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Antarctica

To look at it, the slush of ice and bergy bits doesn’t look like much. Unfortunately for us, the reality is something quite different.

All of that floating ice is actually an impenetrable, 300 yard long field of slush. The sun, which had been bright and cheery when we arrived at the beach, was now fading behind grey clouds as the wind picked up. I took stock of the 80 passengers we still had on the beach. They had no idea what we were in for.

Our expedition leader and the zodiac drivers were strategizing over the radio. I knew that my job would be to keep everyone else happily distracted. Two hours turned to four, and then to six. The tide went out and we began ferrying people across a small rock bridge. We had to be careful. If someone fell in, we couldn’t warm them up.

The tide came back in and 20 of us remained on the beach. Our forty-five minute landing had turned into eight hours.

Finally something shifted. A small channel opened through the ice. We didn’t waste a moment.

It was 10 hours before we were all back on the ship. The staff sank into the lounge chairs, sipping hot toddies. All of us knew how lucky we were to be back, and how grateful we should be to each other that not a single passenger seemed to realize just how dangerous that landing had been.

Btwn Me & My Boat

On a good day I am a people person, not necessarily a super social person, but a people person.

I’ve always loved learning about other people, cultures, and times. When I arrive in a new place I usually take a few days to sit back, wander, and observe how things get done. How neighbors interact. How the rhythm of the place ebbs and flows throughout the day.

Knowing this, I find myself staring out my plane window, wondering why then I would be so fascinated by the one continent where people don’t live (save a few dedicated scientists that brave the long, dark winters).

This is my second trip to the frozen continent, and I think I am even more excited than my first time here. Perhaps because I have a better idea of what to expect this time around, which gives me a new opportunity to dig deeper and to look more closely at details I missed before. Perhaps because I never imagined making it here once, much less twice, and in some small way, twice gives you a special kind of micro-ownership over of place.

No longer will it be just a place I visited for a few days. I will be able to say that Antarctica is a place I have spent over a month, working, standing on its glaciers, and sailing through its waters. I will be able to join the small group of people that have just begun to know and love this place. The group of people that considered this uninhabited land home, for however brief the moment was.

From the southern tip of South America it takes a bumpy two days to get to the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Two days of 3 to 10 meter seas.  Two days of water. Two days of incessant movement.

I marvel at the giant Albatrosses gliding on the breeze behind the boat, all the while looking so peaceful and weightless. I think about true sailors and wonder how they can do it. So much time on something so fickle would be enough to drive me mad.

Birds

If you have never been to Ushuaia, then learning that it lies in the Tierra del Fuego might conjure up images of a hot, tropical paradise. But, while Buenos Aires has the sweaty, sticky, Latin heat, the “Land of Fire” at Argentina’s southern tip has a rough, cold, and slightly unwelcoming facade.

Standing on the edge of the Beagle Channel, basking in the never ending sunlight that makes the late Spring 50 degree weather feel so inviting, the town glistens with color and warmth. But the cold breeze and snow covered rocky mountains that surround the town have me wondering how people could have eked a living out of this harsh ground before the cruise ships moved in.

People have lived in this area for thousands of years. The name “Tierra del Fuego” comes from Spaniards first trip to the area in 1520, during which they were greeted by fires in the mountains. Magellan believed these were lit by the indigenous Yaghan Indians waiting in the hills to ambush his crew.

Today those fires are replaced with the flashing bulbs that line the Casino’s front door. Corrugated metal buildings that lined the streets when I was here just 5 years ago, are now side by side with a 5 star hotel and several huge outerwear stores that could make some R.E.I. establishments look under stocked.

It is a strange place, this land of fire at the end of the world. It is a place so warm and inviting but so cold and foreboding, so removed from everything and yet lit up right in the middle of the wave of people reaching out towards the last new world.

Ushuaia