Clark Harding, Out Traveler's resident adventurer, recently recounted his journey to Antarctica. In this final part of a series — read part one and two — Clark describes how the continent's creatures distracted him from his stirrings.
We were anchored somewhere off the Antarctic Peninsula. I was standing in the ship’s library… well, it wasn’t so much a library as it was a pile of old books that former passengers had jettisoned to lighten their luggage.
I suspiciously looked around to make sure I was alone. Luckily it was just me and some monolithic icebergs peeping through the porthole (they clearly hadn’t had this much action in a millennium). I put my sunglasses on, to make sure no one would recognize me and, like a guilty pubescent in the porn section of Tower Video in the '90s, I gingerly pulled out a paperback copy of My Secret Life: An Erotic Diary of Victorian London. I petted the cover, then quickly tucked it in to my parka and took off down the corridor.
See, when traveling to Antarctica on a boat, there is no TV. No Wifi. If you really feel the need to call the office, you can purchase a mega expensive satellite phone. But aside from a collection of Antarctica themed DVDs (“Hey mom, do you want to watch Happy Feet or The Thing again?”) your only form of onboard entertainment is good ol’ fashioned reading. And unfortunately I was trapped in a cabin with my mother… sharing my laptop. Thus the nine gigs of porn I had previously downloaded in preparation for the long voyage had to be deleted. So after a month of being down there, you can only imagine how exciting it was to find this “novel.”
I felt like a smoker who had finally quit and got his taste buds back. While at home, with things like free porn to stream online, or Grindr offering easy sex, I never imagined that depriving myself of these commodities would mean written words (dare I call it literature) could be so intoxicatingly delicious. And in this case, My Secret Life, was not well written and contained zero structure. But I could not get enough. I may or may not have read it three times. It was pathetic. I was sitting amongst the largest colony of King Penguins (up to 70,000 couples) with my head buried in a book.
“What the hell are you reading?” My mom asked.
“NOTHING!” I hissed. And tucked it back in to my coat.
Melinda, my buddy on the ship, caught a glimpse. “Wait…is that…?”
“My precious!” I was like Smeogal in Lord of The Rings. Too bad, Mel totally busted me.
“Give it to me!” she started chasing me. “I want it!”
“IT’S MINE! YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!” I ran and tried to hide.
And that’s when an Okumboy bit me. “Ouch! You little fucker!” I snapped back to reality, clutching my finger. Oh, right I was in Antarctica NOT in Victorian London. The juvenile king penguin was looking up at me expectantly. It’s difficult to be angry with a baby king penguin. They are so darn ugly-cute. Okumboys look as if those Skeksis from the movie Dark Crystal, put on a big fluffy fur coats and waddled around being weird and adorable. In this case the biter just wanted food, or something. And since I refused to regurgitate into its mouth, it just stared up at me disappointed. And then proceeded to follow me around. I was like “shoo kid.”
Penguins of all species, I found to possibly be the most curious creatures on the planet. The saying “curiosity killed the cat” is inadequate. Curiosity, in fact, killed the penguin. Maybe that’s why there are dead, rotting corpses littered about the shoreline. I’d be backing up to take a picture and my mom would be like “Clark you’re standing in dead penguin again,” To which I’d moan “Aww man! I can’t get all the dead penguin off my boot!” Regardless, whichever of the seven species; chinstrap, adele, king etc… they all share a common look when you step off the zodiac ship. Unlike the nipping fur seal, they walk right up to you and squawk “Sup dude?” Some of them come running from across the horizon towards you in utter excitement. They will even porpoise alongside the boat as if a school of flying fish.
It was finally time to put my book back in the library and head home (and by home I mean crossing the Drake Passage back to Argentina). As I was tearfully placing it back in the pile of ratty paperbacks, “HUMPBACK WHALES PORT SIDE,” blasted over the loud speaker. I ran to the top deck. With a wonderful send-off to an amazing voyage, two humpbacks curiously approached the ship. They’d spy hop, check us out then dive under the boat to the other side, as we, the frantic passengers ran back and forth from port to starboard, trying to take in as much as we could.
That’s when we heard, “SQUAWK!”
Amongst the two humpbacks floated a lone, jealous chinstrap penguin. As the whales would dive under the boat, the chinstrap would follow and emerge between them with another, “SQUAWK!," as if to say, “I’m cool too, bitches!” This went on for a good hour.