“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
Franz Kafka (1904)
The rain slowly empties the beach, yet my view is still dominated by an interesting balance of perfectly shaped local surfer girls running unfazed into the waves and the American pensioners with the more rotund body type seeking shelter with the first raindrops.
I offer my hand to a 65+ year old woman with a BMI of at least half of that, the last step to enter the beach appears to be too steep for her and after three tumbles into the waves I help her through the last few meters. “That’s so kind of you sir”. She smiles when I mention that I just spend all day helping people on the beach.
I spend more than an hour in the rain under by beach blanket just staring out at the sea. The surfer girls run full of energy and enthusiasm into the vast ocean to catch the perfect wave. I’m enjoying myself. It feels like the rain is not really touching me as I gaze out at the horizon. It’s been three days since the 24 hour flight from Amsterdam turned into a 35 hour ordeal with an added extra night in San Francisco, I realize I probably am massively jet lagged. I can’t seem to catch up on my sleep and the 12 hour time difference is still screwing up my schedule.
What do I want to do? Making any decision seems impossible today. What do I want? (to do..).
Scuba diving under 100 feet of water, I see an old shipwreck and dozens of turtles. Two months earlier on a short diving trip in Egypt, I saw their European relatives. What do I want? (to do..).
Being back home for almost a quarter of the 60 weeks I spend in Concordia Station, I finally understand a bit of what the old overwinterers told me about their “black hole” feelings about being back home. What do I want to do? An orange flag makes me focus on a yellow sign with the warning “jellyfish”. There are some dangers in paradise, even with a positive 27°C.
Jellyfish, apply vinegar after being stung, no need to pee! My recent diving medicine course reminds me of what to do, and when I eat a papaya on the beach I remember it’s one of the fastest ways to get rid of sea urchin needles because it breaks down the carbon needles. I feel more prepared for this paradise, dangers and all.
Most of the time when I travel I make a “what to remember list”, a sort of long-term to-do list for the months to come with things I’d like to do or change after traveling. In Antarctica I made a slightly longer version, becoming a diving doctor was on top of the new extended list. Floris van den Berg, official medical examiner of divers. Sounds cool and definitely one to scratch off the list.
I’m here in Hawaii, not just for the view and to help people on the beach, I’m also booked to give a lecture for Philips Healthcare on a big MRI congress. “From the Sun to the South, 1 year in Antarctica”, I read on the intro slide for this special event. I tell about a year at -52°C in an air conditioned room with a mixture of people in shorts and suits, the outside temperature is 28°C. I don’t think anyone can comprehend what I experienced. I’m asked “Would you do it again?” During the BBQ after my lecture, I’m also asked a number of times about my motivation, and what I will do next. They wonder if I’ll go to Mars or the Moon as well. “If it’s not too long”, I hear myself saying, “I would be interested in going”. Just over 3 months being back home, and my mind is already wandering again.
Where to go?
When I say that I will work as a ships doctor in Siberia in the months to come, I get some surprised looks. “But you just told us that you’ve seen more than enough snow for your whole life!”. Maybe I need a bit more just to be sure…
When the rain stops, I get back to my book. “Six months in the Siberian Wilderness”. I make a small mental note for one of my next list. Maybe I should spend some time in the wild, possibly in a small forest hut on the tundra of Siberia. I could do that for a few months. Why not? Three of the surfer girls return from the sea, no extra hand needed from me for them to run onto the beach.
What do I want to do? I smile. No frozen seas to break, just a moving ocean inside.
Finally I’m back home. Almost.