Ah, coconuts. You know, those sweet, fluid-filled tropical nuts that are the Caribbean soul of a piña colada? They can also serve as metaphors and that is true for this island note as 2013 comes to a calypso close. Here are the latest coconuts that have fallen…
Attempted Robbery. It is one of the last days of the year and I am solo sailing on my boat, Kontentu. Yes, it is sunny warm with 17 knots of constant wind on my beam. Times like this take me into a sailor’s trance, one that only involves the elements and the moment. But I quickly pop out of that dream as an osprey flies right above my mast. Clenched in its talons is a wiggling fish, and not far behind, two pursuing frigate birds. What follows is an aerial show that rivals any scene from Top Gun. One frigate bird dives for the fish. The osprey banks right in a heartbeat. The second frigate bird tries to head off the dive, but the sea eagle swoops low and re-adjusts the grip on its prey. The show goes on until the birds reach land. Both frigate birds give up the chase. The eagle flies on, ready for a well-earned breakfast.
Going With The Flow. Five of us enter the water at the Willemstoren lighthouse on the southern tip of the island. On most days, entrance here is impossible due to crashing waves, extreme currents and howling winds. It is seaside chaos. But today the winds are down, the waves small. All that is left are the currents and we decide to do a drift dive on this wild side of Bonaire. The choice pays off big time. We drop down to fifty feet and are swept along the coast by a freight train of a current. This tip of the island always attracts big fish. I look above and see a school of wahoo swimming effortlessly against the stream and on the hunt. I try to imitate them and clock around 180°, kicking into the current. After about a minute, I only make about five feet. I happily give up my wahoo dreams and join my diver pals in the flow. We drift underwater for over an hour and nearly a mile. Besides the school of wahoo, we see ten tarpon, two green moray eels as long as your dining room table, and XXL sizes of a lionfish and permit. The dive has been epic.
Hawking Hot Sauce. It is Christmas Eve day and 6000 cruise ship tourists flood the island from two large ships. I find myself behind the market booth of the Flaming Flamingo, a hot sauce and spice company owned by our friends Wil and Sue. The couple is frantically busy preparing a three-course holiday dinner at their restaurant, Wil’s. They are so desperate for help that they have agreed
for me to hawk hot sauce in their absence. Now the cruise ship market is a place that I normally avoid like the dengue fever. It is crowded, noisy and filled with wandering people who feel that they have the right to put their brains on hold since they are on vacation. They swill cocktails at 10am, cross streets without looking, and clothe themselves in clashing prints and patterns. But I will do almost anything to help good friends. In fact, I somewhat enjoy the day meeting people from Honduras, New Hampshire and Manchester, England. Bon Pasku! (Merry Christmas).
A Green Christmas. One of the many nice things about living on Bonaire is that we get two Christmas days. The first, of course, is December 25th, the day celebrated as Christmas in the States and much of the world. That is followed by what is referred to in England and other Commonwealth nations as Boxing Day. Here on island, we just call it the second day of Christmas.
In our former home of New Mexico, there is a phenomenon called “Christmas Enchiladas” meaning that both red and green chile enchiladas are served. This year, I changed that delicious combo a bit. In my quest to recreate the Seven Moles of Oaxaca, I decided to make Mole Verde (green mole) in lieu of green enchiladas. Moles (Moh-lays) are complex, rich sauces made of chiles and an exhaustive number of exotic herbs and spices. The Mexican state of Oaxaca is renowned for its seven distinctive moles.
I had recently returned from the US where I was able to find the necessary ingredients—tomatillos, cumin seeds, masa harina and the Mexican herb, epazote. I bought the rest of the ingredients on island—jalapeño peppers, cilantro, cloves, garlic, onion, thyme and marjoram. The only thing missing was hoja santa, an aromatic, heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in tropic Meso-America. I substituted a bit of black pepper and diced fennel instead. Six of us dined in Mexican nirvana on the second Christmas day.
First Day of Winter. A different six of us find ourselves near sunset on one of the southern beaches. It is winter solstice, that time of year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator marking the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The precise moment of the 2013 solstice was December 21st at 12:11 PM Eastern Standard Time. No matter. We begin imbibing rum at 5:30 pm Atlantic
Time–a bit late but close enough for these beach bums. There are Katt & Wes thawing out from a Missoula, Montana winter that came early. They are enjoying their first trip to Bonaire; Brenda y Juan, Caribbean cruisers who swallowed the anchor after a decade of sailing the islands and chose to live on Bonaire; and the two of us, now celebrating nearly six years on the island. We are armed with binoculars, Mount Gay and a barbeque grill. Two sets of pink
flamingos fly overhead in the waning sun. I grill up green chile cheeseburgers in paradise for everyone. The sun drops like a falling coconut, but without a thud, into a golden sea. In a Caribbean minute we are in the dark and I pull out a pint-size bottle of Saba Spice, a savory concoction of cinnamon, cloves and rum that I was given a few years back while visiting the Dutch island of Saba. The elixir delivers us into nighttime of satellites gliding high overhead and flashes of shooting stars in green and platinum. Can’t beat this longest night of the year down island. Welcome to a 12-lattitude winter.