Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Antarctica in depth (bad pun intended . . .)

Those of you with no interest in Antarctica, please bear with me. I will alert you when there is a subject change and you can begin to follow along again.

I open the cover of my Antarctica Journal and flip past a few pages of images scissored from the brochure and glued in by my wife Deborah.  They meant nothing to me when I first opened the Journal at my home in Virginia.  Now I can see myself on that zodiac raft,
I am actually in the other zodiac taking this picture
 imagine myself taking a picture of the ship back-dropped by a glacier.

On the next page she has glued the official clothing checklist.  Those same clothes, carefully checked off the list at home, now lie clean but battered at the bottom of my office closet.  Most of them I will never wear again.  Perhaps someday I’ll let them go, but not yet.

admit it, i'm stunning.

Pages of baggage claims, receipts, ticket stubs; and then on the next page the small cardboard folder containing a plastic card.  It is the key to my room, my on board charge card, my ID, my expedition pass.  But it does more than that.  It opens the door to twenty-one days I will never forget, a time I can relive in memory for the rest of my life.  I run my finger over the red dot which proclaims I am a member of the Endurance group.  The Discovery group has green dots.  We are named after Shackleton’s ships.  We are explorers.
I have taped the ships itinerary and newsletter at the beginning of each day’s entries.  The first thing that catches my eye as I look at the handout for Wednesday, January 8 is the notation in the upper right-hand corner.  Sunrise: 4:43.  Sunset: 21:29.

I flip past the itinerary to the first couple of pages I have written.  Oddly enough, the first entries are all about my inability to get coffee at five in the morning, and the fact that there is no reliable Internet.

Sometimes I amaze myself.  How incredibly privileged I am to be on a journey like this, and these are my first comments.  Soon I will learn how to work the coffee machine behind the bar on deck three, aided by a few of my fellow early morning caffeine seekers.  And I will learn that the Internet, far from being unreliable, is in fact, damn near nonexistent.  As is the ability, promised to me by Verizon when I bought a new phone specifically for this trip, to text. 

I am essentially cut off from any world but this,

except in case of emergency or by lucky chance for a moment or two.  I am immersed in the now, as I was when I traveled alone twenty-five years ago, crossing and re-crossing North America in my truck, no cell phone, no internet.  How quickly we forget.

My first morning’s coffee is interrupted by a sound which will soon become very familiar, but which will never lose its ability to excite me.  The soft, sweet Brazilian accented sound of our expedition leader Susana’s voice: “This is Susana from the bridge.  I have checked out our first landing site 

and it is, I’m afraid, too rough.  However, we have another plan A, and the captain is going to raise anchor and move to another spot on the island.  This will take about a half an hour, and as soon as we drop anchor I will be going ashore with the expedition staff to check out our landing.  Please enjoy your breakfast and I will be in touch with you soon.”

This is the only time in our entire trip we will not be able to make the expected landing.  As Susanna has remarked and will repeat many times during the voyage, there is never a plan B if plan A is not possible.  There’s always another plan A.  She may be right, for I am never disappointed in any of the carefully planned landings that we make during this trip.

(stay tuned. more to follow in the days ahead.)