Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Colombian Marines 'Operation-- Cell phone signal'.

This morning we delivered a fresh batch of cookies and a few music CD's to the twelve Colombian troops stationed at Albuquerque Cay. The commander asked if we could return at 2PM and take a few of the guys out in the dinghy in hopes of getting a cellar signal so they could call their families. I suggested they climb the 20 meter tall light tower as this would be the best way to improve the line of sight transmission of cell phones. No takers on climbing the tower and the commander, as if acting out a game of charades, made the motions of a person falling off the tower and hitting the ground with a thud. Hmm. With a combination of my 'Spanglish' and my own turn at charades I suggest that these strong young guys could easily climb the tower and talk on their phones at the same time. Certainly, it must be safer than say texting while riding a motor cycle... yes, I've actually seen this done in the neighboring island of San Anders.

San Andres is 50km away, a hopeless distance for a cell phone. Regardless, high command decided that we must go. I then drew a picture of the island in the sand with my toe and asked just how far they wanted to go in the dinghy. After a protracted discussion and more sand drawings it was decided that we need only go 1.5 kilometers from the island. Maybe I was missing something as these guys really seemed to think that 1.5 km would help. I remained highly skeptical and suggested someone climb the tower to test my theory. I think my suggestion was lost in translation as still no takers on climbing the light tower. The commander suggested I bring my GPS. So we wouldn't get lost? Or perhaps to know when we were 1.5 km from the island? I'll never know.

We synchronized our watches to 'mission time' by gauging the height of the sun through the overhead palm trees. Kathy and I spent the interim hours going for a snorkel. We captured a nice lobster and huge conch. After lunch I headed for the beach to find no less than six marines with cell phones in hand. Luckily, I have a large zip lock bag for my GPS so we add the cell phones for safe keeping. The guys pile in with snorkel gear so I infer we are going for a swim as well? We stop by LightSpeed and pick up the spear and a extra mask and fins and offshore fishing pole. Now picture seven guys packed in a dinghy with snorkel gear, a bag of cell phones and a giant fishing pole. Off we go. The commander is driving the boat... clearly his first time at the helm. We zig, we zag the troops point north the commander heads east and so on we zig we zag. Lots of water splashes in the boat. I'm pretty sure this is a hopeless mission, but want to give it my best shot so we head out 3.5 km over twice the agreed distance. Cell phones come out of the bag and.... no luck. No surprise it's still 45 km to the nearest cell tower. I try to explain the curvature of the earth and line of sight communications using my 'Spanglish' and a spool of fishing line. I'm pretty sure that they were just nodding along so I'd shut up and everyone could go for a swim.

I gave orders in newly minted Spanish to drop the anchor. It really worked as I watched the camp cook throw the anchor over the side. However, I didn't issue the order to tie the anchor to the anchor rope FIRST. So, off goes the anchor to the semi deep sans an anchor line. In the interim the offshore fishing reel and line are still in play and now hopelessly snagged on coral. I send a guy over the side to untangle the mess and he says the line is wrapped around some coral. We are quickly drifting in the current so I tell him to just cut the line and save the lure. Lost in translation he jumps in the water swims about five feet from the boat and cuts the line. Needless to say the lure is hopelessly lost and... the anchor is pretty much lost as well at this point.

I dead reckon back to where I reckon the anchor might be and send in swimmers to start a search for the anchor. One, the jovial camp cook, goes in without fins and apparently without much if any swimming lessons. I pull away from the search site a bit to keep everyone safe from the outboard propeller and the commander starts a new game of charades and acts out a drowning person. Apparently, it's the Cook. He does look a bit panicked. The cook is not exactly slim and I don't think he could sink with his built in flotation if he tried. The commander is very concerned about the situation and everyone is relived once we hoist the wide eyed cook aboard. The remaining two swimmers also scamper aboard. Now imagine for a moment the scene of tangled bodies as three guys spill into a dinghy all at once. It took a few minutes to get everyone upright and settled. Ok, all is good but, still no anchor and now have at least three inches of water in the dinghy. Really a not issue as an inflatable boat can't really sink. The best two swimmers go back in the water they finally retrieve the anchor. I tie the knot and we send the anchor back to the deep.

The cook at this point is really getting a good teasing by everyone for his antics. A few guys want to go for a swim to try to spear some fish. All the climbing in and out of the dinghy paired with being a little overloaded we now have four inches of water in the dinghy. The freshly speared fish are still pretty much alive when they get plucked off the spear and dropped in the dinghy. Fish are literally swimming around inside the boat as they bleed to death. The water is a getting pretty bloody and the fish are splashing the blood and gut filled water all over us. Apparently, everyone else thinks this is normal as no attempt is made to either bail out the dinghy or kill the fish... both would be prudent ideas. I'd really like to go for a swim for myself, but am loath to leave even the anchored dinghy under anyone else's command for fear of what might happen next. I just chill and go with the flow. Fish swimming around my feet in a blood bath and all. I join in the fun and tease the cook.

On the way back to the island we zig and we zag and make another four stops for more spear fishing and also tangle the fishing line on a reef again. I let the guys think it's a fish for a while as they are really getting into the fight. The dinghy is drifting and line is going off the reel. Nearly, everyone has a hand on the pole and is helping to battle the 'grande pescado' there is lots of excitement. After a while I burst the bubble. Now it's time to see if we can rescue the fishing lure. Starting a new game of charades I mime a fish hook in my mouth and then point at my self. 'Bring me the hook this time' I say... in English of which 100% is surely lost in translation. The hook rescue swimmer nods 'Si, Si' and in he goes. He then pops back up and I think he says the water is too deep. I say 'no' which translates perfectly. Then vigorously encourage him with sign language to get the hook. The water isn't that deep. To my surprise up comes the rescue swimmer hook and all. Back in the dinghy I proudly give him a good solid pat on the back and say something like 'bueno, bueno, gracias mi amigo' which evokes a good laugh from everyone.

Back at the beach the guys give the dinghy a good scrub and we shake hands all around. The guys testing out some new English words and me practising my Spanish. As a parting bonus, I receive an authentic Colombian Marines hat.

IF I do another 'Operation-- Cell phone signal'or something similar I think I'll bring a few life jackets and leave my fishing pole at home.

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