Dancing in the Rays of the Antarctic
Antarctica is both a place where Nature has conquered Man and a journey experienced by only .03 percent of the world’s population. The continent’s pristine beauty is a testament to why the world has given it space, as no nation may claim Antarctica as its own. The destiny of its magnificent glaciers, which tell the story of the ages, are now in the hands of Man, whose destructive actions have caused great harm to the very foundation of the wonders of this fascinating planet called “Earth.” Antarctica, unparalleled in majesty and splendor, was an incredible experience that profoundly impacted my life.
Because the world is changing rapidly due to climate change and political unrest, I experienced a personal sense of urgency to see as much of it as I could. And, after traveling to six continents, it was my impression that my global exploration was complete. But, once I realized the logistics to Antarctica were doable, the decision to visit was an easy one. However, the possibility of traveling to Antarctica was daunting after hearing stories about the challenges to get there, such as Shackleton’s adventure aboard the Endurance, attempts to rescue the woman scientist facing death from cancer and, of course, cost.
Cruising to Antarctica was the gateway to one of my life’s most incredible experiences, although this fantastic voyage did yield some uncertainty. For instance, weather was a concern with the possibly that it would not permit entry. Rumors were spreading onboard that the ship ahead of us had to remain at sea and could not reach Antarctica due to vastly changing, turbulent weather conditions. As we progressed south towards the Antarctic, one could feel the rapid change in the temperature, texture and color of the sea. Staring into the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I caught myself reflecting on stories of the many who sailed those waters before me. I thought about the voyage taken by my African ancestors and contrasted that to me, a modern day woman of color on a cruise ship. How different the journey was in every conceivable aspect, including ancient vessels braving the rough waters of the Drake Passage and crashing on the rocks in the Straits of Magellan.
Eventually, we entered Antarctica, and it was magical. We were greeted by seals and dolphins at play, frolicking atop frigid waters. Pods of whales sailed by, their blow holes leaving traces of their trail over the water just as airplanes leave contrails in the sky. And, penguins floated by on pieces of broken ice as though they were enjoying an afternoon sail on a catamaran. Birds were also in flight, gracefully gliding through the sky while peering a school of fish soon to become their source of sustenance.
Bearing witness to the sunrise over Antarctica was spiritual. The sky was ablaze as the frigid waters sang a morning song that spoke to my soul. Mountain peaks with a blanket of clouds surrounding their base and a rainbow of brilliant colors gave light to a new day. The golden sound of the morning silence was a peaceful welcome at the end of a restful night.
Antarctica was a reminder of the insignificance of “me” as it relates to the whole of the expanse of this universe. It was also a reminder of how significant the “me” is as it relates to the preservation of the environment, especially with respect to Antarctica. This dovetailed with the strictest requirement for any visitor, which is not to leave a trail of his/her footprint or presence whatsoever. An act as simple as not throwing anything overboard, in order not to pollute the waters, was a reminder of how much we each can contribute to the well-being and maintenance of this human space we all occupy.
Gerlich Strait, Elephant Island and Paradise Bay were nothing short of magnificent. Jagged peaks of volcanic rock formation and fragments of ice nestled in the sea. Glaciers on the mountains formed massive icebergs at the shoreline. Seaweed and kelp affixed to the ice created pictures surely sculpted by the finger of God.
Antarctica is a place where Nature is allowed to “be” without the intrusiveness of Man. It shares an essence of a silent inner beauty. As Nature speaks to Man, there is a warning of cause and consequence from Man’s quest for dominion and control. Reflections on the journey gave rise to the thought that climate change is not a political event. It is, rather, a consequence of the imbalance of Man – a blatant disregard for irreversible damage caused by the course of the powers that be and the path that those in control have chosen to pursue.
My journey was almost cancelled before it got started as a result of the massive weather event that impacted the east coast of the United States. Three back-to-back blizzards of historic proportions blanketed the area and forced the shutdown of three area airports. This cancelled all flights just days before my travel was scheduled to begin. My packing, therefore, was complimented by shoveling snow in order to carve a path for my vehicle to exit the parking lot should the airport reopen in time for my flight. I was also trying to make a decision whether to cancel the trip or take a chance that an area airport would resume operation in time for my flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the journey to Antarctica would begin. Feeling absolutely blessed, my plane jetted down the runway in the brief moments the airport re-opened to allow a few planes to take-off. Then it shut down again.
Interestingly, the most frequently asked question upon my return was why would I want to go to Antarctica, and what was there to do or see? My response was that my journey there was aboard a flotilla of adventure and exploration, which contained all the comforts of life one could imagine. This was in stark contrast to the early explorers or those who choose to visit Antarctica by way of expedition. The cruise gave everyone the ability to tear down barriers created by Man and share space with people from different lands and cultures, each with their own reason for wanting to experience the Antarctic. We all witnessed the beauty of an environment that not only allows for solitude but also for one’s soul to breathe. Feeling the freedom of soaring, I became one with the Universe while being blessed as one of the very few to experience the majesty of Earth’s southernmost continent.
I doubt anyone can help being changed after experiencing this wonderland of endless, pristine beauty. The peaking glaciers reflect millions of years of Nature’s creation. And sounds of howling winds sing the song of lost souls at sea as they searched for new lands. My dance in the rays of the Antarctic sun rejuvenated my sense of being. It was a journey to the end of the Earth to complete my life’s story. Antarctica is surely the place where Man cannot get around Nature’s dominion – the place where Nature has conquered Man.
Images by Joy C. West