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Goose Noose

To balance out my story about the pernicious Don Gallo (see previous post), I thought I’d treat you to another story involving fowl. But this time, not foul fowl. Rather, fowled foul. I’m not messing with you, I promise. Read on and you’ll see.

I had the opportunity recently to spend a couple of weeks working on the Maris Pearl, a 1944 tug boat moored at the end of my dock. Our friends who live on this spectacular vessel let me use it while they were out of town. Having a dedicated work space allowed me to spread out. At the end of the day, I could leave everything as it was instead of gathering up and putting away all my papers and notes as I do on my own, smaller vessel. Returning the next day to exactly where I had left off increased productivity noticeably.

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My office for two weeks – heaven…

My own boat/home is just a few slips away, so I walked back and forth several times a day to make coffee, eat lunch, use the head, and fetch whatever additional supplies I needed.

One day, on the way back to the Maris Pearl, fresh pot of coffee in hand, I saw a couple of Canadian geese just ahead. No big deal. Geese frequently patrol the docks (as do seagulls, crows, kingfishers, herons and a variety of water birds). Geese, in particular, swim by on summer evenings, just about the time grills are firing up and folks are gathering in cockpits to eat dinner. They have an uncanny sense of timing and apparently love progressive dinner parties.

However, this was a different sort of sighting. The male of the two stood guard as his mate drank rainwater that had collected in an upside down dinghy’s deflated bottom. My heart sank when I saw around her neck a tangle of six-pack plastic loops, which looked as though they had been there for a while and were tightening as she grew.

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It was an in-your-face example of the photos posted on environmental websites and affirmation for why I always cut those things, when I buy them (which I will no longer do), into tiny pieces. I watched for a few seconds, trying to work out a way I could possibly help her. They were both on alert, but did not fly away. She would drink, and then peck at the plastic, obviously bothered by this foreign object around her neck.

What to do, what to do?

I raced back to my boat, grabbed a piece of bread and a pair of scissors, knowing the likelihood of getting close enough to snip the thing off was slim. Even if I managed to grab her, I had no idea how tightly bound her neck was and I knew that wing flapping and pecking would add to the challenge.

But I had to try.

They were no longer on the main dock when I returned, but I found them exploring a finger pier between two boats. I coaxed them toward me, breaking off small bits of the bread and tossing them just in front of me. They waddled on over like we were old friends. “Hey, how’s it going? Sure, we’ll try some of that. Is it gluten-free?” (It was.)

My plan was to:

  1. Hold out a large piece of bread with my right hand, enticing the female.
  2. When the female got close enough, grab the plastic around her neck with my left.
  3. Then I would reach for the scissors, strategically placed down by my right side, and snip.

The problem with the plan was evident immediately. The male was right there with her and, as I began to slowly reach for the female, he came toward me aggressively, hissing and sticking his weirdly human looking pink tongue out of his narrow black beak.

These birds are big enough to give pause. I was sure they would not hesitate to attack me, jabbing me with those hard, pointy beaks. While I was pondering and strategizing anew, the female grabbed most of the bread out of my hand and smugly waddled away.

I needed help. This was not a one-person job. On the pier where I was performing my futile attempt at heroics, lives my neighbor, Roddo, a retired engineer, who is usually at home, working on his boat. The cockpit was tarped over so I couldn’t visually confirm his presence.

“Roddo?” I said. “Yes?” came the disembodied response from under the tarp. “Can you help me?” Roddo peeked out of an opening in the tarp and his technical brain immediately assessed the situation. “Oh,” he said simply, and then opened the tarp, donned latex gloves and stepped out. Without saying a word, he began to walk, slowly, step by step, toward the goose — the way one walks when sneaking up on someone — arms extended in “ready to grab” position. I could see the female was beginning to panic.

“Crouch down,” I suggested, “so you are less intimidating.”

We worked at it for a while, throwing bread one way for the male, trying to distract him to buy us a little time but the gander was having none of it. As I was about to give up, Roddo pounced and – oh joy! – he had the female in his hands. Her wings were flapping wildly and feathers were flying like snow in a wind machine.

“Try to contain her wings!” I cried. Miraculously he did. Roddo is amazing that way. I went in with the scissors, made one easy cut and she was free. Roddo released her and she padded to the end of the pier, a bit stunned, but then popped off the pier into the water. Her mate was frantic, honking and squonking desperately somewhere down the dock.

Roddo and I stayed put after a hug and a high five, not wanting to further frighten them. The goose and gander honked and called to each other until at last, the distraught gander found his lady love and joined her in the water.

~~~~~~~~~~~

This is what was around her neck.

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In the photos of the goose you can see where the curly bit is protruding off to the side. The rings on the left were doubled over and you can see where I snipped more clearly, below.

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The two loops in my hand were around her neck but still loosely enough that I could make a clean snip without pulling on her neck.

Do I feel like a hero? Yes. Sort of. But to truly address this, I believe that we have to commit to getting rid of plastic – at least in our own lives. Innocent animals suffer because of our laziness and greed.

So what do we do? Plastic has become such a part of our lives that we don’t even think about it anymore. On my next trip to the grocery store after my goose encounter, I made a mental note of how many items I buy that have plastic in their packaging. Including twist ties, the seal around even glass bottles to prove they have not been tampered with, those little plastic square thingies that hold bags closed, the pour spouts in cardboard juice and milk cartons, etc.

I decided to become more conscious about my choices. To buy items in glass or paper containers only. To choose loose produce rather than bagged or plastic boxed produce. Even then, though, I reach for the plastic bags hanging by the produce to protect the lettuce or contain the peppers. It’s hard!

What about BPA-free plastic? Sorry – that is not the answer. I read that BPA-free plastics contain chemicals that rival toxic BPA and could even be WORSE for you.  AND – it’s still plastic as far as the environment is concerned.

In Panama, there is an astonishing amount of plastic garbage on the beaches, most of it washed up from the cities and passing ships. Over the years I spent there, I realized that the overwhelming trash is less a reflection on the habits of the local culture, as many tourists surmise, than it is on the unnecessary and wasteful packaging of the products our sector of the world pushes on the rest of the world. It’s stunning to see it – to see how much there is. In parts of the world that have facilities for disposing of garbage and recyclable materials handy and user-friendly, we are shielded from the visual proof of the enormous amount of trash we produce. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Sea birds and seals and whales are washing up on beaches, their bellies filled with plastic refuse. Chris Jordan, a Seattle based photographer has spent time among albatrosses on Midway Atoll, located 2000 miles from the nearest continent. His photographs of dead albatrosses’ remains, stomachs filled with plastic refuse, are devastating. If they don’t convince you to start sensitizing yourself to plastic consumption then nothing will.

One way to wrap your brain around changing your plastic habit is to try this 28 Day Plastic Purge Challenge.  This may help you to start thinking differently and noticing just how often we unwittingly incorporate plastic into our lives.

I started today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rooster Love

Some say it was love. Others insist it was cruelty. Quite possibly it was both. As most of us learn at some point in our amorous pursuits: Love can be cruel.

On one thing we can surely agree: The rooster was obsessed with my friend, Laurie.

On the island of Taboga, in the Bay of Panama, there lived a rooster whom we will call Don Gallo for the purposes of this story. Don Gallo lived at the top of the path, which led from Laurie’s seaside house and along which she had to walk to get anywhere on the island. Most days Don Gallo would be waiting for her as she came up the path. When she appeared, he followed closely at her heels, sometimes for her entire walk into the pueblo.

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The path from Laurie’s house…

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Further up the path, Don Gallo would be waiting …

Don Gallo’s manner of showing his love may be confusing to some. But recall for a moment the antics of the school yard when boys chased girls and then pinched them until they cried. We may not have recognized it as such at the time, but they knew it and we knew it. It was love.

You could see the same fervor in Don Gallo’s eyes as those school girls once saw in their boyish pursuers. His determination, his focus were the same.

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The eyes say it all…

Raised from chick-hood by Laurie’s seven-year old neighbor, Leo, and trained as a fighting cock, Don Gallo was adept at leaping up in the air and, talons extended, coming back down to strike his target. (Or embrace his love…)

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Cock fighting school

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Eager students – boy and rooster

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Maximo and his prize roosters

~ Now before you get all judgey about the cock-fighting thing, remember that this is cultural and a source of great pride to the people of Taboga, especially the owners of the cocks. Maximo, pictured above, passes his days trimming feathers and training his birds to be champion fighters. When not working with his roosters, he rests in his hammock, transistor radio blaring Latin music. I asked him once if they fight to the death. His response? “¿Huh?” Followed by a strong, “¡No!” He loves his roosters….

But not in the same way that Don Gallo loved Laurie…

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Don Gallo strolling the neighborhood. “Yoo hoo, Laurie, where are you?”

Laurie remained steadfast in her denial of Don Gallo’s love. “It wasn’t just me!” she protested. “He terrorized the neighborhood. He was violent! He followed everyone!” Admittedly, he did. He once followed Flor, another neighbor, all the way to her front door. And it was not uncommon to see children battering Don Gallo with couch cushions when he tried to enter their homes. But please, finish the story and draw your own conclusions.

Laurie began carrying a stick to defend herself from his advances because Don Gallo, on occasion, would take liberties and peck the back of her legs. In his defense, roosters don’t have lips, so perhaps those painful jabs were, in his lovesick mind, amorous kisses.

One day, Don Gallo could no longer contain himself. As Laurie passed, rebuffing him once again, he puffed up to full height, leapt in the air and, with talons out in front as he had been taught, gouged the back of Laurie’s left calf. One might presume he was attempting to hug her but, given his anatomy and training, this was the best he could do.

Laurie screamed. “¡Afuera, Afuera!” and the neighbors came running. Upon seeing the blood running down Laurie’s leg, one neighbor insisted, “You must go to clinic.” Laurie, clearly in shock, said that she was fine and continued on to the pueblo, dabbing the back of her leg with a tissue and secretly cursing Don Gallo.

Laurie’s fondness for the people of Taboga, among whom she has lived for a dozen years, is deep and abiding. Going to or coming from her house each day, she passes through the neighborhood of closely built homes, many of which share walls. The islanders have welcomed her and she has become part of the community. But this rooster was walking a thin line in her book.

Once Laurie’s head cleared and she realized the bleeding had not let up, she decided that a visit to the doctora was not a bad idea. Roosters typically do not clean their talons before striking so it was probably not the most sanitary of wounds.

At the clinic, the doctor cleaned and bandaged the wound and gave her a tetanus shot. Little Leo’s mother, Katia, was next door to the clinic and heard what had happened (word travels quickly on a small island). When Laurie emerged from the doctor’s office, Katia was there. “I am paying for this,” she insisted despite Laurie’s protestations. “It’s Leo’s mascota (pet) and we are responsible.”

♥This is the heart part of the story. ♥

No one on Taboga is sitting on a pile of money so to offer to pay for a doctor visit is not only honorable but generous. It doesn’t matter the cost. In this case, the total bill for the consultation, cleaning, bandaging and tetanus shot was: $1.50.

Leo’s family vowed to avoid another crime of passion.  They imprisoned Don Gallo in a box where they planned to feed and fatten him up for sancocho, a Panamanian specialty soup featuring chicken. Or – in this case – rooster.

Laurie worries about Leo losing his pet. But Leo understands and will likely enjoy the sancoho along with his family. People don’t feel the same way about their pets as we do in the north. And, why waste a perfectly good rooster when they can make a meal out of him?

Even so, Laurie plans to buy Leo a pio pio – a baby chick – when Don Gallo meets his maker. Or the soup pot.

So ends the story of Laurie and Don Gallo. Roll credits and enjoy the music!

seriously, the guy has a point

I know this isn’t about Panama. But it’s so worth reading. I like the way this writer thought through issues that many of us have been raving about – reacting to – furiously alert and on guard.

He is observing, and his observations allow the readers to draw their own conclusions and reflect on the multiple issues raised by these two statues in their own, deeper way.

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I got metaphorically spanked a couple of days ago. Folks have been talking about the Fearless Girl statue ever since it was dropped in Manhattan’s Financial District some five weeks ago.I have occasionally added a comment or two to some of the online discussions about the statue.

Recently most of the Fearless Girldiscussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who createdCharging Bull. He wantsFearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.

This happened in maybe three different discussions over the last week or so. In each case I explained briefly why I believe Di Modica has a point (and I’ll explain it again in a bit), and for the most part folks either accepted my comments or ignored them. Which…

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See Irene Run!

Do you remember – those of you who are old enough to do so – that truck that came through the neighborhood during the hot days of summer, spraying chemicals on the trees to kill bugs that wanted to eat them? Or mosquitos that wanted to eat you?

My mother would call us in the house, close the doors and windows and make us stay inside until the truck had passed and the noxious cloud had dissipated. But then we’d go out and walk barefoot on the sticky, coated leaves and grass, inhaling the pungent chemical smell that I can still conjure up in my nostrils if I try hard enough.

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Stock Photo – not mine.

My husband, Dan, remembers riding his bike behind the truck and playing in the mist.

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Woo Hoo! (Also a stock photo but pretty much the right era judging by car at left.)

Those days are over – or so I thought.

On one of our last days on Taboga, Dan & I had done our usual late afternoon stroll down to the pueblo for a cold beer or two and a visit with some friends at our favorite restaurant, Playa Honda.

On the way back, we stopped to talk with a neighbor who had just completed breast cancer treatment. She and her sister were on their front porch and we stood in the street, chatting, checking in on her health as best we could with our limited Spanish.

Continuing on, another neighbor  said hello and we stopped. It takes a while to get anywhere on Taboga because there are always people in the streets and they are more than ready to say hello. It’s one of the things we love about the island! People are not running, people are not in a hurry. There is plenty of time for the simple pleasures. And, it’s too hot to move quickly. For anything. Ever.

With one exception…

Glancing down the road back towards the pueblo, I noticed smoke billowing from one building. “Oh no!” I exclaimed. “It looks like a building is on fire,” I commented to the woman we were talking to.  She looked surprised but then something in her eyes sparked recognition. She spoke in rapid Spanish most of which I did not understand except for the word, “mosquitos.” The next thing we knew, the source of the “smoke” was visible and heading right for us.

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This was about where we were when we saw the truck heading straight for us!

An open-backed truck with two guys in the back, faces covered in dust masks, were spraying either side of the road with something white and toxic-looking. Dan yelled, “RUN!”

So much for not running or moving quickly.

I wanted to duck into a neighbor’s house, but Dan insisted that we could make it. I hadn’t run that fast in a long time – Birkenstocks slapping on the road – and honestly wasn’t sure we would make it. We booked it, warning neighbors we passed along the way. Turning right on our road, we were part way up the hill – almost to the gate – when the truck went past.

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Picture taken from the main road looking up our road. We were where the yellow umbrella is in this photo when the truck went by!

Fortunately, the wind was blowing the other way so we didn’t get hit. And we made it inside to shut doors and windows before the wind shifted. Closing our top floor windows, I saw a handful of women and children get sprayed along with the leaves, trees, and plantings they were standing next to as the truck made its return run.

I later learned that the spray was not DDT or a pesticide but a sticky substance that mucks up the insects’ wings and causes them to become incapacitated and die.  But I’m pretty sure we don’t want that on us. Because I doubt very much that there is anything “natural” about it.

I have been pleased to report to those who inquire that the mosquito situation in Panama is not a problem. At least not where we live. During the building of the canal, they had a huge problem with yellow fever and malaria and worked to eradicate mosquitos. Nowadays, if you have standing water on your property, you can be fined because this is where those little buggers like to breed. And they do inspect regularly. We have an “inspection completed” notice posted in our bathrooms by law. But this was the first time I had experienced this sort of thing. No warning, no signage – just here they come. Run!

We now know that they do pay attention to mosquito control on Taboga. For better or for worse, they are on top of it.

And, we learned that we can still run – fast – if we have to.

Gringa Mistake Number ????????

When visiting – or living in – a foreign country, it is always advisable to spend a bit of time simply observing. Being a gracious guest – or assimilating if that is your goal – requires that one avoid the assumption that just because it’s okay to do something where you come from, the same applies to where you are.

This can save you a lot of time and trouble and prevent people in your host country from seeing you as pompous, ignorant, self-important and narrow minded.

Or just plain dumb…

Before I get to the rest of my story, I would like to present a situation and pose a question. This is an interactive blog post so get ready to participate.

You are hiking up a trail in a locale where, as a foreigner, local wisdom is somewhat obfuscated (in this case Isla Taboga, Panama). And you come upon three tiny puppies, about six weeks at best guess, seemingly exhausted and clearly thirsty judging by the way they lap up the water you offer in your cupped hand. Three young men on the path tell you the puppies have followed them from the top of the mountain and they believe that the puppies have been abandoned by their mother….

WHAT WOULD YOU DO???

Here is what I did. I gave the puppies more water, chatted for a bit with the guys and then said goodbye and continued on my hike, hoping the guys would be unable to resist their new little amigos. Three puppies, three guys. Perfect, right?

OK – back to your part in the story. You turn around and the puppies are no longer following the guys who by now are leaving you in the dust. They are following you – up the hill –  squeaking and mewling as hungry, desperate puppies do.

SO WHAT WOULD YOU DO???

Before you answer with something like,

“I would leave them there and let nature take its course.”

Or,

“Well, it’s not my country and I don’t know the custom here when it comes to abandoned little puppies alone on a hillside.”

Or,

“Maybe the mother is nearby and will be angry or sad if I take her babies.”

Just stop that. Because you and I both know none of those are the first things that would pop into your head.

But before you answer the question, here’s a little bit more information for you…

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Get the idea?

Well, I don’t know what you would have done (I can guess), but what I did was stand on the hillside wrestling with my conscience and fighting my instincts to protect tiny innocents. I was near tears with indecision when I scooped those little babies up in my arms and carried them down the hill. When I got to our road, our caretaker, José, was there and he burst out laughing when he saw me, snapped a photo or two and then rolled his eyes (lovingly). I carried the puppies inside the gate to our complex.

My husband, Dan, and our neighbors had an immediate but brief  “awwwww…” moment but we all knew that this couldn’t last. We gave them milk and watched them for a bit as they stumbled around outside our doors. Dan finally said what I knew he would, “We have to get rid of them.” José rounded up a box, we put them in there with some more milk and then walked the down to the Chu (store/bar/local gathering spot) where we figured they would have as good a chance as any of being found and taken in by some kids or islanders.

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On the way to the Chu…

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Thanks, Dan… 🙂

I was able to walk away knowing that they would most likely have died on the mountain and this at least gave them a chance. As the story got around, I received mixed reactions ranging from “You are so stupid, you could have been attacked by the mother and ripped to shreds…” to “I would have done the exact same thing.” The latter was the more common reaction – among the gringos, that is…  So I’m not sure what that proves. Nothing, really.

But here is the end of the story. A day later, my neighbor saw the white puppy – the one peeking it’s head out of the box in the picture above – in the arms of a little boy who lives around the corner from her. “Where did you get the puppy?” she asked. “We found her! Her name is Bonita! We are keeping her!” When, a couple of days later, I saw the same kids with Bonita, she looked fatter, all cleaned up and quite happy with her new family.

The black and white one, too, has been taken in by a guy who works for the electric company. While on the island, he found her wandering down the street not far from the Chu, scooped her up and kept her. I later learned that his dog had just died and he really wanted a new one.

I don’t know what happened to the third, but he was very thin, missing an eye and I doubt he was long for this world no matter whether it was up on the mountain or with a family. So two out of three seemingly have made it.

But I learned a lesson. And I would not do the same thing next time.  I would leave the puppies right there, hope their mother came for them, and, if not, know that it is not my place to interfere.

Definitely.

Maybe.

Probably not.

Unphotographable…

Oh the times I wish I had my camera…

I try to carry it with me at all times, mostly because when I don’t have it, I see something that I would love to photograph and include in a blog post.

Like the parakeet I saw the other day on my walk. Actually, I did have my camera for that one, but couldn’t get it on fast enough. The pretty bird was right in front of me, on a low branch. I saw it’s lovely green face and unmistakeable light yellow-orange parrot beak and said aloud, “No way!” I reached for my camera but it was gone.

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The little guy looked a lot like this… (not my photo)

I have birder friends who are skeptical. But I did some research and learned that it was either an Orange Chinned Parakeet which is reported to be on Taboga or, as a friend suggested, a pet parakeet that escaped from its cage and has made its home in the jungle.

Since then I have looked for it every time I walk that way, camera at the ready, but no luck so far. Interesting fact: they make their homes in the abandoned mounds of termite colonies.

And there are plenty of these in the jungle for them to remodel and live in…

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This one could be a multi-family abode.

~~~~

Then there was the day I was hiking along with Chili, my trusty doggie companion. She disappeared into the brush as she often does to chase a lizard or whatever it is we hear rustling in there. When I heard the rustling getting closer, I figured she would emerge per usual, looking at me as if to say, “Hey – you should have seen all the stuff I saw in there! Am I in trouble? Everything okay? Cool! What’s next? Let’s go!” and then sprint off in search of a new adventure. Instead, what appeared just ahead of me on the path was a panicked agouti (a small rodent commonly found in Panama), running across the path and into the brush on the other side.

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Pretty cute for a rodent…

Now, I’ve seen these little guys in the city, in particular on Ancon Hill when hiking up to the top for a view of the city. But this was my first sighting on Taboga. I checked with Vidal, a local who works for a long-term resident of Taboga, a man with an impressive ranch which I pass each day on my walk and with whom we have become friendly, who confirmed that, yes, there are Agoutis on Taboga – muchos! But they are known here by their nickname which a friend told me to be something like: Nyecki. I have no idea how it is spelled in Spanish, but that’s the name that got him shaking his head affirmatively.

~~~~

Then, there are things that simply cannot be photographed. Things that happen that you want to record somehow. The Club Soda caper being one.

I really like Club Soda. It’s fizzy and refreshing and less filling (and fattening) than beer but with the same satisfying, thirst quenching result. Plus: Campari and Soda; Vodka and Soda…  you get the idea. When we go shopping in the city, if I find some, I pick up a six pack or two and lug them back.

About a month ago I heard about a guy, Raul or Pépero (everyone here has nicknames), on the island who sells beer and soft drinks AND Club Soda to the local restaurants and to individuals. I got his number and called him asking if he would sell me a case. “Sure! I can do that. I’ll deliver it to you later this week.” I felt pretty proud of myself to have made this insider connection and told some friends  – fellow Club Soda lovers – about it.

Nope. Didn’t happen. I called him again. A friend who wanted a case, too, and knows Raul, got involved. We both started calling him. Pestering him. Every time I ran into him on the street I would say, “Raul! Club Soda!” Which in Spanish sounds like, “Raul! Clooo Soda!”

“Si! Si! Mañana!” was the reply. Siempre. Always.

Walking home the other day from the pueblo, Dan & I passed a neighbor’s home. We glanced in to wave hello as we do, and there, sitting on the couch was Raul. I walked past and as it registered, I took three steps backward and said, “Hey! Raul! Cloo Soda!”

“Si!” he said. “I have it for you. Just jump in that golf cart with my amigo and go down to Popeye’s Restaurant and you will have your case of blue cans!”

Okay. In the golf cart, wild ride to the restaurant, case secured to the back of the cart. $20 to Raul and then I asked for a ride home in place of the promised delivery so we wouldn’t have to carry the case, sweating all the way.

It only took one month, ten or so phone calls and/or personal encounters, a ride in a golf cart and $20 and I got my case of Cloo Soda.

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Gold in a Blue Can…

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ahhhhh….

I ran into Raul a few days ago and he said that anytime I want more to just call him. I think I’ll call him today just to be sure!

Threshold Guardians, Step Aside!

A lot of people tried to talk us out of it. Most people, in fact. “Too hot!”  “Too far away!”  “Too dangerous!” These overly generic, not fully-informed response…

Source: Threshold Guardians, Step Aside!

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