The Panama Jetski Hunt

Written by Matt   
Thursday, 17 September 2009 07:51
Panama JetskisAs a kid, ask jetskis were always a forbidden fruit. My brother and I categorized them along with video game systems and sugar coated cereals as things that we were never allowed to have and thus things we discriminated against religiously. During summers at the beach, I'd see pickup trucks with jetskis in tote and say to myself, gee that's just so...tacky. Owners of jetskis were the same people who owned chicken coops and guns. I figured if I wasn't permitted to enjoy things like jetskis, I'd sure as hell do my best to make those who could feel uncomfortable. "Heard one of those things took off a kids arm down in Love Ladies last summer," I remember saying to this kid on the beach. "Pureed his hand into a bloody pulp. And blood in the water attracts sharks." I was like ten at the time.  A friend offered to pay for a one-hour jetski session in Mexico and after deliberating, I accepted, demanding that if anything happened he'd be personally responsible for telling my mother. Once on the machine, I tested the engine cautiously, like a blind person with temporary vision: slow throttle spurts, cautious turns.  I wanted the jetski experience to suck, I really did.  I wanted to finish and think to myself that as deprived children of the corn, weren't missing all that much.

But we were. Oh we were. It was amazing. Riding a jetski was the single most empowering thing I'd done since destroying a TV set with a baseball bat. We motored in and out of coves, around deserted beaches and under waterfalls. We slalomed through wakes and threw caution to the passing nautical wind. It would not be unfair to say that, in 2008, the jetski was one of my highest highs.

It took me twenty-six and a half years to discover the joy of the jetski, but when proverbial rain came, it poured. After that ride, I was hooked. I was obsessed with the jetski, captivated by the jetski. Everywhere we went, I investigated into whether they had jetskis and if not, did anyone have a generous friend with one. I was watching this news clip of a terrible flood that overran the streets of rural Thailand and this woman stood waving her boney arms atop the hood of a drowning home. I mention this because I remember thinking to myself not, my gosh, someone's got to help her but rather man, those look like ideal conditions for a jetski.

It is not surprising then, that when I got to Panama, I began furiously - like I was in search of a kidney donor - to hunt one down. Phone calls, Google searches, deep and uninterrupted prayer.

In Boca Chica, I was told by several of its protectionist residents that, if I ever did bring a jetski to the area, I'd be shot. In Pedasi, farmers thought I was asking about a girl - a girl named Jessky. And on the Caribbean coast, I finally narrowed down one person, the owner of a dive shop, who owned one jetski he was willing rent. I'd read endlessly about riding jetskis alone and decided if there weren't two for rent, I wasn't going. In Casco Viejo, a Kuna Indian told me he had a jetski and brought out (miscommunicatively) a puka shell necklace for sale, only $5. A wealthy friend "knew a guy" with a jetski, "but he died over a year ago." I wanted to ask what the family had done with the jetski, but the theme was clear.  Jetskis in Panama are more elusive than the quetzal.
I was sulking with disappointment when I realized Panama's lack of jetskis isn't all that surprising. It's not Cancun or Cannes.  Tourism hasn't yet given way to things like tattoo parlors or corny souvenir t-shirts. I was pissed until I realized that these are the very things most people come to Panama to escape. These are the things (or lack thereof) that make Panama so great. I still wanted worriedly to ride a jetski sometime very soon but if it meant sidestepping the tacky tourism tumor that Panama's trying desperately to avoid, that, I figured would be OK too. I could just as easily find my way to Myrtle Beach where jetski rentals come packaged alongside coupons for unlimited crab-leg buffets. For the first time in my life, I had no problem associating with the jetski crowd: I was just glad I didn't live anywhere near them.