You may not be aware that your blogger is the author of several published books (and a few that have not yet been published!) In an act of shameless self-promotion, here's the full story:
The short story: A little girl surrounded by books by her forward-thinking young parents; books as gifts every Christmas; much avid reading. An Arts degree with a major in English Literature. Side-tracked by law school and a career as a lawyer into much writing of a boringly legal-academic nature. But still that half-begun novel in the bottom drawer, a few poems and short stories, and finally...the discovery of a flair for memoir.
'Tea in the Library' is the story of a wonderful bookshop-cafe that briefly lit up the Sydney literary scene (2007)
'Mt Kilimanjaro & Me' relates the preparations and climb of Africa's highest mountain by a very unlikely mountain climber (2010)
UPDATE: A third memoir, fictionalised this time, has been published as an ebook. You can purchase 'My Farthest North - An Arctic Diary' at Smashwords, here. (2012)
"Tea In The Library"
First published 2007
Buy your very own copy from amazon.com - print or digital.
"Mt Kilimanjaro & Me"
First published 2010
Buy your very own copy from amazon.com - print or digital.
Both books published by Sid Harta Publishers, Melbourne, Australia and available on their site, and in good bookshops around Australia.
"My Farthest North"
An Arctic DiaryFirst published 2012
During three weeks in the High Arctic our heroine reaches her ‘farthest north’ as well as her ‘coldest north’. With a wry sense of humour, this fictionalised memoir introduces us to a diverse cast of characters, including polar bears, reindeers, walrus, a Polish Arctic explorer, a Russian sea captain, a quirky expedition leader...and the shadowy Eduardo.
As she journeys on, our narrator tells Eduardo about everything she is seeing, experiencing, learning and reading. We learn gradually that Eduardo is stuck in his office and couldn’t make the trip with her. Are they lovers?
In northern Norway, night disappears along with the 3G signal. Bravely facing the rickety steps down the side of the ship to the inflatable dinghy, learning to make wet landings, and how to - and how not to - approach walrus, our narrator learns a few things about herself and the difficulty of remaining cheerful in spite of a very cold butt. In Svalbard, euphoria at a polar bear sighting gives way to a ho-hum glacier expedition. In Greenland, Heidi the Inuit Girl welcomes the expeditioners in full Traditional Dress and with walrus canapes, and an Inuit grandmother offers roasted polar bear. In Iceland various threatened species adorn the cafe menus.
In reading our heroine’s journal written for Eduardo, we are eavesdroppers on her uncensored thoughts. Her bouts of bad temper and her unreasonable expectations are all here, along with her wry assessments of her fellow Arctic travellers. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to sit in a small boat above the Arctic Circle, with nothing around you but fog, the disappearing sea ice, the chance of a bear sighting and a severe bout of unrequited love, this story is for you.
Buy your very own copy of the ebook from Smashwords.
About the Author
|At the Sydney Writers' Festival|
Having discovered – only a few short years ago – that tramping around the highest mountains in the world was not only inspirational but actually do-able, Annette has trekked to Everest Base Camp, Patagonia, the Canadian Rockies, New Zealand, the Basque region of Spain, Antarctica, Machu Picchu, Tajikistan – and to Kilimanjaro, a rousing adventure recorded in her memoir 'Mt Kilimanjaro & Me'.
In between these adventures Annette opened – and closed – a very special café bookshop in the heart of Sydney. It was a tale worth telling, which she did in her book ‘Tea In The Library’. Annette recently moved from Sydney, abandoning a moving feast of children, grandchildren, dogs and rabbits, to experience life in Europe, a base from which much more travel is possible.
Reviews of 'Tea In The Library'
Central Highlands Library
Reviews of 'Mt Kilimanjaro & Me'
"TEA IN THE LIBRARY"
Chapter 18 - The Duck Run
Life at Tea In The Library settled into an eccentric and chaotic “routine”. I use the word loosely. While there never was assembled a more likeable, quirky and interesting bunch of employees, unfortunately it soon became clear that something was missing. Equally clearly, that was a strong and capable leader.
In formulating the business plan according to correct theoretical principles, I had attempted a proper “Organizational Plan”. In formulating my staff plan, I had tried to make the Organizational Plan fit the available people whom I could find — and whom I liked. This was Big Mistake Number Two.
Looking back, it seems perfectly obvious that the arrangement I had set up wouldn’t work. I had appointed Louise as the overall manager of the shop, including responsibility for staff, customer service, daily routines, merchandising, etc. Todd I had designated “Business Manager”, and had assigned him the tasks of book-buying, and also involvement in tracking the financial statistics. They were both supposed to actually sell books, of course. They seemed to skip this step in the busy business of “running the shop”. In fact, through the whole life of the shop, and several changes of staff, there always seemed to me to be a great deal of energy put into buying books, receiving books, shelving books, and then returning books to publishers for credit. The step of selling books often seemed to fall through the cracks.
Both Todd and Louise, and also Emma and Paul, were wonderful at customer service. They all loved their product, and were very well-read and familiar with the stock. To see them with a customer was a thing of retail beauty. They were invariably cheerful and helpful, and the books were lovingly and carefully displayed. I am pleased to report that some books were indeed sold; but there was also a general aversion to “up selling” or — to use their words — being “too pushy”. My book staff definitely had a “build it and they will come” mentality, and while they were waiting, they spent a lot of time in the back office.
In the kitchen, things were worse. Our café manager and chef, Jo, continued to turn out exquisite dishes, the likes of which had not been seen in a simple “light meals” café, and, trust me, won’t be seen again. The cost of producing our menu far outstripped what we were charging. It gradually dawned that the dishes we were offering, while wildly popular with our customers, were far too labour-intensive to produce, and our suppliers were far too numerous and our stock too complicated to properly control.
Take the duck wraps, for example. This was a top-selling item, with the critical ingredient being Chinese roasted duck. One serious draw-back of the dish was the intense labour required to roll the ingredients in individual rice wraps, which was very time-consuming. We must have hand-rolled thousands of those duck wraps. Additionally, while everything else in our kitchen was delivered, the Chinese roasted duck had to be fetched. So every day during a quiet moment Jo or one of her helpers would set off to China Town a few blocks away to fetch the duck. It became common to hear that Jo or Chloe or Kate was off on “the duck run”, rather than in the kitchen or café. As if this wasn’t inefficient enough, one day I was bemused — no, gobsmacked — to learn that the duck had, that day, been delivered in a taxi, since no-one had had time to go on the duck run. And you, the lucky customer, could purchase a plate of delicious duck wraps for a mere $6.95!
At this stage, we had about fifteen or twenty different café suppliers. Wisdom has it that three to five is an optimum number. The invoice handling, sorting out of seven-day accounts, monitoring returns and food items not received or accepted — all this was multiplied unacceptably. We had lovely jams, unusual breads, gluten-free cakes, ham off the bone, smoked salmon flown in daily from interstate — it was ridiculous. No wonder our café was popular!
In the planning stages of the café, I had long discussions with Jo about how to price menu items. We worked out (I thought) a system of allocating a cost to each menu dish. This was done by including the cost of the ingredients, plus a time component for producing it, plus of course a margin, which had to take into account possible spoilage and wastage. Jo worked carefully through this with me with great concentration, and then proceeded to price her menu using the tool of total guess-work. As the weeks progressed, we gradually increased our prices (we called the low early prices “opening specials”) but guesswork — and what Jo thought the market could bear — seemed to remain our touchstone.
I worked at reducing the number of café suppliers, insisting that Jo find catering suppliers who could cover the majority of our needs, especially non-fresh items. I insisted that any cakes we bought in should come from one supplier only, not three or four different ones. We still had separate suppliers for tea/coffee, cold drinks, bread, fresh meat and cakes, as well as a general supplier, but it was an improvement on the early chaos. Smoked salmon went off the menu. Jo began to get disgruntled. She was “an artist” who enjoyed creating, but had no concept whatsoever of running a commercial kitchen, and certainly not profitably.
In addition to the supplier debacle, staffing issues were also a disaster. At this early stage, we were ambitiously opening for breakfast, and well as manning the coffee cart at street level. Chloe, bless her, was a stalwart back up in the kitchen. Her experience in hospitality came to the fore most spectacularly when disaster loomed. She had a technique she called “customer recovery”. When there had been a delay or other poor service issue, and customers had complained, Chloe leapt into action. News of the complaint would reach the kitchen, Chloe would roll up her sleeves, head on out with her best smile plastered on, and proceed. Customers were showered with apologies. Everything was our fault. We were distraught that this had happened. Free bottles of wine were produced. Free meals dispensed. Boots were licked and forelocks tugged. Nameless staff members consigned to the fires of everlasting perdition. Customers invariably relaxed with smiles after this treatment, the day was saved, the reports passed on about Tea In The Library were favourable, if not glowing, and Chloe had earned her wages tenfold.
My second daughter, Sophie, came on board at the café during uni holidays — her hospitality experience had been in the sweatshop of a McDonald’s restaurant, nothing to be sneezed at. She worked very hard, got on wonderfully well with Chloe and the other waitresses, and would report to me over the dinner table at home about the goings-on in the kitchen. Her frustration with Jo knew no bounds. Many were the arm-waving and emotional discussions around my dinner table with my kids, about the day-to-day minutiae of running Tea In The Library — Sophie from the café side, Evan from the books side.
During this time, and extending right throughout the time we were open, we often had need — urgent and un-planned-for need — of a chef. If you have only one chef, you are obviously sunk if he or she doesn’t turn up for work. The show can’t go on. After facing this crisis unprepared for the first time, I came up with an agency for casual chefs, and we relied on them more or less heavily throughout the life of the shop. If need arose, Kate would call the agency, and a chef would be miraculously produced at short notice. Whew! Sometimes we would continue to hire the stand-in for several weeks or even months, depending upon the relative desperation of our needs. There was one young man who became quite smitten with our Kate. When she asked him to stay on to fill a need, he, in a word, asked that she fulfill his. The Casting Couch of the hospitality world. Kate rebuffed him, and reported this incident at the weekly staff meeting. We looked at her with varying reactions. He was a good chef, and we were desperate. Hmmmmm
Jo insisted that we needed a chef on duty for most of this time, and to cover the roster we need “two and a half” chefs. There was no reason why the wait staff couldn’t plate up many dishes in the absence of a chef, with proper preparation. My better judgment was stirring uneasily, but the blind were leading the blind at this stage, and we hired a second chef, Daniel. He was a personable young man, who listed a long string of professional jobs on his resume (none of which we checked), and who could in fact cook wonderful scones — and other things. His biggest attraction was that he had worked in professional kitchens. Unlike anyone else on staff.
As to the coffee cart, this was a disaster from day one. Out on York Street in the mornings, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of busy office workers rushing by on their way to work, and most of them are scouting for coffee. This seemed a fertile fishing ground for customers, but this bright idea hadn’t been thought through. The first thing was that the coffee cart had to be manned (or girled) for several hours, by a staff member who was then unavailable in the café, which is a considerable expense when you are selling only cups of coffee. Secondly, people have to have a reason to stop at your cart — we found that they have a loyalty to certain coffee spots. You need to have good coffee (we did), produced quickly (we weren’t too bad), and to be handy and cheap. We undercut our neighbours (they got annoyed), and we were quite well located, but we built it and they didn’t come.
I was of the opinion that what we needed was a barista with pizzazz — a personality up there dragging ’em in. We tried hiring for such a person, but they proved hard to find. What we ended up with was a timid little waitress called Sabine sitting behind the cart reading a book, and looking up only when a customer came up to the cart. This was money down the drain, and it wasn’t too long before the coffee cart was mothballed. It became a Remembrance Of Things Past.
"MT KILIMANJARO & ME"
Chapter 17 – The Diary Of The Climb – Day Six
Karanga Camp 3963 m to High Camp (Kosovo) 4830 m
‘Clear and copious’ – a good sign. In view of the serious chill in the air, I ventured to use the pee funnel and bottle arrangement in my tent, proudly producing one litre, and without serious mishap.
A vague suggestion of an imminent headache came in the night, but went away. Go Diamox! I was getting used to tingling in my fingertips, ears and – weirdly - the tip of my nose.
Day six was all uphill hiking, slow and steady. Not as demanding as the day before, thankfully, and not as long. We did make a big altitude gain, about 900 metres, to take us to our highest point yet at 4830 metres. So moving pole, pole was the order of the day.
Francis was now my main man. He had adopted me. He bounded up to me this morning before we set off, keen to shoulder my day pack. From that point on we would spend many hours together on the trail, although barely exchanging a couple of words. Francis seemed to understand English quite well, but spoke it less confidently. At one point, when the trail was relatively easy going, I engaged him in a little conversation. I asked how old he was. Twenty-eight, he said … or twenty-six. Or maybe twenty-four. Somewhere around there. He also told me that he had a family, a wife and a four-year old son. He told me that he was up and down Kilimanjaro every week or so, with just a few days’ break between trips.
That was a great burst of conversation for Francis, as far as English went, anyway. He turned back to the trail. I plodded along pensively in his footsteps, now with some food for thought about the life of a young African who presumably considered the opportunity to climb Mt Kilimanjaro repeatedly to be a great benefit. I imagined his homecoming in a few days time. Finally the busload of porters and guides reaches Arusha. It has been a dusty two hour journey over rough roads, lurching and rolling, but the packed bus has been convivial. With pay packets in hand and a few days off ahead, the army of mountain workers, like workers everywhere at knock-off time, are contemplating some beer, relaxation and family time. Francis walks through the dust of the city evening to a small rough concrete shack in the side streets. His steps drag a little, because he is tired. But his head is held high with a sense of success. Not only has he completed one of the longer trails on Kilimanjaro, which means good pay and experience, but he managed to link up with a trekker, a middle aged lady who really needed his help. He thinks about becoming a licensed guide one day soon, which will mean much better money. As he steps over the doorstep, his eyes narrowing in the interior gloom, he hears his small son crowing as he eats his supper. A pretty young woman waits with the baby and Francis is back in domesticity with money in his pocket. He drops his worn rucksack outside the door and thinks for a moment of his wife, and of the fug of sweat and the smell of his unwashed climbing body. In two days he’ll be back on the mountain.
At dinner the night before I’d gratefully told the story of Francis and how he’d taken my day pack at the base of The Great Barranco Wall. Wally, strangely, hadn’t heard of Francis. Wally knows all his guides well; he hand picks them, so to speak. He kept insisting there was no guide named Francis. Then who was it who carried my pack and helped me on the trail? A passing philanthropist? After much discussion, we concluded that Francis must be an ‘assistant’ guide, earning his guide stripes. It seems that to be a registered guide in Tanzania, you need fluent English (or other non-African language) plus a specified number of hours on the mountain. Wally told me that now Francis had latched on to me, I could expect him to stay with me. ‘He will be there all the way to the top’.
On the trail now, Francis and I happened to stop for a rest in a group that included Wally. Carlos was there too, and remembered yesterday evening’s dinner debate. He made it a point to introduce Wally and Francis. I hoped Francis’s career would thrive. I’d only known him for twenty-four hours and already I felt like his life-long sponsor. Such was the depth of my neediness yesterday, I guess. And perhaps I knew that I’d need a lot more help yet before this adventure was over.
The landscape now was very bleak indeed. We were far above the tree line, and there were no signs of life here other than dozens of other trekkers, as our trail had now converged with one of the popular routes, the Machame. As far as I could see, the world was made of brown, drab, volcanic scree, rocks and boulders. Rising about it all were the frozen upper slopes of Kilimanjaro. At this level, the glaciers looked very close and Kibo was a snowy peak.
Lunch was a welcome, very long lunch in crowded Barafu Camp. The place was like a small town with campers having set up their tents and cook houses cheek by jowl. It’s rather like a North Face slum. The camp has new public toilets, but they’re of the long drop variety and very basic. We stuck to our luxurious little chemical models. Walking into Barafu was like walking from the moon into an Eastern bazaar. We seemed to come upon it suddenly, a miniature town temporarily sprung up in the bleak rocky landscape.
I enjoyed sitting out for a couple of hours at this lunch. It was good to take the altitude gain slowly and there was plenty of excellent people-watching available. Our guides met up with pals who were guiding other groups. One camp had raised a flag, ‘Tusker Tours’. Same name as a local beer, but there was no beer here. Some climbers were going up, others coming down, which made for a lot of opportunity for comparing notes.
Nancy Lee grinned across the lunch table. She is tiny, wiry, fit, with short once-auburn hair, freckles and little white teeth. Despite barely topping five feet tall, Nancy Lee competes in triathlons when not busy at her high-powered corporate day job. Whatever the topic of conversation, she will listen intently, often forming a strong view and saying so. There’s no beating around the bush with Nancy Lee, daughter of a son of the South, currently a resident of Wisconsin, the Cheese State, known for its blizzards. We’re talking a tough little cookie here. The topic de jour was jobs – when to retire, what to do if one did retire, what was wrong with everyone’s partners/colleagues/boss, a little character assassination: the usual.
‘So what kind of job would you really like?’ Nancy Lee asked me.
‘One that gives me time to go travelling,’ I replied. ‘Oops! I already have one of those!’
The main consensus seemed to be that we all wished for a lot more time to go climbing mountains.
After lunch and all this social conviviality, the trail wound rather drearily upwards, with little differentiation in the terrain. Only the bulk of Kibo, now quite close, drew us on. I spent some time listening to my MP3 player as I tramped slowly along – opera mostly. I am not normally one for stuffing earphones in my ears while I’m walking. I usually prefer to absorb the surroundings and take my energy from being in the natural world. Today was awfully tedious walking, though, and the opera helped to distract.
As I was plodding along listening, Anna came up behind me and decided to encourage the group around her to try the trail song ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’, if I recall (I told you it was tedious terrain). I pulled out an earphone and stepped to one side, saying that I would let them go by, because ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’, while cheery, was clashing with my opera. Marius, who makes his living as a classical musician, took an earphone to have a listen. ‘Pagliacci’ I think it was at the time. Marius approved.
After my terrible foot pain the day before, I had consulted Wally, who had recommended wearing my sneakers today. This thankfully helped avoid a repetition of the pain. So here I was, high on Kilimanjaro, climbing uphill in sneakers. Go figure.
The tendonitis was twinging a little, but I was greatly relieved not to be experiencing the pain of yesterday. Wally suggested maybe wearing the sneakers again the next day as well – unless it was too cold. We were going high. The thought of it being so cold that my feet would feel it through sneakers gave me pause. I decided to at least carry them with me. After all, Francis was kindly doing the carrying. ‘Akuna matata’ – no worries.
I arrived at the High Camp, also called Kosovo Camp, although we never did find out why, at about 3pm, which was good going for the altitude gain. It also and allowed some welcome downtime in certainly the most beautiful spot we’d encountered so far. The views from here were divine. The clouds lay far below us and when they parted we could see the plains and coffee plantations and the town of Moshi spread out below. Immediately above us – in fact, looming very close – were Kibo and the snows. To the north we had clear views of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro’s other volcanic peak. We’d crossed the Shira Plateau, climbed the flank of Kibo and were now high up on Kilimanjaro. This camp was our last stop before the crater, which was a very exciting and slightly unnerving thought.
I found an unoccupied tent, dragged over the lime green dry sack and unloaded. Sorry, unpacked. The neat domestic arrangements inside my tent had given way to a much more haphazard approach by this stage. I blamed the altitude for the decline in my housekeeping standards. If I could find what I wanted, that was good enough for me. There was no need to carefully sequester clean clothing since there was none left. In any case, at night I was wearing everything I had. Still, it was home and I got to lie down. It’s the little things. I slumped in a folding chair by my tent flap and tried to gather my slightly hypoxic, oxygen-deprived thoughts. Contemplation was about as far as I could go. Luckily I wasn’t expected to make any decisions about anything.
Across at a neighbouring yellow tent, Marius sat in the doorway, bare-chested, inelegantly plopped on his bottom, carefully scrutinizing his toes and shaking out a pair of socks well past their due date for the laundry. Marius is rather dishy. Handsome, with a long patrician nose, wide mouth, thick, dark hair hanging in a movie-star lock over his forehead, brown eyes, tall, slim, fit and slightly foppish. His Italian heritage shows in his dark good looks. I thought to myself, ‘Marius is a musician who likes to keep clean, by the looks of his present serious endeavours,’ with wet wipes and a small orange bowl with a centimetre or two of warm water in it. Anna walked by.
‘Marius is at his toilette, I see’, I remarked.
She cast a fond glance his way. ‘Yes, he’s a very clean boy’, she said in her lovely, plummy British accent.
That evening Anna dressed for dinner. Short, fit, slim, with long brown hair usually caught back with a barrette, and no makeup, Anna usually affects the outdoors look. She prefers to dress down, as the saying goes, although on this trip she often wore a rather fetching panama hat. She has confessed that she’d rather be at home with her sons and her chickens than working in her barristers’ chambers. Tonight, however, apparently purely on the basis that we had reached an excitingly high altitude, she decided to honour the occasion with an astonishing piece of headgear. It was a woolly beanie of sorts, brightly coloured in red and white stripes, with large Viking ears and, moreover, trimmed with copious amounts of white fluff. It sported warm ear-flaps, from which hung long plaits of red wool, ending in furry tassels. Just what you need to brighten a dining tent at nearly 5000 metres.
Despite the festive headgear, Anna was unable to interest the tired trekkers in a singalong. She brought out her song sheets, which included plenty of old favourites, but she couldn’t rouse sufficient conviviality to get a concert going. Perhaps if some Kilimanjaro Beer had been available.
There had been a lot of talk amongst the group about plans for our après-trek safari, but I couldn’t concentrate on that. I preferred to think just one day ahead. The trail to the crater rim – Stella Point – was visible from here. It appeared to be just a long, steep slog. I had always imagined and planned that the day we hiked to the crater would be the toughest of all. I was not sure that it could be any tougher than yesterday – or if it was, whether I could cope.
That evening Wally took another group photo, again with the backdrop of the colourful IPTrek batik sign. The group that posed at High Camp was a far cry from the clean, freshly-pressed, eager bunch of trekkers which had posed on the foothills of Mt. Meru. By this stage, keeping warm and sitting down if at all possible took priority over smiling for the camera. It was a grubby and dilapidated crew that posed for Wally. Many of us would be barely recognisable to our nearest and dearest.
After dinner I retired to my tent, tired out. Per my usual evening routine, I took stock of the situation. I thought the period was easing. I hoped so. It was both a physical drain and a worry, supply-wise. For the umpteenth time I thanked the Universe – and Berg Adventures – for the luxury of toilet tents and the trash bag. Continuing the stock take, I had to admit that my lips were a basket case. They were cracked very badly, despite me slathering on lip balm since day one. With lips swollen, cracked, peeling and bleeding, I must have looked like a Frankenstein monster. I decided to try a heal-aid cream on them and to walk as much as possible with my mouth covered with a bandana. I had a couple of stretchy circular tube bandanas which I had been using to protect my neck from sun and wind and cold. From now on, one would be pulled up over my lower face, hooked over my nose like Jessie James in the wild west. I completed the rest of the trek like this, but it was to be several weeks before my lips recovered.
I tried reading. I am usually a voracious reader, but each night I couldn’t manage more than a page or two. My concentration was shot. Note in my journal, ‘This is our sixth camp. I am unbelievably grubby and smelly.’
"MY FARTHEST NORTH - An Arctic Diary"
I’m back, mi amigo, and since it is gone half past six, happy hour has begun in the bar, so I will not write much now: only to tell you that the excursion to Poolepynten was completely worth it. There were four lazy walruses curled up together like old cats on the shore, and one livelier specimen swimming about. I liked seeing them very much. The huge group again necessitated much standing about and doing nothing, but all in all the organization was very efficient.
At one point the scene became rather Hitchcockian, with some crazy Arctic terns dive-bombing people relentlessly. They must have had a nest nearby. We also met some ‘locals’ – two policeman from Longyearbyen who were staying overnight in a small hut on the walrus beach. They had a lovely wood fire going in their cabin. The beach at this point was strewn with lots of washed up timber, which our Fearless Leader claimed came from Siberia. Its existence here is said to have inspired Nansen to build the 'Fram' and let it be iced in and carried by the currents. Just like the driftwood, you see. Hmmm…
Eduardo, there is some serious camera equipment amongst this group. My new Japanese friend was out today with an enormous lens, almost as big as the Russian’s. I think the Russian’s was bigger, though (that’s a risqué joke, Eduardo). I am afraid your little Luddite’s film camera would not cut the ice here (to coin an appropriate phrase), mi amigo. Later tonight I plan to spend a happy couple of hours looking through my photos for today. I anticipate that a great deal of culling will go on, but that’s a digital photography thing – doesn’t apply to film clickers like you. I am hoping for half a dozen ‘wow!’ shots out of the several hundred I took.
Sorry about this, Eduardo, but I am going to have to lie down flat again. We’re off, and the ship is rolling a bit. Flat on my back relieves the incipient threat of nausea, so that is the place for me. I went to drinks and dinner, and spoke to a variety of people, whom I could tell you about if it were not for this rooollllliinnnggg….even the photos may have to wait…..oh, the ‘Russians’ are in fact Poles. I asked them.
My ‘highlight of the day’ was the wildlife – I can’t choose between the reindeer and the walrus. I was thrilled to see them both.
Saturday 24th July
Good morning Eduardo
I just had a confused conversation about towels with a nice Russian lady who looks after my cabin. She has no English words at all, except ‘I’m sorry’, which she used but didn’t need to. She was telling me something with hand gestures and pointing. She seems very nice and I assured her I knew just what she meant, though I didn’t.
Mercifully, the ship is moored and not in motion (except for a little rocking up and down as it drifts on its anchor). I regard this as merciful, because otherwise I don’t think I could have managed breakfast. I slept from about 9.30 pm until the wake-up call at 7.00 am. I suspect you would not like the 7.00 am wake-up calls, which must be rather earlier than you prefer. On the other hand, on an adventure you are usually quite keen to get going. I slept well, though got up to put on my fleece jacket in the middle of the night. The window of my cabin does not close completely, and remains open a few inches at night, which is preferable, as some fresh air is good. I notice that Svetlana, or whatever her name is, has opened it wide when making up my cabin. I am glad it opens. It could get a little stuffy and claustrophobic in here otherwise, and it is good to look out on the snowy cliffs of Spitsbergen, and the Arctic sea, and feel the startlingly crisp air. Yes, I like it.
Despite sleeping fairly soundly, I had sad dreams last night. The details have luckily faded, but I was left with a sad feeling of loss. I wonder what was going on in my sub-conscious. However, I can’t be bothered with that for too long – I’m in the Arctic and there is stuff to do! At breakfast, I was able to swipe a copy of the daily news to read with my eggs – almost like being home in my café at Sydney. There wasn’t anything too startling in the news today, except an item about Australia’s female prime ministerial candidate making a dopey speech about delaying action on climate change even further, during her election campaign. It’s as if she wants to alienate her core supporters as far as possible. She may be female, but she’s bad news. Oh dear. Well, that’s something else I can’t spend time worrying about.
This morning, in about forty-five minutes (I need to go quickly to the load up area today, as I plan to be in the first group, the so-called ‘Chargers’, to void the standing about of yesterday) we are loading up to go and do several things: look at nesting birds called ‘Little Auks’, drive about in our Zodiacs for a fifteen minute ‘cruise’, and then land on a small island with historical remains from whaling days. There is apparently little chance of animals, except birds, so this affects my choice of camera lens. I will take the 24 – 100 mm zoom today (don’t yawn, Eduardo, this is important information.) However, there was a polar bear sighting this morning, by the ornithologist through his bird scope, very far away. The possibility of ‘bear’ remains whenever we go ashore, and the guides will all carry their rifles again.
I resisted the guilt trip (you would approve) and requested my own copy of the daily information sheet, which I now have, saving me having to copy it down in the corridor. Here’s what it says about this morning’s plan:
We plan to land at Ytre Norskǿya and Fuglesongen.Hmmm….if there is a chance of puffins, I might take the long camera lens after all. Maybe I can take both. Yesterday I had almost nothing in my backpack except the camera, and it was no trouble at all. Sorry to digress about the camera thing. Despite the incipient seasickness last night, I did manage to download yesterday’s pictures, and take a very brief look at them. Out of nearly three hundred, there was one fabulous ‘wow’ shot of a leaping reindeer. I hope there are a couple of relatively calm hours sometime today or this evening so I can look through them more closely.
Ytre Norskǿya means ‘Outer Norwegian Island’ and is situated in the middle of what used to be the Dutch whaling area of the early 1600s. In terms of its size, it probably had about 200 men working during its summer heydays. Today, where the station used to be, the remains of nine blubber ovens lie in a line along the beach in the bay. The area has 165 graves, and is therefore one of the largest burial grounds in Svarlbard.
Fuglesongen is part of Nordvestǿyane, an island group situated of the northwestern coast of Spitsbergen. These islands and straits are slightly confusing to the regional novice as some of the sounds are not navigable due to shallows, and steep terrain does not provide a large number of landing sites. The scenery, however, can be superb. Fuglesongen, meaning ‘bird song’, is in reference to the Little Auk colonies on this island. The exact number of breeding pairs on these islands is unknown, but is expected to be in the order of tens of thousands. There are also some Atlantic puffins breeding on these islands, and if you keep an eye out for them, you might be able to spot some flying by.
It is rather limiting to have to lie down every time the ship moves – and it’s not as if we are even in the open ocean – there is land visible on both sides of the ship, so I guess we are in a strait. Today I will certainly find time to go up on to the top deck and take some landscape shots for you. I know that you prefer landscape photos. The bridge is also open to we passengers, except through the ‘night’, and I haven’t visited there yet.
Each day I appreciate having the cabin to myself. Somewhat guiltily (ok, ok, I’ll stop the guilt!) I wonder if I really could have enjoyed sharing the cabin with you. Should I admit that? Almost everyone amongst the passengers is travelling in pairs. They have each other to share the experience with, but on the other hand, they also have to share the minuscule bathroom. I think that I am a person who prefers to be on my own – rather like you, I assume – and that we both might have found sharing a cabin rather close quarters – especially as you would have insisted on a degree of…shall we call it ‘modesty’? It seems that for so long now I have told myself that I value my independence that I have attracted into my life a man who values it equally. The joke is thus on me, perhaps. But although I would love you to be here, strangely I love that you are far away too…I think perhaps you will understand that contradictory statement, which is why you are mi amigo, my dear.