Sunday 15 November, 5.26pm, off Prion Island, South Georgia
After leaving the Falklands, we had two days at sea, in which I attended a few presentations and attempted to write up the blog, but mainly chatted up Jamie and got lashed with Justin, Daphne and Andrea. At first, Daphne was the one cracking me up, but now they just all make me die. Andrea seems really sensible and calm at first, and then when you've been with her for more than about five minutes, she’ll do something random, like
make a weird noise or do a sudden dance or whatever, and I collapse in giggles. She is also the queen of too much information. It is gross and ace all at the same time. And Justin continues to be a delightful blend of evil and sweetness. I am fascinated by him in a very non-sexual way – I just want to like, pinch him, all the time. The other day I used the phrase, "I want to hurt him with my love," much to the mirth of the gathered masses.
There are more of us, but we four are the core gang. Our extended circle includes Jane (American, 49), who like Justin seems innocent and sweet but has a secret core of filth, and who puts up with me imitating her Minnesotan accent with extremely good grace; Jacqui
(Australian, 23), Graham’s younger daughter who at first seemed shy and quiet but has massively come out of her shell, and has this totally innocent and silly sense of humour that cracks me up; Anna (Australian, 25), Graham’s older daughter who cracks me up even more the way she picks on Jacqui in a typical big sister fashion; John, (Australian, late 40s), who wins at sarcasm and hardly ever laughs, so I consider it a great victory when I do make him smirk; Jackie (Australian, 41) and Fraser (Australian, 35), a married couple who are a very good influence on me because
I still have so much fun with them, but it’s a slightly quieter sort of fun; and sisters Sue and Karen, and their friend Debbie, who along with Jane, make up the other noisy foursome in the dining room besides our gang. They’re great fun. I also love some of the staff (and not just the ones I fancy). Solan (kayaking guide, 32), Hannah (bartender, late 20s), and Andy (assistant hotel manager, 30ish) join Jane in throwing the stereotype of Americans having a crappy sense of humour straight out of the window. They’re wicked. Cathy (hotel manager, 30ish) and the
Amazing Noz Darker are both Australian, like most of the staff, and happen to be Jackie's friends from home, so via her, we get quite a bit of crew gossip, which is top. And Annie (assistant expedition leader, late 40s) is not just a sweetheart, she has the sexiest voice in all the land, which much to the amusement of the gang I am also perfecting an impression of.
Every night after dinner there’s a talk in the bar, which I think is genius, because it drags everyone up there and they commence socialising, which is handy for a trip like this, but more importantly, it gets everyone spending their money on excessive amounts of beer. Since as you know, I need no impetus whatsoever to spend all my money on excessive amounts of beer, I seem to spend half my life up there and we’re certainly nightly residents. Last night’s talk was not that fun, actually – most of them range from fine to fecking hysterical, but the guy last night was kind of rocking the “gay-bashing as humour” angle a little, so he turned me off pretty much immediately. Not to mention the fact that most of them do about 10-20 minutes and he was still rabbiting on 45 minutes later. But for the most part they’re great, and hey, it’s a room with alcohol in it, I’m always going to be pro the bar.
So the banter and bonding continued while we sailed to South Georgia, the next stop on our itinerary. I had been forewarned by Alex, my travel agent, that most people who go on these kinds of trips come back raving not about the peninsula, but South G. Combine that with Jamie’s veritable obsession with the place (and since I spend my down time manoeuvring myself into any conversation that I can with the man, I’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated), and my expectations had certainly been raised. And then South Georgia has so far merrily shattered them all by being ten times as amazing as I expected. First off we went to King Haarkon Bay, named for the Norwegian king by the whalers who first
sailed out of there. It’s also part of the Shackleton trail, which on this kind of lark plays a part in the day to day itinerary. Having had two sea days, I’d kind of gotten into the being pissed and dallying about, and the thought of bundling up in all my waterproofs again and braving the snowy, blustery conditions outside was hardly a cheery one. Once again though, all unworthy thoughts were instantly banished when I saw the place. It was PHENOMENAL. Hundreds of elephant seals littered the beach, against a backdrop of stunning mountains. In one hollow, we found six very serious looking king penguins. Dozens of birds swooped around our heads, and we saw a bunch of skuas fighting over a dead seal pup
(not the nicest thing, I guess, but definitely interesting). The weather stayed perfect for us, we had glorious blue skies the whole time (which one of the photography experts on board, John Rodsted, would say is boring, but bollocks to you, John, I like blue skies, okay?), and the snow and water just sparkled. The horrible thing is, there’s no more I can actually say to describe this place, because all we did was walk around for a couple of hours, but it was two of the best hours of my whole life. It was spectacular, there’s no other word for it. Hee – I ran into Fraser and Jackie as I was wandering around, and this conversation occurred:
Susan: Would it be over the top to describe this as the most astonishingly magnificently beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my whole life?
Jackie: (made agreeing noises)
Fraser: (pause) I don’t know. Bath’s pretty nice.
He slays me.
In the opinion of some of my buds though, King Haarkon Bay, whilst excellent, was knocked into a cocked hat by this morning’s excursion to Salisbury Plains. I personally loved King Haarkon Bay for the grandeur of the place, but Salisbury Plains was pretty impressive too. Imagine, if you will, a king penguin. Then imagine another one. Then imagine that, times a hundred thousand. That’s what Salisbury Plains looks like. Completely ridiculous. Completely spectacular. Completely excellent. Jamie made penguin noises, it was a gas. Well, all apart from the bit where I fell thigh deep into a big puddle of penguin poop. That was less fun. It did lead to this exchange though:
Susan: (innocently) You do know your hat isn’t on straight?
Justin: (without missing a beat) You do know you’re covered in penguin shit?
I fell about. Not literally though, as that would have involved me landing in more penguin poop.
You had to get special permission to land at this afternoon’s spot, Prion Island. It’s closed for some of the season to protect the breeding wandering albatrosses and South Georgia pipits (apparently the pipits are kind of a big deal – Tony the bird guy says birders across the land will be unendingly impressed that we saw them. Perhaps I will make some birdwatching friends, just so that I might brag to them), and I think someone said they considered closing it full time to tourism, but they have instead built this special walkway for people to wander along. You have to stick to the path, and you can only stop at the viewing platforms, but it was still ace. At the first one, we saw a parent wandering albatross feeding its chick, which Tony said happens on average about once a week or something, so we were pretty lucky with our timing, and then he had found a dead Antarctic tern which he showed us at the second (admittedly slightly less impressive) viewing platform. It was very nifty. I’m afraid I don’t have a funny conversation fragment from Prion Island, but I can tell you that Solan did an impression of an albatross and a guy called Arturro got bit in the ass by a fur seal. (Seriously. He was fine though.)