Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Steve plays while Alice is away

Thursday, Sept 1 — Took Alice in the dinghy to shore to catch a pre-booked taxi to the airport. We get to the parking lot and no taxi, but the boatyard security guard told us he’d gone to pick up another fare to the airport from the nearby medical college, and would be “right back”. In the islands that can mean anything from a few minutes to a few hours, and after 15 minutes Alice starts getting a bit panicky, calling the taxi on the cellphone from hell that isn’t cooperating. He eventually shows up 20 minutes late, loads up Alice and her luggage, and I wave goodbye. Back to the boat, check the weather on the Internet to see what might be headed our way from Africa. Spend the rest of the day cleaning the hull, various boat projects, Spanish lessons and a little R&R.
 Friday, Sept 2 — Decide to go into St. Georges for some free Jazz at the National Museum. To get there, I dinghy into De Big Fish, a local bar/restaurant, leave my dinghy locked up to their dinghy dock, and walk about ¼ mile to the main road to pick up a bus to St. Georges. Buses in Grenada are a cheap way of getting about. Alice hasn’t described these "buses" in the blog yet, and they’re not like buses most Americans or Europeans would think of so I’ll give it a try.

To start with, they are 12-16 passenger minibuses (vans), not ‘big’ buses. Their capacity is dependent on the size of the people riding, and the determination of the driver and conductor to have a “full” load. Most buses are privately owned, only loosely controlled by the government, embellished with a name, and sometimes with slogans, front, rear, or both. They are colorful and intriguing, And can be rather amusing at times.  Some of the ones I've seen include: Humble they self - Too much ah dem - Nothing yet - My enemy is not necessary - Final Assassin - Scare dem - Bite dem - Celebrate - Take that and push it, Love yourself.     OK, I think you get the idea.  They come in every color under the rainbow, and quite often in rainbow colors.  They do have route numbers, and an abbreviated list of stops on their route on their windshields. But I have yet to find a map that actually shows the routes, information it seems is to be transmitted by word of mouth (You take the #1 bus to this roundabout, then switch to the #2 bus that’s going to this place, make sure you don’t get the #2 to the other place, and so on). And even if they did have a printed route, that would only be a guideline as to how they might wish to travel should they be so inclined. They do not have a timetable. They may or may not stop at a "bus stop". They can sort of be identified by License plate number plate, If it starts with an ‘H’, then it’s a bus or a taxi. (A bus must have a conductor, so if the driver is alone, it is a taxi. Taxis cost more. A lot more.)   So you’re probably getting a bit confused as to how you actually catch a bus in Grenada, what with the confusion of bus styles, names, routes and capriciousness of the operators. You don’t. The bus catches you. All you really need to do is walk down any major road, and you will soon hear a series of short beeps from a horn behind you. That’s a bus, announcing that it sees you, is coming up behind you, and wants to know if you want to get on. It’s amazing the amount of information that can be transmitted in a series of simple toots. This is where the conductor, aka doorman/fare collector comes into play. He’ll be watching you like a hawk watches a rabbit. The slightest twitch, nod or recognition of the buses existence will bring it to an instant halt, on the road’s shoulder if it exists and is convenient, or otherwise in the middle of traffic. The conductor will slide open the door, leap out and wave you in, then jump in behind you and close the door. Where you sit is generally up to you. Most people sit as close as possible to the door, so if the bus is more than half full, you’ll find yourself squeezing past knees, poking your butt in their faces, and trying to cram yourself into a space about ¼ the size of an economy seat on the cheapest airlines. If you’re lucky, you can get a window seat where you’ll have fresh air flow to dry the sweat that erupted all over your body as you entered the van. If you’re real lucky, you might find yourself grinding hips with someone attractive. But forget any attempt at conversation, the noise from the open windows and the van’s engine revving will make that nearly impossible, if the reggae music blaring from the speakers gives it any chance at all.   So now you’re in.  How do you get off?  Be aware of your surroundings.  If you’ve been down the route before and can recognize where you are, just knock (gently) on the roof. Somehow your knock will be heard by the conductor or driver, and you’ll be let off at the next convenient stopping place. If not, talk to the conductor before you get in, or if possible underway. They’re very friendly and patient, and will generally get you where you want to go. As you get out, you pay the conductor 2.50$EC (about 90 cents US).  It’s a flat rate whether you go 1 block or 10 miles.  Or, if you don’t have exact change, pay him enroute, so he doesn’t have to waste time making change when you exit. For double the fare, you can usually get the bus to drop you off at your final destination, if it’s not too far from the main roads, he’s not too busy, and is favorably inclined.

OK, so I made it into St. Georges and to the National Museum (remember how I started this story?) The jazz was in a medium sized room on the second floor, and reminded me very much of the clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village in the ‘70s — jazz, poetry readings, guest performers. They served beer and light snacks from coolers outside the doors. I had a delightful time. The crew from Promise showed up about halfway through, and we went for a Chinese/Grenadian meal a few blocks away afterwards. The menu was extensive, filled with mostly Schezwan dishes with a Grenadian twist, but it was all in “Chinglish”, a literal translation from Chinese into English, and made for very amusing reading. The food was first rate and delicious.  It was moderately late, around 8 or 9 PM, and I was a little concerned about getting a bus back. As I said they have no timetable, but usually start disappearing around this time. But I got lucky and got picked one up right as I left Promise at their dinghy on the quay. The bus was filled with 18-22 year old males, all friends of the driver or conductor, a little tanked up, and looking for excitement. We drove about ½ mile to the bus station, where they all piled out while the driver proceeded to slowly make his way through the station to the exit. When we got there, they all piled in again, but there was an ongoing altercation with another group of young males. Shouting ensued, and they all piled out again to confront the other group. While they were shouting and shoving at each other, the conductor quietly got back in, closed the door, and the driver made another round of the station. This time when we reached the same spot, most of the same group got in again, but with several females. Then we left the station, picked up and dropped off several more people, then pulled to the side of the road near a food stand, where the driver handed some money to the conductor, and he got out to buy some food. We left there and then went to Ace Hardware, which was closed, but the female security guard came out (along with a very large German Sheppard) and picked up the food from the van (delivery service? Wife? Daughter?) Then we proceeded on another mile or so, and I got off for the uneventful walk back to the marina and dinghy to the boat.

Saturday, Sept. 3 — They’ve been announcing the 700th Hash House Harriers run on the morning Cruisers VHF radio net and FB for the past couple of weeks, today’s the day, and I’ve decided to participate, along with hundreds of others. For those unfamiliar with the Hash House Harriers (HHH), they are a group of mostly runners who like to run cross country through fields, forests, streams, and here in Grenada, jungle. They’re world-wide, I first encountered them in Singapore and Thailand, and beer drinking is an integral part of their activities. For more info, Wikipedia has a pretty good writeup ( For a run, called a hash, a trail is marked with bits of paper, chalk, string, whatever makes sense for the environmental conditions. Then at the starting signal the runners take off with the objective of being the first to finish the trail, or at least not to be the last. It’s not really a race, although there is obviously a certain degree of competitiveness. To help keep that in check, the trail is often laid with forks, dead ends, circles and long unmarked gaps. That way the front runners have to slow down to find the right path, allowing the slower ones to catch up. There are no prizes or scoring, the reward at the end of the trail is knowing you did it, and of course beer, which is consumed in large quantities. Before we started, a call was put out for anyone with new shoes to step forward, or be pushed forward by the crowd. Several were, and they were required to remove one of their shoes and drink a beer from it.   For this historic 700th hash, three trails were laid — one for runners, which was longest and included some cliff climbing with ropes, one for walkers, which was a climb up a stream and steep hill through the jungle; and a “namby pamby” one that was shortest and stayed on roads. I don’t know how many people turned out, but it was a big crowd, too big to count, and even included the Prime Minister of Grenada. Dave and Coleen from Promise were there, and we hooked up together and went with the walking group, which was easily several hundred. We set off at a moderate pace which quickly came to a grinding halt as the first obstacle, a stream was encountered and people slowed down to pick their way across the rocks or find a path through the jungle on the banks. We were in the middle of the group, and finding the trail was not a problem as all we could see was a continuous line of people slowly shuffling their way up the hill. The trail was muddy, and became increasingly slippery as more and more people tore up the trail and the hill became steeper. About half way up the hill, on the steepest part I started to get that peculiar sensation where you feel like you’re back on the boat and the ground is moving in waves beneath your feet.  A little distracting as you’re trying to get purchase with your feet while clinging to rocks, branches, roots, anything you can find to help you. At the top of the hill, we came out onto a paved road, and had an easy downhill stroll for a mile or so back to the start, which was in an open field next to the beach. There was a beer tent, several barbecues selling BBQ chicken and chips, a band and a pretty good party ensued. When most of the participants had made it back, all the “virgins” i.e. first time hashers were rounded up, read a Loss of Virginity proclamation, and sprayed with beer as an initiation rite.

Sunday, Sept. 4 — Decided to walk over to Hog Island to check out the anchorage there, and the approach to the island through the reefs. I understood from the Cruiser’s Net there was a path from Secret Harbor to Hog Island through a bird sanctuary, and remembered we’d seen the entrance to the path on our previous walk from Prickly Bay to Secret Harbor. So I set off early morning on a beautiful day with my GPS to log the route and camera to take pictures, found the path and had a pleasant walk down a wide dirt road through mangroves over to the Hog Island bridge. The bridge is closed, it looks like it was the first phase of development for Hog Island and the project ran out of money and was halted. Someone cut the chain link fence for pedestrian access, so I go through and spend an hour walking around Hog Island on an overgrown road dotted with battered lot markers, seeing if there is a way down to Roger’s beach bar, but having no luck. So I go back across the bridge, meet two French speaking men and a woman walking the other way, greet them, and then a few minutes later as I was passing some bushes a guy wearing a knit mask and waving a machete jumps out of the bush and starts waving the machete very close to my head. At first I thought it was some sort of joke or prank, because he’s not saying anything, just waving the machete around my head. That causes me to crouch and duck, and he grabs onto my backpack and starts pulling on it, trying to get it off my back. At that point I suddenly realize I’m being mugged, and fight back. He slashed the right side backstrap from the backpack with the machete, leaving only the left side. He hasn’t hit me with the machete yet, but keeps slashing it within a inch or so of my head, driving me lower. So I dropped to the ground, circled my arms around his feet, and pulled them out from under him, hoping he’d drop the machete or at least make it more of a fair fight. But no luck, we roll around in the dirt and gravel a bit, but he’s still got a firm grip on the machete and is getting even closer to my head. He slashes the left strap, kicks his feet free, and runs off with my backpack. I consider chasing him, but then consider that he hasn’t really hurt me yet, and wonder how desperate he might get with the machete if I tackle him again, and decide to let it go. He was covered head to toe with mask, long sleeved cotton jersey, jeans and leather work boots, and never said a word during the attack. Identification, should he actually be caught, would be impossible.   So first, obviously I check to see what damage has been done, and find only shallow cuts and scrapes on my arms, bloody, but no where near life threatening. So I look around, and find the GPS, camera and water bottle that were in the mesh side pockets of the backpack & fell out during the struggle, and my sunglasses and visor. What he got away with was the backpack with my wallet containing 300-400$EC (75-100$US), all my credit cards, ATM cards and ID, a recently purchased cell phone worth 169$EC with 97$EC prepaid credit, and a Swiss army knife and Leatherman tool. I put a waypoint into the GPS to mark the time (11:45 AM) and location of the mugging.   I’m about a mile from any sort of civilization, and there’s no one around, so I start walking back to Secret Harbor, the first place I can think of where I can find a phone to call the police. The road branches, with one going west, and the other south to Secret Harbor. Shortly after turning onto the south road, I run into a Grenadian guy carrying a machete with two dogs trailing him. I ask if he’s seen anyone running down the road, explaining I’d just been mugged. He’s very sympathetic seeing my bloody arms, but hadn’t seen anyone, so I guess the guy took the other branch, or more likely ran into the mangroves to hide for a while.   When I got to the Secret Harbor Marina, they and the cruisers there were very helpful, calling the police, and getting one of the cruisers who was a doctor to treat my wounds. The police took about 1 ½ hours to arrive, but that was because they had fielded a team of 6 officers with two cars to look for the assailant on their way there, based on my telephoned description. They picked me up and we revisited the crime scene, stopping several times at houses along the road to ask if anyone had seen anything. I used my GPS to pinpoint the location, and they observed the broken branches and trampled grass where he’d been hiding, but there was nothing they could do with it, so we went back to their station to give a report. That took a long time because there were many more demands on their time when we got there, but eventually it got done, and they drove me back to the marina where I’d left the dinghy.

By this time it was around 5 PM, and I hadn’t had anything to eat all day, but plenty of water — I guess adrenaline kills the appetite, but makes you really thirsty. So I wolfed down some leftovers and a couple of beers, then called Alice to give her the news. By then it was dark, but I dove into the water to rinse off the sweat and dirt of the day, and was delighted to find bioluminescence. I had a sparkley cooling off swim, and then got on the Internet to start canceling credit cards and ordering new ones. I was lucky to have Alice in the US where I could get the replacements easily sent

Monday, Sept. 5 – Make an announcement about the mugging on the morning VHF Cruisers Net, then take the dinghy in to talk to Nick, the guy who's going to be building an arch for Ocean Star. He was going to call me on Tuesday to come pick him up and bring him to the boat for measurements, but of course now I don't have a phone, so we have to arrange a time. I borrowed his phone while I was there to call the police and give them my cell phone number, which I couldn't remember at the time giving the police report.  The police want me to meet them at the store where I bought the phone. So its back out to the boat in the dinghy, change clothes, lock up and dinghy back to catch a bus to St. Georges. When I walk in the Digicel store I find Dave & Coleen from Promise there to get a phone for Collen. I use their phone to call the police again and tell them I'm here. I'm disappointed to find out the relatively cheap 169$EC quad band phone I bought is no longer available, and the cheapest quad band is now 369$EC. Gets me mad about the mugging all over again. The police get there, and we find out from a technician that no one has used the phone yet, and there is 97$EC credit available yet. We decide to not cancel the number or credit, leaving it as bait for the robber, hoping he'll use it or sell it to someone and we'll be able to track it that way. Then back to the boat for more internet work, and some rest.

Tuesday, Sept. 6 – It rained all morning, so I didn't get Nick for the arch measurements, when it finally stops in the afternoon, he's busy so we postpone to the next day. Worked on the blog

Wednesday, Sept. 7 – Picked up Nick, first we go to another Beneteau 50 in the yard with a very nice arch, we take measurements from it's arch, and then to to Ocean Star. The measurements are close enough that we can basically copy that arch, but Nick has some ideas for improvements

Thursday, Sept. 8 – This bay is very fecund, not to many barnacles, but plenty of other marine growth. I'm having to scrub the bottom every week, and right now the anchor line and propeller look like Chia pets

Friday, Sept. 9 – meet Dave & Colleen from Promise for sundowners and dinner. Sundowners at a beach bar called Umbrellas. I'm constantly amazed at how they seem to know all the bar staff around town, and they know them. We decide to go for Sushi, since Alice isn't with us, and have a great meal with local fish and ingredients.

Sat/Sun Sept 10-11 – Working on boat projects, trying to track down a fresh water system leak and A/C system anomalies. Finally track the fresh water leak to a cracked nylon fitting on the fresh water supply to the watermaker backflush system. Looks like it was overtightened at some point, or something fell on it. I'll start the search for a replacement part, but I suspect I won't have any luck and it might be one more thing Alice has to bring back. Determine the A/C problem is with the generator, something not right there. It runs, but not at full power, and I can't run all three A/C units at the same time like I used to.

Mon Sept 12 – Pete from Enza Marine comes out and finds the problem is a blown capacitor, replaces it and I'm back in business. Good thing too, because it looks like it's going to rain all night.

Meanwhile Alice is back in Texas having a wonderful time visiting family & friends and wondering if her suitcase will be big enough to get all the boat parts and "stuff" she is buying back here to Grenada.

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