Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots

Karl showed up yesterday afternoon, soon after I finished bawling electronically. I had been dawdling all morning, putting off the vast quantity of necessary boat tasks (including dishes from more than a week ago) until the afternoon, when I could have the sunlight beating in through the companionway. (The stern of the boat faces west, so the afternoon’s always hotter than the morning.) Instead, he dragged me off to see Nappy, fresh off the airplane. Nappy’s trying to finalize a BTC contract, and I’ve taken on the role of business consultant. I helped him compose a formal report for BTC upper-level management, which filled the local managers with admiration. It’s fun when my former “real world” skills come in handy.

I was dying to go out afterwards--part of the reaons for my ongoing angst, I think, hasn’t just been the claustrophobia of the boat, but the claustrophobia of the house and the tiny insular community out at Pittstown. I don’t like feeling like my every move is being watched, that even tiny missteps are noted. I was sick of cooking, sick of being alone, and I wanted to go out on the town. The obvious answer was Blackjack’s, our favorite local hangout, for chicken snacks and dominoes.

Both Karl and I were dropping broad hints (we still have to talk our chauffeur into transportation, and the much-patched tires are still a major factor) when Nappy told us that Diamond (Blackjack’s brother) has raised prices yet again! When we first arrived, less than a month and a half ago, a chicken snack, with six chicken wings and fries, was $6. A couple of weeks ago, we realized upon settling up that the price has gone up to $8, still a fair price in the outer islands. In Nassau, a chicken snack, the standard Bahamian meal-on-the-go, is $4.50. Today, Nappy told us it’s up to $10! That’s what we pay for the fantastic full-on steak dinner at Barbara’s, with pigeon peas and rice, coleslaw, and veggie! Ridiculous. Yet another example of lousy island business practice. Now we’re not going to go to Blackjack’s, we’re not going to hang out for hours playing dominoes. I just can’t bring myself to pay that. We can’t afford it, for one thing.

Instead, we drifted by Pokyman’s, to discover that he and his gang had gone out and snagged a big barracuda. We’ve only eaten barracuda once, at Blackjack’s, as it’s a dangerous proposition out here. A lot of them are poisoned with ciguatera. In fact, Blackjack just came back on the plane yesterday after staying at the hospital in Nassau to treat his case of ciguatera. If you’ve never gotten sick from it, barracuda is about the best fish you’ve ever tasted. Once you’ve been poisoned, you can’t even say the word barracuda.

We’ve been trying to figure out what ciguatera is since we arrived in the Bahamas. We’ve caught several barracuda and let them all go. There all sorts of stories about it--we do know that it comes from barracuda eating smaller fish, who feed on something poisonous. I thought, initially, that it was from feeding off fire coral, a coral that’s poisonous to humans, and it might still be that. Lately, though, we’ve heard more stories about it being a kind of heavy-metal poisoning, that the reefs that the little fish feed off are grown on sunk wrecks and the detritus of industrial waste. Who knows what the truth is. Bahamians have all kinds of arcane ways of figuring out whether a fish is poison or not: the stories we’ve heard are that if the flies gather, you know it’s good, if you catch it on the banks, you know it’s good, and various other methods. On Crooked, people say that fish feeding off the north side of the island are bad, and fish from the south side are fine. I’m not so sure I believe it, but whatever. Eating barracuda is a little like eating that blowfish sushi from Japan that can kill you. It’s a risky proposition, but the danger somehow increases the pleasure.

Last night was one of our best Bahamian cultural experiences so far. We hung out with Pokyman, watching awful American movies and listening to brutally loud Bahamian rake-and-scrape, drifting in and out to watch the giant fire stoked in one of those horizontal barrel barbecues. The guys (Coochie and Carl), had made a wood fire of ferocious heat, using the wood they use to infuse Campari, the Italian liqueur. People go out to Samana to collect the bark, for which Campari pays $7 a pound. The Bahamas is one of the only places it grows. They had a battered pan full of oil, and they were deep-frying the fish over the fire. I’ve never seen that done, and I’ve never tasted fish so delicious. That’s all we had, was fish--no potatoes, no veggies, nothing. I risked a couple of small pieces of barracuda, and Nappy ate about three-quarters of the barry single-handedly. I’ve never seen anyone eat fish like that. I was praying it wasn’t poison, or he wouldn’t have been able to come to work for a week. Karl, playing it safe, just had a bite, but there was plenty of other fish to sample--hogfish and trigger fish, almost as delicious.

It was great to be out again, having good conversations about Bahamian politics and religion and Crooked Island business with Nappy, to hear music without worrying about electricity, to eat food that didn’t come out of a can, and that I didn’t have to clean up after. I could feel myself breathing a big sigh of relief.


SciGuy said...

Ciguatera is a type of organic toxin produced by a certain kind of algae that travels up the food chain and collects in predators.

SciGuy said...

Also, you can buy Ciguatera test kits.

SciGuy said...

One last thing -- the symptoms of ciguatera poisoning can kill you, last two weeks, or up to 2 years. It makes hot things feel cold and cold things feel hot and an overall feeling of pain.

Melissa said...

SciGuy, do you know if ciguatera is pollution related at all? We've heard different things. I knew it was related to algae that travels up the food chain, but we've also heard that the algae feeds on environmental toxins--things like old wrecks and things that have been dumped in the water. Do you know if that's true? And how much do the kits cost?