Creatures Stirring on Christmas Eve, Playa las Lajas, Panama [Day 125]

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series Latin America Series

AtlasGirl had flown down to Panama to spend some time together for two weeks. On Christmas Eve we went to Playa las Lajas. It was a random beach we saw on the map and thought, “Let’s check it out.” We cut off from the main road towards the beach and were met with a military checkpoint ten miles before the coast. It was just routine documentation check. Five miles later was another checkpoint. They checked our papers again and asked if we had any glass bottles. Apparently they were not permitted on the beach. We had none, so no problem. When we arrived at the beach we saw that it was half deserted and oddly enough had a strong military presence. Trucks patrolled the beach and officers walked up and down it in pairs. There wasn’t a large touristic presence that usually explains this kind of military presence. I didn’t pay much attention to it. “More the merrier,” we thought.

We setup camp under a cabana near the water. A couple of workers were chopping fresh bamboo and constructing more cabanas nearby. With massive forearms and leathery palms they hacked away with their machetes with a precision that was entertaining to watch.

We walked along the beach that was peppered with hundreds of figures in the sand that resemble a firework bursting in the sky. At the center, a large hole and in concentric circles a series of small balls of sand. The explanation for this phenomenon popped out of the holes behind us after we were a safe distance away. Crabs were sifting through the sand for nutrients and leaving these small sand balls behind. Their survival depends on scurrying back to their hole in the sand. I sprinted forward to provoke their retreat, each crab blazing a trail to it’s own hole. How they knew which one was “theirs”, who knows. I caught one off guard, and in a panic it ran into a hole that was already occupied. The crab was forced out by the other and it repeated this process in surrounding locations until it finally made it’s way back to it’s own. AtlasGirl scolded, “leave the poor guys alone!” and we continued walking.

Cracked coconutWith a fresh seafood dinner and springing for the “expensive” 75 cent beers, we were slowly becoming disillusioned with the tradition of eggnog around the fireplace and a white Christmas. This is how to celebrate the holidays.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the beach, not a creature was stirring…except for that machete wielding drunken cabana worker. It was 1am and we woke up to a man mumbling nearby. I thought he was walking around and talking on his cellphone. This continued for a while and finally I popped my head out. The man was sitting a couple feet away on our bench, with a bottle in his hand, drunk as hell. I asked him what he wanted, but I couldn’t understand his slurring and stammering. Finally I stood up and shined my flashlight on him. It was one of the cabana workers I had been watching swing their machetes with a surgical precision. I hadn’t seen the machete on him, but it’s common for locals to walk around with them.

The wind had died down and the tent was swelteringly hot. AtlasGirl was having a claustrophobic panic attack and said, “Bill…I need to get out of this tent…now!” “Not now honey!” I sternly replied. I had no idea what was going on with this drunk and potentially machete wielding man four feet away. She stuck her head out of the tent out of view of the guy. I shined my flashlight on the guy and told him “We’re trying to sleep, please go away”. He didn’t budge. I tried every polite way to ask the guy to leave, but still nothing. Over the course of ten minutes my patience was diminishing as my voice was raising. Spanish was pouring out of me effortlessly. I was shouting, “go away!” and taking steps closer to him. My heart was pounding. He eventually left and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Where the hell are the military patrols when you need them?!?” I asked to no one in particular as AtlasGirl was trying to recover your claustrophobic composure.

There were no more creatures stirring until 4am when we woke up to hundreds of ants climbing over our feet. I had left some salami in the tent and the ants were devouring it. We tried sleeping together in my hammock, which worked for about a hour, until I woke up with a horrible pain in my back from the contortions I was making to fit inside the small mosquito netted hammock. I slept on the bench until sunrise.

AtlasGirl was still waking up as I packed up camp. I lifted up the tent and a huge crab scurried away. “I knew it! You son of a bitch!”, AtlasGirl screamed. “What the hell are you talking about?” I asked. AtlasGirl went on to tell me how she had been woken up throughout the night by some scratching noise by her ear. Turns out it was the place where this crap decided to dig his new home. We both started a sleep deprived hysterical laugh as we recounted all the events of the past six hours.

A drunken machete wielding cabana worker, an infestation of hundreds of ants and a crab who knows nothing of personal boundaries. Far from a Christmas Eve without creatures stirring, but a night we’d never forget.

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