Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Cheesecake in Paradise.
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I'm sorry I haven't been writing as regularly as I should. It shouldn't be hard to do, but the day seems to get away from me and I find myself falling into bed each night exhausted, too tired to even think about writing much. Everything takes a thousand times more time and effort than you think it should. Just today Mota, Jeff & I were laughing about how little we get done, how we would have done seven things before breakfast back home, how doing something as simple as making breakfast here means first washing dishes; which means first figuring out the water levels; which means noticing the leak; which means pulling up the flooring and disconnecting the hot water heater; etc., etc., etc.
Any given action can result in hours of ancillary delays that involve dinghy repairs, plumbing or finding the short in some electronics. Everything just takes a long time to do, and nothing gets done well, fast or cheaply when you are out at sea.
There is so much I'd like to tell you about, but nothing has happened here, yet we experienced so much of nothing that it fills our day to the brim. It has been a wonderful and satisfying time here in San Blas islands. We weren't supposed to come here (remember we are on a delivery, not a cruise!) and didn't decide to detour back south until we realized that we were stuck in Colon (which is a pretty accurate description of the town, BTW) for another two weeks until our transit.
We decided that we might as well spend it navigating through palm strewn, white sand islands rather than sitting in a marina (paying hundreds of dollars a day) drinking too much and playing volley ball with ten year old girls. Or, alternatively, sitting at anchor in "The Flats" (the designated waiting area for canal transit) inhaling the trash dump's incinerator output. Go figure.
We arrived in the San Blas at dawn two days ago. We had passed over them on our way here from Aruba. The sail down was frustrating as we had little wind and what we did have was mostly on the nose. That first night out there was a beautiful sheet-lighting thunder storm over Panama's Eastern coast that entertained us as we motored along. Jeff & I played guitar and sang songs and watched the fireworks show.
It was a lovely night. Later on, Mota came on watch and he and I approached the islands as the sun rose, slowly inching our way into the anchorage, trying to figure out which piece of wash covered rock matched which green palm covered island in the pictures contained in the cruising guide.
Mota keeps marking up our charts, correcting all the places that don't show rockssticking out of the ground or dead trees pointing up out of the sand. We've decided that he was born six hundred years too late. Had be been alive back then he would have been called Motatoo, The Great Cartographer and/or Day Planner Mota the Undermedicated. Below is a picture of what we believe he would look like...
No doubt we'd all be living in the United States of Amotia, and that it would have names like Diet Coke Straights, Point Frapachino, Hippy Crack Island and Long Island would of course be called "Those Sexy Mutha' Fucken' Islands".
There are palm strewn islands with reefs everywhere and it is very easy to bump into things, which is bad (lets get this good/bad thing straight) so we go slow and don't let Mota near the throttles. We've dinghy'ed around a bit and aren't anxious to move the boat if we don't have to. Actually, it is mostly because that would mean going through the arduous process of pulling the anchor back on board, which involves standing on the fore deck while pressing the button for the electric motor. The thought of this much effort sends shivers through our souls. Anything could happen if we slide down this slippery slope. It is better that we stay put and sip our cool drinks while talking to other cruisers. The wise sailor doesn't take unnecessary chances.
We're staying in an area called "The Swimming Pool", so named for the color of the water and its 90 degree water temperatures, along side ten or so other cruisers. Our position is N09,35,38 W078,40,59 for those of you with the wherewithal to look it up. The bottom is mostly white sand, our CQR anchor caught on the first try and we've not budged since, although I think I should put more rode out and maybe a second anchor, as the winds have picked up a bit.
When we were at anchor in Colon, the weather was beautiful. Since we've arrived here there has been a low pressure trough moving through up north which has brought a week of rains and winds that spring up on us each morning at exactly 9:35AM, continually catching us unaware. We scurry about the boat closing hatches and hiding books and towels. Each time we act so surprised, it is amusing how we convince ourselves of the unexpectedness of it. You just can't believe it could rain in paradise, and always at exactly the same time.
As I write this the Mother of All Rain Squalls just arrived and is blowing rain sideways through the boat.We've locked everything down now and I sit warm and dry writing this email as Jeff and Mota are dancing about on the trampoline in the howling rain having the time of their lives screaming into the storm. It is hard to explain how such a simple thing like this could bring so much joy, but it is a delight just watching them.
Last night was "Pot Luck Monday". We all dingy'ed over to "BBQ Island", which is about one hundred yards around, made of white sand, palm trees and coral. It is just large enough for a small hut and one cotton hammock, which we first discovered the day before, it was inhabited by a tall, thin, tan and beautiful Brazilian woman with the kind of accent which allows her to say things like "I hop ju no mind, I sink da barka, how ju say? boata? by mistake". You would just smile and say its okay, you really didn't like the boat very much anyway, rather than see her frown. Now Jeff & Mota have been stellar crew doing yeoman like work the entire journey, but I thought they might mutiny when she said she wanted to go to Mexico and I explained we couldn't take her. It was a tense moment, but I've prohibited them from carrying any edged weapons in the presence of pretty women - a rule that has saved my life.
Life on board has definitely had its share of physical perils. It is surprising how safe we've made our normal lives, so much so there are no sharp corners or edges to trip over. Once we've removed ourselves to this rugged world our ability to navigate becomes severely compromised. No doubt we'll all adapt as time goes by, but in the meantime we trip, stumble and bump into everything. We've all banged, bruised or bashed ourselves in numerous places learning the unexpected curves and corners of this boat. Jen started photographing all our various cuts, scrapes and subdermal bleeding, to see who had the worst impacts, but MaryAnn was clearly the winner of that contest. She could walk past a greased wall and get black and blue.
For my part I've managed to tweak my back and am now doing a great imitation of early man learning to walk upright. Soon I'll move beyond grunts and clicks and start using tools and fire, which will be helpful because the pain killers are running out.
The local native tribe, The Kuna, have been by our boat several times already. They paddle up in dug out canoes and sell fish, fruit, vegetables, whatever they think the cruisers might need. They will beg for food, water, gas, money, anything they figure you'll part with, but aren't very aggressive about it. Sort of like a cross between a quick witted street vendor and a cagey homeless person in Berkeley.
The average male adult Kuna is about four foot high, has several teeth, sometimes as many as ten, with deeply tanned, leathery skin stretched over muscle and sinew with zero percent body fat. An old male Kuna (anyone over the age of about twenty five) can paddle a canoe twenty miles in a strong head wind without breaking a sweat. The woman wear very brightly colored clothes with elaborate, beautiful wrist and ankle wraps. Those Kuna I've met on the sea all seem to have problems with cataracts, most with clouded eyes, yet I'm yet to see anyone wear protective sunglasses. I'm not sure why this is such a hard concept for them, they've got the dirty T-shirt and Jim Beam baseball caps down no problem.
We've bought a few items from them and we barter on price, but I think we may be paying way too much anyway. We need to find out what the market prices are here, lest we get labeled the soft touch boat. We bought some fish and an octopus the other day. I tried to fillet the fish, only to realize after the fact that this wasn't a skill I'd practiced since I was ten, and the fish was such that leaving the skin on would have been the correct way to cook it. Instead we ended up with bits of flesh, no piece larger than a pack of matches. We decided to make ceviche, which turned out amazingly well. The octopus we cooked up with some rice and spices, which Jeff & I relished. Mota took a dim view of this food group and politely declined. I think he has been put off the whole food with tentacles thing ever since I first showed him a tin of what he calls "El Pulpo En Brown Crayon Sauso". There's no accounting for some people's taste.
We met several very beautiful woman on the island today. I realize now what a horrible public education system I suffered through in High School. Any school that does not adequately equip its students with the skills that are necessary in later life, is, in my humble opinion, a failure and should be burned to the ground - its teachers put in stocks and the principle tarred and feathered - but I'm not bitter. Among those skills I consider mandatory is the ability to converse in at least one other common language of the world - especially when one finds themselves on a beautiful beach inhabited by several stunningly pretty women from South America whose combined English vocabulary is under thirty words.
It was the job of my 10th grade Spanish teacher, Mr. Castennata, to prepare me for just such a occurrence, and he failed miserably. Perhaps this is because I was a lousy, inattentive, obnoxious student, but in large part I think it was because he was also my soccer coach and graded my class performance on how well I did on the playing field which, given the fact that I sucked as a soccer player, meant D- grades and left me resentful and unwilling to try to conjugate the verb "communicatir" - to chat without sounding like a complete idiot.
Years later, I stood on a beach, in paradise, surrounded by several Brazilian woman, completely unable to carry on even the most basic conversation, cursing Mr. Castennata and the New Jersey Board of Education. If it kills me I will learn how to mutter such complex Spanish phrases as "I'm sorry, please say that again but slower?" or "You know, even though I appear to be retarded, I'm sometimes quite witty when speaking English".
To make this all the more annoying, both Jeff and Mota appear able to converse with them, or at least act like they know what they are talking about. I remain the slow, retarded child in the back of the crowd. Our typical encounters with anyone not of English origins involves Jeff or Mota chattering away with them in Spanish while I stand back and try not to drool on myself.
Occasionally one or the other of them will turn back and quickly translate something about the fact that whomever they're talking to just described their recent Pulitzer Book award for upcoming new fiction in Portuguese, or their travels in Peru for National Geographic, or that they have just uncovered some as yet unexplored prehistoric cave in the Andes and are making detailed sketches of it.
I nod and try not to spit on myself when I say "Si, Mucho Gusto", which I believe means, "Yah that's great" but could also mean "Zippidedoda" or "I found a dollar once" for all the odd looks I get when I pronounce it. Whomever we are talking to invariably pause just long enough to glance at me and make that 'almost wince' people do when they are trying to decide if you are a danger to your self or others. I smile back and nod a lot, which only convinces them that they are probably better off backing away slowly while maintaining eye contact.
Never the less we continue to inflict ourselves on the population and are even now preparing to go snorkeling among the reefs. I wouldn't be surprised if we meet some talking fish and I'm left having to hear Jeff explain how the fish described the sunset in terms that brought tears to his eyes, and made poetry seem pointless, all of which, of course, would be in Spanish. I'm bringing a spear gun just in case. Smart fish probably still tastes good with garlic.
Cheers for now.
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