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Stories about Living / Cruising on a Boat

Exploring the Atlantic Coast of Panama, Part 4

Joe & Sharon scout the San Blas for the perfect snorkeling spot and give us a little taste of the Kuna life.  A Texas Cruiser's get together, a Kuna wedding, ATM woes and more.

Texas Partyby Sharon Kratz, Sailing Vessel Rose of Sharon

I’ve always gotten along well with Texans.  You’ve got to.

-- Burt Reynolds

¨I know why you fly your Texas flag,¨ the woman said with an air of conspiracy.

Cruiser Lili raised her eyebrows. ¨Well it´s actually okay,¨she said. ¨Texas is the only state where you can fly the flag on your boat like a country flag.¨

The other woman laughed. ¨You fly the Texas flag because all the local bad guys know if you´re from Texas you have guns on board and you´ll USE them, so they steer clear of Texans!¨

Since we have no guns onboard, remind me to get a bigger Texas flag.

Joe and I were eager to explore more of the San Blas territory of Panama and we had a mission: find the most exciting and safe snorkel spots for our nine-year old granddaughter to visit. She would fly to Panama mid-June and she and I were so excited we both drove her mother (our daughter) crazy.

We also wanted to begin fishing. Joe was once a Bass Master, but that was thirty years ago. He wiped the dust off the fishing poles that had been secured over our sea berth for more than three years (and never used), and he attached a lure to the largest one. The lure was the size of a stick of butter.

¨Joe, anything we can catch with that lure, we don´t want on the boat!¨ I cautioned, but as soon as we weighed anchor for Cambobia, he played out his line and waited for a Big Fish to bite.

San Blas SunsetWe were underway to Cambombia, but because we were making such good time, we continued on to Esnasdup and dropped anchor at 09º28.892´ N, 078º40.278´ W. It was a beautiful anchorage, a secure little cove with a view of the mountains of Panama and the requisite white sand beach studded with palm trees.

The next day we dinghied outside the reef and found a good snorkel spot, but because we assumed I was still not able to climb into the dinghy, all snorkels were based on beach access for me to return to the dinghy. This was not the case outside the reef at Esnasdup, so I put on my mask and hung over with my head in the water while the dinghy drifted. It was lovely, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my granddaughter outside a reef where the waves and water action were a bit rough.

¨Maybe we´ll return,¨ we said, and the next day we left for Nargana, an almost two hour passage. There, we anchored at 09º26.48´ N, 078º35.5´ W. It was the first of the month and we needed to move our money around and pay bills electronically. Nargana has the only known internet connection available to cruisers in the San Blas.

Underway to Nargana, we passed a tiny lump of sand in the middle of the water. Joe told me it was Lighthouse Shoal but was once an island. In Kuna Yala, every palm tree is owned by someone. Not the property, the tree. You don´t just pick a coconut because there are so many coconuts everywhere; if you do, you are stealing. Joe then told me the story of Lighthouse Shoal.

Lighthouse Island (Simondup in Kuna language) has disappeared, another victim of global climate change and rising sea levels, and is now reduced to a shallow, submerged coral bank. The island got its name from Senior Simon, who lived there, tending his coconuts until one day the island sunk and the last palm tree fell over.

-- The Panama Cruising Guide, 3rd Edition, Eric Bauhaus

Senior Simon paddled away in his small ulu (a small canoe) and hopefully found another palm tree to call his own.

Nargana was not a good place to score tank water or even bottled water; in fact, sometimes the island simply ran out of water for days until someone replenished the large blue barrels/tanks that served as water holders for the island. Or until it rained. However, it offered Joe´s main requirement for a terrific site: one restaurant sold cold beer and offered good fried meals. I would sit at my laptop in a room crowded with schoolchildren and Joe ate french fries and drank cold beer while overlooking the Nargana harbor. We were both happy.

In Nargana, locals have given up native Kuna traditions and dress in modern clothing. Schoolchildren in crisp blue uniforms flocked into the internet library after school, where a teacher walked among them, ensuring they were surfing the Net for school work. They allowed cruisers to use their internet as a courtesy, requesting only that the island hoppers dress appropriately (no bathing suits, etc.). The fee was about $1 per hour.

The connectivity was based on the number of users, which meant it was so bad that no real uploading could take place and it took Joe three attempts before he could pay our bills online.

The café near the internet was called Nali´s, which is the Kuna word for ¨shark.¨ It impressed me to discover that the Red Lobster® chain of restaurants gets some of its lobsters in Nargana, San Blas. Every day the Red Lobster plane flies over the island. If the fishermen have lobsters, they raise a flag. When the pilot sees the flag, he stops to take on a shipment of lobsters but if there´s no flag flying, he continues on his way. One day, several fishermen and divers were grousing because somebody forgot to raise the flag and the plane didn´t land.

Air Panama and Aeroperlas fly in every day and several cruisers had friends visiting who they picked up or dropped off at Nargana. There is a bank for changing your twenties into fives and ones, but no ATM; no credit card transactions are accepted anywhere in Kuna Yala. As with many of the San Blas islands, there is a native go-to man. This man was Frederico, and Joe bought 20 gallons of diesel, probably Colombian, from Frederico.

Kuna bread is so good! It looks like a long hot dog bun and costs about one dollar for a bagful. Various vendors baked the bread fresh every day, and cruisers flocked to buy it. Nargana also had two shops that sold semi-frozen chickens, so I bought chicken every day we were there. I´d buy half of a chicken and if they gave me the half that had the head on it, I´d ask that they remove the head, which they thought was funny.

We left Nargana to refill our boat´s water tank, this time at Rio Azucar. Again, the village was cleaner than most Kuna villages and I strolled the village escorted by a young man who spoke very little Spanish – like me – and no English, but we managed to communicate a bit. He pointed out some children playing soccer in a schoolyard and told me that some professional basketball players from the U.S. once visited the village.

I returned to the boat with my provisions, including a headless chicken, and sat in the cockpit watching the nearby huts and their inhabitants. A large Kuna ulu swung onto the shoreline and a fit, youthful man jumped off the boat and handed the lines to his waiting three-year-old son. The man went to a nearby can of fresh water behind his hut and showered while the toddler carefully tied the lines to a bamboo pole. It took the boy several minutes to secure the boat to his satisfaction, but once he was sure the ulu would not float away, he climbed aboard. Then he pretended to be a fisherman, like his dad.

I´ve never visited a Kuna village in which I did not see at least one older man, outside his hut, brushing his teeth with Colgate®.  And it´s always a middle-aged or older man. They have great teeth, too.

We left Rio Azucar and made the short trip (actually, there are no long trips) to the Coco Bandero islands, dropping anchor between Glosicuidup and Guariadup at 09º30.61´N, 078º37.02´W. This was one of the best snorkel sites and certainly one of the most scenic anchorages in the San Blas. We nestled amid the small islands and I immediately grabbed my snorkel gear and made my way to the nearest one. Once ashore, I tromped halfway around the island and when I spotted a reef, decided to walk/swim to that area but I was stumbling over the soft rocks too much and as I neared the reef, the waves pushed me back to shore, so I continued my walk around the island then snorkeled back to the boat. It was quite a good swim. Later, I swam eight laps around the boat, another exercise I utilize in my continued effort to lose more weight and strengthen my body. The San Blas islands make walking and swimming easy and fun exercise!

While I was away from the boat, Joe purchased two lobsters, and we had another fabulous grilled lobster meal that night. The next day, Joe acquired a crab – and some of the crabs here are so big you can only get one into your largest cooking pot – then he perused our cookbooks for a crabcake recipe. He had decided to make crabcakes. We have the Waterford Yacht Club´s Meals on Keels and another recipe book from Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Joe found the recipe he was seeking and I am no longer able to say ¨Joe doesn´t cook ¨ The man can cook! His crabcakes were undoubtedly the best I´ve ever had.

Sharon and pinaAnd while I´m on the subject of food, we were in fruit heaven. Bananas, no bigger than your thumb, were fifty cents to one dollar for a bunch. We mounted them outside the cockpit, where they all ripened at the same time. We´d have about three days of looking at green bananas then two days of stuffing ourselves with the tiny, sweet fruit before they turned black. I mounted a net in the cockpit and put my limes, grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, and sweet peppers inside the net. We had an abundance of tomatoes and carrots, potatoes, onions and chayote squash. Occasionally, we could even get celery, zucchini, lettuce, and broccoli.

Our supplier was a handsome Colombian man named Geraldo, and all the cruisers in Kuna Yala kept each other apprised of Geraldo´s whereabouts. ¨Geraldo just left the East Lemmons,¨ someone would radio on the VHF. ¨He´s heading to the West Lemmons.¨  Days later, I would hear, ¨Geraldo says he´ll be in Coco Bandero today,¨and we cruisers would perch in our cockpits, eager for Geraldo to visit and sell us overpriced but delicious fruits and vegetables from his high-powered panga (a much bigger canoe-type boat with a large outboard engine). Sometimes he had whole chickens, boxes of milk, wine and bottles of rum, too. This was our biggest expenditure of the week and we never spent over $40 except once when we bought a case of beer and a half-case of wine. ¨¿Fiesta?¨ Geraldo asked me.

¨No, boat grog,¨ I replied.

In 2005, our friends Paul and Mary Margaret were on the Rio Dulce in their catamaran, AngelHeart. Their grandson, Cobi, visited, and the five of us explored a nearby fort that protected the river´s entrance to Lake Isabel. Here it was, four years later and once again, we joined our friends and their grandson for an outing, this time a snorkel trip. How could little Cobi have become this tall, gangly teenager? He was still the sweet young man we remembered but his childish enthusiasm had been replaced with that reserve teenage boys have . . . he still wanted the excitement of exploration but didn´t want to appear uncool about it. Despite his attempt at being a grown-up, I saw a boyish eagerness in his eyes (which his grandfather never lost), and he was a fun snorkel companion.

It was the second-best snorkel of the year for me, but at the time, I thought it would be the best ever. I lost myself in the underwater world of beautiful corals and stunningly colorful fish. There is no way I will ever find real magic anywhere as I do in the life that lives underwater.

The next day, another Texas couple, Debbie and Breeze of S/V Blue Sky, announced there would be a Celebration of Texas party on one of the Coco Bandero islands, since most of the cruisers in Kuna Yala are from Texas. I have no data or census to support my belief that the Texans in the San Blas outnumber the other U.S. cruisers three-to-one. Or maybe more. When my Indiana granddaughter visited, she commented that almost everyone on the radio had a ¨funny accent¨ and said ¨y´all,¨ and ¨Hey¨ for ¨Hello.¨ I told her they were speaking the official language of Texas.

Speaking of Texans, one couple I met had a string of duck decoys behind their boat. The boat was homeported in Freeport Texas, S/V Hiatus, owned by Owen and Betty McGee. Hiatus is a 39 Nautical Development vessel that had left Bridge Harbor (one of my all-time favorite marinas) in 1994. One night over sundowners, Sandy and Cheri of S/V Namasté (Kemah) and Joe and I (Kemah) contemplated the Texas ducks.

¨I think they have duck decoys behind their boat because a duck might spot it, land, then they can bag it and can have Peking Duck for supper,¨ offered Joe.

¨You seen many ducks down here in Panama? ¨ I offered. He had to admit he´d seen no ducks lately.

¨I think it´s symbolic, like they have all their ducks in a row,¨  offered the contemplative Cheri. This sounded good.

¨Well, I don´t know why anyone would string a line of plastic ducks behind their boat, anyway,¨ said Sandy argumentatively.

¨It´s art, Sandy,¨ I replied. ¨You don´t argue with art. You just let it flow over you.¨

Another Texas cruising vessel is S/V Avion of Kemah, Texas, a C&C 39 captained by Roy Fields. We´d first met him in Guatemala and since that time he has circled the Caribbean – twice. We were inspired by Roy because getting to Panama and the San Blas Islands was more than we ever thought we could do. But look what he did! Maybe we can too.

Wahoo on the grillSonny and Kay, of S/V Valentina (Kemah, Texas homeport but they call Waxahachie home), had caught a bodacious big wahoo and were able to make over 30 individual serving foil pouches from the fish for grilling at the Celebration of Texas party. Kay is a Sally Fields lookalike and makes a pecan pie to die for; a good thing because no Texas get-together is complete without pecan pie. Sonny and Kay are True Texans, not Transplanted Texans. Sonny´s one fish fed the multitudes.

Paul of S/V AngelHeart made his Louisiana jambalaya, which makes him an almost-Texan. Our Texas flag was hung with pride next to a ¨ Don´t Mess with Texas¨ sign, and if I´d had enough wine to drink, I would have sung the first two verses of ¨Texas, Our Texas¨or ¨Giant¨ a capella. Luckily for my fellow cruisers, I didn´t drink that much courage.

SingalongAt dusk, the guitars and harmonicas came out of their cases and the musicians played songs everyone can sing along, like ¨Brown-Eyed Girl.¨ I know that song gets old, but everytime I hear it I can´t stop myself from singing, ¨Tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA-tee-dah!¨

Then, we got a special treat when it was announced that two visitors on another boat wanted to get married. A Kuna wedding ceremony was held for them. The bride was carried to and placed in a hammock by six or seven men. She stayed in the hammock a minute or so, then stood up and walked back to the waiting group of men. They then carried her back to the hammock. This ritual was performed three times, despite the fact that the hammock broke on the second try and the men quickly rigged it up again in order to complete the ceremony. Finally, the groom joined her in the hammock and now they are married.

We were in the Coco Bandero islands for five days, then journeyed to the East Lemmons.  Joe and I promptly visited a nearby hut that served as the tienda, on a quest for cold soda and beer. The man had about 20 beers in the freezer, all warm. Joe waited an hour then returned to purchase a semi-cold beer.

On the radio one morning, I heard one cruiser say the San Blas was a nice place to visit, but once you´ve seen one white sand beach surrounded by perfect Caribbean water, you´ve seen them all. Not if you´re a snorkeler!

I snorkeled the East Lemmons in one site, but that was all I needed. It was terrific. There was once an artist, Bob Ross, who had a show on PBS where he painted a picture every show. Most of the pieces were requested by his audience and all of them featured lakes and/or woods in various seasons. Now, his art was unremarkable, but the man had the most soothing voice you´ve ever heard. My sister, during a stressful time in her life, watched his show every day as therapy. His trademark was to say things like, ¨Let´s put a friendly path leading to our lake…¨and ¨Now we´ll add a happy little tree…¨

I thought of his voice and his PBS series as I snorkeled the East Lemmons. This snorkel was a Happy Little Coral Field. Not that spectacular, really, but it had a mood. Even the fish were playful. I saw one swim headfirst into a coral, bounce off and continue merrily on his way, weaving a friendly path through the water.

Later, a milestone was reached when I was able to get into the dingy on the ladder Joe rigged that had never worked for me. Last year, try as I could, every time I put my feet on the fireman´s hose portion of Joe´s rope ladder, my feet, then legs, then body would ricochet clumsily under the dinghy in about one second. ¨What a difference 80 pounds makes!¨ we laughed, as I was finally able – with a great deal of hauling on Joe´s end – to get into the dinghy from 20 feet of water.

CruisersThat evening we joined other cruisers on one of the East Lemmons islands for Happy Hour. And, of course, we met more Texans! S/V Liward (Steve and Lili) is a 1985 Hans Christian 48T, homeport Kemah. They left Texas in 2003 after living at Waterford Yacht Club for 17 years. In fact, they remember their slip: 16/28!

Lili (pronounced lee-lee) had worked at NASA and we had many places in common, so many that we worked ourselves into a fever pitch of hunger because we talked about some of our favorite spots and their specialties: Pappadeaux´s shrimp embrochette in the Continental Airline terminal at Bush Intercontinental Airport, T-Bone Tom´s steaks, Tookie´s burgers, the Hoagie Ranch decór, and Mely´s Mexican food.

Steve entertained us with his story about something I had never heard of: Tanker Surfing. Steve was dining with friends at Mely´s and the friends were explaining Tanker Surfing to him. Apparently there are groups of surfers who go to the Houston ship channel to spots known to be good for this sport, and when a tanker goes past them, they surf the big ship´s wake! (This was in 1998, pre- Hurricane Ike and pre- 911. I wonder if this sport still exists?)

Steve said a phone call was made and the group planned an excursion for the next morning. The following day, they were met by a man who was a tanker captain; he had highlighted the day´s tanker schedule and what time and where to catch a wave. Their boat took them from site to site and Steve said each wave –each ride – lasted about ten minutes! He was sitting on top of the world.

The cruisers we met that evening were stunned that we have no refrigeration and I thought I´d have to break out the smelling salts when I told them we also do not have a watermaker. One cruiser immediately began explaining an elaborate rain catching system to me. I tried very hard to concentrate, but it was difficult: she was talking about sewing things together, making sand bags, aquaducts or something like that, channeling gutters to your water tank and at one point, my Attention Deficit Disorder kicked in, my eyes glazed over – Joe knows this look and snaps me out of it by saying, ¨You´ve lost your focus again,¨ – and when I refocused, the woman was still describing the technical but easy-to-sew and engineering marvel of a  raincatching system.

If I couldn´t comprehend the instructions, it was certainly beyond my ability to make one of them. I turned to Lili and said, ¨Do they sell this at Foley´s?¨

She nodded and sipped her Bulgarian Pinot Noir. ¨Of course,¨ she said.

Guitar SundownAs we watched another beautiful sunset in Kuna Yala, I confided to Lili that almost every day I say to myself, ¨God, what did I do to deserve this?¨

Lili replied, ¨I say to myself, ´What are the RICH people doing?´ ¨

The next day, we returned to the West Lemmons. Two days later, we went to Cartí, where we would anchor and I would travel to Panama City to meet our granddaughter, Hannah. This was her first solo flight but not her first international trip; she´d visited us in Guatemala in 2006.

HOLY MACKERAL!While underway to Cartí, Joe caught a large mackerel but it turns out Joe was the one who got hooked, literally, on fishing while underway. Now, every time we weigh anchor, he tosses out a line as soon as he can get the boat on autopilot. The mackerel was supper, providing a break from vegetarian meals, canned roast beef and the double-smoked pork that required no refrigeration but was more like a salt delivery system than food.

At Cartí, we anchored at 09º27.53´N, 078º59.02´W. Joe escorted me to the small island with a tiny airstrip and I met my 4x4 driver, Manuel.

I was a teeny bit nervous about being alone, but eager to prove that I am a self-sufficient woman. I´m not all that self-sufficient, as it turns out.

I had the cellphone, but Joe did not have a cellphone, so I really had no way to communicate with him except to call another cruiser, Susan on S/V Wooden Shoe, who would then reach Joe via VHF. Susan is a single-hander, so she IS a self-sufficient woman. I should take a few lessons from Susan. If she couldn´t reach him on VHF, she´d wait until the SSB broadcast the next day. The only reason I anticipated needing to contact Joe was to verify what time to meet me and our granddaughter in Cartí.

It was Saturday and my driver took me to my favorite hotel, the Marparaiso, where I had an aggressive list of things to accomplish before Hannah´s flight arrived Monday. As soon as I could put my clothes and laptop in my room, I rushed down the elevator and on to the street, where I discovered I simply could not get a taxi. The numerous drivers without passengers glanced at me and kept on going! I´m not sure why but this could be a reason why so many U.S. cruisers hire a driver by the hour rather than deal with struggling to get a taxi in busy Panama City. Eventually, one cab stopped and took me to Berard´s Meats, where I purchased five packages of the double-smoked pork that required no refrigeration. He was supposed to take me back to the hotel, but instead he dropped me off on a corner and pointed in the direction he said my hotel would be located.

I walked one block before I realized I was nowhere near my hotel and to make matters worse, I had no idea where I was. Panama City is a big town. I was pretty sure my hotel was the opposite direction, so I turned around and began walking the other way, crossing several busy streets and traveling about four blocks before the rain started.

To review the day, I had been on a three-hour trip in a 4x4 through Panamanian jungles and across one river. I had rushed across town to buy five pounds of salty pork, which I was now lugging in a rainstorm, walking unfamiliar streets toward I didn´t-know-where. I was exhausted. Then I saw it, like a lighthouse beacon to a lost-at-sea vessel. The sign said, ¨Salon.¨

So I had my toenails painted during the rainstorm.

When the rain let up, I walked outside carrying my bag of pork in one hand and my sandals in the other so I wouldn´t smear my toenail polish. Once again, I attempted to hail a taxi and once again, no one would stop. I decided to go inside a nearby hotel and have them call a cab and that´s when I discovered I was standing next to about seven empty parked taxis. The drivers were loitering, sitting idly in front of the hotel and when I approached them – bedraggled, wet, exhausted, and barefoot – they were wary.

But one driver took pity on me and led me to his taxi. I got in the front seat and asked him to take me to an ATM. He did and I gingerly stepped into the street and on the curb, still shoe-less, and entered the ATM booth.

I haven´t used an ATM machine in awhile, a couple of years, in fact. Joe´s the one who does that. But he had written down all the passwords, requested I make an online American Express payment, and told me if I got into trouble to use credit cards.

Our Indiana credit union account is, like our marriage, about 39 years old. Our ATM card is what was issued before debit cards. It´s an ATM card and it only works in an ATM machine and it cannot be used for anything else. It is a finance technology dinosaur. So after I selected English as my language, I was asked if the card was Credit or Debit. Credit or Debit? It was neither. It´s an ATM card.

Since I knew it wasn´t a credit card, I selected debit and then it took me to the place where I entered my pin. After I entered my pin, the machine asked me to re-enter my pin, so I did. It kept asking so I kept re-entering my pin, about five times. Finally I canceled the transaction and returned to my taxi, telling him to take me to another bank, the one Joe usually uses. En route, I checked in my planner for the places where I had written the passcode and it was there in two places but it was NOT the pin number Joe had given me. Two of the numbers were reversed.

I decided this time, I would enter the pin that was in my planner, not the pin number Joe had given me. But at this ATM, I received the message, ¨You have exceeded the number of times for entering pin. Please contact your bank.¨

I went beserk. Because there is no way to get money in the San Blas islands, I´d left most of our cash on board, with Joe, taking only what I needed to pay my 4x4 driver and taxi drivers. I returned to the taxi and he took me to my hotel. He seemed relieved when I put my shoes on before leaving the cab, and I had poured out my ATM angst, in Spanglish, en route, so I´m sure he was eager to be rid of me.

Back in my room, I showered and climbed on the bed to count my money. I had about twenty dollars and the Monday morning drive to another hotel and the airport would be thirty dollars. I made a quick phone call to Susan, leaving a message to get the correct pin from Joe. I texted another friend in the San Blas who was on an island too far away to be able to reach Joe via VHF but could contact him on the SSB Net in the morning.

Then I went to the hotel´s restaurant and ordered fried chicken to go. When they handed me the carryout box, I indicated they should charge the meal to my room. They said, no, they could not do that. I asked if they took credit cards. No, they couldn´t do that either. It was useless to argue, so seven dollars later I was back in my room, feeling very un-self-sufficient. But my toenails looked terrific.

Sunday I awoke with a sense of excitement because I was going to provision at Riba Smith´s, a large grocery store specializing in carrying the products most-purchased by U.S. citizens and expats. I could use my credit card and buy my own lunch and supper at the supermarket; the cab fare there and back would be about six dollars.

Back at the hotel, I tried once again to reach Joe via Susan. Then I remembered once upon a time Joe had told me the name of a woman at the bank who processed our numerous loans throughout our marriage. Her name was Rita. ¨If you ever get into trouble, just call Rita,¨ he said. I figured I was in trouble.

I looked in my planner, and there it was, with her extension number. So I called the Indiana Independent Credit Union in Anderson Indiana, entered her extension, held my breath, and yes! Rita was still there.

I left her a pathetic, disjointed explanation of why I was calling and that I would call again Monday morning. Then I contacted my Indiana daughter, who was about to put her only daughter on a plane to be taken possession of by me, her supposedly self-sufficient mother. As casually as possible, I mentioned that since she had access to one of our accounts, would she mind moving $200 from OUR savings to HER checking and sending the cash with Hannah? No problem, she said. But it had to be Sunday, not Monday. I knew I could only withdraw $200 per day. ¨Mom, I moved it to my account online while we were speaking,¨ she said. ¨I´ll get it on the way to the airport tomorrow. Is everything okay?¨

I told her everything was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Monday morning I called Rita at 7:30 a.m., Indiana time. Not only was she at work, she was already working the situation. She put me on speakerphone and was joined by others. But their main question was, ¨Where´s Joe?¨

Trying to explain the San Blas islands as best I could, I told them Joe was completely incommunicado. They offered several options for me, such as a bank-to-bank transfer (I could only imagine the nightmare that would be, U.S. banking vs. Central America banking), reminded me I could get cash on my credit card (yes, the interest would be killer but any port in a storm), and one of the women in the room was totally baffled by my ATM card. ¨What´s the name on the card? Is it Visa or MasterCard?¨

My name´s on it and it´s not a Visa or a MasterCard, it´s just an ATM card, ¨I replied. ¨It´s old, really old.¨

¨We show no transactions for you, only Joe. And if Joe´s not with you, how could you be using his card?¨

¨Those transactions were me, using my card.¨I replied. ¨The original account was in Joe´s name. Maybe he opened it in the ´60s, before we were married.¨

¨What name is on the card again?¨

If they suspected foul play, they weren´t too far off the mark. I was about ready to murder Joe anyway. Finally, they told me they could reset the pin but they could not tell me the correct pin number. ¨You´ve got three tries to get it right,¨ they added.

I rushed to the corner bank, entered the ATM booth, said a prayer and followed the screen prompts with a trembling hand. No casino gambler has ever been as happy as I was when those crisp twenty-dollar bills spit out of machine´s mouth! I walked to a corner shop and bought a postcard to mail to Rita and Friends in Indiana. In big, red letters I wrote THANK YOU!

continue on ... Part 5


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