I am also delighted to learn that Robert Swan, the first person to walk to both Poles, is expected. Robert is heading up an expedition associated to UNICEF. They are taking a multi-national group of children to the Antarctic by ship. Robert had originally been trekking across the north-west peninsula to join the ship. After travelling for some days he changed his plans and had decided to travel across to us. He would then fly on to Punta Arenas and fly in to join up with his team. It seems an astonishing coincidence to me (although it is said there are no such thing as coincidences, only God’s incidences), that on my original journey to reach the North Pole all those years previously, the expedition had flown in a Twin-Otter over Robert Swan’s team as they had slowly and painfully trekked to the Pole and now we are to meet again on our way to the South.
Over the years, Robert and I have met on several occasions. He has given me signed copies of his books and particularly Icewalk, the heroic story of his harrowing but triumphant North Pole saga. When Robert arrives, to everyone’s astonishment and somewhat to my embarrassment, he gives me a huge bear hug. He is very pleased to see me and we swap stories of how we both came to be here in the Antarctic at the same time. Robert also feels it is quite something special that I also saw him in the Arctic, even from a plane. Robert looks wider than I remember but it’s probably the numerous layers of clothing he is wearing, as he has been trekking through intensely cold winds. Gradually he unbuttons and removes layer upon layer as the hot wine he gulps down starts to do the trick. Like the other experienced polar guys he sees no need to change or wash up. He has several days growth of beard. I wonder if the facial hair grows slower in the polar regions. I hadn’t noticed any difference myself.
Antarctica Luxury Travel Photo Gallery
Robert’s arrival gives me the assurance and a lead-in to ask Max Wenden what the chances are of flying to the Pole tomorrow. He’s as non-committal as ever and still gives me no encouragement. Max of course hasn’t changed anything and is still wearing his torn jersey, although the tears seem to have widened. Dinner arrives and it’s a feast! Huge portions of turkey (absentmindedly I wonder if they’ve got the holidays mixed up as it’s not Thanksgiving or even Christmas), several kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, carrots; followed by mince pies, fruit and cheese. There is a non-stop flow of wine and champagne.
I am put in charge of the music, although most don’t seem to notice as they just raise their voices louder to continue their noisy and excitable conversations. Robert is as loud as everyone else, he has tremendous energy and vitality. Every so often he hugs me and again we tell everyone ad nauseum how we have connected on the way to both Poles.
It’s getting close to the midnight hour and we all don wigs and dress up in fanciful clothing Ann has gathered from somewhere. Soon we all start dancing, no one cares with whom or with what sex. It’s almost midnight and the countdown is about to commence. As the seconds tick away everyone kisses everyone. We toast each other, our families and friends, those who are in our thoughts but so very far away. They toast the Ice but don’t explain; I’ll learn why much later. In return I offer a special toast to all the polar explorers of yesterday, now and tomorrow; the past is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present. Everyone thinks that deserves more than one drink and there are no further toasts needed to give us reasons.
It must have been pre-arranged as a quiz game is quickly organised. We are divided into three teams, oddly named Rednecks, Frocks and Famished. Max is on my team and I continue to try, but just as unsuccessfully, to steer our conversation to the weather being OK in the morning for a polar flight. The quiz questions are extremely wide ranging and often peculiar and we all get more wrong than right. Two of those I recall answering: Which English artist was in an asylum and killed his father? Richard Dadd (get it?) and who wrote the screenplay of Dr Zhivago after writing for miles? Robert Bolt who was married to Sarah Miles. We are all telling silly jokes and it’s probably the buckets of wine we’re knocking back, but that last answer leads me to ask what is the longest word in the English language. After several ludicrous guesses I reveal it’s smiles, as there’s a mile between the first and last letters.
The evening, although it’s well into the morning, deteriorates even more rapidly and I cannot drink any more, although Robert and many others obviously can. I try one last attempt to influence Max to consider flying tomorrow I have to give up as I can see he’s also too far gone and I can’t imagine him getting up early in the morning and wanting to fly all the way to the South Pole. I ask Ann his girlfriend to try and intercede on my behalf and then start to leave the tent to turn in. Duncan, his managerial responsibility still keeping him sufficiently sober, grabs hold of my arm. He shouts loudly into my ear, as if the drink has reduced all my senses, ‘Go straight to your tent and don’t wander around. When you’ve been drinking you chill much more rapidly and your body temperature will tumble fast; hypothermia could set in and you might not get up.’ It’s sound advice as I also know from my climbing expeditions and I step slowly but purposely to my Byrd tent. I only tumble when I reach the mattress, drag off my boots and coat and crawl inside my sleeping bag. Happy New Year! Instantly I fall asleep.
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