Monthly Archives: February 2010

Antarctica: Wish You Were Here

“19 jan 2010

12:15 pm
sailing through
the lemaire channel
currently at
64°54′ 700″ S
63°47′ 100″ W
icebergs ahead,
white on white landscapes
portside…”

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Antarctica: Senza Parole

it is said
that eskimos have
a hundred different words for snow

one hundred words
and not one to express
the feeling of

spotting the very first iceberg of the journey

hearing the sudden crash of a glacier

making snow angels in an antarctic blizzard

tasting thousand year old glacial ice

watching snowflakes dance in the frigid wind

being enveloped in a panorama of white

all in a place that, for most, exists only in dreams

a hundred words
yet I remain
speechless.

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Antarctica: Morning Has Broken

“Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s re-creation of the new day…”

© Eleanor Farjeon

Our wake up announcement will come at 6:00. Enough time to fight off Mr. Sandman, don layer after layer of windproof and waterproof, and muster to the zodiacs by 6:30.

But my morning begins much earlier. “Morning” in name only, as the sun never really sets this far into the southern latitudes. I race to get dressed, grab my camera, and run up to Deck 5.

As with the day before, and the day before that, I find that I have the glass-enclosed Panorama Lounge, and the Antarctic morning, all to myself.

I rush to the window. Shades of gray. I look down and see a gray sea. I look up and see a gray sky. And I look ahead and can barely make out the hint of a gray iceberg in the distance.

The color of sadness just about anywhere. Anywhere but here.

For I know this cold and gray holds life. On the ice. Beneath the sea. In the blustery wind above.

This cold and gray holds power. Inhospitable. Uninhabitable. A backdrop where one cannot help but feel so small in the grand scheme. And so blessed to be a part of it all.

And this cold and gray reminds me that I am an adventurer, that I have crossed far past the boundary line that most never imagine or dare to cross. And way beyond the possibilities I ever dreamt for myself.

I step outside, the wind is frigid and fierce. I try to steady myself against the railing, raise my camera to my eye and wonder if I can capture in the frame what I see in this cold and gray: Nothing. And everything.

In a few minutes everyone will be awake. Hopefully the wind will die down just enough so our zodiac ride won’t be canceled, and the sun will peek out just enough to make for some good photographs.

But for now, in my last moments of quietude, I can’t possibly imagine a better view in this early hour than these icy shades of gray.

Every morning is a beautiful morning in Antarctica.

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Antarctica: Zero Degrees

Wintersilks lightweight 100% silk long johns

REI silk liner socks

REI mini crew merino wool hiking socks

North Face TKA100 fleece pants

REI waterproof breathable windproof pants

North Face TKA100 glacier 1/4 zip fleece top

Buff merino wool neck gaiter

North Face Sonoma Swirl wool cap

Zeal Optics Airstream polarized, 100% UV protection sunglasses

Expedition-issued fleece-lined waterproof/windproof parka

Fleece shoe insoles

Expedition-issued wellington boots

Seirus Hyperlite all weather gloves

REI Polartec Windpro combination gloves/mittens

Heatmax Hothands chemical hand warmers…

and the discovery that
in Antarctica
zero degrees celsius
is the temperature at which
your heart
melts.

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Antarctica: On a Magic Carpet Ride

“I can open your eyes
Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride…”

© Alan Menken & Tim Rice

We queue up, bundled in layer upon layer, and wait our turn. I am a zodiac riding rookie, and I’m nervous.

A rubber raft with metal floor and outboard engine, just getting in and out requires the small bit of coordination that I’m doubting I possess. I survey the vessel and see no seats, just the rounded rubber edge, and no handles, just a loose rope laced across the sides. I wonder how cold the water will feel – and whether my waterproof backpack holding all my camera gear is really as waterproof as advertised – when I fall in.

We’re seated, the motor is started and we are off. Miraculously, within seconds I become fairly confident that I’m not going overboard, and my heart pounding with fear is now a heart pounding with thrilling anticipation.

Sometimes the zodiac is simply a shuttle to transport us from ship to shore. Other times the ride itself is the destination. We never know exactly what we will encounter when we step inside, but we always know we are in for something magical…

“I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid…”

We weave our way slowly through an ice sculpture garden. Illuminated from below by blue neon spotlights, each a chiseled masterpiece of immense proportions. I am Alice, floating through a frozen Wonderland.

“A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view…”

Two humpback whales, mother and calf, are spotted. We motor toward them, and as their curiosity is a match for ours, they approach. They playfully surface, showing off their flukes to the rapid-fire click click click of our cameras. They dive far below, and we count down until they resurface and the show starts again.

“A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew…”

Hundreds, thousands, seemingly hundreds of thousands of penguins. Everywhere we look. Chicks nestled underneath their mothers, reaching up with all their might for nourishment. Fathers unabashedly stealing stones from neighboring nests. The smells and sounds startle our senses; the energy of abundant new life invigorates our souls.

“Unbelievable sights
Indescribable feeling
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling…”

To think that I once hesititated before stepping inside. Now, I hope this magic carpet ride lasts forever…

“A whole new world
A hundred thousand things to see
I’m like a shooting star
I’ve come so far
I can’t go back to where I used to be.”

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Antarctica: My Funny Valentine

My funny Valentine
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art…

© Rodgers & Hart

As if on cue, the Chamber of Commerce welcoming committee greets us as we come ashore. Tuxedoed ambassadors of the ice.

We diligently obey the “stay 5 metres away” rule, while secretly hoping that the “but it’s okay if they approach you” loophole comes into play. And they oblige. With their Charlie Chaplin waddle and bumbling pratfalls, we can’t help but smile.

The comedy ensues as they strut, single file, to the water’s edge. “After you.” “No, after YOU.” Haven’t I seen this before in a Laurel and Hardy routine? After much hesitation, one by one they belly flop into the sea. More smiles and laughs.

But within seconds, their awkwardness transforms into grace and agility, swiftly porpoising through the water. We are soberly reminded that we are witnessing not silly cartoon characters, but rather beautiful and sleek swimming birds, searching for food and hoping to evade their ocean predators.

Yet only for a second are we reminded. Because we hear a high pitched squawk behind us. And we turn around to see another wind-up plush toy playing for our laughter. And stealing our hearts.

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Antarctica: Top of the World

“Such a feeling’s coming over me
There is wonder in most everything I see…”
© Richard Carpenter & John Bettis

We hike up a steep, snowy path; my clumsy wellington boots attempting to retrace the footsteps of my predecessors, lest i might sink into the white abyss never to be seen again!

We have been briefed on the ground rules: Once at the summit, no cameras clicking, no talking, none of that ubiquitous velcro ripping sound from our yellow parkas. Just sit down, enjoy a few minutes of silence and take it all in.

And take it all in I do! I am enveloped in crisp fresh air and a panorama of black and white mountains and crystal waters. Made more spectacular by the realization that I am somewhere very remote and special, enjoying what few get to enjoy. The serenity is pierced only by the magnificent crash of a glacier calving in the distance. Tears fill my eyes.

Far too soon, it is time to retreat from my mountaintop perch and make way for some fellow travelers to have their own moments of bliss. And while I hesitatingly trudge down the snowy path back to sea level, I remain high as can be.

I dismiss all this talk about Antarctica being at the “bottom of the world.” I know better.

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