Our Friend

Leaving Puerto Montt was hard. Far harder than I expected. Made me
realise just how special some of the people are who we have met here.
One of the most difficult goodbyes was to a dear friend, Mani.. not
because the friendship won't continue, but maybe because this kind of
friendship is the type that's at its very best when you have time to
share together, in the same place, often.

Mani falls between my parents in age: let's say mid 60s. His beard, when
allowed to grow wild, starts pointing upwards to the sky, to his eyes.
His eyes and small are bright, his smile large, his hair thinning, and
he is tall, very tall, thin, and broad. A Big Friendly Giant.

We go on long walks, eat porridge, enjoy cakes and carrots, share
silence, and talk for hours. At a slow pace, with lots of spaces in
between. He introduced us to magical houses, fairytale people, lands
with lakes and mountains and forests. Through him we met our friends in
Chiloe, whose house we adopted several times before we ever met them;
through him we met our fairy godmother landlady and landed a log cabana
on the beach. We were welcomed into her family, we roamed her land like
it was our own, and we loved her dogs. Our last visit in Puerto Montt
was to her property, though she was away, for a long walk with Piglet
Pow and a final chance to pick lettuces and peas from her garden.

Through Mani I learnt of people who roam the seas, and met a few of
them. All the most magical navigantes, when they return to this port,
seek out their favourite Finnish friend. Many are solo sailors, intrepid
and a little crazy, with dreams of reaching extremes, or just a deep
need to explore. Some are families and a few are couples, though I met
fewer of these. Maybe the solo sailors have more time to enjoy a beer or
tea and talk, and talk some more. Mani listens and laughs, absorbing
their stories, believing every word, and making his own judgements as to
whether they are intrepid but sound, or just plain mad.

By trade Mani is an electronic engineer; his skills are continually in
demand by visiting cruisers. Not only does he know electrics and motors,
but he has lived most of his life on various boats. He knows boats. He
gave me tips on directing condensation away from electrical connections,
talked us through our alternator problems by phone, and helped us wire a
magical, critical, switch. And he laughs at electricity. 'Ha: it's
electricity, it rrreally makes no sense', rrolling his Arctic r's. To
Mani we were, I think, more than just another couple on just another
boat; he asked after us individually, learnt our stories, and helped me
to learn so many elements of this new world I am entering, from
electrics and washing-up, to soaking porridge the night before breakfast.

Mani's partner, who is currently studying in Europe, is the captain of
their boat. She is a powerful woman who was a solo sailor for many years
before they met. In Patagonia. On our last adventure he came to help me
drag a dinghy up the beach. The effort was fairly pointless as it was
low tide and the water was still ebbing. 'This is far enough', he tells
me,' the tide won't come back this high until at least 1am.' But I
continued to drag the boat so that I could tie it off on something. 'I'm
sure you're right, but I don't want to be the one responsible for losing
the dinghy'. He laughed in earnest, 'ah yes, I know that feeling: when
you're not the skipper it is always your fault'.

Before I arrived in Chile, Andy and Mani used to go on long walks every
Sunday. Initially I was concerned that my presence might interrupt this
tradition and friendship but they seemed happy enough for me to come
along. Truth be told, I was mostly observer and catcher-upper on these
adventures: the two elves share an approach to walks that involves no
maps, no plan, no time-scale, and usually no paths. They also have a
common disrespect for private property, although where possible will
avoid the plot containing a house and climb over barbed-wire fences out
of sight of the owner. But only where possible. Mani always carries a
six-pack of beer, Andy usually is entirely unequipped, and I carry the
rear with a pack full of cookies, jumpers, and carrots. We have always
returned to our starting point, somehow, usually several hours after the
novelty has worn off (for me), and either soaking wet or covered in mud,
but happy, and hungry. Which is a good thing, because my favourite thing
about Mani is that we share a love of eating.

In general, I don't like cooking for other people, or even much for
myself. It's more of a necessity when far removed from restaurants and
five-minute supermarket re-heats. However, I'll cook for Mani any day,
and enjoy every hour invested. For Mani, I have created sour biscuits
that taste of baking soda, charcoal'd sesame snaps, cauliflower soup
without any cauliflower, and chestnut pie without the pie. The successes
include a sausage, sun-dried tomato, and lentil casserole slow baked for
7 hours on a wood-burning stove, and a delicious carrot cake for his
birthday, six months late. However the experiments turn out, he eats
them all with a big grin and the declaration "deli-s-ious". And true to
his nationality, he finishes the lot. The prize meal, without a doubt,
was made with the components for an apple crumble but no oven. It got
fried and steamed instead and renamed Apple Stumble. We ate the lot in
one sitting.

In Andy's words,…

…if passing Puerto Montt way go and pass saludos with Mani sit quietly
inside a boat 'BiriBi' a ship that is a home in the truest sense: always
warm always welcoming share stories, tea, toast, porridge, fish, cake or
anything else mani is eating at the time, it will be shared freely with
a "Take you first"and if you have time you may even discover a Sweet
Chestnut tree on a beach where one day there will be a sauna beneath .

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