It took journeying to the end of the earth, and a little beyond, to understand what I adored about travel. Surrounded by ice prone to glowing the most improbable shade of blue, penguins with a taste for wellingtons and whales who treated the waters of this snow-covered wonderland as their own private playground, it dawned on me; travel reminds us that, when removed from the reality of the everyday, we are part of something so much bigger. A natural landscape that dwarfs us, not only physically (it’s impossible to even consider notions of ‘big’ and ‘tall’ as you watch a glacier crumble into sea at Mikkelsen Harbour, a surge of water rising away from the point of impact) but mentally. All those worries, stresses and uncertainly, they mean nothing when you spy a landscape such as this.
Perhaps that’s what has always drawn the adventurous to Antarctica. Roald Amundsen and his epic adventure to the South Pole, the noble Scott, and Shackleton who had daring flowing through in his veins. Antarctica’s magic and power has not dissipated. Locations read like otherworldly realms Paradise Bay, Deception Island, Neptune’s Bellows and Elephant Point—calling now not only to the intrepid, but the fantastical too.
What has remained with me all these years later is not the immensity of Lemaire Channel (or Kodak Alley to those more film-inclined), a place where bergs are golden and the sea a mirror, but Pleneau Island — an iceberg graveyard. Here statuesque forms rise from the grey waters (some places just look better in stormy weather), assuming improbable shapes as they’re ravaged by the elements. Having travelled the oceans they arrive here to find there is nowhere left for them to venture. There are other sights too—the National Geographic Explorer making its solitary journey across the expanse or Brown Station, which is red despite the name and reveals how harrowing this great southern continent can be; the last Argentinian scientist who manned it opted to burn the building down rather then face yet another solitary year on the ice.
This is the land of penguins—be they Adelies, who compensate for their lack of grace with sheer determination building ‘penguin highways’ through the snow, Gentoos who have a penchant for stolen pebbles and the most curious of all, the stout Chinstraps. A place where the sun either refuses to set or rise and the sound of breaching whales is carried on the breeze. You feel small, but not insignificant, just acutely aware that this nirvana, this fickle friend, is always there, waiting to remind you of your place in the world.