Antarctica Reflections Part 1 – Too “Personal” for Words
I have returned from an incredible experience. When I started writing this post, I had just landed back in Ushuaia, Argentina (the Southern-most populated city in the world) after sailing two rough crossings of the Drake Passage and participating in multiple-days of landings on the islands in close proximity to Antarctica and on the continent itself. I visited penguin rookeries and seal resting areas. I saw hundreds of birds covering more than a dozen species, whales collaborating in group feedings, a historic shipwreck and some of the most indescribably beautiful landscape vistas I have ever seen. (More on all those later).
Why did I go to Antarctica? Well, here is the story:
In the weeks before I left on my South American adventure, I spent time researching the various regions of the continent. As I slowly decided to descend further and further South on the continent (from Peru to Northern parts of Chile and Argentina, and then from the more populated areas of these two counties further and further South into Patagonia), the continent of Antarctica loomed large.
I noticed that the people that have visited Antarctica attempted to describe what they had seen, but they struggled to find the correct words to explain the profound impact this remote, timeless place had on them.
This land seems to have this magnetic draw that attracts those with an adventurous spirit, those that love nature and that manifest their love into action, and also those that have a deep unexplainable desire to conquer something inside themselves. Knowing where I was at in my life that the time, I certainly fit the bill on all three accounts.
While I will cover the logistics and technical steps needed to get a place on an actual Antarctic Expedition in an upcoming post, I will state here that it is not a simple task to undertake this journey. You need to want it, and that intangible passion to make this voyage is important, because the polar seas and Antarctica will take it out of you when Poseidon decides it’s time to pay the bill.
I landed in Ushuaia a day and a half before we disembarked on my trip. On this night at the “End of the World”, the air is cooler and more humid than anywhere I have visited to date. While I’d learn over the coming days that the weather is fickle and ever-changing in this rugged spit of land, tonight was not one of the mild days. Therefore, some whisky was definitely in order.
After I settled into my apartment accommodations with beautiful views of the Ushuaia bay, I decided to head to a local pub. Yes, an Irish Pub. I have yet to find a South American town of any size that did not have a diplomatic outpost of some of my ancestors embedded in the local community.
In this shack of a bar, sovereignty reigns through the use of Pints instead of any of that metric stuff, and obscure Brit and Euro pop of questionable quality from the 80s and 90s blasting away. Whisky selections in the West of South America are generally pretty limited, but here at the Dublin, I have found a small Oasis in the middle of a desert of low-end American and Irish booze.
Nursing my drink at the bar, a 6-person mixed group of 30-somethings bound into the pub and one of the guys hops on the bar stool next to me and introduces himself. He is grinning, a bit wild-eyed and flush with energy. He was nice enough, but his motives where simply that he had just returned from Antarctica and he wanted to tell anyone he could engage about his trip.
I listen and politely looked at dozens of his marginal cell phone photos, but I am more fixated on this quality he and his friends had about them. They were upbeat, slightly beaming in fact, but not like a child that was just handed a candy they loved. It was more like an exhilaration, the kind of high you get when you do something risky and you’re really close to “biting it”*, but you dodge disaster at the end and you come out of it unscathed. He wasn’t just excited about what he had seen, he was happy as hell he was able to tell me, and probably anyone, after it was all over.
The guy told me that he had been on one of the larger Expedition ships, and after one spectacular landing on an outlying Antarctic Island, a big storm blew across the Peninsula and the Captain called off all other planned landings.
“We had complete White Out conditions and terrible seas for three days.”
“Oh buddy, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, I wish it was different and all, but it doesn’t matter. Look at these pictures. This place is Insane!”
Check out the new Photo Gallery
at the bottom of this page!
More Photo Galleries are on the way!
This was the first glimpse I had at what was to come for me and my fellow expedition passengers.
After boarding the MV Ushuaia, I spent time with many of the 80 passengers of this ship that holds only a little over 120 people (when combining travelers and the maximum number of crew and expedition team members). The diversity of passengers on this expedition was impressive, with close to 10+ Nationalities represented and age ranges from 10 to 70-plus. There was a variety of occupations on board: Marine oceanographers and biologists, doctors and nurses, college professors and other educators, nuclear and other engineers, naval personnel and a sampling of people from various business occupations could be found. And along with them were a group of adventure seekers from all over the globe. This is where the diversity faded away.
When speaking to most of my fellow travelers, each one of them seemed to have some interesting common threads. While for some this was one of their first big “adventure trips”, for others on board this was their 6th or 7th and final continent visited on Earth, a big bucket list check off. For a few, this was their second voyage to this indescribable space. Regardless of their travel experience or background, almost to a person they all stated that “there was just something about this place”.
It draws you to it. It is a distant, remote and mysterious land with exotic wildlife. It is one of the last terrestrial frontiers.
Why did this diverse crowd all have the same “sense” about making this trip to this remote destination? I can’t completely clarify it, but basically they seemed to be open, a bit adventurous and they had this quality like they gained joy from seeking and seeing something that filled them with Awe. The only reason I can put this into some kind of verbal or written form is because, I felt the same. We all felt the same.
In following posts I will speak of the animals, the visual majesty and the unique energy of Antarctica.
But, to conclude this post, I will tell you that my fellow passengers I spoke to on this voyage of the MV Ushuaia reported to me that they were forever changed by Antarctica. And as we exchanged hugs, contact information and several new friendships were made, I ask them, “You are going back now to your day-to-day life and your loved ones.
How are you going to describe this experience? …. What are you going to say?”
Every single person, without exception, started out by trying to utter a few words that could describe vastness or dramatic beauty, and then their words would trail off into silence.
It was beautiful to see. In a moment of déjà vu, my new friends stood before me, looking off into the distance, grinning, flush with energy, exhilarated and more than a little wild-eyed. Finally, each said in their own way. “I can’t describe it.”
I agree with them. Antarctica is too beautiful, too vast, too majestic and too pristine for words mere mortals could use.
I will quote a fellow passenger, a British expat, a great guy and a world traveler that has seen a good deal of this planet, when I asked the question, ‘what words would you say….?’……
“I ….. I can’t…. It’s so Grand, …… its Personal.”
Here is a Gallery of just a few pictures from Antarctica. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the pictures.
Special Note: The photo gallery is best viewed on a computer screen. Hope you enjoy.