Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Joaquin Aftermath

Gathering at the newly re-constructed dock for our day ashore
One of our best days from last season in the Bahamas was the one we spent exploring Long Island by rental car.  Hoping to recreate that day for Jerry and Sally, Bruce and I made arrangements for a car here in Salt Pond.  We picked up the car mid morning and took off headed south toward Dean’s Blue Hole. 
Beautiful church with new windows after the storm

Using natural resources for building materials

We had heard from other Cruisers that the locals were strongly discouraging anyone to attempt snorkeling in the hole.  I can’t imagine why since we had such an idyllic day there and when I asked the woman in the marine hardware store, she recounted the several deaths that happened there… but none of them would be applicable to us…  What did keep us from trying to swim there this time was the cooler temperatures. 

Free divers practicing
We bounced along the sand road to the site and walked out to see this beautiful natural wonder.  Dean’sBlue Hole is another of those places that had it been in the US, it would have been fenced off and rigorously regulated with a high price of admission tacked on for good measure.  Here, it is completely accessible to anyone. 

Like before, there were several divers out on the floating platform presumably training for the upcoming free-diving competition.  We watched them for a time, but quickly lost interest.  Training for free-diving must include a lot of calming meditation…

Restaurant looks like a church!
We had a delicious lunch at Rowdy Boys in Clarencetown and scoped out the anchorage as it is on our list of planned stops once we leave Thompsons Bay.

Driving along the Queens Highway brought a new understanding of the devastation that this small island community suffered.

When I heard about it last October I was saddened by the news.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to live on a small flat strip of land out in the ocean with a hurricane bearing down upon my home.  But it was in the abstract... It wasn't "real" to me.  Driving down the road here it began to become more tangible.

I remember last year driving this road, much of which was lined by a "wall" of lush green brush.  Driving between the tiny town settlements you couldn't see anything beyond the roadside.  Today was much different.  The thick brush was thin and scraggly where it had been inundated with salt water, with long stretches that were completely brown as if some sort of disease had hit the island, killing all the plant life.

There were stretches where uprooted trees and mangled underbrush lie in a line left by the high water.  Trash was caught in the foliage at a level mark where the tidal surge had deposited it.

We began to notice cleaner stretches with trash sacks left along the roadside.  Soon we saw men walking south picking trash out of the grass and brush, stuffing it into rapidly filling bags.  So many of the islands we've seen were littered with trash so it was refreshing to see that cleaning up litter was a priority when there were still so many homes and businesses in need of cleanup and repair.

Work crews languidly nailing shingles onto rooftops or hauling wood scraps to burn piles were slowly rebuilding lives all along our route south.  Speeding through these small settlements, we saw flashes of "moments-in-time" with residents sitting in sparsely furnished tiny homes with the roof covered in the blue tarps supplied by the relief efforts.  It would be so easy for hope to perish against such a staggering setback... they didn't have MUCH to begin with, but now some of them have almost nothing.  Why aren't these people railing against the cruelty of nature?  Why aren't they giving up all hope?  Why do we hear so many tell their story beginning and ending with how grateful they are to be alive?  It's enough to melt the coldest of hearts and I wish we had brought more supplies from the States to donate.

All the way south to Clarencetown the devastation was still in evidence with many small homes demolished and beyond repair.  Most of the businesses and churches had been cleaned up and rebuilt during the almost four months since the storm.  Everywhere there is hope and resilience springing up from rubble heaps.  It is a stunning lesson in humility coming from the "land-of-excess"as we do.

What can we do?

I overheard a radio conversation between a resident and a cruiser in which they were talking about the surprising number of sailboats in the Bay.  The Islanders had feared that the hurricane and news of the damage to island infrastructure would have discouraged many Cruisers from coming here this season.  They were thrilled to see the sailboat-count increasing with new boats arriving daily.  THEY WANT US HERE!!!

The overwhelming feeling is that we are WELCOME.  They actively encourage Cruisers to come and they try to make their island enticing with Happy Hours and community events and open access to dock our dinghy so that we can come ashore and spend money.

But even more than our money, which is STILL desperately needed... they welcome our help.  Donations of relief goods ranging from clothes and shoes, to household goods and everything else you can think of to provide comfort to the many homes that were leveled are still needed.

We brought a few things that we no longer needed and they were welcomed with many thanks.  Even more gratifying to us was the opportunity to participate in a "workday".  There is a woman here... a Cruiser, who has spent many years here on Alibi II.  Bess works tirelessly to organize Cruiser work crews to offer a helping hand to Islanders in need.

Our workday was spent cleaning up the grounds at a local youth outreach facility.  Bahamas Youth Network (BYN) A group of about 14 Cruisers piled into a van and a car to be transported north a few miles to the BYC Clubhouse.

There we met Merry and Lane, our fearless leaders for the day. They welcomed us with many hugs and thanks and we hadn't even lifted a finger yet!

We looked around and saw that a lot of work had already been done to bring the place back to what it was before the storm.

Our hosts ushered us inside where we pulled up a chair for a brief orientation and discussion of what needed to be done today.

We met the preacher and his wife and he talked some of the past events they have held here and told us of all the positive things they do for the youth of Long Island.  They were very sweet and so very grateful for what we were doing.  It's awesome to be able to do something so simple that brings so much to the Islanders whose homes we visit.

The missing dugout.  One wall and the roof  were blown across the park.
Well... time to quit stalling and get to work!!!  We were shown around the grounds outside and directed towards the several projects we could tackle today.  The baseball field was high priority.  One of the dugouts had been destroyed and blown across the property... one piece was lost and never found.  That one wall would have to be replaced.  Building supplies at the ready, they appealed to our group to see if there was anyone with construction in their past life... We had one construction guy, who became second in command for creating a strategy.

It's amazing what many hands can do to make short work of carrying a very heavy wall from across the yard back to where it goes.

While the men got organized and figured out their next step... the ladies, including myself, got busy doing many other jobs.

The main clubhouse had been re-roofed recently and the roofers had tossed thousands of nails to the ground around the building.  A handful of us got busy combing the area and picking up pounds and pounds of rusty nails.

Bess picking up nails
I worked in close proximity with Susan and Bess (our cruiser organizer).  It was grand "girl-time"as we bent double and scanned the gras and sand for nails.

Raising one wall on the dugout
With a strongly protesting back, I took a break and went around taking pictures of the other crews and was amazed to see the progress the guys were making on the dugout.

Lifting the back wall of the dugout

Bruce held the wall in place while it was nailed into position from the outside
Cleaning the baseball equipment
There was an equipment storage room that had been flooded with the storm-surge leaving it full of a thick grey mud.  Almost everything in the building needed to be removed, washed in bleach-water and dried out before it could be re-packed and returned to storage.

Smile Susan!!!
We lifted it from the muck and drug it to the roadside.
There was another crew working on bringing a portion of the fence from where it had been blown or floated away back to it's proper position in front of the clubhouse.

While some prepared the holes for the fence posts, others in the group checked the status of the fence.  It looks like it will be easy to repair with only one board missing and a few nails to replace...

This is a very HEAVY piece of fence.  We all kind of stood around trying to figure out the best way to get it from point A to point B...

Someone got a rope and another guy went off talking about bringing the truck over to drag it into place...

Suddenly, people just grabbed the edges and started moving it the thirty feet by brute strength and determination!

And then it was UP!!!

I can't believe it!  We filled in the holes around the posts and it was ready for cement, but we wouldn't do that today.

One of the frustrations for me was the limited supply of water for cleaning.  This fence could use a good high pressure spray.  What it will get is a rag and a bucket of bleach-water... but not today.

The lunch bell rang and we all shuffled inside, sweaty and dirty but in really good spirits.  The things we were doing were so far outside our daily activities and if OSHA were to cruise by we would be in REAL trouble.

The Pastor's wife had prepared a huge cooler and a spread with everything needed to create our own sandwiches.  There were even chips... and not just chips... DORITOS!!!  Do you know how much that little bag costs in the Bahamas???  We NEVER buy Doritos, even though we love them.  So we had to control our shaking hands as we reached into the bag and put these precious bits onto our plate... And cookies.  There were cookies.  What a treat!

We all sat around and munched and got acquainted with people who had been working in other sections of the yard... nice folks.  Once we had eaten, one by one we left the cool air conditioned comfort of the clubhouse and went back to work.

During the time that the dugout was being structurally rebuilt or fortified, Bruce took up the lawn mower.

Now keep in mind that we sold our house and bought a Townhouse because Bruce didn't want to mow his OWN yard... This is huge people!  Maybe that view had something to do with it...

As the afternoon wore on, we heard the call for all hands to come and help raise the roof on the dugout.

I will be totally honest with you... I had no intention of doing anything of the sort.  The braces and the plan looked a little shaky to me and I have no health insurance.

No way was I going to willingly put myself into a position where I could be hurt.  Selfish, I know.  But it looked like there were plenty of helping hands and SOMEone needed to take the pictures...right?

The plan was to lift it onto the struts and then rest...

Then continue on pushing it to the top...

They didn't rest much as the center sagged as if it was going to break in two...

They ran into a snag.  There were nails that were keeping the roof from sliding up...

They removed the nails with a sawsall and continued pushing...

They took a short break before the final push.

The roof came off the rails a little bit and had to be repositioned... not fun.

A few more pieces cut out of the way and they had it in place.

The wall had to be pushed outward so that the roof could be nailed on...
And nobody got hurt!!!  Miracles DO happen!  While the guys went back to work putting the finishing touches on the dugout, I took my turn at mowing.  Throughout the day it had been a tag-team effort.  One person would relieve the one mowing and continue where they left off...then after a while, someone else would tap them and take their place.  I actually refilled the gas tank and started the mower all by myself!!! I'm not sure I've EVER done that, and certainly not in recent memory... It was fun, sticker-burrs and all!

When Susan took her turn and I was relieved of the mower, I found Bruce helping with the last bit of removing the stump of a huge tree that had been uprooted by the storm.  They had a chainsaw going and a whole lot of pushing and pulling.

See those long shadows?  That means our workday is coming to a close.  Everyone pitched in and put away all of the tools and equipment and generally tidied up the place in preparation for our departure.

After a hard day's work...
We didn't get the dugout completely finished but the fence was up and most of the yard was cleaned up and ready for an upcoming baseball game.  The Pastor and his wife were so free with their expressions of gratitude that if felt almost silly... I think we got as much or more out of it than they did!  They gave us all BYN t-shirts and we were happy to have them as mementos of our very fun day.

We got to know other Cruisers so much better than just sharing a beer would ever do and we felt like we had done something to help these wonderful people who share their island home with so many random people each year.

It's been over four months since the hurricane spent 36 hours sitting on top of this small island.  The people were in fear for their lives.  Waves washed through their homes, taking so much of their possessions away with them.  The people have bounced back with such a healthy attitude... not once have we heard a hint of complaint.  There are messages painted on walls along the highway that say things like "blood and tears" and simply "thank you"... everyone pulls together and they slowly help one another rebuild.  Being a part of it has been such a humbling experience... but a very good one.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Day With A Cave In It

My mother says I remind her of my dad… that he loved caves.  Maybe it’s genetic… I don’t know.  But when we passed what looked like a small cave on our way into Thompsons Bay I must have made a mental note to remind me to go and check it out.  I love caves!

Our day began in the usual way with coffee and the rest of our morning routine.  We listened to the morning net and I inquired about the hiking trails I had heard about.  When it came time for that discussion we have every day… what to do… I had pretty much already mapped it out for us.  We were going hiking in search of a cave!

I packed us a lunch and we got all suited up for hiking and maybe a beach walk.  When we headed for the door it began to sprinkle!!!  I guess I forgot to look outside when I was making our plans.  So instead of a morning hike we settled for a nap instead.  Waking up at 3:30 am because we’re in bed with the sun will do that to you. 

It wasn’t long before the sun was streaming through the ports over my head and we were out the door in a flash and headed for the Indian Hole Point at the entrance to the Bay. 

As we came around the point and could see what must be Indian Hole, we couldn’t really see any way to get to it.  We continued on around and saw several other holes in the cliff that just begged to be explored… 

We found a place to land the dinghy and anchored it fore and aft so that it wouldn’t wash up onto the rocky shore and waded toward the rocky cliff.  Wanting to savor the excitement, I headed for a shallow hole that had some interesting colors and formations inside, saving the big cave for last…

Bruce took off to find the really BIG cave and I lost sight of him.  I scanned the walls of my small cave thoroughly in hopes of finding some sign that an Indian once spent time here… I guess I let my imagination run wild and try to put myself into a different time and guess what it may have been like.  I was sitting on my imaginary cave doorstep when Bruce called me to come and look what he found.

I scurried out and around the bend, careful to pick my footfalls precisely as these cliffs are made of sharp and jagged sandstone.  There are holes going through to the water beneath them everywhere and I knew that they could possibly break under our weight and send us tumbling into the water amidst a jumble of sharp rocky teeth…  (I made an A in Drama class…)

I found Bruce entering the wide mouth of our cave.  I followed him inside and stood marveling at the colors on the walls and ceiling that were created by different minerals that must have been seeping down through the rocks for eons. 

There was no graffiti.  No desecration whatsoever.  I wondered how many people had found their way here and decided that there can’t have been many.  I imagined my Indians again. I could see where someone could set up house inside this cozy den. 

There are three rooms, four if you count the one that reached way back into the hill growing ever smaller.   There were even windows in the outer wall.  It would be snug and safe from everything but angry seas and excessive high tides, but maybe that only happens once in a while. 

Bruce and I were both thinking how amazing it is that there are no signs of vandalism.  Back in the States, this place would be marked up with all kinds of tacky tributes to those who came here before us.  It’s so good to know that there are still unspoiled wonders to be found and enjoyed.

I had a bit of a start as I peered back into the deepest recesses when something fluttered out and came straight for my head!  I squealed and ducked, then turned to see what it was… just a butterfly.   

We left our cave and continued on to where we had seen another interesting spot.  I had to see if there were Indian markings.  If I were an Indian… I would have left markings here.  But sadly, there were none. 

Beginning to lose interest and thinking it was past lunchtime, we backtracked to our dinghy and hauled up the anchor.  There is a nicer beach just a little further around the bend that would be just perfect for our picnic.  As we rounded the last point, we saw that the beach was bigger than we had thought.  It stretched long away to another rocky point and it was all ours!

While Bruce was securing the dinghy, I found a shady spot and spread out our towel and laid the “table”.  Sandwiches and chips were enjoyed along with an outstanding view.  We sat there and just gazed out onto the sparkling water, no sign of the morning’s rain clouds, only dazzling sunshine. 

I finished my sandwich and left Bruce on our towel to go and explore the high-tide line.  There were millions of very tiny shells making a ridge along much of the beach.  Still more were washing up onto the beach, caressed by tiny waves that made a tinkling sound as they rolled the baby shells back and forth against the coral sand.

Bruce joined me soon and we continued our search for something, anything of interest.  We found sponges.  We’ve never seen sponges washed up like this and wondered if they were casualties of hurricane Juaquin.  Maybe so…  We picked out a couple to take back to the boat with us and started a pile. 

Poor crab with a hole in his house...
The afternoon stretched on as we continued to meander up the beach.  There was one other set of footprints from some days ago.  Other than that, we could have been the only two people on earth.  I am lining my memory banks with moments like these so that I can go back in there and pick them off the shelves and hold them again some distant day when I am old and feeble. 
A BIG sponge

Picture of the day

I stood on the sandstone and bubbles came up from beneath my feet...

SO many tiny shells!

One section had trees uprooted in the hurricane

My stack

Too soon, the sun began its downward trek.  The blue of the water took on a darker tone but the diamonds sparkling on the surface grew more brilliant.  We took our things, leaving no trace of our presence except for two sets of footprints, hoping that someone else would come along and find it just as we did. 

Back on the boat as I waited for sleep, I smiled and thought what a good day it had been.  We have so many good ones but today was exceptional because ANY day with a cave in it is a REALLY good day!