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Have you ever followed a special feeling or intuition that you couldn’t really explain? I’ve been doing it most of my life. In the early stages I wasn’t aware of it, but by my third decade I was beginning to get the drift. Some people call them ‘hunches’ or the ‘small voice’ inside. I’m not really sure what it is, but it is wise in ways that I would not claim to be, and yet, somehow it comes out of me. The next few posts will be the story resulting from one of those very strong intuitive feelings.

We have just completed a trip I would never have dreamed for myself. Not because I couldn’t dream that big, but because I couldn’t imagine putting myself through the potential physical punishment. Most of my conscious choices in life have been mental challenges. Trying to understand who I am and those who are close to me learning skills and such. Physical challenges have just been there all my life, as with many people. When I was about a year old a wave unexpectedly washed me out of my Dad’s hands into the sea.  Spoiler alert, he found me. When I was five I developed Rheumatic fever, and again at nine, and on and on. Every few years I’ve had a new physical challenge to work through. So I never felt the need to prove myself under physical duress in other ways.

Only home three days from another big trip, our travel agent told me about a trip to cruise from Tierra Del Fuego in Argentina, to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia Island and Tristan Da Cunha and to finish in South Africa. I became quietly obsessed. Logically, there was almost nothing about this trip that should appeal to me. I don’t really like cruising because, well…people…too many and too close at hand. Also, travel is always a challenge, because of my food sensitivities. And then there is sea sickness. I told my husband on the last miserable boat ride we had, not to bother asking me to go on another boat. Ever. He didn’t ask me this time, it was kind of my idea. What was I thinking?

That’s the thing. I wasn’t thinking, I was feeling. It was an intuitive knowing that for reasons I didn’t understand, I needed to make this journey. If every potential thing had gone wrong on this trip it would be the trip from hell. Another spoiler alert, it didn’t. This made it the trip of a lifetime. Actually, either way it would have been the trip of a lifetime, but, well, you know… The real reason I decided it was a good idea was because I’ve learned that big challenges yield big memories. Whether they are memories of hellish challenges, or memories of penguins, sea scapes and new worlds, we took the chance it would all be worthwhile.

COVID-19 was the one thing we had not counted on.

We booked the trip 10 months before embarkation. That’s a long time to anticipate, plan…and worry. Enter coronavirus—just to ramp up the anxiety a bit. A few weeks before our departure on Feb 20, we were both checking the news regularly. At that point the virus was mainly in China. There was none yet in Africa, at least none that was reported, and the same for South America. Since our trip mostly focused on a small passenger luxury cruise with Ponant to islands of the Southern Ocean, where there was also no virus, we felt we were safe enough to go. Just a day or so before leaving Australia we received communication from Ponant that if we had traveled to China, Italy or Iran, we would not be allowed to board the ship. True to their word, before boarding, Ponant representatives had a look at us and checked our passports, as well as had us sign wavers that we had not traveled in those places. And thus, we entered our bubble of safety.

However, I was definitely having ‘buyers remorse’ for two weeks (at least) before the trip. The Southern Ocean is notorious for the roughest seas in the world: refer to paragraph 3 re: seasickness. I had two seasickness meds with us, and bought a third thing I’d heard about, at the airport as we were leaving…sea-bands. They are elastic bands with a small plastic dot that when worn activate pressure points on both wrists that help control nausea. I have no idea if any of them worked because I never needed them. I hasten to add this was not because the seas were smooth, they were very rough at times. But I am now wise in the ways of ‘stabilisers’–in particular, fin-style stabilisers, on ships. If we do a cruise again, my first question to the sales agent will be ‘what kind of stabilisers do they have?’ Glory be. What a boon to the motion sick traveler. As the seas slapped us around the stabilisers kept the ship from doing the deadly corkscrew motion and I was saved. I hasten to add, there were a number of people, one crewman even, who wore the seasickness patches behind their ear. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the motion either, but I never got around to asking them whether the patches were precautionary or necessary. Seasickness was my most pressing worry. It could have spoiled the entire experience.

image of Ponant Cruises ship Le Lyrial
Our blessedly stabilised ship carrying 124 passengers, 157 crew, and no penguins,
who were sorely disappointed.

Also I had anxiety about what clothing to pack. Never having been on a zodiac excursion in my life, I did some extensive research online a few months prior and eventually chased down the required clothing. Said clothing were: wool socks, tops and leggings, beanie and neck gator; waterproof outer pants and waterproof gloves and shoes. The cruise was a National Geographic Expedition cruise and they partnered with Ponant providing very warm waterproof jackets and knee high boots (aka: wellingtons). We got to keep the jacket, which, despite best efforts at minimal packing, we then had to ease into already full suitcases (one each) to come home. Thankfully Ponant kept the boots so no further stuffing of cases was required. Would my research prove adequate, would the items procured be fit for purpose?…more anxiety.

Aren’t we fetching? We may not look glamorous but we certainly were warm!
Captain Patrick Marchesseau and yours truly–not glamorous, just not inappropriate either!

And then there was the side fact that this was a luxury cruise with a French crew and lots of French passengers, ie: French women passengers who might be intimidatingly stylish . What’s a 66 year old from the bush to wear? I was so anxious I tried on every single thing that I was thinking of taking, and photographed myself wearing it so I could analyse the images. Roll your eyes now. Anal, you say? Well, it worked. I’m happy to report I never looked inappropriate and at the end of the cruise a handsome Frenchman told Don and I we were one of the most glamorous couples in the photos taken on board the night of the Captain’s dinner. You can judge for yourself. But I also note, that on the flight from Adelaide to New Zealand for our departure to South America, a middle aged woman ran to catch up with me as we were deplaning and said ‘I just love your ‘look’ and wanted to tell you!’ I was not wearing the same outfit we wore to the Captain’s dinner either. Such a boon to anyone who tries their best. I always try to pay it forward, even to strangers when I see something I admire. I had only recently realised for myself that the changes I had been making to my hair, makeup and wardrobe were so that I would look the same on the outside as I feel on the inside…grey hair and sagging body parts aside.

And there were other things, the normal things, to be anxious about. Lost luggage, late flights, dietary needs, fitness level, sickness—over and above the obvious COVID-19 issue. And the ever important question of whether or not my pants would fit after three weeks of French food. The closer the trip, the more anxious about all those things I became. I tried to tell myself what I always try to tell myself ‘the things we worry about are almost never the things that happen!’ And sure enough, I was right—er, well, my wiser self was right. But that’s easy looking back 6 or 8 weeks later, isn’t it? The one thing I didn’t worry about was the thing that happened.

to be continued…

(this series of posts of our recent travels and other non-important musings by moi (are you feeling the French vibe??) are designed to entertain those of you who may need a break from self-isolation and social distancing. I hope you enjoy it)