"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Antarctic Journals, Chapter Two

Manning the Ship

Late winter, 1914.

 An unemployed sailor wanders the docks of Plymouth, England.  He talks to fellow mariners, shopkeeps, and visits the pubs, all in search of employment.  Finally, a barkeep tells him of a ship captain looking for crew.

The barkeep reaches behind the pint glasses on the back bar.  He pulls out a sheet of wrinkled paper and hands it to the sailor who smooths the printed page and scans it.  At the bottom of the page in bold letters, he finds it:


Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in event of success.”

__ernest ShAckleton

“Shackleton, aye.  Heerd o’ ‘im.  Where’s ‘e off to now?”

“South Pole, don’t ya know?  Where all them fellas go nowadays.”

“Crikey!  South Pole.  But there’s been fellas there already.  Scott and that Norwegian fella, the one that bamboozled Scott.”

“Aye.  Amundsen.  Wily bastard, he were.  But now this Shackleton, he’s gonna go anyway and walk across it.”

“Walk across the South Pole?”

“Nae, nae, nae.  Not jest the South Pole.  The whole bloody Antarctic!”

(Now, wouldn't it be grand if that advertisement actually had appeared?  Alas, it seems to be part of the legend surrounding Shackleton, because no evidence of such a publication has ever come to light.  Nonetheless, we are dealing in legends and so it remains in this imaginative tale.)


I wasn’t looking for a job.  I was just cleaning out my spam e-mail account when the words “Shackleton’s Antarctica:  An exclusively charted voyage” caught my eye just before my finger clicked “delete.”

I am a Shackleton junkie, totally in thrall with the legend that surrounds this man of the sea, so I read on.  It was from Vantage Travel, a tour company I knew from a previous voyage through the waterways of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  

Long story short, I signed up.  As did my frequent travel companion Kathy, who now lives in Palm Springs, California.   She has wanted to go to Antarctica since childhood, and as this itinerary included South Georgia Island, she was in.

That's my friend Kathy, looking at you.

I thought I had everything ready for my trip, but my last week at home was a disaster of one thing after another breaking and confounding me.  It seemed my careful planning was hexed.  A pump went bad on my heating system, the battery in my truck went kaput, my loaded Kindle broke, and my alarm clock wouldn't ring.   

A lot of dollars and frazzled nerves later, I thought I was ready to leave.  I'd have a couple  peaceful days to relax and try to keep Pablo Parrot fooled before I took him to the parrot-sitter's.

My plan was to drive into Anchorage Sunday afternoon, spend the night at a friend's, who would then drop me off at the airport Monday morning.  Before that could happen, though, I spent a frantic Friday afternoon during which I tried to reach my primary care physician for a last minute prescription for that seasick patch and a quick 72 mile drive into Seward to pick up said prescription.  I thought it was an over-the-counter drug I could buy when I got to Anchorage.  It isn't.

I almost fainted when the price of the patches was more than $200.  Surprisingly, my prescription insurance picked up all but an $80 co-pay.   Finally, armed with medication and a handful of receipts for all the last-minute problems, I departed Anchorage and spent the night in Los Angeles.

I met Kathy at the LA airport late  the next morning, and a few hours later, we were sitting in the Dallas-Ft. Worth terminal as the sun went down.   

Sunset, Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.

Then we boarded an American Airlines Boeing 777, and settled in for an over-night flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We were off to follow in the footsteps of Shackleton, or in his wake, to be more precise, because much of this journey would be by sea.

(The photograph of the Endurance reproduced above is one of expedition photographer Frank Hurley's incredible photographs from the Shackleton expedition.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Profiles on an Airplane

I schlep my carry-ons down the aisle, looking ahead for my seat.  Twenty-two F, beyond the wing, my left, window.  I am sick of dragging these bags around, but that’s what happens when one’s luggage expands exponentially with the length of the trip.

It’s Thanksgiving Day.  This is the fourth of five flights in a row that began the previous morning in the southern-most city in South America and will end in Anchorage, Alaska.  I think I’m coming down with a cold.  My nose is running, I’m sneezing, and my throat is scratchy.

I see my seat.  There’s a passenger in the middle seat, a young man.  He lifts his head and I see he’s an Arab.  This should be interesting.  I tune in to my inner reactions and think about how isolated from international exposure I am in the small town where I live.

He jumps up immediately when I pause by the row.  “Sorry,” I say as I put one bag in the overhead storage and stumble into my seat.  There’s no other word for it; the structure of airline seats don’t allow for a standing human.

“No problem,” he responds.  We both settle in.

Now what?  Do I watch his demeanor? 

He has a smart phone in his hand.  His thumb flicks through pages.  I am aware that cell phones are used as detonators.  He makes a call, speaking a foreign language.  I understand not a word, but note the lack of inflection in his speech.

His thumb flicks again.  He listens to a news story in English.  I hear enough words to know it’s about the Israelis and Palestinians shooting at each other.  I have been without any U.S. news for two weeks.

What do I do if he displays nervousness?  Make an excuse about the restroom and tell a cabin attendant? 

He promptly goes to sleep.  So do I, my eyes too scratchy to read.   

Three hours later, we approach Sea-Tac from the south, go into a steep right turn and head for the tiny football field I noticed when we flew over it.  Suddenly I see the Space Needle below me.  “OH!” I blurt and grab my camera.  I replay the picture.  Its late afternoon, just right to show the lighting on Seattle’s icon.

My seat mates look at me.  I hold out the camera.  “Wow,” says the Arab man.  “That’s great!” says a young woman beside him, who I learn is from New Zealand.

We land, taxi, and wait. 

We chat.  I tell them where I’ve been and that I’m on the way home.  The Kiwi girl is on her way to visit a friend in Seattle, someone she was seeing in New Zealand.  “Will you be with family tonight?”  I ask the Arab.

“No, with friends,” he says.  “My family is in Dubai.”

The young lady asks him a question about the newscast he’d listened to and he responds, but I can’t hear the answer.

I start fussing with my carry-on and neck pillow.  In Los Angeles, the starting point of this leg, I’d finally figured out how to carry that wretched pillow without dropping it on every airport terminal floor.  This carry-on is like saddle bags for a suitcase.  It separates to drape over the suitcase handle, or zips and snaps together like a satchel to carry by hand separately.

Now the pillow won’t fit between the two halves.  “Help her with that,” prompts the Kiwi.  The young man tries to stuff the neck pillow below the two strap handles and snap the flap that fastens them together.  We push and pull together, laughing.  The three of us are committed to solving this problem.

“Ah, wait,” I say, and then lower the zipper a couple inches.  Presto!  The flap snaps and traps the neck pillow.  It will not commune with the floor in the Sea-Tac terminal.

I look up.  The young Arab man is looking at me with brown eyes full of laughter and kindness, and I am struck by his beautiful countenance.

“I heard you talking about the Israeli/Hamas thing,” I say.  “Has something happened?” 

“Cease fire,” he says.  The moment hangs in the air.  Or is it my over-active imagination?

We stand, struggle into the aisle, and deplane to go our separate ways.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This is exactly how I feel today

This says it all:

Last evening I raised the temperature in my bedroom to that which could support human life and went to bed at 6 PM.  Got up at noon.  Thank you, Vicks Ny Quil.

Trying to make sense of seven 2 GB SD cards today.  Gave up.

Haven't had a cold in some time.  

Don't have any turkey sandwiches, either.... 

Feeling sorry for myself.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Home from the sea.. 

Mounds of laundry.  Pissed off parrot.  Full flash cards.  Hundreds of photos.  No turkey sandwiches.

Sneezing.  Running nose.   Scratchy throat.    Don't know what day it is or what time zone I'm in.

Think I'll go to bed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

En Route

Seems like I've been traveling north a week.but it  was just yesterday morning I stepped off the ship in Ushuaia, Argentina, and started the first of five flights to get home.  Am in Seattle right now, Thanksgiving evening, and am about to board the last of the five flights I must take to get to Anchorage.  I am feeliing a bit frazzled and my laptop battery is about to give out.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Song

Over the river and through the woods,
To Grandmother's house we go....

What? Oh...

Put the horse away,
as well as the sleigh,
Cuz grandma's still flying back from Antarctica.

(Will she ever stay home so we can have a traditional Thanksgiving around here?)

Thanks, everyone, for visiting here and especially for being my friend.


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Antarctica Journals, Ch. 1

The things you learn when you get part way there:

1.  You should have trusted your first instincts rather than some bogus source that was incorrect.  It’s spelled Buenos AIRES, not Buenos Aries.

Airplane tail in sunset at Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.

2.  No matter how different things are, they is always something to remind you of home:

3.   There are, according to a framed poster on the wall of Las Nazarenas restaurant, "six restaurants in the world that can cook a steak properly.  Four of them are in Argentina."

Steaks finishing on a charcoal broiler.

Various cuts of beef cooking over an indoor fire at Las Nazarenas restaurant.

One steak.

The barbeque master.

4.  Don’t believe the history you see in the movies:

This is the Argentine government building.  The small balcony with the three white shutters is where Eva "Evita" Peron gave her last talk to the people before she died.  The crowd was estimated at one million people.

5.  The mothers and grandmothers of the "disappeared" continue to walk every Thursday afternoon at 3:30 in front of the government bldg.

The mothers and grandmothers circumambulate this obelisk in the square in front of the government building.

6.  Dog-walking is a well-paying and respected way of making a living.  It pays about $20 a month per dog.  Some people walk as many as 15 dogs at a time.  Wouldn't a 15-dog fight be something to see?  Reminds me of some of my dog mushing experiences.

7. Pigeons everywhere have no respect.

Huge pigeon atop statue over a mausoleum at the City of Angels cemetery.

Tomorrow morning we board the expedition ship MS Fram and head for the Falklands Islands (Malvinas) en route to Antarctica.  The Fram will be our home for the next 18 days, and internet access will be "iffy." and slow.

Over and out for now.  Ahoy, ye land lubbers.