Coffee crisis

maxwell stables horseshit...
It’s never a good idea to have expectations when you travel; we broke this cardinal rule when we sort of allowed ourselves to look forward to the coffee in S. America. So far we have had no luck finding decent, locally-grown arabica beans. Neither Brazil nor Guyana had any decent arabica for sale. Everywhere we went, soft bags of dried-out, burned-tasting, robusta coffee were the norm. Dreadful stuff.
Now we are in Grenada, and the chance of scoring decent arabica are even slimmer here. The supermarkets have precious little in the way of real coffee (Nescafé has invaded all these countries…you even get instant coffee at fancy restaurants!) and what few bags of ground coffee are available are robusta (robusta is a high-yield, low aroma, low-flavour, high-caffeine crop…most countries grow robusta, now, because Nestlé is their main buyer, and Nescafé is made only from robusta).

It’s really disappointing…the local stuff is overpriced, and gives us palpitations, and doesn’t smell or taste like anything but strong dust. In desperation, we bought a tin of Maxwell coffee (the label on the back says “100% coffee”; that’s like buying “100% wine”, the quality could be anything!) but it’s no better than the local stuff, and more expensive to boot.

Hoping and praying that Cuba has better coffee, though we won’t be in Cuba for a long while, yet. Oh, well, I guess it’s time to check out the teas in Grenada…

Craving sun

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It rained for three weeks, straight. Without sun, the solar panel wasn’t feeding the battery. Couldn’t use the lights on the boat, nor the laptop; certainly there was no internet. No chance to do the laundry. Everything in the boat was damp, musty, smelly, or starting to sprout mold. There was nowhere we could go for a walk on these boggy islands that are technically below sea level and therefore flooded during the wet season. We sat, or lay around for hours at a time, in the dark. There were several days at the beginning of all this when I thought I would have a little melt down. All my energy was starting to funnel into something like suicidal madness. There were times when I wanted to rush screaming out of the boat and jump into the strong current of the river, kicking my legs, churning the water with my arms, risk drowning just to feel alive again.

I caught desperately at the few threads of sanity remaining, and forced them into painting things, instead. Imagined scenes loosely based on the jungle all around us. Mechanically, at first, but as the ideas started to spread, I was pushing paint around with more and more enthusiasm.

It all started with the journal page, above. I went on to make this postcard (gave it to Kris…)

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Not the first time creating something has saved my sanity…I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Jungle Boogie

Reality can be so much stranger than fiction.

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Take this unidentified jungle fruit that Kris picked up on one of his exploratory walks around the island next to which we are moored. The thing is unbelievable.

The size of a grapefruit, it smells faintly of crushed flowers. The bright orange pulp in the center is wet and sticky, and carries numerous little oval seeds. The fruit, a smooth white ball when unripe, splits open into 15 clean segments, each one tipped with a black unguis. It’s like a glowing jewel protected by fierce talons. Something out of a sci-fi movie.

jungle boogie postcard

These watercolour postcards of the fruit are very different from my collection of safe little floral sprigs and predictable foliage, no? Simultaneously more authentic, and yet improbably fantastic. Surreal.

jungle book postcardWe went for a row around Baganara Island and took some pictures. Baganara Island flowers6

Baganara Island jungle08Baganara Island flowers8The variety of trees, all growing together on one small island, was wonderful to behold…so many different kinds of leaves, seed pods, flowers, all growing willy-nilly. We didn’t see any animals (we were probably making too much noise, or it was the wrong time of day) but have been told by the people on Baganara Island that there are howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, yellow-headed vultures, and labba on the island. We’ll definitely go exploring the island on foot over the coming weeks, hoping to catch sight of some of these creatures!between islands1

Baganara Island jungle05table roots3

I was calling it ‘jungle’, but we have since realised that all this dense wilderness—the towering trees, these massive buttress tree roots—around us is already secondary-growth forest.table roots2

When Kris went hitchhiking for three days into the interior of the country (he was trying to reach Kaieteur, and got to within 10 miles of the famous waterfall, but had to turn back because the boatmen at the last outpost wanted US$200 to take him that small distance. One way. Well, it’s $250 to take a small plane out there and back, so he’s decided to book a flight, instead.) the roads took him past jungle where the trees were three times the height of the ones we see growing around Bartica. Aerial roots as thick as a man’s leg hung down in dense curtains from the tops of these giants, and dozens of other trees had taken root in these aerial tangles, so that swaying groves of trees were thriving in mid-air. If you stepped a few metres to either side of the potholed logging and mining roads, the light among the trees faded, and the snarl of jungle stretched away in perpetual gloom. That there are still places like this in the world!

Along one stretch of road, their Bedford truck passed a couple of Amerindian men, walking along. Wearing jeans and wristwatches, but bare-chested, each one carried a hunting bow and small bundle of arrows.

The mind does somersaults in excitement.

sketchbook pages

sketch mosaicIn case you weren’t aware of it, I keep images of most of my recent sketchbook pages on another blog, schizzograffia.

I haven’t been taking many photos or doing much in the way of deep thinking, lately (LOL) but Kris and I have been going out to sketch things in the towns to our left and right (João Pessoa and Cabedelo) pretty much every other day. Full-sized images are on there…you can click the mosaic of pages, too.

Sink or Swim : : Learning a new language

Falar Portuguese
You can be physically present in a new country, yet find yourself completely cut-off from anything real by several invisible barriers. Language is always the first hurdle…years of studying Spanish didn’t help me in Brazil, where too many words are dissimilar, and the few that are similar are often pronounced differently, mean something else, or are conjugated differently. It soon became clear that we were going to have to learn Portuguese.

After a week in Jacaré I was feeling very depressed: there was no one to talk to but Kris, and I was too nervous to venture into the town on my own. I was too vain to use the few words I’d learned at home in actual encounters with locals…self-conscious of the way I was sure to mutilate and mispronounce their musical, sibilant language…terrified that no one would understand a word I was saying.

Then something broke inside me…I was miserable inside this cage of my own fear, and I simply had to make contact with another human being. So I set off on my own for a day, to buy some clothes better suited to the tropics, and I armed myself with a dozen words for things I needed, and the life-saving sentence “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese.”

I imposed one rule on myself: I was not allowed to ask the question “Do you speak English?” Even though it’s possible that some people do, there’s no reason why they should. I am the one who has presumed to visit their country, after all, and it is for me to speak their language (or make a fool of myself, trying).

I had a fantastic time. People were so patient with me, and corrected my pronunciation, or taught me how to say things better. They encouraged me, and tried different ways of saying something when I didn’t, at first, get their meaning. I accepted that I would sound like an idiot, banished my fear of blurting things out, and gave myself up to learning from others, instead of trying to come across as someone who knew what she was doing. I tried on and bought clothes, found some wonderful art books, a couple of drawing pens and ink, a map of the city. I got a crash course on local music from a taxi driver. I felt a little more like a normal human being (then I went to Olinda the next weekend, got happily drunk, and couldn’t be made to shut up!)

The experience filled me with hope, and I have thrown myself into studying the language with renewed enthusiasm. Most days in Jacaré are uneventful…we don’t run around doing tours or ticking all the tourist must-see-spots off a guidebook list. We do the groceries, the laundry, check the internet, cook our meals on the boat, write a few letters, and then hunker down for 2 hours of language study every day.
sink or swim

I split my study time between studying grammar (regular verb conjugations), vocabulary (memorizing 10 words for everyday things like the names of vegetables), and pronunciation (one Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese audio lesson per day…mainly because Portuguese has many nasal and throaty sounds that are unfamiliar to me)

Brazil journal spread

Brazil spreadStarted this two-page spread the day we arrived, filling in each letter as I experienced more of the place.

Brazil spread

T


P.S. The Wi-Fi at the marina we’re using as land base is terrible…I have had to scale the quality down of my uploads. Sorry ’bout that.

A small fire

25 December 2014 a small fire
Just filling a deep need to see hot colours. The 25th was grey, cold, and it drizzled, so it was extra dreary on the water. F**k this for the middle of summer.

I painted wet blobs of colour in my journal as one might stoke a small fire in a brazier, trying to get warm.