We were standing underneath a giant blue globe in the atrium of the Vancouver Convention Centre. “There it is,” said my friend Andrew. He pointed at the white continent on the bottom of the planet.
“I still don’t quite believe I went there.” We stood there for awhile in silence. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I imagine it wasn’t much different than what was in my head: The pungent smell of penguin guano, the translucent glowing blue of glacier ice, the sharp little bites of pellet snow mixed with rain, thrown against the few inches of bare skin on my face. The distance from where I was then to where we were now, the skinny latitude lines reaching far, far, far to the south.
There is something different about remembering Antarctica; there is a clarity and sensory quality to my recollections that is unmatched by prior adventures. I don’t know if it’s created by the shared joy of my fellow passengers, or a sense of responsibility to gather everything to its fullest because this is special; this trip is somehow the ultimate privilege as a traveller. And my memories of it are bright and full focus, still, five years later.
Though I can’t remember her name, I still hear the voice of the lovely French woman. “Ah, the little butlers in their tuxedoes! They wait for us!” We stood in line to board a Zodiac to another island, another penguin colony; she pointed to their black outlines on the shore. And the young traveller from New Zealand, after our last landing saying, “I hope I never forget this!” I have forgotten her name, too, but her joy, her face bright with the excitement of everything we had seen, that’s something I can recall as though we’d had the conversation this morning. “How could you ever forget?” I asked her, and she agreed it would be impossible.
And my own emotions, I remember them, too. I can feel goose bumps rise on my legs as I recall that first morning on deck after crossing the Drake Passage. I stood at the rail gobstruck — I know what this word means now — at my surroundings, the black mountains, the brilliant white snow, the water like a mirror reflecting all of it. And when I looked down over the edge of the rail, that same water was so clear that I could see the outline of every stone at the bottom of the channel. Every day was like this, every day I was so overcome with wonder that it felt like I was dreaming. Indeed, for months after my trip was over, and sometimes still, I would wake up thinking, “Did I dream that? Was I really there?”
The scrape of the ice against the ship’s hull. The whistling breath of a crabeater seal as she lay on the beach sunning her round belly, completely apathetic to my presence. The skuas screaming and whirling in the wind, harassing any unattended penguin chicks. The chicks themselves shouting back, calling for their parents to come home already, where’s dinner? The scrape of my Gore-Tex snow pants and the crunch of ice under my boots. The bright red window trim on the windows at Port Lockroy and the hospital green interior of those same buildings. The orange of my life vest, piled on over my jacket over my down parka over my long underwear. The sparkling clarity of the sky matched only by that same glassy clarity of the water.
These things alone are nice little details, but reach them by crossing a notorious stretch of water for two days, a place where nearly every human need must come from outside, and the volume, the saturation, of all this memory is turned up to 11. Stitch them all together in this last place and they acquire a permanence that needs nothing more than an outline on the bottom of a globe to have them come rushing back.
Now, every time I see a globe, I turn it upside down.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Antarctica encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.