Do you have an ultimate fantasy dream trip? If you’re like me, there are at least 1,001 places in the world you would love to visit. But, if someone popped up in front of me tomorrow and said, “I will write you a check right now for one trip, any trip, the sky’s the limit. Where do you want to go?” Without the slightest hesitation, I would say, “Antarctica!”
My preference would be to cruise there. I’ve been eyeing this National Geographic/Lindblad Expedition for many years now. Of course, I cannot tell a lie, the journey would freak. me. out. Open seas give me the super heebie-jeebies. The thought of being out in not just open waters, but the highly unpredictable open waters of Drake Passage terrifies me.
Check out this video of a Russian ship traversing Drake Passage during a storm. Waves at 14 meters?! That’s over 45 feet! Kristine Kornlyak of The Weekender Blog (her weekends are clearly way more glamorous than mine!) writes of a clear passage across “Lake Drake” in one direction, and an entirely different experience coming back. Not that I would wish for rough seas in either direction, but I’m just superstitious enough to think that if things were too good one way, disaster would be waiting for the other.
So, why do I want to do this? Well, despite the negative thrills, there are plenty of positive ones. Is there anything more exciting than literally traveling to the end of the Earth? (Yes, I do realize Earth is a sphere and that at any given moment in time, each of us is at our end. Don’t get technical on me!) I think we can all agree that the Poles represent a figurative end. The only regret I have from my trip to Alaska is not braving/springing for a helicopter flight to visit the North Pole. So, if I ever have the opportunity to visit, or even get close to, either of the Poles again, I will jump at the chance.
Another lesson I learned from my time in Alaska is just how much perspective you get from traveling to rarely accessed regions with breathtaking landscapes and remarkable wildlife. The vastness is an unparalleled reminder of just how insignificant we humans are. Plus, the powerful forces of nature are evident everywhere you look, from the topography to the tempestuous seas to the equally stormy sounds of calving glaciers.
Absent the distractions of modern development, you get a true sense of the billions of years of evolution that went into creating this tremendous rock that’s kind enough to have us as guests. I particularly felt this in Denali National Park, where serious campers must hike in and the only vehicles allowed much past the entry are Ranger trucks and a couple of tourist busses. But also when witnessing the natural swirling and unswirling of clear and glacier-fed waters where two rivers meet. Or while kayaking through the frigid waters of Prince William Sound, small, brightly colored fish and jellyfish dodging my oar. Pristine doesn’t even begin to describe it. I can’t imagine what this sensation would be like in Antarctica.
Then, of course, there are the penguins. Yes, I am interested in seals and whales and the many other birds, but penguins are the ultimate Antarctic wildlife draw. Their silly little waddle and fancy uniforms. Fewer than half of the world’s penguin species hail from the continent, and only a quarter breed there, but there is something particularly special about their remote existence. It’s astounding to me that they’ve persisted on a giant chunk of snow and ice, year after year braving the extreme elements to raise another generation. For me, to witness these little soldiers in their element is the pinnacle of wildlife viewing, even more impressive than bears on Kodiak Island or elephants on the savannah. There’s something about the inaccessibility that makes it all the more thrilling.
So yes, despite the negative thrills, I anticipate that there would be many more positive ones. Enough, in fact, to tempt me across Drake Passage and into a Zodiac or kayak to travel between towering ice caps and crystal blue bergs to experience the very thrilling hidden majesty of Antarctica.