A few years ago, my mum and I went to Africa. The desert, and the ocean, have called

her for years. I guess Antarctica is the perfect cross between both. Anyway, we

found ourselves being driven across the desert in a minivan, through safari landscape,

around Namibia. It was a great trip, a great experience, and I learnt a lot then not

only about the place but also about travelling. She was desperate to get behind the

steering wheel, to drive across the desert, to feel the land beneath the tyres, to

have some control over the journey. At the time, I was quite happy looking at the

world go by through the window but it must be said that I did a lot of daydreaming as


I think I now understand. Driving across sastrugi in a linked up skidoo pair,

watching the rope connecting me to my partner up front, focussing on not tipping, not

going too fast or slow, not daydreaming. Rapidly snapping out of daydreams when the

rope gets caught up beneath me — it keeps you alert. On one level, you see less — you

can’t sit back and gaze about in wonder, take it all in. On another level, it keeps

you focussed, it brings you closer to the landscape, you have to read the ground,

follow the patterns wind makes in the ice, second guess the effect it will have on your

skidoo. Put both feet down when Big Sastrugi approaches, rev before hills, swerve

out of the way of the rope on downhill slopes, watch your partner, the ice, your

ropes, the sledge. It forces you to interact with the scenery.

Travelling out to the campsite was quite hard work. My goggles fogged up, my feet

were cold, the tip of my nose and a small patch of cheek were exposed to the air,

tingling, it was uncomfortable. On the way back, nine days later, we flew. The scenery

was like the moon and sandunes, vertically smaller but never-ending in the

horizontal. A black and white landscape, a landscape of shadows, colour superimposed like

early techniclolour movies: a red tarp over the sledge in front of me, reflected pale

red on the snow, yellow skidoos, the stripes on my companions’ crash helmet.

Everywhere else, blacks and whites and in-betweens. Crazy atmospherics make mirages and

hazes on the horizon. Features come and go and you lose all concept of perspective.

Immense, continuous. Desert, ice.

We were meant to go away for four or five days, to explore crevasses, wonder at the

Hinge Zone, see Antarctica. The day we left was crisp, cold and clear. So was the

day we returned. All the others were white, windy and wild. We drank a lot of tea,

talked a lot of shit, saw a lot of orange from the walls of the tent. Days were not

very distinguishable from each other,- ah yes, the day we drank tea in your tent first

and then in ours.. no, that was the day we played scrabble, not cards, no it wasn’t

it was the day you told us your life story. It was fantastic. I love camping at the

worst of times but this was serious luxury camping. More luxurious than car camping

even! We had two pyramid tents (two people per tent) that you can kneel up in

comfortably and enough food and fuel to last us for two months should the need arise. A

primus stove, a tilly lamp, a chimney, all inside the tent! Hanging above our heads are

all our clothes, drying, and we each sleep in a down sleeping bag on a fleece liner

on a sheepskin rug on a therm-a-rest on a foam pad on a wooden board and eat bacon

every day! After day four we ran out of alcohol but substituted the stimulant using a

precious combination of dark chocolate, coffee and tent fever, probably with a

little carbon monoxide thrown in for good measure. Spirits remained high, I talked

continually and they didn’t kill me, they talked continually and I didn’t kill them, it

was great! Sometimes, perhaps when the wind picked up in the middle of the night, or

you had to fight your way outside in the storm for a pee, you might suddenly reflect

on how isolated it actually was, how much could go wrong, how no-one would come and

get you. But not once did I feel unsafe.

Everything was either ice or steam. Burns from cold and burns from hot. Snow-melt

for water, anything on the floor frozen solid. There is no in-between. I came back

grinning from ear to ear, relaxed, refreshed, totally reanalysed and ready for the

world! One day we did actually manage to explore a crevasse nearby. Totally bizarre,-

the ice is flat, we drove over it with four skidoos. And there, where the crossed

flags are, yup, there, jump up and down as hard as you can. Harder, more, okay, a

little to the left maybe. Kaboom, left leg in all the way “I’ve found it” he climbs out

grinning. Tunneling through this little entrance (all roped up of course), the ice

opens out to a huge blue chapel of light. Like discovering the underwater world, or

galaxies, there is another realm here you might never know existed. Next time, after

winter, I might see some more of these but I don’t mind if I don’t: it’s just good

to know it’s out there.

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One Response to Holiday

  1. Luis says:

    Rhian… I sit here, by the window in the house I currently occupy… looking out of it I see a sky of shades of blue framed by green foliage from majestic oaks and in the background I imagine beautiful blue and purple silhouettes of towering mountains. All this while I read your entry from april 11th… I feel the contrast of the world on my face… cold and hot, barren and full, bleak and joyous… I close my eyes and I can correctly imagine your tent… thanks to your talent to encapsulate into language your surroundings and your mood.

    But as all of these images subside, what is left is contentment amidst the toil… what an adventure!

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