My inner Peace (La Palma – Belém)

Last fall a dear friend told me about a Peace Studies Course at the University of Innsbruck, in which students are confronted with situations that challenge their own peaceful behaviour.

As we reach the city of Belém in Brasil’s northeast on December 28th, I feel like graduating with my own personal Master’s in Peace Studies.
20 days we have been at sea crossing the ocean a lot faster than expected, despite of the fact that the wind during the first couple of days does not let us get away from La Palma easily!Each time I climb up onto the deck from my cabin after having rested a for a few hours we seem to be just as close to the island as when I went to bed. Two days we manoeuvre only to keep the ship in position. Again I am seasick for the first few days, but I least I don’t have to bend over the reeling this time. At some point – I am loosing track of time with watch and resting hours – we see only water around us. The wind has picked up so much, that now we have to put up safety lines everywhere. We all have to wear harnesses and click onto the safety lines in order not to be washed away if a big wave hits the boat by surprise. I am so tired that I almost fall asleep standing up during one night watch and am glad that I am clicked in, because my legs don’t really carry me any more. I am not the only one that feels all but well for the first three days, but one night it starts getting better. We are rewarded by dolphins that accompany us for a short time. They are magical, almost invisible, only their shadows diving out of the water. The moon flashes their wet bodies for a short moment before they go under again.At the beginning of the December full moon the sun is slowly disappearing behind the Island of Sao Nicolas of the Cap Verdes on the horizon, directly opposite, on the other side of the ship, the full moon is rising at the same time. It seems as if the sun and the moon were twinkling at each other, before each of them is going their own separate way again, as if the masculine and the feminine were standing opposite of each other, the earth with us small beings on the Tres Hombres between them.

Originally we were supposed to anchor at the small island Brave at the Cap Verdes, but the conditions in the chosen bay, the wind, the rocks, are all but good. A fishing boat approaches to pick up some cargo and Jean-Marie, one of the trainees, who has decided to disembark here. After one hour we have already been pulled a lot closer to the beach than upon arrival, and therefore leave without having stepped on shore. We have to go out strongly on wind, hoist one sail after the other as well as the anchor. For half an hour all need to concentrate, the atmosphere is tense but of that kind of tension that makes you achieve the impossible. The skipper is yelling out his commands from the aft, we pull and pull the ropes, at the bow four guys are shouting and pumping the anchor as hard as they can. As we have passed the cliffs the real of our Atlantic crossing begins.

Since we haven’t been able to stock up our food and water supplies on the Cap Verdes as expected, we have to start rationing right away and start saving water. Really saving. Only once a week we are allowed to do our laundry, wash ourselves as little as possible. I am partly glad that we haven’t stayed on the Cap Verdes longer because my excitement of arriving in Brazil is constantly growing, as well as the idea of where I will be going once having arrived there.
After 10 days at sea I do as Annick has just showed us and sit in a bucket of water like a child, my arms and legs dangling on the sides. What a joy to be taking a bath in the “3 Hombres bath tub”, splash in the water, to wash and care for myself! The moment I sit inside the water my mood gets better and I have a big smile on my face. Biz and Alex also treat themselves to a bucket. Out here this simplicity is pure deluxe!

The closer we get to get the equator the warmer is becomes. The air inside the boat is humid and sticky anyway, I am soaking wet from sweat. My sleep under these circumstances feels like a fever. I wake up exhausted and moody, stumble on deck and try to retire as much as possible. During the day there is always music on board, and most of the time people are talking. Inside of me I am screaming: “I want my peace and quiet!” I just want to be left alone. The longer we are at sea the harder it gets for me to stay calm. When I am not interested in what people are talking about, I get impatient and grumpy.
I am learning a lot about a peaceful living together of different kinds of people and want to take a lot with me from this journey. Some time I wish I could be more tolerant and loving, even more supportive with others, but I am not always capable. I am learning, and that’s what this journey is about for me; to learn, to grow, and to turn as much as I can into action.

Since we are not expecting much manoeuvring for the crossing we are now split up in three smaller groups, which means that we get more resting hours. How wonderful! There is more time for sleeping, reading, writing, or just for doing nothing and staring out at the sea. Even though I often hear the phrase: “Sailing is not romantic!”, there are more and more of exactly these romantic moments that will probably make for stronger memories than the strains of the crossing.

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Out here on the Atlantic, without any piece of land in sight, I find it almost impossible to believe that most of our planet is covered with water, the rest remains undiscovered, its diversity only to be guessed and being inaccessible for us humans. How beautiful and gigantic that there is more out here around and below us that constantly changes with the waves and the wind and that we can never set our foot on, that we can only touch for a short moment, because it gets changed again by movement.

It gets decided to not celebrate Christmas. Because of the national traditions that the different people on board have grown up with, it would have been hard to pick the right day anyway. The day of the winter sun, on the 21st of December, we therefore celebrate Viking Christmas. In La Palma everyone has pulled a name out of a hat for a game of secret Santa, therefore we have a little gift giving, not under the Christmas tree but under the mast. Since we were not able and were not allowed to buy anything, creativity is needed. It is really impressive how diverse the presents and qualities are that surface on this afternoon and what we are able to make out of things we find on the boat: gravings, a poem, drawings, a little handbag, … In the meantime, the temperature has reached 30 degrees and we enjoy a hearty pumpkin and peanut dish to celebrate the occasion. In preparing the food the different talents, ideas and European cultures come together to whip up a unique feast.
I do sing the first verse of “Silent Night” on the 24th and think of my loved ones at home. In many conversations on board during these days we share memories and stories. Out here on the Atlantic it actually is like Christmas at home – despite the temperature: we „have to“ live together, share our daily lives, help each other and try to deal with the weirdnesses of other community members; it’s just like family!

In my personal „Peace Studies Master’s Course“ I see myself confronted with all my different faces, where I cannot run from myself and have to interplay with the others. Instead of feeling imprisoned, however, I find it more and more liberating to free myself from the fears of my “dark side”. I have almost no expectations from myself, don’t have the goal to be “good” at something or to get better, expect for the sailing experiences that have also been a determining factor in choosing this voyage as means of transportation. Some moments I just sit and feel bliss in this unique situation and with the people around me.

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The days keep getting less, and at a muster it is official: only two and a half days left until we reach Belém. We have been lucky with the wind around the equator and have kept going really well. The Topgallant Sail, which has been torn in the strong wind after La Palma and which we have been sowing for two weeks every day, is repaired and hoysted again. At dusk, we all of the sudden come pretty close to a fishing boat that is nervously sending light signals. That evening the whole crew stays awake as we celebrate our crossing of the equator around 20:45. Next morning, everyone seems excited about the quick arrival, around us are many boats, and we keep looking out for BUJES that mark the entrance to the Río Para. That night we anchor in the entrance of the river and get picked up by two tug boats the next morning. Three hours they pull us in until will reach the QUEAI at the “Estacao dos Docas” right in the centre of Belém. People are already awaiting us, we clean the ship one more time before health inspections, radio and TV are coming for interviews. We finally put our feet on solid ground again and will be celebrating the New Year here, which makes everyone very happy!

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