Rio Sidra

Thu 6 Feb 2014 14:17
09:30.461N 78:47.643W

We changed anchorage to Salardup and met Lisa, the master mola maker from Rio Sidra. She had some superb traditional molas that she'd made and her English was good enough for her to be able to explain some of the traditions behind the designs: tales of stars coming to earth as sisters, of ulus that ride the waves of dreams, Nele (shaman) and medicine trees. Lisa is actually a man, but it's not uncommon for Kuna men to decide to dress as and live as women, and it's totally accepted by the community.

Lisa organised a trip up the Sidra river for us and a number of other boats. She and her Capitán arrived a little late in a big ulu, with an outboard motor, to pick us up and explained that we couldn't leave yet as her community were 'tidying the jungle' ready for us to visit it. We had visions of coconuts organised carefully in pyramids, leaves that need washing being stuffed into corners out of sight, path ways swept... however it turned out that they were cutting back the pathways for us, so we didn't have to scramble along overgrown routes. So, an hour or two after we were due to have left, we were all aboard and heading for the mainland. Some of the cruisers were Australian and, with their usual forthright manner, one exclaimed "S'truth mate! There's twen'y of us sittin' in a tree with a trannie at the helm! Good job we have life jackets!". Indeed, the 'tree' did leak rather, there was a cute little fountain springing up from the bottom, which suddenly doubled in height during the trip there. Sarah Field Trip's quick thinking and rapid application of chewing gum saved the day and reduced the flow to a steady trickle. We took turns bailing.

We arrived without mishap but the bar at the mouth of the river was too high so couldn't take the ulu up the river. Lisa drove the bow up onto the sandy beach and we all clambered out and set off on foot. The path initially led through the forest to some Kuna cemeteries, then followed the water pipe which supplies the two islands where Lisa lives. (I say two islands because there used to be two, but the Kuna filled in the gap between them with dead coral, conch shells and so on to make one. The Kuna are forever having to shore up their islands. The charts we have on our plotter aren't that old but they show many islands that no longer exist, they're just reefs now. Luckily we got hold of some more recent ones that work with Open CPN, an open source chart plotter we can run on a laptop with a GPS dongle.) Back to the water pipe, it's amazing: it goes for maybe 5 miles, up and down hills and is only a 3 inch PVC pipe. Getting it primed must have been an incredible task. PVC is not great in UV, unfortunately, so maintenance must be high. One of our party slipped coming down a steep bit of trail, landed heavily with her walking stick on the pipeline and made a little hole. A jet of water 6ft high immediately squirted out. Luckily, a twig fitted nicely in the break and stemmed the flow, otherwise we would have had to leave one of the children to act like the little Dutch boy...

The Kuna cemeteries were touching. The graves are little mounds of red earth with a shelter over them, just a roof, no sides. On the graves a few key personal things are placed: their drinking mug, their shoes... and a piece of ceramic to burn incense on, used in ceremonies to stay in touch with the dead. They burn cocoa beans. I think it would work for when I'm dead: the rich smell of cocoa roasting would penetrate down to me for sure. Actually, we are missing chocolate. We've not had any since Trinidad, that was November, and there comes a time when chocolate digestive biscuits start to creep into your dreams. That and Cadbury's fruit and nut. I'm getting tempted to see if Jemma could Fed Ex some emergency chocolate out to us.

The path we followed wound through forest interspersed with trees the Kuna had planted, little groves of them, no more than a dozen at a time. It was beautiful. We cris-crossed the river, wading whilst looking out for crocodiles as they frequent the lower reaches of the river. Eventually, about the time we were all remembering what we'd packed for lunch, we reached a part where the river ran fast through a series of gullies, cascading down between them. Here we could jump off rocks into deep cool fresh water, swim with the flow down to the pool where the river spread out over gravel and slowed down, then scramble back up to do it all over again. Above this leaping off point there was a whole series of mini water falls, we clambered over boulders and found our own personal jacuzzis to sit side by side in on the smooth rocks, the water falling behind us creating bubbles that swooshed past us, when we felt like it we'd let go and allow the water to take us to the next pool. Bliss!

The only bother in these pools were some cheeky little fish, ranging from about 3 to 6 inches long. They nibbled us. Well, sort of nipped. And in particular, they nipped nipples! They seemed to grow in confidence, too, at first it was more of a nudge, which surprised one and made one squeak (well, it did me), then they tried nipping. Luckily, us women had bikinis or tee-shirts on but the pools soon resounded with "Gerroff you bugger!" and other similar exclamations as the chaps emerged with hands over their chests. The little chaps didn't stop at nipples, any mole, freckle or blemish on the skin they went for, in case it was a bug or something they could eat I guess. They even tried Phil's leg hair for a while, but gave it up after a few tries.

After lunch Lisa's Capitán offered to carry our bags for us so we could descend by following the river down. He'd meet us further on. We were doubtful as there were lots of us, but he was sure and got himself a pole to tie them all on to so he could put them over a shoulder. A couple of the party decided to stick to the dry and walk back the way we'd come. They said it was a good job they did, he managed with the bags for a while, brushing aside offers of help, but then was clearly in pain and accepted their assistance. 16 or so bags, each with about a liter of water plus clothes plus 'stuff' weighs a lot.

Meanwhile, unencumbered, we made our way down the river. We swam the deep pools, slid down natural water slides over boulders, waded the shallows and picked our way across the rocks. All this with the forest either side of us and above us. It was stunning, and such fun, and wonderfully refreshing.

Happily, the nipple nippers stayed in the pools higher up the river and we rejoined the path before we got to the crocodiles :-)

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