Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sailin' with Che

Yesterday José and I went sailing with an Argentinean journalist couple. The Che’s had been to the four main islands in the past eight days, had borrowed my camera for the San Cristobal stint of their project to experience and document tourism in Galapagos. The reason that an international photographer wanted to borrow my camera, is that his was badly damaged by the salt water a day before, and he was working with Vicente, Josés dad, for a publicity project for the islands.

The two-person racing sailboat, the Sunfish, was rented from someone here on the island. We loaded up wetsuits and hired a water taxi and a driver and set up on Playa Mann. José and César boarded first, while Lorena and the driver and I met the water taxi at the shipping dock, where they load the recycling to the cargo ships that return to Guayaquil. We followed the small white sail out into the open water.

César, an expert sailor, had been sailing and competing for nearly half his life, around 16 years. He truly came alive, this already hyper and excited hairy-chested man, like a kid allowed to play, even though his parents said he must finish his homework first.

They took a half-hour run, then returned to the water taxi, where we were watching and trying to take photos, standing and trying to balance on the small panga, the waves like an unsteady floor in a fun house, sliding us from one side to another. We grabbed hold of the edges of the boat, José jumped out and I in.

My Spanish is still struggling, especially in distracting situations like noisy markets, blaring discothèques, and in the smallest boat I have ever seen, in the middle of the Pacific, without a life vest. César directed me to take the rope, which, by way of a small pulley, tightened or loosened the sail above our heads. And as the wind’s direction changed, so did our sail, meaning we had to quickly duck our heads down, between our knees, to allow the heavy metal bar to swing above us and to the other side, while also jumping across said rope to sit on the other side.

I kept my eye on this bar, the sail, and the ropes, even when I wasn’t in charge of their tautness, as all that was flashing through my mind were all the cartoons and skits I’d ever seen which took place on a boat, when the good guy in the cartoon ducks or jumps out of the way, while the bad guy in pursuit gets his teeth knocked out by the swinging sail.

Or Charlie Chaplin, while using his derby hat to scoop water from his craft, gets bumped in the behind by the moving mast, and while swinging his arms and balancing on the toe of an oversized shoe, gains equilibrium again, only to turn and get hit again.

César was steering and rocking his weight back and forth, front and back, side to side. He somehow explained to me that if the wave was tipping us one way, we needed to tuck our toes under the lip of the inside of the craft, and lean back, making our body into a wooden pirate’s plank: parallel with the water and the horizon. Which is not only challenging and incredibly giggle inspiring, but also a sure-fire way to get soaked from the brisk splashing sea.

Another reason I was having a more difficult time than usual understanding my new friend, is that he (and his journalist companion) were the first Argentineans I’d ever spoken with, and they seemingly knew no English, or else just didn’t want to use it (or the situation wasn’t dangerous enough to make sure I understood the orders from the captain to me, first mate!). Argentinean’s Spanish is peppered with “zsa’s,” as in Zsa Zsa Gabor. They say “pla-zsa” instead of “playa” and “a-zsa” as opposed to “alla.” And of course, everyone is “Che,” just like the good doctor.

After skimming atop the waves until the water taxi and practically the port of Bacquerizo Moreno was out of sight, we whipped around and rode the same breeze back. Again, Jose and I jumped into each other’s spots and they rushed off once more. I had two turns, both lasting around half an hour each.

Such exhilaration! It has been something I have been lacking lately: a wild and daring new experience, something that is so foreign and dangerous, but you are riding so high that it doesn’t scare you, not even when you almost tip the small vessel when you can’t duck under and jump over the rope to the other ledge of the sailboat, no, not even then. All you can do is laugh and say, “No te preocupes, Che!” and he laughs back at you laughing and your strained Spanish and mimicking his own accent.