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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Minute Man and the Milky Way

After April left on Sunday, I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday hiking around the island getting papers filled out for site development for a follow-on PCV, pasear-ing (just chatting) with folks after the health fair, and trying to find a ride out for Thursday. I was successful on the first two. But the only ride I heard about for Thursday was with Efrain, my original guia (guide), who lives on the far side of the island. Since it was about a two and a half hour hike to go see him, I called instead, but had to leave messages. I didn't hear anything until Wednesday evening around 6. Efrain was going out, leaving in the madrugada (middle of the night) with some family who was visiting (it is still summer/dry season here and school is still out), but was willing to swing by our house to pick me up. Around 4am he said. I had a ride!

So I got the house ready for leaving, putting the parts of the kitchen (which is outside) in the back room, pouring out the pee container, burning the toilet paper, and taking down all but one of the hammocks. I set the alarm for 3:36am, which would give me more than enough time to get dressed, drink a glass of water, grab some bread, tie up the trash bag to carry out, and sit in the hammock to await the sound of a boat (while Efrain may be fairly timely, we've learned to be patient awaiting rides out, especially in the madrugada; the hammocks go away in the morning). And I went to bed.



"¡KEVIN!, ¿esta listo?"

OH MY GOSH, I must not have heard my watch alarm! Nor my phone alarm?

"Si Efrain. Uno momento."

What time is it? Wait, it is 3:32am! He's early!

So I hopped up, pulled on my clothes, grabbed my bag, stuck the water filter in the back room, and left the trash and the hammock; Efrain was ready to get back in the boat. My watch alarm to wake up went off as we were pulling out of our cove. I felt like a Minute Man.

But a two hour ride to port starting at 3:30am can be beautiful. There are no lights along the Gulf (it is a RAMSAR Treaty Protected Wetlands Area) and the view of the stars can be amazing. Although there was a stretch where I thought at first that it must have been cloudy, since the stars were almost blurry and the background was greyer / less black. But over the course of the entire ride, that section of "clouds" never moved. I realized this was a different, early morning, section of the Milky Way from the more distinct stars-on-a-whiteish-background portion we can see in the evening, when we more commonly are out looking up at the stars. (My reaction reminded me of Barack Obama's similar description of watching what he initially thought were unmoving clouds over stars while in Kenya in Dreams From My Father, which I'd initially scoffed at, "knowing" what the clear whiter stretch of the evening night sky was.)

That amazing section of the Milky Way and the other constellations and the several shooting stars visible in the vast expanse of sky were also reflected on the mirror smooth water ahead of our wake. Despite the early hour, I kept my watch, like a Minute Man soldier of old, on the ever constant yet ever intriguing view of a clear star-filled night sky free of light pollution.


Tabassum Majid said...

That is beautiful, may you have many more moments like that! :) Thanks for making my weekend!! Miss you.

Kristin said...

Did you see the lights in the water? the phosphorecense?

Kevin Cropper said...

Definately did see phosphoresence, but I spent more of my time looking up.
There have been times when it almost looks like there is a muted light on behind the boat, as the motor churns up a glow that goes well beyond just points of light. Definately fun to see when riding in the boat in the middle of the night/morning.

Linda said...

wow. What a fantastic sight to see! Maybe one of these days...