The Skua: Antarctica’s Pterodactyl

I took a 3 hour walk with fellow prisoner and winteroverer, frenchman, Sebastien, along the Antarctic coast of Terra Nova bay. Above us stood Mount Melbourne. Its head poking through the cloud layer. It was known to me from tales of Antarctic survival from past explorers.

The radio buzzed. It was the control centre at Mario Zuchelli Station. They wanted to know our whereabouts. We hadn't radioed in for an hour. Whoops. The radio crackled, "French party, please state your position".

I held the radio up to get a good, strong signal. I held my fifth finger out as if holding a cup of Earl Grey Tea and with my first finger, pushed the button and said... "First, I am British. I can state our position is around 14,000km from her Majesty, The Queen, who lives at Buckingham Palace in the UK."

There was a pause. And then a room full of laughter came, at the expense of the poor, worried, caring Italian stood calling us in the central control tower at Mario Zuchelli.

One must be always be diplomatic and in these distant and remote territories, always carry fourth and share the name and prestige of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. That should do it.

Man, they must really get irate at the British, swanning around.

We walked on.

Among my friends in UK and abroad, I am known for wearing Crocs everywhere - working in Anaesthesia in Theatre, out to take the dog for a walk, on an expedition in the Amazon, in the rain, on a beach, on the plane, everywhere. I was even asked politely by one cousin to take them off for my cousin, Roneeka's (& Ryan's), wedding in Las Vegas, having shown up late, wearing a Tuxedo borrowed from my dad, sporting red Crocs, having changed in a toilet of a heliport, fresh out of a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon (paid for my elder brother, Ben, which I may still owe him). Ah, the good times. It was a lovely wedding. Oh well, Ben. I guess I owe you. But lets be honest... your not going to get it. Ever. I may call you later on... if I remember, to laugh at you.

So there I was stood up on the side of the Antarctic Coastline... in minus 20, with Katabatic Winds biting at my cheeks, in snow and ice. Trusty Crocs and Socks. Oooooh yeeeaah. There goes all feeling in my lower digits. Here comes the frostbite.

I hear my unborn grandchildren ask, "So Grandma, please.... please tell us again why Granddad doesn't have any toes. We don't understand."

It was only an hour or so later that we found we were being watched, and unknowingly surrounded by a primevil hunter.

Having been through Mario Zuchelli before, Seb, my fellow french adventurer and winteroverer, had self nominated himself as chief guide. He had led us into the breeding ground of the notorious, Skua.

A prehistoric creature born from the depths of Mordaw. Antarctica's answer to the Pterodactyl.

These birds may as well have been made out of Antarctic-hardened concrete. They weighed the same. Believe it or not, they often migrate across Antarctica and a few years ago were seen at our home, Concordia Station, up at 3800 metres on Dome C, thousands of kilometres inland, with no food source and no melted water. These birds simply aren't from this world.

We ran for cover as we were dive-bombed. I caught a shot of Seb escaping, hands held up over the head, protecting against flying Antarctic concrete... its attached. I realised he was running towards me, so I turned tail and joined the hasty retreat.

It reminded me of running away from a Rhino stampede in the jungle of Chitawan, Nepal, with my fellow survivors when we were 18 years old, nearly 10 years ago to the day. A narrow escape. We were briefed beforehand to run Zig-zagged, in opposite directions, I presume to fox this prehistoric beast known for it's poor eyesight. When in fact, we all followed each other in desperation to see our 19th birthdays.

Then there was the scene from Monty Python's 'Holy Grail' - fleeing from the killer rabbit at the entrance to the cave containing the Holy Grail. If you don't know what on earth I am talking about- it is a film- watch it. It represents British comedy, as it once stood, at the top, at its best. If you want a comedian to explain it, I can provide my friend, (Irish comedian) Karl Spain's, mobile telephone number. Just to be annoying to him.

Sadly, there was no holy hand grenade to throw. We could have fashioned some form of protection... and a game of baseball improvised by swinging my $3,000 camera attached to the end of its Manfrotto sturdy tripod to ward off the dive-bombing Skua, if not for the Antarctic Treaty. Rightly so, the animals of Antarctica are protected by the Treaty. But where was our protection. I was immediately comforted by stories recalled from the accounts of old Antarctic explorers enjoying a good Skua BBQ, doused in Penguin Oil.

Be warned, in Antarctica, people don't loose their eyes to snow blindness and UV Keratitis. They loose them to the 'Skua'. Or as I call it- the 'Skewer'.

We ran on, all the way home.

No Antarctic animals were injured in the writing of this blog, only humans.

Date

January 24, 2012

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