Monday, September 15, 2008

La Balsa

Above, our 60-foot balsa raft, Manteno-Huancavillca, in 1998. I was aboard with five crew. An excerpt of a recollection I've recently written:

My clearest memories are of the sounds and the motions. The ropes creaked and ticked rhythmically. Foam sloshed across the deck with a low hiss. I remember the murmurs and occasional laughter of the crew behind me in the deckhouse, and, while I was on watch at night the sky was bright with stars. I can still taste the fresh fish we caught, prepared with nothing more than a squirt of lemon, and the sea water that dripped from my moustache into my mouth. The rainwater, which we caught in barrels to drink, was as fresh and clean as any mountain stream. And I remember the sensation of being a speck utterly subject to the limitless powers of the sea. Swells lifted and then dropped the raft without effortless, gentle motions. It felt like being on a gigantic see-saw that took us up a few stories before quickly lowering us…again and again, all day, and all night. John tells me he mainly remembers the sloshing. Even today, waiting at a stop light, he hears it, “like someone in a bathtub at the end of a long hallway.”
We navigated by the stars, winds, currents, and other natural clues to direction. Since we were just north of the Equator the pole star was low on the horizon, but I could steer by it easily, keeping it just a little to the right of our central hull log. And Orion, the hunter, came up every night due East, and set due West. I could tell time by it. During the day the directions of the wind (from the south), the swells (from the west) and signs of land to our right (east) were enough to keep us on a good course north. There was no doubt in my mind that the Manteño could have navigated by the stars and other natural signs; it’s not hard, and people around the world have done it for thousands of years.

(c) Cameron M. Smith 2008

Excerpted from:

"Seven Hundred Miles on a Primitive Raft"
Sample chapter for the proposed book,
My Life is in Ruins: Two Million Years in Africa, Ten Thousand Years in the Arctic, Seven Hundred Miles on a Primitive Raft, and other Tales of Archaeological Adventure Worldwide

Finally, a sketch of me on a night watch, my favorite time:

No comments: