In the 2 years I’ve been here, I’ve been warned over and over to be careful swimming in the ocean. The waves get really big. The currents are strong. There are riptides. But it’s also beautiful and people don’t let that keep them out of the water. I’ve been told, if you’re in trouble you wave arms until a sufista or someone on the beach sees you and swims over with their board to help you to shore. But this informal kind of vigilance sometimes fails.
This week in Olón, two children were pulled out by the current. No one saw them disappear into the waves. No one heard them call for help. No one saved them. Their mother has been at the beach everyday for the last 3 days as the search for their bodies has gone on, waiting and waiting. Her pain is palpable. The pain of the entire village is palpable. There is a sadness blanketing over not only gente de Olón, but over Manglaralto, Montañita, and all the local villages on the coast.
Today I head to the beach in a truck to pick up our surf students from their class, and there is a body laid out in the sand, covered in black plastic. They’ve dragged her under a cabaña out of the drizzling cold rain. One of the children has been found. The cops loiter around, waiting for the parents to come identify her. I wish they would cover her better. I hope the position her differently so her mother doesn’t have to see her sprawled like that.
On the way home Ronny tells me about his experiences acting as a volunteer life guard. He tells me in one temporada, he pulled at least 50 drowning people out of the water. No one died but there have been countless close calls. He’s frustrated. He tells me no one has drown in Manglaralto in over 10 years, because everyone there is very aware of the dangers and always keep an eye on people in the water, whether they know them or not. There are always surfers around, and it’s a unofficial rule that if you see something, you go check it out. It’s better that you’re wrong than someone drowns when you could have swum out to help them. If you have a board, you go, and if you don’t you find someone who does, which is not an issue on these beaches. He’s angry with the surfistas in Olón. There are just as many there as in Manglaralto or Montañita, he says, so why did no one do anything? How could no one have seen?
As this year’s temporada picks up, so do the waves and currents. The same things that make our beaches such a draw for surfers, makes it a danger for all the tourists and families who flock here at the same time to enjoy sun and the beach. I’m imploring everyone to be careful. Don’t go swimming unless you’re within sight of other people. Watch out for others around you. Please don’t EVER go swimming at night. I know it always seems like such a great idea when you’ve had a few drinks in you but just don’t. I can’t think of many things more stupid. This is not your beach back home. This is a surf location for a reason – these waves are serious.
A la madre de esos niños, lo siento muchismo, y mi corazon es contigo. Espero que puedas encontrar paz.