The more I travel and the older I get, the more enmeshed I become in pratfalls and absurdities. There was the time that I was flying from Newark to Micronesia, tried to duck under the rope line at the check-in counter to avoid switch-backing through a myriad empty lanes, forgot I had a backpack on and almost pulled down 36 miles of rope with various sundry silver posts teetering perilously on the brink.
Then there was the time on this Antarctic cruise with my wife Rivka. We'd just sailed through Neptune's Bellows to the caldera on Deception Island and had barely landed when a randy seal set after me in amorous pursuit, sending me galloping down the rocky shore amid clouds of steam rising from the boiling water bubbling up from the bowels of the earth at the edge of the freezing sea.
A seal gets frisky
Rivka found it supremely amusing. By the time I finally managed to give the beast the slip, she'd volunteered me to take a video of a Canadian couple as they stripped down and rushed in for a split-second polar dip by the steaming waters. What in fact had happened was she'd volunteered to do it, they'd explained exactly what to do, and she plonked the camera in my hands the moment I arrived.
Rivka on shore on Deception Island
Of course I had no idea what to do, pressed a host of buttons, screwed up the whole operation, and garnered icy smiles way below absolute zero for fouling up what was probably the main reason they'd come on the cruise in the first place.
Antarctic tourists brave freezing weather for split-second dip
More recently on Raivavae in the Austral Islands, some 400 miles south of Tahiti, I decided to climb Mt. Hiro with two French couples and Tiva, a local guide. It's only about 1,450 feet high but the start is steep. I manage the first section more or less in one piece. But we come to an even steeper part with a black plastic cable to help us haul ourselves heavenwards and I'm having a code red emergency. I'm a bloody disgrace.
The soles of my sneakers are worn down to a fine shiny surface, something I hadn't fully digested until now. They might be great for gliding along gracefully on ice but they're not exactly the ideal footwear for mountain clambering. Add to that that the path and rocks are covered in layers of slippery pine needles, and you get the picture.
I'm sliding all over the frigging place, barely managing to hold on to the cable. Every now and again Tiva extends his hand to help me and I almost send him hurtling down the steep mountainside. I'm totally exhausted from the effort of stopping my slides, then trying to haul myself back up by the cable. I have a heart attack at every tree, provide infinite amusement to a passing goat, and have to rest every few minutes, on the verge of passing out. I'm clearly past my 'sell by' date.
The cable has long since come to an end when we arrive at a tiny handkerchief of level ground near a tree. That's it. I don't want to hold the others up and it's agreed that I'll rest here and wait for them to come back from the summit. Don't try and go down alone, Tiva warns. Yeah right, do I look that unhinged?
On Mt. Hiro
Even from here, still a fair distance from the summit, there's a magnificent panorama before and below me. The green-dusted crags and pinnacles soar upwards from my little perch, and the lagoon below sparkles bright between its motus (islets) in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of turquoise and blues.
View over lagoon from half way up Mt. Hiro
It could be an hour and a half, it could be twice that, but eventually the others are back from Everest. Well, if the pine needles were slippery on the way up, that's nothing to what they are on the way down. And the soles of my sneakers are that mile or so older, and that much more worn down and slippery.
After a near catastrophic short cut to the bottom, Tiva takes my hand in front and Thierry, a soccer talent scout who is one half of one of the French couples, takes my other hand from the rear. I nearly send both of them hurtling down the mountainside. Clearly I won't be on Thierry's list as the next great sports sensation. We dance on, slipping and sliding, like some miasmic crazed trio from an Ingmar Bergman film. What a ridiculous procession these humans make, the bemused goat must now be thinking.
Another view from Mt. Hiro
At last we reach the cable where, with both hands gripping the bloody thing, I still manage to give a virtuoso performance of a drunkard enacting a myriad pratfalls. Wow, I didn't even know I had that many limbs to fling outwards and flail about. What a tableau! How are the mighty fallen!
So at age 77 is it time at last to retire my sneakers and wind up my travels? No way! The sneakers perhaps, but I'll just get a new pair. I'm having much too much fun, thank you very much.
Yours Truly in the Antarctic
Also by the same author, Shakespearean spoofs on current day politics at www.shakespeareredux.blogspot.com