If you read my novel Café Au Lait you might recall mention there of the Bocas Islands that lie off the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad between the main island and Venezuela on the South American coast. Excursions to these islands are popular with locals, and we call such trips 'going down the islands'. Gaspar Grande (or Gasparee), Monos, Huevos and Chacachacare belong to Trinidad. The fifth island, Patos, belongs to Venezuela. I've been down the islands quite a few times and last Saturday, the first day of the long Carnival weekend, was the most recent.
My brother, who must have been a fish in his last incarnation because he's far more at home in the ocean than on land, took a few of us out on his boat. The day was blistering and bright. The islands shimmered in the heat, but the wind was cool and refreshing as we made our way out. We soon arrived at the buoy that marked the end of Trinidad's territory and could see Patos clearly. The green hills of the Venezuelan coast at Guiria beckoned but since we didn't fancy a run-in with the Guardia Nacional we ventured no further.
Those Guardia Nacional boys are very strict. They don't mind venturing into Trinidad's waters to arrest our fishermen, rough them up a little, and confiscate their catch and equipment. Sometimes the fishermen end up cooling their heels in makeshift jails on the South American mainland. I've heard stories of some of their experiences in those cells from reliable sources and they do not make for great dinner conversation.
Somewhere off the coast of Chacachacare we ran into much more congenial company: a school of dolphins. I recall seeing real live dolphins years ago on a trip to these same islands, but those dolphins were much smaller, further away, and went about their business without giving us a glance. Saturday's dolphins were another matter altogether.
My brother spotted them in the wake of our engines, and I turned around just in time to see the fin and back of one of the creatures cresting. That, my friends, was one huge dolphin. Then the show really began as we ran from one side of the flybridge to the other, pointing and exclaiming: "There! Oh my gosh! Look! And there! They're coming!"
We turned the boat so we were going around in a circle and the dolphins were all around us, some swimming on a collision course with the boat, some swimming alongside, disappearing underneath and appearing on the other side. The water was very clear and I could see them just feet away as I looked down into the water - grey, smiling torpedos that were easily six to eight feet long. We knocked on the hull, and they just kept coming.
That pretty much made my day. I have a 'thing' for dolphins, and they were a hell of an improvement on the thousands of dead fish we saw floating on the water - the by-catch from a commercial fishing ship - the last time I was out there a few months ago.
I'm generally a good sailor - once the boat is going somewhere. When we drop anchor I'm usually all right once the water is extremely calm. On Saturday there was a brisk wind and the water was a bit choppy where we anchored off the coast of Chacachacare. The boat rolled in that slow, sickening way that boats do, with a looping, side to side motion. I began to feel queasy, eventually accepting my sister-in-law's invitation to retire to a cabin when my questions about closing one's eyes so the horizon didn't seem to be constantly dipping around became too pointed. Thankful to be horizontal, I curled up, my sis next to me, and proceeded to feel progressively worse. My stomach seemed to start somewhere at the top of my throat, and I could tell it wanted to come all the way out my mouth. Jumping into the sea and drowning began to seem like a reasonable improvement over that lurching, rolling, loopy movement.
My brother decided that it didn't make sense to remain out there if we weren't comfortable, so he pulled up and started heading back. My sister got up, but I stayed for awhile until my stomach began to feel like it might consider returning to its normal location, then I swayed, stumbled and clambered my way up to the flybridge to rejoin the others, my white shirt flapping in the wind 'like a ghost', according to my niece.
When we got back to the marina and tied up I climbed on to the jetty, ignoring all the teasing about abandoning ship, and sat there for the next six hours, one foot propped on a rope, while we ate, drank, and talked. I developed quite a fondness for that jetty: it did not move! It was after ten at night when my sister and I left the beach bum branch of the family and drove away home.
It was a great day, even though my reputation as an adventurous seafarer now lies in sodden tatters in the drink somewhere beyond the Third Bocas. Godspeed, me hearties!
1. I promise to take and post photos of my own next time around.
2. These islands have a colourful history, still evident in the ruins and lore that abound. Interested in learning more about the Bocas Islands? Read Night Calypso by Lawrence Scott. It interweaves the authentic history of 'Down the Islands' into a compelling novel.