Look on my works ye mighty, and despair.

My apologies for the long absence. I have been very busy for some weeks trying to finish the boat. I have failed to do this.

 I really wanted to get the whole story up to the present day before showing what I am building, but I can see that I am not going to make it. Hence, some pictures:dsc000621

I cut plywood molds and screwed them to a long tabley-thing called a strongback.  Very long 6mm x 18 mm strips of cedar were then stapled on and glued edge-to edge. The dog’s name is Rocky; I adore him beyond all reason.

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   The main hull is formed. Cedar is not strong however, especially when cut so thin. The hull must be glassfibered inside and out to seal it and give it strength. Prior to this a great deal of tedious and tiring hand-sanding is required – it actually took me ten days and was so wearing that afterwards many people commented on how much weight I had lost. It occurred to me after the robbery that my ideal helper, if I had one, would have been the Karate Kid, due to his experience  sanding things and his ability to defend the house from banditos.

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The hull stained and glassed. Rocky awake, digging after a land crab.

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   Gluing on an end-deck. The lovely shine is from the epoxy resin, but I had to sand it off.

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   The main hull as it stands today,  sanded and ready to be varnished. The stick poking out is a bracket for a steering oar. Gunwhales and trim are of oak and pine.

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This is the lesser hull. It is being built in much the same way as the larger one. Here I am using strips of inner tube to help force the two halves together; they are not cooperating due to changes in humidity warping the shape out of line.

    Two hulls? Yes, this is an outrigger sailing canoe, actually modelled on traditonal sailing craft from Polynesia. In this case, the boat is not merely a canoe with a float, but a much more unusual configuration known as a ”Pacific Flying Proa”. I am indebted to Mr. Gary Dierking of New Zealand for his most excellent book ”Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes”, which gave me the basic hull shape (though I modified it a great deal, wider, longer).

      I wanted a funky, unusual boat and I certainly have it. How’s this for nuts: draw a line from the bow to the stern of any boat you can think of, right down the centreline of the hull. Obviously, the boat is symmetrical about this line ie. the bow and stern may be different (except in the case of certain ”double-enders” such as lifeboats) but of course the sides are mirror-images of each other. The sides have to reflect each other, otherwise you’d have a crazy boat that just went around in circles or fell over or something. Well, that is true I think for every boat in the world except for proas. Yes, the ends are the same but the sides are different.

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The boat is symmetrical only about an axis perpendicular to it’s length. The weirdness in the picture above is not due to some kind of lens distortion. I get endless amusement from watching the locals notice this peculiar lopsidedness. They scratch their heads, clearly wondering if they should point out to me that I have made the most horrendous screw-up in boatbuilding history.

          This boat has no bow or stern. It goes in both directions with equal facility (I hope).  It is always sailed with the outrigger to windward, which means that when sailing into the wind it does not tack, it shunts. I hope to make all this clearer in the future, for now suffice to say that this is possibly the most peculiar craft in Mexico. I can only say possibly because the people here are not above constructing strange and highly imaginative things and in fact there is an extremely odd and enormous vessel being constructed at Alvarado, 40kms south of here, at this moment.

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    Clearly I have competition. I feel a bit emasculated by this thing. I hope I don’t have to go head-to-head in a ”My weird boat is bigger than your weird boat” contest with the man behind this three-hulled Greco-Roman-Aztec goliath, Spanish adventurer Señor Vital Alzar, because I shall lose. My boat is only 6.5 metres in length, his is about 35 metres. but then, mine isn’t costing 2.5 million dollars. I think I might win a sailing race though.

          I intend to return to this post later to fill it out with more detail, when I have more time and am less exhausted, so if you are interested take another look in a couple of weeks.

          A dull post, this, my apologies. I owe many people letters and will catch up when I  can. I have not forgotten, just become disorganized and a bit haggard. Nighty-night then.

Motorcycle trials, and Anton Lizardo

No, the motorcycle wasn’t fixed, in fact was further away from being fixed than it was when I brought it in four hours ago.

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This always happens, they find more and more stuff wrong with it and go back and forth to the parts store. I wind up drinking beer in the squalid workshop and dithering about until the whole day is gone.

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   The squalid workshop. I’m very comfortable here, squalor is my stock-in trade. Sometimes I visit with a six-pack even when there is nothing wrong with the bike.

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    Carlos El Maestro. A very likable fellow.

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Mostly I come for the art.

 

          To continue  (these posts will dry up bit when I finally catch up to the present day). Anton Lizardo turned up at the end of about twenty kilometers of road through an area of sand dunes and sand dunes. Occasionally I caught glimpses of sand dunes beyond the sand dunes.  Anton Lizardo turned out to be a one-story sand-blown town of 4600 inhabitants, fairly shabby, innumerable small tiendas, couple of seven-eleven-type stores, some taxis, a working beach covered in fishing boats, a naval academy, a main square with kids playing football, no visible means of support other than the fishing boats.

Anton Lizardo

Anton Lizardo

The beach at Anton Lizardo

The beach at Anton Lizardo

The beach is a working affair, many small fishing lanchas. It is not somewhere you would go for fun, though there are a bunch of seafood restaurants.

     Did someone say naval academy? Yes, Mexico’s Annapolis is right there in Anton Lizardo. Though the complex borders the town the two do not appear to have much actual interaction. The marinos are penned up, much to the disappointment of the Yellow Limper. You see that, the clever device by which I hook your interest and force you to read more of my blog. Who, or what, is the Yellow Limper? Devilish aren’t I?

It’s not all pain and sufffering, sadly.

Deligthtful weather for a few days now. Cool, sunny, a light breeze blowing in off the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the worst local bassholes have recently moved away or died (I prefer the latter and horribly too) so there is relative peace.

          I’m in an internet cafe in Veracruz. The motorcycle is in the workshop around the corner, being doctored by the Maestro himself; Carlos, and his son, Carlos. I must be patient. Time enough for a spot of blogging; this may be the start of an addiction. I must say that this WordPress outfit is a star.

         Where was I, in Veracruz, ten months ago? I’d found food, then I was back on the sweltering street working my way back through the sidewalk chaos, the street vendors, food stalls and smells, to my hotel for some sleep. I am not so different from a dog, with food in my belly, I’m content. Time for a kip.

           The ceiling fan worked but it was still hot. I slept on and off until evening, then emerged onto the street again, clutching the camera. Things were bustling; The annual Veracruz carnival was a week away and over a million people were expected; many had arrived early. Soon, I was told by the hotel clerk, it would be impossible to get a room. I hoped to be long gone by then.

           But to where? I knew that in order to build a boat and be in a position to test and adjust it, I wanted a spot on or near a beach. Having no idea of the coastal geography, my plan was to buy a used  motorcycle and explore. I thought that a motorcycle would be fast, cheap, convenient, useful, and fun, and so it turned out to be. Eventually.

           I could say that my philosophy vis-s-vis getting to know the area was based on the sensible idea that it would be easier to learn about it once in the vicinity. I could say that I prefer to fly blind. I could say that I find the thrill of discovery more intense on the ground than in a library in Vermont. The truth is though, I had been just too untogether and obsessed with the work I was doing in the States (sawing wood into pieces and arranging them in a pile) to have gotten around to doing any preparatory research at all, beyond discovering the fact that a specie of bamboo suited to my purposes was grown commercially in the State of Veracruz. That’s all I knew. I needed a bike.

            Then… an idea. Lonely Planet! Or some similar travellers’ guide. Why hadn’t I brought one along? Was I a complete idiot? Where could I find one here? Information!

            A bookstore here wouldn’t have one. Why would anyone here need a travel guide in English? I needed to find a traveller who was carrying one. But here’s the thing. There were no gringos. I thought this very strange. Everyone has heard of Veracruz, surely there’d be loads of foreigners about. Not at all. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen any. And it is not as if they are hard to spot. Veracruz may actually be a tourist destination, but not for foreigners.  There had to be a few though.

            I wandered around. Eventually I came across Martina in a internet cafe. Tall, attractive, friendly, Austrian, I dare say she was forever fending off unsubtle approaches from Mexican machos, doubtless she thought my own request for a look at her guidebook if she happened to have one to be along the same lines, which it wasn’t; I had other things on my mind for a change. Yes, she had a Lonely Planet, I could borrow it and return it to her at such-and-such a cafe at eight o’clock.

        When alone in a strange city in the night, rendezvousing with a stranger on an unusual mission, things can take on a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere. I wondered if I should employ tradecraft, wear a false moustache and those things that make your cheeks puff out.

        The book was helpful only in that it showed that there really was no place around that was anything like what I thought I wanted ie. somewhere quiet, on the beach but not too far from the big city or a bamboo forest, and with a few alcoholic ex-patriots or travellers  around for occasional company. Nothing like that. A bit about Veracruz, a bit about Jalapa., not too much else. Mostly there were just great blank areas on the map with no information at all and for the first time I began to get a sense of how absolutely vast the country is, how hidden are most of it’s places and processes from the casual visitor, how deeply mysterious.

         I met Martina at the cafe, had a beer. To my disappointment there were no assassination attempts, no drop-offs of microdots. Martina had been teaching English in Mexico City, and travelling many months around the country. We wandered the streets, through the Zocalo, the main square with it’s flagstone and trees, the trunks painted white,  full of screechy birds. The cathedral loomed warmly on one side. All very colonial and tasteful. Passing a cafe, Martina spotted Miguel Lara Rodriquez, who she knew somehow, sitting at a table drinking with friends and surrounded by mariachis. We went over.

        Señor Rodriguez was a rich man, owner of a construction firm. He said he would never work again. He had hired the mariachis to play music for his table exclusively the entire evening. He would not let us pay for our drinks. He was short and wide and I don’t mean to be unkind when I say he bore no small resemblance to an enormous toad. We drank, Martina translated a lot of conversation for my benefit, which could only have been tiresome for her.  Every few seconds a street vendor would approach to try to sell us something, watches, peanuts, carved spoons, magnet toys. The mariachis crowded around us, squeezed between our backs and the other tables, played loud and well. Several other groups of mariachis circulated around other tables nearby, the result being an earsplittling cacophony, not unpleasant but it made conversation even harder. They were all very good, Veracruz is a big mariachi town. Miguel sang, as did his team who were also his employees. Miguel presented Martina with his cd, ”Miquel Lara Rodriquez Sings” or something like that.

         Miguel was certainly a caballero (a horseman, ie. a gentleman). He made every effort to make us comfortable and provide for us and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite the slight bruising of my egalitarian feelings over the business of the mariachis standing about as a sort of group human cd player. Miguel was interested in my project and declared that he owned a disused restaurant in Anton Lizardo which I might find suitable as a construction venue. He would send someone to collect me in the morning and take me out there.

          A couple of hours passed and finally Martina and I excused ourselves and we went our separate ways. I found a churros (thick strings of vegan dough deep fried in vegetable oil then rolled in large-grain sugar, it’s pretty good) as I ambled about in search of food, bemused by the many prostitutes who called to me. Many of them were great hulking shemales which surprised me but I had yet to learn that despite Mexico’s religiosity the place is quite free and easy about this sort of thing.

          The next morning a water truck containing two of the men from the night before showed up almost on time at the appointed place. Miguel was true to his word. We blasted off at at least warp factor nine towards Anton Lizardo, the g-forces distorting our features. This speed was no mean feat for a vehicle loaded with so many 20-litre bottles.  We made a few deliveries along the way, stopped again so that I could admire a sand quarry owned by Miguel. At one point Enrique pointed at Eduardo, said ”He’s gay” and giggled.

        This was so childish that it was funny, and no isolated incident either. It has happened over and over again to the point of absolute predictability. Whenever I am amongst a group of men,  the watermelon farmers, the fishermen, the guys who are fixing my bike, sooner or later one of them will point to another, say ”He’s gay” and giggle. I have learned to say ”Well, obviously”, which has them rolling in the aisles every time. It’s not that they give a damn if someone is gay or not (Carlos, son of Carlos El Maestro of the bike repair shop, really is gay), they just enjoy the banter, as men do. 

           I think that the bike may be ready now so I must go. The next thrilling installment will begin where I left off, hurtling towards Anton Lizardo with two guys in a water truck, at least one of whom may or may not be gay.

There Will be Bugs.

Making oars today.

Making oars today.

If this is your first time reading this blog, bear in mind that there are several earlier postings. I would prefer that these postings appeared in chronological order, but I can’t find the trick to make that happen… my earliest posts are therefore at the bottom, or in the sidebar, under ”November”.

     The weather cheered up just when I was about to ask for my money back from God. Enthused, I went for a run down the beach but something snapped in my calf and it took me a long time to hobble home. This running barefoot on the sand has been quite a trial, it seems to require Achilles tendons to be stretched longer than shod feet have ever needed, thus they hurt abominably and I had to quit running. After five months of resting them, limping severely upon rising in the morning, they were no better, so I decided to run again in the hope that they would be stimulated into healing…and it worked; after a couple more months I was almost free of pain. The calf thing is a new one though.

        Banditos! I arrived home to find the door kicked in, my wallet emptied of about 400 dollars. I had become slack about security after ten months here without trouble. I leapt upon the motorcycle and charged off down the road behind the place (There is a dirt road out the front, and another, poorer one behind which I call the ”dirtier road”). I hope to catch the guy back there but all I got for my trouble was stuck in deep mud. I returned bespattered to the house and was relieved to discover my passport and bank cards were still there. Later, after questoning the neighbors, I drove to Anton Lizardo and returned with a truckload of policemen; not that I expected much from them, but if nobody even tries then these thieves will always have a free hand. The cops were nice enough but despite my protests they walked all over the only evidence – footprints around the door – thus destroying any chance of justice.
      More annoying than the loss of the money and the work I have to do to fix the door is the loss of peace of mind; I can’t leave the place alone now. Tonight as I write my power tools are hidden outside in the bushes, the sewing machine is in the chicken coop, and my passport lives in a jam jar under a foot of sand, but I can’t clear everything out and even the loss of a rasp would be most inconvenient.      

       Rasp thieves, the scourge of Mexico.
       The police here are not much help. They made no attempt to gain information from the neighbors. It is like that here, lawlessness and disorder is the norm and whilst I am all for freedom, this country is way out of control. Theft, corruption, drug wars, kidnapping… three months ago a local child was abducted from a primary school and found later in the countryside; all his organs including his eyes had been surgically removed [Er… later I discovered that this was just a rumor, a kind of urban legend that travels many countries.] There are no consequences to antisocial behavior, so whilst the dangerous driving and the horribly disturbing and intrusive thumping and pounding of the subwoofers of the numerous ”bassholes” may be technically illegal, there is nobody to stop it and all must live without tranquility, without hope of even an hour of peace a day. It’s not ”their culture”. The only thing about it that ¡s cultural is that the vast majority of law-abiding, peaceful, considerate Mexicans do not and will not stand up for themselves until pushed to the very brink of death.
I have, here, developed a deep appreciation for the relative social order which largely prevails in the States and Europe.
We have learned the identity of the thieves, three youths on a motorcycle, well known for coming out to Mata and Zapote to steal what they can. These swine are the terror of the neighborhood, people cannot leave their homes unattended, cannot even go to church together as a family. The only hope of dealing with them is to catch them in the act, in which case it is generally considered acceptable to give them a beating they’ll never forget. My immediate neighbors and I have come up with a plan, that should they be seen approaching, friends in Mata will call the neighbors and they will call across the fields to me; I shall throw on my shorts and sprint to the beach, where I shall take pains to be seen going for a run. We hope that they will be tempted into robbing me again, in which case heaven help them, for I shall have turned around and followed them back to my house.

         This will probably not happen of course. And today I learned that thanks to a call to the Commandante from a friend the Director General of Tourism and Culture, the police are after the youths and they have gone on the run. Well, they can afford to with my cash can’t they? They’ll be back though. 

           There is so much to write. You’d think, well, he’s kind of on holiday so he’s got all the time in the world to write whatever he wants, but it just isn’t so. It’s about ten days since I have been able to make the time to come to the internet cafe. This whole ”it’ll be ready when it’s ready” idea doesn’t work for me at all. I’ve been here for ten months, and I have a beloved visitor arriving in two weeks, and I want this boat DONE!. I guess instead of working all hours I could just sit on my hands and wish, a la that paragon of intellectual midgetry The Secret.

         People want to see the boat. Ok then, here’s a close-up.dsc00189

   She’s a beauty, eh?

        At some point I have to make a disclaimer of sorts. I’m building this boat with the idea of sailing it southwards right? But I have always known that this plan is foolhardy at best, completely stupid at worst. The longer I stay here the more I become aware of how contrary the sea is, how lethal. It may be that this boat just doesn’t go well enough to be viable. It may be too painful, even for me. It may be that after the first hard blow I go screaming for my Mama (hello Mum). So my disclaimer is this: I am not promising anything; there may well be no great adventure and you will have wasted your time ploughing through all these words of mine.

         Another disclaimer: none of what I say about Mexico should be taken as gospel. It is a vast, enormously complex, amazing and marvellous place and my knowledge of it is but a flea on an elephant.

            In my earliest posts I started to relate the story of my arrival in Veracruz. I left myself wandering about in search of food. I’d flown from the Dominican Republic to Panama to Mexico City to Veracruz without sleep or, as is so often the case for the travelling vegan, food. My eyes were like dried peas. I could have eaten a soya horse. I weaved through the throng and the chaos of the market looking for some kind of cheap restaurant/cafe, of which there are plenty, but not all of them looked right. I’d finally choose one, generally an open-fronted affair maybe with awnings against the sun, plastic tables and chairs, a menu scrawled on a board. I’d enter. There’d be a moment of horror and panic on the face of the woman emerging from the kitchen, changing to hope as she’d have the idea that maybe I’d just made a navigational error and would move on. None of this was out of meaness, the thing is that I was almost certainly the first foreigner that had ever entered, and the first one that she had ever had to talk to, and she did not know how to handle it. Also, Mexican women can be extremely shy, less so in the cities but even there one might try to ask a woman for directions and find that she just breezes on by as if you didn’t exist…I thought that this was extremely rude at first when I didn’t understand the reason, and deeply perplexing because Mexicans are not rude, far from it, they have beautiful manners that would put most of the rest of us to shame.

         My Spanish was incoherent but did in fact include a number of words related to the procurement of nosh; this is normal in the travelling vegan, in any strange country he is at first like a newborn baby that can do nothing at all except suck a nipple. So I’d smile my way up there, the woman looking about her at all possible avenues of escape, and say ”Good morning. Do you have anything for vegetarians”.

        I was aghast to discover that the brand of Spanish spoken here is nothing like anything I’d heard elsewhere; I could understand almost nothing of what was said to me in reply. Even where the Spanish was more ”normal” I’d be doing well to get one word in fifteen. You know the way policemen and astronauts can listen to a garbled and unintelligble transmission and understand every word? I’ve always marvelled at that. The harder I try to catch the meaning, the more slips by. Here, we were mutually incomprehensible. But you have to get back on the horse, and by keeping things simple a kind of communication would be established. 

         ” I don’t eat meat. Do you have any rice, beans, plantains, guacamole, salsa…?”

         ”Yes, we have chicken, beefsteak…”

         ”No, I don’t eat meat. Only vegetables.”

         ”We have chicken”

          ”I only eat vegatbles. Do you have beans, rice?”

          ”Yes, OK.”

           ”Ah, lovely.”

           ”Chicken tortas, ham soup…”

          ”No, those are meat. I don’t eat meat. Just some beans and rice would be good”.

          ”We don’t have any.”

           Conversations like this, and there were many, left me deeply sympathetic to the women who looked so nervous on my approach.

           Despite the negative outcome of the conversations I noticed a most peculiar thing. Almost my every interaction with a Mexican left me glowing with pleasure. They were just so damned nice. There’s no routine ”Have a nice day” spoken without conviction, as in the States. Almost always a genuine, warm smile, from the eyes as much as the mouth, every facet of the person’s vocal and body language would tell you that they really did want you to have a nice day, that they enjoyed speaking with you, that they hope you will stop by again. They are mostly a sweet, easily lovable people with  enormously valuable things to teach the rest of the world. But what they have cannot be taught I fear, and if it could be, it’s too late. I think that they are having trouble hanging on to it themselves.

            Finally I found a tiny place worked by two girls. Beans, rice, tortillas, fried plantains, sliced avocados, a spicy green liquid salsa. It was delicious. Two dollars and eighty cents. Oh man, I thought, I’ve landed.

            It is time for a photo.

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           This nest, made by that iconic Mexican avian the lesser-spotted wibbly-wobbly bird, has been hanging from the cables directly over the middle of the sand-blown road between Veracruz and Anton Lizardo for seven months!  The nortes that blow so regularly here almost tear the hair off your head and move dunes of sand across the road which have to be trucked away, so this nest’s survival is astonishing to me.

           It is late and this internet cafe is closing, so you will sadly be spared my intended treatise on oar-making, a fascinating subject replete with meaning and substance. Well, it’s your loss.

     I must wend my way home along the dark roads and the mile of beach, through the gate and across the field, weaving between the cows, then through the other gate and round the back and into my grotto, and there I shall go to bed.  I rather dread it. There will be bugs.     

Goodnight

Goodnight