Monday, January 30, 2017

What traveling to Antarctica meant to me

When friends asked several years ago if I wanted to go to Antarctica, the world's southernmost continent, I said, “No way. I don’t like to be cold.”  In Texas we have mild winters with few freezes and rare snowfalls.
Such variety in size, shape, and texture of icebergs.
But eventually we booked a trip to Antarctica that is certainly one of the most inspiring and fascinating journeys this traveler has ever experienced.

Keep in mind 2/3 of the enormous iceberg is under water.
Change of heart
Every time I saw pictures of pristine blue-tinged icebergs, the enormous expanse of glacial whiteness, and enchanting penguins and seals, I had a longing to be there: To take my own photos of the incredibly beautiful scenes. To experience an environment totally different from anything I had known before. To feel the sacred sensation of solitude surrounding the extraordinary landscapes.

Penguins were delightful entertainers.
Although we think of Antarctica as being isolated, almost 35,000 people travel there during the season that runs from November through March. Despite increased accessibility, polar travel still seems as surprising and awe-inspiring to new visitors as when the first explorers came to this frozen land.
The magic of Antarctica

The feelings I had on first viewing the dramatic landscapes of the white continent were unexpectedly intense. Pristine ice and undulating snow stretching as far as the eye could see were simply indescribable. Standing by myself on shore, I silently admired the spectacle of a beach teeming with playful penguins, heard the crack of a glacier calving, and admired the multiple brilliant blues found in immense icebergs.
Our first continental landing was totally impressive.
The connection with raw nature encompassed my imagination as I struggled to envision people living and working on this inhospitable continent with its unpredictable climate. I was truly out of my comfort zone but enjoyed every minute that stretched me from being just a visitor to becoming an explorer.

It was also warmer than expected, so my parka came off.
I loved hiking to high points overlooking bays filled with icebergs, elephant seals, and sea lions. I breathed deeply of the pure, clean, cold air surrounding us as we  surveyed steep , rocky cliffs jutting up from the ice-speckled ocean or rumbled into a frozen cave in our Zodiac.
Gorgeous reflections just before sunset.
Shore excursions are highly restricted regarding the number of people allowed to be on land at any given time, and that’s a good thing. You’ll never encounter hoards of people trying to claim the best photo spots. Additional restrictions are in place to protect the environment and to ensure safety around the ice--and that often precludes large cruise ships from making an actual continental landing. Being there myself reinforced how important it is to protect and preserve this incredible environment.
Icebergs are continually changing shape--and sometimes holes appear.
Surviving the cold

Quark, our expedition company, provided parkas (ours to keep) and muck boots (on loan), but the rest of our warm clothing was up to us. For this Texas gal that meant extra purchases of wool underwear, socks, gloves, hats, fleece, and pants. I came prepared and was never uncomfortably cold, even though we were out in the elements for several hours each day. (Expedition participants from northern states were not fazed by temps in the 20s).

Seals enjoy sunning on a relatively flat iceberg.
Adventure and discovery become the norm that we looked forward to during daily Zodiac excursions, not to mention the thrill of actually crossing the Antarctic Circle (most expeditions just touch the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). What could be more exciting than that?
Whales are another form of wildlife often seen in Antarctica.
I came away from this life-changing journey overwhelmed by the immensity of this unspoiled, wild, rugged land—a land many countries including U.S. are researching to learn how environmental change might affect the continent and subsequently the rest of the world.
View from the window of our room on the Quark expedition ship.
Antarctica is filled with infinite opportunities and daring demands on those who seek to understand its allure. I'll forever be grateful for having traveled there, walking on Antarctic soil, and embracing the wild forces of nature found nowhere else in the world.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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