musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Antarctica the Beautiful

There's something intoxicating about the open ocean. Or maybe that's just the Dramamine talking... Either way, crossing Sir Francis Drake's Passage meant being a small speck of existence traipsing through a vast, never-ending ocean of bone-chilling water for two days. An awe-inspiring, and simultaneously terrifying, thought.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being capsize worthy waves), we were told by the crew that our passage warranted a zero. "Drake Lake" they called it, seemingly savoring the break from normally choppy seas. No complaints, and more importantly no sea-sickness, from our side!

In less than two days, the South Shetland Islands (part of or not part of "Antarctica" depending on who you ask) was visible off the bow. After a year of (literally) circumnavigating the globe with Lauren, we were in reach of the ever-elusive seventh continent. A dream of mine for as long as I can remember, we were about to have completed all seven in just ten months... I'm getting jet-lagged just thinking about it.

"So... how was Antarctica?" seems to be the common question upon our return; to which "amazing" seems to be our standard response. We could also say unbelievable, extraordinary, outstanding, and any other superlative you can think of. Sadly, for those of you wishing to live vicariously through us on this one, the vistas, wildlife, and indeed smells are wholly indescribable.

To their credit, G Adventures did a stellar job of keeping us entertained with history and wildlife lessons during our time in the Drake, but they (nor anyone else for that matter) could not have prepared us for what we were about to experience.

I might as well get this out of the way since it's probably all you want to know anyways: yes, penguins are even more fascinating and cute than you currently think. Besides their stench (whenever I smell sewage back in civilization I look around for penguins), their habits, lifestyle and utter disregard for humans is wonderfully awesome. Awkward on land and graceful in the water, they seem interested in, but not bothered by, our carefully controlled/coordinated human contact. After my 1000th picture of a nesting Gentoo, I forced myself to put the camera down and simply observe my new friends. Waddling up to me, Freddy the Penguin would look up, then down, then over his shoulder as if giving the nod to his friends...

"This one's ok. Smells a bit, but he's cool." If you think you like penguins now, you'll like them more after meeting them on their turf. I might or might not have tried to sneak one back with me in my carry-on...

Besides Freddy and his friends, the whales, the seals, the clouds, the mountains, the vast expanses of frozen nothingness, and the periodic bone-chilling winds all literally took my breath away. In a challenging photographic environment (bright whites and harsh contrasts), it was all I could do to keep up. Could I really capture the amazing teal of that iceberg, or the vastness of the scenery, or the thoughts of a leopard seal, or the feel of the Antarctic sun on my face? Can I adequately answer the 'how was Antarctica' question in this blog without trivializing it and minimizing its grandeur?

Alas, the answer to both questions is simply 'no'. Photos don't do it justice and words place finality on the infinite. Nothing would really do Antarctica justice. Except, of course, experiencing it yourself.

Antarctica in it's current form may not be around forever. So you might want to get on that...