Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Last week together...

Lorena and I took a jarring and dusty bus-ride down to Placencia, at the end of a long, sandy, north-south running peninsula, south of Dangriga. In places the peninsula is very narrow, with the sea on one side and a large mangrove lagoon on the other. Along this road is the airstrip, which has to face the prevailing trade winds. Which means that the runway runs across the peninsula. The "highway" takes a jog around the airstrip, right out onto the beach, but people on foot or bicycle ride straight across. So they have to watch for a flag that tells them a plane is scheduled to land soon, in which case they had better wait or go around.

Placencia is a little town at the end of the peninsula. The beach is white sand here, the best on the mainland, but the swimming area is grassier than what you find at the cayes. Placencia has lots of little bars, and good restaurants, and certainly a more international atmosphere then say Dangriga or Hopkins. A tourist town is not what I usually look for when travelling, but when you spend so much time in a town that offers rice and beans or chinese food as the only food choices, it is nice to go where the tourists go once in a while.

We were also there to hunt for Norman, a Jamaican guy who is known to be an expert fibreglasser. We asked around in the bars and hangouts, but people either said they never heard of him or that he moved. I always figure local people are going to be protective of their own, and if they think a local guy is being searched for, they might want to put me off the scent, in case I am a bounty hunter or debt collector. So finally we learned of a baker who matched the description. We found Norman the Baker an hour before we were planning to catch the bus to Hopkins, a village we rode through on the way south. So we made plans to meet at the Manatee on the following Tuesday, and we parted company.

The bus doesn't go into Hopkins, so we got off at the entrance to the 4 mile long Hopkins Rd. After that little accident we had a couple of years ago, Lorena was determined not to hitchhike again, but we agreed we could wait for the bus to Hopkins, that comes in from Dangriga. At the junction there is a bus shelter. Behind the bus shelter there was a small brush fire, which at one point spread and completely engulfed the bus shelter in heavy black smoke. We waited on the road and watched it burn itself out. At one point, two basilisk lizards came charging out onto the road, driven out of the bush by smoke and heat. These speedy reptiles run on their hind legs like little dinosaurs, and can run right over ponds and streams, thus earning the nickname Jesus Christ lizards.

We weren't the only ones waiting at the junction, so when a pickup arrived and took everyone else onboard, we decided to jump in too. The narrow dirt road runs over a broad, flat savannah, with regularly spaced culverts to handle the annual floodwaters. These culverts elevate the road, with a flat concrete slab on top. As we crossed each culvert, we would fly into the air and come crashing back down onto the truck bed. After a couple of these flights, Lorena asked me if we shouldn't ask to be let out. This is precisely what we should have done two years ago when we got a ride with some young soldiers who were driving so fast we ended up in a rollover accident. I replied that we were almost there. The truck had made the four miles in less than five minutes!

We stayed at a nice little place called Tipple Tree Beya. Beya is the Garifuna word for beach, and the Tipple Tree was a Sea Grape tree that had fallen over in the front yard. The locals make a kind of wine from the fruits of this bush, thus the name.

Our room faced the sea and had a steady breeze blowing in through the front door and hurricane-shuttered windows. On the front verandah were two hammocks for each room. Lying in a hammock, in the shade and the breeze, was a very restful way to spend three days, including Lorena's birthday. We swam in the sea, spotting manatees right off the beach and sampled some of the local fare, which ranged from mediocre to excellent.

Monday, 7 May, we returned to Dangriga on the 7:00 am bus, and spent our last night together (for a while), at Pal's Guest House. It was an emotional time, as Lorena is pretty frightened of this voyage I have planned. The main concern is that the boat is too heavy. It is a challenge to wrestle it up onto the beach, and it would be a bear to handle in surf. So concerned was she, and I admit to my apprehensions about such a heavy craft, that I have made a major concession. I won't be sailing the Manatee home this year, or ever. Instead, Norman and I will be building Manadi II, a 20 - 22 ft. fibreglass canoe. Norm has a mould for a 14-footer, and we will stretch that out with inserts amidships. The result will be boat that is longer, swifter, more seaworthy, and much lighter. It will also have more load capacity.

The construction of the new Manadi will delay my departure by a couple of weeks, but I hope to make up that time with greater daily progress. It has always been a race against the tropical cyclones but with this boat I will have more options for going ashore if a cyclone gets too close, and can either come home 'til the season ends, or resume when the weather clears.

Sorry there are no photos this time: I don't have my camera with me at the moment. But I will be posting lots of photos of the new boat as it is constructed, for those who care to see it. Until then take care.


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