It’s taken a while to light the fire this morning; first we had no kindling, then no burnable paper.. in the end I unburied my penknife and started wittling. We got there in the end and it looks like it might be about to roar, any moment.
The scene is fairly idyllic: I sit in a wicker chair (creaks and all), wood burning stove in the right corner of my vision, wide panorama directly in front with an ocean view framed by tall trees and distant islands. I see the curve of dolphins jumping through the sea, and any minute now expect our small dog friends to sniff out that life has begun again in this cabin and start begging for entertainment, or failing that a long walk around this upper peninsula, far from the Other Dogs who populate around the beach homes below.
We have moved and life is good. It wasn’t bad before, but neither was it warm, and the only walks you could take from the house involved heavy traffic and continual barking.
I’m not really a dog person, which could be a problem in Puerto Montt, or a blessing. There are dogs everywhere. And they rule the roads. Most are strays, several are strays who have found homes, and then there are the guard dogs, trained toshow teeth and kept behind bars. Lots of variations on alsatians and german shepherds, plenty of really weird mixes, in general they know that humans are their potential food source so they’re not attackers, just noisy. My canine aversion aside, we have moved to a place with four very loveable, and affectionate, dogs. From the ridiculously large to small and peppy, they have taken to sleeping on our balcony and following us most everywhere. Which makes us look like a funny kind of family, especially in a country where dogs don’t generally get ‘walked’. Making us über-gringos. When we walk among a road of strays, followed by a troop of not-strays, they all go wild and it all becomes a bit much for this european-seeking-dolphine-serenity-by-the-sea.
But there’s something right about dogs here. They roam freely, respect people, come home usually, and are scared when you pick up a stick or a stone and throw it in their direction. Some are playful, others fiercely territorial, most not dangerous, and all seeking their evolutionary right to stay alive and propagate.
Enough about dogs. I realised a few weeks ago that this site so far only has photos of boats, videos of boats, stories about boats… or rather one particular boat that has been the focus beyond all other things for several months, or even maybe longer than that.
While Andy has been working hard being focussed, I’ve kept the balance by excelling in anything but. On the boat, my forte is sanding, varnishing, painting, or maybe scrubbing, until I’m told to do something else. Quietly surprisingly for me, I have no great urge to contribute to the grand vision, partly because everyone else around here is far better qualified than me, and partly because everyone else around here has already felt it to be their nautical responsibility to share such thoughts with us. Which doesn’t leave a lot of space for additional creativity, although I did make a convincing argument for keeping both the chart-table and bed when each was threatened.
I have in addition started studying Spanish, or Castillano, (or Puerto Montt-ese to be more specific), and my attempts to inflict it on native-speakers leave me at times deeply proud having successfully bought the correct number of eggs or figured out which flour on the shelf contains baking powder, and at times dismayed that I can’t even string one grammatically correct sentence together or communicate the simplest of concepts. Yesterdays example of such was: “I’m very sorry, I seem to have let your dog out, is this a problem?” which, you’ll realise from the above, is not only a problem of grammar and vocabulary, but also one of context and culture since that is an entirely nonsensical sentence around here.
I’m also setting off on an adventure shortly, to Peru. I will be joining an organisation called Cape Farewell who have pretty cool concepts about raising awareness of climate change by helping artists and writers to better grasp and witness the concepts. For me, it’s an exploration of all sorts of ideas, and hopefully an opportunity to bring them to a place that makes more sense, and maybe even leads somewhere new. There are a few bounces happening in my mind and I need to stretch them. What is the right word? A bounce is like a rubber band pulled between two hands, with opposing or contradicting ideas on either side. Or just ideas that were previously incompatible in my head. It’s kind of a discussion and debate and dialogue, or just a way of figuring things out. It’s utterly indulgent and academic on one hand, but hopefully has the potential to lead to something very practical as well. Here are some hands on either side of the band. Polar – Tropical. Scientific – Artistic. Factual – Emotional. Travel [with carbon emissions] – Don’t Travel.
I can only go so far with such thoughts before wondering what kind of person I have become, and immediately have to seek some more productive output. Like sanding, or declining verbs. Indeed, not working is a great indulgence, and also a great opportunity, and maybe that’s one of the biggest things I’m grappling with these days. Within a week of arriving here a fellow mariner asked me, with his appropriately german accent, “What is your Purpose?”, a questions which sent me spiralling for days. The first time in my life I’ve not had a purpose. Completely terrifying, and refreshing.
A similar conversation occurred a week or so ago, when a different cruiser was suggesting jobs I could do here. One of which was fixing sails. This completely baffled me. And still does. I understand that it would be useful to have a boaty trade that can travel, but I really [currently] have no desire to both live and work within the cruising community. If I find work in Puerto Montt, I would far rather it involved engaging with people from Puerto Montt. Otherwise it almost makes no difference what town, or country even, I have arrived in. With that in mind we have both started exploring ways we can pick up work here that provide not only money, but also give us a role in this new home-town. It did get me thinking about this cruising mallarky as well though..and maybe that’s the point, though we have a boat and spend an inordinate amount of time with it, I am yet to go sailing since arriving here. I am not a cruiser and am very happy staying that way for as long as I can (and will no doubt need reminding of this some time in the not-too-distant-future).
We have found ourselves living in a town that is fairly rough in first impressions but has a quirky and friendly shine about it when you spend a bit more time nosing around. Puerto Montt itself is far from attractive, the climate in winter is cold and rainy, and employment opportunities are slim due to recent problems with the salmon farming industry. In a nutshell, it’s not the most likely place you would expect foreigners to settle. During my first month here we were living on a hillside that never received winter sun, I had flu for a fortnight, and it rained virtually every day. And when it rains here, it really rains. Think buckets of water being dumped on your head. But then one day the rain stopped, the clouds dispersed, and behind the run-down shops and high-rises I was shown the town’s best kept secret. An enormous and perfectly conical snow-covered volcano watches over everything. Infact, several do. Indeed, standing by the central bus station, I saw mountains, ocean, and islands all around and realised, to my great surprise, that I was living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The following weekend this truth was brought home; we went for a hike just half an hour from our new home in a vast temperate rainforest complete with cascading waterfalls and towering Allerce trees (the south american version of Redwoods). A quick glance at the map shows an endless array of other outdoor opportunities just a stones throw away.
We expect to be living here until the end of the year at least, at which point we have westerly aspirations. The timing of departure is mostly weather-related, but also gives us plenty of time to finish work on the boat and go sailing around here, both for the sailing itself, and also to check out some of the local islands and bays famed for isolation and wilderness. In total that will be about nine months here for me, and closer to a year for Andy. Long enough to get to know a place, learn some of the language, make new friends, and establish a home of sorts. It’s not at all what I expected to be arriving to, but I’m looking forward to living in Chile in 2009. I guess you never really know what’s around the next corner…