We had arrranged for the rental of a 4x4 pick-up truck ahead of time, which I recommend you do, especially during high season, or you are likely to be without or far worse - in a small car on the Carretera Austral. It is on the pricey side, but it is worth every penny. The sense of liberty that came with our own set of wheels after being governed by set bus routes and times was exhilarating. Music blasting, all windows wide open, hair flying in the warm summer breeze, we headed out of Valdivia, toward the great, wide open, the unknown.
Before long we... oops... dead-ended in the parking lot of a supermarket. You know well what often happens when a male driver and a female navigator get lost. I know you have all been there, before the days you could blame the GPS. Solving this navigational task could potentially break or make the rest of the week which was to be spent behind the wheel, exploring Region de los Lagos and beyond. A close look at the map revealed we were only two blocks from the right track, and we were soon on our way again.
We drove until the sun began putting his pajamas on, casting long shadows across the well paved road. The exit sign said "Rio Bueno" and it was not in the guide book, so that's where we headed to get into port before dark. As we circled the town looking for a place to stay we learned that the the brothel was still very much open for business, the train station was not, and the supermercado, contrary to many others earned the "super" part of its name as it was stocked with delicacies. We picked up empanadas, pan amasado, cheese, avocado and wine, completely unsuspecting that this would become our diet for the next week. Just before the day turned as black as a coal mine shaft, we found Cabanas y Moteles Techos Verdes, a relatively large number of wooden cabins built on a small, but well thought-out plot of La Señora Margarita's backyard, just a few blocks from the main street. This is clearly her kingdom, and she keeps it clean, comfortable, and provides a welcoming atmosphere. With the car in the attached garage we entered our room: dressed in a pastel salmon-pink with pink hues it looked like something out of the Pocono resorts, a tacky destination resort in Pennsylvania. I looked around for the complimentary bottle of cheap champagne and the heart-shaped black jacuzzi, but luckily they were nowhere to be found. Instead, we proposed a toast with a glass of red wine to having stopped moving after fifteen hours of non-stop travel. Nourishment, hot showers and extremely nice, fluffy towels worthy of a first class hotel topped up our supply of energy and happiness.
Despite what sounded like a dancing sea lion on our roof we awoke well rested and ready to continue our adventures. Chile, contrary to Argentina, is not a coffee-drinking nation, and driven mainly by an immediate need for caffeine we stopped in Puerto Varas, a Germanic town of thirty-three thousand people on the shores of Lago Llanquhue. A growing tourist destination with a cute city center and a well manicured lake-side promenade, it has several options for fantastic espresso, including a mobile espresso kiosk (http://www.cafeapie.cl/) and Cafe La Barista where you can enjoy delicious sandwiches, smoothies and more. It is also one of the few places in the region where you can obtain a fishing license, an absolute must if you intend to fish in Chile, which is an absolute must for any fly fisher heading to Patagonia. Fueled by caffeine we found the fishing store called "Queen Fish" but couldn't understand why the shop was closed when the hours of operation indicated it should be open. It was Sunday.
Overlooking the white-capped, sun-kissed lake and the snow-covered Volcan Osorno we enjoyed a tailgate picnic in the bed of our fire-red 4x4 truck, talking about where to go next. The world was our oyster: La Carretera Austral. The last frontier. 1240 kilometers of packed gravel penetrating the most hostile and beautiful environments? Or the city of Puerto Montt to purchase bus tickets for our last leg to Santiago? We decided with some hesitation to roll the dice and obtain tickets at a later time and immediately head south along the Carretera Austral, knowing full well that the likelihood of finding a place to buy tickets would diminish exponentially the further south we went.
However, the road continued to rise up to meet us as per the Irish blessing and directed us past the bus station. Unable to deny that another power insisted we have tickets for the journey to Santiago, I was dropped off and already back at the side of the road, tickets in hand by the time my partner in crime had turned around to face the correct way. Ruta 7 took us along the shoreline, initially bordered by casinos and a huge shopping center, later by soccer fields, grazing horses and bobbing fishing boats. As I turned the last page in the guide book, the pavement ended. We were on the gravel that makes the Carretera Austral so notorious. Giddy, we continued south. Destination unknown.
As most people were probably at home drinking coffee and reading the paper this morning, twenty-five like-minded participants and I attended the "Green Business Best Practices Workshop", an interactive workshop organized by City of Salem, Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem Recycles and the North Shore Transportation Management Association.
Industry leaders, including a bicycle commuter of nineteen years (!) shared resources, tips and tools on how we can save money by greening our businesses and homes, from conserving water by changing spray nozzles on our garden hoses to recycling construction waste and qualify for tax credit programs. Most of us knew of course that the city has a curbside recycling program, but did you know that if you use a private trash service, you can still use the city's recycling program? Did you know that North Shore Recycled Fiber, located right here in Salem, is open to the public and will shred sensitive documents for you and recycle your boat's shrink wrap? Were you aware of what happens if you put plastic bags in your recycling bin? I thought not: during processing your bag wraps around inside the machine and forces the entire system to be shut down for an hour so the bags can be cut off! A dripping faucet? At a rate of one drop every ten seconds, you are wasting almost 26 gallons per month! http://www.gdrc.org/uem/water/drip-calculator.html
Luckily, help is only one click away! http://www.salem.com/pages/salemma_webdocs/greenbusiness
This site, developed by City of Salem gives you immediate access to over fifty websites, from recycling programs and construction waste management to buying guides and alternative commuting ideas and resources.
Remember what matters is not that you can do it all, but that you do all you can.
My new shower head.
Dates to remember:
Saturday April 24: Household Hazardous Waste Day in Beverly, open to Salem residents. 8 a.m. to noon, at Beverly High School, rain or shine.There is a $20 co-pay to help the city offset the cost of putting on the event. Proof of residency is required. No commercial waste will be accepted.
Saturday May 21: 4th Annual Living Green and Renewable Energy Fair. 10 am - 3 pm. Old Town Hall, Salem. Green industry professionals and consumers from the Greater Boston & North Shore regions will discuss products, services and information that encourage healthier, more sustainable consumption and lifestyles for businesses and families. http://www.salem-chamber.org/livinggreenfair34.html
Exploration has driven mankind since the beginning of times, and leaving Sweden on a 44' Najad at age 19 was exciting, absolutely exhilarating. I had just graduated high school and was about to leave for one year and sail from Stockholm, Sweden to the Caribbean and back. Our plotted course would take us across the dreaded English Channel, the world’s busiest waterway where no rules of the road apply, to the United Kingdom; continue to Bretagne in northern France to provision the boat with gourmet French food and wine (any sailor knows food is important onboard); across the Bay of Biscay, notorious among sailors for its awful seas as the Atlantic swell hits more shallow water, and winds which will blow you off course and wash you up on the shores of France if you don’t pay attention. After landfall in La Coruña, northern Spain, our course was due south, following the coast of Portugal, pausing in fishing villages along the way; rounding the corner of the Iberian peninsula at Cabo de São Vicente where we would change our heading from 180 to 90 degrees. Our new course would take us past the Algarve and Spain, through the boiling waters of Gibraltar sound to our second visit to the United Kingdom this side of the Atlantic Ocean: Gibraltar.
Sister boat S/S Gugner, anchored at Isla Bonita
Leaving Gibraltar to our stern, we would continue 540 miles on a southwesterly course straight into the Atlantic Ocean to the amazing Madeira islands. This Portuguese island group boasts an incredible variety of flowers, lush vegetation clinging to vertical walls of lava based rock, twisting roads and waterfalls slicing through the mountains in the few places they could be penetrated. From the main island of Madeira, we would sail to our last stop on this side of the "puddle"; the Canary Islands before steering the boat into the sunset for a long time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The Caribbean was going to be explored and enjoyed until the trade winds decided we had to start the return trip and close the circle that began in the English Channel.
Our initial crew of five waved Stockholm goodbye on a sunny summer day with perfect winds, hoping this was a good omen. Sailors are superstitious. For the most part, the journey went as planned, including the usual leaky head, torn sails, hunt for spare parts, and batteries overheating on a far too regular basis.
The archipelago off the coast of Sweden consists of 24,000 islands, islets and skerries and is considered one the best sailing destinations in the world because of its sheltered brackish water, endless summer days and next to no tides. Telling other boat crews about our journey ahead felt surreal. Were we really finally on our way? Their three-week long vacations seemed bleak in comparison. Treated like royalty wherever we went, we followed the east coast of Sweden, and stopped at every happening harbor known to man, which for Swedish sailors enjoying the summer include most. We had a duty to uphold the Captain's tradition of a celebratory toast each time we were tied up safely in port. We took it very seriously and saluted with gusto each and every time the boat was declared docked by the Captain. Even after re-setting a dragging anchor.
The Kiel Canal, also known as the Nord-Ostsee Canal, is the wet highway between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. It cuts straight through northern Germany and offers recreational sailors and the shipping industry an irresistible alternative to contending with the North Sea between Denmark and Norway. We enjoyed sixty-one relaxing miles on flat water with no navigational hazards before being discharged like waste water at the mouth of the Elbe river. The feared North Sea treated us well, as did the English Channel.
Twelve hours into our rainy and windy crossing of the Bay of Biscay we added a crew member: an exhausted pigeon dropped out of the grey sky and made our cockpit his home. In between showers he would sit on the raised seat behind the wheel, and when it rained heavily, which was most of the time, he took shelter under the sprayhood. He made a mess of both. Well-fed and rested, he disembarked just before we reached the Iberian peninsula.
The west coast of Portugal, anticipated to offer smooth sailing, instead presented us with most unpleasant surprises: shortly after entering Portuguese waters we were bullied into playing an exciting chess game of collision course and last-minute tacks initiated by the incredibly aggressive fishing fleet. We played defensively which made for an interesting life onboard but served us well. Despite the serious fishing industry, there is a notable lack of vessel supply stores in the ports along the west coast of Portugal. As we rounded the southwest corner of Portugal, the threat of being rammed was replaced with the threat of being struck from above as we encountered the heaviest thunder and lightning storms any of us had ever seen. The debate onboard pertained to electronics: should we keep the radar on so we could see what storm systems to avoid, or disconnect it all to avoid a total blowout if we were hit? We alternated. And made it safely to port.
The Atlantic Ocean was a wonderful experience under double head sails and large rolling waves. After twenty-one days of a steady, rolling existence we sailed into Castries Harbor in St. Lucia where we were greeted with a basket of fresh fruit and a bottle of rum. In accordance with the Captain's traditions, once securely tied to the dock, we enjoyed a celebratory toast, size large. It was five in the morning. When we went ashore the next day it seemed at first that the island was moving under my feet, but it was just my sea legs that had a hard time adjusting to solid ground. Strange to feel off-kilter on shore.
When we reached Barbados, the ocean now pumping through my veins, I yearned to continue west and circumnavigate the globe. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said: "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds." I negotiated with the Captain and disembarked in pursuit of a vessel continuing on the other side, across the Pacific. Finding work on a reputable boat was harder than it seemed at first, and what followed instead was four months of beach life in Barbados, a year and a half working at a restaurant in Portugal, and a short visit to Sweden. One door closes, another one opens.
Life didn't change: In 1993, a friend in New York invited me to visit before attending university in London. Well, instead of London I went to university in Florida, then Connecticut. A job opportunity took me to a yacht club north of Boston which was fantastic and fun, but unfortunately kept me from being on the water for years. I was always working.
But life is generous with her wild cards.
Some cards are harder than others to play right, but since you can only use the cards you were dealt, you must do the best you can with what you have. Over the years, my cards taught me that it is not a game you win; it is a game that makes you stronger. La vida tiene muchas vueltas. Roll with it. Learn to identify, enjoy and be thankful for whatever comes your way.
My family is in Sweden; my closest friends live in Canada, California, Connecticut, Argentina, and France. I can relocate at a moment's notice, anywhere in the world. But unless I am presented with an interesting wild card, I won't. I have tied up safely in port and may stay awhile and enjoy the ocean for her good company, as a swimmer, diver, kayak guide, sailor, and power boater, depending on the occasion.