11.40am - Summer On The Continent

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

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday 27 November, 11.40am, the Lemaire Channel

In 1984 I was born in England, Europe.
In 1991 I went to the United States, North America.
In 2000 I went to Egypt, Africa.
In 2006 I went to the United Arab Emirates, Asia.
In 2008 I went to New Zealand, Australasia.
In 2009 I went to Argentina, South America.

And yesterday, I went to Neko Harbour, Antarctica.

Twenty five years. Seven continents. Tick!                                                                          

Neko Harbour wasn't especially noteworthy compared to some of the places we’ve seen over the past few weeks (South Georgia kicks Antarctica’s ass a lot of the time in terms of sheer outstanding natural beauty), and the weather was once again pretty snowy and blowy, but we didn’t care. None of it mattered a jot, because we were on Antarctica! ANTARCTICA!! I kept jumping up and down and squeaking at people, because I was just so excited. (I think Justin was beginning to seriously consider feeding me to a leopard seal.) We went to check out yet another nice little gang of gentoos, and some people started to make their way up the mountain to look out over a gorgeous glacier we could see from the bottom too. As the weather started to worsen, I decided to head up the mountain too before they closed it, but only got halfway up before I met Solan, who said he’d just heard over the radio that Woody and the doc were closing the walk up because the conditions were getting too dicey. I stood and chatted to him for a bit in the near blizzard conditions before we started seeing little coloured shapes coming out of the endless white. As the shapes got closer, they turned out to be people, who were having a lot of trouble trying to walk down a steep hill when they couldn’t even see their hands in front of their faces. Justin, Daphne, Andrea and I paused for a little play before trying to slowly make our way back down; as always with these things, getting up isn’t too bad, because falling forward is fine, but getting back down again is much harder when the potential for a nasty tumble is high.

After we reached the bottom, it was looking like we’d have to go straight back to the Zodiacs, but in one of those instant weather changes we’ve begun to anticipate here, the blizzard began to lessen until it was more or less gone, meaning we could stay a little while longer. Well, you don’t need to tell us twice, so we immediately started wrestling around in the snow, taking photos, loudly discussing penguin sex and generally having a whale of a time. We all have a thousand pics of penguins and seals and whales, too, so it was nice to get some photos of my friends in all our snow gear, instead of just in the bar. In only a few short weeks, I’ve become incredibly close to these people, and I can’t believe this trip is almost over. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I don’t miss the people I’m away from now as much as I think I’ll miss these guys when I leave. I know I’ll see my friends at home again, but it’s not going to be the case with these people; the nearest person geographically to me is Andrea in Stafford, but she’s travelling at the moment so in some ways, she’ll be the person who’s furthest away. Bonding with people like Jane, Justin, and the Tassies, knowing they’ll be in America and Australia and therefore hours of flying and thousands of pounds away, it’s almost worse than not making friends with anyone at all. It’s handy right now with my future travel plans, sure, because I get to visit everyone along the way, but eventually I’ll have to settle down somewhere and it sucks knowing I won’t get to see these people on a regular basis. With the internet, they’ll never be out of touch completely, but it’s not the same. I just have to miss my English friends and family for a month. I’ll miss these people forever.

After Neko Harbour, we headed back to the ship to warm up, but our day in Antarctica was only just beginning. After wolfing down some lunch, we bundled ourselves up for the afternoon of Zodiac cruising and then landing at Paradise Harbour. Some people wanted to cruise first, and others to land, but since for me cruising is always more important, I wanted to get on with it whilst the weather was good. I was queuing with Jane, giggling about Zodiac gods again, when would you Adam and bloody well Eve it, they decided to forgive my little indiscretion from the other day and when I got to the top of the queue, the next boat to appear was helmed by the gorgeous Mr Watts. Jane has always respected and feared the awesome power of the gods, so she got her perfect boat as usual (I’m not the only one around here with a staff crush, you see). Didn’t get much company on board, but I learnt my lesson after Deception Island and no longer question these things, plus most of my friends were kayaking or doing a landing anyway. I spotted Jane on her boat at one point and started giggling because she was beaming and pointing at me, and Jamie hit me over the head with his glove (ha, I say glove – they’re mittens) because he thought I was laughing at him. Which I sort of was, but not in a harsh way – how to explain our newfound Zodiac religion?

Anyway, cute drivers aside, it was a truly wonderful trip around the glacier at Skontorp Cove. They’re even more dangerous than the icebergs because you get maybe a second’s warning that they’re about to calve, and if they do and you’re anywhere near them, then forget about it – your boat is going under, because even if you’re far enough away from the ice itself, you are still going to get hit by the mini tidal wave that ripples out from the impact of the new iceberg crashing into the sea. But the danger is well worth getting close enough to see them (although ideally not close enough to tragically die), because they are unbelievably beautiful. The one here looked like a huge building, with Gaudiesque turrets atop it. Between that and the icebergs floating peacefully nearby, it was a truly spectacular sight. I literally could have spent hours there, but eventually it was time to land. It wasn’t exactly a hardship though – you walk through a little passage after you land to the back of the whaling station, where there are a bunch of gentoos going about their usual spazzy gentoo business, and then a huge hill behind. If you climb the hill, you can see not only over to the glacier we’d cruised around earlier, but down into this this big lake-like area too. I went halfway up, then my feet were cold and I needed the loo so I started to head back, but I met Jamie on the way up and he wasn’t having any of it, so dragged me up to the top. It was nice up there, and I had a laugh with him, Jacqui, Anna and Kim, but I was still kind of concerned about my bladder, so started to make my way back down again. Which is when I realised that although it had been steep coming up, it had been nothing compared to trying to get back down again.

Noz (of the clan Darker) was watching me in amusement from the top of the path. I turned and called to her for assistance.

"Just sit down and slide on your arse!" she shouted helpfully, grinning.

I cocked an eyebrow. “You’re all going to laugh at me!” I shouted back.

She and Jamie made demurring motions from the top. I raised the other eyebrow skeptically.

“Go over to the left – see where everyone else did it?” she yelled, pointing.

I gingerly made my way sideways across the slope, discovering, as she’d said, two grooves that had been worn into the snow by the bums of the earlier landers (another reason it was good that we came later – we didn’t have to make the grooves ourselves). I sat down carefully and pushed myself off. Before I knew it, I was flying down the hill at fricking warp speed, digging my fingers and heels in to try and slow myself down. Fortunately, there were stops along the way where little dips cropped up and I skidded naturally to a halt each time I found myself approaching terminal velocity. It was the most fun, because waterproof pants are slick and shiny so you go fast, but they are, by their very nature, warm and waterproof, so you don’t get the slightest bit wet, and you’re wearing so much padding it’s not uncomfortable. It was, rather stupidly, one of the best times I’ve had, just because you’d never find a hill that high and steep covered with snow that clean and deep anywhere else but down here. And the fact that the trails had already been worn made it even better, because you knew it was rock-free!

I was half tempted to hurry back up the hill and have one more go before leaving, but I was slightly concerned I would wet myself, so reluctantly dragged myself away and headed back to the boat with Anna and Jacs. It’s also a good thing I left when I did because it meant I got a chance to shower and prepare for the evening’s festivities. The first barbecue, back in South Georgia, was a great, great night, so when I saw on the daily program that we’d be having another one, I was thrilled. When we got out there, it was actually quite a bit warmer than it had been in South G too, mainly because there was less wind, and this time everyone already had the hang of this barbecue lark and therefore knew the glühwein tank thing runs out remarkably fast if you don’t keep an eye on it. I did a few drink runs for the table, then got sidetracked when Jamie caught me carrying two cups of glühwein which I was forced to admit were both for me. I gave him one and we chatted for a couple of minutes, and when I returned to the table I discovered that the rest of the glühwein had been purloined (purwein, seriously, it’s gonna catch on) by my beloved amigos. Seriously, walked over, there’s Andrea grinning like a Cheshire Cat with a jug of mulled wine between her thighs. I’d never been prouder in my life of my selection of friends. I don’t care if everyone on this ship hates me – as long as I have these guys on my side, all is right with the world.

Finally, we had one of the best bar talks we’ve had the whole trip. For every mealtime where someone on the table has eaten any kind of salad, the question has always been raised – how the hell are they keeping this lettuce fresh when we haven’t docked at any ports in weeks? Eventually a couple of us decided they had a garden somewhere on the mysterious deck 2, where the Russians live, and left it at that. (That is also where they grow pot, make moonshine and have the orgies and knife fights. It all goes on on deck 2. My impression of Phone Sex Annie mainly revolves around speculating what goes on on deck 2.) Tonight, the bar talk was from Steve the chef, whom I have struck up something of a friendship with over the weeks, and it was fascinating,. He got more questions than anyone else the whole trip, and the talk was as funny and dry as I’d expect from that guy. He’s a really good bloke, I like him a lot.

After the barbie and the talk, the night degenerated into the usual drunken tomfoolery and dancing about outside, because for once, it really wasn’t that cold, so we made the most of it. It also meant we got to spy on Solan, Woody and Coolio in the almost altogether after just emerging from the sauna. Utterly excellent. I am desolate that our time is drawing so rapidly to an end, but determined to make the most of these last few days. 
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