My trouble did not begin on the voyage, but some time afterwards with a rude awakening, and the Tree of Death.
In mid-ocean lightening split the skies over the Caribbean Sea vaporizing my boat’s weather radio and navigation electronics. My sight and instincts are all that I can depend upon. Limping into the forgotten Venezuelan archipelago of Los Roques, I weave through the reef strewn maze and saw-tooth coral. The noonday sun overhead guides me. On this afternoon I can rest, but in the morning I will leave to meet the Trinidad Minister of Health in thirty-six hours. Once six miles off shore, the reefs will be behind me.
I awake to a tranquil morning, hues of aqua blue sea and myriads of pink and white coral encircling me. A few lonely palms stretch out over the surf and white ibis’ float on small patches of jade mangroves. The second of two seaplanes arrive from the Venezuelan mainland, and their cargo of nudes run alone the beach posing and taking photographs without the intrusion of conscience. The island abyss is like that of a world long forbidden, or never materialized in the imaginations of land dwellers. Diving with only mask and fins, within minutes, I pack my reefer with lobster, grouper, and red fish. Stowing all of my gear, I then commit to memory the chains of reclusive beaches, rainbows of coral, and reefs that make the Roques treacherous for boats, yet perfect for all living creatures.
By noon, feathering cirrus clouds and a southern squall are threatening to drive me to shallow and fatal water. The morning’s mirroring sea is now nervous and boisterous. For this reason I dread weighing anchor, risking being blown even nearer the shore.
Once I break out of the reefs, my inflexible, wavering courage returns. The perilous course against the current and the wind brings to memory the gloomy time when, as a toddler in a yellow rain suit, that I frantically peddled my red tricycle through a typhoon. I am sitting on a floating cork, and as such, I am only a blemish and an annoyance to the wind-swept ocean. This day, whimsical nor’east winds keep me busy trimming sails. Pulling this line and that halyard, the wind eventually calms to a whisper against my sails. My serenity and the senility of solitude increases as my ketch stretches her legs and plows through the rowdy ten foot seas. Spray over the bow creates a spectrum of colors with each slice of blue water. My spirit, once again, flows with the pulse of the sea.
Two miles away I spot the two lonely palms on the western most side of Blanquilla. Soon I see the white sands and turquoise waters. The scents of a dry, cactus blanketed land and the musk of wild goats wandering the island contrast with the fresh sea air. Closer now, I mark every turn of the wheel and cautiously weave between a familiar schooner and a barnacle encrusted wooden sloop. Running further in towards the beach, I drop anchor just west of, what will soon become, two lonely palms silhouetted by the light of a full moon.
I make note of my surroundings, insuring that my anchor is holding. Recognizing the schooner captain of Rude Rigin as being one of my loyal followers, I wave. He merrily shakes his fist and stomps his feet in a river dancing fashion as I smile and wave again. His cosmically orbiting, mop of dreadlocks obscures the expression of his freckled, Bozoian face. Once he followed me for five days downwind of St. Kitts, constantly changing and adjusting sails just to get a better look. Unreliable rumor based on unfounded truths has it that he wanted to apprehend and dismember me for giving his wife an inappropriate antibiotic to treat her most mysteriously acquired leaf lettuce green, feminine discharge. It seems he was expecting immediate results. In five days her Gonococcal urethritis, or clap in common nomenclature, improved and he was able to have his manly needs taken care of. Once the consummation occurred, he slowed his schooner, turned 180 degrees, lowered his massive sails, and decreased the r.p.m. of his smoking motor to below meltdown.
I awoke to a most obnoxious knocking on my hull. I thought, Holy Royal Baby Bloomers. The Coast Guard cannot want beer and cigarettes this early in the morning! I rub my salty, burning eyes with a wet bandana. Peering out my hatch, I can just make out the face of ─ Rude Rigin! “Mon you have to help mi…mi ole woman is burn’in up. It’s like she on fire, mon!”
I thought about telling him that a good antibiotic should take care of the problem, but thought better of it.
My beautiful island is gray from an early morning squall, and my morning is now in ruins due to Rude Rigin. I dog all my hatches, come out on a slippery deck, and step over the lifelines. I ease my way over the side and into Rude’s patch, or dingy as he prefers to call it. He perspires and hyperventilates, and huffs and heaves with each stroke of his companionless oar. In a frantic spiraling motion, inch by inch, we rotate towards his schooner. Due to his staggering dizziness and profound nervous twitches, I thought it unwise, at this time, to remind him to tie his dingy to the boat.
On board, Minnie, Rude Riggin’s wife, is lobster red and vastly nude. She is lying face up and flagellating on the florescent green, algae carpeted deck. “My beautiful girl, what has happened to you?” I say.
“I don know Doc. Mi just burn’in all over mi body. From mi head to mi tiny toes”
I turn, look for Rude to get his input into the matter. With some effort, I eventually spot a black dot on the horizon swimming after the dingy that he forgot to tie to the boat. Shaking my head in pity and a tremendous lack of concern, I then return my focus to Minnie.
She appears moderately stewed, but all of her vital signs are normal. “What were you doing when this happened?”
“Nothin. I gets on mi schooner boat and mi head, mi face, and mi shoulders be on fire.”
I asked, “What did you do before that? Did you take any medicine, or have any food that you might be allergic to?”
Writhing in boiling discomfort, Minnie proclaims, “No Doc, de ole man and mi were on ashore early this morn’in, walk’in and look’in fer apples.”
“There are no apples on this island, Minnie.”
“Doc, dar be apples here, like de ones granny used to make apple butter wit. You know…de small, green crabbyapple kind.”
“Did you taste them?”
“No, I tried to get mi ole man to taste um, but he not hongury.” “We come back to de boat, and I start burn’in in just a little while.”
“So…your apple tree was on this beach?”
“Yes.” She points to the waxy green, fluffy tree that I can just make out through the rain and haze.
The tree pointed to is much taller than the surrounding vegetation and looks like a minty green cloud on the white shoreline. I put two and two together, and an idea comes forth. While diving for Sir Frances Drake’s gold and searching for black pearls, I had once drawn my bow and arrow near the base of this tree. An apple landed on my head interrupting my shot at a colossal man-eating crab; thereby, making me look up to identify the leafy species from the Euphorbiaceae family.
“Minnie, you are blessed my dear. Once I clean you up with soap and water you will feel much better within eight hours.” “Fortunately, your Ole man did not do as you suggested and eat Manzanilla de la muerte.”
Minnie looks up with eyes like the harvest moon and her mouth in the shape of a pink glazed donut and proclaims, “Huh?”
“Yes! You guessed it.” “Little apple of death.”
Rude? Three days have passed and there is no sign. Minnie continues to fully recover, except for the extensive peeling of her face and nipples. She remains optimistic, based on the royal flush of tarot cards she dealt to herself. This is her third day, and second night of waiting for Rude on deck in her emerald colored negligée, and pink spike heels. Finally, on the fourth day, and three nights later, we hear a loud noise in the west, and soon see a tornado of black smoke. The noise continues to intensify, and the black funnel magnifies until the Venezuelan Coast Guard’s newest stealth cutter arrives an hour later. Once the black cloud disperses, we clearly see the narcotics rapid response sailors on deck in their smudged, dress white uniforms. There is a sooty white banner hanging from the bridge that, in Spanish, commemorates their life saving skills. Rude is soon brought over on a launch as the Venezuela National Anthem plays proudly over the loudspeakers and each sailor gives a snappy salute.
Reading the official and highly classified Coast Guard report, it seems that Rude recovered his raft, but lost his companionless oar in the excitement. As a result, he was found drifting near Isle Orchilla, on which is a top secret Venezuelan military installation. He was severely dehydrated, emaciated, and in an all but completely deflated raft. Charged with espionage of the worst variety and spying on spies, he soon recovered well enough to be given his first psychological test. Military leaders, psychologists, neurosurgeons, and all manner of psychiatrists were flown in; however, based solely upon the first test of fundamental intelligence, all charges were dropped. For medical treatment see The Manchineel (Manzanella) Tree.
- See Manzanilla Tree under Medical Catagory
- See disclaimer