Antarctica is so much more than the sum of its parts. It took a second visit to really appreciate this.
As with all travel experiences, memories are dictated by the pictures taken, the diaries kept and the anecdotes relayed upon return. As months turn to years, what is left are fragments of the experience: isolated incidents and frozen images of time spent away. This is unavoidable and as reflective of life itself as it is of travel.
Returning to Antarctica, or more specifically, waking that first morning to clear blue skies and an icescape of such captivating beauty it took my breath away, brought this home as all the emotions and feelings of two years ago surged back to the surface. Standing on deck hearing the distant groan of the glaciers reminded me why being here is such a big deal.
Antarctica time is precious time and you need Mother Nature's blessing to maximise it. The weather can change in the blink of an eye and wildlife operates to its own schedule. Fortunately, in seven days the opportunities to enjoy the peninsula from every angle were plentiful. Mountaineers were rewarded for their toil with views unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Kayakers got on “excuse me” terms with boisterous leopard seals. Some modern day Jacques Cousteaux dived beneath the ice amongst the seals and penguins.
Each day gave the chance to witness a different side to the continent and no two moments were the same. Critically, with plenty of daylight there is always plenty of time for reflection, hard currency in a land so far away.
Words, photographs and even footage narrated by Attenborough, as mesmerising as they can be, don’t even come close to scratching the surface of how it feels to be there.
Standing alone on an Antarctic peak, surveying the icebergs and calving glaciers below – knowing you’re as far south as you can be – cannot be articulated in any meaningful way. Nor can the moment of a pair of humpback whales slaloming between zodiacs, diving underneath and resurfacing close enough to make eye contact. This was also for their amusement, not just ours.
By November the days begin to get longer, the sea ice retreats and the window of opportunity for exploration opens up for the brief Antarctic summer. It’s there to be explored, it’s there to be experienced, and it's there to be remembered.
By Carl, Exodus Polar Expert