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December 31, 2000:

We are finally winging our way home to San Francisco! The holidays enticed us back to the US and we are excited to start life again, among old friends in the beautiful Bay Area.

At the beginning of December we traveled from Nepal to Europe. We visited family friends in Frankfurt, newlyweds in Brussels and family in Paris. We even got in a bit of early season snowboarding in the Alps.

The longest airplane flight of the year returned us to Argentina, where we boarded the Professor Molchanov, a Russian icebreaker, for the trip across an unusually calm Drake Passage to Antarctica.

Three huge fin whales cavorted around the ship, greeting us to our seventh continent of the year. Soon we were in kayaks, exploring narrow straits between glaciers and snow-covered mountains, coasting up to seal-covered ice floes, and squeezing through incredible arches melted in mansion-size icebergs.

On land, countless penguins waddled comically in their rookeries, sharing the duty of sitting on their eggs. Toward the end of the trip, we even watched their chicks hatch!

Blubbery Weddell seals lurched and snaked their way along the ice and snow, as we watched in amusement. Carnivorous leopard seals got our pulses racing as we approached in kayaks - please don't mistake us for a penguin!

We swam twice in the below-freezing water, once with drysuits (off the stern of the boat), and once without (on a beach, where they told us there were thermals, but there weren't). Everyone else generally agreed that we were insane. We also camped out, with most of the passengers, on the snow one "night" - it never really gets dark in the summers.

The pinnacle of the trip, and a fitting climax, was the sendoff by a family of orcas. They surfaced right next to the boat several times, blowing krill-scented steam across our delighted faces.

Landing on US soil felt great and seeing family even better. Our only regret in spending a year traveling was not seeing our friends and family enough. We spent an enjoyable holiday week with family in Columbus and Boston, telling stories until we became hoarse.

We hope that you have enjoyed receiving these messages. This is the last one, except maybe to update you with new contact information. Our next challenge is to find a home, and a job for Tom, and cars, and ...

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Revised: February 12, 2001 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.