25 nm, mostly sailing, to Isla Tigre
After our wonderful stay at Tupile San Ignacio, it was time to start working our way
west again, so we decided to go to Isla Tigre, a place we had not yet visited.
There was no real wind when we left the anchorage at about 9:00 am,
but by the time we got out a bit, there was a good sailing wind, so we put
up the canvas and were able to turn off the motor for about 1/2 of the 25 nm
After we passed the north side of the island, we turned into the wind and put
the sails away and made our way carefully through the reef bound passage into
the lee of Isla Tigre, using waypoints from the Bahaus book to guide us. We
dropped anchor in about 25' of water at the recommended anchorage, right off
of a concrete building on the shore.
Almost as soon as we arrived, a motorized
ulu came out with the island officials who charged us $10 for a one month
permit to visit the island and anchor there. They invited us to the congresso,
a nightly meeting of the villagers, but we declined for the evening
due to the likelyhood of rain that night. As they were leaving for shore,
their outboard motor developed a problem, and via a series of hand signals,
they indicated that they would like a tow back to shore. So I got in the dinghy
and towed them to shore, returning to RHAPSODY a few minutes later.
The afternoon turned grey and rainy, and so we decided to forego visiting
the island until the next day, and spent the rest of the afternoon and
evening on RHAPSODY, writing web pages, playing a bit of guitar, having
cocktails and dinner, and so on.
On the next day, Saturday, December 6th,
we brought the dinghy to shore to explore the island. We tied the dinghy
off on a small rickety wooden dock next to the concrete government dock,
and climbed out as a number of children greeted us, full of curiosity and
smiles. We spent the morning and early afternoon walking the entire island.
On Tigre, the natives are not allowed to approach anchored yachts in
their ulus to sell fish, molas, and so on, and in fact, in general, they
are not supposed to approach strangers at all to sell things, so as we made our
way around the island, the women who wanted to sell us molas would furtively
gesture to us to come see their wares.
Right next to the dock there was a fairly well-stocked tienda. We stuck
our heads in and decided we would stop there later for a few provisions on the way
back to the boat. The tienda at the government dock was near the
social center of the island, the congresso hut, and so we walked by
it as we first got to the island. We peeked inside, but could tell
there was something going on, and from the body language of the
people around the hut, it was pretty clear that we should not intrude,
so we went onwards.
Just past the congresso, we ran into an English speaking man, Pedro, who told
us about himself and some things about the island. He said he had worked
for many years in Panama City at an American Army base as a cook, which explained
his excellent English skills. He showed us into the new house he was building
and told us about the techniques for building it, elaborating that he only had to
finish the roof before it would be completed. When we asked him about the
gathering at the congresso, he told us that the previous night an elderly man
had passed away, at the ripe old age of 78, and they were having a funeral service
for him in the congresso. That
explained the soft chanting and wailing of the women that we heard coming from
the hall and the feeling we had as we walked by it earlier. He then introduced
us to his sister, who lived right across the way from his hut, and said that she
would like us to take a picture of her preparing a traditional Kuna lunch,
of fish and plantains, which we did, for one dollar.
From there, we walked along the island, stopping occasionally to look at
molas and wares that the women had for sale. At one point we found a
set of nice mola caps that we purchased from a maternal family group consisting
of three women of various ages. From there, we walked out to the airstrip, littered and unusable,
with weeds growing up through cracks in the concrete. When we got to the
end of the airstrip, we found ourselves at a nature reserve and "resort",
where we stopped at the island's only restaurant to have a soda and talk with the owner.
He explained that the islanders had decided to close the airstrip some twenty
years earlier when a child was killed by a landing airplane. After that
tragedy, the people decided that the airstrip was too dangerous for the kids,
so they tore parts of it up so that airplanes could no longer land, forcing
the airline to stop sending planes to the island.
He pointed out the huts that were for rent to tourists. The open air
huts were about $5 a day, and the closed huts, with beds and even one
with electricity, were about $15 a day. He told us there was another
couple, from Holland, visiting the island, and we figured we'd run into
them at some point.
We continued our walk of the island, going all the way out to the
western end of it and taking a few photos. Then we worked our
way back down the "main street" of the island, stopping by a wood
carver's hut to see his work, and being surreptitiously approached
by a few more mola selling ladies. As we got near the other
end of the island, sure enough, we ran into the Dutch couple as they
too were strolling around the island.
Near what looked to be another community hut, like another congresso
building, we ran into a man named Fidel, who re-iterated the invitation
to the evening congresso, but who also explained that there was to be
a chicha festival the next day, on Sunday, to celebrate Panama's Mother's Day.
Chicha is the home-brewed alcoholic beverage that the islanders make from sugar
cane, and which they use in their regular celebrations. When we asked
some more about it, Fidel took us inside the large hut and showed us
the Chicha pottery jars where the mixture was nearing the end of its 8-day
fermentation cycle. He explained how it was made, said that it
would be ready the next day, and invited us back to imbibe.
From there, we walked on to the east end of the island, where we encountered
the concrete buildings of the school, which was not in session. The courtyard
and basketball court were empty and forlorn-looking. In
general, we were struck by how different Tigre was from our visit to the
other island, Tupile. Perhaps
Tigre was just more sedate due to the funeral in progress, or perhaps it was because
there was no church present on Tigre, where there had been a big Catholic
church on Tupile, or perhaps it was just the physical organization of the
island, with the school being out on the end instead of in the center; but
for one reason or another, Isle Tigre did not seem as vibrant, alive, or
well-to-do, or the people as happy and healthy as those we had found
on Isle Tupile. The long and short of it is that we did not connect
with the people on Tigre as we had with the folks on Tupile, so
after we finished our tour, stopped by the tienda to pick up oatmeal and eggs,
got back in the dinghy and returned to RHAPSODY, we decided that we would not
go to the congressso that evening, nor hang around the next day for the Mother's
Day Chicha festival.
On Sunday morning, then, we pulled up anchor and headed away from Isla Tigre.