Sunday, March 14, 2010

Antarctica: Disembarkation

Five thirty the alarm goes off. The night before still seems like it was the perfect idea.

No regrets to be had as I shove final items in my pack, and take pictures of the boots I walked across Canada in back in 2006, the boots I injured my knees in in Tokyo in 2008, the boots that saw me through the Alps and the Andes. The boots that never made it to Australia. Personified more than an Ikea lamp, waiting in the rain, are memorialized before being left behind.

For some time I'd thought about offloading them. And all my hikes are behind me now. They'd been encrusted with the water's salt, and were far past their prime. Still – it was hard to let them go. But attachments are made to be broken.

Showered, stationary and not grasping walls for once, I stumbled like a zombie up to breakfast. Halls were emptying of luggage. Passengers were making their way back to dry land. People were congregating hoping for final goodbyes, parting hugs, and final words.

With all things at their end, we made our way down the gangway to the waiting bus that took us to Ushuaia airport. There, within the gift shop, terrible products were observed. And exhaustion almost brought me to purchase terribly unneeded items. Saved, at last, I was by the realization of free wifi.

For the first time I had contact with the world outside. E-mails were made to confirm plans for California, and Japan thereafter. I'd need to make Singapore, Hong Kong, and China plans before long. But there was still time for that. Not much, but some. Off we were called to the plane said to be waiting at the gate.

The plane was not there. Nor was it there an hour later. But soon thereafter we boarded, sat down, and I promptly passed out. Sleep was much required by this point. A momentary awakening came as the food tray rolled by, and then I was out once more until the touch down in Buenos Aires. Ah Buenos Aires, back again.

Bussed to the hotel where the next two nights would be spent, bags were tossed in rooms, and rather than drifting off to sleep we gathered to wander Florida street from end to end, passing multiple McDonald's, Burger Kings, and sandal shops. I had Caramelized Milk Ice Cream. Where else can one get such a flavour? Bed Bug infested hostels were also passed. Good riddance.

The streets were much the same as they were when I last wandered them, except I saw seven goths and two people wearing LOST shirts. These aberrations made me wonder two things – had LOST become even more fantastic since I'd been away, and was there a goth convention in town? Where were these people two weeks ago?

For the first time in two weeks, we all felt hunger. It was about tea-time, our usual third meal. And yet no food was brought to us. There was no one making their rounds to keep our glasses full of water. For that matter, we had no glasses to speak of.

For the first time we appreciated the meals with which we had been provided.

On the boat a buffet of fruit, yogurt, bacon, pancakes, eggs, hash browns, sausages, and all other tasty treats were laid before us. Lunch time was a salad bar, and a buffet of hot treats which ranged from meats, to pastas, to all number of things looking to fill ones belly. There were also vats and vats of desserts. Every three days there would be a separate tray of fresh cooked foods. Tea time was sandwiches, and dinner was served from one of three choices.

On the boat we didn't eat because we were hungry, we ate because food was there. And at the time that seemed like more than enough reason.

Bellies always full we never knew hunger. Now, walking the streets, hours before our next meal, the feeling was - novel.

At seven forty-five the feeling of living in a televised re-run, and the thought of bellies waiting to be filled, ended. A bus picked us up to drive us to dinner, which would be accompanied by a tango show. Before we ate we were given lessons to the dance. Ridiculous lessons which I think I might try to remember for a drama game, or opening exercise to break the ice with new classes.

And then the meal began. I would have pumpkin pasta, salad, and poached pears. The tango show would last three hours. While this might seem wonderful to some, or terrible to others, it was made acceptable by the addition of an open bar. Asking for a beer and a coke confused the waitress. Someone else at my table spoke up indicating that I wanted them separate, saving me from a potentially disastrous mix.

For three hours we watched people dance in different costumes, loosing all track of the plot. It started in 1900, went to 1940, and at some point I think one of the female dancers was metaphorically raped. It was all very confusing. Others seemed to rectify this with bottle after bottle of red wine. Red wine. Ugh. Who drinks that stuff?

Between dances an old man sung. Speaking Spanish may have made the progression of events more understandable, but perhaps not. Perhaps the plot was as impossible to understand for all viewers as it was for us.

Three hours passed and we boarded a bus. Sure the bus had no driver. And sure two strangers hopped on it. And sure when we got a driver he said he'd take us to the wrong place – but none were in much state to complain. Mostly there was laughter at the confusion.

For what it's worth, we ended up where we should have – and then beds allowed for comfortable lapse into darkness. While I was warned of my roommates snoring, I heard nothing, and slept peacefully in comfort. Beds that do not try to toss one from their surfaces are a rare and wonderful treat as of late. And the pillows, finally the right size to fit my sleeping patterns? A true delight.

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