Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Just a short update

I remember saying that I would try to post a few new photos at least once a week, so that's really the reason for this post. The fact of the matter is that nothing noteworthy has really happened this week. Oh, the sunrises are still pretty much worth the effort of picking up the camera:

And I do try to catch them even though we must have posted a thousand of these by now.

But they're all slightly different, you see. I guess I could get a little more creative, or to be honest, less lazy, and walk across the patio to try to add something else to the image. Could do these, of course:

Or fool the autoexposure mode in the little point-and-shoot cameras we use:

Sunsets have been mostly obscured by clouds this week, except for those spotless days when there were no clouds at all. Neither scenario makes for good sunset photos, but we are keeping an eye on them. Tough job.

We did manage to get back out to Pine Cay again this week. That has become much more frequent lately. We were invited to a luncheon at the Meridian Club by some visiting friends who were getting ready to return to the USA.

We do take videos, but have not posted many here because we realize that not everybody has DSL and watching them takes a while on dialup internet connections. However, in an effort to add something to this otherwise fairly lame post, here are a couple.

This is what it looks like to us on all those trips to Pine Cay when we zip along on the 'front side', which is the deeper water side between the islands and the reef. That is Water Cay on the right, and we were in Preacher's new boat "Cay Lime":

When the water is too rough on the reef side, we often come zipping back on the "back side". This is the route over the Caicos Bank. It is immune to the offshore swells, although it does develop a nasty chop from time to time. The biggest white knuckle factor on this route is that the water varies between zero and three feet deep until you get about a mile out. This route is harzardous, with uncharted water full of small rocky islands, sand bars, and coral heads. We tend to avoid it because of the shallow water and in the late afternoon the sun is in your eyes making it hard to see the coral heads and shallow spots. "Cay Lime" can plane well in a foot of water, and if you look at the ocean alongside the boat you can just make out the water is only about 12-14 inches deep here. The trick is to keep the boat on plane. If you slow down it settles deeper into the water, and things start to go really bad.

While we were on Pine Cay driving aroud, I was reminded of a question someone sent us about the lack of 'real' trees here. And I realized that most of our photos have been of coastlines, or places exposed to the ocean. With some exceptions, trees in general don't do that well close to the ocean. There's essentially no topsoil here to speak of, and fresh water is also scarce. So the only things growing near the shore are the Casuarinas (Australian Pine although they are definitely not softwood pines) and thatch palms and stuff like that. But I did remember to snap a few photos of some of the more interior parts of the island, just to show those who asked that yes, we do have some trees here and there:

here's another one:

It's actually pretty nice when the underbrush is cleaned out. And this one was taken just a few yards from the nearest seawater, down by the Pine Cay marina:

If I had turned the camera to the left just a bit, you would see the ocean through that opening. The golf cart gives an idea of scale, and the tall pine-looking things are Casuarinas.

We stopped by our friends house, and I managed to get just one quick shot of one of the local rock iguanas...

Before Dooley the Dangerous Dog discovered him and ran down in utter outrage at the nerve of a lizard that big invading HIS island. Yep, he chases em off. Every time.

From there we went to lunch, and apparantly chasing Iguanas is thirsty work:

(Dooley said he couldn't tell the difference between this and the stuff that comes in bottles with twist off tops. But don't take that kind of advice from a Jack Russell. Really. They have no words in their language, for example, for "bad meat".)

Before leaving the island we got together for some photos down by the docks. I wanted to post this one for those who have been here, because it has the Pine Cay dock sign in the background:

There we have a Californian, a Texan, a Nicaraguan, and a TC Islander. Quite a mix.

This one is a much better smiling faces photo, but didn't have the same background as the other one:

Back at the house, things have been quiet since the holidays. I did suffer a minor tragedy that has left me dazed and confused more than normal- my last pair of my favorite sunglasses broke! We bought two pairs each last time we were near a Bass Pro shop in the US. These are not just any sunglasses, mind you, they are polarized and they have these little magnifying lenses built into the bottoms. Polarized lenses are almost a necessity here when boating, they really make a huge difference cutting the glare and preventing us from not seeing coral heads and rocks under the water when the sun is reflecting off the surface. And the magnifying lenses make it easy to see both the horizon and do fine work like reading and tying fishhooks. So, anyway, after two years of wearing them every single day of the year, both pairs of mine were rebroken:

And I say 'rebroken' because as you can probably tell I had already repaired them well enough to wear a couple times already. But this time, that pair on the left was pretty much shot after the plastic in the middle where the wire was started crumbling. And it will most likely be a long time before I am near another Bass Pro store to buy more of them. I think I will get three pair next time. Six years worth.

But I have this pair of goggles that I used when flying ultralight aircraft, and it came with several sets of lenses for various conditions. I had never used the clear lenses, and quite frankly, never expect to:

So, I had this idea, and I popped out the lenses from the ruined sunglasses and the clear lenses for the goggles:

That looks pretty workable, doesn't it? Well I thought so, and with nothing to lose I took my trusty Swiss Army knife to them. The idea was to make the lenses I like the same shape as the clear ones I will never use. Probably.

That's getting close. Just needs some fine tuning on the edges, and then voila!

Well, the photo is fuzzy. So you can see why I need the closeup lenses. Hey, I can see perfectly from arm's length to the horizon. It's that close in stuff that gets blurry. The curve of the polarized lenses is slightly greater than the clear lenses, so now to make them really work I need to come up with some way of taking some of the bend out. I am thinking steam, or even hot water might do it. If I can solve that little issue, then they will fit perfectly.

Other than this kind of thing it's been a quiet week. Politically it's been interesting across the board. Obama is being sworn in as President of the US, and here locally the government is in the midst of some serious changes as well. We have no idea how all this will affect us in the long run, but in general we all hope it's for the better on both fronts. We well know that 'things change'. And once you can get around that universal truth it sure seems to make life's adjustments a little easier to ride through. But thats just our opinion.

I don't have a new sunset photo to close this post, but will use another sunrise one from this very morning before the rain started (Yay Rain! Pennies from heaven at six cents a gallon). The boat is one of the local marine police boats, and they have been spending a lot more time on patrol lately. I think it must be that they are stepping up their efforts to intercept the illegally arriving boatloads of Haitians. Which has continued to get completely out of hand. Four boatloads that they know of just so far in January. We get a ring-side seat to all this from our house, and we enjoy watching the boats come and go. I don't know what the Police were doing out there this morning, usually they come straight in from overnight patrol with no hanging around. But today they seem busy:

Maybe we should be keeping an eye out for another abandoned sloop to explore. We will do that, and we have some other boating trips being planned as well. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Back to Bonefish Heaven

Now that our late-night party animals are gone, we are back to our normal early to bed/early to rise schedule, and enjoying our coffee-at-daybreak routine once again. That kinda slipped by the wayside during the holidays, with certain members of our immediate family choosing late night rum over daybreak coffee. With the short winter days it's not difficult to get up before dawn, and sometimes the best photos happen before the sun burns the early morning clouds away.

Yesterday we once again made the pilgrimage to Preacher's property on Middle Caicos. Our third trip in about a month. I took a few more photos this time, and tried for some better angles. If you've read the other two recent posts about our Middle Caicos trips you might be asking why we keep going to so much trouble to keep revisiting the same stretch of beach. A good question, because it IS a bit of an expedition to get there. And we have to pass a whole lot of other nice places to get to it. And there's nothing there, except of course for the place itself. And the place itself is exactly the reason we are more than willing to spend four hours of the day getting to and from this spot. The journey itself is part of of the fun, too. Well, I guess I should clarify that the trip is part of the fun if you are the type of person who likes to ride fast on small boats over crystal clear water and down two lane dirt roads in the back of a pickup truck. This is going to be a fairly long post. Sorry about that. But in it's defense it does have a lot of photos and I think they are pretty good ones. Let me know what you think, okay?

The good weather has continued even though we are definitely now in winter mode. A little cooler temperatures, and consistently windier. It's also drier this time of year, with sometimes weeks going by without any appreciable amount of rain. We will have to start buying water again until we get back around to Dooley the Dog's least favorite time of the year. That would be Thunderstorm Season. But that's way off in the future in dog years. He's a 'live-for-today' kind of guy. He is totally okay with dry and windy. Dry and windy has never sent him shivering and trying to hide under a rug.

The pile of conch we picked up last week have been cleaned, cooked, and frozen into conch chili :

Best batch yet, too. La Gringa continues to fine tune her recipe. I made the last batch and totally screwed it up. It was still good, of course. We fed it to the kids while they were here...

We're back around to the time of year when we see some pretty good sunsets on a more regular basis:

So, anyhow, back to the main subject...Preacher asked us a couple days ago if we felt like making the trip to Middle Caicos again. The first time we went over with him we spent several hours searching the wrong area for his property. The second trip we managed to finally find it, but didn't have much time left to look around. THIS trip, we figured that we could go straight to it and have some time to start exploring the area. It's a complicated trip. Drive to Leeward (the easy part) hop on Preacher's boat "Cay Lime", boat to North Caicos, and then a long ride in the back of a pickup truck to a dead end sand road. Then a short walk to the beach. It takes about two hours or more each way. This of course eats up half the day in travel. But this place is worth it. Well, it's worth it to us anyway. To a beach lover there is just nothing like having an entire beach totally to yourself, and to know that nobody else has been on it since the last time you were there. I was looking at some of my own footprints from a month ago, where the wind and sand had not obliterated them. Untouched. If you ever felt like running naked down a beach, jumping up in the air, screaming your head off, and collapsing in the sand to sleep it off without ending up on an episode of "Cops" or in the newspaper, this would be the place to do it. (I would suggest some judiciously applied sunscreen for the first few days, though. On the uncooked parts.)

You could spend weeks here without ever seeing another human if you wanted to.

We met Preacher at 09:00 Sunday morning and headed out of Leeward. We noticed that the new Nikki Beach resort with all its luxury yacht oriented slips is starting to attract some customers. I am not sure why one would need a resort if one owned a boat like that. Maybe they only come here for the rum drinks. Or possibly they are conch addicts? Beats me.

We didn't stop or even slow down, to take photos but here's another one taken on the fly:

Pretty fancy boat. Probably needs a crew larger than the population of some of the settlements we have been visiting. Not very practical for day to day life in a place like this. There are only a very few places you could safely take that boat in these mostly uncharted waters. And I am pretty sure nobody here stocks parts for it.

THIS is more the type of boat that we are accustomed to seeing:

Yep, it's a seagoing pickup truck. That is one of the old WWII landing craft still working almost daily here in the TCI. These sturdy boats have been the heavy transport lifeblood of these islands for many years. They can operate in shallow water, carry many tons of equipment and supplies, and can deliver them to a beach or just about anyplace they can pull up and drop the ramp. Extremely practical boat for a small island nation.

We tied "Cay Lime" up next to the landing craft, as usual, and loaded into JR's pickup truck for the long drive down North Caicos, across the damaged causeway, and then to Preacher's spot on the Atlantic side of Middle Caicos. This time we made a side trip to look at the nearest boat ramp to the property. I should put "ramp" in quotation marks, I think. And it is very much at the end of the road. If you saw a map of the area, you would know what I mean. There is no more road.

We were interested in seeing where we might be able to launch a boat from a trailer, and this is the closest spot. It's not exactly what one would call the latest in boat ramp construction, but it's got a lot of potential:

Of more importance to us than the ramp itself is the water around it. Looking to the north from the ramp we see this:

And the view to the south is similar:

And no, that is not pollution on the water. It was windy yesterday and those streaks of foam are what happens when the wind whips up the water and blows the resulting bubbles and foam into long lines. The old terminology for that, by the way, is spindrift. Watching how they line up is one way to confirm which way the wind is blowing, although there are usually plenty of other clues well before you get to that point at sea...

Here's Preacher explaining which way we would have to go to get from this launch site to his beach property... or maybe he was telling us where the tarpon fishing is best...I forget.

What I was noticing is that light blue water in the distance behind him. There are miles, and miles, and miles....of virtually untouched bone fishing territory here. I mean a whole lot of it. The local folks tell us that there are a lot of both bone fish and tarpon all over the place, and to them the bone fish are pretty much a standard part of life. They are everywhere. A common food supply, and easy to get. This area has got to be a salt water fly fisherman's dream. I doubt the small local population has even made a dent in the fishery.

The ramp area here is a very peaceful spot. Middle Caicos only has a population of around 300 people, so peaceful spots are not that hard to find. The whole island is peaceful and quiet. We hear the wind, and the sound of the waves, and birds. Nothing else. The next island in the chain, East Caicos, is totally uninhabited, with no roads, airstrip, houses...nothing but ruins of failed plantations from years gone by. We can hardly wait to check that one out. The only way to get there is by boat. Here at the thinning end of civilization on Middle Caicos, people have been creative with some of the stuff that washes up in the storms. There are, for example, a couple decent hammocks constructed from pieces of fishing nets in the shade of buttonwood trees around the ramp:

Now does that look like a peaceful spot to relax and watch your fishing line or what?

Here's another one, more geared toward watching the road:

The entire time we were there, there was nothing to watch. Not a single other vehicle. Not a boat coming or going. 'Peaceful' doesn't really describe it. 'Eerily quiet' comes closer. Spending the entire day on Middle Caicos, I think we saw one other moving automobile. And not too many parked ones. Of course we have been here on Sundays, which is a quiet day in any case.

We left the ramp and headed over to Preacher's property a few miles away. We finally located it on our last trip by using a combination of plot plan and Google Earth. I matched the coastline on the plot plan with features I could see on the sat image. Sure made things easier. On the way we passed one of the small churches that are scattered throughout the small communities on Middle and North Caicos, along with one of the very few other automobiles we saw on Middle:

Got nothing to do with the story, I just thought it was a cool photo. The modern pavement next to a rock wall that was probably built by slaves working on Dr. Lorimer's plantation.

Okay, finally, I am getting to the subject of this post, which is once again this fine stretch of beach in this remote part of the TCI. First I want to show you what this section of beach looks like from above, using a Google Earth image. This is from about 4,000 feet altitude:

You can probably tell that there is nothing here but the island and the ocean. And the reef. And the beach. And some sand "roads". That entire stretch of sand is about 800 yards from one rock to the other, and Preacher has a nice big chunk of it.

If you look at that rock formation at the southern end, and use your imagination, it could be sorta described as being shaped like a rabbit's head. Or I think it could, anyhow. I am going to post that image because a lot of the following photos were taken from the top of it and it should help orient you to where they were taken. This is that expanded view from Google Earth:

Now come on...doesn't that look like a rabbit to you? Well...in any case, and moving right along here... I tried another 'panorama' view combining two photos to make one long one. I lose a lot of resolution when doing that, but without a wide angle lens this is what I can come up with to get this entire view of the beach in one shot. This was taken from the middle of the 'rabbit's ear', looking northwest:

Yes we climbed the rabbit. And once up there we really didn't want to come down. It was an exceptionally nice day, with some really nice views in every direction.

This is the view from the tip of the 'rabbit's ear' looking out toward the reef and beyond to the open ocean. Next stop in that direction is, I think, Africa:

We slowly traipsed our way all over the top of that rock and I don't actually know the word for a 'slow traipse'. Much slower than a boogie, but livelier than a loiter by far. But slow going was the order of the day. There are not really anything like trails here. This is the view of that little beach on the 'rabbit's forehead':

There is no easy way to get to that beach, other than climbing up and over some part of that hill. The rock surrounds it on every side but the ocean side. We could look down upon it and see that there is all sorts of flotsam washed up into the bushes bordering it. Dozens of buoys, bits of line, nets, driftwood, bottles, floats, and lord knows what else. Climbing down to take a closer look will stay on the agenda for another visit. And we still did have a bit of a time crunch.

This view is the little cove at the back of the 'rabbit's neck'..

Great place to drop an anchor and live on a small catamaran for a while, I think.

And this view is down from the hill into the water below:

There is a small buoy tied there, and I suspect one of the local fishermen left it as a protected place to tie his boat while diving for lobster or fishing in the shelter of the hill. And this place looks ripe for lobster.

Well, once we had made our way up to the top of the hill, we decided we had enough time to wander all over it to see the other views. This is from the highest point, looking to the south:

It's nothing but untouched beach for as far as you can see in both directions. No houses, no hotels, no stores, malls, harbors,or paved roads. The road we use to get to this point stops a little over three miles south of here, and that's it. The island itself goes on for miles past the end of the road and that end of it is only accessible by shallow draft boat.

Walking on the rocks is slow going. The hill is more or less solid limestone, and it is riddled with crevices and small sinkholes. There is scrub brush and bushes everywhere and even where it is relatively easy walking there are loose pieces of rock that can suddenly tip when you put your weight on them. The rocks have fractured into pieces like a giant stone jigsaw puzzle:

I was breaking in a new pair of Crocs, and using a piece of bamboo I picked up on the beach as a walking stick.

While I was looking at that it occurred to me that someone could pick those stones up and use them to make a pretty decent patio, since they already fit together quite nicely. A natural mosaic. They would look good laid out in just that same orientation with mortar joints filling up the cracks.

This is looking back at the 'ears' of the rabbit, and the small cays beyond just off the beach:

We were getting a bit weary and thirsty at this point and started back down the side of the hill. We took it really slow. A slip here and a serious injury, and it could be hours before any medical help could get you out of here. 'Hours' might be optimistic. No ambulances here. No doctor. You are basically on your own. Before we left it we did manage to work our way out to the tip of the rabbit's 'nose' to see what we could see of that little cay just off the tip,

That sandy bottom looks like some exceptionally fine snorkeling territory to me. And taking a closer look at the rock itself we discovered yet another nest with young Ospreys on the broken off peak of rock to the left. You can just make out the nest in this next photo, and that white speck sticking up is a young Osprey putting his head up to look around:

The Ospreys more or less ignored us. They have no natural enemies here, and seem to be pretty much unafraid of humans. We watched them diving for fish, and flying back to the nests with fish and nesting materials clutched in their claws.

So we worked our way back down to the beach where we had left a jug of cold icewater near a big driftwood log just in the perfect location to take a break. This is a photo from the little cove looking back at that part of the hill. It sort of looks like it's levitating there, or somehow hovering above the water. Almost all of the rock structures around here are like that. The wave action wears away the soft limestone, and every few hundred years or so the overhanging piece falls off. Wouldn't do to be snorkelling up under that ledge when a few hundred tons of it decides to fall. I wonder if it gives you any warning when it's about to go? If I find out, I will let you know.

Of course we had Dooley the Deleriously Delighted Dog with us the whole time. We rarely go anywhere without him, unless it's to a restaurant or some similar place where his antics would not long be appreciated. Dooley loves it here on Middle Caicos. For every step La Gringa and I took, he probably took several hundred. He was scaring up lizards to chase, and checking out every crevice, every bush, every possible place where something interesting could be hiding.

For example we were taking a water and rest break sitting on this log, and next thing we know Dooley had chased some small panic-stricken critter under the log and was under the impression that he could tunnel in after it.

He quickly gave up on that idea, and changed tactics to running past us to the other side of the log to see if he could figure out how to get a chubby Jack Russell Terrierist into the same space as a skinny lizard..

Once that failed he decided to set up an ambush point directly above where he expected the lizard to come out and make a run for it:

I never did see the lizard come out, and Dooley headed off to harass something else. It's not that he has a short attention span, because he doesn't. He just has so many things to look into, and not enough time to do it all. He manages to fit a few dips in the ocean into his schedule, though.

While we were taking a breather I took a closer look at the log we were sitting on. It is some tropical hardwood, which has checked in the sun. Nice wood.

Of course I started thinking of benches and things I could make from this if I had a chainsaw, but the truth is that it is just about perfect right where it is. Great place for a bench.

After resting a while, we trudged on back up the beach to where JR had parked his truck. We had miles to go with a stop on Pine Cay planned along the way, and it was already approaching mid afternoon. Little did we know that we would spend the next couple of hours repeatedly digging JR's truck out of the sand. Yep, it got stuck:

Now I realize that to the experienced sand driver that wheel doesn't look all that stuck. It is. The other wheel is dug in deeper, but by the time this photo was taken we had been working for maybe 45 minutes just to get the truck turned around on the road. A few feet at a time. And I did not feel like walking around to the other side for a photo with the sun in my eyes. This limestone sand is so fine and slippery that the truck tires just spun with the least amount of torque. JR tried to drive it out. Preacher tried to drive it out. We tried putting all our weight over the axle. None of that worked. The only thing we did not try was lowering the air pressure in the tires, and that was because we had no way to pump them back up again for the long trip back to North Caicos. And there's no question of calling a tow truck here. Not going to happen. At least, it won't happen today. No matter which day today turns out to be.

The only thing that worked was for us to dig out the wheels with our hands, and then put various bits of stuff under the wheels and push like crazy. The truck would go ten to fifteen feet, and then the wheels would spin again. This was a heck of a time to find out that the four wheel drive didn't work. Actually, what we had was more like one wheel drive. This would have been an excellent place for a 4x4 with a limited slip or locking differential. Sounds like a Land Rover, doesn't it? But alas, ours was fifty miles and six islands away. So meanwhile, we sweated and swore, and slowly moved JR's truck back to solid ground ,uphill, three or four yards at a time.

By the end of it, we were hauling pieces of bamboo up from the beach, and ripping out small palm trees to sacrifice for traction. And La Gringa was the one who finally managed to maintain just the right balance of power and sustained forward motion that got it out of the loose stuff while Dooley the Delerious stood in the back with a running critique of our digging techniques:

Yeah, it's easy to criticize when you are built low to the ground and designed to dig out rats. The little smart aleck was more than willing to help dig, but he seemed to be totally oblivious to the purpose of our digging. He seemed to think the goal was to determine who could fling the most sand into the other digger's eyes. And he was really good at that. So he got banned to the back of the truck for the duration.

And yes, we did actually feed entire palm trees into that Chevy sand grinding machine. First time I realized that the roots of these palms have little spikes on them. Ouch. (Note to self: DON'T grab them by the roots next time.) But I also found out that the berries are good to eat. We can add all that new knowledge to our ongoing education about these islands, I guess.

We were running way late after almost two unplanned hours of playing in the dirt. I snapped a couple of photos from the back of the truck as we headed back over the damaged causeway. These are places where the hurricanes washed the roadway out into the surrounding water:

Looking at them now, of course, what I really am thinking of are all those miles of pristine bonefish flats in every direction. We have not taken up bonefishing, even though there is plenty of it close to our home island of Providenciales. We could almost catch a bonefish from the roof of the garage, actually. But I have to admit the thought of fishing in places where very few, if any, people have fished for them before is pretty appealing to me. I am going to put up one more Google Earth image of just part of the area I am talking about. All of that inland water is bigtime thick with bonefish:

And there is more of it than is in that particular photo.

We are already thinking of what we need to do on our next visit. I would like to try getting a line wet and seeing what kind of fish we can catch here. The problem is the logistics of getting here and back home in the same day. It would be great to spend a night or two here and really get into it. We could camp, of course, but we do not presently have any camping equipment. So we would have to improvise that. The problem would be getting a small boat here to explore with. There must be some way to reach these waters without needing to involve a truck. This will take some investigation.

There are really no overnight accomodations on Middle Caicos. The remoteness of it is what has allowed the bonefish population to get so large, especially with all that perfect habitat for them. This would be a great place to build a small fishing lodge! If there are any serious bonefishing fans out there reading this, all thoughts and input welcome. Here might just be your chance to help design the fishing lodge of your dreams. A couple hours from Miami. And a half hour from an airstrip.

After quite a busy day we managed to make it back to "Cay Lime" and start for Provo. We even had time to pull in to the beach on Pine Cay and visit with some good friends who are visiting the island from New Orleans:

Before the third bottle of wine got opened we realized that we still had a few miles to go, and were once again running out of daylight.

Funny how that seems to keep happening to us lately. We think it's a good sign that we are finally getting back into the exploring aspect of our life here. You know, the 'fun stuff'. I think it makes for more interesting blog photos at least.

We did race the sun back into Leeward:

And found out that the boat ramp at the marina was chained shut. So we backed Preacher's boat trailer down a sandy slope between two barges, and managed to get "Cay Lime" back out of the water just as the light faded. Interesting day. And not bad for a Sunday in mid January.