Antarctic Turns

Originally posted December 29, 2005 by Linda Lou Burton from Beagle Channel, Argentina – I think I know how the Pilgrims felt. All those days at sea! Never mind that I was only 36 hours out and extremely well-fed, I was still out-of-my-gourd happy to see land. Bumps on the horizon, gee, what pretty bumps. Smooth, glassy waters again. And a sunset! It wasn’t just me who was excited, cameras filled Deck 7, the open-air, out back view-spot, snapping sailboats in the sunset, watching lights of houses twinkle on the nearby shore.

It happened just as the Captain’s Dinner ended, and our servers paraded through the room with sparklers blazing,  what  a sight!

But, I’m getting ahead. Let me go back to the beginning of the day’s good mood. Manuel’s Annual Bird Drawing Contest!

14:30. We gathered in Torghatten Salong, taking over every chair, all swiveled to the front, backs to the window view for now. Manuel and Christian twittered back and forth, piles of papers, bags, creations everywhere. So many entries! The Doctor came, our designated judge. The categories were posted overhead: Ugliest Bird, Most Unusual Bird, Children’s Entries, Special Category for Which There Is No Name, Serious Drawings, Written Material. I settled in, a front-row seat.

Serious drawings first. Pamela won, hands down, for her cross-stitch creation of two Adelie penguins, her efforts witnessed every day as she worked in her chair by the tea and cakes and the “cleanest window,” as she said. Black and white stitches on a field of blue, very pretty, well done. Manuel handed her a plastic bag of prizes. “A pen! A pin! A card! A hat!” The bag was filled with trinkets from the gift shop on the ship, except the postcard stamped special from Cape Horn, a delight. Pamela donned her Expedition Cap and grinned. “A kiss! A kiss!” Manuel bestowed his kisses too, the right cheek, and the left.

I snapped the camera at the action. My tablemate had won! Doug, the artist, won too, a watercolor of the albatross monument at the Cape. The fun continued, category by category. The children were presented, each with their drawings and construction-paper birds. Each was applauded, praised. Everyone beamed. Will and Paul and Annmarie, the grown-up siblings from the Netherlands on the trip with their parents, who were celebrating a 50th Anniversary, each had entered; each won. Proud Papa and Mama!

There was gentle comedy, and comedy to bust-a-gut. A simple sheet of paper, the word ANTARCTIC across the top in big-block letters. Manuel held the paper high, then turned it around. “Antarctic terns,” he said, straight-faced. A roll of toilet paper, signed by all the guests, bird drawings by each name. A skit, starring Polly Penguin from Perth. Manuel had assured us, in lecture after lecture, that “pebbles are better than diamonds!” in the penguin world. Not so with Polly. Good-guy penguins and rogue-eye penguins brought her pebbles (although the skit-props were large baking potatoes borrowed from the ship’s kitchen) but fickle Polly turned them all away in favor of a gift of DIAMONDS from the Captain!

The Captain entered a coat-hanger albatross (and won); the group of Aussies entered a “rare bird” — an orange survival suit stuffed with balls from the kiddie playroom. And finally, the Written Material category. Short poems, serious poems, thoughtful essays, each read, proudly, by each author.

Then at the last, “Please come and read your poem,” Manuel said. Christian handed me the mike. “Twas the night before Christmas,” I began, surveying my packed-house audience. “And all through the ship….” The story worked, it seemed. Laughter when I hoped for laughter; murmurs when I hoped for surprise; and, at the end, applause, a prize. A Pen! A Pin! A kiss! A kiss! What fun!

19:00. I’m dressed in dangly earrings for the Captain’s do. He’s standing at the door, smiling, handshaking, the perfect host. The servers offered wine, the tables were set. My last night with my tablemates. Pamela and John, from England. Ross, from Nacogdoches, Texas. The mood is festive, yet tinged with sad. The trip is almost over. We’re bonded now, how many people have done what we have done? We have been to Antarctica, one of the most inaccessible places on earth. Now it is ours, forever in our hearts and minds.

And we are turning home.