Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pretty Soon: 5th Annual Chub Festival

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPretty Soon:
that's when the sign said that Fifth Annual Chub Fest was being held, three days forward from when we saw the sign.

Chub? The men on the street told us, is a kind of fish.
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Further enquiries revealed that the festival would take place at the boat house near the music school  (we don't see many of those!) and happen all afternoon. Probably happen at night too, but not for us daylight-circadian bicyclists.

So the following Wednesday,  four of us pedaled our folding boat bikes back to the east side of the island. We were sitting in the TuttiFruti bar about midday having an ice-cold Costenita when we overheard a conversation about the start of the regatta down at Rolands Bar, estimated variously to be 'near' or 'twenty minutes' . The speaker was so enthusiastic that even the pedaller of the least bicycle among us agreed to check it out. He didn't know about the big hill at the end, but by the time he found out it was too late.

The boats are CayMAN (with the emphasis on MAN) Cat Boats. They don't fish, they don't 'yacht', they only race. This day there was a significant (at least, in pesos, it sounded like a big number) cash prize.
Photo Cayman catboat
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We arrived just in time for the start, just off the beach. The course was a beat north behind the barrier reef, a circle around an offshore island and a run back to the boat house where the Chub Festival was held. As you can see it was a beautiful day, with fresh northeasterly trade winds.

Be forewarned: These are among my first videos from a little digital camera. I'm still working out a system for uploading. Any suggestions gratefully received. The longest video is under 2 minutes, and it seems you need to click on them and be taken to another site to watch. I left in some photos for those of you who, like me, don't have the bandwidth or the time to actually see the videos. There's plenty room for improvement here, but later.

The man in the pale blue shirt in the water is the official starter and race committee.
We trudged our way back up the hill. As we were doing so, one boat sank, and one withdrew from the race. Good thing they all had chase boats; the crew sometimes jumps ship mid-race to lighten the boat.

Back on the main road, at the first overlook we found ourselves in the middle of a rolling spectator fleet.
It was fun being part of the enthusiastic crowd.

 We moved, with our dinky-ass little folding bikes swerving among the insouciant motorcyclists from overlook to overlook. My friend said she felt like she was running with the bulls at Pamplona. But my guess is that the bulls aren't nearly as mellow as the folks in Providencia.

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A successful day for these men, even if they didn't finish first.
Seems like the video is behaving badly; our skilled technicians will be on the case as soon as they figure out what to do.

The food part of the festival  was also a treat. Chub was served in several forms, ensalata, pernil, hamburguesa, au gratin, salpicon, sopa,  pie, and washed down with my new favorite beverage, tamarindo. It was like a big family picnic where each aunt had brought her famous specialty, although some didn't have enough to sell.
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People here are proud of their old traditions, of which cooking fish on the beach is one,
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as pictured in this wall painting which decorates the trash depot. Other old-time (and current) traditions depicted include boat and horse racing, cockfighting, dancing, and traditional (washtub, mandolin, and for percussion, the jaw bone of a horse) music.

So, now you can see why we like Providencia.
The rest of the photo album, unedited, is here

Monday, January 17, 2011

Old Providence

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Arriving in a new place is, for me, an almost sensual experience. If I had antennae, flared nostrils and whiskers, a flicking tongue, you'd see 'em all working. What I've got to work with is mostly visual, however (hence the camera?)

Coming in by boat, I like daybreak best. It's beautiful, often calm, maybe the aids to navigation are still lit - the best of all possible worlds, and it's all still fresh and new to all my receptors!

At Providencia's nicely sheltered harbour, Doug went ashore to do the captain business, while I re-feathered the nest ( it involves lots of wiping and putting away; talk about routine! Only sometimes do we break the pink-blue barriers).

To enter Colombia, an agent is required; otherwise we'd both be tramping from office to office making the best of a sometimes uneven cultural experience. Here all we had to do was pay Mr. Bernardo Bush. Doug came home from the ATM with a fistful of pesos, denominations in the thousands(roughly 2000 pesos per dollar, falling ever since we arrived), but hadn't a clue what it was worth. Despite the big numbers, it of course didn't last long.
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A few things we noticed right away.
First, lots of color, lots of art, lots of small things done with care, tidy. Mosaic signs, patterned sidewalks, nice street lights, decorative cutouts and gingerbread trim on buildings, and did I mention the colors?
PHOTOScooter sunset
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Sturdy houses, many of them wood, in that nice island style you can still see in places like Carriacou.
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Second, no guns. In Honduras every cell phone store and tortilla chip truck comes with an under-employed starch-uniformed private-security armed guard with a shotgun on his shoulder. Here it was just civilians in t-shirts and flimsy shoes.

Third, clean swept streets, trash cans, recycling bins! Later we saw the...hmmm, on Kent Island we used to call it the dump, but now it's the Sanitary Landfill/Waste Transfer station. All the Providencia trash is sorted, into giant bags made of feed sack cloth with handles. They look like my grocery bag writ large, but are small enough to be moved by forklift or small crane. Organized trash collection has a lot to recommend it.

And finally, largely English-speaking or English/Creole.

According to Wikipedia,
the population of the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina uses three languages (Creole, English and Spanish). English was kept in the Baptist churches for liturgy, but the coming of satellite television and growth of foreign tourism has revived the use of the English in the islands. The presence of migrants from continental Colombia and the travel of young islanders to cities like Barranquilla, Cartagena de Indias and Bogotá for superior studies, has contributed to the presence of Spanish. However, the interest in preserving the Native Creole has become a very important element for locals and Colombians in general. Island creole is very similar to the English creole spoken in the Moskito coast of Nicaragua, and the Anglophone Caribbean.Like the Bay Islands of Honduras, the English presence was historically stronger than the Hispanic.

Those Englishmen may have been 'pirates' - Providencia uses Henry Morgan to descrbe physical features, Morgan's Crack is matched by Morgan's Head on the west side, but Morgan's gold is nowhere to be found.

Well offshore of the continent, geographically closer to Nicaragua or Honduras than to Colombia, even now Providencia still has strong ties to the Cayman Islands. The modern diaspora has also taken many Providencians to places like Tampa, FL and New Orleans LA. I was told this, but saw the evidence myself as the ship unloaded before Christmas.
Not just anyone can move here, not even just any Colombian; a permit needed for more than a six-month stay. This seems to be because the the 'indigenous culture", the Raizal, is protected, with other language groups, by the Colombian Constitution of 1991. That's what Mr. Bush was talking about when he emphasized the strictness of the immigration laws and our need for an expensive tourist card. I thought he meant the likes of us boat people, but apparently we're known to be short term and there's other game.

Providencia has less than 20km of road circling the coast, and a population of maybe 4 or 5 thousand people. The town is about 3 square blocks in area, and then there's another small island attached by a bridge/causeway, for pedestrians only. Nearly every one seems to own a motor scooter. It would be fun to record all the various things we saw being done on or carried by scooter, but I'm having enough fun already.
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Unlike its more thoroughly developed sister island of San Andreas, Providencia is 'unspoilt' by tourism. Or, rather, the tourism is at a very modest level, low and mellow. One of my friends called it a 'rustic rock'. I love rustic! There are no highrise hotels; in fact there is barely anything that you'd associate with a 'tourist mecca' except the handful of yachts at anchor and some tourists at Catalina Island, FreshWater Bay and Southwest Bay, in a few small hotels.

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The main road, which encircles an old (small) volcanic plug of the type you'd see in the Marquesas, just begged to be explored on our little folding bikes. I'm happy to report that Providencia can be successfully circumnavigated in an afternoon.

This allows for a few tourist/beer stops.
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These are the local beers. For 'imported beers' where we're used to seeing Heineken, St Pauli Girl, etc, here it's Old Milwaukee, in cans.

There are a couple push-the-bike-up-the-hill hills as well. Despite them, we made it back home before dark.
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At least, after another day of binge exercise, we didn't end up here, at the Sunshine Funeral Home.
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Previous versions of this blog post may have suffered from the operator falling asleep while waiting for things to upload. Sorry!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


A few follow-up comments from past blogs:

The last holdout colony of ants, the ones who lived under the hatch turtle, I believe have been vanquished. I was starting to think we had developed a super-breed, Maryland plus Guatemala plus Honduras, but a couple drops of the Terro that I brought back from the US did the trick. In fact I believe that at this moment, the boat is free of any sort of animal, other than the two of us.
UPDATE: actually, no. Yesterday I saw a cute little gecko-like animal, not more than 2" long, scuttle under the water tank/.Long may s/he live.

The lionfish, an invasive species from the Pacific that moved into this ocean after Hurricane Andrew and onto my radar as we were diving and snorkeling in Roatan last year, are around all these islands in substantial force. At West End Roatan, riends report that they sight dozens each time they dive. But still, only park management is allowed to shoot them. From Lighthouse Reef the same report except there's no one out there to keep you from vigilante-ism; additionally the comment that there are numerous fish in the 3-4 pound size. And there's a public relations campaign encouraging eradication (method unspecified) in Providencia, a Colombian island.

Lionfish are said to be tasty, but the risk of being pricked and poisoned by a very unpleasant venom contained in the dorsal spines is off-putting. Perhaps we could get a marketing genius to align lionfish with fugu, the poisonous pufferfish that the Japanese play Russian roulette with.

Last December I was jauntily invoking Johnny Depp and the pirates of the Caribbean, as we spent the night, by ourselves, in an isolated anchorage, Diamante Lagoon, on mainland Honduras. So this last item is harder to write about, as it involves murder. The victim was a man we knew from the Rio Dulce, and admired, a very smart and mellow person. In fact his picture is in the blog as a participant in the 4th of July blind dinghy races. Milan Egrmajer was killed there, by pirates, about the time we were rounding Cabo Gracias a Dios.

Well, I'm not feeling so jaunty any more. In fact part of me is really angry, at the entire country of Honduras for being such a dysfunctional, poorly governed place with so many guns and one of the highest murder rates in the world. I'm angry at the entire system, the mindset, not just at the gunman and his associates (which maybe just goes to show how irrational an emotion anger can be). The rest of me is having to persuade myself that the law of averages is still on my side.

Often in Honduras I had the feeling that we tourist gringos in our 'enclaves' were 'protected' by private interests. The management of the shipyard pays for protection; drug cartels keep the lid on bad elements who might otherwise bring unwanted attention to the area; local merchants or whoever benefits from our presence hovers over us. You could say it was 'market economy justice'; we were protected by economics more than by rules of polite conduct. We certainly need looking after in places like Honduras; we bumble around, looking rich, ignorant of all local politics and issues, putting ourselves in the middle of situations we know nothing of, oblivious to their ramifications, and powerless to change the circumstances.

So Milan was shot point-blank by one of four men in a lancha which had approached his boat, Adena, asking for help. His poor daughter, down from Canada for a trip to Panama, managed to frighten them off with a flare gun. She then spent what must have been terrified hours trying to get help. What news reports I've had access to are amazingly discordant in essential details and the comments attached are appalling in their lack of sympathy and their misunderstanding of the circumstances.

It's just a terrible situation all around.