, Lea brassy & Vincent Colliard

Chile 2010/2011

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Journal of a chili trip in Chile, with Vincent Colliard and Léa Brassy, November 2010 to March 2011, by Léa Brassy.

Part 1: Punta de Lobos

The Strait of Magellan is whitened by the wind in this sunny spring afternoon. Punta Arenas, in Chilean Patagonia, is a town out of nowhere in an exciting feeling of bottom of the world.

Tomorrow will moor a strong sailing vessel, well known by winds and swells of the South Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow will moor the Northanger, Keri and Greg and their committed and passionate lifestyle. I’m looking forward tomorrow.

It’s been only eleven days that my dodgy Spanish travels me around Chile. Surfboards, sailing and climbing gears, knitting needles… I feel free and inspired with my fully packed army bag.

We are two on this journey aboard an invisible train, to follow our passions, angels or demons regarding to the circumstances.

Just arrived in Santiago and shortly after we are in the bus to Pichelemu, four hours south. That is the place to taste the Pacific Ocean breeze and the sweet light of the sun in Punta de Lobos.

It now appears to me, with my quarter of century celebrated and my addiction to travels that when everything matches together, it’s just a bless.

And there I am, there is everything. The feeling of being at the right place at the right time is what lots of us are looking for on this planet.

Punta de Lobos. Every Chilean surfer is proud of this wave. Perfectly designed rocky point left-hander, long to very long on a northern swell, it’s pumping most of the time with an average size around five feet but holds much much more. Thanks to this spot, Diego Medina won the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards in 2006.

The way to reach the break is the most intimidating I have ever experimented. But I’m pretty sure these two rocks at the start of the wave remind you something. If, while you’re hardly paddle out, you hear an ugly noise, don’t worry, it might be a fur seal asking for some regards like the old drunk man at the bar. It’s actually moving with the same difficulties and lack of grace. But it’s much more fun.

The Collectivo’s driver pops up with some ropes to half close de boot on my precious orange and pink single fin surfboard. On our way, long black hair floating in the air, girls wave at us. Janelle, Trinidad and their girlfriends come back with grace from their daily session.

A little surfing community lives here, trying to make a living out of the local resources. Shaping surfboards, surf schools...unfortunately the link with Santiago is an obligation to make money and to keep practicing their passion.

Five days have gone without us noticing anything. Time for change. By bus, we are heading south. To Bariloche in Argentinia for Vincent and to Punta Arenas, where I am today, in Chilean Patagonia for me. Endless bus trips are especially made for thoughts, ideas and reflections. I kind of like it.

Even though there is a serious language barrier, the contact with the locals is very easy and I never feel lonely. People are curious, simple and generous. Faces are smiling at me. There is here something naturally and seriously friendly that touches me deeply. 

Part 2 : from Punta Arenas to the Falkland Islands, coming to land

Sheltered by the spring red bush of a tiny bay, the past few weeks have been about learning life on board the Northanger. From cleaning the bilges to waxing the wood, from fastening the ropes to tightening the sails, from cooking to seasickness, it will take time to become a sailor. The leather of my hands can tell that salt is working restless. So is the wind on this land of Southern Patagonia.

There is nothing like the charm of the life on board, nothing like the kind dance of the waves and the promiscuity around the table. I’m not the first one to tell that story. Days go by without me noticing anything, from one task to another, one poetry to another. Until the departure date.

The Strait of Magellan, out of Chile, not yet in another country, just out at sea. The tide tables disagree, currants start unforecasted dances. Keri and Greg play worriless with them, just a cheeky smile on their friendly faces. They are used to dodgy information in this area. All of a sudden the wind picks up to a point where the sea surface is all white, our fronts all wrinkled and we have to moor efficiently. We establish on watch turns until it dies, two days later! The exit isn’t far and soon there is water as far as we can see. The boat is proudly bringing behind her dolphins, albatross and penguins. Or maybe is it them who walk us by the bow, our instinct following the open ocean call.

The crew finds its rhythm once we’ve passed the last oil drilling platform which only sucks half oil and half water. The resources have now been empty for a while. Our routine is a four hours watch before the kindness of bed. Four hours of fairy lights before the darkness of our banks. Where is the life, where is the night? Where does  the energy comes from?

One morning, coffee is served on deck. Dolphins come back. Three days went by, during which the crew was mothered by the ocean. We are born again. We can come to land. The coast lines up in between wide grey clouds. The smell of Keri’s rhubarb pie makes it feel like a Sunday afternoon. We’re Friday today. I know it cause I had to find it out. I had no idea. Time had stopped until now.

Part 3 : celebrating nature and culture

I leave my friends on the dock. They are waiting for customers to start their journey to South Georgia. I dream to hide in a bank but there is no room for me. I go back to my favourite occupation; surfing. I talk to myself, if waves are as beautiful as the nature and as friendly as Chileans, then there is some good times coming soon.

It’s a choice not to tell where those little paradises are, because there is nothing like finding them by yourself, letting time creating the synergy of elements is the jam of traveling.

Here I am with Vincent, finally together after my sailing experience. We soon reach a non-surfed piece of coastline with the intention of finding some breaks. Rocks are all over the place and one conclusion after a few days walking and camping on the beach; nada. Well, nearly nothing. This coastline, deserted for a more attractive lifestyle in town, is still inhabited by a few fishermen and farmers. These families live the way people used to live in backcountries. “You are the first foreigners to sit at this table”, are the words I remember from Maria while we were sharing dinner made of fresh food from her farm. 

A little lack of swell, forecasted by Windguru, tells us it’s the right timing for a rock-climbing excursion in a valley of gigantic granite walls, which climbers compare to the Yosemite Valley. Between the mountains runs the freshest and clearest water. All around is rain forest. A taste of paradise, except for the rain. It’s like beginning surfing at Pipeline. It makes us dreaming but it’s undo-able. Luckily there are a few easy routes where we can practice. We celebrate Christmas in the tent, sipping with delectation some red wine we carried all the way up. 

Neither Vincent nor I can wait any longer to ride some of Chile’s famous left-handers. Finding the right place which will feed us with surfing, nature, sun and peace isn’t an easy job. When we are aware and in love, it seems that things work themselves out pretty well, as if something is looking after us. After some phone calls to Chilean friends and clever researches, we find The place. It’s a labyrinth of transfers to the salt of the Ocean. Boards are on the side of the dirt road, dust from the bus slowly drops on the floor, and classic left-handers are peeling, like in our dreams. A smile draws simultaneously on our faces as we enjoy this perfect moment. Perfection of the moment is what we are continuously searching for, because it nourishes our lives.

Currently we are being rocked by the rhythm of swell and sun. Each day is about increasing our surfing and filming. The video camera is a great and fun tool. Our tent has got a standing overview on the spot and we have our little addresses for the after-surf big hungers. People offer us all the brotherhood and the simplicity that life gave them. We hitchhike to go surfing other left-handers, a little handful of different and very good waves. And when night comes, we quickly fall asleep.

Part 4 : surfed out

The sound of the waves breaking bellow our camp is waking me up slowly. My arms, my shoulders, my hips hurt from too much surfing. Days begin with an obligatory morning stretch.

Morning light shines through emerald water, lightening the sand as gold nuggets running in a riverbed. Sea lions are busy getting their breakfast but sometimes stare at me with their big wet eyes. Their agility in the water is impressive. They become accomplices of the kid I am, getting excited when a set of waves comes through, amping for the surf. Half a dozen of pelicans heads southward to get their feed. They fly their wide wings in a simultaneous move. Sometimes, one stops to fish, filling up its beck and giving it its famous shape.

When the thermic has not blown the day before, a thick fog as a cotton curtain takes over the ocean as soon as the sun pops up from the horizon. The sky clears up from the south. The south wind comes from far away and sets up a clear blue sky for several days. It's a very good sign for us as it means offshore winds and sunshine.

Fishermen come back from their morning catch. Tiny purple crabs will take ages to be taken off the net. On the beach, a pair of beefs is hooked to the skiff. As if it had always been, they pull it away from the waves. His raingear off and already smoke comes up in the sun; the seaman has finished his job.

Around here, we don't consider the ocean quite as a friend. Even though it feeds the family, it devastates people's hearts, from shipwrecks to tsunami, the tribute has already been too important. A few people can swim, a very few of them look at the ocean with an expert eye, fearless. Surfing in those places brings that, a clever contemplation of the element, a quiet knowledge of the ocean, a great respect, an admiration of Pacific's visages.

Several times the earth shacked, remembering last year's earthquake. In towns, we are worried; it's so hard to feel confident again. Hardly owned comfort has never felt so uncomfortable. But over the pain, over the fear, people seam to enjoy little gifts of every day’s life. 

Swells are pretty consistent in this summer season. We've surfed a nice wave nearly everyday. But in three months trip, I haven't surfed a single right-hander!!! 

February is national holidays. Time to spot crowded spots. The random Chilean surfer has a pretty special idea of priority rules and good behaviours out there. I've often experimented Latin machismo. I did not like it. It's a pity to see that for some people, women are only women and they should rather be in the kitchen than in the water. But it's even more motivating me to show what I'm able of and get respect out there, not because I've got stickers on my board, but because I take off deeper and make those "men" turn their head to look at me surfing.