“The captain is out to lunch and the sailors have taken over the ship.” (Charles Bukowski)
Day 7-8-9 on Lake Izabal: Tom
Remember the subtitle of the first part of this mini-series, ‘A Million Ways to Die on a Boat’? I wonder if there’s a world record for hitting your head against the boom, the pole attached horizontally to the mast? If so, for four days Mario and I were in heavy competition to break it and improve it so vastly that surely it would stand for a couple of decades. But now, Mario had left our sloop on Lake Izabal and I was the sole number one, the uncrowned king of head bumps.
Every evening, big, post-nuclear cockroaches crawled out of every cavern of the Friend Ship, and god knows that fucking boat has many caverns. Daeli had told us to spray them fuckers with his mix of water and soap, an ‘ecological’ way of getting rid of them. But seeing the roaches creep over our vegetables – there is no fridge on board – I suddenly got a vision of a hardened exterminator releasing some chemical bombs on board. The cockroaches were too quick and slippery for the soap shower treatment anyway. I’m usually no animal killer – I’m too soft-hearted to kill even a mosquito – but these bastards bugged me big-time. Soon, I figured out that a swiftly aimed sneaker was the best way to get rid of them.
No wonder that every moment on the land started to feel like freedom – despite the age-old adage that the waves of the endless sea offer the biggest freedom known to human. I had, nevertheless, found my sea legs. Every time I stepped onto the land, I felt the earth moving under me, rocking and swinging like the rhythm of the boat. My body adapted quickly to the regular trips to the land and got ecstatic upon the sight of a ‘normal’ toilet. It was a victory, every time I could avoid the dreaded bucket.
There was a motorboat to go to land, but I preferred not to use it. Know thyself – I can get myself killed in a golf cart. The excursions to the land thus meant lots of peddling, peddling, peddling. Why would anybody ever buy a gym membership when they could also board a sailboat? After the departure of our boat mates, Anete and I had to go and walk Diesel. Which meant peddling him to shore in the yellow ocean kayak first. Luckily, the dog is well-adapted and knows how to behave when being ferried to the land.
One morning, we were enjoying our breakfast on the deck when I smelled a faint burn. I wondered if I had left the fire on, if some forgotten toast was slowly but surely turning black in a pan. I rushed inside to discover smoke fuming out of the electrical cabinet. Alarm code red! What was the deal with all those batteries that got solar-charged during the daytime and that had to be switched on and off, depending on electricity use? I switched everything off and prayed for the best. Miraculously, it worked. The smell evaporated, the smoke disappeared.
That evening, Diesel needed to be walked. Anete didn’t feel well and volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on the electrical cabinet. We were still worried, even though all the signs were comforting. “Fine,” I said, “But if something goes wrong, just jump in the water and swim to Josée. If there’s a fire, don’t try to extinguish. Just flee. Your life is more important than this lousy boat.”
Dog and human reached the land, hurried past the angry dog on a leash that practically barked his head off. Diesel was especially restless on the land, sniffing even more brothers and sisters’ behinds than usual. But when we finally started peddling back from town, it was the human’s turn to get unsettled. I struggled to move as I’d never before during the numerous trips to the land. The wind kept pushing me aside.
Every time I tried to turn around, the wind blew me back. I was facing the land, the little marina barely a hundred metres ahead. I saw the old fishermen untangling their nets. Their day was finished. Mine hadn’t even begun, or so it felt. Friend Ship and Josée lay 500 metres behind my back. I started peddling, peddling, peddling, to turn around. But just when I was about to face forward again, the wind blew me back. Over and over again. With 20 kilos of groceries on my back, I tried again and again. I lost hope, gradually, just like the strength seeped out of my arms.
Diesel twisted and turned on his seat in front of me. He finally turned around, looked at me with critical eyes, as if he said: “You got us in a pickle, stupid human, better get us out of it.” I was afraid I’d have to return to the land, hand in my male membership card (which would be shredded on the spot) and ask the fishermen for help, for a hitch towards the boats. They’d surely help me, especially if I tossed 10 quetzales in their direction.
But I was not ready to give up, not yet. One last time I peddled as if my life depended on it. Even though I was drifting away from both boats and marina, I kept peddling, kept going strong. Yes! I made it, I had manoeuvred back into the right direction.
The nicest moments of boat life always came when the peddling was over, when the heat had subdued and those pleasant pre-dusk sun rays fell on the deck. The limes were freshly cut and the Ice Dorada had never tasted so good. Had I ever earned a beer more than then? Yes, travel happiness is in the small details.