I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Paddle day 54-141: Biking the bridges and contemplating community

Signpost beside our campsite.  Let's bike to Cuba!
Yet another windy day.  Too hazardous to make the seven mile crossing by kayaking, so resorted to biking over the Seven Mile Bridge.  Lots of time to think about the meaning of community here in Florida, and at the Guatemala City garbage dump.

It was cold and windy, so I donned my NRS long neoprene paddling pants and paddle jacket.  But hopping into the kayak was out of the question.  The day before I had seen the size of the waves in the channel for the seven mile crossing.  So out came the folding bike yet again.

I stopped at the signpost near our campsite to get my bearings.  It gave me the distances to the North Pole, Denver, Hell (Montana) and Cuba.  Only 110 miles to Cuba.  Too bad I can't get there by bike.
Start of the Seven Mile Bridge
It was sort of boring biking across so many bridges, with just a few small keys in between.  It gave me lots of time to think.  As I passed one of the many RV parks in the Keys, I wondered why anyone would want to come and spend the winter there.
RV Park: Heaven or Hell?
RV's slotted onto tiny parcels, row after row after row.  Why?  Sure, you don't have to shovel snow, and the weather can be good.  (I hear that the rain in the Keys in January was over 500 times the normal amount, so this hasn't been the best winter.)  So why do people come here, year after year to the same RV park?  Then it struck me that it must be the community.  Folks know each other, and are very social, needing very little excuse to have a party or just sit around and talk.  Maybe I am spoiled by living in a small town where I know my neighbors and have that sense of community.  If I lived in a city, maybe I would like the RV park.

But then different types of camping attract different types of folks.  In the National Forests and state parks there are fewer amenities.  People tend to camp to be in a lovely environment and spend lots of time hiking and boating and biking and birding.  In the more rugged campgrounds I often find fascinating people to talk with.

After biking to Scout Key, Chris and I explored Big Pine Key.  I told Chris we would see the tiny Key Deer there.  He was skeptical since it was the middle of the day.  When we did spot a group on the side of the road, we pulled over and quietly opened the doors to take some pictures.  I had my phone out in front of me to take a picture, but couldn't get a good shot.  The deer were coming at me and going for my hands and the phone.  Clearly these dear were used to being fed.  I had to shoo then off to take a photo.
Key Deer
We drove to the end of an unpaved road to check out a remote boat ramp that led out to bay side of the key.  We were greeted by a group of guys all bundled up, sitting on plastic chairs, drinking beers and sharing tales.  
Live-aboard guys
They offered us brews as they shared their stories.  They live on the boats anchored off the boat ramp.  No fancy marina here and no services and no fees.  One guy works construction for two weeks in central Florida, then comes down here to live on his boat for two weeks or more until he runs out of money.  "I come here to LIVE!" he said, saying it was so cheap and fun with good company.  I've stopped in a lot of nice marinas on this expedition, and at a few of these informal anchorages.  I generally find the company more interesting among the latter.  Maybe it's the hobo in me that sees the attraction of living along the fringes of society, and the self-sufficiency of living "on the hook".

These thoughts made me think of the garbage dump community in Guatemala City.  They are surely living on the fringes of society, but not in a pleasant way.  Do they have the sense of community I see in the RV parks and among the live-aboards?  About fifteen years ago, a group came into the dump community and tried to start some micro lending programs.  Such microcredit programs have been extremely successful in so many poor communities around the world.  A small loan can help a family create a small business and start them on a path towards more security.  But the group was not able to get folks to commit to the small loans in the dump community.  The people did not have the one thing they needed for the loan program to work.  The problem was the lack of community in the dump.  The people there have come from all over Guatemala, and they speak many different Mayan languages.  It's not like in the rural highland villages where families have known each other for generations.  For a micro credit program to work, a whole group of people have to agree to cosign for each other.  If any one person defaults, the rest will pay to cover the default.  In a highland village this is no problem - the people have the necessary social collateral.  But in the dump, that was missing, people did not know each other well and would not sign for each other and the programs never got off the ground.  That was 15 years ago.  What about today?

It was over ten years ago when I first met the families in the dump.  The mothers would come to the monthly family meetings walking with their heads down, not making eye contact with me.  Their interactions with their children were often reaching out to swat them.  Today the parents come with their children to the family meetings, and meet my eyes and smile.  They are holding hands with their children and laughing as they work together on a project.  A few years ago I attended one special meeting where the mothers in the CREAMOS jewelry making cooperative put on a thank-you lunch for the 70 or so of us who had volunteered to help them sell their jewelry at a local department store.  They made the lunch and organized the event, which included each mother coming forward and making a speech and presenting a handmade gift to each of us.  They were laughing together and gently encouraging each other, helping the shyest amongst them feel more comfortable speaking in front of the large group.  What a difference from the earlier years.

Today there is a sense of community among the Safe Passage families.  Today they do have the social collateral.  What a wonderful accomplishment for them!

Gratitude List:
  1. Being pestered by tiny Key Deer
  2. Being welcomed by the scruffy, lively live-aboards
  3. Not being run off the road by the big rigs
  4. The crazy sign-post
  5. Chris sharing this with me
Date: January 24, 2016                                               Restart Paddle Day: 54    Paddle Day:141
Start location: Marathon, FL                                       Launch time: 10:00 AM
End location:  Scout Key                                             Land time: 11:30 AM
Average speed: 10.7 mph                                            Max Speed:  17.6 mph
Miles: 14
Total expedition miles with kayak and bike: 2460        Motor-portage miles: 404
Sailing Miles: 1025                                                      TOTAL Expedition Miles: 3485
Kayak Storage: Knight's Key Resort and Marina
Host: Chris Percival

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