|Wednesday was rain forest hike day.
Wednesday was also our 25th wedding anniversary.
The van to take us on the rain forest hike wasn't going to show until 1:30, so Kathy and I began with a walk around part of the plantation. We headed downhill, past the owner's two-story house with salmon-pink shutters, and along the edge of a cane field on a narrow, heavily eroded dirt road. Every few feet down the road, one or more goats was tethered alongside.
About a quarter mile down the road, we looked to our right into the "gut" - the one hundred foot or more ravine that drained the south end of the plantation. The road made a couple of hairpin turns down the gut towards the main road in the town of Ottleys, but it wasn't obvious that the road would actually come out on the main road. It looked more like it would dead end into several shacks of cinder blocks and corrugated tin, and lots of dogs.
To the left sat yet another one of those houses that was some combination of well-maintained home and ramshackle house. Below that, well into the gut, some workers were building the first floor ceiling of a new cinder block house. Nearby, we could see the common sight of houses that had a concrete or cinder block first floor, and all the pipes necessary for a second floor, but no second floor.
These metal and plastic pipes stuck up through the poured concrete roof like a dozen twigs swaying in the breezes. They made the bottom floor look like a puzzle piece awaiting the mate. Which, of course, I suppose it was.
We turned around and headed back to the inn, passing a small herd of untethered goats. It's a deceptively steep, though short climb back.
"Fonzi" arrived at 1:30 pm in his "taxi". Taxi's here all seem to consist of vans that are much like the old VW Microbus or the original Toyota Minivan (Keith from San Diego - you could make some money down here with a second career). Like the houses, the vans are a strange mixture of new, well maintained portions, and welded and re-welded pieces.
Fonzi's kids were out of school for their month-long vacation, so he brought Brandon and Michael along so they could see what their dad did for work. Estelle, their mother, was along as well. Brandon was a typical, frenetic five years old, Michael was a sage, laid back nine or ten.
Fonzi zoomed along the Cayon road, the main road on this side of the island. It's a good thing Kathy took Dramamine for car sickness! Fonzi took a turn by the airport and the Saint Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Company factory that took us north of Basseterre, further saving time. This end of town was perhaps a little more upscale than downtown Basseterre. We passed by a a very old graveyard which was being mowed and cleaned before a funeral service.
Twenty minutes or so later, we began the rain forest hike just a few yards outside of the Romney Plantation where the Caribelle batik is made. The hike started at the ruins of yet another sugar mill, back when the sugar mills were privately owned. The government took over the land and the growing and production of cane in 1975 and now the only mill is the one near the airport. The Romney mill was the only water powered mill on the island. The rest were powered by animals or slaves. All of the old mills now are just ruins.
Fonzi showed us plant after plant - we'll never remember all he told us. He showed us the Sour Sop plant (I'm guessing at the spelling). This produces a fruit sort of like a large, kidney shaped prickly pear, about 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. Fonzi said he made the best Sour Sop drink on the island. He planned to stop by on the way back go pick a fruit on the tree.
He showed us one of the few plants we need to worry about, the cockspur. This plant, about a person's height, has thin leaves and the underside of each main stem has a series of what looks like chicken claws. Each is about a quarter inch long, and spaced about a quarter inch. Each is very, very sharp. Yes, I had to test them. The claws pulled free of the plant and stuck in my hand.
Fonzi tried to tell us the different between a plantain tree and a banana tree (top left). To me, it was like trying to tell the difference between the Olson twins, or between gray and grey. Banana trees grow in a tight clusters while plantains grow in well spaced groups. I had bought some plantains at the store months ago and ate them raw, thinking that they were not very tasty. Fonzi told us that plantians are considered a starch, not a fruit, and must be cooked before they are eaten.
Banana trees only bear fruit once. Fonzi pointed out a tree that was stripped by monkeys. A man would have probably just cut the tree down. Like redwood trees, new banana trees will spring up around the stalk of the old tree.
Likewise, we came upon a tree and Fonzi said, "I'm not sure what this tree is." "It's a breadfruit tree," said Estelle. "How do you know that?" said Fonzy. Apparently there is a bread fruit tree and a bread nut tree. The trees and their blooms look alike. The fruit looks almost identical, except if you look closely as it ripens the breadnut fruit has more pronounced spikes on the outside.
The bread fruit you pick before it ripens, scoop out the interior, and cook, adding spices and such. The bread nut you pick after it is ripe, throw away the pulp and get the nuts from the center. The nuts you boil and then remove the shell and another skin before eating.
Coconuts you also pick before they are ripe enough to fall down. Some people still tie a rope between their ankles to help them climb the tree to get at the fruit. If you wait until the nut falls, the fruit is dry and you can only use it in cakes and such for flavor and texture. Apparently rats will climb the trees to eat young coconuts and get at the milk inside.
The rain forest is lush but not dense. There isn't much of an odor, which was unexpected to me. I thought there would be a rich, decaying vegetation odor. There were vines everywhere (second picture). The large saman trees, hundreds of years old, dropped thin vines from their large canopy. The banyon trees also dropped vines that formed extended roots, while the main roots were like ribbons that were two feet high or higher near the trunk, and perhaps a foot wide or narrower, and became smaller as they snaked down towards any water source.
The trail followed two heavily corroded cast iron water pipes that brought water from a reservoir up on the mountain to the village below.
The pipelines paralleled a shallow, rocky stream. The water here is very clean - you can just drink it out of the stream. We came across a stone pillar along the trail. It had an old chain attached. Fonzi wasn't sure what the chain was for. I said it was obvious - they put a chain across the stream to prevent boats from sailing up. The stream had about four inches of water that ran over coarse sand between rocks that were up to two or three feet high. Fonzi thought that was funny. He also like it when, coming across a corrugated tin shack set up by the water management crew (third picture), I asked if this was a tree that produced all the corroguated tin we see on the houses everywhere.
Philodendrons snaked along as thin vines until they climbed a tree. As they climbed, the leaves that were a few inches across on the ground grew to several feet across near the tops of trees. The vines were pencil thin on the ground and several inches across on the tree trunks. Mango trees were just everywhere. In mango season, monkeys, mongeese, and people are all out gathering the fruit until everyone gets thoroughly tired of it.
After the hike ended, we made a second trip to the batik factory. The grounds seem more beautiful each time I come.
When we returned, we noticed an invitation on our cabin table for a rum punch party in the Great House at seven. Oh, and Lisa asked about the room we had - what sort of view we had and so forth. The room is small (fourth picture). The glassless windows open onto a view of the ocean, about three miles away down the steep slopes of the plantation hill. There is a phone, but no television in the room. The television is off from the Great Room. A couple of outlets provide just enough access to charge the digital video camera, digital still camera, and the laptop computer each evening. There are three chairs and a small round table. A French door leads to a secluded area on the side of the cottage with a couple of loungers. The shower is amply supplied with towels a couple of times a day, but the water seems to reverberate from too hot to too cold every few minutes. You won't fall asleep while taking a shower. And you definitely don't want someone to flush the toilet while you shower. There aren't any critters running into the room, and the wind is almost constant, but it helps to keep the temperature nearly constant and always pleasant.
|The party in the Great Room was both in honor of our anniversary and a tree decorating party (fifth picture). The Christmas trees for the island arrived by boat earlier today. Nancy and Marty unpacked ornaments and the two girls, Molly and Amanda hung all but the most fragile.
After socializing until about 8 pm, we walked down to the converted sugar factory ruins that now form the restaurant. The restaurant is outdoors, with a canopy overhead to shield us from the rains that have occurred every night so far but tonight. The owners gave us a gift of champagne for our anniversary (last picture). The meal was superb, as always, even though the usual cook, Pam, was not the chef tonight. Earlier, Marty told us a wonderful story about how they managed to snag such a high caliber chef for their restaurant.
About half way through the meal, one of the gentlemen serving the table came up and began talking with us. He began talking to us about the large frogs on the lawn that we were watching. He told us how they come out near where the lawn and restaurant lights are because the few moths that flit about fly into the lights, get dazed, and drop to the ground. The frogs just wander over and snap them up.
We talked about bugs in general, since there seem so few of them, which is not what I expected on a tropical isle. He told how when the weather is just right, there are some small gnat-like bugs that bother people, and there are some times when there are mosquitos. Which brought up a discussion about how Dengue fever has reached the island.
The fever, born by mosquitos and mainly affects the young and the old. The best cure, it turns out, is to induce a fever. People make a tea as hot as they can stand and put some lime in it. They drink the tea and climb into a bed with something underneath to absorb all the sweat they will produce. They pull the covers over themselves and keep all the doors and windows closed. In only a few hours of this high temperature environment, they'll break the fever. Then they need to get out of bed but don't open the doors or windows right away until their body temperature normalizes again.
I menttioned how I heard an interview with Doctor Hiemlich (of the maneuver fame) who said that he thought that some illnesses such as cancer might be cured by inducing a fever in a person by giving them malaria. Once the body temperature was high enough for long enough to kill the tumor, you cured the malaria. The gentleman with us said he had heard that the common treatment for pneumonia, which caused the patient to be cooled, wasn't as effective as letting the fever run its course.
We talked about the monkeys, which we still haven't seen. He said they mainly come out during the early morning, although you may see some in the late morning near the entrance to the rain forest trail if you lie quietly in a hammock. They do, however, avoid people. We must have talked for well over a half hour and he had one fascinating story or fact after another.
Keith from South Africa asks how we find time to keep this log. Well, it's hard. In fact, today's log took much longer than planned, and we were busier than usual besides. But, we find it's worth it to go over the day's events and write them down. It makes our memories much more vivid. We hope you are all enjoying reading this as much as we enjoy writing this.