I have to say, this week has been exhausting and since I am writing this on Sunday and have just about run out of stamina, I am going to skip wordy introductions and just dive in with a blow-by-blow report. Excuse the lack of long and pretty descriptions: I am pooped.
In preparation for a trip to the Grenada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA), I spent a few hours on Tuesday cooking up some homemade doggy biscuits. In anticipation of making said treats, I’d bought a Styrofoam tray of pigs’ feet that weekend. I hadn’t actually picked out my recipe yet, so I didn’t have a list of ingredients, but assumed pigs’ feet could work their way into the dish somehow. The recipe I used (Wheat Dog Biscuits from Bullwrinkle) called for water or broth. So I boiled a pan full of pigs’ feet for a couple hours and used the broth for the recipe. My apartment smelled like boiling lard, but those dogs loved the bite-sized bits I brought to the shelter. (I think I might rename the recipe “Babe Bites” since our dog, Babe, was named after the pig and I’m pretty sure she’d also love these biscuits.)
The shelter visit was sort of an orientation for a handful of SOs, to give us an idea of how we can be of service to the GSPCA and to familiarize us with the shelter’s layout and policies. I’d been both excited and anxious to visit the shelter, hopeful that I could help Grenada’s suffering pet population, but equally nervous about what sort of dismal state the shelter might be in. I’d only my own experience working for years at a well-funded Humane Society back in the States to compare and knew I was in for an unpleasant shock.
Surprisingly, the shelter wasn’t that unpleasant. I went there anticipating the worst of the worst. The fact is, in this very very poor country, there is an animal shelter that receives adequate funding (via private donations) to provide for the animals it takes in, gives medical attention to sick and injured strays, offers low-cost (or free) vaccinations and sterilizations to homeless animals as well as pets in the community and educates citizens about caring for their animals.
I honestly can’t say that the GSPCA was significantly worse than some shelters I’ve seen in the States. They battle the same problems also. Pets typically only stand a chance if they are small, healthy, cute and, preferably, still babies. Even so, the adult, skittish dogs with patchy hair growth that are overcoming mange are at the very least given shelter, food, medication and attention. The same cannot be said of most dogs you’ll run into, whether strays or owned.
I went to Bellmont Estates again, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for that day. The SO Social Coordinators organized an island tour trip, which included a visit to Pearls Airport, the cocoa plantation, Rivers Antoine Rum distillery and Grand Etang. A stop at one of the northern beaches was on the schedule, but wasn’t included due to rainy weather.
|Pearls cow, Belmont bell, chocolate|
The visits to Pearls and Belmont were much as they were in the past: old plane, cows, cow pies, chocolate, tour, more chocolate. The visit to Rivers was new for me. Two weeks ago, when I went to Belmont with the Photography Club, we tried also stopping at the distillery, but it was closed that day. So extra excited was I to be touring the distillery with my SLR camera, I took every care to photograph the many nooks and crannies, and totally missed the tour itself. If you’re reading this and looking forward to photos, no problem, friend. If you want some historical insight regarding Rivers Antoine Rum Distillery or the distilling process in general, may I recommend Wikipedia?
|Rivers Rum mama|
|Sugar cane and river water|
From my (inexpert) experience, the distillery smelled like a huge vat of molasses and looked like a swampy breeding ground for the most wretched bacteria. The grounds were a veritable mound of sugarcane, save the narrow driveway that precariously cut through mountains and mountains of honey-yellow rods of sugarcane. A waterwheel, towering over the roof of the distillery and black against the grey sky, rotated with the rush of water (perhaps water from the river Antoine?). I believe part of the charm of Rivers is its continued use of an antiquated system (i.e. the in-use waterwheel).
|The first stages of your Captain 'n' Coke|
|At some point it becomes more rummy and less sludgy|
After the tour—at least I think the tour was over, though, I wasn’t paying attention—we used a pavilion at the distillery to have our lunch and relax. During our respite, one of our social coordinators was approached by a Rivers worker. Apparently someone had caught a “big fish” nearby and a few workers were going to have a look. They were asking for a photographer to join them (though they may have just thought a photographer would like to join them, not that they needed one). I was on my feet immediately, anticipating having to fight for this opportunity. As it turns out, the crazy gene that leads to my rash decisions isn’t shared by everyone, despite my obvious expectations. Gwynne offered to join me on my journey. We were told it was about a two-minute drive. That may have been true, but we didn’t drive.
Gwynne and I followed a worker as he led us east, through fields of sugarcane, along a muddy drive. We hit the end of the road and curved around some palm trees to hop around nets of vines and glossy green leaves, grazing cows watching us uninterestedly. I kept my head low and my arms folded over my camera, keeping the rain from directly striking it, though everything was wet and dripping by that point. We hit the beach then and trudged on across the packed, wet sand. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of us, through the fog, who might be the fisherman I’d anticipated meeting. Then Gwynne called out, “Oh! Look at it!”
I’d practically tripped over the thing, and how, I don’t know! It was huge, laying solitarily in the sand, no fisherman (or anyone for that matter) nearby. We circled it and slowly the pieces lost in translation began to fall into place. There was no fisherman because this was not a fish and it had not been caught. A young pygmy sperm whale had beached itself very recently and died. Around its head bloomed a pool of blood, creeping outward in veins beneath the sand, then spreading like inkblots on wet paper. Beneath the whale’s open mouth I saw a number of stringy white worms, wriggling into the ebbing ocean waters that frothed at the edge of the pooling blood.
|Showing us the blowhole|
More Rivers workers arrived with a tractor hauling a truck bed on a hydraulic lift. The whale was inedible, having died without mortal injuries and beached itself, but it was something of a trophy, nonetheless, and half a dozen men intended to take it back to the distillery for purposes unknown. Unfortunately, they had limited means with which to transport said trophy from point A (sandy beach) to point B (rum distillery). Everything looked very promising when the guys pulled up in their tractor, but there was still the issue of lifting a several-hundred-pounds whale to the truck bed. And however impressive the bed and tractor looked, they were first and foremost meant to haul loads of sugarcane from the fields to the distillery. They were not equipped with a winch, which is exactly what was needed.
True to the resourceful nature of the locals, the workers used what was at hand to achieve their goal—namely, bare hands and brute strength and a well-placed rod of bamboo. Very little of what they barked out to each other was intelligible to Gwynne or me and I think a couple of the men were tossing around some creole. Being on the fringe of all the excitement, and not playing a key role, understanding what was being said was not important. I took my pictures and watched closely the gestures of the men as they directed one another and understood what their intentions were. When, finally, they wedged the bamboo beneath the whale and heaved, and the ship rope tied to its tailfins was led over the pivotal edge of the truck bed, being leveraged by yet another worker, and with a final lunge of wet boots in slick, red grass, the whale was dragged onto the bed, Gwynne and I broke into applause, only just realizing how captivated we were by the whole event and letting loose our pent up breaths of relief with all the others. The workers turned to us and laughed and smiled, pleased as they were with their own hard work and our recognition. They broke apart then, three hopping on the tractor and the others climbing into the bed of the truck, admiring the whale anew. Our investment in the process dissipated and I looked to Gwynne and asked, “Should we walk back, then?” The tractor driver hollered back to us. I couldn’t understand what he said, but knew his gesture: we should get in the truck bed. With the rain still falling and the adrenaline slowly slipping away, I didn’t need told twice. I clambered up the rusty railing and moved up to the front of the bed where Gwynne and I took our positions, riding back to the distillery, oddly proud of what we hadn’t accomplished ourselves, but had witnessed. If I was guaranteed this sort of cultural experience every time I travelled, I would never stop.
|Our view on the way back|
My tour could have ended there and I would have been perfectly happy, but we had one more stop to make before going back home. We went to Grand Etang to visit the Mona Monkeys. Two weeks ago we visited, but had no bananas, so the monkeys were reluctant to come near us. This time we arrived at the same time as a tourist who just so happened to have a whole bunch of bananas. He graciously shared them with us and we were able to draw the monkeys right next to us. In fact, one large monkey climbed on me at least twice in order to get closer to the tourist and his bananas. It’s surprising to see how unperturbed the monkeys are by humans. I hesitate to call them wild since they are very nearly domesticated. Yet, they live in the jungle and could, I imagine, survive without the constant edible gifts from tourists.
Ivan—and the rest of the second term class—finished midterms last week. (Ivan did superbly.) As a little celebration, we had dinner at De Big Fish on Friday with some friends. We hadn’t been to the restaurant since last term and were looking forward to Friday’s special: Catch of the Day. We got there only to find out that they’d sold out of the special already. So, we got the Hot Mambo pizza, cheeseburger with jalapenos and French fries. Oh boy! It was so good! Mind you, our eyes were watering from all of the spiciness and we stuffed ourselves beyond belief before finally getting a to-go box for half of the pizza, but there’s no way to beat good food and good friends after a long, exhausting week.
Wait, did that last paragraph sound like our long exhausting week had ended? That’s not quite right. Yesterday was Grenada Hash House Harriers’ 750th hash—a cause for celebration and one heck of a hash! The venue this week was La Sagesse, a beautiful gem of a beach and nature center (I’m not sure how the second half is applied here, I’ve never visited a nature center there). There were, technically, five trails, to accommodate every hasher, from the very fit to the less motivated: The Executive Trail (0.0001 mi.—from the sign to the bar—for the motivated drinker); The Namby Pamby Trail (0.75 mi.—for the unhurried sightseer); The Walkers’ Trail (3 mi.—for those who want a light sweat and some lovely views); The Runners’ Trail (7 mi.—for the motivated and dedicated fit hashers); The Iron Man (8.5 mi.—for the suicidal and marginally insane). Ivan and I paired with a couple friends (Cayley and Nick) and went for the suicide trail. The hash started at 3 PM. The sun sets just before 6 PM. We had three hours to complete 8.5 miles through unknown and likely dangerous terrain. On! On!
|Ivan, Veronica and I|
The hash started on the beach, then we broke away from the shore and ran through some lightly wooded areas and fields before winding up on a dirt road. Of course, I use the term “dirt” lightly since it was mostly a rock road. Ivan and I use Fila Skeletoes for the hashes (for those unfamiliar, they are a cheaper version of Vibram’s Fivefingers), which work like a charm in the usual mud, muck, dirt and water terrains, but are not so comfortable when used for running on hard surfaces like asphalt, concrete or rock. So I was pretty relieved when we took a hard turn into the woods. Naturally the “path” was an unreasonably steep descent and I relied entirely on the numerous skinny trees and vines as handholds. From there our trail continued up sudden climbs and down abrupt hills where you have the option of lunging forward, hoping your foot doesn’t catch on a root or a rock, or inching slowly and taking the chance of losing control entirely, before tumbling forward.
Always we had to keep in mind the passage of time and gauge, as accurately as possible, the distance we’d covered, the distance remaining, and our average pace. When the terrain allowed it, we ran, skipping over rocks and fallen branches, our eyes so trained on the ground that when we’d finally lift them, we’d find ourselves staring down a cow. Past midway, we reached a fork. The sign directed individuals who were willing to swim one way and those who wished to remain somewhat dry (minus the gallons of sweat we were sloughing off in our clothes) another way. We took to the swimming trail: On! On!
Prior to beginning the hash, the hare (person who set the trail) told us the water reached his chest. He was, by no means, a giant. I wouldn’t say he was short either. So I figured I’d be okay. We reached the shore and saw that we’d be wading around a cliff and on for about a hundred yards (maybe just shy of). That’s all very doable, except that the water was murky, neck deep, and there were large obstacles in the ocean floor, namely giant rocks. Ivan and I held our bags over our heads as we trudged forward, moving in slow motion through the calm and warm waters. Here and there, one in our party would drop a few inches with a little splash and call out, “Rock!” But overall we crossed without issues and emerged, wet, gross and a little wobbly. Yet we ran on.
By that point we didn’t have much farther to go. It was 5:20 when we got out of the water and the sky was already getting dark, so we pushed on, running through dense bushes of thorns. At first we warned each other: “Prickers on your left!” but gave up when we realized we’d run headlong into a field of them. There was no avoiding it. On and on we ran until we could hear the telltale bass of hash music pumping through the woods and echoing against the cliffs. Night was steadily falling when we saw the sign: On In! It meant we’d made it! We hurried the last tenth of a mile or so, slipping through a narrow trail in the forest until we finally emerged, filthy, wet, sweaty and so tired, but proud. We finished the Iron Man trail!
|The hash music speakers|
|About a mile or so to go--not a flattering photo of anyone, but hey! This is tough stuff!|
Ivan and I took off our shoes and I could already feel the raw strips on my heels and soft spots on the balls of my feet. We both jumped in the sea, letting the water wash our scraped legs and tender feet. We ate and collapsed on the beach before getting a ride home where we took a proper shower before collapsing once again in bed.
This morning, Ivan’s arms and legs are covered in tiny scrapes and scabs. My feet are nothing but blisters and bruises and my legs are also scraped and bruised. We’re sore and tired. But, above all, we had a blast and I’d do it again in a heartbeat! (Just as soon as I heal.)