Friday, 2 November 2007

Off the island.

There was more that happened in the last few days but there was never time to write in the rush of leaving. One of the best parts of the whole two months was the trip to Santa Clara on Franco and Richard’s boat. It’s just next to Robinson Crusoe, round the back where the airstrip is – inhabited by seals and sea-birds. We found a pink-footed shear water nested under the single park-owned hut, and disturbed numerous crabs and a whole colony of fur-seals while making our way up the cliff. Getting onto the island was an adventure in itself – as in South Africa it was a case of steering the boat as close as possible to the treacherous rocks and leaping off when the sea brought the boat up to the level of the rocks. This time there was the added fun of still feeling sea-sick while doing it and then having to form a chain to get our piles and piles of bags safely off the boat and far enough away from the waves and rock-pools not to get wet. Then there was edging round some cliffs clinging on with our hands while trying to carry large bags, then trying to avoid the occasional huge waves and slippery algae over the flat rocks (most of us failing on both counts), then we (mainly Libby) molested some marine mammals in order to get past them, and finally all our things were carried up the cliff to the grassy plateau where the house was.

Due to most of us failing to keep our feet dry, our hiking boots were piled up in a wall above the newly built fire to fry them. Cooking began as things were unpacked, as did drinking. Unlike the rest of them I am unable to develop any sort of fondess for beer – but the guys had thoughtfully brought along some yummy vodka and orange. I generally blame Franco for giving me more of it than I might otherwise have consumed, all before the lentil dinner was ready. I then spent some time ranting at Franco in very bad Spanish about how beautiful the stars were. And they were – ours were the only lights for miles around – we were in the middle of the ocean with the entire milky way spread out above us! Libby and Richard went off to play with some very expensive night-vision binoculars (for the nocturnal shearwaters that occasionally flew over head making creepy noises) and I waved my socks in front of the dying fire.

When it got late and people were starting to bagsy bunks in the house (apart from the guys who kept getting up to shine a torch at the boat far below and worry about how much water it was taking in) I left my hiking boots on the edge of the now gently glowing cinders and crawled into my sleeping bag and onto a plastic foam mattress. Some time later someone helpfully decided to put more wood on the fire. Going outside Erin was greeted by the sight of meter high flames shooting out from my slowly melting left boot. She bravely kicked it out of the fire while Franco stood in the door way and told me cheerfully (as far as I could understand it) “your shoes are dead!” My shoe was indeed somewhat dead.

By bashing the deformed plastic I was able to squeeze my foot inside and hobble back to the boat. And then all the way back up the hill once we got back to town. The next day’s trip to Rabenaal required the borrowing of Franco’s rather large boots and wearing almost all the pairs of socks I owned. It was just lucky that the great boot melting only occurred near the end of my trip, since shoe shops are not abundant on Robinson Crusoe. On the morning I left I dropped the boots into the large metal bin on the side of the street.

Almost two months after arriving I one again climbed aboard the small plane and headed for the mainland along with Erin and about 20 boxes of live lobsters. Spiny lobster fishing is the main occupation of the islanders and us gringas had been lucky enough to be treated to a lovely lobster soup the night before courtesy of Franco and Richard. As we flew back to Santiago the lobsters probably increased in value by the mile. Needless to say I did not choose to purchase a lobster dinner while in the city. Instead I stayed at a youth hostel and found a market for cheap clothes shopping!

The end of the story for anyone who hasn’t noticed my sudden reappearance is that I’m back in England – just in time for another winter. J But in the mean time there’s blackberries and pumpkins and dew dripping cobwebs in the sun. And here there’s the internet and hot water, tv watching and driving lessons, my mum’s cooking (and my dad’s ain’t bad either) and my brother’s AS work, telephone conversations, familiar faces at parties and a houseful of friends.

I’d now rant about how wonderful my friends are but I don’t want to make them big-headed. So maybe I shall occasionally keep you updated about my life, or give you some interesting things I have written, but I make no promises. All adventures from now on are likely to be of the more mundane variety.

One more short section that I wrote in the last two weeks before leaving the island – once again away from work and back to how beautiful it is – and I think that’s what I ought to remember.

1st October, continued.

The best part of all the work here and even (or especially) after all the painful hours of hiking up slippery hills, are the beautiful views. From every clear space you can see the sea – sometimes blue, sometimes dark grey, and from town, or from high enough, you can see all the small fishing boats anchored in the bay. I remember one scene I never took a picture of – the little boats silhouetted black against the reflection of the full moon in the water.

The other day, Kelly and I were returning from counting eucalyptus flowers, walking along an uninspiring red dirt road leading towards the town dump, when I saw white spray sparkling in the sun out to sea. Then there was a half-familiar spurt of white mist. “Look!” I exclaimed to Kelly as I fumbled in my backpack for my binoculars, while responding to her complete confusion by repeating “There! There!” in an unhelpful manner while pointing towards to the now flat blue sea. Suddenly it seemed as though, far away, a great white fish had leapt out of the water; somehow I wasn’t sure if I had imagined it. The second time the whale breached we both had our binoculars pointed at the right spot – it leapt completely out of the water – its glistening white belly turned towards us with a glimpse of its grey sides. Then to one side appeared a dark dorsal fin, so small that it almost looked like a dolphin’s. For ten minutes we sat in the dirt on the hillside watching and we caught splashes of tail and fin and blow-spouts and three more times glorious breaches. Kelly tentatively identified it as a humpback – a mother and child said one of the fishermen when we asked later. The splashes stopped and I was able to drag myself away just in time to run up to Plazoleta for an afternoon behaviour session – but it was so beautiful I wanted to stare at the sea all day in the hope of seeing it again.

The mountains, like the sea, are constantly changing in the light. My favourite times are when the tops disappear and you can see the clouds pouring down and swirling in the valley. There are times when you go into the forest at Rabenaal with a view of sun-lit hills, a sparkling sea and the buildings and boats of the town visible in the next valley. Then when you come out onto the cliff again the whole world has disappeared and all you can see is a narrow path floating in a great white space. Of course this means rain and dangerously slippery mud path on the way down, but it stills feels thrilling to be in a cloud – I wish it was solid so that we could swim home through the sky.

I love the forest at Rabenaal – it’s an hour and a half walk into next valley, far enough away from town to feel like you’re the only people for miles. From the ridge above, the Luma trees are a beautiful patchwork of colours from greens to reds. Under the canopy is a dark cool space stretching into the distance, carpeted brown with fallen leaves; The ground is smooth so you can run through the tree trunks, and there is such silence – all the wind and sounds of people and birds and all the sky and sea and sun blocked from entering. It feels like a great empty room, but endless and unexplored – just for you. It always makes me want to run. I always want to run when I am happy.