Thursday, February 5, 2009

Evening in the Strait of Magellan

I was thoroughly ensnared in a leather sofa and "The Lord of the Rings" when one of my birder friends rushed in the back door and excitedly announced that there was a rainbow outside. Happy to have an incentive to escape the clutches of the Gould's lounge I wrestled myself out of the sofa and climbed out onto the back deck of the ship.And there it was: a complete 180 degrees of vivid double rainbow that straddled our wake and stretched all the way across the horizon from port to starboard. We had entered the Strait of Magellan and now in the evening light I could see low-lying land on either side of us. The waters were calm and it was actually warm outside. The air was decidedly humid, something I had not experienced in 6 weeks (even right next to the sea the air in Antarctica is quite dry due to the cold temperatures), and smelled faintly of land and vegetation. We had arrived back in Patagonian summer and boy was it lovely!

As news of the rainbow traveled throughout the ship, one by one folks gathered outside on the Gould's many decks. Hermits I had not seen for days (hibernation seems to be a popular strategy for dealing with crossing the Drake) emerged and started chatting happily with their shipmates. Many of us had cameras out to photograph the rainbow, but you could only capture short segments. It was far too immense to fit even in a wide angle lens.There was a festive mood onboard and everywhere I looked people were just beaming. And why not? It was our last night on the Gould and tomorrow morning we would arrive back in port at Punta Arenas. There we would have solid ground again, beds instead of bunks, plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from (the Gould had last been supplied with fresh fruits and vegetables 6 weeks ago, and although the food onboard was OK, the vegetarian options had been less than exciting of late), and for those who like to drink, bars aplenty (the Gould is a dry ship so many folks were really looking forward to this). Some people were happy to be heading home to their families and lives in the Northern Latitudes, while others were eagerly planning adventures in Cerro Torre or other parts of Patagonia. Many of the crew would be heading back out on the Gould's next Antarctic cruise, but they were looking forward to nearly a week in port first.

To me the rainbow was a giant smile from the world. It was the perfect punctuation to mark the end of a benign crossing of the Drake, a successful journey, and a wondrous stay in Antarctica. I lingered outside, savoring the evening, as the rainbow slowly faded and a brilliant sunset took over.

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