It’s strange. I’ve been living on Splendid for only three months and I find it so hard to go to the land already. Yesterday we traveled to Panama to pick up our visitor, Bruce. Now we are on the way back, we just stopped in Portobelo to grab a bite for dinner and everything in the menu looks fatty and unhealthy. I do not order anything and decide I’ll make myself a nice salad with nuts and honey later. I’m all twitchy, I can’t stay still, I need to go back home. To kill time while Alex and Bruce eat their hamburgers I walk around town looking for some plantains. Portobelo is one of my favorite towns around here but still I’m ready to leave. It’s not only that I don’t like the cars, the rubbish on the floor, the loud music or the smell of greasy food. It’s not even the fact that it’s so hot and we have to wear clothes and can’t jump in the water. The most amazing thing to me right now is how stiff the ground feels. With each step I can feel the impact on my knees and it feels strange and it makes me laugh out loud. What have I become? An alien?
The magical thing about living in an anchorage is that, apart from the fact that you are away from all noise, pollution and stress, you live in a home that is floating on water. If you jump inside, it bounces with you. You feel the wooden boards bend under your feet just a little as you walk. You get on the dinghy and it drifts and rolls. We live in a very protected bay and the rolling is very mild. I can tell you, on very calm days you miss it. It’s so lovely when you go to bed and it feels like a rocking chair, or a hammock, it reminds you of when you were a little child, you fall asleep to your home’s lullaby. And there is always an ocean breeze, and the sound of birds in the jungle, and your skin is soft and clean from the sand and the salt water. Your nails are always immaculate, they are constantly being washed and filed by nature. There are no bugs if you anchor a certain distance away from the shore or if, like us, you keep a couple of little lizards on board. You drink spring or rain water without chemicals. You leave your flip-flops in the dinghy and walk barefoot all day. These factors give our life a particular smoothness that you only realize once you are back on the land. Everything feels kind of stiff, rough and loud. You smell the fumes and contamination long before you get there. You feel sweaty and dirty (cause you are!). And you see everybody running around, working, partying, complaining and it feels surreal. Our life is so much simpler and quieter here.
So you unplug, leave the crazy city life behind and move to a boat. A lot of things change. It’s like a dream come true to me, but I know, like Alex, I’m a traveler and a minimalist. It’s not for everyone. If you don’t really know what to do with your free time or if you like getting everything delivered to your home or if you find comfort in having a microwave oven or opening the tap and getting gallons and gallons of water then of course this lifestyle will be a bit awkward for you. I guess boat life is for those who love simple things, surprises, living the present moment. You have to make the most of everyday, ready and willing to learn and adapt and enjoy whatever the universe brings.
Some stuff gets a bit more complicated. Especially when you “retire” in your thirties. The fact that you will live on a very little income usually means that your boat won’t have a water maker for example, at least until you can save up. During the rainy season it’s no problem at all, you just need to collect the falling water, there are plenty of different options to do this easily enough. But during the dry season you have to get your fresh water somewhere in the land and bring it to the boat in jugs. It takes some time and energy and it is not always available in your local spot so you really want to use it wisely. After swimming all day, you generally just rinse with a little water and soap. You cannot wash your hair everyday or ever take a relaxing long bath. But, truth be told, you’re not really that dirty, just salty and you don’t have much stress you need to relax from. And using salt water can be quite entertaining I tell you. Our toilets work with a mechanical system that pumps water from the ocean. It’s nice to look while you’re flushing because you get to see all kinds of algae and sometimes even a little fish might get caught and you want to pump quickly so that it makes it back home safe and sound. Now when it comes to doing the dishes, some boats have a faucet with ocean water so that they can use their kitchen sink. This is not our case, we only have fresh water inside and so we do our dishes outside on the deck. I have two buckets, a bigger one where we put our plates, pots and pans as soon as we finish eating and a smaller one tied with a rope that I throw into the ocean to collect the water I’m going to use. One night I threw the bucket and when I pulled it up I saw there was something in there. I was so amazed! It was two beautiful jellyfish that looked like eyes! I made a little video, you can watch it here (the quality’s not the best, our internet connection is very slow, it takes forever to upload stuff):
Everyday brings something new. It’s hard for me not to see the poetry of nature living here. You are part of the ecosystem, everything is generally so quiet around you that you can hear every time a fish brings as much as its nose out of the water. You can easily see the little ripple it leaves behind in the reflection of the sun or the moon. When these sounds turn into a little splash then you run out onto the deck, no matter what you’re doing, because you just know it might be a curious dolphin swimming by or a big graceful stingray leaping out of the water. Or it may be a turtle. Or a lizard. Have you ever seen a lizard swim? I didn’t even know they did. We are so spoiled here, so used to the calm around us, that when a lancha or a jet ski zooms by during the weekend you can just see all the cruisers cursing and throwing their arms in the air. It’s really funny.
Squalls are always welcome not only because they bring a different vibe and are so beautiful but also for practical reasons: your water tanks fill up, you can hang your salty clothes and towels outside and they get rinsed and you yourself can go and take a fresh water shower on the deck. I love the sea when it rains, everything turns grey and green and you cannot tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins.
Now strong winds… that’s a different story. They bring weird energy sometimes, especially at night, things creak and bang and we wake up worried or have strange dreams. I hope I get used to them but even if I don’t, it’s not like I have to wake up in the morning to do anything hahaaa I can sleep till noon if I want to, or take a nap in the afternoon. We do not need to have a regular job to live here, so any effort we might have to make on Splendid always seems insignificant. We feel so fortunate we can’t really complain about silly things anymore.
Life here is simple and healthy. It’s nature and its kingdoms living together in harmony. We only take what we need: two or three fish a week, some rain or spring water, local papayas, grapefruits and mangoes… you know. All organic waste goes back to the ocean right away, food leftovers are brought to the monkeys, cooking oil is used to lubricate the toilets, and we do not buy many things other than bulk and fresh food, screws and paint so there’s no much packaging in our home and we re-use every jar and container we get. A little bag of dry garbage lasts us a week or two. And most people around us live in the same way.
Here you can see short videos of our animal friends:
a school of fish around Splendid: http://youtu.be/Ps7kV49YUXk
a dolphin swimming by: http://youtu.be/kZd15DV8hXE
us giving banana bread to the spider monkeys: http://youtu.be/VUHuvGiqH8E
Dougar, Binnie’s sloth: http://youtu.be/B3xqRJwM6E0
another one with Dougar: http://youtu.be/O_gSftM7Qp8
Cruising is not only a great way for humans to walk away from stress, out-of-hand consumption and scary police reports and go back to having time to read, cook, love and swim; it is also great news for the environment. The world is suddenly yours but in the best sense of the word. All you own is the 30 or 40 feet of wood, fiberglass or steel you call your home. Everything else, our breathtaking Planet Earth and all its landscapes, cultures and creatures, including yourself, are out there to be shared, explored and enjoyed. I’m in awe and I still haven’t left this anchorage. Let me get back to you when I look out of our bedroom window and there’s the Polynesia, Hong Kong or South Africa. I can’t wait to go sailing. This can be your life: easier, better and more exciting than your favorite film. Pure bliss.