Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rainy season

Since mid-July it has often rained at night, which, as promised, cools things down. The days are mainly fine, and cooler too, without hot-night heat-sink.

The number of mosquitoes is on the rise. These local mosquitoes are delicate biters and thin-voiced whiners, not the hulks seen in temperate zones. They carry the usual tropical diseases...Well, maybe not the historically usual diseases, because yellow fever, which for centuries has killed hundreds of thousands, including numerous laborers imported to build the railroads and canals, has about vanished from the Americas. See! It can be done. Bill and Melinda Gates have beaucoup funds focused on malaria, but if they're working here, it's not obvious.

"Malaria is prevalent and dengue fever is endemic (present in a predictable, continuous pattern in an animal community at all times, says Ask.com) in Guatemala, especially outside the urbanized areas." If you don't want to wear DEET (I'm not confident it's not another DDT), do want the breeze not blocked by screens, and care to be victimized neither by paranoia nor by one fatal mosquito, then you'd be in my present position. Asking around, I find only a handful of people who have had either disease, and I've certainly been bitten more times in the evening in the comfort of my own home in Maryland. So garlic, mosquito coils, evasion, and a handy swatter, are our current strategies.

Also on the rise is the water level on the river. The plank we climb to board the boat was getting so steep and so slick when wet, that we had to level it up with an extra Coke crate and a mounting block from a bottled water company. No milk crates here, despite the cows.

After a weekend of often heavy rain, this is the scene that greeted my friend and I on our Monday morning walk along the pipeline. Between the trees in the background there is a stream maybe 30 feet across, which had to have risen ?ten feet? to flood the road and the fields as it did.
Photos taken by Kim Martens on her I-Phone.

The man pushing his bicycle up the hill was wet almost to his waist after crossing the bridge, which we later saw had a plank missing. We met another man going to meet his patron. He told us that if his patron made it to the pickup place, he had to work, but if not: Big Smile. I was sure the patron wouldn't make it, but I was wrong, I learned next time.

The next day, the road was clear, and the manufactured trash, mainly potato chip bags, soda bottles and bottles once containing agro-pharmaceuticals of the bovine variety, had been swept into the Rio Seja, and onward into the Rio Dulce and downstream to sea.

Pretty regularly there's major thunder and lightning. We see it in the distance more often than we feel it directly. Like bubbles rising in a boiling pot, these loci of activity seem to burst straight up from where they started. I keep expecting storms in fronts, which roar past and gradually vanish, but that doesn't happen much, despite the tropical waves which increasingly feature in the offshore weather forecasts.

Even the laggards are making their way through squally 'wave weather' to shelter in the Rio now.

Every so often we'll be IN the thunder bubble, with gut-rattling thunder and lightning directly overhead. Then, we put the computers in the oven in case that makeshift "Faraday box" might actually save them if we got hit.

Everybody has a lightning story, and the bottom line of all of them is -Lightning Rules. We are in the thrall of so many vulnerable microprocessors and power supplies and who knows what else, including all the stuff wrapped in my own skin. It all might be erased in a microsecond.

For mental health you might bond, or unbond your through-hull fittings, install a lightning rod, or clip battery cables to your rigging and a chain to the water. Or you might throw salt over your left shoulder. It all seems about as effective. When those billions of volts are being tossed through the atmosphere, I pull the pillow tighter over my head and practice deep breathing, which has worked as well as anything else so far.

A nice steady downpour is when many of us look for a comfortable perch from whence to watch the show.

These thick palm-frond palapa roofs are very effective, and the drip edge can be as fascinating as watching sparks in a fireplace.
The new awning on the boat gives a sort of reverb effect. Unfortunately, the cutouts for the shrouds fall just above the ports I would most like to keep open. And the bounce of a raindrop still has a lot of splatter to it.
Sometimes the rain comes while we're in town. The locals are pretty phlegmatic about rain. Unlike people in the Eastern Caribbean who seem sure they'll catch a disease if raindrops hit them, the Guatemalans stoically carry on with whatever they were doing. We usually head for a bar with a good roof or overhang, for 'research'.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blogger's Manifesto / Books

There must be something in the Blogger's Manifesto about reporting what you're reading, because so many bloggers do it. And there's even a widget that goes in one's sidebar containing lists of one's latest adventures in literature. I might get around to it one of these days. Meantime, how do you like the new map?

Most of my books come from trading, and aren't necessarily what I'd chose if I were turned loose on Amazon or in the Strand in New York City. One of the first things you learn when approaching a swap is Don't Put Out Your Best Stuff Right Away. Otherwise you'll end up with Wilbur Smith's schlocky African adventures in a very uneven exchange for Paul Scott's elegant Raj Quartet, as once happened to me.

Also, never travel to another likely book exchange location, such as other marinas and backpacker hotels, without a spare trader book or two in your bag. Finally, watch out for bugs. Seriously. Silverfish, ants, even cockroaches come out of other people's books.

So I keep my eye out for likely 'good readers'- they're not always women- and I bait them with something choice. I watch for New York Times Notable Books of the Year, anything published by Picador, most of Vintage, plus the usual Pulitzer, Mann-Booker etc prizes.
Recent good reads include Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon), Queen of the Tambourine (Jane Gardam), White Tiger (Aravind Adiga), and My Dream of You (Nuala O'Faiolan). You wouldn't know from this list that I usually go for non-fiction and essays, but that's the trading life.

Sometimes I have trouble passing books on, thinking I would rather read a good book twice than a lesser book ever. However another of my favorite books, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui (Karen Kingston) tells me that no good new ones can come if there is no space. Also, I've seen books described as items with high value which diminishes into low value once they're read.

Just as rainy season ramps up and I finished a consuming project (income tax), I have scored a wonderful bag of very promising books from another discerning reader. So when I'm not sanding, sewing, cleaning, cooking, washing, writing, sleeping, travelling or trying to get organized, I'll have something to do.

Which brings me to my current read The Island That Dared, by Dervla Murphy. If you think of going to Cuba, or wonder what it is like now, before the barriers become ever more porous, I would recommend this book.PhotobucketCOVER

Dervla (I feel like I know her, would like to!) has been travelling for decades, to the less-frequented corners of the globe. (Her tips to travellers, in a recent Guardian interview, were: locate a pack animal, and a single pre-pubescent child of either sex, to travel with, and don't go anywhere other people go. She's been to Cameroon, Turkestan, Siberia, and decades ago, to Afghanistan.)

She did a lot of walking in Cuba, especially considering that she is in her 70s. She likes a lot about the politics there, and reports that many Cuban people do too. "Capitalism Rampant" is the scourge of the earth, she suspects, so she offers a point of view that will certainly be unaccustomed to many Americans whose news and views have been diametrically skewed for some time. She thinks Cuba may in many respects be a model for a post-oil, economic-bust, more environmentally-friendly economy.

Another ripple in the waters is the Amazon Kindle, two of which have recently landed here. Normally, an e-book reader requiring a US address to download new material would not be an option in Guatemala. However this marina's internet service comes via satellite in Missouri. So our beta testers are sussing it out.

I don't think it's for me though, in its present incarnation. For one thing, it costs $$$, and for another, I rather like meeting with my fellow readers, and the randomness of what comes to hand. Also, here's a link to a New Yorker piece about the Kindle by Nicholson Baker, who once turned a five-minute escalator ride into a great 150 page book, The Mezzanine. http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2009-08-03&email-analytics=newsletter090803p024#folio=024
Having finished Dervla, I'm now reading Tales From the South China Seas, about the British in Southeast Asia, which once was owned by someone who lived in Kuala Lumpur, and who has translated Malay words in a finely formed script at the bottom of the pages.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Crabs: Callinectes Sapides, Central American style

Such a surprise! The crab that is Maryland's icon lives here in Guatemala too, and I'm pretty sure it's our very own "beautiful swimmer" "savory".
You'll see lines of styrofoam chunks floating in the Rio, which I thought were for fish, but flat wire baskets are what come up. Looks more like lobster hooping than Maryland-style crabbing.

It's clear that crabbing is not a major industry here. I'm looking for an informant (Doug calls them 'victims') to explain the process to me. What, for example, is used for bait?

These cangrejos are used to flavor a delicious local specialty, tapado, a soup made with whatever other seafood is available, and some vegetables, in a coconut milk broth. Magnifique! I order it every time I see it.

Yesterday in a pizza place in Fronteras, I was shown a platter of crabs. They had had their aprons removed, and their "faces" cut off, but their backs hadn't been peeled open, so they presumably still had their lungs and 'guts' inside.

If I understood rightly (I only asked about three times), they were about to be fried in oil. Frito? Si. I aciete? Si. So stunned by that idea, (the oil! the splatter!) I never even asked: what then?

Now that the concept has settled a little in my mind - oil is just another form of heat - people fry turkeys and boil crabs, after all - I'm left to wonder: do you pick the meat out? Is the crab full of oil? Munch through the whole thing, shell and all? Elizabeth, holding the tray, looked equally astonished when I told her about the Old Bay seasoning and the steam. Sure is interesting being a clueless tourist!

But I want to try whatever it is. I think I've got to paddle out and visit a crabber some morning, to buy some crabs to cook Maryland style, and then get the pizza people to do a compare-and-contrast 'cangrejo cook-off'.

Update: I ordered crab soup in a restaurant the other day (actually, here's it's called, not cangrejo, but jaiba. This is what came:

As you can see, it's a thin broth with a vegetable base - the crabs were boiled in it, then removed, and crabs. I was supposed to eat the crabs as I slurped at the broth. I was supplied with a nut cracker. My question about the lungs brought the response: we eat them. Everything that is dirty has already been removed. So, I tried the lungs, but found no reason to add them to my diet. And the waitress was quite amused when I eventually pulled out all the meat I could get at (it's so hard not to spit the little bits of shell!), added it to the soup, then slurped.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blind, Gents and Ladies

PhotobucketI know we're supposed to be intrepid voyagers and all that, but every so often it's interesting to get back into the 'suburban' from whence we sprung.

There was a 4th of July party here at the marina, which is American-owned. We did manage to rustle up a few Brits who said they would celebrate their own narrow escape, and Germans, who maybe came for the brats.

No fistfuls of hotdogs and watermelon could compensate for the lack of fireworks and the Sousa marches which will always signify July to me. Maybe they'll come around (or their equivalent) on September 15, when Guatemalans celebrate their independence from Spain.

The main event was the blind dinghy race. Well, okay, food and pool volleyball were events too, but I don't have pictures. All inflatable dinghies, the driver blindfolded, the navigator unable to man the tiller. And it was all men. I could see that coming, and ceded my place. But I should have stuck it out. My plan was to steer Doug's knee as if it were the tiller, hoping he could follow like Ginger Rogers. But guys, as we know, do it differently. They sit far apart and try to find the right, or left, words and their modifiers, on a 'just in time' basis.blind dinghy racersBLIND DINGHY RACE The result sometimes was that they'd snag the first mark they circled, which would in turn pick up every other mark they circled. The resetting clearly puzzled the man fishing nearby using the same soda bottle/styrofoam floats.

Por las mujeres, "Ladies Day at Nutria Marina"

My mother once bought me a gift certificate for a "Spa Day". So I went. Massage, facial, haircut, all in a nice smelling, dim little womb with candles and interesting music. I came out feeling silky, but working hard in my mind to justify such blatant self-indulgence. My inner sybarite, however, ignores the guilt and has her antennae tuned for other opportunities. One presented itself recently.

The wonderful NZ/OZ manager of another Rio Dulce marina gathers together local beauticians, a travelling masseuse from the cruising community, and gringa ladies in need of - what? The woman who was applying my facial asked: Porque necesita un facial? and I was a little surprised. No es necesario, I tried to say, es una luxe para mi, porque me compleano es cerca. orange facialista(thanks for letting me use your picture, A!)

Whatever I might have said instead of what I intended, (I don't need it, it's a splurge because my birthday is near)worked, because now I know that the stuff running down my neck was honey and orange, with vitamins A and C and other beneficial stuff mixed in, which will all keep me young, and that the tomatoes are good for my eyes, and I'll be better soon, or live to 100. Or something like that.

Could someone send me on a 'facials of the world' tour, please?

Basta las pedicuras, however. So much about it is weird to me. Maybe it will be my next 'frontier'.

Another recent event: that cumpleano. I'm running out of 'xx is the new 30'(those are algebra xx not Roman XX) headroom, but I have to say: access to a nice three-mile 5:30 AM tri-weekly walk, plus room to swing my limbs flexibly around in fake yoga poses in my palapa, plus a heavily fruit and vegetable diet, is doing wonders!LX cake
I made it myself, carrot/pineapple cake with cinnamon and Chinese 5-spice powder in lieu of whatever my grandmother used to use. No one complained, especially not me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Polochic River Delta

Izabal relief map

We entered Guatemala from Belize at Livingston. I'm not sure why the waters of Bahia de Amatique are colored greenish here, but it's really the end of the Caribbean and should be more gray or blue. We came up the Canyon, ( I called it the Gorge), then through the Golfete. We're presently tied up in a marina a little to seaward of the 'Rio Dulce' line in this view, which looks basically toward the southwest. We can see Cerra San Gil from the marina; if we can't, it means rain, say 'they'.

But today I mean to write about my trip to the Polochic Valley and the Rio Polochic up at the far end of Lago Izabal. I went with a friend in a small trawler, a vessel much better suited to the area than a deep-keeled sailboat. How much better we didn't know until we steamed into an area of thick mats of hydrilla nearly all the way to the surface, which would have snared Galivant and unnerved its crew. PhotobucketYou probably know hydrilla as an aquarium plant. It's not native here, but nobody's sure where it came from either ('an American boat' one man told us). What we saw was all at the farthest end. It's a problem though, that could spread to the entire lake.

Lago Izabal is also the largest fresh-water fish supplier in the country, I've read. Most fishing activity looks like it's on the feed-the-family scale, but lots of people fish. We did see empty cayugas attending solitary tankless divers fishing for ?tarpon? among the fronds.

Sure was nice to be perched up on the flybridge with a 360-degree view, going a steady six knots, swilling iced flor de jamaica (sorrel) and tamarind, and lemonade, and water, on a sweltering day.
We spend a night in the bay in front of the 'abandoned' nickel mine just beyond El Estor at the end of the north side of the lake. This place has a story too - beginning with greed, featuring political heavy-handedness and ending in violence - but I'll save it for another time. Photobucket

We couldn't get the trawler's 3'6" over any of the several river bars, although the intrepid skipper was willing to try. So we zoomed in his speedy lancha up the clearish Rio Zarquito until it ended in a cluster of water hyacinths, then turned off into the muddy Rio Oscuro which ran for a good ten or twelve miles.

Mid-day maybe wasn't the best time for scouting for wildlife. That didn't stop me from taking a way too many pictures of the tail end of fleeing birds, some of which I recognized at least by class as herons, kingfishers and ducks, all of which had to be deleted for lack of visual interest. The river twisted and narrowed and its banks became grassy. The cloud-clad mountains wove in and out of view. Finally we ran up on a log in a skinny stream and thought it prudent to turn around.

Here at the new edge of the rainy season (end of May), it's a good seven feet to the high tide mark on these trees.Photobucket. We wouldn't have trouble getting up the river later in the year, but just think what would be rushing downstream towards us!

According to Shelagh McNally's Guatemala
There is great bio-diversity here – over 250 species of mammals, 350 birds, 53 sp of fish and 24 sp of aquatic plants have been identified so far. Because it forms a biological corridor between the Sierra de la Minas and the Sierra de Santa Cruz, the Polochic Delta is home to many endangered species. The corridor is part of the larger Mesoamerican Biological Corridor beginning in Yucatan Peminsula and stretching down to the Panama Canal. It includes over 962 sq mi of humid tropical forest bordered to the north and and west by the Sierras de la Minas, on the south by Paxtanto Ruins and on the north by El Estor.

Photobucket You can also see the mountains, and the scars of the various land clearings which are an ever-present and growing feature of the area.

National parks - all forests - are under siege throughout Guatemala, it seems, as the pressures for agricultural land increase. Other factors include poaching and logging, and even less savory actitities involving narco-traffic. It's tough to control - people need to eat, and the pressures to develop, which often come from international conglomerates, are substantial. One tactic is swapping conservation for debt, as described here. http://www.nature.org/wherewework/centralamerica/guatemala/work/art19052.html




I'm standing at attention now, having received this email: "Isn't there a statute in the bloggers manifesto that says you must post more entries to keep your armchair travellers happy?"

Well, I have been a little slack with the blog posts. I blame the internet: seems I'd rather read about something than write about it.
1. So many questions to answer! Everything I see raises questions, which requires research. More questions arise, etc.
2. So hard to find a good scheme for organizing my pictures. I take too many, delete too few, can't ever find the one I want, trouble uploading, yadayadayada.
For example, I have WAY too many pictures of "red flower" and "yellow tree".
Then there's
3. Boat work, which seems to be the guiding principle of my life. Not just my own work, either. I do a lot of 'dumb end' work for Doug, wrench holding and the like. All for the cause, I'm told.
But if I wait until I think I have a finished product, nothing will happen. Blogs like to be fed. So I'll start emptying my Drafts file.

In my defense, I will quote EB White: "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." To which I will add, hard to get it all done as well!

We've run into a few roadblocks on the work list. The awning is finished - a real piece of work - and it makes a huge difference. It would be even longer, but there is no more fabric. The factory in Costa Rica burned down, or something like that.

The windlass, alas, now apparently needs either a new motor from New Zealand, or entire replacement. The outboard is ailing - needs a power pack. You should hear me trying to talk to Oscar the outboard guy on the cell phone. He's so patient, and understanding, I think.

Both of these items need to come over the customs and shipping fence. People often have big items shipped to Honduras and hire a driver to pick them up. But due to a coup there last week, the border is closed and everyone is waiting to see what happens next. Or they fly to the US and bring back as much luggage as they can. It's a possible option for us too.

Deck stanchions have been rebedded. Now that we've gotten the necessary bolts from our new friends at "tienda tuerca" the starboard genoa track is next. It's finally beginning to rain a bit more and cool just slightly. Meanwhile, we treat our prickly heat and poached heads with dunks in the pool.

Other people have a bit more excitement in their lives.
Plane flying under bridge