I’m doing my final packing for a trip that will take me way outside the 802 and I’ve been toiling through the challenges of what to pack and how to pack for the level of redundancy that I need, or think I need, for this adventure. This is what I’ve settled on for the essentials. All packed up, it will be heavy, but doable.
My journey will take me to Costa Rica, Santiago, Torres del Paine (Patagonia), Ushuaia, and finally Antarctica. And then, I’m planning on turning around. It’s the trip of my lifetime and it’s been in my mind ever since I started reading and thinking about Cape Horn and the bottom of the planet.
I am unashamedly consumed with Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean. More specifically, I’m consumed with the stories of the explorers, sailors, and survivors that met these waters long before the technological revolution made it less risky to tackle. And I’m in awe of single-handed sailors that navigate these waters with their wits and skill and courage. They are in a different league.
What’s a Whistle Pig?
A few years ago my good friend Jon and I attended a conference in New York City. I recall having sat through numerous presentations that day, and had to leave early to get home to take care of some personal stuff. The next day when I saw Jon, he recounted the story of the last speaker, Nando Parrdao, and the impact the presentation had on him. I knew nothing about Nando, but something that moved Jon as much as it did, deserved some research.
I did the research.
Nando Parrado boarded a Fairchild Hiller FH227 in 1972 with 44 teammates and family members in Uruguay, bound for a rugby match in Chile. The FH227, nicknamed the Whistle Pig because of the noise it made and lumbering nature of the aircraft was a workhorse, loud, and far from swift. Nando and everyone else set out on their journey just like they would any other day, only this day would not be any other day.
There are very few people that I’ve talked to that have not heard about the tragedy in the Andes, the fact that the plane crashed, or the unimaginable lengths that the survivors had to go to in order to stay alive. However, very few people know Nando’s story in any level of detail. When it comes to stories of survival, in my opinion it is unmatched.
The plane crashed in the Andes Mountains in a snow bowl with mountain peaks all around. There was no down. There was only up. For 61 days, the survivors pieced together parts of the wreckage to stay alive. They salvaged what they could and they waited for a rescue. While they waited, they ran out of food, the injured passed away, they were hit by an avalanche, and the survivors contemplated and debated their last moves. Wait or try and get out?
After 61 days, Nando had had enough. He was convinced that the only way out was up, and based on his writing, he was surely resigned to his fate. He and Roberto Canessa, with the help of the other survivors, packed their provisions and they started up to try to get out.
They were in jeans, in freezing temperatures, and had fashioned seat cushions to put on their feet. And they climbed and reached the peak at 18,000 feet. When they arrived at the top, they encountered the last and worst thing imaginable. There were more peaks. This is what Nando said:
“When I was at the top of an 18,000-foot peak with Roberto Canessa, looking at the vast scenery of snowy peaks surrounding us, we knew we were going to die. There is absolutely no way out. We then decided how we would die: we would walk towards the sun and the west. It was better than freezing at the top. This decision took us less than thirty seconds. Other decisions made later in life seemed no more difficult than deciding about my own death.”
And they walked out. Eleven days later they saw a cowboy by a river in Chile and they were saved.
I have done this epic story little justice. It deserves more. (http://www.parrado.com/index.html )
I looked again at the assortment of moisture wicking, fleece warming, foot dry, water purifying, Balance Bar emergency food rations and I’m kind of embarrassed. I’m about as far away from jeans and seat cushions as you can get. I know Nando will forgive me.
I will fly past the Andes in a few days and will think of him and the lessons that he speaks about in his talks, including this one…
“Sometimes, I ask myself why people need to experience extreme situations to understand the real values of life. These values are so clear and near to us, yet we rush by them looking for the “important” things. The warmth of my daughters’ embrace at night when I put them to bed or the quiet presence of my wife, Veronique, near me — moments that will not be repeated — these are the important, enduring values.”