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If you are stuck on an island in the Atlantic Ocean long enough, stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and Astrid Lindgren come to mind. Especially when the mail boat apparently don’t sail, because not a single rescue package with books and cigars has arrived.
Like the shipwrecked guys in novels, I too – what a coincidence – still have some paper and ink and a bottle of brandy at hand, which I just emptied. As you know, I’m rather sceptical about technology, so the idea of writing and sending a message in a good old bottle is appealing.
Already as a child, I had toyed with this idea. Perusing the atlas, that constant igniter of wanderlusty dreams, I discovered that the creek in my village in Bavaria flows into the Vils, the Vils into the Naab, the Naab into the Danube and the Danube into the Black Sea. It struck me as rather romantic to write a message to strangers who would fish it out of the sea in Sevastopol, in Samsun or in Sukhumi a few months later. At that time, I still collected stamps and was hoping for a colourful philatelistic reply.
Unfortunately, I had to find out that the small stream leading out of the village was soon blocked in its free flow by weirs, locks and dams and the prose-filled bottle kept getting stuck, not having seen much of the world. “What a sardonic metaphor for my own imprisonment in this sea-less province,” complained the then eight-year-old me, because that’s how children used to talk before the internet, when we still honed our vocabulary and style with real books.
But now I’m in the Azores, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing can impede the path of the bottle from here. The thermohaline circulation of the North Atlantic Current may carry it as far as Iceland, Norway, Greenland or Svalbard. Or maybe the Gulf Stream, the Azores Stream and the Canary Current will snatch it and take it to the Cape Verde Islands or to the coast of Mauritania or to Dakar, where other people inconveniently travel by car.
I drink lots of coke, but a plastic bottle seems stylishly deficient for this project. And maybe the mail will float around the oceans for so long that plastic will be banned at the time of delivery. Luckily, I just emptied a bottle of anise schnapps whose label even refers to the Azores.
I write a short letter and walk down to the coast to set the bottle onto its orbit around the Earth. Which is not that easy, it turns out. I’m so high above the sea that the bottle will probably smash on the rocks when I really want it to hit the water. I am not an Olympic long-distance throwing champion, after all.
So, for a tiny project with very little chance of success, I walk along the coast for several miles and hours, which is another suitable metaphor for my life, until I spot a suitable place.
Yes, here I can climb down the cliffs, jump from rock to rock and then from the furthermost outpost of the island, I can drop the bottle into the sea as easily as if I dropped it into a mailbox.
However, the ocean does not like the idea at all. It rages ever wilder and more violently. When the threatening gestures don’t work, it surrounds me from all sides. I am just about to put the letter into the bottle when my outpost, which I had believed to be safe, is completely flooded by water.
“Maybe this is a little bit dangerous,” I would think to myself, if I still could think at all. But now, it’s a matter of survival and a split-second decision. I hold on to the bottle, for which I have been risking my life, as I let myself fall into the water, exactly as the next tsunami wave sweeps over me. Thus, I hope to get washed up on the cliffs instead of being dragged out to sea.
What else could I do? Nobody knows the schedule for the tides. And if I sit around on a rock cut off from the mainland until dark, I might even get bored and – who knows -get stupid ideas.
To make a long story short: I survived. Actually, it was even kind of refreshing. But the aniseed bottle broke, and all I have left of it is a sliced right hand. Luckily, I still had a beer bottle in my backpack, although it looks much less representative. And whether the regrafted crown cork will hold until Antarctica, I am not so sure. But for the minute or so that I can still see it, it doesn’t sink.
And now it’s time to be patient. The record for the longest floating message in a bottle, which was eventually found, is 132 years. If mine were to take that long, I wouldn’t be around, but with my 44 years or so, I can sit back and relax for a few decades.
I’m going to cut short the strenuous climb back up the cliffs. As I am lying in the meadow, exhausted and bleeding, but soaking up the warming sun, I am still angry about the lost bottle. At home, I still have glasses of cucumber and pepperoni, I remember. With their screw tops, they must surely be watertight. But the next letters will have to wait until I will be in Horta, where there is a harbour and even a small beach.
- There is a whole blog about bottled letters.
- Too bad that I didn’t have any bottle with me on either of my Atlantic cruises. But back then, I was so broke that I couldn’t even afford a beer.
- More stories from the Azores.
If you don’t want to rely on chance to find my bottle, or if you don’t live by the sea, I will be happy to send you a postcard from the Azores instead. Okay, not to everyone, but to supporters of this blog.