Retired Panama fisherman now training youth in ‘hard,’ perilous profession
Puerto Caimito, Panama, May 4 (EFE).- Manuel Garces began fishing in this small town on Panama’s Pacific coast at the age of 16.
Now aged 75, he is training young people who are choosing to embark on this “hard life,” one that he said left him with “many stories” to tell, including two shipwrecks that he survived.
“I was a shipwreck victim twice. It’s only because God didn’t need me yet that I’m telling (the stories) here,” Garces told Efe in Puerto Caimito, a poor village located around 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Panama City and the boyhood home of Panamanian baseball superstar and New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera.
“I saw (Rivera) playing here with the other kids,” the former fishing boat captain recalled while pointing toward the beach, saying he also took the future Baseball Hall of Famer when he was a young boy to look for crabs.
Seated on an overturned boat facing the sea and watching some fishermen weaving nets and cleaning fish, Garces said one boat he was working on capsized and left the entire crew forced to cling to a single life preserver ring.
“That life ring and another boat that was up ahead saved us,” he said while looking at a group of fishermen unloading baskets of fish and shellfish.
Years later, after he had become a machinist, the fishing boat on which he was working overturned and one of the fishermen on board was killed.
“That death hurt me deeply,” said the stocky, weather-beaten man, who is known affectionately in Puerto Caimito as “Pele.”
Garces said he progressed from a deckhand to a machinist and then to captain. During that final stage of his career, which encompassed most of his work life, he said it took him some time to “learn the currents.”
“When you’re unaware of the currents, what good is it for you to catch a bunch of fish when you won’t be able to benefit from them because the nets will get tangled up on you?” he added.
Now retired, Garces spends part of his time training young people getting their start in this profession. He teaches them how to navigate the boats, “how to fish, how to cast the nets and all that.”
He said he tells them “this life isn’t very good,” that “this life as a fisherman is hard” and recommends they exercise a lot of caution because “the boats are potential weapons.”
“I don’t go out to fish anymore … My children are grown up. I’m the dad of that (player) they call ‘Pistolero’ Garces, who plays soccer,” he said modestly.
Jose Luis “Pistolero” Garces, 41, is a former Panamanian national team player who was a member of teams in Brazil, Portugal and Bulgaria and currently competes for a club in Panama’s second division. EFE