I Gotta Ask. Why??
Monday, November 8—9:10 PM
The Kirke Narrows were, indeed, very narrow. The navigator sat in his inflatable boat and waved as we inched past. But I saw no wrecks on the shore, the Star Trek “red shirts” set there to prove the passage was dangerous…
…until maybe an hour later, when I happened to look up at the right time. In the middle of utter wilderness—not a house, a boat, God knows there are no roads on these mountains—was the rusting hulk of a Very Large Boat. It lay there like a forgotten dinosaur, startling me and all the others who later said “Did you see the shipwreck??” to others in the hopes that they hadn’t and we had.
(We were foxed, though, by the half of the people on the other side of the ship, who said “No—did YOU see the orcas?!” MOTHERFUCKER!! I wanna see orcas!)
Tommy the photographer gave us a presentation on climbing Mount Everest. And I thought he was such a normal, pleasant guy. I left that talk shaking my head. Why would anyone DO that?? Why would you put yourself through this misery? Before he went up Everest, he was climbing—I don’t know; some mountain—and fell 90 feet down a cliff. He broke both sides of his pelvis (“I broke my ass—both sides”) and had a massive rope burn on his leg. What to do? Finish the fucking climb—and then go to some other mountain. Where he developed bronchitis and couldn’t do the climb with his team. So he stayed in their base camp for two days and then CAUGHT UP WITH THE OTHER CLIMBERS. Why? What happened to the bronchitis? I have questions. Mostly, though—why??
The second time he went up Everest, he found the body of a friend who’d died up there and had to be left. The guy’s wife had asked Tommy to bring back some personal effects, so Tommy took his wedding ring from the icy corpse, and the pendant that held the hair of the wife and the kid. And he was so distracted by THAT gleeful experience that he made a mistake and fell 700 feet. All of the Sherpas said he’d insulted the mountain by taking the personal effects so he had to climb down two days to the nearest monastery so a lama could bless him. The lama prayed over him for a full day and then announced that Tommy would certainly die if he went back up the mountain this year. Come back some other time. None of the Sherpas would climb with him after that. So he went home and came back the next year.
I mean—it’s insanity. Is it a guy thing? Does the presence of a penis somehow make one want to do things that no sane human ought to want to do? He’d made a video showing his teammate about 50 feet from the summit, going up. The guy would take two painful steps and stop to catch his breath.
Next was a joyous photo of all of them on the summit. So happy! No one is higher than we! Yay! And then—how the fuck are we going to get DOWN this damned cliff? The whole idea made me feel very slightly queasy. Tommy said he had to “become one with the mountain” to make these climbs (and descents). And that’s all fine and good when you’re cross-legged on a yoga mat next to a gentle stream crossing the meadow with the mountain filling your view—but when you’re clinging to a cliff in the middle of a howling blizzard, stop trying to be one with the mountain and just get the hell out of there. What made you start this in the first place? He was proud to be the first Argentinian to summit. I just rolled my eyes. It’s like when football broadcasters say “The Redskins are zero to four when they’re at home in the white jerseys.” Come on—is it JUST possible you’re counting on factors that just maybe don’t matter??!
He’s a lovely man. I wish him well. But we are SO definitely not of the same tribe.
Next up was Mada, with a history of Magellan, the first European to get miserably lost in these Patagonian fjords and—incredibly—make it out alive. For a little while. He was slaughtered on the journey, but not until he reached some islands in Micronesia, where he stuck his head into a local turf war and got it chopped off. And once again, you have to wonder: WHY?? Why not stick close to shore? Hug the shoreline and get there that way? Make friends with the local population instead of stealing them or killing them. Maybe they’d give you some fresh food, or something to stop the scurvy that killed off half the remaining crew. The entire journey is supposed to be one of courage and bravery and the intrepid “I climb it because it’s there” indominability of the human spirit, but mostly I think it’s that penis again, driving the owner to do uselessly stupid stuff.
Last up was Tua, who explained about the Polynesian method of reading the stars (which seems quite sophisticated). And then, to publicize the love that the people of Oceania have for the sea, he took some 200 people in seven outrigger canoes island-hopping for two years. Among the crazy facts: One of the “hops” was from American Samoa to Hawaii, which is such a long stretch of Nothing But Blue on any map or globe ending in island dots that you can’t even see without an inset that it’s clear the man is insane. The next hop was from Hawaii to San Francisco, which takes approximately eight hours by JET.
The other fact that leads me to believe that the penis has played a role once again: Many (he said MANY) of the crew had never been on a boat before. They were gone for TWO YEARS.
Why?? I mean…why? Let me see if I can phrase this differently: WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU??
Tomorrow we’re going to Karukinka, which is a Wildlife Conservation Society property. Hey! I wrote for them! I loved them, but they didn’t love me. Alas. Anyway, we are promised elephant seals in the middle of birthin; them babies, which might make them a tad aggressive. Yeehaw—let’s go look!
We’re promised a wet landing, so wear your mud boots with the waterproof pants on the outside, because the water you’ll walk through from the Zodiak to the beach PROBABLY won’t come up over the boots, but if it does, those waterproof pants you’re trusting should do the trick. (Come on, Columbia Sport—don’t let me down!)
And we’re promised a walk of about a mile in mud boots to a waterfall and back. Lucho says it’s an easy walk, but he neglected to note that the last part of the stroll to the glacier a few days ago was over loose rock designed to break fragile old ankles. Thank God Barbara and Chip have kept my joints oiled and my spine limber! I’m hopeful I’ll survive this next “easy” walk, too. We’ll see!
Mostly I’m looking forward to the “wet” landing. It sounds like a highly-entertaining way to get up close and personal with some elephant seals. My new buddy Brian (not Bryan or Other Bryan but Brian husband of adorable Kim) tells me that elephant seals smell like rotting corpses. Again—yeehah! Let’s go experience nature!
I can tell I have a slightly negative attitude today, for which I apologize. I’m meeting so many nice people—but it’s still a huge energy expenditure to do the reach-out-and-be-social thing. It’s wearing on me a little, and my spirit is slightly low. I’m foolishly addicted to comments on Facebook about the blog posts, so if you’ve gotten this far, feel free to say a word or two in the Facebook comments, if you’d like. I find that extremely cheering!
And in conclusion, I’d just like to say: The vacuum flush on the toilets in this ship takes a little bit of time to get its mojo going. You flush and then stand nervously, wondering if it heard you or not. Sometimes the flush is maybe ten seconds after pushing the button; sometimes it might be half a minute. It’s very exciting; like a disgusting lottery.
I have written many theoretical plots for novels on this journey; very few people can resist suggesting plot ideas when they learn that I write romance novels and then we embroider them. It’s been very entertaining. So far no one has included the Random Chance Toilet. Which is all to the good.