silas crosby

some words from the sea

Month: March 2011

Rapa Nui

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.

Oceans Away

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.


Checklist: Check.

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.

This is a Travel Blog.

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?

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