The first girl to show up that day from our class was a Chinese-Panamanian girl named Lily. She had come with our youth group who’d met her at her house and marched all the way to the beach. The whole group of us finally met up with the other West Indian boys and girls in our class who were now arriving at La Playita.
In my personal case, the crowded conditions at my house had become my incentive to look away from my home for a place where I could have a modecum of peace and tranquility and just let my thoughts soar. The litte beach seemed like the ideal place for me to do this as we approached the lovely little spot. I continued meeting up with some West Indian boys from Abel Bravo but I would discover that, although they were within our circle of familiarity and seemed to know everybody, not all of the guys were enrolled in our school or any school with us.
The day started out cloudy but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the beach. I immediately started comparing La Playita in Colon with our hangout near the jetty in Panama City and noted that I had almost forgotten the joyous times in the past when we could just show off at the beach and be kids. Those were the times when young people could still get together to bath at the nearby and unprotected beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
I began to fall in love with this little beach that day; it had given me that long forgotten sense of serenity I so desperately needed. The beach welcomed me into its peaceful enclosure like another friend whom I gone to visit who was going to make life more pleasant for me in Colon. Reminds firsthand experience of what might be dangerous to be bathing in the Panamanian Pacific beaches. That side of the isthmus Pacific sea had claimed a large number of lives, young people have been killed by drowning in its treacherous waters.
I began recalling the many drowning incidences of my childhood in Panama City and the young lives claimed by the treacherous waters of the Pacific. I had almost drowned a few times myself while I was in primary school when we’d cut school to go to one of Bellavista’s beaches. If it wasn’t the forceful waves, it was the powerful undertow that would drag me offshore while playing carelessly near the edge of the water.
I would have drowned one day when a wave surprised us and dragged us further out to sea if I hadn’t held on to a thick anchor chain on some long forgotten boat. I didn’t know how to swim then and, standing there in La Playita, I realized that I still didn’t know how to swim. Some really good and strong swimmers, in fact, had lost their lives in those unpredictable coastal waters off Panama City.
I’ve already described the drowning deaths of my grade school friends Diego and Rannie McAlmon, and my good friend “Tutu,” but there had been many more. All because there were practically no safe places for the youth to go and enjoy a refreshing swim. In fact, we had nowhere to go to learn how to swim so that it wasn’t unusual for young people to reach adulthood without knowing this important basic skill in a country like Panama which is surrounded by so many wonderful beaches.
La Playita in Colon would, nevertheless, become my oasis, my library and, in short, my refuge where I could be alone with my thoughts and just reflect. As you might imagine, it wouldn’t be surprising for me to finally learn to swim in that remarkable little beach in Colon.
This story continues.