Adventure Sail to Panama


Isla Tigre, San Blas Islands, Panama


October 21, 2007

We were to depart at noon for Isla Tigre with Tomas & Federico.   Isla Tigre is an island that remains one of the most traditional Kuna villages in all of Kuna Yala.  We were interested in seeing one of the ceremonies performed by the people with music, dancing and a traditional feast.  We learned that this would not happen.  You just have to luck upon an upcoming festival and request to be a part of it, but they would not be putting on a show for us.  That said, we were still very excited to visit the village and see a Kuna village looking much as it must have centuries ago.

Federico & Tomas arrived by 11:30am and Federico was in rare form!  He had been drinking and partying all night and the first thing he requested was a beer.  We gave him 2 which he quickly downed before we realized the state he was in – Drunk!  Federico rode the bow of the cayuco and we all piled in for our “15 minute” ride to Isla Tigre.  It was a bit windy this day and our “15-minute” ride turned into a 45-minute bouncy and wet ride.  The best part of the ride was seeing all of the beautiful deserted islands along the way and watching Federico get splashed over and over as he tried to sleep one off on the bow while the rolling waves crashed over him. 

We arrived on Isla Tigre right about 1pm and tied up to a small pier.  Federico took us straight to the office where we were to check in and pay our $3 per person for visiting the village.  We paid in and then sat down at the restaurant to relax for a while and order some food before heading out into the village.  We had a few drinks, ordered some lunch and went to the village with our local Kuna guide, Leonard.  Leonard knew that Federico was drunk and decided it was best for him to enter the village with us to keep us from having any problems. The village was fenced in and separated from the area where the oficina/restaurant was – it was clear that the restaurant and cabana rental operation was private and separated from the village.   They had cabanas for rent for $10 a night, a beautiful sandy beach, and expedition style sea kayaks lined up ready to be rented.  Leonard told us all about the kayaking trips that were offered and showed us a magazine article where they were written up in an adventure guidebook.

We entered the village called “Digir Dupir” in Kuna Yala.  There were lots of bamboo huts as we had seen before and kids running everywhere.  The local men and boys were playing some very competitive sand volleyball - they were having tryouts for an upcoming tournament against teams from the other Kuna Yala islands.  They were really talented.  We checked out the livestock cages on the beach, checked out some of the local Molas and took pictures of the locals.  One thing that was unique about this village was that there were some rules that we had to be aware of while we were visiting.  Our guide, Leonard took us aside before heading into the village and told us that we must not take pictures of anyone unless we first ask their permission, and if we wanted to take a picture of a child, we must make sure that the parents approved first.  In most cases, he said, they would grant you permission, but would ask for one dollar in return.  He also said that we must visit with the Chief first, before we toured the village, and Leonard took us there first and introduced us all, one by one, to the Chief, who was very cordial.

The most special thing we came across inside of the village was a ceremony for a young girl.  She had just turned 12 years old and was now heading into womanhood.  Leonard explained that it was something like a puberty ceremony, and that part of the ritual was that the girl was to stay inside of a special area in the Cultural Center that was made especially for her by the local men.  The men had specially created bamboo and palm frond walls that enclosed the area she was to sit in as the celebration continued for about a week.  All of the locals, who on this island numbered in the hundreds, would gather each morning for coffee & chocolate to celebrate.  There were dances and ceremonies held throughout the week for the young girl, with the goal of making her feel very, very special.  During the celebration, the family of the young girl provides all the meals for everyone who attends, so we soon realized that it was a very expensive proposition for the family of the young girl.  Walter wanted to film this event so badly.  We asked Leonard if it was possible to take any pictures inside of the center and he said absolutely not, that it was a sacred ritual.  But, he did talk to the grandmother of the young girl who was footing the bill for feeding the entire tribe and she said that if we bought a Mola from her that we could film and take pictures.  Walter promptly bought a Mola, and let the tape roll.  The children inside the Center flocked to Walter and the video camera.  When he played back the footage for the young children they crowded him even more.  They loved being on camera and they were hamming it up!

As we were leaving we headed down the pier to the cayuco and passed some Kuna children who were fishing for an octopus that we could all see in the water.  They were making great sport of throwing a fishing line and hook towards it, trying to snag it with the hook, but they kept missing.   The octopus, which was probably 2 to 3 feet across, kept creeping along the bottom, away from the pier, but he was headed closer to shore.  The kids started screaming as they saw one of their parents come walking over.  The man saw what was happening, walked into the water and deftly grabbed the octopus by the head.  The octopus squirted ink everywhere and tried to get away, but the man had a good grip and pulled the octopus from the water.  The octopus tried to fight back by grabbing the man’s arm with the tentacles, but it was no use – the Kuna ripped it’s head apart with his bare hands.  He removed the tentacles from his arm, put the octopus back in the water and swished it around to clean it up – Dinner!  We had all seen octopus on the menu at all of the restaurants where we ate - in Spanish it was called “pulpo” - but it was pretty amazing to watch that Kuna make short work of what to us was a pretty intimidating creature.  That was the perfect end to a great day and we motored back to Nargana in the now calm seas. 

Federico on the bow of our cayuco which took us to Isla Tigre, that is the island where the Tradicional Kuna Village was located



The Office at Isla Tigre, the Traditional Kuna Village where you had to pay an entry fee of $3 per person and there were many rules once inside the village 

They had a restaurant on Isla Tigre and this was the part of the island where anyone could go, but to get inside the village you had to be escorted by a Kuna guide

They had cabanas for rent for $10 per night and also a week long kayak trip to several remote islands with a couple of guides and a chef 

A local boat and a cabana on Isla Tigre

The entrance to the village was fenced off and the island was called Isla Tigre "The Tiger" the actual village was called Digir Dupir in the Kuna language

Cabana for rent

These were the shelters where you could tie up hammocks for sleeping, Kuna people also make gorgeous hammocks

The Kuna Church on Isla Tigre

The office & restaurant, they had wonderful service and food, and Leonard was a terrific guide!

The Bathroom

We got plenty of practice speaking Spanish

Capt Mark caught napping on Isla Tigre

Federico & Mike

Another picturesque island of San Blas

The beach behind the cabanas

Every coconut in San Blas has an owner, even this one!

The village has been written up in many adventure magazines for the kayaking trip and the tradition of the Kuna People

Inside the village Digir Dupir

Some huts were quite large, you can see all of the coconut husks gathered on the left hand side of the hut for fire starting

Some huts had elaborate trees, flowers and plants all around them

These flowers looked just like lantana

Hibiscus were very popular also


Banana Palm Trees were very common

Laundry day

Inside of the cultural center there was a celebration going on for a young girl moving into womanhood, almost like a batmitzva, we got special permission to take pictures inside of the celebration

Another outhouse


A traditional Kuna Mujer in the native dress

Mike grabbed this gorgeous shot, notice the key around her neck, it was most likely the key to her front door

We had a great time in Digir and had an excellent guide, Leonard

Walter in Digir

The welcome sign at Digir Dupir

This is the hottest new style in Kuna Yala Land

Volleyball at Digir

We happened upon a volleyball tournament 

These guys were no joke, they were fierce competitors

Sand Volleyball was played here, but on Nargana it was an unforgiving pavement

Kate checking out the livestock

The little piggy

The children always wanted to see their picture these 2 introduced us to their family's pig & dog

Rows of piggys and chickens

Chuletas or "Pork chops"

A baby pig or "cochino" on Isla Tigre or as the Kuna would call it "Digir Dupir"

Perro on Isla Tigre, this dog did not like getting his picture taken!

Another ham sandwich on Isla Tigre or as the Spanish would call him Pork Chop or "Chuletas"

A green parrot, most likely a pet of one of the Kuna families

Kids playing on a new foundation near their brand new school on Digir Dupir

Banana Palm Tree

Kate no more Molas!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Walter checking out more Molas, the locals were upset if you did not purchase one 

A green parrot 

The younger kids practicing for the real volleyball court

These kids were good!

Kate, Leonard, Capt. Mark & Stuart, our guide into the Traditional Kuna Village was Leonard 

With Federico, Stu & Capt Mark up front the ride back from Isla Tigre was much smoother

Mike & Kate on the way back from Isla Tigre

Sailing a Cayuco

Our little Mola ladies, they came back to the boat at least twice selling Molas and some Kuna people only speak a little bit of Spanish so it was difficult to communicate at times

These ladies were beautiful and so cute always laughing

Every person that came to the boat to sell us something left with either a soda and or juice and cookies

See the juice and cookies in the front right of the screen, there is a smug look on her face because we did not buy any Molas this time

There go some Kunas

They were some of our favorites

Sunrise at Nargana

Dead Calm


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