one more time…

(the Austral)

At night we moor in PRMB. The French and we cycle directly from the jetty onto a path towards the beach. Paul and I set up our tent at the first beach entrance, the ladies cycle a bit further. I sleep a lot in the morning and when I wake up Paul already has breakfast ready. I can easily sit down on the yoga mat on the beach for a pan of delicious oatmeal porridge with fruit and a cup of tea. We are pleasantly surprised now that we see the area in daylight. It is a beautiful bay! During breakfast we see seals surfacing and blowing. Their long wet whiskers twitch. When we walk on the beach a little later we see some dolphins diving and little penguins swimming. Another earthly paradise! How spoiled we are.

That afternoon we rent a canoe. We paddle through the large bay for three hours. Most marine animals are found on the islands. Compared to the show that the penguins, seals and dolphins gave us this morning, it was a bit disappointing. Then suddenly we hear a roar coming from some distance away. I have little confidence in it anymore and I paddled tired, but Paul wants to go. We’re in a two-person canoe… so I’m coming along. When we get close to the rock we suddenly see them. A group of seals… small, large and very large. We can admire them up close without disturbing them, it seems. After our second passage, however, the ‘man of the rock’ straightens up and looks at us. His imposing stature quickly makes us decide to take some distance again. What a meeting! After paddling tired, we moor again a little later and hand in our canoe.

We cycle another round through the calm, atmospheric village, made up of weathered low wooden houses. We have now understood that camping on the beach is prohibited… so we look for a slightly more sheltered spot for this evening at what appears to be a rarely used beach entrance. We only hear voices once that evening, when we are already in the tent. The next day it turns out to have been the French women who took a late walk to see the sunset. It is sparsely littered here with freebooters like us.

We say hello to the ladies at the supermarket in the village. Perhaps we will meet each other along the way in the coming days. When we arrive half an hour later at the ferry that will take us across the river, the ladies are sitting there on the beach. The ferryman has a break between 12:00 and 15:00, more than two hours. It is a beautiful spot, but we would have preferred to cycle further. It is only a narrow river, we can ‘almost touch’ the other side, but we will still have to wait. We have lunch on the beach and practice killing horseflies, those nasty gray gadflies. A technique that we better refine down to the last detail remains to be seen. They also buzz around you endlessly and crawl under your sunglasses. Their sting is nasty, but fortunately not itchy.

Normally I don’t like killing insects, but I’ve lowered my bar for now. I am currently reading the book ‘Animal Liberation NOW’. The 2023 revised version of the 1975 book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. The book was soon seen as ‘the bible of the animal rights movement’. The basic idea is that animals, based on their ability to experience and feel (pain, desire, pleasure, etc.), also have the right to have those feelings taken into account (very briefly summarized). Although you could say that this book aims to treat animals more respectfully, it has actually given me some space to kill nasty biting flies. Research shows that (most) insects have no feeling. That’s a relief… because the gadflies are falling in droves here! Still, a fly helplessly kicking on its back remains an unpleasant sight… I’d rather not make a habit of it.

In the days that follow, rain and sun alternate. In a village we take refuge in a nice local coffee and eatery. It is cozy and homely furnished. The coffee only costs 1000 pesos (one euro), so we order two this time. For me one with powdered milk. I put the phone on the charger next to the table. Then the woman shouts ‘Use electricity: 500 pesos per fifteen minutes!’ Disappointed, I unplug again. When Paul walks to the toilet, he is also shouted at: ‘Toilet use 500 pesos!’ He has to be needed, so alla. When we pay a little later, the two scoops of powdered milk in my coffee appear to double the price. What seemed to us to be a nice local restaurant ‘finally’ turns out to be a trap where you have to pay for every fart. Then give us a coffee twice as expensive with friendly staff and the toilet included.

We set off again with our rain gear on. A long climb lies ahead of us. Almost at the top it suddenly starts to look really bad. We take refuge under the roof of a hotel. Now I really need to pee. That doesn’t seem appropriate here next to the building, so I knock and ask the owner. He looks at my wet clothes for a moment but then kindly shows me the toilet. ‘Look, it can be done this way!’ I think. When I walk back and thank him, his response is: ‘1000 pesos’. My jaw drops. If my Spanish had been better I might have given him a subtle retort for this sour mustard after the meal. Now I just walk to Paul to get a 1000 note from his wallet. We are done with this money grab for a while. Even if it only concerns ‘little bits’ financially, the way things are going doesn’t feel good.

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