Coming towards the conclusion of this adventure, it is interesting to look back and see if my expectations have clashed or matched with the real thing. Listen to Van Morrison's 'Stranded' (or just note the title) and you get a sense of what I felt like dropped here in November. Ben and I arrived in poor visibility with no signs of the mountains and having eaten some exotic dinner on a white table-clothed cruise ship beforehand, I sat and watched my new team mates, none of whom I knew particularly well, quietly tuck in to a can of inedible-looking stew. In an attempt to be helpful, my clearing away the plates was met with a polite but firm response: We don't stack.
How odd to look back now feeling so comfortable with people and place. Nissen life is the body of this adventure, although the source of it lies outside. Yet how quickly life here would become miserable if the Nissen had no core.
After a long day, it has been so enhancing to leave work and come back to the Nissen (we're loving the short commute) and toast each other and recount the funniest parts of the day. One goes particularly to Kath who was asked, 'are your t-shirts you sell bisexual?'. Similarly, each time we get invited somewhere for dinner I am excited to escape and somehow, weirdly enough, always long to get back.
Some time ago, a passenger asked me what it is I miss the most. I replied 'my mobility' and he instantly looked me up and down thinking he might have just made an incredibly tactless oversight. Were I asked this question again, I would revise the answer after the realisation that it is more mental than matter that is the most difficult thing. I can live without being seasick on the Drake and my thighs could continue to expand so that my jeans really properly no longer fit.
...and Ben, Kath and Florence could always try to swim further next time.
In contrast, it is in the attempt at telling visitors that we are four people, for four months with four weeks to go in as fresh a tone of voice as when I arrived that is proving the challenge. With Florence's recommendation, the expedition staff have been fantastic in reasserting these points; surely another instance of Antarctic cooperation if ever there was one! And the visits, even the most unexpected ones, continue to be good from our point of view. We had a great evening on Sea Spirit and I think Florence's face shows that a change, armed with bacon, is just as good as a rest. I think the team at Detaille have also been on the receiving end of this goodwill too; the relations between us and the staff are a lifeline I never thought would be so important.
But in response to another question, I don't think we are 'burnt out'. Not at all. Are we bored of penguins? We will miss the penguins so much that Ben has already suggested zip locking a smelly sock with the eau de penguin so that when we pine for Port Lockroy back home we can be reunited with one of its most unique qualities. Again, it was more the landscape of Antarctica that I imagined before coming, but it will be 'our' penguins that I will be the saddest to leave.
On Wednesday we felt relieved not to be in a boat as we watched a wave caused by an enormous glacial carving. Rather in slow motion, we followed the wave as it made it's way towards the boatshed colony which, at the time of our last count, was home to 127 fragile chicks. Even the vast whale bone was dislodged there but luckily the water retreated two metres off from the colony itself. The penguin chicks are still gratefully stranded. And I relish the fact that I am too. Oh, and yes, I agree with Florence, we really do not stack our plates here!