There were no radios nor televisions to fill the sky with idiotic static in an assault on our senses: despotism dished out like sliced cold cheese, sandwiched between cigarette commercials. Such intrusions did not exist on this island. Time did not exist here either, it seemed… The days flowed together into one beautiful blur, never losing their slow rhythm of childlike contentment.
Here there was only a massive chunk of mountains rising up from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, thickly overgrown with tangled vines, a scattered profusion of mango trees, coconut palms, strange orange flowering trees and nasty thorn bushes. On this island there was only one road, a weather beaten, dusty old road neatly carved into the dirt between the seashore and the mountainside. On this road passed more cows than people, large slow moving Brahma bulls whose heavy hooves carried them down around the bend in the road where the pastures were.
When the sun reached its zenith and the sky was clear all human and animal movement stopped. Those that did, moved as if opiated. Even flies relaxed in such heat. They would go off to sleep in some secret shady place, too tired to buzz around the backyard trash bins and the ever-present cow patties.
But when the sun goes down, people appear out of nowhere, walking sticks click unleashed. The evening shadows give relief to sun scorched eyes; the trade winds catch
their breath and begin to massage the landscape. Old black men appear walking barefoot in the village, their big bellies swelling with fried fish, rice and yucca, always lots of yucca. On the porches on in the street people would congregate. Cheap rum and cold beer flowed freely, cooled by nail-cracked ice. Laughter erupted in rhythmic successions, creating a mosaic of tranquility.
I remember walking up to the small store to buy three cold beers, a can of sardines and a few packs of crackers. The store owner apologized about the recent rise in the price of beer from six pesos to six pesos fifty centavos. He said as I was leaving, “Well, man, you’ll just have to start drinking rum!” I laughed as I stepped down from his little wood frame shop and returned to my shack carrying the beer, the sardines and a big chunk of ice, all in a plastic bag.
Waves were breaking out on the reef and I was reminded of the day’s events. The day began slowly as they often do in the tropics. I had been out snorkeling. The morning had been sunny and hot and the ocean had been clear and flat, perfect for diving. As I swam along I noticed an abundance of fish- they moved about in ultraviolet wave-lengths in pools of electric blue. The cool water soothed my sunburn. A few small barracudas passed by and I tried to ignore their wicked grins and razor sharp teeth. I continued swimming peacefully beside a rocky promontory quietly in awe. Then suddenly I look over my shoulder and spotted a trio of sharks swimming behind me ten or twelve feet away. Ancient instinctual fear turned my blood to turn to pure adrenaline. In an instant flash everything that anyone had told me about sharks and all the corny Sea Hunt footage from the sixties reeled through my brain like high speed extachrome. I moved so fast those sharks probably mistook me for a mirage. My body rocked out of that water and on to a rock nearby. This brought my swim to an early end and I returned home and slept in the mid-day heat until awakened by the sound of rain on the tin roof.
It seemed to have been raining for quite some time. I slowly drank two of the beers and felt well rested. The crabs came out of their holes in the ground to escape the inflow of rainwater. They sat quietly, doing nothing as I pissed down their holes. I seemed to derive some perverse pleasure from annoying them, I guess because there were so many of them and they always looked so comical.
I laughed to myself and spoke to the crabs while pissing.
“Sink down my beloved crabs, for I come to piss and shall warn you of my presence. I come not in anger and mean you no harm. I come only to relieve my bladder and don’t want o intrude in any of your matters.”
A brave crab gathered his courage and responded from his muddy retreat.
“Rejoice ye drunkard, fear not because your piss warms us as does the rains which causes the mangos to swell and watermelon to fill the land.”
Another crab spoke up.
“My two legged friend, please listen to my plea. We crabs have hard lives, living claw to mouth and are never able to enjoy the luxuries of life so commonplace among you human animals. We would really like to taste some of those Spanish sardines which we hear tell of.”
I responded in hasteful atonement.
“Be not temperate ye creatures of the mud! I shall bring you a platter of sardines and a cup of cold beer. Drink up! Rejoice! May your horny shells be loosed and removed from your bodies so that you may dance in celebration of the coming rains.”
copyright 1974, Isla de Providencia,Colombia
Two thirds of the Earth’s surface is water. Of that one half is comprised of the Pacific
Ocean. “Pacific” means peaceful, named such by Ferdinand Magellan who claimed that it
was more gentle that other oceans he had visited. There are many who would dispute that
claim. For the most part the Pacific is peaceful, but danger often lurks below the surface.
It is ringed by volcanoes and earthquakes are not uncommon. Tsunamis are the evil
offspring of underwater earthquakes. Cyclones, called hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean,
make their debut also in the Pacific theater, although less than in the Atlantic. Tsunamis
occur more frequently in the Pacific because there’s more activity in the plate tectonics.
The Earth’s surface is made up of large plates not unlike a giant jigsaw puzzle. These
plates are always moving, usually very slowly. Sometimes they make an abrupt
movement. Imagine millions, perhaps billions of tons of rock shifting beneath the sea.
The resulting motion and friction releases energy in the form of earthquakes. These
underwater earthquakes create tsunamis. Millions of tons of water is set into motion
causing a “ripple effect” which races across the ocean’s surface. Quite often waves move
at speeds up to 800 miles an hour, the speed of a fast jet flying full throttle. They travel
unnoticed for thousands of miles and strike unexpectedly (if there is no warning system.)
Nearing the shallow shoreline a wall of water quickly forms and the killer wave rolls in
from out of nowhere crashing down on anything in its way. To someone on a ship at sea
the wave would pass unnoticed, not even a blip on the screen, not even enough motion to
spill a cup of coffee.
The 2004 tsunami was by far the most destructive tsunami in recorded history.
225,000 people were killed with towns and villages wiped out in eleven countries.
The earthquake which spawned that disaster was the second largest earthquake ever
recorded. It had a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter Scale. It’s duration
lasted over ten minutes and it caused the entire planet to vibrate .4 inches. Earthquakes
were triggered as far away as Alaska. Large and small aftershocks followed for a month
causing more panic among the survivors.
The initial shock was estimated to be 1502 times greater than that of the Hiroshima
atomic blast. In Oklahoma, half way around the world, vertical movements of .12 inches
Huge slabs of rock each weighing millions of ton were dragged seven miles on the
Sumatran ocean floor. The momentum of the water displaced during the tectonic uplift
caused landslides several miles wide and a huge new trench was formed on the sea bed.
Not too far from the epicenter is the Nicobar Islands, lying between Thailand and
Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Most of the inhabitants are aboriginal tribes people
who live a primitive lifestyle. They survived the tsunami because they saw the warning
signs and took to higher ground. One tribesperson summed up the experience quite
philosophically saying that the sea and the land always fight over boundaries. First come
the angry spirits who shake the trees with a vengeance. Then the sea and the clouds
change and the people know that “the sea would enter the jungle and mix with the land
until they decided on a new border.”
Portrait of an Anarchist
Red Ted showed up on my doorstep one wet January night trailed by his pack of dogs, all eleven of them. His backpack was wet and heavily loaded down with dog food day old bread and various odds and ends-implements of basic outdoor survival.
He sported a freshly cut, poorly done Mohawk haircut. He was rather proud to be one eighth Apache Indian and one hundred percent anarchist. His dogs were wet and cold, and barked profusely. We herded them into the backyard hoping that the neighbors wouldn’t notice. They huddled under the big blue spruce tree, relaxing on the bed of needles.
Much to my amazement Ted pulled six plump little fur balls out of his backpack. Those pups were fresh from their mother- a real breeder. Their hair was thick and spotted black and white. They yelped and blinked wildly as if drawn abruptly from a deep sleep by a giant monster. Ted barked out a holler to signal “chow time” for his nervous herd of hungry canines. He pulled out a half gone bag of dog food and dumped it on the ground. The hounds went wild fighting each other for their fair share. Ted barked like a seal, his red Mohawk shining wetly in the dark above his sweat-beaded, heavily fogged glasses.
We left the dogs to their own devices and went inside by the fire. As Ted rolled a cigarette he told me how his favorite dog had been shot by some rednecks down in Stanley, New Mexico. He had been squatting down there in an old dilapidated adobe building out on the open wind blown prairie just south of the general store. He described in grisly detail how the dog had been blasted by a shotgun on Christmas Eve. She came limping home, stunned and bleeding, dragging her entrails on the snowy ground. She died by his side half an hour later. Ted moaned heavily; he really loved that dog. He declared that if he had stayed in Stanley he would have killed those dog killers perhaps in the same way they had killed his prized bitch, the mother and grandmother of his entire herd.
“I had to leave cause I know I would have done it cause they deserved to die, those snot-nosed redneck swine! I came up here to get away from those sons-of-bitches. Got me a camp high up on the mountainside near the tree-line where nobody can fuck with me and my dogs.”
We heated up some leftover turkey and dressing. Ted described how he was going to construct a “wigwam” out of juniper poles, wrapped in plastic, buried in the mud. He planned to spend a year or two in the small hut way up high in the mountains where the bobcats roam. He had done it before and could do it again.
“I’ve got my dogs to keep me warm. Hell, I’ve lived up in those hills for fourteen years, before the god-damned cops came and knocked down my little stone house. You’d think they would have something better to do than bother a grizzly old goat like me. I’ll be happy as long as I get to town once a week to hit the dumpsters and grocery stores for day-old bread, week-old meat for the dogs and whatever else I can scrounge up. All I need money for is coffee and rolling tobacco. I’ve just gotta have my cowboy coffee. Coffee tastes best on an open fire. Coffee always tastes better when you’re a million miles from nowhere.”
copyright 1994 Santa Fe, NM
In the bird kingdom there are several species which are remarkable world travelers. The first prize goes to the Sooty Shearwater bird. This sea bird knows no reason to stay at home when the weather and food is often better elsewhere during certain seasons. It can cover a whopping 40,000 miles in two hundred days and travels in an endless summer knowing when and where to be in its search for food. They breed in the remote southern islands of New Zealand and then take off north across the Pacific Ocean for perhaps a month in Japan. Then it’s off to British Columbia, 4,200 miles across the wild blue. Next it’s down to Washington State and Oregon for some summer fun. During the months of August and September huge flocks can be seen off California’s coast. Some decide to head west for Hawaii, a logical choice! Then it’s back to New Zealand for the breeding season.
This frequent flyer is born knowing how to navigate. It’s as if they have their own biological GPS. Feeding on squid and fish it is reported that the Shearwater bird can dive underwater depths up to 200 feet. On a good day one can log 700 miles, the same distance from New York to Chicago. In other words this is some kind of “super bird” and deserves more recognition. as such. The Sooty Shearwater bird makes the common sea gull look like a lazy sociopathic dumpster diver in comparison.
Another prize winner is the Arctic Tern. This globetrotter logs in over 24,000 miles a year in its nearly non-stop migration between the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. This hard working aviator is known to stop only once a year or two to nest. They mate for life and live long lives: thirty years old is common, thirty-five years old is the record.
Snow Geese and Canadian Geese also breed in the arctic tundra and then head south for the winter. They’ll travel 5,000 miles round trip at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Some stop in the Dakotas, the Midwest and the Prairies. Another popular resort area for migratory geese is in the rice fields of North America. Located in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri these vegetation-rich waters are perfect habitats. The fields lie unused during the winter months and they are often protected by conservation groups.
Barn Swallows deserve a well deserved honorable mention for their migratory proclivities. Of the six subspecies, four are strongly migratory. They breed in the Northern Hemisphere and head for the tropics of Central and South America before the cold winds blow. Also, common in Asia, they migrate between China, Mongolia and Siberia and escape to the warm weather down in India, South East Asia and Indonesia. Unlike the other migrants this one is more cosmopolitan and builds its nests under the overhangs of buildings and under bridges and wharves.
Following their annual cycle, migratory birds display an enviable awareness of both environment and geography. Traveling between the tundra and the tropics they possess a secret knowledge of the many varied ecosystems. They are the living embodiment of global biodiversity.
copyright 2009 Santa Fe, NM
Motorbiking in southern Laos is damn good fun
You'll see a lot of natural beauty: rivers, bridges and sweeping vistas across the Mekong River. You'll often get off on dirt roads too narrow for cars or trucks but perfect for biking; you will cross narrow bamboo bridges with ravines where below people are washing clothing and bathing. You'll pass rice paddies, freshly planted this time of year and encounter lots of water buffaloes, goats, chickens, the occasional snake or monkey and many smiling people. It's billed as "the Land of Smiles" by the guys in charge and for good reason. In the dry season, November through May it will be hot and you will get baked by the sun and blasted by the wind and the dust in your face. Face masks are recommended although I don't like them. They cost about 75 cents U.S. and might save you some grief. You'll be glad you had one on the highways where there's grit, dust, diesel fumes, wood smoke and who knows what else blowing at your face with a fury.
Mirroring the beautiful scenery you will see remarkable landscapes marred by trash.
Paper, plastic and litter plague the third world countries. They have no concept of "trash".
You think to yourself, Wow this could be a world class eco-destination if it weren't for all the god-damn trash every where.
Then you sober up and realize that you are a visitor in one of the most heavily bombed countries ever on Planet Earth.
The United States dropped over 2,093,100 tons of bombs on these poor undeserving people. It was a covert operation, quite illegal. Laos at that time was neutral and it's neutrality was endorsed by international agreements. It's referred to as the Secret War. We dumped our trash on them and those land mines are still going off 40 years later. About the size of a tennis ball these bombies can blow the leg off a full grown elephant. And they'll be around for many years to come.
When asked where I'm from I answer Spain-a blatant lie which I use to camouflage my embarrassment for being American. Never before in my travels have I felt such shame, not even in Viet-Nam- there exists a strange and undieing love for all things American. Most Americans never knew about our invasion of Laos. It was clandestine and swept under the rug in the shadow of the larger fiasco next door in Viet Nam. Most Americans probably think that Laos is a city in Cambodia or maybe is in Africa somewhere.