5.45pm - Gods & Monsters

Trip Start Nov 03, 2009
Trip End Dec 02, 2009

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Flag of United States  , South Shetland Islands
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday 24 November, 5.45pm, Deception Island

Well, it had to happen eventually. In this month of wonderful times, I'm finally having a shitty day. Though it’s gratifying to note that even the shitty days are pretty groovy around here.

Yesterday we technically arrived into Antarctica, as we passed by Elephant Island, where Shackleton was forced to leave his men behind whilst he made a desperate bid for South Georgia to fetch help. It’s amazing that he made it out at all in his tiny lifeboat, because there was so much ice around the island that although we’d hoped to land or at least do a Zodiac cruise, there was no chance. Instead, we did a ship cruise, which was fun (although once again, we were dragged out of our lovely warm beds at cock o’clock. It’s almost like they don’t expect you to be in the bar til the wee hours or something). And spotting some chinstraps hanging out casually on an iceberg was a pretty awesome sight, it must be said.

Elephant Island is, as I said, technically within Antarctica, but as part of the South Shetlands, it’s still some way from the continent itself, so in the afternoon we set off again. Today, we’d more or less reached it, arriving at Deception Island, a flooded volcano. Part of the walls broke down and the ocean flooded into the caldera, but the volcano itself is still active, and as such, the water is thermally "heated" (ie. a degree or two above the freezing temperatures we have encountered elsewhere). I was on a bit of a downer when we first set off for the landing, however, due to being informed of my unpopularity with some members of our merry shipboard group. Apparently some people disapprove of my own special brand of booming laugh, which made me sad, because for all my “fuck other people, I don’t care what they think of me” stuff, nobody wants to be told that they’re ruining it for the rest. I was very blue through breakfast and onto the beach, but after a good chinwag with Daphne and another one with Little J, I soon cheered up, and anyway, nobody could fail to be distracted by the striking scenery at Deception Island.

Access to the island involves negotiating the small gap in the volcano wall, known as Neptune’s Bellows because of the perilous winds which rule the area. Fortunately, our captain is a stone cold badass, and slipped the ship through with the greatest of ease. The abandoned buildings at Whalers Bay make for a compelling scene against the mountainous backdrop, and the black volcanic sand is entirely unlike anything else we’ve seen so far. There was an unfortunate incident in which I managed to get stuck in the snow (and I do mean stuck – couldn’t move my leg at all, even attempts to slip my foot out of my wellies were unsuccessful and for a moment I wondered if I’d have to live there), which threatened to bring my mood back down again, but I rallied and with the help of a kind passerby, freed myself from my snowy prison. A quick gossip with Solan up at Neptune’s Window, a stunning lookout point over a sheer drop to the ocean, and I was almost back to normal.

As I mentioned earlier, the water at Deception Island is slightly warmer than elsewhere, and in days gone by, crews from tourist ships would dig pits on the beach and fill them with water. The geothermal heat would create a sort of natural hot tub, and guests would be invited to have a dip. These days, the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) guidelines frown on such things – quite understandable, all things considered – so the only way one gets to experience the water is to strip down and hurl oneself into it. Now, the water might be warmer than it is elsewhere, but we’re still talking about extremely cold water here. Most people would prefer to remain safely warm and dry and wrapped in their hundreds of layers. Others, like, oh, say, Daphne, Justin, Jacqui, Anna, and John, decide that they’d much rather throw their bathing suits on and dash into the surf. This ludicrous act is known as the Polar Plunge. Jamie, showing an alarming lack of sense in a man so brainy, has committed this assault on his frame not just once but multiple times. Men are weird, I guess. Whilst wandering around, I’d run into John, and he told me he and Jamie had made an agreement to do the Plunge together before they headed back to the ship (you pretty much need to leap straight into a Zodiac and dash for the sauna after you get out of the water before hypothermia sets in). I told him I would pay good money to see such a thing, and instructed him that they were not to do it without letting me watch. The swines almost got away from me too, since I’d gotten caught up at Neptune’s Window having the aforementioned gossip with Solan, but I arrived back at the beach just in time to see them in the distance heading for the water’s edge. I ran over to see them come shivering but smiling out of the surf and watch Justin, undeterred by the interesting noises they’d made when the water hit their gentlemen’s areas, throw himself in after them.

Ordinarily I’d now comment on the strangeness of men (and perhaps generally people whose names begin with the letter J), except that the story was not yet over. I went back to the ship with Justin on the next Zodiac, but this was madness and folly, because the fun was just beginning – minutes later, unbeknownst to me, Jacqui had roped Daphne and Anna into coming with her for her own plunge. Jacs and Anna were wearing thermals, but Daphne did it in just her bikini, the loon. They clearly build them tough in the west of Ireland.

So my mood, though still subdued, was lifted by my morning in Whalers Bay, and this afternoon we were told there would be another Zodiac cruise. I do love a Zodiac cruise, so even the slightly dodgy weather (snow, wind etc) did not get me down. What did get me down, unfortunately, was the fact that I deliberately declined to get on Jamie’s Zodiac so I could stick with Andrea (all in the pursuit of appearing C&S, or Cool & Suave. Don’t ask, it’s a whole thing). However, I didn’t fully explain this to Andrea, and much to my horror, she left me to fill the last spot on his boat herself. The Zodiac gods had offered me my ideal boat, and I had spurned them. The Zodiac gods do not like to be spurned. I watched in dismay as Jamie’s gang disappeared into the distance, and then laughed mirthlessly as I realised that not only would I now be alone, but I’d be stuck on the next boat, with Dr Coolio.

(NB. Coolio is not his real name. He’s Russian – his name is Kouliev. But on our giggly first night in the bar, it sounded enough like Coolio to confuse Justin when we told him what it was, and we got enough laughs out of the mixup that the name stuck for the rest of the trip.)

Let me hasten to point out right now that the doc is not a bad guy. Unfortunately, he IS a bad Zodiac driver. But since I was right at the head of the queue, I couldn’t exactly duck out, so, cursing every step, I trudged reluctantly down the gangway to get into his boat. On a slight upside, I was joined by Naughty Girl Laraine and her husband Richard, which was nice, but still didn’t quite mitigate the double blow of losing a place on Jamie’s boat and gaining one on Coolio’s. The Zodiac gods weren’t finished with me yet, though – not three minutes after we set off, the engine stalled. And stalled. And stalled. After summoning Flipper, the Zodiac guru, it was decided that our boat was kaput, and we were returned to the ship to await another Zodiac. Unfortunately, there were no more in the water, as they’d all gone in the time we’d been fannying around trying to get our engine started. We therefore hung around, in heavy snow, for half an hour, cruising time a-wasting and getting steadily colder and in my case, ever more grumpy. Eventually, they rustled up another boat, with the lovely Tony at the helm. We got nothing like as much time as everyone else, and the weather was so bad by the time we returned that we were all literally huddling together trying to keep our faces out of the snow and wind. And of course, I arrived back to see Justin and Daphne laughing their heads off at how much fun they’d had, and Andrea asking innocently why I hadn’t wanted to get in Jamie’s boat. ARGH.

Lesson learned, however. The Zodiac gods are powerful gods. The Zodiac gods are even benevolent gods. But when crossed, the Zodiac gods are vengeful gods.

Do not, under any circumstances, fuck with the Zodiac gods.
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jane shortridge on

I love this blog entry as there are so many things in line w my experience: parallel experiences yet we were apart most of this day. I fell/got stuck in the snow, too. I, too, spurned the Zodiac gods and got in one w problems AND Dr. Coolio came to my "rescue"! Love reading about all of this from your perspective. Makes me miss you more, though.

jane shortridge on

Can you put video in this blog? The Justin video is perfect fodder for this forum.

suzloua on

Ooh, I can, actually, I just never have because it takes so long to upload, but the J vid is pretty short...

nathan priestley on

lovin the blog hun :) esp plunging fools sounds like a good band name

suzloua on

Tonight: Plunging Fools! With support from Porpoising Penguins and The Frozen Testicle Brigade.

Ted on

Funny story... shoulda gone with Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris :) *way* in depth voyage!

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