Bloomin’ Limes

Another bloomin’ note from the island…

They zap our cerviche so that the raw fish is tender and tasty.  They add sour to sweet on a lengthwise sliced banana, a little trick I picked up years ago while whiling away the winter on a Mexican beach way south of the border.  Most importantly, they flavor our rum at daily sunset.  Limes, in fact, are the key to a quality island life.

We started with one tree.  Well, actually most people would call it a bush.  It’s down below, near the pump house, an area we don’t go to daily.  But Hettie just did and look what she found.

These are big ass limes, enough to flavor a two-kilo tuna, more than enough for a key lime pie. Bounty on Bonaire is mostly thought in terms of the island’s ubiquitous salt.  But hey, we got papaya, mango and, yeah baby, delicious limes if you look around closely.  This is important on an island where sometimes in the past limes were scarce.  When we moved here 11 years ago, it was hard to find a lime.  And when you did, you had to squeeze like a python only to get a small dribble of green juice to flavor the golden rum.  Those were difficult times.

Nowadays, the supply is much better, along with most other foods.  I can almost always find a lime of decent quality at the grocery store.  But none of them have the exquisite taste of our homegrown limes.  That is why we have four plants that keep us in good supply.  One of those plants produced dozens of limes and then it pretty much stopped.  But the future looks bright.  This morning there were dozens of small white flowers that will soon be replaced with green, marble-sized green globes. 

I hear a Polar Vortex is dipping down to the States these days, causing life threatening conditions.  Ah yes, I remember those Cleveland winters of long ago.  That chill made my fin sink so low.  But no more.  It’s time for another sunset and a rum.  And, of course, a fresh-squeezed lime from our tropical garden.  Cheers!  Or as we say in Papiamentu, Salú!

Advertisements

Hammock Hangout

Another note from the island…

My friend, Richard, recently accused me of being obsessed since I was the owner of five hammocks.  Yes, five.  He may have a point.  And I replied by saying that I was not only obsessive, but probably compulsive about hammocks as well.  Do you have any idea what a compulsive/obsessive hammock problem looks like?  Here goes.

This is my stereo hammock arrangement.  These two hang side-by-side, inviting for pairs of swingers to chill in the morning shade and gaze upon the blue Caribbean.  After twelve, this becomes untenable as the afternoon sun invades this space.

That is why I have the deck hammock.  This is my afternoon chill spot under the shade of two Brazilwood trees.  As I documented in an earlier blog by Worldkid, there are also two pieces of canvas strung above for additional shade as the trees begin to lose their leaves during the dry season.  Plus, a pair of gargoyles protect the outer perimeter to thwart any negative vibes from entering.

…under the foxtail palms

But my most recent addition is the palm hammock.  I strung this one between two foxtail palms that I planted years ago on the south side of the house. The trees are now hefty enough to take the weight. A couple of clove hitches and bowlines did the trick for hanging the hammock. I love the smooth, light gray trunks of these trees.  They resemble the classic Royal Palm.  But above, the palms’ fronds differ.  They are shaped like, well, a fox’s tail.

If you are counting, I still have one hammock left.  It is a single in simple off white.  I am still contemplating where to hang this one.  In the meantime, I will sway away the day and think about where the best next location might be.  

History tells that I am not alone with my obsession.  Hammocks were first developed in the Caribbean and on the mainlands of South and Central America.  Hamacas, as they were known in the islands, were quickly adopted by Spanish explorers in search of gold.  After a day of carting around that hot and heavy armor, the conquistadores needed to chill too.  As Christopher Columbus noted, A great many Indians in canoes came to the ship today for the purpose of bartering their cotton, and hamacas, or nets, in which they sleep.”

From there the obsession grew rapidly.  Sailors immediately began using hammocks as a way to stay dry and away from the ship rats while sleeping. Some fools recently declared a National Hammock Day in the USA. And even bears are now using hammocks!

So yeah, Ricard, I just might be obsessed with hammocks, but I’m not alone.  And as the superlative Turkish novelist Mehmet Murat ildan once wrote, While sleeping in a hammock, with the touch of a warm wind, we remember why we are in love with the life…  I rest my case.

Seize Tomorrow

Another Island Note…

My friend, Dave, arrived on Bonaire last fall wearing a Carpe Mañana t-shirt.  I thought, how fitting for the island. This was a clever take-off on the stalwart Latin phrase, carpe diem, or “seize the day”. 

Now when the testosterone-laden Romans were pillaging most of the prime real estate of the Western World two thousand years ago, this rallying cry was ideal.  After all, divide-and-conquer empires can’t follow some wimpy slogan like Time-Warner TV’s “Enjoy Better”.  No, they needed something bold, inspiring and bullshit free.  So carpe diem made perfect sense. That phrase may have even resonated with the pirates of the Caribbean centuries ago, but those bad ass marauders have been long gone. The cannons don’t thunder no more.  Problems on islands today often deal with simpler issues such as,  Do I choose a mojito or a banana daiquiri for an afternoon in the beach chair?  

But that may be oversimplifying how life is really like down here. After all, we do have stress. Tourists clog our streets on cruise ship days exposing too much oiled skin that they would never reveal at home. Hurricanes can be a problem. Now and then, there is a lime shortage on Bonaire. At times we even hear the babble from Fox and CNN about problems on continents far away. But that’s not a big irritation. That is because someone developed the ‘off’ switch.

Which leads me to my next point, avoidance.  Now many of you may disagree that this is not a healthy way to lead life, but it does have its benefits.  Getting too stressed?  Don’t think about the problem-drinking good rum helps with this.  Got bills to pay and short on cash?  Buy some time by sending payment for the phone to the electric company and vise versa.  When they finally sort it all out, you will have gained over a week before the checks are cashed.  Running out of time during the day?  No worries. It’s always five o’clock somewhere on the island.

Ah yes, carpe mañana, seize tomorrow.  By then, who knows?  Maybe another Plan B will appear on the horizon.  Perhaps the problematic situation that caused all the distress will have been serendipitously solved. In the very least,  you will have another delightful island day probably ending with a killer sunset complete with a Green Flash.  Even Mark Twain embraced the carpe mañana philosophy. As a worldkid and island wanderer he summed it up best when he said,  Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well.

New Ax To Grind

Another Note from the Island…

It was breezy and cold that February day in downtown Washington, DC.  I had parked my VW bus on M Street while my friend Billy and I went to visit an old girlfriend of his.  Back on the street an hour later I looked toward my VW only to see its curtains outside the van and blowin’ in the wind.  Two windows had been busted out and bus was stripped of its contents.  We were on the road job hunting and I everything that I owned had been stashed inside.  Devastated, I quickly went to the back of the van and opened a secret locker that I had built.  Yes!  The thieves missed getting my guitar.

This was not just any guitar.  It was a Gibson J-45 flat top acoustic that I had gotten in a swap for my Fender Bassman amp.  Back in high school, I played bass in a rock band and then briefly joined a Motown group while attending in college.  But that musical interlude cut too deeply into my study time, so I chose to sell both my Gibson EBO bass and the amp.  I got cash for the bass and this fine guitar for the amp.  I was thrilled and started to learn how to play a six string.  It was a good deal and this beautiful instrument is now appraised at about four grand.

But the Gibson had avoided disaster before the DC robbery.  It was my second year in college and the semester had just begun.  My digs were in an old, three-story house full of Pakistani exchange students and I was the only gringo in the place.  I occupied a gabled attic room high above everyone else.  Returning from class on day, I spotted smoke rising from the roof.  Fire!  Reaching the stairway, I tried to run up to my room, but was blocked by a mass of frightened Pakistanis.  They were hysterically yelling in Punjabi, Urdu and broken English while leaping down the stairs to safety.  One might ask, “What’s wrong in this picture?”  Answer: The gringo is running into the fire.

By the time I reached my room the smoke was dense and breathing was difficult.  I only could see my black guitar case and an apple.  I took both and ran down the stairs as fast as I could. No Pakistanis blocked the way. By this time the Columbus fire department had arrived and promptly put out the flames.  A local TV crew appeared and interviewed me about the blaze for the evening newscast. My room had been flooded and gutted. Not only was I instantly homeless, but I had lost all my books and class notes for the semester. At least I still had the guitar. 

Decades later, I gave away that beautiful sunburst Gibson to my son.  I had played it little during the adult years as work and family became priorities.  It was a good decision to gift the guitar for my boy is a much better musician than I’ll ever be.  He and the Gibson both now safely reside in London.  And the guitar, like a fine wine, only gets better and better with time.Why, you may ask, is this story labeled as an ‘island note’?  Well, after years of not playing I decided to buy a new guitar and jam again.  Last year, I took a bad fall breaking my arm and had complications in my left hand.  After surgery and 6 months of physical therapy, I recovered most of my mobility.  To maintain that, I thought playing a guitar would be helpful.  So I now got a new ax to grind—a Fender acoustic-electric, cutaway Dreadnaught 6-string.

I also bought a cool little gadget from Vox, that storied amplifier company favored by British rockers like the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Stones. It plugs directly into my guitar allowing me to hear my music electronically amplified through headsets.

I jam outside on the deck to the north of the house as to not disturb my spouse and the three cynical cats lounging inside.  They just don’t’ seem to appreciate my attempts at playing Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, The Wind Cries Mary and Fast Car.  But the tropical birds in the trees above seem to like my efforts. I can even sing aloud and they don’t fly away.  And at times the wild goats in the neighborhood also stop by and listen. With such a loyal audience I must agree with British novelist George Eliot (George was actually Mary Anne Evans, a ghost writer) when she said, Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.  That’s the kind of audience I need. I guess it’s now time for an encore.

Banana Bloom

Another Island Note…

It all started with a cut-off top of a pineapple plant.  Hettie discovered if you take that and put itin soil, it will produce another pineapple. That was 14 months ago.  And whilethe plant has grown considerably in size, there is still no fruit to be seen.  In fact, the plant grew so large that I hadto transplant the beast from a terrace pot to a garden plot.  That got me thinking that I need to start my very own piña colada garden.

The pineapple plant transplanted.

For those who don’t imbibe, a piña colada is a tropical concoction of pineapple, coconut and rum. My garden already had the pineapple plant in it.  I could easily plant a coco palm there.  Why hell, maybe even grow a small stand of sugar cane and make my own rum. Really?  Nah.  Actually, when I considered the time it would take to harvest all the necessary ingredients from the plot and distill the rum,I passed on the whole idea.  But the pineapple plant looked mighty lonely there all alone.  That’s when I put in four banana plants, each about 2-feet high.

Now growing bananas also takes a long time.  Hundreds of afternoons can be spent swinging in the hammock before you will see the first fruit.  But hell, two things I have a lot of is time and hammocks (current number is up to five).  So, in went the plants.

Just last week the first banana bloom popped out.  It is a long, phallic-like purple protrusion that interrupts the landscape like a rude punctuation mark.  Days later the first bananas appeared right behind the bloom, small fruits that I hope will rival a Chiquita in the near future. They radiate in a ring around the stalk with small white flowers at the end of each fruit.  That was followed by another ring or ‘hand’ as they say in the banana business, and then another. And soon, hopefully, the other plants will begin producing as well.  So, what to do with the harvest?

A new “hand” of bananas
These delicate flowers don’t last long/

Well I’m back to my original idea but with a twist.  I’m planning to make a piña banana colada with a generous amount of Flor de Caña 4-year old rum.  This libation should render that frozen concoction that helps me hang on in one of my five hammocks. 

But wait.  Another surprise was discovered next to the banana bloom.  Propped on the end of a stalk was a small nest and sitting on top a proud blue-tailed emerald hummingbird keeping minuscule eggs warm. 

This can only be a good omen.  Hummingbirds have a long history of symbolism in native cultures. The Aztecs saw them as messengers to the gods. The Maya believed that the very first wedding ever performed on Earth was between two hummingbirds.  And here in the Caribbean, the Tiano Indians viewed hummers as a symbol of rebirth and good luck.  With that kind of serendipitous mojo in my garden, no doubt we’ll have a record harvest of bananas this year.

Mostly Within the Limits (of Austin City)

IMG_1874

I have been going to Austin, Texas since the early 1970s.  Back then, a musical revolution was kicking off with the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson gracing the stage of the Armadillo World Headquarters. RM-IMAGES-AWHQ-Images-47The cosmic cowboy had arrived and groups like the Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Asleep at the Wheel followed. The town only had 300,000 souls and plenty of Lone Star Beer.  A couple of buddies and I even contemplated opening up a music club back then.  I always said if that had happened, I would have ended up with a cowgirl, blond bouffant hair-do included, and owning a red Cadillac decked out with longhorn steer paraphernalia on the hood.

But those days were a lifetime ago.  The Austin metro today is bursting with over 2 million urbanites, and even though I’ve always returned at least once every decade over the years, this trip to the city seemed over the top.  Too many people, too much traffic, too many choices.  Even my nostalgic day drive out to Lake Travis’s Hippy Hollow where clothing was frowned upon back in the 70s, is now surrounded by multi-million-dollar mansions done up in a faux pas Tuscan style with a good dose of Texas kitsch for added measure.  I guess living over a decade down island doesn’t set you up for overwhelming urban chaos.  Add the recent election madness to the mix, and this beach boy felt like he was stranded on a sandbar, but Austin is still keeping it weird…

IMG_2415

Bicycle sculpture at Waller Creek Boathouse.

IMG_2450

Looking Up at the at Laguna Gloria sculpture park.

But was it worth it?  Of course.  I got to see my old Ohio State buddy, Bill, and his wife, Suzita, who I’ve always admired for riding her horse to school in her home town of Cisco, Texas until the age of 10.  And we visited our generous island friends Karen & Rob who also have an ultra-cool midtown condo in Bat City.  And the food…. BBQ, green chile cheeseburgers, tacos and more tacos. The craft beers were terrific with the draft Stash IPA high on my list.

IMG_1782

At the Salt Lick for BBQ.

IMG_1854

Attended a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) party.

But after two weeks it was time to go home.  An Arctic front had dipped down from Canada and somebody left the gate open in Oklahoma.  Austin-ites were serious panic about impending frost before I left, and those temperatures make my fin sink soooo low.  But our United flight attendant, Jack, on a direct flight from Houston to Bonaire brightened my day. Clad in illuminated flamingos, he announced that we would soon be arriving at Flamingo International Airport-Bonaire, pink control tower and all.

IMG_1881

Flight attendant, Jack.

Upon landing, I spot a crescent moon to the west.  Pat and Long Tall Sally, our house sitters from North Carolina, whisk us away in the Subaru.  That evening floating naked in the pool I am dazzled by a million stars.  First sunset the next day flaunts an enduring Green Flash that’s more like a verdant reveal. It lasts for minutes, not seconds. A couple of yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots cruise by for grins, squawking in route to their evening’s roost.  Gosh, it is good to be home.

 

Independence Day

DSC00758

Another note from dah island, mon…

It all started when the green light clicked on. For two days Pieter and Benjamin from Solar Solutions had been busy installing 10 solar panels on our roof. Next came the Sunny Boy inverter that converts 12-volt electricity produced by the sun activating the panels’ photo voltaics.  Then the final step, install a cable to feed our electric system and a breaker. Pieter activated the inverter for the first time.  “You see that shining green light on the Sunny Boy?  You are now making electricity.  Congratulations!  Yes, this was Independence Day.DSC00737

Electricity prices in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world and Bonaire is no exception.  I’ve been told that 60% of our power comes from the wind generators on the  east coast.  The remainder is from diesel-fueled generators.  But the monopoly, WEB (Water-Electric-Bonaire) charges a hook-up fee, not one time but monthly.  On top of that, they bill a whopping 28.7-cents per kilowatt hours.  Those heavy charges all add it all up making me feel like I better sit in the dark at night.  Or better yet, get pro-active and install a solar system.DSC00770

DSC00768Ours is a day-only system, which means that no battery storage is needed.  We generate electricity when the sun hits the solar panels (actually, I’ve seen light from the full moon activate it). That power goes directly into our home’s electric grid. Whatever we don’t use is sent back to WEB for a paltry 5-cent charge instead of the 28.7-cents they charge us.  So our mantra is run everything during the daylight hours that we can-swimming pool pump, washing machine, dish washer, whatever.

The first few sunny days we would go out to our street-side electric meter and take a look.  The dial was always stationary-no power was being used.  How much we sold back to WEB will be discovered at a later date. Even on cloudy days, and we’ve had a few lately due to passing tropical depressions, the solar is producing 75% of our daytime electric use.  What is really boss is that the Sunny Boy inverter feeds the info to a web site and shows us all the details-kilowatt production, how much per hour, etc.  But the coolest data shows how many pounds of carbon emissions were not put into the environment because of our solar system. That makes me feel really good. DSC00763

DSC00766

Solar hot water heater hiding behind the banana trees.

This has been a long time coming.  When we bought our house on the hill it already had a solar hot water heater.  It’s a big box that runs water through black pipes.  The builder had installed an electric backup boiler, but we have never used it.  We have warm water even after two days of clouds, and that is unusual Bonaire weather. But the solar hot water planted the seed and showed us the potential of having a photo voltaic system to produce electricity.  We were ready to do that two years ago, but life unexpectedly got in the way.  Plans were shelved until this month.  Now every September 19thwe will have a celebration because for us, it’s Independence Day.DSC00749