When my friend Dan Lack persuaded me to go to Antarctica last summer, little did I know it was going to change my life. “Samantha, come on.. ANTARCTICA.” “Dan, I don’t even know where Antarctica IS… Plus, I have to make an album! I can’t go to, like, the bottom of the earth! And… is that where polar bears are, or penguins?” (penguins)
“Trust me, it’ll change your life” So I did. And it did.
Cut to 3 months later, I found myself sitting on a plane headed south to Buenos Aires. I’d never been to South America before; all these years of being a US-based musician had kept me primarily in the States, living vicariously through my friends. Instead of a guitar case, which had served as my traveling companion for so long, I now carried a backpack full of snow gear and more SmartWool than I’d ever seen before. I was part-terrified (my Spanish is horrible) and part-exhilarated (I love a good story:)
I could already feel myself opening up, and though I had traveled a bit for fun or volunteer, my music career had always been in the back of my mind so I could never truly “let go”. It felt good to leave it back in the States and be fully in the present with my traveled. When I reached my group in B.A., a posse of fun-loving, dynamic people from around the world, I knew it was going to be an adventure. We were going… to explore. We reached Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and boarded the M/S Expedition, no-frills Baltic cruiser ship that looked seriously ready for action. To get to Antarctica, you need to first cross the Drake Passage… 2 straight days at sea… AND the roughest waters on the planet. The Westerly winds are pinched between the South American and Antarctica points, which created 8 Meter swells and 20-degree ship tilts. I was catching air on my mattress as I slept and I swore the crew could have tried out for Cirque du Soleil. At certain points, the waves were so massive you couldn’t even see the sky… just one wall of wave!!… and to think we were this insignificant little vessel barreling through the freezing ocean tundra, hundreds of miles from anything, was nothing short of awesome.
Once we crossed the Antarctic convergence, the temperature dropped 5 degrees almost instantly, the sea calmed, and icebergs that could have passed for Frank Lloyd Wright dwellings floated by. Summertime in Antarctica meant 24/7 daylight, so we were able to see the magnificent albatross, mother and calf whales and even seals laying out on ice floats escorting us to the continent. It was INCREDIBLE. I was … in love. Never have I been engulfed such penetrating beauty, peace, and silence before.
The expedition team, which was made up of marine biologists, scientists, ornithologists, geologists, you name it, were so passionate about their work in the Antarctic that the inspiration was infectious. By the 2nd day I was able to tell the difference between a Crabeater seal and a Weddell seal and was using words like “starboard” instead of “starbucks”- totally enamored with ship-life and loving the simplicity of a place where nature & wildlife truly governed people.
We spent the next 10 days doing landings across the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands via the coolest things ever invented by mankind- zodiacs. In those incredible things, not only did I feel like a secret agent going on a covert mission a la Goldeneye, we could easily navigate the jigsaw puzzle of sea ice, calving icebergs and freezing waves. Trekking to tops of active volcanoes, snowy ridges and quietly sitting amongst penguins as they build their rock-nests was just part of this incredible journey down in this fantastically inhospitable frontier.
For me, being someone who loves animals yet hadn’t really had many experiences that didn’t involve a fence, I connected deeply. The Antarctic wildlife is the perfect place to observe animals in their natural habitat, un-phased and untouched by human presence, and the number of species were condensed enough that you could truly acknowledge each one.
I think these images speak for themselves, a world with no people, no cities, no borders, no laws. Just appreciation and awe for one of the last pure places on earth.
If you decide to travel to Antarctica, make sure you go with this company- G Adventures. The expertise, passion and familial vibe far exceeded any expectations of ship-travel and I highly recommend them! Big Thank You to Captain Chorbadchiev for delivering us home safely and showing us how navigation in extreme conditions is DONE!
Dan was right, it did change my life. I was out of my comfort zone, completely, and am now planning to travel in 2012. For what better way to enrich the very thing that I thought was keeping me from it before, music? It’s funny how life gives you penguins sometimes… 😉
-Samantha Stollenwerck (Guest Contributor)