Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Wednesday W’s #50.

What’s top of my mind: Country hospitals.

Remember last week I was saying that I was looking after 2 dogs for my friend Jenny while she was off getting a knee reconstruction?

I’ve tried several times to call the hospital to talk to her to see how she’s getting on, but I either can’t get through to the ward, or when I do, they say there are no individual phones for the patients and they can’t give out any info over the phone “for privacy reasons.” I left a message on the only time I was able to get through to a nurse on the ward, asking her to pass along to Jenny that her dogs are missing her but are doing fine and are now part of the pack. I hope she got it.

But yeah. It’s been a week. No one can talk to her, short of me driving another 7 hours in a day to go up and visit, which I really don’t want to do…

It’s amazing to me that in this day and age, if a hospital patient doesn’t have a mobile, then they’re effectively cut off from the outside world. I’ll be trying again today. I might ask if a nurse could send me her own mobile number via text, and then I could call at a prearranged time so Jenny can actually talk to someone other than hospital staff. I can’t think of how else to find out how she’s doing.

Where I’ve been: To the tyre place.

Argh. After replacing all four tyres last year, on Tuesday night on the way to see Evan26 in a play, I got a flat. Thank goodness it was opening night, so I was able to see him last night instead.

That’s why this Wednesday W is being sent out on Thursday. I was busy.

Where I’m going: School.

Yep – term 1 starts tomorrow with a student-free day… then the onslaught starts on Monday. Today I’ll be cutting out pictures of England and Ireland from the brochure I got from the travel agency, so my desk will be COVERED in them to remind me of why I’m doing this to myself.

What I’m reading: The Leisure Seeker.

Now that I’ve wrapped up my ‘Earn your rates back by reading’ challenge for 2022 – 2023, (which had a finish date of September 2023) I’m feeling way ahead, so instead of reading a library book I’ve picked up a book Dad passed to me that he liked. It’s about an elderly couple, one with dementia and one riddled with cancer, who decide to drive off in their camper van for one last vacation.

There’s a movie with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland which I think is streaming on Stan, so I’ll probably watch that on the weekend after I finish the book.

What I’m watching: Thrive.

I’m watching MY SON IN A PLAY!

Evan26 is currently acting in a play called ‘Thrive’, which is of course on the other side of the city in Footscray. I had a ticket for Tuesday night, but halfway there I got a flat tire. The RACV obviously had a busy night… they didn’t get to me for nearly three hours! Thank God I had an iPad with podcasts with me.

So tonight I made another attempt, this time navigating a part of the city that’s almost totally unfamiliar to me, with a phone on 10% battery. Thankfully, Fortunate Frogdancer made it to the venue 3 minutes before the phone died.

‘Thrive’ is a verbatim play, which basically means that real people have been interviewed and then the actors have to use every word/pause/umm/’you know’ etc exactly how the person said. The play itself is looking at queer people’s experiences in Australia, with the people ranging in age from 24 – 72.

The actors were directed not to play an old character as ‘old’… you know, not hobbling around with a walking stick and having wrinkly make up etc. They had to speak the exact words but also bring themselves to the portrayal.

They also had snippets of the original interviews, so we could see how the original interviewees actually looked and spoke. I was sitting next to a couple and we started talking. Turns out one of them was one of the characters being portrayed on stage. She loved it.

It’s no secret that I love seeing my son up on stage, living his best life and doing the thing he loves best. I’m also lucky that he’s good at it! I’d recommend going to see this play if you’re within reach of Footscray. You’d better hurry though – there’s only 3 more nights.

What I’m listening to: Mrs England.

I’m listening to an audiobook called Mrs England, which I downloaded when I was waiting for the RACV van to come. I’m around a quarter of the way in and I’m loving it. The woman reading it has the best English accent!

What I’m eating:

I’m entertaining at home a lot over the last week of the holidays, so I’m eating lots of salads, homemade pizza, bread and zucchini slice. I’m so glad I put that huge verandah roof out the back- it’s been lovely sitting out there on these beautiful summer days, eating food that has come ten feet away from the garden.

What I’m planning: Nothing much.

My trip to England and Ireland is pretty much at the stage I wanted it to be, with all of the broad brush strokes put in place. Apart from that, I have nothing much on the horizon just yet.

Who needs a good slap: Umm…?

I’ve been sitting here wracking my brain and I can’t think of anyone specific.

What has made me smile:

Look at the photo at the top of this post! Timo and Garrett from the Antarctica trip popped in to see me. After Antarctica, they saw a bit more of South America before coming to Melbourne. Timo is from Germany and Garrett is from Ireland, so I pulled up the itinerary of the Irish leg of my trip to see what Garrett thought. He comes from a small town near Dublin, so he had heaps of suggestions for things I could do and see. Turns out Tim used to have an Irish girlfriend so he had some good ideas too.

After a leisurely lunch under the back verandah, we wandered down to the Backyard Beach. It was an absolutely sparkling day. These guys are an absolute delight. They’re such great company- so funny and easy-going. That trip to Antarctica is the gift that keeps on giving.

Just before they left, they ate sun-ripened plums straight from the tree. Can’t get much more ‘Frogdancer Jones’ than that!

Dad joke of the day:

Wednesday W’s #49

What’s top of my mind: My trip is coming together!!!

I was hoping that all of the broad brush strokes of the holiday would be settled by the time I started work next week and it appears that it’s all going to plan. In the past week, I’ve been able to sort out who I’m going to see and when and where. Plane tickets are done and the tour to Ireland is sorted.

Scott was terrific in booking the plane tickets to Dublin and back for me. Flight Centre doesn’t use budget airlines in the UK so I needed someone from there to do that bit. On Tuesday I was woken by my Whatsapp pinging at 7 AM precisely, with a message, “Aisle, window, or middle?”

He was obviously waiting for a reasonable time for me to be awake!

Now that the important bits are settled, we all have plenty of time to decide what we’re going to do day by day. It’s all very exciting.

Where I’ve been: to the travel agents.

On Monday I went down the street and popped into Flight Centre to book my plane tickets. I’m fine with booking tours etc, but I’m more comfortable relying on someone else’s expertise when it comes to the Tetris game of juggling airline schedules.

Me oh my – when they say that plane fares have increased they’re not kidding. It is costing me nearly double what it cost for the same airfare 7 years ago.

Where I’m going: Mooroopna.

Forty years ago, I decided to buy a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. I contacted a breeder called Jenny. She put me through the third degree about what sort of home I was going to provide for a pup before she put me in touch with someone who had a litter of pups from one of her stud dogs. I appreciated the interview – I would’ve been deeply suspicious if all she asked me was about payment.

When I fell in love with Sarah, my first Cavalier, and decided I wanted to breed and show her, Jenny became my mentor. I was in the show ring for about 5 years and had my own breeding kennels, then when I started having human babies it all became too hard, so I disbanded my kennels.

Jenny and I stayed in touch. She very generously allowed the boys and me to adopt many dogs over the years. My boys were able to grow up with quality, purebred dogs with wonderful natures at a time when I could never have afforded to actually buy them a pet.

Well, time marches on. Jenny is now living up in the country with 2 dogs left. One of them is Poppy and Jeff’s mother, while another is a boy called Silver. While Jen is in the hospital for a few days, Elizabeth and Silver will be coming down to The Best House in Melbourne for a family reunion of sorts.

So today is ROAD TRIP DAY!

What I’m reading: A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins.

This is from the same author who wrote ‘The Girl on the Train’, which about half the world has read. I’ve only just started this one, but it’s off to a good start.

Oh! By the way – I’ve already ‘earned’ back my rates for this year ( September 2022 – September 2023) – have a look at the sidebar on the right. My next rates bill doesn’t arrive until August sometime, so now I’m just salting away the numbers to attack that one. I only thought I’d do this for one year but I’m still enjoying it.

And another thing – if anyone has a good book about Ireland – either fiction or non-fiction – please pop it in a comment. I have a lot of research to do about Ireland before I get there. I want to know exactly what it is I’m seeing!

What I’m watching: Junk.

Somehow, I got sucked into watching ‘Love is Blind’ on Netflix. I only have myself to blame. Don’t follow my lead, I beg of you. Save yourself!

What I’m listening to: PODCASTS!

I’ll be on the road for at least 6 hours today, so I’ll be able to rip through a lot of poddies that have been slowly accumulating. Finally, I’ll know what ends up happening to Belinda Blumenthal!

What I’m eating: lots of salads.

Ryan28 and I are on a bit of a health kick and we’re chowing down on salads. I make a couple of salads every two days and then we pick away at them until they’re gone. Then I make another couple and the cycle continues. I’m mainly cooking from the two salad books from Thermobexta , (she also has lots of free recipes on her site), and I’m loving my day off from cooking in between.

What I’m planning: How to decorate my desk when I’m at work.

When I was at the travel agents, I asked for a brochure on England and Ireland. I’m going to cover my desk with pictures so that when I’m unhappy at not being free, I’ll be reminded of why I’m doing this.

Who needs a good slap: …

Meh. I’m in holiday mode. No one.

What has made me smile: My notifications going crazy in the middle of the night.

Two nights in a row!

The first night was when Liga whatsapped the Antarctica group, saying that she was going to get a tattoo about the trip on her arm. The group went OFF, with suggestions ranging from a penguin, Ming’s yellow coat, a black panther, plankton or krill coming through. As you can see, she went with the map of Antarctica on her arm.

Then the following night, Scott sent through 11 messages and links about Essex. It was as if there was a fireworks display in my room! I was tired after being up the previous night with Liga’s conversation, so I left them until the next day.

I had such a lovely few hours, sitting on the couch the next morning going through all the links. We’re going to have a wonderful time.

THE HISTORY!

Dad joke of the day:

Wednesday W’s #48.

What’s top of my mind: I accidentally agreed to work full time in term 1.

I didn’t say yes and I STILL got the job.

When I was in Ushuaia I was asked to work term 1 at a different school, teaching English and Drama full-time. I was so proud of myself when I said no. I was determined to never work full time again. My plan was that I was going to work 1 or 2 days a week, only accepting short-term contracts of 3 weeks or so.

Two days after I got back, I received a panicked message from the Daily Organisers at my school. They were all sitting in the staff Christmas lunch on the 2nd last day of the year when it dawned on them that they hadn’t covered a guy who was going on Long Service Leave for term 1.

They were beside themselves. It’s very difficult to find someone at this late stage of the year and unless I agreed, it was going to be a huge problem for the school. They thought that I was still in Antarctica, so they were googling what the time was there, and saying, “It’s 11:30. You never know, she might be looking at her phone…”

When I answered back straight away from my couch in Melbourne they were very impressed with the internet in Antarctica! But as I read the message I was torn. I was serious when I told everyone I wouldn’t do another long contract. I found the loss of freedom for weeks on end to be hard. But I could also feel for the Daily Orgs… And also, I was just back from an amazing and expensive holiday. Working for 10 weeks would give me the cash for another one…

Plus they were offering holiday pay or being paid as a CRT. Holiday pay, eh? Being paid 12 weeks but ‘only’ working 10? Hmmm…

So I typed back a message asking about which option would pay more. (I’m not a charity!) Then I thought that might sound rude, so I sent a smiley face after it. Apparently, they looked at each other, with one saying, “A smiley face? That means YES.”

Their next message was telling me that the holiday pay was the best way and thanking me for accepting. I stared at the screen in disbelief. I didn’t accept! I was just asking for information.

But I knew that I’d want to go somewhere in 2023…

So I let it slide. Friends and family have already told me that I can’t whinge about working. “You’ve done it to yourself!”

But I tell you what – I’m taking term 2 off.

Where I’ve been: Gardenworld.

Ryan28 kept the important things alive while I was gone. Himself, Poppy, Jeff and Scout. But my hanging baskets? Not so much. I’ve spent a month trying to revive them, but yesterday I realised that I was sick of looking at ugly.

Today I’ll be chucking out the old plants and making the place look pretty again.

Where I’m going: England and Ireland.

Woo hoo!!!!!!

An hour after I finished my Antarctica blog posts, I began researching where to go next. England is my soul’s home. It’s where my family comes from, (ranging from my paternal grandfather to 6 generations back on my mother’s side and everything in between), and I absolutely adore English history.

Now that I’m in a position to be able to travel every year, I can revisit England and also see other parts of the UK that I either skimmed through when I was there in 2015, or I missed altogether.

I thought of Ireland. Never been there… people say it’s terrific… it’d be fun to go from an all-white place to one of emerald green…

So anyway, I booked a place on this tour. If I’m going to see the place, I may as well see as much of it as I can. Plus I can catch up with my friend James, who I met on the tour to North Korea.

I’ll be in England before and after the tour, seeing my friends Corinna, Deana and Scott. I also want to sneak off to Windsor Castle to stand on Henry VIII’s grave. I was hoping to do that on my birthday, but Windsor Castle isn’t open then.

So the Ireland part is locked down. The English parts are still a work in progress. Who knows what I’ll end up doing and seeing?

What I’m reading: Really good books.

I ended 2022 with 120 books under my belt and I’ve started off 2023 with some cracking good reads. I can recommend:

The Way It Is Now – Garry Disher. A crime novel set on the Mornington Peninsula, just down the road from me. The author must live there because the descriptions of the place are utterly real in every detail. I’ll be hunting up more of his novels.

The Trivia Night – Lowe. This is an excellent summer holiday read. It’s in the vein of Sally Hepworth. It’s set in Sydney. Don’t read it if you don’t like saucy themes.

The Paris Apartment – Foley. Another murder mystery. I enjoyed the twists and turns in this one.

The Bullet That Missed – Osman. I know I’m late to the party with this one, the 3rd in the wonderful Thursday Murder Club series. This one was equally on a par with the first in the series. (Not that there was much wrong with #2…) I read this in a day and I count it a day well spent.

By the way… have a look at my reading challenge on the right hand side of the blog. My rates are due in February and I’ll be finished with the challenge of ‘earning’ back my rates money for 2023 before I’ve even paid them! Only one more book to go.

What a nice head start I’ve given myself for the challenge in 2024!

What I’m watching: my Netflix queue.

It was getting out of control, so I’m concentrating on whittling it down.

What I’m listening to: not much.

I mainly listen to podcasts and music when I drive and when I quilt. I haven’t been doing much of either since I got home.

One fringe benefit of working is that I’ll be able to catch up on all of my podcasts during the commute.

What I’m eating: Plums from my trees.

I thought the rainbow lorikeets would get them, but I was able to pick some sun-ripened plums for the first time from my little orchard. The Satsuma plum (my favourite) has quite a few, while the Santa Maria plum produced two plums. If I divide the cost of the tree between the plums, the Santa Maria plums are worth $30 each.

What I’m planning: Holidays!

Not just mine. Liga from Latvia/Antarctica is coming to Australia this year and we’re going to catch up. So far, she wants to see the Opera House, do a 10 day hike and see me.

We just have to work out how these things will all fit together.

And as I’m sure you all know, she’ll be doing that hike without me.

Of course.

Who needs a good slap: The Irish tour people.

Guess how much the single supplement is????

Nearly one thousand Aussie dollars. Ouch.

They didn’t even offer the option of sharing a room. After having such a great time with Liga and Corinna, I might have considered it. But I didn’t even have the option. Rude.

What has made me smile: The Best House in Melbourne.

It’s really lovely to be home.

Dad jokes of the day:

Antarctica, days 14 – 16: Planes, Trains, Automobiles and one last stroke of good luck.

From the moment the taxi pulled up at the hotel to take me to Ushuaia airport, my luck ran out. I was running low on Argentine pesos, so I asked the receptionist to confirm that a taxi would take a card instead of cash. I already tried Uber, but none were available.

I got to the airport, then had an argument with the taxi driver when he wouldn’t accept my card, OR all my Argentine plus Chilean pesos for the fare. There was a lot of “I don’t speak Spanish; this is all the money I have” and lots of Argentinian head shaking and muttering.

Finally, he relented and took the two types of pesos – I grossly overpaid him but I didn’t care – and I grabbed my suitcases and went into the terminal. It didn’t matter that I had no cash for Chile – in a few hours’ time I was going to be in and out of Santiago airport in an hour. I’d filled my (once pee bottle, now water) bottle with water before I left the hotel and eaten a hearty breakfast, so I could exist on plane food until New Zealand.

I strolled in, walked past a café and there, with his side to me, was SamFrank. Ugh. After the taxi driver thing, I was in no mood for more bullshit, so I turned my head and pretended to be very interested in a shop as I walked around the corner and found a seat. There was NO WAY he didn’t see me, but he clearly didn’t want to talk to me either. Phew!

I whatsapped the group. “SamFrank is here at the airport. We both pretended not to see each other.”

Corinna messaged back: “He’s probably right behind you.”

Turns out Ming was on Corinna’s flight into Buenos Aires, both in the same row. Ming was still in her yellow jacket. It was nearly 27C.

Everything on my itinerary was going to plan. I was in and out of Buenos Aires airport like a dream. It was when I hit Santiago that it all went to shit.

If I’d just had carry-on luggage, everything would have been fine. But my plane landed at the same time as around 47 other planes and I had to queue for over an hour to get my suitcase. When I got to the check-in counter to get to Aukland, they wouldn’t let me board, even though I was there an hour and a half earlier than the plane was scheduled to leave.

It was one in the morning. I was ropeable. They put me on a flight that was leaving 24 hours later. They told me I had to go to Air Argentina to get them to book a hotel room because my previous flight was late. (It wasn’t late, so I knew they wouldn’t help. It was all the fault of the airport itself.)

It was the middle of the night. My eyes welled with tears… and then I remembered my Australian travel agent’s stuff-up.

In a previous version of this trip, I was supposed to stay in Santiago for another night and day. That had changed. But she forgot to cancel the booking at the Pullman.

Fortunate Frogdancer made a brief comeback, right in the nick of time. WHO JUST HAPPENS TO HAVE A ROOM BOOKED IN A CITY WHERE THEY’RE UNEXPECTEDLY DETAINED?????

Me, that’s who. My tears dried instantly. I walked downstairs, haggled with a driver who would accept a card payment, and then I was whisked to a luxurious bed for the night. Check-out was at midday, too, which was a bonus.

Next morning I had a huge breakfast, then secreted three bread rolls in my pockets. I was going to get to the airport (after I had a nap in my room until midday) and I was going to do a Tom Hanks in the terminal. Goddammit – I wasn’t going to miss that plane again!

I had 3 bread rolls, 2 packets of peanuts from previous flights, 3 packets of chocolates from the ship’s welcome package, and my huge wee bottle was full of water. I had my iPad with plenty of books. All of this was more than enough to sustain me while I waited 12 hours for the plane!

By 2 PM I had my precious boarding pass. I found a seat, put my suitcases in front of me, pulled out my iPad and began to read. Two and a half books later, my flight was called. I made it up to the boarding gate… where my flight was delayed for 3 hours.

I got to Aukland with 40 minutes to board. When our carry-ons were being checked, mine was pulled out.

“Stand over there, I’ll check it shortly,” the guy said.

Five looong minutes later, he pulls out my tube of sunscreen. “Oh, it’s 100g. It looked bigger on the x-ray,” he said.

Bloody hell.

I make it onto the plane and fly to beautiful Melbourne. I also picked up a mighty fine deal on the duty-free as I went through. 2L of gin for $60. Not bad.

At the airport, I sat myself down on the Skybus and asked if it went to Frankston. No. I had to get off at Southern Cross station and get a train home. But it was ok; this was my plan B. I had my Myki with me in case this happened.

When I got to Southern Cross, I couldn’t see a Frankston line train scheduled on any platform. Weird, but oh well. I’ll just take a train to Richmond and swap from there. No problem. I love dragging these cases around.

Richmond. Every other train line in Melbourne was running through, but not Frankston. FINE. I’ll just take a Dandenong line train to Caulfield nd jump onto the Frankston line there. Sheesh!

To pass the time, I sent penguin videos to people, letting them know I was back.

I roll into Caulfield station. I hear a garbled announcement, “Buses garble arble Mordialloc.” Bloody hell, was I ever going to get back home?

They were doing works on the Frankston line. Buses instead of trains between Caulfield and Mordialloc. Lovely! I needed an automobile to make up the whole ‘Planes, Trains’ set. I wheeled my suitcases to the back of the bus and sat there as we made the long trip down Nepean Highway to Mordy station.

Then, after a long wait, I rode the train to my station. I wheeled my suitcases the short way back to my gate. I was home – only 27 hours late.

I clicked the gate latch. Poppy and Scout went NUTS. Ryan27 let them out and the three of us had a rapturous reunion at the front gate.

I went inside. Tom30 had come over to see me and he was sitting on the couch with Jeff sleeping on his lap. I let Jeff smell my hand. Three deep breaths, then he sat up, blinking and looking around. Then he saw me. Another rapturous reunion.

The boys said they were pleased to see me, too, though they didn’t follow me around like the dogs did, not letting me out of their sight for days.

Home!

This, my first trip overseas in 4 years, has tested me physically and mentally. This is the first time that I’ve travelled by myself, without a friend waiting for me at the other end. 

I don’t speak or read Spanish, and both Chile and Argentina are Spanish-speaking nations. I knew I’d be fine on the cruise, as English is the language used there, but getting there and back had its challenges that I had to solve by myself, or with the help of new friends or kind strangers.

How fortunate I was to meet such lovely people in my YPT travel group. I was the oldest person in our little group by far, yet they embraced me into their lives and we experienced this whole amazing thing together. 

I was definitely not expecting this. When I saw, from our Facebook group, that everyone was in their 20’s and 30’s, I downloaded 22 books so that I’d have something to occupy myself with when we were onboard. 

Turns out I didn’t need them. I’m only up to book 7. We had wonderful conversations, in-jokes and so much fun. These travellers are definitely able to look past the exterior of someone and deal happily with the person within. That’s pretty special, I think.

Everyone who knows me is aware that I don’t have a love for exercise. To me, going for a walk only makes sense if you have a definite purpose in mind, while as for going to a gym? Forget it.

There was only one walk that I didn’t do on the landings, and that was on the first day when I was still paranoid about my level of fitness. After that, I did everything that was put in front of me and I’m proud – and slightly surprised – that I accomplished every single one. 

Of course, the Polar Plunge is the pinnacle of this. Even disgustingly healthy people opted out of that one! 

A trip to Antarctica was always going to be special. It’s such a wild, desolate and relatively untouched part of the world. But when I add these other, far more intangible things, this is a trip that is vastly different from anything I’ve done before.

This is the reason why I focused so hard on retirement. There are so many amazing places to see and different things to do. I want to be able to see and do as many as I can before my time runs out.

I hope you enjoyed seeing Antarctica through my eyes. Let’s hope that it won’t be another 4 years before the next trip!

To end this series about Antarctica, please enjoy this fun video that Charlie from America made about our trip. Everything in here (except the orcas) I saw as well, but he’s much better at putting everything together.

Thank you for coming on this trip with me.

Antarctica trip Days 11 – 13: Whales and the world cup semi-final in Argentina.

The crew arranged all sorts of mini-lectures to help fill the next two days. An astonishing number of them are birders, so we heard all about what that entails. As you can see, sometimes they went into a little too much detail, as this action-shot of Liga shows.

We also had a lecture about the environmental impact of our trip, which was surprisingly interesting, along with the technology the Hondius has to help mitigate any damage we might cause.

Now that we were firmly in the Drake Passage, whale sightings were getting more common. Up until now, the only whale sightings I’d seen were of blows, fins and flukes from miles away, which make for some very unimpressive photos.

Imagine how fantastic it was when the announcement went out:

“ A pod of at least twenty humpback whales are around the ship, primarily on the starboard side. We’re slowing the ship down to make the most of this opportunity.“ 

Talk about being galvanised into activity! 

I had my phone with me, but no coat, so I ran to get a spot at the lounge windows.

The whales were so close. They were feeding, so they were surfacing and diving, but only in shallow dives so they were repeatedly coming up to the surface.

I had my phone positioned just below my eyes and I was pressing the photo button every time I saw something… which meant that I had a LOT of photos to go through after this was over. It was the only way I could think of getting a balance between actually experiencing it all with my eyes as well as trying to get a record of it.

The whales stayed near us for around 20 minutes, I guess, which was ample time to get that “whale watching “ box well and truly ticked off.

Afterwards, Eneko came by as we were all talking and he showed me some videos that he took of the whales from the deck outside. They were fantastic- so much better than my crappy photos. 

We spent the rest of the day in the lounge, where I may or may not have taken a nap. People were flicking through their photos to choose which ones they were going to submit for the photo competition, sometimes asking for opinions from others.

It was a funny day. I think we were all coming down from the absolute high which was Antarctica.

Eneko was persuaded by Corrina and Liga to play a game of poker with them, to teach them how to play better. Poor guy, he was really reluctant to do it, because he’s used to playing 10 games at a time behind his computer screen. I got the distinct impression that face-to-face poker games don’t have much appeal for him.

They were sitting near me and I tuned out as I was reading a novel, but I surfaced at one point to hear him, looking at Corrina’s cards, saying, “No, no, you shouldn’t play this hand of cards,” and Corrina, totally bewildered, saying, “But why not??” 

He was trying to explain and I could see his brain trying desperately to translate from Spanish to English something that, to him seemed so obvious, but to the girls was a mystery. It must have been a long night for poor Eneko!

All of us had bought seasickness patches the night before, but I think we could probably have done without them. The Drake Lake was living up to its name as we glided on through. 

Only one full day to go…

DRAKE LAKE DAY 2:

This is where Frogdancer Jones gets a prize in the photo competition that she didn’t even enter. Even I’m astonished at the amount of good luck that this trip has let me experience.

The Drake Passage was even calmer today than it was yesterday, which seemed a little unbelievable, but there it was. The morning was spent packing our bags, giving back our muck boots and generally coming back down to earth.

Corrina set up a WhatsApp group so we could share photos. We’ve been talking on it ever since. 🙂

After lunch we were all called to the lounge and Ross went through the photo competition entries. There were 126 spread out over the 3 categories and everyone had one vote in each category.

Earlier in the day, we made Michael, a guy we’d met on the cruise, submit a photo of polar bears he took in the Arctic a couple of years before, in the “Fun” section. It got a huge laugh, but sadly, didn’t make the final cut.

At around 5PM we all got a hell of a surprise. There, ahead of the ship, were lights. We were already approaching Ushuaia… 12 hours ahead of schedule. That shows just how flat the Drake Passage was during our two days.

Over our last dinner, the boys and I sat near SamFrank. Someone asked him what he did for a living, (he was back to being a colonel again) and then I asked him what he did for fun when he wasn’t working.

“Oh, I teach ballroom dancing. I do a lot of dancing. I also play the guitar – I play a lot of guitar so that I can train my fingers to have lots of sex with my wife.”

I glanced across at Baptiste to see if he was hearing this. His eyes danced back at me. We were both hanging off every word.

“I’m also learning to play the harmonica. I also like to throw dinner parties.  Or just any kind of dinner party… I like it when people dress up. I think people behave differently when they are elegantly dressed. Before I met my wife, I always organised every detail. It used to take me the whole day to set the table, decide who was sitting next to who, and to cook the food. Once, a man turned up in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. I made him go home and change.”

After the conversation moved on, I asked the guys to give me a playlist of the band that they both like – a German band called Rammstein. Morgan’s seen them play 47 times. It’s great music to listen to if you want to concentrate on something that you’re doing, because I can’t understand a word of the lyrics. I’m listening to them now as I type – a lovely song called ‘Pussy.’ It’s nice to see that German headbangers are fond of cats.

After dinner we all gathered in the lounge for the photo competition. Morgan had 2 shots in the final and Eneko had one. Not bad representation for our little group!

After the prizes were awarded, Emma, the ship’s doctor, beckoned me over. 

“I accidentally submitted a photo in the Wildlife folder instead of the guides’ folder and it won the competition. I don’t feel right about accepting the prize, so I thought you should have it.”

She handed me a penguin soft toy. Maybe I was being rewarded for my bravery during the blood nose episode on Petermann Island?

Liga bought a bottle of Prosecco and shared it with us as we all toasted our friendship. I really hope we run into each other again.

There was a bit more talk about Eneko’s nicknames for us. He let slip a day or two ago that his nickname for Liga was ‘The Black Panther,’ which really suits her. He said that he had a nickname for both Corinna and me, but he was too scared to tell us. Corinna, who was absolutely dying to know what hers could be, finally got a promise from him that he’d tell her on the last day. That would be tomorrow…

I set off to bed at midnight, but a couple of hours after that, some of the crew came up to the lounge and took some people out into Ushuaia to the Irish pub. Corinna didn’t get back until 4 AM. That 7:30 AM wake-up call for breakfast must’ve been hard…

I took this photo on the last night because I couldn’t believe that Ming was STILL wearing her polar layers 24/7, even when we were back in port. When was she going to shed the yellow gortex?

A DAY IN USHUAIA DURING WORLD CUP SEMI FINALS:

The mood was subdued at breakfast. No one wanted to leave. 

Baptiste said at breakfast, looking sadly out of the window, “I just want to wreck the boat. Demolish it. If I can’t go back, then no one else should!” Trust me, it sounds better when it’s said in a mournful French accent.

As soon as we were off the ship and on the dock, the sky turned grey and the wind picked up. It was a bit creepy, as if our good luck with the weather only worked if we were on the ship.

Corrina asked Eneko for her nickname. 

“No, not yet,” he said, gesturing back towards the sea. “There’s nowhere for me to run away here.”

“Oh my God, what IS it?” she shrieked. “It can’t be that bad, surely?”

Little did she know, but Eneko told the boys and me the nickname over breakfast. It was the ‘British Bear’, like Winnie the Pooh. I was ‘ The Australian Penguin.’ Now that I come to think about it, Eneko was always there when I’d fall down, get up and cheerfully waddle off again, so fair enough.

When we wheeled our luggage to the street, Eneko finally told Corrina her name. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention Winnie the Pooh and instead said it was like a grizzly bear. She was half laughing, half confused. I don’t blame her!

Today was the day when I realised truly how beautiful these people are. Some of them were due to leave Ushuaia that day, while some were like me and were staying an extra night. They all decided to walk with me back to my hotel. 

Corrina took my carry-on bag and Morgan took my suitcase. We trundled through the streets of Ushuaia, passing a very hungover Garret and Timo, who were part of the late-night Irish pub visit with Corinna. I was chatting to Garret outside a shop and I mentioned that I could still feel the ground moving under my feet, as if I was still on the ship. “Really?’ he said. “I thought it was just my hangover.

Everyone dropped their bags at my hotel. Then we split up. Morgan and Baptiste decided to go to the nearby national park and do a 10 km hike. Liga wanted to climb a mountain track, while Eniko wanted to go to his B and B. 

Corrina and I stayed in the hotel foyer, using the wifi to contact friends and family.

Scott from the UK let me know that after I’d left Australia, a woman was killed in a freak accident when crossing the Drake Passage. It wasn’t the Drake Lake, clearly. A freak wave hit the side of the ship and broke a window. 

“I quickly googled the name of the ship but I knew it wouldn’t be you. You’re Fortunate Frogdancer!”

When the boys were about to return, we went to a restaurant and grabbed lunch. The four of us ordered, then sat on the wifi. On a whim, I decided to check my emails.

This was my first indication that the luck of Fortunate Frogdancer was starting to sputter and conk out.

There were2 emails from my travel agent. The first one said that I was leaving Ushuaia THAT DAY. What?!?

I fished out my printed itinerary. I leave tomorrow, according to this. So which one was correct? We tried calling the 24-hour help number ( not helpful… it was all recorded messages) and we tried checking in. Nothing was definite.

Then Morgan remembered that there was a shop on the waterfront for Argentinian Airlines and offered to take me there to sort it out. We said goodbye to Corrina and after the boys collected their bags, we walked to the shop.

I was feeling bad. This was their last couple of hours here, where they could be doing anywho there than chasing up my flight. We took our place in the queue and waited. After a while, I said to them, “Look, why don’t you go and find something more fun to do? I can see it through from here.”

Morgan looked seriously at me.

“ You are not my responsibility as tour leader anymore. That finished at the docks. This is a matter of friendship. “ Baptiste nodded.

Omg. Could they be any more wonderful? Morgan and Baptiste are just the best people in the world.

A couple of minutes later everything was sorted out. My printed itinerary was correct, and as a bonus, the nice man behind the counter also allocated me aisle seats for my first two flights.

After a coffee in a café, it was time for them to leave for the airport. They headed for the taxi rank and I headed back to my hotel.

That afternoon, Argentina was due to play in the World Cup semifinal against Croatia. Garret, Timo and a few other people decided that we should all meet at The Hard Rock Cafe to watch the game. I’d counted my Argentinian pesos and discovered I was running really low so I decided I wasn’t going to go. I lay down on the bed with a book…

… and woke to a message on WhatsApp asking where I was. I replied that I was running out of cash. No World Cup shenanigans for me! 

Timo replied, “We have enough pesos between us to buy you a drink. Get yourself down here!”

As I walked out of my room, I saw the first Argentinian goal on the tv in the dining room. When I was halfway to the Hard Rock Café, I heard screaming from all over the place, so I ducked into a café to watch the replay of the second goal. 

Turns out that they go mental whenever a goal is scored. It was so much fun.

By the time I reached the group, I was really hoping that they’d kick a third. I wanted to see the crowd’s reaction.

Afterwards, we stayed back for another drink and just as that finished, I turned and looked out the window. The street was jam-packed full of people. I raced to the door.

All the way up the main street of Ushuaia, people were walking, cheering and singing. It was wall to wall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier crowd. 

As you can see, the whole town was out. You can hear me at some stage saying to someone, “It’s bloody beautiful!”

After the people came the cars. I think everyone who lives in Ushuaia was there, celebrating that their team was now in the final. I said goodbye to everyone and made my way back home.

As I ate the leftover of the massive half-a-tart that I ordered for lunch ( frugality for the win) I could still hear the celebrations. They went on for hours. Clearly, this is a country that loves soccer. There was lots of noise for a while, but it was happy noise. It made me smile.

(Only one more post to go. The trip isn’t over just yet…)

Antarctica trip Day 10: Jougla Island and Port Lockroy.

Straight after breakfast this morning, we were called into the lounge for a briefing. There were two women from Port Lockroy.

This port used to be a whaling station back in the day and there are still chains near the entry, along with whale bones left lying in the water.

The port is open for 6 months and every year over 4,000 people apply for the 4 available positions. This year 4 women are there, performing a mix of scientific, postal and public relations jobs. 

Every day they are visited by 2 cruise ships, so their only quiet times are early in the mornings and after dinner, where they sit and stamp that day’s amount of the 70,000 postcards that they receive over the course of the season. 

I only sent two. Didn’t want to overwork them. I would’ve sent one to James from Ireland, seeing as we sent each other postcards from Pyongyang, but I didn’t have his address.

This time, instead of being split into two groups, we passengers were split into three. Over the course of the morning, we’d have a landing neat gentoo penguins, a zodiac cruise around the bay for around 45 minutes, and a trip to the actual base at Port Lockroy. Which order anyone got to do all of this was completely luck of the draw.

Naturally, this worked in my favour. Again.

In the early parts of the morning, the guides were very conscious of time. I jumped on a zodiac which happened to be doing the landing on Jougla Island first. When we made our way up the dug out snow staircase, Rose grabbed me, made me sit on a barrel and she put my snowshoes on. They were hustling people along – no mucking around!

I didn’t realise it at the time, but they had to ensure that all of us had seen Port Lockroy and were all back on the ship before the next cruise arrived.

You can see in the photo how the landing teams put everything on a tarp, which is sterilised after we get back on board. They are really very worried about avian flu coming down here from the northern hemisphere. It could decimate the bird populations here.

Then we were off, trudging our way along the path laid out by the red poles the guides had planted earlier.

It was a cracking morning. The sun was so bright that I had to keep reminding myself to wear my sunglasses. I didn’t want to experience snow blindness like Baptiste did a couple of days ago.

It wasn’t a particularly long walk, just across a flat patch and then up a small hill where there were a couple of penguin colonies, along with a wonderful view of the bay. I took it slowly though, conscious that this was my last day.

The Gentoos were making the “hee-haw” sound that had already become so familiar. The air was cool and the sky was brilliantly blue. The penguins, the sound of snowshoes on snow and the murmuring of people talking were the only sounds I could hear.

I stayed up here for what seemed like ages. It was unutterably beautiful. The penguins were busily doing their own thing, with the occasional bird swooping around. 

At one point, down the hill near a penguin colony, a stupid group of Vietnamese people strayed off the path, just to get a photo opportunity holding up their flag. The guides were quickly onto it. 

“It’s not the flag I object to,” said one of the guides when I mentioned it later. “It’s the crevasses that are in the area.”

With conditions so perfect, I guess it’s hard for some people to keep in mind that we’re not in a tame place. But seriously, if you want to come to one of the most untouched and isolated places on Earth, do your research! Stepping into a crevasse could kill you.

After a while, I snowshoed my way back down the hill and got into a zodiac. Turned out, this one was on a cruise. Our last one…

We were lucky enough to see two seals out sunning themselves. Zoom in on the second photo – the seal’s on the rocks.

I was sitting in the front of the zodiac again, and I was so glad the sea was calm. I could have my iPhone out all the time without being concerned about waves splashing.

We passed by colonies of Antarctic/Blue-Eyed Shags building their nests from seaweed. Every year they come back to the same place and build on top of the nest they had before. Right in the middle, you can see one nest getting precariously tall.

None of us wanted the cruise to end. We went further afar, looking at the amazingly sculpted icebergs and gazing at the glaciers spilling into the bay.

Eventually the call came for our group to go to the steps carved into the snow to reach the base at Port Lockroy.

I didn’t know it then, but this was to be extra special, especially for all of us who were on the last zodiacs to arrive.

Port Lockroy is home to thriving colonies of Gentoo penguins, who make robust use of the buildings on the base. This means that when the people who live on the base each October arrive, the penguins are already well established. 

They live under the old post office, all around the storage shed and there’s even a colony that has parked itself directly under the flag pole.

This means that for the first time on this trip, the 5 metre rule couldn’t be adhered to. I took this video as I was queuing up to go into the post office. I couldn’t believe how close the penguins were coming to us.

When we first arrived, I was charmed to see the penguins nesting under the old building, but I was more focused on getting inside and looking around.

The museum is set up as if it was the 1950s. 

It was very utilitarian. 

There was a stamp that we could get for our passports with ‘ Port Lockroy’ on it. I’d already got the ‘Ushuaia’ and ‘Antarctica’ stamps from the tourist office in Ushuaia, which may or may not make some countries’ immigration people dislike me, so I thought I may as well get the whole set while I was at it.

I had a quick look at the museum, but it was outside where the real magic lay.

Remember how I said that the guides were really conscious of time with this landing? 

Now that we were on the last round, that urgency melted away. We were there for well over an hour and a half. 

Ninety minutes in a place where the penguins were literally all around us. What a way to finish the landings!

And, as I said, they were so close.

It was crazy. I’d be standing, looking at penguins coming back to the base along their penguin highways, when I’d hear a quiet little “shuffle, shuffle “ noise coming up behind me.

I’d turn, and there would be a penguin literally 1 foot behind me, making his way back to the bay. 

It was incredible. 

They were totally focused on building their nests, with many birds waddling along clutching a pebble with their beaks. 

They were all around us, walking, ( and tripping and falling), while we were marvelling at our incredible luck to be here at this place and time. What an absolutely precious hour and a half that was.

As the guides with the other groups dropped their zodiac groups back on the ship, they’d come across to the base.

Every time someone asked if it was time to go back to the zodiacs, they’d say, “There’s no rush…”

Liga and I looked at each other. We didn’t need to be told twice!

I took more videos here than I did on the rest of the trip combined. By now, the sound of the Gentoos was utterly familiar, as well as their waddling gait and optimism in the face of everything. 

But this was the last time I’ll be here with them. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Just before we finally left, a bird stole an egg. I was at the wrong angle to take a shot of the actual theft, but as we were walking back to the zodiacs I snapped THIS SHOT.

The sheathbills sneak in, peck a hole in the egg and come back later to eat the insides. If you zoom in you can see the hole in the egg. It’s sad. The penguins only lay two eggs. 

But of course, the skuas and sheathbills also have families to raise. Plus the egg would taste a lot better than the sheathbills’ normal food – penguin poo.

As we were enjoying lunch that was definitely tastier than penguin poo or penguin eggs, the ship began to move out of the bay. We were on our way home. Two days at sea, crossing the Drake Passage, and then we’d be back at Ushuaia.

At the briefing that night before dinner, Pippa asked if we wanted to get the weather forecast for the Drake. Would it be a shake or a lake?

She put up a picture of the weather chart.

“Of course, seeing as it’s you guys, the weather forecast for our entire crossing is blue,” she said, and started to laugh as we all cheered. 

She pointed to the lower left-hand corner of the chart

“You can see here that there’s a purple monster blizzard heading this way, but this will affect the group that’s coming after you. Your group has been truly blessed with unprecedented good weather.”

She went on to say, “ The one landing we had where it was grey and snowing, I had a few of you asking if it was safe to go out.” She laughed. “ It was safe. That’s considered great weather for landings in Antarctica. 

“ The last group we had was a 21-day cruise including the Falkland and South Georgia Islands. The weather was so bad that they only had ONE landing for the entire trip. You guys have been incredibly lucky.”

Wow. I already knew from Morgan that the trip I was originally meant to go on last year had pretty bad weather, but this was on another plane of terrible. I sat there thanking all of the gods that my tour company picked this out of all possible weeks to go.

Ross, the guide from Cornwall, then announced the photo competition. There were 3 categories: Landscape, Wildlife and Fun.  People had a few hours to enter, then the whole ship would vote, with the 3 favourites from each category ending up in the finals to be announced on the last night of the cruise.

There was no way I was entering. I was actually pretty pleased with how well my iPhone 6 performed, but it’s no match for the latest iPhones and wildly expensive cameras and lenses that lots of people were using. I was definitely sitting this one out.

We stayed up late in the lounge, talking, reading and the card players doing their thing. SamFrank joined us as we were talking to an American guy who was in the military. He, (SamFrank), mentioned that he was a colonel in the special forces.

From memory, SamFrank is a captain, a colonel and a general in the FBI and Special Forces who is also a dance instructor, presumably in his spare time. 

The plot thickens.

Antarctica Day 9 – The Icebergs’ Graveyard and the Polar Plunge.

During lunch the ship repositioned itself in the middle of Port Charcot Bay. This area is known as the Icebergs’ Graveyard because the prevailing currents sweep the bergs here and then they can’t get out, so they slowly melt. because there are so many of them, it’s a spectacular place to go for a zodiac cruise.

We were there for 3 hours and it seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.

When we were here, I finally got to take a video of penguins swimming to show you!

Away in the distance, we saw an ice floe with a rock on it…

Best rock I’ve ever seen.

Isn’t this the most perfect Antarctic nap you could imagine?

I had to snap a shot of these mountains. Just look at how pointy they are? In Ushuaia they were like icecream scoops; here they’re like Madonna’s bra in the 90’s.

Morgan…

… and Baptiste being sun smart… the French way! (They could’ve asked me for some sunscreen.)

Then, we sped back to the ship and had 15 minutes to prepare for the Polar Plunge. The next part was written a couple of hours after I did it:

When we were talking about it beforehand, someone asked me how I was feeling about it. 

“Resigned… and angry with myself for saying I’ll be doing it, “ I said. “ I told my boys I’d do it, so now I have to… I hate my children…”

The afternoon was a sparkling one, full of sunshine and with hardly any wind. We were told that the water temperature was 2C, which was a FAR better day to do a Polar Plunge than yesterday. Thank God they cancelled it!

I’d already changed into my bathers at lunchtime, so I was all ready to go. I sat in our room watching Liga get ready, while Corinna was rapidly talking herself out of it.

Out on the zodiac, we sped towards the beach. Underneath the water, the ground was covered with rocks, so people were ungracefully lurching from side to side, trying to find a firm footing. 

A girl was thigh high, then she launched herself sideways and disappeared under the water. Not a bad idea, I thought.

The Irish guy we were friendly with went under the water, then stood up, turned around and did a couple of backstrokes. A chubby German guy picked up a little chunk of ice and threw it, while a middle aged German couple made us laugh. She went under, he didn’t, so she pushed him under.

The shore was a hive of activity. People getting undressed, people getting dressed, towels being thrown.

All too soon, it was our turn.

“Walk along the rocks, put all your belongings on the tarpaulin, not on the rocks. Once you’re ready, walk into the water here. Grab a towel on the way out.”

That tarp was a hive of activity. There were people in all stages of undress, people stripping off, people frantically drying themselves and people throwing their clothes back on. 

Liga was ready before me, so she made her way to the water while I was still struggling to get out of my boots and waterproof trousers. I saw her calmly walking into the water as I finally got rid of my clothing and stood up.

I had my iPhone in my hand. I knew that there was a staff photographer taking pictures but I really wanted a video. I know that no one would ever believe that I’d voluntarily dunk myself in freezing cold water unless they could see the actual evidence.

Once I’d handed my phone to a guide, I waded in.

Yes, the water was utterly freezing, but I was more concerned with finding my footing on the rocks. When I reached around knee height, Liga passed me on her way back in.

“Keep on going Frogdancer, you’re doing well,” she said.

A step or two further and I was at thigh height. Deep enough to dunk. 

So I did. I dropped like a stone directly into the water. 

The cold gripped me around the ribs. I stood up, gasping like a fish until I got my bearings. As I hobbled gracefully back to shore, I was elated.

I did it!

Before this trip I would never have believed I could do it.

Once back on the tarp, everyone was drying themselves and throwing on clothes at record speed. As I sat there, inching my waterproof trousers over my muck boots, I watched the next batch of Plungers moving into the water.

The main thing I was scared about the plunge was being icy cold on the zodiac on the way back to the ship and a hot shower. I should’ve remembered the advice I often give other people. 

“Don’t borrow trouble.”

I wasted so much time being scared of being cold. I didn’t feel cold at all. I felt fantastic, as if I could conquer the world. Ok, so maybe I couldn’t feel my toes, but that was a minor thing. My body and mind felt like I could do anything I set my mind to.

My Polar Plunge moment even made it to the official slideshow of the cruise. I prefer to believe that it was because I looked like a goddess rising from the sea, not because I looked like a gasping guppy.

The people who were on the first zodiac really struck it lucky. As they were on their way back to the ship, their guide spotted a pod of orcas nearby, so they went after them. They got to see them really close and got some amazing pictures. 

Meanwhile, oblivious to this, we sped back to the ship and into the showers. 

At the daily briefing, Pippa said, “The program for tomorrow is that in the morning we’ll be visiting the southernmost post office in the world, on the British base of Port Lockroy. Of course, the weather tomorrow, being you guys, will be clear and sunny. 

“Bring your postcards, already written,  to be posted. When we’re inside the museum and the gift shop we’re going to be wearing masks, as the 4 people on the base have no access to outside medical care, so we don’t want to pass any bugs onto them.

“This will be the last landing of the cruise before we turn and start to head north.”

It was odd to think that tomorrow would be the last time we’d be pulling on our muck boots and waterproofs and heading outside. 

I’m so glad I didn’t back out of doing the Polar Plunge. It would’ve been easy to, but I’m pleased that I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to weasel out. This trip has tested me in physical ways and this was a challenge both physical and mental. 

I can do more than I thought I could. That’s good to know.

Then, as if this perfect day wasn’t enough, we had a barbeque thrown for us out on deck, with mulled wine thrown in. Here’s most of our group enjoying the meal, with SamFrank turning away from the camera at the last minute. Remember how he’s a spy (or a dance instructor, who knows?) and he isn’t supposed to be in photos?

He was nice enough to take the other photos of us all, though.

Pippa, the tour leader, said, “Every other tour, we have to force the guests outside. We bribe them with the mulled wine. We’re cooking outside, all rugged up, often it’s snowing. But of course, with you guys, the weather is perfect for a barbeque.”

Liga, Corinna and Morgan.

Yep, this bitter Antarctic weather was really getting hard to take!

Antarctica Trip Day 9: Petermann Island.

Today began with real Antarctic weather. We were told to dress warmly as it was snowing. This was not good news, as the Polar Plunge could only be done today.

Ming was already dressed – because she sleeps in her polar layers. The ‘swish swish’ had by now become a familiar sound in the cabin in the night as she tossed and turned. Her group was the first group to do the landing on Petermann Island, while we were set for a good two and a half hours of zodiac cruising.

As you’ll see, Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again. Our timing was impeccable.

We were in the zodiac with a French guide, who was absolutely mad keen on krill and plankton. Imagine having an esoteric thirst for knowledge about – let’s face it – something that isn’t exactly a mainstream thing … like tiny little sea creatures, and then being able to be paid to come to the one place on Earth that has heaps of it? She’s a lucky girl.

She brought a plankton bag thing that she trailed behind the zodiac to see if she could pick up anything interesting. Unfortunately, today wasn’t a great day for plankton, but it was interesting to see how she did it.

After a little while our guide took us away from the other zodiacs and said, “I’m going to stop the motor and we’ll have a minute’s silence on the ice.”

At first this minute’s silence, which is meant to enable us to hear the sounds of the ice, was being ruined by 2 gortex-clad swishers who wouldn’t stop moving. FFS! Don’t we have enough of this with Ming? After I politely (but firmly) asked them to stop moving, we got the full effect.

Sometimes, being paid for telling teenagers off turns into a useful life skill in other situations. No one else was going to say anything…

It’s a very liquid world. We could hear the sounds of the sea, ice dripping and the far-off calls of penguins. The wind was blowing lightly, but the main thing I noticed was that the sounds of water were everywhere. We shut our eyes and really concentrated.

Once everyone was on the same page and was totally silent, it’s amazing how much we could hear from so far away. I really enjoyed this experience.

We tootled around looking for penguins, seals and whales and as we did, slowly the day brightened up. Right at the time we turned the zodiac towards the landing site, the day turned bright and sparkling again, just as it had been on our first day.

And this was an absolute gift. This was the most gloriously beautiful of all of our landings.

This video shows it best, but seriously, with the other penguin vids that are coming, watch the funny penguins once and then rewatch to look at the background. This place is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I can’t see how anything could top it.

There are a lot of photos coming. I couldn’t NOT show you the beauty.

When we landed the sun was shining, the snow was sparkling and all was well with the world. I took a cursory look at the bay behind me, but my real impetus was to get to see the penguins. I grabbed my snowshoes, put them on and off I shuffled.

I was halfway to the first fork in the path when I decided to blow my nose. I had a tissue. It was all ok.

Until my nose started to bleed. And bleed.

This was bad. I have one tissue and we’re expected to leave nothing behind us when we leave. How can I allow myself to leave this pristine snow looking like a murder was committed? I had to move fast.

I turned and started back to the landing site, holding my tissue to my nose and pushing past people with a wild look in my eye. The doctor was there – she might have some tissues or something. I had to hurry… this tissue was heroically performing miracles but it was soon going to become sodden and useless.

When I got back, (without having left a drop of blood on the snow, I might add), the doctor made me sit on a plastic barrel and pinch the bridge of my nose for 10 minutes. She was timing me.

I sat, inwardly raging at the waste of time this was taking. This is ridiculous! If I had’ve left my nose alone I’d be at the hilltop rookery where people have seen Adelie penguins by now! Instead, I’m stuck here looking at… at … this.

And then I grew still. And I looked at the vista of the bay and the mountains laid out before me. And I couldn’t believe my luck. I had to stay here and gaze at this view of complete and utter perfection for ten whole minutes???

Best blood nose ever!

Once I was able to set off again, I was snowshoeing along like a champion. The paths the guides had set out were well away from the rookeries, but as you can see, sometimes the penguins crossed over our paths on their ways to the sea and back.

I wonder what they make of us? We must look very similar to them. We all walk in designated paths in a row, just like them.

I spent a lot of time on this landing by myself, just like this little fellow. I wanted to drink it all in and never forget it.

I was pretty happy that day.

There is nothing better than a penguin video. Look at the backdrop… it’s divine.

These were all penguin highways. Our guides would kill us if we left this many pathways behind us!

How am I lucky enough to get to see this in person?

Petermann Island was, for me, a truly epic moment. Antarctica is a spellbindingly beautiful place, but my time simply gazing out over the bay is something that will stay for me forever.

I hope that these photos from my little iPhone have given you an idea of just how special this place is.

As we were torn away from the landing and were on our way back to the ship, a new topic of conversation arose. Seems like the weather has taken a turn for the better. Looks like it might be a great day for a Polar Plunge…

Decisions will have to be made.

Morgan took this shot of Baptiste and ‘improved’ it. I’d definitely go to see this movie!

Antarctica trip Day 8 in the afternoon – Damoy Point.

We were late in the afternoon getting to Damoy Point, the place where we’ll be exploring. My group was scheduled to be the first to land and then we’d swap with the other group to do another zodiac cruise.

Over lunch we watched the weather get more and more grey. It started to snow.

The topic on everyone’s mind was the Polar Plunge. It was scheduled to happen after the afternoon’s activities.

Now, before we go any further, I should let you know that on this ship, the Polar Plunge isn’t simply a jump into the sea from the doors on deck 3. No, no, no. Apparently, that’s too dangerous. People have had heart attacks from doing it that way.

Pfft. As if…!

What the Polar Plunge is on this ship is a slow walk into the sea from a rocky beach, with the water inching up your body in an excruciating dance as you force yourself through ice-cold water to get to a point where it’s deep enough to submerge yourself, all while balancing on rocks that shift under your feet.

How do I know this? I saw Morgan’s video of himself doing it last year. It looked awful. I don’t know why this slow torture is considered safer than a short, sharp plunge into the sea, but there it is.

So everyone’s asking each other, “Are you doing the Polar Plunge?” “I’m thinking of doing it, how about you?” “I’m not doing it!”

Morgan didn’t exactly inspire confidence. When asked if he was going to do it – “I’ve done it once. I don’t have to do it again…”

Now, I packed my bathers. I like to keep all of my options open for ‘once in a lifetime’ things like this. But as lunch progressed, the weather outside got greyer. It began to look COLD out there. I didn’t expect the Polar Plunge to be fun, but it was definitely looking like weather that I did NOT want to strip down to my bathers in.

By the time we were called to get into the zodiacs, the sea was heaving and it was still lightly snowing. I know it’s entitled and selfish of me, but I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed. This is real Antarctic weather, but where was the clear sky of yesterday?

As I looked around, Baptiste was missing. He and Morgan are usually always together. It turned out that Baptiste had snow blindness from yesterday and this morning. His eyes are such a pale blue and even though he had sunnies on, they weren’t wraparound ones and so the glare from the sun on the snow messed up his eyes. The poor guy couldn’t stop crying and was staying in his bunk for the afternoon. We sent the doctor to look at him but it’s something only time could fix.

Morgan was also suffering. He was bright red from sunburn. Ahhh, the French! They may have one of the best accents in the world, but they don’t have the sun smarts of your regular Aussie.

When we landed at Damoy Point I discovered why it’s best to be the second group to land. Snow that hasn’t been trodden on is soft. It’s deep. If someone… say, me for example… steps where no one else has stepped before, she just might sink up to the top of her leg in the snow. Now I see why snowshoes were invented, though they’re still not foolproof. (I won’t tell you how I know this.)

After my snowshoes were on, I set off, following the bright pink plump gortex bum belonging to a sturdy German woman. I figured that she’d pack the snow down pretty well for me. It worked. I made it to the Gentoo rookeries without further mishap.

But this time we were getting a taste of what the Arctic is like. The wind was whistling and the air was cold. Not TOO cold, for my 5 layers of clothing, but I was certainly keeping all layers zipped up and close to my throat, unlike yesterday.

There was a little hut that has been saved as a historic artifact – the British had a landing strip here at some stage and the hut was used for men to wait for the plane – but you had to take your snowshoes off to go in. It was such a palaver to put my snowshoes on in the first place that I ignored the hut and trudged on.

There was no snow, but the wind was whistling past us. There was a track straight to near where the penguins were, and then the trail looped around down by the bay to see sweeping views.

By this time I’d lost the others and I was trudging through the snow on my own. I kept weighing up what to do about the Polar Plunge. As I said before, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance… but the weather was getting greyer and more windy. Just the thought of having that wind whipping around my nether regions while they were wet from the sea was almost giving me frostbite.

I dug my chin into my scarf and kept walking. I was getting very unhappy about that damned Plunge.

Still, even though the day’s weather wasn’t the best, the place still had an extraordinary beauty – wild and untamed.

There were two rookeries right near us, but a third one was way, way away on the top of a hill. Quite a hike for those little guys to get up and down the hill on those pudgy little legs.

Then it was time for the swap over to the zodiacs. Imagine my absolute joy when Pippa, the tour leader, announced that the Polar Plunge has been cancelled for today.

“YES!!!!!!” I yelled, fist-pumping the sky. I was so elated that I nearly tumbled into the sea then and there.

Let’s see what tomorrow’s weather would bring.

I have to say, I’m loving the zodiacs. It’s amazing how much you can see from so low in the water.

But look at what another group experienced, while I was slogging my way across the ice. How incredible! I think it was Charlie who shared this video with me:

He said that they were a little worried that it might try to take a bite out of the zodiac. They would have been safe if it did, though. On the first day, I remember our guide saying that a seal would have to puncture more than a third of the sections of a zodiac before it would start to sink.

Look at this little guy.

We were bobbing around in the bay when another zodiac zipped across to us. The kitchen staff had decided to bring us hot chocolate with whipped cream and rum to keep us warm.

Liga asked for no whipped cream but 2 shots of rum. Smart girl!

Drinking a cup of hot chocolate in the middle of a bay in Antarctica is something special.

So is seeing this. A blue iceberg.

Wet penguin.

We all tumbled back into the ship and joined up again for dinner. As usual, the food was sumptuous. I looked out of the window at one stage and saw HORIZONTAL SNOW. This doesn’t bode well for tomorrow…

Then we went up one deck to the lounge and settled in for another quiet evening. The girls usually played cards with whoever wanted to join them, while the rest of us quietly chatted, read or caught up on our blog writing. (That’d be me. I get antsy when I’m on holidays if I don’t get the day’s events written down for the blogs.)

Morgan said, “We’re not far from Ghana… according to my phone!”

Corinna came up to me later that night and pulled me aside. Her face was alight.

“I have more on SamFrank!” she said.

“Tell me. Tell me now!” I said.

“You know how Eneko shares a cabin with him? Well, he was telling Eneko this afternoon that he is a dance instructor.”

We both burst out laughing.

“So, then Eneko told him to prove it, so SamFrank started doing the tango around the cabin!”

We howled again.

“Yeah, Eneko said that he was crap.”

Antarctica trip Day 8 in the morning – Brown station.

This morning was a bit of an earlier start. We were out in the zodiacs by 8 am, cruising around Paradise Bay. This time, all 5 of us were in the same boat, which made it more fun.

The first thing we went to see was cormorants nesting in the cliffs. This is Morgan taking what are probably far better pictures than me, but at least in this shot you can get an idea of the cliffs we were looking at.

There was great excitement when we realised that there were a couple of chicks there. The best shot I could get was this one – you can see the chick’s head peering out from under the mother in the nest on the left if you zoom in.

The guide driving our zodiac is a birder in his free time. In fact, most of the guides have a burning interest in something bird -ish, plankton-ish, to do with whales, seals and sounds in the sea, etc. With this job they get paid for following their passions.

“I think that the animals in the Antarctic get too much press,” he said. “The birds are equally as interesting… and as beautiful.”

We stayed there for a while, then word came over the walk-in talkies that there was at least one humpback whale in the bay, right beside the glacier.

Other zodiacs were closer to it than us, so we hung back to let them get a good look. Dammit. But there’s one good thing about being on a tour and having friends – Eneko was on a different zodiac. A closer zodiac. And he likes to take videos.

This is what I saw. Zoom in beside the light blue iceberg on the right.

There’s a rule that there should be 4 zodiacs at the most going near an animal. If it starts to look distressed, angry or starts to try and get away, we turn around and let them go.

This particular whale was feeding. We’d see the blow at first. Then he’d surface and we’d see the arch of his back before he’d slide under the waves again. 

We followed him for a fair while before our guide pulled the pin, saying that it looked like he was starting to avoid us, so we should go.

Ah well. In Antarctica it’s the luck of being in the right place at the right time. OR having the right friends who are in a better-placed zodiac.

So do you want to see what Eneko’s zodiac saw? Here it is:

I’m so grateful that people like Eneko and the other members of our group are so generous with their photos and videos.

A few minutes later we saw a leopard seal lying on a little iceberg.

What? You can’t see him?

Here he is, raising his head.

And stretching his flipper.

He was totally unconcerned about us, just lolling around sleepily.

Our guide looked at the sky.

“Looks as if that band of snow might cause us trouble later on when you’re doing the landing,” he said. 

I looked where he was looking. The sky was a gun metal grey and the wind was getting colder. I fished out my cowl from my backpack and put it on. Corrina, opposite me, was beginning to shiver.

There was only one patch of blue in the sky.

‘ Never mind,’ I said to myself. ‘This is the sort of weather that people expect to have when they come here. It’d be unreasonable to expect another day like yesterday.’

But I still felt a bit wistful.

We continued cruising around, going up to a glacier for a closer look. Not too close though. If ice fell off the glacier if we were right in front of it, we could be swamped by the wave it would cause.

After a little while it was our turn to go ashore.

We slowly moved towards an Argentinian research base called Almirante Brown. It’s only used in the summer and it was still deserted, so we were able to use it. It has a landing area, which makes it convenient.

Crazy true story about this place. Back in the day, this base used to be manned all year round. A doctor was stationed there for a year. He was all set to come home when Argentina radioed the base and said that he had to stay for another winter. Or another year. Anyway, a lot longer.

So he went mad and burned the place down. Now they only have people there in the warmer months of the year.

As we made our way towards the little landing steps, there were Gentoo penguins on the pebbly beach. Someone asked if they were nesting there and our guide said, no, they were just resting after being in the sea. They won’t nest there because of the tide.

“ Last year on a different beach I saw what must have been a couple of inexperienced penguins building a nest very close to the tide. When we went back the next day, the nest was gone- completely washed away.”

You can see how closely the penguins live among the buildings. Here is a penguin highway, with traffic going both ways.

Once we made it up the steep stairs, we put on snowshoes and started to make our way along the paths that our guides had laid out earlier that day.

Look! Who would ever have thought I’d need to know about snowshoes?

There was a lower path and a higher path.

The lower path swung right by a couple of Gentoo penguin colonies that had taken over the Argentine camp.

After that, the trodden- down path headed up the hill towards a place that promised a great photo op.

Being fat and unfit as I am, once I had my snowshoes on, I looked up at where the finishing point was and decided that I’d stick to the low path. 

It was beautiful. Even though there were buildings here, in a strange way they seemed to enhance the scene, rather than detract from it. The penguin colonies were smaller here, but the were still just as gossipy, with their cries that sound a little bit like a donkey’s bray echoing from one group to another.

It’s fascinating to stand and look at the penguins. There’s always something to see. They’re such busy, sociable creatures. 

Plus, it helps that they look so comical when they walk.

After watching them for a while, I kept walking along the track. As I got a little higher, the view that I was aiming for gradually appeared.

It was a little bay. Words can’t do it justice…

Once I’d viewed my fill, I snowshoed back to the fork in the road, where I decided to keep going to the top. I figured I could stop every now and then to catch my breath and pretend to take a photo.

No one would know…

Liga: “Come on Frogdancer! You’re nearly here!”

I was so glad I made myself do it. The weather was fine. A little grey, maybe, but clear and sunny.

The view was incredible.

No, not this view. This is just us spelling ‘ICE.” We’re not allowed to sit on the snow, remember? So this was the best we could do.

I stayed up there for ages, not able to tear myself away from how magical it all was.

On the way down, I accidentally strayed off the path and suddenly I was up to my thigh in snow. Oops. Went on the wrong side of the red pole.

Luckily for me, Morgan was nearby, just waiting for a phto op as I was starting to get up:

I was proud of myself though. I was able to stand up again without needing anyone’s help. 

Off I walked, a sadder and wiser woman…

All this extra sadness and wisdon didn’t help me when, 10 minutes later while I was waiting for a zodiac, I tripped over someone’s discarded snowshoes and almost face planted in the snow.

Not my most graceful day.

Our tour group leader Morgan sent photos of himself to his family showing that he was wearing a teeshirt yesterday. His brother wrote back, “Why are you wearing a tee shirt? It looks like it’s warmer at the South Pole than it is in France! We’ve really fucked up the planet.”

During lunch I made sure to sit where I could see the views from the windows. People were there laughing and talking, while all the while there was the most spectacular scenery on Earth silently gliding past.

What an extraordinary experience I’m having!

But something momentous is looming over me, something that will be incredibly difficult for me to achieve. Yet achieve it I must.

Maybe I’ll do it.

I said I would do it, but I don’t have to…

But I made sure to pack my bathers. 

The sea water is currently between 0 and 2 degrees. That’s NOT in my comfort zone.

Will I do the Polar Plunge???

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