Finally the train pulled out from in front of the Chinese Bar and Restaurant in Almirante headed for the last stop, a town by the name of Baseline. I had been apprehensive all the while since I knew nothing about traveling anywhere in the country of Panama. It was the fist time for me to really leave the urban areas of Panama and Colon to go anywhere in the world. As the train picked up speed and we sped through the lush jungle toward our destination, for some reason I envisioned that the jungle would one day try to reclaim the area of the rails upon which it was running.
After an hour or so the train stopped after crossing a bridge and the conductor motioned to me to get off. A few minutes later the same conductor motioned to me to get on what appeared to be a flatbed train that he would operate so that it would take me to the place where a “neophite” such as I needed to go for assistance. After an hour of sitting in the hot sun I observed how the conductor became the brakeman then signalman. We finally ended up at my destination and he waved to me to get off. Someone said to me “Just walk around to the administration office.”
Before I started to head for the office, however, I took a good look around and started admiring the care that was taken to grow those pampered banana plants. I was really impressed to see the vast amount of land that this fruit occupied in that place. It was as though I’d entered a different world- the plantation world.
I arrived at what was then called Baseline and, as I walked into the two-storied office building, someone said to me, “Can I help you?” “Yes Sir, I am seeking a job,” I answered very respectfully, “and I would like to speak to the boss.” The man answered, “He is not here. He left to inspect something down at the river. You can catch him if you get back on that train and get off at the bridge; so hurry and get on that train you just came on, for it’s about to leave right now!”
I left forgetting that I was wearing my sunday best, black and white shoes. I started to hurry and as I tried to stay on the short paved portion of the sidewalk until I suddenly met up with dirt and gravel walk before reaching the train which was still parked in front of a warehouse.
I boarded the train again with just the one passenger car and soon I was back at the place that I had come from. I got off just as the train rolled into the makeshift station known as Changuinola and stepped onto the bridge. I peered over as I stood at the height of the bridge over a mighty and furious river. I started to walk across to the other side and made the mistake of looking between the railroad ties at the rushing water below and become frozen in my tracks.
I was so filled with fright that I got down on my knees and crawled trying to get over to the other side. The sight of the mighty Changuinola River had me in its grips. Some children went pass me with their mother and an older man came over to me and said in Spanish, “Come on Son I will help you get over.” That was the first and best act of kindness I was to receive from a stranger since embarking on my trip to Bocas Del Toro Province in my own country of Panama.
After profusely thanking the aged gentleman, I made my way to the other side of the bridge after seeing a group of countrymen standing as if they were waiting for someone important. “Good Morning, Sirs!” I greeted the group. “Good morning, young man!” they responded cordially. I inquired if they had seen the boss man around. They informed me that he had just left after speaking to them remembering that he had said that he was going back to the office.
“Well,” I said to them,” I just came from there!” One of them noticed my frustration and said to me, “Just you go back up there you would be sure to see him then!” “Thank you very much gentlemen,” I said in Spanish, turned around and walked like a native over that Changuilona River Bridge- this time walking upright and fearless and sat at the train station to wait for the next train.
This story continues.