Friday, October 24, 2014

The Birth of the Beat

Given the challenging month we've had with boat repairs, it seemed that (in a karma sense) we'd earned something positive. Last night was it. We traveled into Port of Spain with the indomitable Jesse James MaxiTaxi and seven other cruisers to do some "liming,”  which is basically just hanging out and listening to music. We were searching for a pan yard where Trinidad's famous steel pan bands practice leading up to Carnival. And we hit the mother lode.

Nestled up against one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world (Laventille) was a nondescript door in an industrial area. We were quickly hustled in (too dangerous to be out on the street) to a large outdoor space lined with steel pan band set-ups. It was the Trinidad version of a "battle of the bands" featuring the Uni Stars, Phase II Pan Groove, the Trinidad All Stars, and the world famous Renegades Steel Orchestra (this was their pan yard). According to one of the cruisers these were three of the top steel pan pans in Trinidad. The show began with a moment of silence for two band members shot the night before. As I said, this is a very tough neighborhood.

Tom and Sabrina from Honey Rider, Jesse, and Meryl enjoying the evening.
An early history (mid 1800s) talks about how the Trinidad slaves, a mixture of West Africans and French creoles, were not allowed to take part in the French tradition of Carnival. They, in turn, formed their own celebration called canboulay.  The African tradition of stick fighting and African percussion music was banned in 1880, along with canboulay, and the slaves replaced the stick fighting with beating bamboo sticks together to form a rhythm. According to Wikipedia, “the bamboo sticks were themselves banned in turn. In 1937 they reappeared in Laventille, transformed as an orchestra of frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums.”

Close up of steel pan showing the pads representing various notes on the pad.

These are baritone pans, evidenced by their larger pads (deeper notes)
The steel pans are traditionally made from 55 gal. oil drums whose tops are pressed down using a dropped cannon ball (called “sinking”) to form pads, the larger the pad the lower the note. Areas of each pad are tuned (now using a strobe tuner) and the edges of the flat can represent sharps and flats of the note. The pans are played using wooden sticks with balls on the end, called mallets.

These baritone pans are mounted vertically for easier access.

This artist was playing ten different bass pans (with very large pads) mounted in a vertical rack.
A steel pan band can have from several to hundreds of the following pans:  Single Tenor, Spiderweb Lead, Invader Lead, Double Tenor, Double Second, Double Guitar, Quadrophonic (four pans), Quadduet, Triple Guitar, Cello, Tenor Bass, Six Bass, Nine Bass, and Twelve Bass. The deeper the notes, the larger the pads. Some of the bass pans have only three or four pads, meaning the bass players have to play up to twelve pans arranged in either a circle around them or placed in vertical racks. In turn, the soprano instruments can have 10 to 20 notes on a single pan, making playing of the higher pitched pans a very precise process, especially given the tempo of calypso songs.

Tom, a percussionist himself, tries tries the car wheel with members of the Uni Stars.
Other percussive instruments include drums, a cheese grader-type instrument played with an African American hair comb, and an “iron,” constructed of a car wheel drum and hit on all sides with a small metal rod.
The beautiful lady in the front was captain of this line for The Renegades. She had an infectious smile and incredibly high energy playing a treble pan.
The steel pan bands practice during the year in pan yards leading up to their major performances during Carnival in February or March. On occasion they invite other  bands to perform with them. Notice of these performances are circulated through hand bills and posters in the neighborhoods, hence our difficulty in finding them.

Meryl "liming" with a group of locals.
As our kids say, Big Wally and JoMamma having the time of their life.
The nine of us cruisers were the only Caucasians in the crowd of several hundred locals. Despite the dangerous neighborhood, we felt totally welcomed and protected inside the pan yard.

The lady in the blue was an incredible dancer. Here's she's chippin to the energetic beat of the Trinidad All Stars.

This gentleman was full of energy chippin all around the front of the bands. Here he is with the Phase II Pan Groove band. The female bass drummer in the front was very helpful explaining the intricacies of the steel pan to me.

The amazing Renegades had arguably the most precise sound of all the pan bands.  They've won a number of championships at the annual Panorama.

The rest of the evening was pure magic. I've never heard such purely joyful, happy music that came from the soul. No sheet music, no agenda, no schedule. We stood in the front row of each band’s performance to get the full effect. Our bodies literally vibrated with the beat of the drums and tinging of the steel pans. Some of the women and men were dancing solo in front of the bands (called chippin’) and many in the crowd were swaying rhythmically to the music.

If you watch only two videos, watch the incredibly high energy and synchronicity of the Trinidad All Stars.

We talked to many of the musicians and learned about the intricacies of playing the steel pans. One of our group, Tom, even got a lesson in how to play the brake drum with the small metal bar. Many players start at the age of five or six. And they are phenomenal.

On top of the high energy performances, what impressed us most was how we were treated by the locals: everyone was super friendly, many came up to ask us if we were enjoying ourselves, and the organizers even shook our hands and thanked us as we left.

What an incredible evening. We’d didn’t leave until about 12:30 pm (with The Renegades still in full swing), but for cruisers who usually go to bed around 9:00 pm it was a late night out.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali -- Festival of Lights

Following a very stressful month of boat repairs and maintenance, we decided it was time to get back in the grove of being intrepid travelers. Last year our friends on Escape Velocity highly recommended the Diwali Festival of Lights celebration held on Oct. 23rd.  We were ready for a break and this sounded like a great adventure.

Trinidad tour guide extraordinaire Jesse James of Member’s Only MaxiTaxi picked up a group of about 100 cruisers at the boatyards, and in a caravan of buses we headed about one hour south of Chaguaramas towards the Hindu village of Felicity to take part in their Diwali Festival.  Along the way Jesse filled us in on the significance of Diwali.

Around 1845, after blacks won their independence from slavery, large numbers of Indians were brought in to work the sugar cane fields. Today, Trinidad has a fairly large population of Indians, many of whom live in the southern end of the island.

We learned that Diwali, one of the major celebrations for Hindu’s worldwide, is a combination of Halloween, Fourth of July, and Christmas. Our Diwali experience began at the local Hindu temple and school in the village of Felicity, named after one of the Hindu Gods.  Posted along the wall were essays on the meaning of Diwali written by local school children. I was quite taken by the well crafted descriptions, with each child focusing on a different aspect of Diwali.

To paraphrase Shwria Madoo, a 5th form student:  Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which when translated simply means “row of lights.” Diwali is celebrated in the month of Karmic on the darkest night of the year. Diwali signifies light over darkness and good overcoming evil. One legend about Diwali is the emergence of Mother Lakshmi when the Devas (minor Gods) and the Asuras (Demons) were in a race to obtain Amrit and were told to churn the ocean. Mother Lakshmi governs all of the forms of wealth, success, and the paths to all forms of prosperity. The bursting of fireworks signifies to the Gods that people are elated. It scares away the spirits. Light signifies a welcome to prosperity.

Salini Dooro, another 5th form student adds:  On Diwali night the villagers light the village with deeyas (small ceramic dishes filled with coconut oil and a wick). They also put deeyas on the bent bamboos. People of other countries walk the streets. There is lots of traffic, there are also beautiful parades. We like the color fireworks. They look beautiful. It is the best time of the year for my family and I. I love to take pictures. I will like the whole world to come my village, Felicity,and experience our Diwali. I enjoy lighting beautiful fireworks. I think our Diwali is the best in the whole world. I love Diwali.

I also learned from a BBC radio show that day that many Indians make major purchases on Diwali, as it portends wealth and prosperity for the coming years. It is also a giving celebration, where people hand out sweets and bags of fruits and pastries to passers-by.

Some of the Hindu Gods lining the interior of the temple.
A large group of cruisers prepare for the ceremony at the Hindu Temple in Felicity.

We removed our hats and shoes and were ushered into the temple which featured large ceramic renditions of the various Hindu Gods, including the village God, Felicity (which means happiness). The baba (Hindu priest) gave us a welcome to the village and a little history of the Diwali celebration. He then tried to introduce the temple dance troupe, but looking at the door and not seeing them, he then fell back into an even more detailed description of Diwali. This happened several times, since, as it turned out, the dancers were held up in the horrendously snarled traffic around the town. The baba handled it well, however, with a dose of humor. Finally the dancers arrived and preformed, along with the temple drum band. I always marvel at the beautiful and intricately designed garments the Indian women wear during celebrations.

The sit down Diwali dinner at the Temple featured typical Diwali foods.
Clockwise from left:  Roti, sweet mango, chickpeas, and pureed pumpkin.
I was hungry so I decided to eat in the traditional Hindu way, only mildly embarrassed  when the utensils arrived.
Following the welcome we were invited to sit down to a typical Diwali dinner, including a delicious mango dish, pureed chickpeas, pureed pumpkin, and a few other things we didn’t recognize. It was served with roti bread on a large banana leaf and was incredibly delicious. Clean up was easy as we just threw the banana leaves in the garbage bin.

Main street of Felicity. This was very early in the evening. Later the roads and sidewalks were jammed with festival goers.
The traditional deeya, filled with coconut oil.

Diwali is a family event. Everywhere whole families were out tending to their rows of deeyas.
There is always one house that has to outdo all the others. This guy is expecting lots of prosperity in the coming year.
Individual neighborhoods had hoops of lights, banners, and rows of lit deeyas.
We then wandered down the main street, which was bumper to bumper with cars driving from around the island to view the Diwali lights in Felicity. It was much like Americans driving around looking at Christmas lights. Large bamboo hoops crossed over the streets adorned with banners and Christmas- style lights; individual neighborhoods had their own “Welcome” hoop light displays.  We walked down several side streets with everyone sitting out in their front yards or attending to their Diwali lights. Several people approached us with small gifts of food.

It was wonderful to share such a meaningful and peaceful celebration with the local Hindus. As usual, we were made to feel welcome and not treated as typical tourists.  It’s just the Trini way.

On the way home at about 10:00 pm we realized the celebration was just beginning as traffic jams stretched for miles with Trinidadians (not just Hindus) driving to see the light displays and attend celebrations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Escape from Trinidad

The next morning after returning from Houston, with the world’s most expensive electric motor, I was filled with elation at the thought of finally getting the water system fixed after almost a month of waiting for the elusive part.

I carefully unwrapped the motor like it was my first Christmas present and marveled at the shiny black paint and virginal red and black wires. I laid out all my tools and prepared my workspace. I knelt on the floor as if in prayer, disconnected the existing water pump, put it on the workbench, and very carefully wired the motor (red wire to red wire and black wire to black wire) exactly like the old motor had been wired (those who are really perceptive may sense a change of mood coming up).

Being aware there could be other issues, I carefully examined the plumbing runs, which were basically one line into the pump from the water tank and one line out to the faucets. Pretty simple stuff. I found that the incoming water line (supply side) was delaminating and had flattened out, so I replaced both the incoming and outgoing ¾” plastic tubing. They were different lengths and running them under the bulkhead and connecting the hose clamps was very laborious given the zero clearance under the sink floor.

That tiny black motor just to left of center is source of all my woes.
I double checked all my work, then the moment of truth:  I had Meryl flip the breaker switch. The motor sprang to life and ran like a champ. I was elated. No smoke and no sparks equals a good wiring job in my mind.

Unfortunately, no water was coming out the faucet. I was watching the pressure gauge on the accumulator tank (a small 1 gal. tank to buffer the flow of water to the faucet). It should slowly rise as the pump pressurizes the tank. But nada. I got that slow sinking feeling again.

I double checked everything, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My only assumption was the pump side was bad, although it was pumping perfectly when the motor failed a month ago. I did have a rebuild kit for the pump, but without a vise and a shop it would be a difficult job.

Plan Five (or is it now Six?) was to call the go-to guys at Dynamite Marine again. I found, however, that Mark was down with Chikungunya fever and his assistant Ray had almost bleed to death when a grinder sliced into his arm while he was working inside a boat. He was still convalescing, but both said they’d try to make it down to the boat that day (they didn’t come which is probably good as they were both in no shape to be working).

Having had such high hopes for the new motor, I mentally gave up for a while, sinking into a deepening depression. Also, Meryl and I were not relating well to each other, as they say in marriage counseling circles. Laying in bed I continued to think about the problem. If the guys from Dynamite didn’t show up the next day my plan (are we up to Plan 7 now?) was to take the whole assembly back out of the boat and try to rebuild the pump.

That night we needed cheering up so we went to a jam session with local cruiser musicians at Coral Cove Marina. Our good friends Albert and Josie were there and Albert commiserated with my situation (having been there many times himself). His advice:  “Why don’t you just totally isolate the pump. Run the inlet hose to a bucket of water and see what happens.” As always, good advice.

It was a plan (Plan 8?) so next morning I isolated the pump and found it was pumping in reverse. Unfortunately it isn’t designed to do that and quickly broke the cog belt that drives the pump (I actually have spares of this very hard to find belt). Plan 9 was to simply reverse the “in” and “out” water lines, but that didn’t sit well with the Zen Gods of plumbing as water came pouring out of the hand pump faucet (don’t ask).

Plan 10 was to suck it up and call the Groco factory for advice. Amazing I got right through to “a good ol’ boy” (they are always from the South and they know their stuff) who calmly told me, “Oh yea, years ago we switched the wires on the motors so red is now negative and black is positive.” Well, I thought, how about communicating that little bon mot to the public by putting a note in the box or marking the wires or putting a wiring diagram on the box or any of a hundred other suggestions that came to mind?  Bottom line:  I had the motor wired in reverse. I went to bed that night with renewed enthusiasm for Plan 11.

The $1,000 motor with that red negative wire. Who'd a thunk?
The next morning I removed the pump for the third time (I’m actually getting good at this), very, very carefully rewired the black to the red wire and vice versa, then reinstalled new inlet and outline hoses (remember they were slightly different lengths so I had to rerun them and connect them again). For the seminal moment I had Meryl flip the breaker switch and this time water came gushing out the outlet pipe and the pressure gauge slowly started to climb. I would like to say I was as happy as during the birth of my first child, but that wouldn’t be right so let’s just say I was elated.  It was like New Year’s Eve at Times Square when the ball dropped with Meryl and I dancing around and high five-ing each other. Apparently her faith in her husband’s mechanical skills was somewhat restored.

Other cruisers who have holed their boats on reefs with waves breaking over the side and repaired them with chewing gum and kelp will laugh at our efforts, but it was a big deal to us at the time. And it only took 10 different Plans!

That left only one small problem before we could escape from Trinidad:  the outboard. It’s also worth of a full blog post but I will spare you the agony.  I kept calling the guy who had originally fixed (and broke it) but in three days he never responded.

My other go-to guy was blonde-haired, dreadlocked Ragnor, the dock master superb at Peakes. He knows everybody and everybody knows him. When I told him who fixed the motor, he just rolled his eyes.  He gave me the name of his guy, Jonathan, who was down at the boat in 20 minutes. We took the dingy out for a test run, during which he diagnosed about three separate problems and said he knew exactly what had caused the original problem.

Ragnor lifted the 105 lb. motor off my dingy like a toy and put in the bag of Jonathan’s pick up and off we went to his nearby shop. In ten minutes the bottom unit was off and Jonathan was having me look up the housing to where the original corrosion had started. He said he could fix everything and have it back within three days, precisely.  Sounds like a plan to me.

With luck (there’s a strong tropical storm moving into Trinidad tonight) we could be out of here by the weekend. Yea!

Note:  According to Meryl all future blog posts will be about us lazing under palm trees in bikinis (her, not me) drinking rum punches and getting sunburned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Houston, We Have a Problem

We’ve learned it’s very dangerous to think that “you’re done with your boat list.” In our last blog post we mentioned getting most of the major projects done on the boat during our one-month stay at the boatyard and that we were beginning to prepare for our 80-mile sail back to Grenada. Then all hell broke loose, so to speak.

When we launched the boat on Sept. 15th we thought we had only one project left:   getting the engine alignment checked. We found, however, that our engine mounts were shot and we’d have to replace them all. Our trusty engine mechanic Falco managed to get four mounts flown in at great expense and began the job of jacking up the engine to remove the old mounts and install the new ones. Not a simple job, but also not rocket science (we’ll get to that later).  While very slowly unscrewing a bolt Falco mentioned it was heating up because of the corrosion on the threads. I said what’s the worse that could happen on this job?  “Having a bolt break off that is threaded into the engine bed," he replied.  "Then you have to remove the engine from the boat (costing a zillion dollars) to drill out the old bolt.” I winced at the thought.

Old motor mount with sheared off top mounting bolt.
About an hour later Falco came around the corner and pointed to a bolt in his hand. “It just sheared off,” he said. I was about to have apoplexy when he added “Oh don’t worry, it’s the top bolt, not the one threaded into the engine bed.”  He then added “but, you had only three bolts holding this heavy diesel in place. One good wave and it could have slide sideways off its mounts, still running. That could tear a hole in the boat.” I was still trying to get over the potential shock of having to remove the engine to drill out the bolt when the image of the boat sinking crept into my head.  Back to work, Falco.

The inevitable surprises weren't over yet. Falco came back holding the new engine mounts. "The bolts going into your engine bed are larger than the holes in the engine mounts, we'll have to have each mount milled out at a machine shop." Oh good, another mouth to feed. Thankfully the rest of the job went smoothly and two days later we had nice new engine mounts and the engine aligned to within .002 inches, a fairly tight alignment. Project One completed.

Project Two. I forgot to mention that when we put the boat in the water and hooked up the outboard to the dingy, I couldn’t pull the starter cord.  I was smart enough to know when to stop and call the outboard mechanic.  He came fairly quickly and it sounded like it would be a fairly simply repair. Most likely salt water had gotten into the drive shaft and froze a bearing that would need to be loosened.  More on that later.

And on to Project Three. When we launched the boat and went to get some water out of the faucet, nothing happened. I discovered that the rather expensive electric motor that drives our water pump had failed. Plan One was to call my go-to guys at Dynamite Marine hoping they knew a local electric motor guy who could fix it, but alas, it was too far gone to be repaired.

Plan Two for Project Three was to find the part locally, but that was also a dead end. Plan Three was to have a local forwarding company, Marine Warehouse, order one from the States and “overnight ship” it.  The cost for the motor ($199 in the States) was $399 using this method, but the shipping was substantially cheaper (about $40) than ordering it from Fisheries Supply in Seattle and shipping it. Also, Marine Warehouse would handle the complicated Customs clearance.

An aside on Customs:  Ironically the cruiser community recently had a big meeting the Minister of Tourism and complained about the circuitous Custom’s regulations and fees.  The very next day Customs made the rules even more circuitous and difficult. Now we’d have to take a $50 cab ride to the airport to “maybe” clear our package, if “maybe” it had arrived and “maybe” if they could find it. Lots of “maybe’s.”

The lady who runs Marine Warehouse in Trinidad lives two boats down from us and every morning I ambushed her to check on my “overnight” shipment.  After a week I started to get worried. She said she’d check. After two weeks I started to get concerned. She said she’d look into it. After three weeks I got pissed. She agreed with me as we both realized FedEx had totally, inexplicably lost my motor. It was probably in Outer Mongolia as far as anyone know.

Now we’re on to Plan Four. I would order the motor through my trusted sources at Fisheries Supply in Seattle and have it drop shipped from the manufacturer in Maryland to our favorite hotel in Houston. We would fly up to Houston, get the motor, have a steak dinner, stay the night and fly back the next day. At least that was the plan.  We quickly got on the phone and tried to get reservations at the Hyatt North Houston, but found it was full (it’s never full) so we booked a room at the Quality Inn. Kind of a plan.

Because none of our plans seem to go unchallenged, we were stymied when we found the marina would not allow us to leave our boat at the dock unattended for even one evening.  After some quick begging and pleading we came to a compromise with them when we arranged for some other cruisers to take responsibility for Flying Cloud while we were gone. One step closer to our elusive electric motor.

On Wednesday, Oct. 15th Meryl and I (both with terrible colds) caught the 8:00 a.m. UAL 1459 flight to Houston. Upon arrival we learned that the Quality Inn didn’t have an airport van to take us to the hotel. No problem, we decided to take a van to the Hyatt, pick up our packages, then catch a cab over to the Quality Inn.

Got to the Hyatt and they had three packages from Amazon waiting for us, but no electric motor (priority overnight shipment) from Groco. In shock, I double checked all the logs of the doorman. No package. Should have been delivered the night before, that’s why we delayed our flight by one day just to make sure.

Fortunately the front desk was able to find us a room so we quickly went upstairs and fired up the computer to check if Fisheries/Groco had finally sent us a tracking number. Yes, there it was. Checking on UPS’s website my knees almost crumbled to the floor when I read “Package refused by recipient and sent back to sender in Maryland.” Un-fricking-believable. Are UPS and FedEx in a global conspiracy to prevent us from having an electric motor?

The next two hours were spent on the phone with several very helpful UPS customer service reps who tried their best to “intercept” the package before it was shipped back, but it was too late. Since the manufacturer was on the East Coast, and it was now after their closing hours, I’d have to contact them in the morning.

On the positive side (Meryl said I have to have positive "feel good" stuff in the blog) we found that the hotel runs a van down to a nearby Walmart store at 6 pm. We took a cab to Walmart at 4 p.m., did some serious food shopping and met the 6 p.m. van for a ride back to the hotel with about 10 bags of groceries. We had to weigh every item in the produce department to make sure we were under our 70 lb. baggage limit. Mission accomplished.

The next morning we made numerous phone calls and got the manufacturer to reship the motor as soon as it arrived back in Maryland. Ugh, that meant we’d have to stay through Saturday since the package would arrive too late on Friday for us to catch the only flight to Trinidad.

As my daughter would say, “why don’t you try to make lemonade out of lemons?” so we decided do some tourist stuff during our extra two days in Houston.  Even though supposedly every rental car in Houston was taken, we managed to score a good deal through our favorite Costco Travel website. Took the hotel van to the airport, got the rental car and headed south down I-49 to I-59 South towards the Johnson Space Center, something that’s been on my bucket list forever. 

The Space Center is a vast 660-acre site where NASA astronauts are trained in nondescript beige-colored buildings and space missions are controlled from another nondescript beige-colored building. We elected to take the Tram Tour that follows a circuitous route around the site visiting the Mission Control Center (where space programs were monitored until 1992), to Building 9 where astronauts are trained, and to the new Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park that houses, wait for it . . . a Saturn V multistage rocket. We would absolutely love to take our grand kids here, they would have a great time.

Mock-up of the Space Shuttle in Building 9.
SAIL, the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. This is an exact copy of the Space Shuttle so when problems arose engineers in Houston could go to the actual wiring runs and figure out the problem.
Flight Deck of the Space Shuttle. It's amazingly like the flight deck of a Boeing 747.
Actual Mission Control Center where the famous "Houston, we have a problem" message was received by the NASA.
One floor down is the current Orion Mission Control Center.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11, the first man to step on the moon. "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"

Air tight box where actual moon rocks are examined by scientists. You can touch an actual moon rock at the exhibit.
Photos showing tight confines of an early space capsule. One astronaut quipped that "you don't actually get in it, it's more like you put it on."
Lunar Rover that was developed by Boeing.
Curiosity is a car-sized rover that is currently exploring the Gale Crater on Mars.
Huge Saturn V rocket at Rocket Park.
Saturn V multi-stage rocket at Rocket Park.
Cheezy photo of us before the Tram Tour. They superimpose various space photos over your image, but it's still kind of cool.
We also spent time viewing various exhibits at the Space Center Plaza, including some great videos of a rocket launch, a Space Shuttle, a Space Station mock-up, the Lunar Rover, and the Mar’s Rover, named Curiosity. All in all it was a great visit, although I felt they could have done a much better job in building a better timeline of space exploration and explaining the milestone events along the way. The best info was from the old-guy docents (who used to work for NASA) and could tell you vignettes about various events.

The next day, with both our colds now in full bloom, we elected to spend a quiet day in the hotel watching TV (I love the Alaska Gold Rush series) and resting. We hovered by the doorman’s station as the 2:26 p.m. UPS truck pulled up and grabbed our elusive electric motor off the pile, then retreated to the hotel room like we’d just scored a huge drug deal.

On Saturday we went to a local IHOP, which although it was in a very sketchy neighborhood, had great service and good food. Then out to the airport early to wait for our 1:00 pm departure to Trinidad.  We had a smooth flight to Trinidad and soon we were in the MiniCab driving towards “boat customs” in Chaguramus to clear our purchases. Luckily nothing aroused their attention and we got the valuable motor safely back to the boat. Very anxious to get the motor installed, have water flowing once again, and prepare to leave Trinidad.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Goin' to the Birds - Part II

In the 1930’s, British aristocrats and influential French Creole families would take tours of the Caroni Swamp to watch the Scarlet Ibis. By 1948 there was a growing concern for the protection of the Scarlet Ibis. Signatures and petitions were gathered for Conservation consideration and due to overwhelming support, the Caroni Bird Sanctuary was created to help protect the Scarlet Ibis. In 1962, when Trinidad and Tobago became an Independent Nation, the Scarlet Ibis was selected as the National Bird of Trinidad.

As we continued on our way toward the Caroni Swamp, I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like.  We had heard some stories and wondered if we might see lazy caimans idling in the water or large snakes hanging from branches on the banks, taking in the sun?  Or possibly, we might find mosquitoes swarming around biting us and somehow giving us Chikungunya (a nasty illness like Dengue Fever)?  I guess we would all find out for ourselves in just a matter of time.

We met our guide and boarded the motorized long boat and were soon heading up narrow passages turning left then right, passing along beautiful forests of mangrove trees with overhanging canopies.  We ducked low branches as we floated by and occasionally looked up and saw a scarlet ibis' flying overhead thinking wow we got to actually see the bird!

Rich lush mangrove swamp with narrow passages.
Easy to get lost in all these swamp tributaries.
Our group riding the long boat with a perfect temperature on the water and thankfully no mosquitoes, snakes, or caimans.
In the middle of the sanctuary are several islets, onto which the ibis arrive by the thousands just before sunset.  And arrive they did.  For the next hour or so we sat mesmerized watching the richly colored feathers of the ibis turn the mangrove foliage a brilliant scarlet.

The red haze on the trees represents 1000s of Scarlet Ibis' which have arrived at the rockery.

As we sat watching the spectacle the bearded British gentleman in the back offered us rum punches to sip, and Jesse James, our tour guide, had prepared his wonderful pineapple and garlic-cilantro dish to share.  We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful setting as we watched all the birds flying in.

The white egrets also roost in the same area, but for some reason they retreat back into the trees so they are not visible.

Like nature decorating a Christmas tree with poinsettias. Gorgeous!

Goin' to the Birds - Part 1

After arriving back in Trinidad to complete a long list of boat tasks we were excited after 18 days of almost non-stop work to be splashing back into the water.  With sighs of relief and lifted spirits we were happy to be floating once again, to have our own head and shower, great functioning air conditioning, and to be almost on our way to waters where we can swim and relax and enjoy being on the water. So close yet so far away... Unfortunately we ran into three additional problems, a non functioning outboard, a broken water pump motor, and broken engine mounts. We won't escape from Trinidad quite yet.

When some new friends, Patty and Bill on Annalee started putting a tour together we decided to do ourselves a favor and head to the hills to see the birds up at Asa Wright Nature Centre and cruise up the Caroni Swamp to see the Scarlet Ibis return to their nesting area before dusk.  We were badly in need of a diversion and it turned out to be a delightful day well spent in nature recharging our spirits.

The Asa Wright Nature Centre comprises nearly 1,500 acres of mainly forested land in the Arima and Aripo Valleys of the Northern Range of Trinidad. The estate was once a cocoa/coffee/citrus plantation that has been partly reclaimed by secondary forest and is surrounded by an impressive tropical rainforest today.  You can also arrange overnight stays in cabana's situated around the centre and enjoy the cooler and more peaceful setting.

We arrived in time for a lovely lunch and a chance to wander around the grounds and down to the waterfalls before a special tour of the building and the estate began.

Entrance to the Asa Wright Conservatory Terrace
A lovely lunch with our infamous tour guide Jesse James (left in blue hat).
One of Patty and Bill's finer moments.
Pretty waterfalls nearby.
Meryl in earth camouflage and Walter in tree camouflage.

Cocoa tree with cocoa pod growing right out of the tree trunk on the right.
A type of orchid.
Viewing terrace to watch the birds feed and enjoy the mountain and rainforest views
Walter checking out the hummingbirds.
Sweet little hummingbird stopping by for a snack.
Interesting tour of the Centre and grounds.
You can follow special trails to find the White Bearded Manakin and observe their unique courtship displays.
The male White Bearded Manakin's have special forest areas called leks where they can be observed.
White Trumpet Flower.
The interesting monkey ladder vine.
Part II Post to follow.