On-board Diary: The Garifuna. Tuesday, March 22nd 2005

Author: Maribel López
Date: March 22, 2005



Sadly, we leave the Honduran Keys without having had the chance to visit the local Garifuna communities. The ambitiousness of our work agenda and the bad weather has prevented it.  

The Garifuna are descendents of the African slaves who, across the vicissitudes of history, established themselves in this area of Honduras but maintained their ethnic and cultural heritage.

A fishing culture here in Cayos Cochinos, they have seen how the abuses in the capture of lobsters with dive tanks and the pressure of trawlers from other zones is seriously affecting their means of survival. In recent years, however, and thanks to the work of the Honduran Coral Reef Foundation, they have become involved in the efforts to protect the keys and have collaborated to seek a ban on these activities. Now they are practicing a sustainable, traditional type of fishing that assures its viability indefinitely. They are the best sentinels, the most effective at ensuring that the law is being obeyed in the protected area of Cayos Cochinos.

Only a few people get to visit Cayo Cochino Mayor, the largest of the islands, which has the keys' only hotel/restaurant/bar. The highest point in the keys is on Cayo Cochino Mayor, at 140 meters above sea level, where a lighthouse sits to guide navigation in the area. If you reach this summit, and the day is clear,  you have a 360-degree view of all that lies within a radius of 30 kilometers.

We are leaving behind an ecosystem that harbors various species in danger of extinction - hawksbill turtles, resident and migratory birds, bats, urchins and the endemic boa constrictor.

Thanks to the collaboration and support of the Honduran Foundation for the Protection and Conservation of Cayos Cochinos (Cayos Cochinos Foundation), to their generous and open-hearted participation in all of our activities and to their logistical support, we will take with us an indelible memory of these islands.

We return to the daily routine of life on board, to watches, to sailing around the clock.

In the first hours of the 24th a group of gannets (Sula bassana) appears and stays with us for a stretch; we see them at various points throughout today's crossing. We pass through a few areas where sargassum (Sargassum fluitans) floats thickly on the surface. In one of them, underneath the seaweed, we can see that a triggerfish (Ballistidae) is hiding.

A little swallow seems to be playing between the main sail and the jib - sometimes its flight almost seems to halt, but it stays aloft, suspended in the air. It is waiting for the right moment to land on one of the shrouds or any surface on which it can rest for a few minutes. The changing currents of wind won't allow it. After amusing us with its precise dance the swallow disappears on the horizon.

The clouds are moving across the sun and the wind is rising, so we raise the sails - and reach a speed of 10 knots.

In the afternoon we enter the port of Isla Mujeres, in Mexico. We get gas and fill the water tanks. The weather forecast is bad, and our captain decides we will take refuge here for three days to wait out the storm.