Updated: Mar 7, 2018
Retelling the stay with Santa Fe's most infamous gringo.
December 12, 2015
A tall, white man with a military crew cut holding an opened MGD by the tip, wearing nothing but white, long and loose boxer shorts strolled up to the gate.
A fresh new scene..
The bus up to Santa Fe was long and packed. I was pushed in as the bus was already rolling backwards departing from the terminal. No place for my pack other than in front of my face. It was winding and uncomfortable with various synchs and buckles driving into my chest, but from which small portals of sight that I did have, it looked amazingly beautiful outside the windows.
I was in the mountains proper finally, with the sun already past its crest and heading down low behind the passing ridges. The sun had the green, green mountainsides a radiant glow and the gusty breezes danced along top the yellowish grasses.
Each time we stopped, three or four more people would get on, with only one exiting every so often. I didn't have to move and not that I could anyways. As the bus had finally cleared itself, which is usually the signal its my time to exit, I asked a young man in the front of the bus if he knew of Papa Goyo. I found Papa Goyo on an air bnb search and rather than book through the site, the host suggested we just get to town and ask for him by name to get directions to his house. The young man had hesitation in his words and his expressions continued to communicate a series of thoughts. I could tell he knew of Papa Goyo, but couldn't put together a response. His face went from painful to comical, to blasé and disinterested all at once.
This sort of scrunching, twisting, comical expression continued each time I asked someone about this Papa Goyo. The bus driver said he would take us to the house and stopped in front of a locked fence. There were two white beagle-type dogs lounging and barking up a storm as their greeting. The commotion landed us our first sight at El Papa Goyo. A tall, white man with a military crew cut holding an opened MGD by the tip, wearing nothing but white, long and loose boxer shorts strolled up to the gate. He and the driver exchanged comical gesturing and gentle heckling. They were making jokes in English saying, "Do you want to die today or do you want to die tomorrow." It was a hilarious introduction to this character and fun to see the smiles on everyone's faces. He greeted me with his unfamiliar and non-native Texas accent. His name was Gregory and his wife/girlfriend/lady partner was zipping around in the yard with her long, blonde pigtails streaming out to the sides. She was as warm and friendly as the rest, so all was well.
I entered the casa and was hit wit the pungent aromas of marijuana and seen a young man seated there crosslegged in their living space. He jumped up to greet me. He said his name was Ben and said he had literally arrived 19 minutes ago. He was from Oslo and had short hair and a beard with a musicians type vibe to him. It turns out he was a booker and promoter for some Norwegian bands.
Let me just explain he was in the same boat as I was, unsure how he had stumbled into this place, but knew it was going to make for an interesting time. As we quickly got to finishing a few boxed wines, allow me to explain more on this Señor Gregory fellow they call, Papa Goyo. He was a loaded with PTSD, ex-marine living here in Panama with his ol' Colombian whosit girlfriend. The back and forth between those two ranged from comical and teasing, to loving and romantic, twisted and demoralizing, unappreciative to borderline offensive and back to funny and humorous. I could see from pictures around the house that they'd been together for some time and had done a lot of traveling of their own.
I later learned from the wine and the talkative gal-pal that Papa Goyo had been regressing emotionally from the PTSD and he is not well mentally. He laid back in his chair with his big long toes up in the air and wiggling them as he told story after story. Stories like taking a maiden voyage on an inflatable raft sipping chicha and as most his stories involving the chicha went from good to bad, he inadvertently went over the edge of a waterfall with his companion in the small raft. Or The time he took mushrooms and inadvertently got stuck in a riptide naked. Maybe it was the story of him smacking an Indian Chief's son with the broadside of a machete that took the cake for comical but then he went into a story about crossing a scorchingly hot mountain ridge with nothing but socks on that eventually started to burn.
As the boxes of wine started to go empty, he decided that Johnny here (I was johnny) was going to drive us to the store to get more booze. I really don't think there wasn't much of an option here, so we walked out to find his small sedan parked under a rusty carport. It was a stick shift with a failing clutch and the brakes barely worked. Not to mention we were in the slopes of a mountainous area. I grinded and skidded my way down the roads as Papa Goyo continued to tell stories and compliment my driving, saying Johnny here's got it. Keep going. We got what we came for and made our way back up the winding, mountain roads. I was staying with Papa Goyo for a couple of days, and in that time I wrote down some of the best quotes I heard:
It was on like a pot of neckbones
They was givin' ya the bone
Uh we was suckin' on some'a that chicha y'know
Uhh huh yeaah, riiigggghht
I'm just gonna go on with that
You can't beat that bullshit
Check and see if she's got some puntaficas in her (talking about ticks on a dog)
When we get out to the waterfall, I'm gonna read your ass
I shot and ate everything on that wall, besides the jaguar. I didn't shoot the jaguar
His usage of Spanish was comical but it served him well enough. And honestly, a lot of these folks just like to sip cervezas, which Papa Goyo can do with the best of them. As we went around town with him, he was clearly a known character and heckled everyone and they did their best to go along with his musings or stare awkwardly. We took a trip up to the waterfall as promised and he and Ben decided to hang back with a few of the amigos at the tienda sipping cervezas while Colombian whosit and I walked the trail. It was a totally cool waterfall, but this area experienced decent rainfall and that meant the trail was very muddy and slick. It was a tough trek. I jumped into the flowing, pounding waters as I've done with every waterfall I've seen and then we made our way back. Ben and Gregory were doing quite well with the locals and we decided we would go have a pizza some place.
I started to notice the flaws in Papa Goyo's mental states. He forgot things easily and teetered on a scary sense of anger. I recall one night of drinking sent him over the edge where he was recalling his time in service and the people he had killed. He worked himself into a rage, stating he would flatten them like sheets of glass. He was definitely tortured inside and I felt sympathy for him, while I delicately treaded conversations not to upset him or trigger some emotional memory. It always ended well and he could regain his composure, but I don't think he is even aware of it
But alas, Panama City was awaiting my arrival and after a few days, we parted ways and gave big hugs, enjoying the company and exchange of fond memories.
December 14, 2015 - BREAK! BREAK! BREAK!
Panama has been a real joy driving through. The roads carve cleanly and smoothly through lush, fuzzy green, baby mountains. Absolutely nothing but uninterrupted nature on all sides. There's either mostly cattle land or nothing at all between towns. Just pure vistas. I've been laughing at all the instances I have caught myself saying, 'It looks like a picture, photograph, painting...'
The irony is its the other way around. These sights, these 'images' are the source. I just haven't seen enough of the 'original' work to know it when I've seen it.
It looks like Panama. It looks like playa Negro en Costa. The watercolors look like the sky in Castillo. The movie scene looks like the mountains in Santa Fe.
The people are, sometimes the modern depiction of traveling person going to the nearest 'big' city for supplies, sometimes the traditional person in the indigenous tribe garb or the agricultural farmer. The music I encounter is epic gold. Reggae Latin fusion ripping everything off the top charts into a seamless stream that just flows from bus to shop to house. It does mellow out the further one gets from the city. It's intoxicating, maybe chaotic at first when trying to discuss an important issue with a bus driver, but the music doesn't stop. Not for little things like that.
December 17, 2015 - PANAMÁ (The gecko doesn't go)
Leaving behind the laughing gecko,
I trusted the bus on my latest viejo
Once again, I found myself in ruin and sin.
Where people cuss and put out a fuss.
Poverty and crime and lights all in a line.
The bigger the ciudad the harder to see a dad.
Such little to give and even more to take,
The city that pays, is the one that's at stake.
For me, it's clear, the barrio, the barrio is home.
Small towns with names you can ask around.
En un barrio, say Papa Goyo and people will know.
A place where the geckos will go.