With me everything is poop. Dirk pointed it out as we mashed together a string of conversations while he and Lido returned the bottle of rum to its natural state of emptiness.
“You expect these people to pay for your crap?” someone garbled.
“You think you’re so privileged that you should be able to crap and have someone else’s tax money pay for it?”
“You cannot have all these things for free–someone, somewhere, is paying for it! Where do you think the money for a public toilet comes from?”
“I would say that I agree with Dirk. You ought to know better, having been to so many places. The traveler. You’re the foreigner. How can you expect others to pay for your shit?”
“I want to shit for free, everywhere.”
“You can’t get shit for free–”
“–I’m only talking about shit, anyway. I’m not stupid. Everything is economics blah, blah, blah.”
“I know you, and OK. But the bathroom is kept clean by someone, the feces has to go somewhere, someone has to deal with it,” said Dirk, characteristically shrugging his shoulders and looking about the floor side to side with wide, engaged eyes.
“Yes. Wherever I shit, they should deal with it. Someone shits in my town, my taxes deal with it. What if I don’t have a quarter to crap? 2.50 Euro to use the Paris metro bathrooms!”
“You think the government should pay for it?”
“Yes. Everyone shits. Everyone sleeps, and they’re going to sleep somewhere no matter what. No money, it’s their problem if they have to sleep in the street, no one else’s. No money when the bowels rumble, that’s everyone’s problem.”
Dirk and Lido. These bastards drank heavily, bonding in front of my eyes, as though I was watching the very chemical reaction that truly occurs between compatible wood and glue. That makes sense, after all, and maybe that’s just the way it happens. Glue strikes up conversation with the surface he meets, and hell, if he likes the digs and gets along well with the guy, they stick together, always, or until some heavy weight of life breaks their connection. Dirk and Lido weren’t hugging, but by the time Dirk had made it clear that he would help Lido prepare the boat, that he would essentially “be your crew”, and after the two of them took a drunkenly roundabout 14 minutes to come up with the amazingly intelligent idea of working in the morning some days and the afternoon others, well, they shared a hearty many handshakes to congratulate each other on a job-well-done; good idea, mate, yes.
“I think you can stay here with us tonight,” said Lido. Dirk was staring off with eyes that turned black–a telltale sign that he would not recall these moments in the morning. His eyelids fluttered, then he stammered:
“My boat is–it’s der. I, am here, I want to be der, but, I, am here. is it something so compli-cated?”
Lido had wrapped himself in a comforter hung across his chest like a monk. On his head was a cloth nightcap, and somehow he could see through the night with aviators on.
“Like I said,” he began, slugging his own words, it seemed, that they might more quickly make his point. “I can take you in the kayak.”
“Maybe I should go.”
“Yes, that’s ok. Dirk, do you want Cale to take you? We can lower the kayak, it is not a problem.”
Dirk was sitting in the cockpit. Kelly stood by, watching us, young Gil having long since passed out; and a good thing the boy is a heavy sleeper–not the crackest gong could stir him. Dirk looked like someone freshly plucked from frigid waters, holding his hands between his legs and trying to focus. With Kelly we tried to explain to Lido that were we to attempt his idea of kayaking, Dirk would, without question, fall into the water. Already it had been a trek–the kind of trek for which you prepare and pay a guide–to return to the boat’s stern, and now Lido was sitting there strapping a life vest to Dirk.
“That’s one of the automatic inflating life jackets?”
“It’s going to inflate, because it will definitely get wet, then it’s just going to be a regular life jacket. You only have two.”
“Dirk won’t fall in,” said Lido, concentrating on a strap, Dirk staring off toward his boat. “Noo problem, whatsoever.”
The kayak was already in the water. I pulled it to the swim ladder, tied it off, jumped down and installed the two canvas seats, and then returned to the three. Lido was still working at the straps, struggling through the familiar and ever-challenging formula of outward appearence multiplied by plenteous rum.
“This is a bad idea.”
Kelly and I took Dirk by the arms, and led him toward the ladder. We paused. Besides the yellow kayak, there was only the grim depth of night-water, a blackness unequalled by its atmospheric counterpart. Dirk was swaying out of time with the boat’s rocking.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes,” said Kelly in her German-accented and careful English, “this won’t work.”
I turned and found Lido standing beside me; I could see his eyes from the side, through the glint of the aviators’ rim.
“Dirk will definitely fall into the water. I almost did, and I’m fine.”
Lido shook his head as he said, “kayak at night is a bad combination, I personally would never risk it.”
So Dirk’s eyes really had been blackened, his memory erased, and thankfully so, and in the morning a cappuccino and a hunched-over position, slightly stooping, made him look somewhat repentant, like a child who doesn’t know what he did wrong.
“Uerh, I had no idea what happened,” he said glumly.
Kelly looked flustered. Beside her, the navigation table and the drawers were moist.
“I woke because I heard water running, but the hull port was not switched. I turn. Here’s Lido. He pees on the table. All the electronics, the mac computers, the ipads, the navigation equipment.”
He hadn’t hit those marks, surely not his marks, but the utensils were filled with piss, and it came to me in the day once Dirk had taxied back to his boat, and Lido had begun dredging the pressure from his hung over brain, to sop-up the pissed-on drawers.
…this is sailing.
I had apparently misjudged the lax situation aboard Sarim. I spent time writing, and reading, and playing legos. Lido is a busy man, and when there are no projects, he becomes a sculptor, and sculpts new ones. The air was often electrified with cool frustrations, rising like an aroma from his body, and at this moment they were not carried away by the wind, but instead crowded the space, stymied all audible reasoning. There were unspoken desires to leave in a week, but regardless, I came several times through the funk of stress to reassure Lido that, if I am to do something, I need to have it told to me, for projects aboard the boat cannot explain themselves to me.
These times, during which I reasoned myself to the captain, had not penetrated that intangible cloud of aggregate assumptions. There he is in there–reading, writing his stories, laying on my bed–and here I am doing work, and he eats my food, and this cannot go on.
So Lido sat me down to tell me I was not fulfilling my mandate (without those precise words but his tone hinted to me that they were floating around somewhere nearby). With a smooth disposition I sat and took the criticism—yes, I left a few tools out one day, but as for the rest, this moment required of me to bite my tongue, as they say, or to swallow my pride, which was thick as peanut butter but bitter as beet juice. A man has his way, and if he is honorable, he has his work ethic and is comfortable and confident with it, that he would gladly measure it up against any other–and when it is questioned he wants to defend it, and to gnash with his teeth ferocious if need be, and with what words and truths he has at hand, whatever conjecture is trying to put him down.
Miscommunication, as it were. Lido speaks such perfect British English that at times I forget he’s German at all. Those cool frustrations are truly there, and often, and whereas a month ago they were tearing at my sensibilities, now, I’m learning their pace, their frequency, their wave lengths, their inconsistencies, and slowly I’m deciding to accept them. I reckon even that it’s both of my benefactors here aboard that contribute to this rather heightened state of awareness, or tension, and perhaps it has something to do with the being German, because I know that nation to be one of perfectionists (to generalize), and what else is more natural in the seeking of perfection in one way or another than frustration, stress, since perfection is of course untenable? If that is true, then the German condition is a tenuous one, but I am my own little cloud of reality, un sodden by anyone else’s rains, and quite honestly, I am comfortable with the climate aboard.
For of possibilities there are countless numbers, and easier it is to imagine worse, and far more difficult to imagine better, because, better? All potential boat owners need to read the invisible fine-print, down there below the contract, which defines frustration as one of the included sentiments. All boats come with frustration. There is no way around it. Water is the universal solvent, and salt water is the universal solvent on speed, and a boat spends most of its life surrounded by it, stewing in it, doing nothing but having who knows what done to it, constantly, slowly, but with wicked efficiency.
It must have been the 8th day, and Dirk had already left. We’d had the talk, and now I was working, the work having been properly explained at long last. I feel more like a partner than a crew member. Indeed, I am called part of the family, or so it seems. Gil especially makes me feel welcome, and in the evening when Lido and Kelly sit together across the table, and watch as their son crawls over me, climbs me like a tree, wiggles my nose or tries to touch it with his, farts from his naked butt near my ear, holds my chin to bend it toward his interest, clings around my back, lays wedged between the cushion and me, sprawls himself across my lap, giggles and screams when I tickle him; when he does these things and his parents look curious, I feel I am serving my purpose, or at least someone’s purpose.
I was in charge of inspecting the beams. When I had finished a several-days-long project of chiseling out the rot from the starboard stern beam, I began scraping away paint to inspect the others. I was giddy; for days I had toiled in that blasted beam, ever chipping slightly higher in order to dig slightly lower into the beam’s aluminum well. Finding, and squeezing the humid, rotten wood, was disheartening. We were the last of the last of the Puddle Jumpers. Where at high season there are 50 boats anchored in San Cristobal’s bay, now we were 5. I recall thinking in the back of my mind about Dirk’s promise to rescue me from the Marquesas should I become stranded there, and now, he sails off 2 weeks in front, and here, if this beam does not see a solution, I am lost for a Pacific jaunt.
The giddiness as I came to the final beam, the port stern, was met by the family boarding a water taxi to go ashore.
“We’ll be back later Cale,”
“Will do–” and as I was seeing them off, my chisel sank without effort into the face of this beam. Lido saw it.
“No way! No way mate! Let me see that.” He took the chisel and began tearing out the rot. But it was not black, and nor was it moist. More it looked like a disease of the wood itself, speckled white and peeling its layers off as easy as those of an onion.
“It must come out,” he said. “Take it all out.”
That chisel, and those horrible inches that it sank into the beam uncontested, caused a long drawn-out sigh to emanate from my gut. It was the kind of sound that reaches the conscience, reverberates throughout the mind, and which whispers solemnly that a great change has come, and that perhaps your plans are squashed as easily as that there goddamn wood.
Lido sat with his shades and a cigarette. I don’t know if the cigarette is better for him, for whatever bodily euphoria or relief it actuates, or for me, for the buffering of that cool frustration, and its partial dissolution.
“I can’t believe it mate. That’s so irresponsible, for a captain to allow that. I have my family. How could I have allowed us to sail here with the beam like that. I checked them in Las Perlas. I totally missed them.” He dragged from the butt and turned to look at my day’s work; the beam virtually gutted dry–only the top 4 inches and the load-bearing material nearer the inner hull remaining. For the next few hours, we could only sit, and think. There had to be a way to deal with this. There are no services on this island, so we were told, no wharf, no boat experts. We’re not even at the main island, and we can’t go to the main island, Santa Cruz, without bringing down on ourselves a catastrophic fine of 15,000 dollars for not having–for we could not get–permission to go. Voyage of the Beagle indeed.
The beam. Anywhere else it would have been an immediate trip to the wharf to have the entire boat put on the hard–a tasty phrase that sounds like something an Irishman ought to utter. Here in the windswept bay of San Cristobal, a small town of not more than 5,000 souls, cradled by brush land on all sides and looked after by its volcano which occasionally peeks out from its misty clothes, we were, as Lido put it, the best minds that we’d be able to find for the job of fixing the beam.
It is here necessary to describe the setting that would backdrop for 2 more weeks the scene of that immaterial flux of relaxed and tensed air, an omnipresent fixture during any work aboard Sarim.
Dirk had said of the sea lions, “you see them and they’re nice and everything, but after a while–whopf!–ok there’s the little guy, hello, they’re cute, but they’re everywhere and they’re not afraid, they sit on your boat and everywhere, and they stink like hell, and after 3 days you don’t give a shit anymore.” San Cristobal–Saint Christopher, as it were, the Christian patron saint of travelers–is the name given in Spanish for the entire island, which is much more fitting than the English name given to it–Chatham, after some English earl. This town was called Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, but we all just gave the island’s name to it for convenience’s sake. However, imagining that by chance I was tasked with the renaming of the town, I would choose to rename it after a nearby beach I eventually would visit; it was called “La Loberia.” Loberia comes from the word lobo, which is Spanish for “wolf”. “Paper” is papel, and you buy paper at a papeleria. A sea lion in Spanish is the lobo marino–marine wolf. It seems to me that if we’re going to create a word to denote a place of sea lions’ gathering, then that faraway beach of 10 or so sea lions is far less worthy of our new word than the town itself. No boater uses his dinghy; only the fleet of small cruise ships that gather up their clients at the pier bother with dinghies. The reason is obvious as soon as one’s eyes glimpse the port–sea lions. Their bulks occupy every inch of space that is low enough to the water for their powerful flippers (or giant webbed feet?) to propel them onto, and boat owners have a hell of a time shooing them away–dinghies are a prime target for the stinky sunbathers.
Their domain extends from the water taxi dock, from the rocks, the beaches in town, from even a water slide built presumably for children. They stake their claims with their bodies (small and large, and huge) and their odor, and it doesn’t take much to find them at any time, day or night, occupying dozens of benches lining the seafront malecon. People will go ahead and sit just beside them; they don’t budge. In the day’s hot sun, if they’re not on a bench or elsewhere in the shade (one shouldn’t bother not to expect a sea lion wherever the laying down’s good), they’re basking in the heat, which turns their slick wet bodies into the golden fur they’re probably named for.
It could be their roars that give them their name, but I do not recall a lion’s roar sounding like someone yawning with the hiccups while being strangled. No, I do not like that they are called sea lions. Nor does calling them “sea wolves” honor their nature; in fact it’s a step away from the correct naming. It is the Germans that have hit the mark. Seahund–sea dog. There are two proofs.
The first proof happened one day when the heat overtook me. I was alone aboard Sarim, and decided on a swim in the cool waters brought by the north-bound Humboldt current. Presently three youthful sea dogs came darting around the hulls–I could see them because I had donned a snorkel and goggles. They are excellent swimmers, and when they saw me they spared no time to exhibit their athletic prowess. They would twist and turn, look at me upside-down, dart about, circle me, entangle themselves with each other. Naturally I followed suit, likewise turning, spinning, bending and diving deep. They came unabashedly close, and if I had intended to, I would have touched them. Above water, they played together and yelped, and would have likely spent hours playing with me if not for the arrival of a water taxi.
The second proof took a few weeks for me to notice, but finally I did. Sea dogs don’t walk like dogs, of course–they walk like little Stevie Wonders. But they scratch like dogs. The whole fluid movement is the exact same. The sea dog arches his back, resting on his hind quarters, and with a long webbed foot (with nails protruding) scratches for that itch. And he never watches what he’s doing, but looks off somewhere as he strains, satisfies, and ultimately sinks back down, resting his snout on the ground.
Enough of sea lions (dogs), what of the town? What of the town, in the Galapagos? are they not islands that are completely free of inhabitants, totally nature? Isn’t that the image that enters one’s mind–the Galapagos. San Cristobal has the second largest town after the main island of Santa Cruz, though it is Cristobal that bears the title of provincial capital. San Cristobal rightly deserves the decree not only because it is the most easterly of the archipelago and thus closest to mainland Ecuador, but also because it was the first island that Charles Darwin visited on his voyage, and it is thanks to him at least in part that they are today so exceedingly appreciated. He was the first to point out differences between similar species at separate islands, beginning with the hummingbirds. It was here that he birthed the idea of natural selection, and it is from here that those differences between species are now referred to as evolutionary. Besides the rich nature of these equatorial islands, and the striking statistics of endemic species, there is agriculture, and towns. Wednesdays and Saturdays one finds in the San Cristobal market avocados, oranges, potatoes, papaya, mango, limes and guava. That the town depends on tourism is clear, but aside from signs advertising diving expeditions and tickets to Santa Cruz, the tourism is not rampant.
The day I left the boat and camped at La Loberia, I sat in my tent and wondered whether our principles can be transnational. If I complain about tourism and what dependence on tourism can do to a country, usually the one to scold me is the tourist from the “first world”, and never the locals. When I have explained this concern about tourism to a local, there is no question, and instead, the explanation of the thing was just what was needed to break for myself the mold of tourist, and to be once again treated as a person, and no longer as a client. Anyway I dislike being stuck the heightened tension of toury areas, and if these areas here are so endangered as they are said to be, I find comfort in shirking tourism, one of the purported causes of problems, alongside fishing.
Instead we became closely acquainted with the town itself. Oh! I would miss the mainland in these days, in these work-meditation-stress-stress-free days. No sooner had I spoken to Lido and Kelly of the wonders of Quito or El Carmen than I came upon the pleasant discovery that San Cristobal would serve as a perfectly apt example of the mainland’s vigorous life.
“This is very much Latin America,” I said several times. And rightfully so! There are the cinderblocks! The open storefronts! Loud music blasting from many somewheres! Cement being mixed over there, and there a man selling bags of coconut milk on a bike! Hmm, a clean public bathroom with toilet seats and toilet paper is strange, and where are the stray dogs? And the mornings’ rooster crows replaced by choking yawn hiccups? But a market to boot, and too many ferreterias for ten towns of this size! And when I ask directions everything is un poco retirado. Oh, Spanish! I will miss you, but before I go, I will use you and twist you with the best of my charm, all the while enjoying that airy cushion your words create around my tongue!
We needed the translating, despite Lido’s capable tongue, for in the days of the beam, that horrible beam, we would need the oft-solicited help of the friendly neighborhood carpenter. These guys were constantly working, mostly on cedar doors and miscellaneous projects contracted by tour companies with boats. When we walked into the open-air woodshop, a place as globally recognizeable as any other, where everything and everyone is in various hues of caramel beige, the workers paused to see us, so we were greeted by the sound of waning machines. We must have visited that shop a dozen times in two weeks, every time with a slightly different request to cut this wood this way, or slice this plank here, or where can we find more epoxy or do you know a mechanic that might lend us a jack? We found all that, and the translating must surely have saved Lido a buck, and once more I felt happy that my purpose was being filled in one way or another–though, admittedly, it turned out to be much more work than I had expected, this blasted beam.
How often were we sitting in that place forward of our problem beam? It was just the one, but so devoured had it been by the white plague that it was a serious concern, unlike the light repairs we’d already made on the others. Lido would draw long from consecutive cigarettes, staring down into the gouged thing, seeing only the aluminum of the well’s far wall. It was not only the doing of the work, but the conceiving of it and planning the process whereby it be accomplished–and we did this daily, to reconfigure our minds to new problems, to new foretellings and considerations for applying crafty solutions. Steel plates? Can’t use steel on aluminum; it corrodes, and it bends; it won’t move with the hull in waves. How do we take the rest of the rot out there where the load is? We must lift the thing. How? Then Lido had a dream, and we asked about the jack, and when I’d found the mechanic and got the jack, Lido and I found a 5 meter long piece of hard chanul wood and walked with it on our heads through town–surely a different sight for eyes sore after seeing men of our complexion in full brimmed hats carrying nothing but cameras. “Hay que trabajar!” yelled an old man as we passed.
The water taxi brought us back to Sarim.
“Don’t ever buy a boat made of wood,” said Lido. “You can repair it anywhere in the world, but you have to repair it. Boats should be simple. You have the keel, and everything else is for storing beer. I don’t even have a keel.”
I smiled. He was in a good mood, that necessary rebound state which in an instant nullifies the rest. We passed our new 5 meter piece of chanul under the cockpit, and had it resting on wood on one hull and the jack on the other. As the beam was not screwed to the cockpit, we secured it by tying a rope about it which we then lashed to the winch, which we cranked tight. Lido pumped the jack, and slowly the whole structure lifted. In my mind I was thankful it was not one of the main central beams that we had to deal with, otherwise it’d be our sinker.
With the beam raised, we could progress, and we did so, spending days yet to scrape out the rest of the weak wood, to square the spaces and to prepare drawings for how and what to insert in all the new empty space. Thusly we toiled.
At the Loberia I had walked beyond the beach area, following a series of white stakes pounded into the earth. The trail climbed through a shoreline of black volcanic rock until a sign clearly said “STOP.” For adventurers, this might as well say “go further.”
It took little time for the trail stakes to end and for the tedious jumping from volcanic rock to volcanic rock to begin. In between were brush plants sporting bristling sleeves of thorns that scraped at what flesh I failed to protect. Spiders had spun their homes across seemingly every gap in the rocks, and their bodies were clearly visible as they were quarter-sized. It became increasingly difficult to avoid stepping on wasps, for suddenly they were lighted upon every viney plant, and of these there was carpeting.
When I’d come to a stack of rocks and stopped to take note of my bearings, I felt all at once like I had floated to the spot, for there spread out before me was the descending view of the coast; black cliffs met the sea in wild design, some sheering directly down the 100 feet or so to wallowing seas, and others cascading to beneath themselves; everywhere flew white birds that made their nests in the crag, and by and by I observed theirs and another slow swoop of larger black birds, those which are famed on the island for their inflatable red neck bulb. When I came around the stack of rocks I surprised one of the white birds, who began shrieking–a glottal trill that rocketed forth through his slender-spread beak. The eyes of these birds were resplendent ebony buttons encircled by a brilliant red ring, which together gave them an ominous or sinister aspect, and coupled with that deafening cry made them altogether frightening.
This one took flight and glided in a great oval to come back toward me, and though at first it was interesting, I soon realized its intention. The thing dove at me, missing my head by a foot but breaking my ear drums with its reverberant call, then it circled back and tried again, always screaming. It was joined by a second of its ranks–their nests must have been at the base of the rock pile. So I turned carefully and began to move away. The bird changed tactics; it hovered 10 feet downwind, 15 from the ground, and pooped. The bomb missed me, but it was enough of a cue for me to make haste and create distance from that place. It had been intriguing, though, to recall that not a foot from where I thought the nest was, a marine iguana had been sitting, reverently impassive, and the birds without a care for him.
The moments there upon that point made me feel all in all foreign to everything natural; from the birds, from the iguana, and I might even say from the immense volcanic slope and even its coveted coastal wind. So I left, glad enough to have seen it, but resolved to leave it alone–nature itself has no use for trying poets.
Marine iguanas are unique to the Galapagos Islands. They are far larger than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, and these swim, as their name suggests. Of all the animals I know, they are the most like dinosaurs–they’re fat, with tough scaly skin and the males a pale hardened casque worn like a tiara over their heads. These are patient animals, and the best yet for posing as I draw. Also they are gruff; rigid though they appear, their gruff sounds accompany the moments when, for some reason or another, they shoot snot from their faces and grunt some kind of self-satisfied haughty approval. Even the tiny ones are quickly matured, sitting statuary, hot on their rock alongside father, only moving to shoot snot, but always reassuming a head held high and eyes half closed, looking on the world with reptilian contempt.
When I’d packed my tent, I donned the snorkel and flippers and entered Loberia’s half-moon bay. Soon I found beneath the surface huge shadowy mother ships moving deliberately through the watery space. They must have been 3 feet in diameter, and speckled with the markings of age–not necessarily their age, but the age of their species, as though subconscious pride is not a choice but an inheritance. It’s remarkable how we humans care so greatly for some kinds of animals, and for others we are disinterested. The sea turtle’s lot is simple, gathering its marine foliage for food, and floating about in a steady way; it’s truly a graceful movement that must be what patience dancing under water looks like.
There was a smaller, orange sea turtle that had beached itself. It was still early in the day and I was alone, so I sat to draw her. Her face had a spotted hexagonal pattern, mirroring the rest of her body, and the shell as well. At any age, her species wears wrinkles at the neck and extremities, and to draw these details was exceptionally pleasing. It is during times like these that I am glad not to have a camera. What creativity does a camera show besides digital edits or seeing something from a certain angle that you can give explanation to? Although the shot is your decision, the production is not. To create authenticity, I feel, the means must be more greatly influenced by your brain than photos are able to afford. In painting, the final version is wrought through the connections in your mind; every perception relayed through the cortex must find expression through your muscles, and the pairing of your motor reflexes with your capacity for observation is paramount. What you find on a drawing page is the pure substance of a mind, whereas the camera for the photographer is the middleman, who always takes his significant cut, and in the end hashes out something that can only marginally reflect the truth of the photographer’s mind. We can ooo and ahh at photos, because reality is anyway beautiful, but even what you might call a shitty drawing is a far more authentic and truthful form of authorship–and commonly we do not know nor do we accept this truth, it was long ago they we forgot how to see.
Lido’s lot, as it were, was with epoxy. Sometime in the 1960’s a scientist developed two chemicals that when added together created the strongest bonding agent in the world. With epoxy would we repair our beam, and with Garcia carpenter’s chanul. By the time weeks had past and the chiseling squaring was complete, my hands had begun to shed a full layer of skin, and it would not have surprised me were I to have awoken one morning to bleeding fingers. That did not happen, but if scabs are a sign of work, my hands had been through the mill.
Days ended with the sinking sun. Tools were put back into their places, epoxy quarantined to the stern and wrapped in plastic, cables wrapped and put away. In Panama Lido had been planning to get rid of all the tools–the disc saw, the lathe, the jig, the grinder, the sander–but because we needed to cross the ocean, destiny had intervened and for no good reason caused him to retain them.
When food was prepared and we feasted, and after Gil would fall into sleep, we were able to slowly decompress under the single cabin light rubbing crimson into the atmospheric little space, and speak of many things.
It was the conversation about government algorithms to collect data from the internet to use against its citizens that made me honest with my inconsistencies. Perhaps I agree with Kelly and Lido, perhaps I should not meddle in the cyber life–I do it more openly than even the most steadfast facebooker. Perhaps I should more thoroughly hide my name and my doings. Perhaps… but truly I do not care for these suspicions. If I am to care about something concerning the internet, I care that, despite having the whole base of human knowledge at our fingertips, we use it for quick pleasure trips and to look at cute animals; that it makes people curt and distant, and offers them a way to stifle their loneliness, but not to truly kindle the fires of their sociality; that it ruins patience and shortens our attention capacity. I must choose the priority if I am to care about something. How can I care about food production methods, or whether or not I’m eating something with GMOs, when still there are those who starve? But anyway I don’t, I can’t care for any of this. Our generation is one that cares that you care about what I care about–give a shit about my cause! Save the rainforest, save the whales, feed the world, stop AIDS, care about medical malpractice. My inconsistency and yours–that we know these things matter in some way, and yet in truth we do not care, because we place our time under some other superficial truth. Economics, politics, equality, inequality–these paltry things dissolve in time (the great solvent). Better to feed me life! Caring about the future makes you short-sighted, while caring about the now is eternal–how is that for predicament? But I will take it, and gargle with it, and spit it out again and again in these pages until you ask yourself the right question–are you truly alive, or are you milking time of its sweetest nectar and freezing it for retirement?
The largest sea lions are in California, and the largest sea lion cave is in Florence, Oregon. I have been there, and it was something unique. But even in the caves, where a metallic echo gave back those lions’ roars tenfold; I would not measure it up to a single encounter with the largest of these sea lions here. I followed one as it waddled up the staircase, came to a bench already occupied by another bull, and as it reared its head, the other did likewise and they began a competition of yelling that surely could have stirred Aslan to trembling.
The plan, one day, when I had been adamant about seeing these purported giant tortoises, and to get away from the boat for a day, was to make my way on the single road that sliced the island in two, ending in a surfing beach on the eastern shore. The taxis are reason enough to hate being in the bubble of tourism, but as I say, sometimes tourism is. However, not this time. 50 dollars it would cost to go the 25 kilometers to get to the Galapageura, where they raise endangered giant tortoises, and despite my having spent nothing in several weeks, I could not surrender myself to such blatancy. Instead, a 10 dollar bike for half a day.
That was a mistake.
I am not a cyclist, and the movement of cycling is not pleasing when going uphill. San Cristobal has its central volcano, from whence the road descends 20 kilometers to arrive in town. Featherbrained enough, I hopped on and began to pedal. 2 hours passed and I had made shit time, arriving only to Progresso, a small enclave 6 kilometers uphill from Puerto Moreno. Already my shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat, and I had drunk all my water. There was nothing for it; I had to continue.
Enough times I’ve justified hitchhiking over cycling–really, they’re simply different creatures not to be compared, but for learning, hitchhiking far outdoes cycling. Cycling? I do not care for that terminal feeling of accomplishment. I do not care to sweat always in struggle. I care to spend the hours speaking, learning a new language, learning about the place. If I must now justify my choice to cycle, yes, it was to save 40 dollars, and maybe I needed the exercise. How boring writing would be if its only well of inspiration was the challenge of cycling! Sweat and drinking so much, it would be a dry well also in that regard!
So, where did my mind drift to in those hours of meditative difficulty? The burn in the thigh muscle distracted me from most clever thoughts, but in retrospection I see why the choice was a catch-22 between arduous cycling on a mountain bike over steep inclines and a 50 dollar taxi ride. Here is the thought, in substance:
Damn you Nantucket! Because of you my muscles feel as though they’re going to split the skin and burst out huffing and puffing for air; because of you and your damn 19th century industry taxis refuse to charge a legitimate fare. Why, oh why, you bastards, did you have to take your whaling ships into the South Pacific? And why did you have to stop off to provision in this archipelago? Because of you, because of your killing off thousands of giant tortoises, they’re endangered; because of you the karma here is one of retribution against all who want to see the turtles you so advertently massacred, or captured to have as live-aboard food for your whaling journeys! I blame Nantucket whalers for making me cycle on a crappy bike over San Cristobal’s volcano.
I made the summit, drenched and re-drenched in my off-givings. The microclimate there was misty and cold, and later my throat would tell me not to screw around anymore. Finally, though, the slope leveled, and then cut a sharp descent, down which I flew in 20 minutes to arrive, too far, in Puerto Chino, the end of the road.
There were three cars and two bicycles, but once I had walked the way down to the beach, I emerged upon a scene populated by some 30 persons–surfers, sun bathers, swimmers. I hadn’t planned on going this far, but I thought a swim would be smart to quit my skin of its filth.
I did not stay long, and once back at the road, it happened that one of the three taxi pick-ups was pulling away with their fares, and I asked in rapid Spanish for a lift back the few kilometers to the Galapaguera. The man was righteous, letting me out and zooming off without caring to charge me. So, a hitch after all, and with a bike to boot–a first for me.
And what of the giant tortoises? In Spanish, they are called “galapagos”–need I say more on that point? I found them, grouped, eating. Alone, I sat to draw them.
Tanks. Round tanks. Round, old, slow, peaceful tanks. They were eating banana leaves, I thought, and making very slow work of it. Their tiny black pearl eyes gazed at me, bent to snap off another strip of vegetable, and returned to me. There were four of them–stout creatures they are… indeed, they don’t have a choice. They are not dominant presences so much as their shells are, which are engraved in hypnotizing lines and are as round as round can be. They have far more wrinkles than the sea turtle, and at any age (later I would find the 5 year old tortoises, bowl-sized and numbered in rearing cages). They might be otherwise ageless if there weren’t unobvious ways of telling, and truth be told that we might have a thing or two to learn from their existence if longevity is our main concern. As I watched them, closely as drawing requires, I took note of the things that made them ancient. They did everything slowly, from moving, to eating. Each chomp of vegetable seemed thought-out, planned: chomp, reel in vegetable with pinkish tongue, chomp once more, and again, in rhythm. Maybe their hearts beat slower than other creatures’, for they also breathed slowly. It did not sound like the releasing of air from a tire when they sucked on air, but more like the pumping in of it–that hollow whoosh. Some say that humans have forgotten how to breathe correctly, and that if you re-learn how, you might add years to your lifespan. I don’t care for it. Damn your puritan Anglo Saxon conditioning if you call someone irresponsible for ignoring thoughts of the future.
I mostly walked the bike up those kilometers back to the misty volcano summit, and on the far side, that indelible feeling of accomplishment came over me as I careened downhill all the way to town, passing cars as I went.
There is one rule on Sarim. Nothing in the sink. “If you work in a professional kitchen, you learn that you never put anything in the sink, and that’s the one rule rule aboard Sarim–nothing in the sink,” Lido had said.
So it might not have been a surprise that the compression of weeks of stress–the responsibility of the boat, of the family, of the work and that pressure of the 20 days on the visas–all of this imploded one morning after a wave had knocked a cup onto the floor. I had picked it up and placed it in the sink when I heard a sharp yell from Lido to remove it, immediately. The yelling continued, and I sat, flabbergasted, yelled at.
The family continued with the morning but I sat impatiently and sober. Lido had become my friend, I thought. Until that moment I had accepted the electric air of stress, careful not to be presumptuous of its meaning–and I conceded a great many prides, shut them up, swept them under the rug. But I had to exert myself, I had to uphold my dignity, as a thoughtful, independent person.
When Kelly and Gil had gone ashore, I asked Lido to sit with me.
“Yell at me, by all means,” I said. “When it matters. When it’s urgent.” Between my fingers I was folding my hat. “But I really just, I don’t like the yelling–it doesn’t work for me.”
Lido was relaxed before me, across the cabin table. He said, “I know it was wrong to yell. It’s the stress, you know, Gil, Kelly, the family aboard. 6 years ago, if it was just the two of us, no problem with the sink, and maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or because no one contested my new rule about the sink, but it’s just the one rule–”
“I guess,” I interrupted, “it’s not about the sink, really. It’s not even about the yelling. I just need to vent, to you, openly.” More than that, I knew, it was a test. I knew I would not be able to prevent myself from conducting it before leaving the Americas–I knew it. I needed to know if my understanding of this man was true. Was he truly the sometimes frustrated but always Buddhistic calm person I thought him to be? Was he magnanimous? Was he himself open and not covetous as I had always expected my eventual boat captain to be? I had absorbed that talk he had given me weeks before, not without grand reservations, and now they had to come out, and I had to know whether or not it would create peace.
I stopped fiddling with my hat. “I am adult, I am patient, and I need to allow at times my pride or dignity to defend itself. I do not appreciate outbursts that put me down.”
Across from me Lido held a steady gaze, blue, with eyelids soundly blinking.
“This is what I appreciate,” he said. “I worked 20 years as a company boss, and it is precisely the fear of criticism that got on my nerves. This, what you’re doing, this is educated. I need to hear these things.”
“This is going to happen again, because it is human nature. This is an impasse.”
“It is, and it will happen again. We can deal with it.”
“How about next time we just look at each other and say ‘here we are again?'”
“You know, I told people that my situation with you on your boat is about 10 times better than what I had imagined in my head.”
“10 is a lot mate!”
“I didn’t expect to be friends per se. But we’re going clubbing in Tahiti right?”
“Only the best clubs, yes, definitely we will go clubbing. Isham will provide the entertainment!”
The day had come. Lido wasn’t satisfied when we lowered the jack; the beam was resting on solidified epoxy instead of the rubbers beneath it. I did my best to reassure him of my confidence in the repairs, that the centimeter higher did not endanger the structural integrity of the boat. A cigarette, a cooling off for several hours, and enough staring at that once-condemned beam was enough for him to sigh a sigh of resolution. At that he turned to me.
“You know,” he said, “there are dozens of islands here. There are so many tours. People will want stories of diving with hammerheads, of surfing. We didn’t go to see any of the blue-footed boobies! The boobies! We went only twice to do stuff. People really won’t expect our story when they ask about the Galapagos–‘we worked on the boat!'”
Voyage of the Beagle indeed.