Thursday, January 31, 2013

Federacion, Argentina


Dear friends and family,

We sent our last email from the Santiago Vazquez yacht club, tucked away in the reeds of a river estuary just west of Montevideo, Uruguay. There we hauled out, plugged some leaks in the deck, painted the topsides where the gelcoat was worn away, added a new skeg (short keel at the stern), and put her back in the water. It was early summer and the days were long. Pamperos (violent southwesterly winds) hit, bulging the shallow Rio de la Plata, causing high tides. Our dock was often underwater, so we used our inflatable kayak to get ashore, until we sold it on a sort of Craigslist. We never used the kayak much, and wouldn’t have room for it when George arrives. We went for walks in the countryside around the village and sweated out the heat with our various friends, human, canine and avian. The Uruguayans were always sweet with us.

One weekend Steve participated in a club regatta. Four boats raced. Steve came in second place, much aided by Thurston’s shallow draft, which allowed him to cut corners over sandbanks on which the others would run aground. The race ended with a cordial barbeque of steaks, ribs, and sausages over a wood fire in the club’s quincho (picnic shelter).

We received items we had purchased on-line and which true-blue friends Larry and Karen had forwarded via Georgia. With the new cylinder, piston, rings, camshaft, and valves we rebuilt the Honda 2HP motor. We enjoyed this meticulous work, closely examining every part. Our tiny engine responded well to our care, so hopefully we will be good parents too. How much difference can there be between a baby and a motor anyway? They’re both noisy, messy and always needing more attention and more money to be spent on them! We passed Christmas and New Years of 2012 alone, in good spirits, with little observance.

Ginny’s mom and sister, Lois and Carley, decided to come down for the birth! Excellent! But where should we meet up? George will have dual nationality. Should the second one be Uruguayo, Argentino, Paraguayo, o Brasileiro? The president of the yacht club urged us to stay free of charge until the baby comes. A doctor urged us likewise, promising free medical attention. But we couldn’t sit still for so long, and Ginny prefers that George be Brazilian.

We yearned to continue east along the Rio de la Plata then turn north and explore the tall, island-strewn coast that begins around Florianopolis, Brazil. But to get there we would have to pass through hundreds of miles of refuge-less, storm-prone shores in Brazil´s extreme south. So we reverted to the original plan of returning north via rivers. Rather than go back up the Paraná, we decided to ascend the Uruguay River, with Argentina on our left and Uruguay, then Brazil, on our right. At Posadas, Argentina, the Uruguay and Paraná rivers almost touch. At that narrow neck we would seek a transport to the Paraná, upstream of where we navigated before, and ascend it into Brazil. We planned to have the baby in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

On January 7, 2013, we began sailing the way we had come. After three years of travel we were homeward bound! Henceforth we will travel north, and west a fair bit as well, Uruguay being three time zones east of Florida.

Our first day out we sailed to a little river mouth we had stopped at before and spent four days there working out a new bug in the motor. An oil seal had leaked, causing the clutch to slip. Our side of the river mouth was a wilderness of brush and sand dunes. On the other side was a big campground full of Uruguayan families on vacation. Tied up next to us on the steep-to sandy bank was a sailboat with an Uruguayan couple. They were Ricardo and Sandra, a satellite communications technician and a high school teacher. They drove us around the rural countryside they loved so well and found us a new oil seal. Steve had been reading with great difficulty Martin Fierro, an epic poem written in the 1870s in the style of the Argentine guacho ballads.  Ricardo and Sandra had us over for meals in which they helped us translate this tale of lamentations wherein the cowboy hero is drafted into the Argentine army, deserts, and becomes an outlaw. Written in slangy old Spanish, the verses required much explanation. ¨"Even young Uruguayans can’t understand this dialect anymore, so much have times changed," they said.

We returned to Colonia, where we first landed in Uruguay, and continued to huge, flat islands where the Paraná and Uruguay become the Rio de la Plata. At first the Rio Uruguay was wide, with tidal currents. By the time we reached Nuevo Palmira, however, we faced a steady, gentle stream. The water expanses shrunk until we no longer saw sea horizons (where no land is visible). We rowed, sailed, and motored in equal proportions, using the 2HP, not the more powerful but awkward little-tail motor which we expected to be using. We camped in small river mouths among sand flats and weeping willows, dipping in the river to cool off on hot evenings.

We passed plenty of fishing skiffs but few houses. In the ports, soybeans were being loaded from huge silos onto ships. In Santo Domingo de Soriano, the oldest European settlement in Uruguay, we found the birthplace of founding father Jose Artigas, a guacho and smuggler turned general who helped gain independence from Spanish. There was no plaque, no remains of the structure he was born in, just a brightly-painted statue of Artigas in gaucho garb with the traditional long knife in a scabbard at the small of his back. He sits on a stump with a humorous expression on his face, next to a dog and an native boy who is pointing at something. This statue is very different from the many bronze ones in which he somberly stands or mounts horse in heroic fashion.

In the city of Paysandú we found the three offices in which permissions are needed to leave Uruguay, and on January 26 we crossed over into Concordia, Argentina. Friends from another yacht club had lined us up with an acquaintance there. At the Club Regatas Concordia a member named Maximo Muller awaited us. He helped us through two days of entry procedures. Foreign boats rarely entered there, so the officials didn’t know what to do. After many excited conferences in offices all over town they elaborated a new stack of documents sprinkled with stamps and signatures. Until we physically motored away we would continue to find those same papers taken, returned, modified and perused by a continual series of officials.

Yesterday our Concordia friends Maximo and Omar transported Thurston around a dam and into the first of many large reservoirs we expect to travel in the coming months. They also filled the boat with melons and escorted us five miles or so up the reservoir. Once again we feel the pains of separating from new friends so soon, but we still have a long way to go up the Uruguay River and the Parana. If we can somehow minimize time spent in Prefectura offices along the way we may just arrive in Brazil by this time next month. Once there we hope to get comfortable and await the arrival of George, Lois and Carley. All of whom we are looking forward to seeing.

Love always,
Ginny & Steve