My Travels: Laid Low by Aggressive Soup

Sunset from my window
Sunset from my window

The next 48 hours were tough. When the aggressive soup was restrained at dinner on New Year’s Eve I received a visit from Liz Gifford shortly after

dinner started.

She was doing her cabin check and there I was groaning in my bunk with the window opened a slit for fresh cold air. I was on the 5th level and between the roll of the boat and the size of the waves they were breaking at my window level and would drench me if it was left open.

Liz is a wonderful person; very caring and sensitive. She is well read, an anthropologist who studied in Greece, a yoga instructor, a qualified wilderness guide and knows bears very well.  She is also an excellent host for Penguin Pictionary.

More than that, as I was to discover later when I had recovered, she takes the most amazing photographs. I have never seen such sensual and sensitive pictures of icebergs like the ones she has captured. I cannot find a link to any over her beautiful work, otherwise it would be here.

Liz Gifford Bio
Liz Gifford Bio

I sipped water through the night, double dosed on Stugeron and still struggled. I was bed bound. The next morning Liz found me in bed still after the breakfast call. I felt still the same at lunch. It was my first New Year’s Day that nobody wished me for St Basil’s Day. It really felt empty. At lunch she brought me my One Ocean motion sickness survival pack: a packet of cream cracker biscuits and a can of ginger ale. I was still in bed at dinner.

The ship’s doctor, Sarah Oxley, had been to see me and given me another tablet at first. The next day when I was still sick she gave me some Odansitron.

Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.
Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.

This is a super strong medication they use in post-anaesthesia nausea, but it made no difference. When she gave me the Odansitron she said something to the effect that “you really shouldn’t be on the ship if you get this sick, because it is going to get much rougher!” Liz visited me again that evening and during the day, Stephen, my roommate kept popping in and supplying ginger ales. Marius came by a few times and the next morning captured a Fuji moment with me weak in bed. Johan also came by on the 1st and then on the 2nd  he brought a small bread roll after lunch and left it on the counter next to my desk.

Liz visited again at dinner and for breakfast. On the morning of the second I was so weak and scared I was thinking of getting hold of the satellite phone and calling for a helicopter to get out. Sarah came by after the Odansitron had failed and gave me an injection of Phenergan later that morning and I slept till late afternoon. When I awoke 2nd Janaury I devoured the bread roll, cancelled the satellite phone call and wrote in my journal:

Hmm, only writing now after Stanley’s fish & chips.

 Sick forever.

 1 Jan: was very sick. Lay in bed.

 2 Jan: Got Odansitron from Sarah then injection of Phenergan and woke up OK.

 Am so weak & tired. Managed soup for dinner.

                         Good night

Lights out to save petrels en route to South Georgia

That evening I hobbled into the dining room and raised my hands:

“I am no longer Basil. Lazarus has arrived on board!”

Everyone laughed and from then when anyone was sick on the ship they used a new euphemism. No longer did they say the person is sick. They just said they “had been Basiled!”

This is a long post to explain what happened when the forces of nature relegated me to my bunk and had me wish for a puff of grass as instructed by my anesthetist, Pawel Wisniewski. It was just not available in the dispensary. Maybe if I sailed through Colorado where it is now legal I could get some for the nausea.

But the setback cleared two things in my mind:

  1. I really wanted to be going to South Georgia and the Antarctic, and I would survive anything to get there.
  2.  During the two days in my bunk I came to the realisation that I had not been touched nor had touched anyone for days and felt strangely isolated. My everyday life is filled with touching people, at home and at work, and I really missed that.
Ocean Notes Day 5
Ocean Notes Day 5
Ocean Notes Day 6
Ocean Notes Day 6

My Travels: Poems and Delirium

Feather in a snow bed
Feather in a snow bed

I had not penned a poem for years but as I lay curled up in my bunk rocking from side to side, my mind light from the two-day fast and the drugs to try control the nausea, my thoughts floated away.

I grasped these words out of nowhere when I realized how important it was for me to touch people, physically and with an aura of thought expressed in writing and pictures.

Liz and I had some deep conversations when she visited me but I cannot remember any details. We spoke of travel, of exploring, of growth, of wilderness and of the collective subconscious.

Then out of nowhere came this poem:

Far away, where even eagles do not soar,

Where sunset never happens but can hold the evening.

A land so harsh, yet a land so beautiful.


A land where our dreams are lost, where the spirit is gone.

Emptiness fills the silence and the white.


A land where the sea closes you off with waves,

Or great ice blocks your passage.

An empty land, cold and fearless,

Where our collective unconscious fails.


God fails almost?

Something I saw a lot of was bird feathers; when the penguins moult the feathers collect in patches at the water’s edge and then get blown into the snow to form pockets or ice to form frozen fossils. Finding feathers all over the place was reassuring, and slowly I began to record the dreams I had and look for the feathers. My spirit was connecting but I was struggling to define to what. There seemed a paucity of spirits in this place, like no other wilderness I had been to.  Yet there were just so many messages that I saw but I was just not ready.

Quiet in heaven’s soft light

Glaciers glowing blue at the water’s edge

Cold feet and fingers frozen

Eyes watery to frame a feeling


Close enough to touch

And to dive into the water

Black blue land on the horizon

Swallows a single stony peak


White fades into blue into grey

Absolutely nothing in the way

The sea waves stop moving

The world is growing  closer


Still colder camera battery fails

Slow picture making

Thinking, meditating

No wind or sun just being


Slowly a picture appeared at my  side  and then in the camera:

Black blue land on the horizon Swallows a single stony peak
Black blue land on the horizon
Swallows a single stony peak

Three weeks later as I walked down the steps into my home a single feather floated down in front of me and whispered: “ Everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”

I felt an immense peace descend on me in the midst of the bedlam of city and surgical life.

Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening
Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening