Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Sealions Attack

People, I've been busy.  Not just because we are in the Galapagos, but because...

Ta da!
And ta daaa!
...we have surprise visitors!  And not just any visitors - our most frequent visitors, Grannie (6 trips) and Little Red (3 trips)!  They came on Sunday to surprise the girls, and are here for a glorious week.  This trip only got booked on Thursday, so I want all of you to bask in the glow of spontaneity emanating from my mother, and to apply this lesson to yourselves.

"All right, Amy, well and good.  Your mother is a shining example to us all.  Now what is this I hear about a Dangerous Situation?"

And right you are for asking.  As you may have noticed in earlier posts, I am keen on the sealions.  They are delightful and adorable.  They sleep twenty-three hours a day, and eat and frolic the other one hour.  They are truly the cats of the sea.

Whose turn is it to be cute right now?
But!  Who knew that danger lurked around every corner?

Witness the vicious attack Erik sustained from this baby sealion :
Come play with meeeeeeee!!!!
I know.  It's shocking.  The baby's mother was swimming back and forth nearby, barking at her pup in a most annoyed way.  You could almost hear her say, "Baby, leave those snorkelers alone.  This is a nature reserve and we aren't supposed to touch anything.  Baby!  Let go of that fin!"

But Baby was not finished.  Young Indy was standing at the water's edge, watching everyone else swim, when nip!  Love bite.

Baby strikes again.
Indy was outraged, but it didn't keep her (or anyone else) out of the water.  Grannie and I took her for a short walk.  And when we returned, what did we find?

Not again.
Right.  Stylish got a love bite, too.

We decided that was enough fun for one day, and we packed up before Little Red could join the group of Baby's potential playmates.  I hope that little sealion found someone to play with, because she was desperate, poor thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Time to Talk

Like many North Americans, my foreign language skills were never the greatest.  It is a sad fact of life that English is the new Latin.  You can get away with anything as an English-speaker - where is the push to branch out?  Growing up, French was something you studied in school because you had to.  Oh, maybe you would visit Quebec someday, and having a second language looked good on your university application.  But mostly, you didn’t have a choice, and it was more about the grade than the learning.

I’ve hesitated to write this post.  I have held back, because I don’t want to write anything that well-meaning keener parents are going to wave at their children and say, “See, this is why we encourage you to study.”  But the fact of the matter is this: the single most useful skill I’ve brought to this sailing adventure is my ability to speak other languages.

I learned German for the usual reason: because my boyfriend spoke German.  Erik took a job in Switzerland, and I thought it might be handy when I visited.  (Of course, Swiss German turned out to be an entirely different animal, but no matter.  I had some basic grammar and vocabulary under my belt.)  And then we got married and moved to Germany, and German became not just handy, but essential.  I practiced, I got over my shyness about my hideous accent, I got a job, and my German got better.  And I met some cool people.

After a stint in Boston, we moved to Montreal.  And you had better believe that you ought to speak French in Quebec.  So I practiced with the doormen in our building, and my terrible French became slightly less terrible.

I thought my foreign language days were at an end... then we moved aboard Papillon.  And if I had thought about our intended route at all, I would have taken a Spanish course.  Because my Spanish sucks.  I’ve never taken Spanish, and I feel lost without the basic grammar.  I’ve cobbled together some phrases and worked really hard to understand the people around me, but I still haven’t mapped out the basics.  I’m pretty much back on “Yo voy,” “Yo deseo,” and “sobre el barco.”

But here is the thing.  And while you are breaking your back for your 95% in French or loafing at the back of the room balancing pencils on your nose, you might not see this.  But the real, actual, completely-for-true reason we learn other languages is to talk to other people.  Not to order at a restaurant on vacation or get directions to the Metro.  That’s crap.  You learn it because people out there are interesting, and different, and funny and cool and generally awesome, but you are never going to know that unless you try to talk to them.  Not in English.  In their own language.  If you want to get to know people, it is time for you to do some of the heavy lifting.

One of the conversations I’m most proud of happened with one of the guys working on the dock in Cartagena.  It was Christmas, and I managed to explain the difference between “wrap” and “rap” entirely in Spanish.  I was forever La Señora Rap after that, and my friend would go into a rapper pose whenever he saw me.  That is success, my friends.

We made friends in Cartagena on the strength of Erik’s Spanish.  That’s how we got to spend New Year’s Eve in the Barrio.  We had painters aboard for four months, and by the end Erik was spending Sunday afternoons at their house playing dominoes.  The man who rented us lines and tires for the Canal crossing told us about how his son got shot in Colon in a case of mistaken identity.  We talked to the Kuna people living on Miriadiadup about how village life is disappearing.  Our policeman friend from Providencia invited us to visit him in Cali.  And so on.  We’ve met so many interesting people – some for a few minutes, some for much longer – that we never would have known otherwise.

Because here is the thing.  You can kind of make friends with someone when you are making them speak English.  But you are going to come out a lot further ahead when you can speak a little of their own language back to them.  And the other thing?  Not everyone speaks English.  I know!  It’s a shocker!  And even more shocking is they shouldn’t have to.

When we arrived in San Cristobal, we found two German boats and a Swiss boat here.  We have five kids between us, and we have seen a lot of each other over the past week.  The kids got past the language barrier right away, just as some of Stylish’s best friends on this trip have been from France and Quebec.  We have had a potluck and a birthday party with our new friends, and I have hauled out my rusty German to the best of my ability.

I know I make mistakes.  I forget my grammar, I forget my vocab, I lose the thread of the conversation sometimes.  Once upon a time, it would have really bothered me that I wasn’t speaking correctly.  But now, when I see the relief in other people’s eyes that they can relax and speak their own language without catering to the North American, I don’t care how many mistakes I’m making.  It’s worth it.  Now we’re moving on to the Marquesas, and I’ll have to dredge out my high school French.  And I’m actually looking forward to it.

So, kids, learn those languages.  Learn six words if that is all you can manage.  But do it.  And use those six words whenever you can.  I promise you, what you will get out of it is better than any grade in school.

The kids understand.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Swimming with Sealions

I took 127 photos today.  I know, I have a problem.  And I know this doesn't constitute a proper post, but these are my two favourite pictures from the beach this afternoon:

Tell me that doesn't look like fun.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fun in the Southern Hemisphere

After nine days of (pretty good) passage, the Papillon crew was ready for some action.  First up, crossing the equator.  We anticipated this milestone for days.  Stylish filled a conch shell full of messages and pictures for Poseidon/Neptune.  I baked a cake.  And we waited.

Ready when you are, equator.

Finally, at 0516 on June 14th, the moment arrived!

W00t! Equator!
The young ladies, while they had earlier assured us they wanted to be woken for the big event, both complained bitterly when I actually did try to wake them, so they slept through it.  However, they were quite keen on the Equator party we had at breakfast.

Stylish threw her offering to the gods.
All hail the gods of the sea.
And there was much rejoicing.  And grape juice and sparkling cider and chocolate cake.

Business complete, we were now ready to make landfall.  Indy kept a good lookout.
You have the bridge, Number One.

And soon enough, there was San Cristobal.
I have tortoises and blue-footed boobies!
We arrived in port this morning, did the usual song and dance to check in, then went for a walk.

But even before we left Papillon, we saw the sea lions.  They are everywhere.  They completely own this place.
At the beach.

At the park.

On the benches.
Along the sidewalks.
I can tell I'm going to have hundred of shots like those before we leave here.

We debated a long time about which island to visit in the Galapagos, and we couldn't be more delighted with our choice.  We are all looking forward to a rest and a chance to explore the land of Darwin.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rolling, rolling, rolling...

Good morning, campers! And hello from 01 20.178 N 8 34.136 W! We are seven days into our run to the Galapagos, and the end is in sight. Not according to our navigation program, which consistently claims we are 3.2 days from our goal, but that´s software for you.

The good news: my seasickness diminished to manageable levels after day 4-5. Hooray! This makes me feel much better about the big Pacific crossing.

The bad: Indy, leaping about the cockpit like a young gazelle, fell and split her head open beside her eye. We were two days from shore, so Captain Fantastic stitched her up while I held her hand (and fought seasickness), and Stylish read aloud from Junie B Jones to keep everyone´s spirits up. Success! Indy has three beautiful stitches, and a week in, they look great. All compliments to Erik for performing surgery in rolly seas. At night. In the cockpit.

The other bad: Winds being what they are, we are permanently heeled over at 15-20 degrees. While still rolling around. Trying to cook like that, or even open a cupboard on the wrong side of the boat, means taking your life in your hands. Erik tacked the boat early this morning, throwing Stylish out of bed and earning her a fat lip. The dangers of boat life, I tell you.

The good again: We are all having fun. We have a good routine of school, reading, playing, sleeping, and generally getting along. A week in, we have our pattern, and it works.

More news when we get to an anchorage. We intend to go to San Cristobal, and anchor in Wreck Bay. I know some of you have visited the area; if you have recommendations or advice, please drop us a line.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

I spent yesterday day reading Dickens (The Old Curiosity Shop, for those interested). And while I enjoy the gentlemen and his humour, he does produce the effect of making one´s prose rather more florid than is usual. So, small doses. Also, not to spoil the book for those who haven´t read it, but the author resorts to his all-to-familiar plot points of killing off the villain by usual way of the Thames (which I don´t really object to), and killing off an innocent child beloved by all (which I do, as this occurs 96% of the way through the book, just before her dear friends find her after a book-long search. Ripoff.)

Shallow literary criticism aside, how did I find the time to read this book all day? Friends, I can´t recommend my methods. Wednesday evening I was decanting pasta from the pot into a colander, and the hot water splashed back on me from the sink and scalded my belly.

It was agony. Erik ran to help me, we iced the area and I lay down, but it was grim. Definite second degree burns over an eight inch by two inch area. I was feeling better with the ice, but as my skin warmed again, the pain returned in force. Out came the first aid kit and the burn dressings. The gel on the dressing helped, but there was a good half hour of teary eyes to endure first.

Before leaving home, Erik and I took a marine medicine course from St John Ambulance. And while you always hope you won´t need that sort of thing, you do. I broke my finger - we used it. Stylish sliced open her chin - we used it. Thankfully we were within spitting distance of a clinic in that case, so a proper doctor did the stitches. But right now, we´re in the middle of nowhere, with not even another boat to call on. Now we have the responsibility to determine whether the burn is bad enough to warrant a return to Panama City. In a few weeks, we won´t even have that option - we´ll be mid-Pacific. But I´m taking my antibiotics and resting as best I can. The medical staff among you may be tut-tutting, but what else can we do?

Oh, and did I mention Erik came down with a high fever Wednesday night and slept all of yesterday? Young Stylish has been my hero, feeding her sister and keeping the pair of them entertained.

In any case, we haven´t moved on today as planned. Soon, I hope. Soon.
Do not try this at home.  Ever.
Postscript: Just in case you are ever feeling blase about dealing with hot water, I can tell you that it took almost two months for the burn to seal up.  It stayed angry for months, and a year later I still have purple scars.  And I still think I got off lucky.