Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Filming, Fixing Cameras and Frolicking in Freo

Our expected six day stay in Perth and Fremantle has turned into almost 3 weeks. At first I did not mind a few extra days, as I am absolutely in love with this place, but now we are ready to go. Facing three months in Antarctica is exciting, but also intimidating because I’ve never been to that part of the world. Each day I mentally prepare for life on a boat and life in some raw and wild conditions; each day we stay on the dock and an emotional rollercoaster carries me.

The boat is prepped, problems have been solved and goodies have been purchased. There are certain snacks and treats that make the long duration of the shoot more bearable. We all have our creature comforts and mine include comfy pajama pants, party mix, some good books, Tim Tams and my journal. We will put in long days and many sleepless nights, so there are things that bring some sense of normalcy to the insane ride that awaits us. Monty, the world-wandering shark, is also ready for his first journey to such cold temperatures.

Duncan and I are familiar with the boat; she was our home for two and a half months this summer. We know how she moves and what life is like in such tight quarters. We also know most of the crew, which makes the transition to 24 hours a day with 8 other people a little easier. As we bring boxes in, the unpacking and stowing process gets a bit overwhelming. It is like Jenga and each piece has to move just right in order to not cause a catastrophic crumble of camera equipment, toiletries and wool socks. Creative storage has become an art form on the boat and we use every plastic bin or cardboard box for something. Large rubber maid bins are drawers and a cloth shoe rack becomes ideal for storing a vast array of items, shoes not included. We negotiate for additional space and fill every inch we acquire.

The office space for prep was stuffed with gear for the daunting and equipment intensive shoot. Sorting, stocking, stowing and double -checking that we have everything we need. Not easy to get a part when you are in the middle of the ocean and if you could find it, the price would be astronomical. Expecting all things to go wrong we prepare and bring the appropriate back ups to make sure we can continue to shoot no matter what. The climate and salt water will continuously attempt to destroy our equipment and break our stride.

Long johns, wool socks, beanies and multiple pairs of gloves will be our daily outfits; an interesting contrast to the flip-flops and tanks tops we are wearing in the summer heat of Australia. Difficult to wrap your head around the broad temperature spectrum we are going to encounter. I am not a fan of the cold, so I have enough gear for two people, as I am determined to not let Mother Nature break me. I don’t want to miss the raw wilderness and once in a life time moments because I am being a wimp and am too cold.

As Christmas nears, there are no fir trees decorated with lights or snow covering the fields. Santa is riding around on a bicycle and golden stars shimmer on telephone poles, with melting from heat more of a concern than freezing. It is surreal and bizarre to hear Christmas songs with the sun scorching down and the beaches stuffed with bronzed bodies. Sale signs hang in store windows and the streets of Freo are busy with shoppers. Koalas are hanging from stockings or wearing Santa hats and Santa was even seen riding a crocodile. Crikey! Apparently Dick (Dick Smith) does Christmas and Santa is super skinny, probably due to riding his bike in 90-degree summer heat.

Mullets seem to be all the rage and are only outdone by the rat-tail. The Mohawk mullet can also be seen quite commonly and not because the owner of said haircut lost a bet. If you are not familiar with mullets, they are a style of haircut in which the top portion is short (business) and the back is long (party). They come in all flavors and sometimes the fairly elusive female mullet is sighted. They can be curly, spiked and come in a variety of colors, all, glorious in their own right. Tank tops, reserved for body builders and red necks in the States, are quite fashionable among most of the male population here. Singlets, the Aussie term for tank tops, can be seen on boys and men, from all walks of life. Summer is extremely hot here and I say that as someone that spends summers in the Bahamas and Florida. Maybe the singlet is more function than fashion?

Living in a hotel means eating out three meals a day, so we have become foodies during our extended stay. It is not cheap to eat in Australia, so we have explored in order to find cheaper options. The Fremantle markets have an Asian food court and it is amazing. We have avoided the stall that keeps getting visits from the health and safety department, but touch wood; all other meal endeavors have left full bellies that have remained full. I found a veggie red Thai curry that was to die for and was only $9. The average sandwich, to give you an idea, is between $18.00 to $28.00 Australian dollars. Breakfast is also not for the faint of heart when speaking about price. Brekky with a coffee will cost you at least $16.00. Dinner, well I am not going there. You can imagine. A pint of beer is on average between $7 and $9.50. Mixed cocktails are about $16, so it is comparable to a night out in South Beach, although the atmosphere is far more amazing and drinks are not served with a large side of attitude. I know, I am a bit biased, but I am absolutely and unabashedly in love with Australia. Shhh….don’t tell Duncan.

Our base camp started at the Esplanade, before moving to Duncan’s family’s house. During prep for a shoot the hotel is simply a place to take a shower before crashing into your pillow from exhaustion. The jet leg, heat and long days are enough to break even the most whole-hearted efforts. The World Sailing Championships had just launched when we arrived and our hotel was stuffed with Team UK. The hotel and city have welcomed the event with open arms and have decorated with sails and sailboats to show this consorted effort. The streets are packed and the bay is filled with white sails from early morning until dusk.

The park across from the hotel was the heart of the event with tents filled with merchandise, nightly bands and performances and even a massive Ferris wheel. Much to our dismay we missed the INXS concert. Wow, they really do love the 80’s here. Awesome! Yet another reason to move here! The energy of the city is bustling with this major event and the nearing holiday season. Such a contrast from being in Miami, as far as the energy and movement of a city goes. People smile and there is a lot of laughter as you walk down the street. People are out enjoying the weather with friends and family, filling the days with cold pints of locally brewed beer and lovely strolls along the boardwalk. Drivers are friendly and I have not received the middle finger once, nor needed to give it. I didn’t even need to honk the horn!

The summer season also means lot of fresh fruit. For those who know me, my obsession with watermelon is pretty ridiculous, so I have eaten as much as I possibly can. Strawberries, nectarines, mangos and avocados, have all been incredible. Our mass consumption of fresh produce is also largely due to the fact that very quickly into our journey it will become a luxury and then disappear all together. I feel like the pulse of Perth is one of a city that is not quite sure what it wants to be, but offers a diverse range of options. Being the most Western big city in the world, Perth sits on a unique doorstep. World class dinning and wineries make it a foodie’s paradise. Gorgeous turquoise water draws kite boarders, surfers and sunbathers, while the clean air and ample open space is ideal for athletes of all persuasions. Not a day has passed where the designated paths have not been decorated with runners and cyclists.

We’ve spent some time with Duncan’s family; Steve, Sue and Michael live in Perth and have allowed us to spend a few of our extra days as boarders at their house. It is lovely to be with family as the holidays approach and being so far from our immediate families. Welcoming us with cold beer and a proper Aussie BBQ, a glorious way to spend a summer evening. We all had a good laugh as we said “goodbye,” numerous times as our departure date kept getting pushed back. It became a running joke whether we would actually leave or not and if they should start charging rent.

We moved our lives and ourselves onto the boat and prepared for the official and actual departure. Pulling off the dock was emotional; excitement, charged energy for filming and the rush of adventure, sad to leave Freo and family behind and nerves about the impending journey. It is one of those moments that you want to shout, cry and laugh all at the same time, but instead you just move around in a weird bubble. Here we go again, on what is sure to be one of the most exciting and challenging journeys of our lives. See you on the flip side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

50 Hours of Travel to the Land Down Under

50 hours of travel is enough to break most people, but we survived, although our mental state upon arrival in Perth might have been questionable. It is always hard saying goodbye to my family and this time was particularly difficult because we are going to Antarctica on a boat for three months. We are also trying to plan a destination wedding from a destination where we cannot access the Internet.

Mom drops us at the bus terminal and our adventure begins. I am a big fan of the bus to Logan airport; quiet, free Internet and no worry about traffic or crazy drivers. Once at Logan we grab the free shuttle to our hotel. We opted to stay the night in Boston and head to the airport the next day, minimizing the stress of the departure day. A full day of packing, goodbyes and finishing up lose ends has left both of us exhausted. We make it through dinner and fall asleep immediately.

After a leisurely morning and breakfast we check out of the hotel and head back to the airport. We have 4 hours until we fly, but extra time is always something we plan for. With excess luggage and multiple layovers, we assume that there will be some sort of wrench in the wheel and extra time reduces the stressed out and want to scream situation that numerous people traveling live in. Each mode of transportation we step into gets us some strange looks and questions about where we are going with that much luggage. Even stranger are the looks when we reply that we are heading to Antarctica. I assume it is not everyday that they get that answer from travelers. We have a nice chat with 2 pilots seated in front of us that are not flying for Virgin, but seem to enjoy their services. We laugh about the no peanuts rule and how facebook is taking over the planet before arriving at the Virgin Terminal.

We approach the Virgin counter with 5 bags in tow and begin the process, which we have it down to a science and could probably do in our sleep. The agent takes our passports and asks us about our adventure. We quickly get our boarding passes, but come to a screeching halt when none of our bags seem to want to fly with us. The system will not allow bags to be entered. The agent jokes, “ you didn’t need those bags anyway?” No, we don’t need those, should be fine in Antarctica with just shorts and sneakers! The agent calls for backup and quickly we have amassed the entire Virgin staff at Logan airport. Apparently this has happened before and 8 different people are attempting 8 different methods to get our bags to join us. I-phones are out making calls to headquarters and other computers are being utilized. We are cancelled, reissued and probably rerouted to China before we have success in checking in 2 of our bags. They are getting ready to write hand tags and hope for the best when one of the agents shouts, “ ah ha.” Success. She is able to ticket us and check our bags through.

We are skeptical that they will actually make it to Perth, but it is a step in the right direction. They wave the fee for the excess baggage, as we have been at the counter for over an hour. I must say Virgin offers quality customer service from start to finish. All the agents wish us safe travels, knowing our story because of the quality time we have all spent together. We go find a place to perch for lunch and take a breath. I opt for yummy sangria to relax a little before the first leg of our flying adventures. Lunch is leisurely, killing a bit a time before we can go through security. Virgin has its own security section and the process is actually quite enjoyable. I strip off shoes, hoodie, laptop and liquids, ready to move efficiently through the line. I am quite proud of the science that I have worked out to quickly and efficiently move through security, recollect my belongings in a single swoop and repack. I think Duncan is amazed, as he watches still trying to put his belt back on.

There are only two gates in the Virgin terminal, so we sprawl out. Our usual procedure involves taking turns perusing the shops, picking up last minute goodies to entertain us on the flight. Dunk grabs hand sanitizer and a book, while I stock up on gum and trashy magazines. US Weekly is a guilty pleasure when I fly. Only time it seems acceptable to purchase such mind numbing rubbish.

Our plane boards and we find our seats. Time to settle in for the six-hour journey to LAX. We only have an hour layover scheduled, so we are guessing our bags might catch a later flight. We always cross our fingers that the agent’s reassurance that we do not have to collect our bags and recheck them is correct. On an American Airlines flight from Miami to LAX and onto New Zealand we were assured our bags were checked all the way through. Two days later they arrived at our destination, after sitting in LA and then Fiji waiting to clear customs. At this point it is up to Virgin and we can only get cozy on the plane and hope that stinky people, loud talkers and screaming children are not seated near us. We have secured exit row seats-a sweet deal for the long flight.

The good food, well for airplane standards, is not offered on this trip, only a snack and free soda. I wake up to find a can of Coke Zero and some pretzels waiting for me as the pilot announces that he has news we are not going to like. Who starts off a sentence like that when flying an airplane? I am pretty sure that would not be acceptable procedure in the pilot etiquette handbook. The bad news is that there is a blackout in LA and that we need fuel, so we are heading to Palms Springs. We are set to refuel and sit on the tarmac until we are cleared to land at LAX. So it starts. Probably going to miss our connection, ah joy, more time at the Hellhole that is LAX. I cannot stand the bad energy, crowds or stench of too many McDonalds shoved in such a small area. Back to sleep.

Pilot reports again that we are not going to Palm Springs, plane changes course, and we head to our original destination. The power has been restored, but the airport is a mess. We have not missed our connection because everything is severely delayed. 2 hours wandering and having dinner before we board our plane. I fall back asleep immediately, but we sit for another 45 minutes on the tarmac. 45 minutes does not really matter when you are spending 14 hours on a plane. Dunk wakes me up for dinner service and we settle in with a glass of wine and our respective movies. I opt for Horrible Bosses and a glass of red wine. Another glass of wine as I finish the movie and then lights out for me. Another nap, well 5 hours is really not a nap. I couldn't resist with the seat next to me empty and just enough room to sprawl out, well sprawl as much as one can on 2 airplane seats.

When I wake up again it is surreal, beautiful blue mood lighting decorates the airplane and I have no idea where I am or what time it is. Guess it does not matter. On that plane I am in the weird space where time and life seem to stand still. Crossing the date line time changes and the rest of world really does not affect our existence for 14 hours. I think it is time for another movie and a beer. (I do not recommend Super 8) I am sure it is happy hour somewhere in the world and again time seems to really have no impact on my current life status. I read up on Jessica’s Simpsons pregnancy and Justin Biebers paternity scam-life is good. Surprised that I am so awake I select Mr. Popper’s Penguins as my next form of entertainment. It seems appropriate since we are heading to penguin land in Antarctica.

Breakfast comes around soon and we enjoy another lovely meal. We are set to land in just over an hour. I pull out our itinerary and check the time at destination on the handy menu option on my screen. Perfect! We are set to arrive an hour after our connecting flight leaves. I signal for the flight attendant and she says that we have been put on a flight one hour later and that the ground agents have already made arrangements. Excellent, a sprint through the airport to collect our bags, clear customs and make our flight. By the time we get to the gate agent to recheck our bags we have approximately 15 minutes before departure. The woman cannot find us rescheduled on any flights and begins to look for options. We are certainly not making the flight we were rumored to be on. We are hoping to go directly to Perth and avoid a layover in Sydney, but it doesn’t look good. After 10 minutes she finds a direct flight to Perth, sweet, but it does not leave until 4:30pm. Current time-9:30 am. Ah well. Bound to happen and at least we are not stuck for that long at LAX. Now time to check the luggage again and once again our bags do not want to fly with us.

We go through the whole process again requiring the troops the come in for backup. Tickets issued, cancelled and reissued and the flight gods smile up us and suddenly the computer allows all our bags to join us on the journey. Haha! Victory. It’s early, but lunch and a beer seem like the perfect way to start off our extended stay at Brisbane airport. Neither one of us has the ambition to leave the airport for an excursion, but I am tempted because there is a koala sanctuary in Brisbane. I am not confident, however, in our timely return to make our flight if I get wrapped up in cute and cuddly critters found only in the land down under. We find a restaurant and order a couple of Pure Blondes. Perfect way to toast our arrival in Australia and fitting for our hair color, although “pure,” should be used only referring to Duncan, I suppose.

Not sure of where in the time and space interim we are, beer and lunch seem completely acceptable and we notice that most tables around us have the same logic. The airport is beautiful and has free Internet. We are alert family that we have completed the longest leg of the journey and have one more to go. We also contact the family in Perth that are picking us up that our arrival will be severely delayed; so much for that extra day in Australia. Ah well. Pure Blondes are cold and the sun is shinning.
Time slips by quickly with a leisurely lunch and some shopping. Airports are fantastic for people watching and I could do it for hours. I love thinking about where people are going and why or where they have come from. Airports are the gateway to adventure and a seat in the sky. I love the energy, although stressful at times, that fills the air and moves the system. Delays are frustrating, but I do enjoy the world, separate from our normal existence, that exists within planes and airports. I find myself excited for travel and my finely tuned tricks of the trade; my goodie bag filled with mini toothpaste sleeping masks, travel yoga cards, ear plugs and Tylenol pm. Magazines, journal, Monty (my ever present travel companion) and comfy clothes. It really is an art and I get a rush from all of it.

We arrive in Perth and expect a bag if any at all to come shooting off the belt. When you keep your expectations low then even the smallest miracle, like bags arriving, is a pleasant surprise. Pink turtles, blue plaid, black, red and blue come shooting around the corner of the conveyer belt. Wow, all of our bags arrived on the same flight as we did. Not knowing which way is up we gather our belongings and load them onto the best airport dollies in the world-white sharks on them! We make our way outside and breathe in the summer air. Even at an airport with traffic everywhere and people pollution, the air is still cleaner than Miami. Duncan’s cousin walks up to welcome us. There is something about arriving in Australia, particularly Perth, which feels amazing, like we are home. We keep ending up back here, like we are meant to be here?

After nearly 50 hours of shuttles, buses, airports and airplanes, we have arrived. Battered whale shit is the term Duncan has coined to describe the post travel glow. Not sure what day it is or what time it is, but let me tell you bed has never felt so good.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sharks Need Angels Too

Sharks are not the cuddling charismatic animals that most people want to save. This does not however, mean they don’t need all the help they can get. Shark Angels is an organization that empowers people from all backgrounds and gives them the opportunity to help sharks; a support system and a connection to one common goal.
I am proud to have been named one of the featured angels and only hope to continue my work in saving these amazing creatures.