I know that some offshore sailors manage to write books about their experiences at sea, but after only sixty days (paltry in comparison to most committed blue water pioneers) I’m struggling to come up with a narrative thread for this week’s post. It’s not that nothing happens ? of course things happen, it’s just that after a while anything becomes banal, the once glimmering narrative threads lost amidst the mundane weave of daily life. Every life is lived daily, after all.
I still appreciate the way that we are still able to shrink the world down, focus its many energies into something so simple as getting from one place to the next. After all, few places in the world are out of reach of a few months of patient travel ? overland or by sea. For all intensive purposes, flying is magic. Sure, it brings places closer together in terms of the time it takes to travel between them, but it does no justice to the actual distance overcome, the miles covered. To someone who has flown from Canada to Australia, for example, the idea of travelling that distance at the pace of a slow jog has the potential to bring on heart palpitations. Similarly, most vacationing Albertans in Acapulco would laugh at the ludicrousness of the idea that they could have arrived by bicycle, given a few measly months of sweat and energy bars.
It is time we have lost grip of, not space. When I muse aloud about this a few days ago, Steve just laughs (not cruelly, more a laugh to humour someone who has finally let go of the last shreds of reason). Most people, he tells me, would never have the patience to wait a few months to arrive anywhere. Maybe, I say, but most people never try.
For me, though, these slow miles are powerful in the very way they plod past; what is a few thousand when the horizon is only ever and always ten miles away?
After all these days at sea, the relief of the singular task has receded and been replaced by a small stirring restlessness. It is hard to hold a goal firmly enough so as to make up completely for things like green vegetables and long walks. That said, when we arrive in Valdivia, Chile in but a couple of days, we will have travelled more than eight thousand miles since leaving Vancouver Island eight months ago. The world, in all its many watery miles, isn’t really that big after all.
In the first lifting of the dark this morning I stood in the cockpit and looked out over the grey rolling world. Here and there are birds ? petrels and shearwaters and one great albatross a few days ago who brought with it an official welcome to the southern ocean. But asides from these untethered gliders for weeks now there has been nothing ? no planes or ships break the line of the horizon, no dolphins or fish break the surface of the sea.
For a world so absolutely covered and filled with water, it has started to feel like an empty sort of place.
I just finished reading a biography of James Cook, the British Navigator who famously died in Hawaii in the late 18th century. At night I try to imagine him where I am now ? these waters became well known to him over the years. It’s easy for me to ignore the vastness that stretches beyond the visible horizon. In the interest of keeping a firm grip on a world that is knowable I choose to reduce this immense space to just that which can be seen.
I know, however, that the possible panic is really kept at bay by the absolute fact that land is out there and we are pointed straight at it. For Cook, the world was a much less certain project. All three of his journeys sought to find things ? continents or passages ? that did not exist or were virtually impassable.
Our world is now so known it is hard to even comprehend the idea of true exploration.
After fifty days at sea since Mexico, I’m ready for that other world, now.
Last night the wind flat out died and so Steve took the sails down and went to bed without waking me up. This is pretty normal protocol ? we haven’t yet felt the need to motor through the night, and if we’re not moving there’s really no reason for someone to be up. Some nights I might just carry on sleeping, but I’m beginning to suspect a fundamental change in my internal clock that might account for why I woke up naturally at two in the morning. After almost two months at sea now, I have come to see the hours between one and seven in the morning as a productive, if not altogether quiet, part of my day. For those who know me and my usual propensity for early and dedicated sleeping habits, this may come as a surprise.
Yesterday, I woke up because of the rain. Like letting fruit fall to the ground and rot, it’s hard to let good rainwater waste away into brine. With rain, we have learned these few months in the tropics, comes wind; with the water running smoothly into a pot in the sink I set the sails and put on my rainpants. Of course, as soon as the rain stops, the wind loses its reason to be and I spend the next four hours fiddling with the sails, pretty much in vain. Two knots here, three knots there. And at least forty degrees off course (and the course is a liberal ?anything with some south in it?). Give me a flipping break.
At four I turn on the computer to look at the grib file. I know it’s just a computer model used to predict weather, but I study the little feathered wind arrows like they are Truth. Highs and lows sweep across the world down here, but their patterns are staggering and swervy. I study the maps for a while as we go nowhere slowly. The only truth in these pages is that four days from now, anything could always happen.
At six, the wind dies completely and so I take the sails down again to relieve us of the slatting and banging of unhappy canvas. To make an already surreal daily routine more bizarre, our clocks are set to Easter Island time, which at GMT -5 is pretty wacky. The banks open at eight am in the dark. Now, although there are no banks, it still feels off somehow for daybreak to be assigned such a mature number. As if the day itself shifted, and not just our way of organising it.
I’m not tired enough yet to call it a night, and so I make a cup of tea and sit knitting in the dark cockpit. We bob and roll unproductively over a huge southerly swell.
At seven, the time has come and, with the sun still at least an hour away, I crawl back into the forepeak just ten miles and a few rows further along than when I crawled out.
Here I am, thousands of miles from home (well, from anywhere, really), and where do I find myself this fine Thursday afternoon?
Where else but ye ol´local Hanga Roa Public Library? Quiet space, calm vibes, the smell of books and, wouldn´t you know it, free internet.
Any country that a) has extensive public library systems and b) kits them out with internet access immediately gets bumped up to the top of my list of faves. So far, (and so far away still), Chile is looking good.
Yesterday got away from, blogwise. What with the really long sleep in it was already noon by the time I climbed onto my rented bike for my day of exploring. The single paved road runs forty km around the island and passes by most of the moai for which the place is famous. In my four or five hours of cycling, I was passed by only three or four cars and was only squalled on twice. The statues themselves are pretty cool. As Jim, off of an Australian boat here in the anchorage, said this morning, they appear as if they are growing out the ground. The fact that the land around them is so green and smooth definitely adds to the power of the scene. Steve made the point last night though that they would have looked quite different surrounded by the jungle that once would have covered the island. When pictured like this, it´s easier for me to understand them in the same vein as the totems of Haida Gwaii. As they are now though, either fallen over or re-erected (none have stayed standing since originally erected – all were toppled at some point), they jut out of this landscape in the most unlikely way.
I had not given much thought to our quick dip into polynesian culture. Indeed, the place is a really interesting blend of peoples. A woman in the bank line yesterday told me there are about six thousand people living here, of which two thousand are Rapa Nui. It is a refreshing shift from my all-latin-america-all-the-time theme and yet everyone speaks spanish and so communication remains possible.
Most of the fruits and veg are imported here from Chile – a shame because of how ideal the place seems for farming, climate wise. It makes food pretty expensive, but a necessary expence nonetheless. I ate an apple yesterday, though, that was the best apple I have eaten in months. Apples have been scarce since Canada, but should reappear in force in Chile. (Who blogs about apples?).
The dinghy landing here requires us to thread our way in between two major surf breaks and into a small fishing harbour. With the kayaks it isn´t such a big deal – perhaps a bit wet, but no real danger of capsize. I don´t envy the other folks in their inflatables trying to negotiate the fairly sizeable incoming swell.
On Saturday we leave here for the last offshore leg. It´s about two thousand miles again to Valdivia, so we should arrive in two or three weeks.
Emily, on Bobbie, is still bobbing around about 250 miles from Easter. The winds have calmed siginificantly since we met up with her about a week ago and so her progress has slowed. With luck and a bit more wind (and a few more days) she should arrive here early next week – maybe even the weekend. We will remain in touch by radio even after we leave here. It looks like she´ll have everything she needs here for the repairs she has to do. I got some good photos and footage of our mid ocean rendezvous that I will post once we get to Chile. There will be a general multimedia glut upon arrival, as I don´t much relish bringing my laptop in through the surf here.
The toddler who was playing hide and seek behind my chair for the past hour has now retired to his buggy for a nap. An appealing option…hasta luego.
I have spent the last few days trying to feel – to really feel, you know – the distance between me and everything else.
It’s really hard though, because as far as I can tell the horizon doesn’t get further away. The world, from where I stand, stays circular and visible. There is no abyss into which we must sail, just an ever unfolding horizon not so far away it can’t almost be touched.
A few hundred miles ago we got a call from Emily, who is also on her way to Easter Island on her boat Bobbie. She came up on the radio during an informal half hour morning radio net being used by a handful of boats outbound from the Galapagos to the scattered pacific islands.
“I’ve got a bit of a problem,” she said, just coming in through the static, or “noise” I suppose I should say. “At some point during the night I seem to have lost my forestay and something seems pretty seriously wrong at the masthead. It’s just getting light enough now that I can start to see what’s going on. Do you think you could come back in an hour to talk to me once I have a better idea of the situation?” Steve tells her that he’ll be back on frequency in an hour, and all over the south pacific you know listening sailors are shielding their eyes to peer up and down the long wires that hold each mast upright. It is this unlikely setup that makes the whole thing possible, after all.
Emily left about a week ahead of us, and so when we left she was already 700 miles along. When I had visited her in Puerto Ayoro we had set up what’s called a “sched” – a time and a radio frequency on which we would meet to exchange geographic positions, weather conditions, and to just generally chat. We had both passed the info on to other southbound boats and within a few days of leaving there were five or eight boats coming up in the morning and at noon every day.
An hour later, Emily is back. It’s really hard to communicate problems like this without visuals. There are so many technical pieces with their very own technical words, and Emily’s are all tangled and dangling. She’s impressively composed and handles input admirably as boat after boat weighs in on the best way to proceed.
Anyway, foresails are jury rigged and fuel transfers are arranged. After so many days of emptiness, it’s hard to picture her small white sail as it will appear on our horizon in a day or so. She’s doing just fine, but we’re going to swing by (we say this blithely when it has taken days of planning and coordination) to do what we can to help (not a lot). We have thought about having me go over to help her up the mast to clear up some of the “modern art” (her affectionate name for the tangle of outer shrouds and stays that is wrapped around her spreaders) and to maybe help rig up another sail. The wind has picked up though, and with it the waves and so it’s hard to imagine getting from one boat to another at the moment, let alone trying to climb up a flailing mast. I think it’s safe to say that her ocean feels bigger than mine right now.
It’s not hard to become demanding. We’ve only been here a week and already I hear myself saying Yeah but I’ve already played with those sea lions. So somebody on a boat knows somebody else on another boat who did a snorkel trip last week and it was great and they saw gazillions of great things and the lunch was delicious as well.
Even then, I wallow in indecision all day. Forty dollars, I whine unproductively, and that’s with a ten dollar discount.
Just think about it, Steve reasons with me, in twenty years what will you remember, the money or the experience – will it be worth it then?
And then I get a little bit depressed thinking about how hard it will be to remember anything in twenty years anyway – I mean that’s like almost my whole lifetime so far – so why spend the money and for that matter why do anything ever. Backfires are really unpredictable.
But I’m over it the next morning when Jelle and Floortje and I show up for the tour (for pronunciation purposes, one should read the name Floortje more or less as the french name Fleur and Jelle as Yella). We compare our must-see lists as we wait (and wait and wait) for our tour boat to pick us up.
All I have to see, Floor tells me, is a marine iguana in the water eating. That’s all. And then I’ll be happy.
Fair enough, I think. And all I want to see is a shark (just a little one). No big deal.
When the boat stops at the first snorkeling spot, our tour guide gives us the requisite shpeel.
Okay ninos, this is our first opportunity for the snorkel and, you know, I ask you to have caution and to enjoy the beauty.
As he delivers these important instructions he proceeds to shimmy out of his clothes until he stands before us in nothing but his red and blue striped speedo. As he goes on, he doesn’t seem to notice the boat full of glazed eyes – despite the initial round of who-are-yous and where-are-you-froms, he proceeds doggedly in English even though I am, as it turns out, the single native English speaker on the boat. The full irony of this charade only hits me when he turns to me after instructing us to follow from here to there with full attention to your buddy and with always your camera ready and asks me, in Spanish, if I understand and am ready to go.
When we get back on the boat Floor is pumped. Marine Iguana In The Water Eating: Check.
Our next spot is a rock that sits about a mile off the coast of Isla San Cristobal. As we near the island, the guide climbs out onto the front of the boat where I am sitting with a couple of others, settles in front of us and takes pictures like a Japanese tourist. Then he hands me the camera and tells me to take a photo of him as he lounges serenely in front of us in full speedo glory.
We go through the instructions again, this time with some handy tips and tricks about dealing with sharks.
Be assured, he tells us as he struggles to put on his flippers, not to go fast at the shark or the turtle or the marine sea lion when they are swimming at you and here is the place where you do not dive down but just stay up and enjoy together the spectacular place.
And, he says, standing before us with his mask squeezed onto his forehead and the snorkel waggling around above – flippers on, speedo toggle tightened, everything ready – we will go together with not one who stays behind even for a photograph and here you don’t need to dive even five or seven feet and now we are ready so we go!
And then like sea lions off of a crowded dock we slide and splash our way into the water. For the first five minutes I’m too busy trying to remember all the rules – stay together, don’t dive down, keep swimming, take photos, where is your buddy, look at the espectacular marine environment – that I barely notice the scene around me. Ever few metres I pop my head up and exchange baffled looks with someone nearby as the group proceeds to disperse and our guide is nowhere to be found. When I spot him power snorkeling along ten feet below me along the sheer rock wall that is the side of this island, I say Fuck it and get down to the real business at hand: finding a shark.
I really don’t think I’m usually so checklist oriented. I like to think that I focus more on the experience and less on the achievement. And in the way of experience based travellers, the checklist should technically land in the garbage bin.
Still, how cool are sharks?
To cut a rambling story short: way down there, just about faded into the deep blueness, a small reef shark ghosted through a school of small tuna. It was so close to being a mirage that I didn’t even bother with the camera.
Back on the boat, we buried our thirsty faces into big hunks of watermelon and swapped stories like rabid fans on a star tour in Hollywood.
When he had finished handing out our boxed lunches, the guide settled his formidable self down into a plastic deck chair and hollered up to the driver, Capitan, Capitan! Danos musica!
And so, huddling from the unforgiving equatorial sun with the worrying beginnings of classic snorkeling sunburns, we shouted at each other over the blasting strains of a pan flute and synthesizer duo as they worked their way through the global hits of Celine Dion.
There are some things our checklists just can’t hope to cover.
As content as I generally am on the boat, even for these extended stretches we are in in the middle of right now, it still felt good to put a couple of tee shirts and my snorkel gear in a pack and hit the ground running (or walking, as the case may be due to an epic lack of cardio fitness at the moment). I had no idea before we arrived here how real this place is. How to explain?
People live here, kids go to school, there are bakeries and hairdressers (both of with I am a recent patron). I don’t know, but I think if you had asked me a few weeks ago about the picture I had of the Galapagos in my mind I would have gone on about highly regulated pathways along which one had to make sure not to tread on an unimaginable assortment of exotic, fearless animals. And maybe a small tourist store or two. This is wrong, and the place is better for it. The people are open, friendly and warm, and the place seems to have nurtured a very natural ecological ethic within itself (more on this later).
So I left Steve in Puerto B.M. on the boat and joined a Dutch couple, Floortje and Jella from the boat Libis, on a speedboat to Puerto Ayoro where we stayed with Emily, an American girl on her boat, Bobbie. Emily and I are the same age, and it was fun to meet someone doing things a little differently than your average bird and to hang with some younger peeps for a bit. Puerto Ayora has much more hustle and bustle than “our” little San Cristobal, and while it was fun to partake in “city” life for a couple of days, Floor and Jella and I all agreed that we were happy with our choice of home port – much more low key and lots of little sea lions ready to play with you as soon as you jump overboard (seriously). That said, the Bobbie Sleepover Extravaganza was a blast.
Pretty predictably, the conversation came around to the wonders of the pressure cooker (I’m pretty obsessed), and Emily mentioned in passing that she had one but didn’t know how to use it. Well, enough said. The Way of the Pressure Cooker has become a bit of a gospel for me, and so naturally I volunteered to deliver all souls present into the light. Up until then, I had only really been baking cakes and cake-y loafs and cooking rice and quinoa for stirfries etc. in ye ol’ PC. I was keen to make a cake, but Emily didn’t have any baking powder or soda and for all our efforts that evening in town all we could turn up was yeast. Well, I thought, thought I, no time like the present.
So with the help of Floor’s bread recipe, Emily’s PC and my nauseating enthusiasm we produced incredibly well risen, very tasty and definitely repeatable cinnamon bun bread for breakfast the next morning.* This put us in good stead for a morning of epic surfing at Playa Tortuga. Once again, if pressed I might have assigned a couple of protruding points a couple of waves in my imagined Galapagos. The reality is hilariously different – this is like Hawaii for biology nerds. There are incredible waves left right and centre (literally) and lots of really good looking Ecuadorian surfer dudes walking around. The only difference is that one literally has to step over iguanas on the way to the water’s edge, and it would not be uncommon at all to share a wave with a turtle, a sea lion or both. Even though I burned my eyeballs pretty badly, it was a total blast and we definitely deserved two ice cream cones we each inhaled back in town.
I set out the next day for Isla Isabella, the largest but least populated of the inhabited islands in the Galapagos. Steve and I had originally thought about making this our home port, but they do not have immigration officers there and so checking in is not an option. Which turns out is okay, because the place is seriously chilled out – potentially too much so for a reprovision-gear-up-for-the-next-passage stop. It is, however, perfect for a day of bicycle wandering.
Armed with my snorkel gear and a bottle of water, I got back in the saddle after many months of yearning. Aren’t bikes great?
My first stop was a naturally occurring pool – at high tide the water covers the reef, but at low tide the reef forms a barrier and swimming things on the inside have to wait until the water comes up again to get out. When I arrived, a group of young folks were finishing up with a swimming lesson – apparently during the school holidays (now), lessons are offered for free for whomever would like to learn. As I prepared my gear, four or five kids were practicing the butterfly back and forth from the small swim dock. Because I feel their pain when it comes to the extreme challenge of the stroke, I suggested to one of the older guys that he try using my fins for a bit. I explained that one gets a lot more force this way. He didn’t need a lot of coaxing, and pretty soon he was butterflying around the bay like an Olympian. Needless to say, the fins got passed around from kid to kid and I had to make do with old fashioned barefoot swimming for my foray out to the reef.
The posse, busy with butterfly, mostly stayed within a few hundred feet of the dock. One boy though, Axel, who was probably eight or ten, took it on himself to be my snorkeling sidekick. So, together we paddled out to the reef where pretty soon we were joined by the requisite baby sea lions and a couple of turtles. All in a normal day for Axel, I guess. For the most part it went like this: I would snorkel around with the mask on, watching Axel and the sea lion play (I’m not joking) until he decided it was his turn for the mask, at which point I would indeed hand the mask over and would follow him as he found the next docile, cavorting sea animal. I would then demand the mask back and he would proceed to play with the turtle. I’m not sure if I’ve ever even heard of someone playing with a turtle. Then we’d move on to the Iguanas (not so playful, but cool to watch all the same). And, whenever our heads were above water, Axel would talk nonstop at me about all the things covering the reef below us. I personally know a few educators who would have died and gone to eco-teacher heaven; here is this kid, who not only lives in a place but also seems to know about it enough to talk about it. If these aren’t the roots for a responsible and concerned population, I’m not sure what are. Ten points for Axel.
When I went to to drop off the bike mid afternoon, the sun had done its very worst on any sense of clarity I ever manage to hold together – the whole world shimmered and I was having flashbacks to hot black empty stretches of road in the middle of nowhere Central America. But in the shaded sidewalk in front of the bike/surfboard rental stall, four or five guys were getting down to some seriously great jamming. With two guitars, a couple of rhythm boxes, a shaker and a harmonica, this indisputably cool scene walked towards me out of the standard dream of an “authentic” travel experience. Now, as my sister will be quick to tell you, I’m not really that cool, at least not in the chilling-like-it’s-no-big-deal-with-hot-latin-surfer-dudes sense of the concept. That’s definitely more her territory. I generally feel paralysed by my pathetic, unresolved internal debates re: participant observer research methodologies and as soon as I start worrying about whether I should be guilty about neo-capitalism (again) the moment to be chill and cool has most definitely passed. So no one was more surprised than yours truly when, bike returned, I pulled up a chair and sat down in the middle to watch.
Believe me, the story only gets less believable, as far as my sister is concerned. When they ask me at a break between songs whether I play the guitar, I try to evade the question (because I’m not that great at guitar) by laughingly mentioning my recent forays into the world of the ukulele. Would you know it, but as quick as I can say ukuleles in ecuador? they’ve produced an honest to goodness uke, and everyone is looking at me, smiling. I think it’s sufficient to say that if Isla Isabella didn’t know and love John Prine before yesterday, they do now. And so, for a couple of hours we swapped back and forth between latino surf groove and John Prine (which came out sounding a lot like latino surf groove by the end of most songs).
If Steve thought (hoped?) I was going to fall out of love with my little ukulele one of these days, I am afraid I now see it as the source for any and all potential cool in my life. Not even he would want to deprive me of that.
I made the trip back today to the home island, and to the boat. Steve’s away on his own tour at the moment, so I’ve got the place to myself. And, even though I obviously spent a couple of hours strumming away in the cockpit this evening (my commitment to my craft seriously renewed), my sister doesn’t have to worry; I’m not about to go marching around town, ukulele in hand looking for cool looking groups of cool people. It just wouldn’t be cool, right? No, instead tomorrow I’ll load up my snorkel gear again and hit the beach, only hoping another eight year old will think I’m cool enough to tell me things in exchange for a few moments of mask time and an eager audience.
*PS. If you’re getting hungry reading about food all the time and would like to transition to trying out some of these tasty recipes yourself, the wait is almost over! I’m in the middle of a bit of a blog revamp, and the new version will have – you guessed it – a recipe section. Cool, right?
After one week of one hundred words a day it occurs to me that this may be way more than any blog reader bargained for. And, after this thought has settled, there seems to be no redeeming the energy that once propelled that small project. From the middle of the ocean I can see my friend in Vancouver looking at her inbox on day humber five (she’s a subscriber and the only person other than my parents who I know for certain checks in every week), and as dedicated and enthusiastic a reader as she is, I can hear her say to me, “Stick to what works, Mer. Go for quality, not quantity. Plus, what about Wednesdays?”.
I hear her, loud and clear, and so honour the sentiment by giving her a Wednesday off. This also works as a handy excuse for the fact that I just didn’t get around to writing anything last week.
All of this said, the afore attempted format seems somehow appropriate as a method of recording these short and sliding days, the sparse and silent hours of night.
7. Three a.m. and the wind is tired too. Soon there is not enough to hold the boat over and so with every swell the air is knocked from the sails. I can almost see it spill darkly onto the deck, slither away into the water. The sails bang and groan – the real agony is not the storm but its twin, the calm.
Don’t you know how far I’ve come to be here? it asks me. It’s not your fault, I say as I lower the sails, that when you stop for a rest we think you have died.
8. Of course it seems silly, knitting a hat in all this heat, but it is my resistance, my protest, the flag I hold up to the sun at midday when the burning is brightest. The sun doesn’t hear me or care (I know), but row by row, I pull together memories of cold mornings and breath like smoke and give them to the months ahead (far ahead). Stitch by stitch I weave in threads of this heat as well, pull strands down from the sun here where it comes closest and hottest – someday it will surely be missed.
9. I imagine that I am joining some sort of club. Of course, there are no meetings, no minutes posted somewhere online, but as bizarre as it seems, I know somehow that this thought is not a new one. Heat is the way of this world and it only makes sense to take advantage of the cool early hours, to give it all a chance to dissipate before we are again set alight. And so, with a flourish and a yawn, satisfied members worldwide set out warm cakes, breads, cookies and muffins in the last few moments of the night.
10. After days of wallow and glide, the wind arrives. In the small space of hours our world is a harder place to be – holding on, pulling up, staying put. It’s our joke around here that we are the most despairing of animals; indeed, even thousands of years of constant change cannot seem to sway us from statements of finality and surrender. Once calm, always calm; once wet, never dry; once started, never finished. The memory of drifting fades so fast in the face of such spray that I resign myself to a forever of whatever happens right now.
11. When Steve wakes me up at one, he tells me about how hard it rained. Twice, he says, it just came pouring down – I had a shower – forced myself out into the warm night, cold water, collected a bucket of water off the mainsail.
For the rest of the night I watch squalls avoid me. I doze in the cockpit, jump up at the feeling of a few drops on my face but the dark patch has passed, brushing us with an edge. A few hundred metres away to the west I know it’s coming down hard.
12. I am dismayed when I reach into a bin for a tomato at dinner. I recoil quickly, flapping my hands and swearing. Instead of smooth and firm I have encountered squishy and wet and this can only mean one thing. As I throw rotten tomatoes overboard I try not to feel personally insulted.
First the sweet potatoes (much too early, I must say), the bananas and now YOU? I think, I know it was all my fault – not enough air, too warm and still a space – but THIS, (and now I’m really angry) this was uncalled for.
13. Steve always says that luxury is a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice – right there in front of you, he says – but no, I say. Luxury is a whole day spent with a book. And not some throw away story either – something that takes you in, up and away. It is not a luxury usually affordable in the day to day world but here, these days demand it. The sea around, like an empty stage, invites the stories in from places high and away, not touched by water. No matter, I say, and turn the page.
14. It became clear quite quickly that the oranges Steve bought from the man on the side of the road in La Paz were not the best eaters. With hard leathery skins they swung for days in their own hammock like field hockey balls, withstanding my looks of contempt. Not rotten or dry, they seemed to resist being peeled or sliced.
An idea surely born of resentment, not thirst, Steve holds up a full glass of freshly squeezed juice, sweet and tart and perfect. Two oranges, he tells me, only two – people pay big bucks for juice like this.
15. With dinner finished and the fading light I get ready to sleep while Steve tunes up the radio and broadcasts away into the night. From far across then come the small voices of friends once close by but now also traversing these great watery deserts. What is there to say of these days – so easily they are spent and yet so many? We plot each other’s progress, fish caught, masts climbed, cakes baked. Mostly though, it is the sound itself of the voice that has been carried these many miles – waves upon waves of sound and water.
16. In the calm of the afternoon we turn off the engine and, despite the scenes played out in my mind in the darkest windiest moments in the night, we jump overboard. There are two things to be said for this; to be suspended after so many days of clinging and the blue, oh the blue. With brushes and scrapers we get rid of hitchhikers – gooseneck barnacles carpet the underside of the hull. Through the mask I watch as they drift slowly down into the deep – they’re clinging days are over but we climb aboard and carry on.
17. And then it is calm and we motor – one could drift for days out here and many have, to be sure, swept backwards – hard fought miles lost every hour. The world, so used to being filled with wind, seems flat and empty without it. I expect more of the horizon when it is so calm like this; at night, I scan more carefully, sure of lights and ships just out of sight below. With daylight the clouds seem to bring into relief distant mountains cut out below them in the dark shadows they cast on the calm.
18. With not even a ripple of wind this day is the hottest by far. I sit as still as possible, sip cold water and wonder how I ever rode miles under this same sun for hours and hours. For me, this heat is almost like a scar – with a little pressure it brings back the pain that still lives deep down. In the middle hours of the day it threatens to open anew but stops at my word: don’t worry, I say, there is no dust here, no unshaded road ahead, and tonight, tonight the cool will come.
19. There is so little doubt that the islands are there, that they exist, that when they appeared this morning, faint and too smooth to be clouds, I realised that the feeling of wonder is reserved for those to whom islands rose out of empty oceans unbidden. Becalmed and overdue for Peru, Barlanga and his crew were pulled here by the same currents that now hold us off. While I have watched them come for days, advancing across these many small screens, what about the man who first called out from above, eyes straining across the mirror-like sea: land ahoy!
“We can no longer picture the story of life as slow and almost static …What we must picture instead is an emblem of life in motion. For all species, including our own, the true figure of life is a perching bird, a passerine, alert and nervous in ever part, ready to dart off in an instant. Life is always poised for flight. From a distance it looks still, silhouetted against the bright sky or the dark ground; but up close it is flitting this way and that, as if displaying to the world at every moment its perpetual readiness to take off in any of a thousand directions”.
-Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch (on evolutionary theory as observed in the finches of the Galapagos Islands).