MY EXPEDITION TO ANTARCTICA!
To The End And Back
Sitting on The Continent, overlooking the ocean, I couldn’t believe I made it to the end of the world.
After days of travel, I clocked 19,000 kilometers to reach the place – that’s even more than the diameter of Earth!!!
Too often we travel only for the likes on social media, the stamps on our passports, or as a status symbol. But when you travel to a fragile place like Antarctica, you would want to reconsider the purpose of your travel. Is it to soak in the culture, some experience that will enrich and alter your life in some positive way or if it for a cause that you uphold!
From India to Argentina
AROUND THE WORLD TO REACH THE END OF THE WORLD
Imagine having to use every single mode of transport available to barely reach the edge of the continent. I hail from the southern state of India, Telangana. From my hometown, Hyderabad is where my journey began.
That first flight from Hyderabad to Dubai is when I could finally start breathing. Going to the end of the world does take a lot of effort – physical, emotional and financial. Can’t recall at what age did I first dream of this. But for all practical purposes, the goal I set was in 2013.
Sir Robert Swan – The Inspiration
As a kid, I was always fond of Geography and countries and places. I still sleep with a world map hung next to my bed. Back in 2013, I happened to attend a Leadership Conference and to my good fortune, I got a chance to listen to Sir Robert Swan. He is the first person to have walked to both the North Pole and the South Pole.
What was merely a dream until then started shaping into a reality. It was unbelievable that normal people like you and me could go to the last great wilderness on Earth! All these thoughts on my long second flight between Dubai and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
While I looked at the Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Brazil, I lost track of time. Which time zone am I in? How do I calculate the time at home, and how many hours of a journey this actually is? I was brought back into reality by the Final Boarding Call on the third flight between Rio to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina in South America. Argentina will be very special to me for all the years to come.
India & Argentina
It would be interesting to note that, Argentina is around the same size as India. India is approximately 3,287,263 sq km, while Argentina is approximately 2,780,400 sq km. Meanwhile, the population of India is ~ 1.3 billion people (1.2 billion fewer people live in Argentina).
Buenos Aires is in the North and my fourth and last flight would be to the Southern tip of the country, Ushuaia which also happens to be the southernmost city in the world. Ushuaia is not connected to mainland Argentina. The city is on the island of Tierra del Fuego, which is divided between Chile and Argentina. To reach the city by land, you have to cross into Chile and take a ferry across to the island.
Read More – Walking Across Sahara Desert
Ushuaia is the portal to Antarctica. While you can also reach Antarctica from South Africa and New Zealand, Ushuaia is the most popular and the shortest way to reach the 7th continent. This small town though windy and cold is picturesque. Every direction you see can be framed into a postcard. And this is only the beginning of the journey!
After a day spent understanding about the ship and safety precautions, we get on board Ocean Endeavour, the place we shall call home for the next couple of weeks.
Traveling in the open seas is challenging. No sight of land or other humans, and being at the mercy of nature is both mentally and physically demanding. Unlike, even the remotest places on land, where help can be received, here you are on your own. That’s scary and humbling in equal measures.
There are some tours that operate in this part of the world too. But when going to the most sensitive place on earth, I wanted to have a purpose. What you seek, you shall receive is what I believe.
So, I was selected as one of the 80 Ambassadors from around the World to be a part of the International Antarctic Expedition-2018. It is Leadership on the Edge program where committed individuals are shown the real face of Climate Change. We underwent training on the same.
Expedition to the 7th Continent – Antarctica
Feeling extremely purposeful, a day after we lost sight of all land, I was standing on the deck of the ship. Suddenly, I spotted this white massive floating object in the middle of nowhere. As our ship steered closer ahead, I realized it was an ICEBERG!
The first I have ever seen in my life. The only knowledge I have of the iceberg is from the movie Titanic. Though I hoped a million times after that no one should meet such a tragic end. The Iceberg we came across was massive, intimidating, almost felt reverential.
A chill down my spine, knowing that we are getting closer to the Antarctic Circle, and the Captain’s announcement blazing in my ears, for us to be prepared. Oh! But we are yet to cross the much-feared Drake Passage.
The Drake Passage a stretch just less than 1000 km is located between Antarctica’s the South Shetland Islands and South America’s Cape Horn. It is the spot where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Seas converge.
What makes the Drake Passage so infamously rough is the fact that currents at this latitude meet no resistance from any landmass, anywhere on the planet. This roaring current mix coupled with high winds can make the crossing of the Drake Passage quite an adventurous exploit.
Despite the stated facts, this route is preferred as it is wider and does not become icebound along with the presence of abundant wildlife.
Some people on our ship planned to hibernate for a whole day. Some started fasting, some with medication, ear patches, and sickness bags. The calm and excitement that we started off with, turned into sudden paranoia all credited to this part of the Ocean.
With the blessings of Neptune, the Roman Sea God, we passed the Drake Passage safely without serious sickness.
The fourth day since the start of our journey, and we waited for the sunrise. A clear sky and we all gathered at the Bow of the Ship. We were passing the Antarctic Circle 66°33′47.5″ south of the Equator. The Captain addressed all the shipmates with an official ceremony. This is the farthest south that anyone could possibly go safely without it becoming our last adventure!
Read More – Finding your Everest, A Journey to Sagarmatha
Then we started our journey back North, but this time moving closer to the Continent of Antarctica. Camping on Antarctica is impossible with our limited training and resources. The brighter side of staying on the Cruise Ship is, we explore different parts of the continent by day and travel across the Ocean at night. Thus benefitting from the opportunity of exploring the much larger landscape that would have been otherwise not possible.
Exploring the Antarctica Continent
There are some places on the continent that we could set foot on.
Some unique continental landings that are etched in my memory were:
- Detaille Island was the Base for the British Antarctic Survey. Though abandoned now, it is preserved in a time capsule. The food cans ready to be prepared, the newspaper turned a few pages, the beds made – it felt like we were living in a parallel universe. The past and the present happening simultaneously without interfering with each other.
- Later at the Fish Islands, we came across some rich biodiversity of penguins and seals. Penguins that are naturally camouflaged in black and white huddled together in hundreds as colonies. And the Seals are big lumpy creatures that on most occasions would be floating on the Bergy bits basking under the sun.
- Petermann Island which are of volcanic origins. The ice-free areas here surprised me as even in this hostile weather conditions there is some growth of moss and lichen.
- Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano, which was a whaling station earlier. Being on this specific land was painful. Seeing the extent of destruction men of the world can cause even in this remote pristine continent is heart-wrenching.
It is rich in wildlife.
Penguins have to be one of the more commonly spotted birds here. There are at least ten listed species of penguins in Antartica. The ones that are more commonly found towards the edge of the continent are the Adelie, Chinstrap, and the Gentoos.
We were strictly given instructions not to meddle with the wildlife and let them be in their natural environment. I was fortunate to have a counter experience, where a penguin came up to me and tugged on the zips of my pant and bag. Chuckling, I wonder if even the greatest of explorers shall have this to their credit!
Since the ship obviously cannot go till the Continent because of the depth, it was anchored in the middle of the Ocean. From there, we traveled on small floating boats called Zodiacs.
Each Zodiac can accommodate only about ten people. Outside the safety of our ship, exposed to the cold wind and the vast ocean, while we commuted between the Ship and the Continent is when we experienced another marvel of nature – Whales!
Though there are quite a few of those in this cold vast southern ocean, we were fortunate to see Humpback and Minke whales. They along with their families, swimming in twos and fours, occasionally breaching i.e. when they come up to the surface for air – teasing us momentarily and then disappearing into the depths of the Antarctic Ocean!
Antarctica & Climate Change
I have described how beautiful and humbling nature is, but like any good story, there are two sides to this as well. Man being greedy and mindless has not left this part of the world too. Many parts have been exposed to commercial activities like Oil and Mineral Exploration, Whaling, etc.
Even a peaceful cause like Research has meddled with this pristine environment. This is when International Organizations and Laws become essential. The Antarctica Environmental Treaty ensures there is no dumping of hazardous waste on the continent. All material is taken back to their respective countries for recycling.
The International Whaling Commission has imposed a ban on the killing of whales for commercial purposes. The Antarctica Treaty, which is the most important of them all, ensures this last pristine wilderness is not owned by any one country. It shall be used only for peaceful research purposes.
Amidst all this, I networked with Ambassadors from around the world, who are all Champions of Climate Action. It was like-minded people collaborating on how to integrate knowledge and resources to fight the common evil of Climate Change.
If a calamity were to strike, it shall not consider boundaries of a country, it shall not distinguish between a developed and a developing country, rich and poor, or between religions and regions. It shall come and take everything in its way.
With this understanding, is it not of utmost importance to stand united and take collective action against Climate Change. We were filled with hope and determination that emerged from our common goal. In the year 2041, the Antarctic Treaty shall be tabled for renegotiation. We pledged to strive and ensure that Antarctica continues to remain as a Continent for Science, and further laws are imposed for its protection.
And so, as I was about to step on to the white snow of the last great wilderness on Earth -The remotest, coldest, driest place, Antarctica. My eyes welled up and I didn’t want to contain my tears. Filled with so much gratitude that I will forever be counted among the very few people in all the centuries to have set foot on this land! I bow my head in silent prayer.
Can you Visit Antarctica?
Antarctica is not a tourist/holiday destination. I shall not be a hypocrite – I love traveling and am constantly on the lookout for new experiences. However, in the last one year, I have realized that the Tourism Industry is also causing harm to the environment and more so on fragile ecosystems. So, would request everyone to consider the kind of impact you have while you travel and find ways to make it sustainable.
I traveled to Antarctica with an organization called ‘2041’ that trains selected individuals from around the world to be lifelong Climate Force Ambassadors. Ours was a Certified Carbon-Neutral Voyage. Entire carbon footprint generated on our Expedition has been offset through various Environmental Projects around the world. Also, 2041 is not conducting its ‘International Antarctic Expedition’ Leadership Program as of today.
Having said that, there are a few Private Companies that take tourists cruises. Check out their details on the Internet.
In my opinion, Antarctica is a place best left untouched!
This is a Guest Post by our young friend Prathyusha Parakala.
Prathyusha Parakala is a freelance consultant on Climate Advocacy and Sustainable Living. She is the recipient of Telangana Visishta Puraskar Award, conferred by the State Government of Telangana. She was the only woman from the State to be a part of the International Antarctic Expedition-2018, a Leadership on the Edge program to study about Climate Change. Prathyusha has been a Radio Presenter at Radio Mirchi.