Plaits, Cats, Diving and Jiving

Fri 23 Aug 2013 11:48
When we were in Cape Town I got my hair braided - without realising what a political statement I was making. The grins and positive remarks I got from black folk were heart warming "I like your hair", they'd say "It's unusual for... you people". And the evils I got from some white women, and in particular their teenage daughters, was equally surprising. It was a good style though, just braided at the front so it was out my eyes as I worked, and I didn't have to do anything to it in the mornings, just shake my head and I was away. It was a bit disconcerting when I took them out though, as all the hairs that naturally fall out had stayed braided in, so when I could have made felt with the stuff I brushed out after three weeks! I decided to get it redone and it turned out that Leshawn in Cafe Oh La used to be a hair dresser so she came and did it for me on board (her first time on a cruising boat). It looked great and all was well until about an hour later when with a  "Pling!!" I felt a sudden loss of tension on my head. The rubber bands were perished and started plinging off left right and centre! Phil came to the rescue with the only thing we could think of: sail repair thread. He tied a little knot around each braid, to stave off the inevitable, so with about a third of the braids half unraveled and white knots on all my braids we cycled off to the cafe where Leshawn re-plaited  the unravelled bits and doubled up on elastic bands in the hope it would hold until she could get more bands. It was a futile exercise, periodically a fresh pling! would signal another failure and I would leave a trail of what looked like little black worms behind me. Phil knew which shower I'd used in the block by the black worms left in the plug hole....

I learnt to dive! Phil has known how for years and years of course, and we'd been planning that I should learn too, so that we could extend the development of our alternate career path of underwater photography, so we could get right in there amongst the action when we are exploring reefs, and, more practically, so we can retrieve items dropped overboard whilst at anchor, cut off any ropes that may catch in the prop, un-stick stuck anchors and clean our barnacled bottom!

It was much scarier than I had expected. I figured that, as I'd managed to suss snorkelling, diving would be a piece of cake but first session, exploring the depths of Coral Cove swimming pool (all 12ft by 12 ft of it), I was soon spluttering to the surface gasping for air. Just breathing through the regulator on dry land was difficult at first - you have to actively suck the air in, and a mouth full of rubbery taste made me feel a little sick. Then it all moved on so quickly: I'd only just got the hang of the breathing underwater thing - and was starting to realise just how magical that was, underwater, yet still breathing, watching the worms from my braids floating around me, when we were on to taking the regulator out of our mouths and filling our masks with water and then removing them completely. Part of the problem was that usually, above water, one breaths through both nose and mouth, below water one holds one's breath. With a mask on over your nose that's no problem, as breathing through your nose just doesn't work, but with the mask off or filled with water, its a new technique to just use your mouth, I found a trickle of water would inevitably find it's way through down the back of my throat, leaving me coughing, spluttering and panicking up to the surface. 

Learning to dive in Trinidad sounds magical, however once we had progressed past the confines of Coral Cove swimming pool our next step was Chaguramas harbour, where the dead fish from the fishing boats float on the surface amongst the pretty rainbows from the spilled diesel. Still, under the surface it was full of schools of flashing silver fish, feather duster clams made me giggle every time they popped back into their shells when I reached out to touch, a winged gurnard meandered by, shrimps danced in the silver light just below the surface and there was a mysterious world to explore under the pontoons and dark bottoms of moored boats above us. That was before half a dozen totally novice divers started crash landing on the bottom, frantically kicking themselves back up to the surface, just to repeat the cycle over again. The muddy bottom was stirred up all around us, visibility dropped to a couple of feet, and what was magical changed into a dull grey world where my only concern was to keep sight of someone, anyone, a flash of yellow fin or silver aluminium tank filling me with relief. 

Happily we didn't stay in the harbour, we managed to stop yo-yoing from surface to sea bed quite so much and progressed to Coffee Bay, where the terror or terrors, the has-to-be-done-to-pass-the-course 60ft dive was to take place. I was up for hours during the nights before worrying about it. The idea of 60 feet of water above me... The day dawned and I figured I couldn't cry because if I did my sinuses would all block up and I'd never be able to equalise for 60 feet, and I couldn't panic, because if I did I do panic huffing and that would mess my breathing up so I just had to refuse to think of the 60 feet and go down 3 feet at a time. I could do 3 feet, so I could do 3 feet more was the idea. So down we went, and down, and down and down, equalising every other breath, keeping sight of my buddy, three feet at a time, down until we suddenly passed through the thermocline and it got cold (well, comparatively, remember the surface sea temperature here is about 27ºC) and down even further until it got dark (it was an overcast day) and down even further until my flipper touched the unseen bottom and I'd got there. 

I was the last to the surface, bobbing up with a whoop and a grin: "Yay! We did it!" to find all the others serious and quiet with a "what's all the fuss about?" look on their faces. I didn't care, my relief was huge. It was like getting up the slope by the big mast below the stocking ground on my G650 for the first time. We did two more 60 foot dives and I was fine; I'd proved I could get down, and more importantly, get back up safely, so it wasn't a worry any more.

We are still loving the wild life, of course. We've discovered the yellow breasted birds that we see everywhere are Great Kiskadee, they have a black head with what looks like white wrap around Oakley sunglasses. The smaller ones with grey heads and no sunglasses are actually Tropical Kingbirds, not the female or immature versions of the Kiskadee as we'd guessed. By the water side we watch the Striated Heron (known as a Chuck here) on the pontoons, accompanied by Cattle Egret and Snowy Egret from time to time. One day a Southern Lapwing was hanging out by the boat lift and every evening the Skimmers return. Walking in the forest is magical. We've seen Fork Tailed Flycatchers swirling above us, Yellow Oriole breaking cover with a clatter, all at once, a huge grey hawk, yellow legs dangling (breathtaking, that one was) and innumerable birds we don't know the names of - one about the size of a thrush with an iridescent green back and orange red tail and wings. But although the birds we see are magical, it's the ones we don't see that fill the senses in the forest. The chirps and clucks and twee-witts that fill the air, along with a rustling and a wave of fronds near by. Sometimes a fast ka-ka-ka-ka-ak will start near by, like a muted machine gun, and all around others will join in, each at a different pitch, until the air is filled with a mass of sound all around us, then, if we move or make a noise, it will suddenly stop, all at once, to start again when all's quiet and calm. As you glance down you notice the dappled green path is littered with little bright purple flowers, or tiny golden plums, or red orange leaves. But when I look up I can't see where they've fallen from. Either they must have all fallen already or the layers of branches hide the source from my view. 

Sam says that he wouldn't walk in the forest - that the snakes will drop on me from the trees, but so far I have survived and their beauty keeps me returning. I did have one moment though, when the hairs on the back of my neck rose and my senses came alive. The trail had come to a small river, with a steep bank down to it which, as it had rained that morning, had soft mud on it. I froze. Something had been to drink at the river. Fresh, huge, cat prints, the mud hadn't even had time to dry. "Jaguar!" I thought, with visions of one lying in the branches of the tree above me, ready to drop on me like Sam's snakes, however I figured that mid afternoon was an unlikely time for one to be hunting and so I'd probably be safe. I'd never seen prints that large - I put my ring down next to a pair to show the size, about 10 or 12 cm across. It turns out they don't have jaguar in Trinidad (unless one swam over from Venezuela) so it was most likely an ocelot.


Even the little everyday things are different here. The ATM is not just an ATM, it's a drive through ATM, so I joined the queue of white flat-bed micro vans and big tinted windowed pickups on my push bike (the pedestrian one was out of order) and, when I got there to take out my Trinidad and Tobago Dollars there was a praying mantis sat upon the keypad.

Was I living a strangely sheltered existence in Deepest Dorset or is the idea of a drive through ATM a strange one? They even have drive through Pharmacies here. And I tell you, if you want to go to the cinema - come to Trinidad! Loads of leg room, reclining seats and the arm rests even lift up so you can stretch out sideways if the seats are free or lean on your man if not. And snacks ... you wouldn't believe it! Forget sweets, popcorn and a hotdog, you could have them if you wanted but why do so when there's every variation on fried chicken you can imagine, paninis, waffles, roti... one gets issued with a tray that attaches to the arm rest so you can sit and indulge in safety, unlike the UK where one is expected to juggle boxes of popcorn and paper cups of fizzy sugar water.

Sam asked us out on friday night to the BP Renegades pan yard to see a collection of steel pan bands playing. We had a great evening, watching the bands, listening to the music, dancing  and doing some brilliant people watching. 'An equal place for every creed and race' says the national anthem and it seems to be lived out too, there's so much variation in ethnic background and religion and all getting along just fine (apart from the drug gangs, but that's a different story...). The skill and energy of the players was amazing, it must have taken them hours and hours of practice time as they were all note perfect, knowing exactly what would come next as they rolled seamlessly from one song to the next. I was surprised to see them stretching and warming up before hand, but when you see how active they have to be, especially those playing 6 or 9 drums at one time, it's not surprising. It reminded me of our attempts at percussion in Sing Loud Play Loud, Jem and Ollie!  Here's a couple of short clips to give you a flavour:

Firstly, look out for the guy with four pans on the right - is he playing or dancing?

and listen to the variety of playing in this short clip:

Oh, I almost forgot! Of course we are actually here to get jobs done, not explore forests and go out dancing, and yes, it's all going on well.... top sides all painted, anti-foul has one and a half coats on, wind turbine is up and mounted, we're finishing the wiring for it today hopefully, cap rail's been fixed. The rigging and keel are still in progress, as are the solar panels and tens of other little jobs. I'll post pics of completed jobs next time, but in the meantime, just to prove things have been happening, here's Lochmarin doing her imitation of a battleship waylaid by a graffiti artist!