I write blog posts only when I feel I have something to say, so this blog is updated infrequently. In addition, you can find longer format writing in the Essays section.
I lie in bed before dawn listening to waves lapping against the side of the boat. This should not be happening. My whole being groans at the implication: the wind is now coming from a direction that, theoretically, is impossible.
The two lines we set up yesterday to hold Otra Vida close to shore, protecting us from the forecast northerlies, are now worse than useless – they are holding the boat sideways on to the wind and waves, increasing tension on the anchor. The forecast tells of stronger winds in the coming hours. This is not going to be pleasant.
Estero Arboles Espectrales is a deep inlet that lies WNW-ESE. Somehow the northerly wind in the main channel turns and blows straight up the estero as ESE/SE rachas. Rachas – the Spanish word for gust that in Patagonia means something more: very strong gusts. It makes no sense that the wind should behave this way, but the mystery is less important than the reality.
In the first light of day I look outside and assess our situation. Not good. We´re 20m from the shore, the lines that last night were straight behind us are now at a 45 degree angle, and the GPS tells me we have moved 30m due to the immense strain on the anchor. I let go the shorelines and we swing free. I check the depth. Otra Vida is floating in just 2.5m of water, and it´s high tide. Staying in this position won´t work.
|Rachas … a fact of sailing life in Patagonia. This photo is from on board in our secure anchorage in Caleta Mousse, near Puerto Natales, where we sat out a typical Patagonian low pressure system. The spray indicates the gusts are at least 50kts.|
|Moonrise over Caleta Valverde|
I´m lying in the hammock on a perfect blue sky day in Estero Fouque, a long hockey-stick shaped fjord on the north side of Isla Hoste in southern Patagonia. The air is still and cold, and wrapped in fleece there is just enough warmth from the bright winter sun to remain outside and appreciate the surroundings – on one side cascading glaciers, on the other a view along the fjord to a pyramidal mountain and the snowfield I skied down yesterday.
|Seno Pia, Western Arm|
|Horizontal snow, 46kt wind, safe anchorage|
|Perfect reflection in Estero Coloane|
|Lovely still anchorage in Seno Pia, ice from the glacier floating past outside|
|The same anchorage, rather more challenging conditions|
|Evening beach fire, Caleta Olla|
|The view skiing down, Otra Vida just visible to the left in the distance|
* There´s a more nuanced discussion to be had on this subject, and I am not engaging in erasure or whitewashing. For the record: yet again colonial westerners destroyed thriving indigenous peoples and cultures; the pursuit of profit by early fur traders resulted in non native animals being introduced, particularly beavers, damaging the ecosystem; the consequences of global warming including glacier shrinkage and changes in seasonal weather patterns are stark and unmistakeable. Still, compared to the abuse we´ve inflicted on much of the planet, southern Patagonia remains relatively untouched.
Many thanks to Bodo Will for some of these photos.
It was a dark and stormy night… it often is in Patagonia. The days too. Except when they aren´t. Then you´re transported to an Edenic paradise with forests of timeless green, peaky mountains harbouring eternal snows far above, serene water nourished by sourmilk cascades tracing down cliffs and gullies, all sheathed in a sonic backcloth of bird calls on which to paint contemplation or activity.
|Entering Estero Clemente|
|Cascada Salmón lower part|
|Belated Valentine´s Day celebration lunch|
|The boat sign tree at Caleta Suarez|
|It doesn´t always rain|
Saturday morning, 7th January 2017. I´m at anchor in Puerto Ingles, a small lagoon at the northern end of Isla de Chiloe, now as quiet as a millpond, sun shining, birds crying, a seal playing in the water, two dogs running along the shoreline. I arrived yesterday morning in Chile after 19 days at sea from Easter Island looking for shelter ahead of an overnight storm. It´s an excellent anchorage.
afterward? Why is fun such an anemic answer to the questions above? Powder snow skiing
is not fun. It´s life, fully lived, lived in a blaze of reality.” – Dolores LaChapelle
It´s an indictment of our western model that Saturdays are, for many, the only day of the week when this is possible. From his perch in Soho in the mid 19thcentury Marx foresaw a key consequence of capitalism – alienation from life – and refused to lie still and accept it. Have we progressed in the 150 years since he was writing? Yes, a little – we do have that one precious day out of seven, although for 1.9 billion people on the planet existing on less than $2 a day Saturday effectively doesn´t exist. Being, Saturday morning, is, for the most part, a western privilege.
the only church living and true:
our lives come and go, dying, making love:
here on Easter Island where everything is altar,
where everything is a workroom for the unknown,
a woman nurses her newborn
upon the same steps that her gods tread.
Here, they live! But do we?
We transients, followers of the wrong star,
were shipwrecked on this island as in a lagoon,
like in a lake in which all distances end,
on a motionless journey, so difficult for men.”
Easter Island was occupied by Polynesians from island groups to the West in about 900AD. The population is estimated to have grown to about 15,000, and then declined to about 3,000 by the time the first Europeans sighted it in 1722. By then it was already an ecological disaster, with no significant trees left standing, and its population was barely surviving The iconic moai (stone head statues) were there in profusion, extravagantly contrasting with the poverty of the islanders.
Of course, while the Polynesians destroyed the forests and reduced the population by 80% from its peak, western imperialism takes second place to no one in these matters. By 1877 the population had been reduced a further 96% to a mere 111 inhabitants through a combination of disease deposited by Christian missionaries, slave raids by Peruvians, and profiteering by the European chancers that imperialism regularly excreted into occupied lands. Every Easter Island Polynesian today is descended from one of the 36 survivors who had children.
Given the history one might expect the Polynesians to be unwelcoming to those of us from western nations still carrying an imperial stain. Not a bit of it. Warm, friendly, sharing, willing to help … the culture of the island seems grounded in welcoming hospitality and mutual support. Going into Hanga Roa by dinghy the first evening we were swamped by several breaking waves. Local fishermen hoisted our dinghy onto the dock and gave us a hand up from the water, then put glasses of whisky-cola in our hands and invited us to share their barbequed fish while they got to work saving the drowned outboard motor. As the evening continued we were invited to stay in one of their houses rather than return to the boat in our wet clothes.
Was our reception coloured by our arrival by sailboat? Of course, to some extent. Significant numbers of tourists fly into the island for a few days vacation, apparently 5000 a week in peak season. Travelling here by sailboat takes a bit more effort, and Otra Vida was only the 23rdsailboat to arrive at the island in the previous year. Compared to the volume of boats at the average Caribbean island that is a rounding error, sure. Then again, an average of two sailboats a month means that sailboat crew are not so unusual on Easter Island.
I´ve found it noteworthy that cities do indeed seem to bring out that version of human “nature”, but that smaller more remote places seem to operate quite happily against “nature”. Or could it be that our more fundamental nature (let´s forget my skirting dangerously close to essentialism here) is to be cooperative and generous, to support each other in community, and that our “natural” competitiveness is socially constructed? Looking out at Otra Vida at anchor in the distance, the maoi to the north proudly staring inland, after a day of getting provisions for the boat with my fisherman friend Juan, it certainly feels that way. And that feels right, feels good, feels like something I can hold on to.
Otra Vida’s bow slices through a seascape of uncomplicated purity. The water foams and sprays either side, during the day cresting white on perfect Yves Klein blue, while at night sparking with the glitter of bioluminescence. We’re well over half way through our passage from Ecuador to Easter Island, 14 days at sea so far, another 8-10 days to go.
What captures my attention as I start playing the list is the vivacity of the memories. So intensely felt, even more so in this pristine part of the planet, more lived hallucinations than mere recollections.
Barcelona (Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe) finds me driving into Barcelona for the first time on a grey morning before Christmas 1989, not especially liking the city. No inkling of how crucial Barcelona would become to me … and that years later, living there and loving it, Hey Man! (Nelly Furtado) accompanies me jogging along Barceloneta´s beachfront before meeting Rufus and Cris for a memorable Sunday lunch.
La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf) recalls a hungover day shared with Anett after a typically decadent dinner party with good friends in my Budapest apartment in 2009. Reni dancing round and round to She’s Electric (Oasis) whenever and wherever it was played. Born Slippy (Underworld) as the seminal anthem of Sziget festival in 2005. Budapest memories …
Muscle Cars (Mylo) takes me to Carneval in Maastricht in 2007, tiny glass of Dutch beer in very cold hand, dressed in a clown costume, standing outside a bar with work colleagues and friends watching the parade, boere music playing, Limburgs dialect temporarily replacing Dutch as the lingua franca.
And Jimmy Buffett, unsophisticated sophisticate of Caribbean beach music, triggers avalanches of Colorado mountain memories. Driving up the Roaring Fork Valley, sunburn blisters on my face from the previous day´s abortive attempt on Mt Elbert cut short by a terrifying lightning storm, for the first time really hearing the lyrics of Changes in Latitudes. Sharing local beers with friends each May at our Beach party at Arapahoe Basin, buzzing from skiing Pallavicini in shorts, Volcano playing from someone´s pickup truck, smoke from the grill obscuring the inflatable palm trees against a backdrop of sun and snow.
|The reef protecting French Harbour|
|Breakfast with John in the cabin of Mermaid of Carriacou|
|Mermaid of Carriacou with John on deck blowing a conch shell|
A classical fountain, currently dry, sits in the middle of the park, shaded by complex branches of evergreen trees. Birds flutter limb to limb singing their songs into the contemplative afternoon. Andean mountains push skywards, desire manifested in pink and beige and grey-green forests, the white snow on Illimani aristocratically towering above all that surrounds it.
Her truth and my truth are different, but equally valid (or invalid). Like in Baudelaire´s The Double Chamber, both beauty and horror are always present – our perception is all we can go on. What each of us sees is true for us. Our accumulated life experience builds those doors of perception – Roland Barthes´ insight that we each read our own novel regardless of the intent of the author is much more than merely a piece of clever literary criticism. For thousands of years the high Andes have been a place to cleanse one´s doors of perception … and duly cleansed what we see remains relentlessly our personal version of truth. That being the case, isn´t the idea of objective truth a conceit born of scientific reductionism, or the detritus of a world view anchored in religious hierarchy? It hardly matters which.
I lie in my cabin watching the sky lighten, feeling the tropical air pushing across my body from the small fan overhead. After a few minutes I get up and pad quietly along the side deck to a hammock. It´s almost sunrise. The air is motionless, the sea too. Birds move between trees on the small cay we are anchored next to. I hear motion from Kathy´s cabin, and soon she is on deck in the other hammock.
|Full moon over Queen Cays|