Changing Times Down Island

Another Island NoteChikituWorldkid has been posting for nearly 7 years since he move down island.  This site has had over 32,ooo hits during that period. Much has been written about the wonderful life here on the Caribbean island of Bonaire.

For example, look at the photo above.  I stand between two young men, Nat and Paul, both in the prime of their lives.  The three of us (they were so accommodating to include an old guy like me) dived Playa Chikitu (Little Beach) 2 weeks ago, a dangerous place as the signs attest.  But when we arrived, the waves were smaller than the usual 5-6+ feet.  But it is the rip tide here that is the other impending danger.  We decided to press on and test the waters so to speak.  After slowly going out we chose to take the plunge.

Balistes vetula, Queen triggerfish (Balistidae), Glover's Reef, Belize, Belize-3155That was a good decision.  We were rewarded with a rare site on Bonaire, a 6-foot reef shark as we dropped down to 80 feet.  Then we encountered my favorite beauty fish of all, the multi-colored queen triggerfish.  I have only seen them on the Wild Side of the island, the east coast where Playa Chikitu is located, and only one or two at a time.  But on this fine day under water, I counted a dozen.  And they were in our masked faces, curious to see divers perhaps for the first time since few scuba here.  Plus, there were countless Black Durgeon propelling themselves at obscure angles, oblivious to gravity and flashing their dark forms outlined by vivid neon blue stripes.  It was simply awesome.  Plus, the young hunters killed 15 lionfish–an invasive species that devours local reef fish. Well done.COD05 Stormvogel Sept. 2013But I digress.  This post is about the future, not the past.  Well, sort of.  Through a series of events that have re-aligned with the planets, at least down island, I find myself involved with a temptress of the sea.  Her name is Stormvogel (Storm Bird), the last of the wooden sailing cargo boats that used to ply the southern Caribbean.  This 45-foot Bonaire-built vessel was one of a hodgepodge of boats that were essential for export, hauling loads of salt, goatskins, aloe vera and charcoal. The vessels also delivered scarce goods to Bonaire like clothing, food and rum. But perhaps more importantly, these reliable craft united families and friends by transporting people, packages and post (mail) to the islands in the southern Caribbean. Stormvogel and other sailing boats like her were essential to Bonaire’s culture, economy and well-being.

Now the press is on  to save the last vestige of this historic era. And that is my new calling.  My efforts and time writing will be used to save Stormvogel rather than create new Island Notes.  The plan is to transform the storied cutter into a historical maritime center, perhaps a floating one, where school kids, residents and visitors will learn about the rich nautical heritage of ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao).  Most importantly, the boat will serve as a cultural touchstone for the community, a platform to learn about this colorful era of island history.  Stormvogel is the last chance to tell this important story. Other than a handful of old photographs, this old boat is all that remains.

DSC_2259But don’t worry.  Worldkid will still post adventures from abroad on this blog.  A trans Atlantic voyage aboard Coral, a wooden schooner built in 1903 is slated for April next year.  It will be my first across ‘the pond’.  I will continue to write for magazines and those updates will be posted in the “New from Patrick Holian Media” tab as will the occasional “pic of the month”.  But Island Notes, the backbone of this island rant and revelry will be, for now, discontinued.  Even with the heavenly luxury of time, I only have so many waking hours to make Stormvogel a reality for future generations.  Those activities will be posted on Project Stormvogel, a new web site currently under development. The link will be posted here soon if you are eager to follow.

Coral carving up the sea at the 2014 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

Coral carving up the sea at the 2014 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.

So in closing,  don’t worry, be happy.  I still plan to hug a palm tree, kiss a chameleon and caress a frosty glass of freshly poured rum now and then.  But life is a jambalaya.  What we make out of the gumbo is what really matters.  I say no regrets. Game on.DSC_1101

The Grand Journey. The Final Part–In Amsterdam, No Apostrophes Are Needed

DSCN1866The Grand Journey is coming to an end. And what a better place to do it than in my adopted hometown of Amsterdam. My first time here was in 1980. Worldkid was on a vagabond wandering of a lifetime that lasted over a year. But these days, coming to Amsterdam is my time to see family and friends. And that’s precisely what I did.DSCN1765

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My brother-in-law, Jan, has the same disease that I do. He has a boat. So on most visits, I get to see this old Dutch port as many mariners from the past saw Amsterdam—from the water. Jan just bought a 1970s-style America powerboat called an Invader. And that is exactly what we do. We penetrate the back canals of the red light district, steam through the Amstel River and eventually enter Oud Zuid (Old South) known for its art deco Amsterdam School of architecture from the 1930s.

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But during much of the visit we hang out at my other brother-in-law’s house near the Amstel. Otto has a lovely garden behind that is often frequented by wild parakeets. We barbeque one night on the terrace, eat salmon another night, and dine on Hettie’s Dutch dish of endive and potatoes.DSC02174 DSC02170 DSC02179

raamsteeg-leftWe also get to see our “adopted” Dutch daughter, Lisette. She spent time on Bonaire doing marine biology a few years back and became a good friend as well as an eager deckhand aboard my sailboat, Kontentu. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in oceanography and has a nice biologist boyfriend named Bram. We invited them for drinks at our old pub, the Gollum. We have been going there for over thirty years. But that is not very long. The Gollum’s building dates back to the 1600s.DSCN1792

We also visit the Rijksmuseum. This is the fine art jewel of the Netherlands holding treasures from all the Dutch Masters including Rembrandt’s famous 1642 painting, The Nightwatch.   The museum just completed a ten-year restoration last year. This was our first chance to see the transformation.DSC02201 DSC02206 DSC02226

Zatte_detail-389x260On the last day here, we join Jan’s wife, Paula, for a parting drink. We gather outside a small café for a late afternoon beer. Actually, we are having a Zatte from the tap, a full-bodied, blond beer made in the Belgium style by the local brewery, ‘t IJ. As we review our African adventures with Paula, I watch an artist across the way paint a wall sign for a jazz club. He crafts the message, Please Dont Tell as part of the art. The young man stands back to view what he has just painted and proceeds to work on other parts of the mural. Hmmm. Does DSCN1872he not know that Dont needs an apostrophe? Perhaps his grammatical English is not that polished. This is a commissioned piece. The guy makes his living doing this. By the time I’m drinking my second Zatte, Dont has not been changed. I walk across the alley to the artist. “Excuse me, I’ve been watching you paint for the past half hour and I noticed that Dont doesn’t have an apostrophe.” “Yeah, that’s right,” responds the young man. “I just thought that the ruined the flow of the piece.” “So you do know that grammatically that it is incorrect.” Oh, yeah.” “I just wanted to make sure before your boss saw it,” I say with true concern. “No problem,” says the artist. “Is there anything else you see that might not be right?” I laugh at his openness to criticism. “No. You are doing just fine.”DSCN1871

I retreat back to my half finished Zatte. I have traveled over two continents to find one of the universal truths of life. In Amsterdam, no apostrophes are needed. With that in mind, I decide that The Grand Journey is complete. It is time to fly home to the island.

 

The Grand Journey. Part 10-A Quirky English Town Stuck in Time

DSC02135This was my first visit to Brighton, a seaside town along the English Channel. I had heard quite a lot about it before arriving. During the 19th century, it was a get-away playground for the rich and famous. Dukes, princes and wealthy industrialist caroused here. The Grand Hotel and stately mansions still flank the Victorian seafront.DSC02123 DSC02124

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Most notable is the Royal Pavilion, a retreat for the Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. The prince hired designer Henry Holland and later  John Nash to build the outlandish Hindu-Gothic monument. While George frolicked here as a young man, the city of Brighton eventually bought the pavilion in the 1850s. During WWI it served as a hospital for Indian and British soldiers coming back from the front. Later it became a tourist attraction. It was also the site for the first legal gay marriage in the UK in 2014.DSC02130

Then there is the landmark, Brighton Palace Pier. This amusement park of a dock stretches over 1700 feet out into the Channel. It houses game arcades, fast food stands and fairground attractions. It is a fine place to see the English attempt to enjoy a stony beach with frigid water or watch the world’s most aggressive seagulls eat tourist scraps.DSC02125 DSC02126 DSC02136 DSC02143 DSC02137 DSC02142

DSCN1750I also wandered The Lanes, twisting alleyways from 18th century Brighton. I could not help but think I was back in the 1960s. Incense and pot smoke wafted through the warm afternoon air. Music stores sold only LPs, many 30-40 years old and had walls covered with posters promoting past concerts of The Who, Jimmy Hendrix and the Kinks among others. Even the street wall murals reminded me of Pearl Alley in 1960s Columbus rather than a British seaside town.DSC02147 DSC02148 DSC02149

After Africa, Brighton was striking. I was back in the modern western world but decidedly one stuck in another era. It was slightly disconcerting. Had I flicked the wrong switch in the time/travel machine? DSC02120I lodged at an apartment at the new Brighton Marina, but then would spend the day walking through memory lanes. One evening as a waitress approached our table of eight, she greeted me as if I was one of her regular customers. I politely mentioned that I never had been there before. She was more than slightly embarrassed. I should have just said hello and, “Give me the usual.”  Brighton was a bizarre mix of space and time, ice cream and ale, fish and chips. Plus Italian food from the waitress who thought she knew me. It was time to head back to London.DSC02139

The Grand Journey. Part 9-The Last Waltz in Africa

DSCN1704DSC02093I am on the last day of the overland safari and our guide, Haimbodi “Hofni” Holni, greets the group as he always does regardless to time of day, “Good Morning!” Hofni is the perfect road mate—continually upbeat, a gigantic curiosity for the world and a genuine interest in people. As usual, mix a group of a dozen strangers  together for a eight-day road trip and all does not blend well like whirled peas. There is always one that tries to spoil the casserole. But in spite of an alcoholic loudmouth who tried to seize control, Hofni kept the ship upright for the 600 miles from Victoria Falls to Jo-burg and a 500-mile round trip Jo-burg-Kruger National Park trek. I treasured every day that we ran together.

DSC02058Our truck, Pavarotti, now growls westbound under the control of Dennis, a Jo-burg driver who I talk to often during our road stops about the oppressive days of apartheid in South Africa. We are headed to the Great Escarpment, a prominent geological formation rising over 10,000 feet, 3000 meters. It is also known as Drakensberg in Afrikaans, or Dragon Mountains, due to its steep sided blocks and soaring pinnacles. This is what 20 million years of massive geological uplifting can do…DSC02034

DSC02057The first stop is God’s Window, an overlook that plunges 2300 feet/700 meters. On a clear day GW boasts a view eastward to the Lebombo Mountains on the South Africa/ Mozambique border. Today, however, the haze is thick and I turn my attention to an eco-niche rain forest behind that is surrounded by arid mountains. My Japanese friend from Pavarotti, Yokari, relishes in this verdant green landscape. It must remind her of her distant homeland.DSC02097 DSC02043 DSC02045

DSC02066Next up is Bourke’s Luck Potholes named after a local prospector, Tom Bourke, who predicted that gold was here. Unfortunately for Tom, he never found any at this spot. Other gold seekers found a seam located just a short distance to the south of Bourke’s claim. All he ended up with was the name of this place. It is a beautiful confluence of two rivers, the Treur and Blyde, and it marks the start of the 20 mile/33km-long gorge called the Blyde River Canyon known as the largest ‘green canyon’ in the world due to its lush subtropical foliage. The geology here is impressive. Plunge pools, potholes and giant kettles are craved out of the sandstone as the river snakes its way west.DSC02078DSC02065 DSC02083 DSC02068 DSC02062 DSC02096

 

Hofni declares the last stop at the Three Rondavels, spectacular peaks that resemble the traditional beehive-shaped huts that still can be seen throughout the South African landscape. But these rondavels tower nearly 3000 feet/700 meters above the surrounding countryside. A local motorcycle gang hangs out here. So do a few young tourists tempting gravity and rock stability on an outcrop a lifetime away from the bottom of the Blyde River Canyon, one of the larger canyons on the planet.DSC02100DSC02102DSC02101Before I know it, Pavarotti is back in the flatlands on a four-lane highway speeding toward Jo-burg, a city of 11 million souls. A red dot of a sun disappears into the city’s smog as we approach. My African odyssey has ended.DSC02105

The Grand Journey. Part 8-Nobody Can Kudu Like You Do

DSCN1658The second part of the expedition centers on South Africa’s premiere national park, Kruger, which borders Mozambique to the east and the Dragon Mountains to the west. Our first entry into the park is aboard a 4 x 4 and we speed through the bush to catch an African sunset high atop gigantic granite bolder. Awaiting us there are two guys who have set up bar-complimentary glasses of sherry and Amarula—South Africa’s answer to Bailey’s Irish Cream—are placed on top of table clothed setup and a make shift hut serves as a beer and wine bar. Welcome to the Hard Rock Cafe, Kruger style.DSC01832 It is dark as we thread our way back to our safari camp on hard, dusty roads. Our driver, Kaiten, suddenly slams on the brakes. “We’ve got elephants on both sides of us,” says the guide. “Stay quiet and no photo flashes, please.” In the deep dusk I can see long trunks pulling down branches above and to the right. Our 4 x 4 slowly inches forward. Kaiten suddenly senses that he has gone to far, and the bull elephant to the left might charge. The guide slams the truck into reverse and speeds backwards 20 yards. The bull trumpets loud sending chills down my spine. I have heard this sound in Tarzan films but the sonic volume of this call in the wild is immense. This is the real deal. Finally, the small elephant herd on the right crosses the road to join the bull. A young juvenile stops in the track, looks at us and flares out his ears to make him appear larger than he is. His mother is teaching him well.

DSC01839The next morning at Oh-Dark-Thirty we gather for a bush walk. Our two rangers, Jacob and Simon, pause to load their .485 caliber Winchester African rifles before we begin. I am told that armed guides are required on bush walks according to South African park regulations. What a difference from Botswana where our guides there were armed with mere sticks. I find today’s armament strangely comforting until I discover that both rangers walk at the front of our single file line in case of a jammed gun during a charge. Of course, I am positioned totally at the end of a long line of hikers. “What if some beast attacks from the rear?”, I ask myself. DSC01842Childhood jungle films come to mind.   I remember that it was always the last guy in line, usually a pigmy carrying a large load on his head, would meet some gruesome fate–a poisoned dart, a fatal squeeze from an anaconda, ripped flesh from a lion’ claw. As we walk along in the tranquil golden dawn, I am constantly scan the bush behind me. When not doing that, I look at the deep grass we walk through. Cape cobras and black mambas live in the Kruger bush. When we stop for a break I ask Ranger Jacob about those badass serpents. “If you get bit by a black mamba, you have about an hour before the venom will kill you. We have real fast helicopter medivac here so no worries. The problem is the mamba will usually try to bite twice. If that happens, you only have ten minutes. Then about the only thing you can do is sign your will.”

Jacob shows me the .458 magnum bullet.

Jacob shows me the .458 magnum bullet.

The rest of the morning we hear hyenas nearby, spot a few Cape buffalo in the distance and watch five hippos watch us. They are bobbing up and down in a water hole. “Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa,” explains Simon. “The male here, he’s the one with red around his ears, feels threatened right now. We are encroaching on his territory and he will protect the females in his group.” We watch the hippos grunt, blow bubbles and stare at us. It is time to get back to the lodge.DSC01838

The next day we are back in a 4 x 4 with our guide/driver who gives his name as simply ‘D’. Our group hopes to see all of the Big Five today–elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and Cape buffalo. These are deemed as the most dangerous African animals to hunt. They are the ones that Ernest Hemingway wrote volumes about. DSCN1671DSC01910DSC01739DSC02000 DSC01921

Remains of the impala in the tree.

Remains of the impala in the tree.

For many tourists, seeing all five is a quest that is often not fulfilled. The African goddesses must be guiding D today as we see all five in five hours. In fact, we see a leopard who puts her fresh kill, an impala, high in a tree. Moments later we see her 8-month old cub. Our last Big Five is a lone 3-year old lion is taking an afternoon nap under a tree. He finally raises his massive head to see what all the commotion is about. I have been nearly two weeks in Africa by this time. It is my first lion siting.DSC01996

But we also see other animals equally as splendid as the fab Big Five. There are impala, sable, wildebeest, striped mongoose, giraffe, zebra, monkey, baboon, hyena and, of course, kudu. DSC02004 DSC01882 DSC01745 DSC01719DSC02024DSCN1619 DSC01893These large African plains antelope are seen everywhere in Kruger. The males have long, spiral horns that reach for the skies. Both sexes have thin, white vertical stripes running down their buff-colored flanks. I ask our guide D about these beautiful animals. “There are over 8,000 greater kudu in Kruger. At times, locals come in from the borders of the park and hunt them for food. Of course, that’s totally illegal.” I learn from D that others, professional poachers, go after the exotics, especially the rhino whose horns are valued by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac. D claims that 2-3 rhinos per month are killed illegally in Kruger. “That is simply unsustainable. I spent four months on the anti-poaching patrol. They would drop us off in the middle of the bush and we would live on the ground with bare essentials. I learned how to craft a toothbrush from a twig and make toothpaste from bush leaves. We track the poachers just like they track animals.” “Did you have any close encounters?” “Oh, yeah. Once I was alone and came upon two poachers. They immediately started shooting at me to kill. I shot one through the neck and the other through the leg and then called the helicopter medevac. I never learned what happened to them.” I am at a loss for words. This first-hand information adds an entirely new dimension to the issue  of wild animal poaching. It is conservation warfare pitting preservationists against opportunists. I have tremendous respect for people like this guy who lays it on the line to preserve the natural world. After watching elegant antelope survive the rugged bush here, I see the connection to our guide and want to pay him a compliment. “That’s an amazing story, D. Nobody can kudu like you do.” He laughs at the quip and gets it. D drives on silently as we get to witness the rest of Kruger’s glory. DSC01847DSCN1570

The Grand Journey. Part 7-Upside Down Like A Baobob

baobab-tree1000x1000_1DSC01539We’re on a 2-day transit road trip from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg. This is serious traveling, no dillydallying allowed. We are destination bound and it is a long trek, over 600 bone-crunching miles through Zimbabwe, all of Botswana, and a bit of northern South Africa to boot. And since this is Africa there are numerous unexpected stops- a highway check by the Zimbabwean army, a road blockage due to an obstinate rhino and then a baby hyena, slow downs due to bad tarmac and, of course, the mandatory pit stops.DSC01912DSCN1624

But along the way we spot herds of zebra, elephants and kudu. DSCN1361DSCN1469Our driver, Manuel Tjituke, is a pedal-to-the-metal kind of guy, and while he drives fast, he is always safe. He is also quite a diplomat. After being caught on radar just outside of Francistown, he begs forgiveness to the roadside police. Once granted, Manuel strolls a few steps away and takes a pee in the field next to the cops. Highway bravado.

Hofni and doing the black mamba strike

Hofni and Manuel doing the black mamba strike

His sidekick, Haimbodi “Hofni” Holni, supplies the tunes—great road music from Namibia called heroro. My entire body bounces to the rhythms, but much of that comes automatically from the rough road ride. The truck, Pavarotti, is half empty of passengers on this run so I get to move around, stand and stretch regularly. But balance is crucial. One false step and you will take a header on the deck. It is a lot like being on a sailboat in rough seas.

And then there are the road sights. Endless scrub bush of the Kalahari, small villages of rondavels—round, thatched-roofed huts, giraffes nibbling high in the trees, and a small flock of red-eyed doves roadside. DSCN1517DSCN1533 DSC01961images-2My Okavango Delta guide from earlier, FNB, told me that this bird has two calls. The morning call sounds like, “work harder, work harder”, repeated throughout the day. But by afternoon, chants from the dove change to, “drink lager, drink lager.”. In fact, Botswanan humor can be found in nicknames from other birds. The yellow-billed hornbill is called the “flying banana” due to its large yellow beak. Likewise the scarlet-breasted shrike has been labeled the “flying tomato”.

DSCN1530One of the cool roadside attractions is the baobob tree. This stark, leafless, shiny-barked wonder is an arboreal abstract. It looks like a giant plucked a 40-foot tree from the ground and stuffed it back in the ground upside down. The trunk, fat and swollen, looks more like a tuber. Its branches resemble roots instead of limbs. This bizarre tree is surreal, Dali-esque and under a scimitar-shaped moon high in the sky, it delivers a pleasing spookiness to the African nighttime landscape.

DSC01826We finally enter Palapye in the waning daylight, a drab railroad town just north of the Botswana-South Africa border. I, too, feel upside down just like a baobab tree. It has been a long, tough day doing the overland safari. No worries. A warm dinner with a cool glass of Windhoek draught awaits.

The Grand Journey. Part 6-The Smoke That Thunders

 

DSC01806I am not even in eyesight and the ground is trembling, the air filled with roar. This is why the Kololo tribe living here called this cataract ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ or “The Smoke That Thunders”. Now I have seen great waterfalls in my time, perhaps Niagara being the most impressive. But this big boy is a monster. Victoria Falls, which meets at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is the world’s largest sheet of falling water. It is roughly twice the height of Niagara and well over twice the width of the Canadian part called Horseshoe Falls.DSCN1488DSCN1487

We hike for nearly two hours on a path that faces the waterfall and this is what makes Victoria so great. Just one hundred yards away, I can follow the cataract along its entire precipice. Rarely can one get so close to a place like this, and perhaps that is why it has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. But wait. It doesn’t come that easy. Since I stand so close to this massive gravity act, the mist generated by the mega-gallons from the Zambezi River literally clouds my view. Often, all I see is a white mass of water particles. But here is the magic trick. A puff of wind blows up from the deep gorge making a gap in the mist. Victoria is revealed again in all her naked glory. Just as quickly the falls disappears from sight as the next wave of white rolls in. This peak-a-boo aquatic strip tease that keeps me entertained for an hour. Forget that in spite of my rain gear I feel soaked to the bone. It is a good thing that my Nikon Coolpix is waterproof.DSCN1509 DSCN1502

At one point the mist parts and I spot “The Armchair” also called “The Devil’s Pool”. It is near Livingstone Island on the Zambian side. During low water levels a rock barrier forms an eddy with minimal current at this spot, allowing adventurous swimmers to splash around in relative safety a few feet from the edge where the water crashes down 355 feet. Devil’s Pool is not happening today. This current is swift and constant keeping the daredevils at bay.DSCN1485 DSCN1503

DSCN1510The mist flows back in and I am once again in a world of white. My mind wanders to thoughts of Henry Morton Stanley who back in 1871 greeted the lost missionary, David Livingstone at this spot with the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” After all, the town of Livingstone is just two kilometers away from here.  That must prove it.  But no, that famous quote may have happened but not anywhere near the Victoria Falls. It was actually at Ujiji near Lake Tanganyika where Stanley first encountered Livingtone.  No matter. For me, Stanley remains one of the original Worldkids.

stanley_henryBorn John Rowlands on 28 January 28,1841 in Wales, the young man left for New Orleans in 1859. There he was befriended by a merchant named Henry Stanley, whose name he took. Stanley then went on to serve on both sides in the American Civil War and later worked as a sailor and journalist. He then became a special correspondent for the New York Herald and was commissioned to go to Africa and search for Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone who had mysteriously disappeared in 1866 while he was on an expedition to find the source of the Nile River. The press had a field day speculating on his demise. The Herald wanted to settle the matter and, of course, sell a lot of newspapers. Why not send Stanley? After all, he was a worldkid.henry_morton_stanley

The mist parts once more and I return to the 21st century world. I have walked the length of the cataract and now admire a rainbow gracing Victoria Bridge, which links Zimbabwe with Zambia. But this worldkid is turning around here. A truck named Pavarotti awaits. I am heading the southbound, destination Kruger National Park in South Africa. It is time for another adventure.DSCN1511