Christmas Eve with Evie

Trip Start Jun 18, 2005
Trip End Jan 01, 2006

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, December 24, 2005

Today is Christmas Eve, and I have walked Antarctic soil. The first announcement on the information speaker at 7:30 was this: "I will no longer comment on the weather. This is silly!" Our expedition leader was awed by our good fortune - clear skies, calm waters, 41 degrees.

At breakfast, I asked the question. Surely I won't need my longjohns? Surely not the wool sweater? "Da wetter kud change," Will admonished me. "Take da swetter!" I was sitting at the table with Will and Paul and Annemarie and their parents, who were chatting away in Dutch with an occasional English comment thrown in for me. I asked Paul what a typical Dutch breakfast would be. He pointed to examples in his plate as he explained it would be sandwich-like, with ham and cheese and vegetables. "What about cereal?" I inquired. "Yes, corn flakes, with sugar already on." "Frosty flakes?" I said. "Yes!" he laughed. "And chocolate too," threw in Annemarie. "Cocoa puffs?" I replied. "Yes! Cocoa puffs and chocolate milk!"

I finished my omelet and sausages, said goodbye, and headed for my room. Time to waterproof. Long underwear, check. Fleece pants, check. Wool socks, check. Wool sweater, check. Waterproof pants next, zipping right, zipping left, Velcro at the bottom. Waterproof bag for cameras into the pack. Fleecy hat, scarf, gloves. Waterproof mittens. Now I rattled when I walked, screech screech, screech, screech. I could not be a spy.

I headed for Dekk 7 to watch the first group leave. We were divided into six groups, names posted on the wall like a playground list at school. Group 1 is first on the first excursion, followed by Group 2, and so on. Next excursion, Group 2 is first, followed by Group 3, and Group 1 will be last! So, everyone gets a turn to go first. This was explained to us carefully, watching our faces, hoping, I guess, that we wouldn't be quarrelsome and whiny. I was in Group 6, this was the third excursion for the trip, so, hence, therefore, I would be on the fourth boat today??

"Group 6 may proceed to the Departure Dekk!" was finally called. I scurried down to the boot room, filled with stacks and rows of black rubber Wellies, size clearly handpainted in yellow on the back. I found some 8's, hoping the fit over the wool socks would work. Puff puff pant pant struggle on with the boots. Into the next room, blop blop blop blop. I was handed a life jacket, helped to adjust it over my Nordic blue Antarctica Voyage of Discovery waterproof, windproof parka. Then fumble through all the layers to find my ID card. Beep, scan me through, officially checked out. Next onto the disinfectant sponge (no germs allowed on shore in the penguin rookery), through the spraywash for the boots, to the ship's door. Narrow steps, rope for railing, blop blop blop blop to the PolarCirkel boat. I was the last one in.

It was a beautiful ride, five minutes across to Arctowski Base, grab the PolarCirkel rails, step to a metal step perched perilously in the rocky waters. "Jump!" I was told. I jumped, splashed in clear water nearly to my knees.

Aha! My well-baptized feet are in the Southern Ocean! But I cannot reach my camera, cannot even walk. A gentleman behind offers his arm. I take it, gratefully, and climb the rocky bank. On shore, I realize I will not be able to walk to the rookery, a mile or so away. The rocks are too big, too rough for my uncertain hobble-walk. My feet are slipping inside the Wellies, blop blop blop. I analyze my options.

"Manuel tells you there are 17 species of penguin," our leader had said in an earlier briefing, following a lecture by our resident penguin researcher. "But I say there are two. Black penguins, and white penguins. If you see penguins, and run towards them shouting Look Look Penguins!, then you will see nothing but black penguins. If you see penguins, and stand very still, patiently waiting for them to come to you, then you will see white penguins."

OK, I decided, as my eyes scanned the rocky shore, I will stand very still. Maybe the penguins will come to me.

Patience pays.

A single penguin came around a rock, hobbling, wobbling, struggling even more than me on the uneven ground. Balancing her flippers sideways, left, right, left, right, she reached the top of our little ridge and looked around. More rocks ahead. An uneven walk to the beach, and lunch.

Evie looked up at me. I looked back at Evie. We looked at the hateful rocks together. "ohrmmmmmmph" she said, with a shake of her head. "That's a long walk," I knew she meant. She looked at me again, her white-ringed eyes unblinking and clear. Then she shook her head, flapped her flippers in a get-started motion, and hobbled across the rocks to the ocean shore.

You go, girl.
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