Friday, April 29, 2011

Laundry Day - rainy

On the first day of meaningful daytime rain in months,  I got out my buckets and adjusted the cockpit awning  to catch as much water as the sky would give my six square yards of catchment, and got ready for a rewarding laundry experience.  I blocked up the deck drains and used the starboard side as pre-wash, port for extra rinse. I have a few 5-gallon plastic buckets, one for catching, one for washing, one for rinsing, and I have a dedicated toilet plunger for ‘jet action cleaning’ .

I don’t mind admitting that I kind of enjoy the challenge of orchestrating all the variables. How many clothes? How dirty? Bleachable? Is the rinse water too dirty for washing yet? Should I soap this spot, or scrub it, or see if I can forget I ever saw it? What’s the best way to scrub a spot? Is it better to churn things in the rinse water, or can they just be dipped a few times? Where is the sweet spot called ‘clean enough under the circumstances’ ?  Have I used my left arm as much as my right?  And how ‘bout those ‘wringing out’ muscles! The warm, steady, gentle showers lasted a good hour, and then there was sun and a little breeze for drying.  The household deities were with me that day, at least through the underwear and the T-shirts and kitchen towels.

When the showers were over and I got a real chance to look around, I realized that of the seven boats in the anchorage, six of whom were French, I was the only one who was doing laundry. Did they all have so much water they could afford to waste this manna from heaven?

Then I got to really look around and learned why.

P1030154 turquoise cod piece three quarter

What’s to wash?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shopping in San Blas

P1030041 Corazon tienda Tom Patty pague a ser servido

We did a lot of grocery shopping before we left Cartagena. Seemed like every day I was off to some different store or market, wandering dazedly around reading the shelves, wondering what I’d find, and what I’d need. I stuffed the bilges, stuffed the lockers,  filled all my canning jars.  It was a relief to leave town, and not have to do that any more.

Since then, it’s been a gradual eating down through the layers. After two and a half months, we are beginning to run out of things, despite being able to pick up a few bits and pieces along the way. There are small tiendas in small pueblos, but what they stock is pretty hit and miss, and aimed at people who buy a little every day; a pound of rice, a can of corned beef, some oil or rice, to supplement what comes from a tree or from the sea. I was going to say we too are eating pretty low on the food chain. But the food chain at the tiendas runs along the low lines of powdered milk and Tang, so that’s part of our diet now too. Yum!

P1030025 tienda crooked shelves Nargana

Something in me says that a picture that needs to be explained needs to be deleted, but I like this picture. The big black object in front is a phone/fax, but there is no headset, no service, and probably no future.{why it's there? Works as a calculator!} Still, we stand over the counter and peer fuzzily at whatever might be back there. I always try to buy something, but sometimes it’s hard.

P1030024 school supplies and bottle caps in tienda

Here I got potatoes and sewing thread.

The baker’s bread is ready at 3pm, if the water pipe isn’t broken. (The pipe brings water from the river to the town, Nargana, on the island but it seems to be always under repair. And the yachts are sometimes to blame, for not registering what that pair of little buoys, perhaps the only buoys in the archipelago, signifies. ) The baker is a nice man and pretends to understand us, but I think he speaks only Kuna. I’ve needed, and kneaded, a lot of my own bread recently; we either have plenty of bread, or none, on board.

P1030002 Nargana baker panaderia

In addition to fuel for the body, there’s fuel for the boat, mainly the outboard. Here, we siphoned from the drum through a rag into a plastic gallon jug, then poured into our jerry can. The man had the same siphon-starter that I use.

P1030019 Nargana siphoning gasoline gallon jugs

There even is a place in Nargana that sells what they call in the Eastern Caribbean ‘spiritous liquors’, Balboa beer, box wine, Abuela rum (my abuela/granny would have liked it!) !) [OOPs, checking the label I see that’s Abuelo the masculine),and vodka is what I saw. But fellow cruisers reported one day last week that the staff didn’t want to sell any of it; they were having a fiesta and hoped to keep it for themselves.  Given the problems of the supply chain – everything comes in by lancha from ?50 miles away, weather-dependent, it must be hard to have people like us around, who drop in from outer space, and buy up everything in bulk,  so that we can stay in the cays without coming to town. One day recently, a lancha arrived carrying Digicel sim cards for the phone and Internet modem (hence these photos can be posted, I hope). I hurriedly bought all three of them, (for a friend too) and then tiptoed away in case one of the locals also wanted one.

The reason we haven’t started gnawing the running rigging (maybe I could get my salt there!)  is because we are regularly visited by cayugos with something to sell. The season is closed for March, April and May on langousta (lobster), crab, and octopus, and may be closed longer than that for conch, so although we’re offered langousta regularly we decline. But when the man holds up a fish we reel him in. For a Balboa aka a greenback dollar, or two or three,  we are getting the nicest freshest fish, cleaned on the spot and often in the pan within the hour. We’ve had some pretty good fish-head soup recently too.

P1030381 pargo cleaning East Coco Banderas

Despite the prohibitions, there is still plenty of fishing for the ‘forbidden’; they said this pile of conch was special for Semana Santa.

P1020909Fisherman and fish box Snug Harbor

The main, probably the only, agricultural product of the offshore islands, is coconut. Every tree, and there may be millions, is owned, and woe unto the cruiser who helps him/herself to a coconut. Why would you, when you can buy them already husked for a quarter?

P1030158 coconut boat

The trading boats from Colombia are the main buyers of coconuts. They take them back to Colombia for use in lots of food and industrial products. The farther west we travel in the archipelago, the fewer trading boats we see, although they seemed plentiful closer to Colombia. I would not want to travel more than about five miles on one of these boats. For some reason, there seem to be no Panamanian supply boats of this type. But something significant happens where the road meets the water, and I'll know more about the supply chain when we get that far.

P1030140 trading vessel Jenny at Corazon closer

This is the trading vessel Jenny at Corazon de Jesus, which as the TV antennas may indicate, is one of the non-traditional villages. I’ve been trying to find out about the programming, but so far have only been told that it is ‘Christian’.

P1030159 veggie boat Eduardo and Marin

The veggie boat is the best boat of all. It comes somewhat sporadically to several  anchorages in the more populated area around the Lemons and Holandaise cays, usually on Thursday or Friday.  They have top quality stuff, at least on day one, and it’s reasonably priced – especially considering the convenience factor. I think I paid $17.50 for this assortment, plus some onions not in the picture.The VHF crackles with the announcements 'the veggie boat is in the West Lemons, planning to get to the Holandaise today.' We're like kiddies tracking Santa's sleigh.

veggies from the boat

We (I) have easily spent more buying molas (mola, a word in Kuna for blouse, has come to refer to the intricately cut and sewn layered fabric panels on the blouses) from women like these than we have spent on groceries since we left Cartagena.

P1030354 Kuna women trading session mola vendors

Here’s my nicest purchase: the food triangle is not exactly a traditional design, but somehow it spoke to me anyhow.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ears on the World

We form much of our world view via input into the two ear holes in the sides of our heads. Through them we  funnel random and indiscriminate palaver broadcast from our  VHF and Single Side Band radios dials. On the Armed Forces Radio Network, we can hear parts of All Things Considered, so we have a date there most every day at 4PM.

I was sitting at the computer  hoping for any internet at all via a new Digicel SIM card and the first cell tower we’ve seen in weeks.  A  program came on about a new movement of Slow (Inter)Netters. These are people who revel in the pleasures of Internet connection at 14.4 dial-up speeds. This is about the speed I’ve been dealing with a lot in Colombia, so they had my attention.

What is there to like about a slow internet?  The meditative rate at which the screen loads, matching the optimum rate of human thought, the slower pulse rate, the savorable perception of time, according to one study. I forget the rest, except for the mention of a lead-lined coffee shop where no smartphone could intrude. I was aghast, but I tried hard to  to see the Zen of this point of view, because I need the Zen of it.

Slow food? Of course, whenever possible. We certainly participate in the slow boat work movement. I hand-sand varnished trim and enjoy watching the golden-eyed low spots disappear beneath 220-grit paper. We tootle merrily along at 4 knots when much of the world does 70 or more. But didn’t these Slow people realize what a blessing, what a gift, a zippy internet connection is? Why un-invent the wheel? Personally, my heart rate goes up as the internet speed goes down, and the time I have wasted doesn’t bear thinking about. The only benefit to me of being an involuntary Slow-Netter is that I sometimes practice chord shapes and strums on my ukulele as I wait.

I was really challenged to think anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to the curse of a sputtering, underpowered internet.  It wasn’t until my head hit the pillow late that night that I suddenly realized I’d been had; April Fool-ed. Good one, National Public Radio!

Also heard on the radio – the local SSB net - was the comment that vessels should skip the Vivorillos Cays – a sprinkling of islands not far from Cabo Gracias a Dios where you’d turn to head to or from Honduras and Guatemala from Panama. The report (second-hand) was that the flies there were intolerable due to a shark slaughter that had taken place.  There’s a lot of unsupervised activity  including fishing, on those banks, I thought just for shrimp and conch. But that season is supposedly closed for March, April and May. So if the fly report is true, shark is the new target. Conservation efforts aren’t having much impact here.

Laura Dekker, the young (16?) Dutch girl who is trying to set a circumnavigation record, passed through the San Blas recently. We overheard a conversation wherein  someone tried to fix her up with a  bunch of TV and print reporters, in Colon. I was impressed to hear her say “That’s  not part of my plan.” I wish I’d been that focused at that age. Ah, but when I had a chance I looked at her website and learned she hadn’t been able to avoid the interviewers after all.

And, I’d like to also mention that we listen to the ambient soundscape – surf, breeze, very occasional birds, the whistle or ‘hola’ of an approaching cayuga. We listen to each other, and to silence, at times. Sometimes the radio is just too much!