I’ve always wanted to travel to the farthest-away-place in the world. Once, when I was a young woman, I stood in the foothills of the Himalayas. I saw ranges of mountains, rising higher and higher as far in the distance as I could see. The Rockies were dwarfed in comparison. How far away this was from my home in Canada and how different. Still, even here, women were cooking dinner and children were noisily playing. To these people, I knew, this place was neither far away nor exotic. It was simply home.
Jay and I have just returned home from a cruise round the bottom of South America. And I came closer, perhaps, to reaching this farthest-away-from-everywhere place.
Oh, there were a few glitches, of course. For one thing, we missed the ship. And no, to all of you who know me too well, it was not my fault. We had driven to New York City a day early. We had arrived hours early to the airport. But the airline cancelled the flight to Santiago and the next flight was delayed for hours in Lima, Peru. So we ending up staying a night in Santiago and flying into Puerto Montt, the next stop on the cruise (where snow-clad volcanoes pierce the sky) to wait for our ship.
We cruised for about two weeks. The Southern Andes are majestic. And for most of the trip, we saw no one onshore, no other ships, no signs that people have ever been there before though the names are familiar and evocative: the Darwin Channel, the Chilean Fjords, the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel.
And Tierra del Fuego, the island at the end of the Western hemisphere.
And we sailed all around Cape Horn. I had chosen my reading material carefully, Two Years Before the Mast. I wanted to immerse myself in the history, the suffering, the promise, and the adventure of sailing round the Horn. (And a pox on those of you who would mock me because we were on a fancy cruise ship.)
For most of the trip, albatrosses and other birds with names unfamiliar to me kept us company, soaring and dipping in the wind.
And if a gale prevented us from stopping at the Falkland Islands–and seeing penguins–still, how often do I get to cruise through an honest-to-goodness gale?
A Woman whose cabin was on a lower deck told me that the waves rose higher than her window and smashed against her window. It frightened her terribly.
Too soon we reached Montevideo and Buenos Aires and too soon flew home. But the experience is still flooding my mind.
Along the way I had met a young man off on his own adventure. He was planning to cycle in Chile, down through Patagonia on an unpaved road. He had planned his trip for a long time. For him, I suppose, our comfy cruise was no challenge and little adventure (though he was much too polite to say so). Certainly we were pampered. The lattés in the Explorers Lounge onship were delicious, the books inviting, the leather chairs wonderfully comfortable, and the views magnificent.
But we all get to create and claim our own adventures, great or little. Doubtless, I’ll remember the ship, the ports, and the people we met. But the images of the sea—when the waves crashed in the gale and when the colors of sunrise and sunset colored the waters—will be vivid for me forever. So will the far-away-from-everywhere places on shore. I’ll remember the icy mountains and the dark waters and the albatrosses soaring and dipping in the wind. Those memories will enrich and gladden me.
Copyright by Margaret French