As Dean Bernal talks, his hands dive and spiral, scooped in the shape that a swimmer would use to propel him forward in water. It is as if even on land, there is an aquatic connection. I haven’t seen Dean for awhile, and I marvel at how is face is becoming more dolphin-like over the years: he has a wide ready smile that lights up his darkly tanned face with a look of peace and ease that is reminiscent of the ever present “smiles” that dolphins display. I know that he also shares other physical traits with his cetacean companion: the ability to free dive and hold his breath for three to five minutes, and beneath his clothing, scars from living life fully and deeply. It is all part of his personal evolution, very much interconnected with JoJo’s own passage.
Providenciales, or Provo, has been the home of Dean and JoJo since 1984, and it has experienced considerable waves of change in the past decade. No longer a forgotten speck on most maps, Provo is just an hour and a half from Miami International, and has become a destination for a wide range of international travelers seeking pristine dive and snorkeling sites, or simply a slower pace in a wondrous natural setting where water is the dominant element.
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The road to Bernal’s house in the hills is a steep climb, one that throws you from side to side in a vehicle, like the ascending ride of a climbing roller coaster. There is no asphalt on Provo, and the barren white roads look and feel like the surface of the moon. We climb past multi-million dollar housing, and finally reach the summit, the highest elevation on the island, and are rewarded with an eye-dazzling expanse of turquoise water ringed by a surprising abundance of vegetation. Dean’s house is one of those “finds” on a resort island lacking in affordable housing. It is modest, but has a million dollar view and location. It also suits the needs and purpose of its occupant to perfection.
Conch shells line the porch railing that is perched high over the hillside, echoing the ocean that hangs in the distance. A net hammock hangs suspended over the doorway to the essentially one room dwelling, with a Taoist yin yang symbol floating on the glass door as a talisman, and perhaps as a reflection of the life lived within these walls.
In Dean’s home, I sense so many currents coursing through this compact, energetic space. For a moment, there is a feeling of being underwater, and for good reason: the white ceiling rises into a high peak, and everywhere, there are posters and photos of blue waters. Many are of Dean and JoJo, taken by some of the world’s leading nature and underwater photographers. The one shelving unit in the room holds sculpture and artifacts from the ocean. There is a Spartan simplicity to the dwelling, with few amenities-like air conditioning-to add comfort.
A large, somewhat outdated computer tower rests beneath the cobbled together desk, and it turns out to be a no-frills tool that is a part of Bernal’s array of communication devices. A ship to shore radio resides on the refrigerator, and in another corner, a phone, a fax and an industrial strength answering machine all share a small cabinet. Beside the bed, a row of intriguing books line the entire 8-10 feet of wall: signed editions of underwater natural history books, books in many different languages all seeming to share one universal word-dolphin, and scattered among the water books are ones featuring more earthly and esoteric topics. Again, many currents, all-reflecting a focused simplicity.
That night, there is a brief but heavy tropical rain, what they call “liquid sunshine” on Provo. I listen to the house do its work: this water is precious, and rain gutters that surround the four walls of the house catch and channel the water to a cistern beneath the floor. This will be the shower and tap water for the next few days. It is an ingenious island adaptation that is not unlike the chameleon process that Bernal himself has gone through in the past decade of island living. He has found ways to take maximum advantage of the rhythms of this environment that would slow most people down, achieving an extra “spin” of energy that yields amazingly full and productive 18-20 hour days. Interwoven with the island simplicity, there is a more complex process of reaching out to, and mingling with, the rhythms of the larger world, a place that Bernal is intimately connected to at all times.
A clear bright dawn, and Dean is sleeping at last. He seems to sleep like a dolphin: never fully stopping, with one side of the brain always conscious. I know that it will not last, and an hour later, he is up and
quickly shifting into a morning of multi-tasking. It is a good time to reach out on the island, before it gets too hot, before people get off to a boat or beach. He begins with a series of rapid-fire calls to build interest and seek proper channels for bringing a massive bronze statue of JoJo from France to the island to serve as a memorial. Still more calls to journalists regarding the ongoing international legal battle with Club Med over their persistent use of water ski boats in JoJo’s swimming grounds. A series of local calls to line up a house sitter for four months: Bernal is leaving for a journey around the world, and the next set of calls is to work out the complex set of flights across Europe that will allow him to complete a film documenting the existence of other lone dolphins.
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Finally, it is time to enjoy his reward: a two-mile run along the beach, and then a reef swim of one to two miles. It is on these solitary passages that Dean’s path often crosses with JoJo’s. This time is the true magic of the day, a miracle of interspecies communication. If JoJo is in a playful mood, it can mean hours of interaction and learning shared by the two friends. As the heat of the day is beginning to break, Bernal seeks out a lounge chair and falls into a deep sleep for another two hours…he averages four to six a day. There is little evidence of sleep deprivation, just a seemingly unending well of high energy and enthusiasm.
Dean can walk into almost anywhere on Provo, and he is greeted, if not by name, then as the “dolphin guy.” His infectious good will runs deep, and touches the entire spectrum of life on the island. One day he is on the deck of a custom yacht in the afternoon, and that evening having a dinner served by “Mama”, a wonderful native cook. Bernal draws energy to replenish his well from everything: the colors of the sky, the ocean, the sun, JoJo, and perhaps most of all, from other people. There is a sincere enjoyment from interacting with the colorful kaleidoscope of humanity that either lives on island, or more often, is just visiting for a week or two. Dean’s energy seems to have an inner source as well, in the way that he demonstrates the Taoist concept of Wu Wei: effortless flow. There is a streamlined, focused effort at all times, with a minimum of energy expended.
© JoJo Archives
Most evenings, there are bands, and a casino to offer activities for the out of country visitors, but it is time for Dean to have his one solid meal of the day before starting his real work. On any given evening, Bernal logs onto the Internet for one purpose: to compose and read a daunting amount of e-mail. In the quiet and coolness of the hillside retreat, he reaches out to the world, and touches people on practically every continent. There is a JoJo site now, and it has generated another wave of interest in the project, but the overwhelming majority of the messages are from Dean’s incredible network of friends, believers and people who have crossed his globe-circling path. The first hint of dawn is beginning to tint the sky, and it is time to sleep a few hours of dolphin sleep before the first morning phone calls begin.
This morning, Dean takes a few extra minutes to sort out and reload his backpack. One day, it may be usurped by a laptop, but the harsh salt and sun environment of the island tends to crash the average portable pc, so for now, Bernal hauls the paper. The contents are complex and clearly a microcosm of the myriad projects on his desk at any given time. A vast array of files and articles on people and issues around the world share space with practical necessities like a well-worn world atlas.
It occurs to me that as Dean and JoJo both approach “middle age” there is a new stage of evolvement and involvement around the corner for the pair. JoJo is slowing down a bit, and at the same time, garnering greater fame around the world. Bernal, on the other hand, is speeding up, traveling the world with a greater sense of urgency to work with issues that have arisen from his interaction with JoJo and other solitary dolphins. At the same time, there is clearly an effort to extend JoJo’s story into the realm of legend, to have his magic and protective presence live beyond his lifetime. There will be a time when the story is all that remains, and Dean wants it to stand strongly as a message that encourages preservation and awareness of the natural wonders of the all too fragile marine environment.
Once again, I am drawn to the dolphin-human similarities, the things that have passed between Dean and JoJo, and how it has changed them both: there is a wild, simple clarity in Dean that allows a certain degree of fearlessness in his approach to life. In JoJo, there can be a quiet, inquisitive and often uncanny intelligence. I wonder, who has taught whom the most in this journey of trust and friendship that transcends the barrier between species? Always fluid, their personalities and energy mingle in effortless flow.
© Doug Perrine/JoJo Archives
People often ask me about my favorite things...
well, let’s see.
One of my routines is to disconnect my phone and go out on my balcony in the evenings and look at the stars. They are very clear here. If JoJo and I were swimming and he was also lobstering on that day, then I also had a lobster dinner that night. Of course you can always buy them from local licensed fisherman as long as the lobster are legal size. I will have a tail or a few legs in my fridge the following night and after a good swim with JoJo, food is usually on my mind. I often work late and midnight snacks are a must if I plan on working until morning.
My breaks are something I look forward to. "Lobster Dean and JoJo A l’ Orange" is what I call my midnight snack.(Of course JoJo gets a credit here as well because he gets the lobsters for me.)
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Use the soft lighting of a candle only to reflect the orange hue of the lobster tail set on a plate as a garnish, and the candle must be set low enough next to the table, so as not to detract from the brightness of the stars against the pitch dark sky. The lobster tail must be fridge cooled (great on hot August nights) and must be a Turks and Caicos freshly caught lobster cooked on the same day it was caught, and then refrigerated for the following day. It must be open grilled with a light lime or lemon seasoning and then refrigerated again in order to let the lime and lemon set well into the lobster.
The following night, much later after one of those beautiful orange-hued sunsets, you must dice the lobster into bite size pieces and set them in the tail shell open-faced on a wide plate. No sauces or marinade is needed. If added, they will actually take away from the experience of tasting a certainly fresh and sweet tasting Turks and Caicos lobster.
© JoJo Archives
Then the addition of one California orange (thick husk and easy peeling) is crucial. Certainly, it has to be a California orange in order to enhance the international acclaim of this meal. (If you use a Florida orange, then you might as well just go ahead and use a frozen lobster from Maine that was farm-raised). Peel the orange and throw the orange peels over the balcony into the plants. (This is the island equivalent of breaking the champagne glass against the fireplace).
Divide the orange pieces and then cut them into almost equal portions over the lobster pieces. Make sure you have one or more extra pieces of orange than that of the lobster. These pieces will be the last of your snack and used to lightly dissolve the flavor and sweetness of the last lobster pieces.
I enjoy this with my favorite set of chopsticks. They work well while lounging in the hammock-when mixing the blend of a sweet California orange and a Turks and Caicos lobster. I sit under the stars on those still clear nights with a low candle next to my table. The lobster and the orange are succulent together. With the last savored lobster and orange pieces you would have undoubtedly witnessed the shooting star everyone talks about.
So, once you see that shooting star in your night sky, you might say AHHHHH, my favorite..."Lobster Dean and JoJo a l’Orange."
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