Get Paid to See the Real Panama

If I stand in my living room and look out over Panama’s  Pacific coastline early in the morning, I can see the local boats of the Gorgona fishing fleet heading east toward their favorite fishing spots. Later in the day, I hear the purr of outboard motors as the fleet returns home to Gorgona beach.

Some boats travel far out to sea while others stay just off shore. Some travel together while others are alone. From time to time, a boat with a heavy escort of large black birds passes by with the boatman throwing scraps as he goes.

I live part-time here in Panama, where the weather is much better than at home in Canada. I’m a photographer and while I am here, I shoot as much material as I can find to add to my library of images.

I take shots of all types of places, people and things and then upload them to what are called stock websites. Then, when a company, newspaper or website goes browsing for an image they might need for a poster, article or advertising campaign mine are there waiting to be chosen. When one of mine is picked, I get paid.

I’ve been uploading images to these websites for several years now and it helps generate an income which helps me travel.

I’m constantly in search of subjects I think will make great pictures—and the Gorgona fishing fleet was one of them. So, I packed up my camera and headed down the beach to where the fleet was landing the day’s catch.

With my camera at the ready I notice that the whole fishing community has turned out, from small children to aging adults (as well as a few local dogs), to greet the returning fishermen. Black-headed buzzards stood watch in the hope of possible meal opportunities. It looked chaotic, but on closer inspection, the goings-on were well controlled.

A man on the beach directs each boat, one at time, to run up on the sand in a designated place. Then, the boat points itself inland and guns its engines from about 100 yards out. The boatman tilts the outboard motor out of the water at the last minute, just as the boat hits dry land. It builds up enough speed so that when it finally comes to a halt it’s beached some 10 or 20 feet from the waterline.

I have to keep an eye out to be sure I don’t get run over.

I move in to take a closer look at what the guys caught. Corvina (sea bass) is the most common catch here with red snapper running a close second.

You can buy a decent sized fish for dinner for under $5 here on the beach. The local restaurants are also well stocked with fresh seafood. One of my favorite restaurants serves grilled corvina topped with a pile of freshly roasted cashews. Another favorite is corvina with freshly roasted almond slices. It’s amazing how creative some of these restaurants can be.

But it’s not just corvina and red snapper being landed. Squid for calamari, shrimp in a variety of sizes from miniature to gigantic, and the odd lobster all turn up in varying quantities.

I grab my camera to take some shots of the action. The organized chaos continues until all the boats have been brought ashore, unloaded and hauled up the beach to safety.

I’m struck by the total community involvement. This work could not be done if each boatman had to work individually. The crowd on the beach approached 40 or 50 people, all working to get the 25 or so boats landed. It’s an amazing process of cooperation and exciting to witness.

That’s what I love about photography—it doesn’t just allow you to see the world; it gets you off-the-beaten track so you see can experience what real life is like in the places you visit.

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