We are in the Robeson Islands, an archipelago of 6 small islands that reach out about 3 miles from the Panama mainland. It is a secluded area that tourists seldom visit. The people here are very traditional. Their main mode of transport are their dugout canoes that they sail, with great skill. Bredio (pronounced like radio with a B), lives on one of the smaller islands, about 2 acres in size and has a population of 83, including children. He supports his family by cleaning the odd boat, working on charter boats, tending to his finca and fishing. He has cleaned and polished our boat for three years. Last year he got a new dugout, but he didn’t have a sail and asked if we knew where he could get some old sail cloth. I don’t know if he believed us when we asked him to pick out the color he wanted from a catalogue. But he did and even gave us a drawing, with the dimensions that would fit his boat. When we returned to the marina, the cloth was in with our parts order from the US. There’s always an order. Esther put her sewing machine to work and we whipped him up a couple of sails. It took all day.
This week we caught Bredio between deck-hand jobs and hired him again for a boat cleaning. He will clean and polish the fiberglass with 2 coats, and all the stainless steel in about 4 days for $80. That’s for the total job. He couldn’t stop smiling when we gave him the sail, and even quit work a few minutes early as he was anxious to get home. That night he was out sailing all around the anchorage, like a kid with a new toy. Actually its like we gave him the keys to the car, as with this he can travel to distant islands and even to where more cruisers hang out, to get more polishing jobs.
Today Bredio didn’t work for us, as he had to repair the water line to the Islands. It had broken somewhere up near the source that is several miles up in the mountains. It is a 6 inch plastic line that feeds all six islands.
As we had a free day (we always stay on the boat when he is working) we decided to do some exploring up a river in our kayaks. It was a couple of miles across the bay to the entrance. Once inside the river, it was cooler as we were shaded by the canopy overhead with vines trailing down to the water. Here there are small plots where the locals tend to what grows naturally: bananas; mangoes; avocado; papaya, plantains and manioc. This is a tuber that grows in wet areas. The river is their highway into the jungle. We were struck by the thought that we could have been in the Amazon with the brown water, the howler monkeys and the small, muscular, brown men paddling their dugouts. We paddled up the river until it became a tangle of brush, had a snack and then headed back. On the way out, we met several boats loaded with bananas. As soon as they were clear of the river, up went their sails and they skimmed home. We had a long paddle against the wind.
Another day another adventure.