Friday, April 2, 2010

A birthday present

Well, it wasn´t actually a present, and I got to start using it the week before my birthday, but I´m now the proud owner of my very own dugout canoe, and I´m as tickled as can be about that. You may have noticed that entries in this blog never include photos of cars, trucks, busses, etc. None of those things exist out on the peninsula. The only mode of transport other than hoofing it through the monte is to take a boat. And the boats come in all sizes, up to the occasional yacht that sails into the bay. But by far the most common is the hand hewn dugout.

Kids grow up in these things and it´s not unusual to see kids who back in the states wouldn´t be allowed to walk past the pool unsupervised to be out paddling their baby sister around the bay or up some little quebrada.

I knew from the day I arrived that I´d want to splurge and get my own ride, so when a friend told me a couple of months ago that he was going to cut down a tree in his finca, and that he could make a boat for me, I enthusiastically placed my order. Within a day, the tree was chain sawed down and a fourteen foot section of trunk was cut and rolled in to position and the rough shape started to emerge. The bulk of the work was done by our neighbor Deciderio, an absolute maestro with an axe. He used a flexible palm stalk to pencil the contours onto the log, and then he let loose with his axe--mighty overhead swings that fell exactly along the line like a sculptor´s chisel. Once the interior had been hollowed out, a razor sharp adze was used to shave it smooth. We flipped the log over and more chips flew as the hull took shape. After two long days the first stage work was done and the boat was ready to be hauled the half a mile out of the woods and down to the shore, where the final shaping would be done. We organized a junta for that formidable chore, which meant inviting about ten very stout men to come out, cut and nail some stout branches across the gunwales, and "jalar" that sucker up and out of the forest--a daunting task, since the boat still weighed a ton and was sitting at the bottom of a very steep ravine, but these guys really do excel at the seemingly impossible. So with all hands on board, and much chanting , cheering and goading in Ngäbere, we inched the hulk up the hill, along a ridge and then slid it down to the shore beside my house.
From there a couple of more days to refinar with axe and adze, and it was done. But not ready to sail away yet. Deciderio sank the boat in the waist deep water under the house for a few days--don´t ask me why--and then we dragged it up onto the shore for several weeks of drying before it was considered seaworthy.
So finally last week my bote was ready to go. I loaded up a bucket of tools and made the forty minute paddle across the bay to another little Ngäbe community for a couple of days work with a fellow volunteer building a spring box, a concrete enclosure to collect and protect the springwater source of the community´s small aquaduct. The construction went unusually well and when I was ready to head home the next day I didn´t have to hang around the dock waiting for someone I could beg a ride from to come along. The bay was calm and mirror smooth, reflecting the sunset for the leisurely paddle back across the bay--a good day to be a volunteer.
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