The South Shetland Islands, forbidding and grim in the foggy, cold weather, proved to be our last pre-Antarctic stop on our journey south. Apparently, weather and ice conditions usually do not permit much visiting of these inhospitable islands, and once again, we encountered remarkable good fortune. Of all imaginable places, we were able to stop for a zodiac cruise at Elephant Island itself, that famous place where 22 of Shackleton’s men spent four miserable months clinging to life on Point Wild, the most hospitable landing place they had been able to find in over a year.
Now, I had read Alfred Lansing’s Endurance. I felt that, in the vivid visuals of my imagination, I had been able to mentally conjure a pretty accurate picture of Point Wild. I imagined it to be a steep, rocky beach surrounded by nothing but rock cliff faces and glacial ice, tormented by constant storms and generally horrifying conditions. I thought that I had dreamed up the most dire landscape possible, but no. We were able to visit Point Wild that day (how few humans on earth have had that honor?!) and I have to say that no figment of imagination, no written descriptions, no photographs, NOTHING, can do the place justice. It is truly that inhospitable in every sense of the word.
What I had failed to truly contemplate was the presence of the word “Point” in Point Wild. It is truly nothing but a collection of black rocks sticking out of a frozen ocean, surrounded in the distance by cliffs and a formidable wall of glacial ice. Huddling in the zodiacs, we gaped in absolute shock. 22 men? Four months? We had read the stories of their successful hunting of seals and penguins, of hauling their boats on land to seek shelter under them. Hauling them up where?! It seemed absolutely unbelievable that such a feat was possible. All I can really conclude is that the survival of those men serves as a testimony to human endurance in the face of the elements. It was incredible. And now, a song composed by the men during those months:
Now, on a lighter note…
After so many days at sea, the ship’s young people were getting restless again. Following the grand success of our party on New Year’s Eve, we were eager to throw another one, but unsure of how to instill the same enthusiasm in the rest of the ship’s passengers. New Year’s Eve had been easy – everybody parties then. What we were hoping to do was to make something out of nothing, and throw a spectacular party for no real reason whatsoever. Despite warnings that nobody would come, that it was way too soon after New Year’s, and other irrelevant nonsense, we set to work and hatched a plan.
It would be a pajama party, because we all had pajamas. It would also celebrate our arrival on the Antarctic Peninsula, thus earning the alliteration of Peninsula Pajama Party, or more cryptically, P³. With great optimism and hope of sparking excitement, slight confusion, and public interest in general (remember that we were stuck on a ship, making everything instantly at least 40x more interesting), we launched a teaser campaign. An hour or so later, obscure areas of the ship’s interior were plastered in even more obscure posters and signs.
Minutes later, other guests were overheard excitedly discussing the mysterious posters. Our work was finished, for the time being.