Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Monster and the Eagle

Thursday night I slept on a bench next to a church.  Every hour the church bell would ring the number of the hour, and every half hour just once.  The church bell was very loud and I'm sure could be heard from miles away, though I wouldn't know since I was right next to it.  It was a long night.

Day 23:

Friday morning was cold.  Once out and about, it was very cold.  As I sponged yesterday’s water out of my boat, water ran through my fingers leaving them numb.  I had checked the weather forecast the night before and there was a 35 km/hr northwest wind scheduled.  The marina posted its own weather forecast for the day and it showed category 6, 7, or 8 winds.  Category eight winds are too rough for solo paddling, or any sort for that matter, in areas with cliffs.  Category seven are a fine excuse not to go out, and category six are a rough day.  On the upside, the wind would move me in the direction that I was going.

I went to the marina's office to get permission to leave my boat there over the weekend.  Currently it sat next to a bunch of very fast looking row boats.  The woman at the desk was happy to let me keep my boat there for the weekend, and gave me a slip of paper describing the costs I would have to pay.

“But it's a kayak, and these costs are for big boats.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“But my boat isn't even on the water, it's in an out of the way place.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“There's not a single other marina between here and Barcelona that has made me pay.”

“Oui.”  she nodded and smiled.  I would still have to pay.

“Merci, Ourevoi.”  I said.

There was another port only a few miles to the south east.  I would paddle there, away from this evil thing that took the form of a smiling receptionist.  Perhaps she wasn't the real receptionist but some dark spawn of the storm from the night before.

I found a public restroom where I did my mourning duty and brought my wetsuit to gear up.  In France and Spain there is a sort of public restroom that advertises that it sanitizes itself.  A small cube of a room, the light turns on when you enter and the metallic toilet, one of only two breaks in the cube, flushes behind you when you leave.  The other break in the cube is a stainless steel hole in the wall that dispenses water, soap, and hot air depending on where in it you hold your hands.  The door to the room is automatically locked when you are inside and can only be opened by pressing a red button on the wall before leaving.  Poorly lit, it's the sort of rest room that one might expect to find in Nineteen Eighty Four.

I was sitting reading my book, minding my own business, when somebody inserted a key into the other side of the door and opened it.  Presumably he was a janitor, and not a very bright one at that.  He was startled and embarrassed to find me in the locked bathroom that automatically locks itself when ever anybody is in it.  He let out a stream of French that I didn't understand at all as he shut the door.

The bathrooms mechanical mind now understood that I had left and the room was empty.  The toilet flushed, cleaning water was sprayed onto my back from the wall behind me aimed for the top of the seat, and a sprinkler of disinfectants covered me and the room in a layer of sterility.  I squawked rather loudly and, looking for a safe place, moved through the room with all the speed I could muster given that my pants were around my ankles.

One needs to be careful when traveling abroad.

Back outside and having changed into my wetsuit, I had no pockets and my hands got very cold.  Too cold in fact to close my hatches so I had to go back into the marina's offices to let them warm up.

Finally, I was on the water.

The wind picked up in speed as I pulled farther away from the marina.  Cruising along beautiful humongous red cliffs, gashed by chasms and all manner of time-forged shapes, I made battle with the wind and the water.  When a paddle blade was up it was frequently caught by the wind as a kite might be and I had to wrestle it into place.  Sometimes the wind would come in an especially strong gust so I would put my paddle down against the boat and wait for it to pass.  It was a position that left me ready to sweep and skull on the upwave side if I needed to.

Moving as fast as I was, I would pass the business end of the paddle through the water to feel almost no resistance, as though I was paddling against air and maybe  a few hovering feathers.

The wave behind me would choose that moment to break and I would use a rudder stroke on the down wave side to stabilize my boat, only to have to switch to a heavy duty skull as the wave passed beneath me and I fell off the backside of it.

All the work needed to stay upright and away from the cliffs was leaving me a little stressed.  Waves were breaking all over as far as I could see.  I found some inner calm.  I was moving at a good clip and that was nice.  Damn, I lost my inner calm.  Then I found it again.

I could tell that I would soon be arriving at my destination by the lay of the land.  Then there was a small break in the cliffs, and about 100 yards in, there was a beach.  I would get off the water now.  I turned, struggling to make it between the massive red walls and not get rushed past.

I made it.  There was a woman with her dog sitting on the pebble beach.  In the rocky corridor, though it was much better then outside, I still had to struggle.  As I paddled towards the beach the wind would frequently change directions.  One moment I would be fighting to stay away from one wall, and the next moment, the other.  Finally I found a concrete dock just off to the side a small ways away from the beach, and got out.  Pulling my boat up off the rough water was a trick, but I managed and hopefully didn't scratch it too much.

I climbed up a rock path and was soon at the beach.  The woman was shocked when I said hello.  She had missed the epic end to my morning’s ordeal.  Her dog was the same kind as mine, but a lot fatter.  She spoke to me for a bit in French, even though I told her I didn't speak it.

“Le Figaro,” she told me.

“Oui” I said politely.  She had already told me that the place next to the beach was a hotel which is what I needed to know.

“Eagle.”  She said in English.  I looked to where she was pointing.  The giant rock above me was shaped like the head of an eagle.  It was cool.


The hotel was closed for the season and a grounds worker was happy to let me leave my boat there for the weekend.

My mother mentioned to me in reference to Thursday night’s storm that maybe I need to find a better way to get the weather.  Two points:  I am learning to understand the French weather bulletins that all marina’s post every morning outside their offices.  The story about the storm was a victory, with the advantage of experience, I saw it coming and was off the water before the bad part of it was upon me.  Lightning storms of that sort are described here as “Scattered showers.”


  1. this just proves something i have long felt:
    Booties are like inner calm when you need them they'll come back.

  2. תמונות מדהימות!

  3. My good friend David is trying to encourage "witty bantor." Please validate his attemt with an encouraging thought.