Thursday, May 27, 2010


‘If you like it here, don’t say anything’ one man told me, and so I'm telling only you select few, sotto voce. It's sage advice here on Guanaja, where there seems a pleasant balance between the races, as one local told us. He defines races as: ‘people like us’(although others would distinguish his Bay Islandish-ness from our pure gringo-ness), Spaniards, Indians (two kinds: kinky- haired, and smooth-haired beautiful women), Garifuna (who are mixed African via St. Vincent), and... ” I forget the last – maybe it’s any mix of the above, which is where the tendencies certainly lie.

What’s there to do on Guanaja? The late lamented captain of the Windjammer Fantome used to introduce his talks about the island by following the question with a long silence, until people got the joke.
The Ship and the Storm by Jim Carrier is a most interesting book about the loss of the Fantome during hurricane Mitch. After a week-long series of bad assumptions and misinformation, the ship was lost south of Guanaja, in an area we'd sail over on our way east.

In Guanaja there is a good anchorage with great holding – El Bight, and other good anchorages too. PHOTO OF PHOTO OF BONACCATOWN
There’s a pleasant and compact little town, not on the big island but on a gradually expanding little one of sidewalks and small canals, free of sand fleas, just offshore. That’s Bonnaca-town;hold your mouth just so and Bonnaca=Guanaja are the same word. People have a fondness for building out over the water throughout the Bay Islands.

There are a few private or resort cays and reefs facing east-ish toward the tradewinds. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter were here bonefishing last month - I saw the video. Even after all these years, they can't seem to travel without security and constant scrutiny. Diving is another attraction, of course.
This fellow has apparently been cruising this anchorage for years. Now I ashamedly make sure s/he's not around before I dump my grapefruit peels, laundry water, chicken bones, etc. Of course I try to communicate telepathically, but fail. "What does s/he want?" I asked someone. Attention, was the answer, and the story, how the dolphin found a boat with a dog that would bark at him, until the dog got tired of that and hid in the cockpit when the dolphin came around.

Round the backside of Guanaja, which is easily accessible by lancha and dinghy via a cut through the mangroves, past the airport dock, is a practically empty, beach-and reef- fringed territory. There’s even a ‘hike to the waterfall’ – one of my favorite destinations anywhere I go.

Guanaja has a small population, maybe 8-10,000. There are two other settlements, Savannah Bight on the southeast side and Mangrove Bight to the north, connected by an post-Mitch autobahn of a road for the tiny number of vehicles on the island.
PHOTO COOL BREEZE SAVANNAH BIGHT Mangrove Bight was practically wiped out in the hurricane, and not too many people there rebuilt on stilts over the water. It's the only place I've ever been where people have sidled alongside to offer the sale of building lots.

Guanaja once had more pine trees than it has now. The center of hurricane Mitch used Guanaja as its pivot and a dozen year later the scars are still visible. It has marble outcrops in the mountains, and perhaps because of the same underlying geological irregularities it has a sufficiency of fresh water that the other Bay islands lack. There seem to be a lot of fairly quirky locals of all ‘races’, and more than a few of the expats came here via deep-sea diving on oil rigs, like Mr. Canute.
I met a taxi driver in La Ceiba from Guanaja who sounded like you couldn’t pay him to live ‘back there’, but I like it just fine. Quiet and low-key Guanaja is just my style.
We’re getting to know the cast of characters in Bonaccatown. It’s a treat to sit on the bench across from the credit union drinking from a straw dipped in a plastic bag of ‘mora’ (I think it’s the juice from some mulberry-type tree) and watch the passing scene.
The fruit and veg boat comes about Thursday, there’s a bakery and several supermercados and ferreterias.
It may be the only place in Honduras where dealing with officialdom is ‘fast, free and easy.’This is about where we usually tie the dinghy.

On the shore of El Bight, the anchorage a half a mile or so away, is what I think of as the German quarter. You wouldn’t expect to find excellent schnitzels and spaetzls here, but there they are at the Manati. Last week they killed a pig and used all its parts, although I did not rush to the liverwurst. Maybe next time. I was having a gut reaction, remembering from fourth grade how hard it was to trade a liverwurst sandwich for something ‘decent’, like Susie's peanut butter and marshmallow.

The social event of the week, at least for gringos, is the Saturday afternoon meal at the Manati, where you can meet several curious people. Oftentimes ‘yachties’ are mere rank outsiders at these events. But here, despite our transience, people remember our names from week to week. And the book exchange is better than most.

Next door is the other Hans’ bar, tucked along the beach next to some storage containers.
He’s another great character, full of ideas; in the orderly German fashion, a lot of them have already been executed during his decades here. We talk beekeeping, cattle-raising, motorcycle racing. Right now he’s building a dehydrator – email me if you’d like to buy some delicious organic dried mangoes, available fresh, in bulk.
Finally, here's the jail. One day I saw a young man looking out through the grill in the door as I was trying to peep in. Inside it's like a cinderblock phone booth, best avoided!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Putting Food By

I'm pretty sure chicken exceeds any other animal protein consumed in Central America, by a wide margin. This 'chicken ranch' was tucked just off the highway in Roatan, between the propane filler and a paint store.
While we were in the shipyard, plugged in, we ran the freezer and boy wasn’t that ice nice! To fill the rest of the space I bought some whole chickens, Pollo Rey, 2 sin menudos and 1 con menudos,
. Sometimes there is more to 'menudos' than anticipated, as from this Guatemalan chicken I processed last summer.

My plan was to can/jar the meat in the pressure canner I’ve been hauling around, so we'd have something to eat when we get to the San Blas. But it was too darn hot in the shipyard to even contemplate a few hours of steam.

Now that we’re on our own power, we can’t run the freezer without also running the engine, which we won’t do unless for propulsion (one of the secret rules). But we do have a good breeze ventilating the boat. So I’m canning chickens.

First, cook each one individually in the Galloping Gourmet method – submerge the whole bird in water, bring to a boil and let cool naturally. I'm under-motivated to dismember and debone them raw.
Pick off the meat, discard the skin and fat, (store overnight because I got a late start), make stock with onions, celery leaves and wilted carrots, strain it, reheat the picked out meat, wash out the jars....well you can see it’s a consuming project, and the boat smells, sort of incongruously,like the day after Thanksgiving. Seven pints of meat and a good tom yam Thai-style soup was the yield; for dessert some delicious mangoes from a local tree.

Some of the best advice I ever got about boat cooking was: Keep the floor clean, because you never know when you’ll be eating off of it. Next time, I’ll remember to do a little better under the stove as well. There’s many a slip between jar and dip!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Ships of La Ceiba Shipyard are fishing boats. Probably 95% are hand-me-downs from the Louisiana Gulf shrimping fleet. There may be thousands of these vessels throughout the Bay Islands and coastal Honduras, some fit and spry, and some on life support.

We had the fortune, not sure if good or bad, to be in the shipyard during the three months that the fishing (lobstering/conching/snow crabbing) season is closed and the 'fix the boat' season was open.
These guys were paddling out to work on one of the most derelict of the vessels; on the next trip a couple went back with a big portable generator they'd taken home for the weekend, against theft, I guess.

These guys ripped off the old pilot house and fabricated this new one in about two weeks - a beautiful job. Then they started on the boat next door.

Across the creek they’re manufacturing the little Cayuga/dories that conch and lobster divers use.
The ever-popular machete is used for trimming off the rough edges.

The shipyard has been hot, hot hot, but the main reason for the nighttime welding is simply because there is so much to do.

My theory about the rats who have visited us is that they were aboard the fishing boats until they got disrupted by the rebuilding activities.

Before welding comes sandblasting. The sand is actually “Black Magnum” anthracite coal pellets, shipped in from Illinois in cement-type bags. We are still finding bits of it in our scuppers.

The birds still sing in the morning - we're right next to a perch in a one-tooth remnant patch of mangrove. Later all the music is 'techno': routers, sanders, the roar of the air compressor, atonal chipping hammer percussion.

Osman, although he might not have known it, was our main contact with marina management, and

We also met KARLA who rode in on her scooter every day to deliver styrofoam trays of lunch, $2 each, order ahead. Sometimes I'd call her and through the music and babies crying in the background she'd know it was me: "Oh Dona Ana, dos almuerzos, un cerdo y un pollo, si?" "Si, Karla, gracias"
We learned to stay away from the 'res' beef though.

Before we left we said goodbye to the Westerbeke, going home in Luis's truck. That's Toby, a fun boat kid in front. Good think Luis came back for a rope to hold the box in the truck bed; when he returned it he said he'd almost lost it on a hill.