Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

You may think you had your fill of pie during the Thanksgiving but wait! Christmas is coming, and New Years awaits. And what would the holidays be without pies on the table?

Many of those pies aren’t pies at all because they only have a crust underneath. Pumpkin pie is really a tart, as is pecan pie and all those scrumptious cream pies. “The pies baked by the English settlers in the 17th century would have been fully encased in a layer of pastry called a coffin, which was often too thick and hard to eat,” writes Bee Wilson in a recent column for the Wall St Journal. “The coffin’s role was simply to protect the ingredients inside as they cooked, like a casserole dish.” She explained that pie wasn’t just a dessert, but a substantial dish filled with dried fruit and lots of seasonings.

The word pie is derived from the Latin word pica, meaning magpie, a bird known for her habit of collecting an assortment of odds and ends in her nest. Not so very different, the thinking goes, from the way medieval cooks assembled ingredients for their pies. Early recipes also call for an astonishing range of anatomical bits and pieces to be minced together with suet, oats and vegetables. The word haggis turns out to be an alternative name for magpie. In fact, haggis, a mixture of sheep innards—heart, liver, and lungs—mixed with oatmeal, fat, and spices and ideally cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in so much a part of Scottish tradition that the poet Robert Burns wrote an Address to a Haggis in 1786.

Haggis

Haggis

Did you know that a haggis is a bird with a strange gait and vestigial wings—like an ostrich—found on the highlands of Scotland?

Haggis, a bird of the Scottish Highlands

Today, a pie isn’t just any dessert. When you bring a pie to a holiday event, it shows you care. The crust is all buttery, flaky goodness and it’s special crimping depicts time, attention, and talent. The ingredients inside are carefully selected and placed into the rolled crust for maximum effect. “Rest for at least an hour,” say the instructions. Does that mean that the cook gets to rest too? You should. You deserve to rest on your laurels!

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Lois Joy Hofmann

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


When I awoke this morning, there was an autumn chill in the air and this poem in my head, along with visions of pumpkin patches and maple sugar trees. I remember reading the poem by James Whitcomb Riley as a child in a Wisconsin school room. You can hear it recited here or read it below:

WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and the gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’; of the guineys and the cluckin’ of the hens
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O it’s then the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock

They’s somethin kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here –
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny monring of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock –
When the frost is on the punkin and fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries – kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A preachin’ sermons to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below – the clover overhead! –
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it – but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me –
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em – all the whole-indurin’ flock –
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Pumpkin Field

Pumpkin Field

Riley’s poems depict country life in rural America, circa 19th century. Heralding from Indiana, he was known as “The Hoosier Poet.” The whimsical nature of this poem reminds me of my own youth, growing up on a farm.

The pumpkin was quite useful to U.S. pioneers and is still valuable to third-world farmers because it is so easy to grow: just drop a few seeds into a small, shallow hole.  The pumpkin’s thick rind would allow them to keep it indefinitely.  I found that out when sailing the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu.  We were given a huge pumpkin by villagers as a “thank you” for giving them a propeller for their fishing boat. It rode in the cockpit of Pacific Bliss for weeks until I finally used our pressure cooker on board to transform it into a tasty pumpkin soup.

(see Sailing the South Pacific, page 284).

Fodder is food for farm animals.  The tall Indiana corn, when thoroughly dry, was gathered into “Shocks” of corn wigwams tied at the top, and left in the fields to be used as needed

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

Cornstalks used as decoration in Oceola, Wisconsin

During our autumn trip to Wisconsin, we paid a visit to Glenna Farms, where most of these photos were taken. Their maple syrup is to die for! We packed some into our luggage, but one can obtain their catalog or order products on-line at http://www.glennafarms.com/


After seeing the Lord of the Forest, an ancient kauri tree, while touring New Zealand, I still could not get those kauri trees out of my mind. So when we saw some furniture made of kauri wood in a museum, I made a wish: Someday, if I would have a lake or mountain home, and if I could somehow manage to purchase and ship some of that kauri wood to the States, I would have a coffee table made of a slice of that marvelous wood. Never mind that this is a protected species, like the ancient California redwoods. I put it “out there” anyway.

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world's largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of “Sailing the South Pacific”)

Years later, part of the money from the sale of Pacific Bliss enabled us to purchase Northern Bliss, our family heritage home on a Wisconsin lake. Amazingly, my wish has come true. During the remodeling process of our lodge-style home, wonderfully completed by my son-in-law, Mike Mowers , I googled kauri wood. I discovered that—lo and behold—there was one distributor of kauri wood in the U.S. and he happened to be in Wisconsin! The company is called Ancientwood Ltd, owned by Bob Teisburg. The kauri he sells is pulled out of New Zealand swamps. It’s taken a year, but I finally have a coffee table and fireplace mantle made of that ancient kauri wood.

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Here’s an excerpt from Sailing the South Pacific:

The Lord of the Forest

I cannot get those giant kauri trees out of my mind.They say that even the redwoods of Big Sur, California, cannot compete with the kauris’ ancient appearance and aura. I must have another look.

We take the West Coast Road (also called the Kauri Coast Road) south. We follow signs posted for Tani Mahuta Track and the Waipoua Forest. There, we have been assured, we will find Tani Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree, guaranteed to take our breath away. This great work of nature was discovered in the 1920s by surveyors who had been contracted to build Highway 12 through the forest. They called it Tani Mahuta after a god in Maori mythology. Tani was the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother.  Being a jealous child, he separated his parents and then, out of love for his mother, created the living forest to clothe her. As a result, even today, all creatures of the forest are considered to be Tani’s children.

Walking the short track that leads through the cooling shade of the forest canopy, I flush with anticipation. Not far into the walk, we sweep around a corner and I stop dead in my tracks. There he is! Suddenly, I’m brought face to face with the Lord of the Forest. I stand perfectly still. I stare. My first glimpse of this magnificent tree takes my breath away! I can sense Tani Mahuta’s ancient presence and animal strength. He dominates the forest. 

Almost 2000 years old, he, too, is almost 16 stories high, but he has a circumference of over 45 feet.  He is the giant of giants!  An enormous growth that dwarfs everything else. 

A wooden fence protects him. A viewing bench surrounds him. I sit in silence. Awed. I wonder at the centuries that have come and gone under the spreading branches of this primeval forest patriarch. Then, I stand and move back…farther…farther…farther.  I must fit this entire majestic being into my camera lens. I must…I must….And, finally, I rejoice…because I have him!


It has to be done. It’s all part of the process. An author agonizes over writing every line of the book manuscript. Then he or she fusses about the editing, the formatting, the layout, the cover. When all that creative work is finally completed, the author—an introvert during this time, working in PJs—is forced to change roles and to promote his or product, first to get it published, and then to get it sold.

I’d gone through the process once, but that didn’t make it easier the second time around. Because now, with two books on the market and a third book still “in creative,” I’m expected to take on both roles, sometimes within the same day: donning my “presentation clothes” and my smiley face to promote the first two of the series, and then changing to my PJs and trying to get into my creative mode. Schizophrenic? You bet!

This spring, I presented at the Pt. Loma Optimists Club, MOAA (Military Officers Association) check exact name, Southwestern Yacht Club, Pacific Beach Library, and Upstart Crow in San Diego; and at Changing Hands bookstore in Phoenix. I exhibited at Strictly Sail Oakland (the largest sailboat convention on the West Coast), at the SCWC booth at the L.A. Festival of Books, and participated in the downtown library’s Local Author Exhibit. I gave on-line interviews and two podcasts: The Sailing Podcast by David Anderson, an Australian, and The Gathering Road on Women’s Radio, by Elaine Masters.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my last presentation on the Spring Author Tour, at West Marine on May 10th, was over.  I can’t say I enjoyed all the organizing, setting up the displays, and hauling those heavy books (over 2 pounds each) to various venues! Always, before I speak, I worry about forgetting what I want to say. So I update my cards, tailoring them for each event. But when I begin to speak, I relate to my audience and my stage fright dissipates. I just go with the flow. I wrote this nautical series because I wanted to share. I realize that when I speak, I’m still sharing, but in another way.

Gunter also frets over whether the computer and projector will work. But at the end, he loves interacting with audiences! The Q&A afterwards is our favorite part. Why? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t lost the love for that surge of adrenalin that occurs when one is living on the edge. We never know what question will lead to yet another revelation about adventure travel.

Audience questions challenge us and perk up our lives. And many of those we meet become our readers and our friends.

Here are a few photos from my Spring Author Tour. To see more, please visit my author Facebook page.

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I love voyages!  I love mixing it up: the inner spiritual voyage and the outer physical voyage. While taking the “outer voyage,” circumnavigating the world––34,000 nautical miles in a 43-foot catamaran––I was taking an inner voyage as well.  Our ship’s library was stocked with hundreds of books.

After becoming a landlubber again, I began to consolidate my eighteen journals into a trilogy called “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.” In the process, I undertook yet another voyage. Because, as Henry Miller once said, “Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.  The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become the path himself.”

After the creative exhilaration of writing each chapter of the second book in my trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific,” came months of grueling rewriting, editing, polishing, and proofing.  And just when I thought I was sailing toward the home stretch, all kinds of production problems reared their ugly heads.  But finally, all of them were solved, and there I was at LightSource Printing in Anaheim, watching the cover of my new book roll off the press.

Last Friday, the first copies of the book came out of Bindery, and were delivered to my home.  The remainder will be delivered to Amazon and other outlets this week.

I tell my audiences that I write to share with them the stories of my adventures and moments of bliss. That’s true. I do write to share.

Today though, I realize that Miller was right. Writing also allows me to take yet another Voyage of Discovery. It has been quite the trip!


Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas

 

Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Part VII of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

March 26: Punta Arenas is a dismal, desolate port, forgotten by the world. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to live here! But many do. With over 100,000 residents, it is the Magallanes Province’s largest city and lays claim to the title of the world’s southernmost city. It is more than 1,300 miles south of Santiago, Chile’s capital.

Overlooking the Strait of Magellan, this port city commands the historic route as the first city before (or after) rounding Cape Horn. The city flourished during the California Gold Rush when it was a haven for steamers rounding the cape. Although the Panama Canal dampened the traffic, the port achieved renewed prosperity as an early 20th century Chilean wool and mutton center. Modern Punta Arenas reflects a broad cultural mix—from Portuguese sailors to English sheep ranchers. Adventurers head for the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, “place of the blue water,” a breathtaking preserve with a primordial ecosystem. Tall granite pillars rise more than 8,500 feet, towering above the Patagonian steppes. Deep valleys are filled with sapphire lakes, gurgling rivers, cascading waterfalls, and massive glaciers. But the park is 275 miles north of the town, and we are here only for the day.  I buy this photo from the Veendam instead.

Torres Del Paine, Chile, taken by Veendam

Günter and I bundle ourselves in lots of layers and take a taxi into the city, swerving around rivers of water flooding the sides of the road. After we are let off downtown, we plod along a dreary main street torn apart by construction and floods, under a drizzly sky.

A muddy main street, Puntas Arenas, Chile

The hardy residents here consider themselves first as Magallanicos, and second as Chileans, which is hardly surprising, since in order to come to this stormy corner of the world, one either has to travel for days by bus across Argentine Patagonia, fly direct, or take a lengthy cruise through the southern seas. Our mission here is to rub the foot of the Magellan statue located in the main square. This is supposed to bring us good luck, which we need after having our backpack stolen in Buenos Aires!

Rubbing the foot of the Magellan statue brings good luck

March 27: Today, we are cruising through the Strait of Magellan, a navigable sea route south of the mainland of South America and north of Tierra del Fuego. Although it is the most important natural passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the strait is difficult to navigate because it is subject to high, unpredictable winds and currents. The strait is 570 km long and only 2 km wide at its narrowest point. Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to navigate the strait in 1520, during his global circumnavigation voyage.

Most of the strait is compelling, but the special attraction is the Amanda Glacier. After the disappointment of having to pass through Glacier Alley after sunset, (the ship was held up by the Argentinian port authorities), our captain wants to make sure that all passengers will have an excellent view of this glacier. He makes a 360 degree swing so that it can be viewed from all verandas. Wow! What a glorious sight!

Amanda Glacier


Part VI of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

March 25: The Veendam arrives in a moderate gale.

Ushuaia from the Sea

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Strait of Magellan, and the easternmost part of the Pacific Ocean. Although the city of Ushuaia is in Argentina, most of the main island actually belongs to Chile. At 55° latitude, it holds the distinction of being “the southernmost city in the world.”

Ushuaia, the Southernmost Town in the World

The indigenous people were the Yahgan and Alacalufes (canoe Indians). Surprisingly, despite the inclement weather, they wore little or no clothing. Constant fires kept them warm, hence the region’s name: Tierra del Fuego, land of fire.

I’d always wanted to go to Ushuaia. Stories about the ceaseless wind, the snow-capped Andes, and the magical light had fascinated me.

Even though Günter and I are still not feeling well, and have cancelled our tour here, a catamaran cruise through the Beagle Channel and a ride through the National Park, we bundle up to walk into the town. The wind blasts us so hard it almost knocks us over as we head down the gangplank and onto the pier. We make it to the town’s main drag and then Günter, who now has bronchitis, turns back.

Gunter on the pier near the ship, bundled for the walk

Lois, Bundled for the walk into town.

All the streets climb up the hill from the port, as in San Francisco.  The cross-streets filled with restaurants, bars, tourist and winter apparel shops protect me from the wind.

As I walk along the streets, I begin to fall in love with this southernmost town in the world. Yes, Ushuaia is remote, desolate, and moody as the sun appears and disappears behind the numerous clouds.  Yet the town turns out to be quite charming and picturesque. The colorful buildings are a mixture of architectural designs, from colonial European to ski resort styles with steep roofs. (Ski season here will begin in six weeks.) On the corner is the yellow, multi-storied Horn Hotel. On the facing block is a cozy, blue-shuttered bed-and-breakfast with white fretwork and a garden of struggling blue lupines. Towering over the town is the massive A-framed Albatross Hotel. And behind it all lie the snow-capped Andes. Ushuaia is frontier town with lots of character and a cosmopolitan center of 70,000, all rolled into one.

After exploring the town, I meander over to the sailboat anchorage to take some photos. I cannot imagine the courageous and hardy spirit it takes to sail here! Only 100 years ago, the only people crazy enough to come here were convicts in chains. Prison inmates built the town’s railway, hospital, and port. That prison is now a museum that I pass on the way back to the ship.

Delayed by the port authorities, The Veendam leaves too late to view Glacier Alley, but we do experience a few hours of daylight while winding through Darwin’s famous Beagle Channel.

The Beagle Channel at Sunset Viewed from our Veranda.

The Straits


Part V of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

Writing about Patagonia is one of those rites of passage for adventure travel writers.

Yet, Patagonia is not a specific region on the map. It has never been a separate country. Vast and vague, it is an undefined region that encompasses 900,000 square kilometers of southern Argentina and Chile. Some writers say that it can be effectively defined by its soil—made up of basalt pebbles left behind by glaciers—and its flora, a low bush called jarilla. Other writers, such as Bruce Chatwin, describe Patagonia by its climate, a wind that blows incessantly with terrific force from October to March “stripping men to the raw” and making small planes fly backward rather than forward. Paul Theroux simply refers to Patagonia as “travel book country,” the kind adventurers dream of because it combines wilderness, wide open spaces, and the grassy plains of the pampas with the majestic backdrop of the Andes. To summarize, Patagonia is all about light, space, and wind.

While the Veendam plows through the rough seas surrounding Tierra del Mundo, the end of the world, I read up on the inland areas that we will not see during this cruise. I have plenty of time, since both Günter and I are holed up in our cabin with terrific colds and coughs. I begin with Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and proceed to Simon Worrall’s River of Desire. To wrap it up, I read a novel on my Kindle called See Before You Die: Patagonia, by J.E.Leigh, whose heroine is a travel writer/photographer who takes a trip to—where else?—Patagonia.

Travelers from Darwin on have noted how the very bleakness of Patagonia seizes the imagination. In other words, nothingness supposedly forces the mind on itself. Well, here I can sit out on the balcony of our cabin here and view the nothingness of the sea. And while sailing Pacific Bliss, I remember the nothingness of days at sea, staring at blue on blue underneath the dome of the sky.  I can remember night after night underneath a canopy of stars.  Is nothingness on land any different?

In Patagonia, the writers say, the isolation makes it easy to exaggerate the person you are: the drinker drinks more; the believers pray more and become closer to God; and the lonely become even lonelier, and sometimes commit suicide.  And everywhere, these eccentric personalities with fantastic stories turn up. Anything can happen. It seems to me, they could just as well be describing life at sea!

Perhaps Patagonia is just an ocean passage for landlubbers, substituting a horse for a boat!

Chatwin describes a poet he met who went to Patagonia for a visit and stayed for forty years. He cried, “Patagonia, she is a hard mistress. She casts her spell. An enchantress! She folds you in her arms and never lets you go.”

I could say the same about the sea!

Okay, so now I’ve dutifully written about Patagonia. I doubt that I’ll do it again.


Part III of the “Our Big Bucket Cruise” blog series

I already knew that in one out of every four HA cruises around the southern tip of South America, a landing at the Falklands is not possible. This is not surprising. The Falklands experience some of the worst weather on the planet. Despite its dismal reputation, the climate during the austral summer (Dec-Feb) can be moderate, with temperatures occasionally reaching 75° F. But we are now in the southern autumn.

The total land mass of the islands is roughly equivalent to the state of Connecticut. The capital is Port Stanley, located on the Eastern Falkland Island, where two-thirds of the population of 2,500 live. Nearly everyone else who lives in “the camp,” the term for the countryside, is involved in sheep ranching.

Although we will see some sheep farms, our reason for taking a land tour is to see the penguins. We have observed small yellow and blue penguins in South Island, New Zealand but these are special: large in size and colored in the familiar Patagonia colors: black and white. We look forward to seeing these penguins—with their orange beaks and orange-and-yellow chests. In 1592, Sir Thomas Cavendish, a British explorer, sailed The Desire down the coast of Patagonia in search of the Straits of Magellan. It was in Puerto Deseado, that he described “a curious black-and-white bird that cannot fly but swims like a fish.” A Welshman on board named the bird based on the Welsh word for white head, “pen gwyn.”

I’m reading “River of Desire,” by Simon Worrall, on my Kindle. In Patagonia, Worrall says, people begin counting the speed of the wind from 50 kilometers (about 30 knots) an hour. That’s zero! A “concerning” wind is about 200. To prepare for cold, windy on-shore experiences, Günter and I have packed a duffel with our sailing jackets, fleeces, long silk underwear, gloves and caps.

On Thursday, March 22, Veendam Captain Frank van der Hoeven announces that our ship may or may not land in the Falklands, depending on whether he is able to anchor there: “We are experiencing Force 7 winds, a light SW gale, at 33 knots. If the winds there come from the right direction, we might be sheltered from the long fetch by the land mass of South America. Then we can board using tenders.” Later that day, the Captain orders the stabilizers to be put out. These are 18’ long and 8’ wide. He has to reduce speed to use them, so we will be late in arriving.

On Friday, March 23, at 0805, the captain announces that he is regrettably canceling the stop and proceeding for two days directly to round Cape Horn. Several boats already there are “wallowing in the wind,” he says. They report Force 9 winds, 50+ knots from the SW—not promising. Outside our veranda window, we can see racing whitecaps and spindrift. We do not even want to open our sliding glass door to the balcony! The whining of the wind is constant—sometimes a high whistle, sometimes groaning with the gusts. Surprisingly, with the stabilizers out, the ride on this cruise ship is not too rough. Günter and I can only imagine what it would have been like in our 43’ yacht!

By noon, there is another Captain’s Announcement: The wind is down to Force 8, with swells lessening to 16’. He expects that we will round Cape Horn by 6 p.m. on Saturday. He has altered course directly to the Horn waypoint, proceeding more slowly to ensure our comfort. “Here the warm Brazilian current meets the cold 2.5-knot Falklands current,” he adds, “causing rough seas.” He expects the winds to lessen as we reach the Cape.

Sailing around the world on our own yacht, we have learned to accept the winds and currents and to “go with the flow.”  The political situation in the Falklands, though, has piqued our interest and we continue to follow the news. While in Buenos Aires, the English translation of the local newspapers contained daily headlines about a new conflict between the Brits, who own the Falklands, and the Argentineans, who have been taught in their schools that these desolate islands are rightfully theirs.  The headlines scream, “Malvinas Stand-Off.” Some articles report that by reasserting its claim to the islands, the current government led by liberal President Christina Fernandez Kirchner is gaining the popularity it had lost.

It’s amazing how little we hear about worldwide events in the U.S. I had not heard about any conflict in the Falklands since the struggle for control ended in 1982. This ratcheting up of tensions is the run-up to the 30th anniversary of that war on April 2, 2012.

Some history here: It was the French navigators who gave the islands their Spanish name, Isla Malvinas. Beginning in the mid-1700s, the Falklands have been the source of many battles between countries fighting for control. The islands themselves were strategically important for those ships rounding The Cape before the Canal was built, but they continued to languish economically until the wool business became lucrative.

Thirty years ago, Argentina seized the Falklands and the U.K. invaded to get them back. Britain claimed that the islanders had a right to self-determination; the British population wanted to remain British, of course. The Argentineans were no match for British troops, although both sides suffered serious losses: 255 U.K. servicemen were killed; 649 Argentineans died in the conflict.

Although there is a lot of talk about Argentinean pride and the islanders” right to self-determination, it is the discovery of oil that has caused current tensions. Three oil companies want to drill in these tempestuous seas, especially because oil is being depleted in the North Sea.

While we were in Buenos Aires, it was reported that a cruise ship that had already stopped in the Falklands was denied entry into Buenos Aires or any Argentinean ports. That problem does not pertain to our ship because we are going the opposite way. The Argentineans are also upset with Peru for conducting standard military exercises with a British ship.

Later during our voyage, the Veendam is two hours late leaving Ushuaia, Argentina because it has been held up by the port captain. Reportedly, our captain was asked to sign a statement saying that the Veendam would never again include the Falklands on her itinerary. He did not have the authority to sign, and had to wait for an answer from the head office. Of course, the corporation would not consent to the request, but the ship agreed to pay a “port fee” to be able to sail away.

Captain Frank apologized again and again that, because of the delay, we would miss viewing much of the fjords and would not reach the world-renowned Ushuaia glaciers before sunset. I could hear the controlled anger in his voice.

On our own yacht, we often repeated the phrase, “Pacific Bliss is not a train, not a plane, and not a cruise ship,” in answer to questions and complaints about schedules. But now, we realize that even a cruise ship can miss scheduled stops because of wind, weather, and geopolitics.