This better be worth it, I think as I snap on a neon-orange life vest, complete with light and whistle. After all the time and trouble we took to get here, I’m expecting a bucket of benefits from this trip. Maybe too much.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” –Psalm 103:2-5
On Day 2 of our zigzag journey around northern Patagonia, my husband and I have voyaged five hours aboard the catamaran Chaitén, from Port Chacabuco to the San Rafael Lagoon in Chile’s Region of Aysén. I grimace, trying to click the belt. After yesterday’s breath-snatching fall, I can barely lift my left arm today, and I just cracked my knee on a fire extinguisher while getting a drink at the water dispenser behind our seats!
Not only that, we’ve spent savings and many hours of travel and planning this ultimate Bucket List experience to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. But after the recent mishap and a health crisis just last week, I draw in a deep breath of thankfulness to be here at all. God has surely loaded up His bucket of benefits with healing, strength, and gracious providence.
Since we’re assigned to Group 2 of 12, we don our life jackets immediately on arrival in this blue lagoon. “Have these things ever actually saved anyone?” someone asks.
“They’ll be able to find your frozen body easier,” someone else jokes feebly. “Think the Titanic.”
Finally we’re allowed to step onto the catamaran’s deck. We’re still blinking in amazement at the color and light as we wobble into the orange Zodiac with 11 passengers and 2 crew. We perch on the inflated sides of the boat and hang onto the black ropes behind us for dear life, as the pilot cranks the outboard motor to action.
I give a scant thought to the chances of survival if anyone should fall overboard. Not that we’d drown, of course, but hypothermia would claim us in just a few minutes. The frigid water is choked with blue ice, sized from chips to icebergs, even though it’s almost summer. People have been tossing out tales of aggressive sea lion attacks too.
Shoving all that from my mind, I lean into the moment, lean into the icy wind gusting off the glacier toward us. It gives potent meaning to the word “glacial.”
The sun bursts through the clouds just as we skim toward the long, carved wall of ice that is the San Rafael Glacier. Breathtaking artistry of God, the blue-veined, blue-tipped crags and mounds and sculpted whorls glitter in the day’s few minutes of sun.
We take our turn to edge in closer, though I wonder about the “tidal wave” if the glacier happens to calve just now. And it does, a couple of times. Pablo, the guide, assures us we’re not in danger. The glacier’s so enormous that it looks closer than it is.
We talk, ask questions, share observations, and help each other take photos, but we’re a far quieter bunch than you might imagine. All of us feel awed, no doubt about it. I’m so struck I can’t put into words why, until I remember God’s bucket of benefits—one of which is satisfaction for every dream and desire He nurtures in our hearts.
“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” –Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese 26
My husband snatches up a chunk of ice floating by the Zodiac, and everyone gathers around to marvel. I’ve never seen a diamond this pure and clear. Its dazzle dims the crown jewels, and I picture the crown of compassionate kindness God has set on my head. Whether the others recognize God’s majesty here, I feel like royalty. After all, “this is my Father’s world.”
Our Zodiac basks in the “throne room” below the Glacier for 15 or 20 minutes, quite a bit longer than some of the later groups. One of the other Zodiacs is experiencing engine difficulty and it turns out the crew can’t fix it immediately, so they’re short on boats. The captain recalls us now.
This time, as we shoot across the lagoon, I’m sweating in my Canadian parka and turquoise knit hat. I can’t wait to shed these extra layers of clothing. That said, I’m delighted with the hot chocolate and muffins we’re greeted with on arrival back at the ship. No one needs warming up, but the fresh air has worked up an appetite.
We have an hour or more to wait while the other tour groups take their turn, but it doesn’t seem long, now that we can stroll on deck. So much to see in every direction. Blue and white, green and purple. Cloud art, mountain ranges in military formation. And hear—shrieking birds and thundering ice.
It’s the icebergs I can’t tear my gaze from. They surround our little catamaran like a fleet of white-winged ships. Like a bevy of pristine swans. Experts say 90% of these ice mountains lies beneath the water, but even just their visible bobbing heads fascinate me.
Though Spanish speakers use the English term “iceberg,” with an accent 😊, their correct word is “témpano,” which also—aptly—means a small drum. I watch as one tips, leans, breaks, and rolls over in the lagoon. It doesn’t disappear, though, but pops up again, carved into a new shape…only to crack, slide, and boom once more. Always changing form, accompanied by a powerful crescendo, like the shattering of a glass sculpture.
Perhaps I’m intended to deduce some ominous warning from this, but instead my mind turns to a Chilean children’s book I referred to while writing the series First Mate’s Log. There, several characters lament their mistakes—their fractured relationships and crash-and-burn decisions—and long to return to the past, to remake their choices.
What if I could I go back, change impulsive words and actions? Would I return to my life of a few years ago, if I could? Perhaps. But as Nicolás Serrano says in the story, “Mostly you can’t go back. But you can always move forward, in the wisdom you’ve gained.”
The last Zodiac butts against the stern and I head inside, conscious of God’s redemption of every wrong path, every misguided turn, every painful pit in my life. Another blessing in His bucket of benefits.
Servers glide by with trays of drinks decanted over iconic “millennial” rocks. Even these deep-frozen chunks of ice will melt well before we reach port again, glacier cubes into puddles at the bottom of a glass. No, I can’t reset the clock to yesterday, let alone a thousand years, but I’m assured He’ll redeem my future, my story, all of history.
So-So to Sumptuous
Clouds veil the skies again as we squeeze through the straits from the lagoon into Elephants Estuary. The voyage home is different than the trip out, festive rather than expectant, noisy rather than hushed, speedy rather than leisurely. The technology screen tells us we’re traveling northeast, at 27 knots per hour this time.
In a meditative mood, I wander upstairs for another Coke. The crowd is singing lustily through a whiskey haze. The Israelis are dancing—think the Golden Hall after the Battle of Helm’s Deep—while the tour guides guard the stairs. Tamara wiggles her eyebrows at me, grinning as if we share a secret. We all have our ways of celebrating, and mine feels like quiet praise today.
But even back downstairs, few people nap, except babies and seniors. I’m mulling our experience over…when a snack revel begins! The morning’s mediocre fare is forgotten as a parade of party food streams by our seats throughout the afternoon. Mini kabobs, meat and cheese empanadas, and wonderful salmon ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus). My husband chuckles. He’s never seen me eat pickled onions once, let alone twice. I’m hooked now.
As we near Puerto Chacabuco, we pass the classy cruise ship again. Not even a twinge of envy this time. My bucket of benefits overflows already.
It’s 8:30 p.m. by the time we’re shuttled to the hotel, so (obviously starving) we hustle to the supper buffet. The salad bar’s a jewelry counter of crab legs, shimmering shrimp, more ceviche, and a color wheel of olives. My husband chooses roast beef as a main course, I opt for chicken soup, since I’m really stuffed but must save space for dessert. He tries raspberry cheesecake and tiramisu. I top off with white chocolate mousse and rice pudding.
Bucket List Bang
Sorry about all the food, friends 😊. It’s in all my books, so you know I’m fond of it. An older translation of Psalm 103 says God “satisfies your mouth with good things” (v. 5). And He fills our plates daily.
After dinner, we take a short walk to get in some exercise, back to the park where disaster struck yesterday. The accident is catching up with me. I feel trouble brewing in my aching muscles, exhaustion lingering in my bones.
We’re off to bed now, as tomorrow morning brings another early start. How will I manage this pace we’ve planned? God’s promise of renewed youth and energy encourages me.
This trip may be the crowning jewel of my Bucket List, but it’s a mere drop from the overflowing bucket of benefits and blessings in His hand.
“Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name” (Ps. 103:1), for “ten thousand years” and “ten thousand reasons,” as the songs go. The best is yet to come, and we haven’t seen the half of it.