Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cover Yourself! In Antarctica

My poor, innocent (oh, please) friend Rich sent me this brief email today:

"There is now too much suggestive imagery on your blog now. I’m not comfortable reading it anymore."

He was, of course, kidding. Kind of. But to get him back into the Trust Tree I told him I would write about my Antarctica experience, and all the photos would show everyone in parkas. Even the Brazilian women (okay, there weren't any Brazilian women on my trip, but there was a woman who teaches belly-dancing. No photos of that, Rich, I promise).

Unlike Portugal and Brazil, Antarctica was not on any of my lists. "Interested In" List, "Want to Go" List, "MUST Go Soon" List - none of those. It just sounded cold and boring. So in October 2004 when my boss said "we're sending you to Antarctica" my response was "ohhhh, hmmm" with my lips pursed tightly together and my eyebrows raised (Drunk-Debs-style).

And I thought "oh crap, this means they won't send me to the Galapagos until next year". Yes, poor me, I know.

They put me on the cheapest trip we worked with, on a Russian ship that carried 110 passengers. I mean, the per person cost of this trip was $4500 (which is 'cheap' by Antarctica trip standards). I am fancier than that, and felt unfairly cheated, as my coworker Joy was scheduled to go on one of the cushier ships (polished brass, and highballs and $8500 per person). Hmph. Haven't they seen my shoes?

Logic would have told me to ask myself "Self...how many people your age want to drop $8500 for a 10-day trip?" That's right. Not when they can go for half price.

I met 8 co-travelers, between the ages of 21 and 45, whom I loved hanging out with - that is really rare in any situation. The other passengers ranged in age from an 8 year old Japanese boy, traveling with his older brother and mom, to a stuffy British couple (I believe the gentleman wore an ascot with his tweed coat) possibly in their 80s. Sailing to Antarctica is really a remarkable and unique experience, but I probably would have whined and complained about it if I had to hang out with Sir Stilton Cheese the entire 10 days. Instead the 9 of us did stuff like this:

I discovered that I didn't mind the cold so much (it was warmer than Chicago winters), and that I LOVED penguins. I also discovered that there was a Black & White photography feature on my boss's camera. By accident. We were all sitting in the lounge, reviewing our on-shore photos, and I was like "aw MAN, my batteries must be getting low - the color is terrible on these". Yeah. It's nice to be the least digital-savvy person on a trip like this.
In all fairness - to me - I was taking photos of snow, ice and penguins...

During the day we would take little dinghy boats to shore and watch the penguins making their nests - by stealing rocks from other penguins - or hike around, or go sledding (just on our snowpants); and at night we would eat phenomenal meals, lovingly prepared by our chef from Papua New Guinea (who knew?), and then develop indigestion from laughing hysterically about whatever topics were being discussed. Like Whitney's dream she had just awoken from, which was really more of a nightmare for her. In the dream, she realized that she couldn't speak or hear or see. She looked at us, in all seriousness, and said "I had lost my powers!". Love her.

We spent 10 days sailing through some of the most incredible scenery, and observing some of the most endearing wildlife, and I got to experience it with a small group of warm, funny thoughtful people who made me laugh.
Back at work, during Joy's "fancy trip" recap, she informed us that she was the only person on the trip under the age of 70. God bless the budget trip!

In the immortal words of Rap Artist, Nelly:

"I like the way the light hit the ice and glare"

I'm pretty sure he was talking about Antarctica.

The passengers from Joy's trip would say "Nellie Olsen is singing now?"