We are surrounded by ice for as far as I can see. I keep my curtains closed because the glare can blind you, but when I dress up nice and warm, pop my sunglasses on and head outside I am welcomed by a sea of brilliant, solid white. The air here is so clean, pure and frozen that it’s like a strong shot of coffee- powerful but not totally unpleasant. I hadn’t been outside for a few days as I was showing the first signs of a cold and colds on ships are nassssty as they spread like wildfire and everyone is unforgiving and steers clear of you like you have the plague. But it’s so easy to get trapped in a little bubble on board a boat, crew mess to cabin- cabin to crew mess… forgetting about the outside world and getting fresh air etc. Especially when all your food and TV is so easily accessible and the need to go outside lessens. BUT it is important to get clean air and there’s only so much air con I can take. So I donned my thermals, waterproofs, 2 coats, hat, polar gloves and sunnies and went outside to join the huddle of excited scientists who had congregated on the bow to watch as the metal hull of the JCR sliced impressively through the pristine ice.
The first night we hit the ice no one had warned me about the sensation, so at the first crunch I was upright and panting- ready to find me a large door to lie on while John the steward played Jack and held my hand from the icy waters. When you spend a lot of time on boats you become accustomed to all the strange noises they make, all the creaks and moans, all the rumbles and alarms. The ship and its compartments are like a huge living body, the soothing beat of the heart and the sighing of the lungs becomes familiar and soon you’ll be able to sleep through them all. But it’s interesting to see that when there IS a foreign noise your subconscious recognises that it’s time to wake up, unless you’re my flatmate who I’m pretty sure would sleep through a bomb raid. I woke up with a sick taste at the back of my throat and a dropping in my gut, that horrible alarming fear you get when you’ve been woken suddenly and you feel in immediate danger, like after a bad dream or when you hear a cry or a loud bang in the night. Through my porthole I could see nothing, but before I started deciding whether my jar of whole foods peanut butter was worth saving over my freshly made hummus in the fridge- the boat shook again and the menacing scraping sound rang through my ears like a shrill scream. Scraping? Crunching? Breaking? Either the boat was in shreds or- or we had reached the ice and we were slicing through it like fruit cake. Since I could hear no shouting or alarms, I assumed it was the latter and breathed out with relief, pulled my blanket up to my chin and turned my off my light.
The next morning after a quick shower I pulled back my curtains to reveal one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen from any window I’ve ever looked out of, and I’ve seen some pretty spectacular views. A huge expanse of glittering ice surrounded us, ragged and crunchy like the thickly spread icing on my Grannies Christmas cakes but without a little Santa with a dodgy face and a guilty looking reindeer to decorate it. Just as I was marvelling at the sheer amount of it all, something small and dark appeared from behind a small peak. It flopped about slightly, wriggled and flayed… a little head poked up to assess the large foreign object that had disturbed his morning rituals. I, alone in my cabin and twenty years old jumped up and down on my bed clapping my hands like a kid- a seal! A big, blubbering, gorgeous seal flopped about right before my eyes, giving me a quick glimpse of his fat little face before disappearing again. The others who I ran into and excitedly told as I went about my work were uninterested, telling me that the novelty wears off after you’ve seen 2 or 3 or 10… But I’m pretty sure I’d struggle to find the experience boring; even if I saw them again every day for the next ten years.
Luck was on my side and after venturing outside I was welcomed by more seals, one, and then two…three and then four!! All swollen and bloated like me this past Christmas. They lay side by side, posing like a hot boy band ready to drop the next best seller, waving at me with their flippers and whispering my na- okay well maybe not quite. But it was very exciting and as we waded through the blanket of bergs, the tip of my nose numbing, I was overcome with contentment; taking an easy pleasure in the simplicity of nothing but a boat and its waters.
I walked slowly up towards the bow to join the others and found a nice stump to sit on (ark at the terminology) where one of the scientists was photographing a bird that was following us as we charged through the vibrant blue slush. I took out my phone and turned to take a video just as the sweetest little gaggle of penguins waddled across a small chunk of ice just thirty feet away, I managed about twenty seconds of film before all the battery drained and it died pathetically in my hand, Apple clearly not prepared for the extremities of Antarctica… first world problems.
We are currently still trudging through at a snails’ pace, breaking down block after block of undisturbed ice in our quest for science. After being good the past few days and forcing myself to go to the gym I’ve given myself the day off from exercise and have spent this afternoon finishing my book (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, same author as The Kite Runner, both are excellent but I reckon Splendid Suns has taken the crown) and eating myself into a food coma, courtesy of the chefs damn tasty dishes. I even managed to freeze some nanas, blend them with some cacao powder and whole peanut butter to make some healthy ice cream; it’s basically like being at home! But, you know, without all the land and stuff.
What are all your favourite animals and why? Mine are whales, but I do love a good seal… let’s ignore the theory that your chosen animal reflects who you are as a person and just say I like them chunky yet funky shall we?