Old but new: Reef, which reef?! – The last part of my visit to the Guna Yala

The departure didn´t proceed as expected. First of all, I failed to get into the boat without getting my shoes wet. In the darkness, I slipped of the edge of the boat wreck used as a kind of quay and stepped into dirty water. At least I hoped it was dirty water. But the fact, that my shoe stank like sewer on an island without canalization contradicted my hopes strongly.

Just when I managed to sit down on my seat, our travel came to an abrupt halt some 200 meters from the island. The cries “Raise the outboards, raise the outboards”, accompanied by loud scratching sounds from under the boat, couldn´t mean anything good. And it didn´t. We hit a small reef. The following three minutes we enjoyed a highly philosophical discussion between the young boat owner and one the older villagers who was aboard. They discussed different realities and time layers as well as our personal perception of those. The point in question: Has the reef always been there or not. The young man insisted on having passed exactly this spot hundreds of times without any accidents. The villager raised the stakes, saying that he passed the place thousands of times and that the reed has been always there. It might have been an interesting discussion for philosophers, but somehow my fellow passengers and I didn´t share this point of view at that moment. Surely, there are better places for that kind of conversation, than a boat stranded in absolute darkness on the very subject of the ongoing discussion.

Thankfully, the effect of the alcoholic Chicha Fuerte drink kept me calm. I decided to try to find move my feet with the stinking shoe as far as possible from my nose – a project doomed to failure due to my not really impressive height of 1,68 meters.

Finally, both came to the agreement that the reef has been always there. The boat started to back off. My shoe continued to stink.

At the coast, one last surprise waited for us. At the customs office, which was a byproduct of the autonomy, a Lieutenant of the Panamanian Army has been left alone by his Guna Yala colleagues. First , there was disappointment. Then, anger followed. He decided to protest against the unreliability of his local colleagues – by work to rule. Every single piece of baggage had to be opened and the content presented in front of him – with an air temperature of well over 30 degrees Celsius. It took only a few minutes to create a respectable traffic jam. Both, tourists and locals tried to conceal their anger and to respond calmly to the questions of the customs officer. Fortunately, a fellow passenger of my taxi saved us. Our driver asked her, which month she was pregnant.


“Ok, eighth it is. Thanks to you, we can proceed to the beginning of the line”. Accompanied by jealous and angry looks, we carried out the plan. Half an hour later we were on our way to Panama City.

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