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 Deep in the Heart of Bocas

 Joe & Sharon become movie stars in Bocas del Toro, Panama in the film Paradise Lost due out in 2014.

Sharon from s/v Rose of Sharon by Sharon Kratz s/v Rose of Sharon

Joe and I are definitely in a movie. Joe says, as we watch the movie in 2014, he'll say. "See that school bus? Well I was walking right behind it." Or, "In a scene where the lead actress was directing workmen, “See her? Well, when they saw me approach, they yelled, 'Cut!' every time!"

We were there by 4:45 in the morning and my friends looked so good, I quickly put on makeup. They then sent me to my own personal makeup person, who carefully removed all my makeup and started all over. It was amazing, as my face became one tone, no old age spots, my eyes were darkened and lined, and she used no lipstick. It took about 15 minutes. Then I had my own personal hairdresser! He played with my hair, determined I was already sweaty, dried it with cool hair, fluffed it, swirled it, and I had a disheveled-type upsweep, with my hair gently curling like tendrils over my shoulders. I loved the way I looked! It wasn't like me at all. My stylist was Cuban and quite short and very Hollywoodsy looking.

Several of the younger men had to wear Afro wigs and they all looked like Curly of The Three Stooges.

Joe and the other cruiser husbands were not sent to makeup. "You can't beat perfection," I told them.

Most of the production crew were French, some were Italian, one director looked like Neil Sadaka and another one looked like Billy Bob Thorton. Most of them spoke English, but not often. All of them smoked and were very tense people. They would direct us for 15 minutes in Spanish, then say, "English people, get on your van!" It was like the movie Lost in Translation. We'd turn to each other and say, "It seems like he said MUCH MORE."

Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger GamesJosh Hutcherson, the Hunger Games star, was with us and the other male actor looked familiar and played a kid with a limp. I never saw the guy who played Escobar. The main actors and the actress had people running around beside them, holding umbrellas to shield them from the sun. By breakfast, 7:00 a.m., we were already feeling the heat. We signed our waivers (also in Spanish, which the Spanish people actually read), were loaded into vans and taken to the shoot site which was exactly three blocks from the meeting place, a distance we walk ten times in one week of shopping in Bocas Town. But the vans were air conditioned, and instead of the usual rush to exit, we oldsters sat quietly and left last, cherishing every breath of cool air.

I'd been told we'd probably be there about 5 hours. We began shooting before the real heat hit. We learned to take our position one, they would give us directions, then if we didn't do what they wanted, they would give us motivation. "You aren't ambling slowly, you are in a hurry. You've got to get to the market to buy supper before it closes!" (Walk faster.) One director wore black pants, a black leather jacket and a bunchy-looking black shirt. He probably thought he looked cool, but I thought he look puffy and derelict. Speculations were that he must have some kind of cooling system in his clothes that allowed him to walk around looking like a Manhattan mogul.

Our personal director told me and two other women to walk happily, chatting, to each other, then say hello and wave and welcome the people getting off the bus. We did that about 5 takes, and one of the main directors said, "I'm so happy I could get naked right here," in English. Still we kept shooting. Joe was moved forward. He was told to chat into a doorway with a nonexistent friend. He was stunned when the door opened during one shoot and he continued to smile and "talk" to the woman who finally said, "I don't speak English." and shut the door.

My group was moved further back. There were policemen standing by us and we couldn't figure out what they were there for, because it was a harried young man who said, "Action!" who had to keep running into the road to stop pedestrians and vehicles. Finally I said to him, "Why are the police here? They don't seem to do anything."

He said, "They are here for security."

I said, "Okay, well, another car is coming," and he had to run into the street, waving and yelling again. At one point, three kids with surfboards ruined the shot by walking into the hotel behind us. We did it again.

When the main director said, "Cut!" another, lesser director ran over to us and said, to my 3-woman team, "You can't keep talking. Extras don't talk."

We said, "We were told to say hello, out loud and greet the people on the bus."

He said, " Oh . . . okay. Well, don't say hello to EVERYONE!"

At one point I screwed up and said "Hey!" instead of Hello, because that's how some Texans talk. We headed back to our positions and I passed Josh and drawled, " ‘HEY!’ Said the woman from Texas!" and he laughed.

"What did the director mean about not talking to everybody?" I asked Joe.

"Quit talking to the movie stars," he replied. Oh.

So I carefully avoided Josh, his girlfriend and the surfer buddies as I greeted the people on the bus for the millionth time. Hot as we were, we figured the people on the bus were hotter. By lunch, 12:30 p.m., our pretty hair was limp and wet, we were getting sunburns, and we old people were tired. They took us to lunch, and someone told us we were finished for the day, so I walked to the hotel to get our bag.

When I returned, they said, "Get back in your vans!" so we loaded our suitcase into the van and hauled it to the shoot. This time, we were moved to the other side of the road. We had to walk briskly, dodging the main actress and a guy with a cement bag in a wheelbarrow. "I'm going to walk to the right of those pieces of wood there," I told Holly.

The second time we shot, Holly said, "The guy with the wheelbarrow nearly hit me!"

“Ignore him,” I replied. "He won't hit you." She went on and on about the wheelbarrow. I was afraid to change positions, so I continued to step over the wood and into the gutter while Holly tried not to flinch from the wheelbarrow. My flip-flops were slippery with sweat. I wanted to take my tent dress off. The heat was white hot. The largest woman (the largest PERSON) on the set was a medical person (doctor, nurse) who works in the local clinic. At one point she said, "They can keep the money, I can't do this anymore!"

Holly thought it was over twice, and left the set with her husband. Our director ran to get her and bring her back. We'd been there over 12 hours and everything in my body hurt. Then we were back in the same position and we were walking to the bus again. This time I wasn't told that we were supposed to be somber so I think I had a goofy smile on my face. "Why are we doing this again?" asked an exhausted Holly.

"The light has changed. They want to see it in this light." But I think I was wrong. I think this was for the end of the movie, to convey hopelessness, but since nobody actually TOLD us that, that's why I might be the only extra with a goofy grin. We were on the outer perimeters anyway, so we aren't sure we're in ANY shots.

I carried a face powder pad to keep blotting my face and tried to preserve the work my hairdresser had done, but by the end of the shoot, it was a stringy mess. We had to hide all water bottles, since there were no water bottles in the '80s, which meant our young men would rush at us with water, we'd drink, then they'd run away.

"How come they keep you in the shade and me in the sun?" I complained to Joe.

"Just lucky," he smiled, as I hid my bottle behind a light post. When Joe was in a scene and I wasn't, I would run in between takes and make him drink water. When I was in a scene and Joe wasn't, he' d hurry to me between takes and bring me water. Finally, one husband who was in a take turned to his wife who wasn't and said, "Get me some water, PLEASE?" I mean, it was brutal out there.

My director was 30- or 40-something and he and I would squat on rocks between takes, groaning with pain. Holly was afraid if she got down she couldn't get back up, and Denise didn't want to get her white pants dirty. I'd lost sight of Alice along time ago when the director said, "The woman with the blue! I want her!" and she was moved to another place. I thought he'd said, "The woman with the boobs!" and I turned to Holly and said, "Your boobs are a lot bigger than Alice's!"

"Blue," she explained, "He said blue."

We worked about 13 hours, then went to the stars' and production people's hotel, Playa Tortuga, where the beach and the pools were completely inviting. Josh Hutchison emerged from the pool, still happy and looking refreshed. "Of course he's happy," I told Joe. "He's young, he’s rich and he’s famous!" I was actually too tired to walk from the bar to the pool. We were paid cash.

I genuinely do not remember the taxi ride to the water taxi and the return trip home. We stopped and bought some Italian bread and I made sandwiches when we got back to the boat. I slammed several glasses of wine and went to bed.

The next morning, I walked into the galley and Joe was making coffee. "I hurt," I said, "Everything in my body hurts."

"I was going to ask you how you are this morning, but apparently . . ."

"I feel like hell," I replied.

Several days after our first shoot, Joe and I turned the corner on Main Street, Bocas Town, to go to the tiny shop that sells shrimp, lobster and lamb shanks at a good price. I was inside the tienda, examining the shrimp, when Joe called me outside. We walked a few feet beyond the store and he pointed up to a tree. There were three dead bodies suspended from the limbs of the tree, blackened and frighteningly dramatic. "I guess there's some hangings going on in the movie," said Joe.

The following week we were in a crowd scene. We left the boat shortly after 4:00 a.m.  in our dinghy. The moon was out and the sky was studding with stars. It was quiet and the water was smooth. It reminded me how, after an entire night of sitting watch when we were passagemaking, Joe would say to me, "I've got to rest!"  He would finally, after being awake all night, go down into the salon and lay on the cushions and I would take the watch in the cockpit. That 4:00-7:00 a.m. watch has to be the most magical time in the world for cruisers. The busy, commuter flying fish scurry past you, breaking the surface and dancing on the waves, as they go . . . where? I always think these fish are the professional commuters on the freeway, heading to their cubicles downtown. The flying fish were so prolific, we were sure we'd have a few landing in the dinghy as we made our way to Bocas Town. They shimmered and skated across the water, delighting us with their energy. It was a beautiful show.

The moon was almost full. “It would be a great time to be sailing,” I thought. But I didn’t say anything. I’d nagged about anchoring out for awhile, then gave that up for occasional sarcastic remarks, and now I was resigned to the fact that we’d take the boat out when the captain wants, not when the first mate/admiral wants. Joe works hard and some of our improvements have been very nice. Our teak looks fabulous because that’s what he likes to do. He’s very detail-oriented about working on our teak, plus he can sit in the cockpit and listen to FOX Radio outside, where I won’t be exposed to it. Wouldn’t want to catch it.

Okay, so we were up at 4:00 a.m., dinghied from our little island to the big island, and onsite by 4:45 a.m., no makeup or hair but I had to go to wardrobe and Joe had to go back to the boat for long pants and a shirt. This time, we were at a political rally-type thing where Pablo Escobar dedicated a clinic to the community, so we spent the day working with Benicio Del Toro. He was very pale, I thought, and he got tired a bit as the day wore on.

Again, the Panamanian sun was brutal. I said to Joe, “Why weren’t we in any beach scenes? It would be fun to frolic in the surf and get paid for it!” At about 3:00 p.m., I got nauseated and dizzy. I had to leave the set. People scurried, putting ice cubes on my neck, bringing me coke, which I mixed with my club soda, and I missed several takes. About 5:00 p.m., Joe motioned me to come back to the set. "I think we should finish with a bang," he said, and I felt better. I felt better again when a 20-something girl crumpled and said, "I can't do this any more," and disappeared. You know what I mean. I hoped my exhaustion wasn’t because I’m an old woman; 12 hours on our feet was difficult for everyone. At 6:00 p.m., I left the set again. I mean, please, it wasn't enough money, and I’d already had my 15 minutes of fame last week.

In this scene was the star, Benicio, playing Pablo Escobar; Escobar’s niece, Maria (Josh Hutchison's love interest); his wife and mother or mother-in-law, and a 6- or seven-year old son who was incredibly good natured throughout the entire day. Benicio was terrific in the morning, but as the day wore on, he flubbed a few lines. I was put-out when young people in the crowd would titter and whisper when he flubbed a line. A man playing a city official had only one line and blew it twice.

It was a crowd scene, unlike last week, and nobody stayed on their marks so I don't have any idea how they will put it together, but, of course, they will.  I think there must be a lot of voice-overs... someone talking while the action is silenced, but I really don't have a clue.

Pablo Escobar gives a speech, we cheer, the official thanks him, we all yell and cheer, “¡Gracias, Pablo! ¡Viva Pablo!” Then his family is put in one car, he gets in another, and his bodyguards bring up the rear in old cars with Colombia license plates. It was the ‘80s, so there were no bottled waters that were supposed to be in the scene, and of course, no cellphones. It was a shame how much water we wasted, but we didn’t dare go without it. They hid a barrel behind a building with ice and bottled water, we would get our water and chug as much of it as we could, then people with trashbags came in to gather up the bottles, many only half-full. Women who had purses had to surrender their purses or bags if they didn’t look like accessories from the ‘80s. They took my backpack. The young men wore shiny, bling-type shirts to the shoot and wardrobe gave them t-shirts with pictures of Grand Funk Railroad or something similar.

I’d worn a strapless sundress and was whisked to wardrobe and put in a matronly gress with poofy sleves. “You look like something from Little House on the Prairie!” laughed another cruiser. Later, I saw many native women wearing the same thing, but I guess the difference was, they didn’t have stark, white bathing suit strap lines. They were brown all over.

Joe says he may go into a deep depression because they wanted him to be the doctor – there was 1 doctor and three nurses on the platform standing behind Escobar. The pants fit, but they couldn't find a medical jacket to fit. He is chagrined because the doctor had a huge, visible presence in the movie.  Later, I was rummaging through a wardrobe rack and saw a jacket that would have fit him, but it was at the site, not on the truck. The doctor is handsome and young, with a stethoscope around his neck.  All the nurses smoked during breaks and I said to Joe, "It's so odd to see nurses smoking."

Joe said, "Maybe they are Arkansas nurses," referencing a time when my dad was in a Mena, Arkansas hospital and the staff stood around near the doorway, smoking. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand about smoking and its risks, and that’s why it’s unusual to see educated medical people smoking. But that was Arkansas.

At 5:45 p.m., my friend Holly circulated with cups of sauvignon blanc and shared a half-cup with me. We had earlier discussed our supplies. "I have a sponge for makeup, a facial makeup brush, 3 types of eye shadow, 4 lipsticks, hand cleaner, Deep Woods Off, towelettes and a flashlight," I said.

"I have Advil, aspirin, tramadol, hand cleaner, and Benadryl in case I get bitten by anything," Holly said. She donated her tramadol to my cause, about 2:00 p.m. So now I owe her 1 tramadol and a half-cup of sauvignon blanc. Not a problem. I know where this Florida retiree lives (in Bocas Del Toro)! She and her significant other, Bill provided energy and comic relief throughout the day to those of us who were "rode hard and put away wet."  Except horses have advocates to prevent the kind of abuse we signed on for.

At the end of the shoot, there was a bit of confusion. They wanted all of us to go to a nearby park. So we did. The people with the yellow slips of identification paper needed to register then return to our first site to collect their money. All payments were cash. Those of us who had gotten items from wardrobe had surrendered our yellow slips of paper and ID cards (in my case, the pensionado visa card, something long-term U.S. cruisers get here so they don’t have to make the 90-day-leave-the-country trip) to wardrobe. We had to report to wardrobe and retrieve our yellow paper and ID cards, then go to the payroll place. When I got there, with my sweaty dress, the wardrobe man said, "I gave you a hat. A green hat. Where is it?"

Well yes, on the set he'd handed me the green hat and I wore it all day, but somewhere between trying not to pass out or throw up from heat exhaustion, I'd misplaced the hat. He kept my ID and my yellow paper. I’d already walked from the set to the truck, a distance of about 5 blocks. Normally that would be no big deal, but I’d been on my feet for most of 12 hours in the hot sun, and my legs and feet were killing me. Now I had to walk back to the site and find that damn hat. I returned to the restaurant near the shoot, and sure enough, the owner had found and stored my hat. I hugged him, gratefully, then trudged back to the wardrobe truck so I could get my cash payment.

Joe and I collected our cash and carefully lowered ourselves into our kind-of new but incredibly flimsy dinghy. We rode home in the dark, with me shining our spotlight around us and thrilled by the beauty of the full moon. A few flying fish – the ones who had also worked overtime – splashed in front of us, but most of the fish from the morning were home, eating spaghetti and watching TV.

We left in darkness and returned home to our boat, in darkness. We agreed this was the kind of hard work that worked in our 30s but no longer held any appeal. However, we are in a major motion picture, one that seems to have a dynamic plot! Guess what everyone in our entire family will be getting for Christmas 2014? ­

The next day, I told Joe, “Something’s wrong. I shouldn’t feel so awful.”

“There’s nothing wrong,” he replied. “You’re a 60-year-old woman and you start to feel it when you hit that age. You did something most people half your age and in good shape can’t do.”

Oh, captain, my captain!

 




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