Saturday, 28 December 2013

ICE WHITE CHRISTMAS - TALE OF THE UNEXPECTED, ONE WEDDING, ONE PROPOSAL AND 24000 PENGUINS....


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It is not the journey of discovery about seeing new landscapes, it is seeing those landscapes with different eyes that is the journey of discovery.   Proust.


Wish I had said that.    I have a feeling looking back at Antarctica a week or month or year from now I will think of it more clearly, perhaps more intently than I am now, but it's good to write immediate thoughts too.  

I missed out chatting about the stay in Ushuaia before we boarded the boat.  We stayed at Hotel Los Cauquenes, which overlooked the Patagonian shore. Stunning views and I practiced warrior poses on the beach.  Not perfect but then who is.  Beautiful hotel, lovely service, wonderful rooms, if you do this trip (don't make it your 7th, just make it because it's 'there'), stay here.   They have a gym where the running machines over look an incredible view so you can gaze in awe and work out at the same time.  Or not. 

We had yoga on the boat as well, led by Liz Gifford, who organised 'gentle stretching' at 6ish most mornings although I was the only one who turned up on Christmas Day so we had what she called a Christmas Core.   This was nothing like gentle stretching but I felt virtuous and oh so sore.  

Some of the passengers chose to kayak the excursions rather than zodiac and land, getting a different perspective of the place.    I only heard when I returned a Russian ship had got stuck in the ice traveling from New Zealand to Antarctica on Christmas Day. I'm not surprised. There were more icebergs than they expected, according to the cruise leader, the commanding presence of Boris (another Canadian), who would every day tell us at breakfast, lunch and supper, what our schedule would be, adding that the schedule was only there to show what they would be detracting from, although as far as I know, that never happened on this trip.  Nothing was cancelled, shortened or amended.   Four years ago, the Vlavilov had to rescue the passengers from another cruise ship that had hit an iceberg.   

We were there over Christmas.  I mention this almost as an after thought.   Was there anything Christmassy about this trip?   I made paper chains. Haven't done that since I was six.   I decorated ginger biscuits with red, green and white icing. I don't think I've ever done that.   Didn't watch or miss any Christmas TV, although there were showings of Happy Feet One, Two and Elf.     There were two Christmas trees on board (neither real), we had turkey but no Christmas pudding, and I didn't get any presents because Santa is a North Pole kind-of-guy.   A couple on board (crew members) got married on Christmas Day, one couple got engaged on Christmas Eve (can't really be bettered can it? - I was also proposed to on a Christmas Eve, but it was in a car park in Weston Turvill which doesn't quite have the same ring to it).   The crew wore penguins on their heads (hats not real ones which wouldn't be very eco friendly), and we had apple hot toddy on our returns on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.   

This is the ultimate in experiential travel.   Following in the footsteps of explorers, it’s a privilege to be here.  It’s a place that should leave you cold. Think about it.   Loads of ice, blistering cold wind, mammals that may or may not appear, nothing can be fast tracked, ruddy faced hardened Russian sailors will tell you the weather can turn at a blink, birds that swoop by the boats that look small but are in fact of prehistoric size, and terrain that has defeated many men, (but not many women).  Nothing may turn up just because you have.  The weather may be foul and often is because it's the South Pole and anything can happen.   You can't manage expectations because nature doesn't play to deadlines and the penguins won't appear and waddle on command, nor will whales sound, nor seals peep their grey shiny heads above water and stare at you with those big brown watery eyes of theirs just because you have your camera lens at the ready.  To describe Antarctica is difficult.  Poets do not do it justice (I've read much of it).   Neither do superlatives. But I will try.     

It's like going to a performance at the Opera.  The landscape is melodramatic.   The space will either draw you in or it won't.  It may be your 7th continent to tick box. The ulimate white Christmas, something to say you’ve done.   Penguins seen. Icebergs climbed.  Whale watched. Water jumped into. Tick.   

Or you will ‘get it’.  You will take in everything, sound, sight, smell, touch and you will suffer emotion overload. And you will sob. Not cry, you will sob.  Try not to sob when you are out on deck as your tears will freeze.      The Iceberg backdrop, the whale; the large fat lady who sings, and the penguins; the perpetual chorus line of Charlie Chaplins, waddling and falling over and looking round to see if anyone is looking and then sliding on their bellies, swimming on their backs in the sea, the different species ignoring each other like suburban neighbours comparing wisteria but allowing each other into their space as long as they don't pinch their stones from the nest (they all do it). But I’m projecting personality onto them. They are penguins, fishy smelling noisy birds that call out and protect their stone nests with determined anality, continually looking at the egg to see if it’s still there every few minutes or so just like a mother does her first born in the cot.   New mothers, you know what I mean.   

That relentless wind and cold adds to the drama.  Antarctica packs a powerful punch to the stomach, winding you with emotion.  Imagine everything that stirs emotion in you all at once, that turns you from the antipathy of anal, relentless, small minded normality, safety, and fear.   Think of something that stirs you with passion, if you know what passion is.   Too many places around the world have been described as other worldly, awesome, phenomenal, stunning, incredible, brilliant, inspiring so to call Antarctica any of these things makes it equivalent, same as, equal to, as good as these places. Comparable to these places.  And as interesting as these places probably are in their own way, they are not in this way. 

Before I visited, I  thought the mountains of ski resorts would have the same or similar energy, or the wonders of the world, and yes they do lift you – in their own way. Any mountain energy and air lifts you, but it’s different here.    Think of it ladies as a man who tells you he loves you in ‘his own way’.   That, ladies as you know, is not love.   Now think how you feel when it's the real thing.   This is the real thing.

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