San Blas Sailors – The Portuga
The Portuga lived in one of the most classic and beautifully designed boats in the bay of Chichime, though the housekeeping made it look more like the long-neglected garage so many Americans are familiar with. He’s been living here for years now, unable to dig up the cash to fix his mast after it was hit by lighting. I came to know him because his girlfriend stayed in the Chufa for a couple days (relationship troubles — will not say more about that). The first night I met him was at a party where he went on and on about some hike, where you could find magic mushrooms in San Blas (never confirmed that information), and a whole range of topics you’d be likely to encounter with one of the old hippies from the acid era.
Other than that evening, every time I saw him he sported the same pair of Dolce & Gabbana underwear. It was clear that he was the man who could get you stuff — gas, drugs, baking yeast — that you would need for island life. Even though he needed money terribly he somehow never seemed to be charging for helping people fix parts on their boats. He knew everything about boats and how to fix them, a true man of the sea, and he was always tinkering on something.
If there was a master chef competition in San Blas he’d definitely take the cold. His speciality was homemade bread and he could whip up a fluffy loaf, that stayed soft for days, in no time. I’m not sure what I ate the first time I had dinner there, some kind of octopus soup, but the spicing was impeccable, all his own originals. The Kuna indians supplied new fish and other sea life for him to make new creations every day.
Another hidden/totally unexpected talent was his wooden doll collection. They were all hand-crafted by him and his girlfriend made the clothes. Surprise, surprise… this anarchist, crazy, mariner was a genuine artist and not just in the kitchen!
He was definitely a weird one that Portuga, maybe a bit cracked from all his days on the sea, but good-hearted, full of endless euphemisms, and every encounter was another surprise.