Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guanaja

PHOTO VIEW ACROSS GRAHAMS CAY
‘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.
PHOTO OF TOE AND KNOT HOLE
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.
PHOTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD DOLPHIN
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!


PHOTO THE JAIL DOOR

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