Monday, September 29, 2014

The Sweet, Sweet Tea of Morocco

Maggie and the family walked out the gate into the open, wondering who was in the car pulling up to their home.
       “Finn, what a surprise! What are you doing here?!” Maggie exclaimed, all 100 lbs, 5' of her, reaching up to wrap herself around Finn’s 6’5”, 225-pound frame.
“Maggie, you look wonderful, nice dress,” Finn answered.
“I made it myself. Mama helped me. Come on in, Finn,” Maggie said, smiling.
Across the yard, Samir contemplated Finn’s arrival.
Mama, Papa, Sara and Lina, Samir’s family, warmly greeted Finn as they all walked into their traditional Berber concrete home. Finn towered over them, close-cut sandy hair, clean-shaven face, a broad smile and bright blue eyes. He got down to the floor with the others, as Mama poured sweet, sweet Moroccan mint tea from her silver teapot into small steaming-hot glasses. 
Finn leaned around, spoke quietly to Samir, who was sitting on the other side of Maggie.  Samir is the only family member who speaks English, after having spent some time in school and college in Marrakesh.
“Samir, I’d like to speak to Maggie alone.  Could you explain to your family and excuse us?”
“Of course, Mr. Finn, yes, take Miss Maggie out in the courtyard.  We wait for you,” replied Samir, standing to help Maggie to her feet, as she glanced from one man to the other, wondering what this was all about.
Finn took Maggie’s hand in his, longing for more than just her warm hand.  They walked outside to the stone courtyard wall overlooking beautiful bright green spring fed fields and gardens.  They watched an old man on a donkey, slowly making his way through the dry river-bed.  Finn put his arm round Maggie and felt her pull slightly away.
He smiled as he gazed at this slip of a woman he’d known half his life.  Hazel eyes, wrinkled tan face, long dark with silver streaked hair. He could feel the heat rising not from the earth, but from the nearness her.
“I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Maggie” he said quietly, as he pulled back a bit to look her square in the face, noticing Samir standing leaning against the door frame, watching.
“Finn, you’re scaring me, what is it?”
“It’s Danny, Maggie, we need you to come home.”
“Danny?!  What happened?!” Maggie could barely get the words out.
“Maggie, you’ve been gone a year now, we get it, you wanted to be away, off the grid, and you’ve missed a lot.  Danny and Julia split up 6 months ago.  She left him, left him and little Nora, and took off with Clark Smithson, her old boy-friend.”
“Oh, no, Finn,” Maggie replied, looking down, thinking of her only son without his beloved wife.
“That’s not the worst of it,” Finn said, watching Maggie. 
“Danny tried to kill himself last week, he tied a rope ‘round his neck.  Miraculously, your Aunt Sally walked in – she’s been helping with Nora.  But it might not have been soon enough. He’s in a coma. The doctors are hoping for the best, we just don’t know, though.  I’m sorry, Honey, but that’s why I came to get you.”
“No, no, no, no.  Finn, I can’t go back to the States, even for Danny.  This is my home now,” Maggie said.
“What are you talking about?  This is your son we’re talking about.  What do you mean you can’t come home?” Finn was raising his voice now.
 “A lot has changed for me, too, Finn.  I’m sorry to have to tell you like this.  I’m married to Samir now, five months ago.” 
They stared at each other.
“You and Samir? 'You shitting me?” Finn’s shock was moving into anger with lightening speed. He looked at Samir.
“Finn, Samir and I, we’re very much in love.  He’s what I want and I’m happy here, really I am.  You go home, be with Danny and Nora.  Take my love home with you. I’m staying here.”
“Damn it, Maggie, what the hell? I’ve come halfway ‘cross the world, choking down dry bread and figs, over those freaking mountains, scorching in the desert, without a drink in days and I’m not leaving without you. You can come back later.  The medinas, the mosques, the food, the people, Samir, yeah, I get it.  But Danny might not make it.”
“I know, I know.  I know it's not easy, but Finn, we all die, we do.  I’m alive, I feel alive for the first time in a long, long  time. I’m here and I’m not going back to the States. Ever.” 
She turned away and walked over to Samir, who reached out for her hand, the same hand Finn had just been holding as they walked into the house.
Finn sat outside for a while, coming to terms with Maggie’s decision, with her life now, disappointment settling in as his anger diminished in the setting sun. So many times in the past, she’d wanted to marry him.  Each time, Finn had those damn cold feet. 
In darkness, he walked back in and sat down with the family.  Mama handed him another glass of that warm, sweet, sweet tea.  He was quiet, barely listening as they all them murmured gently to each other.  He could feel Maggie and Samir’s love now.  He could see it in their faces. 
Samir, the man who housed Finn and Maggie when they first came to Morocco together, so long ago.  Samir was a good man.
Finn was up before daylight.  He couldn’t bear to see Maggie again. All he could think of was Maggie and Samir alone in the dark.  He stood up from the Berber rugs and blankets stretched out below him on the concrete floor, walked quietly out the sleeping room door, across the courtyard and out the gate.
Just before night was turning to day, he got into the car, turned the key in the ignition, switched on the headlights.  With a long glance in the rearview mirror, his lips quivering, he started up the gully to the main road.  Such as it was.  
It was a while before he could relax, the car bouncing up and down the rocky dirt road and on up to the paved two lane stretch over the Atlas Peak Mountains.  The sun came up in a blaze, stunning mountain top views, a mile and a half above the world, amazingly beautiful.  
He understood, yes, he understood.  He pulled off the road as his cell began to ring.
“Finn, it’s Danny, where are you, Man?”


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nine Degrees North - The End

continued from Part 4.... 

It’s been almost two weeks now since coming back home to California.  Weather is beautiful.  Enjoying it as I spend time putting up bits and pieces of my latest well-planned and much loved journey.  Copies we made of our passports, credit cards, itineraries, in case of emergency.  Spanish-English phrase books, travel guides and a variety of sketch books, journals and biz cards I picked up along the way.  I joyfully finished three books on the trip and donated them out somewhere in Central America.

We left Boquete 3/24, back over to Bocas town for the last few days of our holiday, back to the island in time to grab some lunch at the Buena Vista Bar and Grill.  We were happy to see our favorite local boatman out in front of us.  He's the one who sits in the back of his boat, left hand on the tiller, right one continually bailing out the water from inside the boat with his yellow plastic pail! 

We were watching some kids who had just returned from a scuba trip on the deck next to us.  They were getting out of their gear, rinsing off the sticky salt water, stowing booties and tanks.  I noticed what I thought was a most remarkable tattoo on the girl’s back.   Imagine the outline of an empty box.  It was many years ago that a mentor of mine taught me that to really change our lives, we have to get out of the box.  And I did.  And I like that tattoo.

Later that day and the next, I'm not feeling up to snuff.  So I’m resting, which just so happens to be a perfect thing to do in Bocas.  Had a cuppa hot tea, Tom hunted down a carton of plain yogurt, which was not easy to find on this island.  We were staying at a little B&B, in a lovely little room right over the water which spent 24 hours a day lapping onto the shore.  The place had a good strong shower and quiet ceiling fans. 

Best room in the place, I think, with such a nice cool ocean breeze.  Never turned on the a/c, though the neighbors behind told us they needed to because they weren't lucky to have the ocean breeze. 

Picture perfect.  Until we heard the locals, the neighbors who live next door in their little wooden shack-house, puking into the sea on the other side of our bedroom wall.  Yuch!  

No way was I going to swim off the deck now.  One more reason why so many swimmers and snorklers take that trek out to the Beach Drago on the other side of the island.  Beaches near the town center are not for swimming, or anything else like it.

After weeks of emailing back and forth to the owner and office manager at Cocomo on the Sea, it was really fun to meet them in person.  Galia and Doug were able to answer lots of questions for us, tell us where to find more organic coffee and chocolate – at the Gourmet Super, of course.  Which, as it turns out, was a fabulous store.  All kinds of organic packaged and fresh foods – in a big completely air conditioned store, quite unusual for Bocas town.  

Doug also spent some time with us filling us in about business and such in Bocas.  He moved to the island about 10 years ago from somewhere in the midwest, I think.  He's the one who told us 'yeah, that big building down the road, it's the Chinese.  They're everywhere.'

Cocomo spreads out a nice buffet breakfast each morning – juice, fresh fruits, cereals, plus they cook up a variety of hot foods.  Eggs, Panama-style crispy French toast, oatmeal pancakes, etc.  Hammocks hang around the front decks waiting for us.  Another time we might choose one of the large comfy cushioned chairs & lounges.  It's just the best place to read, write, meet some other guests and sketch a bit.  One family visiting here from Florida have many tales to tell us of Panama, as they've been here often.  They’d just been to the Panama Canal, and now were enjoying taking their teenage son out to the local surf spots, as well as snorkeling and hiking.  Telling embarrassing stories about his crazy exploits – right in front of him.  I felt for the kid.  And I had the feeling he’s used to it.

We met only one really arrogant guy here, American from Oregon, Salem or Eugene.  Erik introduced himself to all of us when he stopped by to pick up a couple girls who're also staying at Cocomo.  He made sure to tout his book that he'd just published, 'look it up on your iPad,' he said to the lady sitting near me.  How did he phrase it? ‘A literary novel, a love story.  Yes it's novel, only with bigger words.’ 

I asked him if it was literary fiction, similar to Gabriel García Márquez?  He replied, "I don't think I've read any of her things." This fascinating writers and authors discussion preceded a heated and provocative discussion of paper vs electronic books, people who have access or not, the importance of paper books, the significance and support of local libraries, etc., etc.

With us on the deck at the time of this confab were two other people from Oregon. A psychologist at a university, and a researcher specializing in the earth’s thermal currents via satellite imaging as he writes a book about eco pollution.  Delightful couple.  I liked them a lot.  They’re nearing retirement and already travel often to Central America.  She’ll be hiking the Camino St. James Walk this coming fall.  I’d like to keep in touch with her.

We took our last day on the island to join with the two 'likeable' Oregonians and several other folks (yes, more Americans and a couple Canadians) on a snorkeling trip far beyond the islands we’ve seen so so far.  Turned out to be a day long trip for two short snorkeling sessions, lots of time to see the outlying islands and islets of Bocas archipeligo, with lunch thrown in along the way. 

The snorkeling time was excellent in one spot, pretty darn good in another.   The fish and coral formations at the reef were pretty astounding.  One of these days I'll get me an underwater camera.   

We also stopped on the shore of an itty-bitty island for a break and a chance to explore the place.  We walked along a beautiful man-made trail across the island, arrived at the beach and wandered along the shore to where we started.  Spectacular scenery, clear waters on which to float and observe the underwater life.  

On the boat back to shore, that's when the rain started coming down.  That’s the one time my umbrella came in handy.  We were sitting in the front seat of the boat, the rain screaming down as the boat rushed along across the sea.  My umbrella went up to keep us somewhat protected.  A good thing, it began to get cold out there!

We enjoyed our day’s boatman, Agapita, who explained a lot of things along the way.  He helped everyone with the ladder as we climbed back into the boat.  Passed around water and snorkle masks.  I asked him about the empty small boats I’d seen out in the water as we were cruising by.  He told me they belong to the “local guy who’s out diving for lobsters - to sell to the store or the restaurant so that he has money to get things for his family.”

We gave him a nice tip the end of the day.  Later learned that most people never tip these guys.  He gave us great service, he deserved to take home a few extra colones the end of the day.

Then of course, we did a bit of shopping the last few days on Bocas before heading out back to Costa Rica for our flight home.  We scoured the little shops, the tables set up by local artisans and crafters along Calle 3, the main road in town.  More of the vendors are out at night.  Cooler then, nice time to walk and browse.  Fairly bright street lights on the roads help.  

We picked up several pieces of local art, including hand-stitched embroidery on cotton, an oil-on-canvas painting from a beautiful shop owner’s son, a few t-shirts, hammocks, sundresses, hand crafted jewelry and a printed/stained bookmark made from local balsa wood.

Eventually it was time to leave the islands, up early in the morning, walking along the now quiet Calle 3, to the boat docks.  After some time, we expertly board the boat, grab a life jacket and enjoy our last boat ride in the cool mist, with a slight wind kicking up the water, heading for the mainland.  I could feel the sadness of leaving warming my shoulders.

Off the boat, we easily find our shuttle, and ended up being on a pretty decent sized shuttle van with just two other people.  The two girls who were also staying at Cocomo in Bocas.  Indian ancestry, they live in Germany.  The driver told us we originally were to be on the small van, but it broke.  He told us in so many Spanish words and lots of finger/arm movements, facial expressions and boom!!  noices.  So we were upgraded again!  

We arrive back in San Jose after a long travel day to find a chorus of cicadas at the Hotel Aeropuerto.  They weren’t there in the beginning of our trip and they were definitely having a good time of it.  Go to the bar, like it’s home, turn on CNN and the plane is still missing.  My, my.

It was in the San Jose airport the next morning that I dropped my cell phone on the concrete and shattered the front glass.    Hmm.  Now I have a new phone, with a protective case that I actually am using.  It was also on this trip home that we found the unusually long check in and security lines. We missed that the first time around.  First long line: to pay our $28 fly-away exit tax to leave Costa Rica.  They really don’t want you to leave.

Then in San Salvador, we went through yet one more security check during our change of planes.  This time our bags were completely unpacked and sort of put back together.  Ready to board, there’s a long line of - people in wheelchairs.  A baker’s dozen of short old people on wheels.  Giving me ideas for another travel time.

The flight home, tired, relaxing and watching a couple movies I highly recommend.  #1: Nebraska.  Great movie for people about family and aging parents if you haven’t seen it.  #2: 12 Years a Slave, excellent film about adversity and our terrible history with human beings.

We got home to our first stop in San Francisco with a cold rain coming down.  Still in holiday wear.  Brrrr.  We’re really not wanting to be here yet.  We look at the planes taking off, look at each other and laugh about getting off the hotel shuttle bus and onto another flight somewhere.  

This trip to Panama via Costa Rica was a joy.  One of the last expats we spoke to on the other side of that bridge between Panama and Costa Rica summed it up.  “It rains sometimes, but it’s always hot.”

My top 3 Highlights!

3.      Beautiful surroundings.
2.      Wonderful people.

1.      Memories that live forever.


for now