PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Antarctica Journey, Day 10

Our time on the continent was over, so we set out to once again to  cross the Drake Passage, which takes two days. We had been forewarned that our trip across was average, but the return trip would be the Drake shake.

I spent most of the morning birdwatching. I was particularly interested in the albatross species that were flying next to the boat. The English major in me can’t help but being fascinated by albatross. These were Black Browned and Light Mantles albatross for all you ornithologists.

I tried to go outside and get photos of them because of kept being told that they were right against the ship. However, I don’t think they like me because every time I went out, the birds disappeared. And to get really good shots of the birds, you needed to go very close to the edge and it was really wavy and I did not want to fall from the 10th floor into the Southern Ocean. Discretion is the better part of valor.

After a while, I decided to fake the birds out and pretend like I was going in but then come out really quickly. I got a couple of shots that way, but the birds caught on rather quickly. Or else I am a complete birdbrain. But I also determined that I do not have a future as a wildlife photographer.

After playing psychological games with birds, we went to the science lab to look at the water that we had retrieved the day before. I was utterly enthralled, once I figured out how to use the microscope properly. Again, not a scientist. We were looking at the larva of Krill, which as I have said, are the building block and foundation of all of the ecosystem. They were still alive, and so I was able to see them swimming around. It was neat to see meaningful research and things that would  help our science leader with her dissertation.

After another quick trip to look for birds, Janel and I went to take part in the photo scavenger hunt. We partnered  with a couple from the United States, Mike and Kate, to form a four-person team. When they asked about joining with us, we warned them that we were insanely competitive pastors who lived for this kind of thing. They were amenable, so it was game on.

These are the kind of things that totally feed my competitive juices. We had various places we had to find on the ship to get photos with our team number, and then we had to make a series of videos. But we were told that there were points for creativity.

So, yes, of course, I proceeded to put on my penguin costume to have most of the pictures taken with me in a penguin costume. That also meant that I paraded through the entire ship for well over an hour in a penguin suit.

If you ever want to tell who has a sense of humor, I suggest you wear a penguin suit on a cruise ship. I am delighted to say the vast majority of the people laughed out loud or asked to have their picture taken with me. I was especially glad that the expedition staff found this hysterical. I was surprised to learn that I was the first person any of them had ever seen wearing a penguin suit on the ship. I will be completely honest, the shocked me. But they were very amused.

We had to make a couple of videos, one with me asking for an identification of a bird I had drawn from an ornithologist, so I drew a picture of a penguin and asked if it would be a good photo for my tinder profile. For one  portion, one of us had to play a piano in the expedition lounge. I asked Kate to play “Fly Me to the Moon” because I was a penguin and I could only swim and that was the only way I was going to get there. And my personal favorite was me singing my Krill to the tune of “My Girl” with Mike and Kate portraying Krill next to me. They were born to Krill. We lost Janel along the way because the seas became continuously rougher, and her motion sickness got the best of her.

In between the scavenger hunt, there were a lot of other fun activities. We got to visit the bridge and meet some of the staff who were there, and another favorite was learning how to fold towels into animals. I do not have a future in housekeeping. I think we all knew that before, but this confirms it. I am not made to make animals out of towels. So if any of you visit me and expect me to make animals out of towels, this will not happen. However, I do have evidence that I did once, albeit with a lot of help because my spatial disorientation did not help the process.

There was also a session with more serious fare on global climate change and a discussion of the scientific evidence behind it. It was a panel discussion with questions for our science team leaders. They each testified to the incredible impact. This will happen not just  on Antarctica, but on our entire world.

We also had a session on what we saw on the trip, and they confirmed again how extraordinary this trip was. The whales we saw at dinner the one evening, with all of the breaching, and the waving, was actually watching a couple of whales who had mated split apart. I don’t know if break up is the right word, but a natural separation, where one breaches and the other waves their tail back-and-forth having completed the mating process. Being able to see this in a few whales at the same time is absolutely extraordinary. The opportunities we had on the trip and all the things we saw and experienced on this trip truly boggles my mind.

After dinner, we turned in the results from our scavenger hunt and our team completely dominated the creativity category, earning many bonus points. However, we missed two of the identification pictures of the crew, which kept us from winning. But I will take second place and the ability to make so many people smile any day.

The day ended with a dance party. The crew has a band that played a bunch of oldies— “YMCA,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Dancing Queen,” “La Bamba,” and, of course, as we were crossing the Drake, “Shake it Up Baby.” I must say, dancing on a ship with huge swells makes for an interesting time.

What makes it more interesting is when you put on your penguin suit. Yes I danced in my penguin suit. Several of the crew including some of the ships officers wanted to have their pictures taken with me. I took the suit off after a few songs because it was so hot. I still can’t believe I’m the first person to bring a penguin suit on this cruise.

By the time the dance was over, I was able to take some time to finish my blog from the previous day, work on some photos and spend a bit of time in prayer and reflection. I love the trip, but my introverted side sometimes sometimes just needs a bit of space.

I wondered how the day crossing the Drake would be, and I am delighted that it was a grand time, full of fun, frivolity and friends rolling and dancing our way through the Drake.

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