Written by Fidgit
We paddled back to the islands the way we had come, to regroup and re-plan. Arriving to the northern end of Isla Colon, we strung our hammocks up along Starfish Beach just inside Boca del Drago. The other two went to to the small settlement in search of food, while I began the work of processing the disappointment of the past few days. I must say, I did not do a terribly good job. My emotions ebbed and flowed to the rhythm of the waves, until the sound of the water began to undercut the gnarl of disappointment and frustration and washed in a few rivulets of gentleness.
Neon and I then met at one of the two restaurants in the little community and, as I ate a solid meal, I began to feel less sullen. As I put words to the feelings of the past few days and felt them heard, things took meaning again.
At this establishment, we were generously attended by the owners, an older couple, and I could have hugged them when they brought out a Ginger Ale so cold that it perspired. Sleep that night was broken a few times due to, let’s call it, fluid loss.
The next morning, we packed up and again headed out toward the open seas. Due to the waves crashing against cliffs, the swells which I considered to be quite large, and the struggle to control my boat’s direction (heaped on top of a mounting dizziness), I called a retreat before we had even rounded the point. Still, we brought our boats together and spent a bit of time bobbing around, discussing. It served to calm my mind if not my GI tract.
We returned to Boca del Drago and again ended up at Yarisnori, the open little bungalow restaurant. It was a quiet day, and the owner’s grandchildren were there for summer break (in Panama it appears to be December – March). Back in Panama City, their mother juggled work and training for her next Ironman Triathlon. The kids stood by proudly as grandma told us about it, then padded away quietly. Minutes later, a brawl broke out between the two. Upon being broken up by grandma, it was then replayed in lurid detail by both parties simultaneously with full-on slow-motion re-enactments of the various transgressions of the opposing party.
The Proprietress returned to chatting with us. She pointed to the waves crashing just beyond the point, “el mar es demasiado alto,” she commented, “los pescadores ni salen en dias asi.” I wasn’t sure if she was saying this because of seeing our retreat or whether we were going about the time honored tradition of complaining about the weather.
She went on to explain it has been a strange season. Usually November through February are consistent and heavy rains; the islands count on it for fresh water reserves in the upcoming summer months. However, it had rained precious little in the past months. In fact, back in town, water restrictions were rumored to go into effect the next day so, naturally, all the vehicles were lined up at the car wash, and the neighborhood spigots were the center of much information sharing and gossip as jugs were filled and photos of the dried up reservoir made the rounds via WhatsApp.
“This is the worst drought in 7 years.”
“This is the worst drought EVER!”
“How can my son do business if he can’t wash his car?!”
“Hay un ojo de agaua en la isla.” (There is a fresh water spring inland on the island)
“I hear they are tapping the wells.”
“The government should have bought the desalination plant the US Army brought during the last drought.”
A few days later, I walked past one such spigot while it ran furiously into the dirt. A grandmother was gesturing at it in concern so I turned the llave to shut it off and a second later the water instead rushed out from a hole in the piping. The worry about the water entered the same realm as the concern about litter for me. I will do what I can knowing it pales in comparison to the need.
Back to the restaurant owner, a paraphrase:
The water beneath is acting as unpredictable as the water from above. This time of year the sea is usually warm but instead, it is cold. Very cold. And that is making the currents behave strangely and that is affecting the fish. This is also why the fishermen don’t dare to go out very far.
She went on to name and describe some sort of distant fish which had recently been hauled in with the nets and perplexed everyone.
I was later to learn that the Polar Vortexes which had swept through my own country had thrust on down into the Caribbean. Her relays both affirmed and frightened me. We retreated back to the town of Bocas and spent a week learning various rescues, proper paddling techniques, and working on rolling.
We had to step back from our ambition of northern progress and learn the basics.
The season was not yet quite right. We had come down in early February but this was still surf season. The seas would calm down in March, the locals said.
The odd weather patterns were pushing down from the north and making things “spicy” (as the Canadians say).
We were not ready for the sea, and she was not ready for us.
So, to build up boat time, experience, and to wait out the next front pushing through, we created a paddling route for fellow Trak kayakers to explore the tucked away treasures of the archipelago.