Adventurer Clark Harding returns to the ‘Great White Continent’ of Antarctica and gets conservative, but in all the right ways.
It is New Year’s Eve and I am deep in the middle of a scopolamine disco nap. I had put the anti-nausea patch behind my ear when we sailed past Cape Horn, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula. It works wonders with seasickness, but man am I narcoleptic. Everyone on our ship is partying away, while I am submerged at the bottom of a dream starring Ivanka Trump. She is telling me that she always finds that travel inspires her more than anything else she does; and that’s when my travel buddy, David, bursts through our cabin door and shakes me.
“Get your ass to the observation deck!” He grabs his camera and runs back out. Disoriented, I sit up and look out the porthole. What I see changes me forever.
Astronauts who travel into space speak of what they call the ‘The Overview Effect’: a recognition of our cosmic isolation, followed by an undeniable urge to protect. This is not my first trip to the so-called Seventh Continent, but I have never seen anything like this before. When people ask me why I travel to Antarctica, I always tell them that it’s a place where time stops; something almost Narnia-like. Words like ‘epic’ are just too small to describe the vastness, the timelessness and the bizarreness of wildlife. To truly convey how special Antarctica is, one needs to describe it as a fantasy, an alternate universe, or a visit to the CGI cinema. This time, however, when I finally haul my drugged ass out of bed and wobble my way to the observation deck, I get a twinge of what Astronauts feel.
We are surrounded by a bone-yard of Icebergs, as far as the eye can see. But they aren’t just Icebergs. They are beings. Ancient, sleeping giants … or something. Some of them are the size of skyscrapers, gatekeepers of the portal we are sailing through, each burg has a character, a soul, a personality. They dwarf our ship, quietly floating past us, carrying the wisdom and striations of geologic time. It is as if they are trying to convey a message.
“Why would anyone not want to protect this,” I say to myself out loud. An angry, older couple scowl and shake their heads at me. Confused, I quickly scurry away and find David hanging out on the upper deck.
“You know this makes you an Ice Queen?” He snarked, as I gaze up at the icy druids. I roll my eyes. David’s taste for luxury was one of the reasons I am even on this adventure. Luckily, Lindblad-NatGeo collaborations are the perfect hybrid of fancy-pants meets ultra-rugged. On this particular voyage, our ship, appropriately named The Explorer, is a revamped Norwegian ferry that, as one of the college kids on board says, “could ram through ice like NBD.” But aside from being a badass, The Explorer is also an overstuffed classroom. On a Lindblad-NatGeo expedition, you are welcome to attend upwards of three lectures a day, from top scientists in their field. Unlike traditional cruises you are there to learn; the trips are designed to inspire intellectual and scientific curiosity. When you aren’t zipping to the continent on a zodiac only to get covered in penguin guano, you are in a master class, taking notes. Perhaps we should start calling it the ‘Overdose Effect’, because no matter how you choose to travel to Antarctica, either the scenery, the information, or bearing witness to Climate Change up close, will overwhelm you. Sadly, not everyone agrees.
In class, I’m desperately wanting to pay attention to the lectures, but this damn patch has me off in Ivankaland sooner than the lecturer can say, “glacial melt.” As we sit in on an impassioned address by an Alaskan climatologist, the seemingly always offended older couple literally huff and storm off. It was so theatrical and temper-tantrumy that it became the subject of every dinner conversation that evening. Questions like, “Will they helicopter back to Argentina?” can be heard echoing throughout the Art Deco dining room. Everyone is curious as to why this couple would pay so much money, to travel so far to such a delicate ecosystem only to be angered by the reality?
Initially, when choosing this trip, David and I feared ‘the denier’ attitude would dominate the voyage. Naturally, the resources it takes to maintain luxury in such a remote location force the price tag to be well above that of a standard vacation. With the hefty price, come the 1% of people who can afford it. This was apparent on my previous voyage to Antarctica, back when the science behind Climate Change was even more disputed. But what is particularly nifty about Lindblad-NatGeo clientele, is that the majority of the guests appeared to be super young, educated and enthusiastic.