Isla Taboga, Republic of Panama – Eclipse Day – Feb 26, 1998
“So…How was your day?”
“Great – explored the town, walked all over, took a bunch of pictures…”
A night spent in town,
Hopped on a fast boat
That took us on down
To Isla Taboga,
Island of flowers,
A solar eclipse
That was only hours away….
To the Playground
Surreptitious whispers – we’re gathering in the playground at noon.
Sounds intriguing – I need to be there.
The sky starts to darken.
Tray of brownies – thick and gooey as molasses, but bitter –
Like the taste of aspirin dissolving on my tongue.
Hmmm…how much to take?
This is an important decision – one that shouldn’t be made in haste – but who to consult??
In the end I look inside myself and take one – then an extra half just to be sure…
Everyone is happy.
A Hike Forsaken
A hike!! Just what my poor, bus-cramped legs need.
I can view the eclipse from the top of the hill.
We take off leisurely, trail winding through town.
Suddenly I’m aware of being in a FOREIGN place.
My heart thumps – thump, thump – pulsating below my rib cage.
I can’t seem to catch my breath…
Damn… what did I do??!!
Plans to reach the top and view the eclipse quickly disintegrate
Into fragmented snatches of overheard conversation.
I Want to Be Alone
Echoes of Greta Garbo swirl through my brain…
Mi amigo .. wants to be alone…
I could be offended, but I refuse to let myself slide…
I’m already further down the hill than I had intended.
I should be halfway to the top,
but I’m headed in the reverse direction.
I walk down, and down, and down… for what seems like several days…
Where in the hell am I ??
Where’s everyone else…? I think I want some company…
I hear the sound of voices, barely audible among the jungle noises…
Round a bend I see bodies, crouched by the trail…
Sean blissfully clutches his purple, tie-dyed security blanket…
I am there, but not there…
I hear voices… part of a conversation to which I cannot connect…
Everyone is happy.
I look at the sky – the sun is nowhere to be seen…
All I see are trees and clouds… the sky continues to darken…
Damn – this is the eclipse trip and I’m missing the eclipse !!
But that is the least of my worries…
I have to decide… I hate making decisions…
Yep… Gotta go… A moment of fear… where am I going?? I need a destination…
I follow my instincts,
End up in a hollow somewhere below the trail…
an old well, or maybe an irrigation pump.
I don’t belong here, but I stay anyway…
Can’t handle the trail, so I sit on a rock,
Listen to the soothing sounds of the jungle…
I hear voices again… someone above me on the trail.
I look up and see a familiar face… I don’t want to see familiar faces…
I feel suddenly exposed, shrink into the rock…
I wait… and wait… and wait… the voices fade into the distance…
I sit for a while – close my eyes, enjoy…
Then restlessness takes hold of me, and I’m off again…
Paul Gaugin, the Shell House, and Other Natural Wonders
I find myself back in town
Streets meandering, randomly morphing into driveways.
Houses tucked neatly into hillsides,
Level upon level.
I follow what looks like an interesting path
And find myself on a dead-end road going nowhere.
I look up – I am staring into someone’s kitchen – they are busily preparing food.
Again I am an intruder.
Back down the hillside,
Past crumbling walls, myriad flowers, lies the most beautiful garden I have ever seen.
I put down my water bottle which by now is almost empty.
I need to take a photo.
Young boy strolls by,
Bends down, grabs my bottle, flings it into the garden…
I have no words.
I look at him with puzzled expression… shrug my shoulders…
He looks back, equally puzzled.
He continues up the hill.
Back on the main road, I pass a house.
Adorned with shells, plucked from a fairy tale.
Gleaming white with hues of purple and blue.
Old man beckons me inside – he is stooped, and he moves slowly…
Face lined and crinkled like the bark of a tree.
Would I like to see his shell collection?
I nod and smile – enter his abode.
Beautiful shells, beautiful house.
He catches my eye, points down to his arm…
Open wounds, festering sores…
Suddenly I see no beauty, only pain and suffering…
I am confused…
Smiling a bit more tentatively now, I turn
And go back the way I came,
Pausing just long enough to take a picture.
I pass a cemetery,
White tombstones, plastic flowers.
Do they really honor the dead with plastic flowers?
It’s an old cemetery.
I linger for a while,
Enveloped by loneliness, but it’s not unpleasant.
In a strange way it calms me.
Another Hike Forsaken
I continue down the main street,
Approaching the end of town.
In the distance I see a grassy, treeless hill.
On top sits a cross, stark and barren.
I want to hike to the cross, look down on the harbor below.
The sun beats down, showing no mercy.
Dust swirls under my feet.
There are no trees, only this dry road,
And a barbed wire fence that stretches into infinity.
My mouth is dry – I need water.
My hands are empty – I realize I have no water.
The dust continues to swirl.
I see the dried-up carcass of a dead toad
Stretched out on the road ahead.
Another few feet… another dead toad.
I see myself, many miles ahead … waterless…
Carcass dry and shriveled – never reaching the cross.
I pause a moment to reflect.
Then turn and head back to town.
On a Quest
I’m obsessed with thoughts of ice cream,
Cold and creamy, sliding down my throat.
I’m in luck, I remember the word – helados…
But the word takes me nowhere – there is no ice cream here.
A cold drink will do, but no stores are in sight.
I stop a passerby.
He leads me down, through winding streets…
To a store cleverly disguised as a house.
Clutching my drink tightly, I savor every drop.
Back towards camp – I’m not quite ready to return.
I head for the beach, soak my feet in the water.
Sit by the wall, rough stones against my back.
Close my eyes, my mind drifts.
The sun sinks lower in the sky…
I hear a voice and look up.
Voice of innocence, she wants to talk.
What is my name? What’s in my bag?
I struggle to find the right words… grow tired of struggling.
Close my eyes and sink back into the wall.
Back to Reality (… and another missed hike)
I see movement down the beach.
Familiar faces returning to camp.
I watch for some time,
A spy – observing, unnoticed.
It’s time to go back.
Curious faces, wondering where I’ve been.
“So, how was your day?”
I see Ron approaching.
Wynn is gone – unseen for hours.
Somewhere in the hills – drug-crazed, no water.
My mind flashes back – toad stretched out like a strip of leather,
Shriveled body by the cross…
Time to send out a search party.
I’m ready to hike to the cross – a final chance!
We have a mission, a purpose…
Gathering water, we set off through town.
Halfway through the village we see Wynn…
Looking far from shriveled, smile on his face.
He has that familiar flirtatious look in his eyes.
He’s talking to Lynn – he is happy.
We meet Lynn – she shows us her paintings.
Hues of purple and blue, like shells on the beach.
I’m still thinking of ice cream.
Maybe in English I’ll have better luck.
There was no helados – there is no ice cream.
Lynn offers to find us some duros…
Frozen concoctions of fruit and ice.
We follow her through town.. we’re on a quest.
“Does your mom have duros today?”
Finally we find them, our duros.
I’m pleased to discover something new.
Cool and wonderful, I savor every drop.
I eat slowly, head back to camp.
The sun is sinking quickly now.
I realize I’m hungry.
Mi amigo has returned … he’s hungry too…
We head for the cooler and rummage for food.
Tuna… no, too dry…
Some cheese.. mayo… slabs of bread…
Aha .. a tomato !
We sit on the wall, legs dangling,
Look out over the harbor.
Eat… talk … eat … talk some more …
We are playing … playing with words …
He traps me quite cleverly, I’m amused.
I make no effort to control my laughter.
I am happy …
I wake with a start.
It is quite late .. or quite early …
Waves are lapping the beach, getting closer and closer.
My shoes … where are my shoes ??
I poke my head out of the tent,
Into the still-warm night air.
My shoes are a fraction of an inch short
Of being devoured by the ocean.
I jump down from the wall – feel the wet sand beneath my feet.
Grab my shoes – raise them to the safety of the wall.
Crawl back into my tent,
Breathe a heavy sigh … and close my eyes.
It’s been a long day.