Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Accident Gone Wrong at Sea

I developed an unhealthy overconfidence of the water. A few days ago, I had canoed out 8 miles, far out into the calm sea a couple days ago. Last night, a great storm ripped through the island. The thunder and lightning tore through the sky and woke up everyone in the hostel. In fact, the lightning and thunder came simultaneously. I had slept through most of it, believing that it was all in a dream.

The storm was dragging itself out into the morning. I was trapped inside my hostel until the midday. Then around 11:30 the storm had relented and left. I thought to myself, you need to do your daily physical activity. P.E. in the Caribbean Sea you can say.

I thought to myself, impulsively, to take the canoe out again. Instead, I kayaked in the direction of another island, in the direction of Belize City. I go out, in the Kayak, by myself. There’s no life jackets in the canoe. After about a half a mile out, I reach a point where the winds began cutting through the water. I think this is no good. I want to head back. Let me jump out for a swim. I do.
When I come back out, I think why is the canoe so far away. So, I start swimming and the canoe is still far away. Alright, time to put some real energy into this. I sprint-swim towards the canoe. I can see myself getting closer and closer to it. However, I’m also feeling more and more exhausted. I reach the canoe, and I realize, I don’t have enough energy to thrust myself out of the water. Uh oh.

I make the decision to abandon the boat. I then realize, I’m in the middle of the open ocean. There’s no one!!!! Oh )P(*&()*&! I’m so screwed! I sea some ships anchored about 10 meters away from me. “HELP ME! Help ME!” I scream and scream. No one is there, great. I have no more energy. The wind is making waves hit my face. I need to relax and rest.

()&) ME! I think. I'm here. I'm by myself. I'm alone. Calm down, I tell myself. Calm down. THe panic will only make things worse.

About 10 meters away, I see a marker. I swim to it. I hang onto it for dear life and breath. I’m waiting for boats. But boats won’t be coming out today. I know it. All the trips were cancelled because of the storm. I probably hold onto the marker for about 15 minutes, as I realize boats aren’t coming out.

Well – the mangrove forest is about half a mile away. I see it. Time to swim. So, I watch the canoe floating away, while I exhaustively swim to the mangroves. I was feeling my spirit break, when a voice in my head said, “Today, is not your day to die.” That belief, that thought, that hope, somehow gave me enough energy to help me swim to shore.

Even though the Carribean Sea is warm, I also began feeling my body chilling. It’s because the blood has surfaced to the skin. Even with the warm water, it’s not at body temperature. The water, as I so often have experienced, is eating away at my body heat.

When I finally arrive onto land, I try to stand. But I have such an incredible headache, standing up does something to increase my headache. Also, when the wind touches my body, it makes me go through even more chills. As the wind dries off the water, the water sucks up a bit of body heat. The result is another chill. I feel pain, misery, and adrenaline all rushing through me.
I walk to the other side of the island – it’s another mile away. I feel strange. My body’s just dumped a chemical cocktail of endorphins, adrenaline, and euphoria and energy all in one. It’s the best high I’ve ever felt but worry is still coursing through me too. I’m at the boat gas station. There’s no one there, except the owner.

I tell her my story. She picks me up in her golf cart, which are the cars they use on the island. She takes me to the fisheries, who do nothing for me. At this point, I’m catching my breath. My diaphragm hurts and is feeling sore. I quickly walk back to the hostel.

I tell the hostel owner what happens. He quickly rushes to get a speed boat. He says, “I don’t think we’re gonna find it, Mon.” It’s like literally finding a needle in a haystack. I wait around. 20 minutes later, he gets a speed boat.

Five of us travel, on the deep blue sea. We head off to the five mile water mark. He sees a speck at the horizon. He turns to the right, and Hallelujah, there’s the kayak with all my gear inside.

I think I have a new respect for the sea and a new gratefulness for life. But I'm like a cat, more than nine lives.

Price for the boat service: $75 for the Captain's Service
Price for the Petrol: $25
Price for not having to buy new gear: $275
Price for not buying a kayak: $450USD
Price for having my life, learning a lesson - priceless.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lobster Fisherman and His Son

Caye Caulker at Sunset
Before coming to Belize, I was struggling on whether I should bring my free diving gear. I have good gear, and I was going to a poor country. The combination wasn’t pretty. But somehow, my Russian roommate convinced me to bring it. I guess what the turning point for me was one question: “And when was the last time you used your dive gear?”
I replied, “In New Zealand.”
And he said, “Uh huh.”
I stayed silent for a few seconds, feeling kind of stupid. It’s like women, who have fine China but never use it.
So what was I going to do with my gear? Well, my favorite sea sport is lobster hunting. I picked up the hobby in New Zealand. With a pair of Kevlar gloves, you can grab the lobster. You look and see where their little antenna are. You float around them, as they notice your movement. Then, when they least suspect it, you grab their horns and pounce on them. It’s like how my cat Luke, who was reincarnated from being a human, would pounce on lizards, gophers, and birds. I think he has arthritis now. (As a side note, watching him age makes me afraid of getting older too.)
So, when I arrived on the island, I wanted to know where to hunt for my lobster. The locals were pretty straight up, instead of sending me on a wild goose chase. They would say, “Hey mon, it’s far out there. Straight into the sea.”
Well, going straight into the sea costs a pretty penny. I was looking for lobster right outside the mangrove forest outside of my lobster. A plump, jolly Mexican looking fisherman on a boat said, “HEY Mon! I could hit you wit my boat. You get out of the water.”
“Pardon?” I said.
“Hey Mon, I said you have no buoy! You can get hit by a boat. Get out of the water, Mon.”
“Oh, hey where are you going?”
“I’m going out lobster hunting, Mon.”
“Then you’re taking me with you.” What a coincidence, a lobster hunting boat almost hit me when I was looking for lobster.
“No, Mon. I cannot. I don’t have my tourist license on me.”
“You’re taking me with you,” I insisted.
“No, Mon, I said I cannot. “ He started driving the boat away. I couldn’t believe I was hustling in the deep blue ocean.
“Yes, you’re taking me with you. I’ll pay you.”
“How much, Mon?” Now, I knew it was a game I won already.
“$20 USD.”
He turned around. I swam to his boat. I lifted myself onto the deck, like one would do a big pushup.
He had a boy on deck. He looked at me suspiciously. He wasn’t very kind at all. He too was already getting a bit plump too.
The lobster fisherman was tanned dark. He had scruffy facial hair but red rosy cheeks. He was weathered by the sea and wind.
He said, “I take you out, Mon. But you know it costs like $150USD to usually go out. I do it cheap for you.”
“Oh really?” I said. I had already known the truth but acted like it was a new revelation to me.
He revved the boat up. That started our journey on the bluest dream. The water looked like an artist palette, with different patches and pools of blue colors. Some shades were darker patches because of the sea grass underneath. Some patches were lighter because of the white sand underneath. And when you looked out at the horizon, it looked like someone drew a line across a piece of paper, and the sky and sea were only separated by different shades of blue. The nature of the water was still and tranquil and reminded me of the undisturbed sleep of a child.
He started telling me his story, as we went through the speedboat. “Mon, my family has owned these waters for three generations. My father and his grandfather hunt lobster here. Next, my son hunt lobster too.”
“How old’s your son?”
“Mon, you shouldn’t be swimming where you were. There’s crocodiles there.”
I shrugged like it didn’t bother me.
“I brought us food and water. There’s ice in the chest with water. You help yourself, ok?” He arrived at the location. He halted the boat engine. He pointed to his son, “Hey Boy! Hey Boy go anchor the boat.”
The boy grabbed the anchor and dropped it off the side of the boat. The father came and picked up the rope and tugged on the tension. “No boy. What’s dee matter with you! I raise a stupid son. You need to drop it like this.”
I asked, “What did he do wrong?”
“I don’t know, Mon what he did wrong. But it’s fucken wrong.”
The father fixed the problem.
Then the lobster fisherman said, “Hey Mons! Come on! There’s lobster in dees water.”
I geared up. I jumped in. I swam in. He said, “Hey Mon. Don’t murk the water, Mon.”
I free dove underneath 12 feet (3 meters of water). Underneath a sheet of corrugated metal, I saw the little antennae of the lobsters sticking out. The fisherman used a hook. When it would come out, sometimes he grabbed the lobsters with a hook. I remember the first lobster I grabbed. I pounced on it with my Kevlar gloves and it was mine.
These Caribbean lobsters squeaked when they were caught. Did it make me feel bad for them? No. When we fished out the lobster, we all drug ourselves back on the boat.
Back on the boat, I grabbed a broken off lobster leg. I started eating the raw flesh in it. The fisherman smiled and said, “Aye, Mon. I used to do that as a kid too.” His ten year old boy finally warmed up to me and asked, “Is it good?”
I nodded and said, “Of course. It’s real sweet.” I picked up a lobster leg and gave it to him.
He cracked it with his teeth and sucked on it. He smiled. I asked him, “Is it good?” He just nodded.
We scoured the seas that day, going after more and more lobster. We took a break for lunch, at which point the fisherman boy handed me sweet bread. It tasted like Hawaiian sweet bread. He also handed me a can of Vienna sausages. We ate the meat and bread. The fisherman gave us some ice water that was in baggies. You bit at it, and the sweet cold water rushed through your mouth. The boy and fisherman and I bonded, hunting for the lobster. At one point, the fisherman gave me a softie lobster. A softie was a lobster, whose shell was still soft and was not hardened by molting. I twisted the tail off from its head. I killed the thing instantly. And I ate the sweat meat, while the thing was still alive. And as barbaric as it was, the food tasted good!
We hunted for lobster for 3 hours that day. He brought me back into the lagoon of my hostel. The hostel owner saw a fishing boat come in. He saw me jump off the deck, carrying my catch, and my gear. He asked, “What’d you do?” He was wondering what I pulled that day. I wasn’t the regular backpacker. Of course not, I had experience.
“I went out with the lobster fisherman.”
“How’d you go out with the lobster fisherman?”
“Well,” I started, “it all happened when the fisherman told me I shouldn’t be swimming out there and . . . “ I began to recount the story of my day with the lobster fisherman and his son.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Belizian Dreams

The Chinese-Korean Restaraunt

Since I was 8, my father and I would eat at this chinese restaraunt in Korea Town. The owner is the same, and the lines in his face and wrinkles are much more pronounced now that I'm older. He still remembers me.

We always order the same food. I get, what's in literal translation, "Dry Flavored Shrimp." It's an ugly literal translation. I would call it Dry and Sweet Prawns. Father always gets either spicy noodle soup or bean paste soup. I always like the seafood versions.

This is the best dry shrimp I've had. It looks like they made it extra crispy. MMMMMM. We talk. I tell him the news.

"Father, I'm going to Belize."

"Where?" he asks.

"It's in Central America."

"Hmmm, how long are you going?"

"21 days."

"What?! Have you lost your mind?!!!"

That's how that conversation went.

Home in Baldwin Park

I'm carrying my cat Luke with me to the kitchen. He's hanging there limply, not resisting. He looks at my mom with those green eyes of his.

She screams, "Get the cat out of here."

I said, "No, mom. He's a human being. You're hurting his feelings."

She said, "He has hair. He sheds hair!!!"

I said, "Mom, you know he's a human being. He was reincarnated from another life." I used to make up a story that Luke was reincarnated for bad behavior and his punishment was to have a master like my mother. She never knew whether to think the story was humorous or spiteful against her.

She rolls her eyes and leaves this fight alone.

I sit on the kitchen table. Luke's on my lap. He doesn't last there long. He jumps off and goes to the door. He turns around. Looks at me. He "Meows." Its my sign to open it for him. He runs eagerly out into his kingdom.

"Mom, I'm going travelling."

"Oh, yeah where?"

"To Belize."

"Where's that?"

"It's south of Mexico, but they don't speak Spanish."

"They don't? I thought everyone speaks Spanish south of Mexico."

"I thought so too, but not there."

"How long you going?"

"3 weeks."

"Oh, you're so damn crazy?!!!"


"You just take these long trips. By yourself sometimes! You're just crazy! Oh, well. I'll give you some money. Have fun."

"Ok, be good to Luke ok? He used to be a human being." She rolls her eyes at me again.

The Mentor's House

The mentor asks me, "What are you going to do in Belize?"

"I don't know."

"Where are you staying?"

"I don't know. Lay at a beach. Read a book. Something like that."

"For that long?!"

"Well, I do have some essays to write."

"Well that makes more sense."

Rick and his wife then pray for me to have a safe trip. I feel a sense of peace cover me.

I arrive at the airport at 5:00am. I check in at 5:30. I get scolded by American Airlines for cutting it to close. Oh well.

Why did I chose Belize? That's simple. I have all these miles, these useless British Airway Miles. And the only place that made economical sense to go to was Belize or Central or S. America. So, there we have it. A free airplane ticket.

I arrived into Dallas, TX. I only have to wait one hour in transit. I fly to Belize. I still don't know where I'm staying. I don't know where to go.

I notice the flight is not full. I ask the flight attendant if I could move seats. She says, "of course." I get the best coach seats I can all 5 of them. I go to the front row of coach, right behind the curtain of business class, and enjoy the spaciest seats available. The flight attendant tells me, "Good one."

Belize City

There is no public transport from the airport to Belize City. A taxride is $35-$50 USD. I'm not paying that. I hitchhike out of the airport. By my watch, it'll take me less than 15 minutes to be picked up. It always has in the past.

Less than 15 minutes pass, and a truck full of luggage stops.

In Jamacian accent the black driver says, "Where you going?"

"To the junction."

He drives me to the junction. He goes, "Do you want a ride to the City?"

I said yes.

He drives me. An armed police officer looks at me in the back of the pickup. I wave. He says, "Ni hao." I think Ni hao to you too.

The driver stops. His tall, very athletic looking, with long braids. We have a conversation. He says, "This is the best fried chicken in town." So he orders some fried chicken, as do I.

His right, in only that they cooked it at the right temperature, the batter was the right texture. The problem was that it was bland and not salty. My first meal in Belize was fried chicken. That's also Luke's favorite meal, that or bacon.

He says, "I'll take you to the pier."

He takes me to the pier. I give him $2 USD as a thank you and say, "God bless you." I buy my water jet taxi to a Caye (we in American say Key and in England its Quay).

On the water taxi, I'm doing a complex mathematical equation to pass the time. People think I'm a braniac, crazy, or weird. But they are noticing the X's, Y's, and numbers on a piece of napkin I'm scribbling on.

Most of the tourists here are German. I stop and speak some German. They didn't understand. Then I repeat myself and they go, "Ah, it's Deutsche." Yeah f*(&(*&ers, just because I'm asian doesn't mean I can't speak German. They're even more surprised I have perfect English and they had to ask: "Where are you from?"

At sunset, we arrive at Caye Caulker. I arrive at my island in the sun. I have internet at my hostel, so I can do my work. I ate a lobster for dinner with beirs and rum and coke. It was awesome. I paid $10USD for the lobster cooked. And again, it was awesome.

I'm chatting it up with people. I'm sure they think I'm weird I have work on.

I'll go out lobster diving today at the Carribean Sea. When it gets too hot, I'll start on reading my essay.