One year ago I was sitting in the lounge on an Antarctic cruise, typing the following post out on my iPad. Since then, I’ve considered posting this at least fifty times. For some reason I was never quite able to do it. Probably because it feels so shallow. If you’re trying to plan a trip to Antarctica, there is nothing in this post to help you. On the other hand, everything written here is the exact reason that I tell almost everyone to go. It is a culmination of everything I was feeling, almost overwhelmingly so. There were nothing but positive feelings swirling around in my heart, and a year later I still feel the same way.
And maybe that’s why it finally feels like the right time. Antarctica wasn’t a fleeting fling. It wasn’t a romance that would be forgotten as soon as I stepped back into the real world. Instead it was one of the truest loves in my life. So if you’re still here, and want to hear about me pour my heart out about my trip to the southernmost continent, read on friends.
I was tossing and turning in my bed the first night on Ortelius, at no fault of my own, but instead the fault of the notorious Drake Passage, I felt violently ill, but also oddly content. The only plausible explanation in my mind was that I finally felt like I found a place where I belong.
I’m an introvert by nature, I enjoy company, but I require time to be alone to recharge. The tiny Ortelius had drastically different things in mind. There are few places to escape to, especially since I shared my room with three other people. It made me nervous once I realized that, as I am a huge fan of finding a quiet corner to curl up in when I need to get away. This all turned out for the best however, because the people on board were the only people I’ve ever felt comfortable being around continuously for eleven days.
On the ship I was constantly accompanied by like minded people. People definitely had opposing political views, or vastly different backgrounds than mine, and a variety of religions were represented as well. None of that mattered in the least though. That was because every single person on the ship had one amazing thing in common, they are all adventurers. We asked where each person hails from, but it hardly mattered, because we all had the mentality that our home was The Ortelius, and our address was somewhere in the Drake Passage.
I sat in the lounge on our first full day at sea. It was crowded because of the cold temperatures and repetitive open ocean views. As I sat there, I heard an assortment of accents filling the room. As they filled the warm air with their ideas, I realized that most of the people who were surrounding me are true residents of the world. For the first time in a long time, I found myself being one of the least traveled people in the room. I wasn’t the only person who quit their job to visit Antarctica, although some who have jobs that make them happy, just used a stronger hand to say to their boss, “I’m doing this, and if you don’t give me the appropriate time off, I will quit.”
I found that if I told someone that I spent two weeks traveling Australia and they would say, “only two weeks?” Or when sharing my experience making my way to Ushuaia, I was met with people who asked genuine questions about my travels. “Did you experience carnaval? Isn’t it wild?” or, “did you get a chance to hike there? I didn’t, but I’d love to know if I should go there another time.” That was such a unique experience, because usually I’m bombarded with the same repetitive questions.
It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the more mundane questions, but at home everyone asked, “but what do you do in Antarctica?” Conversely, on board you nearly have to make up an excuse as to why you aren’t participating in every activity. No one is worried about not being entertained, and no one talks about the weather other than, “how many layers of pants are you wearing?” I know that returning back to reality I’ll be faced with saying again and again, “it was cold. The temperatures hovered around 32 every day, but the only way I knew for sure was if I was coherent enough during the wake up announcement to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in my head.” I’ll have to lay out the schedule we followed on the ship, explaining that from nine o’clock until five o’clock we were always busy. The people listening will breathe a sigh of relief, qualifying my trip in their heads, deciding that it might have been worth it.
The people who would never go to Antarctica view it as a desolate landscape, where they won’t be able to get in touch with people back home, or they won’t be able to use google to find the answers to all of their pressing questions. (Which was, admittedly, more difficult than I expected. My first day back in South America was spent working my way though a list of YouTube videos that someone on board told me I just HAD to watch.) On the other hand though, on the ship, people viewed Antarctica as a continent full of life. Wildlife, ocean life, inspiring lives. Everyone wanted to run into a leopard seal, dance amongst the penguins, or be splashed by a humpback whale. They couldn’t wait to drink a hot coffee while watching the waves roll by, or to be gently rocked to sleep in their bunk. But most of all, they couldn’t wait to spend a night snuggled in the snow, watching the stars dance above them, while remembering that the 30 people who opted to camp raised the population of Antarctica by around 500% for one night. (I definitely have to go back, because camping was cancelled due to inclement weather, an absolute disappointment.)
I did some amazing things in Antarctica, I saw even more incredible sights, but the best experience I had I found every night in the lounge. The people I met, the stories they told me, and the friendships we developed truly defined my trip.