When I set off for the South Pole, my daughter Magdalena could not yet talk. When I returned, she asked me lots of questions:
“What did you find down there?”
“What’s infinity like?”
“White, peaceful, still.”
“So is that like Heaven? Did you look for Heaven in Antarctica?”
“No, I wasn’t looking for anything. But I discovered white infinity there.”
–R. Messner, Antarctic mountaineer
They tell you that Antarctica is gorgeous and awespiring, that it is stunning and beyond compare. Indeed, it is all that. What they don’t tell you, however, is the aftermath. And it is a very private grief that each and every traveller to the Antarctic must face.
When my flight took off from Ushuaia, I craned my neck to keep my eyes on the Orlova until it turned from a ship into a mere speck of grey in the distance. Now that I am back home I can say that I amutterly gutted.
Surely someone had taken a spade to me and dug a huge hole when I wasn’t looking? How else to explain for this raging emptiness within?
God, I miss Antarctica.
Perhaps the worst thing about this case of withdrawal symptoms is that it must be endured alone. Your fellow travellers — and in essence the memories of a trip that was uniquely yours — are now dispersed all over the world, never to appear collectively as one again.
And I miss it; I unequivocally miss it.
I miss the camaraderie, the collective awe and disbelief, miss the sun that blazed with such ferocity it was as if your eyeballs were being burnt into oblivion. I miss those mountains that were blanketed by wind-swept blue snow, so smooth in their gradients that the very hills began to resemble melting, buttery ice cream. I miss the innocence of a contented seal, a sea so dark it seemed like liquid coal, the silence that seemed to have a voice of its own.
I miss it all, and I think I know why: if a child had visited Antarctica, he/she may not return with the same burning desire to go back. Children, in their pure and delightful ways, would not realize what was missing from the rest of the world that Antarctica still possessed. Only one who has grown into the ways of society would find the near unbearable regret of having left such a place.
To carry such a burden and regret, however, is a privilege. It is the privilege of experiencing Nature in her rawest form, to have her touch your soul and have every fibre in your body resonate.
And now at 5:30am on a random day one and a half months since the trip, my blog is complete and I feel like I can adequately lay the ghost of Antarctica to rest. I had put off writing this last entry for the longest time, not knowing how to properly say goodbye to my Antarctica.
But in the end, this is all that I really want to say:
- To my mother whom, when informed of some crazy notion of an Antarctic trip, had the grace to calmly say, “sounds good”: you know your daughter well; thank you.
- To my fellow dreamers and explorers onboard the MV Orlova: the trip was a dream morphed into reality because of you. For having the honour to experience Antarctica in such good company, I will be forever grateful.
- To everyone around the world who randomly found this travel blog and have followed my journey to the end: I know the journal entries were loquacious, so I thank you for your patience; these writings would have been nothing without your audience.
- Finally, to the future explorers of the great Antarctic: you have heard my story, its joys and miseries; now go and seek out your own Antarctica, for in whichever form she decides to reveal herself to you —