Awkward or Amazing
About a year ago I signed up for a kayaking trip in Antarctica
At the time, I have spent exactly zero time in a kayak. According to the brochure, you didn’t have to be a pro, but you had to have at least some experience. No problem, 11 months is a long time to learn how to kayak.
As luck would have it, my mom’s best friend’s daughter raced with the Maties Rowing Club and their kayak base was on my way to work. One beautiful autumn afternoon she took me out paddling to show me which side was up. I immediately fell in love with the sport. There is something amazingly therapeutic about paddling and I have to admit that having the Stellenbosch mountains as a backdrop definitely added charm to the exercise. As an added bonus, it turned out to be one of the few sports that I actually had a knack for. I walked away from the session with a host of paddling tips and a key to the club house which (to my shame) I haven’t used yet.
My next paddling session was in Aruba
My guesthouse in Savaneta, Aruba overlooked a bay that was simply a slice of Caribbean heaven.
On my first day there I spotted some kayakers and immediately enquired. In the afternoon the weather picked up quite a bit and the sight of the waves had me more than a little nervous about my upcoming paddling session. But, alas, the kayak has been delivered before I could cop out. Luckily I met a wonderful Canadian lady who was an equal mixture of kayak-keen and nerves. Together we decided to just do it. It was her first time kayaking ever which made me the resident paddling pro. Lack of expertise aside, it was quite enjoyable. The scenery was simply amazing! My favourite part of the morning was listening to her life story – how she ran off to Mexico with just her dog and the clothes on her back in an attempt to deal the death of her son. She was now taking a much deserved break from writing her memoirs and had literally asked an airline agent to book her a flight to the furthest destination from Canada. Which, lucky for me, turned out to be Aruba.
Next up was beautiful Bariloche in Patagonia
If you think kayaking in the Caribbean can’t be beat you’re making a big mistake. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The day was a bit on the windy side, but still good weather for Patagonia. I was the only paddler for that session and I told my guide, Paulo, (who happened to be an absolutely gorgeous pro-kayaker/rugby player) that I was scheduled to kayak in Antarctica in 2 weeks. As a result, what would have been an awesome kayaking trip turned out to be an outrageously amazing one-on-one kayaking class. I got a single kayak which initially scared the hell out of me, but once I hit the water I was in heaven. Half-way we made a pit-stop for medialunas (croissants) and hot drinks (coffee for me, mate for Paulo). We talked about anything and everything and I allowed myself to be smitten for the afternoon.
Afterwards, when he took me back to my hostel, Paulo confessed that it was his dream to kayak in Antarctica. I felt oddly moved by the idea that I was living someone else’s dream, especially considering that kayaking was his life and I simply chose to live his dream on a whim. With less than two weeks to go, kayaking in Antarctica was now about more than just me. It was for Paulo and all the other unnamed paddlers out there who longed to paddle around the frozen continent.
Finally it was time to board the MV Ortelius
All that stood between me and kayaking in Antarctica was the Drake Passage. And ice and wind and a 120 other passengers who also wanted to paddle. A monstrous storm on the Drake Passage delayed our arrival by a day and effectively robbed us of 2 paddling time slots. I made sure that the expedition staff knew that kayaking was a high priority for me and that I would be willing to sacrifice some of the other activities for a guaranteed spot. After an agonizing wait the activities list were put up on the board and we all crowded around like high school students trying to find out whether or not we made the team. And yes! My name was listed under Group A – the very first kayaking spot. Less than 12 hours before paddle time! In a rush of excitement I collected my kit: wet suit, booties, water/wind-proof jacket, life jacket and spray skirt.
The next day I woke up beyond excited. Unfortunately, the weather gods did not look kindly upon us and shortly after breakfast the announcement was made that Group A needed to return their kit to the hangar – there would be no kayaking that morning.
I was devastated
My dream – and Paulo’s – had just collided with an iceberg of Titanic proportions. To add insult to injury – I didn’t make the list for any of the other adventure activities. There were still shore landings and zodiac cruises to be had and I tried to remind myself that those are freaking amazing in and of itself. Even so, the tears were welling up and I was fighting a frightening battle to keep from bursting into sobs.
Later that day, the kayak leader appealed those passengers who got onto all the activity lists to donate their kayaking spots to those of us who had “lost everything”. My roommate immediately offered me her spot and I will always be immensely grateful for her generosity.
Over dinner I shared the good news with the group of great guys I have befriended on the Drake Passage. I later found out that, after seeing devastation written all over my face, two of them had been wheeling and dealing with their activity time slots all day to find a way to get me paddling. I was truly overwhelmed by the kindness of all these strangers.
On the final slot on the final day we were good to go
We got into the zodiac and cruised off to a suitable paddling spot in Paradise Bay – kayaks trailing behind. The conditions were perfect. The sea was flat as a mirror and the sky slightly overcast creating an otherworldly atmosphere as we paddled past icebergs. We were surrounded by spectacular shades of white and grey and black and blue. It was simply glorious.
I really hope that Paulo will be able to paddle in Paradise Bay one day. And I hope that when he does, that he will remember me.
As for me? I’ll be paddling in all the most beautiful spots in South Africa remembering all the great people who helped me on my journey to paddle in Paradise Bay.
Life List Entry: Kayaked in an Antarctic paradise