Friday, May 5, 2017

Quest for the Adelie

     I had hoped desperately to see Adelie penguins and leopard seals.  We had one last, brief zodiac ride.  You can't control who your zodiac driver is - and it really matters.  If you get one of the over-worked ship's crew, they do their best - but they are not wildlife experts.  If you were lucky enough to get an experienced guide, who knew where to look, you might find wildlife others would miss.  I tried very hard to go with the former Cheeseman staff member for this reason - but he was pressured by the trip leader to do a lot of things and I had no idea if he would be able to take us on the zodiac on what turned out to be our last foray in Antarctica.  Some of the other S. Georgia passengers, including my husband, were so discouraged they were giving up on even trying, but I put on all my gear and waited, looking at the looming clouds.  The Holland birders, with a similar conservation mindset, waited too.  Far and away these would be the best zodiac companions of the new group!  After a long wait, we lucked out, and off we went for a final try at finding wildlife.
      Our guide tried incredibly hard to find an Adelie.  Just when it was time to turn back to the ship, we found one.  Much rejoicing was had by all - including my husband who moments before the zodiac took off decided to join us after all.  It was incredible to finally find what had proven to be an elusive species this trip!!!  We all tried to quickly get some photos, as a storm was rolling in, and we needed to be back aboard the ship shortly - and it was nearly two miles away.
   This little penguin managed to let us end the long journey on a high note.  At least the last zodiac ride was not a failure!!
    Once back on the  ship, it was announced that camping was cancelled that night and that we needed to head back early to Argentina due to yet another bad storm.  Thus, a ten day trip to Antarctica had actually only involved three days in Antarctica!  We had only four landings - two at the Chilean station, one at another station, and only one without buildings.  The Antarctica portion of the trip was a great disappointment - especially on the heels of S. Georgia.  More days in bad storms ensued.
     As I said at the outset, this was a very emotionally and physically exhausting, draining trip.  It took me a long time to write about it, more than a year.  It was still hard to go through the photos after all this time.  I am glad I did it, but it was rough.
     A few couples were honeymooning on the Antarctica trip - this is something I really would never recommend!  They spent much of the trip very seasick. This is also not a trip where you'd want a random roommate - conditions are tough.  If you are an introvert, there's no space alone unless you have your own room.  Having been with my husband a long time, spending a month in close quarters and difficult conditions was fine...but I would not want to do it early in a relationship!
     For many months after the trip, I was disappointed when I saw articles and photos of Antarctica trips.  It was a matter of luck, and we had bad luck in almost every aspect of our trip.  It felt unfinished - we had not seen what we had hoped to.  I had little hope of ever going back.
     I am an avid traveler, and have always been the one to propose and plan our trips.  I go on many alone, but am happy to travel with my husband when he wants to accompany me.  I prefer having someone along to share the memories with, and the incredible wildlife moments that stand out and I hope I retain no matter my age.
     My best day ever was on a safari when I saw an elephant born, and only my guide was with me.  The incredible memory will always be with me and I doubt it will ever be replaced as the most amazing thing I have ever seen, but it would be even cooler if I had been with someone who also saw it and remains part of my life.  For most people, the special moments in life are with children or family, and those common, shared memories weave together the tapestry of a lifetime, and build connection.  Not so for me.  My strongest connection has always been with animals, and nature, and very, very few people.  When I reflect back over my life, the moments I treasure most are generally times I have been alone with animals or in an incredible natural setting, or both combined.  There are a few exceptions, a few memories of my dad or my spouse or a best friend...but the things that have really taken my breath away do not involve holidays, birthdays, or people at all.
     Among the top moments, after the birth of a wild African elephant?  Snorkeling in Tonga with a baby humpback whale, and above a humpback whale who was singing.  Watching juvenile mountain gorillas play and compete for attention in the jungle of Rwanda.  Seeing my first sea snake, snorkeling in Raja Ampat.  Sitting in the Masaai Mara with a lioness nursing her four cubs in the shade of my vehicle, literally close enough to touch.  Feeling the vibrations of a tiger roaring for a mate in India.  Watching a black-tipped reef shark hunt in the waters of Indonesia. Bottle feeding a baby rhino.  There is a long list...I could go on a long time.
     Also, more "typical" moments with animals, like riding my horse.  There are many riding moments that I will always treasure, most of which will always remain private, as they are too personal to me to share.  Playing fetch for the first time with my Aussie puppy.  Teaching my border collie how to swim.  Holding a baby goat on my lap as he napped, just days old.  Napping with cats. I share my life with a lot of animals, and all of them are special to me.  It is not a traditional family, but they are my family in every sense.
     Most of these treasured moments are only mine, and when I am gone, they will be gone as well.  When I am old, should I develop dementia, I can only hope I will hold on to some of these moments, which have given my life meaning and joy.  I have no control over that.  One thing that means a lot to me is having a few of these moments I share with my husband.
      It is a type of intimacy.  Only he can remember with me the time we swam in the Phillipines with a huge sea snake, so big he was fearful and stayed back, nervous the snake would run into me as it surfaced.  Yet I, cautious in nearly everything, had no fear at all.  He was with me when a huge silverback gorilla walked by us on the trail, so close it brushed our arms.  He was there for the incredible humpback whales, which is a good thing, as I could never capture the experience in words.  He was there for a lightening storm in Panama that we watched from a treehouse, and an even more incredible storm in Tanzania, where the lightening lit up the black night, exposing for mere seconds grazing elephants and giraffe.  These common experiences stitch us together in ways that, for others, raising children together might.
     Not long after our trip, my husband announced that he wanted to go back to Antarctica. I didn't really think it would ever happen.  It isn't as high on my list as other places I haven't seen, though it does feel incomplete.  One day last fall, Cheeseman's emailed us both about a trip to Antarctica in 2018, and my husband said he would like to go.  Since he hasn't ever been the instigator for a trip before, I was a bit surprised.  I waited a few days to see if it was a casual remark, or he was serious.  He was serious.  After discussing how to overcome the obstacles, we signed up.  So, despite all the trevails, we will be going back in 2018.  And yes, I am looking forward to it.  I wish I could see S. Georgia again as I explained in a previous post.  That may never happen.  But I will be back in Antarctica looking for a leopard seal next year.  And if I'm lucky, maybe more than one Adelie.

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