Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Surviving on Bread and Chicken

From the harbor in Hopetown the tops of Palm trees look like Dandelions. I imagine the fronds coming off and scattering across the island. A rooster, with his clock set on Greenwich time cock-a-doodles hours to early.

Chris wanted to bake bread. He tried in Tallahassee before we left. Amber, Chris, Anna and I stood in the kitchen, we all held a broken piece in our hand, our mouths chewing looking at each other waiting for someone to react. Eventually someone decided it was terrible which allowed the rest of us to agree. Before we left Ft. Lauderdale we stocked up on just-add-water brownies, muffins and biscuits. Chris tried a few more times to make bread but the problem with bread is it requires attention. Let it rise too long, don't kneed it enough you're going to have bad bread. Since watching bread rise isn't one of Chris's strengths, it never came out right. So for the first month on board Desdemona we settled for generic label white bread. Low in nutritional value, nearly tasteless and filled with preservatives that are great aboard the humid environment of a sailboat.

When Philip arrived he'd brought with him a handheld compass, a magnesium strip for starting fires, a poncho and a two tape set narrated by Burt Reynolds titled "Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook." The front cover read, "HOW TO: Escape from quicksand, Wrestle an Alligator, Break down a door, Land a plane...." The tapes featured Burt explaining  how to survive a bear attack, a shark attack, how to leap from a motorcycle to a car and how to escape from killer bees. When anyone questioned Philip on why this was important information his response was "Ya never know bro. Anything could happen." We also had on board two machetes and a hatchet. Obviously what we thought we were going to experience was misaligned with reality. Bahamian life and cultures, because of it's proximity to America, is basically American culture. While they fish and eat conch, they buy their chicken from Tyson.

The streets and homes of Hopetown are what guidebooks would describe as quaint. The houses have an artificially sweet feel and feature annoying names like Sanddollar or Crows Nest written on planks of driftwood painted pastel pink, green or blue. The only redeeming feature are the five or six stray chickens that reside in the town. Walking down a back street in Hopetown  the unmistakable smell of cinnamon alerted us to the bakery. It was coming from a grocery store named Vernon's. As we entered the store just past the cashier was a wall of freshly baked breads, pastries and pies. I picked up a banana bread and put it back after noticing it was $12. I walked around and noticed brie and asparagus which I hadn't seen since leaving the States. Chris purchased a baguette. Next to the cash register was a door to Vernon's bakery. Were the store more sophisticated the door would read employee only but since it didn't the four of us wandered into the bakery. Here we found an old frail man with the body language and voice of an effeminate Droopy. He seemed like he'd be easy to offend and you could picture him saying, "oh my." His hair was thin and white matching the apron he wore. He introduced himself as Vernon. Philip made a comment about the irony of the store also being named Vernon. He informed us it was his store and he was the baker. Chris explained how he'd been trying to make bread but that it wasn't working out so well. Chris asked if it be possible for him to teach us and Vernon agreed. He told us he starts baking at 7:000 am and we were welcome to join him.

The four of us walked down the street laughing about our bread baking lesson and enjoying the baguette Chris bought. At the end of the street were two benches along the water that overlooked the harbor entrance. It was low tide and the darker blue narrow strip of the channel contrasted starkly with the light green of the shoals and shallows that surrounded it.  Boats entering the harbor ignored the No Wake sign. Anna had a photo shoot with a stray cat. We could see a sailboat aground across the bay, laying on it's side as if it was just taking a short nap.

On the way back to the boat, in front of the church near Vernon's grocery a group of stray chickens, a rooster, a large hen and two adolescents pecked at the ground. They clucked and scratched all the while looking really stupid, hardly aware of our presence. I picked up a rock expecting an easy kill but not looking forward to the work that would ensue i.e. feathers, innards and blood. Most people are unaware but the Bahamian Chicken is the most intelligent creature in all of the Bahamas. My target chicken, the large female, with spider-man like awareness sensed the impending danger and just as the rock was about to pummel it's stupid bird head it quickly side-stepped the rock. Then in a split second all the chickens made a permanent imprint of what I looked like, smelled like and sounded like and quickly scattered clucking with fear. Okay, well, maybe next time, I thought.

Vernon had been baking for over 45 years. His favorite thing to make was pie and throughout the day several people stopped by to find out when the pies would be done. Vernon was the minister at the church where I tried to murder the chickens. It was a Methodist church which was good because he didn't seem the fire and brimstone type. He told us he liked to start all his sermons off with a joke. Vernon was nice but I couldn't imagine him trying to make a joke, rather I couldn't imagine anyone laughing. Vernon liked to talk about politics. After his neighbor across the street, a black Bahamian who ran a fast food joint popped his head in he told me we have different opinions but we like to chat and talk issues. Whatever his politics it was clear he valued rules. When a man walked out  a door labeled "entrance" he got huffy and started to whine about the way things are supposed to be done. Vernon pulled out several trays of cinnamon buns that were ready to be glazed. When he popped over into the market for a second we each tried the glaze on our fingers. Anna noticed that it tasted like he added lime to it. He'd made a dozen for us and invited us to enjoy them.We did. After they cooled he asked for help packing them up.

When Philip, Anna and I were walking by Vernon's church the chickens were back. A Bahamian woman had told us how they use to trap chickens on Mayaguana as a child. Philip and I asked Vernon if we could borrow a milk crate and some string while Anna kept an eye on our prey. A Bahamian woman at the snack shop across from Vernon's gave us some bread to use as bait. "Why you want to catch those chickens anyways," she asked? "Because they're made out of chicken." Philip answered. We set a trap on the sidewalk to the church, breadcrumbs leading to the crate which was propped up with a small stick attached to the string.. Philip waited on the other end of the string while I spooked the chickens towards Philip. Locals and tourist walked by as if we didn't exist. The chickens immediately remembered me and headed towards Philip clucking at a higher tempo than before. One of the adolescent chickens pecked at the bread almost completely underneath the trap. Eventually the large female pecked her way underneath the milk crate and as Philip pulled the string the chickens outwitted us again, escaping while the trap fells backwards.

We tried two more times to catch the Hopetown chickens. On Philip's birthday, our final hunt, I made contact with one when I tried to swat it with a piece of wood but lost it in the brush. Eventually the chickens knew us so well they'd move into the brush before we could even get them in sight. We'd just here them racing down the street, their high tempo clucking that says, "I am afraid bok bok bok someone is after me bok bok bok." We'd I ordered the cake from Vernon for Philip's birthday he like he'd never seen me before. I tried to tell him, "It's for Philip, it's his birthday, you remember Philip?" He mumbled something and left. The cake was dry but Philip ate it anyway.

After Hopetown we wouldn't see a grocery store until we reached Eluethera, more than a week away. Before we left we stocked up on Tyson chicken leg quarters and five loaves of bread.


  1. I read this again...LOL. Try purchasing rice. It is easy to store, boil, etc. and it doesn't require watching.....

  2. Oh , that was me...SHannon McNutt

  3. well we have rice but needed something to put in it i.e. chicken.