I somehow found myself in Antarctica, right at the bottom of the world, in a place only a few can say they’ve been. Somebody had told me to come back and tell them what went through my head in the first ten seconds of stepping onto the ice, so when I climbed down those stairs out of the huge C17 I tried to remind myself. Yet, when I curled up in my bunk at base that night, I thought back to that first ten seconds and somehow couldn’t believe it had happened, but I did remember I pinched myself. I quite literally pinched myself.
It seems to do that to you this place, it seems so surreal that every time something magical happens you must remind yourself that what you are seeing is real. Be it the odd sense of space and not being able to tell how far away anything is from you. Or the strange thoughts you have every time you remember you are standing on frozen ocean, that in a few weeks will break open and give way for whales, penguins and seals making the most of the plankton blooms that summer brings.
Antarctica is the great white continent. Ice travels as far as the eye can see, completely flat with no obstructions. Sometimes you will be treated to a mirage on the horizon and it makes you think for a moment there are huge cliffs in the far-off distance, but its just the great white playing with you.
It’s small things that stick out when you step back into civilisation after spending weeks on the ice; the noises, the smells, the conversations. There is rarely ever any smells, unless you are treated to a sudden gust of fuel drifting from the bases or the Hagglunds, or perhaps when you get amongst a seal colony on a still day and notice their stench – but that is it, well, apart from the smells that drift from your gas cookers in the evening.
The sound thing as well, it must be one of the very few places you can experience absolute pure silence. If you get the chance to escape your group, turn off any vehicles and just sit, it really is pure silence. There is such minimal wildlife that they cannot disturb you, when the wind dies everything is completely still, and a short walk will eliminate anyone’s breathing and chatter from your environment – pure silence.
It really is the last untouched land on earth and there is something very special yet disturbing about being allowed to be there. You really do feel like a guest and that you need to somehow leave it slightly better than when you left it, as it is not ours to use for pleasure. It is there to keep a large part of our world as untouched as possible. A place of peace and science.
When people talk about Antarctica being the closest thing to outer space, they are not wrong. Everything takes longer, much more effort and there is very little life (at least on the surface). You feel completely insignificant, and I think this is what causes problems in untouched places like this. You feel your impact will have such little effect, but this multiplies every time.
The great white continent is something out of all our dreams. I still can’t quite believe I spent time down there amongst the skuas and the seals. I am completely absorbed in it and the thought of keeping it as unoccupied as it currently is, but does one need to go there to understand this? It seems to be a test of all our nations, tied up in world politics and somehow, this place exists, free from our warfare and exploitation.
Being able to experience parts of our world as untouched and remote as this southern continent draws you slightly closer to everyone in a strange way, even though you are as far away as possible. It has put a new spark into everything I do and given me a little slice of hope in our strange world.
- Alex Aves
- : Alex is an environmental and Antarctic scientist, exploring the world in search of new and exciting information. She has spent recent years travelling to remote regions of the world while completing her studies and now lives in New Zealand completing her masters degree. She hopes to encourage a more sustainable world through her research.
- : https://twitter.com/Alex_Aves1
- : https://www.instagram.com/alexotl_/
- : adult_(19_and_over_as_of_31st_december_2019)
- : This is the first time this story has been published.