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Jorge Pesantez: Thank you for a great birthday present! Jorge Pesantez: Thank you for a great birthday present!
by Alexander Mikhaylov
2009-08-24 08:17:45
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Oh, my! Am I getting older? Apparently I am. Just last week I celebrated my birthday (43rd, it was). I received two presents. One was from my wife (she knows I love presents). The other one was from the guy whom I had never seen before and will probably never see again. He was a young guy, about 22-23, a barman at a beach bar in Montanita*, Ecuador. I think he's never learned about this curious fact, I mean that he gave me a beautiful present. We did not even talk. I bought from him a couple of beers and that was all.

untitled1_400I think I have mentioned the bar. Oh yes. It was exactly the place where it all happened. You see, it was my birthday therefore, instead of taking a dip and guzzling a beer after on some sandy spot we decided to do it with style. And so, we went to that bar.

Imagine a beach bar from a movie. A few tables… a bar, tucked under a roof, made of palm leaves… Latino music fills the background… a barman – a young local guy, smiley and helpful. Beer is hugely overpriced by the local standards but there is an atmosphere to the place. It reminds you of something… One of those movies, maybe… And here’s the beach… You watch angry waves and occasional surfers trying to ride them. (Some of these guys are actually good but often they are not). In short, the whole setting is spectacular. And it is cool.

Frankly, when you live in a country where the coldest temperature of the year, in their so-called winter, never reaches below 25-27ºC (during the coldest nights, when the locals wear warm jackets) you learn to appreciate the ocean breeze and the smell of the ocean. You feel content. You kick back and lazily watch the people around you. They look like a typical holiday crowd.

A group of men (perhaps local business guys) discuss something noisily among empty and half-empty bottles of beer. Next to them, seated at their own table a couple of well… lovers – a guy in his fifties, with a massive golden chain (a rich guy, no doubt) and an anorexic girl in her early twenties, dressed in something appropriately revealing – they drink fancy cocktails. From time to time, the guy places his glass down and caresses the girl’s butt. On the other side of our own table is an American couple (you can always tell they are Americans) – both are wrapped in wet towels and both are drinking beer. In short, the usual picture…

That was the setting in which I received my present.

untitled4_400It started to happen very fast and for the first moment or two, it looked morbidly surreal. I was still gazing at the Ocean , slightly transfixed by the spectacle of huge waves, crushing on the sand, with heads of two forlorn swimmers, bobbing on a water at what seemed like a too great a distance, when the barman rushed down the stair leading onto the beach, peeled of his t-shirt and jumped into the water. (I still do not know who had alerted him. Perhaps it was that American couple… Later on, I recalled that the guy was pointing towards the lonely swimmers and saying something to his girlfriend, but not moving… Or maybe it was a worried looking girl, who suddenly approached the bar and started to say something quite urgently to the barman… I simply did not pay attention to any of it at that moment). A second later, the barman was swimming in powerful strokes towards those bobbing heads, locked by the deadly tide and soon to be drowned but here he was, plunging into waves, coming up and disappearing for a moment. It was amazing to see his progress through all this.

People usually drown in the Ocean not because they do not know how to swim, but because they are unable to cross the surf line. They normally hope that the next big wave would carry them to the shore but it is one of the most dangerous illusions. The wave would carry them towards the shore for some time then it would pull them back, too far back to make it a safe game. Then, there is the riptide. It pulls you further and further from the beach into the open sea. You fight it until you are completely exhausted. Then you drown…

The first swimmer he had rescued was the girl who, luckily enough was closer to the beach than the other swimmer. Once the barman helped her to the safety, he rushed into the waves again. This time it started to take really dramatic turn, for the second swimmer was too far away. Normally you would need a boat or at least some lifesaving device for this kind of operation. The barman had none (that’s why I think it was not part of his professional duties to rescue swimmers. There are professional lifeguards in Montanita but they are few).

untitled2_400By that time nearly all the bar customers (the rich guy and his bimbo did not even turn their heads during the whole proceeding, busily drinking their cocktails and feeling up each other’s legs), and a good crowd of passers-by were standing in groups and watching the drama unfold. The barman was getting closer to the second swimmer. Finally, he reached him. Then… it became apparent that the swimmer was probably out of it already. Now two heads bobbed on water, but none of them was making any progress. Or rather, they were moving in wrong direction - the tide was slowly dragging them to the right, towards enormous rocks.

It was a few seconds later when two more guys – who had been watching the whole thing, jumped into the water as well. Then one of the surfers with his board followed. We continued to watch as a drowning guy and his tired rescuer were joined by two more people. Now they started to make a progress. The drowning guy was placed on a board and the whole group painfully slowly began moving towards the safety. A few more minutes and the group were paddling in shallow water and returning onto the beach: two guy dragging the third one, the barman – the main rescuer, following close behind.

We finished our beer and went down to the beach. The barman was slowly walking back to the bar. He almost made it to the stairs before he sat down heavily on the sand. Apparently, he was on the verge of collapsing. I did not even recognize him at the first moment, so pale and overly exhausted his face was. Perhaps we should have had returned and talked to him then although I doubt he was up to any talking at that moment.

We were leaving Montanita the next day. Two hours before our bus ride, we walked to the bar to have a talk with the rescuer but unfortunately, he was not there. Another barman gave us the unknown hero’s name. We wrote the note, asking him to give us a call or to write an email. We explained that I wished to write this article. Too bad, he did not call or write to me.

Nevertheless, here it is – my modest tribute to you, Jorge Pesantez (at least, I now know your name!). I know it sounds silly and cheap, but you cannot believe what you did that day to me! Hey, do not laugh at me, man, but…You restored my faith in heroic deeds! I nearly forgot that such things sometimes happen. You gave me a present, a present of faith in basic goodness of the passer-by. It was a great present for my birthday. Thank you, amigo and God Bless you, man!

*Montanita is a peculiar Ecuadorian fishermen’s village turned into a resort and bohemian colony. If you want to see the Pacific Ocean at its best, or its worst, go there. I believe it is more stylish (but less exotic) than Galapagos.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-08-24 10:48:07
Thank you for sharing this story Mr. Mikhaylov. Those stories wash away the gloss of modern cynicism and restore our faith in basic human goodness. Serendipidously, a few hours ago I watched an Italian film titled Caos Calmo (Quite Chaos) starring Nanni Moretti which begtins with this scene two brothers are playing ball on a beach. They hear two drowning women screaming and without a moment hesitation jump in the water to rescue the two women. As he is running toward the water a male spectator (who turns out to be a significant character later on in the movie) tells Nanni Moretti: don't go, it is dangerous; to which Nanni replied as he jumps in the water to rescue one of the women: ma va a fa n culo. I will not reveal any more of the plot but a film worth watching for it too puts into question the basic Roussonian premise that man is born innocent and it is society that corrupts him with which the likes of Charles Manson would like to excuse themselves.

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