Friday, May 8, 2015

So Long Island- We Miss You Already!

The last few days here have been a blur, the weather has finally turned on us a bit. We have had four days of high winds and lots of rain, our first in a month. To the locals, rain here in these islands means that it gets really crabby, which is good! That is to say, the land crabs get lively, and start marching around everywhere. On the road? Yes! In the yard? Yep. In the house? Could be, better keep the doors closed!
These guys are 2.5 to 4 inches across the shell, and are surprisingly fast. They have a weakness though, that sometimes make them easier to catch. They don't run from a fight! They try to flee at first, but when that fails, they turn and do their best Mohammad Ali impersonation, holding up their able pinchers for you to see that they are no pushover. They lean back at you and kinda dance back and forth, sometimes clicking these pinchers, or biters as the locals say, at you. Tough little critters. The best way to grab them is with Bar-B-Q tongs, and then place them in a bucket. The Chuck Norris method is to grab 'em fast, from behind... a more sporting and yet potentially bloody method. We got the tongs, sorry Chuck.
These crabs are delicious, and are as sweet as any blue crab. There is a bit of work here, picking the meat, but hey, take your time and enjoy! After all, your on Island Time. The rain continued, so we went out for a meal, and then on to a new restaurant, LLoyd's, located near the famous Dean's Blue Hole. We never got to the blue hole, too bad, the rain chased us out. It is the worlds deepest blue hole, or sinkhole, at 668 feet. It is a great picknick and swimming hole, we will come back next time! LLoyd's place was busy, we started out playing a few games of pool, and that was funny because we all are really bad at pool.
After a few games, the ladies had disappeared! We went looking for them, and found this...
Is that a ... disco ball?
The dance music was cranking out Bahamas style rake and scrape music, and our girls were on the floor!
We joined in for a great night out, and everyone had a lot of fun!
On our last drive back to the boat, we stopped in a little roadside restaurant and bar called the Midway Bar. The owner opened her up for us on a Sunday, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. An interesting guy, Gary owned the place and didn't mind that Guincha came right in. Which is good, because Guincha loves bars, especially ones with chickens and goats looking through the screen door! I asked Gary how long he had been on Long Island, and he said "69 years". I asked him where he was prior to that, and he said "Nowhere, I was born here, been here my whole life".
He has lived in the same area of Long Island since he was born, Midway... named that because, you guessed it, it is the midway point of the island. Nowadays, there is a single road that runs North to South that the island is served by. Gary said that road used to be a dirt path, with travelers trekking to the North end of the island for supplies. The 45 mile trip took 2 weeks roundtrip! He still remembers the places they would stop, and rest the mules for the night. They would be home for about a week, and then start the trip over again. Rough! Back then, the road went through peoples homesteads, with gates across to keep their livestock in. Travelers were welcome to pass through, but had to remember to close the gates behind them. Otherwise, someone could lose their livestock, or at best, have a time chasing it down. Failure to close a gate, would result in a fine of fifty dollars! That was a huge fine, more than people earned in a very long time, so it was taken seriously. Gary took a liking to us, naturally, and told us stories from the old days. They lit the house with kerosene lanterns, and cooked over coals. They scratched out a living the hard way, and never really saw it that way.

Gary pulled out a dusty old bottle, clear liquid inside. He said it was the last of his fathers moonshine, no telling how old it was. He gently poured each of us a small shot, and then one for himself.

Joyce really liked her shot, and begged for another, but I reminded her of the special value that it had to Gary, and she reluctantly relented.

The next day, we made preparations to leave Long Island, and waited for the weather to improve.
Guincha helped out a lot, by smiling and keeping our moods higher.

We will really miss Long Island, a very special place, made much more so by the smiling and welcoming people that call it home. A comment that was left by a reader on the Tugboat in the Trees post said that "It's so sad". This made us think, and we assume that the reader meant that the ruins of the once bustling salt production, and the effect on the area of it's leaving, was so sad. And it is. But that is life, and the people here are happy and inviting, having learned to make of life what they can. Long Island isn't Nassau, or Freeport, and that is a good thing. While those places are interesting, the people there are not the same. They are just not like the small town atmosphere on Long Island. I moved to a small town in the Carolinas once, and was amazed that everyone said hello, everyone waved as they drove past, they would stop to help you on the side of the road, that kind of people. That is what is different about Long Island, the people are just like that. They do wave as they drive past, there is always a smile and a hello when you meet someone. They help each other out in times of need, and no doubt the first car to pass if you were stuck on the side of the road, would stop to help. Add to that, the most beautiful Bahamas island and it's rich history, and well, you get the idea. We will come back, and swim in the blue hole, and explore some of the caves and Indian sites, and go to the southern tip of the island for a visit, a place said to be haunted. And we will come back to visit our friends, who once again treated us like family. Long Island... we miss you already!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Deep Sea Fishing for Tuna

We went tuna fishing the other day, as guests aboard friends of ours huge 43 foot fishing boat. The fishing grounds were close to Clarence Town, so the ride out did not take too long. We had a blast, and were targeting the yellowfin tuna that are found here. These local guys have got the program down really well, they know how to target these particular fish, and by the time we got to the boat, they already had been out, getting live bait called pilchards. There was about 200 or more of these 8-10 inch long fish already swimming around in the livewell when we got to the boat, and we knew this was going to be a fun day!
It was really calm that day, the sea was like glass. The heat was also like glass, molten glass! We all did what we could to stay cool, darting in and out of the interior of the air conditioned boat, and wearing hats and staying hydrated.
We made a video, and we hope that you enjoy it! Thanks again to the Malis's , owners of the fishing boat ConchQuest out of Clarence Town, Long Island Bahamas. If you would like a trip, contact me, and I can put you in touch with them, you won't regret it!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tugboat In The Trees

Tugboats like the water, it seems kinda elementary that most boats like water, not forests. But not on Long Island. It seems that, again, life on Long Island is a bit different, changed somehow by ripples in time that pull the rug out from under forward progress, returning the place back in time 50 years at a time. So it was in a place here, called Diamond Crystal. If that name sounds familiar, it probably rings a bell as the producer of table salt, the favorite seasoning of generations of Americans hell-bent on hypertension and water-retention. Well, that salt has to come from somewhere, and it most likely came from seawater ponds designed to evaporate in the sun, just like the huge, and I mean HUGE system of saltwater ponds developed here on Long Island over 60 years ago. These drying ponds are measured in square miles, and compromise a huge portion of the island. A network of canals feed these drying ponds, and it is all man-made, completed in a day and age before the advent of hyper sensitivity to Naturalism and Preservation. Before these ponds were dug out of the muddy mangrove forest, the shallow water was so hot and muddy, that little if anything could survive here. After the completion of these feeder canals, and shallow evaporative ponds, fish and birds were everywhere, and the many square miles of ponds supported a variety of fish and birds. As it turns out, our friend Kathy spent a good portion of her youth right here, at Diamond Crystal, a childhood dream for many of us, in a tropical wonderland of crystal clear water and pristine ocean waters teeming with fish. What I would have given to live here then, but the blessing of childhood is such that the young mind is not allowed to know it's pitiful plight, and therefore never realizes until adulthood how bad things really were at times, or or good for that matter either. We took a road trip to the more southern areas here in Long Island, and visited the expanse that was Diamond Crystal, and now is an abandoned wasteland. It seems that the government here kept demanding more and more of the profits from Diamond Crystal, and finally, at some point, it became too much. One too many ultimatum, one too many demand for more money to feed a government that spent the money on who-knows-what. Diamond Crystal finally said no, and closed down the entire operation, crippling the entire half of the islands economy and the livelihood of hundreds of families in the process. What they could take with them when they left, was loaded on barges meant to haul the massive amount of salt they produced, and was shipped away. The remainder, was left to rot, rusting away in a sad, slow decline, marking yet again, another slip backward for this beautiful island.
Our tour-guide for the day was our friend Kathy, intimately familiar with these cast away ruins, as any child would be if put back in their childhood home. For most of us though, the march of progress has meant the changing of things, new development, roads moved, forests gone in the name of progress. It is hard to recognize my hometown in Florida these days, the pieces rearranged like a surreal puzzle not meant to be solved. Here, at Diamond Crystal, the only rearrangement around here, has been by mother-nature herself, slowly erasing the mark that mankind has tried to leave on the landscape for sixty years.
Kathy and her family lived here, in a huge expanse of island now completely taken over by mangroves and sand. What once was a gigantic commercial enterprise, full of electric lights, power poles and generators, a place working 24 hours a day, with air conditioning and refrigeration, is now all gone, an estuary of sorts thanks to the salt ponds dug out so long ago. The airstrip, that allowed quick access to Miami and the states, is overgrown and in total disrepair. The main road in to the complex, a pothole stricken mess, the only real bridge rusted out and gone. What remains is amazing though, a testament to the ability of man to carve out a living here. There were buildings and pumping stations, power houses and power poles and relays. Everything here was electrified on a power grid, amazing in itself for and island that had no power at all until 1994! Imagine living in these hot humid conditions, and just getting something as basic as power 20 years ago. Before that, it was small generators to power your house, before that, kerosene lamps rules the night, heralding a time that goes back thousands of years. Kathy and her family lived here, her father a strict man, a seagoing captain operating a tugboat named Carmen. He had strict rules, and expected them to be obeyed. The poor bastard had six girls and no boys, payback for some unknown transgression no doubt. The six girls were a blessing in the end, wonderful children, but no boys were to be in his fate. He ran the tug here, in a man-made harbor that was carved from the rock a full twenty feet deep. The barges would be loaded with salt for places like Panama, and Louisiana, and he would haul them there, facing all the dangers and mysteries that the ocean was, in a day without precision navigation and forecasting tools. He always returned, and brought the tugboat home to the harbor here at Diamond Crystal, no doubt celebrating a safe return and successful trip. He always was welcoming to newcomers and newfound friends, and his home was always open to anyone in need. This harbor is gone now, taken back by the shifting tides and sands of the sea. What was once an active harbor full of fish, is now a forest of trees, growing in the blowing sands that were once the harbor.
The tugboat is still tied to the dock, aimed at the opening to the sea that once was. To say that this is it's final port, is a sure bet.