Lost for a day in Achutupu, San Blas, Panama
Losing my sister in Panama for a day was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Mary Rose told me I should not have gotten on the plane. There were so many could’ve, would’ve, should’ve moments. My sister and I are lucky this story contains a sweet ending. When I saw my cousin at the airport with her son and no Emily, I feared the worse. My sister Emily showed up ten minutes later and saved me a few gray hairs.
Our moon guidebook specifically said, “Do not confuse the great snorkeling spot of Achutupu in El Porvenir with the island Achutupu three hours away.” How I managed to buy one airplane ticket only, leave my sister behind in Panama City, land on a small airstrip for Achutupu where the “airport” consisted of a shelter and a few wooden benches is the story I’ve told repeatedly. The story also went viral via the phone tree. By the time the next and last plane landed two hours later and it was obvious there was no Emily Palacio on board, I broke down in tears and soon everyone on Achutupu (Dog Island) knew the story of how I became stranded on an island with no running water, let alone internet service, or hotels.
Piña Coladas can make a ridiculous plan sound sane. At an internet café, were only able to buy one ticket on Aeroperlas before our time on the computer was up. I went first and then the flight was sold out. Our plan was to go to the airport early and buy another ticket on Air Panama. Had we been going to an island with hotels and a larger airport, El Porvenir, we would have both been able to get there. Later, my sister said there were flights to El Porvenir. I actually thought I was going to El Porvenir in San Blas. Instead, I found myself on an island with Kuna Yala inhabitants who didn’t speak English or Spanish, near the Columbian border.
With our usual Panamanian timing, Emily and I arrived ten minutes before my flight to Achutupu. I had to make a split decision and Emily urged me to get on the plane, saying she will meet me there in two hours or she would be fine in Panama City for a day. As I waited a butterfly fluttered over me. There were two people who spoke Spanish (the rest spoke the dialect of the Kuna Yalas who live on Achutupu). They told me the butterfly would bring me good luck in finding my sister. My sister and I made a plan to be in touch by email. When my phone read No Service, I panicked and started to cry. The women felt sorry for me. I thought I would be staying at Hotel Kuna Niskua. They explained that this hotel was in Wichub Huala three hours away and that if I went there, I might miss my 6 am flight back to Panama City in the morning. They convinced me to spend the day with them.
I made the best of being lost on a faraway island. The daughter of the lady I stayed with took me swimming at a nearby island by canoe. My host killed a chicken for me and grilled it over a fire and made rice and patacones (green plantains). It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The Kuna people treated me extremely well and, although I was worried about my sister, I had a feeling everything would work out well. I did my best to enjoy myself. I know my sister would have had an equally grand time. Emily spends her days laughing. She never worries and is an expert at going with the flow. These past two weeks in Panama, my sister taught me to enjoy the moment and treasure laughter.