West Indian Chiton

I was at Golf Ball Beach, and the security guard patrolling the beach pulled up in a 4 wheel drive ATV (all terrain vehicle). His name was Miller, and he and I were the only two on the beach. I was scaling and cleaning the porgie that I speared with my Hawaiian Sling.

He pointed my attention to the barnacle-like shells clinging to the rock that I was cleaning my fish on. He called them "kerbs" or "curbs" and said that they were delicious. (Here we go with the food and vegetable blog again, but I can't help it). He then took my filet knife and tried to pry one off the rocks. They are stuck to rocks as if they were glued with epoxy. You have to work and work and work to get them off, and in the process he bent my fillet knife.

However, he did manage to pry one off. It has a foot pad on it the colour of an orange coral. He cut off the foot pad with my knife. This is the edible part. Underneath was the guts, filled with the slime that the thing was eating. The guts were unappetizing. He cut the postage stamp size piece of flesh in half and popped one piece in his mouth. He proffered me the other piece, and I couldn't refuse. It was crunchy, like eating gristle, but it tasted good -- especially seasoned with the salted sea water.

He went on to say that the flesh had incredible powers and was considered Caribbean viagra. I didn't believe him, because the islanders say the same thing about conch as well.

Upon googling for kerb or curb, I found nothing. However I googled for edible shellfish and molluscs and found out that what I had been eating was the West Indian Chiton.

A few days later I found myself on the beach. I pried a few chitons off, and they made a great snack. Some day, I may collect enough to make a seafood linguine. I will tell you how it turns out. Who would have thunk that barnacles could be delicious.


I was driving home from Jaws Beach (site of the underwater crashed airplane) when we approached a Rasta man selling plastic bags full of bunches of green fruits. I stopped and motioned him over. I asked him what they were and he said "ginnip" but spelled it guinep. I expected to pay a $1.00 for the bag, like I do for peanuts. Instead it was $2.00. I paid it. I had seen an islander eating these things at his desk.

The three of us opened the bag and we each cracked one open with our teeth. You discard the brittle green rind, and dig out the middle. The fruit inside is a tart, tangy, cream pulp which is like wet cotton surrounding a huge seed. You suck the fruit off the seed and spit the seed out. There is not much fruit and a lot of big nut inside.

It tasted like orange cotton -- only a bit more tart, yet very sweet. The juice, of which there is a surprising lot of it, is full of sugar and very sticky. It seems that the very big guinep is not as sweet as the smaller ones, and the taste of the big one is a little off (see the above pic -- it is even a less vibrant colour).

I googled "guinep" and found out that their common name is Mamoncillo. Although it is sometimes called mamón, Spanish speakers consider the word obscene. I can just imagine what it means by looking at the fruit.

Other names for the fruit are chenet, gnep, ginep, skinnip, genip, kenep, guenepa, Spanish Lime, or Limoncillo. I am wonder if the alcoholic drink limoncillo (popularised by comic star Danny Devito getting drunk on it and appearing on The View ) is made from it, but I doubt it.

The Barbadians (or Bajans) called this ackee. I have seen canned ackee beside canned lychee in the supermarkets back home and wondered what they were about. Now I know. Lychee is awfully close to guinep, except the skin has things sticking out that make it look armoured.

I like the name Mamoncillo, and plan to use it somehow. It is an appealing name to me. In my research on the fruit, I discovered that the interior seeds can be roasted like chestnuts. I just threw mine in my garbage garden, hoping that they will sprout into guinep trees.

The other thing that I learned, is that I overpaid. Yesterday I saw a bunch of young boys with a shopping cart full of guineps. They were selling them by the bagful for a $1 each. The Rasta got double that out of me. Ras Tafari and Smokin' Ganja! This is the second time that the Rastas ripped me off. The first time was when I stopped to buy roasted peanuts from them. The bag was a size smaller than normal, and it was a short-fill -- not to the top. The next time that I see him, I should lop off his dreadlocks or something.

Social Insight

I am totally fascinated by all aspect of life in the tropics. As a lifestyle voyeur, I am always eager to see how the other side lives.

One of the negative aspects of the social conditions in this tropical country, is that approximately 75% of the households consist of a single parent, a mother and her children. Absentee fathers are the rule rather than the exception, and they do not support the children they father. Consequently the child rearing is done by an economically disadvantaged single mother.

To gain insight what this means in real, practical terms, the picture above is a shopping list. The front of the list is a school assignment by a very young child -- a girl named Donesha. The obverse has a shopping list. The list is very revealing, as it offers a glimpse of the diet of most of the regular people here.

The list is as follows:

  1. Tuna
  2. Cornbeef
  3. Sugar
  4. Mouthwash
  5. Hot dog
  6. Bread
  7. Tissue
  8. Mackeral
  9. Potato
  10. Onion
  11. Spaghetti
  12. Biscuit
  13. Sour
  14. Fabric Softener
  15. Celery
  16. Tomato
  17. Liquid Tide

Notice that most of the protein is canned or processed and inexpensive. There is corn beef, tuna, mackeral and hotdogs. Carbohydrates such as spaghetti, bread, biscuits are omnipresent in the local diet.

The tomatoes, onion, celery and sour (bottled lemon juice and hot peppers) are used to cook a fish dish.

The rest of the items deal with washing or hygiene --mouth wash, toilet tissue, fabric softener and detergent.

All in all, it is a pretty sparse shopping list devoid of any serious fruits, vegetables or high grade protein.

This shopping list is typical of what I see in the grocery carts around the island.

Kids say the darnedest things

Art Linkletter had a TV show that I believe was called House Party. One of the segments of the show was where he would interview kids and ask them questions. Their answers were sometimes hilarious. Like for example, one child said that he like sea creatures. Art asked him what his favourite sea creature was and the kid replied that he like the octopus with the eight testicles. Art asked him if he meant tentacles, and the kid said no, it was testicles.

Art wrote a book of his experiences, and the title was Kids Say the Darnedest Things. This simple fact became apparent last week. We were waiting for our guests from the UK to arrive. We expected them to arrive by taxi. The Lovely One and I were surprised when a huge stretch Hummer limousine pulled out. The driver was one colourful character named Lester.

As it turned out, our guests were wanting a taxi from the airport. Lester was headed over to our end of the island, and gave our guests a ride. At first he wanted a fare of $50. I was dismayed to discover that I had only $33 in my pocket, and Lester took that as full fare.

We took some pics of our guests with Lester and Limo. Just before he left us, Lester insisted on giving us his business card. It is pictured above. When I turned it over, I discovered that a kid had written on it. Obviously it was a very young child. The child had written "Jail us ... Lester Limo".

I am wondering to this day, what "Jail us" means. Does the kid know something that we don't? I love these little mysteries.

Lethal Explosions

Take a look at the seeds in my hand. One of those seeds is enough to kill a dog. Three of those seeds will kill a child. Eight will kill an adult.

I came about them in an odd way. It was raining, and I had an appointment with one of our corporate partners. His office was in a strip mall. I went to the office and rang the bell. No one was there. I walked around to the back of the building. I saw this lovely plant that looked like it had come from the dinosaur era. It had big ragged leaves. It had a lovely green hue with red in it. The plant had these prickly berries.

I picked the berries for the possibility of planting the seeds in my garden. (See my entry on garbage garden). I put the seeds into the catch-all center console of the BMW. After waiting around for a bit, I decided that the meeting was a no-go. As I drove back to the office, the shone broke out, and the day became stinky hot in this tropical paradise.

The car was parked in the sun. The wet seed pods were drying out. Later on that day, I drove home. As I was driving, I heard a pop, and was hit in the head by a seed pod. Then another pop, and the seed pop was flung into the windshield. Suddenly the seed pods were popping like popcorn. I put my appointments book on top of the console, and left it there as the rest of the pods popped. The seeds separated from the pods, and what you see in the pic, are the inner seeds.

I researched the plant and found that it was the castor bean plant. They press the seeds to get castor oil. However the seeds contain ricin -- a potent poison that can kill. Here is what wikipedia has to say about ricin:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Castor beans Ricinis a protein toxin that is extracted from the castor bean (Ricinus communis).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gives a possible minimum figure of 500 micrograms (about the size of a grain of salt) for the lethal dose of ricin in humans if exposure is from injection or inhalation.

Ricin is poisonous if inhaled, injected, or ingested, acting as a toxin by the inhibition of protein synthesis. While there is no known antidote, the US military has developed a vaccine. Symptomatic and supportive treatment is available. Long term organ damage is likely in survivors. Ricin causes severe diarrhea and victims can die of shock. Abrin is a similar toxin.
Deaths caused by ingestion of castor oil plant seeds are rare. Eight beans are considered toxic for an adult. A solution of saline and glucose has been used to treat ricin overdose.

So, not only does the seed pod explode, but it contains a powerful poison. I wondered what to do with the seeds. With a fatalistic shrug, I tossed them in the garden to see if they would grow. I will keep you informed of how and if they sprout.

Cotton Tree?

The Lovely One and I were in a wooded area of this island. The ground was covered with what looked like cotton balls. They were falling off these huge magnificient trees. At the center of each puff ball was a seed.

I put one of these puffballs in my pocket, and an hour later, the seed had separated from the puffball. I googled for powderpuff tree, cotton tree, cotton ball tree and didn't get any results that looked like anything that I saw. The closest I suppose is the Silk Cotton Tree, but even that is not an exact match.

On a personal note, we are back from the North. My batteries are recharged and I am ready for a full court press in the business world. Returning to the tropics was so familiar. Even the climate was familiar. It rained hard last night, and when I went to lock up at 1:00 AM, I wondered if a tropical storm blew in. But by morning all was quiet, and the swimming pool was a seething mass of wriggling termite queens and their discarded wings. Needless to say, I did not get my morning swim in. But I did jump into the work milieu in this tropical paradise.

Horse Flies

I couldn't believe it. I am sitting on a beach and a fly lands on me. I think nothing of it. All of a sudden, I get pain. It is a horsefly. I slap it, until it is a corpse. We have lots of horseflies back home in the North. Somehow I didn't think that they existed in the tropics, although I had no reason for believing that.

The good news is that I am flying home for a week. It is a working holiday. I have to conduct a critical design review of a system that I am having built. It is the system for sending cash by text message. Our stored value card is launched, and this is the next phase of the venture. The system is over 85% built out, and I intend to unleash this on the Caribbean in a couple of months. I am going to take my time, and iron out all of the kinks.

The other good news is that I will play golf for the first time this year. I would like to play golf every day, but that may not happen. It is a good thing to be getting off the island. It is hurricane season, and the second named storm is on the way. Tropical Storm Bertha is expected to hit north of the Caribbean, but one can never tell. I am glad to be getting off the island, even for a week.

Summer Daze

When the girls were small, I used to read them bedtime stories. One of their favourite books was an illustrated book called "Summer". The mantra of the book, repeated over and over was "we love the things that summer brings". Each page was a new delight of summer.

Summer is upon us in the tropics. That means hot hot days, perpetual sunshine and an intense sun. When one is on the beach, it is a nirvana. This is not so in cars before the air conditioning kicks in, or in buildings without air conditioning. But today, July 1, it was different.

This is the first July 1rst that I am working. In my previous life, I was usually at the park for fireworks, or a picnic, or by a lake, or at the riverside park, or at the town park, or celebrating summer with family. Today it is a regular work day in the tropics.

In spite of being a regular work day, it did feel like summer in the north. It rained all night, and when I awoke and trudged to the swimming pool to get my morning swim in, it was coolish, and a warm gray sky. It felt like summer back home. The mockingbirds were imitating the sparrows and other birds found in the boreal latitudes. The heat wasn't oppressive, and it was a morning where one felt good to be alive -- especially after the blood was flowing after diving into the pool.

The one benefit of perpetual summer in the tropics, is that the days, weeks and years seem to go by slower here. In the north, one is reminded of the furious passage of time with the vagaries of the season. Every month something changes. I do like slowing down the passage of time in any way possible.