OP ED: by James “JB” Bryson
When I have friends and family from the US travel into Tocumen, they inevitably ask about the brown, thick, water and ramshackle homes that adorn the coastline. First off, calling it “water” is taking a very generous and liberal stance on H2O. As it is more akin to shit. But it nonetheless is impossible to miss. For those that are not familiar with this area, La Prensa did a very in depth piece on both the area and people I suggest as a good read.
On the shores of the Bay of Panama there are almost no neighborhoods. Some were cornered by a new road, others bought to give rise to the construction of majestic and expensive cement towers. There is one, however, that stands firm in his idyll with the ocean. This is Boca la Caja, a very small sector, but still retains the sea as its backyard.
By Boca the Box no longer even cars. Its main route is a secondary street, where the most impatient drivers try to evade vehicular congestion on the via Israel. Its small internal streets, like doorways, give that touch of neighborhood of yesteryear. There, for example, fishermen still live.
Two skinny, older men leave their one-story house with a polished cement floor, right next to a luxury building built there a few years ago. They are fishermen. They say that fishing is not the same as before, that they now have more competition from large companies, which have a hard time surviving them and their families. The history of artisans lagging behind in this city with cosmopolitan and aspirational airs.
In the bowels of the neighborhood. Luis Burón Barahona
The fishermen, then, offer a tour of the bowels of the neighborhood. Not where the municipal library is, or the health center, or the park. But where is the exit to the sea, the raison d’être of that neighborhood.
Arriving is complicated. Only someone who really knows those doorways could avoid getting lost in that labyrinth. From those little corridors, if one looks towards the sky, the least you can see are the clouds or the sun. The vertical view is partially covered by the towers that go up almost to the sky and where almost none of those who go along that labyrinthine path could live.
On the road there are children running, grocery stores, a man who prepares a piñata, another who loads a tank of gas and many eyes that observe. Not so much to the fisherman, who advances with certainty and speed, but to those who follow him.
Finally, after several corners, a small ramp opens in which some workers sew some nets. There are several strands stretched around, so you have to walk calmly. And then the only exit to the sea appears, a kind of square just below the South corridor. In the backs of the houses, like those who park a car, several boats dance to the rhythm of the waves.
Small internal streets, like doorways, give the neighborhood a touch of yesteryear. Luis Burón Barahona
Everything seems to be in order until a skinny, young man appears and asks the fisherman what they do there. The tone of the conversation is light, of colleagues. Both, apparently, are fishermen. The oldest, then, asks not to take pictures. Just observe. Seconds later, correct and recommend better to go to the main street.
A group of young fishermen accompany us and make sure that nobody takes a photo more. Not even from the outside, from the neighborhood. The charms of Boca la Caja , it seems, are only for those who live there.