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As you might have guessed, Greeny is not his real name, yet it was born in that hilarious way that college nicknames areâ€”going from a totally logical nickname to this bizarre, unrelated alias over the span of four drunken and polluted years. While the lineage of his name is beyond me, I can surely say that the Greeny of today is exactly the same Greeny I met five years ago. It is of no surprise that the two things that I perhaps admire most about Greenyâ€”his inquisitiveness and his numbness to gross thingsâ€”have led him on the industrious path to becoming a doctor. Greeny is the sort of guy that, if left to his own devices, and access to some powerful dynamite, could probably take over the world. For our trip though, we just wanted to have some fun.
Only a few hours into our voyage, we paused for lunch in Penenome, a town known amusingly for its woven hats and beautiful coastline. Gallo Pinto (spotted rooster) was a small room of a restaurant, which actually reminded me of a Latin version of my middle school cafeteria, with that terrifying stainless steel buffet that fed children slop and muck. Only difference was, food here was great: a nice pile of chow mein, braised beef, lentils and a bottle of lime-green hot sauce called Devils Inferno. Hot sauce, I thought to myself, is one of the few things that can get away with giving pain to the person who eats it. Anything elseâ€”for example, say, a flaming pizza or a blueberry scone that electrocutes youâ€”would not sell well. But liquid venom that sets your mouth ablaze, and hurts your throat going down...it works. Overall, the meal was good and it cost no more than a highlighter.
In the confusion and haste of packing for the trip, I conveniently forgot perhaps the one most important article of clothing needed when exploring a coastline: my bathing suit. I have this horrible habit of forgetting important articles of clothing for trips: see me shivering jacket-less in Moscow in the dead of winter, or me atop a steep hiking trail in Spain wearing a battered pair of flimsy flip flops. So, forgetting my bathing suit on a trip along the Pacific Coast was only fitting.
We stopped in Las Tablas, a small labyrinth of a town, easy enough to navigate and pleasing on the eye. I wandered into a few stores, asking about swim suits yet the only thing buyable was this little red Speedo, probably no bigger than a scrunched-up eye patch. â€œI am desperate,â€ I told Greeny, â€œbut not that desperate.â€ Not desperate enough to parade around in a small scrap of stretchy red nylon. I eventually found a pair of surfer shortsâ€”a light blue pair of long board shorts that reminded me of a pair of Jams I used to own. Mission bathing suit proxy, complete.
Although this was not my first time into the heart of Azuero, the rolling hills and gleaming coast never cease to amaze me. We reached Tonosi and met up with Edwin, a 70 year-old local and retiree who walked everywhere with no shoes. â€œDoesn't that hurt your feet?â€ I asked him. He responded with a Spanish proverb which most closely translates to â€œno pain, no gain.â€ Edwin was a thug. He was eager to show us a property he owned in Playa Bucaro (a microscopic fishing village near Cambutal.) Once out there, we treated Edwin to a lunch of fried snapper, in one of those moments that felt totally surreal and paradisiacal. We felt so removed from everything we knew. There Greeny and I wereâ€”sitting near the jungle, in a town so remote and secret, with the ocean waves lapping close by. We picked at the fish with our hands, pulling off giant chunks of succulent flesh and chasing them with crispy plantains which looked like thick little frisbees. They crunch and squish when you eat them. Greeny and I looked at each other in that life-aint-so-bad-after-all way and laughed. â€œLife aint so bad after allâ€ we said.
The town of Tonosi is very rural and homey feeling and before departing on the next leg of our adventure, Greeny and I stopped at a little market to pick up some snacks for the turtle searchâ€”some crunchy pork rinds and a bottle of Panama's national liquor, Seco, or as I like to refer to itâ€”rocket fuel in a bottle. Greeny, now fascinated with the fact that sodas cost $0.25 down here, bought two Cokes. I also picked up some Calamine lotion, being that for some reason, I am more feast-worthy of insects than others. If the Eskimos have over 1,000 words for snow, then I my friends, have over 1,000 words for bug bites. Fire bump, stinging pickle, and spicy pickle bite being several.
We took a boat taxi to Isla Canaâ€”a small circular island inhabited by only a few hundred people. Our boat, a small worn-out lanza, was captained by two children whose combined age couldn't be more than ten or twelve years. Once on shore, we met our contacts Sr. Mercedes and Sr. Fernando, two important males in the community, and two men who would show us where to search for the turtles. Greeny and I set up camp right on the beach and after a game of pickup soccer and a sunset dinner of fresh clams, we began the search for the almighty leatherbacksâ€”a species known to nest and lay eggs on in the winter months.
We bumped into a few fellow searchers, one of whom Greeny thought was a drug smuggler or a turtle egg thief, which was funny considering she was about 80 years old and had the face of a saint, yet with almost no teeth. â€œI've seen jack-o-lanterns with more teeth than that,â€ I said. This woman, Lucy, we'll call her, showed us where the turtles like to go.
Around twelve at night, the turtles arrived: giant inner tube-sized Czechoslovakian turtles began swimming their way up the sand to the dunes where they would lay their eggs in a deeply-dug hole. We had to help one because she was so tired and couldn't scoop out a big enough ditch. Greeny had to help another back to the ocean because in the midst of birth she had gotten confused and frazzled, thus losing her sense of direction. Helping these creatures was a pretty special experience, and one that I'll definitely think about before I order my next bowl of turtle gumbo. Or turtle fritters. Or turtle Mcnuggets.
The next morning I awoke early, as I usually do after helping large creatures of the sea lay eggs on the sand. I wandered out into the ocean and finally understood what surfers have been trying to convince me of for years now: the unbelievably enlightening feeling of being alone in the ocean. The morning mist was still settling over the mountains and the water was warm with the first rays of sunlight hitting it from the other side of the island. Supposedly, the only thing that can top the feeling of being alone in such a massive landscape, is being out there with a good friend and Greeny had just woken up. Things on Isla Cana were good.
continue on to Part Two
Or take a peek at the photos from this adventure: Isla Cana, Isla Cana set 2, Playa Bucaro, Azuero, Playa Bucaro set 2
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