Down Island Cargo

The brig, Tres Hombres, delivers goods to the island.

Another island note…

Living on an island can have its drawbacks, especially if you are anal retentive, have great expectations or expect things here to operate like the ‘real world’ (i.e. The Mainland).  One of the disadvantages of living on a rock is obtaining goods from the outside.  We have no Home Depot, Lowes, Wal-Mart, Cosco, Best Buy or CVS.

The only recognizable US chain on Bonaire is the KFC. The Colonel’s frozen grin remains.  Why not? They serve cold beer inside.

Beyond food and alcohol, our stores have mostly quaint, limited inventory that is often overpriced.  On a good day you might find the almost-right-sized screw after going to three hardware stores, but alas, it doesn’t really fit.  You discover an awesome recipe on-line and go shopping for the ingredients, but there are no bananas (It’s Tuesday, stupid!), cinnamon (Oh, we just ran out. Try next week.) or wheat berries (Never heard of them.).  So, what to do?  Bring your own cargo down island.

Before the pandemic hit, you might have seen us islanders heading home from US airports in Miami, Boston or Atlanta.  Yeah, we were the ones lugging ridiculously huge suitcases cinched tight with wide straps to keep the goods from bursting out.  Are we undisciplined world travelers?  Hell, no.  We are just trying to fill the larder back home with items unattainable down island. I must state that I never opted for the airport plastic wrap machines that entomb luggage in millimeters-thick cellophane to thwart dodgy airline handlers.  Rather I decided to take one for the environment, forego the plastics and risk baggage room theft (Looking at you, Miami!).  But I’m still smiling green as I never have had a problem.

In lieu of personally bringing things back home, the island has several services to accommodate that.  One is called E-Zone, which is fine for orders less than two pounds and under $95.  After that, weight charges and customs duty will kill you.  One time I hastily ordered a set of heavy car parts needed to get my Subaru running again.  While I’m now back on the road, my retirement fund is still recovering.  It was worse than the 2008 stock market crash.

Then there is AmCar, a shipper out of Miami that provides a two-step maritime tango. They send a freighter weekly to neighboring Curacao where goods are unloaded to our local cargo boat, the Doña Luisa, that forges on 35 nautical miles to Bonaire.  

We do this every year or so, keeping an on-going list of things we can’t get on the island, but believe we can’t live without.  We’ve ordered car tires, cameras, computers, carpets, cabinets, cat food, Mexican food, beach chairs, diving equipment, dock lines, vacuum cleaners, hammocks, plastic toilet paper holders (they don’t rust in salty air)—the list goes on.  When AmCar finally does deliver (It takes 4-6 weeks from ordering to receiving) it’s Christmas on Bonaire no matter what time of year. We get busy ripping open stacks of Amazon boxes, having forgotten half of what we ordered.  It’s like being a kid in candy shop.

After a dozen years living on the island, I get bold and test the boundaries of importation.  I order a sail kit for my kayak from Perrysburg, Ohio.  The man there explains that they only ship through USPS-the United States Postal Service.  Gulp.  I explain to him that I live on an island and that the last time my sister sent me a letter from New Jersey, it went first to Jakarta, Indonesia (a former Dutch colony that broke away in 1949). Finally, the abused envelope, stamp-pounded by several developing nations along the way, arrived six months later on Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean.  The Ohio man assured me that he sends sail kits frequently abroad and it would be no problem.  Maybe it was the afternoon’s oppressive heat on a windless day.  Perhaps it was the threat of a building tropical storm to the east that took my attention away.  Whatever the reason, in a moment of weakness I succumbed to the naive idea that the USPS just might not screw this up.

There’s a storm a brewin’.

I am given a tracking number, my only thread to trace the sail kit’s risky voyage.  I log on to the USPS internet site and get this notice concerning my package, Shipping Label Created, USPS Awaiting Item. A week goes by and there are no updates. I contact the man in Perrysburg, Ohio.  “Oh, don’t worry.  The post office’s tracking system is not very efficient in providing updates.  I guarantee you that the package was sent.”  Gulp, again.

Four days later, USPS delivers a cryptic, but encouraging message, Customs Clearance, ISC Miami FL (USPS).  And then two days later, Your item was processed through our MIAMI FL INTERNATIONAL DISTRIBUTION CENTER facility on October 9, 2020 at 8:52 am. The item is currently in transit to the destination. Hah!  Nothing to worry about now, eh?  My package has just entered the Bermuda Triangle of Island Time.  

But wait. Three days later I am proven wrong.  It took the USPS 72 hours to get my package from the Miami international distribution facility to a ‘transfer’ airport in Miami.  And once again I get the reassuring message, The item is currently in transit to the destination.  I think I heard that one before.  The good news is that the kit is being sent by plane-that should speed things up.  The bad news is air traffic from the States to Bonaire is closed due to the pandemic.  Double gulp.  Obviously, this story is not over.

Two days later, USPS updates me that my package has arrived on the neighboring island of Curacao and is being processed through a facility.  I’m not sure now if it will come by plane or boat, but it’s getting damn close.  I don’t gulp this time.  The whole scam just might work.  But this is no time to get self assured or smug.  The kit still isn’t here.

So close, but yet so far away.

Then 3 more days later I get this update, Item Departed From Transit Office of Exchange. I assume that means it is leaving Curacao after a five-day delay.  Then EIGHT days later (did I mention that Curacao is only 35 nautical miles away?) the package arrives at customs on Bonaire.  I could have sailed back and forth between the two islands four times during this mystery trip.

No more USPS updates come in for a week.  Finally on the morning of November 5th, I fling my sorry ass out of the hammock and go directly to the post office.  They have my package.  I return home eager to open up the kit, but I first check my email.  I receive another USPS update: Your item was delivered in CURACAO at 10:07 am on November 5, 2020. Then I read this slip of paper attached to the box…

Apparently, the kit went from Curacao to Bonaire, returned to Curacao and finally sent back to Bonaire. My apologies for ranting on this blog post.  I have lived on island time for a dozen years and usually handle delays quite well.  It is a lot like suspended animation, but with a frosty rum drink in your hand.  Time now to unpack the kit and do the installation.  I should be on the water with my sailing kayak in a day.  Hah!  The optimist in me never dies. Neither does island time, especially when waiting for down island cargo.

Down Island Minute 2.

Seaside Iguana…

Down Island Minutes are video postcards from Bonaire.  They capture this Caribbean island’s unique beauty in sixty second mas-o-menos moments of peace and tranquility.  The snapshots simply focus on the motion and sound within the frame. So chill out, grab a rum drink and enjoy it with a slice of time.  Island time.

To see Seaside Iguana, click here…

When: Oct 19, 2020

Where: One Thousand Steps

What: A seaside iguana nods his approval from a perch at water’s edge.

Cactus and Feather

The first edition of Down Island Minute…

Down Island Minute is a series of video postcards from Bonaire.  The intent is to capture the beauty and wonder of this unique Caribbean island, offering a 60-second mas-o-menos moment of peace and tranquility.  

Most likely these will be posted each week but bear in mind that islanders go on vacation just like mainlanders do, even if we often don’t wander very far.  So, there may be time delays in the postings.  

These are not highly produced films.  Rather, they are simple video snapshots with emphasis on the motion and natural sound within the frame. So chill out, grab a rum drink and enjoy it with a slice of time…  Island time.

To see the clip, log on here…

About Cactus & Feather

When: near sunset, Oct 17, 2020

Where: Northwest coast of Bonaire

What: A ‘feather plant’, a natural grass, blows in the wind next to a cliff-bound cactus over the Caribbean Sea.