A Butt-Breaking Boat

February 1, 2008
Day 856

Crossing the Gap, Day 2

Picture of beach.

The beach of Capurganá.

The boat was crowded and left early. When I jumped on board, everyone was already wearing a life jacket, and in a place that's normally so cavalier about safety precautions, I knew it was going to be a bumpy one. When we were slowly moving across the channel outside of Turbo, the guy sitting next to me grabbed my arm and started talking to me. He said he was a college professor in Manizales, which was fitting because he had a complete teacher's personality. He constantly tapped me and pointed out obvious stuff like "Hey look, there's lots of different species of trees there," "That's an island, but nobody lives on it," and "The water's not very clear here."

When we got into the open sea, the water got choppy, but the guy kept talking to me. I didn't understand why he kept poking me whenever he wanted to say anything. After all, I was the only person next to him. But before he could get really annoying, his voice was drowned out by the sound of the twin 200 HP engines and thirty people screaming. The swells were three meters high and we went airborne and got salty baths several times. The assistant didn't bother fastening my backpack tightly to the pile of luggage it was sitting on, and before long, it was resting completely free of restraints and waiting to plunge into the depths. I couldn't do much about it, though, because I was a few rows back and didn't want to attempt to stand up. It flopped around like a giant tuna fish that had leaped into the boat, but managed to stay out of the water for the trip.

After an hour of constantly crashing the waves, a guy in the front made the driver stop and shouted in Spanish, "You're breaking my butt hole!" I thought that was a weird way to describe the sensation, and the snickers from around the boat said that the other passengers felt the same way. His olive skin and dark hair made me presume him to be Argentine or Spanish, but later I found out that he and his four comrades around him were Italian. They complained many times and told the driver to slow down, but that only encouraged him to go faster. Riding on that boat was like having a chair pulled out from beneath you every ten seconds, for nearly three straight hours. I was amazed that nobody puked.

I felt slightly shorter when we got to Capurganá. Once safely on land, the Italians continued waving their arms and shouting at the driver, but everyone else on the boat was quiet. One lady said we should just thank the lord we arrived safely. It demonstrated an interesting cultural difference: In countries like Italy, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but in South America, nothing in life is meant to be easy. Americans, on the other hand, are generally too afraid of living up to their loud and ugly stereotypes to complain.

Capurganá was a sleepy little town with no road access near the border with Panama. I was hoping to get a boat from there all the way to Colon, Panama, but I was told that few ships made that trip, and they didn't run on any predictable schedule. I did learn that a flight would be leaving from the Panamanian side in two days, so that seemed like my only viable option to continue heading north. I got stamped out of the country and hoped for the best on my journey across the border tomorrow.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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