Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To the Ends of the Earth

I went South as far as I could go, it was cool, well actually it was unbelievably cold. This is my story.

In my life travel has been a passion. I have now been officially to 137 countries, and not just to change planes. To experience the culture, to enjoy the differences, and mostly to taste the food and come to know the people. There are some good places I could stay forever, some places with no soul that were challenging just to visit, and some places that lit my imagination like a rocket.

Antarctica! The South Pole! A pure white covering of ice over the very beginning of the earth. The core of Gondwanaland. Frozen mountains, Katabatic winds that blow up to 150 miles per hour, a sky of endless sun and endless dark, and the South Pole space station, in search of the origin of the Universe. Imagine yourself in the midst, all alone in the world's most brutal place. It is the highest, coldest, stormiest, driest, windiest place on the earth, and far away from any civilized life. What would it be like, and what would you be like in it? Would you survive? Would you cope? Would it change your life forever?

In this world of instant gratification, immediate global communication, streaming video of every facet of life there seems not much left to explore, to find, to discover. TV shows fly around the world on a racing adventure, anyone can raft the Amazon, we've been to the moon, to caverns far below the surface, I guess we have been there, done that everywhere.

Or, wait, have we? There is a huge difference between looking at a picture and actually standing in the spot. I think that only in the physical experience can we truly know where we are, and where we are going.

When you put your hand into the water in iceberg alley you can feel what the seals and penguins feel when they swim. You can have your guide yell "Get your hand back in the boat" at the top of his lungs, and wonder why until a leopard seal at least 10 feet long pops up to see where his snack went. PHEW! In a 12' zodiac inflatable boat you are on the water and part of the wildlife. The small motor is a huge attraction for penguins who love to swim and jump in the wash of the propeller, and the leopard seals follow to find their next of the eight penguins a day they eat. As you sit very still on the cold and rocky shore two juvenile penguins come to check you out, nudging each other forward until one thinks that jumping into your lap is a good idea, and you are not sure that he isn't after your eyes - so you shoo him away, gently, and he hops off to tell his parent. You watch with horror as a bird large enough to be a nightmare snatches a baby penguin for its supper. You also watch as the penguins snuggle their young and cuddle their mates.

Reality is not on TV, get out there and see it for yourselves. More on Antarctica tomorrow, then the North Pole!

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