12. Unknown Planet and Penguin Steak

What do you do when your brain panics, unable to process the sight of unknown creatures, objects from another world, or things you've never seen before in your life? 

Aomi and I were sailing through a strange world that seems unreal. 

-- This is a real story. --
patabonian eerie mountains

It is an experience far from ordinary.

The landscape seems out of this world, both unusual and beyond our understanding. I wonder if it's scary or just too beautiful. But there is no doubt that it is awe-inspiring. I suddenly realize that I have become so accustomed to the landscape that I am no longer aware of its true magnificence.

It is said to rain 330 days a year here in the central region of the Patagonian archipelago. Drenched in a deep, eerie purple, the islands sometimes expose strange rocks that glow like coal and continue under dark rain clouds.

Some slopes are bumpy, resembling burnt skin, while some other mountains are covered with grotesque, tumor-like protrusions. Eroded by harsh winds and rain, the huge bare rocks, without grass or trees, seem to deny the existence of life. It is like the home of demons—a terrible world of death.

At first glance, the islands appear only a few hundred meters above sea level. However, when I check the nautical charts, I find some are actually more than 1000 meters high. Do I feel different at sea than on land? Has the enormous scale paralyzed my senses?

Long ago, the Andes, rising from the ocean floor, were formed. Glaciers then carved deep valleys, which were later filled with seawater, and countless peaks became islands. Sailing in Aomi across these waters feels like flying over mountains in an airplane; it's as if the Earth's long history is seeping directly into my bloodstream. 

No, it's more like I've arrived on an unknown planet. With its out-of-earth appearance and colors, the landscape before me is beyond human imagination.

Before leaving Japan, I read 'Two Against Cape Horn' by Hal Ross. The photos and descriptions of the Patagonian Islands in the book struck my heart. Their appearance, as if created by the devil, made me feel the vast history of Earth over four billion years and a power beyond human comprehension. But standing here now, I realize that the landscape's power far exceeds anything the book showed. It is absolutely incomparable.

According to the Chilean government's travel guidebook, this is "the last wilderness beauty on Earth that no camera or words can capture." Of course, I know that my photos cannot capture the strange shapes and colors of the mountains, covered with eerie, bumpy skin, like grotesque caterpillars, and sometimes even looking like giant organs sitting on the sea. Though the images continuously stream into my heart through my eyes, I know they refuse to be captured by any photograph.

Yet, without knowing why, I find myself eagerly pointing my camera. No, the scenery itself is compelling me; I cannot help but take pictures. The precious film, bought by saving even on food, is quickly running out. With all my heart, I wish that no more vivid scenery will appear.

Nevertheless, each time I look up at the strange mountains from Aomi, sailing through the gaps between islands, an uncontrollable emotion, an irresistible impulse, bursts within me.

After pressing the shutter several times, I finally feel satisfied and go down to the cabin to put the camera away. But when I return to the deck, I am surprised to see the eerie mountains in front of my eyes, and I go back to the cabin to get the camera again and again.

Even though the scenery remains unchanged in the brief moments when I stow away the camera, why am I surprised anew each time, compelled to aim the lens once more?

I realize something terrible: these incredible sights, they don't stay in my memory—or even in photos. If you have never seen anything similar since birth, can you really memorize it instantly?

 

desolate island in Patagonian Archipolago

Guided by many nautical charts, Aomi navigates southward through the labyrinthine waters between countless uninhabited islands, her stern trailing fishing lines.

In the late afternoon, when the mountains on both sides of the path are smoky from the light rain, I suddenly look back and see my catch on the line. I try to pull and feel a strong tug on the line. Have I caught driftwood by accident?

With all the strength in my arms, I reel in the thirty-meter line. The catch soon approaches the stern, rising and falling in the water. But when I look closer, I see that it is a bird.

I do not want to kill a bird just to eat it. However, releasing it could result in injury if it bites me while I am removing the hook.

"Still, it is a strangely round and fat bird."

After pulling it out of the water and onto the deck, I look closer. It has a black back, a white chest, and tiny paddle-like feet. The body's surface feels more like fur than feathers, and the wings' shape resembles flippers.

"Oh, that's a penguin, isn't it?"

Is it unconscious? The body is warm to the touch, yet it remains completely motionless. If the penguin wakes up, I want to play with it a little and then put it back in the sea, but there's no sign of getting up at all. 

Has the penguin drowned while being pulled in the water? I place both hands on its white chest and begin compressions—the CPR method. But no one taught me the technique for penguins in school, and I'm not sure it's the same as for humans.

Looking at my watch, I repeat the compression for a while, but there is no sign of recovery. Just minutes ago, as I pulled it onto the deck, I noticed its neck was unusually long, resembling a water bird. The shock of being caught on the fishing hook likely caused its neck to stretch temporarily, resulting in a broken bone.

Since the penguin is already dead, returning it to the sea seems pointless. Above all, I don't want to waste its life, so I decide to eat it after all.

I cautiously start the cut by positioning the knife's tip at the abdomen's midline. Inside, I encounter mostly organs and bones, finding only a small amount of muscle in the chest area, with no fat layer seen beneath the skin.

I take two pieces of meat from both breasts. One is for steak, and the other is for stew the next day. The taste is something beyond...

penguin caught on fishing line.


Patagonian map

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