One day on the Hondius, I saw something incongruous - a small floating black plastic bag, wedged in amount the bergs. Being a bit far a way, I got binoculars to see where it was from. After 10 minutes of scrutiny, I realized that instead of another example of the environmental decay of our world it was just ice - black ice. This is what they call clear ice - ice that reflects very little. I was greatly relieved.
Antarctica must be the only pristine environment of its size in our world. It was a privilege to see somewhere that was unspoiled, wild, and stunningly beautiful. Waking up in the mornings, I would head to the top of the ship to get a 360-degree view of wherever we were. Typically, mountains rose to impossible heights on all sides, covered with new snow and draped with blue glaciers. The air was crisp, tight. Birds arced on all sides, twisting, turning, silhouetted against the many shades of white and blue. It was like waking up in the Garden of Eden but it was midwinter, cold, and rocky.
While far away, Antarctica isn’t really that far. There it is, on the other side of the world. A couple of longish flights and a two-day boat ride and there it is again, right outside your window. To get there, I flew over the Caribbean, the Brazilian rain forest, the endless plains of Patagonia, the southern Andes and about 500 million people. But the closer I got to Antarctica, the more it seemed to shy away from human contact. Because we couldn’t see it as we approached given that it was stormy and nightfall, the first morning was like opening an unexpected gift. Surprising, beyond imagination, different.
I am not sure what I expected, either before or after my Antarctic experience. I purposefully didn’t read much about it. I hoped that, as with all experiences, anticipating something specific would take away some of the awe. I needed all of the awe. I don’t travel for specific purpose nor for any grand inspiration, although I respect those that do. For me, travel has been something I have always done since birth. Traveling the world is more like visiting family I haven’t seen in a long while. They are always dear to me. I have a vague sense of kinship and shared experience, and I get to be myself and get out of my daily narrative. Travel doesn’t expose as much as it reengages. I found I love being home and I love being away. The desire to travel answers the dichotomous part of my soul that needs separation to draw myself closer to my home.
Antarctica, in being awe-inspiring and so distant, reminded me that there is still so much to see in the world. Some of it, as Erin and I have discovered, is hidden right next door in the small towns and neighborhoods that surround us. But there is a part that is both familiar and yet different, and experiencing that provides the balance I need.