Tag Archives: Sierpe

Over the Sea to Sierpe

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Demetri Martin does a ‘Sort of’ routine: ‘Sort of’ is such a harmless thing to say. Sort of. It’s just a filler. Sort of – it doesn’t really mean anything. But after certain things, sort of means everything. Like after ‘I love you’ or ‘You’re going to live.’ I spent some time in the office at the hotel in the role of resident flak catcher when a surccession of managers, shipped down here from San Jose, fell apart, cracked up ran into the jungle clutching bottles. A lot of visitors wanted to discuss the internet signal with me, and very few shared my opinion that it was a miracle that we had it. Sort of. We don’t have roads, or phones or cars; there’s twenty foot of rain falling on us, and sometimes we have an internet signal strong enough to suck in mail. That’s amazing.

Comedian No.2, Louis C.K: “Everything’s amazing right now and nobody’s happy”. He tells how he was on a flight that was offering new-fangled, super hi-tech internet access. It packed up, and the man next to him, goes ‘This is bullshit!’. “How quickly” says Louis, “the world owes him something he didn’t even know existed 10 seconds earlier”.

Quite. That’s right. But I need it. For the last few weeks the signal has drifted and flat-lined. Following two days spent swatting mosquitoes and waiting for a page to load, I packed my laptop in bin liners and went to get a boat for the three-hour round trip in driving rain across rough seas, the Hawaii surf of the wet season breaking against the rocks of the river mouth and through the mangroves to the one horse town of Sierpe, (picture attached of the one horse), and the superior internet facilities of Las Vegas, the bar. Unfortunately there wasn’t a boat.

I spent days in the Bucket o’ Blood Bar and at the end of a jetty in the Bay Islands 25 years ago waiting for a mail boat, or a fishing boat, or any boat, to get off the island. It probably wouldn’t be such a trial being stranded there these days, but back then people . . . well, let’s just say they didn’t get many visitors. It brought it all back.  Anyway, yesterday there was a boat, and I shared it with Fitz’s caretaker, William, and his wife Carmen (she of the puma incident), who had some days off.

Obviously there wasn’t a lot going on in Sierpe, because there never is (this, I guess, is its charm – not that it really has charm), but I sat in Las Vegas, checked emails (including one, an invitation to a cider event at the Houses of Parliament, and another, a press trip London-Panama) while crocodiles snapped below, and listened to the usual trio of sleazy guides approach backpackers with some ingenious conversational openers. I strolled about, chatted to a man hosing down his piebald horse, went to Super el Combo but couldn’t see anything I wanted to buy, dropped into the police station to see if they’d found any Colombian drug lords this month (no, actually, they hadn’t). Lorena, who runs the hotel’s Sierpe office, had a new grandson in a back room which she got out for me and the boat captain to have a look at, and then it was time to go home. Away from all this craziness.

There were two tourists on the boat coming back, and plenty of whales and dolphins in the dark, choppy sea.  It’s nice to go to town. Sort of.

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Sierpe: Heading up to Town

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The first place you come to when you take a boat north is Drake (Drah-kay, after Sir Francis Drah-kay, the explorer, the conqueror, the pirate, depending on how you look at it). Four hundred and a bit years on, Drake is, essentially, a cluster of funky cabins, a few venerable ecolodges, and a bar which is sometimes open.  Wade ashore, and hoof it up the hill, and you will find two pulperias, or stores, facing each other across the dusty lane, selling the same stuff, although one is good, and one is not so good. You will probably find what you are looking for, as long as what you are looking for sits on the tinned tomato paste – local cigarettes – tuna – onions spectrum.

My preference is for steamy Sierpe, further north, and some distance inland up a slow green river full of crocodiles. It’s an hour and a half there, and an hour and a half back by boat, plus time for loading and off-loading, and buying music off the back of a truck and captain-to-captain catch-ups, but I’ve done that trip for a papaya. Sometimes it’s just nice to get out.

Today I’m off to get me some soy sauce, and to hang out at Las Vegas, ‘Pearl of the Osa’. Vegas is a sort of holding camp for tourists fresh off buses and waiting for boats, and damp and fusty off boats, waiting for buses. Around the tables there’s a lot of urgent negotiation regarding tents, guides, and boats.  It has something of the atmosphere I imagine hotels in East Africa must have had when they were full of 19th century explorers and planters, planning expeditions into the interior – although of course, few people here will get speared or mauled by lions, and most will be back in a couple of days, rather than a couple of years (although you wouldn’t think it to look at their backpacks). The ideal thing is to sit on the balcony and watch crocodiles and water lilies drift by. It’s a great place. Until not so very long ago, you could buy rum with gold dust. My friend and the owner, Don Jorge, go way, way back, and have done each other some favours, and the service is always good.

The boats take clients in and out of Sierpe most days, and so I trot along the beach at 6.45am to cadge a ride. Some days I read all the way. I pride myself on being able to do that whatever the size of the waves, even though I’m sure that being engrossed in a book as we pass whales, dolphins and rare seabirds, must look pretty peculiar, especially if the book is a bad one. But today, the world here is so, so beautiful, with the gold sea mist rolling up the shore, four blue layers of distant mountains, and our boat trailing champagne froth across water as still as a lake, that I don’t read, I just gape and marvel, and feel like clapping. Well done! Well done!

I get two hours in Sierpe and need to move fast, which makes me about the only thing there that does. The temperature must be about 40 degrees. I’ve been trying to get a zip fixed in a dress for several weeks now, but Olga, the local seamstress who is looking into the matter, is a slippery fish. Sometimes her house (official address: two houses left of  the giant mango tree – which is actually a jocote tree) is locked up, with just a dog loafing outside. Today, though, when I rattle the gate there is movement from within. There has finally been progress – the old zip is out. Unfortunately there are no new zips available. Instead, she suggests, maybe I could have a skirt? So I buy a skirt. It just seems easier. She gives me a well-thumbed underwear and jewellery catalogue to drop off with Lorena, who runs the hotel’s Sierpe office. Next, the farmacia. It’s closed but there are four deoderants, all identical, spaced out along a shelf in the barn style store that is El Fenix. I grew up with this style of no-choice shopping in Uganda, and to be honest, I prefer it. If I’m going to agonise over decisions, I’d rather they were slightly more critical. I get my soy sauce and two avocados at Super el Combo, grab a drink at Vegas, (internet not working), say hello to Pinky the one-eyed captain, and Don Jorge, take a look at the Colombian drug boat the policeman has impounded (actually it’s been there for a while, but it’s still good to examine every so often), flick through Lorena’s new acquisitions of literary fiction and wonder whether I will ever be sufficiently desperate to read The Kite Runner again but in Spanish, and return across the seas. It’s been a big day out.

Walking back home, swinging my purchases, I see Carmen on the steps of the caretaker’s house. This is most wonderful. Not only do I like Carmen, the house has now been made beautiful in a way that I can never muster the energy to attempt. All smells of fresh laundry and flowers, the floors are gleaming, and palm leaves, ginger and massive heliconia have been lovingly arranged in tall jars.  A human touch. Oh, it’s very nice; most uplifting.


Sierpe: Clothes Shopping

sierpeOlga and her granddaughter (modelling new skirt), Sierpe.

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