As promised and pre-destined, Roberto and I came back to Bastimiento to hang in the hammocks at the Hospedaje Seaview while we wait out my 72-hour extradition from Costa Rica. The island pace is slow, the Panamanian music is hot, the Caribbean sea is enticing, the local fish is fresh, the frogs are red, and life is seductively sweet, so taking this little trip every 90 days (only four hours from Cahuita) isn’t such a hardship.
The weather here has varied, as I suspect it does much of the year. It hasn’t been nasty or threatening, just unsettled – from hot sun and calm turquoise water, to dark billowing clouds laced with thunder, to an overcast sky with a slightly tossed sea, and back to that hot sun again. But except for the need to grab a sweater because you might think a chill is coming on, life in the hammock doesn’t change. I shouldn’t say that – last year I could pick up the neighboring hotel’s wireless connection here under the rancho while swinging in the hammock.
This year, a little hut has been built between the hotels and that seems to have weakened the signal so that I can’t do anything more than get my home page once in awhile. It’s a weak signal even within that hotel’s office, as even with a full signal I can’t Skype (a new definition of slow –“Life and the connection is so slow, I can’t skype”.) This morning, as a gentle rain kept us from thinking more serious thoughts of taking a snorkeling trip, I happily set myself up at the Caribbean View Hotel with a cup of coffee and imagined a morning of online Scrabble and Skype-talk with friends as that rain continued, but alas, due to technical difficulties, it wasn’t to be.
I realize that complaining about online access seems like an unnecessary (if not addictive) behavior, but seeing as we don’t have electricity at our jungle home near Cahuita, having power and internet is part of what a vacation is all about, along with icy drinks and conversation with strangers. I can hear my friend, Cocky, in Maine saying, “Yah, right, making excuses, like a true addict.” –to which I’d have to agree, since entering the games section of Facebook and wanting to play online Scrabble.
A big change here at the hotel ($12 for a seaside room with private bath) is that Victor Francis, the man who owns it and serenaded us last Valentine’s day with love songs, has rented it to a young couple to manage. The new host, Josue, is from the Dominican Republic but has lived here in Panama for many years. His wife, whose name escapes me as I almost never saw her, is in the middle of a difficult pregnancy and didn’t come out of their room much, leaving Josue and his daughter, Matilda, to take care of things. It turns out that Josue is quite a good cook. As he cooks his family’s food, he offers those of us staying here a plate for $5, a great deal considering the plate is full and the food is delicious. With his Dominican and Panamanian influences, he has a different style of Caribbean cooking than Roberto, but also uses lots of coconut and a lot of achiote. He makes nuggets of patacones, usually made with green plantain, using bananas, a down-sized variation I like. I don’t think I’ve seen him make a bean dish or rice and beans yet, but instead he made a nice spicy lentil sauce for the rice.
The way things change in these parts, I don’t know if he’ll be here the next time we come, but I know that is his plan – to work hard at keeping the Seaview the pleasant, cheap little hotel on stilts that it is but also developing a restaurant to showcase his cooking. His food and the price have been great, so maybe he’ll still be here next time we come. I wish him and his family well. I continue to recommend the Seaview Hotel – the sheets are clean but slide off the mattress, and the bathrooms are basic, but if you are a cheap, basic traveler like me, it has both charm and a sea patio of hammocks that balances out the drawbacks.
Another very disappointing change came when we stopped in the town of Bocas, where last February we danced all night to Taboo Combo at Carnaval. We had also enjoyed lunches and very tasty Bloody Maria’s at a place called Caribbean View (a popular name it would seem.) I have been thinking of these particular Bloody Marys – the trick was the Panamanian pepper salsa that the bartender used – since leaving last February. Unfortunately the restaurant is closed and I couldn’t find the woman who was making the drinks, so another great cocktail seems to have come and gone.
At the other end of things, the saddest continuing reality is that the garbage problem hasn’t diminished here. There is waterlogged litter all along the shoreline – the exception being on the northwest side of the island where the shore is shallow and rocky. I met a woman who has a home on that shore (who lived for years near the little town of Killaloe in eastern Ontario, a very out of the way place I know quite well.) She told me that the locals clean up the shoreline regularly. It is the only way to get on top of this scourge. Although the situation seems so out of control that it is hard to imagine getting it cleaned up, Marlize told me that once they were on top of it, it was easy to keep it under control. However there is so much garbage floating around in the sea, it never stops invading their shore.
Although I am always very aware of litter and tend to clean it up when I see it, here I am overwhelmed. My reaction to this much litter is to accept it, like everyone else. When a small piece of paper flew out of my hand yesterday, I wasn’t concerned – where normally I would go chase it. I’m appalled at my own reaction. I remember reading about one of the mayors of New York City taking the problem in hand and saying, “If we clean up the city and make it a place of pride, people will change.” If you set a good standard, people respond accordingly. I believe that can happen everywhere.
I hope that one day the community will start picking up the garbage. They’ll have to accept that they will always have to pick up what comes from the bowels of the sea and is continuously dumped on their shore. Garbage piles has grown by leaps and bounds since plastic packaging and disposal bottles and containers have made their way everywhere, especially to countries where poverty facilitates buying food in the smallest quantity available. Not long ago, all people carried their own woven or feed sacks to the local mercado, even for very small amounts, but now plastics are everywhere which facilitates micro-packaging. I would hate to make a list of what I see in the water here, and I won’t, as it would spoil my serenity. In my short stay there is nothing that will change, but I’m very aware of what is floating around me. Fortunately, once you head out to the other islands and beaches, the garbage disappears.
Yesterday, we went to Playa Polo on the east side of the island with Louis, a beauty boy we met last time, who flies about in his boat and offers guided tours out of his family’s hotel, the Caribbean View. This time, his wife Zuly, his five-year-old son Naya and their new baby Calouie, came along for the ride. Naya, at the age of discovery and action, immediately wandered up the beach to where a shallow watery path meanders out of the jungle and onto the beach, no doubt connecting with the sea at high tide. Naya’s obviously familiar with it, as he took off like a shot to get there as soon as the boat landed. Out of curiosity I also went up to see what was of such interest to a young boy.
Naya started catching tiny fish and I stored them in my water bottle – liquid sushi. We saw a small shrimp and recently hatched frogs darting under one leaf to the next. Naya is not completely fearless yet, so when he disturbed the shrimp and it skittered near his hand, he jumped and called me in as reinforcement to help with the fish catch. Zuly came along just then, checking up on her son, and joined in his search.
“My mother always told me that before the hunt, you clear the area first,” she said, so we pulled leaves and branches out of the shallow water to see what we might uncover. The aquatic creatures darted into the shadowy waters to hide amid the small roots under a sandy overhang. Zuly, an enthusiastic mama-teacher, hitched her long skirt up and bent down into position to catch her son a wild specimen.
All of a sudden she shot straight up, pulling her hand back like she had just touched a hot burner. Releasing a slow breath, she exclaimed, “There is a snake there.” Sure enough, as I moved closer to her and we both slowly bent back down, you could see that one of the benign looking root stems had a forked tongue darting in and out at us. What great eyes Zuly must have to have spotted this little creature. Who knows if it was poisonous or not, but it sure looked onerous hiding there with that scary tongue.
“Ay, Naya, see what can happen when you go off looking for things,” she sighed. Looking at me, but still speaking to Naya, she added, “We let him come down here by himself now, and the second he jumps out of the boat, that’s all he wants to do. But you have to be so careful. He could have been alone, looking for fish, and been bitten by the snake without us knowing.”
That’s the truth of life – both in and out of the jungle. There are so many dangers that affront us in life, at any age, hiding in the shadows, coming out of the blue. You can only hope to survive.
So speaking of surviving, the latest news I have about Wolf and Lucky comes from a phone conversation today with Berto’s wife, Angelina. She said that they took Wolf down to the city a few days ago, and finally last night (Thursday November 19) he was admitted to Puntarenas hospital where they have a ward dedicated to older people. He has been having the same problems with eating and keeping things down that was happening when I was there last week, but now, hopefully, he is being helped. The thing is that the problem may be bigger than anticipated – so we continue to pray for him and hope that the Costa Rican medical community will take care of him.
PS: I’m now in San José on my way to Puntarenas Hospital to visit Wolf. I’ll let you know what is happening. Hopefully, there are no snakes lurking in his shadow although I know for a fact Wolf would rather be in the forest wrestling snakes than where he is now.