In Between The Palms

Another Island Note…

From Bora Bora to Carriacou, from Malalo Lailai to Ko Phi Phi, tropical islands around the world are fortunately graced with palm trees.  You know, those elegant, frond-studded wonders that dance with the wind and conjure up daydreams of harmony and bliss?  Even my tiny arid rock in the southern Caribbean has them.  They are signature signposts for easy contemplation.  But it is often what lays betwixt the palms that I find interesting about island living.

Take, for instance, Bonaire’s first and only escalator.  Yes, friends, we are movin’ on up in the world, or are we really?  Apparently not.  I just spoke with Jean-Marie Pradin from Otis Elevators in Curacao.  His company did the escalator installation in the newly built Bonaire Mall in downtown Kralendijk.  “Jean-Marie, every time I go by the new mall, the elevator is not running.  What’s up?”  “Well, it works.  After installation, we tested it with a temporary electrical hookup.  But the island’s power company still has to put in a dedicated power drop for the escalator to run.  For some reason, they can’t find a suitable place to put it and have to build a special storage room.  It’s all poco poco.”   Poco Poco?  But the clock is ticking!  The cruise ship hoards start coming ashore in a month.  Few will scale the metal stairway to heaven that leads to the kitschy boutiques above.  Oh my.

There are times from my porch at Playa Pabou that the sounds of surf mix with the tenor tones of Italian opera.  There is only one answer for this unusual symphony—Johnny Craane.

Johnny aboard Gaviota. Photo-Bonaire Reporter.

Johnny often sings from on board Gaviota, his 28-ft wooden fishing boat hand built by his father, John Philip Fredrik Craane around 1941.  The Craanes have a long history in the Caribbean.  They moved from Scotland to Curacao in the late 1700s and have always been people of the sea.  The family spread to Aruba, Bonaire and Sint Maaarten during the following centuries.  “My family invaded Scotland from Scandinavia a long time ago,” boasts Johnny.  “So they were Vikings then?”  “Yeah, I think so.  And after they went to the Caribbean, some were pirates.  We always liked sailing, boats, fishing.”  “And the opera, Johnny.  Why do you sing it?”  “Why not?  I’m on my boat.  I usually just got back from catching fish, so I have dinner.  And I’m happy, so I just sing.”

Last Sunday, we walked in the Parade of Nations, the kick-off to the 45th Bonaire International Sailing Regatta—a week of races, street food and nighttime debauchery.  The parade is always a lot of fun since Bonaire has residents from over 85 nations.  Not all participate, but this year there were perhaps forty countries represented.  It is difficult for me to estimate an exact number.  We always march with the Irish in the middle of the pack where it is difficult to see either end of the extravaganza.  Noel, one of a handful of Irish lads that reside on the island, leads the way with a 26 year old baby stroller modified to hold a cooler brimming with iced cold beer.  Gotta’ beat the heat.  In years past, the countries were arranged alphabetically.  Not this year.  For some reason we were placed between Germany (fashionable Fräuleins decked out in traditional dress fitting for the Oktoberfest) and Haiti (solemn, serious marchers).  We, on the other hand, danced like fools, waved flags and swilled Amstel.  As my new, recently-arrived Irish friend, Eunan from Donegal, remarked,  “Tis so is much better than sitting on me arse.”

Me & Dee, who represents her home island of Trinidad in full Trini carnival costume.  Photo by Otto de Kruijf.

I have a good friend who visits the island now and then.  He has become a trusted dive buddy and an aspiring deck hand on Kontentu.  Both activities are quite a stretch since he hails from the frigid, land-locked high plains of North America.  He happily tells tales of moose, Loonies and rounding up Japanese tourists on horseback–ah, it’s a long story.  For purposes of anonymity I shall use his self-proclaimed name, Ninja—No Income, No Job Aspirations.  The man from the North chose this since he decided to abandon the world of employment and wander the globe before he turned 50.  The moniker is not entirely true.  The income still flows from years of career, helping further his vagabonding.  But Ninja definitely has no job aspirations.  He does, however, have a penchant for lifting huge boulders to stay fit.  This unusual activity has raised the furry eyebrows of several Bonaireans who live near the rock field where Ninja sweats, grunts and lifts stone, shirtless.  In fact, the locals found the bizarre endeavor to be too close to their home for comfort and called the police.  Ninja was briefly interrogated for pumping boulders.  The police went home.  Atlas shrugged.

Ninja is also the creator of No Sweat Sundays.  I don’t believe the man ever goes to church, but he can always be found on the Lord’s Day in between the palm trees that line the tranquil shoreline of Sorobon Beach.  “My goal is not to sweat.  I just sit under a palm and look at the world for the day.  If I turn my head, I do it slowly.  No perspiration allowed.”  I have to admire Ninja’s discipline.  For a guy who is active all week long diving, sailing and lifting boulders, he really knows how to chill out on Sunday.  No sweat.

So now I’m back on Sunset Beach contemplating the cosmos with my dog, Sparky.  Actually, the hound simply stares blankly out to the sea.  Heavy meditation is not this Catahoula swamp dog’s forté.  Looking into her eyes, it is apparent that there is not a lot is going on between the ears.  But hey, that what it’s all about, living on an island in between the palms.

Doin’ Da Bonaire Blue

Another Island Note….

Some days down island are just inherently better than others.  Sometimes those days are merely serendipitous, drawing from the right position of the moon or the timely luck of the draw.  Other days achieve their greatness by one simply taking hold of immediate destiny.  That is what happened on this particular day.  I knew it was going to be a special one as we approached the dock at the Plaza Resort Marina.  There was our sailboat rental for the morning, a 21-foot, Dutch-made Valk sloop, called a Falcon in English.  Perched high above on the mast of the boat next to the Valk was a contented pelican that peered down at us with his never-ending smile as if to say, You boys are going to have a good time today.

And we did.  My mates were Pieter, a guy with years at the helm in the competitive sailing circuit in the Netherlands. And my Canadian cosmic cowboy sidekick, Richard, who hails from Saskatchewan.  “You say Sas-Kat-Chew-Ann just like an American,” complains Richard.  “It’s s-skatch-wan.”  “Richard, you forget I am an American, EH?!”

Richard chillin’ on the bean bag

North American differences are quickly put behind us.  We silently put-put out of the marina with the Valk’s electric motor, point into the wind, set the sails, and immediately head south for da Bonaire blue.

We pass the solar salt works a half hour later.  Its dinosaur-esque loading device waits patiently for the next freighter.  Cargill ships the white stuff to the United States.  We fly by Pink Beach, once a lovely strand of delicate pink sand until Hurricane Lenny, a badass Cat 4 monster, dumped the entire beach offshore deep into the abyss in 1999.  All that is left now is a row of struggling palm trees and broken bits of coral along the shore. And we tack back north as we see kite surfers carving up the waves at Kite Beach close to the southern end of the island.  We get a grand view of White Slave, a salt outpost of African transplants and Dutch colonial masters, a shameful legacy of another time.  Never forget.

Now on a beam reach north, the Valk glides smoothly over the Windex-blue water.  We’re doin’ da’ blue, baby—my favorite sail along the island.  The cosmic cowboy gazes down into the gin-clear water, contemplating possible pirate treasure when he shouts, “Dolphin!”

Two big, gray bottlenose dolphins playfully chase our bow.  I’m busy steering the boat so I toss the camera to Richard to get some shots.  Peter wiggles past the jib and looks down over the hull.  One dolphin, speeding along at our boat speed of 6-knots, looks up at him while it effortlessly swims on its back.  “We are looking at each other!” exclaims Pieter.  It is eyeball-to-eyeball contact between two curious mammals.

The dance goes on for another ten minutes.  I can’t stop from grinning ear-to-ear.   This is what living is all about. The excitement and the energy from this encounter is intoxicating.  I spot two divers ahead in the shallows about to submerge.  Pieter points out the dolphins breaking the water and they flash the OK sign and descend.  I steer the boat towards the divers.  I can only imagine the eyeful they had as we flew by.

The dolphins disappear as fast as they came.  End of show.  We steer the Valk back to the bay.  Kralendijk, in all of its cheery yellow, passes by.  Time is up.  We take down the sails and return to the dock.  The pelican on the mast of the boat next to our dock is still there.  He remains smiling.  And so are we now, three happy sailors.  How could we not be after doin’ da Bonaire blue.