awesome sea stories.  He is quite amusing and prone to laughter so, when he gets real serious and tells me to beware, I tend to take him rather seriously.  Somehow though, I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.

Leaf cutter ants, which may or may not be fertile.  No one knows for sure.

Leaf cutter ants, which may or may not be fertile. No one knows for sure.

I have never heard of a fertile ant.  He tells me they are very territorial, but they don’t mark their territory.  If you inevitably stumble in to their territory, they will jump out of the bushes to chase you almost indefinitely, and their bite can be deadly.  Now, at this point in the conversation, I have a picture in my head of a massive, pissed off, ant in heat chasing my unknowing white ass through the Panamanian jungle in an attempt to kill me.  I’ve lived a sheltered life in America, and I’m used to hearing stories of all types of critters that are out to get me when visiting other countries.  I gather myself a little and ask “Can’t you just step on it if it gets too close?,” to which I get the reply “No!  They’re fast!  It’ll bite you and kill you!”  I replied “It’s an ant!  How fast can they be?”

It is at this point in the story that all parties met with confusion.  I was confused.  Jim was even more confused.  “It’s a snake!,” he proclaimed.  “What do you mean ant?!?”

B. asper, or the fer-de-lance snake.  Pic courtesy of wikipedia with Casper S listed as the photographer.  From http://bit.ly/1boVQEU

B. asper, or the fer-de-lance snake. Pic courtesy of wikipedia with Casper S listed as the photographer. From http://bit.ly/1boVQEU

You see….it turns out that fertile ants and fer-de-lance sound a lot alike.  He was trying to warn me of a venomous territorial pit viper, not a horny ant.  We all had a good laugh, and now I have to keep an eye out for ants AND kamikaze pit vipers.  Thanks for reading!  I’ll post more soon.

 

 

- CC

 

24 Dec

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Last minute preps before departure.  Off of VA Beach now.  Just came down off watch.  Last post til Panama.  Catch you in a few weeks!

- CC

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