Beach Daze

Another note from the Land of Bon Bini…

Perhaps it is that dalliance of sun striking water resulting in a sparkling dance of diamonds.  Or maybe it’s that rhythmic, sonic mantra of wave washing upon shore.  Most assuredly it is the hearty aroma of fish, fowl and funk, that fresh aquatic gumbo which gently invades my nose.  Ah yes, all of these wonders at water’s edge grab my Pisces soul.  The sensual mix sends me into a beach daze where I mentally wander in a place without time.

Strangely enough, I haven’t been at the beach much these days. That doesn’t mean that I’ve turned my back to the sea.  Readers of this blog know well of Worldkid’s adventures down under exploring the coral reefs of this amazing island. Or swimming and snorkeling in its gin-clear, aqua blue waters.  Or sailing, kayaking and coastal cruising above in my modest armada of pleasure craft.  No, the reason for decreased beach daze is because I have been avoiding the sun.

Bonaire is only eleven clicks north of the Equator and the rays here are intense any time of the year. As a filmmaker I spent much of my professional life outside in the elements. I lived an active personal life for decades in the high New Mexican desert.  And now I count over a dozen years down island, playing in these little latitudes.  So yeah, all that UV over a lifetime has a cost.  I’ve lately been avoiding the beach to save my old hide.  That was until I met the Sun Ninja.

This innovative South African company produces beach shelters that protect vulnerable souls like me from intense UV exposure.  I was a bit skeptical due to the fact that I’ve seen a flying squadron of tents, umbrellas and other shade devices blow halfway to Curacao in Bonaire’s relentless trade winds. But Sun Ninja is constructed differently.  They use sand (an obvious, but smart idea) to anchor their sun shades.  I thought I’d take a chance and buy one in an effort to get back to the beach.

The day I test Sun Ninja it is blowing 21 knots, gusting to 27 (that’s 24-31 miles/hour, 39-51 kilometers/hour for you landlubbers). I go to a little-known, isolated beach and begin the setup. Fill each corner sack with copious amounts of beach sand.  Stretch out the shelter in an X configuration and then erect four poles.  Place the rubber ball at the end of each pole under the fabric and fix on top with a draw string.  

I am finished in about ten minutes, not bad for a rookie.  The sun is full blast but I sit comfortably under the SPF 50 turquoise tent. I am in Bonaire bliss with the whole place to myself.  The Sun Ninja is also designed to serve as a lean-to. By only using two poles, it blocks enough of the late afternoon low angle sun so you can stay longer on the beach.

Now that I’m back at the shore, I’m happy as a clam.  The draw for me is strong here.  It harkens back millennia when we as aquatic creatures wiggled and wormed our way out of the ocean onto terra firma. I think, perhaps, I never quite left.  I’m constantly lured to this confluence of water and land. It is where I feel most grounded.  Look! There’s an American oystercatcher poking its scarlet red bill in a search of crab.  Above soars a frigate bird.  Its pterodactyl silhouette magically floats in the winds hundreds of feet above.  A fisherman motors by, trolling for a mahi mahi dinner.  Ah yes, beach daze.  It is a triumphant return.

Bananarama

Another Note from the Island…

It took 14 months for the small sprout to reach heights of 12 feet and bear fruit.  When it did, I lobbed off the stalk with a machete, drilled a hole through the top and strung up the bunch of bananas in my garage.  Sorry, parrots.  The fruit were still green, but that is the magic of harvesting home grown bananas.  In about 2 weeks they began to turn yellow.  This starts at the top of the stalk and then gradually the fruits ripen on down.  It is a wonder of nature.

The process started out splendidly.  For the first week one or two bananas were ready for plucking each day.  This was perfect for my spouse and me.  But by the second week the number of daily ripe fruit began to exponentially increase.  First by four, then by six.  Then by many more.  I was in deep bananarama.  What to do?

We ate as many as we could.  I gave fruits away to friends. Freezing some for smoothies commenced, but the yellow abundance was relentless. I panicked and e-mailed my friend, Tom, back in the States.  I know he likes bananas a lot. 

Pat, I’d love to help with all those bananas. All your options sound good. Don’t forget to add a bit of chocolate to the frozen ones and especially don’t forget banana bread.  That has always been a favorite of mine. Such a dilemma! 

Tom, thanks for the banana bread suggestion.  That’s a great idea for using a lot of bananas quickly.  But what the hell were you thinking?  I’m not a baker.  I’ve never made banana bread let alone a pie or a cake.  But yeah, these are desperate measures for desperate times.

Sure. It’s easy for my friend to simply say, Just go make some banana bread.  He’s fearless in the kitchen, especially when baking. So, I plead for more guidance. This from Tom.

Pat, I view recipes the same way Italian drivers view traffic laws… they are pleasant and well meaning suggestions, but little more than that. I vary ingredients as I please. Not enough canola oil? Add some olive oil. No walnuts?  Add pecans. And I usually severely reduce the amounts of sugar and salt in most recipes. I could go on and on. Guess I am rather adventuresome/reckless in the kitchen.  Just go for it. 

I, on the other hand, am strictly a by-the-book kind of cook.  I follow those culinary inspirations to a ‘T’.  I guess that’s because if the dish doesn’t work out, I can always blame the recipe author.  I quickly find an online recipe called Banana Banana Bread.  You read that right.  There’s a double emphasis on the word ‘banana’. This must be the right choice as I am drowning in ripened fruit.  I dive right in mixing flour, baking soda and salt in one bowl.  Then brown sugar and butter in the next.  The last bowl needs 2 beaten eggs-no problem-and a heaping 2 1/3 cups of bananas.  Houston, we have a problem.

As I mash up my six bananas on hand, I realize they produce drastically less than the required amount. This recipe must be calling for those Chiquita-sized bananas common in supermarkets.  Mine are short, fat, backyard fruits. I madly dash to the garage to see what is ripening on the stalk.  I get three more but they are partially green. I open the yellowest one and start to pummel the fruit.  It’s as hard as a hand grenade, not even close to ripe. There is trouble in paradise, friends.

It’s time for Plan B.  Fortunately, I had not yet mixed the wet stuff with the dry.  I take out about a half cup of flour to compensate my low banana amount.  I am clearly out of my comfort zone, deviating wildly from the recipe. Then the next problem occurs.

Our oven is on the fritz while we wait for a new thermostat part from England.  How did I find out about that problem?  I toasted 2 dinners to black before I realized that something was rotten in Denmark.  Anyway, that leaves the microwave which also has oven capabilities.  But I know nothing about this machine. It has operating labels in Dutch words that are longer than a Chiquita banana. My Amsterdam-born spouse has the microwave knowledge but she’s currently in town.  I bumble my way to the temperature setting in centigrade.  The recipe calls for 175 but the machine only offers 170 or 180.  I go low thinking I can always bake longer.  Once again, I’m off script and not feeling good about it.  Then I set the time and hit start.  While I’m cleaning the mixing bowls, the machine suddenly beeps at me and stops.  Whatever I dialed in was not the 60-65 minutes required by the recipe and I have no idea how long the cake just baked.  I guess 5 minutes, set the machine for another 55 and let it rip.  

The two Peruvian women cleaning our house for the first time watch me with suspicion.  I must look a bit flustered. When they first arrived, I told them in Spanish what I was up to.  They had never heard of pan de platano (banana bread).  I think they also thought it was pretty strange for a man to be baking, let alone to be in the kitchen. ¡Aye Chihuahua!  I wish Tom was here.  There is always strength in solidarity, but I forge on alone.

An hour later I pull the pan out of the oven.  The recipe tells me to stick a toothpick deep in the bread.  If it comes out clean, it’s done.  Drat, my toothpick is covered with goo.  Back in the oven you go, and hell, let me bump up that temperature 10 degrees more for good measure. The Peruvian ladies turn their heads away in concern. This gringo is going bananas. Even my usually loyal cat, Pirate, concurs.

While I’m waiting, I start to question my culinary skills.  Doubt begins to creep in, but hold the phone. Put me in front of a grill and I can light the world on fire. Make a super salad?  I slash with the best of them creating masterpieces that would make a rabbit drool.  Baking?  We’ll find out soon.

Five minutes later I pull out the loaf.  This time it passes the toothpick test. The recipe further instructs me to let the bread ‘sit’ in the pan for 10 minutes and then roll it out on to a metal rack to cool. I dutifully do that.  I’ve always have seen banana bread wrapped in aluminum foil, so once it cooled, I do that too and stick it in the fridge.  Maybe this is denial on my part, refusing to face the music and taste the bread.  Or perhaps it is self-depredation.  Whatever it is, I’ll probably be tossing and turning all night awaiting first light. Then I will rise to find out the truth.  Meanwhile, Tom writes me back.

Pat, did you offer the Peruvians some of your pan de platano?  

Tom, are you crazy?  I feared making them sick, a bad impression on their first visit.  No, I made the ladies coffee and served some Dutch cookies. Safe bet. Maybe I’m just getting more conservative with age.  I’ll let you know tomorrow how this bananarama whirlwind worked out.

In the morning light of the next day, I approach the kitchen with knife in hand.  I am bold enough to try the loaf’s end piece even though I know the inner slices are preferable.  The first bite?  Not bad for a rookie.  The second? Like a fine wine. I’m tasting nuances and layers of flavor.  These home-grown bananas really deliver.  There is a subtle sweetness, a hint of citrus. I’m in banana bread heaven.

Next time I just might add a jigger of Mount Gay Black Barrel rum into the mix.  It’s a dark one with smokey flavors that could send my next attempt to the county fair.  But wait.  We don’t have counties on Bonaire. Oh well, at least the panic is gone.  Now, where’s that recipe for a banana daquiri?  It’s five o’clock somewhere and time to celebrate.

Roads of Destruction

Another Island Note…

Polo, my repair garage of choice, delivered the dastardly verdict last week.  “Here are a list of parts needed to repair your Subaru,” said Thurston reluctantly.  “You need to replace both front suspension arms and ball joints, sway bar links for front and back, disc brake calipers for left and right front and a power steering pump. That will be about $500 before labor.  I’m sorry, but you know how it is with Bonaire’s roads.”

Oh boy, do I ever.  This is the third time I’ve had to replace parts for my car’s under carriage.  Roads on the island aren’t what they used to be.  They were never good, but with the population nearly doubling in the past decade the impact of more vehicles has been over the top.  Banks give out car loans like $1 rum drinks at the Divi Divi Resort’s happy hour, resulting in increased traffic.  The building boom has launched an intimidating fleet of dump trucks, heavy machinery and cement trucks that madly crisscross the island at break neck speeds.  Tourist transport has warped from simple 8-passengers vans to enormous buses, wobbly golf carts and a bloody slow choo choo train in blue that paralyzes downtown into a tropical crawl.

The result of all this traffic?  We have broken byways that resemble lunar landscapes, cratered roads that appear like bombed out Dresden after the war, challenging boulevards that make the Baja 500 look tame. Even the donkeys are unsure about what route to take. 

And that’s just the collateral damage.  The asphalt carnage has drastically changed the way people drive. Staying in your lane results in a bone-jarring ride.  Rather, most participate in doing The Weave, spur-of-the-moment jockeying to and fro to avoid the potholes.  This results in oncoming traffic entering your lane like crazed kamikazes at the Battle of Midway. 

Gone are the days of casually motoring down Kaya Grandi while scoping out the local scene.  

My, look who’s drinking beer at 10AM in front of the Yummy Yummy Bar. 

Hey, check out at Yellowman-he’s back working on the road crew.  

Is that weird Charles again pedaling his aging bicycle around town?

No, drivers have no time anymore to take a gander.  If they do, a menacing pothole will eat their cars alive.  Oddly enough, the roads of destruction have led to some humor.  A couple of locals protested the sad state of affairs by clandestinely placing plastic flowers rooted in cement into the most grievous of craters. 

This accomplished a couple of things.  Motorists were warned of the most dangerous of potholes by pink, blue and yellow plastic blooms rising to the heavens.  And within a few days the road department responded by replacing the flowers with subpar asphalt patches, all of which began deteriorating within a month.

Then there was the cartoon with side-by-side aerial views of the routes driven by two cars.  The one on the left showed a straight line heading down the road.  The one on the right was a zig zag affair reminiscent of a chaotic start at the Bonaire Annual Regatta.  The cartoon queried, “Which one is the sober driver?”  It was the zig zag route.

So, while there is trouble in paradise at least some humor has come from this disaster.  But the future doesn’t look bright.  Someone did a study claiming that it would take $21,000,000 to repair all of Bonaire’s roads.  The island government certainly doesn’t have that kind of plaka.  I doubt that Mother Holland wants to give their Caribbean playground the funds.  It is easier for Dutch tourists to rent a pickup truck on arrival and live out their Rambo Does The Highway fantasies. In the meantime, we shell shocked locals, reluctant dukes of hazard, continue to perfect The Weave in this purgatory of potholes, this hell of thunder roads. It just goes to show that some things don’t change much over time.