Trips to Antarctica evoke big things in the minds of many people. I’ve noticed that quite often during my preparation for such trips. It’s a magical continent that very few people ever set foot on in their lives. So special attention is certainly paid to those who actually dare to make their way there.
Day 1 | 15/02/2016 | Flight: Lienz - Munich - Madrid - Buenos Aires.
Since yesterday I have had this feeling inside me. To call it nervousness isn’t entirely true, it is more a state of inner tranquillity, of tightening. Now and then doubt, and something I don’t really know otherwise; fear. Fear that I might not come back in one piece, or at all. Although that is highly unlikely on this trip, which is in fact a well-planned and foolproof project - beyond an expedition into the wild.
This fear is simply there, it warns me and keeps me awake, makes me focus and reminds me to be vigilant. And the quieter I get, we are currently on the place in the clouds above Madrid, the more it turns into humility, joy and feelings of love. Yes, love.
Andy and Anda are sleeping in the seats next to me. I picture briefly what it must be like for Andy to experience this in total darkness without actually being able to picture it at all. Check-in and a group trip to the toilet at the airport led us already to speculate just how much our roles will transform in the next two weeks. Andy navigated us through the red tape of the flight bookings, he knows each motorway junction off by heart and sorted the car parking for the team - and minutes later he stumbled onto the escalator behind me. "You have to let yourself be led to be able to lead yourself." - Crazy world.
Mood amicably great. We bumped into Frank in Munich, the German architect, who from the get go is friendly and helpful. Yet many hours of flying lie ahead, we will land late at night in 35 degrees heat in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, without shorts, which I forgot to pack.
We’ve arrived safely. Roger joined us in Madrid.
Day 2 | 16/02/2016 | Buenos Aires
35 degrees. Celsius. We are taking a peculiar route to Antarctica. A route through the city. Funny that the path to the cold goes directly through the summer heat.
For Andy, walking through the city is far more exhausting than heading through the silent wilderness. Thousands of sounds: slanting pavements, posts, lampposts, curbs, dog shit, passers-by racing passed us in the opposite direction, crossroads and disoriented teammates. Our city tour was probably, well hopefully, the hardest part of the entire trip.
The highlight was our long-planned and compulsory meeting with an 800 gram steak and beer in Buenos Aires. Then it was finally clear and official that my vegetarianism came to an end after five years, all living beings on the planet were dedicated to this stage of life. Rarely has a dead animal been eaten with such passion. My score on the karma scale was again lacking a little something at this point. But it’s all worth it. Side dishes would have only distracted us from the main goal, the red wine helped some team members leave all their fears behind, loud singing in a fairly classy, well-visited bar in the middle of Argentina. We were lucky; the waiters liked us.
I'd be lying if I wrote that the different characters, strengths and weaknesses in the team hadn’t become apparent today. Preferably in the cosy city as in an Antarctic ice gorge would I want to spend 45 deadlocked minutes discussing "Should we wait for the bus? Shall we take a taxi? Let's go on foot? Is there a café nearby? Let's go back to the hotel?" Decisiveness helps. A Yes is a Yes, a No is a no. This definitely applies to me, and I'm definitely not alone in coming to this conclusion.
"Some friends use each other sort of half and half, utilise each other. We do it quite differently: We take full advantage of each other” Andy uttered this sentence today by the way, as we were hobbling through the city on our way out for the steaks. That's the way it is. Only when we fully solicit and utilise the capabilities of others, can we be successful as a team. With half measures we will get nowhere, we will rot on the shelf and lose our nerve.
Indecision and misunderstood considerations! When I go with full strength, it is necessary to stand confidently by my competences . It helps no one, and is rather a drawback if you are afraid of hurting others by overruling them or offending them by keeping your thoughts to yourself, being nice and waiting on the decisions of others instead of clearly stating your own opinions and decisions.. We owe it to each other to be forthright! We use each other. Just as Andy constantly uses one of us, exploits us, to navigate. We get back a hundredfold.
Day 3 | 17/02/2016 Ushuaia.
Ilija Trojanow notes rightly in his novel, Eistau, that there is really few good things to say about the southernmost city in the world. We will stay one night here, sleep tomorrow without setting an alarm and in the afternoon set sail on the Ortelius. 15:30.
Sitting alone in the hotel lobby, the others are still resting in their rooms. Roger was sitting with me, he just suddenly turned up. And asked me about my two sons. If there were just the right question for this moment - then this was it. My eyes welled up immediately. Good tears, cleansing, and for the eyes essential, sharpening tears. Suddenly and without warning. I took a deep breath and started telling him: raving on about Lukas as he is getting on with his Matura year, how careful, attentive, well- connected, sensitive he is in his thinking and feeling. He’s a good listener, picks things up quickly and enthusiastically applies. And I raved on about David, my younger son. How I love the fact that he began to work with me at my company after dropping out of school a one and a half years ago. What a reliable, perceptive, courageous, eloquent apprentice he has been since the start of this school year. How great he receives feedback on what his potential is. And how well we manage to be father and son as well as to work as a boss and apprentice together:. "Working with your father: that never works out" - oh how many times we have heard this sentence already. It's not just that - it is the most beautiful thing in the world. The most sensible, that we can currently both do something together. I pass on my knowledge, he takes it all in, and we spend so much quality time together. Time that we didn’t have chance the share since the divorce 12 years ago. It is never too late. "It’s not about making time last longer, but compressing it." That was in a message from Devi sent a few minutes ago. In response to my fear of not ever having enough time.
Day 4 | 18/02/2016 | Ushuaia - port, ship
We met our tour organisers and guides for dinner yesterday, first sniff and one question – answer: excess. Andy and Anda bombarded him with questions, the three of us listened attentively although tired: "What is the snow like at the moment? Where will we make land? Which maps are available? How do we get in the inflatables? What equipment do we take? Where have you been? What is the food on the boat like? Who else is coming with us? When do we put on our ski boots? What rules apply in the Antarctic? Are stowaways really not allowed on board? ... "
For me as a city and forest person, I am diving a world that is still foreign to me. What strikes me is the very functional, technical language - similar to my memories of my time in the military. Questions and stories about feelings or personal things seem somewhat secondary in this mountain-man's world. That’s my impression at the start, at least. I haven’t been asked anything yet, which doesn’t make my anxiously cautious emotional situation any better. I'm just a bit of a wimp and a guy who knows how to read women, I need that "read between the lines", the whiff and "get along with each other". For me "letting someone in" isn’t a question of trust, but the result of "heart, gut and brain." Since I am highly sensitive: Only if word, image and sense perception match, do I open myself up. Because only then can true partnership exist, because only then can guidance work well. I am then easy to guide, when I feel myself to be fully understood. It’s the same force – on one occasion I use it to isolate myself so I’m not led astray. In the other cases, I use this power for committing myself to something, for opening up, dedicating myself to something. Then I am free for the nitty-gritty of what it is that my task entails. This is precisely the quality of team leadership that I mean. Then I'm happy.
Most recently when the question of the expected swell in the "Drake Passage" was asked about, after all one of the stormiest, wildest, most dangerous parts of the ocean, it all got a bit emotional for us. The creaking of ropes and the sticking of “seasickness ear patches" of course was the immediate technical solution that was on the table at the time, but it didn’t help us overcome our fears and anxieties. Today, our day of rest is the answer to this tension within us. "Guys, brace yourselves for a special night on this ship" said Andy at the shared breakfast. "Give our bodies a rest for today." And so we can enjoy the silence, drink plenty of water and do seemingly "nothing". And that's a lot. We prepare ourselves mentally prior to the next step of our journey. Andy directs Roger and Anda, who are just next to me, with the preparation of the short-wave radio antenna, the cable must be cut exactly to the millimetre.
Day 5 | 19/02/2015
Drake Passage 07.30. An announcement over the crackling cabin tannoy. Everything vibrates. We wake up, slowly. "Guys! This is all just yarn." With this definitively nonsensical phrase Andy manages to crawl out of bed half-asleep, and made a pretty good attempt at forcing us to smile. It did not matter what he said. He was concerned with something quite different: to join the group, check reactions and to see if we are all fit. One after another we crawl out of our narrow beds and disappear into 2 square meters of bathroom. First Anda, then Frank, then Andy, and finally me.
Breakfast at 8 o’clock. Ravenously hungry. Then the first briefing for the tours from the guides. "Crevasse" is slowly becoming my favourite word... Seasickness hits when the body reacts to the loss of orientation with nausea. The sickness hits when you lose yourself in the chaotic world around you. If you lose control, just as in everyday life, only in everyday life, we take false precautions, pure and simple. We assume that society, elected government, weddings, well-composed opinions or employment contracts are stable, static reference points. We don’t questions these precautions purely out of convenience. Thanks to us human’s innate ability to suppress things, we succeed at doing this all too well. If we would all consciously acknowledge that there are no guarantees, we would ideally continue to develop our minds, fully awake, mindfully, responsively, presently and grow as thanks to these uncertainties. "Mountain climbing is just that!" shouts Andy spontaneously when I read him the text I‘m writing here. Reality unfortunately shows us the opposite most of the time: we degenerate, stagnate, project our repressed fears and become socially seasick. What I mean is that our society is actually constantly vomiting, addicted to drugs and deceptions that take our edge away and make us lie until the nausea goes away. A high price for the dullness of mind and sight. These are precisely the effects and side effects of the anti-seasickness medicine, with the active ingredient "Cinnarizine"...
Now for the really important things in life: The short-wave radio. Today we spied out the ideal place for our dipole antenna. Right next to the helipad. Now we are pressing hard on getting the captain’s permission. Today, Andy and I visited the third officer on the bridge and she was thrilled with the proven success tactics for our “Lil’ Radio Project”. She will ask the captain on our behalf for permission for the radio. That’s enough writing for today. We will make land on the Antarctic coast sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning.
Stay tuned for second part of Thomas Andreas Beck's Antarctica travel log. In the meantime you can visit his blog or follow him on Facebook. Learn more about Andy' Holzer and his projects on his website.