Day 16

I wake up around 9am but can’t get out of bed until 11. People in the house behind are talking so loudly it seems like they’re shouting right into my ears. It’s incredible how I have taken walls for granted all my life, the fact that they block both sight and sound.

Verónica joins me for breakfast. She tells me how around 9 this morning, she saw a large group of women walking back from the far end of the beach. They were stone drunk, and some could barely walk. 

Apparently someone entered Caroline’s room at 5am and shone a light on her face, jolting her awake. The intruder then ran right out of the house. It’s a mystery, and our best guess is that someone couldn’t find the way home.

Bryan Adams is playing on the Bluetooth speaker at Nacho’s house. The familiarity is surprising and suddenly welcome. Maybe we just had a collective nostalgia attack for 90s rock. Or maybe we are all hung over. 

The kids are trying to slaughter a chicken. They manage to hack at its neck but lose control when the chicken panics and darts away. They spend the next twenty minutes running in all directions, chasing a chicken with a rather severe neck wound. I’ve read that chickens can still survive for quite a while even after their heads have been cut off. I’m sure there’s a physiological explanation for this, but it’s a nice parallel to how life can still carry on even when you literally (or figuratively) lose your head. You learn to depend on other things, trust new people, find a better path of escape.

Two young boys help an older man to weave his way up from the edge of the river after peeing for an eternity on the side of a boat. He is wearing a t-shirt that has the name of Panama’s current president, Nito Cortizo, emblazoned on the back.

Many of the men in the chicha house have walking sticks with them. I’m sure there’s a ceremonial significance, but when you’re drunk out of your mind, they really make a difference!

Today is a quiet day for the chicha ceremony in terms of specific activities but we may all head over after dinner to drink a bit. I think one tortuma is all I can manage. I ducked in for a second after lunch to see what was happening and the hammock was up, the cantule was sitting on it but as far as I could tell, everyone was speaking the same language of drunk.

Chicha is a most powerful drink.

Around 5.30pm, I put my work away and go down to the beach. Groups of men are stretched out on the grass, and one canoe holds a couple of sleep- addled dudes. I sit on the edge of a canoe and look out to the river and the sea just beyond. I think this is the first time I’ve ever sat down to just observe the end of the day. I’m always foraging on the beach for natural objects, looking down and occasionally racing out to catch a purple pink sky. I need to do this more for the rest of my time here. Just be with nature.

I’m close to completing my self-assigned quota of poems. I am two away from 25, and am pretty happy with my output. It’s time to put the pen away and go out exploring.

In the chicha house, the cantule is definitely in some kind of trance state, helped on by a constant curtain of smoke.

We get into a discussion of the word ‘bitch’ after dinner. On whether women bosses are always, by default, seen as bitchy. And how alpha females are more than bitchy. The power they hold is somehow more ascendant and dominant than the state of being a bitch, which carries negative connotations of unfair practices and attitudes. So what do we mean when we say life’s a bitch? That its inherently unfair? Yes, but that its also a slog.

The women are in a unique position of power and silence here. Or at least, that is how it appears when you blend daily life and cultural practice. Men can enter the chicha house dressed any way they like. Women have to wear a mola blouse and a particular wraparound skirt. The women clearly have to cook and handle household chores. The men hunt and seem to have the license to drink more openly. But certain ceremonial rites are separate from the men. The men are the ones drawing the chicha from the gourds. The men blow the tobacco smoke and are the cantules.

Author: Marc

Creative educator. Sometime photographer. Fiddler of words.