Saturday, December 17, 2011


Blood in the Water!

The Caribbean was such a wonderful part of life in my village.  All night long I listened to it lapping the beach.

I have so many memories of spear fishing adventures, of being surprised by huge green moray eels, or a sea turtle, or a sleeping shark, but my favorite story is of a french man I'll call Jacques, after the famous diver.

I was very good at spear fishing when I met Jacques.  I used to swim out to the reef with my net fish bag and spear gun, and let the current carry me until I ended up at the ferry channel.  Often I forgot about time.  It was another world, a thriving under water jungle of vivid color.  Often I would relax and just 'hang' in the water when a ray approached and watch them swim right up to me with that little human like face, as if to ask, 'who are you?'

Anyways, I was hanging around one of the hotels in town because four sisters ran the place.  Jacques was staying there, and we started talking about spear fishing and decided to swim out together.  When I met him on the beach he was putting on a wet suit.  I tried not to laugh, and convinced him it wasn't needed.  I felt embarrassed because all his equipment was so shiny and new, from the trick knife strapped to his leg, to the high dollar watch and mask.  But I just ignored it and walked into the water.

I guess spear fishing is like combat.  What I mean is that you may think you know the person beside you, but until a bull shark swims past, or 100 angry looking barracuda decide to surround you, you really don't know what that person is going to do.  And that is the way it was with Jacques.  We had been on the reef for about an hour, drifting along, climbing into caves after lobster, when I noticed he wasn't close.

The reef is only about a meter deep where we were, and when I looked around, I could see that Jacques was standing up about 25 feet away.  So I swam over and raised my head beside him, pulling up my mask.  But as soon as I looked at him I could see by the look on his face that something was terribly wrong.  "What's going on?" I asked, following his gaze.

It was low tide and in the distance coral heads were poking out of the water, and the current rushing past created the illusion of movement.  And then that stinking Jacques said the forbidden word:  Shark!

"No," I answered.  "It's coral!"  I explained about low tide, but he wasn't having it.  The look of terror on his face became a horrible thing to look at.  I was staring where he was starting, thinking maybe he was seeing something I wasn't.  Then, to my surprise, he started climbing up on the coral as though to save himself from some rabid dog.  I could see his knees bleeding as he frantically climbed.

Well, that was it.  I just pulled on my mask and slowly started swimming for shore.  Now, you have to understand.  Anyone who spear fishes knows that when you're under water you move in a certain way.  Quick, thrashing movements make you look like a wounded fish, and that is the one thing you do not want to look like.  So, I was just swimming along, laying flat on the surface, spear gun in one hand and bag of fish in the other, kicking my fins with slow easy movements.  I made it about half way to shore when I heard this loud splashing, and saw Jacques come flying past me, arms and legs swinging like mad, as though trying to break a swimming record.  I think he left his spear gun out on the coral.

When I got to the beach he was no where to be seen.  He was so embarrassed he didn't even wait for me!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Writer's Dream

Note the candle in the Coke bottle.
                                   A Writer's Dream

Have you ever dreamed of selling everything and moving abroad to a simple village life?  Well, I did it.

My village was a sandy little piece of land facing the Caribbean,  surrounded by swamp and lost in time.  Families strolled around the square of a evening, leading children by the hand.  The one teller who ran the little bank came and went without explanation.  At night a Mayan man rode slowly through the streets on his three-wheeled cycle, holding a tray of pastries, and stopped at the huts and houses, clapping to attract customers. Of course he was known as 'the clap-clap man.'
I soon found an abandoned house and decided to move in.  But it had many other tenants as well.  Geckos darted around the walls and occasionally screamed like an old witch.  There was also a feral cat that would sneak in while I was shoveling sand of hurricanes past, and bound up a wall to snatch one of the lizards in her teeth and run out the door.  My feline friend would also tear open plastic bags and eat my bread!

Within a couple of days of moving in, a strange little Mayan visited me.  He was old and hunched over.  A tattered cap shaded his taunt face.  He just walked right in while I was working and cleared his throat.  When I turned he hissed out my family name, struggling with the difficult pronunciation.  I nodded and he handed me a letter.  I took it and was examining it when he said:  "Tip."

Once I got all the sand and land crabs shoveled out, and the deposits construction workers had left, I bought a couple of gallons of muriatic acid and flooded the concrete.  Then I reattached the front door and bought a padlock, nailed mosquito netting over the window openings.  With drift wood I made a little writing table. With a kerosine lamp hissing and candles glowing around me, geckos laughing now and then, I could type away into the night, mosquito coils burning close to my exposed ankles.  But I soon found that the insect population came alive when the sun set.

The first time I saw one of the black scorpions climbing up the wall I knew I needed to be alert in the house.  I always tapped my sandals on the floor before I put them on.  Whenever I walked in the dark, I lit my way with candle.  My introduction to the huge spiders came one night when I was standing at the toilet urinating, holding a large candle in a glass.  Suddenly the wall beside me moved and I was horrified to see one of the huge brown spiders right beside me and watching me pee.  Without thinking I threw the contents of the glass on the spider.  It fell and the light went out.  I shouted and jumped and peed on my feet, and ran to my hammock. 

The next day I walked into town and bought a flashlight.  When I came back to the house, I opened the front door and turned to hang the lock on the door, and suddenly stopped.  There waiting for me was my wax-covered spider friend.  This time it didn't end well for the spider.

Tomorrow I'll write about one of the greatest experiences of my life:  snorkeling in the Caribbean, being so poor that I couldn't buy new shoes, but eating lobster and fresh grouper every day.