"We should have the sense to leave just one place alone."
(Sir Peter Scott, Founder of the WWF and son of Robert Falcon Scott)
I’m not sure I can find the words to even begin to sum up my adventure to the bottom of the world. Adjectives like amazing, wonderful, incredible, gobsmackingly awesome – no, they don’t describe it at all. The pictures that were snapped (over 2000 of them), some of which have been posted here on my blog, tell only a tiny part of the story. There’s so much they don’t, and can’t, convey: the vastness of the landscape, the sounds, the silence, the smells, the skin pinching disbelief of actually being there, the being moved to tears on so many occasions .
Antarctica is unquestionably a very special place. The seventh continent, with a land mass twice the size of Australia. A cold desert, with no permanent human residents. It is stunningly beautiful in its starkness, its remoteness, its scale, its uniqueness. The light is different. The landscape is different. The wildlife (which appears to be mostly unperturbed by the anorak wearing, camera toting visitors) is different. And you quickly come to appreciate how unpredictable weather conditions, the snow, the ice, can present a real threat to life and limb.
But what also stands out is its fragility and there were times I found myself questioning what we were doing there. That misty, early morning landing on a rock strewn beach, walking with others amongst King penguins and elephant seals, had me saying to the mister 'There's something not quite right about this'.
Because of its remoteness and the expense of getting there, it's unlikely Antarctica will attract vast numbers of tourists though footfall has been increasing year on year. Travel is controlled, we were assured. There are rules about which ship and how many people can go where and when and for how long. There are specific disinfection and decontamination procedures before and after stepping onto whichever part of the Antarctic (and which I'd have to say our ship followed meticulously). Travellers are usually accompanied by various experts who emphasise the requirement for responsible and respectful behaviour.
It's unclear how this is all being managed and monitored, though, and I can't help thinking it's probably inevitable that our impact as casual visitors will be more than just leaving lines of footprints in the snow. Already struggling with the challenges of climate change, some would argue that tourists are the last thing Antarctica needs.
All I know is I was so very very lucky to experience something I could never have imagined. Antarctica, once inhaled, really does get in the blood, it really does cause a shift in one's equilibrium. If I could turn the clock back, I would. Just to be able to live those three wonderful weeks once more. Just to have the chance to see Alan one more time.
In other news, someone else returned from his holiday doing a fair impression of a skeleton, probably a result of the combination of twice daily long runs through the forest and along the beach and missing his people. Settled at home, and after consuming his own body weight in mature Cheddar, he's back on form .