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Gypsetter Tales

 I’d like to introduce you to gypsetting, we had yuppies, yippies, jet setters, bright young things, Generation X, Generation Y – and now we have the Gypset. 

Gypsetter is a portmanteau word, which means a word that is made up of two words, blending two sounds, and combining the meanings of two words in one new word. So Brexit (from Britain and exit), motel (from motor and hotel), and brunch (from breakfast and lunch) are all portmanteau words. Portmanteau in fact is a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts. So Gypsetting fuses the ease and carefree lifestyle of a gypsy, with the sophisticationof the jet set, flavoured with a tinge of adventure. 

Gypsetters are successful people – Businessmen, Professionals, Artists, Photographers, Bon Vivants, and GOLs (Gentlemen of Leisure), who know not only how to make money, they have money, and they are willing to spend their money. They are masters of their own lives and time. Their time is their own to do with it as they please. And they won’t allow their jobs, anything, or anybody, to stop them from going to a Gypsetter destination if they’ve made up their mind that they want to go. Gypsetters regard the happening places that Jetsetters converge upon as passé. They are tired of the Riviera, bored with Monaco and Paris, and even Jose Ignacio in Uruguay, Ibiza in Spain, and Montauk in New York. 

You might think Bali and Phuket would qualify as a Gypsetter destination, but in my definition of Gypsetters and Gypsetting, they simply don’t, because every clueless wannabe Gypsetter can go to Bali and Phuket at the drop of a hat. A Gypsetter destination has to have mystique, romance, charm, allure, and an aura of awe and mystery, with just a hint of inaccessibility to make it appealing to a real Gypsetter.

Sailing silently among giant icebergs in the semi frozen wilderness that is Scoresby Sound, is the stuff that will turn on a true Gypsetter. Your mind will fill with much wonderment as you gaze upon these magnificent creations of your maker. And as you gaze upon these sentinels of Scoresby Sound, you might begin to realize that no matter how huge and imposing you and the mighty icebergs might be, yet your presence on this planet is temporary. The icebergs that calve off the face of a glacier in the Arctic are huge and like us, will in time vanish from this earth. They are huge but miniscule compared to the Tabular icebergs which breakaway from the continental ice shelf in Antarctica, which measure several kilometres each.

In addition to Jose Ignacio, Ibiza and Montauk, when you think of gypsetting, think of Lalibela in Ethiopia, Cusco (which was once the capital of the Inca Empire) in the Peruvian Andes, El Calafate in Patagonia, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana, Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Stanley in the Falklands, Deception Island in Antarctica, and Ittoqqortoormiit in Greenland, and you’ll get what I mean by Gypsetters and Gypsetting.

Many people tend to regard my Gypsetter destinations as a part of their Bucket List, but a bucket list item is something you want to do before you die, and you haven’t done it yet because of affordability, and time, and mostly self-imposed limitations. Gypsetter destinations are for Gypsetters and are not for bucket lists. Stop procrastinating and start living. Spend your children’s inheritance because your money is not your money till you spend it. One day you’ll wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve alwayswanted to do. Let loose your inhibitions. Do it now.

This is Ittoqqortoormiit in Scoresby Sound, Greenland. It is the most remote and northern-most inhabited community in the western hemisphere. This is the view of Ittoqqortoormiit that I saw as the Donna Wood, a 100 year old wooden sailing boat which I chartered to explore Scoresby Sound, approached it. It was the first landing in my pole-topole gypsetting adventure.

Ittoqqortoormiit is frozen and ice-locked for nine months in a year. So you have only a three months window to visit it like a true Gypsetter – by sailing there. Ittoqqortoormiit is sandwiched between the Northeast Greenland National Park, the largest national park in the world, and Scoresby Sound, which is the longest fjord system in the world. The settlement is made up of a scattering of wooden buildings, painted in an array of bright blues, reds, yellows and greens, across a coastal bluff of pink and grey gneiss, which is among the planet’s oldest rocks. This edge of the world settlement is home to just 450 hardy souls who are hunters and fishermen.

My host in Ittoqqortoormiit proudly served me a chunk of roast Musk Ox for dinner. He’d shot the beast only a week before my visit, and in accordance with Ittoqqortoormiit community traditions, he had to share the meat with as many people in his community as possible. In Ittoqqortoormiit, apart from musk ox hides, you can expect to see the stretched skin of a Polar Bear drying in the sun, a couple of dead seals stored underwater, which will be food for sled dogs, and the ubiquitous snowmobile.

So Gypsetters are high-low cultural nomads who are attracted to the unconventional, the exotic and the relatively unknown. They have a wanderlust spirit, and are a little like their counter-culture forbears, such as the Victorian explorers, the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, and the Hippies, and they have the means to actualize their idiosyncrasies.I would imagine most readers of The Grid would be Jetsetters – people who have or can have almost anything that money and power can buy. And typically they would have been almost everywhere that Jetsetters usually go – except perhaps they probably have not been where enlightened Jetsetters, the Gypsetters, tend to want to go to. I want to try and convince you to be more than an ordinary jet setter. Come and join me and be a Gypsetter. Have you, in your wildest dreams, ever considered exploring the Arctic in a sailboat? Scoresby Sound in Greenland, the longest fjord system in the world, would be an excellent starting point.

Penguins are comical creatures and their antics can make you laugh.

The waters in Scoresby Sound are glassy smooth, and because scores of huge glaciers flow into Scoresby Sound, there are thousands of ginormous icebergs floating around in there. No two icebergs are ever the same, so I’m betting you are like me, and you’ll never ever get tired of watching icebergs and photographing them. There’s something magical about sailing silently with the wind, and observing icebergs which are chunks of ice thousands of years old. I think you will love the experience, and if you are like me, you will want more. 

And if you are ever in Greenland, please be sure to do the Polar Dip. In case you didn’t know, Polar Dipping is a much celebrated winter-time tradition in many parts of the world. In the depths of winter, many brave and slightly nutty people immerse themselves in icy-cold oceans, rivers and lakes, as part of a cleansing ritual. They believe that polar dipping has several benefits. It’s supposed to boost the immune system, enhance vitality and libido, decrease uric acid, and increase the presence of glutathione in the body. 

Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that boosts the performance of other antioxidants. In addition, some research has found that cold temperatures have the potential to activate brown fats in adults. Brown fat is a type of fat that burns energy, as opposed to storing it. In this way, a Polar Dip could possibly contribute to weight loss. However, if you are thinking of trying a Polar Dip, be aware that there are some risks. The shock of suddenly enveloping your body in super cold water can lead to rapid involuntary breathing.
The waters in Scoresby Sound are glassy smooth and the icescapes are surreal.

Your body may react to the sudden cold by constricting the blood vessels closest to the surface, raising your blood pressure. As your blood rushes inwards to keep your organs warm, you may lose coordination and adequate muscle control. The muscles in your arms and legs may even become temporarily and instantly paralyzed, and there have been cases of people drowning in a minute or two, even when they’re just a few feet from safety. 

Polar dipping may be cool and may come with huge bragging rights but you need to be aware of the risks if you intend to do it. However, despite the risk, which is actually the attraction to some people, to be able to say that you’ve polar plunged in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, is kinda cool. 

My buddy, Gypsetter Brian Chen who lives and works in Jakarta, levitating before plunging into 2°C super cold waters of Scoresby Sound, to tick his gypsetting been there – done that bucket list item. Well done Brian.

​The photos above show some of my Gypsetter friends doing the ultimate polar dip from off the deck of the Donna Wood, in Greenland’s Scoresby Sound. Would you do this? Maybe, but most probably not. These guys are part of the new breed of young Gypsetters, who’ve included some pretty exotic and unique items to tick off in their bucket lists. For them, plain boring jet setting is passé.

Once you’ve sampled Scoresby Sound you could graduate to sailing in the Arctic Ocean towards the North Pole starting from Longyearbyen in Svalbard. Although the waters will not be as calm as in Scoresby Sound, the prospect of meeting Polar Bears and many other exotic Arctic wildlife will make any discomfort seem quite bearable. 

And after polar dipping in Scoresby Sound and Svalbard, you may want to polar hop over to Antarctica.I was in Scoresby Sound and Svalbard during the Northern Summer in August and September. Then in February-March during the Southern Summer, I went to Antarctica. I’ve just returned, and boy, I was so fascinated by Antarctica that I have vowed to return in the next southern summer. I’d like to share some photos from my Polar Hop, to entice you to join me when I return to Antarctica 9-20 January next year.

My slightly nutty Gypsetter friends ( Left to right, Egill Bjarnason, April Ong, Riga Adiwoso, and Shee Ling and Brian Chen) doing the ultimate polar dip from off the deck of the Donna Wood, in Greenland’s Scoresby Sound, against a backdrop of giant icebergs.

Here’s a photo of yours truly taking the royal salute as a row of Gentoo Penguins march past the royal visitor. The Gentoo Penguins are the fastest underwater swimming bird, and they have been recorded reaching speeds of 36 kilometres per hour. They fly underwater and occasionally they burst out of the water and briefly fly while taking deep breaths before plunging into the water again. 

It’s such a beautiful sight to behold. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive the cold because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation. This layer of warm air gets warmer, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around. And unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins moult all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic moult. 

You can easily recognize moulting penguins in penguin colonies. They are the ones looking miserable, standing absolutely still behind a windbreaker like a large rock. There are 17 species of penguins in the world and all are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. They breed in large colonies of perhaps a thousand birds and they usually mate with the same partner for life, and they share parental duties of looking after the chick together.

​They tend to return to the same rookery year after year. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches. Apart from Penguins, a great attraction of Antarctica is the whales that flock to Antarctic waters when the concentration of krill is highest. Krill starts to multiply in spring when the availability of sunlight triggers a rise in plankton. By early summer krill concentration reaches a maximum and all the Antarctic whales will converge here. The whale species commonly found in Antarctic waters are the Right, Blue, Sei, Humpback, Minke, Fin, Sperm and Orcas.

Orcas are toothed whales and they are the apex predator in the Antarctic, thus earning the name “killer” whales. They hunt in pods and their diet ranges from seals, penguins, fish and squid, to sharks and even other whales. They are easily recognised by the distinct white patches on them.

The Humpback got their name from the way they arch their backs majestically before diving. They are large slow swimming creatures with huge flippers, and they like to breach up out of the water. We were in our Zodiacs and kayaks in the middle of a large group of humpbacks in a “bubble netting” feeding frenzy. A group of humpbacks will dive below a krill swarm and blow bubbles in a circular pattern to herd the krill into a tight ball. 

Then, one by one they will surge upwards and open their huge mouths to scoop the concentrated krill soup from below. It was such a fascinating experience. We were so close to them that we could have reached out and touched them.

Humpback Whales in a feeding frenzy in Wilhemina Bay, Antarctica. We were so close we could have patted them. Dangerous ? Dunno. I’m still alive and none the worse for it.

Yet we didn’t seem to be in any danger of being toppled over. Those of us who were in the kayaks had an even more exciting time paddling right next to the humpbacks.The Right Whale was so named because they had plentiful amounts of blubber, oil and whalebone. These attributes made them very attractive to whalers and their population were nearly decimated during the early whaling days. 

As many as 240,000 of the Right Whales were hunted and slaughtered and at this station alone, 140,000 barrels of whale oil were produced during each Antarctic summer.Whaling was abandoned at this station in 1931 when whale oil prices slumped. It was such a depressing place. As my mind’s eye imagined how the scene of whale carnage was, I said a silent prayer as a tear came to my eyes. 

This whaling station was eventually taken over by a British Antarctic research base which in turn was abandoned when the Deception Island volcano erupted. No tale about Antarctica is complete without mentioning the heroic expeditions of Sir Ernest Shackleton. 

Shackleton was an amazing explorer of Antarctica. Although he couldn’t achieve his dream of being the first person to reach the South Pole (his great rival Robert Scott did it), his reputation as a leader of men is based on a greater success – the survival and safe return of all his team members from a disastrous failed expedition, whilst overcoming almost unimaginable odds. 

Shackleton’s name lives on as a synonym for courage, bravery and most of all, leadership. And just to stand on the same ground that he did, and visit Elephant Island and Point Wild in Antarctica, where his men were marooned for 105 days, while he sailed in a tiny lifeboat braving 16 meter waves, to get help from South Georgia – that is priceless.

I believe, everyone has an “Antarctic”, a personal challenge that they would love to conquer. What is your Antarctic? If you’ve ever wanted to face your fears and do something crazy, polar hopping might just be it. It’s fearsome, yet it’s safe.It’s doable, but yet not many will have the spunk or the means to do it. If you can bring yourself to actually do it, apart from the amazing things you’ll see and the experiences you’ll never forget, the bragging rights and sense of achievement, are incomparable.Come and join me in my Gypsetter adventures and expand your travel horizon, to include the nether regions of our little Blue Planet. 

I tell you, the Arctic, and especially Antarctica, are amongst the most beautiful places on earth.To say Antarctica is amazingly awesome would be a grave understatement. If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, it would be Michelangelo. Literature, it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater. Antarctica is the only place on earth that is still as it should be. Pristine. Wild. Gorgeous. And may we never, ever, tame or destroy it.If you fancy yourself a Gypsetter and you’d like to join me in my return trip to Antarctica from 9-20 January 2018, please email me at [email protected]

Remember, your money is not your money till you spend it. The time to spend your money and do stuff you’ve always wanted to do, is now.

If you do decide to visit Antarctica, it might be preferable to FLY over the Drake Passage and board your ship at Kings’s Island rather than sailing in her from Punta Arenas or Ushuaia. The unpredictable 1000 km Drake Passage and the infabous “Drake Shake” can be a real pain. Flying takes less than a couple of hours, while sailing will need at least 2 days out and two days in. And it’s really no fun to be sea sick.
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