El Jefe and the Sea


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By: Bernarda Carranza | Photos: Jorge Vinueza G.

“I don’t know myself in the cliffs

and under the waves.

I eye my bones and my blood,

And in me runs the fleeting salt…

And my heart, whistles to me, like a shell

From the bottom of my soul.


Here is your face, vigorous wind.

Here I embrace you, fisherman of the dawn.

Here I feel you, vastly far away,

Oh iodine sailor of the distance.”


From Jolgorio, by Esmeraldas poet Antonio Preciado.

“The sea is everything … it is our job and it is our life,” says Yuvani Mero, sitting on a chair before a desk in the fishing port. These days he has traded the sea for a job on land, but the stories and the nostalgia of his sea-borne solitude and peace remain.

It is four o’clock in the morning. The soft hues of twilight paint the skies and the waves caress the sand calmly, less intense than in the afternoon. On the shore, you can already hear the clutter and the first fishing boats pushing out bravely into the ocean. Tree trunks are placed under the “parked” boats in the sand so they can slide easily until they reach the shore and sail off. The fishermen unravel their nets and prepare rods, gloves, baits and ice to start the day’s work. The first rays of the sun cast their beams across the ocean, illuminating the first boats as they make their way across the swells.

Treacherous, thankless, beautiful but cruel, are the words used to describe the sea.

And those who have sailed it know that its gender is feminine; she is strong and willful. It’s hard being a fisherman, they repeat, sighing. They have memories of pirates who have plundered their boats; memories of the fear of being lost in the depths of the sea, only to appear on the shores of Panama, in unknown wrecks, as many of their friends; memories of their constant struggle with middlemen who pay them a pittance for their catch, because without the quick cash they won’t be able to pay for the fuel, engine or tools. And yet, they cannot imagine a life without it. Under their breath they seem to mumble Hemingway’s phrase: “Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman… But that was the thing that I was born for”.

Yuvani smiles when he tells the stories that only fishermen know. The mermaid’s chant that hypnotizes anyone; the unexplained zenith blinding lights you see at night when not even a moon dares to make an appearance. He has lived and seen all of them.

He knows how to “read the sea”. Although unpredictable, with a stick that reflects the sun, he tells us proudly, he can navigate himself…

We see the fishermen already on the shore, resting in hammocks, quenching thirsts and sorrows, playing cards with their shirts rolled up to their chests. Without even suspecting that those hands are rough from years of cuts and bruises; they now proudly show off their tanned bodies, because they have shade and a sun to enjoy, unlike in the open ocean, where the sun casts straight and sharp and there is nowhere to find cover. At night, far away, the cold seizes the soul. And yet, they smile. It’s a man’s world: they sit on their boats which all have names: “Yo soy mi jefe”, “El Capitán” (“I am my own boss”, “The Captain”), says the manliest ones; “2 Hermano”, “Dios me salve”, (“2 Brothers”, “God save me”) “Yuliana and Jessica” say others that allude to family or faith.

At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the scene at dawn is repeated, the trunks rolled under the boats, and once again they head out to sea, to work… Yuvani’s words resonate: “the sea is everything”.

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