Posted in AaratiinAntarctica

15th March 2016: The Drake times

There has been much talk about bracing ourselves for the Drake. Now I see why! It is like the feeling of being on an adventure park ride- the Colombus, except, this is an actual Ship causing timely vertigo every time it rolls from one side to another. You also hear an occasional glass break in the middle of a session, with the backdrop of a wall clock swaying from side to side. It is pretty crazy to be on a moving boat as every day mundane tasks are made super arduous and unique. Just walking from your room to breakfast or taking a shower(and other daily chores, ahem.) or just trying to stand straight can make for the most interesting experiences during the drake times. The Drake passage is known to be the  roughest waters in the world where waves can go to a height of 10m! Although we are told what we are experiencing is about a 2 on a scale of 10. If this is 2, I can’t even imagine a 10! Some people have been keeping sick and mostly indoors. I feel fine because my roommate was kind enough to share her sea sickness pills.

My roommate seems super sweet. She is a consultant with BCG. We are so different in what we do, my roommate and I. While I’ve never had a corporate job, it was interesting to hear all about her 16 hour work days and the high life of traveling the world. Extremely insightful. I’ve always held an opinion that there are two ways of living life. Either you work your a** off in your twenties, build a foundation, get that promotion, get super rich, retire by 45 and then do all the things you always wanted to do and invest in your passions, hell, even fund an Indian girl to Antarctica; or you can choose to use your twenties to do what you are truly passionate about while you have the energy  drive and zeal to, follow your ideals while you are still idealistic and not jaded by the dark shadows of realism, meet as many people as you can before you become cynical, antisocial or extremely opinionated, for later in life you are bound to have a “real job” and “settle down” (or not). The above two lifestyles don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Lucky are the few who get to make their passions their professions. But there are always daily battles of a choice between the two one has to fight. I am not saying either one is bad. I mean my roommate at 32, funded her entire expedition with her own money, and a large part of my expedition was funded by individuals like her in their 40s’ and 50s’.

I’ve always wanted to do a job where I can see the direct impact of the work that I do, hence my  stubbornness of wanting to work at the grassroots level in the development sector. But lately, I’ve been confronted with the questions of whether I want to do that all my life, and if I see that the higher up the ladder you go, the bigger impact you can create. I  mean look at all the people who contributed to my crowd funding. They might be sitting in a plush air conditioned corporate offices not able to see the impact of the buttons that they press but even they made a huge difference with their one random act of kindness. Then there are those working with NGOs who contributed as well, so I guess in that case it just comes down to one’s personal kindness quotient. As I am vacillating between what to do, post the expedition, whether to follow my personal dream vs get a corporate job I can’t help but wonder… has the practicality bug just bitten me because I just turned 25 or because of the conversation with my roommate from a different realm of industry? I wonder on what basis they assigned our roommates and if this was their plan all along…

We had some interesting sessions today, one about a brief history of Penguins, one titled ‘Ice with an Antarctic Twist’ with our glaciologist Colin,(since we will start seeing icebergs very soon, along with dolphins, sea birds giant petrels and Albatross) and one about the history of Antarctica. There is so much of history just surrounding Antarctica! I always thought sailing and exploration was a vast topic but there is so much to learn within the field of polar Exploration like life stories of  famous explorers like Scott, Amundsen, Ross, Shackleton in whose memory our teams are named after.. and of course, Robert swan. The people leading the sessions are such experts in their fields and even though the sessions were very informative we were mostly encouraged to spend as much time on the deck as possible today because the best way to beat sea sickness is to look at the horizon. Well , I think staring at the horizon is a great medicine, and so is contemplating life while getting lost in the vast expanse of the ocean.

OH! I also saw my first whale today. 🙂 I don’t know what kind it is because we haven’t had our session on whales yet, but it was beautiful none the less. You could see it blowing out water from its spout decently close to our ship. We were up on the bridge when we spotted it. It’s so cool that you get to hang around on the bridge, use the binoculars to see far out into the ocean to try and spot whales, watch the navigators at work with all the equipment and learn about their work. It’s like visiting the cockpit of an Aircraft, which also gives me the same thrill. Fun fact about a ship: you should not whistle on a ship because there is a superstition that if you whistle on the ship, you whistle the wind out.

Dinner every day is great- an extremely elaborate 5-course meal to kick in your buddha syndrome and also to kick off great conversations with all participants. With 140 of us on the ship, I’m on a mission to sit with a different group of people, whom I haven’t met or spoken to yet, every meal. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes, but for now know that we are being fed well, mom. Don’t worry. Miss you.

Posted in AaratiinAntarctica

16th March: Iceberg ahead!

I saw my first Iceberg today. Rather WE saw our first Iceberg today! We were all in a session on ‘Whales’ in the Nautilus lounge, when Isabelle shouted: “ICEBERG!”. And all the people in the room ran outside onto the deck at the same time! Luckily our session was just about over and Katya who was giving the presentation didn’t seen to mind it and understood our excitement of seeing our very first Iceberg!! People went crazy taking pictures and even selfies with the Iceberg. It was pretty big. There was a contest announced for spotting the first iceberg (which had to be bigger than the size of a school bus) that was indeed won by Isabelle.

It was ironic that we all were happy to see our first iceberg, as we later learnt in our next session by Colin called ‘Ice sheets and Ice shelves, change in Antarctica’. You see, Ice shelves are melting. They are breaking due to the increase in temperature and Climate Change. They are not supposed to be drifting this far out and away from the mainland Antarctica. We were just so excited to see something we’ve only ever read about and seen on television that our first reaction was to naturally pull out our camera, and not “THINK”. Food for thought.

Fun Fact: It is considered bad luck to mention ‘the Titanic’ on any Ship.

As narrated by two teammates… They were up on the Bridge of the ship and ended up in an animated discussion about icebergs, which naturally led to the topic of the Titanic and the conversation took all possible connotations one of which was “What would happen if an iceberg hit our ship?” “Would we drown?”…. The captain walks up to them and goes like: “You do not say the T-word on the Ship.”

Later in the afternoon we had a fun session called ‘Ropes and knots: Preparing for Glacier Travel’ by Jason that only added to our nervous anticipation(good nervous) of finally stepping on Antarctic land tomorrow. We learnt to tie all sorts of knots and tied ourselves together with one long rope using all the secure knots we just learnt how to tie and walked all around the ship deck with the wind blowing hard. It was fun. We were also briefed by Cheli on the environment laws surrounding Antarctica, the IAATO norms, Disembarkation, How to get on and off the Zodiacs(the black cruising boats) and how to gear up before we step outside.

Antarctica has a huge hole in the ozone layer on top of it. That’s why we need SPF 50+ sunblock and polaroid glasses. At the end of his 70-day walk to the south pole in 1984, Robert Swan’s eyes went from Ice Blue to Pale grey. The hole is, however, repairing itself today. But the safety standards still stand. Antarctica will probably have the clearest airs in the world with no civilization (except for our coal burning ship) in its vicinity.

The big question lingering in all our minds is: What does Antarctica Smell like?

If you are wondering what qualifies us to be called Climate Change Ambassadors while burning a whole lot of fuel, well, the organisation offsets our carbon footprint to make this expedition by activities such as planting trees and with other environment-related activities. It is a part of our contract and we are informed of it on being selected. And this point was reiterated today at the seminar.

All set to smell Antarctica!

 

Posted in AaratiinAntarctica, Expiriencing Antarctica

17th March: First Step on Antarctic Land

Today was the first time we got off the ship in 3 days. We did the whole Branco5 drill and suited up in all our layers and were all set to leave in less than 15 mins. Not bad for a first time huh? We all have allocated lockers in the mud room where our shoes and life jackets hang. When Orcas are disembarking and on shore, the Leopards are indoors having their leadership sessions and vice versa. Sometimes both teams disembark with a half hour gap and take turns between shore landings and Zodiac cruising. We’ve got to keep our ears open for the announcements on the PA system.

The first few steps after getting off a constantly moving ship were wobbly and mistargeted. But stable ground got familiar after a while. Our first stop was port foster, where we got to choose between three different hikes. The strenuous, the moderate and the contemplative. The strenuous hikers’, climbed up the hill for the bird’s eye view of the island; the moderate and the contemplative hikers got to watch them climb up from way below. I chose the moderate hike as it was day one and I was already out of breath just hiking up the mini hill in this cold. But it was a choice well made because all of us got to be a part of the fun little photo shot of writing a human 2041 on the ground! 🙂 The later description of the strenuous hike by the hikers reaffirmed our belief in our choice. 😛

Deception island is a horse-shoe shaped island situated in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It’s rife with volcanic activity and has hot underwater geysers thus, you can see steam rising off its surface in the surrounding waters. If you didn’t have a GPS in hand, you could be anywhere in the world for deception island’s brown surface doesn’t look much like Antarctica or how you’d expect it to be. But things aren’t always what they appear to be at Deception Island- the apparent brown surface is actually volcanic Ash layered over Glaciers. The island is all ICE!

Whalers bay was our next stop, a place that deeply moved many of us animal lovers. It comes with a sorrowful history. Back in the early 1900s this was a whaling station where whales and seals were hunted for their oil and nearly driven to extinction. Whale oil was used in the houses of the rich to light lamps in Europe. As you walk through the rubble and dilapidated buildings, you are overcome by this feeling of sadness. There are still hooks hanging where the whales and seals were once hung and huge rusty tankers to hold whale oil which would take at least a thousand murders to fill. The whole place reeks of melancholy.

But as Rob often says, IAE is all about the positive. “Negativity never inspired anyone,” he also says. Due to technological advancements and the onslaught of electricity and the light bulb, whale oil soon became obsolete. Even the petroleum industry had a part to play. It no longer made monetary sense to get so much whale oil from a whaling base all the way in Antarctica. So is the case today for all the valuable minerals, and deposits of natural gas and fossil fuels deep under Antarctica’s frozen surface. The ice makes these reserves inaccessible and non-profitable for those wanting to misuse this opulence of nature and the Antarctica Protection Treaty is keeping it safe. But in 2041, in all probability with the current rate of global warming, the ice on Antarctica will melt thus making exploiting Antarctica easier and profitable. The hope is by then, just like electricity replaced whale oil, Solar and other alternative sources of energy will replace fossil fuels. Thus, by the end of the day, learning about the history of the place and speaking with Rob, Whalers Bay for us became a symbol of Hope, drowning the Sadness.

“All the knowledge in the world won’t give you the emotional impact that Antarctica will give you.”

-Don Kent

Rob spoke about all that and much more in his session called ‘Footsteps of Scott – 30th Anniversary’. When he spoke the entire room listened in pin-drop silence. You see what people mean when they say Rob adapts to his audience and that he is an amazing storyteller. He started off with his childhood and his influences in wanting to take on the feet of walking to the north pole and the south pole. He narrated the entire story with such humor, suspense, and drama while making himself so relatable throughout. I don’t remember even blinking once. I think for me the most endearing part was how he did not glamorize what being a leader meant. His lessons on leadership were subtle, narrative and contained many tiny things that you’d pick up, that would make you feel that even you are a leader,(maybe that’s why we are here) you only need to care enough. He moves his audience! There was not one soul in the room who didn’t feel that way by the end of his story. You could see it on our faces and it resonated when we exchanged looks with anyone, even on the other end of the room.

I didn’t take any notes from that session, I hope someone recorded it. But sometimes there is such joy in just listening.

Posted in AaratiinAntarctica, Expiriencing Antarctica

18th March: Unpredictable Antarctica

This morning I woke up early and sat by the window writing my journal when suddenly Rob came and sat in the chair in front of mine. :/ He said “Good morning Aartee!” in his very British accent. I got super nervous stopped whatever I was doing and sat up in total attention. It wouldn’t have been out of place if I even tapped my foot and saluted. I don’t know what happens to my demeanour on being surrounded by older people or by people in an authoritative position, but it probably has something to do with a combination of the Indian conditioning of respect for elders and my deep instilled manners and etiquette that came with having gone to Army School all my life and attending all those mess parties as a child. But 5 mins in, Rob made me feel so comfortable that were discussing everything from Indian youth dating scenes and arranged marriages to Yoga and the power of solar.

He also asked me the big question: What do you plan on doing post the expedition? What’s your one big goal? And that’s the dreaded question that everyone is being asked on this ship. We all are trying to work through that very question through our personal leadership journies and the modules, trying to find our “sweet spot”, diagnosing out strengths and weaknesses through group sessions while sharing our crucibles and success stories and some of the most intimate details of our lives and for some of us resurfacing memories buried away deep inside. But through the process, we are also building trust, among the entire team and friendships that will last a lifetime.

So what do I plan to do, post the expedition? Well, I told Rob I was still working on “the plan”. He said I should tell him “the plan” before the end of the expedition. I just hope I figure out what “the plan” is before that.

We disembarked the ship today at Brown Bluff. It’s called so because of the rust colored basalt rocks on its slope due to volcanic eruptions under its surface through years. But unlike deception island, Brown Bluff looked more like Antarctica. It was white from top to bottom covered in snow. We all walked till the top and a part of our activity was to cross a deep crevasse. The climb had the most beautiful view at every level as we ascended, but it was equally  challenging. People kept slipping and falling, one us even broke our camera lens by smashing it on a rock on slipping. We made a human chain to cross the most slippery parts in teams.

Antarctica is unpredictable. She is wild and free. One second she was inviting with her calm and beauty, stunning us while we were climbing a hill and the very next second she unleashed the katabatic winds of 45 knots (a tropical hurricane is at 50 knots) forcing us to abandon the hike midway and seek cover in the ship. That was quite some adventure for the day.

In the afternoon, we saw something that was right out of a movie. Icebergs! Huge Tabular Icebergs floating in the middle of the ocean. They were once a part of the Larsen B ice shelf that broke off  in 2002. You would be surprised at how they hold themselves afloat for some of them were bigger than the size of our ship. And so perfectly cuboidal that if you had the chairs of the right size, you could host a proper sit-down dinner on them for a 1000 people.

It’s like every day trumps the other in its awesomeness here in Antarctica. There are always things you’ve never seen before.

Posted in AaratiinAntarctica, Expiriencing Antarctica

19th March: Whale Footprints

Did you know- Whales leave footprints? I didn’t know that myself until today! Until I saw my first humpback whale take a dive and leave behind a prominent halo on the surface of the water that stays a good minute. It keeps expanding in size before it merges with waves. We went on a zodiac cruise this afternoon to spot humpback whales. We saw almost 6 in sets of two. For the most part, everyone was always ready with their cameras waiting for it to dive to get that perfect shot of its tail fin. You can tell before it is just about to take a dive, as its body comes out of the surface more than usual and for the last two strokes before it is about to take a dive everyone in anticipation is ready with their fingers on the camera clicker. And usually, you hear a couple of dozen misguided clicks on the penultimate one followed by twice as many on the real one. I am telling you about the distinct clicks because it’s all really quite. You can hear every tiny sound including the soft waves lashing against the zodiac when stationary, the sound of the whales swimming, their each stroke even if they are 30 feet away and an occasional blow from their snout.

Also, team Kershaw is generally a quite team. I feel like each team’s ‘team personality’ is usually a statistical mean of its ‘individual personalities’. While we have an extreme like our French-Australian boy Joslin with all the jokes and noise we also have ‘Guy’ who is always in Zen mode balancing it out. You can see Jossey with 3 giant cameras and lenses at any given time and you’ll know exactly why when you see his final masterpieces. Anisa from our team is always so calm, composed and gives and takes zero drama. She lent me her iron man Buenos Aires water bottle that she volunteered for before coming to the expedition because I lost my water bottle. Gene is perhaps the most contemplative 17-year-old I know. The first time I met her I had no idea she was 17. She is super smart and also speaks like a total adult. It was only when she told me about “this chapter” they were studying “in class” (high school) where they discussed letters written by a world war II leader as a piece of literature in an English class that also weaved into their history class about the world wars, that it all made sense. I love seeing how education shapes an individual along with other influences and this example of multidisciplinary learning just made me rethink classroom education as we in India know it.

Emma reminds me of Emma Watson for more reasons than just her accent. She comes across as an over achiever and is always in charge of the situation. Much like Ed, she keeps calm and has most situations under control. Ed is like the Mama bird protecting its kids. He is fun and funny yet super responsible at the same time. You can count on him for anything. He is a wood cutter and knows how to tie secure knots to climb up to great heights and is brave for that reason I believe. He stepped up to help me out with this braveness once. Keith is like daddy cool and he can tell stories with just one word. Abby is exactly how I see myself at 60. She is a grandma who kayaks and until recently was taking care of 40 Huskies in Alaska! Talk about dream jobs, huh?

 

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❤ Team Kershaw

 

The zodiacs move really fast and nothing can be worse than salt water for your cameras, so we have to pack them up in zip-lock bags whenever we know we are about to ride. Right when we were all ready to head back to ship after two hours of spotting five humpbacks, there was a moment in which a whale surfaced 10 ft away from our zodiac and none of us had our cameras out. While some of us reached into our bags to pull out our cameras, others were too awestruck to even move. Before we knew it the Whale took a graceful vertical dive and was back in the water again, waving goodbye with its tail fin right next to us. That moment was our moment of eternity. Experiencing that not through the frame of the lens but through my eyes  etched that moment in my memory forever. It drove home the point of- disconnect to connect. And that shared moment experienced in silence by our quiet-team connected us for eternity. That and many other such quiet moments we’ve shared as a team.

 

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Photo Credit: 2041 foundation

 

 

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I’m really proud of this one! 🙂

 

 

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And this one!

 

 

We did 4 phase team building activities at Portal Point, earlier this morning. Phase one involved using all our rope knowledge to work as a team and save Abby, our injured avalanche victim up over the slope with a pulley system in place. Luckily we had the ropes genius Ed on our team who got us through. Phase 2 had us all doing a Penta-Mime where we had to enact an object that defined us. we also took a group picture and my team helped me model for my Sponsor company, for the good looking team that we are. Phase 3 was a reflection session in the Meditation Zone with the most spectacular view ever. There was something deeply meditative about staring at floating icebergs. some chose to write and some to just close their eyes and feel the heat of the sunlight warm you up while sitting on snow ice. Our final team activity was interesting where each one shares one life advice with the other, and it didn’t matter whether it came from a 15-year-old or a 60-year-old, it was all so sensible, relatable and most importantly genuine.

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Photo Credit 2041

 

We also have after dinner sessions every night, for an hour, which are optional and last about an hour. We have a presentation where I will be talking about the E-base, along with Rohan and Chandrika talking about Global Himalayan Expedition on behalf of Paras, in about two nights which we need to prep for!