We pulled up to the little beachside cantina just as the sun, fire red, was beginning its descent for the day. A small boy, 5 or 6, was sitting across the way from the bar, alongside a palm tree, at the edge of the earth, where it fell straight off down to the sea, watching the start of the sunset all by himself.
We joined him. As the sun slid farther down, the blue sky turned orange and yellow and rose and red. Beneath where we stood amidst the palm trees, the water came slowly onto the sand and then receded again. It was the Pacific Ocean, but you could have mistaken it for the Caribbean Sea, it lapped so gently.
Others joined us. A little girl with a dog. Three teenagers. A young couple holding hands…
Meantime, one of our party offered to head up to the bar.
“What will everyone have to drink?” asked Robert.
“Rum and Coke…Balboa…Atlas…rum and Coke…”
A few minutes later, Robert returned:
“They have two Pepsis, Balboa beer, and seco. That’s all”
“Don’t they have Atlas beer?”
“Do they have water?”
“They have two Pepsis, Balboa beer, and seco,” Robert said again. Then he threw his arms up into the air and walked away from the crowd.
When he returned, he carried two Pepsis, six Balboa beers, and a big bottle of seco. Plus cups.
We mixed secos and Pepsi, passed around the beers, then turned again to watch the sun finish its show for the day. She had a crowd. The cliff’s edge where we stood was lined now with sunset-watchers.
Behind us, suddenly, Latin music pounded from a half-dozen speakers above the wooden bar.
We’d been directed to this beachside catina outside the village of Mariato on the western coast of Panama’s Veraguas province by the grocery store keeper in town. We were the only gringos in the place.
While the locals were gearing up for their payday weekend Saturday night, we non-locals were winding down, tired and sunburned, after a long, dirty day spent hiking the hills of Lief’s Los Islotes development, searching out the recently placed wooden stakes and trying to match them to the lot plan.
When the sun was out of sight altogether, we climbed into our vehicles for the rest of the drive back to Santiago.
Leaving the Panamanians to continue their Saturday night beachside fun.
P.S. We’re in Santiago, in Veraguas province, at the head of the western Azuero Peninsula. This is a part of the country we began paying attention to but two-and-a-half years ago. The changes, even since then, have been great. The little La Hacienda hotel where we like to stay has expanded its capacity by 33%, adding 15 new rooms over the past 18 months.
Today, in its bar and restaurant, you hear English spoken by maybe half the guests. “Used to be,” our friend David, traveling with us this weekend, remarked yesterday, “we were the only English-speakers in the place when we’d come here…”
Big houses are being built here and there, new beach and mountain developments are being launched every second month, and the rumor that Mel Gibson has invested in a sizable piece of land in this part of the country, where he intends to build a resort hotel with all the trimmings, have been confirmed.
The get-in-early phase is passing.