A Bottle and a Bullet
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“BUT WHAT IS ZE NAME OF YOUR CAPITAAN?” again Mimi erupted.
“MERD! Woman, I told you the Captain is a good man!” Serge fired back.
We finished our drinks and he walked me to the door keeping me well clear of his “one-eyed pirate” wife. We said a heartfelt farewell and I made my way back down the dirt road to find my bunk...
In the blue light of dawn, we followed the fishing vessel back through the reef to open water, waving goodbye as we slowly drifted apart on our respective courses. The wind was a bit easier than the previous day, and we had by all accounts, a pleasant ride to Cayo Holandes.
Picking our way through the reef and into the sheltered lee of the islands, we were, all of us, astounded at the beauty of the place. All about were Indians paddling dugout canoes and the scene was reminiscent of some far-flung Pacific anchorage during the early days of trade by sail.
The Kuna Indians have occupied these islands for approximately four hundred years. As we understood, they arrived there in an effort to escape Hispanic assimilation and inter-tribal war. The small islands are lush with coconut palms, and the Kuna live primarily on fish and fruit. They harvest and sell coconuts to the mainland and collect small fees from passing yachts to afford staple items like vegetable oil and rice.
When we were anchored and secure, one of the dugouts came alongside to welcome us and explain a few formalities. The Elders of the tribe had come up with a smart way to support the individual islands by charging five US dollars to use the anchorage. Once this exorbitant tariff was paid, we could stay as long as we pleased. Optional upgrades to our rented patch of sandy bottom were fresh fish, lobster, crabs and anything else that the Indians could pull from the depths. Any and all of which were available for one US dollar per creature.
Before the bounty of this little paradise could be enjoyed, we had a substantial issue to resolve. That large window that we had blown out the day before needed to be fixed, and how to repair it was a mystery given our remoteness and lack of resources. In the end, Jiorgos and I spent more time analyzing what to do than actually doing it.
The Plexiglas window was about an inch thick and had to be bent and glued back into position. This would require significant pressure to be applied and maintained until the glue dried. The most substantial piece of movable equipment we had was the outboard engine for the tender. When laid to rest in position, the window barely moved. We were going to have to come up with a more seamanlike solution.
Looking up at the rig, and trying to figure a way to make something designed to pull heavy things up, work in reverse, the answer came to us. Turning blocks were rigged outboard and at the foot of the mast, allowing us to run a line across the window and then to a halyard. Essentially, when the line was pulled up at the mast, it was pulled horizontally across the deck, pressing down on the window itself. To spread the pressure across a broader portion of the glass, we placed a milk crate on a folded towel and ran the line through some of the holes in the sides of the crate. Once all of this was rigged, we cleaned the old glue from the window, blew out any remaining debris from the seam with a dive tank, and pumped in a tube of 5200 marine adhesive. The halyard was tensioned, and the whole system worked just as we planned. A better job could not have been done in a shipyard, and that window never moved or leaked again.
Quite pleased with our efforts, it was time to go exploring. The owner's mother was busy trying to explain to a couple of Indians that she wanted some fresh crabs and we volunteered to go fishing with them. They kindly obliged and we climbed down into the canoe armed with the fanciest masks, fins, and spears that money could buy. Their gear, in contrast, was a mixed bag of items that had been scavenged and repaired many times over. Neither of them had a matching set of fins, and both of their masks looked like they had been left to them by Cousteau's team. We paddled our way out to a site beyond one of the reefs on the leeward side of the island. One of the fishermen tied the long bow line around his waist, and all of us went over the side. Jiorgos and I watched as they made their first descent so as to follow their lead. Down they went, fifty feet to the bottom and stayed there for some time looking through holes in the reef and under rocks, pulling massive crabs out with short sticks and wire loops. Neither of us could reach the depths they were so comfortable working in, and the outing quickly turned into a snorkeling trip for the two gringos.
Within an hour of working in the heavy currents, I lost track of Jiorgos, and gave a signal to the fishermen that I was swimming to shore. Arriving on the beach, I found the fearless captain holding up a palm tree and smoking a cigarette.
"You get anything?" he asked.
"Nothing, You?" I replied.
"Are you crazy? I saw what they were doing and came straight here."
"Wanna head back?"
"No," he said. "I want you to leave me here with a bottle and a bullet."
He collected his accumulation of cigarette butts, and we started toward the village. On the way, we met the Chief of the tribe. The Indians had their language, and most of them spoke a little Spanish, but the Chief's Spanish was pretty good. Jiorgos got the idea in his head to have a barbecue on the beach that night and asked me to convey the message. He told us that the cruisers had a cookout on a smaller island across the anchorage every night.
"Will you be there?" we asked.
There was an awkward silence for a moment as the Chief and his minions looked puzzled.
Finally, he answered, "No, we aren't invited."
Jiorgos and I stared at each other in disbelief, then looked out at the handful of cruising vessels anchored in the bay. Flagged from all over the world and seemingly well-traveled, only to arrive in this place and party with their own kind. Perhaps it was enough for them to interact with the native people on a level where the experience was bought and paid for, avoiding a potentially awkward language barrier and interrupting their good time. Thinking of our own situation and the way things had gone down in Miramar, it wasn't as surprising. After all, if we couldn't convince our Scroogely boss to eat in a restaurant, how would we ever convince him to sit on a beach in the dark and eat fish with the Indians?
Jiorgos couldn't stomach the thought of all this and insisted that we have a big party together. The Chief agreed and offered that his people cook the fish in their traditional way. Jiorgos told him that we would bring the rest and the plan was made.
On the way back to the vessel, I asked Jiorgos how he was planning to get our Chief behind this.
"You'll see," was all that he said.
On arrival, he gushed to the owner and his guests about how the Chief of the Kuna Indians wanted to meet the man with the biggest yacht ever to arrive here and that he had all of the village preparing a feast for him. It was truly unbelievable, the picture he painted, and the cleverness of the Pirate King shined in the eyes and in the egos of all who sat and listened.
Jiorgos and Kerstin set to work on some side dishes while I concocted a punch of nefarious ingredients that would kill an average human. When all was ready and the sun hung low in the sky, we piled into the tender laden with everything from chairs to musical instruments and invaded the sleepy village.
The Kuna had set up a circular seating area with a makeshift table in the center. Most of them dressed in hand-me-downs that were bartered from passing yachts. A few still dressed in the traditional Mola of their ancestors. As we unpacked our contribution to the festivities, huge platters of beautifully cooked seafood were brought from a smoking hut in the fringes of the circle. Thus began the wildest night the village had ever seen.
Until three o'clock in the morning, the rum flowed. Music was provided by one of the village elders who commandeered my guitar and played the only song that he knew many times over. Intermittently, we would impose an intermission by playing wild rhythms on a large drum which must have created an eerie vibration at the yacht club meeting across the bay. None of its members came to investigate the source of this tribal sound, but given the nature of human curiosity, it was undeniable that somewhere very near, someone realized that they were at the wrong party.
To be continued...