Beginning & End of the Official Swim, Nov. 14, 2010

Dear Friends,

My new friend John Wright is writing this entry for me as we are watching another beautiful sunset over the bay of La Paz.

Things have changed dramatically since I last wrote.  In fact, they have changed dramatically enough for me to not be able to breathe.

After a beautiful press conference last Wednesday, at which all of the local press and some national press was present, I was invited to a meeting with the mayor of La Paz, Rosa Delia Cota Montano.  Again, we were interviewed by the press, and you can see this interview now on Youtube.
She offered full support on behalf of the Municipality, and immediately began making phone calls to set this in motion.  She arranged for FONMAR to give me boat support and we had already arranged for boat support for the navy on the remaining days.  I was very pleased with how the meeting went, and the warmth I felt coming from her.  I trusted her word.  I think because I am a woman, she was particularly interested in supporting me. 

Later that day, there was a meeting with all the very important government functionaries who were helping to coordinate this: The director for the Secretary of Tourism, Ricardo Garcia, a FONMAR representative, a high level representative for the Navy, both of the directors for the Municipal Department of Sports, and a fisherman who was hoping to gain paid work.  I was the only woman present.  Throughout most of the meeting,  I could hardly get a word in edgewise.  This was to be a logistics meeting.  A lot of egos were flying through the air, and the actual logistics never got discussed, since no one ever bothered to ask me.  The fisherman spooked the other men with his tales of horrific giant squid which would eat me along the way.  Even when I interjected that my chances of being run over by a car in the road were probably at least a billion times higher than having an inopportune encounter with a squid, no one appeared to want to listen to me.  After all, I was just a woman, and they were all men!  Ricardo Garcia let me know in no uncertain terms that this was no longer just a private swim, it was official government business, and I had to follow their rules- which included coming back to town every night from my daily swim around the Espiritu Santo island, since I couldn’t possibly be left alone to camp.  Until then I had been left in the belief that I would actually be sleeping aboard the navy boat.
No one had bothered to inform me that this was not the case, even though I had made many calls to find out the real logistics behind my navy-supported swim.  At the end of the meeting I was left to trust that everything would be taken care of.  The secretary of tourism would look after accommodations along the way, the Navy and FONMAR would share the boat support, and there would be sponsorship for the meals.   Some of this organization would happen while I was actually swimming, since it would involve 3 whole weeks, and therefore give everyone plenty of time to see the event through.

At the end of the meeting, I felt shaken and invisible.  This didn’t seem to be about the needs of the swimmer at all.  It seemed to be about a lot of men deciding things, barely aware that the daily marathon would be executed by the lone woman in the room.  I was shaken enough to ask the female secretary of the sports department to give me a long hug, and let me have a cry on her shoulder.

The next morning I went to the take-off site at 6:00am to find out that the two young mariners on the navy support boat were inefficiently equipped.  I always run my crew through a checklist before I start.  I visually inspect the amount of gas on the boat, I visually inspect the first-aid kit, I visually inspect the ladder for me to get on board, and I check for ores in the case of a boat break-down.  I also make sure there is sufficient drinking water for everyone on board.  The only item which was satisfactory was the gas on board.  After so many negotiations with the Navy commander about safety, I was sorely disappointed that the lovely young crew (Efrain & Juan Carlos) were not properly looked after.  The commander had even stated that I could not access their first aid kit, water supply, or anything they brought on board, which kind of makes the whole idea of boat safety irrelevant. The 2 young men treated me like gold all day.  They surely shared whatever was needed, including jokes, smiles and laughter, sometimes the most important ingredients on a long, long day of swimming hour after hour. 

Since I was not sure what time we were leaving the next day, I stopped in the Navy office to verify departure time.  It became clear that something was seriously amiss.  While I waited for my appointment with the commander- this after a 9 hour and 25 km swim, and totally exhausted, cold, wet and hungry- I fell asleep.   When the commander ordered me to his office, he seemed totally unaware of my physical state, and the fact that I was still in a towel and shaking.  He did not offer so much as a glass of water, or turn down the air conditioning.  His only concern was about who he could talk to, since I clearly wasn’t the right person.  All the other people had said somebody else was the right person.  So apparently, nobody was the right person.  Therefore I could no longer expect boat support from the Navy.  After all, I did not have a man behind me, who would speak for me and take complete responsibility and control of me.  The fact that I said I was quite happy to be responsible for myself, and had managed to swim altogether 3065 km without any man behind me whatsoever, did not pull any weight with him.  I felt like I was in Saudi Arabia. 

One of the 2 young crew, Efrain,  drove me home.  He promised to pick me up the next morning, and even though I had the impression my swim for the time was over, I decided to go with him just in case I could continue.  He did a no-show.  I was too disheartened to transport myself there alone.  After several phone calls, it appeared that every one of these very powerful men had pulled out after the media had been informed of their generous support. 

I felt like I had been used for political purposes that I could not understand.  One thing is certain- I now know in the flesh and blood what green-washing is.  It had been very convenient for everyone to be seen supporting an environmental activist.  It looks good, especially in the international media.  When I accused Salvador Gutierrez, one of the directors of the Sports Department of betraying me, he was quite upset, and said he had fulfilled his mandate.  He had arranged for the press conference.  The fact that his name appears in the official bulletin as the General Coordinator of the event, i.e. the swim, did not phase him at all. He seemed to think the press conference was the event.  Everyone pointed fingers at everyone else, accusing them of not fulfilling the mandate.  In all of this, I was left high and dry and quite out of the water.  What affected me the most was that Salvador Gutierrez insisted on being filmed on TV while making his ceremonial commitment to no longer eat prawns from shrimpers while I attached a string to his wrist.  Not even one day later, he had cut it off.  I use very strong string for the ceremony- I do it in all the schools I visit along my swim routes with the children who volunteer for this activity- and this is the heart of my mission.  I take these commitments very seriously, and I assume they do, too.  This is not something to toy with, and I feel I was played with in this instance.  This swim carries the title “The Sea is Sacred”.  Promises are sacred, too.  What happened to me shows me that on an official, governmental level, the promises made to me had absolutely no meaning at all.  I would like to give a copy of the book The Four Agreements, by Mexican author Miguel Ruiz, to everyone who broke their own agreements.  The first agreement is: “Be impeccable with your word”. 

In my future workshops, the commitment aspect will be even more stressed, after this devastating experience.  I actually expect more from kindergarten children than what has just happened to me.  Obviously the state of our oceans is connected with this kind of attitude. 

The situation of the world ocean is really critical right now, and unless everyone reduces their use of natural resources, we might be facing a situation fairly soon that will risk all life on earth.  As it is, every half hour another species goes extinct.   This 6th mass extinction on planet earth is the only one ever caused by humans, and it has been millions of years since the 5th

Because of this, I feel that I cannot wait.  My mission will go on with or without government support.  In fact, it even surprised me that this government was even willing to take this on, and of course, I was immensely pleased.  Alas, it’s back to the drawing board now. 

On Tuesday morning, if all goes well, and no other promises are broken, I plan to start the swim again, accompanied by a local fisherman.  I still hope for some support in the Los Cabos region, but I won’t hold my breath. 

Thanks to my very generous Canadian sponsor, Dawne Deeley, I have $1500 dollars per month to spend on boat support.  Once this is gone, I have to dig into my own back pocket. 

Today I changed houses.  Joel Abaroa, my host of the last 18 days, and his family have been very kind and generous to me.  It is time for them to have their own space back.  Now I’m staying at a very humble place, and because food is no longer provided, I had to go out to eat, and this is how I met Sol, a beautiful coffee shop owner, who carries a majestic and loving presence.

It always amazes me how many good things can happen if you just step out of the house and show up where life leads you.

It has once again led me to beautiful people who are trying to help me. 

Blessing on all of you who are reading this.  Please make sure to read the Peninsular Digital News where an amazing photograph is published alongside an excellent article, written by Perla Garcia, about my first day’s swim.  In this photograph, the sun is shining a golden heart on my chest. 

On my first swim day, I met a beautiful whale shark that swam right into my arms, perhaps attracted by that glorious sun heart, and I got to dance with numerous sea lions and a large manta ray along the way.

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