Eric Cheng

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Louis-Michel, AKA Cousteau AKA Abuelo

One of our fellow passengers in Coiba was a 70-year old French guy named Louis-Michel. In the beginning, none of the non-French knew his name, and we all started calling him Cousteau, which stuck. Cousteau restores antique watches and clocks for a living, and seems to be slightly crazy. He wears stylish Hugo Boss (prescription) sunglasses, and is in fantastic shape for his age. He is also never satisfied. For example, the crew brings out large thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, and Cousteau responds, "I prefer tea." Marcelo makes amazing mojitos, and Cousteau fishes out the mint leaves and makes a funny face. His steak is not rojo enough, and the chicken has too many bones. Neither Heidi nor I were in Cousteau's boat, but from conversation with his dive-mates, I gathered that he was a handful in the water. Essentially behaving like a remora, Cousteau chose Andrea as his host, which was incredibly entertaining for everyone else. On one dive, Andrea looked ahead, behind, to the left, to the right, and below him, and concluded that he had lost Cousteau. He prepared to do an underwater victory dance, but then paused for a moment and looked directly above, only to discover Cousteau floating there, impossibly close! Hilarious. And if you happened to find a critter? Cousteau would be there instantly.

On land, he was similar. I was pushed out of the way by Cousteau at least once a day. The pushes were always deliberate, but without much force. There was nothing I could do except sputter in indignation and then laugh. After all, one cannot exactly push a 70-year old man back.

After about a week, the Spaniards, Italian, and Brazilians started calling Cousteau a new name: "abuelo," which means grandpa. When we arrived back on land and stopped at a convenience store to pick up supplies, Andrea found some kind of alcohol named "Abuelo" and brought it back onto the bus with him. He held Abuelo up above him and pretended that it was following him, and I don't think the back of the bus stopped laughing for a good ten minutes. It seemed a bit mean to laugh so hard at an elderly man, but everyone actually had a lot of affection for Abuelo, despite also being highly entertained by him. In the evening, we were in the old quarter of Panama City, and Abuelo (for some reason concerning logistics) had to leave our bus early (note that this was after we thought we might have lost him while walking around). He suddenly walked to the bus' rear and proceeded to climb up the metal ladder and stand on the roof. We nearly had heart attacks as Andrea and Marcelo went over and positioned themselves in place to catch him should he fall...

And so, Abuelo left us. There was some ruckus in the bus after we said goodbye to him... which coalesced into a wild cheer as Andrea stood up and shouted, "Liberado!" (liberated).

After things quieted down, Bianca quietly noted, "That was significant emotional event." So it was.