Driving To Macano

It has been a long time since I’ve done anything except work, work, work. But this week I had an opportunity to take a drive in the country.

I received a call from an expat friend. A worker of hers has family in the pueblo of Macano (Macano is the name of a tree, a very dense hardwood, probably Ironwood by the English name). A family member was very, very ill and had no way to get to the hospital. The police wouldn’t do the drive, nor would the ambulance nor the fire department. It appeared that I was the last resort.

If the patient was unable to get to a doctor but instead died at home, there would have to be an autopsy and the family would have to pay for it. But if they could get a letter of terminal illness from a doctor, there would be no autopsy.

Macano is remote by local standards, about a half-hour drive into the mountains from here. With Ambulancia de Fred ready to go, I met up with two family members who would ride with me to the pueblo. Here is a video from our house to Macano: Notice the ‘road block’ at the 4:21 mark. Also, although difficult to discern, there is quite a hill going down at the 17:30 mark. On the return trip it took me six tries to get up the hill without slipping and sliding:

When we drove as far as we could, I parked the car next to an abandoned house. Straw bale and adobe house construction isn’t a yuppie dream here; it is survival. Here are a few pictures of the domicile past-its-prime:

Formerly home to a  family, I tried to place myself in the reality as it must have been.

Formerly home to a family, I tried to place myself in the reality as it must have been.



A very narrow doorway connects the two rooms.

A very narrow doorway connects the two rooms.


This is the larger of the two rooms. I wondered to myself if $300-per-roll French, hand-printed and flocked wallpaper is really a necessity.

The men didn’t want me to have to walk the extra distance down to the house in the valley and suggested that I wait for them. But after taking some pictures and waiting at the car for quite some time, I decided to walk down the hill to the house.

When I got to the house, the men had just returned from cutting a long pole from a Macano tree. I helped them lash a hammock to the pole. After they transferred the patient to the hammock, we carried the woman (with the two smaller men in the front, I carried the back end of the pole) the significant distance uphill to the car. The hard physical labor of building the house must be good for me, because the two younger men were huffing and puffing but I hadn’t broken a sweat.

We carefully transferred the older woman to middle of the back seat and two women sat one on each side of her. I noticed that in this culture that there was no quibbling over the division of labor between the men and the women. The men sat back in the pickup bed.

I told them that I would drive “lento pero seguro” (slow but sure) and we were on our way. The ride back was somewhat difficult. A light rain had made rocks on the hills a slick slip-and-slide experience. I did my best to give an easy ride as the patient in the back seat was crying and screaming in pain. I never did find out what she was suffering from.

Out on the main road it was a quick ride into town to the local Central Salud (health clinic). I dropped them all off and left after it was determined that the patient would be transferred to the hospital.

The family was thoughtful and appreciative, each person thanking me and shaking my hand. My take-away was that if you want to feel good about yourself, do something for someone who has little or nothing.

In other news, Ramiro and I have finished welding and grinding five tables and Armando is all but done with the rock walls. Photos next time.

This past week Cynthia and I watched a TED Talk by Brené  Brown about vulnerability. I Googled her and found a quote that is meaningful to me as I work my way through this never-ending, giant-canvas shipping container house art project:

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That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

19 thoughts on “Driving To Macano

  1. What a kind man you are Fred, I was privileged to meet you. You are a true artist heart and soul.

  2. It’s all and, ultimately, only about LOVE. I am working on that.
    I will forward the quote which spoke to me clearly.
    Love to you both.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Yes, thought provoking.

      How lucky we are. Most of us can pick up the phone and dial 911 (or your country’s equivalent) and help is there in a few minutes. The people in Macano (and much of the world) live very much on the edge. But perhaps they have much, much more connection to family and bonds of love. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have it all??? Thanks Lynn, Fred

  3. Nena and I took a vote and it was unanimous. You are the kindest-hearted man in all of Panama.
    At the risk of keeping you awake tonight, imagine that trip at the height of the rainy season! My guess is that the road is re-bladed every year after the rains stop.
    God Bless,
    jim and nena

    • Hi Jim & Nena,

      Aw shucks, thanks. But really, there are a lot of expats here who do many acts of kindness. It was just my turn.

      At the Central Salud, the family asked if I could take some of them back home. By this point there had been several downpours and I told them that I could take them home, but that they would have a house guest until next January! There was just no way that I would be able to get out over the deteriorating road. Yes, they grade it once a year or so, but it is all down hill until next year.

      Thanks again, Fred

  4. Hi Fred,

    I’ve just recently found your site and I’m so glad I did. What you have built is amazing, the quality and craftsmanship jumps out everywhere. I love it.

    To top if off you seem like an amazing bloke, generous and humble… you’re a great example to us all.

    You’ve inspired me to do better. Bravo Sir.


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