Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.

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faults in the clouds of delusion

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Images of Wonderland

This is the third and probably last of the Wonderland posts [1, 2]. I just wanted to upload a few more glorious images from this, an untouched Caribbean paradise.

Less than an hour's drive from the nation's capital, in sequence one after the other, are a series of incredibly beautiful, pristine beaches, each with its own character. These images are from the Beach of the Thousand Steps, named after the almost impossibly steep precipice that provides the sole access to this refuge. On our way down, we shared the track with a group of young locals, one of whom decided to turn back at one of the steepest bits (the part where the steps disappeared, and someone had left a rickety wooden ladder by the cliffside for what seemed more like moral support than anything of a corporeal nature) with the muttered suggestion, "Man, the promoter he need to do some thinking."



This image gives an idea of the approach path that was being commented on.

And this one of the treasures that lay seemingly undiscovered at the end. I did not have the courage to carry my camera through this cove to the inlet and beach beyond, but that, and the one in the far distance, were still and beautiful beyond belief. Just off to the right here, a group of four young Rastas wandered by and stopped to indulge in a little religion of their own.

These next two shots are from Blanchiseusse (pron. Blan-sher-sherz and named after white washerwomen, don't ask me why), which is the beach furthest out along the highway. After this point, the highway becomes a dirt road. We stayed here for a night before turning back.

It was also here that I came across a Planet of the Apes moment.

Heading back homewards is Maracas Beach, the nation's most popular holiday spot. This day was Indian Arrival Day, marking the hundred and fifty-xth anniversary of the arrival of the first boat carrying Indians from, well, India. This is a national holiday, and so the beach, which on the previous day had looked more like one of the previous images, was now filled with revelry. Here's a cliche of the Caribbean Life -- man, I wish I could have stay on longer.

Maracas Beach is also the Mecca for bake-and-shark, one of the most interesting forms of local cuisine. "Bake" stands for a type of bread, one that closely approximates the North-Indian bhatura. Shark stands for the type of thing that featured in Jaws, diced to more manageable bite sizes, and flash fried to crunchy melt-in-mouthness. The beach is lined with tin shacks vending these, but we had been advised to go for the best ones. Half the island believes Richard's serves the best bake and shark, the other half goes for Uncle Sam's. We decided to try both -- one at lunch the first day, and the other the next. It was an excellent strategy.

Bake and shark eating is an enviably simple operation. You pony up some 2-3 US dollars for one hit of bake and shark, at which the nice lady behind the counter hands you a bake, sliced like a pita, and stuffed with ample portions of shark. You take this offering, and turn to the long table loaded with sauces, stuffings, and chutneys. These include flavors such as tamarind, mint, garlic, a very spicy "fish sauce", as well as mundane things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbage. You load the bake, and you eat. Much to my chagrin, I could not manage more than one at either of the two times I tried. I wish I could have photographed the taste.

Indeed the local foods were quite amazing. A hundred and fifty years away from India, and the intermingling with various African, European, and other influences, have served to make the local cuisine delightfully different yet refreshingly familiar. During our stay we dined several times on "roti" bought from certified street vendors (I heartily recommend the lady who sets up stall across the street from Smokey and Buntey's, the landmark local bar / limin' venue). A roti consists of a "dhalpourie" (which is a large piece of dough stuffed with cooked dry lentils and rolled flat) on which she dumps pumpkin stew, potato curry, "bhaji" (collard greens), and, at your request, a few lumps of divine goat curry (or very excellent chicken or shrimp), served up with a dash of their fiery flavorful signature pepper sauce. All of these get rolled up together like a burrito, you pay about a dollar seventy-five (in US terms), find the nearest vacant bench (unless you're the stand-and-eat type), and you're good to go. Literally.

Then there's the "bussupshut", which is again a type of bread, somewhat like a cross between a roomali roti and a parantha. Its unique feature is that it's served torn up into long shredded pieces, to make it easier to mop up the curry that you order it with. Much like a bust-up shirt -- the thing from which it gets its name.

But most of all, more than the food, the beaches, the cricket, the rum punch, and the limin', what I liked most about Wonderland was the attitude. This is a place where the one real restaurant we went to, it took three hours to get dinner, end to end. Including 45 minutes of sitting in balmy Caribbean breezes while we waited to get our change after paying. A place where two yuppie Indian couples sitting at tables surrounding us walked out complaining about the slowness of the service. Having forgotten, of course, that this was the only restaurant open downtown on a holiday night.

You know you're in some place special when the rules they play by are theirs alone.

10 Comments:

Blogger MockTurtle said...

Nice post and great pics! I was curious about "Indian Arrival Day". Did the Indians come there of their own free will, or were they indentured plantaion labor?
-MT

6/20/2006 3:40 AM  
Blogger gIftoFwIngs said...

very nice post TR. After reading this I ve a new member in *must visit* list.

6/20/2006 12:57 PM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

Nice pix, nice post but I wish if your wish about being able to photograph the taste were to come true, it would revolve around a more vegetarian dish.

This Rasta religion is bloody attractive, isn't it :-)

6/20/2006 3:32 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Oooh wunnerful, maaaan! My appreciation overwhelms my envy. More, please?

J.A.P.

6/20/2006 4:12 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

mt:
thanks, there's a few hundred more where those came from! yes, the first indians (biharis from calcutta) were brought along as indentured labor once slavery went out of fashion amongst the british decisionmakerati.

gift:
thanks -- go, it's worth it!

ghost:
i like dishy vegetarians too :-)

and yes, rasta's my type of religion.

jap:
heh heh :-) more pix? or more descriptions?! i wish we'd stayed longer!

6/20/2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger km said...

Bake-n-shark: now there's a fast food franchise idea.

"sir, would you like your shark plain white or with a badly mangled head in it?"

I am hungry now.

6/21/2006 5:59 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

v nice pics, tr.
thought i was an adventurous eater, till i got here. :)

6/21/2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

km:
yes, the power of suggestion! great idea, though - think about the possiblities. how would you like your mangled head, sir? au gratin or poached? care for fat free today? we also have meatless ones.

k:
the world of food is glorious indeed :-) when i get to my planned review of "collapse" by jared diamond, remind me to put in the bit about cannibalism in new guinea -- how it can vary in symbolism from the ultimate sign of victory (expected) to the ultimate sign of respect for the deceased. we humans are an interesting lot :-D

6/21/2006 1:43 PM  
Anonymous guile said...

nice, cozy place you got here :)..

6/22/2006 5:54 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

hadn't thought of it that way till now, but thanks! do return if you like it :-)

6/23/2006 2:14 AM  

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