I was walking home from work the day before yesterday. I have to climb the steep bridge over the harbour. I looked down, and there was a public utilities truck (electricity) being loaded onto a mail boat for travel to an outlying island. There were other vehicles on the boat as well. The decks hands were covering over an open hatch area with boards (lower part of pic) to create a deck space to place the yellow public utilities truck and the white pickup which was going to be shipped as well.
When I was a kid, I used to stop on the way home from school and watch construction and machinery, and this was no different. Here I was on the bridge, with my computer bag, dressed in my work clothes watching this. Everyone else on the sidewalk of the bridge were either tourists in shorts, sandals and tee shirts or hospitality workers in uniforms from the nearby hotels. I was the geek photographing the loading of a ship. And I was walking home to go to the beach to spearfish and snorkel. This job and this situation is almost too much fun for me.
And there is news. Our company is bidding on a telephone company, and as for the articles of incorporation, I have been named both a director of the telecom and the Chief Technical Officer. If the bid is successful, I will direct the technical issues of a telephone company. That appeals to the little kid in me as well. Maybe I will finally succumb and get a Blackberry, or a crackberry as they are known here because they are so addictive. I don't think that I will become addicted unless they devise one that works while snorkelling.
The Lovely One and I took this fast ferry on a two hour excursion to the outermost island in this archipelago. It was a phenomenally comfortable trip. I stood out back in the open air, and watch the huge plumes of water -- magnificent rooster tails from the two powerful engines.
The boat has a snack bar, washrooms, an open air upper deck and it doesn't draw much water, so it can navigate the shallows between the reefs. On our trip back from the out islands, someone played a tuba on the rear of the boat for most of the way home.
Not only do I like this boat, but she marks time for me. She runs a regular schedule, and at 6:00 PM every evening as I am coming back from Snorkeller's Reef, I can see this fast ferry coming home to port as I walk the beach to my home.
Plants, fruits, animals and fish are what I delight in discovering in this tropical paradise, and the wonders never cease. My latest discovery is the sapodilla or the dillie as it is known. I had heard the old tropical stories about when the dillies are ripe, people throw things up the dillie tree to try and knock the delicious fruit to the ground. Apparently in the Fox Hill area where dillies grow abundantly, one finds in the odd bicycle hanging out of a dillie tree. And green or unripe dillies make fearsome weapons. They are smaller than a hardball baseball, and apparently just as hard. A green dillie hurts to blazes and leaves a considerable bruise when it lands on flesh.
But the ripe sapodilla or dillie is something else. I told you how the sugar apple tastes like apple pie and ice cream together. Well the dillie tastes exactly like pumpkin pie. You can even taste the nutmeg. And the dillie is incredibly sweet. Like the sugar apple, it has grains of sugar spread throughout the fruit.
That makes three island fruits that are exceptionally sweet -- the sugar apple, the caimito and the dillie. But in island culture, the dillie tree is much more significant. Many many events and things take place in the shade of the tree, and the island lore is rife with "tings happenin' under da dillie tree". Under the Dillie Tree is a very common saying among these islanders. I suspect that it hearkens back to a much simpler time.
I bought the fruit from the Haitian fruit vendor. I have yet to see a dillie tree in my wanderings.
Just when I had given up on seeing bunches of bananas in this tropical paradise, banana flowers have sprung up all over the place.
It must be spring time. Everything is in bloom, although there has been a north wind blowing for days, and it has been a wonderful coolish temperature -- about 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This coupled with a breeze off the ocean, makes for a comfortable climate.
The Lovely One is still up north, and she reports that Spring has sprung there as well. However I'm willing to bet that there are no flowers like the banana flower that I saw on my walk to Starbucks this morning, for my morning coffee.
It is of a banana flower that has been chopped off and dried. They look like a bird of paradise flower. The one here is dried and 4 or 5 days old. Normally the petals (the things sticking up), are shades of white and blue and salmon. Gardeners here cut off the banana flower, because it exudes a sticky sap. This particular banana flower was chopped from the banana plants surrounding the outdoor patio of Starbucks across the street. What a shame -- oh the misery of all of the dead bananas. But at least I know why we have no bananas.
Item 2, is a progress report of the avocado pear tree in the office yard. At one time, I despaired of ever seeing avocado pears. However, you can see by the photo below, that they are coming along nicely.
And a further report on the Cuban Orange tree growing on the office grounds as well. I have discovered a marvellous use for these intensely sour oranges that never turn orange but stay green. I squeeze the juice into a pitcher of ice water, and the juice of one orange makes an incredible beverage that slakes the worst thirst. And I am please to say that the tree is full of growing oranges. They are about the size of a gumball now:
Finally, snorkeling every day has taken its toll on my flippers. The day before yesterday, the heel strap broke in two places. This is the second set of flippers that I have blown out. So today I splurged and went to a dive shop and bought an amazing set of scuba flippers. I was singing the old James Taylor tune to the words: "Yellows and blues, are the colours I choose" and in fact those two colours are not only the colours of this country, but now they are my colors as well:
I also have another mystery plant, but maybe I will tell you about that tomorrow.
I had made his acquaintance at the beach, and it was about a month or so before we both collectively realised that both of us were chasing the same quarry -- golf balls in the ocean. Because he is retired and I am not, when he discovered me collecting in what he considered his back yard, he always beat me to the punch. I invariably met him coming from the reef with his stash. However I had a secret weapon -- he can't free dive as deep as me, and there is a spot where the balls funnel down into a bowl that is between 18 and 24 feet deep, depending on the tide. He can't get down that far, and left them for me. It was a good compromise, but we still tried to beat each other to the reef.
When we encountered each other, we would have pleasantries, but all the while, we were scoping each other out. We tried to ignore the fact that we were both after the same thing. Once when he beat me to the punch, and made a real score, he left a golf ball under my shirt on the beach. I would do the same thing to him. It wasn't kindness, it was a very gentle backhand mocking -- ha ha I got the balls today.
Then a wonderful thing happened for both of us. He got a girlfriend. She was Dutch as well, and he travelled to Europe to woo her. That left Golf Ball reef all to me. Then he had to go to the Netherland Antilles to wind up a family owned shipping business. I got used to not sharing the harvest.
Well, the girlfriend is now domiciled in his home in this tropical paradise, and he has started bringing her to golf ball reef. The competition is in full swing. Only two things motivate us -- fear and greed. We are both afraid that the other will get to the reef first, and when we get there, we are greedy and want all of the balls for the picking.
Tonight was the telling point. We both arrived at the reef at the same time. He did not bother to stop to talk like he usually does. He donned his snorkel stuff and beat me into the water. You could tell that it was another fear/greed situation. Would he be afraid to show me his favourite spots, or would his greed for golf balls overcome his secrets of his hotspots. Greed overcame fear. He jumped into the water and went straight for the booty.
I got a measly 4 golf balls today. I didn't stick around to see how many he got. I was amazed at my reaction of feeling cheated. The veneer of civilisation is indeed thin. But not in the picture. I love Georgian Colonial architecture, and this place is intensely beautiful. The Lovely One and I ate a wonderful civilised lunch on the second storey wrap-around balcony, where we had a view of the sea. In spite of my animal nature, I like civilised things as well.
Yesterday I went to Jazz Beach, and I was wearing my sunglasses that The Lovely One bought for me last summer. I don't know what they do to the light other than polarize it, but it intensifies the colors when I have my sunglasses on. I was going to snorkel the offshore reef, so I left my shades in the car, and was amazed at the intensity of the colours without my sunglasses.
The ocean awaited, and I wanted to see if the reef was a suitable place to catch lobster. My interest was really whetted when I found bits of lobster shell on the beach.
I got into the water, and within a minute I saw a huge barracuda, the size of my leg swim past me. He had his jaw open, showing a mouthful of sharp ragged teeth. The barracuda swimming with his mouth open freaked me out. I snorkelled around the reef for a while and got out of the water, a little disquieted by the open-mouthed predator.
The first thing that I saw when I got out of the water was some sort of sea shell with yellow and coral on it. I put it in my mesh collection bag, because the colors were so intense, and I wanted to preserve and sample them in photoshop. I later digitally lifted those colors, and they are #1 and #2 in the color chart above.
Then I found a clamshell with purple on it, and it became #3 on my chart. The brown of #4 came off a little cowrie shell that I found that was the size of my thumbnail. Sample #5 came from a piece of aged conch shell.
Numbers 6,7,8 and 9 came from a green piece of beach glass that shimmered in the sun. Numbers 10, 11 and 12 were sampled from a fresher conch shell. Number 13 and 14 came from a lobster shell. Lobster shells turn purple and blue when they are very old such as this. The white square #5 is sand dollar white, and #16, #17 and #18 were sampled from a barnacle.
Obviously I am missing a pile of emeralds, greens and blues from the sea, as well as the red skies at night. However with the collection of colors, I began to wonder if it were possible to substitute my palette for a computer system palette and translate a picture from a normal color wheel to island colors. I think that it is possible, and when I get some time, I will research this. It would be interesting to see ordinary photos 'translated' to the palette of the tropical Indies.
After all, the colors of the land, sea, and the lifeforms that inhabit these West Indies are the signatures of the terroir to our observing eyes, and together they make the visual fabric of this land. And it is beautiful.
The super yachts have ceased to amaze me. We have a yacht crew living behind us, and they are away for weeks. The crew makes a ton of money for their 14 hour a day, 7 day a week servitude. However, the Lovely One and I are trying to squeeze a small boat out of the budget, so that we can take off to the surrounding unhabited islands. A boat like that is about $25,000, and yet some of these super yachts have a couple of them as tenders.
So my walk took me to the marina village, and I was stunned to see a helicopter on the back of the yacht. The helicopter costs more than the net worth of most people back home, and here it was just thrown on the back of the yacht like an appendage. I sat stunned, just looking at this display of ostentatious wealth. Toys. Big toys.
The Lovely One and I were out to the western part of the island on a leisurely drive when we saw a colourful fruit stand run by a Haitian woman and her husband. We get out of the car to examine her wares. I pick up a fruit that looks like a giant green pine cone and ask what it is. She tells me that it is a custard apple, or a sugar apple or in Haitian, a Kashiman. She further informs me that it is not ripe.
I set it down. The old man who helps run the stand can barely speak English, but he hands me the fruit pictured above. It is a ripe version of the green fruit. The woman wants a dollar for it. It is worth a taste adventure. After buying some other stuff (report on tamarinds tomorrow), we take it home to try it out.
It certainly was ripe. It was soft all over, and it looked like it had gone too far. Was I wrong. It was THE most magnificent richest fruit that both the Lovely One and I have ever tasted. It has the consistency of custard, but tastes like apple pie with ice cream! It was amazingly delicious. It was wonderfully sweet, with sugar granules in the fruit.
I saved the seeds from this fruit, and you can bet that I am going to try and grow it. Wikipedia says that the fruit grows on an evergreen bush that can reach up to 30 feet high. The good news is that a 100 gram portion of this fruit contains up to 44.4 milligrams of vitamin C and 6.6 grams of crude fiber. It is high in iron, and the oil from the seeds (Fatty-acid methyl esters) meets all of the major biodiesel requirements. When I grow my orchards of these things, I will be an oil tycoon. .... singing "Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed ... er whatever"
Well, I have finally cracked this nut, both literally and figuratively. If you recall, in a previous blog entry, I gathered some coconuts while on a drive with the Lovely One and they turned out not to have real coconuts in them. They were just green coconuts without the brown hard pit inside. They had rather neutral tasting coconut water. I wanted the ones with a brown coconut inside, full of the yummy white coconut meat and sweet coconut water. So I have been testing different kinds of coconuts.
While on my ill fated mission to spear lobster on the Orange Hill Reef, I was thirsty and needed a drink, so I found another of those green coconuts. Using my Hawaiin sling, my spear made a hole in the thing, and the coconut water inside was sweeter than the last ones, but still no brown coconut inside.
Last weekend, on my way to the beach, I found a different kind of coconut. Instead of being totally rounded, it had flattened sides. I brought this coconut home, and tested it with a knife. Lo and behold there was a real coconut inside.
I got the largest kitchen knife that we had, and used it like a machete. It took forever to get the fibrous husk off. But inside was my coconut. There were a couple of surprises. The fibres were white and as the coconut dried out, they turned darker like the familiar coconut in the supermarkets. The other surprise was that as the fibres darkened and dried out, the three little eyes appeared on the bottom of the coconut, again just like the coconuts in the supermarket.
I haven't cracked my coconut yet -- I haven't had too. The supermarkets just had a half price special on canned coconut water, and I have a pile of cans in the fridge at work. Zipping the top of a can sure beats twenty minutes of hacking away at the husk with knife.
A basic example is a coin toss - if you throw heads the first time, the next time you toss the coin you could get heads or tails with 50/50 chance. If you get heads 100 times in a row, the next toss could be equally heads or tails, no exceptions - the past does not determine the future. The present state is that you have a coin, and it has heads and tails with equal weighting, no other information can influence to future toss of the coin (assuming a fair toss and that the coin is equally balanced)
After about 15 minutes, it did finally pick a point that was through the safe passage, but after getting out of the bleach enclosure, it decided that it was going the wrong way, and went back into the enclosure to test other points. The ant did not discern that the bleach barrier was continous, except for the back part.
Ironically enough, I myself was starting the barbeque. The woman comes rushing into our patio with a wildeye look asking if we had a hose, because there was a car on fire. I wasn't too keen on putting out a fire with our water, because water is darn expensive. It is all made by reverse osmosis. Our water bill declined dramatically when the Haitian gardener was fired. We found out that he was watering everyone's flowers with our hose.
Anyway, I went out to have a peek at the car on fire. It was the Land Rover SUV. And it was parked next to the Lovely One's BMW. I rushed back into the house, and got the Beamer keys. When I went back out, flames were already coming out from under the hood and there was a thick black acrid cloud of smoke. I got a lungful, and it was horrid stuff.
I jumped into the Beamer, eyes watching and chest burning. Holding my breath I started the car, and zipped away up the street, putting our car out of harm's way. In the meantime, our new neighbour who had taken the Explorer for a test drive, tried calling 911. He wasn't having much luck, because on this island, the emergency number is 919. I shouted this info out to him, and he dialled the number. The fire brigade and firehouse is just mere blocks away.
Another neighbour connected a couple of hoses, and dashed into the black clouds of smoke and burning Land Rover with the garden hose spewing water. The crowd urged him to get out of there because the gas tank might go up. The tires were already on fire, the interior was full of smoke, flames were coming out all over, and melted plastic and burning fluids were lighting the asphalt on fire under the SUV.
However, the piddly little garden hose was winning the day. The water put out the burning plastic and the black smoke was turning to white smoke which was not the toxic crap spewing out from the burning engine. This all took about ten minutes, and from the few blocks away, we could here the sirens of the fire truck. The firemen would have arrived faster if they had walked.
The pumper came, and one blast of the the four inch hose finished the fire for good. They opened the interior of the Land Rover, and gave a blast for good measure. The driver's seat was melted. The tops of the front tires were burnt off as well.
There were the requisite jokes that the Land Rover's price had dropped dramatically, and we were idly wondering if there would be a fire sale. However, the joke was on me, because I had discovered that in fact, it was my water that put the fire out. My water bill next month should be as catastrophic as the fire was to the Land Rover.
We went for a drive out west. The Lovely One went to her gym workout and I went to snorkel for lobster at the reef . I had met this guy carrying spearfishing equipment and three lobsters. He said that he got them at the Orange Hill Reef. It turns out that he was a liar, because I went to the Orange Hill Reef, expecting a nice meal of Lobster Thermidor. The reef was sanded up and I didn't see a single fish -- never mind a lobster. Sadly, I went to pick up the Lovely One at the gym. We wandered across the street to the beach and the Beach Club.
Kendal is the bartender there. He introduced himself, and said that he made an amazing Strawberry Champagne Mojito. The Lovely One and I like mojitos -- a Cuban drink made by mashing up mint leaves with a wooden masher called a muddler. You mash up a goodly amount of mint leaves in the juice of one lime and some white cane sugar syrup. When it is all minty, you add the white rum, and top up with club soda and ice. It is an amazing drink.
Kendal's recipe is a bit different. Instead of white sugar syrup, he used light brown sugar. He adds strawberries to the mint leaves and muddles up all that in lime juice. Then, instead of club soda, he puts in the ice and tops it up with champagne.
It is the perfect drink to quench your thirst, and sit in the sun by the ocean, watching the boats go by in the emerald and robin's egg blue seas. The gulls fly past the whitecaps as the waves come over the reef and the tang of the salt air makes you glad that you are alive. Sitting by the surf in this archipelago cast like pearls in the sunny seas makes me feel like this day is significant for me. And Kendal's ambrosia just added to the experience. It was great to be alive.
A colleague at the office brought in a bag of what he called starfruit. I have seen starfruit before -- the yellow carambola star fruit that when sliced produces a five pointed star. This starfruit is different. When you cut it open, you get a star.
The fruit is delicious. It is sweet, and the juice is milky white. The large seeds are surrounded in a gelatinous seed case. They are wonderful at room temperature, and when they are chilled, it is like eating an ice cream fruit.
I have eaten a lot of tropical fruit and I never have run into this star fruit. The old timers here in this tropical paradise also call it star apple.
Google is my friend and I had to find out what this amazing fruit was. This is what Wikipedia had to say about it:
Chrysophyllum cainito is a tropical tree of the family Sapotaceae, native to the lowlands of Central America and the West Indies. It grows rapidly and reaches 20 m in height.
It has numerous common names including cainito, caimito, star apple, golden leaf tree, abiaba, pomme de lait, estrella, and aguay. It is also known by the synonym Achras caimito.
I have all these fantasies of introducing it into the North American market and becoming the starfruit or Caimito king as it is properly known. There is only one fly in the ointment with this scenario -- the tree grows quickly but takes 7 years to fruit. I can't wait that long, however I am saving all of my Caimito seeds in case I change my mind.
It is somehow a romantic story, but it is also very sad.
One day, the Lovely One went out and didn't take her keys. I was off to the beach to do some spearfishing. I wanted to lock up the house, and leave the keys somewhere where the Lovely One would find them. I immediately thought of placing them under the brain coral. When I lifted the brain coral, I was surprised to see two little beady eyes staring back at me. We had a resident lizard in the interior of the bird bath. He fits the hole perfectly.
My daughter when she was visiting, named him Frederico. She checked on him at every opportunity. At first I thought that Frederico left the hole at night to eat, to protect himself from the feral cats that we feed. However, we discovered that he sat in the hole, and just ate the insects that ventured under the brain coral. There was scraps of his insect meals all over.
When I discovered that he was a permanent resident of the birdbath tunnel, I was concerned that he was stuck. He wasn't because one day he was particularly scared, and retreated way down the tunnel where he could not be seen.
Then I speculated that he was lonely, or bored. I wondered what he did for amusement. After all, he just sat there and stared at a stone all day. I wanted to free him into the real world, but the girls talked me out of it. They figured that he would die. I thought that he needed exercise.
He needed something to relieve the boredom. After all, he just waited around for bugs and ate them. I thought of installing a TV in place of the brain coral. I had a lot of useless ideas too. However in the end, the girls convinced me that he was happy as he was. For his sake, I hope that he is a little autistic, and likes living in his head a lot.
It takes me about half an hour to walk home. I leave the office, and walk along the harbour front marina. I come to the bridge. The bridge is rather tall, and the incline is steep to allow boats to pass underneath. At the foot of the bridge is a peanut vendor. He is selling bags of peanuts to the cars stopped for the traffic light at the end of the bridge.
I asked him how much the paper bags of peanuts were, and he said that they were a dollar. I expressed surprise at the small amount of peanuts for a dollar. He said that he had roasted them himself over a wood fire. It was a novel idea, and I am always on the lookout for new tastes. I paid the man his dollar, and collected the bag of peanuts. He asked me where I was from, assuming that I was a tourist. I told him that I lived on the island, and he was mildly surprised that I would buy a bag. All of his other customers were indigenous islanders.
When I got home, I didn't open them immediately. I put them in my briefcase and promptly forgot about them until the next day when I was at the office. I opened the bag, and was surprised to find the peanut shells charred from the roasting. I opened a peanut, and they were delicious. I love the smokey taste.
Monday night, I again walked home. I saw the peanut vendor, and fished out four quarters. I approached the vendor, and he said "I saw you comin' mon, and I knew you was buying. Respect man!" I was touched.
I took the peanuts home. The Lovely One had prepared a wonderful, spicy dinner, which we ate on the patio. As we waited for the entrees to finish cooking, we snacked on a bowl of woodfire roasted peanuts. They were a perfect appetizer. The peanut vendor may be onto a new trend -- woodfire blackened peanuts. If the Cajuns can do it with Blackened Fish, maybe this will catch on as well.