by Peter Nelson

Eventually, I find the Colòn docks and hear of a likely captain.  But when I meet him, I’m almost defeated by my poor translation of a gesture.  He makes a downward sweeping motion with his open hand that looks for all the world like a suggestion that I sit down.  So I back up to some cargo bales and take a seat.  The same gesture, repeated with obvious irritation.  Am I not far enough back?  I retreat to another bale further back.  Now the hand is being pumped furiously, and finally comes the dawn.  He doesn’t mean “sientase.”  He means “venga.”  Obvious, isn’t it?

So I go over to him, and we strike up a deal.  At least I think we do.  His accent is so sing-song Caribbean, I can hardly tell what language he’s speaking.  But apparently we sail sometime after dark.

Here’s our vessel, a small banana boat named “The Swan”.  Even a cursory glance from a prairie-dwelling landlubber like me tells me that the owner must have had a highly-developed sense of irony when he chose that name!  On board are Sal and Moon, two sympathetic types.  Sal has long dark hair, intense eyes, he’s fromVancouver.  Moon is your typical insane young Californian, even though he’s also from Canada.  We’ve barely left the dock before we realize our tiny craft, loaded to the gunwales with bananas, (are there no banana trees on San Andreas?) is sadly lacking in gyro-stabilizers.

Within minutes after setting off, every single person on board is seasick, and I mean green to the gills! — the crew, the captain, and all the passengers.  Everyone that is except Sal and Moon who have dropped acid and are up on the roof of the wheelhouse, drinking cheap local whisky.  I lose all interest in food, lose all track of time.  Judging by the changing light outside the dingy porthole, I’m guessing the trip took two days and two nights.  The sea is beautiful though, during the rare moments when you can stand up long enough to actually look at it.  Tons of flying fish skim over the waves, apparently able to stay airborne for ¼ mile.
San Andreas is an island just off the coast of Nicaragua and therefore much further from Colombia than Panama is.  So don’t ask me why it’s cheaper to go to Colombia by way of San Andreas.  Anyway, by the time we get to the island, Sal and Moon and I are shipmates, and we disembark to look for a good campsite on the beach amongst the coconut palms.  The next boat in from Colòn carries the two Ladies in Black from
Brooklyn, and they join us.  Then a French girl and an Englishman walk over to chat, and then a Scot and an Aussie, and presto, we’re a beach-dwelling gringo colony.  A source of much interest and amusement for the natives.

There’s always a handful of local kids hanging around us, cheerful as puppies, full of helpful information.  There’s a good cheap restaurant just behind us where we have our evening meals.  Breakfast and/or lunch are bread, cheese-ends, coconuts, coffee and fruit.  A swim, a stretch out in the shade — the hard life, to be sure.  But sleeping in the shade of a palm tree is a bit like Russian roulette, because every once in a while a coconut thumps down to the sand.  And if that sucker hit you, you would not escape undamaged.

Yvette, the French girl, has a close encounter with a sea urchin.  Roger the Brit says soaking her foot in urine is the most painless way to extract all those little needles.  Someone finds a largeflat tin, and those of us who can perform this private act in public, contribute to her treatment.  Needless to say, it doesn’t work.  But hey, it was fun trying.

Nobody has any tents, but coconuts don’t seem to fall often at night.  Nights are clear and black and sparkle with thousands of stars, except for one quick shower which chases us to the restaurant for shelter and stops the moment we’re inside.

Lazy days, lazy nights, nice to have company of such a sympathetic nature.  Some group fantasizing of buying a classy little hut on stilts down on the road to San Andreas town, and retiring here.  Could teach English, wouldn’t need much money, anyway.

The elastic in my swimming trunks was dangerously loose.  More than once, I strode out of the surf to find them down around my knees, but Yvette took up a few hitches, and now they should last another few months.

One night we find Pappa, a local legend to the resident colony of young European druggies living in town somewhere.  Pappa will turn you on and then give you ambrosia in the form of his wife’s turtle soup.  And yea, it comes to pass.  Others hear of our group, and before long our expatriate community numbers 12, a veritable Club European.  Now that we’re an even dozen, we qualify for a group rate on a cheap flight from San Andreas toCartagena.