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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Alpha Zone!

The Montevideo Port
While the title of this post sounds like something straight out of a combat or Sci-fy movie, Wally and I just found out that we are living in the Alpha zone. Okay, not actually living in the zone otherwise we would be drowning, rather we are living along side this water shipping zone.

We found out about this zone through an off the cuff remark. As most of you know, Wally and I live near the beach and through our living room and dining room picture windows we have a grand view of the water. (yeah, I can't help bragging just a little bit). Well, normally during the day we keep the shutters open so we can enjoy the view and happenings on the beach. After sunset, we sometimes debate on just when and at what time to shut those shutters. I often joke, "it's too bad the ocean isn't lit up at night like a pool is, then I'd have something to see through those windows at night." Recently, that has changed!

About four years ago when I first looked out of those windows at the water during the day, I occasionally saw a small red fishing boat, fishing while seagulls circled and pretty much nothing at night. Two years ago, I posted a photo of a ship around twilight time lit up. I thought it might be a cruise ship heading to Argentina, as it was summertime.

Now, when I look out my windows, I see huge container ships and others (as in plural) not only passing by during the day but at night they stop and rest there, camped out as it were, all along the horizon. Now at night we leave the shutters open much later, as we now have a beautiful view of multicolored lights. We pretend, we are looking at a city skyline view, lit up at night.

Ships at night, lighted up off the coast from my house.
Getting back, to the Alpha zone, we finally had to ask someone "Hey, what's up with all of those ships that are just hanging around not moving?" "Oh, (said rather, off-handily) that's the Alpha zone, a waiting zone for all ships wanting to enter Montevideo's Port". Wow! How was I, just now finding out about this? I asked other people and they all seemed to know what I was just finding out. It's a zone where not only do the ships wait out at sea before they can enter into the harbor but where they are also allowed to unload or lighten their cargo, ship to ship in the water! If for some reason they can't be cleared to enter the port for a while, they can hang out in front of "our stretch of water!"

Off-shore "Parking" of ships just waiting.

Still wondering why there was so much waiting time and unloading going on in the waters in front of my house and not in the harbor itself, I found out some more info. about the Port of Montevideo. It's a natural port with a main channel that gives access. This channel is not very wide or deep and is often threatened with sediment. Some people say there are spots you could walk upon. To the west of the channel one can see sticking up out of the water the mast of the shipwrecked El Calpean Star (formerly called the Highland Chieftain). It sank in July, 1960 (the result of an explosion and fire).

Ship in the middle maneuvering into place.
The original main channel of access extends from the jetty to Km 9.35 and at Km 6.5, it was dredged a deviation in four sections, to the east, up to the Km 42.4. My house sits at around 40 km to the east.  The depth recorded in December 2006 was 11 meters to zero!  The channel is clearly marked with lighted buoys on both sides. Due to a significant amount of sediment which in time builds shoals throughout the channel and the inner harbor, the width narrows from this sediment that accumulates. In parts of the channel people say that,  two very large ships can not pass each other side by side, due to their draft (The depth of a ship's keel below the waterline.).  There is much talk of not only improving the port with dredging projects (I hear that a Chinese firm maybe contracted to do this soon) but also one day there is hopes of building perhaps a new deepwater port. Meanwhile the entrance and exits into the harbor have to be managed carefully, juggling smaller ships together with the larger ones while other ships have to wait. Sometimes due to the channel's depth, ships may have to lighten their loads before entering the port. At other times because of shipping schedules boats who can't wait to enter, might pass their loads to fellow company ships or those returning back home. They can do this in view of my house.

The amount of ships certainly has increased in 4 years time! As an update; May 19th, 2013 saw a record 100 ships off the Costa de Oro or the gold coast that runs past my house.

Thanks to Mark Mercer for posting this on Facebook!
That's why we suddenly noticed all of this going on. I don't know why, so much waiting is happening now or how much total ship traffic there is for this year but I do have some figures from back when we first arrived.

In a 2008 report it was mentioned that the port had dealings with some 5,000 plus vessels, including fishing vessels from various countries (525) and Uruguay (1827), petroleum ships (245), barges (113), cruise liners (101), and general cargo ships (223), container ships (819) and bulk vessels (111) among others. The port handled a little over 9 million tons of cargo that year. That shows a lot of ships coming in and out (imports and exports).

The port handles almost all of the imports of the country and the exports mainly are effected through Montevideo and Nueva Palmira. Chief exports include exports of meat, hides, wool, rice, milk, and fish among other things. The approach to the port by the Atlantic is between the Island of Flores and the English Bank. The port is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with a few exceptions.

The port is protected by 2 breakwaters. Wind rather than tidal changes effect conditions at the port. Normally during the year the wind speed averages 12 knots but when the gales of the Southwest blow they can reach 80 to 120 km. an hour (1 knot equals 1.85 km or 1.152 mph). The port closes (at the authorities discretion) when the wind reaches 32.4 knots. This is one example of why so many ships might have to wait to get into the port. The port can also close when visibility is less than a 1000 meters. These things are determined by the Maritime Authority. It can be compared to an airplane circling the airport, waiting to land. Strikes or trouble at the port would also cause a back log of ships waiting.
At twilight, ships in a row with lights aglow.
I went online to various shipping companies websites and found out that Montevideo's port location is: Montevideo Latitude 34°54'33"S  Longitude 56°12' 45" W

There are water zones delineated where ships are allowed to lighten, transfer, complete cargoes and receive supplies and services. The Zone of Anchoring is used for supplies and services.

Ship waiting, "parked" off-shore.
By treaty, Uruguay and Argentina have established 4 zones at the entrance of the River Plata to be utilized by the ships that require to lighten cargoes when arriving for Montevideo, Buenos Aires or other ports of rivers of both countries.  Some zones are utilized also to load or to top off cargo that have been loaded partly in ports of the basin of the Plata. These 4 zones are: the Alpha Zone ("A"), the Bravo Zone ("B"), and zones C (Common) and D (Delta). The depth of the water in the zones "A" or "B" is at least of 12.80 meters of brackish water, and in the zones "C" and "D" of 15.85 meters, that are utilized mainly to lighten tankers. 

There are two light house zones. The light house zone declared "Alpha" of the River Plata (Rio de la Plata), is between the coast and Long. 55°30 and 57°21 'W, and in the south by the limit of the River Plata with Argentinean water. On a clear day, I can see the Alpha Zone's light house on the Island named "Isla de Flores" from my terrace.

The Isla de Flores lighthouse as seen from my deck(zoomed in).
The Light house zone for the zone declared "Bravo" of the River Plata is between the meridians of Punta Sayago and Punta Brava, and of the coast and the Latitude. 35°01 'S. It includes the harbor, the channel of the access, the outer port, the basins and quays of Montevideo.
Ship cruising by my house.
All of this maybe kinda of confusing to take in but to recap.The zone farthest away from the port is the Alpha zone. It's kind of like the ultimate loitering spot for ships. Next comes the Bravo zone from the mouth of the port, including the harbor, it can be used to complete cargoes and lighten loads as well.

Close to Montevideo's port address of Longitude 56 is an anchoring spot (about 200 hectare) that can be utilized for picking up supplies and services needed aboard the various ships. The zone Common is part of the main channel and also heads towards Argentina. The "D"  or Delta zone runs in front of Piri├ípolis.

All said and done, my little window on the world has just gotten a  bit more interesting and hey, Alphas rule!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Last Fruits of Summer!

Well, this month is the start of winter down here in Uruguay, June 21st.

I should have taken advantage of our warm summer and done more, summer stuff, like enjoying swimming in the warmer waters down by the beach but I didn't. Instead, it seemed like I had an endless list of projects to complete. Now that it's been autumn for a while down here, I am trying to seize the last bits of decent weather before the dreary cold of winter sets in.

 I'm taking the time to appreciate some belated memories of the summer and fall.

4 weeks ago our banana tree/plant yielded several new bunches of bananas for this year. They were quite good. If you look hard enough, you can see them hanging on the tree in our title photo. Visitors from the States thought they were just fine and chomped away on them. Each little bunch had from 8 to 10 bananas. We had 45 bananas in total. Last year we were told to cut the bunches off while still green and to let them ripen to their golden color in a bag rather than on the tree itself. This year I took that advice. It seemed to take forever to ripen them, many weeks in fact and Wally was just about to throw them out when he saw that 1 banana in the bag had turned yellow. Only a few days later and all of them had changed! I'm so glad that, that one little banana had turned in time or we in our ignorance would have missed out on enjoying our fruit!

They were kinda of small about 5 to 6 inches long but they tasted just like bananas should! I have the trees planted in a sheltered corner next to a wall in my front yard! They face away from the water. My front yard was planted to be decorative and not edible, not a vegetable garden, yet, I now have 2 plants that actually yield fruit. This is the second year of fruit that I've obtained from my mini banana grove.We originally bought one tree but they multiplied on their own. After a tree produces, it won't do so again and will need to be cut down. However, other shoots from it will have already started to grow into trees before you have to take out the mother plant. That's why we had fruit this year as well. They came from a second plant that had self-sprouted from that original purchase and in a year was ready to produce. Soon that tree will be cut down and the 2 other offspring will be ready by next year. Wally made french toast and we covered them with the bananas' mini slices of fruit, in addition to eating them wholly on their own with our visitors.

So, it's a definite yes, a home gardener can grow bananas here in Uruguay, worth eating at home.

 The most surprising fruitage from this year, came from my plant commonly called "a Swiss cheese plant"(Monstera deliciosa, it's Latin name). I posted last year (March 16th, 2011) about what I learned concerning that plant. While the leaves are poisonous, what most people don't know is that it produces edible fruit! That's maybe why part of its Latin name contains the word deliciosa or delicious in English, meaning especially; a very pleasing taste or smell. The smell in this case is not great but the fruit is tasty.  Once the stalk like fruit appears, you must wait from 8 months to a year before you can eat it! Just leave it on the plant until the little corn like tops that cover the fruit (called berries) start to pop off, then you can eat it! I have been waiting a year now to try this fruit that I have never tasted.

You can imagine my mood when Wally thinking he was helping me with pruning, decided to cut back this plant. It was starting to grow over the walkway. I ran out and explained he should have mentioned to me first that he was going to be so o helpful because now I would not get to try the long awaited fruit since he had loped everything off. Well, I guess I got a break because I saw some old stalks from last's year fruit that he had missed, still left behind on the plant and today I saw their tops popping off! I cut off two stalks of the long promised fruit. The kernels (berries) of our "Swiss Cheese plant", tasted a bit like sweet pineapple with maybe a "slight" mango taste. Wally made some empanadas using this sweet filling in them for dessert. The interesting thing is that if you don't wait until the fruit fully ripens for that long amount of time or in our case for over a year, the fruit flesh will numb your mouth and cause an upset stomach. The numbing of your mouth is the clue.

I was brave and sampled the fruit first, just in case. All went well. I was so surprised that the fruit "kernels/berries" really were sweet! You lift off the top "caps" and the kernels easily pullout. What is left on the "cob" like fruit stalk are soft black seeds. They pretty much stay adhered to the cob. Some come off so just rinse them off or eat them along with the fruit. For those of you looking to add edible plants to your front yard but don't want the look of a vegetable garden these two plants, the decorative tropical looking Banana tree/plant and the Philodendron known as the "Swiss cheese plant",  might just make your list.

You can also plant edible flowers like violets, roses and certain geraniums and nasturtiums. On all plants, always, check which ones are edible first before eating. I also have Daylily and Dianthus (commonly known as pinks or "Sweet William") growing around my fountain in my front yard (can you see my cat Nathan, hiding in the photo? He's between the two plants just mentioned). Both types of plants come in a wide range of flower colors. The flowers of both the Daylily (all parts of the common Daylily are edible) and the Dianthus flower are edible. An important thing to note is that the Daylily is not dangerous to cats. They can nibble away on both the flower or the leaves. However, other types of  lillie's are fatal to cats, so watch what you plant! Edible flowers can look quite lovely in a salad and many people wrap squash flowers and Daylily flowers around meats and bake them. In the left photo (with Nathan) you can also see my plant commonly called "lambs ears', in the lower right-hand corner. People in the USA call it lambs ears because of the leaf shape together with its soft fuzzy texture and white color which resembles a little lamb's ear. This plant has a minty smell and tiny pinkish purple or white flowers, when it blooms on its stalk. 

Lambs ears, growing in my garden.
A surprising discovery for me was that in Brazil the leaves of the plant we commonly know as "Lambs ears" (Stachys Byzantina) is called Lambari (not to be confused with several species of fish in Brazil by the same name). These leaves can be eaten. Raw, they are yucky tasting! Instead, the leaves are fried and taste a little like crispy sardine skins when cooked! I marched out to my front fountain garden and took a few leaves off to try that. I didn't want to  influence the taste so I fried them in some corn oil rather than olive oil, my usual choice. I didn't know how long to cook them, so I just fried them until I thought they would be slightly crisp. I added nothing but a tiny bit of salt to them. Then I called in Wally to be a second judge as to the taste and we liked them! They did taste flavorful and slightly like sardines! Wally said they would be good probably added over rice. The leaves, (I read) can also be dried and used for tea, tasting a little like chamomile tea (and not I hope, sardine like). People say the plant can be invasive but mine behave.

Speaking some more about Lambs ears, this hardy perennial has an interesting history. Originally from the Middle Eastern area (Turkey,Armenia and Iran) It was once used as emergency bandages because of it's absorbent and antiseptic qualities. In the days of outhouses it was used as a moonlight plant to direct people to the outhouse at night as the white, slivery leaves caught the moonlight and were easily seen at night.  It could also be used as toilet paper in a pinch (because of its absorbent nature) when supplies ran out. I've added an info. link, so click on the name "lamb's ear" to read more.

You too can have a secret edible front yard garden if you just search the web for other recommended edible ornamentals. I am very happy that so many plants, trees, shrubs and flowers can so easily grow here in Uruguay.