The Colombian sailboat didn’t sail. The $30 heister left me dry, of course. All the ships and sailboats, all of them, charged $200-1,000 dollars fare to get across, from Panama, Colon, Portobelo, Miramar. So I went to live with the Kuna indians in the San Blas Islands (that’s Kuna Yala) and wait for my ship, still intent to evade Msr. Darien & clamber into Colombia via agua.
A cargo boat carried me (for work) to Porvenir, the tourist passport isle of population twenty-three, who’s so obsessed with tourists, and so forgotten of human care that I could neither eat nor drink for the inflation of the prices there. The police gave me a fish’s head. Some horrible Texans helped me. Some exquisite French and British yachters helped me. A kind and thoughtful Swiss man gave me a gallon of water, and finally I escaped Porvenir Desert Island Hell paying my last $5 for a 40 minute passage to Tupile.
The boat was sinking the whole way. They bailed. I smiled. Tupile is a pirate-Island-Paradise. I got ashore, and was met immediately by two soft spoken youths who led me to a door, where a portly man sat me down and talked to me, and said I could stay with him for as long as I needed to, bed, food, friendship all free, while I waited for the boat.
Tupile. Population 500. Almost no income. Everyone has shelter and food and family and happiness. The children are naked. The trash is thrown in the sea, which seems to do a pretty good job of cleaning it up. Everyone is soft and smiling, and Spanish is at best a second language. There’s a store, a school, a dock, a basketball court, two or three town squares, a Mormon church outfitted with two lady missionaries from the states. Fish and frutapan (like a yucca, starchy tree potato)-soup and rice and coffee is the diet. As far as I could tell, it was Utopia. Or, It was actually Utopia.
I went to Mormon church on Sunday, played with kids, drew, painted, read the Gospel of John, finished Moby Dick, ate fish, pooped into the sea from a suspended stilts platform over the water, washed my clothes and my self, was given deodorant by the Kuna (woah. when the indigenous peoples give you deodorant….yeah.), watched cockroaches and the stars at night, learned some Kuna, and some history. The Kuna are 50,000 strong. They asserted autonomy from Panama in a 20s revolution. Learn about them. They have the same flag as the Nazis, but invented it seven years earlier.A paradisaical pirate island. I ate fishes and mangoes, became fascinated with Spirits, and began to develop ideas for the Vuelta Analfabetica after prolonged exposure to Mormon-on-Kuna colonialism.
On the fourth day one coconut boat came by and told me they would take me to Colombia if I worked on the boat and payed $300, but that it would take 15 days to get there. That was it. The next day the Mormons and me went to the mainland. I walked down a clay road through the jungle for five hours and was picked up by an adventure-man jeep loaded with two Swiss girls, a french couple, and two Harvard graduates who I’d heard tell of in Miramar. Reciting them a Charles Roach poem, We were friends. Got off at the highway and hitched down to Darien. The next car that stopped for me was a cliche. A pick-up with shaded windows. I climbed in the back, we drove twenty feet, stopped, and three men got out of the car. “Hi,” smiling. “We are the police. What are you doing?” They were not dressed like police. I explained for a few seconds, and they stopped me, saying, best take me to the station. It did not look like a station. The men inside were not dressed like police either. With some awkwardness I got them to show me their IDs, plainclothesmen. They liked me. We talked for a long time about going through the Darien and all that that entails. It entails a lot. I slept in their station. I almost walked through the Darien Gap. I stayed up all night contemplating it, accompanied by a horrible nocturnal rooster. I almost went in, and things would have been different. You can make decisions like that. They still have a video of me playing the Big Rock Candy Mountains on the harmonica – for identifying my body.