Amy Roberts: Antarctica’s allure
As far as I can tell, there are only a few drawbacks to international travel — jet lag, lost luggage, the long flights that leave you actually looking like your passport photo. Minimal discomforts that all evaporate within a few days of re-entry.
The rewards, of course, are far greater and far more permanent. Traveling abroad fosters tolerance and compassion, it builds independence and confidence. You become more adaptable, more interesting, and more socially aware. Traveling provides an education unavailable at even the most expensive and prestigious universities. It makes you a better human.
With this in mind, I have always believed the benefits of a fresh stamp on your passport easily outweigh any temporary setback.
But now, a full week after returning from Antarctica, I can see a new downside to my insatiable wanderlust. It has materialized as a question: How do I top this?
I thought I would return from the seventh continent full of joyous fist pumps and stories about curiously affectionate penguins, wiping the spray from a humpback whale’s spray off my face, and launching myself into icy waters for the Polar Plunge. I have all these stories, and photos to prove them. But what I don’t have is the egotistical satisfaction I thought would feel by stepping on my final continent.
Instead, I feel small. Trivial. Turned inside out and upside down. Left utterly speechless, unable to justly describe the wild beauty that surrounded me for two weeks.
Though not ideal for a writer, I suppose there’s a comfort in knowing a place still exists that surpasses words; a place where adjectives and adverbs and every descriptor known in all human language fall short. No amount of literary talent can fill the gap between reading about Antarctica and experiencing it.
There, you will sit silent with the Earth and listen to the universe as it speaks with deafening assurance. All of your senses will be stretched beyond what you previously imagined possible. In Antarctica, you don’t just feel the ground shake as a massive iceberg cracks and splits, your entire body rattles to its rhythm. You don’t simply hear the bark of a fur seal as it charges you, adrenaline throbs and echoes in your ears. Your eyes will adjust to ever-changing light; a kaleidoscope assembled entirely by previously unknown shades of blue. The salty water isn’t licked off your lips, it is inhaled because your mouth is agape at the sight of a leopard seal emerging from the water to snatch the penguin you’d been admiring just seconds before. And those penguins? You don’t just smell a colony. You wear the scent.
Antarctica demands full immersion of your senses. Even more, it deserves the attention it commands.
There are so few places left where nature is truly raw. Almost every nook in this planet has been altered in some way by human intervention. Even in the wildest corners, we’ve built roads, carved trails, or put up fences — all to initiate a connection and maximize an experience. And while these infrastructures provide accessibility to an otherwise unattainable encounter with nature, they also transform it. Even if it’s subtle, any management of the natural world diminishes its authenticity.
And that is what I loved most about this continent — nothing is manufactured. It is not supplemented or enhanced. It doesn’t need to be. The seventh continent is nature in its purest and most untouched form. Unsettled, untamed, undefinable.
It’s not a place for the unseasoned or those who struggle to allow awe and wonder to overtake comfort and convenience. At some point, your fingers will be cold, your toes will turn blue, your nose will leak — yet none of it will matter. It will seem as insignificant as you feel in such a place.
On some level I worry I’ve left myself with nothing else to look forward to; that every destination from here out will come up short. And while I hope that isn’t the case, if it is, it was worth it.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”