Tuesday, May 18, 2010


After our first night camped on Machete Beach we woke to the sun peaking through clouds on pinks and white among the gray and a gourmet breakfast of banana pancakes with genuine Canadian maple syrup (lugged all the way to our tiny island in the Pacific by a tiny little French-Canadian woman), bacon, fruit and yogurt.

We set out for our first full day of kayaking by 930 and after that first hour-long paddle to our camp I was worried about how I would endure a full day of it. Luckily I fell into a decent paddle ryhthm with Shannon who was endlessly patient with me and my breaks. We spent the day paddling around Rancheria - or Coibita - Island with a lunch stop on the back side that included a short jungle walk along a path that started with a Smithsonian Institute sign and terminated at a well maintained air strip cleared out of the middle of the jungle. Given the trouble I'd been having with my eye, I spent the day with only one contact which was not as difficult to adjust to as I had feared.

Jaime making lunch

Jungle walk
the air strip

After we had completely circumnavigated the island (and, to be honest, I was absolutey sick of paddling), we stopped at a few rocky little outcroppings that were isolated in the ocean not far from Coibita and a ways off from our camp to snorkel. Denise was inexplicably nervous about this particular snorkel and opted to stay in her kayak while Jaime, Shannon and I donned our fins and masks and dove in (or flopped in, in my case). Jaime tied the kayaks together and acted as anchor as he explored, taking photos as we went. The guy has some serious lungs and can stay under water for ages and dive to incredible depths.

The water around these islands is so salty you have to work pretty hard to not float. In fact, on this snorkel I mustered up enough courage to force myself to learn how to dive down to get a closer look at things. But I often misjudged how much diving momentum I needed in the buoyant water and I am pretty sure all I was doing was sticking my head a foot or so below the surface with my butt floating up at the top.

I felt far more comfortable in the water on this second snorkel with all of the many creatures swimming around - and that strange crackling noise I always forgot to ask Jaime about but which Shannon was relieved I heard as well because she had convinced herself it was her jaw . . . or something weird. Even snorkeling with a group of people it is a very solitary activity in such a foreign world that it is easy for the imagination to run a little rampant. Mine certainly did a few times. More on that later.

Mostly I was proud of the significant accomplishment of diving under the water and learning how to blow the water out the tube (or more accurately, spit everything out as I gasped for air) when I finally reached the surface after a 45 second dive. Plus, the whole mouth breathing thing was getting easier as was the coordination of having extra long feet. I didn't even panic when Jaime pointed out a reef shark on this go around - lucky for me his tail fin was pointed in my direction and not his mouth.

There were loads and loads of tropical fish in a whole variety of colors which I could never begin to name and we also spotted a beautiful manta ray.
But my new-found comfort in the water was yanked out from under me when we swam towards another small rocky island and the ocean dropped beneath us to an impercetable depth and the water changed from a clear, mostly colorless blue to a brilliant opacity that felt vastly open and exposed with nary a fish until the ocean floor rose up beneath us once again in rock and bits of coral to form another small island. There we saw large schools of fish mingled with these amazing purple and yellow and blue varieties that were almost unremarkable by the end of the week due to their predictable appearance each trip into the water. When we finally climbed back into our kayaks around 4 pm fatigue was settling in after a long day of paddling under a hot equatorial sun.

But there wasn't time for a leisurely paddle back to camp as the sky quickly grew dark and the ominous thunderheads that had been so far off in the distance prior to our swim appeared to be on the move and were now close enough we could see the sheets of rain pouring out of them. With long, even strokes we paddled back to camp as the storm chased us spitting light, cool droplets as a warning of worse to come.

We made it to camp while the sun's warmth was still overpowering the storm. Ian did not accompany us on our tour of Coibita and he welcomed us back to camp by introducing us to the solar shower he had set up during his day on the beach with Buddy. The shower had enough remaining water (dredged from the "fresh" water swamp just behind our camp) for each of us to take a turn lathering up our hair and extremeties enough to rinse off the thick layer of salt and sunscreen we'd accumulated over the course of the day.

The storm was on the near horizon as Shannon and I hurried back to our tent to finish the bathing proceess with camp wipes (I have to say a genius invention and an absolute must have for all adventure travel) and to hang our wet paddling clothes on the natural clothes lines of jungle tree limbs with just enough barbs to prevent clothes from flying off down the beach. As we stood outside our tent in various stages of dress attempting to get relatively dry and clean before getting dressed again, the wind picked up force to warn us those clouds were not just a tease. The sarong I had wrapped myself in flapped wildly in the wind to the point where the only body part that was securely covered was my neck to which it was tied. Modesty was relative on our remote corner of the beach where the only other human habitants were the three other people we brought with us who were down the beach a ways in their own tents. Shannon and I laughed at ourselves as we gave up trying to keep covered with sarongs and towels in favor of embracing some brief nudity.

Once I was clean, dry and semi dressed I pulled my rain jacket out of my dry bag attached to the tree outside my tent door and tossed it into the tent as the wind whipped ever more ferociously and Shannon and I laughed at the similarities of the storm's windy precursor to the one we endured on the Green River last fall that sent one of our fellow traveler's tents flying towards the river. I zipped myself into the tent and removed the one contact I was wearing out of the wind's forceful gust. While I was taking out my contact and looking for glasses, Shannon tried to dash back to the main camp area . The side of our tent facing the ocean (fortuitously we had just happened to place the doors toward jungle trees) bulged in from the wind's force as rain clamored down and Shannon burst back in announcing everyone was taking cover and dinner would be delayed.

An Shannon's attempt at taking a picture of the storm's affect on our tent

I wrote in my journal and attempted to read but when we are together it is really difficult for Shannon and I to have any semblence of quiet time. She tried reading for a bit but kept interrupting herself to explain how she kept thinking the book she was reading really needed to be read aloud. She asked if I thought the others would be open to her reading a chapter to everyone - just the introduction, she said.

Before I continue, let me put it out there that I am a snob. My snobbery comes in odd forms and at odd times. It just sneaks up on me unpredictably. And this is one of those times. I do not know why - and Shannon I so apologize for thinking this way - but I was not into the idea. I knew nothing about the book she was reading and I had no reason to believe one way or the other as to whether Shannon would have a good reading voice. But my initial reaction was lukewarm to put it in the best light. That being said, I did what I thought was the good friend thing and said why not try it even though I secretly thought, I'd rather enjoy everyone's conversation.

The rain cleared up in a relatively short amount of time and we all congregated in our sandy living room with bug spray and head lamps. At some point while I was in the tent Ian had erected a tarp giving us a common area that was relatively protected from any last remaining drizzles the storm sputtered out at us. Jaime impressed us all with an incredible spaghetti dinner that was the star of the week of delicious meals.

After dinner Shannon proposed her reading idea and when no one objected, she proceeded. The book was The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment and before the end of the introduction we were all hooked. Shannon has an amazing reading voice that is clear and animated and soothing all at once. As we asked her to read another chapter I wondered "when was the last time someone read to me?" It brought back fond childhood memories of family road trips with my mother sitting in the front seat reading to keep us entertained - Beautiful Joe was always my favorite.

a breakfast reading later in the week

Shannon's reading was an instant post-dinner ritual that occassionally snuck in as a pre-dinner or even post-breakfast routine. She would read and Ian would interject his dissatisfaction with the character's actions or this turn or that to the story line and we would argue for or against this or that. Somehow Shannon's reading helped solidify us into a family. We managed to make our way through all but the last 80 to 90 pages of the book before splitting up and purchasing it was almost the first thing I did when I got home. I devoured the end of the book to discover the final fate of the leading character but it wasn't the same without Shannon's voice and the island scenery. That being said, it is an intriguing book I would recommend even if you don't have a Shannon or island views.

While we were sitting around under the tarp post-dinner listening to Shannon read, we all jumped a foot or two off of our seats when a thundering shot rang out and clambored down through the trees. We had been as selective as possible about not situating our tents or camp area directly under the many coconut trees but none of us had anticipated the coconuts being used as propellants. As quickly as the snapping branches and shotgun like noise startled us, something landed on the - gratefully - tautly tied tarp and rolled off the end into the dark sand out of sight of Shannon's lone reading light.

When we cautiously walked out to inspect what we had narrowly escaped from landing on our heads, we discovered this:

A clawed open coconut that had been angrily hurled at us by one of the locals up in the trees. It was startling to say the least but after guessing that maybe it was a monkey, no a sloth, no a monkey, we settled back in our seats and continued the story followed by a lively philosophical, historical and spiritual discussion on religion of the kind that can only take place amongt respectful friends overnighting on a secluded island when their views are so disparate. In our regular lives I do not believe such a conversation could ever be repeated.

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