Today, we will have lunch on the Kuna island again. We will have the same menu as yesterday, and – if we would have been Kunas – as everyday. But we are no Kunas. Tomorrow we will have lunch in an American foodcourt eating french fries and hamburgers. Tomorrow the Kuna will eat fried fish, coconut rice and potatoes.
Yesterday we discovered this island with only one palmtree on it, and decided to go there. After making absolutely sure it was no hallucination, Dan, Karina and I took the dinghy and rowed up to the tiny isle. One single palmtree, standing firmly in the middle of the island, surrounded by sparse grasses… one single palmtree – it’s amazing. It’s unique (fortunately it was the only one-palmtree-island we’ve seen) and it makes us feel good. One single palmtree – I feel like my philosophical Self is coming back. That singleton right there in the center of the universe it is defining by its very act of existing, that unique object it is defining a multitude of perspectives. Any given location in the universe of one-palmtree-island is distinguishable from any other location exactly through the viewpoint it has with respect to the single palm tree. The palm tree shows a different side to any location on the island. Every location has its own single palmtree. There are uncountably many palmtrees on the island. Everywhere you look you see a different palmtree. You must get mad when you live here, seeing all those different palmtrees every day. In fact, if we’d let a typical human being inhabit the one-palmtree-island, he will most probably – cut down the palmtree.
Rowing back, Dan sees something very big moving in the water. We take brave Karina, who is swimming while we row and chatter, we take her back in the boat and row to shore fast. It could have been a shark. We heard stories. A guy in Panama will tell us that he went snorkeling on the San Blas islands and saw a hammerhead shark at some three meters distance. He had been extremely lucky, according to his captain. He could have been torn apart and eaten for lunch. After all, just like us, hammerhead sharks love some variation of nutrients.
It’s a mellow afternoon. DJ basks in his brilliant Britishness playing cricket with small coconut sprouts I throw towards him and a palm branch. I talk about math with Karina who is going to study it. I try to build a makeshift raft but fail dramatically at it. It falls apart before it even floats. Doesn’t matter. We sail to another Kuna island where Fabien takes care of the immigration. We will sail overnight to Portobello, Panama. I skip dinner to avoid seasickness and retreat in my berth for the final night at sea.
Our immigration is delayed one day for reasons of no importance. Meanwhile, we set sail to another Kuna island where we anchor on a nice spot and relax yet another beautiful day long. There are a few Kuna families living on this island, and the deal is that they cook us lunch. Before that we undertake a tour rowing the dinghy to a tiny island with only six palm trees on it, where we hang out for a while, simply enjoying the smallness of the island and the sun on our heads. The sky gets darker though, and soon we are embraced by heavy rain soaking our clothes. Karina and I decide to swim to a shipwreck we’ve discovered that morning. We proceed slowly because of the reef and treacherous rocks scratching our knees and ankles. The sun burns my shoulders, that have turned red like a lobster. Strong waves keep throwing us back onto the coral as we close in on the rusty vessel. I swallow too much seawater. Eventually we manage to climb on the wreckage from the back, where the waves strap and flood the stern, and begin to explore it. Hanging on a rope I find on the deck and tie to a pivot I look in the hull of the ship. It’s filled with dirty inky water, some wood is floating on it. I can’t see anything interesting when I dangle on that rope, enlarging my pupils to suit the darkness of the bilge. The engine room is not accessible. We don’t find human remains or sharks feasting on it. I keep dangling for a little while and then climb up the deck again. It still smells like oil here so the wreck is young. That’s right, the Kunas explain us later. It’s a Kuna fisher boat that stranded only one month ago. We climb into the cabin and confiscate the rugged Panamanian flag earlier ransacking has miraculously left on the steering wheel.
At lunchtime, we gather on the Kuna island for lunch. The Kunas serve us delicious fried fish, coconut rice, and boiled potatoes. I keep looking at the little pig that walks around freely and is allowed – after the dog – to lick the pot. I like pigs. The way they are kept here is so much better than what “we” westerners do, putting them away in cages where they can hardly move, far from the allegedly critical eye of the consumer. The pig as part of the family, I like that. The innocent little pig wagging its curly tail reminds us of our own cruelty. Yes, we will slaughter the pig, but at least we relate to our own natural cruelty as omnivorous hunters. It will allow us to limit our own cruelty rather than artificially eliminate it, and that’s a far less dangerous definition of humaneness than the hysterical anti-cruelty vows taken on the verge of hypocrisy.
May 18. Exploring an island with six palmtrees and a shipwreck. was originally published on Meandering home
We get up with the sunrise and row back to the Koala. It’s only 8am when we have some breakfast and sail for some ten minutes to another island we readily agree to call “Monkey Island 2”. This time, we start building shelters. DJ swiftly erects some fragile structure with palmleaves and a flagpole with his t-shirt, making him the official emperor of the island. I start digging some holes in the sand because I have bigger plans. It is my German part – pardon me – that plays up and wants to throw DJ off the trone by building a larger Speerian monumental dome. Two thick treetrunks, a connecting stick and an array of interwoven palmleaves as a skewed wall – that’s all. The German engineer läßt grüßen. Jawohl. The structure I have created is inmediately dubbed “prison” for its ruggedness. I slam my feet together in jest and lift my arm just like a saluting teuton soldier. Should we destroy it afterwards as a sign of courtesy towards the next visitors, since they deserve to “discover” the same pristine pureness as we did.
In the afternoon, we move on. I steer the boat for a little while, which is harder than it seems. We have to go straight west, 270 degrees, exactly towards the sun to reach the archipelago’s westernmost island where we do immigration tomorrow. Fabien, our captain, tells us he once sailed manually from Curaçao, where he had bought the Koala, all the way back to Cartagena because the autopilot belt was broken. It’s a tough job. But our captain is a tough sailor. He has done three Atlantic crossings, one of which solo, which is not a bad track record.
We anchor in front of an island with huts on it and antennas on the rooftops. A Kuna with picks us up with his canoe, and we can look around their little town. A Colombian fisher boat from Cartagena has docked to load coconuts, the main source of Kuna sustainance.
It is our money they like the most of us. The streets are full of vendors praising their embroidery. Others are asking a dollar (the official currency in Panama) for a photograph. But I’m not a sack of money, not this time. I enter the island with empty pockets and speak to a man with a boat and an “Orlando pirate” cap. He tells me something about his village. 600 People live here, more ore less traditionally. Their canoes are built only recently (some 15 years ago) and the outboard engines that are mounted on their wooden sterns are a sign of pragmatism, not a disloyalty to their traditional culture.
Some kids are playing basketball and I wouldn’t have been me if I wouldn’t have joined them. So I dribble barefoot away between those smiling kids and place some shots in the basket. One kid has an excellent throw and manages to put the ball in from the side, several times. Will he play for the Panamenian national team, one day? Would that be possible? I don’t know how Panamenian the Kuna indians feel. I know they have a remarkably high grade of independence for a tribe. They are in charge of their own islands. American and French entrepreneurs have tried to buy some islands to exploit them golfcourtwise, but failed. It gives us all a good feeling. Paradise is protected by irrevocable jurisdiction here.
May 17. Of huts and coconuts. was originally published on Meandering home