Ograsiano San Blas sailing experience
Cambombia Island – San Blas
My guests, awakened by dawn on a day perfumed by the land breeze. The musky smells of the
nearby forest reach the sea where we are anchored, right in front of the small and wonderful
island of Cambombia. From the bow they see a turquoise sea with a white sand bottom,
studded with starfish in contrasting colors ranging from orange to bright red, a coral white sand
beach, bright with many ghost crabs that quickly rush to their lairs safely and singing birds
welcome the new day.
The tall and majestic coconut palms with pelicans perched on the peaks, ready to dive into the
sea for the morning hunt.
The boys fearlessly await the arrival of the kuna with its indigenous boat for a fishing trip
around the island, enjoying a succulent breakfast of fresh fruit, homemade bread and steaming
cheese eggs, sipping a steaming coffee blend , with much ecstasy, despite the temperate
tropical mornings. I feel the intense aroma of Panamanian coffee grown and roasted in Ciriqui, a
region where everything has heavenly flavors and smells. I see Ograsiano the kuna arriving with
his native boat, born and sculpted from a large trunk in the tropical forest of the Comarca of
Gunayala. I can see all the handmade tribal sculptures, carved into the mighty tree where the
spirits of their ancestors protect them on their journeys to the sea. Mother earth gave them the
material to build their rudimentary but sturdy boats, essential for their survival.
They get their food by fishing all day in their sea, they gather fresh water from the nearby river, they get their supplies by transporting vegetables, rice and, of course, making some money with the tourists.
Over 12 feet big with a small 25 horsepower Yamaha old engine that puffs blue smoke like a
locomotive in the middle of a desert. He approaches the boat smiling and calling the boys who
greet him cheerfully with a big smile. My schedule is clear and Ograsiano’s delay of 20 minutes
already annoys me. I have to wait for the fishing trip with the boys to finish and then go into the
woods going up the river and collect about 500 liters of water to fill the tanks of our sailing boat,
now almost empty.
I see the Kuna boat starting with a slight pitch and the white trail coming out of the small engine.
The hot sun, now high on its bow and the sea shining with its light full of life and colors, I get lost
with my gaze fixed in that daily scene and almost blinded by the strong light that reflects on the
sea. I recover from the admiration for the great sea which is also my home. The young and
beautiful guys come from the Swiss canton of France and there is also a couple from Buenos
Aires, I see them intent on the new experience, they already have the fishing line prepared for
them by the kuna. Just a simple bait consisting of two overlapping hooks and inserted in 5 cm of
transparent straw. Handcrafted but of great effect, “the fish get confused and think it is a
sardine” this is what the natives say that every day they fish and pull the rudimentary bait with
their boats, filling the bellies of their rudimentary means of fresh and colorful fish.
My sailor takes the opportunity to clean the cockpit and the deck of the boat, dipping a large
bucket tied by a rope on the side, the water is fresh and fragrant with life, it floods my feet,
transmitting an almost divine energy. Then he sets up the electric pump with the filter to purify
the water, ready upon arrival from the river to fill the tanks.
Time passes quickly even in these latitudes … my breakfast is ready, a fresh banana with two slices of toast and two Caribbean eggs cooked in a pan, with a slice of American yellow cheese. A nice squeeze of Caribbean green oranges. Today I need energy, the work will be hard.
After a couple of hours I see the Kuna boat arriving, with the bow high on the horizon, cutting
the few waves of a calm and flat sea, a little wind is picking up. I take this opportunity to take
some photos of my boys who, realizing it, greet me with great emphasis. The girl with a
thousand tattoos raises above her head a beautiful tuna that in the light looked like a mirror
reflecting the silvery blue color of the sea. The time has come, they approach the side of the
boat, I run at the last second to reposition the fender to prevent the heavy wooden boat from
marking the hull of the sailboat. The boys climb up one by one, going up the side putting a strain
on stanchions and lifelines ….. but their happiness heals my mood at seeing my boat scrambled
in that way.
A few minutes pass before the rudimentary boat is already equipped for the excursion in the
woods going up the river to collect the water.
The wind is about 12 knots and forms a stern wave that pushes the heavy wooden boat to cover
the short distance from the boat to the forest, some guests have decided to join us. Zigzagging
among the uprooted trees carried by the river water and between sand banks and shallow
waters, we enter the mouth of the river. The kuna explains to the guests that it is a river that
springs directly from the mountain I see in front of me, and that neither kuna nor other humans
live along the river path, only ferocious animals, such as tigers, panthers, crocodiles, monkeys
etc. and wonderful birds like toucans, colorful birds and giant blue butterflies. The scents
inebriate my nostrils, I see the mangroves with many vines full of brightly colored flowers. I
seem to recognize lotus flowers, bells and many others. Reds with shades of crimson, purple,
blue with strange shapes. The water is clear and calm, the seabed is sandy and I see a
thousand black tadpoles and many colored fish that blend into the seabed. The temperature is
different on the coast, there is a lot of humidity and heat. I want to drink the fresh water of the
Rio. Ograsiano assures me it’s clean and they use it for drinking. However, they only use the
one after the kuna boat navigation border, an imaginary line where everyone knows that from
that moment on, the engines must be turned off, because the water is collected for drinking. The
kuna also explains that from the bottom of the river they collect plants, which they use as
powerful medicines in their culture.
I shyly dip a finger in fresh water and bring it to my mouth, I feel a bitter taste that makes me spit
with fear … then it immediately occurs to me that I have smeared some mosquito repellent
cream and I laugh alone. I wash my hands thoroughly before trying the experiment again and
the second taste is very pleasant, sweet, light and fresh like the water just gushed from the mountain spring.