Nature

The Shrimp Who Became a Shark

I wake up one morning to find a small transparent shrimp on the steps of our boat. Looks like a suicide.

Next day Ivo finds another one. And another one the day after. A dead shrimp becomes a part of our morning routine. We wake up, we make coffee, and we collect the inevitable shrimp.

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There must be a shrimp kingdom beneath our boat, Fata Morgana. The shrimp king, a fat orange fellow with long antennas, probably had concluded, after a restless night full of hallucinations, that Fata Morgana is a powerful shrimp goddess. One who’s anger and might could annihilate in a minute the entire shrimp population for no particular reason. “Therefore, he had announced to all, sacrifice is needed to appease the powerful goddess hovering above our shrimp kingdom”.

* You can find the rest of this story here

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Categories: About Us, adventure, conservation, cruising, family, fishing, Florida, food, fun, Key West, Key West Florida, marine conservation, marine life, morning, Nature, off grid, Our Journey, places, sailing, sharks, travel, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Solar Ark

“The overriding goal is to get away from the notion of ‘waste’ – everything natural is food for somebody or something, and therefore a resource.”

– ARVO

Close your eyes and imagine a place:

A mountain desert. Harsh climate. Desolate landscape.

But that is not the place you had to imagine, I’m sorry. Go back, and close your eyes again, and imagine a different place:

In the mountain desert, amidst the desolate landscape, surrounded by beautiful highlands, imagine an oasis. But don’t imagine the typical boring clishe, the one with the small lake in the middle and two palm trees, please. The one I am asking you to envision is much much more complicated and will take a lot more effort and ingenuity from the part of your imagination. But I’ll help you, don’t panic. Here are some of the most important items you need to place in your mental picture of the oasis: 

(You can now open your eyes in order to continue reading and see the visual aids)

 First, imagine HOMES built with a deplorably low budget using natural or recycled materials (such as rock, flagstone, recycled brick, tile, glass and lumber, straw bale, pallets, earth block [adobe], and pumice), powered by sun and wind. Imagine wind turbines and solar panels sending little packages of canned sunlight and wind puffs which come out of the wall outlets of these homes to power ultra-efficient appliances: a light-bulb, a washing machine, a well pump, a ‘solar fridge’. The sun bill of these households never goes up one cent, imagine…

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  Next, imagine a complex of integrated GREENHOUSES where lemons ripen without any supplemental heat while outside temperatures can dip to -25 degrees and where, surrounded by plants and rocks, you can take a greenhouse shower, rain water heated by the sun cascading down from a log.

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Imagine a BEAUTIFUL BACKYARD which we will now call Flushing Meadows as it is irrigated by Greywater from the showers and toilets (after a proper sceptic treatment, of course).

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Imagine a truly sustainable to perfection  ORGANIC FARM where frogs eat the nasty insects, ladybugs dine on pests, earthworms take care of the waste material turning it into prime soil, bees provide honey, wax, propolis and pollen while pollinating the orchard, and when they die, god bless their innocent little souls, become a source of protein for the chickens. And the chickens eat everything and everybody. Cannot blame the chickens, because they make eggs and are tasty, but also, they poop. And that’s good too. In this particular oasis, chicken poop makes biogas for heating and prime liquid fertilizer, which is used to grow duckweed algae as a protein-rich feed, for who?- For the chickens themselves!

Arvo with Carlos

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And finally, imagine, in the middle of it all, A SMILING GERMAN GUY NAMED ARVO who looks dramatically like Klaus Kinski, holding a female raven named Carlos.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski

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Congratulations! You have now successfully imagined The Solar Ark . And if you like this vision, let me tell you, it is real! And you, if you just imagine it possible, can become a part of it. All you need to do is to get to New Mexico where this oasis exists for more than a decade now. Or, you can simply think about all of this, maybe consider it possible to change your ways a little?

Thanks to Baba Ghanoush, we met Sherri and Nathaniel who told us about all this and who are heading to New Mexico in June to become part of The Solar Arc Project, to live there, to learn, and to help Arvo build and maintain his oasis.

Note:

I took the liberty of getting information and pictures from The Solar Ark’s website which you can visit right here for more information and details on accommodation for visitors and students, the educational program and topics covered, cost, and possibility for work-exchange (you don’t have to pay anything to learn and stay there as long as you work!)

This is something Ivo and me would totally do and we would be perfect, as we come from Bulgaria where everyone had orchards, and chickens, and outside toilets, and wells, and little wood shops. Maybe one day we will do this, when we get tired of sailing the world…

Categories: adventure, Collection of Places, Collection of Stories about People, Green energy, Nature, off grid, solar energy, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Escape

Escape is what we are doing with all this around-the world-on-a-boat thing. But it is not all about escaping. It is also about changing things.

Still, first we need to escape! The system is wrong. The cycle of school-work-slave-retire-own-rent-spend-work-etc to infinity is wrong.

 

Life can be a lot simpler and relaxed. Like in this picture. This is Monkey Tom’s place in Stock Island Florida and I will write all about him soon.

Categories: adventure, beach, Collection of Places, family, Florida, Key West Florida, Nature, off grid, Our Journey, photography, stock island, travel | Tags: , ,

Red Tide Disaster

After the second day, things insidiously start to change at the beach.

          10:00 a.m. –  the water appears unfamiliar; lost its transparency.

          11:12 a.m. –  a man sitting on a bench behind us coughs discretely. No one pays attention.

          12:30 p.m. – we eat flounder sandwiches I made with the leftover flounder from last evening.

          1:34 p.m. –  we haven’t caught a single flounder.

          2:00 p.m. – a small dead fish appears on the beach. Everyone likes it. We use it as bait.

          2:17 p.m. – a young couple is walking aimlessly along the shore. Both coughing.

          2:22 p.m. – a second dead fish. The kids play with it.

          2:23 p.m. – a third dead fish.

          2:48 p.m. – everyone is coughing.

Soon, we realize that something very peculiar is about to happen and we even suspect, it is already happening! As more and more lifeless fish dreamily swims out of the sea, more and more people start coughing. The beach fills with an endless cough. It feels somehow like a prelude to a symphony.

Rumors of ocean tornadoes and biblical interpretations of apocalyptic events start circulating among coughing vacationers.  Until someone explains with authority the unusual and most inconvenient situation  as a phenomenon called RED TIDE. I know that sometimes the things I am writing about sound fantastical, and often they are, but Red Tide is real, I promise. Here is some scientific facts about it which I found at www.mote.org

A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plant-like organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call it “Florida red tide.”

Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine organisms and humans. The Florida red tide organism, K. brevis, produces brevetoxins that can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, causing these animals to die. Wave action can break open K. brevis cells and release these toxins into the air, leading to respiratory irritation. For people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, red tide can cause serious illness. The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.

Karenia brevis, or Florida red tide, kills fish by producing a potent toxin (called brevetoxin) that affects the central nervous system of the fish. The toxin can also affect birds, mammals and other marine animals.

The next day, the sea is dark, the sky grey and low; there is nothing left of the beach but yesterday memories and dead fish of all kinds lying among pieces of corals and beautiful seashells. No vacationers.

Red Tide Fish Kill

Red Tide Fish Kill

I grab the opportunity to photograph dead fishes of all kinds. It is like snorkeling in the coral reef with colorful fishes swimming about, only we are not underwater, there is no coral reef, and the colorful fishes are rather grayish and miserably inadequate. I also find them beautiful, paranoid, strange, scary, grotesque, sympatiques(fr), curious, morbid, familiar, funny, alien, worried, mysterious, sad. (At the end of this post, you will find my Dead Fish Portraiture Gallery.)

One more day passes by and the fish starts to stink badly. Nobody knows who, when, and how will take care of it.

Ivo tells me: “Let’s clean up the beach ourselves.” And I am all for it. So we volunteer to do it, Ivo and me.

Sharon, the woman who cleans the park, gives us some garbage bags, fourteen I count later, and some latex gloves, and then she leaves. With this scarce equipment, we head to the carnage scene. The smell, should I even mention it? DEAD FISH!

We start filling bags scooping the carcasses by hand, trying to fit as many as possible in the bags, as fourteen bags is not much for the amount of fish we have to collect. Some of them, the sail catfish, have poisonous spikes in the fins, and we have to be careful.

Ivo collecting dead fish

Ivo collecting dead fish

It feels like a fish genocide. Hellish eyes full of terror and sand, teeth crooked, discolored skins, gaping half rotting bodies, sea snakes twisting around gooey scaly corpses, mouths gasping for water. I am not eating sushi any time soon…

This first day we clean a big portion of the beach in front of the park and the campground. And we continue the next day. Ivo does most of the job; when he works nobody can keep up with him, everyone who knows him can confirm this. Finally, the beach is clean, there are more than thirty garbage bags lined up away from the waves waiting to be picked up. Local people and campers passing by all congratulate us and thank us. We feel proud with our work.

We have self-sentenced ourselves to community work usually done by Offender Programs and we feel we have served our time to pay for the overnight stay in the park, sneaking in the campground showers, using the free internet, and some other minor offenses. Our conscious is now cleared. Plus, we are now famous among the locals as “the crazy Canadians who do nasty job for free.” In reality, we do get something out of it. Knowledge and experience. We learn all about the Red Tide phenomenon first hand, and we learn about the local fishes.

All is left now is for the county to send some people here to pick up the bags.

The following day the sherif department calls, and not only they don’t thank us for the initiative and the free work, but they tell Sharon that we didn’t do a proper job, that we filled the bags too much and they are now too heavy to pick up… This brings us down a bit.

Anyway, they send people, collect the bags, and the Red Tide is now history.

New campers arrive in the campground and go to the beach, enjoy the warm weather, the soft sand, the cool waves. But I remember another beach.

No monument here to commemorate the departed. Only black ravens high in the air like demoniacal kites still slowly savour the smell of death.

Only this and nothing more.

DEAD FISH PORTRAITURE GALLERY

Alian

Sad

Paranoid

Beautiful

Morbid

Mysterious

Sympatique

Grotesque

Strange

Funny

Scary

Categories: adventure, art and culture, beach, disaster, family, fishing, Florida, motor home, natural phenomenon, Nature, off grid, parks, photography, RV, Sarasota, travel, volunteer, wildlife | 10 Comments

Fishing

Before coming to Saint Petersburg, Florida, we spent a few days in Palmetto fishing in a remote park. We bought our fishing gear in a store called Outdoors Living not far from Naples, $250 for two fishing poles, pliers, a knife, hooks, and a book telling us all about Florida’s fishes. The store is an impressive two-storey building full of fishing and hunting gear, ornamented with ponds and huge fish tanks full of live fish, all sorts of stuffed animals and wonderful archival black-and-white photographs of hunters and fishermen showing off their catch. There is also a restaurant with heavy wooden tables and the same kind of old photographs decorating the walls, where fish and game are served. The whole place is like a museum or a gallery; there is even a signed first edition Hemingway book. One can spend a full week and lots of cash shopping here.

At the park, we catch couple of small sheep’s heads, a grouper, and four catfishes (according to the book). Maya is a natural fishergirl, she has lots of fun catching her first fish ever! So does Viktor too. I don’t catch any, because I don’t fish. I photograph the birds instead. The same evening, Ivo and Viktor clean the fish, I cook it, and we have a pretty decent meal.

We learn how to cast, catch, clean, fillet, and cook each type of fish  from the fishermen we meet every time we go near a shore or on the pier. They are more than happy to show us which bait and hooks to use for which fish. We got our first bait from a guy who gave us a bag of leftover shrimp as he was done fishing and ready to go home. After that we started using cut fish from our catch. So far, we haven’t bought any bait and we have more than enough in the freezer. We also learned that to catch small bait-fishes or shrimps with a long-handle fishing net is harder than fishing with a fishing poll; maybe even impossible. People do that with cast nets. We didn’t have a cast net until yesterday, when a new friend, Jackie, who lives on a house boat in the Municipal Marina in St Pete, gave us one. Thank you Jackie!!! We will try it today or tomorrow!

Since that first time, we now fish regularly, once or twice a week, whenever we feel like it. We have a spot in St Pete where we go out at dusk and we catch grunts, about 15-20 for a nice family meal. The grunt is a small greyish fish, who tastes pretty good and is not too bony. When we pull him out of the water, he starts complaining, making these heartbreaking snorting noises like small burps that sound just like his name repeated fast a few times: grunt, grunt, grunt, grunt, and that is why he is called a Grunt. I wonder what he is trying to tell us in his last moments of panic. I wish I could speak grunt language so that I could understand his plaintive moans, but he remains mysterious, as fish always do. I’am pretty sure he is swearing, calling us bad names, screaming unspeakable insults at us as he realises how fatal his cannibalistic gluttony is. Last time, Viktor and me were catching grunt after grunt, a whole burping chorus, and Ivo was trying to gut them and clean them on spot but he couldn’t keep up with us pulling a fish every few seconds, and so finally we had to stop fishing and wait for him to finish the dirty job before we go home. We had a decent meal that evening, and even Maya who has been reluctant to eat fish until then, liked it! I cooked it in the oven  with some oil, salt and garlic for 30 minutes, as Jackie instructed me, and sprayed it with lemon juice once it was ready. Thanks again Jackie, I wonder what would happen if I had baked it for one hour and a half as I planned to…

I hope you don’t think that we are cruel heartless people killing innocent fishes… We only take what we need for supper, as we are trying to learn “to live off the land”. You should see what happens to the romantic mullets who gather in great orgies and come in St Pete each year to make love near the shores blissfully unaware of the pack of fishermen awaiting them. This year the school arrived in the harbour just in front of the park where we are staying and we accidentally became first-row spectators of the greatest fishing-drama ever witnessed in our lives. I will tell you all about this in my next post.

Ivo trying to catch small bait-fish with a long-handle fishing net in a crocodile-infested pond. Impossible...

Ivo trying to catch small bait-fish with a long-handle fishing net in a crocodile-infested pond. Impossible…

Maya fishing for a first time

Maya fishing for a first time

Best fishing spot on our way to St Petersburg

Best fishing spot on our way to St Petersburg. Baba Ghanoush is in a romantic mood, basking in the sun. 

A Great Blue Heron looking paranoid, about to break the law.

A Great Blue Heron looking paranoid, about to break the law.

A Yellow-Crowned Night Heron looking melancholic

A Yellow-Crowned Night Heron looking melancholic

An Osprey with his catch.

An Osprey with his catch.

Categories: adventure, birds, family, fishing, motor home, wildlife | 4 Comments

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