“We are all in the same boat, and we only have one boat.” –Paul Anastas

Circumnavigators, of all people, appreciate how the earth is one. While sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands, twenty-one days without the sight of land, I would marvel at the curved horizon all around us; we were right in the middle of the dark blue sea.

Breathtaking days were followed by overwhelming nights. I wrote these words in my journal and later in my book, Maiden Voyage:

Pacific Bliss glides gently forward, skimming the ocean waves. I know she’s moving because I hear the slosh-slosh of her hulls against the waves and the occasional creak-creak of the mainsail swaying as it tries to touch the stars. I feel like I’m encased in a giant dome, surrounded by stars crowded together so tightly they resemble a thousand Milky Ways. I am mesmerized. I find many sections of the sky so dense with stars that I cannot separate the individual star from the primordial soup. I am seeing constellations that I’ve never seen nor heard of before, lights that have taken millions of light years to come to me.

I feel unimportant, insignificant. That’s how it is at sea, a mystical experience almost impossible to duplicate on land.

“A wonderful, starry night,” I write in my logbook at the end of my watch, “the stuff of dreams.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said that, to the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. A marvelous picture from Apollo 8 show the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black-cratered, torn, and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature. The thought, “God loves those people,” cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies 40 km high, a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead. Then O’Keefe goes on to say that Venus is friendly compared to the crushing pressure of white dwarfs or the unspeakable horrors of the black holes of neutron stars. He writes:

We are by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances were created for man to live in…Someone made a lot of special arrangements and took a lot of time so that each of us could be alive and experiencing this just-right world.

 

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As shown from page 28,  In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage

“The earth is what we all have in common,” said Naturalist and writer, Wendell Barry. During this Earth Week, and every day of the year, is up to each of us to cherish this gift and to treat it with the respect it deserves.

 

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“A kiss is just a kiss…and Bliss is who I miss,” Gunter sings as I hum along.  I put my hand in his as we power walk around Sail Bay on the sidewalk fronting our condo in San Diego. It’s an unusually warm day in February, the lovers’ month. And we’re both thinking of another love, one we both shared.

Go-with-the-wind

Her name is Pacific Bliss. We knew her well. She’s the 43-foot Catana catamaran who faithfully sailed us around the world. On August 28, 2008, we crossed our path in Canet, France where we had started out eight long years before. Seven voyages. 34,000 miles. 62 countries. So many adventures and misadventures. So many Moments of Bliss.

Forlorn and seemingly forsaken, Pacific Bliss waited patiently on that same dock outside the factory where she was built. She pined for a new owner throughout the turbulent winter and the balmy Mediterranean spring while the stock portfolios of expectant buyers descended into a financial sinkhole.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, my friends inquired, “In your entire circumnavigation, which was your favorite place?”  I searched my memory bank, struggling for answers. 

My most precious memories relate to people we met along the way. I admired how the teeming masses of Sri Lanka managed to eke out a living.  Regal women in bold saris and determined men in crisp shirts defied the steaming climate and the diesel-polluted streets clogged with tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and even the occasional working elephant.  When the 2004 tsunami devastated that lively southwestern coast I had photographed, I sobbed my heart out.  I mourned the wizened “lace lady” in Galle who sold me the intricate tablecloth I will forever treasure. I remembered the blind man with the missing front teeth at the souvenir-stand-by-the-sea, the one who taught us the many uses of a coconut. I pictured the family with handsome dark-eyed sons who ran the turtle rescue operation south of Colombo. All gone now.

The remarkable Ni Vanuatu of Waterfall Bay, in the Northern Banks Islands, stole my heart. They have no electricity, no cars, and no landing strip. Their island is accessible only by boat. Yet they are the happiest, most generous locals we met. We had the good fortune to anchor off their bay while we attended a festival honoring the installation of a new chief.  After three days of dancing, kava drinking, and teaching us how to make lap-lap (a pizza-like food that is their national dish) a chorus of young people belted out a song honoring the gathered sailors. Each one came forward to sing a special tribute, “My name is Joy and I love you, my name is Peter and I love you.” By the end of the song, we were all in tears.

vanuatu chieftan

Photos from pages 270-271 in Sailing the South Pacific

I first fell in love with the Aussies during the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Oz, sponsored by the town of Bundaberg. A farm girl from Wisconsin who grew up in the fifties, I found it easy to relate to the sugar cane farmers of Queensland and the cowboys working the vast ranches of the Outback. Many of them became our friends. We decided to spend an entire year in Oz, traveling the length and breadth of that great land.

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Bundaberg: “I love you” balloon and bouquet, page 292, Sailing the South Pacific

 

I also find it impossible to rank the flora and fauna of my favorite places.

An avid flower-lover my entire life, my heart stopped when I viewed acres upon acres of winsome wildflowers north of  Perth, then stopped again when a child guide in Borneo led me to one lone flower, two feet wide. The bloom was a rare Rafflesia—a flower that took nine months to mature.

DSCN9652 Rafflesia, Borneo, RTW 2004

Rafflesia, World’s largest flower, Borneo (this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

My heart soared when I came upon the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, in Waipoua, New Zealand.

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Lord of the Forest, page 197, Sailing the South Pacific

Which rates higher: the majestic rock the outback Aborigines call Uluru, rising red in the pale dawn, or the brooding widow’s peak of Mount Kota Kinabalu, the symbol of Borneo, “the land beneath the clouds?”

Were the deadly saltwater crocs and ubiquitous kangaroos of Australia more thrilling than the playful orangutans in the Sepilok Forest Reserve of Borneo, the cute baby elephants in Sri Lanka’s orphanage, or the magnificent tigers raised by the monks in Thailand’s lush interior? 

Petting the Beast, Tiger Temple, Thailand

Petting the tiger; this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

Because I could not begin to answer the question posed by my friends, I invented a stock, smart-ass answer:  “My favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet.” Then I would add a few lines about my next dream destination, such as:  “Right now, I’m researching Bhutan. I like the idea that they have a national happiness index. Instead of our GNP, they have a GHP. I want to check that out.”

Then we sold the boat. They say that the two happiest days in a sailor’s life are when he or she buys the boat, and when it is finally sold. 

On the one hand, I am happy to know that Bliss is no longer pining for Gunter and me, her Captain and Navigator of years gone by. She is no longer alone. Now she has other masters to care for: a family of four traveled from England to France to make her their home. They sailed her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, as we did during our Maiden Voyage. Anticipating new adventures to come, enthused about new places to discover, they settled in. They learned to use her high-tech systems, evaluated her strength, and tested her resolve to keep them safe and secure, just as she did for us.

On the other hand, I’m sure of this: despite achieving my mission of sailing around the world, I’m still affected with wanderlust. I must continue to travel! I just may go around the world again, this time by air, land and sea. There might even be a few elephants, camels, mules and trains—and who knows what else—thrown into the mix. But it won’t be the same; this much I know. Any other mode of transportation from now on will be just that—mere transportation. 

Because now I realize that this question is all wrong. It’s not about the people, places, flora, and fauna I loved, after all. It’s about who took us there. Pacific Bliss is where I left my heart. 

WHERE I LEFT MY

1. Myanmar is more open to tourism than ever before. The country welcomed some 3 million visitors in 2014, about half of those international tourists. Five million tourists was a target set for 2015, although the numbers are not in yet. The number of tourists to Myanmar (Burma) is exploding because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival; they can travel freely throughout the countryside without escorts (this was not the case during my first visit in 2006); and Myanmar is the most authentic and untouched of all the countries in Southeast Asia. Tourists are rushing to see it before it turns into another Thailand. So now is the time to go!

My husband and I chose Myanmar as our international vacation destination for 2014. Because of skyrocketing tourism, hotels tended to be scarce during the high season, so we chose to leave in October and return in early November. We booked through Enchanting Travels, Myanmar. They organized an independent “slow travel” tour for us via auto and plane, with a local tour guide at each destination. Our round-trip tour included the bustling city of Yangon, the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, the fishing villages of Inle Lake, the stupas of Bagan, a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, and relaxing at Ngapali beach, where I had an opportunity to journal before heading home.

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You can access my blog posts and photos about my trips to Burma here:

Why Go to Myanmar?

Burma in My Blood

Walking a Village in Myanmar

Burma, My Next Favorite Place

I recommend booking hotel rooms in advance through a local travel company—at least for the first few days of your trip. Cash is king in Myanmar. You can exchange dollars for kyats as you go.  Credit cards are not widely accepted but ATM machines are readily available. WiFi is like dial-up internet of the 1990s in most places, but that only forces you to adapt to the slow travel approach. Just be patient, take it easy, and enjoy the spectacular scenery and friendly people. Pack for hot weather. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. We traveled in October during the “shoulder season” because we wanted to be home for Thanksgiving. If you visit in other months, you’ll suffocate (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll soak during the rainy season.

2. Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most charming cities we visited during our entire sailing circumnavigation. Now you can fly there from almost anywhere in the world. The city holds a special place in my heart because this was our refuge from a Force 10 storm that we encountered off the coast of Venezuela during the Maiden Voyage of Pacific Bliss. In fact, I wrote this about Cartagena in Chapter 7 of In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage:

Cartagena is a magical place that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. But a word of caution: Once you come to see her, you will dream about when you can return. From its charming, old walled city to its historic naval and land fortifications to the posh, modern high rises and its tourist beaches, Cartagena dazzles and thrills. However, this is a city that cannot be devoured; she needs to be savored—slowly and deliciously. Mark my words: Gunter and I will be back!

The photos below are taken from Maiden Voyage.

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Although we haven’t returned to this marvelous destination yet, rest be assured, it is on our bucket list! If you want to see the city, just book a hotel and take a city tour or travel around by cab. Be sure to spend a full day in Old Town Cartagena. While you’re there, you might want to take one of the many Spanish language courses offered. Or you might want to book a day sail to Islas del Rosario for some swimming and snorkeling. If you’re more adventurous, contact Worldview Travel about one of their jungle tours.

3. I never tire of Bali, Indonesia. But beware: Once you go there, you’ll return again and again. Bali has a special significance to me because Gunter and I spent our honeymoon there back in 1995. We rented a hotel at world-famous Kuta Beach, not far from populous Denpasar. If you like loud music and crowded beaches, this is for you. If you are more adventurous, you can do what we did. We checked out of our hotel after two noisy days and booked a four-day boat trip to Lombok and then to the Komodo Islands to see the dragons. Back in Bali, we spent the second week at the far side of the island, at a quiet beach resort with a volcanic, black-sand beach. We were instructed to hit the dong of a wooden carving outside our door to call for coffee service. Later, a server asked us, “Did you know that Mick Jagger slept here—in your bungalow?” Hmm. But our favorite part of Bali was the traditional town of Ubud in the interior, where we watched Balinese processions, visited carving and silver shops, and took in a Legong Dance at the King’s Palace.

When we visited Bali the second time, during our world circumnavigation, we knew exactly where we wanted to stay. With Pacific Bliss safely berthed at the Bali International Marina, we took a taxi to Hotel Tjampuhan on the outskirts of Ubud. For one week, we enjoyed a totally hedonistic experience in a secluded hillside bungalow overlooking a lush valley.  Birds called back and forth, their high notes overriding the deeper sounds of rushing water far below. Squirrels raced up tall tamarind trees and red hibiscus blooms added color to the verdant landscape. We swam in a cool, spring-fed pool, and enjoyed side-by-side massages at a spa dug into the hillside above the waterfall. In the cool of the evening, we walked into town and enjoyed performances at The Royal Palace. Later during our sojourn in Bali, we booked a few days with friends in Sanur Beach—a much better alternative to Kuta. I haven’t been back to Bali since the advent of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love book and movie but rest assured, this island will never lose its charm.

Pool at Hotel Tjampuhan.jpg

4. Vietnam is a must visit that combines history and beauty—and they openly welcome Americans. We visited Vietnam in June 2006, along with a cruising couple who had set up our private tour for four with a local travel agency, Focus Travel. That worked out well because we could share a van and driver. In fact, the total cost for each of us to tour there for 10 days, including guides, private transportation, four-star hotels, tours, a cooking class, 10 breakfasts, 4 lunches and one dinner, plus domestic flights from Hanoi to Danang and from Hue to Saigon was $673. We flew from Langkawi, where Pacific Bliss was berthed, into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and our route from Hanoi to Saigon covered most of it, backed by central highlands and jagged mountain ridges throughout most of it. Fertile farms line the rivers and deltas. We loved Hanoi with its charming French colonial boulevards and landscaped lakes. The city was a wonderful mixture of old and new. In addition to taking in a Water Puppet show and a Vietnamese cooking class, we toured the Military Museum and the sobering Hao Lo Prison Americans called the “Hanoi Hilton.” 

DSCN2056 (2) Rice Fields of Vietnam

We found the people giving, gracious and anxious to please. I was fascinated to learn what the younger Vietnamese think about what they call “The American War:” According to them, that was but a blip in their history, following a1000-year war against China and a 30-year war against France. Yes, the older generation of Vietnamese are battle-hardened, proud, and nationalist. But for the energetic younger generation (the median age is 29) Vietnam is a place to succeed, to earn a lot of money, and to have a good time. They care little about politics; they were born since all those wars occurred.

From Hanoi we drove along the coast to Halong Bay, a World Heritage site, then flew to Danang with its stretches of unspoiled sandy beaches, and drove on to Hoi An to relax at a beach resort for a couple of days. In a town famous for its tailors, we dropped off clothing to be “copied” and picked up the next day. Next we drove over the mountains to Hue, the former capital city of Vietnam where we took an evening barge trip down the Perfume River. We flew to Saigon and checked into a 1920s hotel in the heart of downtown, great for shopping and touring a city that, in 2006, had no McDonalds, KFC, or chain stores of any kind. From Saigon, we toured the Mekong Delta and then drove through industrial areas south of Saigon—car assembly plants, and numerous manufacturing complexes. There, we could see that rapid industrialization was underway.   

DSCN2035 (2) Tourist Boats, Halong Bay

With over 90 million inhabitants in 2014, Vietnam is the world’s 13th most populous country. A full 65% of its population is under 30. Since 2000, the country’s GDP growth in has been among the highest in the world, with the U.S. as its largest trading partner. When we were there, the populace was very excited about joining the World Trade Organization in 2007.  Since then, much has changed dramatically, so if you want to see parts of the old Vietnam with the simpler life, go there soon!

5. If you want a more adventurous vacation, check out Savu Savu or Fiji’s remote Lau Island Group.  We sailed almost all the way around Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, then left our yacht in Savusavu, on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu. We had obtained a special permit in Suva to visit Fiji’s remote Lau Group for a thatched-hut-on-the-beach experience. Not easy, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapters 8 and 10 of Sailing the South Pacific, my second book in the adventure series, describes two sailing seasons we spent in Fiji, where we had too many adventures to list here. Feel free to ask for advice in the COMMENT section below.

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What are your travel plans for 2016?

Hurricane Adolph had prevented us from stopping at Mazatlán during our circumnavigation on board Pacific Bliss. That story is told in Maiden Voyage. I was happy to finally visit this historic city of 350,000 during our recent Mexican cruise.  

The city of Mazatlán is a popular cruise stop, so the officials make it very easy for passengers to find Plaza Machado, a picturesque square surrounded by art galleries and cafés. After Gunter and I disembarked from the Veendam and reached the main street, we were instructed to “walk the long blue line to the plaza” to avoid getting lost. We ambled past lush suburban landscapes, enchanted by masses of pink, carmine, and royal purple bougainvillea climbing the porches of pastel adobe homes.

The Blue Line, Mazlatlan

The Blue Line, Mazlatlan

We circled Plaza Machado and then walked toward the Moorish-style, 19th century cathedral.  Reaching high over the roofs of the city, its canary-colored spires beckoned us. While we rested on a bench in the adjacent park, I felt at peace. The Basilica displays a quiet beauty that’s not overpowering and needs no extra frills. Inside, I discovered that its inner beauty had somehow been juxtaposed to the outside.  All the interior light comes through stained glass and reflects off gold statues and images. An interesting detail: A Jewish family living in Mazatlán donated money toward the construction; the congregation was so happy that they decided to add a Star of David so that it could be seen through the top windows.

Back at Machado, we decided to have at traditional Mexican lunch at Pedro y Lola’s—knowing that we could sleep it off back at the ship! I ordered a strawberry daiquiri; Gunter ordered a Corona beer and chips served with a terrific, not-too-spicy avocado dip. The main course was shrimp tacos. This square is the jewel of the restored Centro Histórico. The west side of the square is flanked by the Teatro Angela Peralta, originally built in the 1800s, a beautifully restored building to house the arts. Adjacent is a Spanish-language exhibit explaining the history of Mazatlán.All of the restaurants lining the Plaza offer both indoor and outdoor sidewalk seating, reminding us a little of European cities.

There was no need to walk that blue line back! We opted for a cab instead.

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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/

We recently spent three weeks in Europe. My husband Günter was born in Munich. Everyone in his family—except for Sabine and Markus—still lives in the area. During this trip, in addition to the usual relative visits, we managed to squeeze in some city tours. Our French friends came to stay at a hotel with us for the first week and we explored Munich together. During the second week, we took a 3-day bus trip to Prague. And during the third week, we took a 3-day train trip to Vienna. A quick tour of these European cities only made me want to see more. Someday! I’ll be sharing the highlights with you as I download my photos.

Friends Forever

August 27, 2013

Forever is a very long time; that’s why I question the casual BFF phrase that’s currently in vogue in social media. Best friends do not see each other for years and yet they pick up right where they left off. The close connection goes well beyond time and space. We know that wherever we are in our lives we will always remain friends.

When one couple becomes best friends with another couple, that relationship becomes doubly special. Such is the relationship Günter and I have with our friends, Claudie and Jean-Claude.

Jean-Claude and Claudie in Munich

Jean-Claude and Claudie in Munich

We met this delightful French couple while waiting in line at the immigration counter to exit Costa Rica. That encounter is described in my first book, Maiden Voyage, beginning with page 182. From there on, we became Buddy Boats, sailing—and sometimes racing—Makoko, their Super Maramu, hard on the wind, up the Pacific Coast as far north as Acapulco, Mexico.

Cruisers make friends quickly. No matter what their previous stations in life, at sea, they all face the same challenges—storms, navigation issues, and boat break-downs. We cruisers see each other at one port or another, and whether five days or five months have passed, we pick up our shared pasts in a flash. We bond, because we have all been there, done that, in the same wars. Despite that closeness, the end of a voyage is often the end of the close friendship, unless the cruisers make definite plans to meet again, either during another voyage or on land.

In our case, Jean-Claude and Claudie have become best friends. They visited us during the off-season at our home in San Diego. Then the following year, we sailed with them throughout French Polynesia. Some of those adventures with them are described in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. During another off-season, we visited them and their family in Grimaud, in the south of France. And so our friendship continued. We weren’t always on the same schedule or even in the same parts of the world, but we kept in touch. And finally, they attended our circumnavigation party in Canet, France, where we “crossed the line” after eight years of sailing. That was the last time we saw them, in 2008.

This week when we all checked into the Glasl’s Landhotel in Zornedig near Munich, the four of us found that—really—nothing had changed.  Our grandchildren had grown, of course, but we picked up right where we left off, laughing and joking as before, while Gunter proudly showed off his birthplace.

The following poem says it all:

Friends will
Come and friends
Will go.

The seasons
Change and it
Will show.

I will age and so will
You.

But our
Friendship stays
Strong and true.

© Travis D. Phillips

During my Spring Author Tour, I took a question from the audience about how to maintain one’s health while cruising. I explained how healthy we’d been during our eight-year circumnavigation and added that we’d only faced hospitals and surgeries since becoming landlubbers.

“Serious?”

I shrugged and easily dismissed the question.

“I had both rotator cuffs repaired and Gunter is facing a total knee replacement—but it’s only body parts.”

The audience laughed and the Q&A session at the Point Loma West Marine store rolled on.  If only I knew then what I know now—but maybe it was better not to know.

The following Wednesday, May 15th, Gunter was admitted to the hospital for his new bionic knee, an amazing prosthetic made of stainless steel and strong plastic that will last him another 20-30 years—in other words, the rest of his life.

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We’d both attended the total knee orientation class given by exuberant physical and occupational therapists, (PTs and OTs) who exuded confidence and efficiency. “You’re going to be the primary caregiver after he returns home? Good for you!” one of them said to me. What followed was a thorough instruction in preparing our home: remove all scatter rugs; rearrange furniture to allow for a walker; make sure risers are attached to low toilets; and add a grab bar to the shower.  Piece of cake. We were ready.

During the pre-op appointment, Gunter’s orthopedic surgeon assured us he had done “hundreds of knees.”

“What’s the earliest I could travel to Northern Bliss—that’s our lake home—if all goes well?” Gunter asked.

“How long is the flight?”

“Just three hours.”

“Okay, no problem. Make sure you order a wheel chair to take you to and on the plane. You’ll be in the hospital for two to three nights, then you’ll begin OT and PT right away. They’ll come to you. Figure three weeks of that. Then you should be able to finish your therapy up at the lake. Stationary bike and lots of walks. You’ll be fine.”

I know that our surgeon admires and respects us for completing a circumnavigation. He has read both my books, Maiden Voyage and Sailing the South Pacific. Having gone through three prior surgeries with him, a meniscus repair (Gunter) and both shoulders (me) he has had plenty of opportunity to get to know us. Now I wonder whether he overestimated our abilities.  Or the knee was worse than he thought.

After the surgery, I waited in the surgical waiting room, for a long time, longer than he said it would be. I tried to get interested in a book, The Language of Flowers, but I kept reading the same page over and over. Finally, he appeared. His mood is always up, so I couldn’t read anything from his face.  “The surgery took about a half hour longer than expected,” he began. “That knee was a mess. Before I could put in his new knee, I had to clean up all the inflammation that spread to the linings. He’s in recovery and awake. You’ll be able to see him in his room within the hour.”

Try four hours. But finally, Gunter—attached to a plethora of equipment—was wheeled into a semi-private room, next to the window. Machines hummed. He was on oxygen, morphine, and an antibiotic/electrolyte drip.  A CPM (continuous passive motion) machine slowly moved his right knee up and down, up and down. He was out of it. He probably didn’t even know I was there. I sat by his bed, looking at him, then out the window to the rooftops of the city and then back to the machines. I stayed until the night shift came on.

At 7:00 a.m. I picked up a disturbing voicemail on my cell phone:  “Lois, where are you? No one is coming to help me since a long time. Please come help me.” I heard a nurse say that she would give him two pain pills. I rushed over to the hospital. He’d had two Percocet, in addition to the morphine drip that was controlled by him, but monitored by the machine so he couldn’t overdose…and he was hallucinating. All day long, he drifted in and out of sleep; he kept trying to convey his weird dreams and hallucinations. The oxygen monitor kept beeping, a signal that it was below the threshold, but seldom did anyone show up. He was supposed to get out of bed that first day, but no way, Jose! I stayed until the night shift came on. By then, I realized that information was not automatically being transferred from shift to shift.

The second day was an improvement, and but all the OT and PT promised in that orientation did not materialize. I had to be there, to ask, to confirm schedules, and to push if necessary. It was then I realized the importance of being not just a visitor, but a patient advocate, a role that goes beyond that of a caregiver.

The third day, Gunter was scheduled to exit the hospital. These days, in the U.S., certain floors are set up for recovery from surgery. That’s it. Since he could not yet come directly home, he would have to go to a rehabilitation facility—something we had not planned for. Best laid plans…

The rehab facility in La Jolla was where all the orientation promises actually took place.  I was amazed at the tools and tricks the OTs had up their sleeves: the sock puller-upper, the pants grabber, and of course, the walker. Simple tasks can seen impossible when one cannot lift one’s leg or bend one’s knee. The PTs are the taskmasters, pushing patients to do more and more painful exercises every day. And all the while, the CPM machine works the knee for 6-8 hours a day, bending it and forcing it higher and higher, stretching those tendons. I would not have been able to lift that bulky machine, let alone position it underneath Gunter’s leg—from the buttock to the ankle. It was good that part of the therapy was done there.

Now, I’m so happy to have my soul mate home with me again. He is making tremendous progress every day, currently transitioning from the walker to a cane. And before long, we’ll be enjoying the lake and the wildlife at Northern Bliss.