For most of my life, Antarctica was an abstraction — a stand-in for the concept of “faraway”, of inaccessible wilds, bitter cold, the unknowable. It stood for the idea of a last frontier populated by heroic explorers, or, as a reflection of more modern concerns, a barometer of climate change. It was the fabled seventh continent. The one that no one ever went to, unless your name was Amundsen, Shackleton or Scott (or you took samples of the ice core as you were interviewed on CNN). Despite all of my fancy ideas of what Antarctica was, it never occurred to me to think of Antarctica as a place that I could visit.
But late last year, I became interested in planning a “big trip”. And, through a series of converging situations, I suddenly found myself shopping at REI for gear for Antarctica, whatever that meant. It was almost embarrassing to tell the salesperson where I was going, if only because it seemed so bizarre to myself. I’m going to Antarctica???
A short explanation for those of you who want to know the facts, like how you get there, how long does it take, where do you stay: My next several posts will be devoted to covering the entire trip in detail. At the end, I’ll post one more entry covering logistics, packing tips and travel advice. For now, I’ll summarize. We flew to the end of the South American continent, took a somewhat large boat (about 100 people) that was outfitted for the ice, we sailed (not literally, our ship had an engine) two days across the notoriously stormy Drake Passage (more on that later!) and spent around 5 days exploring the Antarctic peninsula. We kayaked, we swam, we snowshoed, and we saw a heap of penguins. And yes, it’s cold. But it was also summer time in the relatively balmy northernmost reaches of Antarctica, so our friends in New York were probably colder.
And finally, what did I discover? Antarctica is an awe-inspiring, still-pristine environment that you have to experience to believe. I’ll do my best to share what I know. And I found, like with many places that I’ve been, that you love a place more for knowing it better.
Stay tuned for the next post, End of the Road: from Ushuaia to Antarctica.