The Last Coconuts

10JulyBON 10Another Note From The Island

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…

Frigate Bird on the prowl.

Frigate Bird on the prowl.

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.12BONJan 1

08AugBon 73Going 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.

DSC_0244Hawking 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

island spices from the Flaming Flamingo

island spices from the Flaming Flamingo

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.

grinding the cloves

grinding the cloves

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.

Before the bland.

Before the blend.

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.

Mole Verde

Mole Verde

First Day of WinterA 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

The beach bums,

The beach bums.

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

red toenails for the season

red toenails, stylin’ for the season

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.

Enjoying winter.

Enjoying winter.

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Cleaning Up The Boka

No. 8 from the Beachkeeper’s DiaryDSC01058

It all began because I switched.  For nearly two seasons I had walked Bonaire’s west coast beaches from Red Beryl to Hidden Beach in search of turtle nests.  I served as a beachkeeper for Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire.  I loved those early Thursday mornings alone, watching the natural world awaken.  But when I learned that STCB needed volunteers at remote beaches so they could be monitored more often, I changed to the northeast.  It was like plunging into another world.

Broad sands and violent waves at Playa Chikitu

Broad sands and violent waves at Playa Chikitu.

My new patrol took me to Playa Chikitu, a rough and tumble sand beach in Washington Slagbaai National Park, and its secluded sidekick, Boka Chikitu, a wave torn, wind swept inlet just to the north.  The third location was Boka Onima, another East Coast cove not too far from the Indian inscriptions, south of Rincon.  These are wild places.  The sea crashes with such force that one is overwhelmed by the sonic collision of water against rock.  The waves are enormous and white-capped.  Even frigate birds seem intimidated by the relentless, shifty winds that blow onshore.  The bokas and the playa demanded my full attention upon arrival.  What a difference from the relatively tranquil waters of the west coast beaches.

Playa Chikitu

Playa Chikitu

Most of the turtle nesting in this area is centered at Playa Chikitu, but it is difficult to locate nests here.  Strong winds quickly cover telltale tracks in the sand, eliminating clues as to where turtles may have landed or nested.  And when the turtles do lay their eggs, it is embryonic chaos.  At times, nests are laid on top of previous nests.  Some turtles venture far into the dunes or deep under cliff overhangs to bury their eggs.  And the

tracks in the sand

tracks in the sand

hatchlings, rather than making a logical beeline for the water, often travel diagonally to the center of Playa Chikitu to begin their life at sea.  Along the way, their tracks are mixed with those of lizards, crabs and other beach beasts whose marks in the sand can look quite similar to those of the hatchlings.

One Hundred Eleven hatched eggs at Playa Chikitu nest.

One Hundred Eleven hatched eggs at Playa Chikitu nest.

Needless to say, I was somewhat relieved to leave the pandemonium of the playa and head to Boka Chikitu about a kilometer north.  That optimism soon switched to disappointment as I stood on the edge of the cliff overlooking the inlet.  Below were hundreds of plastic bottles choking the boka, surging back and forth in a disgusting, slow motion waltz of environmental mess.  The enormity of this filth reminded me of my childhood growing up in industrial Great Lakes city of Cleveland, Ohio in the USA.  How could this trash end up in our beautiful island?  DSC01011

The answer was simple.  Currents.Perhaps you have heard of the Pacific Trash Vortex, an enormous gathering of plastics, toxic sludge and other garbage trapped in the North Pacific Gyre.  It is estimated to be the size of Texas.  Gyres are massive, rotating ocean currents.  The one that dominates the southern Caribbean is the Columbia-Panama Gyre.

Boka Chikitu

Boka Chikitu

It flows counter-clockwise to the Caribbean Current and dumps undesirable flotsam primarily upon the eastern coasts of Bonaire and other islands.  Boka Chikitu, with its receptive inlet walls, has become a catch-all for any trash approaching this part of the island.  And that is where I come in.To say that I was enraged at this pollution upon our shores is an understatement.  I decided on that first day looking down into the boka that I would clean up this small part of dushi Bonaire.

But it was not easy.To enter, I had to descend down a 20-foot cliff of craggy rock.  One slip and it would become a bloody morning.  Next was a scramble through a maze of boulders that abruptly ended at a small sand beach.  That is where the cleanup began. Dive Friends equipped me with four large mesh bags each capable holding two and a half cubic feet of rubbish.  It took me 15 minutes to fill each bag.You learn much about humans by picking DSC01128up their trash.  Plastics dominate the scene and most are water bottles.  But there are cigarette lighters, motor oil containers, syringes, children’s toys, forks, knives, cups, fishing line, footwear, packaging, toothbrushes, headphones, sunglasses and shopping bags—all made from plastic.  Probably the most environmentally damaging are the soft plastics—Styrofoam, insulation and other materials that break down easily under the constant forces of surf, salt and sun.  These quickly crumble into micro particles that dissipate into the marine environment.  Scientists fear that these miniscule bits may be entering the human food chain as a consequence of fish unknowingly ingesting the minutia.  Plus, Greenpeace estimates that over a million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement by microfilament.

DSC01015So yes, I had a sense of urgency to clean up the boka.  For six consecutive Thursdays I climbed down the cliff, negotiated the boulder field and then filled the four bags. After driving back to town I would dump it all into a caged trailer at the Dive Friends’ Hamlet location.  This depository is a key part of their Debris Free Bonaire program.  People can borrow collection bags from Dive Friends, gather plastics from any beach or boka and return the debris to the Dive Friends’ Hamlet location.  Plastics that are not too degraded by salt and sun are delivered to Bon Recycling next to the Warehouse Bonaire supermarket .  By the time my Boka Chikitu cleanup was complete, I had gathered 61 cubic feet, nearly 2 cubic meters of waste.

So what did I get out of this endeavor?  Immediate gratification, that is for sure.  Seeing a plastic-infested seascape returned to its natural grace was personally rewarding.  On a bigger scale, this slice of the island is now rid of a toxic threat, but much more needs to be done.  So head down to Dive Friends, grab a bag and do your part.  Not only will the fish and turtles immediately benefit, but so will people, both local and visitor alike.  And do not forget about yourself.  Making a difference in an increasingly complex world is often difficult at best.  This is one simple way you can make an immediate impact, help Bonaire and feel hopi kontentu about the change that you made.

Clean Boka

Clean Boka