Wednesday, at noon on the 19th of October, we left Gunboat Island the same way we arrived, by cautiously crossing the sand bar which marks the westward side of the triangular atoll. We followed our recorded track in and once again cleared without difficulty, seeing a minimum depth of around fifteen feet. We set our course in a westward direction to visit the Carti Islands, among the busiest and most densely populated of all of San Blas. During certain times of the year, cruise ships anchor nearby allowing passengers to visit the villages. The four islands which make up the island group are Tupile, Yandup, Sugdup, and Muladup. We anchored just to west of Sugdup in 50 feet of water.
We hadn’t been anchored long when “John,” one of the members of the tribe on Sugdup, came by and sat for a chat on the transom steps. He had just returned from working on the mainland. Most Guna men arise shortly before sunrise and paddle the half-mile to the mainland in their ulus (dugout canoes), arriving at first light. They then may have an additional hour of walking inland to spend the day harvesting bananas, fruits, coconuts, firewood and sugarcane. Around one o’clock they return home for the day. It was around 2 p.m., when John said hello to us from his ulu on his way home from work. He invited us to dock our dinghy at his house dock on Sugdup. There he would show us around the island for a fee. He spoke decent English and seemed like a truly nice guy, so we took him up on the offer.
After docking, we walked through his home, in which he has a hotel upstairs. He also runs tours to the island. He escorted us up and down the narrow lanes of the village, past the traditional huts of the Guna, which consisted of walls made of cane held together with vines or twine, and roofs made of a special palm branch from the mainland. The floors of their dwellings are dirt and the only furnishings are hammocks and perhaps a chair or two. As we walked along, children played in the street while Guna women sat in their doorways hoping to sell their handicrafts, especially molas. We walked passed the “congresso” or meeting house in which most every night the village meets together for some time. The sailas, or chiefs (there are usually three on each island, with one being the superior) will recline in hammocks situation in the center of the meeting hall. The sailas often sing long, sacred songs about their ancestors and past exploits. Tribe members will be given time to voice their complaints or grievances before retiring to their homes in the evening. The Guna are obviously very communal people.
Our “tour” also included a stop at the Guna Museum, where the overseer gave us a 30-minute lecture on Guna culture and spirituality. The kuna religion consists of a complex system of chants and other gestures of appeasement used by the medicine man and by a group of people to control evil spirits. The evils are thought to reside in storms, rocks, and animals. Our lecturer told how a snake stole his spirit earlier in the day and he has to see the medicine man to get it back. There is also much reliance on the inumerable small wooden dolls (“nachos”) which are carved in human form and animal form, of different sizes, specialized in treating disease.
For the most part, we were stricken with the comparative poverty of the Guna with many other westerners. However, standing in contrast to the stark living conditions, were numerous anachronistically placed satellite dishes. It seems that most homes have satellite TV! All electrical power comes from generators on the island. Many also may have cell phones. We have actually been able to use our cell phones since arriving in Gunboat Island. As we’ve proceeded westwardly through Guna Yala, we come closer and closer to civilization and more densely populated areas, hence the better cellular service. We had gone eleven days with no wifi or cellular service. There is still no wifi, but cellular has been restored, which was nice since we’ve been able to message family and friends. Another grand realization dawned on us this evening: We realized we haven’t eaten a meal “out” in twelve days. For those of you who know us well, you know that is a definite all-time record. We like to eat out a lot, and usually do. However, our food has lasted well, and we’ve eaten very well over the last two weeks.
The next morning, Thursday, we would weigh anchor and travel to our next destination in San Blas, one with considerably less inhabitants.