No-see-ums in Paradise

It’s not all relaxing, you know.
20140706-163335.jpgThe water varies in depth over this lagoon, nicknamed the swimming pool, with some areas only two or three feet deep and others up to 20 feet. We’ve spotted at least one large turtle, plenty of rays, and one eagle ray which does its rounds around Bloodshot each evening. The current can be strong, but the water is generally crystal clear, and around the islands are reefs and areas of underwater meadow through which rays glide gracefully.

In the evening large jacks feed around the boat, so Skipper catches them, and then we eat them.
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He also caught this barracuda from hell but we let him go because we were scared of him
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It’s getting towards rainy season now and the climate is more unpredictable; most evenings just after sunset the lightning starts (the novelty of which still hasn’t worn off) followed after a few hours by torrential rain, meaning that we were able to collect 30 litres of lovely clean drinking water during one storm. Occasionally these evening storms whip themselves up into very strong winds; the night we arrived we experienced gusts of fifty knots, and one boat was dragged onto a sandbar in the howling gale, though luckily no one was hurt and the boat wasn’t damaged.

The native people of San Blas, or Kuna Yala as it is traditionally known, seem friendly and peaceful. Our new friends Bill and Joanne work with them regularly, helping them clear beaches of rubbish, giving English lessons and advice on water collection. Bill and Joanne have inspired and motivated me to think more deeply about what I see and how I interact with local communities whilst cruising. This lady sold me a beautiful handmade bracelet for five dollars. We also buy mangos, potatoes, peppers and watermelon from a boat which visits once a week.
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We’ve been ashore twice; once to burn rubbish with the other boats in the anchorage (plastic and paper get burnt, tins and glass get sunk in deep water), and once to celebrate the anniversary of the aforementioned Joanne and Bill, who showed us how to get a conch out of its shell, make conch fritters, take the spines off a lionfish and dismantle a crab’s head. To return the favour, I sang “What’s Up” by the Four Non Blondes.

Night time brings Mosquitos and the dreaded no-see-ums, who are evil incarnate, and are cast upon this place lest it be declared too perfect and heavenly to exist. They are so small you can hardly see-um, and they give you a nasty pinch and then stay attached to you until you locate them and squish them.

Still, it’s a small price to pay. I felt very warm and content last night as we sat around the bonfire, about fifteen of us, eating freshly caught crab and lobster, drinking rum punch (which may have had a little to do with the warm and content feeling) and meeting some wonderful, kind and brave people, one of which I spent about an hour eulogising over Pink Floyd with, which was brilliant (It’s not just music! It’s an experience! An existential experience!)

A lot of the seafaring folk I meet are inspiring people; people who fearlessly paddle into large swell and strong currents to surf, dive into reefy caves and swim back with a couple of lionfish attached to their spear guns and big conch shells dangling from their waist, ruthlessly freeze, gut, stab and bludgeon all manner of living creatures, talk nonchalantly of spotting a crocodile whilst paddling out in the reef, and whittle jewellery from coconut shells with one hand whilst whipping up a batch of homemade fish cakes with the other. I wonder if I’ll ever be as…swashbuckly. I think I’m making gradual progress.

I try to do something that scares the shit out of me once every few days. It doesn’t take much. Normally the ocean is involved.

So far, nothing has come close to the feelings I had as I snorkelled through a reef and a nurse shark swam past me. Even though I know nurse sharks are harmless, and sharks are pretty uninterested in humans anyway, nothing could stop the utter panic I felt washing over me. I watched him/her swim for a few seconds before calmly turning away and paddling (furiously, I admit, but without making panicky splashy sounds) towards Phil, who remained oblivious. As I swam up to him, spluttering and panting, I couldn’t quite believe what I was saying as I gasped
“Shark!”
It took a lot of willpower to stay out there. I had to take deep breaths and stuff. I even cried a bit. Don’t ask me why I felt so scared when I knew that it was perfectly safe to be out there. But I did stay out there, and on the swim back we saw the same shark resting in a cave, its grey tail protruding from the colourful coral. Once I was back at the boat, I was able to fully appreciate what an amazing experience it was.

Sometimes, big sea creatures freak out too. I was paddling and accidentally clipped the tail of a beautiful eagle ray swimming next to me. I’ve never seen anything shoot off so fast. You could hear it shouting “SHIIIIIIIIITTT” as it retreated.

Phil is involved in a bromance, with American Kevin, or “KG” as he is known. They have many shared interests including fishing, backgammon, women, and talking bollocks. They go spear-fishing together. If they catch stuff, they whizz back in the dinghy waving their catches above their heads in post-hunt euphoria. If they don’t, they grow sullen and depressed, and Phil spends the rest of the afternoon fiddling with fishing lures and crafting home-made bait traps.

Must dash, I have a pendant to whittle.

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One response to “No-see-ums in Paradise

  1. At last, time to catch up on your latest adventures and marvel at what you’ve experienced in the last 9 months. It was so wonderful to have a a mini skype party with you, hope it made you realise that you are missed by many people. The zen hut was rocking but lacked an interpretive element involving blankets! Love to you and Phil. Keep the posts coming, my emotions are rising and falling just reading about yours, thank you 🙂

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