South America or Bust

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
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Trip End Dec 22, 2011


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Flag of Colombia  , Chocó,
Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sleeping on an uninhabited island is the most authentic way to discover to the Caribbean.   We built a campfire, cooked dinner, roasted marshmallows and then drank rum concoctions from fresh coconuts.   One tiny detail exists though regarding the coconuts in Kuna territory.   They use them for currency and their trade is highly regulated by their autonomous government.   A group of Kunas showed up on the far side of our island to watch our comings and goings as well as to sell us coconuts.   Illegal it is for any non-Kuna to take a coconut from the ground or tree even on an island void of development.   And a side note for anyone wishing to recreate the coconut drinks at home…young, smooth, green coconuts yield the most water which is one of the best rehydration fluids nature provides.   As they turn brown, coconuts contain less water but more meat.   Obviously the green ones are prime for mixing beachside cocktails.

Shortly after sunset some sketchy Colombians arrived via speedboat on our island and settled in with the three Kuna men on the far end.   We got the impression these Colombians were probably trafficking drugs with the Kuna aid.   Of course we could only hope their end of the island would prove more interesting than ours and hold their attention down that way.

Sometime during the night the wind picked up and tested the stability of my tent while I was sound asleep.   I had only laid the tent on the ground and didn’t secure it into the sand.   A gust picked up my tent and flipped it in all its flimsiness.   The blue tarp hanging over it wrapped around the upside down tent and this whole mess came to a rest with the zipper door face down in the sand.   Thinking the Colombians had invaded my tent to snatch my organs or something,  I was grasping frantically for anything I could get my hands on in the dark.   After a few minutes I came to and realized what was actually happening.     

Needless to say Colombian drug lords were not after me, and I reassembled my waterfront condo, albeit this time with gallon jugs of water to weight down the corners.   The commotion snapped one of the guys who had hung his hammock nearby from his sound sleep.  Somehow his tee shirt had wrapped itself around his head, and his only view was of dark cotton.   He, too, thought the Colombians were attacking until he was fully awake and could see this was just my thrashing around inside the overturned tent.  

Sunrise came a few hours later and much to my relief no organ harvesting had occurred anywhere on our private island.   The Colombians had long moved on under the cover of night and we once again had the island to ourselves and those three Kuna coconut pickers.

We set off direction Colombia and hit the seas for about two hours to uninhabited Pina Island for more swimming and snorkeling.   Some Kunas came ashore in their dugout canoes and watched over our festivities.   Fifty cents would send one guy 30 feet into a tree to harvest a coconut on demand.   The others let us try out one of their dugout canoes and I successfully paddled around the lagoon.   The Kunas move around so effortlessly while we white folks wobble around the water, and a few guys even capsized.   The canoes are carved from a tree trunk as is the very heavy paddle.

The last stretch of the journey was another two hour ride over mostly open waters.   The Sapzurra harbor was a welcome sight after being pounded for two hours by large swells.   I know we must have looked like some sort of boat people refugees after three days out at sea.  With boats the only connection to the outside world, this town just over the Panamanian really is the end of the line literally for Colombian territory.   Machine gun toting soldiers checked our bags on arrival but we have yet to check into Colombia at an immigration post.   We will accomplish this tomorrow at neighboring Capurgana as I wind my way up the coast with eight others  I’ve been traveling with the past few days.

Sometime after dark the power in the entire town went out and minutes later about 30 soldiers ran by us wielding machine guns.   Turns out a training exercise coincidentally coincided with the exact time the town was switching power generators, but after the organ harvesting scare of last night, one can never be too sure what happens under the cover of night.

How I got here:

Iguana Island to Pina Island – 2 hours by boat
Pina Island to Sapzurra, Colombia dock– 2 hours by boat
Dock to Dona Triny Hotel – One minute by foot

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