Friday, April 27, 2007
A Magical Day In Paradise.
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Today was a day that will be hard to put down on paper, especially since we all use this electronic gear nowadays. Get it, hard to put down on paper...cause it's a keyboard. Funny!! I crack myself up.
Editor's Note: Expectations of wit and humor degrade at sea.
We've been holed up in a small anchorage that is pronounced "chi-cha-may", which is Kuna for "another freaking beautiful anchorage just like all the others". It is a collection of very small islands, surrounded by reefs, that create a small, well protected anchorage about thirty feet deep and two hundred yards around. The bottom is white sand, the water is crystal blue, and there were about four small cruising boats here when we arrived.
We pulled in towards sunset, dropped the hook, then decided to put out another anchor just as a precaution as the wind was picking up and we were only forty yards from shore in any direction. Jeff & Mota got in the dingy and motored away, paying out line as they went. When they reached the end of the line they dumped the anchor overboard and I tugged on it to set it in the sand, then tied it off to the bow. The idea is that if one anchor should drag the second will catch and hold you in place. The downside is that with two lines out, should the wind shift the lines may tangle around each other.
Naturally, the moment we set the second anchor the wind died, and then changed direction. By morning we had spun on our anchor twice and we needed to unwrap the lines, but I felt better for the extra protection, and am positive that had we skipped it we'd of had fifty knots blowing us into the reef. Sometimes, you just can't win.
The San Blas island cruisers, to date, have been a bit surprising in their complete lack of sociability. In almost any other part of the world, when you pull into an anchorage, all the other boats will wave cheerfully to you, raise you on the VHF, motor over to you in their dingy, or even swim over to say hi. No such welcome was afforded here. In fact, the very next morning, every single boat left the anchorage, with not so much as a smile as the people passed by.
At first we were dumbfounded. We wondered if maybe we'd violated some social norm, or crowded to close, or thought maybe they didn't like catamarans, but nothing seemed to make sense of their cold shouldered attitude. Then Jeff dove overboard and swam to the nearest island, about fifty yards away. No two minutes after he set foot on the island, a ponga filled with Kuna left the shore and headed out into the anchorage, leaving a small gaggle of children playing on the beach. We watched as Jeff walked along the shore towards them. Without any visible effort or intention, the children continued to play, but their collective Brownian motion moved them further away. When he turned and walked back toward to huts on the other side of the island, they moved back towards him, but always keeping just out of hailing distance. It was then that we noticed that four more boats were headed into the anchorage.
As each boat drove by, they would smile and wave and head in towards the windward shore and drop anchor, then disappeared down into their hulls, never to be seen again. Jeff swam back to the boat and we sat and waited to see if anyone would reappear, but no one did. So, the mystery was solved. Jeff was scaring everyone away, probably because he was a vampire. Although we didn't like this answer, the data points certainly fit the theory. Our only solution was to rid ourselves of Jeff through whatever means necessary. We began gathering garlic and looking for wooden stakes and mallets.
Being the consummate junior scientists that we are, we decided to at least test our theory, rather than get the deck all bloody again. We jumped in the dingy and motored over to the nearest boat. Out popped two cruisers we'd met days ago on BBQ island. We sat and had a friendly chat and invited them over for dinner. We then motored over to yet another boat that had also been in our anchorage, Diane on "Takes Me Away" and also invited her and her crewmate. In fact, we invited everyone in the harbor to drinks and dinner aboard Tritan. Everyone was delighted we'd broken the ice, and everybody said just how intimidated they'd been to say hi.
It turns out that for some reason there is a very unusual pattern of stand offishness common to the San Blas. Everyone else we spoke to had encountered the same attitude among other boaters, and no one wanted to take the chance because they assumed they'd be shunned like us. They were thrilled that someone had taken the initiative and it really created an opportunity for everyone to get together. Plus there was the added bonus of not having to clean up the boat after we drove a wooden steak through Jeff's heart.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we first arrived, before we even set the hook, a dugout filled with a Kuna family, complete with husband, wife and absolutely adorable children, pulled along side us and tried to sell us their wares. The women make colorful fabric designs about a foot square of various fish, birds and other native wildlife in a style that resembles a cross between crayon drawings and Peter Max posters.
I've yet to see anyone actually making these swatches, yet every canoe has a five gallon pail filled with them. I'm beginning to suspect that the Kuna, like any other reasonable culture, has realized the advantages of the global market and there is a small sweat shop in Taiwan somewhere chunking these out, but I can't prove anything. Jeff & Mota bought some, but I'm holding out for the higher quality Made In China version we can get at the airport.
The local fish merchant also paddled by. Today's selection included a medium sized Tuna and two Red Snapper. The last time I bought fish I had tried to fillet them myself, only to discover that my dissecting skills were about twenty years out of date and more than rusty. The last try resulted in a pieces of fish no larger than your thumb. This time I scaled the fish and took my time. I ended up with six nice sized fillets and a few miscellaneous pieces that don't count - they were oddly shaped fish. We cleaned them up and put them on ice.
On the way back from inviting everyone over, we had two of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The first was that I saw a large grey fin go through the water. A few microseconds later a very large male dolphin (maybe six or seven feet long) breached along side us and gracefully arched up completely out of the water and back in again. I've seed a lot of dolphins, some up very close, but this was incredible. It was almost as if he was saying "Hey, I'm right here. Take a look." There wasn't even a splash when he re-entered the water, and the power and grace of these animals is beyond words.
Now, that would have made our day but not two minutes after that something even more bizarre and extraordinary happened. As we returned to the boat, a Kuna family in their dugout was lying a hull our boat. We pulled up and asked what was the matter. The father reached into a bin and pulled out a TV remote control and handed it to me, saying something in Spanish. At first I thought someone has lost it on the island and he was worried about returning it to them, hoping we might know who it belonged to. After a few seconds Jeff explained that he was instead begging for triple A batteries for it, so they could watch Spanish soap operas. We didn't have any triple A batteries for the Kuna. In fact, we did have lots of batteries, but I'd sooner give them infected blankets than encourage their TV habit.
We politely explained that we'd never seen such a thing before but surmised it might be some sort of device for signaling the mother ship; we got back on the boat. A few moments later we saw an eerie blue glow coming from the island. It was their TV, which was sitting outside on the beach. There were several small Kuna children watching a Gilligan's Island rerun - but probably only because it was too much trouble to change the channel.
We then set about madly cleaning the boat in preparation for our dinner guests. We ran about the salon, washing dishes, throwing dirty towels into unused berths and vainly trying to make it look like something other than the bottom of a hamper. Short of actual warfare, there is no force more destructive of marine property than three males left to their own devices for several days in a confined living space. After much dashing about, guests began arriving, each bearing whatever foodstuff they thought appropriate or necessary for our shindig.
We were visited by a delightful couple from the States, his name was Slator and I'll be damned if I can remember hers but they were wonderful to talk to, a fabulously entertaining German couple Folksher (who was both a doctor and a CPA) and his wife MaryLou (who had met on the internet, which makes the world seem even stranger to me), John and his friend Robinson from England, Peter (whose vaguely Dutch accent might have been any of several European countries) and Diane (from "Takes Me Away") and her crew mate Sarah, also from Minneapolis. Everyone piled aboard, we made fish, cooked rice with coconut and pineapple, roasted peppers and mushrooms and had a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn't be beat.
We all told stories, swapped details about sailing, described our lives and generally just hung out and did pretty much what we all do at Camp'N'Sons - talk about Burning Man and stupid things we've done with fire. The only downer was that everyone insisted that we were crazy not to go to Cartehaena. In fact, most of the evening consisted of Jeff and Mota asking when we were going, and everyone else egging them on with fabulous tales of welcoming wonders in every port. By the end of the evening I had said the phrase "we are not going to Carteheanna" not less then two hundred times.
The night disappeared too quickly and eventually everyone one got in their little inflatable boats and drove the fifty feet back to their respective homes. I miss them all already and it made me homesick (a little) for hot tubs and flaming turkey leg spinning. I look forward to seeing you all soon, but must warn you that, unbeknownst to me, there are actually some other people as interesting and fun as our tribe. In fact, there is some fierce competition in the world, and I hope you are all keeping in shape. I'm told that some of the best party athletes are found in Carteheana.
Hoping you are all keeping in good spirits and this finds you safe, happy and in your cups!
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