I was somewhere along the Camino Real when the Panama Red kicked in. I remember my half-naked guide burning another fat blunt, the rich scent of rain and wet earth howling through the holes in her jungle bohio. It sounded like the screams of dead conquistadors.
Suddenly there was a crash of thunder. Blue smoke swirled all around us. My guide was on me like a hairless jaguar. She was laughing and telling me to eat her pussy.
In my defense, it had been Ortiz’s plan. He’d wanted me to file a report on local cannabis. I think he’d been imagining a pot smoking Indiana Jones careening through the jungle in search of lost strains.
At first I balked at the idea. I was still reeling. And like any jaded reporter I preferred the pub, my imagination and a laptop, to the field.
I believed that to appear sober and earnest amongst the deranged was to invite fear and loathing. To be in the club, but not trying to blend in, was to be the enemy.
It was unlikely, but not inconceivable, that I could succeed. All I needed was a reason to believe again. But then I thought, maybe it was too late. Maybe white skin and a facility with words wasn’t enough. Maybe my so-called “talent” would always remain obscured.
“Besides,” I wondered aloud, “why should this opportunity be offered to a gringo? Why not a local?”
What had I done to earn this? I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t yearn for it. But Ortiz wasn’t listening. He fronted me some cash and recommended Elena as a guide. I had my doubts.
Elena was thirty two and very sweet. But at five feet one, barely ninety-five pounds, she looked too fragile for the trip. Then I saw her climb a 40 foot coconut palm in a red bikini.
Elena dropped the last ten feet to the sand with a muffled thud. She deftly hacked open a green coconut like a brown ninja. She offered me a drink: “There are natural sugars and salt. Good for dehydration.”
I was making an obnoxious sucking sound with my straw. Elena narrowed her dark eyes. “This is no joke. People die out there.”
“Die? Listen, no one is more eager than I am to “start writing again” and advance the cause of cannabis, but it’s always been my belief that the preservation of Cojito must override all other concerns.”
My guide smirked. That was a good sign. I watched her brush the long, dark hair from her smooth face. Up close, extreme beauty is intimidating. It casts a pall over relationships. Deep down we know the scales are unbalanced.
Of course we want our potential lovers to be attractive. But extreme beauty comes with a unique set of problems. It makes us feel uneasy.
My guide’s attractiveness and athleticism thrilled me. She’d been a rebel back in Colombia, a stripper in Panama. Now she was a grower and guide. Her sexual appetites, her dark trysts, were local legend.
I’d heard all the stories going in. It blows my mind that I could not appreciate the danger. According to Ortiz, the parade of men, young, and some very old, whom he would see sneaking in and out of her flat, seemed to never end.
At any given moment my guide could be dangerous, stoned, or kinky. Ortiz slapped me on the back: “She’s your type amigo.” I admit I was intrigued. I’d read somewhere that the best way to get over a loss was with the sexually promiscuous. I didn’t know if that was true. But I wanted to find out.
That night Elena and I stayed up late talking. We talked about writing. I told her about my ex. Her attitude to marriage amazed me. True love was a lie. Monogamy was absurd. Children were to be avoided at all costs.
It seemed I’d finally met a woman who just wanted to smoke weed, do yoga, and fuck. We left at dawn. To beat the heat my guide dressed in a straw hat, t-shirt, tight shorts, and hiking boots. By then I was already smitten.
By mid-morning the air became sweet and suffocating. Elena moved quick and traveled light. She carried only a pouch and a machete in a leather sheath on her back. I carried the water and food.
Though I was an experienced hiker, I could barely keep up. She seemed indefatigable. Her lean arms and legs glistened with sweat as she hacked at the jungle with her machete.
I couldn’t discern the trail she was following. According to a guidebook, we’d be flirting with The Royal Road, Spain’s infamous treasure trail. I spent most of my time guzzling water, and scanning the ground for vipers and pieces of eight.
Every so often, Elena would turn to check on me. I’d catch a flash of her white teeth and feral eyes gleaming back at me from the greenish darkness. She stopped and pointed to an iridescent blue butterfly floating past.
She told me about the bruja who claimed the morpho butterfly was her totem. The witch had said Elena would marry a “younger man with blue eyes.” My guide shot me a meaningful look.
Hang on, I thought. I’m young. I have blue eyes. And I was using them to follow Elena’s tight ass deeper and deeper into the wild.
About five hours in Elena pulled up next to a tiny bohio. I was gasping for air. We were both soaked with sweat. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Several hundred yards to the left of Elena’s jungle home was a sticky patch of sativa. I recognized the long thin leaves immediately. As I moved closer the odor hit me like a coconut upside the head. It was a funky mixture of lemon and rotting fruit.
“Panama Red,” she said. “That over there is Punto Rojo. They need another week to mature.”
“You worried about all the rain and humidity?”
“No mucho. This equatorial strain, on side of hill. Good breeze. Good drainage. Sunlight. She do well here. Her cola wispy, loose. Not hard and tight like the Indicas and hybrids up north.”
Good thing, because it was already dark and starting to rain. I followed my guide back into the tiny hut. After sweeping out the spiders, she hung a mosquito net, and threw a colorful spread onto a simple wooden platform bed.
I built a small fire while Elena dug into her pouch and dragged out a dried flower. She broke off an amber chunk. She filled a small wooden pipe.
I took a hit. Then I hit it again. The smoke expanded in my lungs forcing its way out.
I coughed. Elena smiled. We had to raise our voices to hear each other over the falling rain. It sounded like an army of gorillas slogging through the mud
I told her it was some of the best shit I’d ever had. It felt like I was tripping with Donna Juan. Drops began falling like wet grenades.
The thatched roof started leaking in several places. Elena kicked off her shoes. She stripped off her shorts, and padded out into the tropical rain.
I watched the cool drops fall from the heavens and explode on her lithe body, washing the sweat and mud from her mocha skin. Her long black hair glistened. Her nipples were hard under her bikini top.
I felt intoxicated, aroused. Then something bit me. And I had a sudden realization that I was surrounded by profound beauty and extreme danger. Even the ants out here were unusually mean.
I started feeling paranoid. Like the sativa had been picked too early. I kept thinking my guide held my miserable life in her tiny hands. All she had to do was slip back into the darkness, and the white devil would never find his way back home.
Not that I didn’t have it coming. Elena smiled and waved me over then. It was as if she’d read my sick thoughts. I stripped off my t-shirt and hiking shoes and joined her in the rain.
Elena was the unexpected that changes everything: the crocodile that pulls us from the canoe, the pill we shouldn’t have swallowed, the winning lottery ticket. In this dangerous jungle I’d made contact. Perhaps I was ready to start living again.
-Cojito @ Panama After Dark