Travel Agents: Who needs 'em?

I do.

I used to be strictly a book online kinda guy. But then I had a personal emergency and had to get from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua to Key West, Florida in less than two days.

Enter Super Agent Brenda from my hometown AAA branch.

Before I knew it, I was in Key West giving a eulogy.

Now I’m a loyal customer. I picked up the info for my e-ticket today and, to show their appreciation for my $1,200 worth of business, they gave me ONE DOLLAR off the renewal of my AAA membership. ONE DOLLAR!

Oh well, I guess that’s a buck more than I would have got from a website.

I write a column, Travelin’ Light, that has appeared in various papers here and there. From time to time I plan on posting old columns. I’ll even make a category for them: Kelsey’s column: Travelin’ Light.

I wrote about the tragedy that took me from Nicaragua to Key West in a TL column last year. Continue reading this post to view it.

Captain Ralph

Captain Ralph
By Kelsey Timmerman

The sapphire Atlantic is to my left, the emerald Gulf to my right. The drive to Key West, down US-1 from Miami, is bejeweled with spectacular views. It is enjoyed by flocks of tourists each year on vacation.

I’m no tourist. I’m not on vacation.

I am returning to the island, I used to call home, for a funeral. I will give the eulogy.

Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is on the radio. I crank it up and grip the steering wheel with both hands. Tears well-up behind my sunglasses.

I cry.

2 days ago

The dock of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, is the city’s lifeline and, as lifelines go, it is pretty crappy. As I walk I can feel the rotting wood structure being jerked side to side with the rising and falling of the boats.

The crew of the Spanish Lady welcomes me, “Today we go to sea. You ready?”

I have been here for two weeks hanging with the hookers, sailors, drug runners, and the children who sell them popcorn. I am working on a story about the untrained indigenous divers who risk everything in pursuit of lobster.

When I worked in Key West as a diving instructor, I occasionally went diving for lobster. I still remember the first time. Ralph was the captain of the boat. He handed me a net and tickle stick (the tools of the trade) and gave me some last second pointers. I came back with one lobster. It was too small. Ralph threw it back.

My luggage, along with my mask and fins, is being passed off the Spanish Lady to the crew on the dock. They are disappointed that I won’t be going out with them. They’ve never been to sea with a diving gringo.

When I first heard about the accident in Key West, I wasn’t going to go. I am in Nicaragua, I can’t go to a funeral in Key West.

But then I realized that if I didn’t go, it would be as if nothing ever happened, as if I ignored his death, not lost a friend but simply forgot him. I needed to be with other people that knew him.

I get on the plane. Nicaragua and Key West are closer than you think.

Three days ago

I was supposed to be at sea last week. Problems with the boat’s engine, then the compressor, coupled with the fact that the boat owner suspects I am a CIA agent, have led to my long wait.

I have seen everything there is to see in Puerto Cabezas, done everything there is to do. I have settled into a daily routine. It’s my Groundhog Day: breakfast at the café, hanging at the dock, and emailing when there is electricity.

I’m checking my email for the third time today, hoping to hear about a world outside the one I am currently stranded in.

Great, an e-mail from Ralph. I haven’t heard from him in awhile.

“Ralph died in an accident yesterday. He will be missed by all.”
– Dotty (Ralph’s girlfriend)

Learning about the death of a good friend is a strange something to learn from a computer screen. There is no emotion in a flashing cursor.

I begin to peck out the words on the keyboard, passing the news on to friends and family who knew Ralph. The weight of the news settles in when I type “Ralph died…” Only then do I realize how much emotion is in the two words and how difficult it must have been for Dotty to type them.

A pair of locals joke with the lone employee of the café.

I feel more alone and more homesick than I have ever felt. I bury my face in my hands and cry.

Two years ago

Today is a good day. The customers have been down for about 45-minutes. A light breeze blows from the south. The Pelican, our small dive boat, rolls beneath us in a swell slightly more than gentle. I sit on the gunnel in the shade; Ralph sits on the captain’s chair, his long hair swaying across the large tattoo in the middle of his back.

We haven’t said a word in 20-minutes. That’s how it is when you spend hours at sea each day with a person; you run out of things to talk about. At some point you know everything about a person that they’re willing to tell. Silences are comfortable.

The boat rocks, the sun is warm, the breeze cool. Elton John’s Tiny Dancer comes on the radio. Ralph smiles and begins to sing, “Hold me closer…” and slightly alters the lyrics, “…Tony Danza.”

I laugh.

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