Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anyone know a good rain dance?

How long can man live without water? Well reports are from 3 days to 5 days to one week. One quote says: "3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food." Since a human is made up of about 50-65% water, I would lean toward the 3 day theory.

Finally I ran across the following answer:
“A human being can live without food for several weeks because the body uses its fat and protein stores to help it in this process. A fat person is likely to survive for a longer time than a thin man because of the quantity of fat stores. Yet a lot depends on the person and it is certain to leave a person with a lot of tiredness and lack of energy. But water is an entirely different case. A person would most certainly die if he has to go without water for three or four days at a stretch. The size of the person is of no consequence in a situation when there is no water. Thus it has to be concluded that water is more important than food as lack of water leads to dehydration and ultimate death. The water content in the body has to be regularly maintained.”

So, with that in mind I begin my tale of woe.

Since we live on an isolated location on the island of Guanaja, we are self-sufficient regarding water, electricity, fire patrol, garbage handling, and all those little things that make life, well, livable! For our electrical need we decided on solar energy. We have 14 solar panels, plus one that we leave on a spare battery to recharge it to run a water pump that we use to pump water from the stream in the back of the house (about 200 feet from the back of the house and pictured to the left) to water plants during the dry season. We have a 6,900+ gallon cistern which has two holding tanks to collect the water from the roof; one on each side of the house. These tanks have fine, wire mesh filters on the outlet pipe going into the cistern and hold a little over 5 gallons of water before it empties into the cistern. The purpose of the holding tanks is to let the dirt and/or debris settle to the bottom thus allowing the cleaner water to flow into the cistern. We have never been without water in the 9 1/2 years of living in the house, even during the driest times of the year. Of course, we are conservative and watch our consumption of both water and electricity.

We recently bought a new pump as the two we were using were giving out. The pump that we purchased was advertised to run silent. My husband installed it and even though the pumping capabilities were much improved, the noise level was not. It was even louder than the two we had replaced. And, to top it off, we were getting air in the line. My husband checked all the piping to find out why there was air. He could find nothing and then decided it had to be somewhere in the pipe that led into the tank that was located on the inside of the cistern.
The cover for our cistern is under our bookcase/computer desk so we had to pull everything away from the wall to gain access.

BIG SURPRISE. We should have had at least 3/4ths of a tank of water due to the heavy rains in January. Imagine our surprise when we saw only about 2" of water in the tank. No wonder the pump had been pulling air and was so noisey! You see, my husband's job is to keep the filters cleaned and the tanks scrubbed out when the silt builds up. Guess what, folks? He forgot and failed to clean the filters for several months and all that lovely rain in January could not get through the filters and flowed out onto the ground! Needless to say he is kicking himself over and over. I am just glad that it was not my job and I am not the one who was at fault! It would be just another roll of his eyes and a "that's a typical woman for you" if I had made the mistake!

First problem: Where to get water for drinking and how to maintain a steady supply of reasonably clean water for bathing, laundry, dishes and cooking?

Well, we first gathered up lots of containers and headed for our local gas station to fill them up at the water tap there. After explaining our problem. the owner said we could take all we wanted. We then checked with a friend who graciously loaned us two 30-gallon barrels which we would use to fill with water and place in the Bodega. We then ran a hose from the barrels to the pump in the bodega and pumped the water into the house through the water pipe system.

Now, to get potable water. The stream we have in back, as I said, was only used to pumped water for plants. Since it is located at the bottom of the mountain and there are cows and horses around, it is not something we want to drink and is full of silt. (The photo to the left shows how silty the water is.) My husband came up with the idea to use one of my big planter boxes we brought from the states. It already had a hole in the side about 2" from the bottom so we washed gravel and sand and then put in a layer of gravel, a sheet of a special, porous filter paper, the clean sand and another sheet of the filter paper. Of course we had to collect the gravel and sand and clean it.

After setting up the filter, we ran water through this and, at first, it came out only slightly silty.

We then ran water through a second time around the water was much cleaner looking. Can you tell which glass contains the "filtered" water?

We filled one 30-gallon barrel with drinking water that we brought from our friend and the other we filled with the filtered stream water. We initially started pumping from the "clean" water and then decided we would use the filtered water in both barrels since we were not going to drink it. We also decided that we did not want to put this "filtered" water into the cistern and maybe contaminate it, so we will wait for rain to fill it up. My husband ran a hose from the barrels up by the generator house, through the bodega window and up to the pump.

So far the process is working nicely. It is more work to obtain water and we have to conserve more than we did before. We only drink the water we get from our clean source and every time we go out, we take containers to fill up. Oh, if you are asking yourself, what about the increase in the water bill for the individual we are taking water from? No problem. Here on the island there are no water meters and everyone pays one set price no matter how much water is used.

I did run my washing machine (on super load) Monday and, as I told my husband, it used one whole 30-gallon barrel to wash and rinse the clothes. But, at least I do not have to wash clothes by hand. We also have two 55-gallon drums up by the generator house which collect rainwater. However, since there is no rain, we pump water up to the drums first, let it settle to collect any sediment and then, through a faucet in the bottom of both drums, we hook up the hose and gravity pump it to the bodega barrels.

Of course, to flush the toilets we keep a large container nearby to pour down the toilet rather than use up the filtered water. We use the unfiltered water for this task.

So, now we wait for rain......which will be long in coming and when it does it will not be much as we are approaching the dry season! So, if you have any rain dance that might work, do a jig for us!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Meeting People

When we moved to Guanaja (11 years ago in May), we knew a few people here; mainly the people we had met all the years diving at Bayman Bay. The people were friendly and we made many friends over the years we vacationed on the island.

When we made the "big move" we had done our homework, knew people here and pretty much were ready to accept the lifestyle of the islands. Since that time we have of course met more people, Hondurans and foreigners alike, and have added many friends and acquaintances.

It has been educational in many ways living on an island. We have been exposed to people from other cultures and learned more than we ever learned from our experiences or teachings in the States about other countries. We have learned a lot about the policitics, customs, religions and the way other people think. It has been an eye-opener and one I am glad to say that I have experienced.

We have met people of varying walks of life and incomes and, for the most part, find people are struggling just as we do with day-to-day problems within the family, problems with employers, or simply just the act of making a living. Most people have been honest and giving. There are, as in any society, that small percentage that takes advantage of all the rest of us and will not contribute, and lie, cheat, steal and basically use you up until there is nothing left. Fortunately, as I said, these make up the small percentage of people in any society.

A new way of meeting people has come about - the Internet! I started this Blog mainly to let my friends and family know what I was experiencing living on an island in the Caribbean. However, people I have never met have found my blog and read it, leaving comments regarding my efforts.

Recently, a woman contacted me after reading my Blog. She and her husband were coming to the island to visit and look it over to see if this might be the place they would like to spend part of their time each year. We corresponded and I gave her information about the island so that they would be prepared when they got here. You see, I think people look at island living like they look at photos they see of lush tropical islands - they only see a small portion of the picture and envision it as a "Paradise" where they will simply lay back, relax and enjoy the breeze, sun, ocean and the occasional "refreshment". While this may be true for some when they take a vacation to some dream island, it is far from reality if you plan on residing on one.

We love living on Guanaja. We love the slower pace of life, the fresh air, the lovely weather, the people and the ability to do what we like with our time. However, it is not for everyone.

Be that as it may, I informed Denise and her husband, Al, that I would love to see them and invited them for lunch while they were here. They arrived and we met them a couple days later at our favorite restaurant, Manati, where we chatted for a while. They came to our house 2 days later and we had a very pleasant visit over lunch. We took them down to the far end of the island to see the townhouse project being built there and to meet some other friends of ours. We enjoyed their company and I think they had a good time. Unfortunately, I did not take their photo (guess my head wasn't on straight) and so do not have one to include here on my blog. They took many photos and I can only hope that they will share them with me over the net. Denise has a Blog so I will be able to keep in touch with her comings and goings through that. They were a pleasant, fun couple and we enjoyed hearing of their various adventures.

It may just be our lot living on an isolated island; when new faces show up we naturally open our doors to them and are glad to share our lives and experiences with them and learn about why they are here, what they do, where they are going, where they are from, etc. It may be out of boredom that we are so anxious to meet other people, but I don't think so. I have learned so much from others and it is always exciting to hear about the adventures they have experienced. But what struck me is that here was that I was meeting total strangers - something I probably would not have considered doing had I been living in the U.S. There, my circle of friends were family, fellow workers and people who had like interests that I met within groups, say at a meeting. I was meeting someone from the NET! Even meeting new people on the island that come for a visit has changed my perspective completely. I am more open to people and take much more interest in their experiences and lives and throughly enjoy the experience of meeting new people. I don't think my life has ever been so changed by anything like it has been with the services of the Internet. I have seen people as varied and different as the world we live in and I have learned so much that it makes my life more interesting - and this was not anything I had expected when we moved here. It was a plus and a wonderful one at that.

So, I greet Denise and Al in this Blog and thank them for taking time to come to our little island and meeting us. I don't know if they will be returning either for a vacation or to build a home, but if they do, we will be happy to have them join our group. If not, I hope to keep in touch with them and take pleasure in watching how their lives unfold. I also thank all of the visitors that have been to Guanaja and met us. You make life more exciting for us and, I would like to think, make me a better person.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Follow-up to Sailboat Blues

Regarding my last post on the sailboat stuck on the reef. Here is the last photo I received just before they finally righted it.

The boat was finally lifted out and set on the water and drained. It eventually was moved to Sandy Bight and Henri's insurange agent was out within three days to investigate. As far as we have heard, he feels he will be reimbursed for the damages to the boat. Whether he will get enough to fix it or just replace it with something else (in either case he would have to come up with money for the difference) I do not know. Some people said that the damages would cost more than the boat was worth; others say no.

I have not talked to Henri but people that have talked to him say he is going to attempt to fix it.

Fortunately for Henri, who is a filmmaker of documentaries among other things, he got all his expensive cameras and equipment off the boat before the resuce operation began.

The island does not have a place designated as a dry dock and you would think with all the boats we have here someone would start one. Unfortunately it would take a lot of money to develop this type of business and people here, for the most part, are not inclined to spend money just to have their boat taken out of the water. Case in point. There is a service at the airport which will take your boat (not sailboat or yachts) out of the water and store it on land for a fee. One man recently had his boat taken out of the water because of inclement weather approaching. After he returned to claim the boat he felt he should not have to pay because the reason he had to get the boat out of the water was due to forecasted bad weather and the people at the airport should be willing to do this service out of the goodness of their heart!

We have one really good boat mechanic on the island who works on engines. We have various people who can do fiberglass work, but one really has to look to find them. We had a man who built boats, but when he was suspected of killing his girlfriend's "other" boyfriend and taken off the island by the authorities and, ultimately set free, he never returned to his continue his business.

So, I'm glad to report the boat is safe, for now, and supposedly being repaired - or not!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Boat eating Reefs

There are advantages to living on an island without roads: quieter, less pollution, natural beauty, access to areas may be difficult but it forces one to use their legs, and it restricts building in many areas because of inaccesability. Of course, the downside: one must travel from one place to the other in a boat, in all kinds of weather.

One of the main reasons we decided to settle on Guanaja was because of the lack of roads. Over the 10 1/2 years we have been here a road down the length of the island has been discussed and, at one time, was a hot debate as it seemed that the Government was close to arriving at an agreement without outside help to build a road. It seemed, at least to me, that those who wanted the road wanted it for monetary gain more than anything else. Most of us accept the island as it is and despite the inconveniences of travel, we wanted it to remain "pristine". Unfortunately, the money that was proposed (and we felt it fell far short of what it would actually cost) appeared, however, there was only enough to build a road from Savannah Bight to Mangrove Bight.....well, almost. The road was cut and packed down but the finishing product, the concrete, was never laid. We think that the majority of that money was pocketed and when it came time to finish the road with a hard, durable surface, there was no more money. That would not be all bad, but now the road running between the two towns is dirt and when one has a dirt road it spells trouble when it meets with water in the form of rain. Well, we all know what happens....and it did.

Anyway, I stray from my original purpose for posting. Running boats on the sea.

Guanaja is surround by lovely reefs, great for diving and protecting the shores of the island. However, one must be aware of where these outcroppings are when transversing between Point A and Point B. The Islanders, and those of us who came to live here, have learned where the reefs and dangerous outcrops are and can travel without incident. Well, unless it is dark, you've had too much to drink or you are in unfamiliar territority - and that I can cover in another blog.

We have many sailboats that come to the island and they usually anchor at one of three places: Sandy Bight, Josh Cay (a/k/a Graham's Cay) or near Michael's Rock. Leaving the island to head towards the mainland or Panama requires knowledge of the area and where the reefs are located as some channels are rather narrow to pass through. Such is the case between Josh Cay and Half Moon Cay.

Last week, a sailor by the name of Henri, left Josh Cay early in the morning headed to the coast of Central America. He felt confident that he could pass through the narrow channel near Half Moon Cay as he had done it before. Unfortunately, this time he was either lax in his judgment or fell asleep at the wheel or was not paying attention and he ran aground.

There are not a lot of resources around for getting a boat off a reef but it is possible. This was a difficult situation, however, because he was in a shallow area. The owner of Clark Cay, who was not here at the time, allowed his barge to be used with a Track Hoe to, hopefully, facilitate the operation.

As you can see by the photo, this is not exactly the best device to use to lift a boat, but it was the only thing, at the time, that could go into the shallow area and reach the boat.

The boat, from reports, had several holes in the hull from constant scrapping on the reef and had taken on a lot of water. It is hazy at this point whether the boat was lifted and the water allowed to drain out completely (as should have been done), or whether water was still in the boat and they managed to get it on the barge. The ideal situation would have been to pump all the water out of the boat but, I don't believe, a pump was available at this point. Or, if there was a pump on board the damaged vessel (which there should have been) and whether it was operational.

Anyway, they got the boat up and took it over the Brick Point Marina. The reason I say that the boat still had water on board is because people taking the photos claimed to have seen water pouring out of some of the holes in the boat. Oh, by the way, these photos are not mine, I must credit them to the people on Half Moon Cay and individuals who live near Brick Point Marina. Anyway that was one problem. The second was the track hoe is not built to lift a boat and third, there was no spacing in the strapping used to lift the boat. Results: disaster as the following photos will show.

The straps broke and the boat was a gonner.

It ended up in the shallow water but now completely filled with water. Nothing to do but try and bring her up again. In the process the hull was crushed and the holes in the boat enlarged. Result: disaster.

It was not a pretty sight, especially for the owner. The boat was damaged to the point of costing more to repair it and Henri now must deal with his insurance agent. Another nightmare most likely.

The moral (if there is one), utmost caution must be practiced when boating in unfamiliar territority. Several deaths have been attritubed to lack of knowledge, drunkness while driving, speeding, traveling without proper lights, and plain stupidity by being on the water when the weather is not condusive to boating. Thankfully no one was hurt in this accident and Henri managed to get some of his possessions off the boat before the whole process started of getting it off the reef.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The weather today is mostly out-of-doors

My husband always says "the weather today is mostly out-of-doors," and it always makes me smile.

This time of year is one of my favorite on the island. We have balmy breezes with moderate temperatures and cool evenings to make sleeping more comfortable. I am able to work out in the yard without getting drenched in perspiration (I'm a lady, and ladies don't sweat - at least that is what I've been told).

I am not a great gardener but love puttering around and creating islands of colors in my yard. I also throw in a little "artsy work" by decorating with driftwood or making concrete plaques which I have stamped sayings into.

As I said, I'm not a great gardener and, fortunately, here on the island as was in Florida, things seem to take care of themselves with little effort. Some watering, a little fertilizer and one can make beauty without being a horticulturist. I love being able to stick cuttings in the ground and go back in a few weeks and find a plant has taken root and is growing! I am not as dedicated to it as my friend on the other side of the island, but I still have fun and am thrilled when everything is in bloom. Now, I just wish the bugs were a little less active and hungry!

Also, this time of year it is nicer to bake for two reasons: 1) the sun is shinning and I can run my oven. Now you may ask why that is unusual. Why unusual? You see my gas oven has an electronic thermostat which requires electricity to operate it. Some ovens can be converted so that electrical power is not necessary to light the oven and maintain the proper temperature, but mine, unfortunately, is not one of those. And 2) because I get my power using solar energy, and my husband is very watchful of what I do when it comes to great consumptions of power! So, the oven can be used on sunny days, preferably in the morning hours so the batteries can recharge properly. On cloudy days a scowl will cross his face if I even mention the possibility of using the oven. HOWEVER, he seems not to mind if I mention that I will bake him brownies or make an apple pie! The same goes if I'm game to make his favorite: Passion Fruit Ice Cream! Then it is ok to get out the ice cream maker and use electrical power to produce a fabulous desert!

Even cleaning up around the house is easier as the temperature indoors is more comfortable. But, when it is this nice and if I'm not out-of-doors, I'm up in my craft room sewing or creating "creations".

Once we get into summer and there is no rain, going outside is a little more of challenge. And, you can forget it entirely in late August and all of September when our breeze dies to nothing, the temperature shoots up a little and the bugs are out in bigger numbers! That is the time we lay under the fan and read!