Travel Retrospective: Antarctica

As the jetsetting travel correspondent for the Toon Lampoon, I’m regularly lucky enough to see exotic and exciting places across the world. I’ve travelled to every continent, to every country in the EU, I’ve been to jungles and deserts. Now, I get to say I’ve been to the last truly wild place on Earth.

When our editor told me of the opportunity to travel to Antarctica to do a joint piece with our science correspondent, I jumped at the chance. The idea of shadowing a scientific expedition intrigued me. I was to join a group of researchers from a university in Massachusetts who were intending to survey uncharted parts of the Southern continent. It would seem ludicrous that in this age of satellite imaging there would be unexplored areas of the Earth’s surface, but as one of the team’s geographers explained to me, some mostly mysterious magnetic forces at the pole means images often come up distorted and useless.

A research vessel not unlike the one we travelled on.

We travelled by boat. A plane big enough to carry all of us and our equipment would not have been allowed to land on Antarctica due to its strict environmental protections. We launched from New Zealand, traversing the Southern Ocean with the intention to land at Zuchelli Station. It’s a permanent research post run by the Italians, and would be where I’d call home for a week or so whilst we set up our equipment and prepared for the expedition. However, conditions were particularly rough on the waters as the boat approached, and we failed to receive radio contact from anyone there. Instead, we had to sail further into the Ross Archipelago to the US-run McMurdo Station. It was from here that the journey began.

People always assume Antarctica is a completely frozen land. Most of it is, but in the coastal areas – warmed by the ocean – temperatures can rise just enough for the frost to melt, exposing the jet black rock underneath. It’s a strange type of rock, unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s surprisingly smooth, despite being untouched by geomorphic processes in this eerily still continent. Sometimes the rock even appears to bulge and flinch out the corner of your eye due to (the team’s geologist informed me) thermal processes within the rock’s chemical structure. The rock has an odd aura too it, as if it doesn’t want to be exposed to sunlight. I hate to anthropomorphise minerals, but that’s the only way I can accurately describe it.

There’s something strange about the rock on Antarctica.

We were heading South, towards the pole. Past the rocky shores the landscape gives way to the polar wastes. Vast white sheets of nothing, broken up in part by occasional craggy mountain ranges. To use a cliché, it truly must be seen to be believed. Language is not advanced enough of a tool to express clearly what it feels like to be there. The wind whips incessantly, and sounds like the roaring of some huge beast. The environment is so hostile it triggers some base psychological reaction. You feel watched, though from where in this endless expanse you do not know. You feel like you are being told by this place that you are making an affront to the Creator. A human in a decidedly inhuman place.

The days drag on in Antarctica. The sixth months of daylight in Summer are not bright, but 24 hours of infinite dusk. It doesn’t feel like night or day, but like purgatory. We could travel in the jeeps for what felt like weeks only to find we’d been going 2 days. It was worse to find out it had been 2 hours.

How long has it been like this?

As the pole grew nearer – or, at least, our navigation equipment told us it was drawing closer – members of our teams began to have breaks. The biologist, a young post-grad from a university in Germany began to complain that her teeth and eyes felt like they were growing. She said the sensation was unbearable. Once in camp, the geologist had to restrain her. They found her missing two incisors and a canine, bloody pliers in hand.

Officially 5 weeks into the expedition, we came across a crevasse emitting a low rumbling noise. The leader of the expedition, a quiet veteran of the continent said nothing except to ignore it and be extremely careful not to look directly into it. I dreamed of that crevasse for days after.

What was down there?

At some point between week 6 and week 9 (our electronic clocks and calendars began behaving erratically, displaying days that couldn’t exist and years far into the future), we came across a seal carcass in the path of our vehicles. The bloated corpse of this sea mammal was hundreds of miles from the ocean. I stepped out onto the plateau to get a closer look, and saw its belly was gashed open. Inside was a mass of writhing tendons.

Oh God, the tendons.

I wish I did not remember the tendons.

Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh GodOh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God

Don’t travel to Antarctica. The shapes there aren’t real. Time exists in a loop in a loop in a loop in a loop.

I don’t know how I got back. I just awoke here at my desk. I feel inconceivably compelled to write this article. Antarctica doesn’t want you there please don’t go there don’t listen to anyone who says you should go there please please please please I beg you, the continent begs you it tells you it commands you please don’t travel there it’s entirely not worth it you’ll regret it oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god.

Antarctica: 3/5

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