9.21pm - The Last Goodbye

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

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Flag of Argentina  , Capital Federal District,
Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday 30 November, 9.21pm, Hotel Elevage

The last few days on board ship, Jane was all but inconsolable, and kept bursting into tears at the slightest provocation (such provocations included discussing which flights we were all on, someone saying they hadn't packed yet, and on one particularly alarming occasion, because "the mountains are just... so... BEAUTIFUL!!!") I was sympathetic, of course, but I’m English, so I was forced to take the piss out of her a little bit.

Right now I wish I had someone here to take the piss out of me and snap me out of it, because I’m having severe difficulty dealing.

The breakdown in our solid routine, the stresses of travelling, too many emotional goodbyes, and a not inconsiderable hangover have all combined to give me a severe case of the weepies. I barely cry at home about anything that’s not related to my family (ooh, or that Cancer Research advert with all the people saying “I shouldn’t be here” and then the bride who says “my mum should be here” whilst Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold plays in the background), but right now, anything from looking at the photographs, to the lovely card Justin wrote me, to simply hearing the songs we listened to on board – it’s all knocking me comprehensively for six. They were playing Hey Jude in reception when I checked in and I actually had to dig my nails into my leg to help me hold it together. (We sang along to that the night of the bestamped breasts.)

So in an attempt to help me overcome my pitiful ways, let me go back over the last couple of days and catch you up on the final part of my Antarctic journey.

First of all, I am now the proud owner of a jacket bearing the words “Antarctic Journeys”. Everyone on board has been laden in gear from the gift shop almost from day one, which I have steadfastly refused to join in on. I walk my own path, yo. But I reckoned without the oratory skill of young Andy, the assistant hotel manager and gift shop proprietor. Every day, when the gift shop opens, Andy makes an announcement over the tannoy to let everyone know, and every day it is different but they are all of equal brilliance. Once we were in the bar and Daphne had headphones in, and I yanked them out of her ears so she could hear it. You have to hear his American accent and the way he says it to truly appreciate it, but some of our favourites have included “Shoppers shoppers shoppers!”, “Hello friends, hello neighbours”, and “You can buy a penguin. You can buy a t-shirt. You can buy a penguin ON a t-shirt.” The man is a legend, and no matter how much I didn’t want to be laden down with tat on the journey home, I could no longer deny him a visit to his little souvenir emporium. I figured there couldn’t be too much harm in looking, because most of the good stuff had long since been purchased (usually by the Robertsons, who are never out of the place), but I’d maybe get something cute for my godson Logan or my mum or something. I definitely wouldn’t be buying one of the Antarctic Journeys things, that was for damn sure.

Half an hour later, I emerged with an Antarctic Journeys jacket. Boy got skillz.

These little entertainments were really all we had towards the end, because unlike other sea days where we were still geared up to get to the next spot, this time we knew that our destination would result in nothing more exciting than a flight home. This resulted in a strange lethargy settling over the passengers. It was all we could do to drag ourselves to another presentation which at least one of us would end up falling asleep in (usually Jacqui. Once, Anna hit her when she fell asleep and she sat up with the most comically wounded expression on her face and said, in a very hurt tone, “I wasn’t asleep!” The fact that she’d practically been snoring somewhat belied this argument.)

We did have one small excitement, doing a ship cruise around the coastline of Cape Horn. The Chilean government ordinarily request that vessels stay a minimum of twelve miles off the coast, but the smooth-talking seal-eyed Coolio got on the radio and unleashed a stream of Spanish sweet nothings in the direction of the officials, and they agreed to let us get just three miles from shore. It meant we got a really good view (not that we were fully paying attention – we spent more time pissing about on the bow taking silly pictures than we did having meaningful discussions of our surroundings), and it was interesting to see the spot which had been responsible for sinking so many ships in years gone by. Even today, the weather around Cape Horn gives modern boats trouble, although ironically our passage was as smooth as the Drake. I was genuinely glad for the seasick amongst us (including Daffers and Jackie) that it didn’t get too rough out there, but secretly I would have liked a bumpy crossing. Not so bumpy that we couldn’t sleep, but certainly enough to make it interesting.

Still, no matter how sleepily we passed our final days at sea, the atmosphere definitely ramped up for our last night aboard. I had deliberately held back this nice brown tunic top the whole trip for the final evening, which at times had been hard because I was desperate to wear something other than my same old three outfits, but it was worth it because I got about seven compliments as soon as I walked into the bar. Even Justin said I looked nice, so it must have been true. (I can’t tell you how nice it’s been having a lovely yet evil boy to banter with on board – it’s like a Travel Noj.) We sat around drinking Hannah’s champagne cocktail and looking mistily at each other until it was time to watch a selection of the Best Of pictures. All trip, people have been putting their photos into folders on the communal computers and they then do copies of them on a DVD for everyone so we can all get a look at the photos other people took. I’d spent the last day darting around copying all of my friends’ pics onto my portable hard drive anyway, but since all my friends, Justin and Jane notwithstanding, are like my good self members of the point and shoot brigade, I had a lot of cool pics but not necessarily any amazing close-ups of the animals. It’s a really nice idea - the Best Of pics are beautiful, and have been invaluable in illustrating this blog when my own pictures have failed me! Anyway, we had a little presentation of a selection of them, with a bit of music stuck over it (including KT Tunstall’s The Other Side Of The World, which made me giggle at the cheesiness), and even as I was keeping half an eye on copying some music for Jane, I was laughing and smiling and awwwing along with the rest as the memories flashed up on screen.

We were soon called down to dinner, where I discovered to my chagrin our gang hadn’t got downstairs fast enough and only had a small table of six (which meant when Jamie tried to join us, he got booted, which cut me DEEP, but friends first etc). In some ways though, it was quite nice to have our final meal being just the youths of the ship – Daphne, Andrea, Justin, Jacqui, Anna and myself. We toasted madly to everyone and everything, Justin started buying bottles of wine at a frantic rate (I think he was drunk), and we swapped all the last bits of shipboard gossip that we hadn’t found time for earlier. J in particular was in big trouble for his secrecy when he smilingly hinted at a certain bombshell, but that’s a tale for another day.

As is only appropriate for the Captain’s Dinner, we got an after dinner speech from our fearless Russian leader, Valeriy Beluga. His English wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to throw in a couple of jokes, and naturally we are all slightly terrified of him anyway because let’s face it, he’s a Russian sea captain, for god’s sake. The man is clearly hard as a coffin nail. I think we would have laughed if it hadn’t been funny. Or made sense. Or been in English.

Now, I have slight difficulty in recalling exactly what happened next. I know we went to the bar. I know I admired all the crew in their real clothes, rather than uniforms. (As an aside to this, I know I made fun of Jamie for dressing like someone from the nineteenth century. Apparently jeans haven’t reached South Georgia yet.) I know we extended the To Do List game to Jackie, Fraser, Andy, Tony, Noz and Cath. I know we danced and danced and danced. I know I went wandering around the ship at one point for no particular reason. And finally, I know I drank wine. A lot of wine. Too much wine, some might say. The reason I know this is because of a few quite horrifying videos, and because I woke up this morning still drunk, wearing my pyjamas inside out and back to front, and unable to remember how I got to bed. Apparently Hannah had to leave the bar and take me down because she feared for my safety (and I imagine the likelihood of me remembering to come back and pay my bar tab seemed very small too). Truly shameful behaviour. I don’t completely recall this morning with what you’d call perfect clarity either, because as previously mentioned, I was still really quite drunk, and it took most of today for my hangover to kick in properly. Still, I managed to pack everything in about three minutes flat, it doesn’t look like I’ve forgotten anything, and so far, I haven’t missed any flights (which sounds more impressive than it was, because I was delayed coming out of Ushuaia). So I am optimistic in a way – I may yet reach the UK with my body intact, even if I have left my heart and dignity at the South Pole.
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