“El Panguero” –forecasting these conditions
by: Maria-Teresa Solomons
A less traditional method for weather forecasting might warrant extending a wet index finger out to the elements to determine wind speed, direction and temperature including wind chill factor. However here, so you people in cyberspace have an idea about what´s happening weather wise so you chose your travel clothes wisely, this reality show demands we actually formally monitor all those effects the correct way with instrumentation, every day, three times a day. Nevertheless, even that isn’t precise. The whale watching environment determines everything and being much the wiser for seasonal exposure, this is what actually happens….
When the sound of the ´palapa´ dining room door bangs open and closed thumping at the ineffective stone doorstop at regular intervals, or the wind whistles tryingly through that same tightly woven palm-leafed palapa roof late at night almost portending a blustery morning, the wind gauge at that point might measure at least 12 knots.
In the early morning warming their hands around their coffee mugs a small crowd musters for outside yoga just before sunrise. I´m there of course, to teach the class, unashamedly warming my fingers around my coffee mug thermos, wearing a black woolen balaclava and windbreaker, and about to jumpstart the day. Someone aptly labeled it “7-Layer Yoga”, as if it were a new trend. Bikram would shudder. I describe it simply as waking up to the wind and the breath. Despite lacking an external heat source we still heat up!
After we finish and a little after breakfast if it were finger to the air, it would probably read about 64 degrees Fahrenheit (or 8 degrees Celsius) on the precision instrumentation. An east wind is blowing about 6 mph and there´s not a single cloud as far as the horizon. Refugio, ´Cuco´, one of our ´pangueros´, is moving around the panga boats wearing a heavy waterproof jacket thick enough to survive the north Atlantic, his sunglasses reflecting water. Hmmm?! As a ´Lagoon-ian, let’s say, everything indicates that he might know something we don’t.
I´ve learnt to follow his example by now and don a polar fleece over my orange Staff T-shirt and blur into the guests for a moment until I pull my own equally waterproof yellow storm weather jacket over my head and balaclava. I really stand out now, strikingly yellow on blue. By the time the groups have organized themselves and we are loading the pangas, I´m sweating again, this time in the sun. That fine red line of mercury could easily be reading a mean 78 degrees by now.
I pull my balaclava up tight over my cap to cover my ears and neck. It’s a 10 minute ride over the flattening sea. The wind picks up as we gain speed and pass Punta Piedra to enter the “zone”. The boat spins in half a circle, drops speed and comes almost to a halt as the radio breaks the silence and Roberto, our ´panguero´, responds to a call that directs him to our first friendly whale of the day. The wind drops, it’s hot again and Roberto peels off his jacket and returns to layer one again.
Leaning heavily over the side of the panga I dip my arms down as close to the water as I can reach and clap and, ´woop´ idyllically imagining that through its mystical green depths the resonance of those sounds might perhaps reach all 278 of the Gray whales that inhabit the lagoon at this point. When a huge mama whale approaches pushing her calf towards us she sends a circle of bubbles up as she exhales and the whole boat heaves with her movement. Her calf heaves itself over her back playfully and rolls one of its innocent eyes to scrutinize us and meets our wonder. Mama raises her head and makes a strange guttural hissing sound as she begins her blow.
I´m yellow above the blue now, leaning almost parallel to the water on the opposite side of the panga to where almost every other person is reaching down towards her. Every camera lens points in her direction as the stare from her single left eye penetrates curiously and deeply through us. I wonder what she can possibly feel being met with sunglass darkened smiles. On the downwind side of her whale breath her exhale baptizes us with a heavy rain. At that moment, as the residual droplets that have misted up the glass of all our lenses puts everyone momentarily on pause, the frontline cameras drop their guard.
Absurdly a thought about the right weather gear crosses my mind. A finger to the wind could never have forecast this encounter.