Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The rumors are true…

I have (albeit somewhat reluctantly) returned from Antarctica.

And it was absolutely everything that I had hoped for, and much more.

I’ve rediscovered some surprising things about myself, things I had forgotten in these years I’ve not been able to travel like I used to years ago, months alone in the truck, crisscrossing the continent, sleeping in campgrounds, cheap motel rooms, the side of the road.  Belatedly, I remember now how I could forgo any real contact as long as I could speak to a stranger, a waitress, a campground clerk, or turn on the distraction of the weather channel.  This was in those years before cell phones and Internet, when you could truly lose yourself away from friends and family.

It’s been a long time since I traveled that way.  In the interim, advances in technology have made it near impossible to stay out of contact, and I too have changed, unable now to simply jump into a vehicle and take off for months at a time.

We boarded the ship 

at Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego

 and set sail for the Falkland Islands.  But to my surprise, we did not dock at Stanley or any other town.  In fact, we never docked the entire trip, instead dropping anchor in bays, off islands with Penguin rookeries,
fur seal breeding grounds,

elephant seal molting wallows.

And for days at a time, we were at sea, with no land in sight. 
No tv, and a patchy, sporadic internet that let you connect after an hour of failed attempts, only to kick you off moments later.

Just the ship and the water and the sky. 
A surprisingly emotional experience. Although I was traveling with two friends and one hundred and seventy-eight strangers, I was cut off from the world.  What did this mean?  It meant I was out of control.  Completely.  And that was a feeling I had three weeks to understand, to come to grips with, and finally, to embrace.

My trip to Antarctica was an amazing journey both internally and externally.  I saw wildlife I never thought I would see, set foot in places I had only read and dreamed about. 

But Antarctica was more than a continent at the end of the world for me.  It was more than the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  It was an intimate, daily reminder of how much and how little I have grown and changed.  Antarctica was a teacher, a guide.  This trip was a precarious passage through broken ice flows that threatened to freeze me,
over mountains I had forgotten I needed to conquer.  I was constantly in awe, and I will forever be grateful.

Thank you Antarctica, my long anticipated friend and now constant companion.