Often during these last couple of months I have been feeling wonder and bewilderment at being where we are and living the life we live. This feeling was stronger than ever when we were in PNG, which was expected, considering the fact that PNG was an entirely new world for us. But even now that we're back in Australia it surfaces. I think it must have something to do with the fact that we are at a point now, after almost 6 months of travel, where it is clear that we are not “on vacation”. There isn't really a “house” to get back to a few weeks from now. Is this what cruising is about? Is this part of what it feels like to be a nomad? Is having a constantly changing environment playing with our sense of reality? What reality? Who's reality? What is “reality” anyway?
One of the most important consequence of this adventure and change of lifestyle has been “the luxury of having time”. Freedom from every day routine means having more time to idle the hours away musing about whatever thought comes to mind. If nothing else, that has made me aware, more than ever, of how life is full of contradictions and full of questions.
Papua New Guinea meant reality meeting altruism.
In the Islands people are subsistence farmers. Finding and growing enough fruits and vegetables to life on day from day, plucking a chicken every now and then, paddling out in a little canoe for fish and lobster, sometimes a successful hunting trip. Their possessions in life occasionally being supplemented by a once-a-year trip to a town or by yachts passing by. What we saw: small thatched huts along the water, a prized tattered soccer ball, villages filled with birds, dogs, cats, chickens ... running wild, children and adults alike playing with bright new balloons on the beach, people in damaged second hand clothing, asking us for fishing line, rope, shirts and pants, school materials (and cigarettes, which we had decided not to take along) ... Our contact with them, which mostly meant hours of hanging out on the transoms, showed them to be friendly people. They loved telling and listening to stories, they played and laughed a lot, made music and sang continuously, exhibiting a strong sense of family. Some were shy, others more chatty and outgoing, some highly intelligent, others not so ... Same distribution as anywhere to that extend. Distribution of wealth is another story. Are people content and at ease with the fact that they have little or no material possessions? Is it a matter of not knowing better? How much help do they want? How much help do they actually need? How much can you help? Do they wonder about this or do these questions come from us only? Life on the islands seems idyllic to us Westerners trying to escape from the stressful and hectic life that we are used to: you spend a few hours a day looking for food and preparing it, the rest of the day is spend talking and playing and singing with family and friends. Is life like that “living in poverty”? What more is there to life? What more can one want from life? Really? Both Tristan and Nikki touch on this in their journals. Being able to relax and have fun most of the day contrasted with missing all the modern conveniences and toys. If you had a choice, where would you live? Is “civilization” really all it's made out to be?
Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, is situated on the mainland and showed us a different side of the coin. Scores of people on the street, either begging or trying to sell a couple of limes, a pair of old shoes ... Even though we never felt physically threatened, in a way it was threatening just to see poverty so blatantly prevalent. To walk around and realize how incredibly fortunate we are. Added to that is the contradiction the Royal Papua Yacht Club presents. A very new and very safe marina, with a sparkling new Club building and and excellent restaurant, very friendly employees and extremely friendly and helpful members. Brian Hull took us under his wing the first day we showed up. He showed us around the central business district, took us out for lunch, and talked sternly to us about getting into the cruising spirit. He also brought along his great grandson John John as a friend for the kids. His good friend Betty took us to the National Museum and to the Parliament Building (there's a picture of this gorgeous place in the children's report). She seemed to know everyone who's of any importance in Port Moresby and she took us inside to sit in on a session of parliament. Imagine a more foreign environment to attend something like this for the first time. How unreal! (poor Scotty had to remain in the main hallway, as the shirt he was wearing didn't have a collar. Dress codes still mean something here.)
The members of the Royal Papua Yacht Club are almost exclusively Caucasian, almost all the employees Natives . This is truly still a colonial situation. It was a world within a world for us. Then a sense of guilt starts gnawing at you, and all kind of questions arise anew. Shouldn't there be more equality? How to bring that about? How much help do the people here want? How much do they need? Where on earth does one start? An incredibly complex issue. PNG is among the countries where people are trying to establish a native democracy in a situation that makes that extremely difficult. Democracy in the Western World as we know it, has been tried in Europe (and subsequently imported into the USA and Australia) since the Magna Carta in 1215! Hundreds and hundreds of years of tribal fighting, alliances made and broken, wars between countries, ... We slowly learned and began to develop a system that seems to be, or at the least is trying to be, inclusive of and most beneficial for most people. Then there are countries like PNG. After many, many years of occupation becoming independent and having to develop a government! In the case of PNG that is made even more difficult by the geography of the land itself (read the children's research report). Things are changing a bit, but when independence was established in 1975 most of the elected representative couldn't even understand each other's language. With language comes territory, culture and customs. Understandably an incredible difficult job to form a government. Although ... speaking a different language seems to be a universal problem among politicians, doesn't it? Anyway, a steep learning curve to overcome!
Overcoming steep learning curves is something we can sympathize with. Cruising has proven to be more complicated then we could have ever imagined. When we arrived in Samarai, Scott and I both felt so exhausted and drained, that we had to sit down and think again about what we hoped this voyage of ours would be about. Tristan pointed out that we have been way too serious and that we haven't laughed much during this time. We realized he was right. We had been working really hard. Getting Endless Summer ready for the trip had involved long weeks of repairs, provisioning, making last adjustments, ... lists too long to mention. Along the way we'd been trying to make deadlines, pushing too hard, trying to be too strong through it all.
Even though the passage to PNG was uneventful in the sense that the weather cooperated beautifully, it brought a reality check regarding distance on a map and what that means in actual time traveled. However fast Endless Summer can sail, sailing is a slow way of travel, resulting in having to be totally self-dependent for weeks and weeks on end if following the kind of journey we had planned. Even though we had known this in theory, suddenly this was brought home in full force, with the full weight of reality attached. Despite the call for adventure, the thought that we would be “on our own” from now on was more daunting then we had to admit to being able to handle. “On our own” meaning with little or no possibility of technical or any other form of help, and also without regular support of family and friends via phone or email. The world started to look pretty lonely and definitively also more threatening. Despite the fact that the prospect of traveling to all these exotic places still held its charm, the idea that we were actually going to cruise around in unfamiliar water for months on end gave me a profoundly unsettling feeling. However hard I tried, it didn't feel right. I was fearful. This sense of fear was different from the feeling of anxiety I am experiencing during moments of high choppy waves, strong wind or anchoring without a clear map. ES sails beautifully, but she still isn't problem free nor yet quite outfitted the way we would like it to be. The spreading cracks in the dagger board cases have to be dealt with, which means having the boat put up on the dry dock. Besides from that, we've also discovered that we need a permanent bimini that covers at least part of the cockpit, otherwise it is untenable in the summer heat to be outside while sailing. We've also noticed on other boats that a cover which spreads over all of the top hatches makes it possible to keep the hatches open to still catch the breeze during rainstorms - something that would make a lot of difference. There would be no chance of any of these things happening had we kept on going north towards Japan. On top of that we had all fallen in love with Australia, and we felt that we hadn't come close to exploring all the beautiful places along the Eastern Coast.
Even though I wanted to make it all work -after all, we had quite a dream and I couldn't just let that go- I am still having to work really hard on developing total trust in Endless Summer and in my own ability to being able to handle this great trip around the Pacific. What where we to do with these contradictory feelings? We could do nothing but follow our Intuition. We were both having doubts, how could we ignore that? Not in such a volatile environment! We're up for adventure, but to what extend? What now about our dream? What about this great life lesson I think I need to learn? What about this conquering my fears of the unknown? Trusting in the Universe that all will be all right? What about this belief in how we can influence reality by our perception?
During my night watches on the passage to PNG I listened for hours and hours to a CD with a lecture by Eckhart Tolle (from “The Power of Now”) (image a sleepy woman in the middle of the ocean in a boat that truly looks really small, listening to this voice which is the only sign of existence of the outside world) . His message that problems do not exist if one truly lives in the Present Moment, was already important to me when I first read his book a year an a half ago. One of the major points in the book is that worrying about what lies in the future is what brings about fear. All that fear is really, is a situation one has to respond to. All you have to do is to make that choice to respond to the situation by living in the present moment, and there will be no more fear. Finally all I heard was the word CHOICE! I have a choice! Instead of focussing with all my might on conquering my fears within the framework of the current plan trying to make that plan acceptable to me, I can turn it around. I can respond to the situation and make it so that there is no longer any need for this fear ... simply by choosing to change our plans! There is no reason to conform to a situation that is becoming less and less fun, and more and more stressful! “When you alter the focus of your perception, you automatically change the objectified world”. I can trust that all will be all right, because I can help make it so in more ways than imagined! (This sounds simple and evident now that I look back upon it, but when you're in the middle of a situation, you can't always see things that clearly.)
I read somewhere recently that for each of us there are many possible futures to choose from, many roads to follow along the Way. Knowing that in the end we are free to make the choice that seems the right one, it might be a good idea to check out some of the paths before deciding on a direction. It feels like that is exactly what we've been doing. To quote my adventurous father-in-law Tom: “The part I've always liked about adventure is “the path that forks in the road”. You just can't totally choreograph adventure. It's not the nature of the beast. But in hindsight that is what makes it so rewarding.”
Now that we're back in Australia, where do we go from here? Down the coast to Sidney for starters, we think. Then we'll take it from there. We'll see how much more confidence we'll have in both Endless Summer and ourselves. I strongly believe in the fact that things happen because they need to happen, even though we might not always see “why” right away. I thought this journey of discovery meant having to go to very unfamiliar places, living a very unfamiliar kind of life. But maybe it doesn't have to be that radical. Even now that we're back in more familiar waters, we will still be discovering new places, still be delighting in meeting new people, still will be believing in and pursuing ways to help build a peaceful world.
a personal note: I'm looking forward to being able to enjoy that
measure of freedom of having the “luxury of time” that
would be hard to come by for me any other way - as long as it lasts,
in a relatively relaxed state of mind. (Maybe now your picture of
Scott and Karin as “a couple in a romantic sunset holding
martini-glasses while sailing serenely over calm blue waters”
will actually be reality every now and then.)
In “The Sea of Cortez” John Steinbeck writes about laziness (while being on a scientific fishing and collecting cruise with his friend Ed Ricketts in the Gulf of California):
“Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murder, nor great thefts, nor lead a mob. He would be more likely to think about it and laugh. A nation of lazy contemplative men would be incapable of fighting a war.”
I'd like to end with these words:
placidly amid the noise and haste
and remember what peace there is in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and dearly
and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons then yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world
is full of trickery,
but let this not blind you to what virtue there is,
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for
in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the council of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune
but do not distress yourself with imagining.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gently with yourself.
You are a child of the Universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here,
and whether or not is is clear to you,
no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God
whatever you conceive God to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations.
In the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery
and broken dreams
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.”
Have a peaceful New Year!