Friends in Faraway Places
Friends in Faraway Places
As we travel
around the world, the best part is meeting new friends.
On the island of Bastimentos, Panama we made friends with members of the indigenous Indian tribe known as the Ngobe.
My particular friend and constant co-worker was Erick who sanded and varnished the rail of Peregrina and polished the stainless steel. Here he is in Margie’s hat!
Erick is 15 years old and speaks the Ngobe language but, lucky for me, he also speaks Spanish. Over the course of five weeks, we became friends and I taught him the necessary English words he would need to get work on other visiting boats. As our friendship developed, he shared more and more of his life with me.
Erick has 10 brothers and sisters. He lives with his mother but has never met his father who, he was told, lives near Panama City. Erick told me that he has never said the word “Papi” to anyone in his life. My girls are 33 and 34 years old and they still call me “Papi.”
Erick lives in the Bahia Roja village which was a 5 minute dinghy ride from Peregrina. Here, you can see the sign saying “Welcome to the Community of Bahia Roja.” The Ngobe are very friendly, happy people.
There are about 15 houses in the village. All are simple wooden structures with no electricity or running water. Many, near the mangroves, are raised up above the mud on stilts since the water can come inland at high tide or during a full moon.
Often, I would start the day by going to Maria’s house for fresh baked bread. The bread cost $.25 US for a “Johnny Cake.” It was wonderful because she put coconut in the mixture and baked the “Johnny Cakes” in an oven made of mud and bricks. If you were lucky, they would still be warm! Her home was also the village store and you can see some items for sale on the shelves.
For most of the kids in the village, Maria’s bread was a great start to the day.
at the Red Frog Mmarina near the village, life on Peregrina held a gentle but
rewarding schedule for me.
come early, about 7:30 and work until about 12:30 when the sun just became too
hot. He would bring his phone and the phones of other family members for us to
charge since they had no electricity. At times, we would be charging four phones
or more! Erick wanted his phone nearby
since his girlfriend, who was 13, would often call.
Erick’s sister married at age 15 and now, at age 18, has two children. It’s incredible to think that I was the ripe old age of 30 before I became a father but, in all likelihood, Erick could be married with children within a year or two!
After Erick had been working for a few days, we started to receive a series of canoes from Bahia Roja which would arrive with small visitors. Some were part of Erick’s immediate family; some were other village kids who wanted to meet us. They loved the books and crayons for coloring which we supplied.
At first, the kids were shy but, over time, they not only warmed up but became truly happy to swarm all over Peregrina’s decks and spend time with us.
At first, we gave the kids cookies which they loved. But, when we realized how bad their teeth were, we began offering them fruit instead.
One of our
favorite kids was Archimedes! He is 9
years old and came by Peregrina every day but this wasn’t a social visit. On the contrary, Archimedes was a working man
on a mission!
Each morning, he would go fishing at 5:45 to catch breakfast for his family. Then, by mid-morning, his mother would finish cooking a batch of empanadas. Here is Archimedes arriving with his supply of empanadas for sale. The empanadas are kept in the bucket. Notice that he tows his shoes on a piece of styrofoam as his canoe leaks and he has to bail constantly.
We always bought empanadas from Archimedes and named him “El Rey De Las Empanadas.” (The Empanada King)
visiting the docks, Archimedes would carry his bucket about a quarter mile to
the Red Frog Beach and walk up and down in the hot sun selling empanadas until
his bucket was empty. He told me that he could not go home until they were all
sold. He wants to be a doctor or a mathematician when he grows up.
When we left,
it was a teary goodbye. We told everyone that we were going through the Panama
Canal and up the west coast of Central America to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El
Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
They had no idea where these places were and
they just kept repeating the question: “Will you be back soon?”
It was tough to leave...