Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Day 5- Legal Battles

Sunrise on incompetence

We awoke to the dulcet tones of J2 expressing how well he thought he’d handled the rodent crisis of the previous evening. Awakening the entire village, he thought, was a perfectly rational, understandable reaction to a mouse attack (well apparently those teeth were F**KING HUGE!!). He went so far as to say that any of us would have done the same thing, adding ‘I think I handled it very calmly’, and we would have probably screamed a lot louder for a lot longer…

We learnt that a trip to our stricken vessel had been planned; apparently 100 of the locals were on their way there to try and pull the boat closer to shore. Nobody knew why the boat needed to be closer, but we decided to join in the effort anyway. We travelled to Ground Zero, where a camp had been set up and ropes were being busily attached to the boat and palm trees. The pair of strings hooked onto the boat looked laughably insufficient to haul the vessel across the sandfloor, but the enthusiasm of the locals had the potential to move anything. Every time a wave would crash into the boat, everyone would start screaming ‘Hale! Hale! Hale!’ (Pulll, pull, pull!), not together, but forming one continuous melange of bubbling voices. Nothing was going to move though, even after a pulley system was set up and an hour was spent bailing knee-deep water out of the cabin.


Local salvage crew

When the police turned up, things got a little worrisome. They offered us help, but it was a one-time deal, if we didn’t take it now, we were on our own. Thus began another guessing game surrounding the motives of our passport-holding captain. Was he coming back? Was he going to sell the documents on the black market ($3000 a pop)? Was he still in Panama? Should we just go now to Panama City and get new passports? (which would mean losing some fantastic collections of stamps). How many tins of baked beans were left in the shop? The locals showed their fiercely independent side, surrounding the Policemen and having a long, loud, disorderly argument with these representatives of the government they had kicked out eighty years ago. With shakes of fingers and heads, they advised us heavily against going with the cops, thus adding to our confusion. When word came that the police actually suspected us of being a cartel of (seriously inept- seriously ragtag) cocaine smugglers, things got tense. They dropped those suspicions quickly though, and we were free to go.

We quickly marched back to the village, eager to see if Le Capitaine had returned with our precious documents. As our canoe floated back to town, a small red plane appeared in the big blue sky, circled our boat and came into land. In the passenger window we saw the bearded dial of the Cap’n. The boat turned around, and our fearless leader climbed aboard, to be met with a short series of sharp questions. Did he have our passports? Yes. Did he have the promised plane tickets out of here? ‘We will sort it out in the village’ came the unconvincing reply.


When our boat into town, there was, as usual, a large welcoming committee awaiting us. We were ushered directly into the town hall, a basketball court sized hut with rows of pews radiating from a central area. Our group was shown to one bench seat in the front row, with le Capitaine and some of the village elders seated opposite us. Apparently, a mediation session had been pre-planned, and we were about to negotiate a way out of here. Le Capitaine's arrogance and pronounced conceit kicked into top gear as he put forward his case for washing his hands of us completely. According to him, we were now in the San Blas, he had stamped our passports and that was the fulfilment of our agreement. Such blatant contempt of his responsibilities left us quite speechless; it became obvious that we were dealing with the psyche of spoilt child trapped in the body of wretched old man. As he mocked our stunned reactions to his unfathomable statements, loathing burned inside me. This man was purely despicable- not a scrap of decency was left inside that wrinkled grey head.

This is how a coconut palm starts life

We could do nothing other than go through the motions of simply trying to extract as much money as was possible from our new Enemy Number One. On cue, J2 arrived, and seeing the huge crowd that had gathered in the hall, felt another surge of Hollywood course through his veins and pool somewhere at the base of his muscled skull. ‘Well, everyone’s here!!’ he exclaimed, throwing his arms around for effect and parading himself through the middle of the hall, in front of the elders, completely disrespecting these people who had helped us without expecting anything in return. ‘Oh, wow!!’ he hammed, a million courtroom dramas replaying inside that undersize head of his. After some more posturing, he formally disconnected himself from our group, which was fine by us, and he took a seat in the back to watch the proceedings, planning some vicious means to get his money back. He explained to us more of his past, relating stories in which he had done two years for stabbing someone (‘..and I was laughing while I did it!’) and how he wasn’t afraid of doing two more in a Panamanian prison (‘I’ll stab the whole f**ken village, too!’). We were glad to distanced from someone so viciously off-balance.

Parking lot

Following some frustrating arguments in which the captain sent hate levels skyrocketing, we agreed on him paying for us to take an outboard powered canoe to Porvenir, a mean distance from our final destination, but the best we were going to get, at least without resorting to physical violence. Which is exactly what J2 threatened soon after the decision was handed down. As le Capitaine tried to leave, the hulk of J2’s body managed to completely surround the quivering sea-bastard. Children were ushered from the hall, and a group of locals surrounded the pair. A hushed conversation went on between the two, the captain a reluctant participant, trying to squirm away but always under the control of J2’s meaty arm. They soon retired to a lockable room, where J2 had his money handed back. It’s frustrating when violence wins so effectively over reason.

Note the lack of clearance

The temptation to follow J2’s lead was strong (not the stabbing of the whole town, just the physical extraction of our cash), but it would mean dealing out a massive dose of disrespect to our wonderful hosts, who had gone far beyond their duties to help us out of this jam. We confronted the captain, but there was no change. J2 skipped town quickly, having pre-planned a ride on a boat out of there to the next village.

Dejected and depressed by the conflict we’d brought to town, we retired to our room and spent the rest of the day trying to forget about the morning. On the upside, we had our ticket out, and we would begin the trip back to reality tomorrow morning.

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