Sunday 11th March 2012 – Simple, but intense

My arrival in Cape Town is a day I will always cherish. I had planned to rush from the ship to the airport to fly back to Johannesburg to my family. Instead, they surprised me and came to get me. That was some kind of wonderful!

From the harbor we drove up the West coast to Yzerfontein, to spend a few days at the beach before flying, together, to Johannesburg and driving home from there.

Spending a few days at the beach was the most perfect ending to this journey. In a beautiful and serene place, our family had time to come together again after the long separation. It also afforded me the chance to withdraw from the ocean slowly and gently and to bid her farewell. Days later, I still felt the ship swaying beneath me, in my dreams.

The first few days on terra firma were imbued with simple but intense pleasures. The kind of pleasures that one experiences when doing something for the first time or with great awareness. It is awesome to experience these seemingly unimportant delights in such a fresh way. These are some that stood out for me:

 

I can’t even describe the delight of hugging my family for the first time, of feeling them safe in my arms again.

Weaving through the traffic and then beetling along the freeway at high speed caused me severe anxiety as for the past three months, nothing had happened at high speed and the environment had been simple, pure  and uncluttered. (Flying in the chopper does not count as one does not really have a sense of speed while up in the air.)

On the day of arrival in Cape Town, we had lunch in an eccentric, coastal restaurant. The owner-cum-chef kindly obliged me by serving me ripe, whole tomatoes and a heap of crispy lettuce, cucumber and fresh herbs. Biting into these crispy fruits was sensational!

Walking on barefoot on the beach, warm sand between my toes.

Curling up beside my children in bed and hearing the sound of their breathing, so close to me…

Back home, walking through our front door and seeing all the beautiful  ‘welcome home’ surprises that my family had prepared for me.

Feeling the soft prickle of freshly cut, bright green grass under my feet.

Picking the very first aromatic lime from a little tree I planted two years ago.

Biting into a ruby-red pomegranate from my own tree, smarting at the tart flavor of a fresh granadilla from my vegetable garden.

Hearing the cacophony of frogs, crickets, cicadas and jackals in the bushveld summer’s night…

Lying in my bed and listening to the joyful dawn chorus of the bushveld birds…

Waking up to a cup of hot tea in bed, in my favourite bone china mug.

Being able to wake up and walk to the kitchen in the nick.

As a welcome gift to me, Pule, our bush cat, went out and caught a rat. Next to my side of the bed, she neatly decapitated and gutted it and left it where I would be sure to notice it. Indeed, I stepped on it as I got out of bed the next morning.

Showering in a shower that does not move around!

A long laze in a hot bath.

Hearing the children discuss something with their dad and their laughter!

The joys of internet access!

Being able to email whatever I want to, whenever I want to.

Sweating in the heat of day… plunging into a cool, blue pool.

Whistling to my heart’s content, without being admonished that I am calling up stormy winds and tempests!

Being told: “Mommy, it felt like you were gone for a long time but now that you are back, it feels like you never went away.”

 

(What do YOU do when you are really happyyyyy?)

 

Thanks to all

I am now well and truly home and have reclaimed my landlocked life. It was an incredible experience all round, both the sea voyage and being on the Antarctic continent. There is still so much that I need to digest and absorb about the trip and all that I learned and lived through. There is still so much to write about! 

To everyone who supported me and my family during my absence, in whatever way, THANK YOU!!!  To SANAP and the Department of Environmental Affairs, thank you for this opportunity. To my fellow passengers, thank you for the company and the great experiences we shared.  To the Ice Pilot, Captain Dave Hall and the Master, Captain Gavin Syndercombe and the ship’s crew, thanks for a safe and enjoyable voyage with great food!  Thanks to the sponsors who ,generously contributed in their various ways. To the SANAE 50 team, welcome home! To the SANAE 51 team: here’s wishing you an incredible year on the ice!

Most of all, thank you to all my family, especially Paul, Gabriella and Matthew, for helping me to make a life-long dream come true and for welcoming me back into your lives.

Saturday 3rd March 2012 – The wonder of arriving!

(Early morning mist, slowly lifting as we near the harbour)

Shouts of excitement bounced back and forth across the water as the Little Red Boat entered the harbour and rounded the first corner of the quay. Passengers milled about outside on the decks, craning their necks to search for their families and friends, already gathered on the quay for our long-awaited arrival.

(As we rounded the first corner of the quay…)

(Almost there!)

(During their absence, Koos had become Oupa (Grandfather) and Dennis had become a father)

Slowly, painstakingly slowly, we moved closer until we could clearly see the expectant faces of those waiting on the quay. The “Welcome home” posters held aloft lent a festive atmosphere, along with the live music that we could hear clearly by now. Then I spotted my husband and two children in the crowd. My heart skipped numerous beats and instantly, there was a lump the size of an apple in my throat. Tears of joy flowed freely down my face!  I had not expected them to fly down to Cape Town again. But boy, was I delighted to see them!

(And then I spotted them! What I did not realise at the time, was that the man with the folded arms was from the SANAE 27 overwintering team who had been with me on the ship in 1987)

(Hey, what's all this commotion about?)

We berthed and then the customs officials came aboard. The SANAE 50 team, who had been away from home for about 14 months, was permitted to leave the ship first, in order to participate in the official welcoming ceremony, led by Henry Valentine from the Department of Environmental Affairs. The rest of us waited patiently for our passports to be stamped and for permission to disembark. Then the frenetic activity started, everyone in a rush to be somewhere else, squashing past each other in the narrow corridors of the ship to get their luggage offloaded. In between, lots of final goodbye hugs… One passenger rushed ashore to propose to his girlfriend, who almost passed out from surprise  -  and I am sure, delight!

(The SANAE 50 team, in black T-shirts, lined up in front of the podium during their welcoming ceremony, conducted by Henry Valentine)

(Master of the ship, Captain Gavin Syndercombe, after 'parking' the ship in the harbour)

(The four of us, reunited and thoroughly delighted!)

There's more to follow, don't go away!

Friday 2nd March 2012

By this morning, all signs of the storms had disappeared. Around midday, I spotted another ship on the horizon. How weird to see that ugly thing and not an iceberg! It looked so out of place and messy. Oddly enough, I actually felt that my space had been invaded.

(A perfect day, with the most intensely blue ocean I have ever seen)

(Soaking up the perfect day on the monkey deck)

(And then a space invader arrived!)

Beautiful sunshine, barely a breeze, lots of people outside, some sunning themselves on the monkey deck, above the bridge. And then we were treated to a spectacular display by a pod of dolphins, darting inches below the surface and leaping out in unison. Wow! They then split up into smaller groups and porpoised all around the ship, to gasps of delight from the onlookers.

(The 'official' dolphin spotters on duty)

(The entertainers have arrived)

(Some passengers lazed about….)

(…some passengers hung about….)

(…and others monkeyed about on the monkey deck)

(…while the crew continued with their daily grind out on the decks…)

(…and way down below, in the galley.)

(Meanwhile, I was making plans with the ice I had imported from Antarctica as a gift to my family)

This afternoon I heard someone yell ‘Land ahoy!’ We could just make out the shape of Table Mountain! Word spread through the ship like wildfire and passengers rushed outside in their hordes to squint at the barely visible landmark. Home -  we are almost there! People started saying their farewells as we all know that tomorrow morning, when the ship berths, things will get hectic.

(Land ahoy!!!! Moving closer and closer to the mountain was an awesome feeling, filled with anticipation and excitement)

A few hours after spotting the mountain, we were able to get cell phone reception. What bliss, to be able to have a loooong conversation with one’s loved ones! All over the ship's decks people wandered about with one arm glued to their ear, yakking away.

(My first call home!)

(The heli-deck, or 'cell phone paradise')

(The sun has almost set, but who needs light for yakking? That was the longest call home ever!)

All the while, Table Mountain was getting bigger and bigger. The ship proceeded to her allocated spot near the harbor where we would lay anchor for the night, before heading into the harbor with a tug boat early tomorrow morning. What a spellbinding view of Table Mountain and the coastline! Darkness fell and the landscape was transformed into millions of tiny lights, like glowing embers in a fire.

(Our last and exquisite sunset on the SA Agulhas, just outside Cape Town harbour)

Back to the future….

…Civilization.

And we are almost touching it again. The thought was followed by an involuntary shudder.

After three months in some of the most pristine and isolated places on earth, I wondered what it would be like to once again, see the evidence of man’s ‘progress’ on this earth. The vehicles, roads, noise, smog, litter, colours, buildings, landscaped gardens, crowds. Not to mention the high speed at which we conduct our lives.

 

“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean –roll!

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;

Man marks the earth with ruin  –  his control

Stops with the shore.” 

(Lord Byron, 1788 – 1824. Yes, yonks ago!)

 

Then I started wondering how it would feel to step off the Little Red Boat for the last time? I was jolted by the realization that once again, she had become part of me. By now, to a large extent, my internal rhythm was dictated by hers and it was all about to come to a sudden end. How does one say farewell to a ship? Memories of my first voyage on this ship in December 1986 mingled freely with memories of this voyage. It seemed that time was irrelevant. The only important thing was the connection between me and her. There was a sense of having completed the circle.

Feeling overwhelmed, I walked her decks, up the steps, around and down…soaking in the detail of her lines, sights and sounds for one last time…remembering how safe I had always felt aboard her, even in the worst of storms, such as the ones we braved in 1986. Indeed, I was not the only one who felt a deep sense of nostalgia and loss. I know of some big, strong men who have sailed on her dozens of times, who shed a few furtive tears at the end of this last Antarctic voyage of their trusted and well-loved ship, the SA Agulhas.

 

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Wake up in Hout Bay at Marie's house – find the cat blissfully curled up on top of my bag, at rest like only a cat knows how. Even after a good sleep, I wake up in a state that can at best be described as hyper-alert numbness. Not surprisingly, I spend more than half an hour searching for my underwear and ultimately find it inside my laptop bag, where I must have put it. Huh?

Today's plan is to get my special clothing issued by the government department and to do a few other small errands. Marie and I set off…

For those of you who have never been to Cape Town or Hout Bay in particular, the roads are pretty twisty. They go UP and DOWN and AROUND. Sure, that's no big deal, you may be thinking to yourself. But I challenge you to drive those roads as a passenger in my sister's car, and still think: 'no big deal'.

The locals do these roads at 100 miles per hour, come rain wind or snow. I closed my eyes, held on tight, prayed. Then I figured that at least it was excellent pre-departure exposure to some serious motion and therefore, it had to be good for me.

We arrive at the harbor, at the DEA's offices where I will get my special cold weather clothing issued. I get my first glimpse of the SA Agulhas through a window in the office building, right next to the quay. My heart skips a few beats. Godfrey Malagula's friendly face meets us at the clothing store and the games begin. As all of the items are mens' sizes, I had to try on everything. In some brands I took a size small and in others, a medium. Trying on layer upon layer of extreme gear was downright exhausting, especially in Cape Town's summer weather! The worst items were the snow boots and their inners – they felt uncomfortable no matter what size I tried and were impossible to remove without Godfrey's help! This is when I realized why the Department had sent me for a stress-ECG before departure! Panting and sweating, we got it all together – my sister Marie wielding the list and a pen and directing me what to try on next, with what, and making sure that I didn't get it all muddled up!

We went to the ship with the new bags of new clothing and took them and some other baggage on board. This was when I saw my cabin for the first time.

What a luck – a two-berth cabin with a porthole, and near an external door (the strategic importance of this feature will become clearer, later).

Afterwards, Marie kept insisting that we should swing by Tanya's house for no particular reason, before continuing with the rest of the errands. I thought it a bit odd, but agreed without questioning her motives. As we pulled into Tanya's driveway, my jaw dropped in utter amazement: there was Paul! What a shock! All the blood drained from my already frazzled brain and plummeted down to my feet! Soon after, Charl arrived home with their children and ours. This surprise visit and the upcoming send-off at the ship was my Christmas gift from Paul and the kids.

Tuesday 6 Dec 2011

Leaving home – getting to the airport to fly to Cape Town

By the time my 'first' day of departure arrived, i.e. the day that I was to bid my family farewell and fly to Cape Town, I was just a ball of nerves. In fact, when anyone asked me how I was, I just responded "like 5 headless chickens on cocaine". Frantic last minute packing and arrangements, trying to pack in the morning so that I could spend a more relaxed afternoon with Gabriella, Matthew and Paul. Eventually we set off for the airport. We needed to go in my truck, as I had so much luggage!

It looked like I would need an entire airplane for all my gear. Thanks to Tanya and Charl, 1Time Airlines had given me an unlimited baggage allowance and a voucher for the flight. Paul helped me count the number of pieces because by that time my brain was no longer operational. He said there were 8 in all. So I weighed in: 4 pieces, weighing a total of 78kg (about 150 lbs) would go as checked luggage, and the rest would go as hand luggage. Oh easy-peasy. The stuff I had to carry merely added up to 34kg (about 60 lbs).

I weighed myself, at 56kg. I did wonder a bit about how I was going to haul more than half my bodyweight but. Paul and the kids and I had a quick snack of sushi and then the big hugging and kissing started, adjacent to the security area. Matthew said it was not nice that I was leaving and that they would be so far away from the ship when it departed, and that they would not even see me climb aboard or be able to wave goodbye. I don't really want to try and describe the emotions of saying goodbye. I am sure that everyone has experienced what it feels like to be so utterly torn between staying and going. Suffice it to say that once we had parted, someone had to show me where to go as I could not read my ticket through the snot and tears.

Each and every body part had now become an anchor point for some piece of baggage. Tripods, laptop and cameras and videocams and godknowswhatelse.

Somehow I managed to attach all these awkwardly-shaped bags to my body and with great difficulty I waddled to the departure gate which seemed to be on the other side of town. I now had 4 items to keep track of, 5 including myself. Along the way, a few people who commented on how heavy it all looked, but not one offered to help me carry any of it. I figured that I was old enough for them to think I could do it by myself, and not old enough for them to feel sorry enough for me to help me! Damn!

Tanya's smiling face met me in Cape Town and helped me feel human again.

Thank goodness she came with the big car. And how wonderful to see her and Charl and the kids again, after almost a year! Later that evening, after Tanya had fed me at least 3 times, my sister Marie picked me up and took me to her place for the night, which was also great as we had also not seen each other for almost a year. I was emotionally drained. And starting to wonder if I were doing the right thing or if this was utter madness?

Jan 2, 2012 – Back to the Boat, and Other Posts

I have been keeping a journal of my thoughts and ideas as we've been travelling, that due to the restricted communications from the boat, I could not upload. Pictures could, obviously, not be sent either.

Instead of rewriting my previous blogs, that many have commented on, I am going to insert new blog entries, with pictures, that tell a more complete story of where I am and what I have done. There will be overlaps and possibly duplication, and sometimes I did not write much for days.

So, enjoy reading a little more, and seeing the spectacular beauty that draws me back to this awesome place.

A little later: D Day – 2

Paul and the kids have left. The silence in the house is deafening. There is still a mountain of stuff on my "To do" list. Over the past few weeks I have been dumping whatever I thought I needed to take South, in the corner of my home office. Now, by some miracle of engineering, crushing and elimination, this stuff needs to get packed! I look at this lot and feel overwhelmed.

The voice in my head says, 'Yes, this is for real, Girl!' 

A tremendous loneliness descends upon me.

See my self-portrait…

Self-portrait of me upon truly realizing that this is my last day at home with my loved ones...