First Visit to San Ignacio Tupile

Due to some boat chores, we didn't set out for the island until the early afternoon, about 3:00. We motored over there in a few minutes and tied up at the "government dock", a concrete dock where the Colombian trading boats tie up virtually every day. Sure enough, one was in port while we were there, setting their goods out on the dock like a flea market ... several blankets were set out with things like toothpaste, children's clothes, and so on, for sale. We feel just a tinge of concern, initially, for DITTY, but in just a few minutes, as several of the Kunas help us out of the dinghy and up to the dock, we realize that our "car" will be ok parked here.

It is said that when extranjeros (foreigners) like us arrive on a Kuna island, everyone on the island knows about it within a few minutes. It might very well be the case. As we get out of the dinghy, a man in western clothes walks up to us, smiling, and conveys to us that he wishes to see our permit-receipt, which we show him. He seems satisfied with this, so we ask him if he knows where the Guitar Player is. I have brought my guitar, and there is evident curiosity about it as we unload it from the dinghy and I strap it to my back.

Yes, he knows where the Guitar Player is, and he quickly guides us around a few corners, past the school building, to a hut which is the home of a blind man who plays guitar. His name is Rudolfo. Rudolfo apparently runs a "refresca" ... a refreshment stand ... and part of his house is dedicated to that; there is a refrigerator with drinks in it, and a counter cut into one of the walls facing the main "street", through which he can sell his goods to passersby. As we enter the hut, he is in a hammock, idly picking out a Spanish-sounding tune on his guitar.

I hadn't planned on jumping in quite this abruptly, but within 5 minutes, he bids me to get my guitar out and play him a tune. He seems more eager to listen than to play, but we more or less trade tunes for 15 minutes or so. He wants to hear "Yesterday", by the Beatles, so I comply. He plays a Spanish tune and two young girls in the hut sing the words in high harmony. Then they repeat the tune in Kuna, a completely different language. It's very pretty and I wish I had permission to record it, but we have heard that the Kunas are very sensitive to being photographed or filmed, so we hold back on that idea.

After several songs, a small crowd has gathered in the hut and we meet two young men that speak English and want to act as our guides through the village. Since it is apparent that Rudolfo wants to take a break, perhaps to eat dinner, and I leave his hut, but not alone. There are about 10 kids that are still very curious about me and the guitar and so they follow me around everywhere I go.

There are a few adults watching us, some curious, mostly smiling. The kids are the best, though. They have no compunction against touching you, asking questions, and laughing and giggling as they run to and fro, wanting to touch and examine the guitar and try strumming it. Apparently the whole village is safe for them, because there are no "parents" or anyone we can see that's watching them. No one seems to scold them and they don't seem to be mischievous. They just run around, doing what they want, always polite and happy, and one gets the sense, like it is said, that the village is raising the children.

The first "guide" we meet is Anel, a 20 year old Kuna man that has studied English and taken a course in "tourism" at one of the local island schools. He has been a guide before, he tells us, and hopes to learn more English so that he can pursue tourism in addition to his regular job. On most days, he rows his ulu the mile or so to the mainland, hikes several miles up into the hills, where he and others tend to the coconuts. Right now, he is helping to build an aqueduct to bring more territory into production.

Anel, in turn, introduces us to Nil, who also speaks a smattering of English, and is also studying to be a guide. Anel is a "moon child", which is what the accepting Kunas call the albinos born into their families. He looks almost like a Norte-Americano, not only because of his complexion, but also because he wears a baseball cap or bandana, and clothing and sunglasses reminiscent of kids in the USA today.

Anyway, we have a great time as they show us around the island for an hour or so. It is by far the prettiest, cleanest Kuna village we have been in; ladies sweep the dirt streets constantly, there're hibiscus bushes and squash gardens, and shady breadfruit trees. We get to go inside of the Congresso, the biggest hut where the the island council and all the residents meet twice weekly, and pass by the Catholic church, public telephone booth center, homes under construction, and small tiendas. As the sun is waning, we catch a group of about 14 people practicing Nogagope, the native dance. We ask and are told that they are practicing for the big upcoming Christmas party. It is really neat to watch, but, once again, we don't feel right yet bringing out the cameras to capture it. Nonetheless, we watch the dance, entranced by the rhythm and beauty of it.

After an hour or so of walking around the island with our little group, we end up back at the government dock, where we stop and buy our "guides" and a few of the older kids soft drinks in thanks for their informal help in seeing the island. We already know that this is not to be our our only visit to the island. When we get back to RHAPSODY, we decide we would like to visit the island again, to take a few more pictures, and perhaps even some footage, of the town and its inhabitants, and find out more about its culture, so we discuss how best to properly do that, in the context of what we've seen today.