Saturday, September 26, 2015

La Cueca

The eighteenth of September is Chile's Independence Day.

In Puerto Williams, at least, the celebration is a serious affair.  Three nights of dancing, and a long weekend of serious eating (and more-or-less serious drinking).

The centerpiece, as you can see from these pics, is the performance of the Chilean national dance, la cueca.  To be Chilean, you must be able to dance the cueca, a friend tells us.

Spurs are optional, though a good idea.  The handkerchief is mandatory.

People practice for the event,  and dress the part.  The men are dressed as huasos - Chilean cowboys. The women, I'm not sure.  Perhaps they're huasas?

People dance with the perfect match of spirit and seriousness.  It seems like a tradition that is fully alive, at least here in the sticks.

Some of the other yachties who came down with us this first night stayed until three in the morning and danced their own versions of the cueca.  For the Galactic crew, leaving at nine thirty for a very delayed boys' bed time of ten o'clock felt like quite enough.


We ventured back on Saturday for dinner at a very un-Chilean early hour.  There was no dancing and the crowds were sparse, but there were games for the kids and we could all eat some Chilean food.  Plus, I got to try the terremoto - the "earthquake" - a Chilean favorite that features white wine, grenadine, and ice cream.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

El Niño in the South

Alisa shovels.  Eric "helps"
For a while I've been wondering what a strong Niño might mean for winds during our coming summer in the South Atlantic.

I haven't found any information about that.  But we seem to be having one effect already - we're enjoying an incredibly snowy spring in Puerto Williams.

People tell us that snow in September is rare down here, and we're having snowy day after snowy day.  Which is exactly the weather we would choose for what is odds-on to be our only season in Puerto Williams.

We don't have skis, which would really put things over the top.  But someone did lend us a sled, which the boys are predictably delirious over.  And recess during the school week has devolved into father-sons snowball fights on the Micalvi.

Every day, it seems, we awake to a fresh dump.  Alisa has been impressing our neighbors with her assiduous shoveling of the deck.  We figure it's the Alaskan thing to do - we are the people who shovel snow.

Summer seems improbably far away.  And that's fine with us.

Below - cowabunga!

Friday, September 18, 2015


In the North American sailing-with-kids world there is a strong presence of the "un-schooling" take on education.  Some sailing parents see that as part of the whole package.  Their families are leaving the straight world behind, with all that entails - jobs and mortgage for the adults, and school of any kind for the kids.  Life, rather than any formal instruction, becomes the education.

I am forever cognizant of the fact that I don't have any kind of monopoly on parenting wisdom.  So I'm reluctant to criticize others' choices.

But Alisa and I are at the completely opposite end of the spectrum.  We are fans of education.  We think that education sets a person free, it makes them heir to the entire wealth our culture's wisdom.  We think education makes possible a life of the mind that is part of being a fully actuated person in this world.  I have had opportunity to be struck by the particular kind of frustration and ineffectiveness that seems to be the the lot of some intelligent yet uneducated people I have met in western societies.

So, yeah, we're into educating our kids in a pretty formal way during these years we're spending on Galactic.

But - easier said than done.  Conflating the parent-child relationship with the teacher-student relationship is liable to be an upsetting experience for both parties involved.

Into this breach strides the Arab Rose, aka My Reason For Living; Alisa.  She's the one who hectors and hounds Elias into getting his school work done.  She's the one who who keeps a strict schedule for the weeks that it takes to finish the work of each term.  She's the one who day after day shows by her example how seriously we take education, and is (hopefully) conveying the discipline to do the hard mental work that is required for any kind of intellectual achievement.

She's tough in a way that I think is paying off.  So I guess this is a shout-out of sorts.

You could sail the world without my wife.

But I wouldn't recommend it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Lessons from a native speaker.  Invaluable
One of the recurring themes of our travels is what a bubble we sometimes operate in on board Galactic.  When we're out on the water or anchored up in some lonely cove, we're separated from whatever country we're visiting.  We live in a little microcosm of America, and aren't forced to interact with people from the country we're in.

Even when we're spending time in a town, as we are now, we still tend to be insulated from the host country by the company of other traveling boats.  We easily interact with other sailors, with whom we share a common life of the sea, and who usually speak English quite well.

There are some great aspects to this separation that comes from living in on our own world on the boat.  It makes long-term travel with the family possible.  But there are downsides.  We've been in Chile since last Christmas, and the boys still speak no Spanish.

Striking out on his own - riding the dinghy to sailing school
But!  We Galactics are rarely ones to shy from a good travel interaction.  One of our goals for this time in Puerto Williams is to get the boys interacting in Spanish.  And things are starting to happen along those lines.

We had the great good fortune to meet Carlos Vega, who runs an eco-tourism/trekking business here in Puerto Williams.  He's been coming by the boat every morning this week to give Elias a one-on-one Spanish lesson, and, not incidentally, some concentrated Spanish conversation for me.  Magic doesn't happen in a week, but we're getting Elias started.

And, the local sailing school here has given the boys a chance to interact with local kids.  Elias has been twice and Eric once.  When the weather is bad, as it can be here, sailing school consists of watching sailing videos inside and eating some junk food.  Both boys left us looking quite unsure of themselves on the first day, and came back transfixed with joy.

In our so-tight nuclear family lifestyle, independent interactions for the boys are much less common than they would be on land.  It was a pleasure for Alisa and me to watch the boys sailing out from the safe harbor of family life and coming back with big grins over the state of things in the world outside.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Life Micalvi

The process...
The Micalvi is the ship that was scuttled on the outskirts of Puerto Williams to make a dock for visiting yachts.  But it is also something of an iconic name for a certain kind of sailing.  The Micalvi is where people spend a season between their trip down the Patagonian canales and their trip to Antarctica.  It's a place that we've heard about a hundred times, a shorthand name for an adventurous sort of sailing life that gets you to out of the way places like this.

...and the finished product
And now, after hearing about it for years, here we are.

Elias on the bridge

The Micalvi  itself is something of a playground for the kids.  The bar inside is closed for the winter, but the wheelhouse, which is still quite a luxurious place, has served us very nicely as the setting for a  BYOB social with the other yachties that are here at the end of the winter.

Ice on the seno this morning.  It's still winter

And the yachts - what about them?  You'll see in the pictures above that the place is completely full of yachts waiting out the winter months.  We hear that prices have gone up in Ushuaia, the Argentinean port just thirty miles away on the other side of the Beagle Channel, and that more boats are wintering here as a result.  And of course there are more and more boats in general, especially here in the far south.  A place that only a few crazies visited two decades ago is now available to any crazy who can get together enough money to buy a boat.

The teenager on Mollymawk has a skull collection
that impressed the Galactics very much
Penguin skull!
Johan on Alea
And how about those boats, and the people sailing them?

I'm happy to report that the boats are a pretty ordinary lot.  Nothing too fancy, as you might expect, and nothing too flash.  The people, too - pretty run of the mill, unassuming sorts, no superhero complexes among them.  A good group.

Optimist training in Beagle Channel
Elias coming back from sailing school.  He loves it
Family walks are a big attraction

If we had our druthers, we'd be just about ready to go - tanks full, stores full, slip the lines and go get lost again in los canales.  But we need to get a variety of life issues beaten into shape before we can do that again.  In particular, I have a full load of science work that will keep me dependent on the internet link here for a month or so.

Parakeets in winter - too cool

A leftover from a tense time with Argentina
But, if everything goes according to plan, we have a tremendous Austral summer ahead of us - Tierra del Fuego at first, then Christmas in the Falkands, and who knows what else.

It's not too hard to put in a little stationary time first.