Kuna and Karma

Kuna houses - Image what this view would cost elsewhere in the world!

Kuna houses – Image what this view would cost elsewhere in the world!

One of the Kuna fishermen cut his foot while out on the panga. The three fishermen in the boat turned towards the anchored cruising yachts for aid. Like us, many cruisers carry an extensive first aid kit. And, I mean extensive. We carry it for times just like this. Being very isolated here, self preservation is our first line of defense. It didn’t take long before the VHF radio crackled with the anchored busy-bodies wanting to know the details. “There is a Kuna man going from boat to boat looking for drugs” one lady reported clearly demonstrating she was not up to speed on anything factual. Someone else responds with, “He has a pretty bad cut and is looking for help”.

The Kuna with the cut received the necessary medical care he needed from cruising couples. He then sat back in the Panga with his foot raised on the ice-chest. Selling the days catch the other two fellows paddled their way about the anchorage. Going back to their island without peddling the fish wasn’t an option. A full day of labor in the hot sun is not going to waste because of a cut foot. We followed the story as it unfolded on the VHF radio. This is the equivalent in our world to a viral story on the internet. The Kuna went to the area called the Swimming Pool where boats crowd together. We tend to anchor away from crowds. We are located on the backside of the island from this anchorage and are thoroughly enjoying a little solitude. We thought we might be immune to the drama.

About an hour later, a soft “hola” is barely heard from outside of the boat. We are inside. There it is again, “hola”. I pop up to see who is here. For some reason, I always feel a bit like a prairie dog when I pop up out of the companionway hatch to see who has arrived. It is the three fishermen, including the guy with the cut foot, who have now arrived at our location on the backside of the island. By this time he has  learned to play the empathy card, and does so very well. “I hurt myself catching fish. You do want to buy some fish, don’t you?” He must also be a good football player (soccer) because he has the dramatic painful face used to get a free-kick.  He is emoting with the plea of us buying the fish. Cindy looks at gauze and bandage on his foot and asks if he has a clean one for the next day. He says he doesn’t and she tells him to wait. She returns with a packet of sterile gauze and new bandages for the next few days. She also gives him some Ibuprofen as he is saying it hurts. If his cut gets worse they will transport him to a clinic by panga to one of the more inhabited islands with a clinic that is near the mainland a couple of hours away by boat.

Already taking some meat out of the freezer earlier, we felt bad about turning away the fishermen without buying anything. So, we asked them to come back the next day and agreed we’d buy something then. They ask us how big of a fish we would like. This puzzles me a little bit. All smiles, they departed and we felt good we were able to do our part in helping a person in need.

The next afternoon the men return with a nice size snapper. Now I understand why they ask about the size we wanted. They saved us one. We knew they would come back. The Kuna are first-class fishermen and never return empty handed.  It helps the reefs surrounding the islands are alive with marine life. The boat crew was missing the guy with the cut. They said he is being lazy back on the island. We enjoyed fish tacos for dinner. Yum!

I can’t help but think how differently this would have unfolded in the USA. For bad cuts, people will go to an urgent care facility or hospital. One thousand dollars later… As I start to write this, I realize I am in too good of a mood and I just do not want to go any further on this subject of American healthcare. I would like to point out however, we are way outside of the 911 (999) zone. Yesterday, I was using a super sharp blade. It’s a folding knife utilizing titanium surgical blades we use to cut rope. Mumbling to myself to be extra careful, I try hard not to stab myself. A small accident out here can have dire consequences. This is the harsh reality of being in the boondocks.

Chief Victor returned with some more bananas and avocados. This time he didn’t want any money. Apparently, he had run out of sugar at the house and was looking to trade. I can hear the conversation in my head between him and his wife, “Honey, we are out of sugar for the banana bread. Get in the ulu and go get me some please.” Sugar is the one thing we don’t keep very much of on Cream Puff since neither one of us uses it unless a recipe specifically calls for some. We figured if we kept a cup and gave him the rest we’d still have plenty to last. He looked very grateful and was probably relieved he didn’t have to paddle all the way around the other side of Banedup Island where the bulk of the boats are located.

Two young ladies came along side in a dinghy. One spoke English. She explained their boat had an engine issue. We had met them a couple of weeks ago in Linton Bay marina as they were docked near us. The two guys on the boat managed to fix the engine but used all their oil in the process and their plans were to sail to Colombia. Now they are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no oil. They asked if they could buy oil from us. Oil is something of which we always have aboard. If an engine has oil that is somehow contaminated with saltwater, the procedure to fix it (so long as it hasn’t been too long) is to flush the engine with oil several times until the milky appearance of the oil subsides and the oil stays looking fresh. This can take a few gallons of oil and is the main reason we have plenty of oil aboard. And, we have the added factor we are often in the middle of nowhere when doing the engine maintenance. I sold them two gallons knowing I can replace it when we get to the Panama mainland again. They looked relieved and thankful. I hope they made it to Colombia okay.

On the morning net a cruiser announced his hydraulic steering had malfunctioned. He arrived in the anchorage late last night in route from Colombia. A net is a morning radio check-in set at a specific time on a specific radio channel. It is usually on the shorter range VHF radio.  Because of the sheer size the geography of the San Blas encompasses, the net here is transmitted on a high frequency or single side band (SSB) radio. The SSB has the capability of broadcasting and receiving for hundreds of miles. We don’t often check in on nets but sometimes we’ll listen to see if anyone needs anything. On this particular morning, Charlie on the vessel with failed hydraulics was asking if anyone with a knowledge of hydraulics to contact him. Later in the day, I realize Charlie’s boat is anchored close to ours. On the way back from a snorkel, we stopped by. I don’t know much about hydraulic systems since Cream Puff doesn’t have any. However, I do have an extensive tool set and made an offer to Charlie should he need to borrow anything. Charlie told us he had isolated the problem to a rubber seal and had patched it. We carry a few one foot square sheets of rubber should we need to cut out a replacement gasket or seal. Charlie declined our offer as he seemed quite certain his patch was going to hold.

Karma on a boat is a way of life. We help out others without question. This is what good cruisers do. If a cruiser in dire need required our last spare part to get them going again, it’s theirs. Sadly, a few people on shoestring budgets will sometimes take advantage of cruisers and their generosity. It is a bit of a shame to see this. We do not see it much in here but quite often in the Bahamas boats looking very unseaworthy begged for parts on the net. It is not often we are asked for help so we are always willing to do what we can for others. Going from boat to boat on a dinghy or making a call for help on the radio is usually the last resort for most cruisers. We are a group of people who like to take care of ourselves. It is reassuring to know others are willing to help should we find ourselves in need while out in the wilderness.

I have always thought karma plays an important part of life. A lesson learned firsthand when I entered the corporate world will explain why. Roll the clock back quite a few years ago; I showed up very late for an important business appointment because I stopped to change a tire for a lady on the highway. Doing so, I knew Karma would help Cindy if she needed a tire changed one day. When I finally arrived at my appointment to see Francis, I went to the washroom to clean up. Besides being very late for the meeting I was dirty and sweaty. I explained to her secretary why I so late. She talked to Francis, her boss, and Francis agreed to rearrange her schedule so we could still see each other. After that day, our relationship changed. Francis was a good customer and always greeted me warmly when our paths crossed. And yes, when Cindy got a flat a few years later, a nice man stopped to help. When Cindy thanked him, all he asked was that I would help someone else one day. Cindy knew that was always going to happen. Pass along good karma and you will be justly rewarded one day. You do not have to live on a boat to be a Good Samaritan.

The Puffster sports shades we made in Grenada one summer. These really help in the heat. Note the fenders being down to welcome panga boats and trading Kuna people

The Puffster sports shades we made in Grenada one summer. These really help in the heat. Note the fenders being down to welcome panga boats and trading Kuna people

We are thinking about moving again. I’m not really sure why. An island is an island. A reef is a reef. We plan to hop to another group of islands. The next group is a little bit closer to the mainland of Panama. So perhaps we might get a slightly stronger internet signal without having to put the phone up the mast for a hotspot.  Sorry for the lack of pictures accompanying this post but our internet is soooo slooooooow. This is pretty much all the excitement in our world. We’ll check in again when we get to Coco Bandero.



Categories: Caribbean, Panama, Sailing Blog

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