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We are in a semi retirement community for the summer months. By being here we are experiencing a life style much like we have enjoyed in Florida over many years.  Wednesday morning at 10 AM a few of us gather for a social hour for coffee and a snack. The conversation will always be a little hard to understand especially for those of us that have a hearing problem, for the women who always outnumber the men 2 to 1,  get the decibel level up to a feverish pitch.

Three or four of my friends got into the subject of travel, right up my alley as for 15 years my wife and I sold and escorted travelers all over the globe. The Panama Canal was mentioned as a favorite destination. This brought to my memory one of our experiences on a cruise to Panama.  We were excited to have a stop for a day at the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama in the Gulf of Mexico.  Our tender from the ship had a five mile trip and not having read up on this remote out crop of Islands we were all in the same boat, so to speak, and unaware of the treasures we were about to discover. As we approached the group of islands, we were amazed to see just 5 or 6 Safari helmet like images rising from the calm and assure colored waters. Upon closer scrutiny we saw that these were islands and totally covered with grass roofed huts that were built so close together that they appeared to be one. Only 49 islands are inhabited out of the 378.  The other islands are visited daily by the men and used to farm.  Fishing and farming provide a decent life style and now that tourists are finding this island paradise, they will enter into the 21st century. Hopefully they will survive as they have for the past hundreds of years. The woman are now wearing clothes but they all still wear a distinctive black mark running from the forehead down to the tip of their nose. We were very fortunate to have met a young man that was passionate about his ancestors and his tribe history. His father started a museum and the son was running it since his father’s death. We learned about what an influence the hammock has in their daily lives, from conception to death. The women make Molas that are a recognized worldwide as an art form.  We were interested to observe that the young boys were so happy and playful and the girls just the opposite. No life in their eyes.

But now on to the rest of the story.

Our day was consumed by one experience after another until it was time to return to our ship. We passed the bar at the land side of the cement pier and upon poking my head in to the dark and Smokey space; I recognized a few of my group.  Many had been there for the whole day when they realized the beer was only 95 cents a bottle.  “You have missed the tender”, one called out “come and have a beer while we wait” I had a better idea I thought. Tied to the pier was a 40 to 50 foot dugout canoe with a 40 HP Yamaha hanging from the stern. Two young men were manning the craft and I asked, “How much to take us out to our ship?  The captain signaled $2.50 US.  “How much for many people?” The price was the same but you two go free.  I went back to the bar and asked, “Any one want to go back to the ship in a tree?  The 95 cent beer had worked its magic and I had no trouble filling this craft. If they were not too adventuresome to start, they sure were at the end of this day. One of the first aboard was, “ I will call her Alice”, she had a most unglamorous free fall into the bottom of the boat but because of her size, her body fat seemed to absorb any pain and she was giggling all the time. She found a seat amidships, a great place for her if she was to stay, I wanted to convince her that this was a bit of a risk and she might be advised to wait for the ship tender. But no amount of pleading from me was going to unglue her from that seat.

When the canoe was full, I began to realize just what a fool I was to put over 20 lives in jeopardy. One older gentleman stood up to take a picture and I bellowed out  “SIT DOWN!”.  It was too late; all my passengers were intent on making this voyage, in spite of the fact that we were overweight and there were no safety aids at all. No radio, and worse, no life jackets.  We were in the hands of the Gods and these two young men that I didn’t know from Adam.  I was sweating Bullets the whole trip and the seas were not calm as they were at the shore line, we were in a healthy chop by the time we arrived at the ship.  The ship’s crew was in no mood to help us disembark; some of the younger passengers saw our dilemma and started to pull these seniors and beer and water logged sailors onto the landing platform. I held back with a friend because I knew the worst was yet to come. The bow of our craft was the only way to disembark, otherwise trying to get out from the side could and probably would tip the craft and that would be the last thing we would want to endure. We would all be thrashing about in the ocean and Alice could be injured. The problem was the bow had two steps up to the gunwales and then a very big step up to the landing deck. Difficult for any one of any size but almost an impossible feat for our Alice who weighed in at well over 300 pounds. The waves were becoming higher and the canoe was pitching up and down and Alice was laughing so hard she had no body strength at all to help herself. It didn’t improve the situation when I suggested to my friend that we push, one on each cheek while the crew pulls with their entire might. This only made Alice even more helpless with laughter. I am not sure if our pushing was of any help as we were pushing into what seemed to be a soft marshmallow with hardly any resistance at all. We finally did extract Alice from the canoe; I am not sure how as I was at the other end of the procedure and my view was totally blocked. No one was injured and no one offended as to the lengths we had to go. Many spoke fondly of that day at sea and no one was more thrilled with their day than Alice. She had a great story to pass on to her children and grandchildren.

Paul D. Scott

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