Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Trip to Cayos Cochinos

This is the boat, owned and operated by Greg Baldwin, which brought us to Cayos Cochinos on Tuesday. There were 13 passengers plus Greg, first mate J.J., and two dogs. We had a pretty bouncy trip over but we were all ok until we stopped to fish along the way. You can see that the boat is outfitted for deep sea fishing. Some of the men in our group were anxious to try their hand at fishing and Greg was happy to oblige them, calling this area "some of the best fishing around". Greg had spotted some tuna running along side the boat. While sitting there bouncing, some of us began feeling queasy - some a little, some a lot. Poor Kellie was miserable and was finally quite sick. That got some attention and we were soon on our way again. Sadly, not one fish was caught. We did see a lot of dolphins jumping across our wake. Three times Karl spotted a suspicious white box floating in the sea. This is also an area known for drug drops/pickups.

Is this perfect or what!? This is Lower Monitor Cay, inhabited only by the Garifuna people. It's about 1/3 mile long.

The village of Chachahuate covers the whole island and is home to 63 Garifuna people. The Cayos Cochinos has been a Marine Biological Reserve since 1994, so no commercial fishing is allowed within an 8 kilometer perimeter. The Garifuna survive by fishing. They were helped out by the World Wildlife Foundation who came to the island and helped establish another way to earn a living - tourism. The WWF helped build cabins for lodging tourists, put in two composting toilets, and a cooperative kitchen for feeding the tourists. The kitchen is run by a co-op of women who take turns cooking for guests, each one responsible for feeding 25 people. They are supervised by Roman, one of the council members. If you want coffee, he will designate who makes it. It seems to work well. There are also a couple of small pulperias where anyone can buy snacks, cold drinks, a few medications, some grocery items. There is no fresh water on the island, it must be carried in by boat. We were told to bring bottled water for ourselves or survive on soft drinks, coffee, or beer. We were later given a 5 gallon bucket of fresh water primarily for washing up, although the man who delivered the buckets indicated that it was ok to drink it. We didn't.

On the boat, waiting for the small boat to ferry us to shore.

Pelicans waiting for someone to throw fish guts out into the water - a frequent occurence.

Don, taking in the pristine beauty. The island straight ahead is Cayo Pequeno.

Once settled into our spartan rooms containing a bed (Don and I had a double bed, most cabins had bunk beds), a table, 2 plastic chairs, a small mirror on the wall, and one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, we were shown the location of the bathroom and shower. The bathroom is a small outhouse (a one-holer, as we would say in Missouri), with a composting toilet and a bucket of sea water to flush it with. There are actually two outhouses, back to back. The Garifuna use one, visitors use the other. The shower house was larger and upon investigation was found to contain 2 bunk beds and a shelf with a bucket of water - empty. We thought we must be in the wrong building, but no, this was it. You shower by taking your big bucket of water and pouring some of it over your head with a smaller bowl. We then had time to walk around the island, meet some of the people, take some pictures before gathering in the thatched dining room. We were soon feasting on an incredible fish dinner - each person got a whole fish, plus rice and beans and fried plantains. The fish was sooooo good!

Then it was time to snorkel....

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