Monday, June 14, 2010

Tropic of Capricorn Part 3

Well my navigational tables and sun fix tells me that we are somewhere close to N 23 deg 30 min & E 112 deg (wherever that is – LOL) and after having braved the maddening seas of the Pacific we are nearing our Easter Isles, the island of legends and mysteries. So it is time for us to set course to true 125, now let’s get our boat in that course using the steering wheel. We now put the wheel to starboard 20 and watch the tilt as our boat cuts across the blue ocean like a dolphin. Well, by now we are only two days away from the Easter Isles and the dolphins have started following our wake that cuts a white foamy trail across the waves.

As we approach Easter Isles after our long journey, we start seeing the distant volcanoes that jut out like a gigantic trio out of the misty horizon. As we come closer they become bigger and more overwhelming. Now we enter the official territorial waters of Chile. Easter Isles of Rapa Nui as it is called is a whopping 3700 km away from Chilean mainland yet it is a part of it, and I think that makes it the most distant land from a country’s main land in the world. Though American and European tourists are found here, very few Chileans ever make to this distant land, which is much more expensive for them to go than going to Europe or US.

Rapa Nui is a land of mystery and one of the last few on Earth that hasn’t been solved yet. It is the land of those gigantic megalithic monolithic statues that have baffled explorers, archeologists, seafarers, antique and extinct civilization experts right from the day it was first discovered in 1722 by the dashing Dutch navigator Jacob. Even today we are not very sure why these statues were made out of the volcanic rocks and exactly by whom. Though it is suspected they were done by Polynesian immigrants since this island doesn’t have any original natives. The only source of water here are the rain waters that fills up the three extinct volcano craters. It is perpetually windy and temperate climate. Less than 2000 people stay here, mostly natives and few Chilean officials. Most of the tourists visit here to see these over 800 statues that are rated among the greatest mysteries of mankind. Erich Von Daniken, the great explorer writer and the proponent of the theory that outer space civilizations came to Earth, believed that these were not the work of human. Well they certainly don’t seem so.

We would rest here for around a week, and explore the hat shaped tiny island and climb all the craters and swim in the crater lakes, also scuba dive in them. But first let’s tie up our boat properly with berthing bollards all in place or else the high winds may damage our hull and we can’t afford that – can we! The weather is perfect, the sky blue, and our hearts young and merry, so let’s go and explore one of the deepest mysteries of mankind.

We return from our trip, thoroughly tanned and bronzed and after topping up our ration, whole lot of fruits and wine we are ready to go. Now comes perhaps the longest uninterrupted sea voyage in the world. A straight run of around 3700 km without encountering any lands till we hit Chile! It will take us anywhere between 30 – 40 days to cover this immense distance. We might cross other boats or ships and nothing else. Since it will be more or less a straight enough run bang on true course 090 we can set the auto-pilot on and literally forget about any further navigation. It’s time to party. But hang on, during this time we can also learn and revise marine communication, how to monitor various radio frequencies, the distress channel, how to challenge and respond to unknown callers, etc and even how to open up and repair radio instruments.

Now we sail and sail and pray for speedy winds to carry us to the great land of South America –my beloved land of Andes, Patagonia, carnivals and salsa and wine. After much wine and feasting we finally sight the barren and arid but mountainous coast line of Chile. As you all know by now that South America is my top favorite continent in the world and among all the countries here, I have been to Chile maximum number of times to climb and also to go to Antarctica. Chilean wines are among world’s finest, the people warm and hospitable, and women hot and they are very kind to Indians. It is also one of the world’s largest producers of fruits that are majorly exported into the European markets. The favorite national fruit is Palta or avocado that I really don’t dig. So after many months afloat in the oceans we finally touch land and now we would be on land over the next three countries that we pass. We come alongside in the harbor of Antofagasta that is Chile’s largest and busiest harbor. In the ratio of area to coast line, Chile has the longest coastline in the world among all countries. And it is a thin narrow country squeezed tightly along the Pacific Coast. These peace loving people have been constantly attacked by the Bolivians and Argentines through history.

Now hold your horses’ folks as we hire a 4 X 4 (I have no idea who is sponsoring our trip) and cut across one of the driest and loveliest places on Earth, the great Atacama Deserts. You have got to see it to believe that a desert can be so colorful and haunting. Google Atacama Desert images and you will see what I mean. It is among the rarest of rare places to go on Earth but what views. There are many massive volcanoes all through this desert land and countless blue water lakes full of rare minerals and bauxites. The world’s highest volcano Ojos Del Salado (eye of the sand) is here and I have climbed quite a few mountains here including Ojos, an account of which you will find in one of my earlier posts. I have absolutely no idea how we are going to drive across these mountain ranges but I am sure we would be able to and in few days we can make it to the dreaded Jujuy province of Argentina where the borders of Chile meets in a small area with that of Bolivia and Argentina. Huaco bandits lurk here to loot travelers. People and climbers have got killed here for few dollars. It’s virtually a no-man’s land and not many dare to enter here. But don’t worry, they are friendly with Indians and of course I have my contacts from before. All they might ask us in exchange of our lives is to carry their boot contraband stuff across into Paraguay. The border is highly porous here and the border posts are as greedy as they ever come so few hundred dollars will see us across. The road ahead is not easy either as we now enter the area of Gran Chaco where road finding is as difficult as looking for a match stick in a stable full of hay.

Gran Chaco is cut by two prominent rivers that flood often and it is a wild, hot swampy marshy land with very sparse population and any habitation. What I am really looking forward though is the unique wildlife of this region that has not yet been properly explored or recorded by any naturalists that I know off. Expect to see the jaguar, ocelot, tapir, anteater, capybara, peccary, and agouti, among many others. Tapir is among the cutest animals one can imagine, I am sure some of you have seen it before. Then we get into Formosa and then across into Paraguay. This is a small country where the language of Guarani is spoken more than Spanish. What’s funny in this country is that a child is normally given an option of choosing either Spanish or Guarani so even within Paraguay there’s some who can’t talk among themselves. You would love the wild life here and the flora as there are many nameless exotic flowers that are not found anywhere else in the world. But soon enough it would be time for us to enter Brazil. And this definitely calls for a pause, since in Brazil along the TOCAP lies the great cities of Sao Paulo and Rio De Jenerio.


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