That body of water just on the other side of the road is called Juba Salina. It's a big, shallow, tidal flat. Great bonefishing on the right tides. Flamingos love it. We've seen flocks of over 70 of them here. Off in the distance in the middle of the photo you can see the hill overlooking South Side Marina. You can just make out some of the Little Five Cays offshore. There. Got you all oriented now?
This is the same photo with some notes added to give you an idea of what we were watching on a Friday afternoon not long ago.
Yes, another sloop full of refugees from Haiti has landed. This isn't anything new or unusual here, but this time we had front row seats because the boat landed during daylight hours, and within sight of the house. La Gringa took these photos with a hand held telephoto lens so they're not quite as sharp as some of our stuff. But good enough to tell you the story.
I can't imagine what the captain of that boat was thinking by putting those people ashore here. At this specific location. There's only one path off this peninsula if you're walking. It only takes one or two police to completely close it off at one of the narrow spots. The Marine Police detachment is a few hundred yards away. The new Coastal Radar installation is just a few miles in the other direction. WHY would a boat captain run into here with an illegal cargo? And HOW did this boat get past the radar station and the Marine Police?
If you're looking for Haitian sloops, this is a classic. A wooden boat that fits the profile of an illegal Haitian sloop just about as well as that profile can be fit.
See that road near the top of the distant hill? That's the little road we've been launching the kite from for our aerial photo experiments lately. There's a reason I mention it. The apparently abandoned boat drifted from this location to a spot close to that road.
We had police all over the place that day. They were hot footing it in their uniform trousers and good shoes all across that salina. Maybe hot footing it is not the right description. Nobody was moving with much alacrity in the salina. The same muck that was making it difficult for them to walk also indicated the fresh trail of those they were seeking. A mixed blessing. But wet sock city, for sure.
We watched this little drama unfolding as we stood on our garage roof with our camera and binoculars. I mean, it was a little drama to us. As observers. It might perhaps be more like a life changing experience for some of the participants. We couldn't hear what was being said between the detainees and the detainers, of course. And we wouldn't have been able to understand it if we had since it was almost certainly in Creole. It can't be much fun trying to assist a cable-tied miscreant across a place as difficult to walk in as the silty bottom of this salina.
Not too hard to tell which is which here, is it.
The police were having a difficult time even without the responsibility of herding the prisoners. This is some tough stuff to walk through. Some of it took both feet and a hand for balance.
We watched as small hordes of hapless Haitians had their hearts' hopes hacked into hash. I was trying to imagine how they felt as it finally got to this point for them. It must take quite an effort to accumulate the money for the passage. We've heard that it's $1,000 per head, in a country where the minimum wage is $1.75 per day. Making the arrangements in Haiti for leaving, and at this end for help from their friends and families already here. Grabbing what minimal resources they'd been told to bring. A dry change of clothes. Some money. A phone number in Providenciales to call if they elude capture long enough to be picked up. And they do elude, and are picked up by people in automobiles. We've seen it. A rattly old car with a single driver comes slowly down the road, and suddenly two or three people step out of the bushes and climb in.
But not yet, in this case. The cars come after the police have left.
The police treated them fairly gently as far as we observed. There was nothing like the SWAT equipped local police departments you see these days in the USA. Not a single automatic weapon or body armor. No helmets, or clubs, or riot shields. Just some sympathetic law enforcement officers trying to do their job, with no evidence of anger or animosity toward the "criminals". And even though the unarmed police officers were substantially outnumbered , we also didn't see any violence or disrespect on the part of the Haitians. I think they must be accustomed to accepting bad news and disappointment.
Eventually, the mangroves were combed and the detainees were all herded over to the road. The last of the search party made his weary way back across the salina.
The groups were assembled into van-sized loads for transportation to the Detention Center. We could see some other small groups off in the distance, and assume they were more of the same boatload.
And eventually, after a couple of hours of 'catch-me-if-you-can" slogging through the bushes and mangroves, the police loaded up the temporary visitors and took them away.
At least, the ones that got caught in the first sweep. About an hour after everyone left, we saw another half dozen emerge from the bushes along the road and assemble into a small group near this same spot. They seemed uncertain what to do, which way to go. They dropped the few belongings they had in their hands right there on the edge of the road. It was as if they realized that carrying clothes made them appear unusual. They saw us watching them from the hillside. A few small waves, some brief nervous smiles, and they walked down the road toward town.
We weren't sure what to do. Call the police? Ask the refugees in for refreshments? In the end, we just let them walk away. We did make a call to the Neighborhood Watch organizer. We figured that they may as well know that another batch was headed their way.
The Immigration Officers take the Haitians to a Detention Center. They are fed, receive a medical evaluation, and then they are flown back to Haiti. So these guys probably got one weekend in Providenciales under lock and key. And then I guess the whole thing starts over at that point. Nobody really blames the Haitians for making the attempt to escape to what they believe is a better life. The TCI Government picks up the tab to fly them home. This Haitian situation's a real drain on this small nation.
A few days after this all happened we took the kite over to the small ridge above South Side Marina. We had some new kite cam goodies to try out. And we drove up to that notch in the hill that I mentioned in the last post. And there, lightly anchored just below the hill was the same sloop. It had drifted across. Someone had tied some kind of anchor to it. Probably to keep it from smashing to pieces against the rocks.
We took our photos, and made our camera adjustments, and I noted what needed changing and we went home. We thought a lot about that sloop over the next few days, though.
I didn't mention it to La Gringa. But I had thoughts about possibilities with this boat. I mean, it DID make it all the way from Haiti without sinking. Here it was still anchored and riding okay days later with nobody taking care of it. I was thinking... if someone were to get rid of the t-shirt and torn sheet caulking between the planks and replace it with something good... and get a better mast for it.. wouldn't it be cool to own a Haitian Sloop?
Well, of course we didn't do anything about it. We packed up our kites and cameras and went home. A much more comfortable place to ponder life's reality show than a detention center. Or apparently, anywhere in Haiti.
By the next weekend I had printed up what I hoped was the final version of my little kite rotation device. We took it back to our favorite kite testing hill and put it up in the air again. We were curious as to the status of the sloop after a week of calm weather. Well, it wasn't good. That's it off the coast there.
The boat didn't sink, exactly. It just sort of gave up on being a boat.
I guess without all those frightened eyes to spot every new leak, and desperate fingers to push the thin cloth caulking back between the planks, she just gave up and filled with water. Obviously, the flotation of the wood in the boat was slightly greater than the weight of whatever ballast had been aboard. We've seen bags of sand used in other boats.
And this was our last view of this little vessel. Hand made with the most basic tools, using yet more of the precious wood that is fast becoming depleted in a nation that seems doomed to misery and disaster. She made one trip, probably about 130 miles. We don't know how many people risked their lives to make that trip in a boat with no motor, radio, life jackets, flares, or future. We haven't read a word about this one in the local papers. It makes me wonder how many times this scenario is being played out here, with no publicity. It also saddens me to wonder how many of these boats don't make the entire trip, but break apart and sink somewhere in the deep water between that island and this one. Many, I suspect. We find pieces of these boats everywhere on the beaches. Big pieces, with jagged edges.
And now, another week after this little drama, the stage is reset for the next one. Some of the immigrants undoubtedly made it into the bushes and got picked up by a jitney driver or friends and family with a car. Most got arrested and shipped back to Haiti. Some drugs came in. Maybe some guns. The disposable boat is quickly turning into loose planks and memories. And the only signs of this passing through our little world are the abandoned piles of clothing, shoes, and water bottles that were thrown away by the group that eluded the police in the immediate aftermath.
I suspect that a dry change of clothes is carried by all of them. They know they're going to have to swim ashore, and then try to blend in and avoid arrest. And I thought the TSA at the airport in Miami was a pain.
Kinda makes ya think, doesn't it?
I realize that this isn't in our usual mien of blog posts. I've kept it short, sort of. And we've got a nice more tropical one coming along shortly.
This blog is intended to be about our experiences living here. Not all these experiences are good. This one wasn't about us personally, but it definitely is about an aspect of living on an island down here. This just isn't the kind of thing that ever happened in front of us living up in the USA. It's happening all the time, here. And in the Bahamas. And probably even in Cuba.
It's not difficult to ignore the plight of an entire nation when it's just a brief mention on the Nightly News every couple of years. Not so easy to ignore when it's right in front of you. Thin, wet, desperate people with haunted eyes and another shattered dream being rounded up and returned. Their choices are to either give up, or try again. I hope their next boat is at least as good as this one was for a few days. Too many aren't. And the builders don't worry about refunds or complaints. It's a one shot deal. And somebody is making money at it.
And now we'll return you to our regularly scheduled tropical blog program.