Friday, June 26, 2009

A Quiet Rage Quashed and Thwarted

Afternoon of a June day, 2009

Today is a quiet day raging. We have those days from time to time, and they involve the secret which is not really a secret but which nonetheless is not something Greg advertises, and would prefer wasn't discussed.

If I had to pick one word to discribe this, it would be the big Mystery. Epilepsy. What is epilepsy, and how, and why does it happen? The truth is for every known, there are a thousand unknowns. What causes it, what sets it off, what stops it, or lessens it?

Greg has had gran-mal epilepsy for forty years, this year. He's beaten the odds. Epilepsy shortens life spans, stunts lifestyles...and thwarts dreams and aspirations. But not my guy. He graduated high school, went to college, lived large, went to graduate school, built a successful law practice, traveled, raised a daughter and two step-sons. And, to use a phrase my father uses, in betwixt and in between, he was knocked down often, with horrific seizures, leaving him battered and exhausted and ashamed. And each time he picked himself up, fixed the broken bones, bandaged the wounds, had a rest and got right back out there in the business of life.

Then, (was it 13 years ago?) in a tumbling series of events, he had a seizure that lasted 45 minutes and left him on life support in an intensive care unit, in a coma. What it did not leave him with, was his memory. He forgot law. He forgot people and names. A fork was a spoon, blue was green, sugar was white, so therefore flour works like sugar, water was sprinkles; we had a new vocabulary that stretched reasoning. Everything he worked for all those years was gone. He couldn't read and remember.He didn't know what his favorite foods were and couldn't walk up and down steps. His seizures increased in frequency and were increasingly dangerous. Without getting into the long, long, hard road back to an assemblance of normalcy for him, I will only say that this is a guy who, despite all he had lost, had not lost his determination to live life with gusto.

A year later, Greg chose to undergo a procedure to implant a "pace maker for the brain" in the chest; a wire runs under the skin from the implant, up the neck and is clamped onto the vagal nerve. The VNS implant by Cyberonics. A long-shot with a 33% success rate, it was one-third more of a chance for a new life than not trying it. It didn't bring back his memory, but it lessened the seizures and he rebounded. After all this time, he can now read and remember what he's read. He can walk without falling down. He feels good almost all the time and except for the seizure he had after his latest surgery, we can't remember the last time that happened.

But once in a great while, he has a bad day. He feels off. He feels jumpy. I make the house quiet. I shoo away the world. I give him a little extra medicine, and he uses the magnet that comes with the "machine" to pass it over the device and set it off twice as strong, and twice as long. Rebooting, we call it. And after rest and quiet, he is defragged, and rebooted, and we pick up where we left off.

Epilepsy still strikes fears in bystanders and carries with it stigma. I wish it didn't. I have considered writing about Greg's epilepsy a hundred times or more, but didn't because of what other people still think of it and what he thinks of people knowing. But then I read on some forums the posts of young people who are diagnosed with it, and how they feel like their lives are over. "Who would want to date me now?" or "I wanted to be a ....but now I have epilepsy." or "What do I have to look forward to now?" And I think that Greg, with all he's been through, and all he's done, and our adventures, is a testiment to the fact that epilepsy does not have to define who you are or how you live your life. It is simply another aspect of your life.

Here we are. In Patagonia. We have our adventures, our foibles, and our past, present and still...our future. Epilepsy never stopped him, or us from anything. Greg is nestled in front of the wood stove. He took his extra medicine, and swiped his magnet. He is sleeping. Patagonia raging outside, and epilepsy raging inside. But I think we have quashed and thwarted the Mystery for today. His practice of law is far behind him, but it's there. He did it. He has nothing else to prove. He has three wonderful children, a grandson. Me. He picked coffee in Panama, snorkled on coral reefs in Costa Rica, cut wood in Patagonia, fought with his wife over tire chains, slept in stinky hostels, and is ever struggling with learning Spanish. Tomorrow he will be back on his game, and the back porch needs organizing and there is a fallen tree to cut up for firewood. And that is life with epilepsy. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

[a post script: Three countries and a thousand adventures ago, a well-meaning person asked me what the hell I was thinking dragging my husband, with all his medical issues, to third world countries, so far from modern health care. First of all, I thought..."I did not drag him, HE DRAGGED ME!" And second of all, and more importantly, if we lived a safe, practical life, where we could cross the street to have emergency care... What kind of life is it? What kind of life is it if you live immediately for every eventuality? I think I speak for Greg when I say that I would rather have every morning we had in the highlands of Panama with the Mono Congo monkeys howling in the mist over La Amistad International Park, or every evening we had with the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean as we slipped into our sandy sleeping bags to avoid the sand fleas while we watched the sun set, or every stunning star-lit night with the river raging below as we fed a voracious wood stove in Patagonia, than a safe little apartment or house across from a hospital, or in congested city or town with emergency services at the end of a touch tone phone. We have our "druthers" and we like it.]

Next Day:

This post has received Greg's Stamp of Approval. I asked him to read it and let me know if it was okay to post it to my blog. He's come a long way from the guy who would rather someone thought he had a hangover, than let them know he had a seizure. I'm really proud of who he is, and how he plunges head-long into life.

Today is the other kind of day we have. The kind of day where yesterday is far away, and not even a memory...simply a fragmented, encapsulated event that doesn't define our lives. Today Greg is cutting up the downed tree out back. His chain saw buzzing, a little sun warming the frost on the ground, I will slip out the back door and take him a cup of coffee. We will sit on a log and look out onto the mountains and think how lucky we are.

Sometimes I wonder if adventure is something we do as a distraction from the Mystery, or because of it. It doesn't really matter why we are doing this adventure, just that we are.

A Hydro tour reminds me of a Kayak Adventure.

Today (June 20?)I am going to give you a quick tour of our micro-hydro system. I know you are sooooo excited! First I have to charge the camera batteries and dry out my rubber boots which I left on the front porch and it rained in them. No, first I have to let the ice in them thaw, then I can dry them out. In the meantime, I have to dig around in the bags of crap, backpacks, boxes and computer bags to find the battery charger. Don't worry...we'll get this show on the road.

In other news, I didn't want to do anything today. I mean I didn't want to do anything away from the house. Didn't want to go anywhere. Maybe stack wood, figure out what is leaking under the sink, wash some underwear and t-shirts out in the tub, shake out the cow-skin rug and dance around to some music on the computer. But we've been invited to a cook out, and who can refuse a meal cooked by someone else? And anyway, who am I kidding. I won't get anything done today except give a pictoral tour of the hydro set up. I have to wait until Greg gets up because if I fall down the hill taking pictures of the hydro, he won't miss me until he gets hungry. That reminds me of a similar episode, back in the day...

It was a warm, overcast day on the island we lived on. We had a droopy little beach house looking out on the Gulf of Mexico. Must have been a Sunday, everyone was home, sleeping in. I woke up, got my coffee and went to sit on the deck. The gulf was glass calm. Sitting on the sand in front of the house was our brand new, 18-foot ocean going kayak. A sleek yellow water toy. Hhhmmmm. I could see pods of bait fish popping out around a bouy and thought, "I should take that thing for a spin out around the bouy and back."

I finished my coffee and grabbed the life vest and paddle, shoved off onto the calm, warm gulf. No waves whatsoever, and the water was so clear I could see the white-sand bottom as I eased out and started paddling towards the bouy.

I paddled away, nice easy strokes. Gliding. Peaceful. Nice kayak! Ten minutes later, something seems off, not quite right. The bouy is way to my left,then farther to my left, then behind me to my left. I try to turn the beast of a kayak but I can't. I can't make any headway. I notice the feeling of wind, but there are still no waves and the shore is getting really, really far away. I realize that I am caught in some weird current, and there is, just my luck, some bizarre cross-wind just on the surface pushing me further and further out. Now I'm panicking, and paddling like a mad woman! Turn it around, get the nose into the wind. But I can't. I hate this fucking kayak. Now I can't see the bouy at all. The house is a speck on a sliver of beach. Far, far away.

Strange things go through my mind. Did I bring my cigarettes, 'cause I might be out here for a long time. At least this thing is yellow, someone will see me, maybe? Jesus, I wish I had a beer!

I ease one leg into the water and use it like a rudder, and paddle hard, trying to turn myself into the wind. Now, had I been a thinking person, I would have just unbuckled and physically turned my body around on this freaking ridiculous toy. But who can think when you are on your way to the Yucatan Penensula in a giant bobbing bathtub toy? The muscles in my arms are burning.

What did we pay for this thing anyway?!?!?! I pat my t-shirt pocket under my life vest. Nope. No cigarettes. What a shame. I drift. I try the leg-rudder thing again. WHERE IS MY FAMILY!??? They won't even miss me until they want food! And by then I will be out in the middle of the fucking Gulf of Mexico. Won't that be embarassing? "Where's Mom," the boys will say. "I don't know, maybe she went to the store," Greg will say, not bothering to look and see that both cars are there and the kayak is gone. "I hope she gets back soon, I'm hungry," they all say.

Then the wind shifts, and while I lose a few more meters of gain time going sideways, the kayak finally slips around and I am pointed towards shore. Two hours after pushing off for what should have been a ten-minute paddle, I drag myself up the beach, up the stairs to our house. Sweating, red, blotchy, and raging, I open the door. There they are. My family. What are they doing? They are eating pretzels and playing some assinine video game, Greg included.

"Hey! Want some coffee," Greg says. He glances away from the video game, "What are you sweating for?" After a mini-screaming fit, they pretend concern and I make pancakes and sausage and we have a brunch before they take off to go fishing, leaving me with a sink full of greasy dishes. It was the last time I took the kayak out. the hydro...below are pictures of the simple system that provides me the electricity to write my emails and posts offline. Originally, a welder in town fashioned what he thought a turbine should look like. Crude, a good effort, but wholly not workable. It is too heavy, not balanced, and just plain old inefficient. A friend installed a Pelton, and some other gadgets I can't name. The mice had a field day while we were gone a month and a half, and while I didn't want to put out poison, after I saw the damage to all the electrical down in the hydro house, I felt I had no choice. Our friend set up a pan of water with a couple of heating elements to draw excess electric when the batteries are charged. So far, and until we do some re-arranging of equipment and ramping up, we run this computer, the TV, DVD, keep a kitchen light on all the time, and flip on bathroom, or reading lights as needed. I am sorry to the techno folks, but I don't know anything more specific except I can flip on a light and not have to drag a candle around as I cook in the early darkness.

Update on Pig

"So, What happened with the pig," my mother asked, truly concerned. "I've been worrying about that poor pig having nothing to eat," she says.

The pig-trade confusion was a simple misunderstanding. Ismael saw the produce guy in town and produce guy told Ismael he wasn't coming to get the pig. So when Ismael got home, he sent Nono and the pig to my house to let me know that, and that the pig was hungry and had no food. What the produce guy meant was that he didn't have a truck to come and get the pig, and that he was going to ask me to bring the pig in. I guess Ismael didn't think it was his business to ask WHY produce guy wasn't going to come get the pig, and so he didn't. Hhhmm. (Don't worry, Mom, we scrounged food for the pig in the meantime.)

So, Tuesday (or was it Wednesday) morning, Greg and I drove the truck up the road to Nono and Ismael's farm. Nono lured Ms. Piggy into the front yard with a pot of pig slop saved from the night before and Ismael, all 78 kilos of him, lunged and grabbed the hind leg of 80+ kilos of pig. Holy Shit! What a scene! Who knew pigs had such big mouths with frightening teeth. I didn't know. Hideous squealing and gnashing of teeth! Ismael dragged her backwards, twisting until she fell on her side kicking like mad and Nono swooped in and leaned on her backside while I grabbed and front leg and leaned with a knee on her shoulder. Ismael struggled to bind up her back feet, then with Nono controlling the pigs back legs, Ismael moved around and got a noose on her flailing snout with bone-crushing teeth snapping and throwing froth. I'm still on the right front leg and shoulder at this point and my legs are doing that involuntary shaking...fear and adreneline pumping and I'm afraid I might pass out before Ismael gets the snout and jowls secured. Nono is laughing. The pig is thrashing, trying to kick and squealing like a, a stuck pig. Only we didn't stick her, just wrestled her down and tied her up.

The pig finally secured, it takes all of us to get her to the back of the truck. Ismael hops in the bed, reaches down and drags the pig up into the truck. Whew! Nono and I have a quick cigarette. Then off we go to town over the frozen gravel road, swooping down around Lago Lanconoa, along Rio Espolon and finally into Futa. No one thinks it's odd to drive into town with a squeeling pig in your truck. Folks walking along the street stop to admire the pig, the produce guy is grinning...he likes the pig and promises me the pick of the litter when the time comes. I'll have to think that over. A fairly peaceful custody transfer takes place in front of the store. Produce guy gives me a jug of chicha. He's so happy, I realize I should have asked a higher produce price for Ms. Piggy. Oh well, live and learn.

Then, in all the excitement of the day, we get back home and I realize I forgot to get vegatables. For dinner I have no meat, one cucumber, two potatos, one onion and a pimento pepper at the house. Thankfully, Ismaels fisherman friend from Chaiten stops by with his truck overloaded with coolers of fresh fish...salmon, merluza, long strings of smoked mussels, abalone and bags of cholgas. I bought two whole merluzas (a fish that looks like a snook, but tastes like grouper) and a string of smoked mussels. I hung the mussels over the wood stove and one of the fish on the front deck to freeze. A neighbor has seen a puma lurking in the area so I don't want the fish out back as an invitation.

We built up the wood stove, had a nice dinner; baked merluza with my merken spices, sauteed onions and pimento peppers, a honey-mustard cucumber salad and roasted potatos. Then we curled up on sheep skins on the floor in front of the wood stove, covered up with a quilt and watched The Sopranos late into the night. It doesn't get any better than this.

End of Pig Story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 21, 2009

The snows on the mountains have made the views spectacular!

But the rains and slush have also made driving more hazardous than normal. Here is the back half of a double-trailer semi that was hauling cement on the road by Lago Lancanoa. The road was blocked for most of Sunday night, through early Monday morning. Or maybe it was Saturday-Sunday. I don't know.

I was all happy and feeling pretty smug with my pig-vegatable trade. I got the tools and stuff organized and stored neatly beneath the stairs. I made firestarter trays with cut up egg crates smeared with floor wax and stuffed with charcoal. I made bread sticks and roasted some chicken and made guacamole. I was feeling all happy and pretty smug. Then Nono came for a visit, with my pig, and said the produce guy decided he wasn't going to take the pig. And, the pig was hungry and needed food. She said there was no more harania left from the bag I had purchased.

There was the pig, out on my porch snorting, squealing, rooting around looking for food! I asked Nono why the guy changed his mind. She shrugged. She didn't know. But the pig definately needs food. I keep a coffee can on the counter where I throw in kitchen scaps, keeping them separate from paper or plastic or other garbage. I grabbed the can of scraps, and dumped it into a pan of cooked rice, mixed in a cup of cornmeal, some powdered milk, a cup of flour, tossed in some mushy bananas I was going to use to make banana bread, some pine nuts and poured in some warm water and slopped it in a bucket. Nono had to leave, saying she would check on another possible trader for the pig in town tomorrow after she got back from Argentina. I slopped the hog. I felt so bad that the pig had had no food for two days. She tore up the food bucket. She was so hungry she let me pet her, something she never allows.

I came back in the house and scrounged around for anything else...the dried cornbread cubes I was saving for cornbread dressing. A couple more bananas, another cup of powdered milk, a cup of oatmeal, a half a can of stale beer. I took the pot out and slopped the hog again. She finished, and grunted her way under the house, out of the rain. I gathered the pot and the bucket and came inside to scrub them up.

Later, it's dark out and we had a nice dinner, the fire raging, a movie in the DVD player. I cleaned and chopped some aji peppers and sliced garlic to dry on a screen above the wood stove. It was a nice evening, but the pig dilema was heavy on my mind and I burned my hand on the stove pipe turning the screen of drying aji and garlic..

June 22, 2009

Nono and Ismael were going to Argentina today, so as I was having my Queenly coffee served in bed, I heard someone at the front door. What the hell? "Greg! See who is at the front door!" (He was making my second cup of coffee downstairs)

I hear the front door scrape open (we've taken it off the hinges twice now to shave the bottom but it still sticks) and Greg hollers up, "You have a visitor!" Shit! I'm still in my long johns. "It's a surprise," he says. I pull my work jeans on over my long johns and go downstairs. Greg is standing in front of the closed door, grinning. "You won't believe who it is," he says. He opens the door, and there stands my pig. Grunting. Hungry. Good Grief! So I drag out a pig pot, make her some sloppy oatmeal, throw in the last of my precious cornmeal, some flour, two decent bananas, a package of whole-wheat crackers, a half a cup of powdered milk and some warm water. Breakfast for La Choncha.

I cannot wait for Nono to get back from Argentina and find a trader. I have to go to town and get her some food. And I realize that even if we were not going to trade her, I now could not have her butchered or eat her. She now has become something more to me than a commodity to sell, or trade. A creature with needs, a hungry critter who looks to me as a source of nourishment and comfort (which is one in the same for a pig, I assume). If the produce man really does not want her now, I wonder if I can breed her? Do I have what it takes to provide her the right kind of shelter? How DO you breed a pig? That would mean I'd have to find a guy pig. Does she go to him, or does he come to her? Really, how do you get an 80-kilo pig to a date with a guy pig? I'm getting ahead of myself though. Right now I just need to go get her some food, and figure out what to do later.

In retrospect, I needed a pig like I needed a hole in my head.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Home, Sweet, Cold and Rainy Home...

June 18, 2009

I am so happy to be home, I've said it out loud a hundred times these past several days and thought it another thousand. Snow was predicted for the entire week but the weather hasn't cooperated and it's been rain, non-stop. Aside from being grateful to be home, just being home is happiness enough, I have electricity! That is how I can be sitting here writing this post, listening to music from Tapestry of the Times podcasts while outside wild Patagonia happens.

Greg has stoked the morning fire and brought me my coffee. The Rios Desague and Azul are raging monsters now, almost frightening to look at. There are aji peppers and garlic drying on a screen above the wood stove, and a pot of beans soaking on the stove. Later there will be bread in the oven.

Adding happiness to happiness, there was mail for me yesterday at the correos. A package I mailed to myself from Temuco with spices in it, and a letter from my Aunt Dorothy with news of her bowling team, weather and bits of news and thoughts from northwestern Ohio.

Later in the day, a neighbor from Azul clopped down on his horse, bundled in his traditional wool poncho to check up on the hydro operation. We sat around the kitchen table eating soft pretzels with honey and horseradish, and drinking mint tea while the rain maintained and the rivers rose. He is the angel who worked on the hydro while we were gone and got it up and running. He has installed micro-hydros for several neighbors out here and talked about how it felt to watch a 70-year old man in the mountains flip a light switch for the first time. An amazing feeling he said. But then he said he feels a tinge of sadness when TV's start appearing and direct TV comes. Things start changing, he said. He looked around and said, "Enjoy this now, because it's all changing," and I knew what he meant. When we become wired, when children watch commercials for breakfast cereals and tennis shoes along with their cartoons, when the outside world comes in, we are no longer the same. We start thinking we need what we in truth only want. Life and lifestyles change. Simplicity gets lost. Traditions become convoluted, or lost.

Dark by six in the evening, we settle in with some music and books. Even though there is electric, we light a candle for the soft feeling, and put some more wood on the fire. It is so very wonderful to be home.

June 22 ?

Ismael came this week and cut down a tree that had half snapped in the May snows and was menacing the house. I bought three new pairs of medias (socks) from Nono.

We hauled in wood, endured five days of rain and had an afternoon of sunshine. I wasted a few hours putting together a video of Chaiten for Youtube. Chorongo in Chaiten is a compilation of images and videos from before and after the volcano erupted. I added the soundtrack from a video of our friend Nick LaPenna improvising some music on a Chorongo while we sat in his tour van waiting for the bus to Futa.

The Youtube video, Chorongo in Chile is below.

This coming week will be busy (so it will probably snow, and the King still has not broken down and purchased TIRE CHAINS). He has been warned that this Gal will NOT be pushing him out of snow banks this year. One day this coming week I must finished cleaning out the rental cabin in town, and at least stack the remaining boxes by the door. One day I will go with Nono to Argentina to the mill and buy a 30-pound sack of ground whole wheat flour. Of course that also means hauling it down the path in the wheelbarrow, which I'm not very good at yet so I look like a segment from a Jackass episode weaving and tipping my way down trying to balance the barrow. One day we must go pay for Greg's follow-up visit at the hospital, pay for the dinner and our overnight at Sur Andes our first night back, and turn in the last of our permanent residency documents.

We were going to butcher the pig this month, but since Greg and I are not eating meat anymore, except for fish and skinless chicken), I traded the pig for an account at the vegetable market in town. The owner is happy...he is going to breed her and sell the piglets, and I have a nice fat account that will supply us fresh fruits and vegetables all winter long. A happy ending for all concerned.

And that's about it for us here at Latitude 34, in the dimension known as Futalandia. Be careful if you's true that if you eat the purple berries you are destined (or doomed) to return. I know...that's what happened to me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Worst Hospadaje I ever stayed in - Twice.

Just across the street from the Navimag port in Puerto Montt, is one of thedreariest looking street I've seen in Chile. Worse than port front in Quellon, on Chiloe. Beginning with the missing chunks of concrete which had they not been missing, would have covered five-foot deep holes into which smelly green water gushes. A nice compliment is a light pole that is the mother of all light poles in Chile, so tangled with electrical wires I'm surprised it is still standing or that the whole street hasn't burned down.

I shouldn't mention the name of it because it is run by a very sweet, very old woman and there is nothing to worry about...If the facade of the building doesn't discourage you, the odor when you open the half-hanging front doors will. The rooms don't lock and have no door knobs, apparently no one would think anyone choosing to stay there would have anything to steal. The rooms were painted in garish colors...about 50 years ago with lead paint, and now have a lovely mold tint where masking tape and old electrical sockets have been torn from the walls. The electrical outlets which remain are verboten! It is so cold you must sleep with your clothes on, including your coats, which also helps because apparently the only attention the rooms appear to get is that the beds are made. I didn't say washed. Smoking in the rooms would only improve the smell.

Cardboard covers a whole in the corner behind the bed.

The shared bathroom toilet wobbles precariously and the flush handle has been replaced with a piece of string with a beer tab tied to it. It appears that someone has attempted to clean the torn gray linoleum floor at one point in rubbing it with red paste wax. Other patrons apparently have an aversion to flushing the toilet.

Yes, that's a pair of someone's underwear hanging from the shower rod. I declined a shower.

The only clean area in the whole place is the old lady's kitchen. She is up at 7 am, in her robe and head scarf, stoking the wood stove, scrambling eggs and setting a communal breakfast.

So now you might wonder why we stayed twice. The first time was on our way up from Futa to Temuco. The ship arrived, it's late, Greg was in agony and could barely walk, we were wiped out and too tired to care. The hospadaje is right across the street. And it is 3,500 pesos a person (About $6 p/p). The second time, we were going from Temuco to Puerto Montt making our way home, and took a taxi from the bus station to Navimag, expecting to get on the ship to Chaiten. It turns out that within the week since we made plans to return home, the ship scheduled changed and there we stood on the dock, no ship in sight (at least not one that was going to Chaiten) and all our bags. The next boat wasn't until the next afternoon. It was dark, and cold and once again we were too tired to care. We said "screw it"...walked across the street, opened the front doors to the pungent, familiar smell, lugged our bags up the stairs where the old lady was thrilled to see us again. Twice in a month and a half.

My Brothers Would Love This. June 2009

[Note: From now on, my posts will be written offline, and when I get to an internet, I will post them. So the the post times will not reflect the actual dates or time frames. If I remember to do so, and I know the date, I will include it]

The boat trip on the way home from Puerto Montt to Chaiten this time was an older boat. Not the Don Baldo, and a bit rougher feeling. Sturdy, and grumbling yet warm, and sufficient. I thought that "my brothers would love this", as I stood on the deck looking out at the spotty lights of small towns and villages on Isla Chiloe. In fact, they would love this whole trip. The buses, the hospadajes, the long hours to kill before the next leg of the journey south. The food, the streets, and this boat. We rumble and rock a little from side to side as Fast and Furious plays on the flat screen TV, and a young mother chases her little boy down the isle. Outside, and down below, the tough guys sit on sacks of onions and potatos, flicking cigarettes in the icy wind. The moon is up, and a few stars. We have 11 (?) hours to go on this leg of the journey.

We will arrive in Chaiten around seven in the morning. I hope it is clear, but not likely. Arriving there, even now after the volcano, is spectacular. This...this is arriving in Patagonia. The mountains don't wait 20 or 50 or 100 kilometers inland to rise up. They just scream up right there in the harbour. They don't even wait for the land. Giant mountain tips rip up from "el mar", covered with nalca and ferns and screeching seabirds. Approaching Chaiten does not look so different as before until just as you slow into the port. A ghost town. You don't really see yet that it is different, but you sense that something isn't right. I am including a few pictures of the volcano as we approach Chaiten at sunrise.

Anyway, my brothers would love this humming ship. The old varnish. The tall-tank toilets. On deck the coils of rope thicker than a man's bicept, and ages of oil paint on pitted iron. Slipping by, the dark nubs of islands and distant mountains under moonshine. Tonight, on this long leg of the journey, I couldn't find an outlet for the computer in the passenger area. But...after everyone was asleep, and I snuck out for a little nightcap on the deck, and a quick bathroom break, and is a picture of my overnight office for writing this blog.

Sometimes I don't think my brothers "get" what my life is, and why I'm doing it. But other times certain snapshots of life here grab me and I think, "they would LOVE this". What I mean is that, as opposed to seeing the "Worst Hospadaje" (which is the next post...looking back at this recent trip) and agreeing...they would stay there, as I did. Twice. Because it's all about the experience. How you choose to file it away. What you make of it in the moment. Sometimes it's the kind of experience you need to leave right out there to relish...raw...even if it's not a good one, or the best. It just is what it is.

So, the boat rumbles. Everyone is inside in the passenger area, snoring, shifting, dreaming. And here I am in the bathroom outside, my computer plugged in, enjoying the ride. And thinking how much my brothers would love this experience. And at this point in time...if they were here...they would have no freaking idea how wild it gets once we hit Chaiten!

I am also thinking that anyone traveling to Chile would be poorly advised to fly from Santiago anywhere. You miss ALL OF THIS! You miss the Austral, you miss the ships and the sea and the seaports. You miss the smarmy hostels and the road food and the people. You miss the lovely land, the wild waters. The people who do this all the time. People who take one day at a time, catch what bits of life they can, and when they can. The old guys sitting on the sacks of onions, listening to the scratchy radio transmission of Chile vs. Ecuador. A cheer goes up as Chile scores goal one, and two and three. They pass a cigarette and pull their hats down and their scarves tighter. And that's good enough.

Again, that's what makes me think my brothers would love this. We've become parted by politics and ideologies. We've become estranged a bit by degrees of humor. But the one thing that I know, is that our childhood instilled in us a crazy love of adventure and the absurd. That's why, tonight, sitting in a ships bathroom, writing this, I know that my brothers would love this! Now, I'm done. I will close the door to the passing sea, and go pee. Then, if I'm lucky, I will wake up arriving at an exploding volcano, and continue on to Futalandia.

Below: A few photos of Chaiten this week:

Monday, June 8, 2009


My mom has a blog now. She's new. She's not entirely sure about doing this blog stuff, but there she is at Life After Everything Else and I am so thrilled for her. She's a tough gal, been through alot, and is trying to remake a life after losing her husband. If you get a chance, stop by, say hi and congratulate her on her new blog.

How about learning to play a new instrument when you are 70-years old. That outta tell you something about Ms. J.



Sunday, June 7, 2009

Super Market Madness

Cachando Chile (see my favorite blog list to the left) has reminded me of one of my favorite indulgences when traveling to a big city or town in Chile. SUPERMARKETS! Jumbo, in particular, but any one will do. I go in with my wallet full and my eyes popping out of my head. Oh god, I'm almost salivating as I type. The long isles with more than one kind of everything! Freezer cases with food in packaging (instead of giant bags of lamb and chicken jumbled together with unidentifiable meat scraps clinging to chunks of bone). And you can cruise the isles freely! No stumbling over words to ask for what you want. The joy! THE JOY!

I went crazy. Ape-shit. Bonkers. I could wall-paper my bathroom with my Jumbo and Santa Isabel receipts. After what I spent these past several weeks at super markets, that's probably all I can afford to paper my bathroom with.

I bought spices! You see, in Futalandia oregano and salt are sufficient for stocking your pantry. There, if you don't like oregano, you don't need any spices. It is the only spice. Ok, basil can be found, but that's a little snooty. Oregano will do just fine. I bought two of everything in the spice isle. I don't even know what the hell some of it was so I thought, why not buy two. I bought salsas in bottles, I thought I might pass out when I spied horseradish sauce! I bought two jars and one is already gone (necessitating one final trip back to Jumbo).

I bought a monster bag of whole black peppercorns and another one of white. I bought sesame seeds, and cashews and rolled oats and unrefined sugar and quinoa. I loaded up on plain yogurt to eat while we were here. And fresh fish, and bottle after bottle of more salsas. Balsamic Vinegar! Holy shit! I'm racing down the isles throwing stuff in the cart like a crazy woman. I fondle the little tins of anchovies, lovingly. I bought and consumed buckets of fresh mussels which I sauteed with white wine and dusted with a nice spice mix that came in a bottle with it's own grinder built in!

I bought beer for $1,800 pesos a six-pack, which would cost me $2,700 in Futa. So I can drink almost twice as much, right? I loaded up on peanut butter which would cost more than a late-model vehicle in Futa. I bought cigarettes and writing paper, and more spices. I, then of course, had to buy snap-tight containers for everything. Then bigger plastic containers to put the little containers in, and by the time I was done (if I really am done...I have to check my wallet) I had to buy two 30-kilos cardboard shipping boxes to put everything into. Shameful. Oh! Oh! I bought two wooden serving trays and four condiment dishes to go with....(gotta have those)...and pretty dish towels and four clever cereal bowls (one broke already) and oh god, I think I've overdosed.

Fresh meats in Futa are either frozen blocks of freezer-burned meat, or in just 10 minutes ago it was bleating, or mooing or cackling outside the kitchen window. I might be exaggerating just a little, but not much. Tea in Futa comes in either a yellow box, or a red box, or is plucked out of a neighbors yard and hung to dry by the stove. Here, at My Jumbo, I bought green tea, and peach tea, and a variety box of tea. I bought bags of real coffee, whole bean. But just now I realize I have no way to grind it. And I am ashamed to admit that I bought gobs of Ramon Noodles. But at 230 pesos a package, you just can't pass that shit by.

And oh lordy, I bought blue cheese. Lots. It's all gone now. And my husband hates blue cheese, so that outta tell ya something about my self-control. Soon, I will be back in the land of simplicity. A place that suits my lack of self-control. No choices, no excesses. Ok, well, less excesses. Back to the land of serious planning and thoughtful shopping. As opposed to this hideous binge of Super Market Shopping. But...

Damn! It's been fun! (She says lugging 120-pounds of "stuff" onto the ship that will carry her back to Futalandia) Somehow, this is all Cachando's fault, because with addictions, someone is ALWAYS to blame.

Chile - September 2006 - First Impressions

Cachondo Chile is celebrating 18 years in Chile and invited other bloggers to share their first impressions. EIGHTEEN YEARS! Wow! Happy Anniversary and Congratulations!

So, here are my memories of my first steps in Chile....

I arrived in Chile in September 2006 after a brutal 8-hour bus trip from our home in the Western highlands of Panama and an overnight flight to Santiago. I was a little disoriented, trying to gather my thoughts when the immigration guy said something to me. Huh? My husband asks me, "What did he say?" The disorientation is setting in stronger now. "I have no clue! I think we got on the wrong plane because that doesn't sound like Spanish to me!" I mistakenly thought they spoke Spanish in Chile.

Outside the airport the cold hits me in the face. Where are we? A cab ride into Santiago confirms that we are indeed NOT in Latin America! I decide immediately that the city is incredible, my eyeballs stuck to the window, watching all the beautiful old buildings go by, the people dressed very stylishly, the lack of garbage and trash, the handsome Carabineros (I learned they don't like to be called policia), men with steaming tanks of water strapped to their chests selling instant coffee and a hint of the Andes mountains through a haze. Not Latin America. Definitely not.

I deposit the bags and my husband at the cheap hostel we will stay at, and I hit the streets to explore. I make my way to the Plaza del Armas and buy postcards and sit on a bench to write to people who could care less where I am, or where Chile is, and wait for the post office to open. An old man who definitely needs to change his pants bums a cigarette from me then tries to give me a kiss as other bench people watch and chuckle. Pigeons and artists with easels and paintings and fabulous looking people going in all directions with European-looking clothing and nice shoes. Except for the old man trying to kiss me, this is not Latin America. And they definitely don't speak Spanish. A man painted with copper-colored metallic paint and dressed as a miner draws a crowd by the post office while another man with a bass drum, cymbals and musical instruments of all sorts taped and bolted to his drum collects a circle of watchers on the other side of the plaza. And what is that???? A subway entrance? Wow.

A cafe opens on one corner of the Plaza and I have my first cup of instant coffee. This will take some getting used to. A menu is a carta. The things on the menu bear no resemblance to any words or food that I am familiar with. A hamburger with an egg on it? Hot dogs with smashed avocados and chopped tomatoes and MAYONNAISE? You must be kidding me. A little boy hands me a little package of stickers and I thank him for it. He comes back a minute later and demands money for it. I give it back.

I am in love with Chile, yet I don't even know Chile. Just this first few hours and this little place, my Plaza del Armas. I pour over my stack of postcards showing all the places I wonder if I will actually see on this trip. My destination will be Futaleufu, a place I still did not know how to pronounce (along with Cohyaique, and Aysen and Puyhaipi, and Caleta Tortel). I still don't know how to spell them. I am in love with Chile, and it is NOT Latin America at all! And it has lots of surprises in store for me:

Exploding volcanos
Farm animals roasting crucifiction style in front of hunks of burning wood
Instant coffee (still getting used to still surprises me)
Wood-burning cook stoves
Toilets with actual toilet seats
German-style houses and buildings
Huasos on horses with Clint Eastwood (Spaghetti Western) hats
Good looking, fit Carabineros (I've never seen a fat cop in Chile)
Carabineros on magnificent horses IN the city
Communist book store
Stores closing for four-hour lunches
Intersection street performers

I love my Chile.