I’ve been reading “Children of Men” these last few days, a book by P.D. James (1992). If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen the movie from 2007, with Clive Owen, Michael Caine and Julianne Moore. It was pretty popular when it came out, and very interestingly shot, I remember I loved the blueish feel it had. (Added note: we saw the movie again when I finished the novel and I was disappointed, the “chase” in the book only starts 70% into the story. There’s politics and barely any guns. The movie seems to be all chase, all guns and no content. The book is a lot more interesting!)
It’s your typical dystopian novel, a negative kind of utopia, a dark view of the future of our social and political life, the fate of humanity or the planet. There are so many books and movies I have loved about that, like 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, More than Human, The Island, V for Vendetta, The Martian Chronicles, The Lord of the Flies or A Clockwork Orange to name a few. I find them highly entertaining and food for thought at the same time.
It got me thinking about the whole point of having this website running. Because one could not say Project Bluesphere is a sailing blog, apart from the fact that we haven’t been sailing much lately, the focus has never been to describe our travels as much as talking about an alternative lifestyle, a different world view and philosophy, not in order to boast about it but to inspire and offer guidance to every single person who might be interested in giving this sunny, salty and slow way of life a go.
A quiet, low-stress, healthy life in nature is not a utopia. We are a real community made up of tanned, messy-haired sensitive people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. And that’s why we’re here. Man, if there’s something I wish for all of humanity is this life we have. It has had such a huge impact in my life and the lives of those around me in the last three years. I’ll never get tired of trying to spark this passion in others. And offering my hand whenever someone needs it. I’m so excited about Ryan joining the team too! His journey will hopefully inspire lots more to just go for it, to see what it takes, to see how it feels from the very beginning, the obstacles one encounters, the beautiful people and wisdom one finds in the process. And, at the same time, I know you guys with your comments and emails will help him stay focused and positive, offer the advice and support he needs.
What was I talking about? Ah, yes, Children of Men. The book also made me think once more about society. I’ve been observing our small local sailing community and the Kuna Indians a lot lately, and I’ve been wondering why life in the urban centers has gotten so complicated; I guess the key to having a peaceful community is small numbers. People, no matter where they are born, are nice, kind and generous when they feel safe and whole, and they get greedy, aggressive and power hungry when they’re not, when they feel they are what they have because what they are is not enough. Like I always say, wealth has nothing to do with happiness. The goal is not to have more, the goal is to need less, to be free from the need to own, and to cherish learning, doing and giving instead. That is the road to happiness and freedom. And I’m not trying to sell a postcard, or New Age bullshit, I’m talking about our lives and the lives of the people around us right now, on the boats I wave at when I go for a paddle in my surfboard with Nacho on my back. A life at sea is the best way I know to find that bliss inside of you. Not the only way, by any means, but surely the easiest. There is something absolutely magical about not being part of any particular country anymore, to see no tangible borders, and to be part of an international community of freedom seekers that is always moving, searching, learning.
Politically speaking, our freedom is really mind-blowing. Even though we cruise around or through countries, we are not really part of them, we are only given temporary cruising permits, we can pick up the anchor and leave any minute without telling anyone really and the authorities know it. This creates a very special circumstance, we are always “just passing by”, we do not belong, locals and tourists take pictures of us, we are a rarity, the strange ones who speak with an accent, always tanned, with flip flops, Asian tattoos and tattered clothes. We don’t really bother anyone, we don’t live or work on land, we usually spend money on groceries, fuel and propane, but are otherwise self-sufficient.
After a couple of years of traveling on our boats, we don’t seem to fit in our own country of origin either. We love our friends and family even more than before at times, and the lucky ones among us who get to go home and visit enjoy their company and the things we have been missing immensely. But everyone can see we’ve changed, and not in a million years could we get used to living in a city again: we have gotten so used to a life of nature and silence, tides and starfish, sand and salt that city life, with its velocity and consumerism, becomes quite hard to handle. You wouldn’t believe how stressful running an errand or going grocery shopping can become for us: traffic, sirens, pollution, street violence, unhealthy food, we feel it all a lot more intensely because we are not used to it anymore.
The strange thing is that we still have our legal “ghost” residence there. I, for example, am a legal resident of Buenos Aires, Argentina, yet I have not lived there for a decade, I have not paid taxes, voted, or carried out any other citizen duties apart from renewing my passport in 2011 and getting married to Alex in 2013. That won’t change even if I spend the next 30 years at sea and do not set foot on Argentine soil. I will still be a resident of Buenos Aires. We live outside of life on the continents, literally and legally. Alex paid for an internet search on himself and found out that he disappeared in 1999, his last known address is in South Pasadena, California. He always says we live in the cracks of societies and it seems so true. The community of sailors becomes the only community we really belong to, small tribes of people brought together by common interests, not just geographical proximity.
We are spread out across the oceans, seas, rivers and lakes of the world but we do share anchorages very often and that’s when our community life begins. We have neighbors who never go anywhere, others who come and go constantly. And each anchorage has its own style and characteristics. But something quite amazing is that even though we are a society, a group of individuals sharing a geographical space and its resources, we have no leaders or representatives. Our interaction and organization is based on common sense, not on legal restrictions. In that sense, the international community of sailors can be considered anarchic.
Just like some people who have never lived in a rural area or owned a boat consider the bartering system “a fantasy”, even more people think that there are no anarchist communities in the world today, that anarchy is either a crazy, silly concept belonging to comic books and punk music or the ridiculous, basic, uneducated violence proposed by skinheads.
Problem is, anarchy is a very broad term that encompasses absolutely opposed and conflicting ideas. It can be “a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority”, which is a temporary state during a crisis, as much as it can mean “the absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual”, which is the concept I think best represents our community of international sailors.
Now, let’s not get silly here. Of course we must respect basic maritime laws, but, at the same time, since we rarely set foot on land, their laws do not really apply to us. We reside in areas where we are considered “tourists” no matter how long we’ve lived here, and as such we do not have any civil duties or responsibilities. On top of that, many times we enter and leave a country without checking in, or having used a single one of their resources, we have our own electric power, our own water supply, a couple of propane tanks last for a year, we might carry a lot of fuel, or use no fuel, etc. Many times the country does not even know you’ve used their politically defined waters. And if you don’t own anything in your country of origin (like Alex and I) then they do not know what you’re up to either, they don’t know if you will ever come back, they totally forget about you.
As much as there is no privacy left on the face of the earth (any one of us can be monitored through cellphone signal, internet use, and even actual cameras that can follow us from traffic lights or satellites), the truth is that governments have no time or interest in following all of us. To me it’s a very teenage concept to think you’re that important. I don’t believe anyone’s really watching me and if they are, I can honestly say I feel sorry for them, what a bore.
Some countries do have a lot of national security. When you sail to Australia, for example, you are contacted by radio a few times and even approached by helicopters before you get there, they make you throw away all of your food, they check your bottom paint to make sure it’s not toxic, etc.
Then other countries have the illusion of security, like the US, where the airport staff nearly makes you strip naked to go through machines and dogs and stuff but when you arrive with a boat (this happened to Alex personally and to other people we’ve met) sometimes you get to a harbor and are asked to stay onboard until the next morning when you will be boarded by the coast guard. You can go out for dinner, ice cream or a movie, or deliver your illegal drugs and weapons, and patiently wait for security to arrive after breakfast.
Other countries have very little control. When you sail to Panama, for example, sometimes you have to travel hours to get to the office and let them know you have arrived. Nobody knows you’re here until you take the trouble to announce it officially. In countries like this, and there are many, you visit the local authorities only once a year to renew your cruising permit, but that is if you’re responsible and diligent, otherwise you get to sail around and live your life without anyone knowing you’re here. It’s really quite an amazing thing, to know there are still places with such freedom.
And something I love about this, is that most of us never fail to show, on time, to present all our papers and pay for our cruising fees. When authorities trust you’ll do the right thing, you do it more eagerly. I remember when I lived in the UK, one of my Irish friends came to visit and told me he was playing for the frisbee league, it’s something like American football or rugby, but with a frisbee instead of a ball (I’m a girl, can’t really tell you more, haven’t got a clue). But the most interesting thing he told me about the sport was that there was no referee, even in international competitions, teams had to agree on whether the player was in or out, or whether a foul had been committed. Being so used to soccer in Argentina, where referees are such central figures, I asked him whether that worked out or if it was a mess. He simply replied “if there’s nobody to hide from, if nobody’s watching you, wouldn’t it be silly to be pulling from your opponent’s T-shirt? There’s nobody to fool, you look like a total idiot”.
It would be very hard to think about an important anarchist community on land (although there are some small ones here and there). When numbers increase, leaders, rules, public services, etc become absolutely necessary. Anarchy, and also democracy, work really well when communities are small and resources are plentiful, it is overpopulation which makes things get out of hand. Representatives do not see who they represent anymore, your voice is not heard, you must comply with a thousand things you do not agree with. You’d be amazed at how the Kuna Indians are organized. They have such a beautiful example of how democracy should work.
The most important authority in Kuna Yala is the Congreso, made up of a few congressmen, who
consult the chiefs of every small community, who work together with yet a few other local advisers who consult the population.
To give you a concrete example of how this works, I recently had a long talk with a lancha driver in the Lemon Cays. I was asking him how come some families were looking after the islands for only three months before they were assigned a different place to live yet he always seemed to be in the same island, driving tourists back and forth from the main harbor. He told me that only a few islands were privately owned by some Kuna who bought them before the Congreso decided the rest of Kuna Yala was to be shared among every member of the community. He had a job with one of these chiefs, who owned this island, and that he was allowed to work there for 11 months a year. Every year, he had to go home for a whole month to do some communal work, like rebuilding homes or planting banana or coconut trees. He told me that the bananas they were eating today, had been planted by their grandparents or great grandparents. They needed to plant more trees today for the next generations, to make sure they would have plenty of food as well.
I asked him who decided what kind of work he had to do. He said that it was the Congreso who dictated what had to be done in each small community, but that the ideas came from the inhabitants of each area. He told me that if local chiefs decided people had to do some work that made no sense, then people would not be excited to do it, and
they would pretend they overslept, or say they were sick and fail to do it. That it was important that chiefs consulted the appointed local advisers, that he himself had volunteered to become one, because he liked to talk to his neighbors and see what needed to be done and bring that information to the chief, so that he could bring that information to the Congreso once a month.
I wonder when the old Western civilizations stopped working like that and got infected with such bureaucracy and corruption. I can only guess that it happened as they increased in numbers, I’m not a big fan of history to be honest. I spend my time and energy exploring the world today. Me, born in the southernmost country of South America, can’t be more sorry we were conquered once by such narrow-minded short-sighted idiots and that they actively destroyed all that indigenous wisdom, the love of nature, the care for the environment our life depends on.
Today, being as objective as I can be, and having actively traveled the world for 16 years, I can honestly say that a life on a boat is the closest one can get to that natural organic existence, to a slow healthy life of diving into warm salty waters at sunrise, playing with your loved ones on the sand, catching your lunch in the reef or picking it in the jungle, learning useful survival skills, feeling the elements and accommodating to them, watching the stars for direction and inspiration. A life better than the past, a life in-between cultures and borders. A life where you can pick and choose the best of both worlds without having to commit to either. Ancient wisdom, nature, and new technologies, the best of the East and the best of the West, and you in the center, an advocate of love, peace and freedom.