Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Viva la Vida en Kahkabila

Waking up at 4:30 with the roosters (Kahkabilans have magical earlobes and awake well-rested around six) and falling asleep with the sun got you down?

No worries! These suggested activities, painstakingly paired with painstakingly selected pictures to optimize the overall, artificial feel of randomness, will have you well on your way to optimizing those 12 hours of productivity each and every day!

Feed the pigs!

Despite what you’ve read in the papers, pigs need food, too. And the coconut shells, plastic wrappers, and indeterminate muck aren’t the best mix for our growing, stinky, mud- and poop-covered friends. So, give a hoot! Feed a pig some watermelon rind.

Fancy dress party!

Ok, so it’s more fancy pants and fancy boots and fancy hat than anything else, but no one can hear you scream about fashion sense in the bush. Tuck your pants tight, grab a stick to navigate the marshes like a trooper, and try to sneak out of town under cover of dark.

Vandalize graves!

So, yeah, it was already like that… but what a compelling caption, huh? The small Kahkabilan graveyard is over a little cement bridge at the southernmost edge of town, and serves as the final resting place for about twenty souls. You might feel like a prick walking around with a camera, but it’s nothing compared to the shame of jokes about grave vandalization on your blog weeks later. So, adjust. 

Highlight: the bright blue grave of the prophet Florentino.

Hunt endangered species!

There’s nothing really funny about this picture, but it does firmly solidify the earlier point regarding randomness. Kahkabila highlights a variety of conflicts between value systems that, in other situations, tend to generally work pretty well together: human rights, renewable energy, conservation, indigenous rights, sanitation, cultural support, etc. As no one says in KKB: welcome to the jungle. Here, you’re dealing with indigenous tribes whose cultural heritage is occasionally hunting sea turtles, whose numbers have mysteriously dwindled in recent years, such that the community is obliged to apply for limited permits from the finicky government of Pearl Lagoon. “Conservation is a luxury,” was how someone put it to us recently.

Turtles are typically 80+ pounds, and sell for about $0.75/pound in Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields. They taste kind of like aquatic pork.

Movie night!

There are at least four or five generators in Kahkabila, some of which provide power for numerous interconnected houses, forming their own little microgrids. Gasoline supplies in Pearl Lagoon are patchy, and diesel supplies aspire to one day rise to the level of patchy. Cross your fingers! When you do manage to track down some fuel (Kahkabilans are resourceful), gather forty or fifty of your closest friends and settle down to a fine US action flick, Jamaica’s “Capone,” or a completely confusing flick regarding voodoo, or something like voodoo. The popcorn and refreshment stand is underwhelming. Near the rightmost side of the pic, you can see Anelia and Oscar (seated) with one of their four daughters, Shelenie. This is the house we stay in, and they haven’t kicked us out!

Go coconuts!

After a hike in the bush, swatting mosquitoes, tracking sloths, and (since you’re traveling with four Kahkabilan friends who know this place like the back of their hand) treating the jungle like a fruit and nut buffet, after you’ve completely stuffed yourself with a fruit that looks like a banana-shaped shallot and tastes like a pineapple and sounds like the word “penguin”, it’s coconut time! The older coconuts, whose interior is what you will most often find in the states, will be picked later for rondon and other dishes, but the younger ones have sweeter milk and a thin, fleshy layer of coconut inside. You feel stuffed, you feel exhausted after 4+ hours, you feel like sleeping, but you won’t be able to say no.


No one but the students know what time it is, and even they don’t care. Welcome to the last couple months before electricity comes. Savor it. Put your feet up. Find two sweet-looking trees and tie your hammock. Go out to the muelle at night and see the best view of the stars you’re likely to see again in a very long time. Let it all sink in, knowing that the blog commentary will be far more flippant than the way it actually feels when you’re there, and that this strange, unsettling place in some forgotten corner of the world is the first place that, for the last few months, at least, has actually felt home-like. … Homely?

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