Just Another Dive

Another Island Note…

Hettie (R) and I (L) descend upon the wreck.

We were on the dock Saturday.  It was mid-afternoon hot while waiting in our black 3mm wet suits.  The goal was to take a boat to Klein Bonaire for a cooling one-hour dive.  But a broken key and the inability to start the boat cancelled those plans to travel to our off-shore island in a Bonaire heartbeat. What to do?  Well, we had all our gear there and as I mentioned, it was hot.  The four of us decided to just plunge off the dock and get into the water fast.  I must explain that from a diver’s perspective, Eden Beach is not a very desirable dive site.  It has a long sloping decline mostly consisting of rock and old fossilized coral.  It kind of looks like the surface of the moon—white rubble forever and devoid of life.  Not much there except for a few scavenging fish.  Rob suggested I lead the dive.  Below at 80-feet I spotted a boat that sank on its port side decades ago.  It was the only object of interest that I noticed so down we went to the wreck.  What follows are the brilliant photos of my friend, Karen Smith.  She captured the beauty of what we all thought would be just another dive.  But, ah dushi Bonaire.  The island continues to surprise whether above or below the water.

A hole in the old boat’s hull is a gathering
spot for fish.
More fish around the wreck’s keel.
Later in the dive, a batwing coral crab.
And three juvenile drum fish swim before a sponge.
I pass right over this scorpion fish and don’t even see him.
A whitespotted filefish and a trunkfish hang out among the brain coral.

Thanks, Karen, for all the beautiful photos.


Change of Season

Another note from the island…

There is a new moon over the sea this evening. The slim, cream-colored crescent slices deftly to the now. The present. Cruise ship intrusions are mostly finished lending to quieter streets, less downtown riff raff, and our best beaches are absent of the hordes of sun lotion-slicked bodies that are mostly overweight. It is now that our sweet island tempo begins its return.

Gone also are the snowbirds, those clever, temporary residents who flee the north and its biting winter cold.  A number of them are our friends.  John and Brenda flew out weeks ago only to land on Polynesia for more island indulgence.  Val and Pam postponed their return to Canada for a couple of weeks since their Algonquin lake cottage was still covered by copious amounts of snow. But they finally took off last weekend.  Gert Jan and Henne stowed their beautiful, sleek tender ashore only to return to Holland and launch their sailboat for the Dutch summer.  Arrrrrrgh.

So now we mix more with our local friends.  They were always here.  We certainly met during the winter season, but probably less so than the rest of the year.  Unfortunately, some are not doing so well.  I attended Doie Diaz’s funeral over the weekend.  Hundreds showed up.  Doie was one of the last old school fishermen who passionately sailed and then later motored the sea in search of fish.  On land, he didn’t slack off with the hunt as evidenced by the number of offspring with blood lines to the captain.  Women really loved Doei. So did many others. And Renee, snorkel queen and a sailor who never left, will be dying this week.  A terminal disease is making her say goodbye.  I gave my adios to her a couple of days ago. She and her husband built a boat in South Africa and went on a voyage back in the 1990s.  They landed here and never left.  He died years ago from cancer.  Now Renee sets sail to ports unknown.

But life on the island marches forward.  The tropical mocking birds serenade me everyday with their sonatas of song.  Goats breed and boisterously bleat through the hills.  And the parrots squawk at me on fly-bys with good-natured humor. My cat, Pirate, who is now approaching eleven, curls next to me whenever I am still. Her contented purr is comforting. And the beat goes on.

Mango Madness

Another Island Note…

If it wasn’t for my lifelong friend, Tom, I would not have been able to plant the mangoes.  He dug deep holes in unforgiving terrain and a hot sun so we could plant the trees.  I supplied  moral support, potting soil, water, and rum at sunset.  In the end, we planted 2 mango trees along the south side of the house.

The new kids on the block.

But we also attacked the banana garden.  The old trees had done their thing, producing small, but sweet fruit with a splendid tropical taste.  They also created offshoots, small banana plants that will be the next generation of fruit bearers.  It was some work separating the shoots from the adults, but soon we had a new banana garden started with drip irrigation supplied by Hettie.  It takes a village to grow bananas.

We cut down and hauled out the old trees except one.
The last bananas to be harvested.

But back to the mangos.  The two trees were a generous gift from Tom and his sweetheart, Cherie.  Together we had visited Echo http://www.echobonaire.org/ , a nonprofit group dedicated to conserving our endemic birds, the yellow-shoulder Amazon parrots locally called loras.  Part of Echo’s mission is to increase habitat so that these wild birds can thrive on our island, one of the few safe places for this species.  That is especially true now since people in Venezuela are so desperate that they are hunting loras and other birds for food.


So Echo started a nursery propagating local plants that the parrots like to feed on.  The fruit from mango trees is high on the loras’ list.  So we planted these babies to support our feathered friends in the future.  With luck, these trees will produce fruit in about 5-6 years.  The parrots have first pickings of the mangos.  After that, we humans will eat what is left.

Bloomin’ Limes

Another bloomin’ note from the island…

They zap our cerviche so that the raw fish is tender and tasty.  They add sour to sweet on a lengthwise sliced banana, a little trick I picked up years ago while whiling away the winter on a Mexican beach way south of the border.  Most importantly, they flavor our rum at daily sunset.  Limes, in fact, are the key to a quality island life.

We started with one tree.  Well, actually most people would call it a bush.  It’s down below, near the pump house, an area we don’t go to daily.  But Hettie just did and look what she found.

These are big ass limes, enough to flavor a two-kilo tuna, more than enough for a key lime pie. Bounty on Bonaire is mostly thought in terms of the island’s ubiquitous salt.  But hey, we got papaya, mango and, yeah baby, delicious limes if you look around closely.  This is important on an island where sometimes in the past limes were scarce.  When we moved here 11 years ago, it was hard to find a lime.  And when you did, you had to squeeze like a python only to get a small dribble of green juice to flavor the golden rum.  Those were difficult times.

Nowadays, the supply is much better, along with most other foods.  I can almost always find a lime of decent quality at the grocery store.  But none of them have the exquisite taste of our homegrown limes.  That is why we have four plants that keep us in good supply.  One of those plants produced dozens of limes and then it pretty much stopped.  But the future looks bright.  This morning there were dozens of small white flowers that will soon be replaced with green, marble-sized green globes. 

I hear a Polar Vortex is dipping down to the States these days, causing life threatening conditions.  Ah yes, I remember those Cleveland winters of long ago.  That chill made my fin sink so low.  But no more.  It’s time for another sunset and a rum.  And, of course, a fresh-squeezed lime from our tropical garden.  Cheers!  Or as we say in Papiamentu, Salú!

Hammock Hangout

Another note from the island…

My friend, Richard, recently accused me of being obsessed since I was the owner of five hammocks.  Yes, five.  He may have a point.  And I replied by saying that I was not only obsessive, but probably compulsive about hammocks as well.  Do you have any idea what a compulsive/obsessive hammock problem looks like?  Here goes.

This is my stereo hammock arrangement.  These two hang side-by-side, inviting for pairs of swingers to chill in the morning shade and gaze upon the blue Caribbean.  After twelve, this becomes untenable as the afternoon sun invades this space.

That is why I have the deck hammock.  This is my afternoon chill spot under the shade of two Brazilwood trees.  As I documented in an earlier blog by Worldkid, there are also two pieces of canvas strung above for additional shade as the trees begin to lose their leaves during the dry season.  Plus, a pair of gargoyles protect the outer perimeter to thwart any negative vibes from entering.

…under the foxtail palms

But my most recent addition is the palm hammock.  I strung this one between two foxtail palms that I planted years ago on the south side of the house. The trees are now hefty enough to take the weight. A couple of clove hitches and bowlines did the trick for hanging the hammock. I love the smooth, light gray trunks of these trees.  They resemble the classic Royal Palm.  But above, the palms’ fronds differ.  They are shaped like, well, a fox’s tail.

If you are counting, I still have one hammock left.  It is a single in simple off white.  I am still contemplating where to hang this one.  In the meantime, I will sway away the day and think about where the best next location might be.  

History tells that I am not alone with my obsession.  Hammocks were first developed in the Caribbean and on the mainlands of South and Central America.  Hamacas, as they were known in the islands, were quickly adopted by Spanish explorers in search of gold.  After a day of carting around that hot and heavy armor, the conquistadores needed to chill too.  As Christopher Columbus noted, A great many Indians in canoes came to the ship today for the purpose of bartering their cotton, and hamacas, or nets, in which they sleep.”

From there the obsession grew rapidly.  Sailors immediately began using hammocks as a way to stay dry and away from the ship rats while sleeping. Some fools recently declared a National Hammock Day in the USA. And even bears are now using hammocks!

So yeah, Ricard, I just might be obsessed with hammocks, but I’m not alone.  And as the superlative Turkish novelist Mehmet Murat ildan once wrote, While sleeping in a hammock, with the touch of a warm wind, we remember why we are in love with the life…  I rest my case.

Seize Tomorrow

Another Island Note…

My friend, Dave, arrived on Bonaire last fall wearing a Carpe Mañana t-shirt.  I thought, how fitting for the island. This was a clever take-off on the stalwart Latin phrase, carpe diem, or “seize the day”. 

Now when the testosterone-laden Romans were pillaging most of the prime real estate of the Western World two thousand years ago, this rallying cry was ideal.  After all, divide-and-conquer empires can’t follow some wimpy slogan like Time-Warner TV’s “Enjoy Better”.  No, they needed something bold, inspiring and bullshit free.  So carpe diem made perfect sense. That phrase may have even resonated with the pirates of the Caribbean centuries ago, but those bad ass marauders have been long gone. The cannons don’t thunder no more.  Problems on islands today often deal with simpler issues such as,  Do I choose a mojito or a banana daiquiri for an afternoon in the beach chair?  

But that may be oversimplifying how life is really like down here. After all, we do have stress. Tourists clog our streets on cruise ship days exposing too much oiled skin that they would never reveal at home. Hurricanes can be a problem. Now and then, there is a lime shortage on Bonaire. At times we even hear the babble from Fox and CNN about problems on continents far away. But that’s not a big irritation. That is because someone developed the ‘off’ switch.

Which leads me to my next point, avoidance.  Now many of you may disagree that this is not a healthy way to lead life, but it does have its benefits.  Getting too stressed?  Don’t think about the problem-drinking good rum helps with this.  Got bills to pay and short on cash?  Buy some time by sending payment for the phone to the electric company and vise versa.  When they finally sort it all out, you will have gained over a week before the checks are cashed.  Running out of time during the day?  No worries. It’s always five o’clock somewhere on the island.

Ah yes, carpe mañana, seize tomorrow.  By then, who knows?  Maybe another Plan B will appear on the horizon.  Perhaps the problematic situation that caused all the distress will have been serendipitously solved. In the very least,  you will have another delightful island day probably ending with a killer sunset complete with a Green Flash.  Even Mark Twain embraced the carpe mañana philosophy. As a worldkid and island wanderer he summed it up best when he said,  Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just as well.

New Ax To Grind

Another Note from the Island…

It was breezy and cold that February day in downtown Washington, DC.  I had parked my VW bus on M Street while my friend Billy and I went to visit an old girlfriend of his.  Back on the street an hour later I looked toward my VW only to see its curtains outside the van and blowin’ in the wind.  Two windows had been busted out and bus was stripped of its contents.  We were on the road job hunting and I everything that I owned had been stashed inside.  Devastated, I quickly went to the back of the van and opened a secret locker that I had built.  Yes!  The thieves missed getting my guitar.

This was not just any guitar.  It was a Gibson J-45 flat top acoustic that I had gotten in a swap for my Fender Bassman amp.  Back in high school, I played bass in a rock band and then briefly joined a Motown group while attending in college.  But that musical interlude cut too deeply into my study time, so I chose to sell both my Gibson EBO bass and the amp.  I got cash for the bass and this fine guitar for the amp.  I was thrilled and started to learn how to play a six string.  It was a good deal and this beautiful instrument is now appraised at about four grand.

But the Gibson had avoided disaster before the DC robbery.  It was my second year in college and the semester had just begun.  My digs were in an old, three-story house full of Pakistani exchange students and I was the only gringo in the place.  I occupied a gabled attic room high above everyone else.  Returning from class on day, I spotted smoke rising from the roof.  Fire!  Reaching the stairway, I tried to run up to my room, but was blocked by a mass of frightened Pakistanis.  They were hysterically yelling in Punjabi, Urdu and broken English while leaping down the stairs to safety.  One might ask, “What’s wrong in this picture?”  Answer: The gringo is running into the fire.

By the time I reached my room the smoke was dense and breathing was difficult.  I only could see my black guitar case and an apple.  I took both and ran down the stairs as fast as I could. No Pakistanis blocked the way. By this time the Columbus fire department had arrived and promptly put out the flames.  A local TV crew appeared and interviewed me about the blaze for the evening newscast. My room had been flooded and gutted. Not only was I instantly homeless, but I had lost all my books and class notes for the semester. At least I still had the guitar. 

Decades later, I gave away that beautiful sunburst Gibson to my son.  I had played it little during the adult years as work and family became priorities.  It was a good decision to gift the guitar for my boy is a much better musician than I’ll ever be.  He and the Gibson both now safely reside in London.  And the guitar, like a fine wine, only gets better and better with time.Why, you may ask, is this story labeled as an ‘island note’?  Well, after years of not playing I decided to buy a new guitar and jam again.  Last year, I took a bad fall breaking my arm and had complications in my left hand.  After surgery and 6 months of physical therapy, I recovered most of my mobility.  To maintain that, I thought playing a guitar would be helpful.  So I now got a new ax to grind—a Fender acoustic-electric, cutaway Dreadnaught 6-string.

I also bought a cool little gadget from Vox, that storied amplifier company favored by British rockers like the Kinks, the Yardbirds and the Stones. It plugs directly into my guitar allowing me to hear my music electronically amplified through headsets.

I jam outside on the deck to the north of the house as to not disturb my spouse and the three cynical cats lounging inside.  They just don’t’ seem to appreciate my attempts at playing Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, The Wind Cries Mary and Fast Car.  But the tropical birds in the trees above seem to like my efforts. I can even sing aloud and they don’t fly away.  And at times the wild goats in the neighborhood also stop by and listen. With such a loyal audience I must agree with British novelist George Eliot (George was actually Mary Anne Evans, a ghost writer) when she said, Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.  That’s the kind of audience I need. I guess it’s now time for an encore.