Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tramping Through Antarctica

Some good news... One of the cameras that died yesterday has sprung back to life. I hold out hope that mine is soon to follow. Sure, why not, yeah?

Still – I had the little camera that Jason Edwards (his last name having just been discovered – go check out his work.) lent me, and in the weather we were experiencing today, it was just perfect. A small waterproof, scratch proof, camera. Out of all the people shooting I think I may have just had the easiest time at it.

The snow was coming down in large flakes. Throughout breakfast I was overcome with Christmas cheer. Carols were awkwardly streaming through my thoughts. I tried my best not to hum them, but was not always successful in this endeavor. I was all geared up for the morning excursion, just as the announcement played that, even though we were in one of the most sheltered bays in all of Antarctica, the water was far too rough for a safe landing. No morning excursion? This was something we'd not been forced to deal with since the crossing of the Drake. What on Earth were we supposed to do for the next four hours between breakfast and lunch?

Creating our own game of “how old are the staff” seemed to work wonders. There has been great debate over the various ages, and few clues present themselves. In a pack a number of us headed over to the staff bio board where subtle hints made themselves known. Some mentioned members having been married for fifteen years, others listed jobs dating back to nineteen-sixty-six. By putting together these hints we were able to form educated decisions. Others were drawn into our puzzle as they passed by. Once we had finished, we had accurately determined the ages of three people on board. Three down – six mysteries remain. Not even staff members know the ages of their co-workers. Some of them were drawn into the enigma, a they shed light on their own situation.

But this game could not last. Eventually no new information would present itself, and we were forced to give up until we obtained something more. Reading was attempted in the lounge, but that soon turned to napping. I made a point of heading out on deck to see what I could see. It was warm, relatively speaking, and I decided to switch back to shorts. It had been some time since I wandered, knees reveled for all to see.

Once more I stood on deck in shorts, short sleeves, and sandals. But I must stress that I was dressed for the cold weather. On my head there sat a toque. Always be prepared, that's my motto.

I have lost all credibility with the passengers when I talk about temperature. I tried to explain that it wasn't actually cold – but me standing there dressed as I was, nestled between people all done up in puffy snow suits, with matching suspender pants, scarves around the lower part of their faces... well, something wasn't adding up. I tried to pull the I'm Canadian line, but other bundled Canadians disposed of that myth. I tried to pull the I'm a big guy card, but there were guys bigger than me shivering in the snow. Perhaps it's a combination, or perhaps I'm just built for cold weather survival, as I've often suspected. Cold is lovely, but the heat? No thank you. Twenty eight is just fine. Any hotter, and well, I'll see you tomorrow.

Still – my outfit did garner a number of photographs. And while I do love to be photographed, as I do so love myself, that wasn't the reason for it. I wasn't trying to stand out. I just feel comfortable, and alive, with a little chill running through me. It was my intention to stand out on the deck to wake up, and wake up I definitely did. It wouldn't be until late at night that I let loose so much as a yawn.

Sailing past icebergs, and mountains, we had a new element added to the mix. Off in the fog two other vessels past, ghosts on the horizon. Some described them as resembling the Flying Dutchman, though I'm relatively sure they were Antarctic cruise ships owned by European nations. But you never know. Best not to rule anything out.

Then lunch was called. Somehow, by some miracle, the four hours had passed even without a landing. And after lunch we were to head out to a beach where we would do some hiking up a nearby hill. I know, I know, I said no more hiking - but this is Antarctica! When else will I get this chance? And so my pledge is broken, and once more I will return to the walking of which I did so much in the dawning of my journeys.

Landing on the beach my first thought was, “I thought I'd seen penguins. Now[!] I've seen (all caps) penguins!”

Hundreds of the small birds lined the shore, waddling amongst the whale bones that had washed up on shore. The rib reminded me of that which hangs above the town square in fair Verona (where we laid our scene.)

Watching as they all waddled in a straight line, begging for food from their mothers, we giggled at how silly they looked. I don't think any of us thought of the fact that we were wandering in a line nearly five dozen strong on our way to the top of the hill.

Now, there's one thing that you don't realize about penguins. It just doesn't come across in the video, or the images. Penguins... well, they poop a lot. And poop? It's never a pleasant smell. Though the freezing cold may help to keep the smell down, there's just no avoiding it – penguins? They smell. And their poop? It's technicolour! It can be green, red, brown, pink, blue... It can be everything! Penguins... ugh.

But they were lovely, and in such numbers, and ever so close. You just wanted to pick one up, squeeze it, and take it home with you. Though I'm told this is a bad idea, on account of the previously mentioned smell. Lovely little critters.

Once I'd reached the top of the hill, however, and the bird population had thinned out, my thoughts turned from cute cuddly characters to personal photography, and acts of war. The pocket camera was having a tough time in the cold, as cameras are wont to do. For every frame or two that I shot, I'd need to warm the battery some degree. But the pictures taken were exactly what I wanted.

Some travellers have been upset and disappointed with the weather here in Antarctica. Presumably they saw the blue skies, and reflective snowscapes in the promotional material and assumed that's what this continent would look like. For myself, having no expectations, this is what I thought Antarctica would resemble. Grey skies, cold winds, heavy snow. And this is what my photos have tried to show. Standing in the distance along a field of white, with the sky, nearly the same colour, behind me proved to be the perfect metaphor for this land. Loneliness, abandonment, cold – in more ways that just the temperature.

I may have also been wearing my Boba Fett hoodie at one point, in order to have images taken resembling said Bounty Hunter stationed on the ice planet of Hoth. But if I did such a thing, I'd probably make no mention of it. That would just be far to silly, indeed.

And then the war began. My anime-loving chat-partner from the bow may have been buried in the snow by one such as myself, along with the help of her sister. And sure it all started out as fun and games, but then then projectiles were fashioned, and orbs of frozen white began to make their way through the air, every now and then hitting one who was not participating. At times this would draw them into battle, others it just led to scornful looks.

Eight year old me would be very proud, eighteen year old me would shake his head, and current me? Well the feeling you get when you shove snow down the back of someones parka, leading the to get it out, only to the cry of, “Oh! Now it's down my front!” Well that's like the voices of angels, isn't it?

Rules were established, clean snow only. None of the red regurgitated fish guts, or the green penguin poop, or the yellow lemon flavoured variety could become fashioned into weapons. Only the fluffy white stuff. And for a time this was good. Multiple projectiles were flung through the air, lost against the overcast sky. There was no defense, there was no avoiding. There was only the reliance on your enemies poor aim. Temporary allies were made, and soon turned against. Lisa in her Fruits Basket hat at times would team with me against her sister Kim. But no alliance forged in fire can be expected to truly last, and soon as one of us had turned our back on the other, a cease fire would come to a splatting end.

Rules made are meant to be bent. Clean snow only, yes, but little was said about the addition of water from a newly formed stream, rushing down the hill as the ice melted. Calvin would have been pleased with the mathematics involved in creating the perfect slush ball – a deadly weapon in any snowball fight. Lisa hurled yet another ball my way, and without pause, taking the hit, my new weapon saw its first, and last, use on the field of battle. Connecting with her cheek, and spreading across her face, over her eyes, and into her open – gasping – mouth, the effect had been devastating.

“It tastes like fish!” Was all she could scream. And for a time the battle was stopped, as laughter filled the air.

Slide attacks, arm fulls of powdery clouds, and random digging were all tried, but nothing worked so well as the simple snowball. It makes you wonder who threw the first snow ball at a friend, and if they knew what a piece of history they were undertaking.

Further down the hill the red, green, and yellow snow became far more plentiful. The only source of fresh material was found, newly fallen, on the side of rocks. And as such the battle slowed, Kim, and her Tiger hat, escaping on a zodiac out across the sea.

The final ground attacks were let loose, as Lisa succeeded in hitting my neck, just right so the ice would become trapped in the back of my jacket, slowly to melt and chill all the way down my spine. In turn, I then worked to force snow down her back, and in her attempt to remove it, she screamed, “and now it's down my front!” I was vindicated.

Seated across from one another, Lisa and I were placed on the final boat. Eyes locked on one another, pleasantries were exchanged, but busy tongues do little do disguise active hands. Each of us was collecting what little bits of snow has fallen onto the inflatable boat. Smiling faces each spoke of the knowledge that no end had yet come. And though we failed to attack during the journey (knocking one another into the ocean, while as hilarious as the idea of pegging a penguin with such an attack, was agreed upon as being just as ill conceived) the second the boat slowed, the war began anew, other passengers delighted that the fallout failed to reach them..

It wasn't until the mudroom, life jackets removed, waiting to go to our rooms, that the final gun was fire. From within my pocket I removed a hidden weapon, and threw it through the air at my unsuspecting partner in battle. As it connected, arms were raised high in the air, and victory was mine!

It wasn't until I returned to their room to borrow Kim's memory card (who had taken some lovely shots of the battles, penguins, and other such momentous from the excursion, that I realized just how doomed I could have been. As the door opened Lisa held out a cup of snow declaring, “look at this!” I slammed the door, fearful of attack. The snow had been collected from within her jacket – some cruel person had stuffed it there to prolong the agony. But as the door was re-opened, I was assured that there would be no violence anymore. The memory card was borrowed, and peace had returned once more.

The rest of the day would see me chatting with Anna ( and Jason (, photographing the insane amount of gear they had – all laid on Jason's roommates bed to dry, and victory-champaign from last night's game for dinner. Anna was gifted with some though she bailed to sleep, leaving out team before the game began. This was deemed acceptable at the time, as her violent streak wouldn't be revealed until the next day.

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