Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Overwhelmed by the Vastness - Antarctica

Buenos Aires is a long ways from Vancouver, even at the speed of a state-of-the-art Boeing 777. Including connections, the air portion of the journey took approximately 24 hours to cover the 12,300 km we traveled.

Add to that more than three full days of steaming southward 2700 km on board the Celebrity Eclipse from the capital of Argentina to our first port of call, the city of Ushuaia, labelled “the end of the world”; the distance seems immense.  Still, it is more than 1000 km to Antarctica.
Far from land, during the full days at sea, the South Atlantic Ocean offered no points of reference, except perhaps the stars that struggled to be noticed during the few, short hours of night. Increasingly, as we journeyed southward, we were replacing the familiar with the unknown, and in the process experiencing a deep and overwhelming sense of the vastness of distance, time and space.

While the passage has been smooth to date, and the weather almost warm despite patches of rain and a little snow, there seems to be a shared sense that the waves may not continue to be limited to 10-foot rollers. And the increasingly sharp bite of the wind on deck seems to foreshadow a colder climate would soon be upon us. Indeed, it is the uncertainty, the mystery and the adventure that seems to have drawn many of the other passengers to this most southern of all itineraries, a far different crowd from those occupying the sizzling beaches of the Caribbean.

Why travel all this way when the scenery, weather and water are all so severe, so unwelcoming, so far from the familiar?  Maybe because such a place; the coldest, driest, most isolated place on earth, where simply surviving for more than a short time defies our pride, scorns our self-sufficiency, and reduces our self-proclaimed conquests into short-lived tales of arrogance.

Rounding Cape Horn lighthouse, I can only imagine the incredible fear and feeling of disconnection from the rest of the world felt by the mariners of 200 years ago, or now the Chilean lighthouse-keeper and his family.  The waves in the Drake Passage jostle among themselves as if to rub shoulders in a vain attempt to get warmer.  Standing on deck 15, far above the grey-cold sea, I feel the icy wind cutting into my down-lined jacket.  As it reaches through the layers and touches my skin I have images in my head of sailors of old clambering over icy decks, while fighting bare-handed with frozen lines and heavy, clumsy sails in an attempt to keep the ship from being caught and crushed by the relentless ice.  Such a mental picture seems light-years away from the comfort of our luxury cruise-liner. 
 But the starkness of this snow and ice bound continent presents itself, as it always has to all who get caught in its unforgiving stare; powerful, uninviting, even threatening to those of us who become spellbound at the abruptness of its jagged peaks and towering icebergs that stab the grey-blue frigid water.

Life today is a long way from where it once was, just as Antarctica is a great distance from Canada’s West Coast.  But, at times, I feel lost, abandoned without bearings, snow-blind in a white-out, left to be swallowed by the vastness; my own Antarctica.  Thank you to those who courageously give hope when all seems hopeless, who choose to challenge the formidable, and lead those of us who are sometimes lost in the immensity of living to a place of purpose and peace.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Bob. As I read your thoughts I felt like I was right there with you.