Ricky Harpole 9/30/2014

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Harpole: remembering dockside dancer with a cause

Maria Selena Valdes was young and pretty as she danced on the docks in the evening at Puerto de Barrios in elegant silks which twirled and swirled around her bare legs. You could see live pornography in any cantina south of the Rio Grande, but her act was elegance double rectified.
And was not in the least inappropriate. In other words, she was an artist.

A unique part of her act was to feed the piranha which waxed prolific in the freshwater-fed bay regardless of the tide. Before she began the dance she would throw a “gone past” chunk of bait in the bay. Them damned fish would make the water boil. At certain points in her act she would salt the water again, just enough to keep ‘em stirred up. A piece of  a goat haunch goes a long way toward getting a school of man-eating fish cranked up.

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Meanwhile she danced. It was quite a sight for a harbor of sailors waiting out a Caribbean storm, and it was free.

All the crews from all nationalities would take up collections from the ships’ sailors and bestow it in a woven hemp basket in the landing dock before her grand finale. It was a sight to see.

At the end of the show she would chum the water again, shuck her elegant silks down to a modest bathing suit and dive in amongst these churning carnivores, swim across the bay and disappear into the equatorial night.

Her brothers would collect the basket and fade away. It, to me (and I suspect the rest of the audience) was like falling in love at first sight with a ghost of the night. She, inaccessible and in plain sight.

I caught her show on several occasions that first season and had given up on the chance that I would ever have the opportunity to meet her face to face. But I did and in the strangest of circumstances.

The second season we were waiting on a resupply from a British boat for supplies offshore and war related contraband. She was wearing guerilla regalia that identified her as a lieutenant colonel for the Contra faction which we, as a nation, supported in a clandestine fashion. The U.S. would and could not be noticeably involved due to international politics. That did not stop certain agencies from farming out the dirty deeds behind the scenes.

After the cargo was on board we were commissioned to brown water Navy tactics (although the water was clear) and had to transport the payload up the Monkey River.

Along the way she and I discussed the generally motley condition of politics, family, life and the vagaries of war. I was in it for the money. She was in it for her country and the way of life for her people. I felt a little inferior based on my moral ineptitude.

Over the next few seasons I took my chances on the sea and she took hers fighting sandinistas. She knew every pig trail from southern Belize to Argentina, jungle, mountains and plains.

She was the head honcho over two companies and still danced on the docks, raising extra cash to support the cause. She often led long range reconnaissance patrols and used her limited resources to help finance her missions.

 That same year she sailed with us to collect more supplies. She was a procuring agent and was required to insure that their guerillas got what they paid for.

I guess that was our honeymoon and quite a honeymoon it was. We were behind the storm and she was seasick all the way up, for the seas were still rough from the backwash.

After we made landfall at the obscure but beautiful island of San Andrea which is a wondrous and small piece of geography, we had a four day layover wait. She wasn’t in possession of the silks that trip but her passion for her cause and sense of irony mixed with sarcastic humor made up for that.

The next season it was my turn to accompany her into the mountains with a seven-man squad and six pack mules.

The second mission we shared involved high and low altitudes, snipers, and ornery central America jackasses, dysentery and an occasional boom slang snake or a fur de lance not to mention blackwater fever.

I would have been more comfortable in the Carribee with a ton of powder on board along with 5,000 gallons of gasoline and with enough detonators on board evading a pirate gunboat, to produce a New York City Fourth of July fireworks display.

Those mountain jackasses are more unpredictable than sweating a dynamite. I think they are related to politicians.

We eventually shared a child but that is the rest of this lie to be continued next week.

It was an adventure of a life time and I wish everyone could experience half of our adventures in our short times together.

Marla Selenis Valdes, 1953-1981.

Gone but not forgotten. To be continued.
Ricky Harpole
P.S. I learned to swim with piranha from her trade secret.