John was born and raised in Michigan, part of a boating family. From his youth, he was on the water, sailing and racing, involved in all things maritime. So it comes as no surprise that John became a captain—after a stint in the Marines and a trip to Vietnam—on both tugs and other sorts of sea-going vessels. He was on the water for forty years and in all parts of the world.
After spending the past quarter century boating in Alaska, John retired and went to Latin America. He visited Panama, Costa Rica, and Puerto Natales, Chile, the port city where I've been chilling for the past two weeks. After three months in each of these places, he inexplicably returned to work in Alaska. A few years later, he quit work for good, packed his bag, and headed Puerto Natales, Chile, where he's been living for the past two years.
John is a real character. I've never met anyone like him. He punctuates every couple words with the Lord's name, but I don't think he's much of a church-goer. I think it must come from the water. You know what they say about sailors. He talks about how he needs to spend less money, being retired and all. Too much "horin' and drinkin'."
He introduced me to a restaurant here in town where you can get the lunch special for 1,500 pesos, or about $3.30. It includes soup, rolls, and a main course like rice and vicuno (vicuña is a camelid, like the guanaco, whereas vicuno is a just a cut of beef).
John likes to take full advantage of the "Tramp Trail," which is to say he likes to hang out at local joints and he makes friends with all the locals—including the police, which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the particular circumstance.
Just a few days ago, he left Puerto Natales for Boquete, Panama, to get a new start and hopefully cut down on some of the drinkin' and horin'. Time will tell, but I think he's already making some questionable connections.
John's Español gets him by, but he's not trying to sound like a native. He was happy being known around here as "alaskano." Now that he's gone, we who knew him like to say some of the things he used to say using the same intonation and roughness he used when rattling off his few common expressions. ¿Comprende? When walking down the street, he commonly greeted people he knew with his American-accented "Hola, amigo." People driving by would honk and shout, "Hey, John!"
It's a bit lonely around here without John, but he left a lot of great people behind. At Erratic Rock, you definitely feel at home, like you're part of a family. Tomorrow, I'll be setting off for Ushuaia and moving one step closer to Boquete. Hopefully I'll get another chance to hang with the alaskano a few months down the road.