A JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE WORLD IS NOT JUST A LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE BUT IT MAY JUST ADVANCE THE CAUSE OF SAVING ANTARCTICA, THE LAST PRISTINE WILDERNESS
BOLDLY GO WHERE FEW MEN HAVE GONE BEFORE:TO ANTARCTICA
In the month of May 1989, I was studying the ozone hole in the Arctic and the effects of pollutants from the atmosphere onto the pristine icy expanse of the Canadian Arctic at 80 degrees North. This was as part of the group of Instructors at the International Ice Walk Students Expedition, the brainchild of Polar explorer, Robert Swan. It was with grave concern that we looked at the scientific experiments, supported by our team of American and Canadian Scientists, realising that the Ozone hole was indeed enlarging and that PCB’s (Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyls) had started to pollute the Arctic waters. The one key objective was to get the international students and instructors to become ambassadors of the environment and to start creating awareness.
It is ironic, that now, three decades later, I am embarking on a wonderful cruise aboard the Ocean Endeavour—a comfortable, wellappointed small expedition ship expertly engineered to explore the polar regions— that will show us the stark beauty of the Antarctic. Fortuitously, there is little pollution to worry about now. However, the gorilla in the room is the fact that in 2048 the Antarctica Treaty will come to an end and by 2041 so will the moratorium on mining. The fear ahead is that we may lose one of the world’s last pristine wildernesses to development as countries may move in for mining with serious environmental implications.
A JOURNEY WITH A PURPOSE
To this end, I thought the way forward is to consider ways of conservation by taking a group of motivated civil society persons whose voices would be heard and felt. Fortunately, now, one can do it pretty safely and in comfort, yet allowing for a unique education with an awakening to serve this cause. And what better way than experiencing the Antarctic aboard the Ocean En-
deavour. It is also the only polar adventure ship in Antarctica that is focussed on health and wellness and offers a contemporary approach to cuisine and newly-designed health and fitness features.
Essentially, the ship takes 199 passengers and has six deck levels with not only a spa and a gym but also a couple of lounges, dining areas, bars and even a small heated salt water pool. Most Antarctic journeys would start with a flight to the happening city of European heritage, Buenos Aires, where one can get over jet lag with a tall glass of Malbec and some foot-tapping Tango. From there, you need to fly south to the southernmost city on the Planet— Ushuaia—from where the ship sets sail south-east towards Antarctica across the infamous Drake passage.
Our journey will begin on February 22, 2017, in Buenos Aires (some cabins are still available) the meeting point, after which we fly on the 24th to Ushuaia to set sail to the frozen continent. It will serve well to discover our sea legs for the next two days across the Drake Channel which could involve some rolling and pitching. We hope it’s not too placid else it will become the Drake lake nor would we want to be in the eye of a storm where the waves could rise as high as 30ft.
THE FROZEN CONTINENT
After having survived the Drake passage, the 32 of us will then embark on the real up-close experiences by making landings on the seventh continent, which will give us a perspective of what it feels like to be standing on 90 per cent of all the world’s ice and 70 per cent of all the world’s fresh water. From the comfort of a warm cabin, one would come out to sub-zero temperatures. Much like in the movies, one would need to go down to the lowest deck and step out into the Zodiacs—rubberised boats with an outboard motor and propel off towards the Antarctica shelf, past some awesomely sculpted icebergs, only to greet colonies of penguins.
Each day and night would bring out a different kind of magic. Since it is the month of February, we will not only experience night skies with the brilliance of exquisite starry constellations but also amazing icebergs that have cut loose from the main shelf and form objects of beauty reflecting the varying moods of the light.
Other days, we will try to come close and personal with the Humpback or Minke
whales that are best viewed between the months of February and March. Other times, there will be opportunities to visit the cunning Leopard seals. But remember, all footfall has to follow strict environmental protocol where special boots are dipped in sanitised liquids and no food allowed as it can be deemed a pollutant.
ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND OTHER PLEASURES
For the more active, apart from the gentle treks and rambles to view the penguins, there are some invigorating activity choices like the Polar Plunge which is a brain numbing dive into freezing waters—often sub zero—for those who wish to use it as a rite of passage to reaffirm manhood or womanhood. For others, there is kayaking and paddle boarding which are all optional. All this happens as the ship sails along the South Shetland Islands along the Antarctic peninsula. The expedition will also have many scientists, and in particular, guest speaker, Jonathan Shackleton, a cousin of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the legendary polar explorer. He will reinforce why Antarctica is important to preserve for science because of its profound effect on the Earth’s climate and ocean systems as well as being the world’s most important natural laboratory, and a place of great beauty and wonder, of course.
After all, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, mentioned in our Upanishads, suggests that the entire planet is our home and all living beings our family. In that spirit alone, is it not worth protecting forever?
My son, Himraj Soin, Young explorer and Project 2041 Ambassador, who went on an earlier expedition to Antarctica, writes this: “When you’re at the end of the world, the rest of the world stands still. Ordinary problems seem mundane. Untouched by time and humans (mostly), this Terra Australis or “Southern Land” is the harshest, most inhospitable, driest, coldest, and windiest continent on Earth. It is also however, the most pure, primal, peaceful and poignant. It’s the only place on Earth that is how it should be, and may it always remain that way.’’
The year 2017 has been declared the International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations. This journey will show us the way, and allow us to uphold these very principles of sustainability for now and for posterity.
rubberised boats called Zodiacs help come closer to the antarctica shelf, past sculpted icebergs
a colony of penguins waddling along human visitors on their island
lounging areas aboard the oecean endeavour, a special ship to explore the polar regions