Colombia Redux: South Pacific Choco

One of the nicer things about the Pacific Choco is that I'm practically forced to fly there, an affair that'll last only under an hour. This doesn't even require using the big Medellín airport outside of town, either, instead merely requiring either hopping into a taxi for two minutes or walking about fifteen-odd more from my convenient location in the El Poblado barrio. In contrast to this simple, aviated approach, it'd be immeasurably inconvenient to get there via the other methods otherwise. These options are 1) cargo boat up from Buenaventura (20 hours or more), 2) mystery boat (there is no existing service) down from Panamá (without getting killed or kidnapped by narco-traffickers), or bushwhacking through the jungle from Quibdo (see above parenthetical danger). FLIGHT! Please!

So I find myself in small Olaya Herrera airport again, needless to say, straightaway jumping into the tiny line for the flight to Nuqui. Immediately I meet an Argentine who wanders up to me confusedly, desperate for any information about accommodations ahead. He's debating the pros and cons of heading only to Nuqui, or pushing on to Guachalito's resorts, possibly even Termales beyond. We've both already learned from the scanty pricing information available that it's decidedly un-backpacker-like in the resort area, but I assure him that we surely can bargain something ahead together somehow - the power of two is always drastically more than one in such cases. He shows relief, shortly plunking for his ticket, and soon we're checked in and taking our waiting room spots. Naturally we'll suffer the apparently customary delay of an half hour with no explanation, but then we're next being led to our airborne chariot by the same pretty Paisa who showed me my Capurganá plane.

Again she will NOT be joining us (me) on this my second 19-passenger Twin Otter experience in three weeks. Again, too, we'll only having a crew of a pilot and a co-pilot, no flight attendant to leer at in chic-ish stewardess garb that hints at destinations unknown. Instead I find myself being briefly hounded by a number of my fellow passengers, most of whom apparently work at the resorts up ahead in Guachalito. Am I up for diving, surfing? How do I plan to spend my money? Okay, I get it. However, when they discover that my idea of a good time is walking up and down beaches and swimming, I'm uniformly advised that Termales will be where I'm headed. Well, that's simple enough, I guess. Nevertheless, once airborne, the manager of the "ritzy" Piedra Piedra passing around shots of aguardiente doesn't forget to include me - even if he also doesn't forget to mention that he's really more about arranging things for the "elite" only. I sniff my armpits in dismay.

As perhaps should be expected, the flight is a super cloudy affair. We ARE heading to the supposedly rainiest spot (10+ meters a year) on the planet, after all. (Yet again - haven't I heard that claim elsewhere a number of times, just like the places claiming to be Earth's most arid spots?) Whatever the ranking, we shortly receive our share of turbulent cloud-jostlings; We can't otherwise see much out of the window. When we can, we somewhat gaspingly notice that we aren't clearing the mountain ridges by a whole hell of a lot. So blindness isn't a bad thing, I'm thinking, even though that meana missing the OTHER views. When those peek through, they're invariably beautiful, a tapestry of broccoli florets of jungle, parsed by interwoven, liquid threads of thick chocolate milk, leafy black tea, and clear lemonade. These kinds of water stir well to make my kinda drink. Los trópicos!

Meanwhile we're also apparently teasing with the idea of picking up more passengers in Quibdo, or such is the lively scuttlebutt between the others. This is an occurrence that is all too common when en route, I learn, especially when there's only a half-dozen of us or so on board. I only realize that that will NOT be the case when we dive-bombe down and I distinctly glean a view of the Pacific Coast through the dumping rain. A-ha! Knowing that Quibdo's inland, I take gratuitous comfort in the fact that our flight time will not be doubling its journey time-wise after all. Instead, only a mere fifty minutes have elapsed as we drop onto another planet altogether.

The rubbly airstrip and tumbledown airport shack are certainly first hints. So, too, is a lack of any other airplanes - if excepting the one covered in moss and decay. We plop out of our flying jalopy, pop out our earplugs, then walk the few feet over to the open terminal in a steady drizzle. This certainly is already living up to a "remote" billing in my book. At the outside counter which we next approach, I'm amazed that someone actually checks my passport on arrival. Hey - isn't this usually done the other way around? And shouldn't our baggage be stacked up inside, out of the rain?

Evidently not. The mysteries accumulate when I walk into the building's restroom inside to do my thing. Immediately upon finishing up and turning around, a woman of more than substantial girth enters and shuts the door behind her. Really - you're not my type!, I think, and that probably on oh so many levels. Not that I'll get the proverbial pound of flesh, though: She shoves out an open hand and begins some rather strenuously - completely non-sexual - grunting. Ah, the old toilet-maintenance bit? Well, maybe, except that typically doesn't fly (punny me!) in airports. Moreover, it NEVER goes where there is no sign warning you of your upcoming donation/fee to pee.

To the more immediate point, I'm a bit miffed at being rather forcefully accosted this way. I tell her as much, too, not forgetting to add that she should put up a sign if she wants my precious pesos. I then gently but firmly remove her from my way and exit, the grunts ceasing without any further resistance once it's apparent that her game is being called. I figure that giving her the toilet swirlee she really deserves would probably be overdoing it.

No, this isn't a great start to things, but being able to pick up my baggage with no claim ticket moments later is certainly convenient. It's asked for as I make a futile search through my pockets, but then the backpack is just handed over after half a minute regardless. Only a gringo would travel with such a backpack, obviously, and I'm unquestionably the sole gringo around. Still, maybe I should feel insulted: Don't my ratty clothes have enough appeal to be confiscated? Snort. Sniff. Anyway, backpack on back, I walk out of the airport and into the rain, ready to gather adventure even as I'm accumulating vastly more wetness instead. Talk about an immediate acclimation to the Pacific Choco: I can smell the pervasive damp already, albeit with a promising hint of flora.

Acquiring even more damp is easily accomplished, of course, when looking for the boat to take us passengers (almost all of us from the flight) toward Guachalito and Termales. It conveniently enough leaves an hour after the plane arrives, also matching its dates (MWF) with those of the plane's arrivals. SUPPOSED arrivals, I should add: Both the takeoffs and landings of these flights are far from guaranteed in El Choco Pacifico. Fish, however, is, so virtually all of us sit down to chow away shortly after arriving at the boat launch. I play my horn to this surprised restaurant gathering while the food is prepared. Then we all return to waiting for the real schedule to kick in - when our driver Marcos finishes eating, chatting, and whatnot to say he's ready to go.

Meanwhile, on the first blush that's the short walk from the airport to the "marina", I gather that Nuqui itself holds little appeal. The unpaved streets are collections of puddles, the buildings shabby hulks of concrete or wood that lack any character beyond utility. Worse, at the shoreline the place even smells a bit more of the usual sea funk one might expect. Such a sordid sniffing, I realize, is more than likely on account of the ramshackle buildings that line the river. Some are partially tumbling in, and probably all lack proper septic systems outside of their just dumping into the muck that our shuttle boat is nestled in.

The time for noses to suffer doesn't last long, fortunately, and we soon are placing and covering our luggage onboard, next jamming ourselves as well into the launch. There's a decent canvas bimini top to cover us from above, I note, plus the waves don't look bad - good omens, I trust, for motoring out of Nuqui. Well, they will be after we first shortly pause at the military checkpoint to announce how many of us there are and how many are going where. Yes, this is guerrilla territory still, I'm reminded.

Now we finally exit the river, speeding up and out into the rather open sea. Unfortunately, the rain likewise picks up as well: We're all soon huddled under whatever plastic material we can find, fending off the splattery blows of what now begins to feel like (warm) little hailstones of raindrops. For my part, I'm able to console myself with those vivid memories of what my back put up with on the recent Capurganá-Turbo run. This is a comparable heaven.

In a way it really is a journey of angelic import, what with the coastline always in view. What a gorgeous blend of green jungle and mountains abutting the sea! Mists shift through the hills and mountains beyond, allowing for this more than compensatory backdrop to the facial pelting I'm receiving with gusto. After only about forty-five minutes, we touch land at Guachalito, manoeuvering through a tenuous docking on account of prodigious rocks. Ultimately we have to pole our way through backward. Here, dock or no, the Dutch surfer among us (met at the port restaurant to double the gringo count) hops out. Then, moments later after reflecting upon our drenching, so does the Argentine. This looks beautiful enough, so "Damn the price!" he's concluded. I wave goodbye, now left with just a couple of locals beyond the driver with his assistant onboard.

Then again, maybe the other two tourists had a point: The rain's really beginning to come down now. Fortunately it's only another ten minutes to achieve Termales, passing the jutting land points El Terquito and El Terco on the way, but still: The high tide of the moment unfortunately means that it'll take some seafaring hijinx to get our boat safely near land. We end up ramming the boat onto a beach, then Marcos guns the engine in a lurching motion timed with an incoming wave to shoot us over and into the lagoon beyond. The assistant/poleman then takes over, again bringing us within several meters from shore.

Apparently this is the end of the road - or sea, such as it is: I take off my shoes, jump in up to my thighs, grab my soaked backpack, and make for shore. As I then next stand in minor confusion on the sand, a woman I've befriended in the boat shows me the way to town. This is rather obvious, actually, "town" being just a couple hundred meters back down the beach, but she more importantly indicates which building on the waterfront has lodging.

That, too, would likely become obvious: it's (naturally) the biggest one, not to mention the only one visible from any distance. So I trudge barefoot to the village on the beach, enter the main path bisecting town, and make my way to Salomon's. I enter into its spacious and open ground floor, drip a river onto his tiling, yet shortly find myself with a coffee cup in hand and my clothes hanging to dry. Now safety reheating my drenched self (okay, it really isn't cold, but these things are relative), I traipse myself up the main staircase fronting the beach to put me under a massive tin roof upstairs. Here I stand to watch the sea crash and the rain roll on. Welcome to Termales.

Shortly thereafter the welcome does indeed become more pleasing, what with the sun breaking through and the tide starting to move back. The latter eventually reveals the rocks lying before Salomon's, dastardly boat-bottom-scraping vipers which made our alternate entry to town necessary. Ah. Well, that's that - so I move on to inspect my large, clean room with its sparkling bathroom. There I immediately confirm that - of course - water will again be spitting out of a traditional "Caribbean" pipe-minus-showerhead (not to mention heat). I'll also be sharing the same roof as the rest of the place, with no ceiling specific to my room - although that's actually a good thing. It'll provide fresh air in a place where there's virtually no electricity (and thus no fan). A mosquito net otherwise will cover the rest of my needs, regally adorning the four-post bed that I take to be something akin to a royal redoubt.

Did I need protection from this? I had no idea, but it looked cool.

As for price, that goes about as expected. I've both heard and read that not much haggling flies on this stretch of coast, neither in high nor low season. And, being officially the only tourist in Termales among its other 100-200 residents - I am GRINGO, hear me roar! - THAT has no bearing on this whatsoever, either. We nevertheless do come to an understanding of what the price can be if I stay longer than three days - and I'm sold: With food included, it's hard to argue with 70000CP, in my own personal hotel right on a spectacular beach! With this dirty monetary business concluded, I now can finally get to more important affairs... such as draining cup after cup of coffee, while my peeled-off clothes (sort of) dry away and I plot what to do in Termales and El Choco Pacifico in general.

I'll play copious rounds of trumpet, duh, but this is something I know will consequentially introduce me to almost every kid in town rather expediently. And this is true right from the start, as virtually each child in the village surreptitiously walks into Salomon's porously-walled ground floor to stare up at the wacko in the rafters. The bolder ones eventually come up the staircase as well, wanting to know what the hell I'm playing. Rather oddly, each calls it singing (cantando). Hmm - I'm not sure if singing is a step forward or backward to my horn otherwise typically being called a saxophone (for some reason, that's the more common label applied to it in Latin America by the uninitiated). Whatever - I enjoy making the kids squeal, feeding my secret pleasure of being able to play kid's tunes from old cartoons or campy series like The Munsters and The Addams Family.

Meanwhile, with the actual thermal from which Termales derives its name only a 5-10 minute walk away - straight back toward the jungle - a dip in a thermal seems the obvious first foray to check out in my new surroundings. Leaving Salomon's place in a line exactly perpendicular to the beach, I pass another pool-like structure near the town's other notable lodging on the way (Salomon's wins). This piscina has the requisite blurbling water, sure, but after an initial confusion I gather that it can't possibly be what I'm looking for. The bubbles' promise, too, is rather unfortunately belied by the muck resting on its bottom. THAT crud comes in a quantity more than palpable for a body of water that isn't much deeper than a meter. I give it a pass, deciding to forget to be my usual nosy self in order to get to the bottom of this enigma. It's likely a safe guess that other plans of thermal commercialism were attempted, thwarted, and abandoned here.

Further inland I thus go, soon discovering the real deal. It glimmers blue, proffering a depth more than head-deep, and it's situated right alongside the river which takes its overflow. The verdant jungle setting within which it sits is a decided bonus, even if it turns out that the water isn't so much hot as tepid. That's disappointing for someone who always prefers an initial, scald-o-rific suffering when hot-tubbing or taking a sauna. But the three local boys who I find already there don't seem to mind it much - although they won't stick around long, perhaps gringo-wary or gringo-repulsed. They politely answer some of my questions about other possible thermals or waterfalls above in the hills, but none of those which they describe sound particularly promising, unfortunately.

With the boys gone, I can enjoy my surroundings to the fullest, anyway. In the residual silence that now takes hold, I revel in many a bird making an appealing, if eerie call. The water's composite quality, too, is interesting, making a sheathing of bubbles on my skin which makes touching any of my skin feel like rubbing silk. I don't remember quite this effect in other thermals, but there's no mistaking the bubbly sheen in which the crystal-clear water envelops me. I chalk it up to minerals of some sort, or maybe just a different amount than usual of the sulphur I'm scenting.

What I'm wholly unprepared for are the hordes of crabs hanging out all about me. I hadn't even noticed them for the greatest amount of time, then I realize that they're everywhere. They emerge from their wee holes claw-first, next slowly popping out their eyes before the rest of their bodies emerged to taste the light. What I find particularly odd is that this massive first claw searching for daylight doesn't seem to have a counterpart. How weird is this! They must not move around much, I guess away, applying a Darwinian scheme that makes sense with respect to their sitting tight and grabbing what happens by using their outsized appendages. Well, fair enough, Charles should perhaps BE given his due, and especially so with the Galapagos Islands not being THAT far away. Science aside, though, I'm content to merely watch their odd activity of entering and exiting their holes in the rocks and mudbanks near the pool. Their eyes spotting ME has much to do with their sudden, frantic, attempts to hide. This is true whether I move around or not.

Back in town some time later, I walk the other 100 meters of town, right down Main Street. Or Main Path. It's the only such thing in town, separating the apparently upscale houses that front the beach with the ones that are just one house-depth further back and across the path. A number of houses serve as the most modest of tiendas, selling a very small number of the same things - crackers, vegetable oil, etc. - but for the most part there's no other commerce of any kind. It strikes me that everyone is likely far more interested in sitting on their stoops and chatting than anything else, such activity far exceeding any evidence of sales being made. They're a little wary of me, it also seems, but all are friendly when I address them or asked a question. True, I AM perhaps the whitest idiot they've seen in a while, or at least in a week or three.

Or maybe they're all professional gardeners on holiday. I'm rather surprised and impressed with the different foliage found around each house, each well-cared for and neat. Even a random stab at artwork or artistic display manages its way into the mix here or there. Garbage isn't to be seen, either, perhaps the greater shock. This is evidently a result of the frequent(-enough) raking and sweeping up which I consistently notice over my time in Termales. What a pleasant surprise!

As for beyond town, in the area toward Guachalito, there I spy numerous groves containing many of the foodstuffs the locals survive on. When they aren't eating fish, that is. The town is literally littered with small boats for THAT need, either beached above the tide's debris line or lapping at the water's edge unanchored. There isn't much worry about where these untethered craft might disappear to, obviously, just a ways up or down the beach being the only options. In any event, they all primarily exist for fishing. In this locale, it's apparent that people don't generally go places by sea so much as to go out to cast nets and set traps.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a great thing, especially after I learn that Salomon's wife has a way with fish and meals in general. Unlike the usual same-ol' same-ol' mentality I find in typical Colombian cooking, she's both curious and able to make varied dishes - all the more impressive since they all start with the same basic ingredients. And as I had heard in Capurganá from my favorite restaurant's proprietor, the fish available in this part of the Choco are indeed better and more plentiful. Bargo - which I take to be red snapper - is a quick favorite of mine, as is my new best friend's way of finding a method to add coconut to all of my dishes. This comes as a result of my demonstrated interest in eating piles of coconut shards. Fortunately they're something that's always in great local supply and thus, in the same sense, essentially valueless. Gringos do have a value, after all.

One such mealtime only comes upon returning from the groves along the beach. A number of kids play soccer in the widening beach of low tide; a few others try surfing or body-surfing with hewn, still-roundish logs that seem a bit unwieldy. (I'll later discover that they come from discarded rafts.) Nearing Salomon's, two boys come galloping alongside me on canestalks - apparently the local version of pole playhorses. Giggling at my presence, I try to convince them to show me where I'll find some frogs - or if they could catch some for me. To this they happily agree, perhaps surprised that I speak their language... before returning to let their "horses" trot ahead, laughing all the way. There'll be no frogs.

As for the Latin America-wide usual collection of stray dogs? They are in evidence, per the usual, fortunately in this case a well-fed bunch. I'm happy that they take no interest in me whatsoever over my stay. I suppose each has a nominal "home", or someone who theoretically feeds and cares for them. Were that they are fixed against reproduction, too, I think. There seems to be no control of any sort on that issue, not with the evidence of the pack that consistently frolics on the beach, each time inevitably leading to sniffs and humps. For all that constant amorous activity, I wonder how long it'll be before the place is overrun with this inbred and growing mob. They certainly already all look alike, the situation earnestly begging for a journeying vet to do a little snipping business.

Then again, maybe that'll be unnecessary: I repeatedly see a female mounting a couple of her male counterparts, and making a good motion of it, too. This is a rather confusing thing to behold, truly, what with her ten or hundred tits wagging above and the mountee accepting the proposition meekly. Maybe Darwin missed this place after all. From such confusion I gather that, at this rate, the perpetuation of this particularly beagle-doberman-driven breed might cease, abandoned to the rubbish bin of history as the proper de-evolution of an unwanted species.

An evening of trumpet music for the joint's grandchildren eventually leads to Salomon himself finally coming for a listen one day. I count this as progress, but it's also propitious information-wise, mainly because I take the opportunity to get the lowdown on both current security and the history of the FARC in the area. Warming to the subject over time, Salomon states that fortunately there were no deaths in Termales over the two or so years in which they were especially active in the area. That's a relief to me, further gratified to hear that this town was spared the walking wounded of terrorized survivors.

Instead, with Termales being a poor town, the revolutionaries merely popped in and out of the jungle at odd times. They'd cut through town to get to the waterfront and waiting boats, generally leaving the residents alone in terms of theft and violence. The action, for their intents and purposes, was to be found further up the coast - like at Ensenada de Utria, the calving grounds of humpback whales where only rich tourists could afford to check them out. These made(/make) for perfect kidnap or theft victims for a cash-hungry organization. Nevertheless, even with this newly acquired knowledge of the history and tactics of the area's guerrillas, I'm told that it still isn't a good idea to go wandering off into the jungle. I'm warned to stay to the beaches: Ya never know when things might heat up in a hurry again.

So, okay... back to more music in the safe, welcoming confines of my grand digs! I crank out ever more cartoon theme songs: Bring on Popeye, Spiderman, and Woody Woodpecker! On I blare away as an invite. How about a little Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (from the banned, ostensibly racist Disney flick Song of the South)? The consistent thread here is that all are genius products of many a Hollywood composer's mind, each having well passed the cultural test of time. But there's more of perfectly (not facetiously perfect, mind you) trite fare: Next I'm on to Irish, Scottish or English jigs, lilting things like The Irish Washerwoman, Gary Owen, Christmas In Killearny, and Turkey In the Straw - bring 'em on! Why not? The trumpet is happily uncorked (or more literally, unmuted) and ready to serve.

If I'm not doing that, then I'm likely otherwise watching the numerous shades of gray (or sometimes blue) on the horizon. Long V formations of pelicans skirt the water's surface on a regular basis, tracking crestline after crestline, particularly come the dusk hours. Their sinuous lines gracefully mimic the surges of the waters below as they maintain a stable elevation above. On such occasions, they rarely make their characteristic beak-first plunge to cannonball before reemerging to sit on the water. These often seem to coincide with the OTHER times - when I see them soaring higher above for a better hunting perspective. The pelicans provide a far more lively set of events to witness than that employed by the numerous shorebirds. They just stand around, still and silent, ever passively hoping for some action. That's more Zen-like, true, but... zzz.

The indigenous people of the area make appearances here and there, too. I'm told that their nearest settlement lies further back into the jungle, where well enough can indeed be left alone - and I probably should leave them be, too. It's mentioned to me that a few have "escaped" such a lifestyle, however, opting for living on the edges of Termales or the other seaside pueblos. But this has its consequences: Only the chief can give permission to leave the settlement for any period of time, and that amount is set in stone once he utters it. Disobeying him means harsh, stocks-like punishment, possibly, or banishment for the unrepentant. I mostly only see these separatists wandering the beach, invariably laden with game or fruit which the non-native locals won't (can't?) otherwise hunt or grow.

When in town, these indigenous folks are required to wear shirts. This goes for BOTH the men and the women, typically making for the incongruous outfit of a flowery skirt or shorts with any old t-shirt worn above. This is only obeyed to its necessary extent, however, as I find once when I reach the end of town and the grove beyond. As I head to the shore from the jungle, a woman emerges from the palm trees, topless and without a care. Spotting me as I spot her, she makes a particularly slow-yet-confused raising of arms to cover her breasts, tilting her head in appraising me as unsure. I don't recognize any expression of shame or embarrassment, instead there's merely the odd look of "Do I have to do this?" Granted, my unusual whiteness undoubtedly aids the quizzical look... so I immediately go and tell the mayor on her, raising a fiery finger to the sky in condemnation to fire and brimstone for her audacity. Well, I surely would do so, except... Who IS the mayor, anyway? IS there a mayor?

On the shore otherwise, I generally find there's hardly any activity. Nothing seemingly ever happens beyond the rare burst of energy needed to get a boat rolled into or out of the sea. Logs are kept handy for this purpose, a flock of young men materializing in one of the few recognizable actions they take over the course of the day. When not properly hauled out on those occasions, the boats are usually left bobbing near shore - in between those short actual jaunts to sea, where man's eternal battle with the bounty of the sea is waged. My stomach happily digests the results.

For my part, I'm far more worried about paper's eternal battle with humidity. All of my papers have acquired a floopy, floppy, not-quite-moist feel to them. The biggest downside is that they're easier to rip and scrunch as a result. Mold probably won't be too far behind if given the chance, either, I figure. So I better get to reading my books before they fall apart, I find myself thinking - and I'd better be more careful with any notes I write on paper: A pencil point punches through them now all too easily.

Humidity's bigger brother, rain, also has to be taken into constant consideration. It botches plans right up and completely, something which I find more than once when leaving Salomon's to walk the beach. At least the stuff tends to come and go quickly, so I generally only need to find the appropriate cover beneath a tree, palm roof, or even a hop into the sea in despair. On one occasion, I only make it to the edge of town before the drenching commences, forcing me to flee to an abandoned lean-to. There I end up listening to Bjork tunes for nearly an hour, grateful to have music without the knowledge of how long this might go on. In the interim I pick up the random garbage that's washed up in the vicinity, making a hopeful pile for a later disposal at god-knows-where. This is called (very) wishful thinking, or it is if I think it will be done responsibly. I'm guessing on a future bonfire of plastic, myself. Sigh.

The tides are another story altogether, almost cutting the beach to a sliver twice each day - while also swelling the areas where the streams from the interior normally only cut the beach with a trickle. On the occasion of my first walk to Guachalito, I don't time this reality too well: By the time I make it to the almost-island of El Terco, I find that the channel I need to cross to cut off El Terco is already a bit over my head. Hmm. Well, nothing to do but to do it: I quickly walk in, soon swimming briefly on by back with my few belongings held up by my other hand to stab the air for as much clearance as possible. This about sums up the extent of troubles in this area: getting wet.

Meanwhile, walking onto the evidently-abandoned "island" of El Terco next seems a good idea, even if an old sign stating "prohibido" is still marginally hanging on to dear life. Stepping on up, I soon notice an ancient generator that still seems to be in modest operation, a confusing artifact for a place that I'm later to learn once belonged (possibly) to Pablo Escobar. Hmm. Unfortunately, however, the rotting wooden stairs to the top of this sometime island are of enough disrepair that I give up on ascending them beyond about 100 steps. I wisely reflect on the slim probability of a doctor in the area, not judging highly the possibility of carting out an inert TripTrumpet with a snapped leg.

After El Terco begins the increasingly interesting part of the coast. Here I encounter a succession of rocks and coves, curiosities to add to the ho-hum of palms in their hundreds that I've been passing by. I cross paths with the pricier cabañas eschewed in favor of Termales, now entering Guachalito "proper". At one of these, El Cantil, I ask where the path is to a couple of waterfalls I've learned about in the area. One's called (rather hopefully, methinks) La Cascada de Amor. I receive a friendly wave in its general direction... then unwittingly mosey right on past it minutes later as I instead move on to El Terco's little brother El Terquito - the smaller of the two almost-even-sometimes islands in the area.

In "official" Guachalito I note very few signs of life. Only one handful of Paisa (Medellín) guests are around for the two handfuls of staff attending them. Yep - low season. So I continue to the uninhabited section beyond them, finding an area only (perhaps) more picturesque. Frankly, it's already getting pretty hard to top the word "idyllic" with these succeeding instantiations of the word. Nevertheless, by this time I find the clock moving on to 4:30 p.m.: The tide is now turning well low. Oops, I might be competing with darkness for my way back - not necessarily a good thing. Granted, while this isn't the biggest distraction - I'm only need retrace a beach, after all - I'm also starting to slobber for the good food and drink that'll be awaiting me in Termales upon my return. My wants, however simple, have become entirely predictable - which is the tropical beach... idyll, right?

I thus turn around for a leisurely return, plus a crack at those falls again, of course. Fortunately, guessing does me well this time around - even as the few hopefully correct footprints on the beach I try to make sense of do not. I finally choose an exit of water from the stream I deem closest in the universe to the hand wave I received earlier. (For future reader reference, this is by a rock between El Terquito and the Pijira resort, with El Cantil even further beyond Pijira.) Can it be? I walk into the bush, next finding myself wading up through the middle of the stream to find out. Bingo: In a few minutes I'm thankfully arrived, dunking en seguida my stinky self into the welcoming - and salt-free fresh - water. La Cascada de Amor, indeed - I LOVE this! Qué amor!

Now that I've put myself onto the right track, I soon discover a short path which seems to indicate that I should (mostly) continue wading upstream to the upper falls - which I do in only a minute or three. This merits another congratulatory dunk. Still, the area in this jungled paradise IS starting to get dark - and the birds are beginning their dusk calls. Yeah, it's time to leave, so I do just that by exiting the woods onto the beach, next retracing my steps along a now much deeper shore at significantly lower tide. I shortly marvel again at the various shorebirds as I amble by them, also noting the even-more-impressive hordes of crustaceans on patrol. One after another they ball up and roll toward the sea at my realized presence. I'm walking through the pages of National Geographic.

This time, at least, I need merely wade across at El Terco to return in a timely fashion to Salomon's shortly before sunset. My only human encounters walking this entire coast has been with the now-returning Argentine (who was headed to Salomon's as I left) and a local kid only shortly before the end. I still can only wonder at how the Argentine is somehow cramming his entire El Choco experience into two days, a rather expensive proposition that only makes for an overly time-harassed introduction to the area, but hey. I wish him well as he hurries back to his resort, boat shuttle, and flight in the morning.

The aforementioned child, however, proves more curious to me. I've only peripherally spotted him as I continue my way down the coast and my awaiting plate of bargo. But shortly after passing each other by, I turn to catch him jumping into my footprints heading in the other direction. He walks them slowly, evidently comparing his footprint with my own. I can only laugh to myself, wondering if he's curious about my footprints as an adult - or possibly as the whitest creature he's seen in some time. Like ever. Am I really just an exotic, hairless ape on the beach? Probably.

Whatever - I have a trumpet waiting for me, plus a sunset to enjoy as a few boys body-surf below my perch at Salomon's in the tiding-out sea. I soon have dinner, although now I've wised up to request smaller portions. The decidedly coconut-increased inspirations of the cook continue, however - to zero complaints. She really HAS taken to heart my conversion to all things coco and, as becomes my routine in this coco-paradise, I recount my day to the matriarch of the place. My hostess os a kindly, smiling, and soft-spoken person who actually - shockingly - seems genuinely interested in my impression of this gift of paradise that is their world. Generally not lacking for gab, I yap away.

AFter my time in Capurganá, meanwhile, this relative lack of electricity in Termales (the juice is only on from 6 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m.) hasn't been posing a problem. I have enough light when needed; I learn to take advantage of the short opportunities available to charge what begs power. I initially believed that an issue in such a situation would be the need of a fan overnight, but enough air circulates freely what with the building's high roof and the space between it and the tops of the interior walls. The sleep-inducing white noise from the crashing sea helps, too, something which actually becomes ridiculously loud when the tide rolls in fully. The tide even comes in so far as to slam a bit onto the building itself, making me wonder numerous times over my stay how long a foundation can hold against such direct beatings of saltwater.

The more common, recurring theme at Salomon's, however, is the endless pitter-patter of little feet. Indeed, kids seemingly march throughout the house at all hours, switching between cringe-inducing, no-holds-barred fights over toys to communal play which restores my faith in mankind. The world at their level passes entirely parallel to ours, I observe, intersecting only for those brief spells necessary of course-righting by the parents or sudden interests on their part in what the adults are up to. The latter is especially true when anything happens outside of the norm, like somebody blaring trumpet indisputably is. Being a gringo, too, is a trump card for attention which I fortunately am happy to endure.

As for older men in the village, there seem to be almost none in town spare Salomon. Indeed, most of the males in town seem to be either boys of young age or teenagers. Those in their later teens and all of those in their 20s are mostly absent throughout the day, headed often to sea and keeping their own council as far as mixing with the rest of the town is concerned. The ubiquitous women, of all ages, tend to the kids and kitchens. None seems under any great stress in doing so, I note, probably a consequence of being without other tasks to concern them by and large. Such is the positive side of subsistence living - when there's enough to subsist on, I should add.

Come one day, with the tides at a nice low in the morning, I finally decide to make my way along the beach in the other direction. This is nominally to the west or south, I'm not sure which. (I have no map to verify exactly where I'm headed and it doesn't matter, anyway: I can't get lost.) Arusi and Punta Arusi beyond beckon simply by the implied destiny of each's mere existence, a trip that I'm told should take an hour to reach Arusi - followed by another half-hour to reach the point. As expected for my chosen time, the cool streams heading to the sea aren't swamped high with an incoming tide; I just have to get back before they do if I don't want to swim them.

Most of the folks I'll see on this hike - and there actually are a number of them this time, in contrast to the walk to Guachalito - can be spied in the distance early on. It's obvious that a daily task for the Arusians (my word, not theirs - Arusianos?) is that, when the sea heads out, it's time to head to the shore. Only at that littoral edge can they hunch over and peck away at the exposed rock beds, hoping for any number of crustaceans to be turned into soups back in town.

Other than these distant workers, however, the other recurring theme for this beach trek is the various types of crabs I spot. The buggers - and there are thousands of them - run and burrow for their lives whenever I approach within a meter or two of them. Some are variations of the one-arm (claw) bandit seen at the hot springs, but none of these crab editions appear content with merely taking money as in Vegas. Given the opportunity, my guessing is that they'll unquestionably snag my life. Them's a lotta eyes watching me.

On my way to Arusi, meanwhile, a man headed in the same direction emerges from a lonely settlement to make tracks and quickly sidle alongside me. Hmm. Trapped in this manner, yet aprovechandome de la situación, I make some conversation with my new companion about harvesting the sea. He willingly takes up this thread as we continue to pass ever more bent-over people at the distant shore's edge, pecking away. But eventually I decide to move the talk onto a subject I find infinitely more interesting - La Violencia. What's his take? To this, and just as so many others have said, he agrees: "Se viene y va..." Yes, it does come and go, but will not a single soul dare venture to say it's gone for good? This has come to SEEM almost invariably true, especially now in these most promisingly prosperous of times for the country in decades, but...

...but the conversation really need turn to more interesting topics, my friend evidently believes. This comes about when he asks in a confiding way if I smoke (marijuana). Ah yes, NOW I gather we'll be entering the gab intended all along in engaging my company. Hmm. First things first, though, so to this business-like turn of events I hopefully deflect with a reply of "No tanto..." (while shuddering in reflection of a not-terribly distant memory of some special cookies eaten back in Oregon). This new subject leads to talk about the generally increasing tolerance of the stuff in the States, including the recent statewide legalization vote that had failed in California (most likely because the growers themselves were against the idea of lower profits that'd result with more open competition). It's coincidentally at this new turn in conversation when a friend of my new friend stops by to chat with him for a short spell - which I take as the appropriate time to bid adieu, motoring on afoot before the other shoe of the conversation has the chance to drop.

But, silly me, there'll be no such thing: Within minutes he's caught up with me again. Do I, he wonders aloud, by any chance, he posits with a shrug of the shoulders... have 2000CP?... to lend, of course? Sigh - I knew it. The story is that he wants to buy some nylon line ahead in Arusi, all for the honorable travail of fishing. Sure. He assures me that I'll be paid back on the morrow, too, since he's always good to his word. Yep. Not above testing his verity, however, I reply that, actually, I'm boating out at the crack of dawn, unable to be repaid. Should this not concern him? Nope, not in the least, apparently. THAT seems to be the answer I can best divine by the confused look on his face. I hand over the dough (all of a freaking dollar, it should be noted, nothing to rue or second-guess) while trying not to roll my eyes.

Far more importantly, and at just about the exact time I fish out the banknote, we've come upon what has to be one of the oddest fish I've ever seen. There it is, rotting away under the mid-morning sun, right at our feet. What the hell is that?, I ask, to which my friend sagaciously replies "Un pescado." Duh, I know it's a fish!, and for all I know maybe a common enough one at that (even if it does make me think of a dinosaur fossil). My favorite person now barely turns to his side to unzip and pee vigorously.

Okay - THAT'S my clue, I figure. "Time to go!", I say, now making tracks to the sea with newfound interest. I guess correctly that he'll have to go on with what he's doing and we'll have to - shucks - skip on the obligatory handshake. I wave and smile back in as friendly a fashion possible, ever so accelerating the pace. His immediate tasks complete - an empty bladder and a dot of cash to refill it - he doesn't seem overly worried with my departure. Still and all, I reflect shortly thereafter, such a minor nuisance sure beats La Violencia.

My sudden interest now has me directly headed for the rockbeds alongside the surprisingly distant shoreline of the point. That's apropos, and particularly so in its open, spacious way since the rest of the journey to the point will be a solitary affair. I soon leave the mollusk (?) harvesters behind, exchanging them for a great number of shorebirds as I make a diagonal which goes behind them both. As I amble by, each of the feathered beings stands like a stone statue, waiting on the chance motion in the water that indicates a snack. In doing so, this scene evokes perhaps the most generally appropriate word for the area: waiting. For something, ANYthing, to happen by.

Meanwhile I notice that the life below me is evidently plentiful, especially as I make my way through the field of coral rock that takes me to the point and its tidal island beyond. Small fish of a few kinds dart among rocks connected by threads of water and pools, each jerked into motion by my plish-ing footfalls on rock or water. Crabs and their ilk similarly scurry for cover - that old, recurring theme by now - as I doggedly claw over the last bits of razor-sharp coral to see what lies further west (or south - I still have no idea) of the point.

Finally I surmount the last jumbles restraining my view, wrapping my eyeballs around the new coastline stretching to the horizon. Huh: Perhaps unsurprisingly, all I can take in is an endless continuation of more of the same wave-tossed pile of coral like the one I'm haphazardly perched upon. Well, that's... that. Certainly there aren't enough years left in my life to think about attempting THAT mess. And fortunately I have no real impetus to do so in the first place, not with the timing of the tide to get back.

So I turn back, now hugging the tree-lined, high-tide line back to Arusi. I only pass a couple of remains of houses falling deeply into decay, each undoubtedly a victim story of narco-FARCo ruin, I figure, though not having an honest clue yea or nay on that reality. I soon also happen on a fisherman mending his net, likely a casualty of the sharp coral within which he plies his trade daily. How can't it help BUT snag itself on the stuff? Querying him, he agrees that such is daily the case.

I then resume my hugging of the lush jungle's edge against the sea, doing so all the way until I again reach Arusi. It takes no imagination to confirm that this is indeed the bigger settlement of the area, housing some 500-1000 folks from the look of things. Nevertheless I decide against conspicuously wandering down the few main paths of town - I stand out plenty enough as it is, just walking along the beach. Besides, I already know what I'd find, anyway: a bigger version of Termales. I can see THAT well enough from my passing vantage point.

Considerably more trash is evident in this (non-touristed) Arusi area, too, I notice - no surprise - which lends further support to my theory about the cleanliness of Termales and Guachalito only being due to tourism. Crossing the center of town, I eventually pass by an outdoors physical education class that I've been approaching nigh on forever for my return, not to mention the growing number of twenty-something men fussing with their boats (of course) while drinking beer (ditto). A number of chickens peck at whatever they peck at all the while; I leave Arusi behind for the remaining hour or so to regain Termales, already seeing Salomon's lodge in the distance, that lone sign that there even is a human presence ahead.

Now I only have to beat the unstoppable tide and the increasingly threatening rain - which I manage both easily and barely, respectively. Only a drizzle catches me as it momentarily attempts (and fails) to form fully into the suggested squall. More interesting by far is finding, of all things, a dental mold on the beach - with some teeth in it! It's washed up on shore some 200m shy of Termales, deposited beneath the temporary lagoon that roughly formed with each tide (the same one where I had initially landed to arrive at Termales in a downpour). Huh!

Teeth! How weird. I theorize for a bit - are they from Japan? Ecuador? Panamá? More likely, I figure, someone in the area is missing them. But who, god only knows. So I pick this odd find up to take into town with me. Washed thoroughly by salt and SOME amount of time - who knows? - any disgust I might have is easily held at bay. More importantly, someone might really want this back: I sure haven't noticed a dentist in the area. I doubt there's one even in Nuqui.

With visions of heroism in mind, thus, I come back to Salomon's place: "Hey, Salomon, look what I found on the beach!" I excitedly shout. Salomon walks over, taking an increasingly keen gander at what I hold in my hand. Then: "My teeth!" he exclaims. "Your teeth!" I exclaim. More exclaiming follows, right up until we jump up and down and clap each other on the back repeatedly. He apparently lost the dental implant over a month before, when near his house and hunting, wondering when or if ever he'd see them again. Anyway, after some moments after our idiotic jumpings about, plus the necessary dental rinse, Salomon again boasts a full set of teeth. My work here is done, I know, puffing out my chest even as I lack a proper cape.

To celebrate I decide on a fine late lunch of lentils, with yet another fantastic serving of fresh bargo and its accompaniments. Then it's yet another well-deserved siesta in a hammock on the balcony upstairs. The tide will surely roll in to lull me to sleep next, I know, and when I awake I'll find the ever-present thermos of never-ending coffee waiting for me. Beautiful! All of the above is the fortunate reality of being the lone guest of the establishment - which is compounded by having no worries when blasting away on the trumpet. Termales is as much mine as I am its own.

Meanwhile, after my rather (completely) unsuccessful price haggling of before, I now of course wonder if lodging renegotiations or rewards might be in the offing after my glorious find. After all, I did perform quite a heroic feat in stooping over for a few seconds to pick up that odd little something from the beach. It's not like I'm going to ask and push the issue - I'm happy to stay in the joy of having done something small and nice - but I am curious. And... no. With no new price forthcoming in jubilatatory exuberance, I regardless add a couple of days to my stay. I just like this place and these people. Besides, where else does one get to be a hero from mere beachcombing?

It's just too hard to beat this environment, that's what it comes down to - even in spite of the random squawk-blasting of vallenato music when, for example, some twenty-something boys motor over from (relatively) nearby Coqui town. Alas, such folk hold little appeal for me to trade rounds of beer with - just how long can one talk about boats and fishing, or fishing and boats? I've seen these guys in (in)action plenty enough to know to not waste my time.

Better by far, and vastly more passively enjoyable, is taking in the three lively little girls of the establishment. They're ever-present when I chance to peer from my perch above as they play below outside. They hold hands, walk around with arms around each others' shoulders, practice dance steps, and generally wander non-stop between Salomon's and the beach.

This trio often plays inventive games, too, things far beyond my understanding - when not otherwise hopping two to a bicycle as their little brother trails behind in his pajamas crying to be included. One game I particularly like to spy on, however, is their daily filling of a bucket with leaves (of mataraton - literally "kill-mouse", supposedly effective in battling the flu I'm told) and water. They make a witches brew, even jumping inside it from time to time, then gather leaves and branches from the mix after a suitable time has passed. Finally they take this mess and make the long trudge to the receded sea. They next dump everything in the water, an offering of exactly which nature I'll never be made privy to - and justly so, I suppose. The entire routine is often followed by their paddling about in some of the warm water wells, those little pond-lets left about the rocks from the vacated sea.

Indeed, one never knows when one of ANY of the neighborhood kids - be it a boy or (more likely) a girl - is going to pause when walking or playing about, breaking into a dance move. This might happen walking down the beach, playing on the swing set, or even standing waist-deep in the water before diving in. Nevertheless, I for some reason rather incongruously decide to term this place the Mayberry of the Colombian coast - a place where everyone's called tío or tía, and "far away" is always assumed to be Medellín. It doesn't take long to realize that all the locals believe that the fabled, generally unknown city is about the only place that weird, different people like myself came from. This makes some kind of sense, I suppose, what with the coastal boat routes so distant and poorly serviced. You go with what you know.

Still, it's not as if I might NOT have come from another planet. Although I've come in on the thrice-weekly Medellín flight like any other visitor, the pale white gringo ghost that I look like still isn't terribly common. And this is particularly so in Termales or Arusi: The gringos apparently almost always only head to Guachalito and its all-inclusive resorts, probably why the children uniformly ask if I'm a Paisa. But... need I really need come this far to shake the "gringo" tag?

The older boys in town probably well know to call me gringo, undoubtedly, and maybe they'd even mean it not in a nice way (they DO seem to studiously ignore me). If they were anywhere to be found, anyway. No, the teenagers and twenty-somethings of this greater boy set are far too busy messing with boat engines and the manly affairs related to fishing. Each boat going in to or out from the sea comprises an event, I continue to notice, invariably requiring a group to assemble to directly help or merely kibitz from the sidelines. It seems that they materializing from nowhere to join in this mildly frantic activity, rolling out the logs that served for launching or docking while using the ocean's waves as propulsion. They hop aboard or jump off always at the last possible moment, both necessarily always with élan and nonchalance.

The older ones of this fraternity walk about town with a swagger, too - and sport the requisite (and growing) pot bellys from beer to match. The younger boys are only allowed within the bounds of their aura to trail behind and around them, each hoping to be noticed or called upon. When, for example, I once see one of these younger boys allowed to take the helm of the boat, he's positively beaming with pride. He's just climbed up a rung in the grand scheme of things, certainly at least in HIS head. On this occasion, I note that it's coincidentally the same boy I've come to notice around Termales who has a particularly impressive amount of attentiveness, curiosity, and humility. Will such a person stick around in this small pond? I highly doubt it - unless he becomes whatever passes for mayor, anyway.

For the women, it's harder to discern the options outside of getting the right man to hold onto. They'll likely similarly leave themselves to seek other options, if one isn't forthcoming. A further trick for them is evidently to not get pregnant by 20, 18, or even 16 by this local, swaggering band. But then what? Get a job changing sheets and sweeping away palm fronds over in Guachalito? Or mind a tienda with no customers? The idyll of this place can dematerialize rather quickly when one truly thinks of the realities for anyone who desires more than a view of a pleasant sea and a steady diet of fish and plantains.

Meanwhile, although El Choco is known throughout Colombia for its music, I'm seeing no signs of instruments in Termales. The little girls at Salomon's - including some other, older ones who stop by at times - keep asking me only to make my trumpet "sing". Hmm. I guess I AM it, seeing as I'm seeing no other instruments of any kind - although there surely has to be at least one guitar around - somewhere. Until it literally or figuratively washes up, however, I'll only hear the random radio playing vallenato music, albeit (blessedly) of the movido (moving) variety.

On one planned lazy day (relatively, anyway!), I make a task of returning to the hot spring area. Arriving at the aforementioned pool not quite ready for my soak, I decide to start up the same trail beyond. Supposedly it leads toward a rumored waterfall or more above. This soon short-circuits, though, when I'm notified by each of the two boys I run into - each laboriously moving small quantities at a time from a pile of very hard, chainsaw-milled wood down the steep hillside toward town - that the first such lies a good hour away. With the going already steep and slippery only 10-15 minutes into the trek, meanwhile, and attempting the trek with my old, smooth-bottomed sandals, I bag it as the adventure best not taken. Besides, the deeper one goes into the jungle, the more the paranoia increases about possible guerrilla activity being encountered. No coincidence in that relation between the two at all.

Perhaps better is the substitute of returning to the "official" hot spring. This time - perhaps to make up for the journey recently not taken - I decide to walk up the adjacent river as well, plunging ahead right down its middle as now per the usual. For the effort I'm shortly rewarded with a Shangri-La of very large boulders, one enshrouded by building-like walls of stone, plus an imposing jungle to frame the several bath-able pools found within, one right after another. Bird calls abound; I even spot a reddish-brown-winged-something that has effervescent blue and green on part of its wings. Its eyes are enveloped in sharp, black-pointed ellipses that would make a pharaoh proud. Very chic style, I concur, emoting praise in my now bird-speak frame of mind.

Mostly, though, I enjoy the solitary trudge that comes from going straight down the middle of a waterway, eyeballing near-caves and actual caves alike with their squeaky bats. I try to imagine the area in full rainy season... while also noting that if a FARC patrol wanted a hideout, this would serve quite nicely. Certainly there'd be no problem of a handy water supply! Eventually, though, now sufficiently cooled down both literally and figuratively again with such thoughts, I return for a short dip back at the hot spring. I say HI once more to the one-clawed crabs, then return to town.

Once there, the successful transcription of Fats Navarro's "Fat Girl" I've just completed deserved a follow-up, I find myself thinking. Hopefully it'll be an easier one, though, what with bebop's tempo and interesting note choices to keep me replaying sections time after time in confusion. I've found that the Navarro licks I'm taking on involve a bit of guesswork at times, especially when my horn and the one in the recording's are not in tune. But a challenge I wanted and a challenge I'm getting... even if yoga, dinner, reading, and whatever other procrastinations I can come up with necessarily precede it. How odd to unnecessarily endure a homework quality to my time in paradise... but that's how I evidently roll.

Whatever - I'm still the lone tourist staying in the entire town, living this enviable life among a real live and living community that I feel nearby Guachalito's Paisa/gringo-owned establishments can't possibly quite offer. Instead they're serviced by Termales and Arusi's inhabitants, thus locally promulgating that typical resort-locals, bizarro-world symbiosis that is sadly bred and spread so throroughly throughout the Caribbean and other tourist-focused spots of the world. In such odd cocoons, communication between the two groups is effectively limited to something more akin to master-servant than local-guest. Here, too, on this the Pacific Coast of Colombia, is found the additionally jarring glare of white gringos being served by a black workforce. Moreover, the locals are literally the descendants of slaves. Yecch.

Then again, the light amount of labor required to keep the resorts going at their already-developed stage doesn't translate into much activity in Termales itself. And Termales can likely supply no particular resources beyond capable hands, either. In noticing the many kids running about the village, meanwhile, it also seems obvious what's being done with so much idle time. Should I have any doubts, this is sufficiently proven to me each time I spy teenagers disappearing off to bedrooms for hours at a time. The electricity is out much of the time, too - which may or may not be helping with this population dynamic.

I'll let my surmising end there, but, as far as the electricity goes, I do learn that it's a lack of combustible (i.e. gasoline, etc.) that's the big problem, not the infrastructure. Should said fuel ever miraculously appear, there's actually a row of handsome electricity poles linked right down, err, Main Path to take advantage of it, from one end of town to the other. Apparently the money for combustible donated by the federal government pulls a disappearing act here much as it does in Capurganá. As a result, the town's three private generators bridge the gap - each owned by one of the three wealthiest families, naturally. But even these only run for a short spell at night, their energies only slightly further parceled out to those who have connections to the owners.

Also as one would expect, the dietary varieties possible are limited in such a remote place. It's thus a big deal when an indigenous youth periodically drops into town with some bird or rodent caught in the wild. What will the villagers pay for such fine fare, he inquires? How much will the boy let it go for? The tension mounts. I once see such a conversation over a mere pair of birds last about thirty minutes or more. Clearly the natives - of Termales, anyway - are restless. Or bored. Really, the price of two birds necessitates thirty minutes? It does when it's something different to talk about, for once.

Perhaps it's on account of such dearth of topic that I continually enjoyed my numerous conversations with Salomon's wife, also the establishment's chef. To the matter of food in particular, she's as eager for new recipe ideas as she is to play with her existing meals' contents. In Colombia this is rare enough, let alone in the Pacific Choco, so I'm happy to oblige with ideas as I can - fortunately as the prime beneficiary, to boot. Had I known the difficulties in getting any spices here beyond the most common - even olive oil - I would've brought some in as a gift. For, outside of us weirdos dropping in out of the sky from Medellín, supplies only come on occasion from far down south in Buenaventura. That isn't a trip many can afford on any regular basis, nor want to endure even infrequently. It probably isn't cheap, either, what with the small funds of cash likely available in town.

With this dietary restriction in mind, then, I shouldn't be surprised when, on one day, some of the kids are uncharacteristically busy. They're all circling about a tree as one boldly climbs up into it. Ah: An iguana is also up there in the same canopy, steadily moving higher and higher away, undergoing an obvious harassment that almost leads me to say something like "Leave the poor creature alone!" But however much I want to yell it, I ultimately think better of such meddling in what's obviously an exciting moment for the kids. Later I'll learn, too, that the iguana is most likely generally destined for someone's soup pot (even if such knowledge is yet some days off).

Until such time, it'll be better if I stick to admiring the beach, I believe - which I do. There I find, for example, amazing reddish-brown, burled hardwoods that come to lie on the beach as driftwood. Each would be the dream centerpiece of a coffee table for any socialite wanting a tropical decór in an otherwise cosmopolitan realm. Also, in the sand patterns found all along the beaches - each of two-tone gold and black granules - I spy a visual feast of implied forests. Amazing! They convey a mythic world, albeit one buried in a Neptune's garden replete with mounded volcanoes formed by many a crabs' retreat. This enchanting stuff is EVERYWHERE.

Such are the visions I take in ad infinitum as I make my way back to Guachalito on a low tide one day. There won't be any swimming of the channel necessary this time, however brief as previously done, but I'll finally be rewarded with something new: a photo or two of the elusive green-tailed lizard! This proves that the second time around, as always, allows for more relaxed enjoyment in the absence of aspirations and expectations. A slackened pace of enjoyment, or rather this paucity of pre-conceived adventure, sometimes best permits a mentality that in turn bestows more opportunities.

Then again, there are also the three men sitting at the main entry point of Guachalito to consider this time 'round. They're waiting for the next boat going by to Nuqui, the idea being to hail it by hopefully using an hoc system of panicked hand waves that (in theory) can't be missed. For my part, however, their inability to go anywhere until that magic moment arrives is an opportunity to pepper them with many a question about the area. With two of them being elderly - the kind of folks I'm not seeing much of around - I figure that I might receive some in-depth, long-view versions of life in the sticks.

Instead we talk about a dead German. Okay, so be it. Apparently the (huge) guy died on their hands a year previous, requiring a special flight paid by his relatives to get him back to the Fatherland. So much for my plan of local color, I think, as the story goes on and on. And, fair enough, the tragedy IS interesting in its way, and it's evidently just too endlessly amusing to my new friends to let go of. In the process, too, I find myself comparing them to Heckle and Jeckle, those wisecracking cartoon crows. So it is that they debate aloud back in forth with other, then me, heaping on all kinds of supposed laws both international and religious on what to do with bodies that expired far from home.

With limited knowledge myself, I decide to disavow them of any thought that a home country is required to take a body back. Surely it all comes down to money anyway, I rationalize, or, more accurately, it's probably really all about if there's someone(s) who actually give a damn enough about what happened to said corpse. For such musings I'm further quizzed on funerary rites that I know of around the world, something which plainly is only to serve as continued fodder for more joking. In the end, all I really actually learn is that I've stayed long enough to buy a few beers off of these jokers - which is only all the better to grease the skids toward continued yapping and not much more. Like I'm complaining. Burp.

Grabbing a walking beer to go, then, I make more progress toward the next point (toward Nuqui) than previously. From there, a beauty of unbroken nature continues to such an extent that I eventually stop to just stare for a long while. Only after immeasurably drinking it all in do I return to the Termales-leaning side of Guachalito - where I bump into one of the supposedly ubiquitous military patrols for the area that I really haven't been noticing around. I chat with the soldiers for a bit as we make something of an international exchange; They proudly show off their Israeli rifles complete with see-through stocks. Uh, impressive - if I were into guns, anyway. When they begin to beg for cigarettes (or the money to buy some) from me, however, the thought of doing so while holding such weaponry seems complete lost on them. Unfortunately I have nothing handy - and apparently they decide to not shoot me for my indiscretion. For the moment.

So I probably should have a quickened step by the time I come back to the crossing at El Terco, I'm logically thinking. Luckily it's still low (enough) tide, so it is easily crossable with the water only coming to my knees. Taking advantage of this situation allows for sitting on a log for a bit in compensation - which leads to yet another wakened reverie like the one I had in Sapzurro. Mesmerized, I linger a long, long while to watch the incoming tide slowly erode the banks of the inlet as it's done innumerable times. Yeah, I am DEFINITELY getting this beach thing...

...even if I still don't get the abandoned raft thing. Seriously: Why is that well-formed raft bobbing on the shore just a hair further down the coast, in the middle of nowhere? Isn't this an area where such few possessions are prized? Sure, there's the random plastic bottle washed up here, too, but those I understand in all that they imply about human laziness and disregard. But a serviceable raft? This mystery will wait a bit longer... even as it'll soon be repeated a few times in even fewer days. Ooh - a MYSTERY!

Returning to Nuqui, meanwhile - the time has come - means catching a crack-of-dawn boat, which I do the next day. For such things, the rigid schedule of one boat going to Nuqui per day breaks down as follows: the good one leaves Termales MWF at dawn; the crappier one does the same thing on TuThSa not much later in the day. For all such days, there's a return boat that leaves Nuqui back Guachalito-Termales way after lunch. Sundays, in contrast, are the days in which you can only watch the horizon and, in my case, wait until Monday - which I do, in the only type of occasion which forcibly reminds me what day of the week it is (if only momentarily).

Bright and early it thus is, as I return to that temporary lagoon outside of Termales - this the same site as my initial heroic, rain-drenched, and McArthur-like landing. In much less dramatic fashion this time - there's no torrential rain, for starters - I jump aboard the boat shortly after it materializes from Arusi's direction. As usual, there's a little jostling to put the tourist (me) more up front, all the better to absorb any spray to be afforded in the journey, but by now I know all too well to stand this precious little bit of ground. I settle near the back where there's an open (enough) spot.

What I don't know, though, is that the locals can just flag the boat down wherever they want to. Hey - I coulda used that! We thus briefly stop to pick up one more passenger, a man popping out from behind the palm tree cover right next to my now-former lodgings. This is something which makes me want that extra half hour of lost sleep back that much the more. No, 6 a.m. just isn't my normal waking hour - like ever - and it frankly seems entirely out-of-place for such an outpost of the civilized world. But here we are to greet the morning light all the same.

(On the bright side, this early waking hour breaks up a memorable nightmare I suffer for the night, one in which I foresee a horrible event for which I'm both unable and unwilling to do anything. In vivid detail I witness a chink in the chunk of a bridge support give way, followed by a massive bridge coming down much like what's recently happened over the Missouri River in Minnesota not many years prior. I repeatedly watch a silver-grey Cadillac zoom off the end of it, tumbling toward infinity and an inescapable doom, yet flying with the greatest of ease over a group of gape-mouthed young women assembled near one of its span supports. As for these odd girls, they come right out of the movie Picnic At Hanging Rock - to appropriately complete a dream sequence likely to leave a team of psychiatric dream analysts plenty to work with as I dream-weave the rest of my days in a sanitorium.)

Back in reality, by contrast, it's another smooth boat ride - no Turbo-Capurganá repeats so far in the Pacific Choco, thank god - and I soon find myself again in tumbledown Nuqui. There I make straightaway to the nicer side of town (or the supposed such corner). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it lies in the area furthest from the river - where a couple of hotels stand and actually both have and use - oh, but yes they do! - a septic system. Cheers to that!

Ensconced in my puny, "rustic" room shortly enough, I next immediately set to learning what schedule possibly exists to get me up the coast northward, to El Valle. The lack of such an official program thereof (i.e. departures and arrivals) quickly blunts my progress, however. It looks like daily, or even regular, boat service is a less than sure thing in the off season. Only a Friday boat is suggested as a sure thing by some locals instead, but that goes only during a high tide... and then it STILL might not go directly to El Valle, but to Bahia Solano instead if the tide's problematic. It appears that I'll get to know ol' Nuqui a bit better than expected.

So what IS there in Nuqui?, I think, quickly chalking all things up to Plan B Time. A lot of military, I've heard for starters: Supposedly the troops locally stationed even outnumber the town's residents, at least according to one guide I perused somewhere recently. In actuality, though, I'm finding it's not quite nearly that, even if there WAS that checkpoint I'd already encountered for all boats entering or leaving town. Then again, it's true that there are a few places on the coast nearby with posts, each with soldiers manning them in camouflage to varying degrees. And beyond those are the patrols that randomly appear, always consisting of fully-decked-out soldiers sporting heavy weaponry moving through town in groups of three to four. Well, I guess the REAL reality is that none of this feels that odd to me by now, not after having seen so much of the same often enough in the rest of the country.

So I soon ignore the poor, sweating, and generally overdressed saps like everyone else. I'm far more interested in the locals who walk by, anyway - as I should be!, I tell myself. The women of Nuqui ubiquitously use sunbrellas, for instance, a civilized step up from the likes of Termales. To that end, I'm confident that they snootily claim that they're like the Sneetches with Stars on Thars. Or maybe the sun's really freaking hot. Hmm.

Here in Nuqui, by the way, I'm also noticing some bicycles about, unlike down Termales way. Talk about a jump up in speed - if anyone would ride at anything faster than a leisurely putter on the rusted-out old things. Yet in speaking of wheels, one can't help but come to wonder about motorized vehicles - as in, are there any? On that score, I count all of about... zero... or four, if one counts the permanently resting hulks in the field fronting the sea. Each is rusting away to an assured nothingness in the future, at least I assume that's their assumed doom what with the repeated saltings they take on a daily basis. I'll nevertheless soon hear that, yes, there IS ONE operating truck somewhere around, periodically hauling trash, I hear tell... but I'll scoff and guffaw at the notion until proven otherwise. I know better than to believe in mirages and dreams - unless they include old Cadillacs zipping off of bridges. Yeah, I'm still finding myself weirded out over that odd nightmare, probably more due to the Picture At Handing Rock connection than anything else.

Anyway, the town quickly and unsurprisingly proves that it is, indeed, nothing special to behold. Outside of the airport, and specifically its adjacent local handicrafts shop, the other establishments of interest number about as many as the functioning cars. Zero. I won't find much to do with any of these local establishments, either, outside of entering the odd grocery store for some fruit. Granted, THAT offering turns out to be actually a little better than expected, what with pears and a few unexpected fruit that must have be flown in from Medellín, but I'll mostly decide to remain content with coconuts. Fortunately those are something that I'm capable of making do with for a good while.

Otherwise the muddy streets of town are about all that's on offer. Literally - I walk them all in ever-diminishing hopes of something to pique my interest. But no. As for the riverfront, often a town's centerpiece, I find that it's oddly principally lined with shanties decrying abject poverty. From my perspective, whatever that might be termed to be, they unmistakably scream a lack of hygiene that's impossible to miss - at least certainly not with the tangle of sewage pipes that ominously jut from below all the houses into or over the water. None leave much doubt as to what filth might be left lingering about should the tide back things up... which it rather unhandily does on my very first night. A section of town floods, leaving locals few means of navigating those streets affected outside of hoping to hug the buildings' edges in order to hopefully stay above the questionable waters. To all this I can only think of one word: cholera. Not so shockingly, I general beat quick retreats to my ever-so-slightly-more-elevated side of town.

My uppity district takes on an entirely different aspect of Nuqui, I find. For example, the area's birds that I continually spot at this edge of town, with its trees, are, indisputably, phenomenal. Really, wow! The colors and quantities on display from my perch at the "hotel" keep me mesmerized for prolonged periods of time. Flashes of yellow and blue interject with jet-black markings and, in the case of the most appealing of all of them, a tiny bird comes in a few tones of electric blue. Naturally I can't capture it properly with my camera. Similarly flashy, meanwhile, is a massive bumble bee with its glimmering green-gold coloring, often seen buzzing the bushes lining our quiet street in large number. Pictures will do none of them the slightest justice, naturally, but all of these gems of nature offer appealing and bold contrasts to the rest of this dreary town.

As to exploring, I ask my usual band of questions regarding guerillas and paramilitaries before any settings-out. Again, I'm met with pauses that lead again to suggestions to just stick to the beach. I really should leave the interior best as a mystery, I'm often (indirectly) suggested. Not that I have to be told twice. Well, I do, but I effectively listen after the first time with the hopes that the next time might prove different. Nope.

As the only (true, non-paisa) gringo in town, meanwhile, I'm well aware that I stick out much as things stand to all. Fair enough, I tell myself, what with the beaches seeming pretty safe and plenty appealing in their own right to lay low. This safety seems especially true, too, when noting that there are a couple of beached gunboats with soldiers cleaning their weapons most of the time. That's apparently the thing to do while the others in the company swim in the ocean in their (apparently military issue) black duty undies. For once I pass up the opportunity to engage in jabbers to confirm any suppositions.

Here I should correct myself, perhaps, in fairly stating that I'm merely the WHITEST gringo in this town: Turns out that a Spaniard briefly appears on my first day at Hotel Nuqui Super Extraordinary (Not), and a rather bored one at that, apparently, after having spent a few days anchored to Nuqui. So I try to lift his spirits: Does he want to check out the beach across the river sometime?, I ask. Well, yes, he does - but is there anything else to do in Nuqui? Uh, nope, not by my reckoning: By now I've already walked the beach on our side of the river, the one that goes for about forever and hosted the military patrols. Its already minimum appeal is further degraded by its ankle deep debris of wood-stuffs to contend with for about every step. There's nothing like having to rinse the area between sandal and foot every third step to ruin a walk.

It's worth here noting that the Nuqui side of the river is apparently the one that receives the bulk of the outflow of the Nuqui River into the sea. Naturally, I (or anyone else) should not try to think of what else might be in it from upriver. On the bright side, somehow (!), it looks like someone's started to heap the plastic bits together for collection on this "Debris Coast". How about that? But... some of the plastic holding bags of trash are emptying their contents back into the muck in the interim - a truck or cart would sure be handy to collect this stuff to justify what looks to merely have been a half-hearted, one-time aborted stab at the problem. Regarding this, I hear word about a mystery garbage truck which makes its way up the beach periodically, on its way to a just-as-mysterious dump (possibly picking the plastic up at times), but sure... what about the unicorns running alongside it?, I'm tempted to add.

In town, meanwhile, I'm hopeful to see some kind of display of the vaunted El Choco music scene. Where ARE these vaunted músicos? Dunno, but it looks like the closest I'll get to them will be a parade of teenagers banging away on drums on their way to the tiny stadium on the edge of town near my "hotel". They form a kind of drum core of fifty or so, rhythmically pounding the same simple beat for a couple of hours. I'm tempted to come over to them with my trumpet - and the reality of such a scenario would likely be my being well received and welcomed - but I ultimately opt out of interjecting myself as an interloper onto their tradition. Besides, the lack of variation in their theme makes me surmise that this drum circle (sans the actual form of a circle) is somehow cathartic for these youth. In fact, I think I can vaguely make out their chant: "kell duh wab-bah... keel da wab-bit... kill the *&^%# gringo!" Maybe next time.

Instead I work on a few tunes back at my shabby hotel, a worthy accompaniment to its sort-of view. Now that I have enough electricity from 6 p.m.-11 a.m. to keep my iPod and mini-speaker amply charged, I actually can put in an honest couple of hours work a day. Said trabajo consists of transcribing Cuban tunes mostly, a selection of ones I both like immensely AND contain a melodic line that I think will make them suitable for street trumpet. It seems the case that many aren't published in written form (that I know of), so I feel that I'm thus taking care of the problem little by little. Arrimate Pacá "Amor Verdadero" and "Como La Avenalleda" are now seeing the light of paper, TripTrumpet-style, with the stylings of Eliades Ochoa and Company Segundo becoming the originals as far as I'm concerned.

It's actually the above which leads me to meeting the Spaniard Jorge, he the possible victim suffering next door to my tune walk-throughs (although he says no such thing). Regardless, I tell him how I'm thinking of checking out the other beach, Playa Olimpica: He's welcome to join me. Going stir-crazy in this town of dubious local offerings, yet guerrilla-wary enough to know to do "exploring" things in numbers, he leaps at the chance. I refrain from asking him if he's packing a high-calibre revolver like I am. Seriously, maybe I should strap a couple of grenades to my chest and attire myself in camouflage the way this scaring-off stuff is going. Such armory'd teach a guerrilla a thing or two - and me while at it, in all likelihood. Sigh - what people might do for forty virgins in heaven! Or is that concept not playing on this continent?

Off we go, anyway, conspicuously UNARMED and trudging past the Rusting Four (vehicles) toward the town's floodzone. I ask around for the recommended canoeist El Famoso Pastrana (I always find it best to call all known local characters The Famous So-and-So, a pleasing ground-breaker that's going over uniformly well here); We find him only minutes later gutting a fish around a corner. Is he up to the task? I must say, he seems awfully humble to be famous! I reassure him that it'll be definitely true if we get a move-on. Moments later we walk over the mud flats and into his canoe. There, Jorge and I squat down onto a couple of improvised plank-seats. The tire hub that serves as an anchor is pulled aboard and we push out into the slack, lowtide-ish river.

Now Pastrana stands over the shallow boat much as Hades might loom over the river Styx, slowly paddling us toward the mangroves. He uses languid, silent strokes, with dripping oars that seem imperturbable to anything man or nature might utter at the moment. We gracefully slice over toward the tidal island in about fifteen minutes, only hugging the mangroves for the last part. As usual, I take the opportunity to mercilessly quiz the poor man on who might be living on the island, hoping to get a bit of history while at it. Is this where the rich or poor of town live?, I wonder aloud, thinking only of the beauty that so obviously lies ahead of our approach.

"Both" chuckles Pastrana, allowing the cemetery that shortly comes into view to provide the rest of the joke. Ah. Jumping ashore, we arrange a meeting time for some hours later before Jorge and I leave Famous P. to go walking through the cemetery. We shortly cross from the river side to the ocean's via this small strip of land, trying our best not to tromp on anyone's remains below and unsuspecting. Then... yep, right away we can confirm that this is indeed an olympic-sized beach - we can see it going on from forever unto forever, the strand seemingly disappearing only into the jungly hills beyond. We quickly agree that we'll walk until we run out of island, or until the tide looks to make our return a pain.

We set to walking the beach, taking in the nearby areas alongside as we move along. Obviously some logging has been going on, and even now there's some rough cultivating beine done, but mostly this looks to be an abandoned stretch of the planet. The few houses look either by-and-large abandoned, or at least potentially unapproachable by intent. One thing is immediately assessed as better than the town beach, though: There's no trash, no wood chips, nothing. The wood that does wash up is restricted to larger pieces, a paltry collection of hard driftwoods that would make many a carpenter or wood carver drool in envy.

Apparently, however, some iguanas DO call the place home, as we soon find out: On both ends of the island we run into a local or two hunting them down. These men look for their telltale - or telltail, how punny! - markings in the sand, then let their dogs root them out in the nearby bushes. Handily, all they have to do afterward to keep them captive is twist their arms behind their backs and interlace their digits. How convenient indeed: The iguanas don't have the strength to undo the clasp, an awfully handy (to brutally murder the pun) trait. They're easily flopped over a shoulder or stringed together for transport, with resigned and doomed looks pervading their countenances all the way to their, well, doom.

Nosy me, I of course try to ascertain what's to be done with them later. They'll be eaten, I'm told - duh! But is it legal to hunt them, or is there a season and a quantity allowed to be caught? To this I receive some hesitant looks initially, but perhaps my uncaring, curious style of questioning disarms them enough to say (and probably lie) that it's all well and good. And as to the particulars, yes, they'll be making some kind of mush soup with the critters - incredibly tasty fare, I'm assured. I smile to whatever they say, of course, and soon we leave to approach the end of the island as the tide begins to significantly move in. Time to turn around.

On the way back we again take note of both a log that's being shaped into a canoe and also a couple of abandoned-yet-complete rafts we've also passed by. What's the deal with these, anyway? Are they merely abandoned, failed attempts at seaworthy craft? Fortunately, our good man Pastrana will provide the answers, soon reappearing right on schedule: The rafts are indeed abandoned, but only after been purposely left behind by the indigenous folks who make them upriver or up-current (along the coast). They load them with bananas to paddle down to market, then walk home much more quickly without the ennui ou souci of fighting a current with such an unwieldy craft. Their low value yet ease of construction makes sense, too, as already Jorge and I have determined that the wood is incredibly soft. It's easily stab-able with any sharpened stick, so a machete could probably make such a raft in half an hour. Thus it's hardly a waste to abandon them, at least effort-wise.

The partially-carved canoe, meanwhile, is far from abandoned. The owners are just working on it whenever they were in the mood. They only randomly take the time to whack away at its much harder wood with hatchets to slowly carve it out. Leaving it on the beach is a safe enough practice for such a heavy thing, what with the way the local currents run: It'll not move far enough on any given day to be a problem in relocating it. Meanwhile, here again are logical, reassuring reasons why everyone this place carries a machete and other blades, I imagine. Altogether we've seen about a half-dozen indigenous folks on the entire walk with them in hand, each meekly responding pleasantly to our greetings in that typically shy fashion of the indigenous of Latin America. Speaking of which - hell, one certainly would be handy to have myself when I have to otherwise resort to my pocket knife to work a coconut. Talk about slow.

Eventually daylight has just about ebbed and we make ready to leave: The tide is well back in. Pastrana takes us through the cemetery, then we regain his canoe to make this now longer trip back, also now in the dark. The lights of town are sufficiently visible to mark the way, though, even if now the river is much higher and there's a larger expanse of it to navigate. We get back to town figuring that this has been a 5000CP well spent, next wanting to spend some more in trying to hunt down fruit and nuts in town as the local electricity fails on a couple occasions to make the task infinitely more... interesting.

Such is the norm in Nuqui, anyway, where you never know when the juice might get turned off - or the generators kicked on. A cold beer isn't necessarily ever a given in such an environment, and neither, I might add, is one that doesn't necessarily smell like fish. That's how it goes down at our hotel, anyway, where the refrigerator doubles for storage of fresh fish as much as it houses beers and other things that you really do NOT want to smell like the wrong side of the sea. Yecch - talk about some sips that require choking down to wonder why the hell one bothers. If beers weren't so damnably social...

Nevertheless, the foul-smelling brews unquestionably help make quick work to the ends of the conversation Jorge and I briefly pursue that evening. THAT primarily concerns how Nuqui would work so much better if WE ran the show, the typical Euro-Yank stuff about how the locals don't recognize the beauty at their fingertips as they summarily trash it. Of course, about the time one might get organized with the trash and proper delivery systems, the place would cost ten times as much to visit, too. And then the cheapskate tourists like us wouldn't be here any longer. Checkmate, damn it.

Jorge is off by my third day back in Nuqui in any event, so it looks like I'm provably again to be the lone gringo for a spell. I'm not complaining, though, looking forward to the quiet afforded by nothing else to do but work on music and eat seafood. I've already been working on making some cups out of coconuts, productively also finding myself plodding without much resistance on the next tune I'm transcribing. Naturally, a pair of bewildered Canadian surfers pass through ever briefly out of nowhere to momentarily break my lone gringo-dom, just as a few other guests in the hotel (Paisas, of course) decide to move across the street... but then they're gone in a flash. "Traidores!" I only meekly whisper after them over my coffee cup, once again happy to be the lone guest standing. Sitting, anyway.

But... but... au contraire. Et tu, aussi, TripTrumpet? Yep: El Famoso Sapi has come rolling up on his motorcycle (one of the very few in town), looking for me. "El Valle, El Valle!" he excitedly tells me. "Te vas?" he queries me. Yes, he's going to El Valle after all on this non-Friday - like right now. This IS a boon, I'm aware, especially since the coming boat trip on Friday has been looking iffy based on the current tides. I'd possibly have to endure the rougher seas in going beyond to Bahia Solano, further requiring a (land-based) ride back to El Valle while incurring an extra 20000CP charge in the process for a service I don't want. So... am I ready to go? Duh! I spit out my umpteenth coffee of the day and fold up my latest García Marquéz short story.

Well, well. Since when do things EVER work this fast in the Pacific Choco? It sure is apparently the case that now is the time, and how! Not that it doesn't make eminent sense: it turns out that Sapi has somebody lined up in El Valle who needs to get down to Nuqui to catch the next day's plane, thus the rush. We need to catch what's left of the tide up in El Valle to allow it to happen. This is par for the course for how things rolled here, I'll again confirm in mere days, when I learn how the unerring schedules of airplanes need take precedence over anything that might happen in the sticks. Yes, even this remote corner of the planet is governed by the dictates of the "real world" after all - wherever that place is.

I now scramble to pack my crap, mashing some pears (not good) and spilling coco juice (worse) on some clothes in the hurried process. Dashing back out front of the tumbledown hotel a last time, I hop onto the back of Famous Sapi's motorcycle to head to the boat. I've been hearing good things about how El Valle trumps what Nuqui can offer, so making this hurried choice is all the more easy - especially when I only have cash to last two weeks total should the ATM ahead in Bahia Solano not be functioning. But as for those intended photos of the Rusting Four, or buying a couple of handicrafts for my nieces from the shop near the airport? The tide can wait that much, can't it? Well of course it can, Sapi agrees, accommodating me with his motorcycle on each of these drive-by tasks as we otherwise spin the several blocks over to his "office" and the awaiting boat.

Now I just have to jump into the boat and... wait, although only for a spell of about ten minutes. That's sufficiently long enough to reacquaint me with the smell and stink of the river, plus inspect the underbelly of some of the docks more than plenty. Yuck. Better is being the first aboard, something which also allows me to wisely choose a place to sit as centered and far back as possible in case of turbulence. That another possible passenger won't come along works out to render that point moot, but still.

When Sapi decides not to make the run himself, meanwhile, I ask myself if this is a good or bad omen with all this tide stuff going on. Then again, won't it be especially true that there is nothing to worry if it is his beloved son taking over the controls, further accompanied by a helper to mind the gas tank as it slides around the boat? I'll soon find out. It's time to check out the northern stretch of this particular bit of the Choco Pacifico. "El Valle!, El Valle...", I whimper.

NEXT (the North part of the Pacific Choco)
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