In Patagonia Day 34
In 1960, Valdivia experiences a 9.6 earthquake—the strongest ever recorded. This is all part of my 2018 world tour of unstable geology.
In Patagonia Day 33
Puerto Varas (rain)
Today, as promised by the folks who predict such matters, the skies dumped rain a constant heavy rate. In the hostel where I am staying, there are people of many nationalities, and each has a different relationship to time. One, a Canadian who works as a police officer, is taking the only extended vacation (two weeks) he will be allowed in the next few years. Another, an American (one of the few I’ve bumped into) was recently laid off and is spending her six months severance pay by spending six months traveling South America. A young couple from Johannesburg both quit their jobs and are embarking on a multi-month fly-fishing tour of this continent. My Dutch friend Jakob is retired from UNESCO and travels outside most time, focusing instead on space— visiting UNESCO sites. I fall somewhere in the middle, wandering a bit to delay returning to Trump’s America, but, more important, to find the space and time to actually think, which generally is discouraged for people working in today’s neoliberal university system. Rainy days of the Patagonian variety highlight everyone’s differing relationships to industrial time. Anxiety by those looking for a complete experience, recalibration for those needing a planning day, and of course action for those who dive in regardless of the circumstances (something required of long-distance trekkers for example). I also think of Victor, the farmer back on Chiloé, sipping maté in an overheated kitchen watching the skies for a break in the rain before starting his daily and interminable chores. It’s days like this that the very idea of time shows its complexity, revealing its materiality, abstraction, and multiplicity.
One way to begin to think about this (only to begin) is how time is given in (lived) experience. In The Adventure of Ideas, Alfred North Whitehead insists that experience must be understood through affect: “The basis of experience is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originally from things whose relevance is given.” Immediately following this assertion, he invokes what he calls a “Quaker” sense of “concern.” The occasion of experience is never merely a passive (or even semi-active) perception, but instead a full bodied sense of what and how something counts, how something matters. Concern brings with it both a sense that there is something vital, truly at stake in any experience, and at the same time introduces temporality. His “Quaker” sense of concern brings with it not just a passive sense of care (as in feeling sympathy for) but also an obligation to action. In other words, concern is fundamental to any occasion of experience, it is affective, and, perhaps most important, it opens out toward the future that must be made.
In a neoliberal world, that future is necessarily experienced through a sense of belatedness. Time is never well-spent as the future will always bring opportunity loss. In measured performance, participants always miss the mark. This is where Whitehead’s focus on experience, affect, and what he calls “the peculiar status of the human body” helps salvage time and begin to make a future that could be an adventure instead of a loss. Concern is not about belatedness, but instead actually produces time—that is the occasion of experience. To walk up Osorno requires concern—the ash and gravel path is only relatively stable, the wind makes walking difficult and at times even dangerous, but the peculiar status of walking is always an opening out onto the future, a marking/making of time step by step, each with concern for the next. Such an assertion seems trivial (according to people who worry over “the big picture”) but time is trivial—it is a granular experience made not by accomplishment or performance, but through a knowing and understanding body.
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 32
Puerto Varas —Mt Osorno—Puerto Varas
In November of 1832 Darwin was on Chiloé, but he could see off to the northeast a sight: “26th.—The day rose splendidly clear. The volcano of Orsono was spouting out volumes of smoke. This most beautiful mountain, formed like a perfect cone, and white with snow, stands out in front of the Cordillera.” He was not witnessing an eruption from that perfect cone, but instead a heavy gas vent on the mountain’s shoulder. Walking up from the ski area (closed now as it is the first day of fall) the trail drifts to the east and soon the red crater appears. Not large, but clearly recent (in geological time) this semi-circular hole spewed gas and steam 186 years ago, a plume visible all the way to Chiloé— not surprising as today I could see the Pacific while standing near the crater. Volcanos on the Pacific coast were a particular attraction to both Darwin and Humboldt, the latter climbing a number of them. They do tend to form almost comically perfect cones in this part of the world.
Not long before I landed in New Zealand at the new year, Wellington had an earthquake. Today, wandering an area covered in ash from the recent eruption of Calbuco (2015) and still with ash bits and pumice grains in my beard even after a long shower, I think of the regular violence of the natural world. In a recent book, Bruno Latour, in typical Latourian overstatement, dramatizes humanity’s newfound confrontation with a very active nature, and our need to confront the anthropocenic moment. Buffeted by the winds on Osorno, wiping Calbuco’s ash from my eyes, I was without doubt “facing Gaia.”
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 31
The bus to Puerto Varas was long but uneventful, except a marker buoy mid-channel on the ferry ride covered with seals sunning themselves. I am glad I visited Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Montt, and Castro before coming here as I would have gotten a completely different sense of Chile. Without doubt, this is a serious tourist town, clean to the point of sterility—grass actually growing in the median strips, tall new buildings (Radisson, etc.) many sheathed in wood with hipped roofs echoing the Germanic influence of late 19th century settlers. In the other cities, a fishing equipment store sold huge nets, ropes, hawsers, pulleys and turnbuckles. The ones here sell fly rods to Americans who are wearing Oakleys and camo hats. One bright spot, my hostel, up off the main area, is a massive old house built by a German family with high ceilings all completely sheathed in wood paneling. As the proprietor said, in those days wood was “free.”
In thinking back on Chiloé, a sentence from The Voyage of the Beagle has nagged me: “Many kinds of fine evergreen trees, and plants with a tropical character, here take the place of the gloomy beech of the southern shores.” Without doubt, Chiloé offers a greater variety and abundance of trees, but, having spent restful time in their shade, I bridle at the notion that the nothafagus—my favorite Lenga and Nirá—trees are gloomy. Of course readers of Darwin are used to judgmental adjectives creeping into his narrative which, for all its scientific detail, does not pretend to guidance from scientific objectivity. Comparing his descriptions of Chiloé with those made by Chatwin 150 years later, I can’t help but be struck by Darwin’s mild admiration and then outright condemnation of climate, soils, plants, and people. Chatwin, for his part, primarily tells the stories of people, not plants, and his voice is descriptively intense but more restrained in judgment.
That brings me back to why Darwin’s “gloomy trees” actually bothers me, which I will illustrate by an example. Several days ago, I described my walk from the bus station across Castro to a hostel: “…in the rain while the street venders pulled their wares under the buildings’ overhangs, I passed a round, pudgy boy no more than two, perched on a ledge eating sushi with clear gusto.” First I’ll be defensive—practicing the craft of travel writing, I was detailing what caught my eye, details that registered to me as matters of interest or concern. Much the way I will snap a photograph of an interesting building, or (the other day) a rusting abandoned playground, such descriptions are the reason for the writing. Ostensibly framed as a narrative or journey, most travel writing focuses on the moment, the detail, particularly what stands out as the foreign or other. But that is the rub, because it is also an active construction of an other, one that creates distance and objectifies. In some of Darwin’s prose the move is clearly hierarchical. His descriptions of the Maori can be appalling, but so is the “gloomy”on his southern trees. When I think of my description of a “pudgy” boy (or the American in the camo hat), I recall Michel Foucault’s description of the birth of the clinic in a book of that name. He details the development of the clinical method, a system to enable the physician “to see and to say” by tightly linking the objectification of the medical object (the patient) to the doctor’s visual perception and his medical discourse. He goes on to describe this as a form of violence, or at the very least aggressive objectification: “the descriptive act is, by right, a ‘seizure of being’ (une prise d’etre)….” To travel is to seek out the unique, the unusual, the other; to write about travel is to capture the other, to seize its being.
Travel writing has a double logic, as it rests on two qualitatively different events: the physical travel and the textual representation. The power relations between the two often flip in interesting ways. The traveler is usually vulnerable. One can accuse Darwin and Chatwin of exploiting white privilege but only if the real vulnerability they actually experienced on the ground is ignored. Darwin, in particular, spent a lot of time traveling in discomfort, difficulty, and genuine risk of his life (though he understated all that in his text), and Chatwin, though moving through a world with much more infrastructural support, still found himself abandoned at times and Patagonia is an unforgiving place. Then they turn to paper, representing for a broader audience the world they have visited. In the comfort of the study, physical vulnerability fades (though writing makes a person vulnerable in other perhaps more insidious ways). Back home in England, Darwin can savage the Tierra del Fuegean savages who nearly savaged him, while Chatwin can embellish (apparently in an unforgivable manner) the stories about Welsh settlers in Gaiman and environs. It is in this second move that othering, objectification, and mastery come into play, framing the essential tension of travel writing, and perhaps giving us its definition as a specific genre.
But travel writing has also always been a strange hybrid, usually drawing on other representational regimes. Those familiar with Chatwin’s work know that the line between reportage and fiction in Songlines and In Patagonia is smeared, and he readily exploits that. Similar to Melville’s first book, Typee where Herman traded mercilessly on the line between fiction and his purported eyewitness accounts as “the man who lived among cannibals,” Chatwin’s descriptive precision (while usually arresting) can never be taken as literal. Darwin, like his hero Humboldt, drew on a different rhetorical tradition. Both wrote texts of high adventure, describing huge risks in distant lands, but in nearly the same sentences would describe with scientific precision a plant or stone encountered. In The Voyage, Darwin constantly alternated his travel narrative with “objective” scientific discourse, giving particular resonance to pages where he describes native people rowing the boat as unbearably ugly, leaving the reader to surmise that “ugly” is an objective fact and not the product of an Englishman’s prejudice.
So perhaps travel writing works on a double-double logic: physical vulnerability+representational mastery//biographical adventure writing+ another familiar genre.
And perhaps the reason for isolated objectifications is to forward the question of how and why over time do specific moments—glimpses—come to matter so much.
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 30
Ramshackle—without design, out of square, loosely connected, out of kilter. Buildings in Chiloé, particularly out in the country, ramble with a certain insouciance. Additions jut at angles making impossible rooflines. The Hospedaje Paloma in Cucao is one such establishment. I ended up with a newly added small (unheated) room all to myself—real luxury after weeks of bunk rooms or the divine privacy of a tent. Even though his rooms meander over the lot behind the old church and community soccer field, they are well built. I’m fairly certain Victor, the proprietor, is also the carpenter and a careful craftsman, even though he must of necessity (transportation costs for materials must be high on this side of the island) make do with what comes to hand. In other words, the hospedaje is bricolage.
Rain poured on the corrugated steel roof all night, but the morning was briefly clear. I packed, ready for my trek up to Colé Colé, a beach and some highlands about 16 km up the coast. I would be following more or less the same path as Darwin— down the road for a while, then on the beach before plunging into the bush for the last, most difficult part. Victor invited me into the kitchen for coffee , bread and butter. Most houses (and restaurants for that matter) heat with wood, and even though we are technically still in summer, the weather is cold and damp, so people spend a great deal of time sitting near wood stoves. Victor and Elena’s kitchen is a place to savor. The walls and ceiling were carefully joined and varnished pine. Along one wall are wide benches that could double as bunks near a large black and chrome wood cookstove. A fire burned brightly, heating a kettle for the coffee, but also a little one for Victor’s maté which he sipped constantly through the standard metal straw. A large cylindrical water tank encircled the stovepipe, both heating water and providing thermal mass to stabilize the room temperature.
In hostels and small places in the country, the coffee is usually instant Nescafé, and is always served with very hot water—it takes a long time to finish a cup— which this morning was good as the skies opened up while I sat, a serious downpour. No one else in the room spoke any English and their rural accents made it impossible for me to even begin to follow their talk. Victor asked if I was going to Castro and I replied that I was heading to Colé Colé. At that, his friend (a bus driver) said no—no one would go to Colé Colé today. I decided I’d see how the day would unfold, and unfold it did. Starting north I could see the clouds moving off to the east, and a huge blue sky open before me. With a good spring in my step, assisted by masses of ripe blackberries growing on the roadside, I soon covered the road/bridge section of the hike to Colé Colé. The first bridge, which I had seen yesterday on my churchyard wandering, is most peculiar. A single lane, woodtimbered bridge is common, but this one has a curving bulge in the middle, looking every bit like it was made from an old wooden ship. The curved decking and bulkhead in the middle even has portholes. I couldn’t decide if it was all functional—to enable fishing from the bridge—or pure whimsy. Crossing the next low bridge, I found myself on a wide, hardpacked beach, with the waves crashing several hundred meters from the dune line. The sun still shone bright where I was, but over the water clouds gathered. I set off at a brisk pace, hoping to cover the 6 km before the weather turned. With the first drop, I dropped pack and geared up. No sooner did I zip in my rain pants than the skies opened like a small explosion. Were I on a long-distance trek, there would have been no question but to continue right into the teeth of it, but this was just a pleasure outing, almost a day hike, so, measuring the distance between the far exit point and my nearby entry, I did a rapid about-face and headed back.
Normally such a move would have brought disappointment, even a sense of failure, but the trekking/adventure gods were properly propitiated because soon, appearing out of the storm and honking a horn, was a four-wheel drive pickup—small Toyota club cab—full of local farmers. This area is populated by the descendants of those same native dwellers Darwin derided on his boat ride. They motioned for me to hop in the back, so I wasn’t out of the rain, but I also wasn’t walking in it. Clearly experienced driving on the beach, the driver maneuvered through several small streams, then abruptly turned left, heading straight to the river flowing at the base of the hills. Right before splashdown, he spun hard right, crossed some outflow watercourses and drove with the left wheels in the river straight at the dune protecting the low bridge just past. We bounced, pitched, yawed, but didn’t roll and soon were on the road, retracing in minutes what had taken me a good part of the morning to cross on foot. They deposited me at the gate to National Park in front of the bus stop, which I took as both a sign and a judgment—time it head back to Castro. They shook hands, waved, and spun off to their chores, and I warmed up with a cup of coffee and soon found myself on the return route to Castro, disappointment tempered by a twenty minute thrill ride in the wild dunes of Chiloé.
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 29
Today I crossed Chiloé from Castro to the village of Cucao, following the footsteps of Darwin and Chatwin, though they both chose to avoid difficult roads by taking a boat across the lakes. As Chatwin notes, the island is nearly bisected by two long narrow lakes starting a few kilometers outside Chonchi and continuing to the west coast. Infrastructure has improved in the last decades so I just caught one of the many buses running out of Castro to Cucao and the National Park, though I did look longingly at the lake, wishing I could make the water passage. Darwin describes this part of the island as nearly uninhabited. While that is not the case today, thinly populated could be a good description. Development is limited by the National Park which protects a rainforest and a large number of ecologically important plant and animal species (including a fox that, at the time was so tame that Darwin snuck up behind and killed with a geology hammer). Chatwin notes the land is covered by fuchsia and bamboo, and while not completely off, there are a lot of other plants of note, along with birds—from hawks to hummingbirds, and many species of myrtle—there is much to see and hear while wandering the park.
I guess I’ve done my share of complaining about the weather, but still can’t touch Darwin who describes Chiloé this way: “In winter the climate is detestable, and in summer it is only a little better. I should think there are few parts of the world, within the temperate regions, where so much rain falls. The winds are very boisterous, and the sky almost always clouded….” He was not impressed with Castro, noting “the streets and plaza were coated with fine green turf, on which sheep were browsing. The church, which stands in the middle, is entirely built of plank, and has a picturesque and venerable appearance.” As he made his way down the coast before turning west to Cucao, he passed villages that today contain those UNESCO world heritage churches (though in all fairness, these were probably earlier structures): “We proceeded to the south—generally following the coast, and passing through several hamlets, each with its large barn-like chapel built of wood.” Of course they don’t resemble the picturesque stone chapels dotting the English countryside, but I’ve found those “barns” imposing structures. Chatwin caught the ferry, Darwin was rowed in a “periagua … a strange rough boat, but the crew were still stranger: I doubt if six uglier little men ever got into a boat together.” Just like in Tierra del Fuego and the Australian outback, Darwin, always the judge of human pulchritude.
My trip over was uneventful except a moment when a steer wandered into the road. I found La Paloma campground, dumped my pack and spent the day wandering the rainforest path of the park, the dunes, and then trekked up to see one of those “barn-like” churches. The area has no grocery stores so I am curious how people get their food, but I scrounged enough for tomorrow’s hike north, found an empty restaurant for a cerveza and seafood dinner just as the rain moved in. That might impact tomorrow’s plans, but for now, I’m warm and dry, eating a massive seafood stew.
T. Hugh Crawford)
In Patagonia Day 28
Castro has real charm but only after some wandering. Yesterday, while hurrying down a sidewalk in the rain while the street venders pulled their wares under the buildings’ overhangs, I passed a round, pudgy boy no more than two, perched on a ledge eating sushi with clear gusto. Later, when I bought a container of mussels and pulpo at the fish market, the woman laughed heartily after I accepted all the offered toppings which included cilantro, onions, and a good dose of fresh lemon juice. Near that market are decrepit stuccoed Deco buildings which makes me wonder if there was a time when the waterfront sparkled rather than moldered. What has struck me most is how grim people seem to be on the street, but how they come alive when I speak to them. Quick to smile and ready to laugh, they are interesting folks.
The morning was sunny so I walked up the harbor into the upper reaches of the Castro bay to perform my tourist duties by photographing the Costanera, a tidal basin where the houses are up on pilings. Much of the walk out was by houses similarly situated though you can’t really tell from the street unless you catch a glimpse between. The area is littered with boats in various stages of repair or decomposition, usually beached but floated by the tide. The deco influence here is interesting, with curved building edges but instead of masonry or stucco they are tabbed wood shingles, also in various stages of repair or decomposition. I stopped for coffee and was given a slice of pound cake and a folder of historical photographs to pass the time—the narrow gauge train when it was still running, buildings in the 30s, and the effects of a 1960s flood. Stuck in the sheaf was a picture of a fox. How is it that I could be over 60 years old and only now realize that a the name for fox is Zorro? Later I stopped to watch two men fishing in the bay, one young, the other very old and wearing a straw fedora. Each had a line with weight and a few baited hooks coiled in an old coffee can. They would cast by spinning the weight and line in a circle over their heads (as I imagine one would throw a bolo). The younger man cast and pulled in rapidly; the old man would cast and hold the line in a gnarled hand, fingering it lightly and with patience. Soon he had a small fat fish, which he let flop on the shingle beach while baiting and casting his line again.
My father, who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, would have liked today as my walk took me past boats of all types—wooden rowboats, fishing boats of various sizes, and several double-ended wooden sailboats. In the afternoon I decided to walk to Nercón, a village about 5 km down the coast which has one of the UNESCO Jesuit churches. The path took me past more stilted tidal houses, but also by the fairly new Enjoy Casino and a small airport. The best parts besides the church were two wooden boat yards. The first had a very large hull mostly finished, but at the second all I could see from the road was a few ribs laid out on a template. What was exciting there was to see their sawtimbers—several logs from trees grown at a particular angle which they were sawing out as ribs. Using naturally bent timbers preserves grain continuity throughout the rib (no cuts across the grain) which multiplies overall strength to weight. Dad would have been fascinated to see old-style wood working in current practice.
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Gracia de Nercón was built in 1887-1888 by those shipbuilders’ ancestors. A stunning structure not just because of its proportions but also its joinery. The columns outside use the same barrel construction as the Castro Cathedral, while the flying buttresses are simple exterior diagonal bracing with heavy wooden beams. The most important feature though is the wooden barrel vaulted ceiling, running the length of the chapel. The light, sound, and the air itself are reflected, focused, concentrated onto the pews below creating an aura throughout the space. You feel your heart rate change as you enter the nave. Restored in 2012, there are ladders up to the bell tower which lets you see the joinery—adze shaped knee braces, heavy mortise and tenon joints, and, above the barrel vaulting, ribbed bracing looking very much like an inverted ship. Suspended on strings from the ceiling into the chapel are three small model fishing boats.
On my way back, I had a late lunch in a shed near a boatyard which had two large old-fashioned wood-fired ovens where they baked the small round flat bread most commonly served. I had coffee and two buns stuffed with local cheese, playing peek-a-boo with a small Chilean child unused to foreigners. In the evening after a wander about the harbor where I talked with two different couples with whom I had crossed paths earlier on the trip, I found myself back at my current favorite place—Barra Cerveceria—an unassuming craft beer pub with a long list of Chiloe brews, a laughing staff, and a balcony out back looking out over the fish market and the bay. Good ending to a fascinating day.
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 27
The Eden—Puerto Montt—Castro
Woke to the sound of trucks rolling out from deep in the ship’s hold. Some time early in the morning the Eden made port at Puerto Montt, so all the passengers packed up seabags and headed down for one last breakfast. I got coffee and went to the stern deck to watch, along with all the other guys (no stereotypes there), the trucks drive off the boat and up the pier. It was an oddly bittersweet moment as we had all become friends, even if that friendship had only consisted of smiling and making gestures of concern, happiness, or help. It’s likely many of us will cross paths in the next weeks as most people are following similar itineraries. Buses arrived to take us all downtown through the rain. Puerto Montt is a shipping and fishing town, no tourists to put up a good face for. It is subject to severe weather and has a beaten, shabby appearance. By the water, steep streets and narrow alleys lead up the hill. Perhaps I still have Moby-Dick on my mind, but many of the buildings are severely weathered and out of square, looking for all the world like those Ishmael describes as he fumbles his way around the New Bedford waterfront before beaching at the Spouter Inn.
My plan was to take a bus back down the road to Pargua and crossing by ferry over to Chiloé Island, a place markedly different from the terrain I’ve been in the past month. On the ferry I had a conversation with Jakob, a man from Amsterdam who had been on the Eden and who used to work for UNESCO. He was planning a week touring the island’s heritage sites, which are primarily very old wooden churches, many in isolated places. I hope we reconnect as he has much wisdom. Bruce Chatwin describes Chiloé as black earth and black weather, and seems right on both counts. The El Niño rain continues to follow me, though there were finally some patches of blue so perhaps a break is on the way. The soil is black as Chiloé is a somewhat flat, very large island with a more moderate inland climate (it is warmer up here). The soil is deep, as are the forests including some rainforest. While the coastal dwellers earn their living from the sea, much of the interior is agriculture, including large dairy farms. Just outside Ancud is the large dairy complex Chilolac—more factory than barn. On arriving in Castro, I made immediately for the city square in hopes of finding a restaurant for lunch and WiFi to secure a hostel. After a bit of wandering that was done. Castro isn’t geared for tourists, so the square is not crowded with places to eat, but instead seems dominated by government buildings as does much of the downtown.
The main feature of the square is the Chiloe Cathedral which at a glance looks much like the primary churches in a number of towns I have visited, but the exterior is sheet metal painted ochre (in the words of Bruce Chatwin). Seems an unlikely and unpromising material, but on entry I found a soaring church with an interior covered completely with beautiful natural wood, including massive columns made of what amounts to barrel staves. It is a remarkable and unexpected space. Apart from the old wooden Anglican Church in Wellington, I don’t recall a more reverent wooden space. This seems a town no so much down on its luck— stalls full of fresh produce, even outside the Unimarc supermarket—but just a hard place. The sidewalks are crowded with venders selling everything imaginable including bricks of dried seaweed, strings of smoked mussels, and blocks of local cheese. It sits in the bend of a bay full of fishing boats, a waterman’s town. My Spanish is not good enough to detect subtleties, but there seems a slightly different dialect here. Some unfamiliar words along with a fair amount of German. This is a town for people who work hard, which maybe helps account for a sheetmetal Cathedral.
T. Hugh Crawford
In Patagonia Day 26
Chilean coast on The Eden
Early on in Moby-Dick, Ishmael is speaking with Peleg and Bildad about shipping on the Pequod. After some slapstick humor about Ishmael’s time in the “marchant service,” Peleg asks him to go aft and tell him what he sees. As I recall Ishmael’s answer is just water and perhaps a squall brewing on the horizon. Peleg then again asks why he wants to ship, as that is the same view he will have for the next three years. Today we were never out of sight of land, but the view out was constant—a misty driving rain with slow rolling waves. A day for reading books. Tomorrow weather permitting, we dock at Puerto Montt.
In Patagonia Day 25
Chilean coast on The Eden
At some point in the night, The Eden dropped cargo at Port Eden, the only human habitation of this long route. The village of 60 souls doesn’t have a proper pier, so transfer of goods and people is done by lowering the stern ramp (where the trucks drive on when in port) while standing off the town in, one hopes, calm weather, and loading a smaller launch which returns to dry land. This was all effected while I slept, though I wish I’d been able to watch. Puerto Eden is an intriguing corner of the world, just about as isolated as a place can be in the world today. In yesterday’s briefing, our resident polymath warned of this afternoon’s passage, as this was the one part of the voyage where the boat headed out into the open ocean. Given that there is little else going on (no news, sports, or any other outside diversions), impending 7 meter seas, the sturdiness of our old boat, and the relative merits motion sickness drugs were constant topics of conversation.
The morning was bright, and I visited the bridge which looked like a computer lab— no big wooden wheel, or that metal crank on a post that marks “all ahead full” —just some monitors, joysticks, without even a person who seemed to be standing the helm. I had the chance to lunch with an adventurous Australian couple who has been on some wild treks on the Patagonian coast to generally unvisited glaciers. We were soon joined by the older American woman, and the conversation turned to America’s obsession with firearms. Of course she turned out to be a gun-toting, Fox News watching, border wall building nut. I watched as a sense of dismay spread across the faces of the Aussies, showing utter disbelief at the level of paranoia they were witnessing. They, along with two other Australian couples later questioned me seriously (as I was the only other representative of the USA on board), wanting to understand how pervasive the nuttiness really is. Sometimes I find it difficult to answer that question as I feel the same incredulity as they.
It’s a good thing the woman had not brought her shotguns, as just after lunch the sun brightened and we all found ourselves on deck watching albatrosses skim, soar, and drift in a wind that was strong enough to tear off my hat and glasses. Amazingly beautiful birds that were either following or leading our poor vessel into the teeth of high winds, waves, and a possible storm. There I was, on my imaginary tramp steamer, preparing to round my imaginary Cape Horn, and,
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hail’d it in God’s name.
Nobody shot the albatross, the storm held off, but as we progressed into the bay, the swells did swell, Soon the ship was being tossed about and many passengers (drugged or not, I’m uncertain) disappeared to do a little tossing of their own. The rest of us remained on deck as long as the weather permitted, then I repaired to the lounge where the vinyl leatherette couches lurched from port to starboard, waking sleepers and smashing thumbs (mine). Walkers staggered like drunk sailors and loose objects flew about like this morning’s albatross (though not as gracefully). The crew managed with aplomb (surely a regular occurrence on this route), served dinner with little mishap (an unattended tray or two were launched across the space). The passage was to take more than twelve hours, and fortunately the movement was slow enough that it didn’t bother my stomach. I was able to read through the afternoon, and went to bed early (though using the head as we pitched about was a challenge) and at some point in the night woke to calm seas. We had re-entered the canals, navigating in the dark I’m guessing by computers and not by following albatrosses.
T. Hugh Crawford