Gold earring and the Cape

David Stanley/Flickr

There are times when armchair travel is almost as rewarding as in-the-flesh excursions.

Even firsthand accounts of adventurous trips may not quite compare with the real thing, but sometimes words and pictures convey the spirit of a place in a way that is stunning and satisfying. Researching nautical lore became a stay-at-home voyage of discovery, an exciting experience that needed no packed bag and no advance planning.

A Virtual Voyage

In December, I took a month-long journey from Los Angeles, following the Pacific coastline of the Americas to the “bottom of the world” and back north once again on the Atlantic side of South America to Rio. It was a virtual voyage via modern cruise ship.

By frequently checking the vessel’s bridge cam, I was able to experience smooth seas and rolling waves, raindrops and marshmallow clouds, bright sun and midnights, the distant horizon and the nearby shore. I also got a feel for some of the ports and watched, mesmerized, as the fog cleared over the craggy mountainous backdrop of Ushuaia, the southernmost outpost in the world.

It was not the same as actually being there. But it was good; reading filled in some of the blanks. I’m planning for the future, and because of my virtual voyage and my research, I know better what to expect. Yesterday, on the solstice, I thought about Ushuaia again. It’s winter now at the bottom of the world, and I’m sure the air is frigid.

Planning Ahead

I’ll be reading more books and poring over more pictures of all the cities along the route prior to booking the trip. I’ll read more geography and history, more about past civilizations and current governments. I’ll learn more about local food and drink and culture. You can bet I’ll read more about the HMS Beagle before cruising through Beagle Channel on the way from Argentina to Peru!

I’ll also study up a bit more on nautical lore. That’s one of the reasons this particular voyage was so appealing: The itinerary included crossing the equator as well as rounding Cape Horn.

There was a time when sailing superstitions were honored, when nautical traditions held sway in everyday life, when seagoing ritual was honored on land as well as on the seven seas, in every corner of the globe.

Now, not so much.

Nautical Superstitions

But some customs are still practiced by modern navies; cruise ships indulge in time-honored ceremonies when crossing the equator or the international date line. Even “airships” mark those occasions with a nod to tradition — an announcement from the captain or, sometimes, a certificate. Today, it’s all strictly for fun. Or is it?

Old salts might tell you otherwise. More superstitious sailors wouldn’t think of eating a banana on board, never whistle while they work, dread sharks but welcome dolphins, and are careful to speak first to any redhead within earshot. There are also plenty of pleasure boaters who are wary of changing a vessel’s name and, curiously, never wish fellow travelers “good luck” before a planned journey.

We still live close to our mythology in other ways — throwing salt over a left shoulder, for instance; acknowledging a sneeze with “gesundheit,” not having a 13th floor in buildings.

But nowhere is the mythology closer than at sea.

Sailing Tradition

Just as I am still searching for a tattered nautical chart with the notation “BHBD,” I also have a sort of “bucket list” that has more to do with half-forgotten habits than with destinations:

  • I want to wear a gold earring in my left ear as testament to my voyage around Cape Horn. There are many versions of this tradition, and while I have no illusions about being able to qualify for the Amicale des Capitaines au Long Cours Cap Horniers (AICH),  I do intend to stand at the bottom of the world and look towards Antarctica.
  • I want to sail across the International Dateline, gaining (or losing) an entire day in an instant. I want a certificate to hang on my wall in commemoration of the feat.
  • For old salts, a sparrow tattoo marked a milestone of 5,000 nautical miles traveled.I have already earned the right to at least a couple of sparrows, and I still have more miles to travel. However, I’m a coward when it comes to ink on my skin. Maybe, when I qualify for a host of sparrows. . .

In 2017, I will be traveling in other directions, but I still have my eye on a spectacular gold hoop earring, and I’m already deep into research for 2018!

Photo of Harbor at Ushuaia, Terra del Fuego, Argentina, 2014, by David Stanley/Flickr

 

It was an epic road trip and coming home is hard . . .

I am home now — after nearly two months away and never a dull moment. The summer included a path through 22 states and two Canadian provinces, a total of 4,780 highway miles, and almost six weeks in the historic small town of Wiscasset, Maine.

While in Maine, we explored new territory, basked in the sun, breathed the salt air, ate seafood and fresh corn as much as possible, and enjoyed every minute of the time we spent there. It was with regret that we packed up the car when it came time to leave. But the road trip was adventure of a different kind!

Although I’ve been home now for two weeks, I find myself still smiling about the trip just completed and considering the ones yet to come. Several are currently in the planning stages of my mind, waiting to emerge as full-fledged itineraries with dates and reservations.

Is it good to be home? Yes, it’s good to be home. I think so. But, it’s good to be gone. If I stutter and stammer a bit when asked if I’m happy to be home, it’s because the fun of being “on the road,” seeing new sights, eating new foods and meeting new people never seems to grow old. Some would term that a personality disorder.

Coming home seems like an ending somehow; and I haven’t yet gotten used to endings. New beginnings: Yes, those are what I thrive on. Readjusting to the routine of normal life — that’s a chore! But then, I can’t seem to define normal.

While watching the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, I find myself daydreaming about South America and fantasizing about what I hope will be an upcoming trip.

South America is on the horizon. But it will have to wait until after the Panama Canal, already scheduled for fall. And then, maybe,  a winter trip to Florida along with a jaunt to to Cuba? Or, as an alternate, perhaps a quick cruise along the Pacific Coast, or a few days in Cabo. Maybe the urge to travel is, after all, an obsession. It’s only a shame that I don’t have unlimited funds to fuel my desire to see the world.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the world is shrinking. It is still as large as the mind can imagine. And so many destinations await.

So, my fascination with gauchos and Cape Horn, the southern fjords and Chilean wine (enjoyed at a Chilean vineyard, of course), the rainforest and the Amazon, the icebergs and the Andes, penguins and llamas — has only been heightened as I watch the world’s athletes compete in the games and celebrate their victories!

I guess I’ll have to get serious about getting back to work after the closing ceremony.

Note: Look for additional posts about this summer’s epic journey in coming weeks.