Three months after my Peregrine trip to Antarctica, I am still processing the experience.
I knew instinctively well before the trip with my son that I would need some time afterwards before heading back to work. You can’t go that far from home – that far from anybody’s home – to one of the planet’s extremes and not expect to come home unmoved and ready to resume normal duties as if nothing had changed. My naïve mistake was in thinking that after a week I would have processed enough of the experience to stop my mind from involuntarily wandering back to myriad moments of intense recollection.
I did return to work after a week with my usual passion. I love my job, but the vivid memories and flashbacks to Antarctica – and the journey there and back – have kept coming at me at work, at home, when I am out with friends. I know this kind of ‘re-living the magic moments’ is a feature of any good trip, and I have been blessed with many great trips, but the impact Antarctica has had on me is notably different; it is deeper, it is more immovably embedded, it is still disturbingly awe-inspiring.
As I search for answers why this trip is still affecting me, thirteen weeks after it finished, I find something of a clue in the list of items I jotted down prior to writing this reflection. I started writing the list of those things that keep cropping up in my mind with such clarity, thinking it might be four or five key elements: without having to stop and think about it, I spurted out a list of fifteen.
Some of them are what I call “frozen moments” – things that are almost like a mental photograph: the albatrosses trailing in the wake of the boat, the first view of the Antarctic coast, the all-shades-of-blue crevices in the icebergs, the ubiquitous glacial cliff edges, the skinned penguin cast aside by a leopard seal, the BBQ on the open ship deck, the polar plunge, the haunting and stark desolation of Deception Island, the mauves, crimsons, violets and pinks of incredible sunrises and sunsets.
Others are more like short mental videos – crossing the Drake Passage in an 11-metre swell, the view of the ‘mother’ cruise boat appearing from behind a giant iceberg while we were trekking on shore, the leopard seal ‘buzzing’ our flotilla of kayaks, the avalanche that spilled in front of our ship as it navigated the narrow straits between two Antarctic islands, and the grand-daddy of them all, the Minke whale that surfaced lazily right in the midst of our kayaks and Zodiacs.
Others again are more experiential than visual memories: the fabulous food, the amazing crew, the incredible learning sessions on board the ship, the unbelievable camaraderie that developed amongst people from all parts of the world who had just met and were together for just the eleven days of the tour, the deep, deep impact of the gob-smacking beauty of the mountains, glaciers, icebergs and wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula.
As a 63-year-old, there are only two trips I have done in my 44 years of travelling, hiking, camping and trekking that I have a hankering to do again, and each of those for similar but discreet reasons: walking the Camino Frances, 800 kilometres across the breadth of northern Spain, and my Peregrine adventure to Antarctica. The former for the deep, internal spiritual reflection and sense of being that such a pilgrimage elicits from deep inside one, and the latter for the deep, external spiritual experience of awe being in the midst of something so pristine, so majestic, so stunningly, ruggedly, dangerously beautiful.
All images by Liam Neal.
Experience the beauty of Antarctica on a Peregrine polar tour.