Kuna Yala: Porvenir and Uchutupu Pippi

We are currently anchored in Chichime Cays, between Uchutupu
Pippi and Uchutupu Dumat. The position is N 9 degrees 35
minutes, W 78 degrees 53 minutes. These are tiny little
islands, almost totally flat and covered in palm trees with only
two huts on each cay. We just returned from supper at the home
of Raoul on Uchutupu Pippi. Raoul and other members of his
family paddled out to us in their wooden dugout canoe this
afternoon and asked us to dinner — adding that it would cost $4
per person and that the Americans on the catamaran further east
would be joining. We had red snapper and coconut rice while
sitting next to his thatched hut on rough hewn logs. Luckily
the folks on the other boat (“Sol Mate”) brought plates and
forks because that was not supplied. We knew the fish was fresh
because two hours before we ate, Raoul came by in his canoe with
the fish he had caught. It was a great meal under the palms and
we toasted Raoul and his family for their hospitality. But this
is jumping ahead. Let me quickly review that past few days.

Our last two days on the passage from Bonaire were as great as
the first two days. It was windy on Saturday night, as
predicted, but that caused no problems for us as we had reefed
the sails down well before the wind piped up. Sunday morning
the wind eased and shifted north, making our two head sail
configuration inappropriate. So we took down the ballooner
(spinnaker) and big genoa and put away the poles. The boat
slowed considerably but we paid no attention since we were ahead
of schedule. We did not want to come through the opening in the
reefs (“Canal de San Blas”) before 10 am Monday since we need
the sun to be high enough in the sky to illuminate the reefs
hidden just below the surface. After a big lunch we sat in the
cockpit reading the New Yorkers and Newsweeks that my sister
Naomi sent us, not really paying attention to the fact that our
boat speed had dropped to less than 5 knots. Around 5 pm we
spotted a sailboat on the horizon off to starboard and we
conjectured that this could be the German boat “Vera” that we
passed one day out of Bonaire. Laura called on the VHF and sure
enough it was Vera and she was also planning a 10 am entry
though the reefs. I suddenly realized that as we were
pleasantly engaged in reading we had ignored our boat speed. A
quick calculation on the plotter revealed that at our current
speed we would not get to the reef passage until 3 pm!! Thank
goodness the appearance of “Vera” shook us out of our lethargy.
We quickly put the genoa on a pole to windward so that we were
sailing wing-on-wing. That gained us 2 knots immediately and
none too soon as the sun was setting and setting poles on the
foredeck in the dark is not something I relish. The wind picked
up strongly after dark and we sped along briskly, but the
direction was bad and we had to sail well to the south of our
desired course with the sail plan that we had.

The wind stayed strong all night and the seas built, making
sleeping difficult. Early in the morning, we rolled up the
genoa in order to head north towards our destination, sailing
with main and mizzen alone. The wind was so strong, that was
sail enough. We came to the reef opening just after 10 am and
by 11:15 am we were anchored off Porvenir Island, joining “Vera”
in the anchorage. It is hard to believe that Porvenir has an
airport since the island is so tiny. There is a runway the full
length of the island. The runway is a bit wider than a
residential street and it seems to take up about one-third of
the area of the island. There is not only an airport on this
island, but the island is an airport! As we admired the scene a
tiny Cessna wove its way through the sail boat masts and landed.
It is not a good idea to anchor in front of the runway, and
another boat moved when they saw this.

After lunch and a quick snooze, we started to put the dinghy in
the water in order to go ashore and check-in. There is nothing
else to do in Porvenir — just check-in or catch a flight.
There is no village, nor room for one. Britta and Michael
Adlkofer of “Vera” came by to introduce themselves and tell us
not to bother to rush ashore to check-in. This is carnival week
in Panama and the boat check-in agent is off for the week. Come
back on the 26th they were told. We had Britta and Michael
aboard for drinks and snacks. Michael is a professor of
architecture at the University of Hanover, although they live in
Berlin. They are also on a circumnavigation on their 1976 Swan 47.

We finally went ashore just to stretch our legs. We strolled
down the runway, nervously looking back on occasion to check on
landing aircraft. We were surprised to find the “Hotel Porvenir”
and its associated restaurant. To say this was a modest
establishment would be an understatement. We ordered supper —
the only dish available was fish, rice, and beans — and it was
delicious, as was the local brew, Balboa. With drinks, dinner
was $6 per person.

Laura and I slept 10 hours last night. We went to bed as Claus
was starting the movie “Groundhog Day” on the laptop. Perhaps
it is his youth that permits him to get by with so much less
sleep. We motored upwind to Chichime Cay late in the morning.
This is a very pretty place and quiet — the surrounding cays
are too small to have a runway even if they were completely
paved over. We snorkeled the reef in the afternoon (Laura saw a
big spotted ray), and then I went up the mast in the bosuns
chair to fix the foredeck light that had come out of the mast
when we brought the ballooner down. It was nice to have both
Laura and Claus on deck when I went up since I could then have
one of them tend a safety line. It was a great view from up
there and I got the light fixture back in its place and secured
with a wire tie, but the bulb was dead from all the knocking
around and I had forgotten to bring one up with me.

We will return to Porvenir tomorrow afternoon. Thursday, Claus
has a 6:35 am departure from the Porvenir airport to Panama
City. We will he sorry to see him go. Then Laura and I will
explore the dozens of tiny islands of the San Blas archipelago
that lie to the east. This area is known as “Kuna Yala” to its
Kuna Indian inhabitants.