Abby has pretty much had it with Boquete. If I were in her shoes, I’d have had it, too.
Abby boarded the bus that runs from San Jose to David (Da-veed), Panama. I’d gotten on at Quepos, on my way to Boquete. Abby got on at one of the rest stops an hour later. A woman was changing a baby in the seat where Abby was going to sit, she asked if she could sit for a moment in the one next to me. Sure. We found out we had Seattle in common.
She was on her way back to Boquete to pick up some things she and her daughter left behind, pay off a few debts. She was starting over in Costa Rica.
Abby has been back and forth across the border between Panama and Costa Rica. She knows the ropes. She guided me through hassles at immigration, even hung with me when I had to go stand in line in the sun to buy a $25 return bus ticket from David to San Jose just to prove to the border agent I wasn’t going to cash in the airplane ticket I showed her so I could live on a beach in Panama. I suppose it’s happened.
Rather than spending an hour jammed into a school bus, we took a 25 minute cab ride from David to Boquete, my way of saying thank you.
Boquete was hard, even for a woman as tough as Abby. From the time she arrived, well over a year ago, until her trip back to Seattle last Fall, she struggled. Right from the beginning, when the guys who hired her down from Costa Rica, to provide massage therapy at their addict recovery operation, didn’t follow through.
There she was, having moved herself and her daughter to a new town in a new country, and the job blew up less than a month after she arrived. But you can see determination in her brown eyes when she looks directly at you, assessing. It’s not just the tattoo, “S.H.A.R.P.,” an arc across her back nearly shoulder to shoulder.
“What’s your tattoo stand for?” I ask on the way up to Boquete.
“Which one?” she responds.
“Um, the one I can see? On your back?”
“Skin Heads Against Racism and Prejudice.”
“Did you date a skin head?”
“I was a skin head,” she says and I get a quick, abbreviated lesson in Skin Head ethos, especially my mistaken association of Skin Heads with the Aryan Brotherhood. The power of Skin Head music. The power of community. Did she date a skin head? What a stupid question.
When the new job blew up, she adapted. She opened her licensed massage therapy business, highlighting her knowledge of Tao healing principles and abdominal massage. She worked at it. She networked. She got to know people. And a lot of people were enthusiastic.
That enthusiasm was obvious when we got to town. Boquete was happy to see her when she and I showed up on Saint Patrick’s Day. She had convinced me that Willie’s Bar & Grill would have the best roast beef I’d ever had, ever, if there was any left when we got there.
From the time the cab from David (Da-veed) dropped us off at the hostel where I’d hoped to stay, until I finally left Willie’s that night to secure a room, any room anywhere, she was getting hugs from those who knew her.
“Abby!! I did not think I would ever see you again!” said one young man. Willie’s wife gave her a hug. The tall guy who came in from outside just to say hi. The older woman who had a hard time getting to her feet. Willie’s clientele is diverse on Saint Patrick’s Day, but everyone was glad Abby was back in town.
Abby got the last serving of roast beef, but Willie’s roast chicken was mighty fine. While Ashley was getting hugs, I was talking to Mike, and Marni, and Diane in the corner, about art and design and the science of laminar flow.
Hey, iced tea in Central America is a beverage to be reckoned with, m’kay?
Over the next several days, we ran into each other at the hostel where I was staying and where Abby had stored some of her things. I paid for a massage to relieve sciatica in my left hip from all the bus sitting. I bought some of her Costa Rican currency because I would need it maybe before she would, and she wanted to pay dollars to some people she’d borrowed money from when things were really, really tight last year.
Abby pays her debts, you see. She wanted to pay them all and frankly, she’d be able to if people who say they want a massage would follow through when they find out it isn’t free. She’d also like it if they didn’t ask her to cut her rates in half — they aren’t that high to begin with.
She’d like it if they would just show up, when and where they say they are going to show up, do what they say they are going to do, when they say they are going to do it, especially when she has made the effort. Like those guys who hired her down from Costa Rica.
I’ll provide an endorsement: After my massage, my sciatica was relieved. Two knots behind my shoulder blades she found with her thumbs (which lifted me completely off the table) are gone. I can actually look over my right shoulder now, for the first time since I fell asleep on the airplane between Houston and Costa Rica with my head lolling from side to side more than two weeks ago.
But people in even an upscale hippie town change their minds about a massage when they find out it’s going to cost real money for her to fix their aches and pains, even when she can get into tissues that hurt, fix problems using skills and an education she paid good money to acquire. It’s frustrating. You know?
Abby going to set up in a couple of communities in Costa Rica where people know you have to pay for something of value. Not in Jaco. Jaco is a shit hole, a hustle, everybody in Jaco wants a cut of anything you do, she said. Further north, more upscale.
But though she’s got friends there, her daughter isn’t coming back down. Abby had a deal with her daughter, her daughter wasn’t going to go back to Seattle just to hang out, there had to be a plan, college, etc.
“University of Washington.” Those were the first words her daughter said when Abby got off the plane. Or maybe when her daughter got off the plane. I lost the thread, but those were her daughter’s very first words when someone got off the plane. Which was kind of a good-bye, said before even “hello.” That hurt a bit, though it’s hard to tell, because Abby is tough, and can be hard to read.
So Abby’s 16 year-old daughter is living with family friends: a teacher where her daughter goes to school and his wife, who makes killer Swedish meat balls in a huge heavy pan, and meat loaf, and those are her daughter’s absolute favorite meals. So her daughter is fine, and Abby brushes me off when I ask about loss.
Abby’s ex has custody of her youngest daughter, something Abby says she doesn’t want to talk about. She’s pretty strict about those boundaries, too. I didn’t get details. Except she tells me, when friends ask if she knows a good divorce lawyer she recommends the one that represented her ex husband.
Abby is working through how to get her daughter’s books, guitar and amp, clothes, etc. from Boquete to Costa Rica or to her daughter in Seattle. At the hostel where they’ve been stored, I try to hold boxes closed so she can tape them, but the tape breaks off and it’s hard to find the end and she tells me it would really be easier if she just did this herself, she’s been taking care of herself for the last 16 years.
The next day, she tries to explain that an extra pair of hands just gets in the way, I say it’s okay, I had work to do. Then Abby pulls a lamp her daughter made for her for Father’s Day — Abby was both mom and dad — out of her bag. She really shouldn’t pay to ship stuff she really doesn’t need. Take it with or leave it behind?
That’s hard. Really hard. Abby doesn’t let on how hard it is, but she lets me talk about “sweet melancholy,” and she approves of those two words about losing connection.
Day after day, Abby grows more discouraged with Boquete. A guy who wanted a lesson on abdominal massage took a client for the same time he was supposed to get that lesson from Abby. Someone else, maybe two, flaked the day before that. The idea of earning money on this trip to pay off debts and get a stake for the new endeavor in Costa Rica isn’t working out.
“I’m starting to see Boquete through my daughter’s eyes,” Abby said as I left town. Her daughter didn’t want to be here, and now her daughter is not. Maybe that stains Abby view of Boquete, but Abby is tough and we’ll never know. I give her the bus ticket for the trip from David to San Jose, the one I’d been forced to buy at the border. Maybe she’ll be able to use it, maybe not.
It was misting when the bus crossed over the central spine of Panama. Most Norte Americanos think Panama runs north and south but it doesn’t, it runs west to east. I crossed from the Pacific side on the south to the Caribbean side on the north.
As soon as the bus got over the top, farms became jungle, lushly dense and dark; houses turned to shanties on stilts; smells went from floral to fecal; music grew louder and more rhythmic. Mist at the mountain top turned to a hard rain.
Along side the road, a young boy picked up a banana leaf, at least as long as he was tall, and held it over his head to keep dry. When the weather here changes, find a shelter if there is one, and if not, find a leaf.
Or maybe just get wet, while waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for the sun to come out once again.