Bay of Whales
Elsabon is a 29 foot wooden sailboat. It has no GPS, no automatic pilot, no dracon sails, no water container, no motor, no depth finder, no radar, and no radio. She is as minimal as they come, no bells and whistles, and no tricks, but she is not simple.
We passed our suitcases over to the captain and he steadied my hand as I climbed aboard. There was no step, but there was a rusted ladder for ocean entree. The sun was a smear of orange over the horizon and the lightest wind sent a whistle through the ropes on the mast. Michael clambered aboard and headed straight for a small table where a bottle of rum rest in the glow of a kerosene lantern. He draped his leather jacket over the suitcase and took a shot. I stood by my luggage unsure of what to do myself.
"You can take those to the cabin," the captain ordered.
With some reluctance I carried both mine and Michael's suitcases down the steep stairs into a tiny room with port holes allowing the last light of the day to illuminate a twin bed against the left wall, cabinets and drawers in every nook and cranny, a small sink and a single burner stove hooked up to a propane tank on the right. No ornamentation of any kind lifted the place but for a shrine of miniature figurines of Mary and The Christ in the porthole over the bed.
The American's motorboat revved up and I watched them zoom away and then returned to the deck. The captain and Michael were sitting on the floor sipping caribbean rum and captain handed me the bottle. We went through introductions, and by the time I had finished two shots we were all much friendlier.
The captain's name is Tony. He has been in South America for almost ten years. Before he lived on his sailboat he lived in San Jose as a manager for a maritime shipping company; a trade he practiced in Sicily with his family. He says Europe is too stuffy for his taste. But I can tell he is educated despite the borderline squalor he lives in.
"This is different, no?" He said looking out to the sea. "But everything is out of place these days. Here we have Quebec, France, and Sicily in the Pacific Ocean. None of us belong here! But here we are," He laughed. "We all have our reasons for being in this place, whatever it is we left behind. But really this," gesturing to the Pacific Ocean, "requires no motive."
We listened to the lapping water, taking in the expansive ocean. Tony continued, "Neither of you have sailed before?"
Michael's eyes were shining, "no."
"And you?" He probed me.
Tony turned thoughtful. "What the hell are you two doing?"
"As you see it," Michael answered, "traveling the world."
"You didn't bring much with you. Are you broke? On the run?"
"Not so much running from," I smiled, "but running to."
"Well I hope you aren't too attached to anything you brought. You both can trade your man labor for now, whatever that is worth." He looked us over again. "How long have you been transient?"
"We left Montreal seven or eight months ago," I said.
"And you were together before that?"
"No. Michael and I are not together. We just travel together."
"That is strange. You aren't lovers?"
At this I laughed, "He is not my type." Michael took a drag of his cigarette. "It is easier this way." I continued, "I am a lone wolf. And he is just a prankster coyote."
"I don't get it. But okay."
"Thanks for taking us on," Michael changed the subject." Those Americans were pricks. We were going to jump off at the Panama Canal on their way to the Virgin Islands. But we could not make it that long."
And now you are stuck with me!" Tony held up his glass, "To the journey ahead."
passing the bottle to Michael.
"To la vie de dingue'" Michael said, finishing with a gulp.
"To the moment!" I said, finishing the bottle.
Bay of Whales
This morning, just as dawn broke over the trees, Tony bellowed into our faces for us to wake up. I sat up from the thin pallet and my back cracked in seven places. Michael massaged a crick from his neck. He slept with his head resting in his leather jacket. Tony had only two pillows, and here is where one of the small advantages of being a female appear. Chivalry is not fully dead.
"Up you two!" I heard Tony yell again. "We need to catch the morning drift."
Tony was on deck prepping the sails already wearing his aviators. I followed upstairs bleary eyed and half asleep.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Where ever you want to. But I have ideas."
He started to pull up the anchor as Michael appeared on deck, shirtless and disheveled.
"Bonu! We head for Isla De Cano today."
I tried to help Tony with the ropes and the anchor but I felt like more of a nuisance than an assistant. Michael leaned on the wall and watched with interest but didn't bother to try to help. After a few minutes he dug into his pant pocket and pulled out a packet of grass and started to roll a joint.
"The sails are easy," Tony instructed, "the hard part is tacking and jibing. I'll teach you to steer, babe." He threw me a Jack Nicholson smile, full of teeth, and then looked past to what Michael was doing "Oh NO, no, no." Taking Michael's kit.
"Woah! What are you doing!"
"The only high we have on Eslabon is a natural one. No drugs, my friend." He handed it back to Michael and smiled again. "I need you to please throw that off."
All of the light left Michael's face. He hesitated and looked like he was going to argue. But seeing he couldn't refuse just said, "whatever," and dumped it overboard then pulled out a cigarette box. And lighting up, handed one to Tony.
"You are welcome to do most anything you want on here." Tony accepted. "I have only two rules I live by and ask you to respect. One. No drugs. Aside from spirits now and then, this life offers enough beauty to give you the high you are after. I guarantee it. Two. Do not take from the ocean, and she will not take from you.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"The ocean is alive and listening. We are at her mercy. Respect her. No fishing when on board. Don't take life away from the sea and the sea will not take yours. Okay!" Watching us drift, "Time to set sail."
The ocean colors were hypnotizing when we pulled out of the bay. Tony had us try different positions and between us there was a lot of confusion, but he is a patient teacher and was gentle correcting me.
"This is the mainsail, this is the jib." He showed us, " And this, the topping lift, raises the sail. See." The sail went up and flapped open with a snap, catching the wind. Eslabon started to quicken. Michael and I watched enchanted at the power and simplicity of it all.
Tony moved behind the steering wheel, and we were off.
I moved to the helm and felt my hair pick up in wind. The sky shone crystal clear and the water sparkled. Michael put on his sunglasses and followed me here but left me alone when I started journaling. He is wearing his winning smile again.
Isla De Cano, Costa Rica
This is slightly runny, the ink that is, for all of the rounds of water Michael splashed on me running up the beach from the dinghy. He makes me laugh so hard I catch my breath. And he got the very corner of my little red journal wet, a few spots are raised on the inside I am writing around. I can't get a moment away from that one, which is why it has been so long since I have written. Eslabon has been home for two, maybe three weeks. But who is counting? There is too much to do and see and no time to keep track.
Everyday is a new blue and white coastline, peppered with palms and the greenest, wildest plants I have ever seen. We drift in quiet as the nature of this unpopulated world. Tony drops anchor. And through the binoculars we take turns choosing which is the choice beach. All of them are perfect in their own way.
Today we dove from the boat and I saw a giant sea turtle and followed swimming after it as long as I could hold my breath. The ocean is full of amazing creatures and I wish I could hold my breath as long as Tony. He stays under for two minutes. Michael circled me with hands pointing off of his head pretending to be a shark and I laughed rapturously, splashing at him. Then Tony called for us to get the dinghy and the three of us pulled it into the sand.
Just past the shallow shore break, a thick patch of jungle with tall stocky giants, bright with green vines sprouting flowers colorful as tropical toad, housed a flock of parrots in the high canopy. They preened serenely, opening their feathers to the sun until Michael charged up the beach and scattered them into a roaring cloud of blue and red, pitching left and right until they disappeared into the jungle. We followed a careening deer path, up and over sloping hills and along a steaming hot spring river bed to where the trees opened up to a far away mountain top, grey and stark in the sky, that smoked and bubbled and made the ground below tremble with life.
All the while the music of the jungle was a frenetic melody played by billions of breathing creatures all sounding out their own needs by the instincts of what they are made of; iguanas, green as the bamboo let out screeches while they ate, bigger predators chomped on prey, the frogs all croaked together just like a cartoon, somewhere a cry from a dying animal pierced the jungle, a trillion bugs swarmed the shadows doing God knows what, and the monkeys cried out while they fucked one another. The wonders and elements of life all singing together, enchanting my ears, made my heart swell with the enormity of mortality. And my little whimper was a contribution of awe and awareness - that tiny thing that separates us from the wild that we are a part of.
I picked plantains and avocados. Tony hauled in a red snapper from the shore, and we wrapped it in banana leaves with salt and garlic and roasted it over coals in the sand. The plantains caramelized when I held it on sticks over low heat. It was a feast gifted from the land itself.
The hippies are missing something. Everything about overthrowing the rich and redistributing wealth is great when you are in a society of people functioning on labor division and governing. Here, everything we need to live a prosperous life is in the wild. And it is free. We don’t need fancy gadgets, we don’t need electricity. We just need to respect nature and be a part of it instead of trying to control it.
Everything they make out there is a replica for something naturally occurring. There are airplanes that fly like birds, there are submarines that swim like fish, there are even computers that think like a human brain. One day, maybe data will be stored in invisible places and it will replicate the spiritual world. Even music imitates what the world sounds like when you stop and listen. Music sounds like sex to me. It starts slow, has a different measures, and it ends with a climax.
Tony says that one day there will be a gadget for everything and that people will stop interacting. Music will be able to play in our ears at all times, shutting out the world entirely. Life will be compartmentalized as a lifestyle that will miss the experience of being a part of the whole. It makes me want to stay in the jungle forever.
I don’t need their gadgets. I don’t need their planners and calendars. I don’t need their drugs and pills. And I don’t need their labels, tables and charts. I don’t need their jobs. All I need are few good friends and all that nature gives me. If Tony can survive like this on his own volition, so can I.
He knows all of the best coves and and the old pirate caves. The locals know him by name, call him amigo and hermano, and they show him their secrets. He is a solitary man, quiet on the outside but for what is necessary to say, and on the inside he holds the secrets to the darkness that flashes behind his eyes when he thinks no one is looking. I am looking.And he is looking at me too. I know the look a man gets when he desires a woman even if he doesn't say anything. I notice when a man becomes more accommodating to a woman, paying close attention to her needs. Tony isn't handsome in a traditional way, he is barrel chested and the skin on his body has started to lose the fight with gravity, but the way his smile rises up when I learn something new, and the way his baritone voice carries over his guitar is warming. He is trying to woo me.