…Antarctic Riviera

I’m here.

After 14 days at sea, sailing though some of the most treacherous and stormy waters on the globe; Internet and Phone free, crammed into a small cabin with my 3 new best friends and challenged by living alongside 100 new coworkers; rattled and shaken and frozen and soaked, thrown about like a kite in a hurricane in 9-12 metre seas, rocked to sleep so hard, having to cling to the mattress to stop being launched out of bed, bored out of my brain at times, overstimulated and restless at others, plus many many MANY sleepless nights but OH MAN!!!! it’s totally been worth it.


“Welcome to the Antarctic Riviera!!!!” yelled the widely grinning bearded dude that greeted us as we alighted from the little red chopper that had ferried us all of 2km and 3 minutes airtime from the ship . Calling out over the scream of its whiny turbine as the blades whirred to a halt just over our heads, the outgoing expeditioner/groundcrew guys were totally stoked to see new faces after a long winter with only the same 18 people for company. 

Taking us single file away from the whistling rotor blades, they posed us for a station photo ( mug shot) and then led us into the converted container cum airport at Davis Station, Antarctica. 

The 6 seater Squirrel took off as soon as we were inside, making a beeline for the bright orange icebreaker resting on the fast ice a few kilometres away to the northeast. Time for the next load of personnel.

All four of us just stared out over the research station, clusters of industrial buildings, color coded administration buildings and workshops, accommodation and science blocks, radar domes, scattered radios antennae and satellite dishes amongst the jagged rocks, ice and snow piled high against every building and covering the ground as far as the eye could see.

Just taking a moment to let it sink in.

We’d just set foot on the Antarctic continent.

We’re in Antarctica.

Holy Shitballs!

We were shepherded over to the Mess building to dump our gear. Looking out over the Bay was just breathtaking. 
The Aurora Australis has found its parking spot a kilometre or so off the coast – in the fast ice off the Vestfold Hills – and I flew off on the fourth flight out (on a dandy little Squirrel chopper). Made the Critical Personnel list, dontcha know!!!  As of right now I’m at Davis Station settling in and getting acquainted – unpacking my two small bags that now are the bare essentials needed to survive – plus laptop of course 🙂 I’m not crazy !

Only 2 bags you say? My one big backpack has become 2 small bags.  Ditched the ukelele that JK gave me finally – a difficult letting go exercise and it was surprisingly hard to relinquish – but it was a pain in the arse much like her and best left behind. The emotional house cleaning is almost finished.

So still working on that minimisation thing and it’s going well I must say.

But anyhoo…I made it this far. 

Tomorrow I start actual work but today is a nice long familiarisation and induction day . Meets and greets . Find my way around. So much new information that my head is reeling . 

So… what’s it like I hear you ask. Here’s some first impressions. 

It’s not that cold (flannelette shirt weather). Minus 4 at the moment but the sun is hot ( UV here is dangerously high). The air is dry and bitey ( and dusty!). There is black ice everywhere. The snow glare is blinding. The people are wonderful,from all walks of life and largely kindred spirits – travellers and explorers.

This alien landscape is constantly surprising though  – at first glance intimidating in its vastness, apparent desolatation and endless horizons ( it all looks like a massive dead salt lake, I swear) but then it just shifts gears and shimmers to life as Adelie and Emporer penguins, crab eater seals and sperm whales begin to appear. A few at first, then more, and more, and more . The sheer amount of bird life here – snow petrels, albatrosses and penguins- thousands of miles from land and living their lives out to sea –  is staggering. 

Convoys of azure icebergs, dazzling like glittering diamonds,  parade past on both sides as we navigate deeper and deeper into Antarctic territory leaving the Southern Ocean behind and entering the Antarctic Circle. The ancient glaciers birthing them hundreds of miles away yet these giants line the horizon for days on end.

The various ice formations just Blow..My…Mind!
*boom-splat

*these last two images were taken just after midnight a few days ago.  

If you are going to travel to Antarctica, do it by ship. You won’t regret it. Crunching through sea ice for days on end is incredibly exciting and watching the very world freeze around you is fascinating.

But despite all this inspirational beauty, I’m really tired – it’s been a long 6 weeks since getting home from the USA and my actual job starts today.

Well, maybe tomorrow. It’s fairly casual here.

Exhausted both physically and emotionally, earlier today I woke up on another world and was struck by a desperate need to explore – instead I’ve been compelled to lock myself in my room for a bit – a few hours of privacy to reflect and escape the mindless chatter of humanity. 

Ponder this strange meandering course through life that I have unwittingly set. Deep shit like that.

More than once this month I have been moved to mutter “My God – how the fuck did I get here?”

More than once in the past few years I have also explored my aversion to stillness. This place somehow makes it easier to accept a peaceful contemplative silence. 3 years ago it would have driven me insane.

This Antarctica; frozen in time and quite literally in place is so utterly, completely, and wonderfully silent. Even the winds barely whisper at his time of the year.  This silence is more than a little unnerving. Such a cold beauty as this being completely outside my experience – something I’ve never ever experienced.  You’d love it, Oana 🙂 – (sorry no trees tho)

Despite some concerted efforts to screw it up, my life (perversely) seems to be slowly working out.

Still – How the Fuck, indeed.
*hitting the fast ice one day out of Davis *inside the largest polynya ( look it up) on the planet

I’ll be posting more regularly now that I’m settled in for the summer.

Stay tuned. My heads in a weird place but the internet is SLOOOOW!!!

*It’s 10pm and this is my view presently : and also why it’s hard to sleep .


Not exactly picturesque but hey – it’s a research station … 

The sun barely goes down about 1am and rises about 2am. In 3 weeks there will be no Night at all.

Still here ? 

As a reward here’s a blow by blow of the past 14 days or so as jotted down at the time – it’s poorly structured and largely unedited so be warned. I’m too tired to be bothered editing more today today. Maybe tomorrow.

Here goes – 

“Sunday 29th October . I’m on my way to Antarctica – FINALLY.

 We were held up by bad weather out of Hobart so we diverted to the lee of Burny Island for 24 hours to let the surge pass us by. Its 24 hours of people finding their sea leags and getting violently ill already, despite the seas begin relatively calm. God knows whatll happen when its gets rough!

 Monday 30th October  – spotty 3G internet service still available on my phone but the ships email is flaking out, and we can only receive, not send. Its time for some last minute updates, download a few last TV shows and use up the last of my phone data plan for the month. Find a few books in the lbray and try to meet my new voyage family. Theres a lot of people to try to meet!

 It’s 3 days into the trip now, with my last views of Tasmania long gone over the horizon.

 Everyone on the ship has been itching to get going – old hands and newchums alike – the false start to avoid bad weather was a bit of an anticlimax (but wholly necessary -19 metre waves on Day 1 ??? – no thank you Sir).

 After popping a Phanergan seasickness tablet Monday evening, I barely gained consciousness by 11am the next morning – luckily the first few days there has been no work scheduled – it’s purely a ‘getting used to it’ exercise.

Tuesday 31st was an odd day, with a sedative hangover Id slept the day away and then couldn’t get to sleep as the swell was huge (plus a bunkmate is a snorer which doesn’t help – thank Dog for earplugs). Again nothing scheduled training wise so the rest of the day was eat/sleep/chat/read and pretty much wasted.

 No more seasickness tabs for me – I don’t need them as it turns out plus they just wipe me out for the whole day after anyway. Tonight will be the bold experiment and hopefully it’ll work out.

 

Today is Wednesday 1st November as I write this – 9pm or thereabouts. Its been an interesting day, and the newcomer nerves are abating – meeting loads of new people using the tried-and-true “sit at new table each meal and introduce yourself to everyone” method. So much for feeling my way through – lets get this party started.

 A good percentage of the people aboard have succumbed to a measure of seasickness ranging from mild nausea through to being put on a drip (The Doc was called to the Bridge late last night and the assumption is someone needed fluids or an injection at least).

 The seas and weather have been superb – 5 to 6 metre swell (which I’m assured is AMAZING for this time of year) , a little squally but generally a sunny 9 degrees with a blistering wind blasting up from the South. Were out in the open ocean now and its simply wonderful

 People are finding their rhythms and not just sleeping and eating all day, although sometimes it seems you are just filling in time between meals. There are joggers jogging the small deck as best they can, a yoga group that meets at 6am (cmon yoga types seriously?), the gym junkies that haunt the small gym and talk about protein shakes and testicle shrinkage, and the library nerds that play cards and read in the small ships library. Where to go I wonder?

Library.

There’s a 8pm movie night each night in the little cinema/conference room, with a preceding presentation the science projects underway – tonight we heard from Dr Tessa on the Mount Brown Ice Core Project – the leader on a deep field team drilling some 400 km inland from Davis Station (the team is hoping for a 350 metre ice core to let them peer back into the regions weather and climate history for thousands of years).

 I’ve chatted to many science geeks going down to count penguins or seal populations, or seabird studies, climate change, ice obs, nuclear antiproliferationtreatystuff, electronicearslistening stuff:- endless science going on down here – all  super intelligent but fun typeset people – I think I like biologists much better than archaeologists.

I’m starting on Phytoplankton sampling tomorrow morning early, then the Field training starts in earnest whilst still aboard – first up for me at 9am is Ice Field Traversing 101 – should be fun J

 Bedtime for now.

 Thursday 2nd  – email is flowing again but its been limited to 50kb in size only – virtually a text message but its better than nothing,

 The weather out here changes in a heartbeat. Yesterday it was lovely, today its a shit storm. It’s been squally all day and the ship has ploughed on through 5 – 6 metre waves all day with some sun breaks in between.

 There were albatrosses trailing the ship again today and I got a few nice photos in between the howling winds and the rain showers. The decks are becoming a little more unpleasant and very soon well all have to wear survival gear to go out on them, once they begin to ice up.

 I spent some time up on the bridge today and it makes for quite the vantage point of choice, as the other areas higher than the bridge are off bounds due to extensive arrays of expensive equipment. The views from the bridge are breathtaking – enormous grey seas stretching far out into the distant stormy horizon, white caps lashed by the winds as far as the eye can see.

 The motion of the ship at this level is heightened and really feels like you are on a massive orange rollercoaster, the rain slicked deck pitching fore and aft as the ship powers through the swell. Watching the horizon dip out of sight and then heave into view way over your head is unnerving, as is the sight of the portholes submerging under the green water – awash from the swell and motion of the ship – not a bad effort considering they are 2 stories up.

 I had a dream last night that I was sitting alone in the Mess and was watching all the portholes submerge into the ocean as the ship rolled over, everything frozen, a complete silence. The hull vanished and all I could see was ever darkening depths. Hmmm…

 Sorta mirrors how I’m feeling at this point – not even 1/3 of the way there. A little tired I guess. I’m not sleeping very well and the swell throws you around in the little single cot so much its difficult to relax. I had to jam my arm between the wall and the bed last night to stop from being rolled out. There are no guardbars or anything like that to stop you bouncing around or rolling out – I was last into the cabin and got the last bunk, but thankfully its on the bottom so I only have to bounce half a metre or so.

 Friday 3rd November – Field training started today, and the first 90 minute session on Ice Field travel and survival techniques was fascinating. The science behind ice formations is much more complex than Id imagined, and the techniques we are going to be practicing in the field are life saving. Theres much more practical survival training once we get there and get working out on the pack ice. I get issued an Ice Axe! How cool is that!

 Kill Bill 1 was the movie of choice for the day – there’s a lot of Tradies on board so naturally the ultraviolent films and old standards (Die Hard, Magnum Force etc etc) are getting a good run as is the Wii and car racing games. I don’t think we are going to be seeing The Beguiled anytime soon unless I can organise a film club in 2 weeks.

 Spaghetti marinara for dinner this evening. Yum! J cant say that they don’t feed you well – if only there was space to go for a run.

IT challenge of the day – recovering data from a crashed HDD full of movies and TV for Sam.

 Saturday 4th November was another fun day with some crappy weather but at 9am we had out first real drill in full survival gear. Although we were given 90 seconds notice over the PA, it still set the heart racing to hear the alarms and muster call – getting into our survival gear in the small cramped cabin was challenging and we needed to coordinate our actions. Even so we seemed to take minutes to get into the 3 layers of protection and life jacket…in a life threatening situation we could be out in the sub zeo temperatures for hours I (for example) a fire was being fought or there was a gas leak etc etc… was an interesting experience but one I could do without. Training today was a short Environmental briefing in the cinemarette – basically wash our stuff, don’t go near the animals, don’t take anything as a souvenier  

Still eating way too much and I have to reduce my caloric intake significantly.

 Skip ahead til Sunday 5th November evening. – After leaving the roaring 40’s we are finally in the 50’s and almost officially in Antarctic waters.

 The sun is still shining, the seas are smoothing out but the air temperature is dropping noticeably – down to 3 degrees but the steel deck of the ship is still warm and I can sit out on the helo deck to get some sun and fresh air. Not feeling extremely social today – going from solo travel to a shipload of 100 people is a challenge and actually quite exhausting. After a day of being social I’m finding it more and more difficult to constantly engage with people. Peopling is hard. Not sleeping well also is a problem – the days are becoming just eating, short training sessions and a lot of doing nothing. It actually sucks. I don’t want to watch all my TV yet as I still have 5 months of this. Yikes.

 IT challenge of the day – recovering a SD card full of photos for Sam. Mission accomplished.

 

Monday 6th – More field training today – Maps and compass navigation – this was really fun and I haven’t had to do it for a long time – was extremely rusty – I hope that I NEVER have to navigate my way out of a life threatening situation because I suck at it.

 I’m staying up a bit later alter tonight, sitting in the mess having a milo and some bikkies, waiting til my 10pm water sampling slot.

The process is basically fill up a large measuring container, set up some filtering and a pump, start up the pump and let it filter for 45 minutes, then dry and pack to filters as samples into liquid nitrogen.

 Tuesday 7th  and its Melbourne Cup today. With no Internet and dodgy comms on the ship, it proved a challenge to be able to do something last minute (given that we had the job Dumped on us – “yeah the “IT people” can do it” – bitch please :/) We tried to get a VoIP hookup with the AAD at Kingston and stream/rebroadcast the event over the Ships PA but the quality was so bad we had to abort. SO Plan B Brendan and I ran the sweep, raising funds for Camp Quality, with the crew and Expeditioner’s chipping in around $300 (after prizes). Chocolates were given as prizes for Best Dressed and Best Hat, with the Penguin project ladies triumphing over the Mt Brown Ice Core team in the Best Dressed, with Ali from the Mt Brown Ice Core team winning the crowd favourite for her Canadian Lumberjack Glaciologist outfit.

 A few more HDDS to recover (no luck with one – it was fried). It’s been extremely quite work-wise.

 Wednesday 8th ? Losing track of days now  – another day of Field Training, food and more than a little boredom. I learnt “Knots, Bends and Ropes” skills today and sucked just as badly now as I did at it in the Boy Scouts! But eventually my tired brain relented and actually retained some information. Yay brain!

 The seas are huge today – up to 9 metres and the ship is rolling and corkscrewing 24/7, making sleep virtually impossible for any sustained period. The Captain puts the ship along the swell at meal time (so that we can actually eat safely) and then doggedly heads South again…its been a game of cat and mouse with a low pressure system that has been hunting the ship for the past few days, causing massive waves, high winds and a drop in speed. It’s cost us at least 2 days so far and we won’t be getting into Davis until about Sunday now.

 Ugh no sleep at all last night. The roll of the ship practically flips you out of bed, or at the least you are constantly sliding from one end of the cot to the other. Its something that I still haven’t got used to and generally it’s not that bad – this last 24 hour period has been a challenge. The gravity changes and the way the ship moves is generally great fun, but its getting a little old especially after no sleep.

 Jump ahead to Thursday 9th. I have a date with some interesting Phytoplankton. Yes its Water Sampling again today. This time at 8am, which is really 4am back home. Man I don’t do 4am well but luckily I’m getting used to it. Ahh science.

 Back to bed after for a 2 hour snooze – trying to catch up on my sleep as we all know that cranky Jamie comes out with little to no sleep.

 We are incrementing the clocks one more hour again tomorrow to bring us in line with Davis time.

 Getting close to 60 degrees south and the weather is a little chilly – just above 0 degrees and its snowing today over the Southern ocean. There are several seabirds following the boat – massive Albatrosses and smaller grey birds, even way out here about 800 nautical miles from shore – and the sight of them sweeping down through the snow, wingtips just barely scraping the surface of the grey freezing water its simply hypnotising. I’ve been watching them from the porthole in my tiny cabin and from up on the bridge.

 Friday 10th!!! Snow at sea!!! It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen – well it’s the first actual full on falling snow I’ve ever seen to be honest. Big wafty flakes of snow landing gently on the grey churning waves, settling on the bright orange superstructure of the ship, collecting on the rust coloured cranes, silver grey containers and the bright blue tarpaulins covering the loads on deck. Everyone is a little more excited now! It also means that our first iceberg isn’t far off, and we are only days away from getting to the sea ice.

 And as we are getting close to 60 degrees South, King Neptune is paying us newbies a visit on Saturday. This is a loooooong practiced maritime tradition, and so I feel compelled to participate (esp as its completely disgusting and hence absolutely voluntary) with a BBQ on the trawl deck, and the ritual humiliation (that involves lots of garbage and kissing many fish) shall ensure. It’s going to be bloody freezing out there so hopefully Ill survive – all of the new people are nervous/excited about it.

 

Saturday 11th brings a full restful nights sleep, a sleep in and a real breakfast on the newly calmed ocean – barely a ripple out there now and it appears we’ve finally hit the outer sea ice. After the first lonely iceberg appeared last night, the murky grey ocean is now filled with an increasing number of growlers, bergs and other assorted fragments of lazily drifting sea ice. Although the skies are still grey and dull, there are rare sunbreaks in the cloud – in those moments you can see the absolute blueness of these bergs as they surge along in the swell. The sea ice is getting thicker and thicker as we travel along, and now the ship plows through expansive but thin sheets of ice – smashing through with the ice fragments tumbling and crunching along the hull and then disappearing in our wake. There are monster bergs lurking in the mist at the edge of the horizon – dulled by distance they still appear formidable and forboding, their towering battlements dabbled in shadow and shrouded by fog.

 November 11 – Remembrance Day today and at 11am we stopped to observe a minutes silence to honor the Fallen. Crunching through expanses of fragmented sheet ice as the ship fell otherwise silent was an oddly moving moment.

 Saturday – 3pm A towering, loinclothed blue King Neptune  – roaring at us infidels for invading his realm and polluting the seas – and his snickering crusty blue seaweed clad entourage visited today – a welcoming party in the port mess saw us newbies initiated into King Neptune’s Court – we kissed the fish, drank the viscous fluids, and were thoroughly doused from head to toe in a heady mix of ground up kitchen waste, gruel, food coloring, fish oil and anchovies. The entire ship now reeks of this vomit inspiring odour and despite several showers I can still feel/smell/taste this vile smell in my head. Luckily I was one of the first to get initiated, so I took the opportunity to nick off and have a sneaky shower plus pop my gear in the laundry. I was missed so I’m hoping it doesn’t bite me in the arse. Oops.

Arse saved and a sneaky hot shower and a clothes wash saved my shirts. 

Tonight there is a BBQ and our 3 allocated standard drinks per person will be busted out of the grog locker – this is our party night tonight before we get into the fast sea ice, and head in for resupply. OOOO I fly into station on the first chopper off the ship apparently – helicopter flight over the ice should be pretty damn amazing.

3 beers brought in quite a buzz!!!! Great steel deck bbq in the trawl deck .

Sunday and Monday – we are pushing deeper and deeper into the sea ice now. The weather has cleared and the grey clouds have parted to revel a deep blue sky splashed with long white clouds – like a spring day except at -4.5 degrees. The massive bergs are closer now, and the ice is thickening – a few times now the ship has actually gotten hung up and unable to break through, so the Captain has seesawed the ship backwards and forwards several times (with both motors running) to try to bully its way through the deep blue and white barrier before us. The surface of the sea ice varies –from a winter millpond slush, to splats of pancake ice – like many overlapping scales on a snakeskin – stretching for miles and miles in any direction. Thin sheets that are curved and flexed by the hulls pressure wave, and finally shattered into panes of glass-like ice which ride the wash and are pushed up, over and into the other glistening layers like a crazy sparkling chinese puzzle.
Currently the ice is several feet thick, the massive blocks broken up by the ships hull tumbling past and tipping, revealing layers upon layers of ice put down over the winter – colors ranging from dirty algal green to electric blue to sparkling diamond white. There’s a constant thumping and grinding you can feel through the hull from the crumbling icefloes– it rattles your bones but like the constant engine noise and vibration its is comforting.

 We have been travelling past convoy lines of massive icebergs, towering over the ship and travelling in an almost perfect formation on both sides – spat out by multiple glaciers in the region.

 The animal life is getting more prevalent, and we are seeing crabeater seals basking in the sunlight, sitting on larger floes and checking us out. Larger groups of Adelie penguins are popping up now instead of the loner individuals that we first saw on the outer fringes of the icefields. A group today chaed the ship and were “porpoising” alongside – I’ve never seen anything like it and MAN these little fuckers can really move in the water. No more whales though at this time. Sad face.

 We officially entered the Antarctic Circle about 3pm Monday – now under 100 nautical miles from Davis Station and only a few hours from the fast ice that we have been searching for. Once there, the ship will smash slowly through til its around 2kns from the shoreline. Once we stop, helicopter transport begins, and amazingly I’m one of the 35 critical personel flying from the ship to the base. I get to fly in over the ice and will see it all from the air. I’m on the 4th flight out so God willing I’ll finally be on station round 12pm tomorrow. I cant believe its been a 2 week journey.

 Holiday’s over folks.

 Now the real work begins.

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…moments

9am Sunday, Portland Oregon. Downtown.

…a gaunt bearded man in sandals, torn black pleather and dirty grey tracksuit pants shuffles by the corner window of Powells Bookstore cafe, wheeling a wobbling red Zimmer frame overflowing with glistening black garbage bags filled with everything he owns in this world.  He doesn’t look up, doesnt see me.  I see him through the aromatic steam of a scalding black Americano.

Sip.

A tanned young woman in blue jean shorts , oversized sunglasses, rainbow tshirt and California halo of beach-blonde curly hair struts past, a look of disgust on her face. 

So close they almost touch, but not quite.

Completely engaged with a shiny red apple taken from a Whole Foods bag, she scowls and rubs it on her spectacular breast, trying to remove a spot of wax or a blemish, or maybe just as an excuse to turn away. She curses silently, tosses the apple into a bin without breaking stride and then rummages in her bag.  

She looks up but doesn’t see me quietly judging them both, invisible through the glass.

He sees only his filthy feet and she only sees her reflection.

They don’t see each other. They’ll never see each other. The moment slides away.

Sip.

The man with a map walks to the corner, never looks up, walks to one corner, then another, checks his map. Scratches his head and checks his watch. He is late or lost or both.

A confused indecisiveness surrounds him. He stops again as the pretty girl on the pink bicycle runs the “don’t walk” sign and cruises diagonally through the crosswalk, instantly blinded by the sun.

I wait for it but the man spins right in a pirouette of fortunate confusion, the pretty girl on the pink bike glides past, legs still pumping on the pedals but squinting into the glare.

So close they almost touch, but not quite.

They don’t see each other. The moment slides away.

Sip

I am my cup today.

…f5

One week in already!

Despite a few early teething issues (specifically jetlag, accommodation falling through, and an unnecessarily nasty message from an ex’s sister here) the process of refreshing my memories of this marvelous state is working a treat.

Still in Washington at this stage, I rented a car and then settled into my temporary home in Olympia up near the Capitol Building. Got real lucky with this one and my 3 night Airbnb has now turned into something more long term with a super cool Californian family (zoologist and graphic artist) , their 2 year old son and their houseful of one-eyed and ragged rescue cats (plus Riley the dog).

**More on Amber and her Animal Rescue non-profit to come – living in a cathouse is awesome and Ive never seen such a variety of one eyed rescues in once place  🙂

Slipping back into the familiar territory around Olympia here was a good idea and getting tuned into the weirdness of American life was much easier than I expected.

Day 1 was a tired, confusing tangle of getting shit done, tip calculation and left handed “uh oh” moments, but after a good nights sleep and a few hours walking around, I was back in business.

Day 2 was much better. Rent a car. Get some jerky at the Markets, see the last day of the Olympia Lakefair. Time to explore.

It literally took only 10 minutes for me to adjust to right hand driving again. After the sweaty palms and abject fear of learning to drive here last year it was a welcome change.

So where to start?

Well of course I have to go back out to Union Deli for my usual. 

Heading out to Union again to catch up with my friends felt like I’d never left and the last year hadn’t happened. It was like driving into my home town (which was totally weird) and I don’t think that I’ve ever been made to feel so welcome than here (well…apart from the initial hiccup with J’s sister – although it upset my apple cart briefly, the wheels straightened, springs settled and the horse trotted on).

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Holly remembered my Americano and honey after a year or more away and the coffee was as good as ever. Bless you, Holly Jean.

Anyway my point here is that I’m here for a few reasons.
Firstly, and foremost Ive fallen deeply in love with the mountains, waters and forests of Western Washington. Something about this place vibrates at the same frequency as I do. I feel at peace here and this place has been calling me back from the moment I left. 

I dream about the woods here.

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Secondly, there’s a need to overwrite some of the bad memories from last year and replace them with good ones.  I kinda got the idea from watching a film – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a while back. While erasing memories is beyond me at the moment (red wine aside), I thought that an enforced refresh might work – overwriting old with new memories would be just as good. It seems to be working well so far.

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…so just calm the heck down, Sarah.

 **Maybe don’t read/follow/report on my doings if its going to ‘upset’ certain peeps.

I wasn’t going to mention that but hey it’s my blog so I guess I am, huh. Whomsoever actually reads my social media/blomit now interests me and wtf should people care what I do anyway. 

One last passive-aggressive thing: there’s an unfriend/unfollow button there if you don’t want to be friends with me. I get it – it’s cool. Its not you, its me. Global peace etc. The unfriend button is really easy to use and I don’t really mind either way ( well I do actually but for the point of this argument I don’t).
Personally, I love to stay in touch with people and I definitely stay in touch with people I care about.

Like you kind folks. You are awesome.

Feel free to stay friends.

You’re welcome.

So…just to clarify.
What am I NOT here for?

Chasing ghosts and dwelling on the past. I am here to exorcise them for good and move forward.

As of today, after a week? Same sights, sounds and places, no triggers. No negative reaction whatsoever, so a perfect result as far as I’m concerned.

Mission almost accomplished.

It’s been fun to reconnect with my actual in-person friends here and experiencing this beautiful American summer for the first time is recharging batteries that I didn’t know I had.

So  – what else has been happening?

Hmmm…

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Well exploring Olympia in the sunshine is a treat, but summer nights are a different story all together. For example the Capitol building is simply stunning by night. The views from the Police Memorial over the South Puget Sound in the evenings are breathtaking, taking in the distant Olympic mountains over the water as the sunset purples into clear starry night and the lazy mosquitos fly into every hole you have.

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Ive only done some minor shopping so far (staying in the “keep it light and carryon on only” rule) – updated my worn out Merrel barefoot shoes (they lasted over a year but the superglue is failing and the soles are micro thin). Bought a tshirt and some used Levis at a thrift shop. Saw a movie! Got a mall haircut! Had the best coffee I’ve had for ages. Walked a lot.

Basically haunted the streets of Olympia until I can walk them with my eyes closed (not that you’d want to as you have to dodge the tweekers, beggers and other various loonies)

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A few days back I headed up around the Peninsula – all forests and ocean and Indian reservations and movie sets and isolated beaches..like Forks and La Push beach…(Forks is a dump but La Push area is beautiful)

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Driving around the whole Olypmic Peninsula is always fun…oh and Port Angeles also…

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Its not just going over old ground here. Just for a change Im throwing in some new experiences as well.

Slacklining (thanks Guru Shay, rocking the 1″) is going to be my new thing and so far I suck pretty badly but I’m getting there. Bought my 2″ kit from REI and it’s going to come with me everywhere I can take it.


This weekend we drove up into the mountains past North Bend, dug for quartz crystals and amethysts on the side of a deeply wooded mountain, got real dirty crawling under tree roots and digging deep into the earth (the holes in the pic are from peeps digging into the hillside with small shovels and/or garden tools – sometimes the holes go in 12-15 feet)

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** here’s where we met friendly weed-smoking crystal hunting John and his blue heeler dog (such a cool dude).

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Had lunch at the RR Cafe (Twin Peaks fans will get the significance), and just relaxed and breathed in the fresh clear mountain air.

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Whats to come? This week I’m up to Mt Rainier for a bit (i5 traffic pending), then make my way up to Seattle and see the things that I missed last time. Then driving down to Los Angeles to see my sister Martha (hopefully if shes around) and a few friends i met during my travels last year. Then I’m heading off to get Lost…no fixed itinerary – Glacier National Park, Yellowstone next month (maybe), anywhere the road leads me…

Also I want to see a bear, and a cougar, and some goddamned raccoons this time.

C’mon America – how hard can that be?

The adventure continues…

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**And also a huge thanks to my Cambodia travel buddy and good friend Shay for bailing me out and putting me up here when my accommodation fell through for a few days.

Shes a talented emerging local potter/ceramicist and artist so I’ll point you to her web store when she gets it up. Buy a lot of her stuff.

 

 

 

 

…ker-chunk

I almost didn’t make it to Seattle.

Flying into Sydney early on Saturday morning, I gave my self plenty of time to catch up with people (which didn’t happen) and to do some last minute shopping (which didn’t happen).

I did manage to catch “The Beguiled” in a decent cinema which was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Great film. Sophia Coppola is a wonderful filmmaker.

Spent the day wandering around Sydney City and Circular Quay for the Bastille day Celebrations. Then, as the day closed out, finally heading out to the airport with 4 hours to spare.

10th in line at the check in counter. 1 carry on bag, no checked luggage. Short queues. Perfect.

The check-in lady was enthusiastic, a smiling young Wonder Woman look alike. She scanned my passport, checked my booking and tapped away busily on the small beige keyboard.

I smiled and finally relaxed, taking in the sights and sounds of Sydney Airport (which I generally despise)

My boarding passes printed out with a ‘phhhht’ and she bundled them up ready to hand back. She looked at my passport again. Frowned. Flicked through the pages. Looked at me. Looked back at my passport.

Her smile widened but I saw it instantly drain from her eyes.

Uh oh.

Looking up with that same dead smile she said “Excuse me Sir, I just have to check with my Manager about something.”

Then she was gone, along with my passport and boarding passes – all whisked away along with my newfound peace of mind and possibly my hopes and dreams as well.

WTF?

Mentally I was buzzing –  ticking off in my head all of the dodgy countries I’d visited lately (surely not), did I owe anyone money? (no), expired? (no way), US visa? (yep full 5 year B2).

Be cool cool cool. Nothing to see here.

I could see her talking to a few people up the end of the counter and they were flicking through my passport with a mix of curiosity and concern.

A few minutes later she returned.

“I’m sorry Sir, but your passport is damaged and we have to check with Border Security if we can let you fly.”

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ echoed through my mind as I plastered what was hopefully a relaxed accepting smile on my face.

“Yeah sure, no problems…” I said, leaning casually on the countertop as once again my passport and travel documents vanished into the system.

Fuckitty fuck fuck fuck. Internally I was  cursing the carelessly casual Jetstar check-in lady that whipped the damp passport through a scanner a year and a half ago, ripping half a page in it.

Sticky tape in a passport is a bad thing apparently.

The slick cross-fit toned and sunbed-tanned Manager, all crisp suit and buzz- cut hair came over and pulled me aside. He explained “your Passport has a torn page and looks like its been water damaged…it’s in pretty poor shape”.

A heavily sarcastic “Seriously?” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

Ok damage control mode – activate!

“But it works right? It’s just a torn page and some sticky tape. The electronics and the chips work fine. Ive traveled all over Asia and Europe, even the US last year with it in this condition!!” I whined despite my best intentions not to.

“Its not as simple as that…” said the guy, and proceeded to give me the polite but firm lowdown on what could happen with my passport if I tried to travel into the US of A – everything from being turned back AND not allowed entry, held in custody, banned from reentry, fines to the airline that they would pass on to me ($5000 AUD), and the apparent end of my travel world.

Then it took a turn for the worse. A black clad Nazi gentleman from Border Security came over, with my passport in hand, and started to give me the same story but with much less humanity. He was also English, which actually bugged me a little. 

No Australian likes being lectured by an Englishman – it got my back up. 

I interrupted at one stage, and he did the aggressive “stop talking” thing to me, so I shut off my “annoyed as hell” switch, bit my tongue and let him finish his piece.

“If it was up to me, I would seize the passport blah blah blah. Its the property of the Australian Government blah blah blah. I tested the electronics and it scans perfectly ( God knows how)  but the torn page and the sticky tape makes it legally unusable. If it didn’t have a US Visa in it I’d confiscate it” he said. “You have 2 options – take your chances or rebook your travel and get a new passport”.

“How much time do I have to decide?” I asked politely, mentally rescheduling my trips as he continued.

“Under an hour” he said, checking his watch.

At this stage my head was swimming.  Sensing a victory, the Border nazi’s manner softened once he realised I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass about it. “It’s up to you: travel at your own risk or rebook” he said, handing me back my passport and briskly walking away.

Recalculating and recalibration, I sat down and madly googled alternate flights, costed accommodation changes, weighed up the possible risks, messaged some friends ” what should I do?…” “does this sound right?” etc etc.

Running out of time, I decided to risk it. My rationale was that well I either get in or I don’t and if I don’t, then I’ve never been deported before and it might be an interesting experience at the least.

I spoke to the Service Manager and told him i was going to give it a try. He wasn’t happy about it and that’s when the threat of a $5000+ fine came at me – but regardless he handed back my boarding passes and wished me luck.

I checked in, went to the gate, and quietly balanced my unmentionables on a razor blade of tension for the next 10 hours.

*I did meet Kim though so it wasn’t all bad. More on that later.

CUT TO HONOLULU AIRPORT

My sphincter about the size of a pinhead, I lined up at US Customs and Border Control in Hawaii. Scanned my passport in the machines, scanned my Visa. Took my ticket to the guy at the Counter. He checked my passport, Visa and paperwork with barely a grunt or a smile.

“Yes Sir, No Sir, Thank you Sir.” said I.

Ker-chunk. 6 Months entry stamp.

“Have a nice day, Sir”

Perfect.

Day 1 – this is why I love travelling 🙂 

These stories write themselves sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

time machine 2…

… it seemed a hundred years had passed since I’d heard the first whale blow and every nerve ending in my body was sparkling. Soaked in adrenaline, buzzed on nicotine and cocooned in a humming halo of nervous energy, my monkey brain overloaded – ‘eeeep!’ – then shut down.

Fight, flight or freeze.

I froze: hands glued to the rail, body completely locked in place, scanning the deep night for any signs of movement. Anything at all. Nothing stirred. Nothing.

The world held its breath.

‘WHOoosh’… 

This was really happening!

The forgotten cigarette burned my fingers, shifting focus. Suddenly free, I flicked the butt into the Canal (sorry guys) turned and bolted into the cabin like a wild-eyed child on Christmas morning. Knocking frantically on the bathroom door…”Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen….the whales are back!….the whales are back!…”. Running back out onto the deck.

She followed me out a thousand years later, wrapped up in pyjamas and towel against the cold. We stood together close by the low deck rail, staring out into the night.

More whales sounded, much closer than before.

At least 4, scattered out across the entrance to our little cove no more than a few hundred meters away.

But weird behavior. What’s going on here? They weren’t just on the way through. Something was up.

We could clearly hear their vocalisations as the Orca spoke to each other: the ‘whapping’ of finslaps, high pitched warbling whistles and deep rumbling vibrations.

They seemed to be coordinating and changing their locations, out in the black water no more than 100 meters away.

“A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right…come closer…yeah that’s it” in Orca-talk.

It finally dawned on us what was happening.

‘My God, they’re hunting!’

It made sense. There were several harbor seals that lived in and around our little Calm Cove. At night they slept on the floating pontoons and under the docks that were scattered around the canal. 

The whales hunted these seals, and years before had wiped out most of the local seal population in a destructive orgy of blood, guts and fur close to Robin Hood resort in Union. Herded them into shore and massacred them all. It is spoken of in awed whispers by the locals apparently.

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The few seals left were the smart ones.

I moved over and put my arms around Jen, lost in the moment, forgetting. When the whales were whistling to each other, I whistled back, trying to emulate the sound.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Ouch.

The pod had positioned themselves around the entrance to the tiny cove.  It seemed they were forming a loose cordon  – a net – with the aim of driving whatever prey out of their hiding places and close to shore.

Once in place, the 4 whales began to close up  – sonic ghosts, the only sign of their presence now being finslap splashes and their haunting vocalisations as they maneuvered out in the black.

Then they stopped, falling silent again.

For a minute or so, all was quiet save for the soft lapping of the wavelets against the deck supports below.

We looked to each other. “Now what?”

Then, far out towards the middle of the canal…

…’WHOoosh’

There was a 5th whale.

It passed through the cordon of Orca and entered the cove. The only physical sign a subtle warping of the reflected streetlights – a swell and surge breaking the amber ripples of light as something massive but invisible passed silently beneath. It began to slowly sweep across the cove from one side to the other and then back.

A sudden dread enveloped me. Gone was the wonder, replaced by a primitive irrational fearfulness. I knew it was larger than the others by the sheer menace of the thing. It radiated danger.

Now it was coming closer to us and the deep waters edge. Unseen. Impossibly close. Once, twice, three times it moved across the cove, closer and closer with each pass.

Directly below us lay black, freezing water that at high tide we could bend down and touch at arms length. Just ahead, barely illuminated by the low voltage Christmas lights on the cabin, bobbed a series of buoys about 20 meters out – where the neighbor usually moors his jetskis and canoes.

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Halfway to the closest buoy in the rusty pool of light, the black surface surged upwards.

Completely silent save for tiny tinkling splashes of water, the tip of a black curved fin broke the surface with barely a ripple  – up and up and up it came. Massively tall. Improbably close. A gleaming obsidian blade followed in slow motion by the glistening head and curved back of this enormous predator.

I felt my heart tear as this wonder emerged from the invisible, rising silently in the semicircle of light before us.

“WHOooosh”… a shower of misty silver, tinkling tiny splashes.

It checked us out. I’m sure I felt its dismissive gaze pass over us – the boring little monkeys standing huddled and frozen up on the deck.

And then it was simply gone. Slipping quietly back under the surface with nothing to mark its passing but the oilslick swirl of the icy water.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

…………………….

After the bull had swept the cove, the pod became chatty again, and one by one moved off around the point to the next cove along. It was obvious now that they were systematically working their way down though each cove searching for food.

We never saw the other Orca – only what I’m assuming was the big male.

As they moved around the point to the left, their slaps, blows, chirps and whistles became fainter and fainter until finally we couldn’t hear them any more.

After a few minutes, the world around us exhaled and came back to life.

A seal barked loudly just off to our right, scaring the crap out of us both and breaking the spell. We jumped and laughed – that was the luckiest seal in the world tonight.

It splashed into the water and got the Hell out of there as fast as it could swim, heading in the opposite direction to the pod.

……………………

So why am I sharing this…

Well for one thing, these stories would eventually be lost unless I write them down.

I spend a lot of time in this memory and I love the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Even writing this today has the hairs on my neck standing up and I’m buzzing. 

Secondly, one simple comment recalled now speaks volumes.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Who says something like that?

Seriously.

That shitty recollection popped randomly into my head the other day as I was going through some pictures from last year. 

This time it didn’t sting – it just made me a little sad.

Scientists and Romantics simply don’t play well together I guess. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

time machine…

Few positive events in your life burn themselves into your minds eye so deeply that whenever you return to that moment, your body immediately reacts – chemically, viscerally : your heart races, your breath catches in your throat, nerves tingle -racing up and down your spine. Even the tiniest hairs on your body prickle into goosebumps like you’ve been caught outdoors naked in monstrous electrical storm.

You are there, transported.

It’s actually a post traumatic stress reaction, in a way. One that is not debilitating but can be addictive. Taking pleasure in past experience to escape the present. Trauma doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a lasting effect, I guess. 

Hmm…discuss.

I’ve been living in the past a little bit lately, purposefully re-examining some events with the benefit of a year’s emotional distance.

OK. Stay with me. I aim to wander.

Flip back to mid May last year. 

One of the highlights of last May was getting to watch a pod of killer whales transit the Hood Canal near Union WA – followed by a flotilla of small water craft. The pod were virtually chased out of the area by excited locals. There hadnt been a pod here for years.  But Killer whales! Man!

I was staying with my ex gf at their family’s cabin on the Canal at Union.  Oysters, whales, seals, forests, mountains…luckiest guy in the world no doubt. 

Beautiful place. 

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I didn’t know it at the time but the relationship was winding down – she was heading in another direction, I was definitely in denial. Maybe I wasn’t. That’s a longer story for another time.

Anyway…

Jen had a job interview in Portland as an archaeologist for one of the big Utility companies; an unexpectedly awesome opportunity and everyone was excited for her.  I’d gone with Jen for support (and shopping) and we’d stayed in Portland overnight. After spending the day shopping, the evening apart and staying in separate hotels (she needed to prepare) it was an odd night. The next day as it turned out the Interview had gone well, and she was elated. We decided to do a road trip out to Eastern Washington where she had gone to college, lived and worked for a time. Explore more of her past. Long story short, I met more of her friends and saw even more of her WA life than before.

To be honest the trip confused the Hell out of me, but I got see see where they filmed Northern Exposure (Roslyn) and Twin Peaks (Snoqualmie, North Bend…coffee and Damn fine Cherry Pie at Twede’s cafe) so, you know : swings and roundabouts.

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Anyway…

We’d gotten back after our weird 3 day road trip, talked our asses off and our issues to death, endured the awkward silences that followed, but ultimately had a good time. We visited her parents in Shelton on the way back through. Then it was late and we were heading back to the cabin.

Still with me? I’m setting the mood here hopefully.

It was past 11pm when we got out to Union.

The canal was moonless dark, winters day cold and unusually silent. Apart from the odd barking of a seal and the distant “shHHhh” of a passing car, it was graveyard-still. 

As we were in a little cove, so the road curled around the waters edge, following the shoreline. The streetlights threw long rippling shafts of soft amber light out along the surface of the black water – delicate grasping fingers that reached blindly out into the darkness. A mile away on the other side, the scene was a perfect mirror – distant pinpoints of houselights, rippling reflections, softly glowing streetlights, and silence.

Jen went inside and jumped in the shower. I stood out on the deck and rolled a cigarette, contemplating the Universe and marveling at the night.

I leaned on the deck rail and took a drag of the cigarette, enjoying the nicotine buzz. Pale smoke curled out over the low deck railing down to the dark water lapping a few feet below.

…now: take a single big breath, hold it. Purse your lips, and exhale forcefully, push all your breath out at once…

‘WOOoosh…’

Soft. Sounding like it was a million miles away but crystal clear in the night air, the deep sound whispered across the canal…

Did I imagine that? What the Hell was it?

I couldn’t see a thing in the inky darkness so I froze – held my breath and waited.
It came again. Closer this time.

‘WOOoosh…’

A massive exhale, followed by the tiniest series of tinkling splashes. Another, further to the right. then another even further along. Right out in the middle of the canal but definitely coming closer.

The hairs on my neck stood up.

I forgot to breathe.

Oh my GOD!

The whales are back…

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

…not in Iran.

I’m actually in Bali at the moment, and NOT Iran as the hacker trying out my account names and passwords seems to be.

Remember …  Bali? 2 week Yoga Therapy Course ? 

Please keep up.

Returning from 11 month sabbatical, my recreation leave balance was way up – so take 2 weeks? Well, if you insist.

Ahh the joys and benefits of a government job in Australia. Recreation leave out the wazoo. 

Anyone would think I’d actually planned it ! 

Escaping and taking some relief in a mild season here whilst accidentally dodging the worst heat wave in Australia in a zillion years.  

A dry 46 degrees in my usual part of the world – a balmy 28 degrees and 80% humidity here in Bali-vegas.

Just grabbing a $5 breakfast and a perfect coffee before meeting my travel buddy for a day out . 

Mmmmm … life is good.

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Finally the little creative child me is cautiously peeking out from behind the curtains.

Its been a while since the “putting the words in order’ part of my mind has been stimulated enough to start working again, let alone write anything even vaguely interesting. 

The past week here with Module 3 of the Svastha Yoga Therapy program has given me almost a whole week of pranayama and asana practice.  This has settled my mind and salved my soul immensely. 

Meeting up with old friends, making many new ones, and continuing my exploration of this wonderful practice feels just so…right.
But one more week of training and then back home next weekend. Better make the most of the day.

This is just a short note to let you know I’m alive. I know you’ve been missing me terribly. 

So just fuelled up my trusty Scoopy and am off on a scooter excursion in the rain for in a little bit…should be fun to explore some old favourites and new spaces with an adventurous travel buddy.

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Later.