We had arranged to pick up our Ngobe friend at 7AM. He was ready. He loaded several trash bags of presumably personal articles into the back of our car; our first indication that this was not to be a round trip for him.
Before 7:30 we were in downtown Boquete at the Municipio office. He indicated where we were to wait and then left the car. A half hour later he was back and said he should be done by 8:30. OK, no problem. The day was his.
It was closer to 9AM by the time he had his paperwork and we went to the local funeral home. There he picked up a very basic infant-sized casket. The body was in David, as it turned out.
We went to the morgue at an old, run-down hospital that we didn’t previously know existed. There was another waiting period whereupon he was sent to the Tribunal Electoral building n downtown David for yet more paper work. Within half an hour or so we were back at the morgue. We waited. And waited. We had the windows down in the car as it turned in to a long wait, beyond which I was willing to idle the car with the air conditioner running. But then the smells from the morgue started drifting in. We had to relocate the car.
It was fully two hours after our return to the morgue that the baby was put in the casket and we could be on our way. By now it was 12:45. There was not a lot of conversation during the drive. We would have been at a loss for words in English, not to mention Spanish. The road started off decent enough but soon went from bad to worse to absolutely terrible. Adding to the drive’s difficulty, we encountered thick clouds going through the mountains. Visibility was less than 100 meters much of the time.
After about 2 hrs on the road he had us pull over at small grocery store, essentially identical to one of hundreds if not thousands that dot the country. We were expecting to drive another hour or hour and a half. There were 6 or 8 men hanging around and he seemed to know them all. From here we went maybe 2 km on an uphill, unpaved road. The countryside was beautiful. The road made a dead-end at a river and we stopped a couple hundred yards before that to unload the casket at a quieter spot on the same river.
One or two old people and several young ones were waiting. Nobody smiled. We took a photo of the setting but not the people. I thought it would be in poor taste. Besides, the Ngobe are known for being averse to photography.
Our friend indicated that his destination was yet another two hours away on foot, but for now we took him back to the store at the main road. We didn’t exactly understand what was going on but we didn’t query anyone either. We did ask him when he would return to La India and he said it would be 3 weeks.
We would thankfully be home before dark, something that looked quite unlikely not too much earlier.