Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Calabash Carving

Painted calabash bowl Laura bought in Grenada and one of our calabash - ideas are brewing

So now we had two calabash, what to do with them?  Cut them in half and carve them of course.  Just like the locals do.  Ah-ha but how specifically?  Hum?
Inside the calabash - texture is porious like a sponge
Tom had to go ashore but before he left he got out his backsaw and a few other tools for Laura and I to use for cutting the calabash.  Jason stayed on their boat to do boat chores simply stating to Laura before she left for our boat something to the affect of "Don't cut yourselves!"   D-uh!

Okay.... "How should we do this?"  "I don't have a clue."  "Hum?"  Some calabash seem to have a natural line around the center.  "Let's try to follow that."  "Okay."  I held the calabash between my hand using my legs/knees as backup.  Laura sawed.  What could go wrong with that!  ha!  Don't tell OHSA.

The purple turns black and stains BADLY under your fingernails
Luckily nothing.  She took it slow, first scoring the calabash and then sawing a little bit at a time as I rotated the calabash.  The stem was tough but we got through it.  Actually, it was all tough.  These suckers are thick - I would say almost 1/8" thick.  Of course that is what makes them such great bowls and cups.  However, we perservered and broke through with the saw and I twisted it apart.  Voila!  Weird stuff inside.  It was white and spongy with seeds.  
After the inside as dried
We scooped out the inside stuff with spoons.  While the calabash is edible, no one eats it.  I read online that there are medicinal uses but we never heard of any, which is odd because bush medicine is still alive and well in the Caribbean.   Purple spots started showing up along the inside of the "skin".  We discovered later that this turns black and stains.  We got it under our fingernails as we scooped and NOTHING would get it off - no soap, not scrubbing with a nail brush, even daily swims/snorkels/dives...nope.  We had to wait for it to fade naturally over a week's time.  In the mean time, Laura and I had fingernails that made it appear as though we had been messing in the engine rooms on our boats.  Yuck!
My design
With the inside cleaned out, we could begin carving.  Laura brought over some dentals tools (they have teak decks) and I got out the other items Tom left - an awl, ice pick, various screw drivers and a box cutter.  Laura started on a starfish design.  I started on a Honey Ryder / James Bond theme.  Carving in our laps of course so we could hang on to them firmly.  What could go wrong?  Don't tell OHSA.  

007 James Bond

Did I mention the "skin" is thick and HARD?  Very hard!  It was not easy going.  We soon gained a big appreciation for the local craftsmen that carve these on a daily basis to sell to tourist.  I am sure they have tools and techniques but still.......it is tough.  Wow!  And one little slip up still gouges the skin and makes a mark.  We decided our little mistakes were proof ours were handmade by us......at least that what we told ourselves!  You will be happy to know we did NOT cut ourselves.    

We saved two halves for Tom and Jason to carve.  Jason did a bold Blue Blaze design.  Tom did his own Honey Ryder theme with a nice border.  Then we left them to dry/cure.  They slowly turned a light brown color over the weeks.  I sanded the inside vigirously to make it smooth.  Laura painted the inside of hers.  Don and Heather on sv Asseance suggested I not paint the inside.  "If you don't paint it, you can use it for food."  Like the Rastas do.  They went to a beach picnic once.  A friend had severval calabash bowls and they ate out of them.  When the meal was over, Don said they simply went down to the water and washed out the bowls using sand and sea water.  How kewl is that!  Of course the woman took them home and washed them with soap and water as well, but still kewl!

Update - Further Calabash Scrumping
So now we are on a calabash kick.  While in on a walk with Laura in Carriacou, we spotted a calabash tree.  It was on a fence line, the other side.  However, there were two calabash that were hanging on our side.....nearly.  Okay....true scrumping went on.  But it wasn't in someone yard.  It was in the field with their cows and everyone knows cows prefer plastic pails to carved calabash bowls!
Don't tell OHSA

Tom expertly got them down.  It may or may not have involved climbing on the fence and tree.  They were both small but that is ok.
See the natural dividing line

We got busy with boat and cruiser stuff and didn't get them cut open right away.  Sv Blue Blaze sailed over the horizon for Union Island.  When Tom and I finally did cut them open, the stuff inside had turned black and stinky.  Yuck!  However, this time we were smart enough to wear gloves so our hands would not get stained.  Some black juice did drop on the fiberglass in the cockpit and stained it.  However, rubbing compound wax should get it out but the magical boat cleaning fairies have not yet arrived this year so that stain is still there.  Lazy magical boat fairies!

Tom used the Garmin logo (triangle) as inspiration to carve a pattern around the top of his.  I copied Laura's idea and did my own starfish.
Cute right?  OMG - did I just say cute?  Ugh!

Tom's Garmin inspired pattern

Carving the small ones wasn't any easier.  It has really given us an appreciate for the locals that carve these.  Tom purchased the below carved calabash from a local guy on Martinique when we were visiting Riviere Alma.
Professionally done

Professionally sanded inside
Only $5 Euro - just $5.
Local artist

Below is Tom's first calabash after 6 weeks or so.
Can you hear the James Bond theme in your head?

Pattern around the side of Tom's

Update - Did I mentioned that we me have become obsessed with calabash.  I look for the tree everywhere now.  They are not easy to spot.  I think often times, they are away from the coastline, tucked up in the hills.  While we were in Carriacou I asked local Richard (of Lumbadive) if he knew of a tree.  "Go ask Diane (his partner).  She has tons of calabash."  Diane got a bunch of already dried ones from another local.  She save me two whole ones.  "Be careful how you cut them since they are dried.  They can crack while cutting."   Tom carefully scored the one and gradually cut it with a handheld hacksaw....holding it on his leg.  Don't tell OSHA!  The inside was completely dried up and black.  Most of it flaked out.  The rest came out with sanding.  I have sanded the outside and plan to paint these once I find some acrylic paints.  Tom drilled a hole in the top of the other one and used a chopstick to break up the black stuff and shake it out.  He plans to put seeds or dried beans inside and seal it back up as with a wine cork to make a musical shaker.  Pretty kewl huh?
Dried, whole calabash from Diane

Update Feb 14th -  While driving around Martinique last week with sv Inishnee, I spotted one calabash tree perfect for scrumping in St Pierre.  As that anchorage is on the NW of the island and we are currently anchored on the SE, it will have to wait.  However, I have high hopes for finding a tree or two here in le Marin or out in St Anne.  I will keep you posted.

Fishing Report - New Rig in Tobago

New fishing rig handmade by Dave for Tom

While we were in Charlotteville this time, Tom got to talking fishing with Dave and discussing fishing rigs.  Handline specifically.  "I will build you a proper one.  Yes, you need a proper handline so you can catch fish."
Dave making it, Tom learning

They went ashore and bought all the stuff to make this fishing rig.  Dave cut a branch from a lemon tree - "Best wood for the handline.  Very strong."
Tom and Dave - fishing buddies

"Oh, you are going to catch so many fish with this.  I wish I could come with you on your boat to see all the fish you are going to catch."    Beware fishes!!  Thanks Dave!

Update  - We have tried it twice.  Once on the sail from Tobago to Carriacou and once on the sail from Carriacou to Martinique.  Fish = 2 sv Honey Ryder =0.  But we are determined.  

Bamboo Cannon

Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  "What the heck is that?  It sounds like a shotgun but this is Tobago not the USA so that doesn't make sense."  Boom!  "Seriously, what is that?  It must be fireworks?  Nope, I don't see any.  And that doesn't make sense as there would be more booms."  Hum?  We were over on sv Blue Blaze for dinner when we heard the booms and this conversation took place.
Vanna of bamboo cannons - see the smoke

A couple of days later we were ashore at Pirates Bay on the beach.  We asked local Son Son -  "Son Son, we heard some loud booms on Xmas Eve.  What was that?"  "Ah....those were bamboo cannons."  "What......no way."  Both Tom and Jason's eye dilated immediately.  "Bamboo cannons!"  Son Son went on to explain.  "Bamboo cannons are a tradition here in Tobago for Diwali and Xmas.  Long time tradition."  I said "We never heard them at carnival."  "Oh no.  They are not allowed at carnival.  Only Diwali (Festival of Lights) and Xmas.  The police don't care then.  If you shoot them at any other time, the police care."  
Son Son getting just the right one

Okay.  "So bamboo cannons, um.....?"  Son Son then said the magic words - "We make them.  You want me to show you how?  You can come ashore some afternoon and I will show you how to build one.  We have been building them for a long time.  I learn when I was a child.  I teach my kids and my grandkids.  Everyone learns when they are child.  You want to learn?"  I thought Tom and Jason we going to group hug Son Son or hyperventilate with excitement or both.
Heavy bamboo

A few days later we went ashore around 16:00 to learn to make bamboo cannons.  It turns out there is quite a bit to the process.  Son Son lead us up behind his beach beer shack to a huge clump of BIG bamboo.  He had to find just the right piece of bamboo.  Not to big or small.  Not to green or dry.  Getting it out of the clump was another challenge.  He hacked a few with his trusty cutlass and finally Jason and Tom were able to pull one out and carry it back down the hill.  It was heavy.
Cutting to size

Sharp stick for digging out the inside

Next Son Son sawed it down so that it had only 5 sections.  Bamboo has these cross sections.  They he got a limb and put a sharp point on it.  This was used to knock out those bamboo cross sections on the inside of the bamboo.  He left the last one as the base.
Opening for kerosene

Shaking out the loose stuff - wait....where are those people going and why?

Next he cut an opening near the bottom for the kerosene.  This is the fuel of choice for ignition.  However, many get impatient with kerosene or want a bigger explosion and such and they start mixing fuels, adding gasoline.  This is where the real danger comes in according to Son Son.  "Kerosene is safe.  No problem."  Yeah, right.
Molotov cocktail

Fire anyone

The next step was to set up a flame.  He filled an empty beer bottle with kerosene and then stuffed a rag in it and lite it on fire.  Yes, you are correct.  It looks just like a Molotov cocktail.  The sort thrown in riots and in the movies.
Beachside operation

Filling the base with kerosene

We moved over to the beach where he propped the cannon up for the final steps before lighting.  He carefully poured kerosene into the bamboo cannon.  Then he used a small twig as a punk - dipping it first in the kerosene and then lighting it and then using that to light the kerosene in the bamboo cannon.
Heating the chamber
The next step is crazy so pay attention.  Once lighting the kerosene in the bamboo cannon, you have to put your face and mouth down very close to it and blow to help the first evaporate and heat the bamboo cannon chamber.  Read that again.....you put your face down very close and blow into the cannon where the flammable/combustive kerosene is dancing with the fire!  YES!  However, Son Son showed us the safe way to do it.  (Yeah right) - you kneel off to the side and keep your face off to the side as well, blowing at an angle verses leaning directly over it where it can blow up right in your face.  Yeah....keep telling yourself that!  One young (20's) local guy said he never did bamboo cannon.  "Too dangerous.  It's crazy.  My brother always did them.  He got burned pretty bad."
Jim on sv Inishnee was doing some follow up inquire on the bamboo cannons and apparently they are the second leading cause of injury in Tobago.  O-Kay.
"Blow the smoke.  Blow the smoke."

Anyway, after you heat the inside of the bamboo cannon enough, you can get an explosion.  The more heat, the bigger the explosion.  To make that happen you have to blow and blow and blow to heat it.  Son Son would say "Blow the smoke.  Blow the smoke.  Keep blowing the smoke.  More." over and over again.  It was exhausting and takes some lung capacity.

BOOM!  See the flash?

Two young locals (20's) brothers came along and wanted to join in.  Son Son happily turned the duty of showing us over to them.  They were pros.  You could tell they had done this hundreds of times.  One guy pointed to Son Son's grandson who was near by and approx 7 - "We learn when we were his age."  WOW!  Their techniques were very exact each time - kneeling at the side, blowing from the side and not over, carefully reaching for the kerosene and lighting the chamber.
Tom's turn

Then it was our turn.  Tom went first.  He blew the smoke and blew the smoking, heating the chamber.  Then when enough smoke was coming out he lite the kerosene for explosion.  BOOM!  Applause - "Whoa!  Awesome!  Do it again, do it again."   Next was Jason and then me and finally Laura.  Then Tom again. Then Jason again. Then Tom again.  Then Tom again.  Some of the booms were only just boom.  Some were boom and still others were BOOM.
Laura's turn

It was pretty kewl.  Then we all got tired.  We stopped and visited.  Later Tom went back to it along with Son Son's seven year old grandson.  No locals were around.  I was a tad freaked - just Tom and a seven year old who really hadn't taken much interest until now.  "Um, Tom.  Do you think you should be the one to be showing him how to do this?"  "It's fine."  Then the little kids says "It needs more fuel" and proceeds to grab the kerosene and refill the bamboo cannon.  Oh boy!  But luckily one of the local brother's came along and took over showing the grandson the proper procedures.  Whew!
Tom's turn again

So there you have it - start to finish.  It was fun to learn first hand about this local tradition.  Very unique to Tobago.
Son Son cutting loose

Friends in High Places - Dave in Charlotteville

Dave waving from the SW corner of his house

"Oh Honey Ryder.  It is you.  I saw your husband on the beach and I said "Honey Ryder is back."  I am so happy to see you.  Welcome back my friends.  Welcome back."  That was the greeting I got on our boat as Dave came along side.
What a view

If you will remember, last April (2016) Tom went out fishing with Dave to learn the local methods.  "I am so happy to see you again Honey Ryder.  Your husband MUST come fishing with me again.  This time no charge.  You are my freinds now.  No charge."  
Pirates Bay on the left, Charlotteville on the right, Irish neighbor below

We were happy to see Dave as well.  We had been looking for him but just had not seen him yet.  Over the next few days we chatted off and on.
View towards Grenada - Pirates Bay on the right

"Dave, do you still have your house up high on the hill over there?  The one over looking the whole bay?  Or did you sell it?  I think you were going to sell it last time we were here."  "Oh yes, oh yes.  I still have that house.  I did not sell it.  I am not going to."  It seems he and some of the other fishermen got payouts (payoffs)  from an oil company doing exploration off the coast.  The exploration affected the fishing - not good!  Dave used that money to pay off his boat and his house.  Smart guy!
View to the west

"You must come up to my house and see it.  You know I built it myself."  

We agreed upon a day and rough time and walked up there.  I should say hiked up there.  It is quite a hike to get there.  He is pretty much the highest house on a hill overlooking the bay.  The view is nothing short of spectacular!
The foot path up - he carried all the building supplies up that

We hiked up the main road and then off another road and finally up a foot path.  YES - Dave's only access to his house is foot path!  Think about that.  He built the house himself.  He had to carry all the building materials up the final foot path himself!!  OMG!
Limin' with friends on the north side of the house

The house is a well built concrete house common in the Caribbean.  Many houses down here are in a constant state of construction for years and years.  It seems in many countries down here if you officially finish off your house, then you have to pay more on your loan and therefore many are in constant construction mode.  Not Dave's.  It is completely finished off and nicely painted, bright orange.
To new friendships

There is a narrow deck that runs along three sides of the house.  Just enought to walk but more importantly wide enough to put chairs on to sit and take in the view. Oh the view!
Walking the grounds

The grounds around his house are beautiful as well.  Various flowering scrubs and bushes, a mango tree or two and some papaya.  I pointed to the papaya specifically and commented  A few days later he brought me one on the boat.  "This is from my brother's house, just down the hill.  Mine were not ripe yet."  Awe....

He cranked up the radio.  "Dave, is this radio station from....Grenada?"  "Oh yes.  I am up high so I get Grenada radio stations."  Music, a few beers, new friendship and the best view on the island - we were limin' in grand style!  
Typical Trini - big, quality speakers - Trini's love their loud music

It was a lovely day.