Skip to content

Farther Away and Deeper in the Forest

EL ESPINO—The SARA group stepped carefully, one by one, into the fiberglass longboat. I stepped in last and took the spot in the prow so as better be able to film and photograph the excursion. The Salvadoran captain of the launch, an older fisherman, fired up the outboard and we were soon skimming along down the wider channels of the Rio Jiquilisco, out in search of the currileros, the children who dig the clams from the tidal mud beneath the mangrove roots.

 It is the beginning of their apprenticeship as fishermen. As they grow and become too large to fit easily under the mangrove roots and too heavy not to sink deeply into the mud they learn to hunt the crabs and to fish with line and net. It is a timeless life in many ways, living on the labor of their hands, eating the fruits of the sea and river and trees and it is a life in danger. The beach is a beautiful place, and although efforts to make El Espino a tourist destination like the beaches of El Zonte and La Libertad farther north have mostly failed, it is only a matter of time. The land will be developed, prices will rise, and the fisherfolk of El Espino will either adapt and stay, or will move, like so many others, to San Salvador or abroad. There they will find their fishing skills of little use.

 But not quite now, not quite yet though the migration has begun and one can almost feel the approach of the bulldozers. We motored down the river, keeping an eye towards the forest for groups of children. I had been out five or more times in the past and we would always round some green and tangled corner and see them there, working, calling out as they pulled another clam from the mud, bragging of the number they had found, diving in the river every so often to get cool and wash off the mud and insects. They would see a boatload of strange foreign faces and wave and smile and then continue with their job.

 But we saw none. Three men hauled in a mostly empty net from a canoe. Others paddled by, waving, on their way somewhere and we continued on, down the river to the point where it merges with the Pacific. There, in that amorphous place called Bocana la Chepona, the river and the ocean and the sky meet in a strange line and you feel you have reached the end of the world and could fall off the edge. But we didn’t and saw no dragons. The captain ran the boat up onto the beach and we walked for a while on the hot sands fringed by coconut palms and it felt very empty and very far away from anything and anyone else.

 Every trip, I feel, one reaches the farthest point, the place where the invisible line home begins to reel you in. This place, for me, was once that place and I was in a similar boat with Dr. Katy Kropf and a number of Salvadorans and we were in a blinding rainstorm that completely obscured the boundaries between water and air. Or maybe that point was when alone I journeyed to Trujillo in Honduras to find the grave of the American soldier of fortune William Walker. My wife Kristina and I reached that place in Paita, Peru where the Sechura Desert meets the Pacific at the end of the road. But this time I had been in Central America less than a week and the coming months stretched out in front of me and I knew I was a very long way from the farthest place I would go.

 After a while we were called back to the launch and began our ride back the way we had come. A man was paddling his dugout swiftly and cleanly behind us, his paddle cutting into the water and flashing up and through my telephoto I could clearly see him smiling to himself, enjoying the speed born of his own strength. The captain saw him too and stopped the engine and waved for him to come alongside. They conferred for a moment.

 He motioned with his arm towards the north, where I knew from the map lay miles of rivers and mangrove jungles and large areas with no marked towns or roads. The children, he said, were indeed working today but they were farther away and deeper in the forest. And that, somehow for us, was as it should have been.

The last point before the Pacific (click on photo to enlarge)

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *