Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jinja Island : Jinja Island

Time for the close-up:

Ok, so I was kinda lazy and didn't put a legend on the map, but it's not that complicated.
Blue                = water (duh)
Dark Green     = the dense mangrove fringe
Light Green    = island interior - actually many trees here (mainly palms) but not dense
Brown            = marsh flats
Red                = structures
Solid Line      = gravel path
Hollow Line   = boardwalk

The Points of Interest

1. The Stilt House - This is where Campesino and I live. It is three stories. The first is mainly open, though there is an enclosed bodega that houses the solar batteries, electrical stuff, and water collection tank. Second floor contains the open plan kitchen and den. Bathroom and shower are on a deck off the back. There's a front deck too - that's Campesino's. Third floor / loft is the master bedroom and guest room (two more single beds). More details on all this in a future post, perhaps. 

2. The Cabana - This is not quite finished. Some floorboards need to be nailed down (and I need to get to that, but it hasn't been a priority since I have not been hosting guests). It's just a room with two single beds. Graham plans to build a few more once he's installed some more infrastructure for the island. The chickens have tried to claim this one as their own, because...

3. The Chicken Coop - This is the most useless thing on the island. The chickens got loose from its fenced area sometime before I arrived, and Graham was unconcerned with putting them back in. He's over the chickens, except for one speckled one that he likes for some reason. He told me not to let that one die (there are seven). I fed them some to begin with, but I don't worry about it anymore. They seem to be doing perfectly fine foraging about the island. I know they are eating plenty, because they are shitting plenty, downstairs in the open area under the house. Bastards. 

4. The Stone Pier - This is basically just a bunch of rocks dumped in the water, but it has a shape, and the water next to it is deep enough to pull in a shallow drafted vessel. From this pier I can see the sailboats clustered around another islet to the east. Graham told me that the original plan for the island (when it wasn't his) was for there to be three separate plots for houses, each with its own water access. This is one of those. 

5. The Bodega - This is a separate storage structure and tinkering area tucked back into the far nook of the island. It's a little creepy, and it inspired me to make some notes for a horror/suspense screenplay set on Jinja Island. If you were going to stock this place up doom-prepper style, this is where you'd keep your guns and MREs. 

6. The Boat House - This is my special place. As long as there's a decent breeze, you'll probably find me and Campesino chilling here while I read a book and laze in the hammock. I spend an inordinate amount of time here. Seriously. 

(No Pic - The Termite Dock Sucks)

7. Termite Dock - This is the third point of water access. I have so far observed Graham's advice and not tried to walk on it. The name is not fanciful. The solar power handyman dropped by the island one day and tied up to this dock, and I watched him almost fall through it. He had been warned, so it was ok to laugh. 

8. The Butterfly Path - I named this portion of path myself. It actually goes through kind of a foliated tunnel with the mangroves on one side, and some stunted trees on the other. I swear that every time I walk this path, the same large blue butterfly flies in front of me from right to left. It makes me wonder if it's a blip in the Matrix. Or maybe I've been alone on this island too long. 

9. The Pineapple Patch - Ever actually see a pineapple growing? Look it up. It looks like something alien, or prehistoric. There was one rising up when I first got to the island, but sadly I am now sans pineapples. I have only pineapple bushes. 

10. The Walkway - This is the narrow wooden walkway that connects the boat dock to the house and the house to the cabana. It's in a state of perpetual rot and termite infestation. You can tell which board is about to go next, because it will start to support some variety of fungal growth. I could use some YellaWood. Come to think of it, I could probably make some good money bringing a container full of YellaWood down here. Nobody steal that idea. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jinja Island: Around Jinja and the B.E.N.

So now we zoom in a little bit. The map above shows the area around Jinja Island. Dry land is depicted by the shapes with the darkest borders. These borders are real, as all dry land in this area tends to have a ring of mangroves surrounding it. The mangroves actually help to buffer the dry land, and create new land. "Dry" means mostly dry. You can walk on it, though it might be quite soggy after a good rain. On Isla Cristobal you can actually find some hills - true topography.

The lighter grey shapes around the dry land are marsh, typically sawgrass flats. Always wet. Can't really walk on it, though you might do ok with waders. Can't take a boat across it.

The light gray/blue areas around this are shallows. There are reefs in this area as well.

Blue is deeper water, though these inner bays don't get too deep.

People seem to give their own names to these little bodies. Graham named his island Jinja because he is a proud ginger, and he likes a good pun. The soon-to-be neighbors that bought the dry patch to his northwest named it Colibri Verde - Green Hummingbird (they broke the frog paradigm in animal naming). The dotted line shows the preferred path of tour boats and whatnot entering Dolphin Bay from Bocas Town. If I find out what the eastern bodies are named, I'll update the map. I'm headed to a swap-meet at the Bocas Marina tomorrow, so maybe I can get some intel there.

(Sorry for the dark video, the light in the supply closet is out)

Some of the people that I might see at the swap-meet are those that I've been talking to every morning for a month now on the Bocas Emergency Network - B.E.N. This is a group of people, mostly expats and vagabonds, living on boats and small islands, that meet up on the VHF radio every morning at 7:45. Operator duty is rotated, but the agenda is always the same:

1) Operator greeting at 7:45 sharp (usually a "wake-up" goes out at 7:30)
2) Priority traffic - emergencies, etc.
3) Roll-call - everyone participating checks-in by boat name or BEN number (Jinja is BEN 63)

(You'll notice the Operator responding to people I cannot hear - out of my range)

4) New boats, leaving boats, returning boats - status updates
5) Mail call - anyone leaving that can take flat mail to be put in a box stateside?
6) Weather report - gleaned from various websites, this is also a rotating duty
7) Community announcements - what's going on - gatherings, happy hours, restaurant specials, etc
8) Boat/House problems & tips
9) "Treasures of the Bilge" - stuff you are trying to give away
10) Open forum - other odds and ends - trivia, birthdays, congrats, complaints, etc.
11) Operator close-out

My inherited duty, in Graham's absence, is to ask two trivia questions every morning, just before operator close-out. I try to make the first one something that someone listening should surely get, and the second a bit harder. I try to always make the subjects interesting and informative, so even if the listeners are stumped they will get something out of it. My degree of success varies.

Watching the video, I realize that I said "naval" instead of "nasal" - how embarrassing. But nobody called me on it. Maybe over the radio they couldn't tell the difference.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Jinja Island: Getting Around the Bocas Area

From talking to people in town, both native and expat, and listening to the morning traffic on the Bocas Emergency Network (B.E.N. - more on that in a future post) there seems to be an area surrounding Bocas Town that is thought of, and referred to, as the "Inner Islands". Only one island actually lies entirely within this area, and that is Isla Carenero, which basically acts as a suburb of Bocas Town. Bocas Town proper occupies a spit of land off the southern end of Isla Colon. That's where the highest population density is, but people seem to live in pockets all over Isla Colon, especially on the southern side. Just west of Bocas Town is the Bocas Marina and a large unprotected anchorage area with quite a few vessels staying there at any given time.

There is also "Basti Town" on the western end of Bastimentos, hugging the edges of the half-moon bay that can be seen on the map below. The western tip of Solarte is known as "Hospital Point" (because yes, there was once a hospital there) and has a concentration of upper-end residences, but doesn't quite make it to "town" status.

These areas within the "Inner Islands" circle drawn below are easy to get to, as lanchas (boat taxis) can fill up with people going back and forth, and the fare is lower for everyone due to this fact.

This brings us to Jinja Island, which is well outside the "Inner Islands". Measured on Google Earth, it is exactly 6 miles from the Jinja dock to the Carenero Dock in Bocas town where many lanchas come in and out. Bocas Town is easily visible from the Jinja dock. 

Most everyone that lives this far out has their own boat (or lives on one), as did Graham, before it shit the bed. Getting a lancha out here is a special trip, so you typically won't be sharing the fare with any strangers happening to be going in the same direction. Also, you'll be paying the driver for both ways, even though you'll only be occupying his boat for one of them. So it ain't cheap. 

While we are on geography, the map below shows the route taken on my 40th birthday excursion to the Zapatillas. 

From Bocas Town we headed east, around the souther tip of Carenero, around Hospital Point, and into the passage between Solarte and Bastimento, which doesn't seem to have any particular name. Somewhere in the tangled maze of mangrove islands and channels that barely separate the two islands we stopped at "Sloth Island" - this is where I didn't get any good pictures (too busy sloth-spotting). At the southern tip of Bastimentos is Coral Cay - this is where we stopped to grab beers and put in lunch orders. After that we crossed basically open water to the Zapatillas, beyond which is undoubtedly the open Caribbean Sea. We were technically on Zapatilla 2, the easternmost of the two. We returned to Coral Cay on the way back, eating our ordered meals and swimming from the dock. Then we continued through Almirante Bay to the Blue Coconut for more drinks, swimming, and "scurfing" behind the lancha. Finally, back to Selina Hostel. You should check out their website - they have four locations in Panama and some really well-produced videos of all the stuff that you can do at Selina Hostels and on Selina Tours. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Jinja Island: Campesino

I think that Campesino is the only real reason that Graham needs a caretaker for the island while he is gone. Campesino is the spirit animal of the island, like Hurley on LOST. He cannot leave. But he also cannot feed himself. Well, I’m pretty sure that he’d go through the chickens in just a couple of weeks, if pressed. The rest of the island could do ok with a once-a-week check by a friend or neighbor, but Campesino can’t be left for more than a night. If the chickens are to survive.

Though he’s an outdoor island dog, he’s pretty civilized. He eats store-bought dog food, and knows the series of commands that he must follow before it is put down (sit, speak, shake). But he does have one quirk – he will not drink water from a bowl. So to keep him hydrated, his dry food is drowned in water, forcing him to consume it all together. Not believing Graham, I’ve tried to give him a bowl of water when he seemed parched, but he wouldn’t touch it. I have however seen him licking rainwater from the depressions in the dock and walkway boards, and from an old wheelbarrow. Silly dog.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

40th Birthday Excursion

So, apparently I angered the data gods with my post about how the internet does and doesn't work around here. Despite bringing in my doohicky for a new SIM card, my data was gone in just over a day back on Jinja (various theories about this - I have disabled ANYTHING that might be using data in the background. Apps and whatnot see wifi as "free" so some stuff might be eating a lot of data refreshing trivial stuff). So I have now made an unscheduled trip back to Bocas Town, because I can't spend another whole week with only the free access to Facebook, etc.

So, a quick post on my 40th birthday that will mainly be pictures. I booked a spot on the Zapatilla tour through Selina Hostel, where I stayed the night of the 7th. For the record, I did go out the night before, but kept it fairly tame and hit the sack at a decent hour so I'd have energy for my excursion. Promise.

Selina Hostel.
The area that we headed to, east of Bocas Town and Jinja Island - "The Zaps" - Zapatilla One and Two, though we only touched down on the latter.
The group that shared my birthday with me, though they didn't know it until the end - mostly Germans, with some French and Canadians as well. I was the only American.

We stopped at this dock restaurant on the way to the Zaps to put in lunch orders, then returned afterward to swim and eat. We also stopped at "Sloth Island" and I swear that I saw several, but didn't get a very good picture of any of them.

Zapatilla!! Such a lush, verdant little island on the cusp of the Caribbean. Our guide broke out the rum and pineapple, and shucked some coconuts for us. We did a boardwalk through the interior of the island and learned about its formation (and destruction). Then we were let loose on the beach with the snorkeling gear. There was quite a current ripping between the beach and the small islands in the above picture, but I managed to make it out to them and back, but not without wondering if I'd make it!
Last stop was at the Blue Coconut. This is where I let it out of the bag that it was my birthday, while talking to the owner of the bar (A Canadian named Sabrina, I think?) - she insisted that I do two shots of tequila. A few of us then took the lancha out to try to "ski" behind it's 60hp outboard on a surfboard. What do you know? It actually worked (maybe it was the tequila). I got up on the third try and had a pretty good run.
I ended the day with some shopping, and the most mouth-watering cheeseburger I've had in quite some time at Toro Loco.
I waited a bit late to catch a lancha back out to Jinja Island, and it was completely dark. Made it a little difficult to find my own patch of nondescript mangroves, but we did it with a little luck. Campesino was very happy to see me. I fed him, had some rum, and hit the sack. Great birthday.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Jinja Island: The Internet / Phone

I have not been posting like I wanted to, so my first new post will be about why that is. On my last trip into town, I forgot the doohicky. Read on about why forgetting the doohicky is a problem…

On Jinja Island, internet service is provided by a little doohicky (looks like a memory stick) that you buy in town and load with a SIM card (that you pay for separately) that contains your data allowance. As with internet on your smart-phone, you pay for data, not time. I’m guessing that this is because internet service here is hitch-hiking on the cellular network.

On Jinja, you then plug this doohicky into the router (see pic, thing sticking in on top) where it produces a wifi network. But, you could just as easily plug the doohicky directly into a laptop and use it locally. As for the the wifi signal – you can pick it up all through the house, but not far outside of it.

It ain’t cheap, and getting back into town to re-load the doohicky is a pain, so you have to be very deliberate with your internet browsing and downloading. I’m guessing that Facebook videos that show automatically in your feed are not your friend. You most certainly do NOT download or stream any video. I have downloaded some books and podcasts. That’s not a huge burden.

Just like the subway does not disappear when your fare card is used up, the internet does not disappear when your SIM card’s data allowance dries up. In fact, Digicel lets you keep accessing certain sites and apps even when you have no data. So far I have discovered that these include Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, and WhatsApp.

Also, any content that has been embedded directly into Facebook can be viewed, even if you are out of data. This is how I was able to have a Rick & Morty marathon on my rainy July 4th, even though my data was dry – internet saints had posted all Rick & Morty episodes to Facebook.

In my four days without data, I became very proficient in looking for pirated content embedded in Facebook, but only because I had to! I’m a big proponent of always paying creatives for content.

In Bocas Town, wifi is a given at any hotel or hostel catering to a non-Panamanian crowd, or upscale Panamanians. Even so, it’s not always good. I’m not sure if they use the doohicky system or something more regular and by-the-month. What I do know is that even when power goes out (which is often, even when there is no storm), if an establishment has a generator to keep essentials running, wifi is one of them. This is why, as I sit here typing, internet is working at Selina Hostel even thought there are no lights and no water pressure (because the pumps have no power – no water towers here).

Although I HATE to say it, I’m starting to appreciate Comcast a little bit. Just a little bit. Bastards.

And then there’s local phone service – to access this I just bought the cheapest thing that I could, a “candybar” burner phone that takes pay-as-you-go SIM cards. I only turn it on when I need to call a lancha from Jinja Island.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Jinja Island: The Boat/Transit

Don’t let that idyllic photo fool you. This boat is a piece of shit.

That photo is the equivalent a short, homely, dishonest man’s Tinder profile picture – not a complete fake, but a pic from the best possible angle, with the best possible lighting, in the best possible scenario, with a great filter slapped on it – meant to lure in the unwary.

Actually, I shouldn’t disparage the entire boat. The hull is serviceable. I think it’s about as old as I am, though I hope I’m holding together a bit better. It was originally a ski boat. If you know the model, write in for bonus points. The current motor is the villain here – a ’99 70hp Mercury outboard. Saltwater years should be measured like dog-years. That thing needs to be put down.

Which is what Mario, the mangrove mechanic, basically said two days after Graham left me on his island. Muerto. That’s what Mario said when he dropped by Jinja to take a better look. But just in case, he towed it back to his mangrove bat cave to tinker with when he has nothing actually productive to do. Maybe Mario can become the Dr. Frankenstein of ’99 Mercuries.

So here is how this boat “worked”, when it actually worked. First, the tilt doesn’t work. So if you want to raise or lower the motor (which is important if you understand saltwater), you have to actually spark the tilt mechanism on the motor  directly from the battery, which is a car battery sitting a foot away, in no housing whatsoever. Yes, a lot like hotwiring.

Second, the starter is out. So, to start this bitch, you have to remove the cowling from the motor, wrap a rope around the drive head, and pull the shit out, gripping a deck cleat tied to the end of that rope. Yeah. But hey, once you are used to it, no big deal.

That’s what was going on with this boat when it was “working” – before the trip to Mario’s place described in my first Jinja entry. It also didn’t seem to be consuming fuel efficiently – that was the reason to have it looked at – the tilt and the starter were old news. It wasn’t even burning well enough to plane off, so we were plowing through the water at a pitiful pace on what trips we made.

I will say this though – Mario pronouncing it dead was a blessing in two ways. I stopped worrying about what I’d do when the boat shit the bed on me, because it already had. Also, it made the proposition of going into Bocas Town (or anywhere else) much less convenient, which makes my goal of reading and writing that much more attainable.

Cheers, piece of shit boat (motor - sorry, boat hull).

Now I just call Ariel when I need a ride - $25 a pop, which really is quite reasonable when you think about it (map still to come, dammit).