April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The morning "carpool"

Part 2 in the "What is your commute like?" series...adventures in transportation with Peace Corps volunteers in Panama.

This morning (July 3) I carpooled...well boatpooled really... with 14 other people to get to port.
Kevin and I have a meeting at 9:00am on Friday the 4th of July in Santiago- our closest big town. It is a normal regularly scheduled meeting...quarterly. Normal work kind of meeting. Here is how we got there:

First we asked around to all of our neighbors and community members: "Do you know anyone who is traveling to port on Thursday or Friday?" Typically I will ask this question of 10-20 people before figuring out how I am getting off the island...or how I am not getting off the island because no one is going close to when we need to go. People are helpful with finding a ride when they can be...they know that they will be in the same situation soon.

This time I got lucky and one of my good friends knew of 2 possible rides for Thursday...one of the first people I asked! Score! I got even luckier when one of the guys going came to her house while we were there and we got to ask him directly...double score!!! Then he offered us a boat ride home...saving us a 2 hour wait for the ocean tide to go down so that we could walk the 50 minutes home...put all of those together and it is the equivalent of winning the isla lottery.

The next step after finding the ride is getting ready to go. Here are some of the steps that we go through when we leave our house empty for more than a day:

  • Put all the kitchen stuff into the back room (food, pots, dishes, soap...everything)

  • Hang all the landry I didn´t get to wash yet from the rafters to protect from mold

  • Bring in the hammocks

  • Clean and fill the hummingbird feeders

  • Close the toilet down with a fresh layer of sawdust, empty the pee container, and properly dispose of TP

  • Give away any veggies that will go bad while we are gone

  • Pack clothes and stuff

  • Go over the "to do" lists and make sure we have everything we need...no turning around for forgotten items

  • Write a note for each of the two closest neighbors saying when we are leaving, returning and our phone number so they don´t worry about us (unless we don´t appear on time...then they will call PC and ask about us)

Our ride out this time was a madrugada ride. Madrugada means early morning...usually before 5am. This ride was scheduled to leave at 3am. Yup, 3am sounds painful, but some of the best rides are this early...cooler, no sun, less chance of rain (most island boats do not have roofs) and you get a full day in town to get stuff done. Of course, this also means that I am ready for my nap at 9am (cutting into that time to "get stuff done"). In light of the departure time, we completed the "leaving checklist" before going to bed at 9pm last night.

At 2:30 this morning the alarm went off...it was painful. To make it just a bit more fun we could hear rain on the roof of the house - so much for less chance of rain. We got up and got dressed and put together the last of our things. As I got ready, I thought to myself "I bet he arrives at 3:38". Guessing when the ride will really get there is a regular game with us as they don´t often depart on time.

We were ready at 3:00...ready enough that we got a hammock back out to wait in. At 3:15 we had a snack to settle the tummy rumbles. Several times we thought we heard the motor of the boat in the distance...but it was either a different crazy madrugada boat or dillusions. Later when we really did hear the boat coming up we grabbed our stuff and headed down the 70 yard long trail to the shore...I checked my watch and what do you know? Spot on at 3:38.

We were the closest neighbors of the guy who was going to port...so we were the first passengers picked up. Today most people were going to a meeting with the local govenment, we were just lucky enough to tag along. After we got in, the boat headed south (port is north) to go around the island picking up everyone else. Usually we are among the last people picked up as we live on the side closest to port; but today we got the pleasure of waiting in the boat (in the rain and dark) for everyone else to come out of their houses. At 5:42am the last of the other 13 passengers loaded the boat.

The ride was not all bad. Yes, I was tired, wet, chilly and cranky and my rear end hurt from the hard bench...but I have to say that the water around the boat this morning was full of bio-luminescence. When the boat was moving the water wake of the boat shone blue, it looked like there was a light shining in the water under us, like a lit up pool. As we sat and waited for others the raindrops hitting the water caused spots of bio-luminescence to appear and disappear....it looked like the water was a field of teal fireflies, or kind of like all the flashbulbs in a stadium at a major event. When I trailed my fingers in the water they set off sparks of bio-luminescence, like mini fireworks trailing my fingers.

(Photo from Flicker user: The Gentle)

After we picked up the last passenger, the actual ride to port was about an hour long (raining all the way) and we all sat bumping each other as we huddled down behind our various umbrellas and plastic sheets, wishing the whole way that we could just fall asleep. We arrived at about 7:00am. At three and a half hours from when we got into the boat, the ride was a bit longer than normal because of the round the isla detour to pick up everyone.

The boat ride can cost from $0-$25. Zero if you go with a friend and they don´t want your gas money, $2-3 with a friend who will take the gas money, and $25 if you have to pay the taxiboat guy to come and get you. We tend to average at the $2-3 ride price, but we have gotten free and $25 rides too.

After arriving at port, we got on a bus...the easy part of the commute. The bus costs $1.10, but sometimes the guy will give you an even $1 change rather than $.90. The busses leave frequently and often feature loud music with accordians and torturous DJs talking/singing over the music. More about busses in a different post.

My clothes are now dry and I am tired. Time to seek out a nap if Kevin is ready to get off the computers. I am just glad that I don´t have to travel off island for all my work. I will have to share photos of my on-island commute another time.

Be careful out there on your commute! Wear your life jacket!


m said...

happy 4th of july! xo, michelle

Kimberly said...

Hi Kevin and April!

I'm really enjoying following along with your adventures--especially loved this post about your commute that morning. I hope you guys are going well--I've met up with Bill Maciejewski a few times recently when he's been in St. Louis, so it's been fun catching up with him! Other than that, not much changing here-still in grad school. :) I'm going to China in less than a week (yikes!) to co-teach a two-week short course at Shangdong University--a little nervous but hopefully it will be a good experience!

Miss you both,

vagabondfeiges said...

Loving the blog as usual. Especially thought the bioluminescence was cool. Anything to ease a commute like that.

We played your isla rummy. Twas fun but MA lost. Always looking for new games for two. We may have some yet more involved suggestions which we learned from Hugo and Rosita (karioke rapido) if we can remember them.

mom and dad cropper said...

we are jealous that we did not get to go all around the island and travel with that many people. at least there were no cows.
Grandma enjoyed the blog also