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Turtle hunting at Pina beach

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Turtle hunting at Pina beach

Every once in awhile, mom and dad would ask us older ones if we would like to go to Pina beach to go turtle hunting with them, which I always jumped at the chance of going. I am pretty sure that it was in the dry season that we went, and for sure on a night of a full moon. It was so long ago, that certain memories are fuzzy, others still very sharp. All toll, I believe I went with them maybe four or five times over the years, mostly when I was between 14 and 17. Usually four of us younglings would go, four of the 9 still at home. The tenth, the first born, Skip joined the Navy right after we arrived in Panama in 1958. Though I did go with him once around 1965 to the beach, on a night with a full moon, a very good memory for me, one of many, too many to recount.

We kept it simple. Mom would make sandwiches, usually baloney, with mustard, dig out an old coffee pot for strong black java and matches for the fire. We would leave around 11 PM and take off for the beach. I loved the drive late at night, have always loved night driving. Out of the Gate at Gulick, past Margarita (what a beautiful little town), towards Davis, bypassing Gatun and over the locks, which I always loved seeing, except when the wait was long for a ship to go through. Then over the gravel roads to the beach, a good drive all in all.

I always felt an excitement when the jungle ended and the beach opened up for us. Being a full moon, the beach was bright and for the most part empty. Though there would usually be a very few people there, perhaps doing the same thing we were doing. We did tell ourselves we were there looking for turtles, but over the years, we captured only one, and in fact, I believe we just went for the trip, the beauty, the sound of the ocean, and the moon highlighted over the ocean.

We built a very large fire, put the coffee in a place for the water to boil and just sat around the fire talking, or just looking at the flames. Mom and Dad would go out for a long walk looking for turtles. When they came back, two more would go. There was not much talking, I have always so loved the ocean, just for walking, not swimming. At night or on rainy days are my favorite time to go, for the sun and I do not get along. When the coffee was ready we would all drink a large cup full and some nights make perhaps three pots. I still like my coffee black, bitter and strong most times, got it from my parents. I also still love baloney sandwiches with mustard; a bad habit I know, but I find them hard to pass by. Perhaps because of many positive experience when we did have them as a child and teenager.

One year we actually caught a turtle and I felt sorry for it. However the meat was good, different kinds of meat from different parts of the body. Some of my brothers and sisters never knew when we had turtle, but I did….well maybe not all the time.

One year when Skip was home from the military, on a lark, about midnight, he asked if I wanted to go with him to Pina beach. I jumped at the chance to go and it was also nice to do it with my oldest brother. I guess he would have been about 20 or 21 at the time. I do remember the nice feeling it was to be able to spend so much time with Skip. We did not talk much, though I did ask him questions about the navy and life on board ship. While at the beach we met a Jamaicans man who used his poncho as a tent. We did talk with him and he told us that he came every year to get the eggs of the turtles. I believe that it is now illegal to do that. Not sure they can even be hunted anymore.

Of all the beaches, I guess I loved Pina beach the best. It was never crowded, so lots of space to just walk and think. I do have one memory that still scares me a bit when thinking about it. Georgia my youngest sister, who was born in Panama, loved the water and as far as I can remember never feared it. One day we went out as a family, probably around 1960, so she was still very young. We arrived at the beach, got out of the car, and my little sister made a dash for the ocean. For a 12 year old, and one that was small for his age, the waves were big. So Georgia ran in to the waiter and a big wave was rising up behind her. Not sure how I did it, time seemed too slowed down, but I got in, grabbed her and we were both covered by the water. Dragged under and spit out onto the beach. She thought it was great fun, but I was really scared for her. She would have probably been alright, but I am glad I went to get her.

You can’t go back, but memories of the past, bittersweet as they can be and bring often in equal measure pleasure and pain, are healing in the end. I know nostalgic memories are not really ‘true’, but memories wiped clean of most of the unpleasantness, so only the good remains, that is why they are healing and wonderful. Time for me seems like an 18 wheeler without brakes going down a steep road towards some sort of exit….so it is good to have something to cling to, our past can help to make the journey a little more pleasant in a world often difficult to navigate. I am so thankful that my mom got us down there, what a place to grow up in, yes Lord I am so very grateful.

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