Friday, August 29, 2014

DRIVING IN VENEZUELA: LESSON #2

(Please read the introduction to LESSON#1 in the previous post if you have not already done so)
 
DRIVING AT NIGHT


The most dangerous time of day to drive in Venezuela is just at dusk.  This is that magical time of day when the driver does not really need his headlights to see the road, but when other drivers on the road may need him to put his lights on so that they can see him.


It is that disconcerting time of day, if you are unfortunate enough to be driving, when you gaze into the falling darkness on the road ahead.  With intent stare, you try to discern if the two shadows coming toward you are your imagination, or if they are two cars; one in the opposite lane, and the other passing the first and coming toward you in your lane.


It is that bewitching time of day when a car may suddenly appear out of nowhere in the semi-darkness, right beside the door of your car.


It is the habit of drivers in Venezuela not to overuse their headlights.  They feel they need to save them.  After all, if they should wastefully put on their headlights at dusk when they can still see perfectly well without them; they may be sorry on another night when they really do need them, and find that the lights are all used up.
      No, it is best to leave the headlights off until the gray shadows of the road turn completely black.


Then there is the question of your battery.  The thinking of some is that when you put your headlights on, you use up the power in the battery. If you do this before you really need to, you later may not have enough “spark” (that is what they call it: “chispa”) left in your battery to light your sparkplugs, leaving you stranded on the road.

       All this talk about the alternator powering the battery when the car is running is just a little suspicious.  They would much rather trust in the power that they know is available in the battery.  If the “alternator theory” turns out to be true, so much the better.  But just in case it is not, it is better to leave the headlights off.

This leaves everyone on the road plummeting through the semi-darkness wondering where all the other cars are.  Passing a car in front of you becomes almost foolhardy.  There is no way of knowing with any degree of certainty that, as soon as you pull into the other lane, you will not be suddenly met with a ton of steel on four wheels hurling toward you at 80 kilometers per hour.  The most sensible approach is to quietly drive your car, stay in your own lane, and wait for darkness to settle so that the other drivers will be obliged to also turn on their headlights.

Of course, once the darkness completely falls, neither is the mere darkness of night a certain guarantee that there is not a car without lights on the road.  Some drivers simply have no lights, and they depend upon the lights of the other cars to tell them where they are.  Often they will follow another car, using the taillights of the car in front of them as their guide.  This is not so bad except if you are meeting this first car (the one with the lights) with its hidden shadow (the car with no lights) following close behind.

       Once, when I was waiting for this first car to go past so I could pull out to pass a car in my own lane, I suddenly saw the “shadow car” in my headlights.  I had no idea it was there until it was almost too late.  He swerved and I braked, and between the two of us, we were able to avoid hearing that irritating sound of sheet metal hitting sheet metal.

These ghost cars, lacking someone to follow, simply go slow.  I suppose they think that in doing this, they are being safe. But suddenly coming upon the rear of one of these can also be a frightful experience.  What they want you to do is to pass them so that they can then follow your taillights.  They then, become your “shadow car,” waiting to surprise another driver that is passing from the opposite lane.

Strange things are seen on the night roads in Venezuela.  Very late one night I was driving into the city of San Cristobal. Although I was on one of the main highways, there was very little traffic at that hour. But I did see the lights of a car far ahead of me, evidently coming in my direction.  I drove for some minutes, but the car did not seem to be getting much closer to me.  This seemed strange, since I thought I should have met it long before.  As I finally did get closer, the lights seemed to be in my own lane.  They did not seem to be coming very fast and I could not yet tell for certain that they were in my lane, but I expected that I would learn as I continued forward.

As I got even nearer, I saw that the lights were, indeed, in my lane, but the car was not meeting me.  He was going in reverse in my lane, his headlights shining in my eyes. As you might imagine, when I passed him I did so with great caution. I have no idea what was going on, but my best guess is that the forward gears of his transmission went out, so that the only gear that he had was reverse.  He was backing home at night!

Cars are not the only hazard, of course.  Bicycles are also out at any hour.  These two-wheeled wonders navigate by the stars, and have no need for such things as lights.  Another night I rounded a corner and came suddenly upon a man riding his bike right in the middle of my lane (he did not want to get too near the edge of the road on such a dark night).  Not only did he not have lights or any kind of reflective material, but he was head to toe in camouflage clothing!

The most deadly mixture, of course, is the one part of darkness with two parts alcohol.  This danger comes not only from other drivers on the road, but also from pedestrians.  Never have I seen drunks stagger the way they do along the country roads of Venezuela.  More often than not, there are no sidewalks and not even shoulders on the roads.  Pedestrians there must walk on the very edge of the road, with cars speeding by them a foot away from their arm.  This is very dangerous in the best of circumstances in the broad daylight, but when you take the sun away, and replace it with a snoot full, it becomes downright hazardous.

Normally, it is not difficult to spot which pedestrians are drunk (if you can see them in your lights).  As you watch, it is obvious that they are putting all their thought power into the very difficult task of putting one foot in front of the other, while at the same time maintaining their equilibrium.

       It is the equilibrium part that seems to give them the most difficulty.  Suddenly, without any indication or warning, the foot that was supposed to go in front of the other, will instead plop down to the side, and the drunk will stagger and veer right out in front of you.

My rule for drunks is two-fold: they always have the right-of-way, and that they will always act as if they are suicidal.

To any who would drive at night in Venezuela, please take the above advice to heart.  But the very best advice of all for driving at night there is also very simply stated.

      Don’t!

 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

DRIVING IN VENEZUELA - LESSON #1


Among some of the things I have found in some my old writings were a couple of driving lessons that I wrote about driving in Venezuela. When we lived there, my work involved driving to many parts of the country to work in training centers. I enjoyed that work and I enjoyed driving all over that beautiful country. 
       I want it to be please understood that in saying some of the things that I do below, in no way am I belittling the country or the people. Among all the countries in which we have lived, we loved living in Venezuela perhaps more than any other.
       In fact, some of the things that I write here (and in lesson #2) are some of the very reasons that we loved living there.
 
 

DRIVING IN VENEZUELA – LESSON #1
THE PROPER USE OF THE LEFT TURN INDICATOR SIGNAL

Most cars in Venezuela have two turn signals in the back as do cars in most countries of the world, but I am not sure why.  In Venezuela, the left turn signal is used often and for many purposes, but the right one is used very little.  After having driven thousands of kilometers over most of the country of Venezuela, it is the exception when I have seen the right signal used in the correct way; at least, what I would call the correct way – to signal a right-handed turn.

Almost all of the signaling on the roads of that country is done by the left turn signal, or by the left arm out of the window.  I have concluded that the most practical use for the right turn signal is so that there is as a place to store the spare bulb, reserved for when the one on the left side burns out.  And when that spare one burns out…well…use the arm.

Discerning the intentions of the car in front of you is a skill that can only be acquired with practice.  It is not so simple as knowing the correct use of the traffic code and assuming that so does the other driver.  Strict adherence to regulations, while efficient, is a little impersonal.  But a waving and signaling arm out the window – now there is personality.  Driving in Venezuela requires more than knowing the traffic code.  It also requires knowing that few other drivers either know or bother to follow the traffic code.  You must learn to divine (that’s the word they use there) the intention of the other driver.

This is especially important when it comes to the use of the left turn indicator signal. It might be understandable how one could express personality in communication with movements of the left arm out of the window, but a little less clear how the left turn signal can express personality.  After all, in my driver’s education class we were taught that the left turn light only meant one thing – the driver’s intention to make a left turn.  That is fine when the signal light is used only for that purpose, but in Venezuela, the left light is used for one of several purposes.  It is up to you to divine what the driver in front of you is trying to tell you.

Much depends upon what type of vehicle you are
following.  The left turn signal of a bus does not mean the same thing as the left turn signal of a truck.  If you are following a bus on a highway, the left-turn light most likely means that the driver is about to stop to drop off or pick up passengers.  He does not pull over to the side, but merely stops in the traffic lane. 


If you are following a truck however (they call them gondolas there), the light means a completely different thing.  Being stuck behind a slow moving 22 wheeler (these are the trucks that come out of Colombia) on a curvy mountain road can be very trying.  You look for any opportunity to pass, but with all the curves and five hundred-foot cliffs, it is often difficult to find a place where you can do this safely.  So you follow the big gondola, peering around corners to see if there is anything coming.  Then suddenly, the left turn signal of the gondola comes on.  What does it mean?  Is the truck going to make a left turn? 

Probably what the truck driver is trying to tell you is that the lane ahead is clear and that you can pass.  He is sitting fifty feet ahead of you, can see around the corner and is trying to help you out.  But you can never be 100% sure, so you are left to divine what he is saying.  You are also trusting your decision to pass this truck (it might be a life or death decision) into the hands of a complete stranger.

Sometimes, in passing a truck who has given me the “all’s clear” signal, I have looked up to see the driver in whom I have entrusted my life.  If I would have known beforehand how he looked, I would have never passed.  I think it would be good for all trucks to have a picture of the driver on the back so you can decide if he is trustworthy.

When it comes to cars or pickups, you usually do not have the advantage of divining the intentions of the driver in front of you by the type of vehicle that he is driving.  In these cases, the type of vehicle tell relatively little about what the driver might be saying.

It can be a frightening thing when you see the left turn signal come on in front of you, because you have no idea what the driver is going to do.  He might mean that he is making a right-handed turn.  He might want to say that he is slowing down.  Or it might mean that he accidentally bumped the turn signal lever and doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care) that his signal is on.

It is true that the left turn signal is sometimes used for making a left turn, but a left turn is not usually made in the conventional way.  We were taught in driver’s ed. that in making a left-handed turn, the driver puts on the left signal and stays in the left-most lane until it is safe to make the turn.  On busier intersections, there is an extra lane sometimes provided so traffic behind can continue by passing on the right.

Well… in Venezuela there is seldom an extra lane provided, but sometimes you might be able to carefully find room on the right to get around.  But depending upon the personality of the driver in front, left turns are made in one of a few different ways. 

Sometimes it may be made in the conventional way, but just as often, the driver pulls as far to the right as he is able, and stops; all the time with his left signal blinking.  What is he intending to do?  Is he simply stopped?  Does he know that his left signal is on?

More than likely what he is trying to tell you is that he is allowing you to go past before he makes his left turn.  He is actually being courteous, but rarely can you be sure.  I have misinterpreted this before and as I pulled around to pass, have the driver ahead suddenly pull out and start his turn in front of me.

One might think that the left arm is a little easier to read.  A signal light simply blinks and nothing more, but an arm can wave and indicate in many different ways.  One might assume that this would simplify things, but that is a dangerous assumption.

There are some general arm movements that seem to usually mean the same thing.  A left arm straight out the driver’s window making downward movements with the palm down usually means he is slowing down.  Probably there is an accident or a broken down truck ahead.  The same signal is transmitted by other drivers back through the line of traffic and you are expected to do the same.

A left arm making waving movements from rear to front usually means that the driver in front of you is telling you to pass, for whatever reason.  Maybe he is tired of your tailgating.

Of course, there are also the arm movements that seem to be universal around the world. Sometimes these gestures are made with a single finger.  I will not describe the gestures, but the driver usually seems to be indicating that he believes that you have made an error in your driving judgment.

Oh ... maybe he would put it in a little stronger terms.

I was once following a car when the driver suddenly stuck his arm out the window and held it in a bent and upright position – the classic “right-turn” signal that we all learned since our bicycle riding days.  I had never seen anyone do that there before so was a bit stunned and at the same time interested as to what he might be saying.  Could it be that
he was making a right turn?  It appeared so, because he pulled over far to the right side.  But no, it can not be so simple.  He suddenly swerved to the left and crossed the lane to turn left into a tavern.
       In all fairness, maybe he did at first intend to turn right, but when he saw the bar, he changed his mind.

I drove many thousands of kilometers in my Jeep Cherokee
The good thing about driving in Venezuela is that the driver seldom gets sleepy (nor any of the passengers).  Driving simply is too interesting.  It is a conversation that is constantly taking place between people individually enclosed in their own ton of steel.  In some manner, from within these metal encasements with their substantial limitations, you have to learn to make yourself understood and to understand the intentions of the other drivers.  Many times, there is little to go on, which is why “divining” the intentions of the others is probably better than saying “understanding”.

There are also reactionary skills one learns to develop by driving in Venezuela.  I have developed a very important coordinated skill, which involves the simultaneous movement of my right hand and right foot.  It is a skill that must be done by learned reaction so well that it becomes automatic, since there is seldom time to think about what you are doing.

This is the movement: the right foot quickly hits the brake and the right hand automatically and just as quickly hits the horn button.  The squeal of the brakes should be accompanied by a loud blast of the horn.

In blowing my horn, my intention is not to be rude.  I simply want to stay alive!

I hope the other driver can divine that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

RIVERBOUND - PART 3

(Please scroll down and read parts 1 and 2 of this story if you have not already done so)
********************************************

JUST TO SEE IF I COULD MAKE IT
After my first and almost failed attempt to use the kayak to cross the river, I did not think that I should try again until the water level was a bit lower. Vivian told me that half the population of the world would be thankful if they had instant coffee (which we found in the cabin), and with those words I was shamed into admitting that I had no real reason to again try and cross until the river level went down.
The New Zealand Bush

Nevertheless, a couple of days later I thought that maybe I would give it another try, just to see how it would go. This, I decided, was another similarity between being riverbound and being snowbound. I remember being snowbound in our house in Wisconsin and taking the truck out on the road just to see if I could make it, even though I had no real reason for going out.

I thought that I had learned something about kayaks on my first attempt to cross, and wanted to try out a new method that I had formulated. Besides that, the river had gone down a little. I planned on doing it on the day following.


NEW STORMS
However, that night we had a series of super strong thunderstorms move up the river gorge, causing the river level to rise even higher than before and making the current significantly stronger. Besides that, one very close strike of lightning hit the electric line someplace. As it struck, our lights instantly went out, accompanied by the added dramatic effect of a deafening crash of thunder.

This happened at about 9:00 one night; so when the lights went out, Vivian and I just went to bed. We fully expected to have power again sometime the next day. However, when the following evening began to fall, we still had no lights. We also discovered that the cabin was ill-prepared for a power outage. There were no candles or working lanterns of any kind in the cabin.

It was just after the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, and at this cabin nestled between the steep ridges of the Waioeka River Gorge, the sun dropped behind the western ridge at about 3:45 PM. By 5:00, it was already quite dark inside the cabin, and with no lights, this made for very long evenings.

As it began to get dark on the first evening after the outage, I hastily tried to fashion some lamps out of cooking oil. Vivian had some cotton thread that would work as wicks, and she also had the good idea of making a wick holder out of some tin foil.

Nick had two types of cooking oil at the cabin. One was canola oil, and the other was olive oil. The olive oil jar said that it was “extra light” olive oil, so I told Vivian that we should use that one since it got pretty dark there at night (it took her a moment to get my little joke).

But darkness descended too quickly that evening, and I did not have enough time to make a very good lamp. It did burn, but despite what the olive oil jar said, the light that came from that first lamp was pretty dim.


So instead, on that first night I tried to do some writing by the light of the fireplace. We had not actually used the fireplace much before that night. We lit a fire in it the first couple of nights that we were at the cabin, but we suspected that it was one of those fireplaces that draws more heat out of the room and sends it up the chimney than radiates heat into the room. But that night, I again lit it so that we would have the light of the fire to cheer the dark room. I found that if I sat just right, I was even able to write a little by its light.

Of course, we remember the stories of President Abraham Lincoln when he was a boy doing his schoolwork by the light of the fireplace fire, writing with a piece of charcoal and using a shovel blade for a slate. And Lincoln remains one of our most respected Presidents.

I also was writing by the light of the fire. It is true that I used a ball-point pen and paper, but I don’t think that there is any real virtue that comes by using charcoal and a shovel. I think that the virtue must come from using the light of the fireplace, and I also think that if someone would have offered young Abe Lincoln a ball point-pen and a paper tablet, he would have gladly accepted them.


LET THERE BE LIGHT
The next night the lights still were not on. When it was beginning to get dark, I again returned to my plan to make a few lamps. This time my design was better. When I placed all of those lamps together on the table, it actually gave me enough light to see the tablet quite well. By the time the third night came with no lights, my lamp making technique was so refined that I may have even been disappointed if the electricity suddenly did come on.


All of this effort that I put into bringing light into a dark room made me think of the words of Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah told the people of his day, “Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the people, but the Lord will rise upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2).

Of course, the prophet was not talking about olive oil lamps, but the ultimate fulfillment of these words. This can be found in Jesus Christ, who referred to himself as the “light that came into the world.”

It is astounding, however, that as great as that light was (and still is to this day), Jesus also said that many people would avoid the light and instead preferred the darkness. They did this “because their deeds were evil.”


BRIGHTER DAYS
After about five days with no electricity, we decided that the electricity would not be coming on soon. I had hiked into the bush where the power line came in and found an ancient looking transformer a little ways up the ridge that served the cabin. I was pretty sure that the lightning strike we had heard blew it out. Because that transformer and line served our cabin and nothing else, I did not think that anyone from the power company even knew of the outage

But on the brighter side, as we listened to the radio (battery powered) we could hear that the weather forecast for the next several days was that it would be clear and sunny – “fine,” as they say in New Zealand.

Every day, the river level dropped a little and the water flow began to slow. Vivian and I grew quite accustomed to having no electricity. I kept my eye on the river every day and I thought about giving a crossing another try. Finally the day came when I did. I used the kayak, and not the canoe. I wanted to do it in the same kayak just to show it that I could. It went well and without a hitch.

The next day I was able to convince Vivian that we both could now cross using the canoe. Given my first experience at crossing in the kayak, she was at first quite nervous about going into the river, but the water level now had dropped considerably and she was convinced it would not be so bad.

We tried it once, and it again went fine. After that, we again could cross the river quite easily so that we could get out of camp to go into town if we needed to or wanted to. Funny thing though; we just stayed at the camp.


BACK TO THE PRESENT

view from the cabin
One afternoon, as Vivian and I sat outside enjoying the air and sky, and the trees and the breeze, we heard a commotion on the opposite riverbank. We went down to the river to look. It was Nick. He returned and had brought with him motor boat, and not just an ordinary motor boat. It was one of those jet ski type powered boats that have a jet water pump instead of a propeller, allowing it to go even in rather shallow water.

He also had with him a repairman from the electric company. I notified Nick about the outage when I was finally able to get to town, so on his way to the camp, he picked up the repairman.

We all hiked up to the transformer, and the man from the electric company opened a cardboard box he had brought with him to produce a huge, and it looked to me antiquated, electrical fuse. He installed this into the transformer, threw the switch, and the lights in the cabin came back on.
*************************************** 

In all honesty, I was a bit ambivalent about the fact that we now had electricity again. The camp needed it; I knew that. And we also enjoyed the convenience of lights and other things. But to tell the truth, I had also grown to enjoy the inconvenience of not having it.

And the new jet ski boat? It would make living at the camp much easier and probably safer. I do not know how these boats are in handling fast currents, but it seemed to do quite well in the river as it was at the time when Nick came with it.

The boat would mean less isolation for the camp – easier to come and go. But like the return of the electricity, I was of two minds about this. I guess it must indicate something about me when I say that I enjoyed the isolation of the days when Vivian and I were alone at the camp, cut off from the rest of the world.

But no matter, we were leaving the next day. In the morning we crossed the river to get to our car. I put no thought at all into how we would make the crossing, no strategy to try out.

Nick brought us over in the jet boat.


********************************************
This is the final part of this little saga. I thought that it might stretch into four parts, but as I went through what I wrote at the camp, I edited out as much as would have made it four parts.

Friday, August 15, 2014

RIVERBOUND - PART 2

(please scroll down and first read part 1 of this story if you have not already done so)

As I stood on the bank looking at the river, I tried to work out in my mind a strategy for getting across in the kayak. I actually had first considered the canoe. Nick does it. Nick was the director of this small camp and usually lived there, even when there were no campers. He told me that he sits in the middle of the canoe instead of the rear when he is alone, since it gives him better control. I wondered if he would try it with the water at this level or if he would let the river go down. 

I remembered many years ago when I lived in India, the people of Kashmir had canoe-like vessels that they used on the lake in Srinagar. They paddled them by squatting down right in the bow with the canoe behind them. To me this made some sense on calmer water, but I did not see how it could work here. 

No, I thought…the canoe, would be too massive for me to handle. I had better use the kayak. I hesitated with this decision. In the past, the kayak had not been that faithful of a friend to me. 

I still do not know the proper way to cross a fast-flowing river in the kayak. I now only know of one improper way. Or, perhaps it is the proper way but I just did it in an improper manner. My strategy was to point the kayak at an angle upriver and try to keep it at that angle as I paddled across. I of course realized that the current would carry me downriver, but that at least I would come to the opposite bank. 

One of the problems was that I did not have a large target area. On the opposite bank, there was only a short distance where one could easily land a canoe or a kayak. After that small area of riverbank, the shore becomes steep and brushy, making landing difficult. And then the river begins a sharp bend, with the bank opposite the cabin being the main channel where the water is rushing around on the outside of the turn in the river. On this bend, the outside bank consists largely of rocks, which the water was striking very hard and even throwing spray up into the air as it rushed in waves around them. 

Well, I thought… there was nothing to do but give it a try. I could not find the kayak paddle at the camp, only the canoe paddle. (Vivian later showed me where there were several kayak paddles. I should have asked her first). But I just figured that I would do it with a canoe paddle. After all, I thought, only one end can go it the water at a time anyway.

I had a plastic garbage bag (clean) with some dry clothes that I assumed that I would probably need when I reached the other bank. This bag I tied around my waist so I would not lose it in case I would capsize. After a short word to God for help in this venture, I got into the kayak. 

CROSSING ATTEMPT
The kayak, I decided, was not designed by a 60-year old person, but considering what it took me to get comfortably seated; I calculated that it was probably designed by about a 20-year old. Once settled in, I was ready to try out my aforementioned strategy for crossing the river. 

True to my plan, I angled the kayak at about a 45° upriver and started paddling like mad. However, I soon saw the error in my calculation of how the kayak would respond to the current. There was no possible way that I was able to maintain this angle against the current. The force of the river immediately pushed the point of my kayak around and sent me heading quickly downriver. Sometimes the kayak was flowing frontward and sometimes backwards, depending upon the will of the river at the moment. 

I kept paddling, now thinking that it would be handy to have a paddle blade on the other end of the paddle as well, since when the kayak was turning, I could not get the canoe paddle to the other side fast enough to help me control it. But control was just a dream anyway; at this point I was simply trying to stay upright. 

Paddling like a madman, I did manage to get quite near the opposite bank, although I was now far downriver from the “ideal landing spot.” What was more, the current right at the bank was the strongest, so that when I got too near the bank, the flow would push me back out into the river, keeping me from actually getting to land. 

Now brush was sticking out into the river, slapping at my face as I rushed past. I tried to grab onto it with my one free hand, but I was travelling too fast and could not hold on.

        Then I saw it: a log that was lying just below the surface of the river, sticking out from the bank. Water was shooting up at the point where it hit it. The kayak struck the log hard and sent me tumbling into the water, which in the winter season when we were there, was quite cold. 

The paddle went flying. I saw it in the water for an instant and grabbed for it, but at that point my head went completely under as I was being tossed around by the current. With one hand, I held tightly onto the kayak. I did not want to loose that as well. I think that without my hand on the kayak while I was under the water, I may not have known which way was up. 

As I surfaced I saw that I was still near the bank, but I could not get over to grab something. I looked ahead and saw that I was rapidly approaching the rocks. I knew I could never survive if I hit those rocks.

Right then and there, I decided to follow the example of the Apostle Peter. When he found himself drowning in the sea, he cried out, “Lord Jesus, help me!” 

This is what I did. “Lord Jesus, help me!” This now had become my new strategy for crossing the river. 

I have heard sermons in the past that have criticized Peter for his lack of faith in the situation that he was in at the time. I may have even mentioned myself it in some of my sermons. After all, Jesus did say to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” (Matthew 14:31). But I think that after this experience of mine, I will be a little more judicious with my words about Peter. 

In Peter’s case, after he had cried out for help from the Lord, Jesus reached down his hand and lifted him up, out of the waves. In my case, the hand that came down was in the form of a very small eddy along the bank that had been created by the way the brush was breaking the current at that place. 

I suddenly found myself in this eddy and out of the main flow of the river. I am not at all sure how I got in there, since I did not even see it until I was in it. One of my hands still hanging on to the rope of the kayak, with the other hand I grabbed some of the brush that was there and pulled myself up on the bank, dragging the kayak with me. My dry clothes (I hoped that they were still dry) were still in the bag tied to my waist. The canoe paddle was long gone. I would not see that again. 

IN TOWN
I will not bore you with all of the other particulars of the trip. In town I looked for a new canoe paddle. One store had only kayak paddles, which I was going to buy until he told me the price was almost $100. I could not get myself to pay that much when I knew that one of my sons just bought a kayak itself in the U.S. for just about $300. 

But another store had a canoe paddle for about $25, which was more to my liking. Going across the river in the other direction would not be so difficult. I had worked it out how I would do it and because I would be landing on the inside of the bend, the water on that side would not be flowing so rapidly. There was also a long and large bank on the cabin side where I could easily land the kayak. 

I told the guy in the store about my experience and he must have somehow gotten the idea that I was telling him a funny story, since he laughed the whole time as I was describing my strategy for crossing, the brush hitting my face, and the kayak tipping over sending me into the river. He especially laughed when I told him that I reckoned that my canoe paddle was now somewhere out in the Bay of Plenty.

       I will forgive him for this one day soon. I suppose in a similar situation and if I were the store clerk behind my dry little counter selling canoe paddles, I may also have seen a little humor in this story. 

The return trip across the river went much better. I carried the kayak along the bank far up river before I put in. Also, since the rapid current was close to the bank where I put in, I could paddle through it and make it to the less rapid water near the other bank. 

All things considered, I was thankful to be back at the cabin. 

Oh, there is one more thing: I forgot to buy the coffee.

*******************************************
I was back at the cabin, but there were more storms to come. There is also part 3 and maybe part 4 to come a little later.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

RIVERBOUND, PART 1

(I came upon this story when I was looking at some things I had written in the past. Since I have not posted much on this blog lately, I thought I would put it up in case any might find it interesting.)
**********************************************

The feeling of being riverbound is not that much different than being snowbound.

        During the time that Vivian and I were living in New Zealand, we were helping for two or three weeks at a Christian camp on the river in the Waioeka River Gorge in the eastern part of the north island of the country. During the time that we were there, we would be alone at the camp. Our purpose was to be the caretakers while everyone else was gone.

The camp had no road to it, and was accessible only by crossing the river by canoe or whatever vessel might be available. At times, this could be difficult. However, when we arrived, the river, although it was at a higher level than we had seen it before, was still crossable.


When the weather was fine
I sat in the back of the canoe and Vivian in the front, with our gear in between. I will not deny that we had some questionable moments coming over the river, especially considering the fact that our computer was among the gear and we probably should have made a better effort at waterproofing everything and securing it.  Nevertheless, despite our improper preparations, we made it across without incident. Vivian is, after all, a Minnesota girl and is an experienced canoeist of the boundary waters.

The first day or so in the gorge were nice and sunny, and the river was even dropping from the high mark of when we first came. In the past, it had been very much higher, as was evident from the brush that is left high on the bank from an earlier flooding. For our liking, we were glad to see it go down. It would make crossing easier.

But on the third day, the rains moved in. A strong wind came in off of the Bay of Plenty, which was downriver, perhaps seven or eight miles away. Most of one day and all night the wind and rain pelted hard. Out of the window of our cabin we could see the rain blowing horizontally across the front of the cabin. Soon after the winds and rain started, I slipped and slid my way down to the river, worried that the rising river would wash the canoe away. I had put it high on the bank, but the river was coming up fast, so I dragged it up even higher and secured it tightly to a tree.

The Waioeka River Gorge is very steep sided, and at the camp, we had almost no access to outside news and information. At the cabin, we had no cell phone service, the regular telephone was out of commission, and there were no television stations whose signal reaches into the gorge.
My Cyber-cafe. The tarp is for when it was raining
When the weather is favourable, I was able to climb a hill on the side of the river to a spot where I could catch a cell phone signal from the nearby town of Opotiki. Doing this, I could make calls and even do internet with a mobile connection on my computer. On this hill, I had stretched a tarpaulin up in a native tree that they call a rimu, so that even if it was raining slightly, I could sit under the tarp and do internet.

But when it is windy and rainy, this does not work. After the rains set in, for a couple of days, we were pretty much confined to the cabin.  We did find one static-y radio station coming from Opotiki. On the top of the hour, Vivian and I sat staring at the screen of the radio just like families used to do in the old days, trying to pick out the words between the static.

“CrrrCrrr…heavy rain warnings… CrrrCrrr… Bay of Plenty region. CrrrCrrr…expect flooding and land…CrrrCrrr…stay tuned for cancellations and closings… CrrrCrrr…”

CUT OFF FROM THE REST OF THE WORLD
 It reminded me of being in our log house back in Wisconsin after a big snowstorm and when some of the services like the telephone and perhaps even the electricity had gone out. At our home as well, sometimes in the past it had been difficult to get some news of how much more snow and wind we could expect. The cabin in which we where on the Waioeka of New Zealand was also a log building, so the atmosphere between the two situations was almost uncanningly similar.

When the rains finally ended, Vivian and I went down to see the river. It had turned into an intense torrent and had risen to the levels of the flooding even higher than those signs of the earlier high water marks that I mentioned. If our crossing before had been dubious, we now deemed it impossible in the canoe.
This would be no paddling across the placid boundary waters of Minnesota. It would be best for us to stay close to the cabin, hoping that the rains would stop for a few days and the river level would drop, making the fight against the current more manageable.

We did not mind being riverbound. We had brought a good supply of food and there was also much food at the cabin. Vivian and I had several jobs to do around the camp that we hoped would be of help, so we were content to stay put for a few days. Hopefully, the river level  would go down a bit.

It did drop a little that day, but then then it again begin to rain. The rains that moved in after the reprieve of a couple of days were not strong like the initial ones, but since everything was already saturated, the river level again began to rise.

ASSESSING THE RIVER
However, the river did not come up quite as high as before, and the next day the sun again came out bright. There were a few food items that were beginning to run short in the cabin, so I decided that I would try and do a crossing. Most specifically, I was out of coffee.

I walked down the river to look at the current. It was flowing fast. In crossing the river when the water level was lower, we were able to stay close to the bank on our side where some rocks extended out into the river a little ways and broke the current. Under this protection from the current, we could paddle the canoe upstream for a short distance before we headed out into the main flow.

But that was when the water level was lower. That protection was all gone now as the river washed violently over the rocks and pushed its flow forcefully right next to the bank.
This is how the river looks when it is low water. Placid, no?
The river was, at this point, a bit over a hundred feet across; the entire width a fast flowing current. I did not know exactly how I would cross and didn’t want Vivian to go. I thought that I would never be able to handle the canoe alone, so I decided that I would try it in one of the kayaks.
I was nervous about this. I did not think that even an experienced kayaker would be able to make the crossing confidently, and I was not an experienced kayaker. What was more, some of the few experiences in kayaks that I did have in the past did not have an entirely favourable outcome.
*************************************************************
I am going to stop here with the story for now. If I make these posts overly long I am afraid that you will not read them (I know even now some have told me that they are too long). But if you have read this far, you are to be commended. In a couple of days, I will write about what happened in my river crossing. True to my past kayaking experiences, it did not have an altogether happy outcome.