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“White wo-man!”

“White wo-man!”

I cringed. It could only be me the voice from behind was calling. The last time a man jogged to catch up with me on my walk from the white house to our dinghy in Clare Valley, not the presence of my toddler riding on my shoulders nor my declaration of love and commitment for my husband did anything to quell his lengthy proposition to please me like no other man could.

“White wo-man!”

The eyes of nearby villagers were on me and my two children, waiting to see what would unfold. The slap of feet pounding pavement grew louder. Goats bleated. Chickens pecked at bugs. I stopped walking and turned around.

The eyes of a dreadlocked man, barefoot and in a raggedy t-shirt and shorts, lit up when he saw my acknowledgment. 

He stopped inside my invisible comfort bubble, panting, and smiled. “Good morning,” he said.

I steeled myself. “Good morning.”

“You have solar panels. I need a solar panel. Can you get me one?”

“A solar panel?” The surprise in my face and voice must have been something to see.

“Yeah, I live on the mountain,” he gestured behind him. The villagers came closer. “We have no power. You have solar panels, yeah? I have money. I can pay for it.”

My shock turned to instant admiration. He wanted to talk business! My heart swelled. He would be my ally.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo Home-Away Holiday Rentals travel blogging competition hosted by Grantourismo Travel and  Home-Away Holiday Rentals.

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Comic books and graphic novels are the favorite reading material of Remy and Simon these days so they circulate through our house by the armful. Our latest find is artist, Kazu Kibuishi, cartoonist extraordinaire. We can’t wait for the third book in his Amulet series to be published, but this Copper cartoon actually inspired me to create my own cartoon. 

But how in the world will I draw it? I wondered. I tried to convince Remy to help me out but she ditched me. So here it is. Try to look beyond the poor quality of the drawings. If nothing else, it was fun.

Here’s the real life photo that should be inserted between the seventh and eighth panels.

Life can be so complicated.

After seeing my last post, Brian said matter-of-factly, “That’s not a great picture of you. You look kind of weird.” I took a second look and, yeah, I think I need to say something about it. 

That picture shows what happens when you go from living in a house in the city, your main job being taking care of kids and driving a car most places you go, to living in a house on a mountainside that you can’t drive to, hence your children and every single item you eat, use, or need (including propane tanks and gasoline for the generator) has to be carried up the mountainside, plus accomodating guests whose rooms are scattered throughout a 50 acre valley, and a dependence on boat transport (in which you, yourself, are often responsible for hauling said boat in and out of the water) as your means of access to the outside world.

Want to see the picture again?

Now I’m not saying taking care of kids in the city is a walk in the park. In fact, I considered myself to be in pretty good shape from chasing kids around all day. But compare the photo above to this one, of Brian and I six months previous, while we were vacationing at Petit Byahaut.

We’re not really looking our best, having just gotten out of the water from snorkeling in the rain, but there is a difference between the photos, no?  I know this would be more impressive if I had been more ample before starting our lives as resort operators, but I think I look, you know, reasonably healthy in the bikini photo. My collarbone isn’t bulging through my skin and my face is more oval than gaunt.

My mom took the picture of Remy and I in the dining room. We had been on the island for two and a half months and Mom and Dad had just arrived for the holidays. She had a look of concern on her face when she said, “You look really different. You’re so thin, but you’re muscular. You just look so different.”

All I had really noticed was that a) all my shorts were falling down, and b) I could now almost sprint up the mountainside to retrieve or deposit this, that, or the other from The Treehouse where we lived, if I didn’t have a kid on my shoulders.

So while my parents were visiting, my mom put darts into all my shorts, just like she had done when I was seven. And Brian started using a piece of nylon cord, left over from the installation of the incredibly appreciated and loved no-see-um net Mom had sewn for our bed, to hold up his shorts. So functional was that cord that Brian still uses it today to hold up his pants.

As the months passed, I’d like to think our bodies got used to our new lifestyle and eased into a more natural looking state. They were just in shock in the beginning.

So, anyone looking to drop pounds and build muscle for the upcoming bathing suit season?

The day we landed on St. Vincent happened to be Remy’s fifth birthday. I don’t remember my daughter having much interest in flowers before we moved to Petit Byahaut, but once there, she became obsessed with them.

   

 

I couldn’t blame her. We were surrounded by a myriad of amazing tropical flowers. She would watch with envy as Mary changed the floral displays on the restaurant tables with each meal setting. Remy often got her turn to do the flower arranging.   

Occasionally, Remy would get to choose and clip the bougainvillea branch we’d place on the bed of newly arriving guests.

 

When we walked thru the rainforest, she collected all the fallen fig flowers she could carry.

And the gorgeous peach-colored hibiscus growing next the bathtub was impossible to resist.

When we left St. Vincent, she didn’t leave her new love of flowers behind. It has remained firmly a part of who she is.

 

When she’s got a camera in hand, this is what she photographs:

   

     

So Remy is 11 now and her interests are in fact, broader than flowers. Do you want a peek into her room? I snapped this photo today (she said she didn’t mind if I shared it).

 

It pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? The spindly plant with the red petals in the back is the poinsettia she bought at Christmas and can’t bare to part with. 

I often wonder if Remy would love flowers as much as she does if we had never moved to the island. We’ll never know.

It’s International Women’s Day and I’ve spent the day thinking of these two women.

“Mary” cleaned rooms, served meals, cooked and washed dishes at Petit Byahaut. She was a single mother of four daughters: two teenagers and two young school girls and when she wasn’t sleeping at Petit Byahaut, she lived at her mother’s house with her daughters.

Mary made some of the best soups I’ve ever tasted out of ingredients that I had always thrown away. She was relieved when her mother bought a television so her daughters would go straight home from school and stay inside watching tv. She washed her clothes in a five gallon bucket while I washed mine in a washing machine. She scolded me when I tied the knot of the plastic sugar bag too tight to easily open it—even a loose knot kept out the insects. Sometimes she was resentful. Sometimes she was proud. Sometimes we laughed together.

Dona Corina Picado lives in the northern mountains of Nicaragua and, with the help of just a few assistants, operates her farm and rents out a few guest rooms. She has no plumbing, no vehicle, no refrigeration, no modern stove.

The first time we met, she was returning to the farm from a forest path with a farmhand. She told us she was tired and then went on to discuss what we’d like to have for dinner. After settling on a menu, she asked if she could make French fries for our children.

A faded t-shirt hung on the wall of the dining room with the word, Sandinista, screen printed on it. The bloody war that left land mines in the mountains she called home began in the prime of her life. I longed to know more from her and about her, but my Spanish wasn’t up to par for such an important conversation. 

She reminded me so much of my grandmother: independent, tough, capable, but soft on the inside. She couldn’t resist serving something special only for the children at each meal.

These two women who live so far away from me, with circumstances so different from me, really are me. Who are the women that have made an impact on your life?

Brian did a lot of planning, shopping for, cooking, and serving of the three daily meals, but his additional responsibilities meant a second cook was a requirement.

So we hired a local chef. I’ll call him “Check”. Check and I got off to a bad start. On day one, our toddler and new puppy were wrestling, as youngsters do, and when the puppy’s sharp teeth made Simon cry out in surprise and pain and hurt feelings, Check rushed to Simon’s defense and swatted the puppy across the room. In turn, I rushed to the puppy’s defense. Our relationship spiraled downward from there.

More than once I’ve been told, “You’re so….calm.” Maybe it was a kind way of saying I’m dull or emotionless, but never has anyone told me I seem explosive or the type of person who thrives on conflict. But that was Check’s and my relationship. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

The after effects of each conflict reverberated to Brian. I lost track of how many conversations we had about whether to let Check go. But, where would that have left us? With Brian cooking and prepping every single meal, every single day. Check was too skilled in the kitchen, too capable of creating his own menu, and too able to wow our guests with his food. And they liked him. How could they like him? At the time, I didn’t get it.

Now that some time has passed, the reasons for that continual clash are clearer to me. Check was well read, had lived outside his country for a period of time, had strong opinions about foreign and local politics, and knew well the life of injustice, including a double whammy of recent occurrences. Then I landed on his soil–a white American woman with countless freedoms, slightly younger than him, ready to take charge and make my personal dream a success. A recipe for disaster.  

In honor of Check, I wanted to share a signature recipe of his. However, he didn’t leave his recipes lying around. So I thought I would recreate the parfaits he often made for dessert. How hard could it be, I thought. Hard enough to point out that a food blogger I am not.

I thought I would be all style-y and pour the warm panna cotta in the glass at a tilt, but I didn’t think through that the coulis wouldn’t stay in place at an angle, and the mousse definitely wouldn’t cooperate with the angle. So each one is a new attempt to make it look presentable. It didn’t work. The good thing is that each of these three layers is still delicious.

      

Comments from the tasters: Simon (now 8): “It’s delicious just the way it is.” Remy (now 11): “If you like mango, you’ll like this.” Even our Akita, Hoshi, tried it. He would have eagerly finished it off if we allowed him. For what it’s worth. 

What I should have done was consult with my chef husband before starting this experiment, rather than after. His suggestion of starting with the mousse on the bottom, then add the coulis, then the panna cotta was the answer. Here’s my final attempt.

Since the panna cotta had already set, I whisked it again which made it creamy enough to spoon over the top. Or alternatively, you could put a dollop of the mango mousse on top the panna cotta. Or scoop some mango mousse into a bowl and decorate with the coulis. Or try just the panna cotta with a zigzag of coulis over it.

Go ahead Check, shake your head at me again.

 

Mango Parfaits

Check would make parfaits with whatever fruit was available, be it mangoes, guavas, passion fruit, bananas, even plumrose. Pasteurized heavy cream isn’t available on St. Vincent so instead one is forced to use this gloppy stuff labeled as cream that could, if you’re careful, retain the shape of the can from which you expel it. Using real, refrigerated, liquid cream is a luxury here.

 Mango Mousse (or Fool)

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2000

1 ¼ tsp unflavored gelatin

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 large ripe mangoes, flesh coarsely chopped

¼ c sugar, or to taste

¾ c heavy cream + 1 tbsp sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over lime juice in a small heatproof cup and let stand 1 minute to soften. Purée mangoes with sugar in a blender or food processor and force through a sieve into a large bowl.

Melt softened gelatin in cup in a pan of water on low heat, then stir into purée. Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks and gently fold into purée.

Chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Mango Coulis

1 large ripe mango, flesh coarsely chopped

1 – 2 tbsp sugar (to taste)

Puree mango and sugar in blender or food processor. Force through sieve into bowl.

Panna Cotta

Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

1 cup milk

1 (1/4 ounce) pkg unflavored gelatin

2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup sugar

Pour ½ cup of the milk in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it, let sit for 5 minutes. Heat on low, stirring until the gelatin has dissolved.

Add remaining milk, cream, vanilla and sugar and cook over medium heat until steam rises from the pot. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Pour into six cups. Refrigerate until set.

There’s something about placing toilets and showers outdoors, without walls around them, in guest accommodations, that’s, well…..unusual.

     

We stayed at both, The Lookout

 

and Pillow Dreams

 

before we moved into The Treehouse (thanks Charles and Sharon for boating in that lovely cast iron tub and hauling it up the steep hill–that couldn’t have been easy).

 

At first, I too, would abruptly look over my shoulder, thinking I heard footsteps coming while showering. But it didn’t take long to get used to it. Once you realize your little bungalow really is a quiet retreat away from it all, you start to relax.

However, you may find some little surprises. Like when you need to pee after dark and open the toilet seat lid and something jumps out. You leap back in surprise, then grab a flashlight and look closer. You’re not going to sit down until you know there’s nothing else in there. Lifting the seat, you startle a handful of tiny quarter-sized frogs who hop away quickly.

Or you wash your hands at the sink and notice little teeth marks in the bar of soap.  What kind of critter eats soap, you wonder. (I’m pretty sure it was rats).

Or you start showering under the stars and hear a scuffling near your feet. You scream, it sounds big. It doesn’t scamper away so again, you grab a flashlight. You find a softball sized hermit crab determinedly attempting to climb the earth alongside the shower.

My own favorite memory of the bathrooms placed in nature is of showering one night at sunset, enjoying the colorful view between hair rinsings when a swarm of hundreds of bats flew high overhead. That was cool.

 

I love this picture. I know Remy’s hair is in her face and both her and Simon’s eyes are closed, but this picture tells a thousand words.

Simon has his eyes shut tight because he doesn’t want to have his picture taken and he thinks we won’t see him if he can’t see us. I’m embarrassed to point this out, but do you see the red spots covering his legs? We’ve been on the island for just a few weeks and we haven’t yet learned the best way to protect ourselves from the mosquito-like no-see-ums. I’ve already been scolded by ladies in town for not taking better care of my children. Remy’s legs are covered in white Calamine polka dots but Simon would rather go without.

The necklace Remy’s wearing, she chose and bought it with money she got for her birthday. It was the only one of its kind–white plastic pearls with a teardrop shaped pearl pendant–on a tabletop of red, green and yellow wooden bead and shell necklaces.

The cooler in the bed of the truck holds ice cream, the two boxes on the bench are cases of booze, the sack of rice and Simon’s yellow and orange life vest rest atop more boxes full of groceries. We just paid 20 Eastern Caribbean cents for the black plastic bag to carry the fish we bought at the open air market.

The two men in the background who were passing by at that very moment—they are St. Vincent. One man in khaki pants, collared shirt and dress shoes. The other in dreadlocks and a beard, cut off pants, barefoot.

And Brian’s in the driver’s seat wondering, Why the hell does she have to take a picture now?

I was going to take the photo several minutes earlier, while Brian was inside Gonsalves Liquors, making the last of our purchases for the day. But then a construction truck too big to fit down the road started yelling to me to move further over so they could pass. So I started up the truck and moved it over, but it wasn’t far enough, the men yelled. I carefully moved over further as they continued directing, until the front right wheel dropped off the road into the concrete drainage ditch. Then the men were really beside themselves. With much theatrical drama, all six of them got out of the truck, and pushed the Ford Ranger back onto the road. And as Brian exited the store, he was met with great disapproval of his wife’s driving ability.

But besides his annoyance about that whole scene, he’s looking at his watch, counting the few remaining hours to plan a menu and prep for dinner and decide how many staff to keep for the night. It’s afternoon and we have no idea if there are yachts in the bay which will determine how many guests we’ll have for dinner. We have to get back, he thinks.

I’m not sure why I had to take this photo then. I was still shaken up after that driving incident. Probably, I had the camera with me, and thought it an opportunity to snap a shot of a day running errands in town. I didn’t know it would tell so much more.

Mostly, the books I read are travel memoirs. Offer me the latest bestselling novel or a true story of adventure in a foreign land, there’s no question which book I’ll take.

Recently, I came across The Motion of the Ocean by Janna Cawrse Esarey. The Seattle author and her brand new husband sailed off into the wild blue yonder on a two year sailing trip across the Pacific. Her subtitle, 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife gives you an idea of the comedic ups and downs she shares of their new life together.  

Sailing around the world has been on my to-do list for some years now, even though I don’t know how to sail. While we lived at Petit Byahaut, we shared our bay with yachties from around the world. How fortunate were we to get a glimpse into the live aboard sailing world without actually doing it?

Some of our most memorable friendships were made with live aboard sailors. Jeremy on Fortitude sometimes felt like our sole comrade radioing as he sailed by with clients heading for St. Lucia; the Norwegian trio of blond boys who sailed across the Atlantic on 26’ Makai, returning to share a bottle of Acquavit with Brian on his birthday; the Dutch family on their gorgeous teak 65 footer–their five year old son proposing marriage to our five year old daughter so he could be the chef and she could be the gardener of Petit Byahaut when they grow up; the ex-ecoresort owners from Martinique who sailed clients for a living aboard their yacht, sharing South African wine and their woes of resort operating.

If you’ve thought about traveling the world aboard a sailboat, I can’t help but say, “Do it!” If the thought of spending 24 hours a day with your sailing partner is what’s holding you back, read Janna Cawrse Esarey’s The Motion of the Ocean.

 

Christmas Winds. Sounds sort of lovely, doesn’t it.

But the month-long period of Christmas Winds was anything but lovely for a couple of novice dinghy operators. Mostly it meant hairy beach landings in big waves, except for one dark and stormy night on the sea when the dinghy suddenly flipped over—with our whole family in it, including my visiting parents.

Sailors in the Caribbean are familiar with the term, Christmas Winds. It’s the time of year when high pressure settles in to the northeast of the Caribbean, increasing winds from the usual 10-25 knots to 20-30 knots. Although we weren’t sailing, traversing the sea several times every day familiarizes a person intimately with the effect wind has on water.

That dinghy flipping incident, well it’s quite a story for my parents to tell. 

Suddenly ending up in the water is just the the beginning of the story. If you’ve read the page titled The Resort, you’re familiar with the hazards of hiking in to Petit Byahaut. That night is when we learned of the rash causing bushes. My dad can tell you of his treatment plan once he returned to the States. And Brian’s rash? I don’t know if you want to open that can of worms.

My parents in a less adventurous moment:

            

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