Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dat Tree Rite Dere...It be Poison!

One would think that sailing around in the Caribbean in heavy winds, wild currents, and bashing seas would be the most dangerous thing we sailors do.... 

When we visited the little Grenadian island of Carriacou (pronounced 'Carry-A-Koo'), I found out that there was something even more dangerous out here! 
An island elder was watching me from across the road as I

was walking around near the beach under a perfectly beautiful shade tree.  

I wondering about the little fruit all around it on the ground.  They looked like little apples. (Now, I have traveled enough in foreign countries to know not to EVER eat anything on an island that you do not know what it is. No danger there, right??). The older gentleman said "ya need to step away from dat tree rite dere... it be poison and can keel ya or at least burn ya. Don eat dos apples and git yo'sef out from under it. It be called a mash-eel tree."  I heeded his instructions immediately.

Whaaaat? I thought to myself, "What kind of island folklore is this???" 

Well, my interest was piqued (as well as my realization of my possible brush with death), so as soon as I got back to the boat, I looked up the "mash eel tree" on the internet and read all about it! Folklore, indeed! This is one serious tree...it currently holds the Guinness record for world’s most dangerous tree!

The Manchineel Tree (pronounced "man-she-Kneel") is named after the Spanish word for “little apple,” which is manzanilla. The tree has green fruits that look like small apples. But it also has another, more appropriate Spanish name, the arbol de la muerta, or “tree of death.” 

Even though in some areas it's little more than a bush, the Manchineel Trees in Carriacou are 30 to 50 feet tall. (The better to kill you with, my dear!) They found mainly in the Caribbean and Central America, but are also found in the SE United States. It has greyish-brown bark and shiny green leaves and cute little apples. 

Every part of the tree is poisonous, and just coming in contact with the tree can be potentially lethal. The leaves and bark contain a poison that will irritate the skin and cause severe blisters. The milk-white sap from the tree will also cause severe blistering. If sap touches a person’s mucous membranes, it can cause severe burns.

The fruit makes the tree even more deadly. The fruits look like small green apples, only an inch or two in diameter. The fruits are very sweet-smelling, and those who are brave—or crazy, or ignorant—enough to eat them say that they even taste good. But eating just a small amount will leave blisters and burns on your mouth and throat. In addition, the raw, soft tissues of the digestive tract will begin to swell and blister after eating just the smallest bite of the fruit. Larger amounts are deadly.

As if that isn’t enough, the tree can also cause serious damage if you so much as stand under it. If it’s raining, water falling off the leaves will carry toxins and burn the skin of anyone it touches. Even a small drop of rain with the milky substance in it will cause the skin to blister. Imagine that! And there I was, cooling off under the shade of the poison tree. Rain can come at any time in the islands...Yes, I had a brief brush with death... well, blistering, at the very least!

Many indigenous peoples have used the poisonous, deadly tree to their advantage. The sap of the Manchineel Tree was often used for poisoning arrows and darts, which in turn were used to control captives. Tying people to the tree and leaving them with any exposed skin would result in excruciating pain and burns. Yikes! These folks didn't mess around!

Why don't the islanders just cut down the trees if they are that deadly, you may ask?? The trees provide excellent natural windbreaks and its roots stabilize the sand, thus helping to prevent beach erosion. Removing the tree from populated areas proves problematic. Cutting the tree releases the squirting, spraying sap, and burning the tree turns the toxins into a vaporous form that’s carried in the smoke. Even contact with the smoke can leave burns on the skin and can sometimes result in blindness. 

Now, here's the difference in thinking between a laid-back island in the Caribbean and the United States. If this was in the States, as soon as one arrived on shore, there would be posters, fliers, legal agreements with disclaimers, cartwheeling lawyers, and all manner of paperwork one had to sign alerting about the dangers of the local tree of death before entering the country. In Carriacou, there was nary a sign or flier in sight at the Customs and Immigration check-in.  Ah, the unfettered simple life.

However, the next day, we went to shore at a different dock and I actually found a warning sign!

Looks like someone felt sorry for the tourists after all! 

A laid-back island disclaimer, if you will. 

Beware, indeed! I plan to be a little more on my toes in the future when I see a "beware" sign!

Reference: www.knowledgenuts.com, www.wikipedia.com

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Laundry Mat Blues!

Except I’m not at a laundry mat!  I’m on our boat, Genesis!  When we travel from island to island, sometimes we don’t stay long enough to find a place to do laundry. So, what’s a girl to do?

Well, I do it on the boat, of course!  I have two big flexible buckets that I bought for that purpose and I get busy in the cockpit when it’s time to do laundry.  

One bucket is for washing and one is for rinsing. I wash a small amount of clothes at a time and agitate with a plunger (yep, that’s right… a toilet plunger! But don’t worry, it has never been used in a toilet!).  

When I am sitting there plunging away, I am usually looking at some beautiful water and scenery. There are some upsides for doing laundry in paradise! (At least, that’s how I rationalize it!.)  Then I wring out the washed clothes then place them in the rinse water. Wring again and I’m done. Well, not quite....

I hang the clothes all over the boat to dry. I have a couple of small lines in the cockpit and I also use the lifelines, the shrouds and anything else I can get a clothes pin attached.  Sometimes I drape my sheets over the boom to dry. When it’s windy, the clothes dry faster than in a dryer!  And there's always that worry that the clothes pins are going to fly off and my clothes will fly off to parts unknown. 

Alas, sometimes I leave the clothes hanging out and Mother Nature has another go at it… rain can come at any time in the tropics.

When we stay at an island for an extended time, most of the time we are lucky enough to find a marina with a washer and dryer. It’s usually expensive, though.  In Grenada, I am paying $4.50 to wash and $7.50 to dry… $12 a load!  Yikes!

And that’s how the laundry is done! So the next time you dread doing the laundry at your house, think about me… then you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all!  

Oh, the joys of cruising! It's not all tropical drinks with little beach umbrellas! 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dominica... The Nature Isle of the Caribbean

After our passage bash from Sint Maarten, we were happy to arrive on the beautiful island of Dominica.  We had planned to visit this island on our trip north from Grenada, but after our rough trip from Sint Martin, this was a good mid-point to stop in for a rest.

Dominica (pronounced “dom-i-nee-ka”) is an island in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea with a population of about 72,000 people. It is 290 square miles in size and is the most mountainous of the Lesser Antilles, with the highest elevation of 4747 feet.  It is fast becoming a ecotourism destination due to its unspoiled natural beauty.  It is the youngest island in the Lesser Antilles, still being formed by geothermal-volcanic activity, as evidenced by the second largest thermally- active lake in the world, Boiling Lake.  The island has lush mountainous rain forests and is the home of many plant, animal, and bird species. Dominica is the only country in the world with a count of 365 rivers. The islands have the most pristine wilderness in the Caribbean and are protected by an extensive national park system.

Columbus sighted the island in November 1493, but the island had been inhabited by the Carib Indians from around 1000 AD, giving the island the name Waitukubuli which meant “Tall is her body”.

We decided to limit our sightseeing to two areas.  We were anchored in Portsmouth near the Cabrits National Park and we wanted to hike there.  Another area we wanted to visit was the Indian River.

Cabrits National Park

Located on a scenic peninsula just north of Portsmouth, this national park is best known as the site of Fort Shirley, a large 18th-century British garrison which once housed 600 soldiers. The British fought the French over control of the island several times in the 1700’s before gaining control in the early 1800’s. Fort Shirley was the headquarters and the main defense post of the British army garrison . Construction began under the direction of Sir Thomas Shirley (1774-76) for whom it was named.  It was last used as a fort in 1854. Independence from Britain came in 1978.

The park encompasses the peninsula, the surrounding coast and coral reefs, and the island's largest swamp. 

The Officer's Quarters has undergone a major renovation by Dr. Lennox Honeychurch. 

The main building of the Fort is now used for various functions such as weddings, receptions, and concerts. 

Original cannons from 1775 overlook the beautiful bay.

We had a beautiful day for sightseeing and were rewarded with spectacular views of the island.

There were gorgeous views of Prince Rupert Bay from the Officer's Quarters. We could see our girl Genesis in the bay below. She is the boat directly under the "n" in Genesis in the photo. 

Hiking West Cabrits

The park is divided into two mountains... We paid a small entry fee and hiked the west side of the island.  It took us 4 and 1/2 hours to hike to the top of the mountain and back to the park visitor center.  We hiked the Waitukubuli mountain trail... the only long distance trail in a National Park in the Caribbean.

The trees in the forest were enormous! Sunlight filtered in through the tree branches and it was beautiful.

Thank goodness we had our walking sticks!  The trail was very steep and rocky and we had to look down at the ground a lot to keep from losing our footing.  Most of the time when we hike around the islands we wear Keen hiking sandles.  This time we wore our hiking boots and we were glad we did!

As we made our way up the mountain, the trail was harder to follow.  Sometimes we weren't sure we were still on the trail, but we kept going.

Finally, we saw blue sky and sea!

We knew we were in the right place when we saw the cannons overlooking the bay below. 

We were definitely ready for a rest!
What a great hike we had!  After 4 and 1/2 hours, we were definitely ready to take off our hiking boots and relax.  We headed back to Genesis and spent the rest of the day reading and napping. Perfect day!

Up a Lazy River

One of the popular tours in Dominica is the Indian River Tour.   A restricted area that allows no motorized boats, the Indian River is a winding river that goes about one and a half miles back into a mangrove swamp. Local guides row wooden boats through the swamp and give an interesting narrative about Dominican nature.  

Our guide, Alexis, picked us up at our boat at 8:00 a.m. for a two and one-half hour boat tour.  The trip for two cost us $50 US. 

We saw many colorful wooden tour boats at the entrance to the river. No private boats are allowed up the river. The trip is only available via a local guide.

Here we are at the entrance to the river. It was a beautiful day!  We were excited to get out and do some exploring!

We were accompanied by a young couple from France, Yann and Marie.  They had taken a one year sabbatical from their jobs (IT analyst and nurse) and sailed across the Atlantic in a 27ft. sailboat.  It is always interesting to meet other cruisers and find out their story.  They were going to return to France and get back to the working life in October. What a great life experience for this young couple!

As we meandered up the river, Alexis slowly rowed the boat and pointed out wildlife, birds, plants and trees. 

The scenery was beautiful and pristine. There were many large Bloodwood trees with interesting root systems.  

We saw big land crabs everywhere peeking out from holes in the mud and from around roots. 

Everything was lush and green with overhanging limbs and vines.  Birds were everywhere… Hummingbirds, Blue Herons, Little Green Herons, and Doves.  Sorry, no photos... they were very skittish!

There were a few man-made sights along the way as well.  Here is a set from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

At the shallow end of the river was the Jungle Bar.  Although closed for the season, we ventured on shore to explore.

The bar was interesting with chairs carved from stumps, and tables made from big electrical spools.  

The bar is open during the high season during the winter and serves a very strong rum punch!

The bar was surrounded by all kinds of lush greenery and beautiful flowers… bird of paradise and heliconia.

Alexis made a little hummingbird from a piece of greenery and put it on a flower. Look closely... you can see the green hummingbird sticking out of the flower.

Alexis, age 28, was born in Dominica.  His family still farms the hillsides of Dominica, producing vegetables which they sell at the local market and they also raise goats.  He said that he enjoys the simple life in Dominica and has a good life.  He noted that the cell phone age has infiltrated his lovely little island and the younger kids have become enamored with the technology and stay glued to their cell phones.  Already he has noted a decline in the number of kids that get outside and play and value the old ways of making a living. They all want to leave the island and go to America.  He was sad to see this come.  He did say that although the younger people were leaving the island, the middle-aged islanders who had left the island to make a living were returning to the island for their retirement.  It is so interesting to meet people from other places and hear their perspective on the world we live in.  That is our favorite part of traveling!

We can't wait to return to Dominica and do some inland exploring!