Old but new: The first part of my visit to the Guna Yala

Never before have I been that near to my idea of the Paradise on Earth. Tropical islands in the Caribbean, an archipelago counting over 360 islands, only 50 of them inhabited. The San Blas Archipelago is a real beauty. Coconut palms, sun, beaches. Panama is much more than the Canal and all the Banks.

But some 300 meters from the first inhabited island that we approached something seemed wrong. It was surrounded by watch towers. A prison? Pirate raids? Conflicts between the islands? After closing further in, it became clear that it was none of it. The impressive defense towers turned into simple privies, children playing in the water between them. This was the island that moved furthermost towards the Western civilization ideal: It had a small bank, a small university, a small airstrip, internet access, a Friendship Bridge to the neighbor island, a lot of waste and dirty water – everything you need…

Fortunately, we only changed the boat there. “We” included the 50 years old Beira and a friend of hers. I met them on the way to the small landing pier from which our boat left. The taxi that brought us there was filled with five locals and one Polish gringo. The driver needed only a few sentences to leave Beira in charge of my visit:

Driver to me: Where are you headed?

I: To the Isla Tigre.

Driver: Do you know how to get there? Have you a place to stay?

I: No and no. I wanted to take care of it as it comes.

Driver to Beira: You are going to Isla Tigre, aren´t you? Why don´t you take him with you.

Even before the poor woman had time to realize what was happening to her, she found herself being forced into inviting me to spend the time with her family. Actually, I even tried to help her by saying that I had everything under control, but it was too late. By pure accident I got my very own local travel guide. As it turned out, she was even the daughter of one of the village elders.

A few hours later we arrived on the Isla Tigre. To show some gratitude, I decided to invite Beira and her friend to the only restaurant on the island. I ordered fried fish. I got fried liver. As compensation. The only dish that I really hate. The restaurant on the island was out of fish. They decided not to inform their clients about the small change to avoid unnecessary stress. I bit happily and smilingly into the alleged fish. The first impression you leave is important, so I forced myself to eat everything up – with a frozen smile in the face and tears of “happiness” in my eyes. I hope that the inventor of ketchup will be canonized.


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