Tuesday, October 24, 2006


PanaRadio #9 Jungle Heat and Dreams of Snow...

My great radio partner, Betina from Argentina and I decide to tag along with one of the local Padres as he makes his parish rounds. You have to tag along a lot down here: buses, trucks, taxis, 4x4s, 4x8s, patrol boats, logging trucks, even stolen logging trucks carrying, uh, stolen trees.

This is the first time we have headed south deeper into the depths of the Darien Gap. We are still well outside the lawless frontier area, and even still north of Yaviza, the fabled "end of the road.' As I have said earlier, this section of the Pan-American Pothole is for shit. But, surprise! It gets worse. Parts of the road no longer have potholes...because parts of the road are no longer there. Just gone. Space. Absence of matter. We assume the Padre knows the road well.
We arrive in a small village. A place with about a dozen houses, one rickety store, one partially constructed Catholic church, a dozen outhouses, chicken coops, pig pens and horse stalls. The local cowboys, and these guys were definitely born to ride, are practicing their ridin' and ropin' on about a dozen yearling calves. Pretty easy pickings as the young steer is kicked out of a chute and the cowboy, looking as much like the Marlboro Man (pre-emphysema) as he can, races after the little heifer, lassos him, and then brakes hard before crashing into the far fence. All in all, pretty good, clean wholesome fun. Well, unless you're the cow. One poor little fella, so scared I thought his big brown cow eyes were going to pop out of his head, actually broke through one of the loose boards of the crude fence making the arena. Making a break for it, the little doggie races for his life across the church lawn...right towards me! I flail my arms to try and get him to turn back. No way. In hot pursuit are three of the local gauchos, bearing down on me at full throttle. Now, just what is the maximum speed of a horse? 20 mph? 25? I decided it was time to get some religion, and dive into the church. The Three Amigos roar by like the Bronx InterBorough Express.

A while later, I wander around the back of the church to see how Betina is doing with our radio surveys. As part of our assignment, we had developed a comprehensive survey of radio listenership in the Darien. "Do you listen to the radio? AM, FM or both? What stations?" The survey, the first of its kind, has been providing some useful information for our radio client, Voz Sin Fronteras.

However, as I walk up, I see that she is slumped in a plastic chair, looking flushed, surrounded by a gaggle of local women, who are making a fuss over her.
"Hola Betina. Que paso, chica?"
"Um, I think I passed out. I guess I did..."
"Damn girl, you okay?"

Taking her wrist I tell her that her pulse is weak. [Like I could tell the difference between a weak pulse and a Ford Ranger going through the side of a building...]
"What happened? Did you fall over, like a board, or collapse like a sack of potatoes?"
"Uh, I don't know..."
"Did you wake up on the ground?"
"Oh, uh, yeah I guess so...," she says a little embarrassed.

Now I know this is a good thing. If you are embarrassed, your ego is still intact, and you are probably not in shock or in too serious shape. I know this because I live with the WMDB. [You're not supposed to be laughing at this.]

Stop laughing.

Well, Betina is a real trooper. Like she had a choice. It's several hours in the Padre's pick up, and two more Catholic Masses, before I can get her back to her air-conditioned room at La Falicidad, our home for the length of the radio assignment.

I reward myself with not one, but two, Orange Crushes. You can get Crushed down here for just two bits, and like the locals, I can now down an entire bottle in about ten seconds flat. I've seen guys drink a bottle before the gal behind the counter can make change.

So like a good ACDI/VOCA consultant, I decide I better call it in. I hoof it down the Inter-American Pothole a ways to the local Cable & Wireless phone booth (owned by the British telecom giant) and to my surprise find that it works. Up the Queen! After a number of attempts to provide my damn PEEN Number, as prompted by the ‘bush-two-for-Anglish’ recording, I am connected with the country office of A/V in Panama City. But of course, it's after hours, and, surprisingly, no answering machine.

After a little back and forth, I decide to call the A/V Emergency Hotline number in our nation's capital, Bethesda, Maryland. The phone is answered before the second ring by an efficient sounding woman by the name of Faith. Perfect! Cuz' I NEED a little Faith right about now! I explain that this is more of a courtesy call than an emergency one, just to put the word up the line. No reason to call the parents of Betina in Argentina. No MedicVac, por favor. I explain that we will take tomorrow off, see if this backwater 'burg has a doctor, and no big deal...just a courtesy call.

I end the call with a little Texas Friendly banter, "By the way, Faith, where did you say you were speaking from? Bethesda? What's the weather like there? Is it Spring there yet?

"Oh no, we still have a little snow on the ground..."


"I beg your pardon?!" stammers Faith.

[Did I say that out loud...?!]

"NO, uh, sorry, um, really, but you said...snow."

"It's pretty hot down there, huh?"

Snow! That wonderful crunching sound when your foot breaks through the layer on top, the little white tornadoes whipping around the corners of buildings, mighty tree limbs hanging down with the weight of...snow!!

Sorry Faith...I owe ya' a cold one.

jim Meteti, the Darien Gap

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