Wednesday, November 10—4:38 PM
I just saw something astonishing out my cabin window: A sailboat.
I’ve been in the windiest place on the planet (I assume) for—what, six days now? and almost permanently on the water. And this is the first sailboat I’ve seen. It means we’re close to the port town where we’ll pass out of Chilean territory; we’ll do all the paperwork there (and by “we” I mean unseen Lindblad staff, naturally). Then we’ll move about three feet down the coast and enter Argentina and repeat the process.
Argentina will receive the news from yesterday’s rapid antigen schnozz swabs that 100% of us are STILL COVID-free with shouts of joy. Apparently they’re good with us stopping briefly in Argentina on our way to Antarctica and won’t need to stop us on our way back up because—we are told—they consider Antarctica to be part of Argentina anyway. My; that’s convenient for us!
Want to know how Lindblad gets its guests (halt and lame and aged) into inflatable kayaks? Here:
They lower a Zodiak on a crane from the “Wellness Deck” above me. (These Zodiaks go traveling merrily through space outside my window and every time it gives me the giggles. Off they go on an air voyage before their watery landing. Actually, they lower TWO Zodiaks. (All right—many Zodiaks; but only two are used in the get-in-and-get-out of the kayaks.)
The first inflatable gets tied to the side of the ship, the landing spot reachable by the Mud Room, where assistant expedition leader Alex rules. The second Zodiak is pulled up alongside, and a flexed platform is tied between them. Two guys in wet suits stand ankle-deep at the far side of the platform; the center of the V-shaped platform is maybe a foot or so deep. So when it's time to get into a kayak, this is the process:
1. Kayak meeting, including some hand signals. If one of the roving Zodiaks comes by and the driver points at me, the response to this unspoken “are you okay?” is to raise both hands overhead like I’m about to perform a delicate Herman Munster pirouette, which means “I’m good,” where any landlubber would assume it means “I’m insane.” Or, if I want a little more attention—say, I need a naturalist to identify what is THAT floating in the water (it’s a rock cormorant)—I hold my paddle at port arms, raising one dripping paddle high into the air to drip down on me.
2. Check out. Every time I leave the ship, I scan my key card, which lives on a lanyard around my neck until I need it to open my cabin door (assuming I locked it, which I don’t) or turn on my lights. That way they know who’s left and who’s just napping in their cabin.
3. Get the quick visual from Alex. Herman Munster boots? Waterproof pants? Life jacket clipped around the waist AND passed between the legs to complete the life jacket body cage? Check.
4. Have a detector on a loop put around my neck. The detector has a GPS tracker and a big, black emergency button. That’s the third signal, after “I’m pirouetting but okay” and “Is this a cormorant?” Anytime I want, I can slap the emergency button to get Zodiaks suddenly centering on me from across the fjord—including Lucho, who is driving around with huge antenna bristling from his Zodiak to track us all and watch for the emergency signal.
5. Be invited from the mud room down the stairs to the landing door, where thousands are waiting to help. Sailor number one grips my wrist (and I grip his) and he helps me up onto a very low platform with handrails on either side. Sailor number two, standing in the Zodiak, takes my other hand and directs me to stand on the pontoon of the Zodiak. Seaman one hands my other hand off to seaman three, also in the Zodiak. They help me step from the platform, to the pontoon, to the little step, to the floor of the Zodiak, and they point me to a place to sit out of the way of others loading on.
6. Listen to the mermaid explain how we’re going to load in. She points out that Adam and Ezra are standing on the platform, waiting to help. Adam and Ezra wave from the other side of the kayak. They do not look nervous at all.
7. The mermaid turns to me. “Do you want to go first?”
8. “No, I do not.” I refuse, so I can see how it’s done.
9. I watch two other boats load up. It seems…hm. It seems pretty easy. And not too graceless.
10. Mike stares at me until I acknowledge him. “You’re going next,” he gestures with the kind of authority most OB/GYNs acquire.
11. I nod submissively.
12. The mermaid positions me. The kayak is in about two inches of water so it’s firm against the platform. I swing my legs over the pontoon to rest on the kayak and take Adam’s outstretched hand. The mermaid would like to hold my inner hand, but I ask to put it on the pontoon; she’s good with that.
13. One foot onto the floor of the kayak; the butt goes up. The butt goes over. The butt sits down. The other foot follows. I howl with victory. Adam lets go and applauds. Mike gets in behind me with absolutely no attendant fuss (but also with no attendant fanfare).
14. Adam and Ezra grab the side of the kayak and tug gently until the kayak is floating in the one-foot-deep part of the platform. They push us backwards.
15. WE’RE FLOATING! WE’RE FLOATING!
We were sitting right on the water. We were water bugs skating along the surface of the sea. Even as Mike was explaining what I was to do, it was QUIET. The engines of the Explorer are always on, of course. Even when we were in port, the engines are running to power the electrical plant (and the absent-minded vacuum system on the toilets). My life is powered by engines; I almost hadn’t noticed the noise or vibration because it’s so constant. But once we were floating on the Pia Fjord and the sound and vibration were suddenly gone, the absence was blissful.
Mike was a good teacher, and very calm. He kept telling me to slow down; not surprising since I was all jazzed up and eager. I fucked around with paddling deep and paddling shallow and we went through how to backwater (I’m missing a verb here; paddle backwards?) to speed up a turn. And to my delight, after a while Mike said “Okay—we’re going to get going really fast now,” which was awesome. All those Chip and Barbara muscles flexed and glowed and cheered. I began to grin.
But we weren’t going straight. And pourquoi?? It’s because in my enthusiasm, I was shifting my weight from side to side as I dug in—and leaning causes the kayak to go in that direction. “OH!” I had the ah-hah moment. Time for the obliques! So I locked my core straight and pulled without shifting; it was so much like a Balance Class exercise that I could almost see a celestial vision of Barbara gleaming before me, cheering me on. Years and years of near-daily training sessions and there’s not much to see when you look at me. Ah, but get me in a kayak?? I’m a monster!
MORE! LET’S DO MORE!!
We checked in with Marianne and Song, who didn’t have Mike to teach them, so they were mostly drifting and enjoying; each to their own! We went to look at waterfalls. We pushed chunks of ice away with our paddles and giggled about it. (All right; I did that. Mike endured this foolishness in silence.) We paddled all the way around the Explorer. We felt GOOD. And before I got too tired, we headed back to Adam and Ezra, where the process was generally repeated in reverse—except to get out, they let me put my Herman Munster boot on the platform and just stand up. OH. MY. GOD. It was absolutely EASY. I’m so in to do that around icebergs in Antarctica!
This really is an ideal way for me to experience the wild. I know that true nature-lovers cherish the chance to rough it. I cherish the opportunity for Adam and Ezra to get me into and out of a kayak, followed by a light lunch on the observation deck. I’m a luxury kind of nature girl.
Mike and I parted ways, with my slavish thanks for his kindness. (Jeezum Crow—it was Mike who passed over a tube of sunblock. Seriously: Hero material.) Next up was a Zodiak cruise with Santiago the birder at the wheel. Tommy the photographer was there, too, with the biggest camera lens I’ve ever seen; it had a handle at the bottom because no camera housing could hold that giant up. I met Linda and Doug (I’d already rudely taken a portrait of Doug without his permission in the photo class), and Julie. And Marianne and Song were also aboard, and I’ve eaten and chatted with them several times; they’re delightful.
The beginning of the tour was peaceful and beautiful. The milky jade water was still flat as a table and we saw some frolicking seals and various birds (Santi knew all the names) and also cormorants “floating” around with just their heads sticking out, which looks alarmingly reptilian until they burst from the water and into flight. We wandered down the fjord comparing the THREE glaciers (like you do when you become glacier-jaded) and talking to Tommy about climbing glaciers.
I asked him my question from his lecture—did he REALLY mean to say that the temperature got to 150 degrees on Everest?? Was there a Celsius/Fahrenheit math error there? Nope; no error. It got so hot (because the air is so thin and the sun is so brilliant) that he had to take off the necklace he was wearing because it was burning him. “We climbed in long underwear. And lay down on the glaciers so one side gets frostbite and the other is roasting.” I ask again—why the hell would anyone go there?! He laughed when I asked, which seemed to be all the answer he wanted to give me. A very nice guy—but what the hell, dude.
We were drifting around glaciers and looking at cormorant nests when the Patagonian wind picked up again. In the space of a breeze, the day went from idyllic to Oh My God. Santi abandoned the peaceful meander and headed straight for the ship—which was, how did it get so far away?! Song and Marianne, both quite slight women, were in the bow, and were freezing within moments—plus the Zodiak would leap up waves and come down with a crash, sending up a spray of water that drenched them. Song simply froze; Marianne uttered a surprised “Ouch!” with every bounce that (oh, I shouldn’t admit it) made me laugh. I switched places with Song so I could take the spray, and Linda did the same for Marianne and off we went.
And I was howling with delight. Every leap up was a swoop; every bang down was a spine-jarring crash. It was insanity—the nautical equivalent of fireworks. I grinned until my teeth got too cold and I had to close my mouth. Song and Marianne were so miserable that I felt I was being rude with my delight, but I couldn’t help it. That was truly an exciting journey.
But I WAS more tired at the end of the Zodiak ride than I was at the end of the kayaking; without a doubt. It seemed to go on for longer, with no wise voice behind me saying “slow down, now—you don’t want to wear out.”
My morning on the water was a stone blast. Top marks. Excellent Yelp review, really.
Lunch in the observation lounge and idle chatter with my fellow passengers. I was sitting in Eric’s presentation on glaciers when I found that I was nodding off. How very rude of me! But I couldn’t help it. So there are undoubtedly many things about glaciers that I could have learned if I hadn’t been nap-jerking all over the place.
I escaped after the Q&A period (which I am really beginning to hate. Why are we so compelled? I asked Santi on the Zodiak what kind of bird that was and I couldn’t quite hear his response—so I made him shout it to me. Twice. At last, I got that it was a KELP GULL, and I had to laugh. I did NOT need to know that. What do I care? Why would he care? I explained why I was snorting and he offered a grin of his own. “Somewhere deep inside you, it was important to know that.” Right, I said. Like a key in a lock. At last! A kelp gull! I am in balance!
I was determined to take a nap but then my phone, most improbably, bonged in with a voicemail. Thank God FHFurr was able to leave me a message asking again if I wanted them to inspect my furnace—three years after they tried to con me into a new system. And now I’m sitting 7,000 miles away from my HVAC system, annoyed at them for bugging me in Patafuckinggonia, the damned scam artists. Anyway, that meant we had internet, at least—so should I write a new blog post? Upload the morning’s post? Take the nap I so sorely needed?
Lucho on the PA system—our next lecture by the mermaid on the kelp forests will start in 15 minutes in the lounge. Jeezum Crow! More nap-jerks where all can enjoy the sight of me attempting to stay awake. Instead I put the in-room camera on so I could monitor her lecture while sitting in comfort and wrote this post instead. I need to steal a photo from someone since I uploaded the only interesting ones I took for the earlier message.
Evening recap in half an hour. There will be someone in the lounge who I can bum a photo from. I’ll go wandering and see if I can get this posted before we run out of internet. I must say—for threatening that the internet was going to be bad, these people have kept me pretty much in contact so far. We begin Drake’s Passage tonight, and I gather things will get less tech-y from there on…but that’s what they said about Patagonia, too.
What will be will be, said Doris Day. But in Spanish, because she’s international like that.
Glacier photo courtesy of Scottish Bryan, upon whom I glommed onto in the Lounge. Thank you, Bryan.