Hola! Nuedi (Guna greeting)! I’ve just returned from the first sea kayaking trip of the season here in Guna Yala, Panama. Seven days of bliss in tropical paradise. I want to give enormous thanks to my clients Suzannah Sosman, Jeff Bounds, Shannon Eide, and Jared Martin for being spectacular people, always willing to engage fully in whatever situation we found ourselves with open minds and hearts. . and there were plenty of incredible and fun situations out there for us:) I couldn’t have dreamed up a better group of people to kick off the paddling season. Before sharing a few of the trip highlights with you, I want to invite you to my website www.ileneinakayak.com, where you will find information on how to book your next holiday in Panama or Alaska, where I guide when I’m not kickin’ it with the Guna in the Caribbean.
And now some trip highlights:
With a mixed group of kayaking experience, from none to hardcore whitewater paddler, we set off from Puerto Gardi, eager for our adventure. One of our shared goals was to enjoy as many interactions with the Guna as possible, and while paddling to our first island we were able to buy fresh fish from a few Guna teenagers.
Traveling with our Guna kayak guide, Nemesio, allows us to have a lot more unique interactions with the Guna, such as visiting communities that are always curious about us and eager to check out our kayaks and gear. Below, Jared is quite the spectacle for Nemesio’s family. They laugh at our attempts to speak in Guna, especially when we refer to Jared as our “massi sibbu dummad”, which means “big white dude”. The rest of us are “mergi ome bibbi”, which means “small American women”. A trip to Guna Yala goes better with a fun sense of humor and the Guna are certainly not lacking in this.
While Jeff and Shannon chose to go fishing with the Guna on one of our favorite islands (we loved it so much we stayed for two nights) Suzannah, Jared, Nemesio, and I paddled to a community to learn the Guna Danza (traditional dance) and play with the Guna kids. It never takes long before we have a large entourage of little ones following us, holding our hands and yelling “hola, hola, hola” repeatedly. Here, Jared quickly learns how entertaining he is to a group of young boys. However, they were no match for Jared when he dropped his hands and they all went tumbling down, laughing. Imagine how many times Jared had to repeat this! In the meantime Suzannah and I got our Guna Danza on, after receiving our “uini” (the beautiful and colorful beads worn by the women up their arms and legs, pronounced “weenee)”.
I don’t know if it’s my “mergi ome” luck, but my “sabured” (the colorful skirt that the Guna women wear) always manages to fall off while I’m dancing, which adds additional entertainment value, as if that was needed to the already entertaining display of us trying to follow the intricate patterns that make up each Guna Danza. As I said, one must maintain a sense of humor! I’m no newbie to the Danza, so I have learned (the embarrassing way) to wear shorts under my skirt! There’s only so many times your skirt can fall off!
After winning the community over with our incredible dance skills, the fun continued! Jared gave kayak rides to his crew of giggling little boys, who delighted in tipping over his kayak, while Suzannah distributed paper and coloring pencils that she brought to a crowd of eager artists. One-by-one they turned in their masterpieces to her, as their mothers laughed at their frolicking and happy children.
It always amazes and inspires me how close you can grow to people who are seemingly living a very different life, and who also speak a very different language. During our three days with this kind and welcoming Guna family we shared meals, including the traditional Guna dish “Dule Masi” (a fish stew with coconut and a type of hard banana), flew kites, went fishing Guna-style, played soccer, cuddled with puppies, practiced yoga, relaxed in hammocks, snorkeled, and drank coco locos (fresh coconut with rum).
Did I mention the sharing of undiscovered talents? Who would have thought that Jeff was a master coconut juggler! It’s a good thing I found this awesome helmet on the beach!
Our time with our new Guna family came to a close as we packed our boats and moved on to the next tropical island. . rather, sailed on!
Determined as they were Jeff and Shannon sailed the entire way to our final island, where we stayed up late into the night laughing, sharing stories and recalling all of the fun and memorable moments of the trip.
We reluctantly returned to Panama City to celebrate the holidays Panamanian-style, which apparently involves an endless display of fireworks and music blasting from all directions! Jared had such a great time with the Guna family that he actually returned to stay with them for a few more days bringing them lots of gifts including fireworks, chickens (not living! The Guna eat so much fish that whenever they have the chance they request chicken), art supplies, and lots of kites!
Thanks for sharing this amazing and memorable journey with ileneinakayak! I hope you enjoyed the photos and stories. I hope to see you in Panama for your own adventure in Guna Yala! Don’t forget to check out the Gallery on my website for videos from this trip and others, including coconut juggling, Guna Danza and more!