Captain’s Log, Day Four: It’s freaking cold. There’s too much food. No penguins yet. Old people are wild. And we live in a beautiful world.
Currently reporting from the Crow’s Nest, Puerto Chacabuco, Chile, Northern Patagonia.
The stress of wondering if my grandma would make it all the way from California to Chile intact alone, and if I’d be able to find her in the airport, and if we’d make it to Valparaiso and then onto the boat all in one piece is now a distant memory. The cruise crew is so efficient (God bless the Dutch!) that we went from the hotel into our cabin in less than two hours, quickly scouting out the lunch buffet and mentally mapping out the bars. I’d made about ten best friends before I turned in for the night. You know me. Never met a stranger. I think that’s going to be the title of the book I’ll never get around to writing.
We have a room with a lovely verandah to sit out on, bundled up in everything I own and some blankets provided by the cruise, and watch the world go by. So far the scenery has been rolling green hills down the coast of Chile, where they average 300+ days of rain a year. We’ve stopped in three small port towns for the fun of tender transfers and bus tours. One tour was a bust (you’re really reaching if you need to point out where the banks and post offices are…) but we’ve learned a LOT about southern Chile and her people. It’s a beautiful country.
We’ve also learned some colorful myths – of the hideous troll who covers himself with moss and lives in the forest – but his eyes are so beautiful that if a young woman stares into them, she becomes miraculously pregnant. Or that if a kingfisher lands on the ground to the right side of your house, you need to start cleaning and preparing food to share, because it means an unexpected visitor is coming. I can’t imagine how this works out – there are kingfishers every freaking where.
We’ve visited churches and lakes and town squares. I’m trying to remember how to speak Spanish but three years of Portuguese has mixed up my once fluent brain. It all comes out Portuñol.
Today we were officially in Patagonia for the first time. We learned that it got it’s name because when Europeans were first exploring the area, they found giant foot prints and thought the land was inhabited by huge natives. Turns out the indigenous people were quite short, but made their own shoes by wrapping layers of animal hide around their feet. “Pata” means “feet” in Spanish. Sadly, no indigenous people remain, thanks to disease and alcohol from the conquistadores, as our guide keeps reminding us.
These tiny ocean villages we float past or tour through boggle the mind. One place we visited only gets electricity for 2 hours in the am and 2 hours at night. They constantly burn wood to keep warm, which is now leading to deforestation. Many are unemployed since a fire burned down the fishing industrial area. The climate makes it nearly impossible to grow fruits or vegetables (except for 400 different kinds of potatoes – of which they are very proud). They are challenged with rampant rates of obesity and suicide. What is their life like?
We’ve been at sea for a few days and I’ve sorta gotten my sea legs – I do so enjoy the ‘trying not to fall’ waddle everyone has adopted trying to figure out the gentle roll of the ship. I’ve taken to observations of the people around me. I am bringing down the average age of the passengers by about forty years on this boat, not counting the few children I’ve seen. Most people (certainly not Americans with our ridiculous two week vacationness – parabens, Brasil with 30 guaranteed days a year!) don’t have 20 something days to float around and look for penguins, so this boat is full of international retirees and grandparents. A population I do pretty well with. It’s provided some wonderful stories so far, even if the general consensus is the world is going to hell in a hand basket and my fellow millennials and I are ruining the world. Kids, am I right?
I eavesdropped on a sweet conversation between two widows on the bus – one describing the depression she fell into when her husband died and the way God brought her out of it. The other woman, a stranger until this ride, just patted her hand gently and called her “dearie” and said that life gets better. When a 90 year old retired French teacher (she and I got along fabulously) stumbled and fell into the lap of the man across the aisle, he joked that it was his lucky day because he was getting a lap dance. She shot back “I’m not so sure it’s mine, though.”
I’ve translated some bartering for goods onshore, and by nature of looking (relatively) young and hip I’ve been asked several questions related to the internet. I had to catch an old Japanese guy who was falling out of his seat on the bus one of the many times he fell asleep between sight-seeing stops. And I directed a photo shoot for a widow from Oklahoma, also a retired teacher, who was throwing small pictures of her husband into waterfalls we stopped at along the way. Her aim and arm strength weren’t so great – the photo only landed in the bush below her and I had to climb down and retrieve it so she could try again. In the end, we left it among the flowers.
There have been some pretty heated political debates between the few Americans on board and European travelers about our recent election. I won’t comment on them here and I didn’t dare to add a thought at the time but I STILL HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY.
And is traveling some kind of aphrodisiac for the elderly? I’ve never seen so many non-teens making out. Must be the heady combination of being on vacation and endless buffets and piano bars that do them in. I’ve seen a lot of footsies at the bar and hands slipping under puffy vests on the dance floor. These people are crazy.
Although I haven’t seen any penguins yet – I have sighted sea lions, spinner dolphins, and spouting whales. Lots of random kelp that I get excited about and clamor for the binoculars and then realize “oh – kelp.” I spend a lot of time on the verandah trying to conjure up wildlife among the waves. I really enjoy everyone’s childlike wonder whenever something is spotted in the water. The band actually stops playing if anyone yells “dolphin!” and we all lose our collective minds in a rush over to peer into the water, as if the creature is going to stand up out of the waves and introduce itself.
At night, I’ve been entertaining myself by making friends with the band, singing harmony with grandma during piano bar hour, and failing at trivia. The questions range from ‘how many toes does an ostrich have?’ to ‘what’s the longest freefalling waterfall in the world?’ – which I only knew because I recently re-watched “Up” when I needed a good cry.
It seems strange that it’s Christmas Eve . . . the crew is doing it’s best to decorate the ship and tonight we will have a carol singalong, midnight mass, and an international choir presentation. I’ve stolen a few candy canes.
The captain is currently announcing our plan for travel into Darwin channel and mentioning the knots per hour and wind force. We’re all nodding sagely as if we have any idea what that means.
The next few days will find us floating through Chilean fjords, past glaciers and a major shipwreck (please don’t let that be foreshadowing!), until we land at Punta Arenas to ferry through the Strait of Magellan and then FINALLY. OMG. I will birdnap a penguin to raise as my own child. Squee!
Merry Christmas Eve – Christmas already to some of you. I love you for reading this and wish you were all on this boat with me! Now I have to help this elderly kiwi figure out how to bcc: all his friends and family on a holiday email home. We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do yeah we do.
Bjs e abs! xoxoxo