Slacking off and San Pedro Sula

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Slacking Off and San Pedro Sula

It’s nice to listen to full albums again.  The hostel worker and I watched Montage of Heck (Kurt Cobain Documentary) which inspired me to sew a new musical patch on my soul.

I just finished the full “Nevermind” album on YouTube while reading the lyrics of each song.  I’m slowly learning to let myself out of my cage for extended periods of time.  When I can, these are the things I get to do.

Now I’m going through “In Utero”.  I’m doing this for artistic inspiration and because I  believe he knew things that I don’t.  And I’m eating honey roasted creamy peanut butter with my bare hands.  This is a good time.

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The thing I really respect about Cobain is that he hated interviews and never explained his art.  IT’S ART!!! There is no way to explain sufficiently where it came from or what it means.  Even talking about what you were doing when you made the art is misleading and sabotages both the artist and audience.  Being extremely vague or just silent is the only honest reaction.

The identity of the artist is not even relevant to the the art.  I have always felt it a conflict of interest to brand an individual art piece.  The signature certainly is not part of the damn painting.  Their names would have to be part of the original concept or come out randomly in the process.    You don’t hear Mick Jagger slipping, “Rolling Stones” at the end of every song.  It’s goofy and doesn’t belong.

The jam session we had after the documentary was difficult with only 5 rusty strings on his electric.  The guitar shop Google points me to is in the city center.  Cargo shorts or board shorts?  Barefoot or running shoes?  Big, expensive looking camera or no?  I think the labels are getting to me since this is the “murder capitol of the world”.  I wonder: Am I asking to get mugged and/or shot?  It’s 8:43AM.

I have to breathe out slowly and ask myself, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

This city is run by fear.  The gang members are afraid of the cops and overcompensate for this fear by constantly proving they aren’t afraid.  EVERY house has a tall concrete wall surrounding it with razor wire and/or shards of glass and sharpened steel exposed at the top of the fence.  There are signs for Super Perro (Super Dog) at every street corner, which is a business to help train your brand new, full grown Doberman Pincher.  The police stand vigilant in the streets with shotguns.

My hostel is in an area resembling an armored Beverly Hills, in the foothills of the green mountains surrounding the city.  There is even a cheeky Coca-Cola sign placed in the hills that resembles the Hollywood sign.  Surely there is a sect of people who do not walk around town with fear coursing through their veins.

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I had a powerful dream several months ago. The message was: all bad things that have happened throughout history were because of decisions made out of fear.  So it’s barefoot and board shorts for me with a big fat DSLR camera on my back.  Only about 20 blocks from my destination in the city center.

From the reactions of backpackers and locals and the Never Sleep Alone stickers around the hostel, I was beginning to believe I was walking into a gunfight without even a rock to throw.

I want to sleep in a hammock because it’s $5/night instead of $13.  I am denied because the staff were afraid someone would jump the 9 foot concrete wall in the night and accost me.  My logic at this point is completely overrun with scary labels.

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Several friends of mine have told me, “It’s all about intention.”  I repeated this mantra to myself as I headed into town.  Whistling “Dumb” by Nirvana helped my shoulders hang carelessly as I walked with an easy gait.  When I pass a security guard with a shotgun in his hands, I simply smile and say, “Buenas!”  It gives me more confidence each time they rock back on their heels and their stone faces morph into birthday party smiles.

Meanwhile I’m taking these pictures.  Sure, it’s interesting to share the various forms of electric fences and barking Rottweilers running up trees to get a look over the fence.  But showing how scary San Pedro Sula is will only perpetuate its tragedy.  I’d rather show you the soul glowing through the cracks.  We can discuss the rest and the reader is free to do their own research, which, rest assured is nothing but a cluster of terrorizing attempts to reach the headlines.

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This is what I see underneath the camera-infested steel gates and weighing fear the citizens wear like blood-soaked blankets.

Once inside the city center (roughly 1 million inhabitants) I am still bouncing and snapping photos of every good thing I discover.  Two gentlemen are talking amongst themselves and looking at my bare feet.  One has nervous, downward eyes.  The smaller, older one has piercing black holes where, long ago, his wrinkles consumed his eyes and the rest of his face. His forearms are stained with oil from working on cars all morning.

I ask them where I might find a ‘ferreteria’ (hardware store) to buy some super glue to fix the eye piece on my camera.  The younger man of about 40 answers in English. We quickly learn that we lived only 20 minutes from each other in New Jersey.  He has to get something from the store as well and invites me to ride on the pegs of his bicycle.  It’s a downhill ride and the music shop is on the way.

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We weave around cars and pedestrians for the next 8 blocks.  The thin metal pegs dig into the arches of my feet.  The ride is exciting and much more efficient than walking.  After 5 to 10 minutes we reach a music shop and I get some electric strings for my friend’s guitar, the main purpose of going to town.

Next, I buy some glue and we walk to the park at the center of the city.  He tells me about the various buildings and some history.  When he explains that he can’t find a job, I get the feeling he’s going to ask me for money when we part ways.  I decide I’d rather avoid the awkward situation, so offer to buy him a coffee if he can show me where the best coffee shop is.  It’s very close to the park and there isn’t a seat available.  Jorge is a latte guy.  I can respect that.

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He tells me that downtown is no place to be after the sun goes down.  I agree.  He also points out that there are a lot of street children, but no shelters.  The reason, and one of the biggest root problems in Honduras, is that fathers tend to leave their children.  Some leave to find jobs since the banana/agriculture industry still hasn’t recovered from the disastrous Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the second deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history.  When you have a basic infrastructure and get hit with 75 inches of rain in one week, it’s going to be bad.  Jorge said the bodies floating around were terrible, but the cows were the worst.

His father took off with another lady when he was but a lad.  From recently watching Kurt Cobain’s documentary, Montage of Heck, I can see the potential affects of abandonment.  Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are accepted.  It must be tough on a kid to grow up thinking no one gives a shit if you are still around tomorrow.

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According to Jorge, the former First Lady of Honduras, Aguas Ocana took in street children when her husband was in office from 2002 to 2006.  Here is a clipping from chinadaily.com.cn:

[Honduran first lady Aguas Ocana, a former Spanish diplomat with an affable manner, charms her way through state dinners and genteel charity events. her [sic] real passion is venturing out at night to dangerous parts of the capital to rescue street children from a life of begging, poverty and crime.

Since June, a program headed by the first lady has taken 670 street kids from Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula into government care.]

There is another side of the story as told by this ‘rescued’ child:

[“I want to go home. Here they don’t let us go out to play in the field and they don’t give us a lot of food,” said Delmer Moises Duarte, 7, at a children’s care center.]

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 A generation of lost children looking for community seems to me a fertile field in which to grow an organization of criminals.  This is surely the source of the two gangs (the MS-13 gang and the 18th Street gang) whose war has divided the city.  There is infinitely more detail and I’m not going to pretend like I know much about any of this.  I really don’t want to live here long enough to have a genuine understanding of the culture.

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The violence is real.  I saw a nightmare in Jorge’s eyes when he shared a recollection from 2 years ago.  On his way home from work he saw, past the yellow caution tape, a man lying on the same street we had just walked down.  I really hope I wasn’t prying, but silence tends to get filled.  He ended his recount by saying that he could “see the brain”.  I really just wanted to understand the cause of the violence, but I guess he wanted me to understand the presence.

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But, if you stop to think about it, this guy lives in downtown Deathville, right?  He works in the heart of San Pedro pretty close to the most dangerous neighborhood.  He only saw one event involving one shooting in the last TWO YEARS.  Sounds like any town anywhere.

This is part of the sickness.  People feel the need to perpetuate and spread bad news.  That is why the news is so successful.  And it somehow makes you feel important when your city has a label, even if it is murder capital of the world.  The vast majority of the homicides involve Hondurans between the age of 16 and 30.  If you can refrain from hanging around with dangerous gangs, you will probably be just fine.  Like me.

Every time I’ve been in dangerous places, the locals have tried to protect me.  They know what it takes to survive, most likely by learning the hard way.  Police have told me in Atlanta to pump gas somewhere else.   In Harrison, NJ (where Jorge lived) police have told me not to stop at red lights.  In West Oakland, Baltimore, The Bronx, Tokyo, parts of L.A., San Salvador, and others I can’t remember right now, I have been told to leave.

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It’s difficult to understand why they can live there and I can’t even walk through.

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That story kind of took a turn down a dark alley.  I guess that’s the reality of the situation.  The original point of this post was to show the bright side of this much feared place.  The scientific method doesn’t always support the hypothesis.  Fear is learned by these people at a young age, making it harder to eradicate after maturity.

Jorge has seen positive changes in the past two years.   A truce has been made between the gangs.  The same two gangs in El Salvador made a truce and violence dropped significantly.  Also, the “big heads” of the gangs and drug trafficking have been extradited to the United States penal system.

This is ironic since both MS-13 and 18th Street gangs began in Los Angelos. A mass immigration to the States took place during civil wars in Central America in the 1980’s.

Looking back further, (dare we study history?) there are some curious finds.  Nicaragua, for example, had a “Sandinista” government which the “Contras” (with U.S. training and aid) would eventually eradicated in 1990.  Congress banned U.S. support with the Boland Agreements in 1982 and 1984, but the CIA and president in office continued to give covert support. {source: Brown University – Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs}

Going back further, the Sandinistas took control of Nicaragua 1979 after they ousted a dictatorship which had been in control since 1936.  This dictatorship was U.S. sanctioned and followed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933.

If you had trouble following, The U.S. makes sure they have who they want running the sovereign nation of Nicaragua.  We aren’t going to get into the history of other sovereign nations right now.  It’s worth knowing your neighbors though.

A friend of mine has been living in Honduras on and off for the last 40 years.  When I asked her about the U.S. occupation, she said, “Yeah, the U.S. is still pissed that Honduras told them to leave.  Why do you think they keep saying it´s the most dangerous place?”

There´s also the Russian-communism-Coldwar-involvement-prevention excuse, but the timing is screwy and it’s really been going on since the Panama Canal was dug.  What other countries are being boycotted with scary labels due to misbehaving?

Yeah, it’s a scary place.  It was once and will once again be peaceful.  It will always be beautiful.

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Acting in fear may keep you alive, for a while, but it gives evil that much more power.

Underwater and Synchronicity

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Freediving

This week is freaking mind blowing.  At first, I think I am in the company of some sort of toolbags.  I am working every day on being less judgmental.  Thank you Erica for constantly catching me.

DAY 0

I go to this stupid, free Freediving course because everyone from the Caribbean Cup competition is there and that’s who I’ve been hanging out with.  I think it’s stupid until they get me doing these “ventilations” and then holding my breath.  I hold my breath for two minutes, easily.

Ok, I’m listening.  I decide to take the course.

DAY 1

Each day consists of about 4 hours in a classroom studying, anatomy, chemistry, physics, physiology, and psychology.  The other part of the day is spent in the water.  On this day we did our first underwater breath hold in about 3 feet of water.  I got 3:18, which was the shortest in the group.

DAY 2

So the teachers are being patient, but we are pissing them off something fierce.  I mean they are trying to get us to dive and safety is numero uno.  Well I, for one, am so focused on my dive technique (which is quite intricate) and keep forgetting to be ready when my diver partner is surfacing.  That is beyond important and I am basically a selfish jerk.  On top of that, my form sucks and I’m struggling badly with my 10 meter dive.  Pretty much anyone can do this if they know anything about equalizing their inner ear pressure.

I am pretty much the worst and weakest in a class of seven.  I tell the teachers that I am only doing the 2-1/2 day course.

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Our instructors. Ren is a safety and his wife Ashley is the one competing.

Ren comes over to my apartment and says he wants me to finish the full course and don’t worry about the rest of the fees.  Ren and Ashley love what they do and feel they would fail if I quit when the going got tough.  Great teachers like this are rare.

I did want to quit.  Being in open ocean always has always given me the heebie-jeebies, especially with 100+ feet of visibility.  I get tense after 10 seconds of holding my breath and swimming.  The boat looks pretty small from 33 feet underneath it.

This is the hardest part of the dive believe it or not.  In the first 10 meters, your body is positively buoyant.  This is ensured as a safety measure because 99% of blackouts occur in the last part of the ascent.  Out of those 99%, 90% happen after the diver has taken recovery breaths at the surface.

Hydrostatic pressure makes it feel like you are out of air.  At 10 meters (33 feet), your lungs are 1/2 the original volume.  At 20 meters, they are 1/3.  At 30 meters, they are 1/4.  The water squeezes you, triggering stretch receptors that tell your brain you have exhaled.  These are the instincts you must implement diplomacy with.  There is more than enough oxygen-rich air in your body.  Your mind has to convince your brain.

There is one instinct that actually helps.  It’s called the Mammalian Dive Reflex.  When we hold our breath and go under water, the heart slows.  Something called blood shunting happens and draws blood away from the extremities (purple fingernails after long dives) and concentrates blood at the heart, lungs, and brain.  We pee a lot to thicken the blood and increase blood pressure.

To make it to the goal of 30 meters (100 feet), I have to be cool as a cucumber.  But, I suck.  I am just about the opposite of a cool cucumber.  I’m more like a jalapeño in the oven.  I’m gripping the edge of panic, crying inside to get back to the surface.

It’s near impossible to equalize your ears when you aren’t relaxed.  The feeling you get when your phone buzzes in your pocket, yeah, that’s enough to tense your diaphragm.  If you fail to equalize, it feels like a pencil is being pushed through your ear and the pain increases if you continue, until your ear drum rips.  Then the pressure inside your ear will equal the hydrostatic.

Back at the surface, I’m cold and have to relax for the next few minutes in order to lower my heart rate so I can dive again, this time to 50 feet.  And this is how freediving goes.

DAY 3 is worse.

I add a Lava Core under my wet suit, but am still cold, so my breathing is still uncontrollable.  My ears are not equalizing and I’m a stress knot with a heart rate of 120 bpm and the fear of death in his eyes.  I need 60 beats per minute or less to be successful.

I start to feel like a student that can’t be helped.  That night, I do yoga to wear out my body and relax.  Erica (we met on Utila) and I do breathing exercises and I think about how Ren told me it’s all mental.

I realize that Erica is right: Freediving has a fundamental difference from other sports.  You can’t just be calm on the surface.  You have to physically be calm to the core. Your cells have to be calm.  You absolutely can’t fake it.  Tomorrow is going to be the big day.  My heart flutters just thinking about diving.  Each time I feel nervous I make myself understand fully that my psychological habit is unnecessary and will not help in any way. One way I calm down is by making sure my toes are relaxed.

In rock climbing and SCUBA, you have to rely on your gear.  In freediving, you are the gear.  The moment you loose a grip on your emotional reactions, your equipment fails.  The only remedy is focus.

DAY 4

On the final day, I have only a smoothie for breakfast.  There are special stretches while holding a full breath that prepare you for the hydrostatic pressure.  I also visualize the dive a few times.

Visualizing can be a very powerful tool to accomplish goals.  Athletes from golfers to boxers use this method to “watch” themselves accomplishing their goal.  Michael Jordan used to do this with free throws.  He counted dribbles, spins in his hand, bent his knees and bounced in his mind.  If you can picture enough detail, your mind hardly knows the difference between an imagined scenario and the real thing.  It’s like having a daydream where you’re falling and then you wake up by jumping in your seat.

Ren and Ashley tell us to visualize the 100’ dive, to capture every detail.  The water temperature, spitting out water that splashes into my snorkel, everything.  The trick is to keep it continuous and in real time so that you are enduring the emotional stress.  I go through the preparatory breathing counts in my mind.  I imagine going through the entry routine, making my body hydrodynamic, and counting kick cycles.  For me it is 8 hard kick cycles (because you are positively buoyant for the first 10 meters), 8 soft kick cycles (neutrally buoyant 10m-20m), and then no kicks for 10 seconds (you begin to sink after 20 meters due to gas compression).  Once I reach the plate in my mind, I grab the rope, pull hard, and begin my dolphin kicks.  At the last 10 meters, I begin to float again and can stop kicking to conserve oxygen.

Cool things happen on the ascent. the gas in your mask is expanding, which you can sniff to get a little shot of fresh air.  It’s difficult to keep the visualization accurate because, in real life, I am floating in the water and simultaneously doing my ventilation counts and waiting in line to do the actual dive.  I keep getting distracted and never quite touch the plate in my head.

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We take a small boat out into the crystal blue water under the warm morning sun.  The wind has changed directions so it’s dead calm.  The warm up dives go really well and a larger wet suit seems to be keeping me warm.  I finish the 66′ dive clean.

At 85′, my ear stops me.  Attempting 100′ for the second time, I can not equalize my ears again after 80 feet.  I decide to hell with it and to keep going.  It isn’t much further that my ear says, “Nope.”

I do a real quick u-turn using the rope and began kicking for the distant surface.  Burning lungs have to be ignored and those thoughts replaced with the knowledge that my body has plenty of air.  I tell myself, “Just keep looking at the rope in front of your face and stay calm.”

The ocean surface becomes visible at the top of my periphery, but I have to fight the urge to look up.  A short while later I pull my arms down by my side and exhale so that my lungs will be ready to breathe in when I breach the water-air barrier.  My head and shoulders burst into the atmosphere and I take in my first gasp of sweet air.  After the 30 second recovery process and I signal I’m OK, my instructor tells me I was one foot from the 100′ plate.  She says it’s close enough.  Who am I to argue with a 3-time world record holder?

Since the class, every time I feel anxiety about money or time, I stop, breathe, and relax my body commmmmmmmpletely.  Relax the toes.  Relax the feet.  Relax your ankles. Relax the muscles in your hands.  Allow your jaw to hang and relax the muscles of your face.  Breathe into the muscles of your back, neck, etc.  Work parts of the body and try to relax the tissue.  You have to be relaxed like you are drooling and don’t want to move after a Thai massage in order to freedive well.  I find it amazing how frequently my body tenses from unnecessary stress.


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Manifestations

Before our dive, Ashley tells us there are two kinds of fears: imaginary and real.  She asks us to name some fears and we decide if they are made up in our heads or legitimate.  Drowning, falling, and being eaten are real fears.  I ask about sharks.  Everyone in the boat has dove with sharks, yet no one has been bitten.  It’s kind of like bees; if you don’t make them feel threatened, they don’t attack you.

There are two ropes hanging from the boat to a weighted plate.  We split up into two groups and take turns attempting our dives.  When it comes time for the 100 foot dive, a 7-foot dusky shark swims 15 meters below the plates.  It was just curious, even a bit skittish.  He stays with us for about an hour.

Judging his distance, I guess we have about 150 feet of visibility before it gets dark.  At the Caribbean Cup I would watch the divers submerge, kick their fins down until they disappeared.  After 2 or 3 minutes, they would reappear from the abyss and come up to the surface with a tag proving they made it to their goal.  Some freedivers go deeper than 400 feet.

Erica and I go snorkeling around the bay.  I don’t have a snorkel, making it difficult to see the coral each time I run out of air.  I start thinking I should just go buy one.  Not two minutes later Erica pulls one out of the water and says, “Look what I found!”

Ever since leaving Utila, it has bothered me that I didn’t find Chris to say bye.  Erica and I take a cab, ferry, another cab, a bus, and a third cab to a hostel in San Pedro Sula.  When we arrive 8 hours later, we walk in and there’s Chris sitting on the couch, waiting to go to the airport.  Erica and he split a cab 2 hours later because they are on the same flight.

The universe is clever.  Erica and I were talking about making our own tortillas yesterday while we cooked lunch.  They are so much better fresh off a frying pan.  I get to the hostel and find this pillow on the couch.

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So I grab some Masa (corn flour) from the store and make some for dinner.

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These instances happen so much on the road that they cease to surprise.  You begin to expect it.  Then all you have to is decide what you want.  Be careful of your thoughts though.  If you are constantly paranoid of getting mugged, you probably will or at least freak out on someone who’s trying to help you.

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The legendary squeaver has been located.

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Listening too closely to advice sometimes interferes with my intuition.  Too much advice is eventually going to conflict because guess what?  It’s situational!  Use your head and don’t let all the pussies of the world scare you into avoiding the things you want to do.

It might not work out, but chances are good that you are going to survive.  Want proof?  Look at global and local population growth.  We aren’t very good at dying, no matter what TV says.  Will Smith’s character said in After Earth, “Don’t misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

Roatan

 

 

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Portrait of Roatan

I’m squatting on the shallow section of beach with this damn cute little kitten.  It’s quite a bit after sunset but golden flames of sky still exist between thunderstorms on the horizon.  The kitten keeps jumping up and rubbing his ear on my hand.  It makes typing this on the tablet hilariously difficult.  It’s amusing to watch him chase crabs, too.  When a jet ski rides by, he forgets the crab he’s almost standing on and watches it slowly as it passes us.  He might have better eyes than me.  After the jet ski is gone I can barely hear the ripples coming to shore 20 feet in front of me.  The curtain of low palms the same distance behind me is silent.  Then i realize this is all real and the beauty of the present moment almost burns a hole right through me.

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I’m doing a free diving course and held my breath for 3:00 on the first day.  Pretttttty stoked about that.

 

Last Look at Utila


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You can’t go far without meeting cool people.  We hung out all week playing volleyball going to bars/restaurants.  For everyone’s last day we went to Neptune’s Beach.

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Staph Infection Progression.  (Gross)

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Yes, when you travel, you will get banged up from time to time.  But the more injuries I recover from, the more realize how durable the human body is.  Staying safe at home creates the illusion that we are fragile.

 

This week I also got a stomach bug.  Some people thought it was Dengue Fever because of the constant spine ache.  Yack, run to the baño, lie down, repeat.  I don’t know what it was, but I could only consume water and pineapple juice for the first 3 days.  Then I got some fruit down and eventually half a chicken sandwich on the 5th day.  Looking for that beach body?  Come to Honduras and get in SICK shape!!!

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Picking Up Trash

I stayed at the house of chef/owner of a hippie restaurant.  She cooks for a weekly beach cleanup started 8 weeks ago at Pumpkin Hill.  Typically not my style.  My first impression: This is pointless, self-righteous humanitarian futility.  Next week will just wash up more trash.  It turns out only half of the trash comes from the ocean.  It became obvious when a week later we were finding 3-liter bottles along the trail far from the water.

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The biggest question I had is: Who is it affecting?  Obviously, Germanic, Scandinavian, Japanese, and other meticulous westernized cultures loathe seeing garbage outside of its designated bin.  Central Americans are not as troubled by plastic and polystyrene laying on the ground.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen an animal stress over the discovery of an empty soda bottle either.  Many bleeding hearts will google a picture of a turtle stuck in a 6-pack holder to show me how wrong I am.  Here’s what I think about animal intelligence:

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Courtesy of CollegeHumor.com

I’ve seen a cat get its head stuck in a small tree branch and take off in a panic, running into walls and bushes.

Many of bottles I grabbed crumpled in my hand.  They break down after being in the sun for a couple of years.  It makes sense to me that they would keep breaking down until they are at a molecular level.  Many individuals believe that plastic lasts “forever”, which of course is an empty, child-like statement.  While the plastic is really small it is consumed by birds and filter feeders.  This is arguably bad, but is heavily debated in the scientific community.

What bothers me is the inefficiency of single use products like plastic forks and bottles.  I never thought about how many of those products I’ve used until the beach cleanup.  I must have used several hundred throw-away cutlery sets and several thousand cups and bottles in my life.  It would be nice to have one cup, one spork, one knife that I could just wash.  I never thought these words would come from me, but all that crap has to eventually end up somewhere and it looks like Caribbean beaches are magnets for garbage.

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20 people x 5 hours = 2 truckloads

 

 

 

I have to admit it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I looked at the finished product.  Motives aside, it went from being a gross beach to a pristine paradise.

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Utila at Night and a Captain’s Charter

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Night Rides

“It’s nice to have someone to experience this with.  In 30 years, it’s gonna be nice to talk about this with someone.”  I say this to Oba as we ride under the new-moon black sky on the unstable dinghy from the bar back to the sailboat.  The low bass beats from two adjacent dance clubs, reaching their sounds way past their long wood plank docks, trail behind the hum-stutters of the outboard motor.
The stars give faint silhouettes to our neighbor boats.  Pinhole diamonds are our only guide since the moon is hidden far below the horizon.
Chilly droplets splash Oba and I every ten seconds as we bounce easily over the steady ripples of the bay.  This town isn’t wild, but it is cool.  Every day there is a drink special in at least one of the dozen bars on the main drag.  The cast is basically the same and newcomers become allies on the escape from the routines of life.  Conversations meander through small crowds and the night vanishes like a stiff drink.  I am happy to ride with Oba through the charcoal darkness back to our floating home in the bay.
Images
(Words)
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(Holds the boat together)
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(Holds the boat)
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(Use Caution)
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(Do Not Use Caution)
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(Old houses)
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(Their views)
Night Crawlers
My old buddies!  I’m pretty stoked/terrified to be sharing shadows with Central American wildlife again.  Ok, so everyone agrees a 5 inch diameter tarantula is a cute fur ball, but some of these guys are not so cute.  I’ve only seen a scorpion of about 3 inches long so far.  My friend Tiffini accidentally stepped on one 6 inches long in her kitchen and and said it was “beautiful”.  The deliberate stroll of shiny armor, raised pinchers, and a poised stinger does not give me the warm and fuzzy feeling.
Banana spiders are just cool and all over the Jade Seahorse, an artist’s dream-turned-reality spanning a hilly two acres and completely covered with intricate designs and architecture.  It’s 20 years of carpentry, tunneling concrete, random vertical tile work, and every bizarre, durable object conceivable, fastened in life-size Alice In Wonderland patterns.
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Crabs cross-criss the streets at night, jousting with oncoming dirt bikes and golf carts.  I don’t know if they are standing their ground out of bravery or trying to be invisible.  Neither plan seems to be working.
Even with the addition of some common wolf spiders and sand flies, the island isn’t that scary.  It doesn’t take long to get used to their appearance and the fact that they are trying much harder to get away from us than the other way around.  There are also iguanas, which only come out in the daytime and another world of nocturnal underwater hunters.
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(Some of the scariest things aren’t scary at all)
Night Walks
A boy of about 5 rides by me on a Big-Wheel, rolling his head back like Ray Charles, looking around at the world.  The sun went down 2 or 3 hours ago, and the only adult I see around is a woman trailing about 15 seconds behind on foot.
Bicycles, dirt bikes, tuk-tuks, and 4-wheelers pass me on whichever side is convenient as I make my way up the windy concrete road.  About half of the vehicles have lights; the others and I rely on silhouettes created by shop lights and the rare green glow of street lamps.
It’s not unusual to see divers and locals with a joint in their mouth or behind the ear.
The local economy is based primarily on diving instruction. Divers are pretty chill.  So is the island.  The culture is somewhere between paradise and a shot of tequila.
I’m leaving my friend’s restaurant and heading to a bar called Babalu’s to meet my brother, Oba, and other friends for a drink.  The island has only three expensive items: restaurant food (except baliadas and pastillas), bar drinks, and diving.  These are still cheaper than most places in the world.  The thing with this island is normally people drink either zero drinks or they drink 10.  I’ve been averaging about $25/day.  That’s cheap for the U.S., but expensive for Central America.
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First Charter
Captain Steve (he received a confirmation email and is officially El Capitan) had his first Charter.  Passengers: Tiffany, Danna, Amy, Will, Rory, and Dom.  Steve, Oba, and I crewed the boat while the others fished and held on for the wild ride.
The sea was somewhere between rough and really damn rough.  The boat took some crashing waves on its beam and bow that I don’t think I’ve ever seen.  The center of gravity for a floating object must be below the waterline (more specifically the center of pressure) to achieve stability.  With nine people on board, the boat had an extra 1300 pounds on it’s deck (roughly 4 feet above the water line).  She was rolled more dramatically in the waves.
The boat ride lasted close to 5 hours and one passenger was sick.  Next time it will be half as long and not nearly as rough.
The payment: loaded sandwiches made from homemade sourdough, tropical drinks, and two cartons of eggs.
Scattered rum bottles, broken sunglasses, and plastic cups produced the aftermath of a fraternity party ambushed by pirates.  Great success!
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(Banana pudding is up there with southern biscuits and NY pizza)

Utila and Rectangles

Soft living

Soft living


The Bay Islands were visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502.  He gave his usual warm welcome  by capturing locals and selling them into slavery for agriculture and mining.  For the next few hundred years, the islands were occupied by French, British, and Dutch pirates as well as Spanish conquistadores.  During these centuries, escaped slaves of various origins married into Honduran families as a form of refuge.  Along with the European influx, the Mayans (Paya) were pushed out and transformed, leaving a new hybrid culture of light skinned, light eyed locals with new dialects of Spanish and English that is still prominent today.  A born and raised local explained some of this history to Steve and I in perfect English with a Hispanic-Irish sounding accent.  It was quite peculiar.

Boat Profile

The boat made is enjoying a break from the waves in this almost entirely protected harbor.  The Bay Islands are part of the 2nd largest coral reef in the world extending down from Belize.  Reef means shallow which means protection from big waves.  Only steady wind from the Southwest will cause the harbor to rock.  That or a hurricane, which do come from time to time.  There is a nice hurricane hole made of mangroves accessible from the bay.

Utila Dingy

We dinghy into various waterfront bars (<5minute kayak paddle) or Bush’s grocery store / boxing gym as shown above.  The locals are used to tourism as provided by the many many diving schools.  I found some local restaurant people to hang out with and take a break from the boat.  Overall the island is pretty cheap with meals ranging from $3-$8, beer for $2, and rum drinks for about $1.50.

Pleasant walks to the beach take about 10 minutes and we also have our folding bikes which barely survived the rust from being on the ocean a week.  I ride the bike everywhere, and since the island is only about the size of Key West (2×4 miles) I can be anywhere in no time.

Shutters

The rectangle is a human invention. There are none in nature that I can think of. There are nearly perfect spheres (bubbles, planets) and other curves (rainbows, swaying grass, etc.).

Calculus uses right angles to approximate area and volume about smooth curves. This is close, but not entirely accurate. It’s as if the human mind is not equipped to see the actual world, only a filtered mathematical interpretation of what’s really there. Kinda makes me think I’m a computer program.

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” – Samuel Johnson

Lilac

Beauty and clarity

Sign

Sailing to Guatemala

Leaving Dock KW

The first day came and went like lamb and lion. The boat leaves the fuel docks of Key West at a leisurely pace and the point of sail is so perfect that we stay on the same tack for the entire night. But with constant wind direction, the seas begin to build. As I write this it feels like I’m in a giant shoe box rolling down an endless rocky hill. The shelves occasionally toss their goods at the boat’s floor. The crew is now on sleepy shifts holding the tiller in line with the following waves. The wind is strong enough now that we only need the medium sized jib. Flying the main would lead to dangerous jibes and lethal boom action.

It’s now the end of my sleep shift. The full moon guided Steve and Oba for the last 6 hours. Day is breaking now. The autopilot is engaged, so I’m going to make some coffee and get to work.

Sunrise

Day 2 Sucks

Even running to grab the laptop makes me nauseated. Bouncing around the v-berth, listening to the awful clanging of the halyard on the mast and the wind howling through the sail (still too much running and waves for the main), all I want to do is close my eyes. So I’m typing with them closed.

I am going to sound like a baby, but I don’t care. My thigh hurts from where the anchor pinched a cute little hole in my leg. My knee feels like a raw scab (later to be infected, but managed when back on land) that I haven’t even taken time to look at yet. My teeth still taste gross from the stomach acid / grits that came up to say they missed me this morning while I was riding the bow like a rollercoaster to fill up water jugs. I’m not sure which is more comforting: the dull smack of more than a ton of water on the wall next to me or the smashing of power tool bags leaving shelves in the salon behind me.

The good news: it could be worse. The bad news: it might get worse. Oranges are the only thing I can easily keep down today and thank Oba, we have a lot. It’s getting dark now and I was in the cockpit since sunrise, so I’m gonna see if I can get some sleep. We’ll be rounding the tip of Cuba tomorrow. I do hope it’s a smoother ride on the other side.

Day 3

The sun is shining and the water a luscious blue. Cruising along at about 6 knots, we approach some tall, fluffy weather systems. We were able to fly the mainsail this morning, but now drop it at the sight of possible squalls and ride once again with only the jib.

Before entering the gloomy system, a bright yellow finch-looking bird lands on our cockpit. Within a couple of minutes he flies in the boat and lands on Steve’s head. Then Dubie snags him out of mid air and he plays dead for a moment before regaining his enthusiasm. Later that night, I dig around the closet for my pancho (gift from Boots and Nail) and rouse our new bird. He joined us around Cabo San Antonio, and the last place I saw Tony was in the V-berth when I slid into bed around 1:30AM.

Day 4

Wet with mild wind. Each time we begin un-reefing the main, the wind picks up. We are past the tip of Cuba, moving just east of south. We will aim to maintain this track for about 60 more miles or 12-15 hours before heading toward the Bay Islands of Honduras.

The crew is fully in a groove, slumped around the soggy, cluttered boat, watching the days get longer and more boring.

– An Injury –
Well actually a lot of injuries. It turns out I am quite prone to getting myself hurt.

Before we even left, I was holding the anchor on the pull-pit, I carelessly let it slip and pinch my leg. Rusty + 45 lbs = ouch. I also broke my little toe on my left foot. If you’ve never broken a toe tripping over the tiller, there’s really nothing you can do but tape it to the adjacent one and wear shoes.

The first two days it was cold and wet and the night watch distracted my pea-brain so I passed out without first changing clothes. Now I have two mild-to-bad infections, the anchor pinch and a big pimple on my knee which is full of puss and giving me a fever. My instincts told me to cook mashed potatoes with canned veggies on the side.

Building the trust in my subconscious (or superconscious?) is tricky after not listening for the past 6 months. Working too much leaves little energy and focus for that faint but pure voice. My body gets round one. If I wake up with a fever, it’s time for tetracycline antibiotics.

About an hour later I decide to try the antibiotics. Then I start getting really paranoid that the handwritten dosage and FOR ANIMALS ONLY label might do me more harm than good. Clean socks soaked in boiled salt water do a pretty good job of keeping the subcutaneous fluid from hardening. I used this method for an earring infection. Coupled with half-decent nutrition, I am confident my body would disperse of the foreign civilization taking advantage of my weakened economy. The wound will take a few more days to heal, but the serious risks have been managed.

[ * * * The infection actually got worse and instead of constantly trying a new trick of the day, I just kept the surface as clean and dry as possible, as recommended by Steve. I should have squeezed the puss out of this giant pimple-looking mountain, but the pain was such that it felt like a bad idea and I didn’t want to send anything deeper into my body. * * * ]

Day 5

Last night was our first experience in the trade winds. This is what I scribbled on a spiral notebook, half asleep in the dark:

~ ~ ~ I keep waiting for the boat to break in half. Fiberglass creaks like crickets. Water rushes by the hull like a tunnel in the Hoover Dam. Wind is staying 20 knots plus. These are the tradewinds. This is the Caribbean Expressway. ~ ~ ~

Every now and then the boat lurches upwards and slams down on a wave or two, creating a constant gravitational field through the lower starboard walls. Everything shifts ceaselessly toward this edge of the boat and half of the contents are tethered to or balancing on a ledge on the opposite side. Dubious finds comfort wedging his frame against the walls of the hallway.

Stove Gimble

The stainless steel stove/oven gimbles at a 30 degree angle and is the only visual evidence of how much the boat is heeling. As I type this, I am being pressed against a wooden shelf. It’s like laying on a stick and having your weight added and subtracted every 2-5 seconds.

The mashed potatoes were a nutritional hit, so I ask my superconscious what else I’m lacking. Bread. Biscuits are voted, but I make no space for expansion and the batch ends up doughey and bland. Luckily you can’t mess up eggs and country gravy from a packet.

We’re less than 200 miles from Utila now. The tradewinds are named this because of their historical utility. It’s too bad we don’t generate power from Old Faithful. I guess tourism money counts in a way. We’ve made 4.5 to 6.5 knots and haven’t touched the sails or Otto (Our German navigator. He’s very strong! {read in a German accent}) in a day and a half. At this rate, we’ll be sailing up to the Bay Islands sometime tomorrow night.

Auto

Day 6

Our use of humor has been one of the most useful tool on this journey and this should be noted and applied to all journeys.

The examples of stress traps are silly and minuscule. A book and pillow were left in the rain. Someone caught rainwater for drinking in a bucket where a fish had been bled out. A can of sweet tea was saved until the last day and it became a debate of communism vs. private property. Anytime a small group of people are locked together for days and days, an erruption of frustration becomes increasingly imminent. We joke at every opportunity, not because anything is particularly funny, but to keep the mood as light as possible. It is a sort of self-preservation instinct and an indicator of true unhappiness. The alternative would be to scrutinize every event and succumb to the frigid realization that in the middle of a giant body of water only two types of beings exist: quick ones and dead ones.

On a brighter note, we found the ramen noodles last night, so it’s easy cooking from here on out!

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Day 7

Looking at the pictures of the past seven days, I realize something. I’ve been focused most of this trip on how horribly uncomfortable it has been. The pictures spark that reminiscent feeling. Every detail resonates with a story. It’s as if this trip wasn’t about enjoying it at the time. Keeping in touch with the memories will be the true benefit.

Oba mentions wanting to read a book on sailing which I recommended at the beginning of the trip. Now at the end of the trip, he is asking very basic questions about the mainsail. My reaction is to be frustrated at his false show of interest. As I’m typing this, a book on sailing knots falls on me. Steve has always been frustrated that I won’t learn more knots. I’m a hypocrite if I believe someone should learn something they’re not interested in. Maybe this principle can be extrapolated…

We decide to make our first stop Utila, Honduras. It’s the cheapest dive mecca in the Carribean and we don’t pay anything to check in to the country.

This week I’ll be taking photos and writing about the island. I’ll figure out how to put them together on this new app so I can post them for you next Saturday.

Lizard Story

The End.
A short tale about a long tail leading to nothing.

~~ 1 ~~

Four paper mache stars dangle from their strings due to the ceiling fan’s wake, each a different kaleidoscopic pattern of 2 to 4 different colors, each having 5 points and roughly the size of a compressed beach balls. They contrast the lightly stained poplar planks of Danielle’s apartment, and bring the slow pitch of the ceiling to its pinnacle.  The steady waaaah of the A/C fills the next room, neatly barren with acorn colored wood floors and matching cabinetry.

Breathing in deeply to officially end the siesta, my head falls to the left. Across the other room, there’s an 8-foot, veiny lizard standing in front of the mirror. A pale triangular prism of bumpy Swiss cheese hangs loosely in its claw. Thud. The awkward reptile steps his right foot in an arc toward the mirror. Shhh-thum-click. It’s left foot slides back and drags an overdeveloped claw over the boards.

Like a mousetrap exploding, the iguana bi-pod snaps his face around to look at my body, attempting to un-sheet and silently make it to the door fifteen feet away.  The ponytail of spikes cascading down it’s spine wave as the shoulders begin to rotate and lower its front claws to the floor. Now it’s moving.

My mind goes white and once I realize what I’m doing, my hand is on the doorknob, ripping it open.
Escaping through the doorway, I catch a glimpse of the bear-sized lizard’s tail whip the twin bed up the wall like a graduation cap, spinning into the air. My heel misses one of the steps, but sliding and bouncing feet first actually helps my descent down the squeaking stairs.

The stairs collapse into dust under the weight of the beast, but with a swift barrel roll, the lizard is already back on my trail. I weave around the corner and spring for the gate with no plan after getting on my scooter.

The gate gives tremendously as the animal rams its head into the wooden door, but holds together for a second and a half, just enough to get the motor cranked. I spray mall decorative rocks at the Camry parked in the driveway as I actually burn rubber (not easy to do in a 50cc), sliding left and then straight down Packer St. My acceleration is fairly swift and the lizard becomes smaller and smaller in my crooked rear view mirror as I blast through stop sign after stop sign. Eventually I get my breathing back under control.

I notice there aren’t any other cars or people. Except for the flickering of palm fronds above the houses, it is eirily quiet. The blatant lack of sound reminds me of the first heavy snowfall in Manhattan. But this isn’t Manhattan. This is another island, an eighth the size, at the end of the Florida Keys. Tropical flowers line the warm asphalt roads between the quirky historic homes of Old Town, Key West.

Patting my pockets, I realize my phone is still charging on my girlfriend’s night stand. What happened to her anyway? She either left when I was asleep or transformed into the dinosaur herself. She does love her cheeses…

With the utter absence of life, I experience a volatile mix of emotions, flowing over each other like a circular beach turned inside out. Fear coupled with relief. Anxiety and lonesome. I need to think. I always go to Glazed Donuts when I’m feeling out of balance. It’s on the long road leading to the boat and has a back door so I’ll have an exit if I need one. It’ll be worth it. Mochas always help me get centered.

There’s really no point trying to get up the 150 miles of iguana infested keys to Miami at a top speed of 42 mph. Maybe that was the only monster, but then where is everyone? I might steal a car and see if anyone is at the KWPD or comb the streets for others.

I wrap up the chain of thought and kill the motor, letting momentum carry me across Duvall St. to my sanctuary just before Tropic Cinema. Out of habit, I park in in front of the ‘Motorcycles Only’ sign alongside an early 80’s Harley with unpolished chrome and dull leather. The concrete sidewalk is a blinding white. I quietly run to the shadowed storefront, my back against the brick wall adjacent the entrance. After some stalling and berating myself for this stupid plan, I exhale and march through the front door.

I’ve often talked a big talk about dying in a hammock or going out in a blaze of glory. A tickle of pride warms my stomach as I realize I’m actually following through with my preaching. This could be my last mocha.

The lights are on. “No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who is playing quietly from a high corner speaker. I peek over the counter to make sure nobody’s there. I giddily hop the counter and play an invisible piano as my eyes pin-ball up and down shelves to plan my glorious cup. My left knee points to the chocolate sauce. In the back row of hanging latte cups is a cartoon-sized cappuccino cup. A small puddle becomes a small pond of the home made sauce. Chmp-chmp-chmp from the grinder spills oily grounds into the portafilter. Pshhhhd, whisper excess grounds, leaving an Oreo-looking flat surface flush with the top of the stainless steel ring. I fumble with the machine’s for a bit and eventually produce the midnight brown, life-giving elixir. While the shot is being pulled, I steam some half-and-half to get the microfoam ready. Deep diving ivory pierces the calm, beechwood colored crema. As the molten infusion reaches the top of the handle, I rock the stainless pitcher side to side with the consistency of a polygraph needle relaxing in truth.

I’m a little bummed because I have no way photographing my beverage. I sit with my Michealangelic mocha and a vanilla cake donut, looking at shadow of palm trees on the store front glass as stark reality returns.

I’m on an island. I was chased by something I assume is bad. I’m alone, I realize just as Mumford and Sons plays through the speaker, “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Well, I do have donuts and coffee. Fuck that, I laugh. I still wanna see South America. I have a boat…

I let the chocolate syrup at the bottom of the cup slowly reach the rim of the cup.  After setting down the dark brown ceramic on light brown wood, I stick my head out the door, verify the silence of the street, and get back on the scooter.

,.,.,.,

– – 2 – –

With only an afternoon to prepare and supply the boat, I had to limit my activities to only the critical. The shadows were already leaning the other way.

Fausto’s Food Palace was on the way.  I noticed there were more trees, the homes of smaller iguanas, who for all I knew could be big ones now. I did what any life-threatened human would do and walked across the intersection to Luigi’s to see if the ovens were still on. Each meal in the forseeable present might be my last. A relatively fresh, entire pie glistened under the heat lamp. Being as familiar as I am with the inner-workings of a pizza kitchen, I have no trouble finding chicken, spinach, and fresh basil for my slice, now sizzling on the stone at 675°F.

Wiping an overflow of leafy goodness from my goatee, I think I could have used fresh garlic in place of the spinach, but who could think clearly with 8-foot tall, wrap-around windows exposing me to the motion detecting dinosaurs who may or may not be strolling down Fleming St. right now.

I experiment with a couple of local hot sauces, wash it all down with a tall vidrio of Mexican Coca-cola and walk back across the intersection to get canned food, rice, fruit, bread, and whatever else I can carry, all the while replaying the flaky crunch of Luigi’s crust. Mmmm! Good.

The cold air falls like snow as I walk onto a dirty, grey-blue Fausto’s entry mat. Two things surprise me: to my left, the impressive craft beer selection where the produce usually is, and to my right, the motionless neck and shoulders of an even larger lizard than I escaped earlier. It shifts slightly on its fore-claws, munching on a pile of romaine heads, as I toe-heel back into the humid street air, aching for the 4ft-wide automatic door to slide shut.

It does. I walk back to my scooter with the patience of a barefooted tourist crossing a black parking lot in summer. My first non-alien encounter, an old friend, a nonchalant chicken clucks down the sidewalk. I know he won’t come with me, even if it makes sense to both of us individually, but I ask anyway and am rejected. Maybe he has more useful thoughts under his red, rubber-looking hat than i give him credit for.

Almost a mile later, after no incident, I park the scooter near the aqua painted, cinder block building elevated one flight of stairs in the event of a flood to drop off a load. I don’t like using the decades old plumbing on the boat and the grocery encounter almost scared the shit out of me, which, had it, would have been the turning point of my battle with reality.

Once inside, the downward angling concrete slits in the walls provide no shelter against the humid November sub-tropical air. I don’t know what to do but sweat, so I sit there and sweat.

Instead of the sound of distant construction and nearby tourist traffic, I hear the breeze. It inspires hope and tranquility.

Then comes the noise.

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## 3 ##

I hear the breeze. The breeze is blowing something, a tin can in the distance. The sound gross louder and multiplies. Now it sounds like dozens of paint cans bouncing down the street, muffled by an avalanche.

I’m not sticking around to find out what it is, but as i skip down the steps, my eyes are glued to the most distant row of palm trees, becoming less distant as they vanish from the horizon. They lay down like tall grass being pushed aside by a Beagle in a meadow.

The noise becomes a hissing roar, matching the low cloud of dusty, uprooted grass and the tremble of the ground I balance on. The cloud is green, brown, and red and finally gives shape to an 8-lane stampede of limousine-sized lizards rolling on top one another on the 4 lanes of Truman Avenue, now converging in a swarming V with a second stampede coming over the Palm Avenue bridge. Beside the intersection are the docks of my marina and me with a dumb look on my face.

I bolt for my boat at the end of King Fish pier. A Stegosaurus looking iguana strays from the herd rips across the parking lot and splashes into the mangroves where I’m hiding. It’s eyes show nothing but the fear of extinction and don’t notice my stunned, frozen figure. The metal ramp leading to my dock slows him down like the finish-line ribbon slows the winner of a hundred yard dash. I duck and squat, slipping on my ass to dodge flying metal bits and slide down the leafy, trash riddled bank and into the muddy mangroves. There isn’t much else to do but wait. I wait for the trampling sound to subside, but instead it transforms into the rhythmic march of a new population.

I clamber up the bank, digging my fingernails into the mud and sandy grass to pull my face just past the elevation of the parking lot. What I see gives my backbone a shudder of terror.

White, immaculate suits shine in the receding sun, giving shape to 12 or 14 foot tall storm troopers. They look like storm troopers anyway. It’s their precision and sheer height that shock me. In their hands are what appear to be automatic weapons like you would see in a video game. I hold the earth there, eyes like an Olympic ping-pong match, gasping for ideas and air, when my hips are suddenly clamped between a vice. A hand, claw, paw, or whatever of this man-lizard pins me to the side of the parking lot. My scream never leaves the muffled meat of his other claw-paw. It’s as big around as a one-door refrigerator and I can tell it used to be my brother.

His black eyes switch from my left to my right with enough understanding and depth to teach me the truth. He keeps me silent until my panic turns into trust. I am not sure if he can still talk or not, but he could scratch, in dark white, drawings and the words THE MACHINE on the asphalt. He had waited for my anticipated boat move, pending my survival. He’d always had a way of seeing further than the rest of us. I realize I’m an ass for taking my time with coffee and pizza, but that’s just who I am.

My brother-reptile has a plan for survival. I’m not sure if he wants revenge, survival or if I can even fully trust this creature’s judgement.

The troops had moved up North Roosevelt by now. We were left in the silence of air sweeping the textured parking lot.

The biggest question in my mind is, “Will we be OK in Cuba?”, followed closely by, “What the hell is going on?”

My brother managed through the companionway of our boat two bushels of green bananas from a tree somewhere on the island. I question his brilliance at this discovery and fail to make a judgement. He also has two couch-cushion sized bags of reptile food and one of long grain enriched rice along side two large propane tanks. His endeavors had been much more productive than mine so I un-sheepishly relinquished the lead in our quest for survival.

The mainsail still has a couple of decent sized tears in it. Steve’s claws put the feathery feeling of flight back in my upper spine as their sheer weight silkily lower the 1/2″ wire-rope halyard running to the top and back down the 40′ mast to lift the sail. The T-Rex sized blanket fills with solid air and the clunky steel boom bounces around with the careless effort of a maid raising the blinds to dust.

The starboard dock lines groan and Steve motions so that I release us from the dock, his tail draping over the transom at rest deep below the water’s surface.

His long feet fit nicely on the port and starboard benches of the cockpit. He lays forward with a claw on the top of the cabin, his other grasping between his feet the chopstick of a tiller.

I brush off my judgmental reaction and decided that he knows something I don’t. His free claw reaches up to swing the boom toward the dock until it is co-linear with the approach of the breeze. Firing up the diesel would certainly disturb the serene ambiance and highlight our position.

Air passes both sides of the waving flag and since the sail can no longer catch air, the wind begins to press the boat diagonally against the dock and out of the slip.

The oncoming inertia as I hop on the vanishing bow Newtons the nose to port, into and finally across the wind. The sail fills like a perturbed blowfish as slowing reverse shifts to forward progress, and within the minute the boat and its crew glide through the harbor’s narrow entrance and into the shallow waters of the Gulf. Ten minutes later we are past the long side of Fleming Key and into the widening Northwest channel. It takes the rest of the day’s light for our home island to disappear as we gradually bob across the dependable Gulf Stream current on our southern heading to Havana.

Hundreds of golden sunsets reflect in his quarter sized scales as he checks the shape of the sail. At this rate, we’ll be on Cuba’s shore around sunrise. I sit on the bench seat in the boat’s salon. Speaking with my brother does little more than give my inner monologue a rest. After rocking with the waves for a bit, my thoughts grow into a living filmstrip complete with random sounds and dialogue. Tom Cruise seems angry, but leads me around a reddish castle which becomes a downtown, historic European city…

A deep inhale and the residual sound of a wet smack against the fiberglass hull of the boat opens my eyes. The shiny reflection of my bro-zard fills the opening to the cockpit. He hadn’t made a sound for assistance, but it’s getting a little rough out there.

I raise my head through the companionway to see the gentle rolling, black hills under intense moonlight. The compass appears to be frozen in the distant glow of a worn out Halloween ornament. We have a heading180° S and we’re still getting side swiped by 3 knots.

I’m excited about seeing backwoods Cuba. Havana didn’t impress me except for the beautiful cars and one artists’ gallery. Just another exploited tourist destination. Boring and expensive. I weave my way around Steve’s massive torso to twist on the propane cylinder at the back of the cockpit. Back inside the galley, I hold his ivory tall ship Zippo to a stove ring and turn one of the knobs. The quick blue circle flashes on and I retract a warm knuckle. The sound of a rain stick fills the cabin as I pour a small pile of two-week old roasted coffee beans into the top of the plastic hand grinder.

My peripheral vision catches Steve sneaking a glance. I keep my head down to avoid disturbing his curiosity. He looks back to the horizon. I could swear he was smiling.

The steam pot begins to whistle just as the last beans are crunched through the ceramic burrs. I dump grounds in the bottom of the French press and cover with a coiling stream of water and steam. Floating grounds are swirled with a butter knife and the fervent aroma covered with the stainless screen to steep. Meanwhile, I spread crunchy peanut butter and slice a banana onto the not yet molded portion of some old bread.

Managing into the cockpit with two cups, the press, and a sandwich hanging out of my mouth ends up easier than anticipated. The sky gives the undark of a fading black t-shirt in fast forward.

The morning blue-gold is flat like stained glass. Following faint ripples walks my eyes though a simple maze to the horizon. Cuba rests in the distance between sky and water. I can see even from here the tall cliffs erupting from the sea. The notion that there’s a geological reason Havana is the largest city peaks one of my eyebrows.

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The sun is high on its invisible ladder when we reach the shore. Only the splashes of rocks being wakened fills the lonely air. Enough powdered rock rests on the underwater plateau to give grip to two anchors. Our cradled vessel would have to patiently wait while we explore shore.

I keep dry on the kayak and lasso a microwave sized rock; my brother doesn’t mind the cool water and climbs over underwater rocks.

The dry, red dirt feels like a treadmill coming to a halt under my sea legs.

The sun passes overhead as we make our way down a powdery dirt road. Rudimentary cinder block houses become more frequent, but not any sounds. I stop at a well and fill an empty 2 liter of Mountain Dew with cool water. An abandoned neighborhood storefront gives easy access to salty crackers and sugary Cuban snacks.

I start to feel it through my feet, and Steve is already turned around, and we walk toward a small patch of trees. The low hum, similar to a garage door opening, creeps out of the trees. Then the hum is right next to me. It’s my brother. He stops. The trees start again. We walk closer.

Two sets of eyes meet us, one my size and one the size of soup bowls and an arm’s length apart.

The first is a girl. She and her lizard seem to understand out predicament. They lead us to a tent sized pile of bread, fruit, and powdered milk.

I ask her name in Spanish. “Tabita,” she says. She hasn’t seen anyone since escaping with her mother. She knows where an internet cafe is.

The only news posted on Google are links to blogs and facebook, mostly in languages I can’t read, with headlines like: “Is anyone out there?” There aren’t many of us.

One entry I have difficulty understanding translates to: “They take away again to be like before. Dinosaurs. Aliens. Pyramids of Egypt.”

Suddenly Tabita’s eyes fill with answer. She bolts for a bookshelf beside the entrance and begins pulling books like a series of levers. A small pile grows around her bare ankles. She stops with a long, hard covered, thin book. It has an official cover with a silver seal of some municipality. Her fingers flow through the pages, as if she just remembered where she lost something. She stops and slaps the page, rattling off Spanish too fast for me to keep up with.

She whirls the book around and fingers a picture of a famous Mayan pyramid. Her finger follows the back of a stone snake carved beside the steps. A close up picture shows engravings of people and reptiles along a tier of the pyramid. She moves up the tiers “Aqui, no lagarto. Arriba, muchos lagartos. En la parte superior, solo lagartos.”

I couln’t understand why the snake descended. Maybe land animals will retreat to the oceans and lose their legs. Whatever it is, this has happened before.

I don’t feel like building another pyramid to warn the future. It is obviously an ineffective solution. I feel helpless. We walk back to Steve and Tabita’s mother with the book. Maybe they have an idea.

My brother only flicks his whip-like tongue at the images. The feeling of anxiety dissolves as I realize there won’t be a chance to redeem ourselves or change the population back to people or confront aliens or anything. Steve and I look at each other. His eyes are squinted. He’s smiling.

This morning’s meditation

Every uninterrupted meditation ends in an answer to a question that’s been tangled in the strands of our experience.

This morning’s answer for me was: I thank you, I love you, I forgive you. I got to it when I started focusing on the little pump in my chest where many believe a chakra (energy intersection) exists.

I started out a simple country boy who thought the only benefits of meditating were comic release by entertainment icons like Ace Ventura in When Nature Calls.

It’s no surprise that these comedians are well versed on the subjects they mock. (If you haven’t watched Jim Carrey’s commencement speech from the Maharishi Institute of Management, it’s worth the 20 minutes.)

The benefits of meditation are subtle and not easily quantifiable. For someone high-strung like me, it’s important like stretching and calling old friends.

If you got this far, you might like the method. It changes each time because repetition loses benefit.

Sitting upright and comfortable (for me in contact with the ground), eyes closed for visualizing yourself from changing views, breathing deeply to initially relax.

After about a minute, I feel pretty chill and begin the meditation.

I stick out my tongue slightly (I would make a taco-tongue if I could) so that I can hear the inhale. This is important because the breathing is light and slow.

Ten seconds on the inhale (takes practice), 3 seconds of exhale. This causes the body to fully release tension every single breath.

After 10 breaths, begin focusing on the tip-top of the skull (crown). Think about the air slowly making its way from the mouth through and above the brain. Move your mind’s camera around to get a better view. Once your lungs (crown) are full, exhale and visualize the “air” flowing down your spine and into the ground.

After 10 breaths, move down to the next “chakra” and repeat for all 7. If you’ve never studied this stuff, Google images can help. Once you’re done, do another 10 or how ever many you want without thinking about anything. It feels pretty good at this point.

I brought the “air” from my mouth to the chakra and sent it to the ground until I began focusing on the heart. (Incidentally, this is where my lesson came to light.) From here, I sent it up and down my spine, like a “T” intersection. After the heart, I brought the “air” up from the ground and sent it up my spine, through the top of my head.

This may all sound like gibberish, and it should because it’s my experience.

“We do not seek to imitate the masters; rather we seek what they sought.” – Basho ( Japanese poet).

Bad Roommate(s) Bad Advice

Chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka. I hear scratching on the roof/deck… This is the third time. Tune to go check out what it is. It’s midnight:30.

I pop my head up and see the silhouette of a big fat New York rat. They get the size of cats in the Keys thanks to some exotic pet owner. Instead of scaring him with the paddle, he charges me. I jump up on the skinny gunwale in my boxers like a little school boy bitch. The rat is cornered in the black shadows of the cockpit, but unfortunately for me has David Copperfield skills and vanishes.

I wake up and listen. Great, he’s inside the boat. It sounds like he’s in the cereal box. I grab both boxes, closings the lids and duct tape them. Thirty seconds later I hear him in the motor well and shine his gleaming eyes with my cell phone.

It’s 4:30am now. Going back to sleep is not an option so I quietly scurry out the companionway to scoot down to the nearest grocery store. Four hours later I locate a rat trap.

The next day we find the rat trap set off and the cheese is gone, but no rat.

Three days later Steve dreams someone is combing his hair and wakes up with a large rodent collecting his long, golden hair for nesting material. Steve flings the double pounder into the salon with the back of his panicked hand. Steve is on board for rat elimination.

The next morning Steve wakes up with the rat between his legs. We declare war and oust the oversized mouse in a matter of hours. It’s sad to lose such a worthy adversary. Boat fires are common from chewed up wires and gas lines. It was us or him.