The Trees of the Kantu Di Awa

DSC_1432Another installment of Island Notes…

Early in the morning, when hardly anyone is on the street, I have begun walking the kantu di awa, waterfront in our local language of Papiamentu.  First light exposes bobbing boats in the bay, laughing gulls shoreside and the small but staid Fort Oranje, the Dutch mini-fortress that for centuries has stood guard over Kralendijk’s harbor.  It is about a two-mile stroll, a good start to the day, and a way that makes me appreciate the morning’s first coffee even more upon return.

But what has been revealing during my morning treks are the trees along the kantu di awa.  They have special significance for people on this sun-drenched island offering shady respite form the strong rays above.  And this reverence of people for plants is expressed in different ways along the waterfront.

Take, for instance, the Wish Tree.  This diminutive plant has become a place of intimate personal expression for those wanting more in their lives.  People leave notes on strings under the Wish Tree, sentiments in five languages.  Some are local.  Others are desires expressed by those from Uruguay, Panama, Brazil, New York City.  I stopped my walk one day to read the writings.  DSC_1417Health is an apparent topic.  One note reads, I wish that Map’s knee pain is gone.  Another boasts, …that Kristal and I live happy, healthy and good lives.  A Panamanian writes, Having a family blessed by God with good health.   One boy expresses his passion for a girl and hopes that she will equal his intense love.  Another person, a Brazilian, does a laundry list in inspiring Portuguese, Greeting. Peace. Love. Light.  Johon writes another list in Spanish, work, money, happiness, love in that order with the disclaimer if God wants it. A Venezuelan mysteriously writes, …freed and recovered from the Red Spell.  And then there are competing messages about where to live.  I wished I lived in Bonaire with my family—Mai from New York, and, I wish that all our future plans come true.  New life in USA.  Thank you.   But I think my favorite wish is another simple list, health, happiness, love & adventure.  What more do you need?

DSC_1440Next to the Divi Resort you can find what I call the Float Tree.  There are over a dozen buoys hanging from the boughs of this local tree.  It has a bit of Christmas bulb panache with a nice ode to the sea.  This is the best collection of flotsam that I have ever seen.

DSC_1441

DSC_1414Then there is the divi divi tree down on Kaya Playa Lechi (which is actually Playa Pabou, just sayin’) that proved to be too much of a challenge for the government.  Island lore claims that the when the construction crew responsible for building the new seaside boulevard and pedestrian walkway saw the enormous trunk of the divi divi, they paused.  If they removed it, it could be days of work under the hot sun.  On the other hand, they could improvise on the Dutch urban architect’s plan and build the walkway around the tree.  People now decorate the divi divi with white sea shells.  Nature 1, Humans 0.DSC_1416DSC_1415

DSC_1437There is another example not too far from Cha Cha Beach.  The Four Seasons Restaurant is housed in one of the older traditional Antillean buildings on the island.  It looks to me that a roof was added around the perimeter to provide shade for those who wished to dine al fresco.  But concessions were made for a towering coco palm that is the corner centerpiece on the property.  A hole was built into the roof so that the palm could tower above  in tropical splendor.  Nature 2, Humans 0.DSC_1436

'Mama'  Ines Martes

‘Machi’ Ines Martes

But by far my favorite trees along the kantu di awa are the two in front of the Martis family’s home named Villa Betty after the youngest daughter.  It was Yellow Man, the son of the family’s matriarch, Ines, who hung the first decoration.  Since the family hosts almost weekly barbeques under the shade of the trees for relatives and friends, it wasn’t long before the watapana tree became full DSC_1407of people’s hanging contributions—a smashed cell phone, a goofy rubber turtle, empty cans of Sprite and pineapple juice, a Dutch motorcycle plate, Donald Duck hanging by strings.  Then a turquoise and yellow sign was hung, Plenchi Machi Ines, Mama Ines’s Terrace.  DSC_1408

DSC_1411However, someone must have noticed that the calalbas tree directly next to the watapana was being totally ignored.  That was soon rectified with people hanging flip-flops, a hat, and a clock (proving that it is always five o’clock somewhere) from its sparse boughs.  Someone even staked a wooden Christmas snowman at the base.  Plenchi Machi Ines appeared to be complete, but new additions appear all the time.DSC_1412DSC_1413So these are the botanical gifts that I get to see during my morning power walks along the kantu di awa.  Trees have a special meaning on our sparse island.  They are friendly sentinels that grace our shores. It is gratifying to see that they are appreciated and honored.

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The Long Wait

One more note from the island…hook

I had made a mistake, a miscalculation, a blunder of titanic proportions.  My usual optimistic view of the world led me to buy a telescoping boat hook that, even when collapsed to a mere 40 inches, was much too long to fit diagonally into my suitcase.  I discovered this while visiting my sister during Thanksgiving 2012 where I had sent the  hook for convenient pickup during my visit to the States.

09JanBON 28Thank goodness for my retired engineer brother-in-law, Joe Ryder.  We often refer to him as Saint Joe for all his benevolent work for family and community.  During lapses of good manners or just irreverent jocularity, we call him Joe Cousteau.  We do this because of his valiant attempts to master the underwater world by snorkeling Bonaire when he visits.  But more than that, ‘Joe’ and ‘Cousteau’ just rhyme really well and we’re suckers for a bad rhyme.

Anyway, Joe takes control of my boat hook imbroglio and suggests that we just mail the damn thing to the island.  I follow him to the dingy basement of his charming colonial-style New Jersey home.  There among the refuse of his and my sister’s life, we dust off a sturdy cardboard tube just inches longer than my boat hook.  It is so ideal that it even comes with two sturdy plastic caps affixed to each end.  We stuff pages of the New York Times inside to protect the aluminum pole, heavily tape the ends, and Hettie grabs a black marker and boldly writes our island address on the side.

We trudge off to the post office 2 blocks away in the cold air that followed Hurricane Sandy.  The postmaster asks how I want the tube sent.  “The cheapest way,” I quickly respond.  $25 dollars later, nearly the price of the damn pole, I am out the door.  There is a heavy cost to living on an island.

Upon returning to Bonaire, I don’t even think of the receiving the tube until early January.  Things just don’t arrive here very fast.  By then, I read in the newspaper that post officeBonaire’s post office has been indefinitely closed due to some dispute between the Dutch government and the private contractor that is suppose to provide postal service.  By month’s end, I return to the post office in hopes that it might be open.  I walk right in.

“I sent a package from the States in November, but never received a notice in my post box,” I explained.  “I know that you were shut down…”

“No, we were never closed,” counters the postal employee.  “That’s just what the media said.”

“Oh”, I reply dumbly.  “Can you just check to see if you have a long cardboard tube in the back room?  Here is my ID.”

“Sure,” says the clerk.  I watch her check the mountain of stacked packages behind the counter.  With no luck there, she visits the various rooms beyond.  I only get quick glimpses of the woman as she scurries from one cubicle to the next.  I’m impressed with her effort.

“Sorry”, says the clerk.  “It’s not here.  But if you have a tracking number I can help you.”

“Damn.  I should have spent the additional $25 to get a tracking number.  I guess this one is a loss.”

the tubeAnother month and a half passes when I get a green slip in my post office box that says I have a package for pickup.  Could it be?  Yes, it was.  The long wait was finally over.  The boat hook arrived.

Friday Night at Hidden Beach

Another Island Note…hidden beach

It was a gathering of friends and food, a blending of humans and nature, simply a bloody good time.  Four of us made a beach safari to remote Hidden Beach near the southern tip of the island.  It was Friday night.

Patti and Jon are friends who come to Bonaire during those sweet months, December through March.  Yes, those are the days when winter storms howl along the eastern seaboard of the US of A.  These Philadelphia weather refugees smartly lime away their winter at Lighthouse Beach, a gathering of cozy apartment hamlets just south of Punt Vierkant.

But it was Jon who mentioned that he had a grill and we should do something with it that involved sand and surf.  Why not Hidden Beach?  This relatively unknown spot was my point of southern termination as a Beachkeeper for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire.  I used to pause there for a coffee from my thermos every Thursday morning at about 7am and then trekked two miles north looking for turtle nests, trails in the sand.  But today, I was going to see it at sunset rather than sunrise.  Why not?  Polar opposites can be intriguing in the tropics.

At seaside, Patti and Jon offered delicious hors d’oeuvres of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and arugula. I countered with yellow fin sashimi with wasabi, orange ginger sauce and a mango hot pepper sauce.  Hungry yet?

Jon started the grill and stuck yams wrapped in foil into the coals.  I pull out two enormous fish fillets that my Swedish friends gave me last month.  Ola and Caroline were cruising on their 35-foot sailboat, ReLax, from the lovely Grenadine island of Bequia to Bonaire.  It was a three-day voyage across the Caribbean Sea.  En route Ola hooked an enormous sailfish. sail fish i båten Soon after, Neptune rewarded him with a yellow fin tuna.  He generously gave us multiple filets of both.Tonfisk på väg tl Bonaire  One of each sizzled on the hot grill at Hidden Beach.

Patti supplied an Asian noodle salad with peanuts and red pepper.  Jon also grilled some zucchini over the coals.  We sat in low rider beach chairs as the surf splashed at our toes as we dined.  Patti lamented that fact the flock of flamingos, which usually fly overhead at sunset, did not appear this evening.  While that would have been nice, there were no complaints from the Peanut Gallery.  We were happy campers, beach bums with grins, cream puffs still in the cool of the frig.  The four of us island pirates had dined better than any of the tourists this evening who had flocked to the Kralendijk eateries for sustenance.  For us, we had it all—great food, good times, the sea and seafood, plus a spot of wine.  Hidden Beach had revealed all of its charms.

The sky turned black.  The waves continued their sonic mantra to our ears.  We drove home without traffic along the dark coastal road just glad to be alive.