Sometimes one must recover before moving forward.
After a harrowing sail for 36 hours (which was supposed to take 27 hours), we stopped short of Bocas Del Toro and snuck into Bluefield Bay (Laguna de Bluefield) in the wee hours on the morning of December 28th. I was never happier to feel the calm waters carrying the boat into that bay. We didn't make it to Bocas but we made it to a safe place and that was good enough. It had been raining with squalls non stop on our sail and we were fighting wind and currents. It would be raining for 2 more days non stop. But this anchorage was well protected and the calm after the storm was very welcome. After 36 hours of no sleep, barely any food and seasickness, we slept, ate and rested. Once rested we checked over the boat and tidied up the wet mess.
Our home for the next three days was named for Blauvelt, a Dutch pirate who explored its shores in the 1630s. There were villages dotting the shores and dugout canoes or kayukas were paddling around the bay in all weather and occasionally would come alongside our boat. They were paddled by young girls or boys. At first they’d just sit along side our boat staring at us not saying a word. Eventually we’d be asked to buy a coconut, papaya or maybe bananas. And otherwise we would be asked for clothes, shoes, boots, hats and rice. Our Spanish definitely improved after a few days of this. Giving away things was difficult as we had packed with the bare minimum and because we were only just starting our trip. We really didn't know what we would need and what we could easily do without. I'm sure there will be more opportunities to be more generous but the boys both gave away t-shirts that they were likely never going to wear. As the days went on, we had a lot of kayukas come by.
These were the Ngobe Indians. They are the largest indigenous group in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago and form 64% of the national Indian population in Panama. They live in huts built on stilts, near rivers or valleys where they fish, hunt, raise dogs, cattle, chickens and pigs. In Bluefield Bay, there were different villages all around the bay. Families seemed spread out throughout the villages with cousins living at one village and grandparents at another. On New Years Day the families all got together. These were big gatherings with motored boats, called Pangas, constantly going back and forth between the villages full of people, all day long.
We were anchored just off the village of Puente de Allègre. The village had a store which sold things as random as sewing kits, cereal, school supplies, clothes and eggs. Sometimes only a few of any one thing. And I think some of it came from unsuspecting boater donations. The store was narrow and dark as there is no electricity in the village. The goods were behind glass in cases or on shelves behind the counter. There was one pig and a calf. The calf had been rejected by his mother and I’m not sure what the pig’s story was but they guarded the store and scrounged for food. The calf even tried to eat through our cereal box.
Brian had been to the village to get gas and made friends with the village elder who knew how to speak English quite well. His name was Johnny. On New Years Day, the boys and I went to visit Johnny while Brian was dealing with engine problems. He was serious and proud and sat with his four grandchildren surrounding him. His home was simple but you could tell he had some money because he had tiles on his floor and could afford Christmas presents for the children. The youngest girls, 4 & 6, showed us their presents proudly. They were all still wrapped up in their boxes and hadn’t been played with yet. Each little girl got a simple plastic doll and a box of plastic food. They told me what each food was in Spanish and I told them what each was in English. We were given fresh baked coconut johnny cakes and orange juice. They apologized for the juice not being cold as they had no refrigeration. I felt bad eating the food as I’m sure they just had enough for the family visiting on this holiday day. But they insisted and we didn’t want to be rude.
Their house was a rectangle shape about 400 sq ft. In the back left there was a bar hung from the ceiling with children’s fancy clothes hung from it. Underneath was a bed. To the right was a kitchen which consisted of a couple of shelves for dishes and a small sink and counter. In the middle was a door to the outdoors with a parrot in a cage sitting on a stone wall. We sat in the living room area. There was a couch, a chair and another bed. To the right of us was the entrance and a dining room table and a pine Christmas tree, which surprised us! All was neat and tidy.
Our walk back to the boat took us through the entire village. Laundry was hanging on lines everywhere. Chickens were roaming around, which made Cam miss his chickens, and dogs were aplenty and very skinny. Most families lived in wooden huts on stilts facing the beach. They all hung out of windows and doorways watching us walk by. Some stopped to talk to us and when I wished them a Happy New Year in Spanish I was rewarded with a big smile a shake of the hand a hug and kiss on the cheek. Such friendly people and so curious. The younger generation would laugh at us and try figure out if Casey was a boy or girl with his crazy man bun. One dad actually got me to take a photo of his daughter Casey and our Casey. They were the same age with the same name. Little did we know then, that they thought he was a girl too.
Later that day we got visited by two of the older kids from the village. They brought us potatoes, came on board, charged their cell phone (yes! they had a cell phone) and they wouldn’t leave. They were a boy and girl, cousins, 19 and 21. They had me taking photos of them as they posed like models on top of the Dodger on the boat. They were great and very friendly but eventually we had to get them home so we towed them. We in our dinghy and them in their canoe.
Meanwhile Brian had found a temporary solution to our alternator problem, being the MacGyver that he is. The weather was also supposed to be good the next day so we went to fill up the gas tanks and prepared to leave in the morning for Bocas Del Toro. A trip that would take 6 hours.