That's Me

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A wanderer. A bon vivant. A movie aficionado. En amour avec 'A'. These four remain constant. New interests develop every day. Latest being photography. And mastering the French language. Training for the marathon. And blogging.

Friday, November 30, 2012

There's an iceberg in my drink

I am dreaming of Antarctica these days. You heard me right - Antarctica. That fast shrinking but still the most desolate, coldest, windiest and emptiest place on Earth. But before you go green with envy, let me clarify that I am nowhere on my way to the white continent in the near future. I am just dreaming. Like last night, I dreamt that I was sunbathing with the Leopard Seals, the sound of crashing icebergs lulling me to a gentle sleep. The night before, I was sharing a picnic basket with a family of Emperor Penguins, drifting on a piece of iceberg. You get the drift?

"The Fantastic Antarctica by Aneu Martinez, courtesy of They Draw & Travel.
Anyway, as I was saying, I am dreaming of the big A these days. And since I believe in the adage, don’t dream, just do, or whatever it is that they say - I did it, too. Put an itinerary in place. Then did the budget. Then literally fell down from the chair.

The cheapest of the cruises to Antarctica, for a week, can set your savings back to a few months. Or years, depending on how much you save. You need to fly to Argentina or Chile (depending on which part of the world you are coming from) and then fly or hitchhike down to the tip of South America (depending on your budget), either to Punta Arenas in Chile or to Ushuaia in Argentina, to catch a cruise ship to Antarctica. Or fly and cruise, if you are related to the royals, somewhere, somehow. Well, all options considered, I have worked out an itinerary. And every time I look at it, especially wherever the $ sign appears, my heart sinks like the Titanic that was sunk by an iceberg.

But being a very positive girl, I am concentrating on the good parts. So far, I have managed to find one. You don’t need a visa. My latest quest has been to only visit countries where we, Indians, don't need a visa beforehand. Yes, I am getting old and am losing patience over the bureaucratic nightmare that is often called ‘obtaining a visa on Indian passport when you do not live in India’. Now though it limits my options of countries to visit, it opens up new vistas. Countries like Comoros, Togo, Turks and Caicos Islands, Palau or Tuvalu. I can come up with a few more exotic names, that I can bet all my savings on, you have never heard of; but I will be digressing. Anyway, Antarctica is not governed by any specific country, rather by the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 by 12 countries, initially. Today, 45 countries or so come under the treaty, the main aim of which is to prohibit military activities and mineral mining, while supporting scientific research and protecting the continent's ecozone. And to cut a long story short, making holidays possible without a visa. Hurrah!

In the evening, over a cup of coffee, I show off my latest acquired knowledge to A.

That Antarctica is considered a desert, because it experiences even less rains than the Saharas (huh!?).
That the name ‘Antarctica’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘opposite to the north’ (duh!).
That at least two active volcanoes exist in Antarctica (wah!).

As A is warming up to my trivia, I, very casually, sell him the adventure of conquering the final frontier. Is the raised eyebrows a sign of ‘tell-me-more’ or ‘I-don’t-like-the-way-this-conversation-is-headed’?

Be positive. Keep calm. Throw in a few more interesting facts.

That if you throw boiling water into the air in Antarctica, it will instantly vaporize. Most of the particles will turn into steam while others will instantly be converted to small pieces of ice.
That Antarctica is the only continent without a timezone.
That 30,000-40,000 summer tourists visit Antarctica every year.

Now he is asking questions. That is a good sign, right? What would be the temperature like in summer? I consider my options. Will an average of 2°C during summer months in Antarctica freak him out? Or should I avoid the temperature question altogether and instead, veer the conversation towards Global Warming and how the huge shelves of ice are melting away with every passing day and this is our now-or-never moment? I opt for the truth and to my relief, he has warmed up to winters these days and does not mind the chill, he says.

He is starting to feel like Captain Roald Amundsen now, so I slip in the budget.

And I exaggerate not, A has caught a cold almost instantly. He hasn't stopped sneezing since. So much for my Captain Roald. He has been so shocked after he heard the budget that he forgot to close the refrigerator door that night after grabbing his midnight snacks and we have had our very own incident of Global Warming in our kitchen the next day. So much for conquering the most desolate place on earth.

So I am left to dream alone again. I have figured out that if I can manage to save very diligently for the next 30 months, sacrificing my macchiatos and some holidays and on-sale-and-hence-justified purchases, then we can afford the excursion. But then again, after 2.5 years, the costs will have gone up and I'd be needed to save for another 24 months. Very much like the property rates in Bombay - no matter how much you earn, you never can afford one!

Plan B is to buy some lottery. But that's more like B for bad, because with my luck, I will never win anything. No sudden inheritance from either side of the families on the radar also - so Plan C for childless, rich uncle has to be scrapped as well.

As I seriously consider one plan after the other, my mother calls to inform me that one of my money back policies from LIC has decided it's time to pay the money back for all the premiums I have paid over the last 15 years or so. I feel elated. Surely our air tickets will be taken care of now. I recalculate the cost and my savings equation as my mother, like always, looks for her reading glass, answers the doorbell, shares home remedies for diarrhea with my sister on the other line, while putting me on hold on an international call. She finally comes around after 15 minutes and triumphantly informs that I have had a Rs. 40,000 windfall gain. That is around U$700. Thank you very much. You can keep the change.

So I have finally devised another plan. I share it with A as I am confident that he will agree. I plan to run away from home and join an expedition to the South Pole as the ship's tenth mate. Sweep the floor, empty the garbage - you know, do the works and see the world. But wait, wasn't that exactly the plan I had hatched while reading Moby-Dick many many years back. Things haven't changed much around here. Only now, I have a partner in crime.

Or so I think. A listens to my idea with that look in his eyes, the look that says the-poor-girl-has-finally-flipped and the look that he gives me often. And then very nonchalantly suggests that I’d better come down from the highest continent and concentrate on more pressing matters - like finalising our next holiday - the week long detox and fasting session in Ubud that we have promised ourselves next year. 

Now that is one holiday I am having nightmares about. That’s the last holiday I want to plan. So I go back to dreaming about the last holiday I’d ever want to take - an expedition to the white sheets of Antarctica, drifting along the icebergs, watching the giant Humpback and Sperm whales in action, walking with the Emperor Penguins and ducking the Albatross.

Tonight I plan to revert to Plan Z and dream of Aurora Australis. We are camping somewhere above the Antarctic Circle, watching the ethereal burst of colours thrown by the solar winds, in the still of the night, with a zillion of billions of Milky Ways to keep us company. Well, dreams come free, if not true and a dream about Antarctica is always priceless. And you heard me right, I am dreaming of Antarctica these days.

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