You cannot smell it in the air. There is no apple cider to be had and alas, the leaves have not fallen. To the contrary, it is in the rainy season when everything on Bonaire bursts into green after summer’s incendiary fury. But there are changes down island that start now, the same time of year when folks in those big digit latitudes to the north begin to shiver. The weather here begins to turn too, but it is a delightful dip into blissful temperatures.
There are many small signs of the change. When we go diving now, the water temp is no longer 84º. I read 82º on my dive computer this week and soon that will creep down into the upper 70s. Brrrrrr. It is difficult to explain, but those few degrees make all the difference in the world when you are down under at 60 feet for an hour. Soon it will be time to exchange my one millimeter wetsuit for a much thicker 3 mm and I shall do that pronto.
Above water, the air temperature is also changing. By 10 am it is delightfully comfortable in the full sun. That is a far cry from a typical August morning when dogs and donkeys are desperately seeking shade. No more. Everyone is out and about. And the nights laced with light tropical breezes are so pleasant that sleep comes easy like a sloe gin fizz.
But wait. What is that monstrous maritime shape on the horizon? Why that is the first cruise ship of the season. It is that time of year again when northerners from Canada, the USA, Germany and Holland book vacation cruises to the Caribbean. They flee the cold just like ruddy turnstones, those pint-sized birds that inhabit our shores during the wintertime after completing their arduous migration from Artic breeding grounds. The late comers are easy to pick out. Often they hobble on one solitary leg, the other being lost from the north’s unforgiving big chill. These hardy beach bums lime away the months before heading back in the spring to frolic once again in the land of the midnight sun. After a summer of mating, they return again to revel in the moist of our autumn rainy season.
When the rains began this year, we had five straight days of showers. That day-after-day deluge is kind of unusual, and with the sun blotted out by cloudy skies, there was a bit of a chill in the air. Before you start laughing, this weather stuff is all relative. We rarely get down to 72º Fahrenheit in the evenings, but we had that this year for days. Add a bit of wind chill in that mix and yeah! It was cooooool.
That dip started me thinking about warm comfort food. Our meals here usually revolve around crisp, cold salads and perhaps a light piece of grilled fish. But with this drastic drop in the mercury, dreamy thoughts of soups and stews swirled in my head. I was even contemplating heavy Dutch meat and potato dishes that some Hollanders eat here all year long. But hold on! No need to be so rash. My good friend from New Mexico, Tom, who was down here last year, had graced me with a bag of posole, those corn-kernelled hominy delights from near south of the border. I had tossed this precious gift in the freezer, but now it was time to unlock its Mexican mojo.
The dish, posole, comes in many forms, but I wanted to replicate a recipe from Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-hahk-ah), a southern Mexico state deep in the heart of mañana. This particular dish called for avocados, among a number of other ingredients. When I went to the store the next day, I found a new shipment of the green globes just in from California. Unfortunately, they were as hard as hand grenades. I bought two anyway and set them outside to ripen. Five days later the avocados were nearly black and ready to eat. But by this time the chilly, cool rains that had me hankering for hefty food had stopped. The sun was now shining and the temperatures rose like another tequila sunrise. It was warm again, but way too late to stop my gastronomic gallop to the kitchen. I planned to make Oaxacan posole the very next day. Game on.
This dish, posole rojo, consists of white hominy, pork, red chile, garlic, bay leaves, cumin and oregano. Ample garnishes added to the dish when served include white cabbage, cilantro, onion, radishes, avocados, and limes. I threw in some arugula and warmed flour tortillas to the mix.
After dicing, chopping, mincing, sautéing, boiling and simmering for four hours, my Mexican masterpiece was ready for the table. Our good friend, Suus, from the Netherlands joined us. It was her first posole encounter. Having spent time in Southeast Asia as a dive instructor, Suus found the dish similar to some of the Vietnamese food that she had experienced. That makes sense. It is all part of the grand chile belt, that unofficial, hot climate territory that snakes around the middle of our big, blue marble.
By the time we each devoured two bowls of posole, the tropical night was in deep purple. A drunken, yellow crescent moon hung lazily upside-down above Klein Bonaire. Its golden glow bounced off the water, expressly back to our table. The coolness of the evening set in and made me realize that it is definitely that time of year again. It is the start of another delightful down island winter.