World traveler adds Antarctica to her 250 countries’ list

The author in awe of Antarctica

The author in awe of Antarctica

By Odette Ricasa

“We had no dark nights, just day light and sunshine all the time on the East side, blizzard on the West of the Peninsula.” TheFilamLA’s roving writer and artist Odette Ricasa writes an account of her adventure in Antarctica, adding this unique destination to the list of 250 countries she has visited. Odette’s accounts of her interesting and varied contacts around the world will occasionally grace our magazine.

Antarctica is like nowhere else on earth. There is nothing to make a living, no trees, no food, no shelter, no clothing, no fuel, and no liquid water. Nothing but ice. It belongs to nobody. Explorers from Russia, Norway, England, U.S.A., Australia, among others all wanted to stake a claim for the territory. In the end, an international treaty was signed by countries that forbids commercial exploitation and dedicates the entire place to peace and sincerity. Yes!!!

The sun was fire-gold and leaden. The weather: zero to 8 degrees Celsius. Ice and weather, not clocks and calendars determined our itinerary and time schedule.

Our expedition ship, the Sea Spirit with a huge blade at the bottom would cut thru the ice. When it was time to stop, the anchor was lowered mechanically to the bottom of the ocean.

Our daily excursions were by zodiac (a small inflatable boat powered by an outboard motor) landings. Dragging the unwieldy, suffocating bright yellow Quark Expedition parka weighing 10 pounds, bright orange life vests, rubber boots and water repellant pants, Shane, our expedition leader announces, “Gangway at 9 a.m.!”

Dr. Jeet grouped us in 10s. We went down to the boarding platform where we had to immerse our boots in a tub of saline water to make sure we did not bring any foreign object to the open seas. Once aboard the zodiac Neptune with five Yamaha engines, I became conscious of the wind whisking across the frozen ice then to my face like a giant broom.

Awe-struck by the immensity of the landscape, I noticed the slopes continuing to rise in a romance between the ice bergs, the seabirds and the ocean. I was hypnotized by the orange and pink light. Over the horizon were sepia toned rocks, smooth as polished white marble. It was such a glorious highland to rejoice.

I pinched my arm and asked myself: Is this life elsewhere in the universe? Is this the geographic South Pole, the notional axis around which the earth spins? Is this where the magnetic poles line together?

My heart beat fast as a sparrow’s. Intoxicated, I wanted to grab handfuls of music in the air, write a symphony, play the piano and shout to the world “Come and see this!”

I wanted to scamper for my canvass, color paints and brush, paint this dream escape and make it a masterpiece. I melted in a profusion of unexplainable excitement. This must be when God created the earth as described in the Bible.

We are a small speck in a vast, harshly beautiful land.

We are a small speck in a vast, harshly beautiful land.

Testing my physical prowess, I wielded a walking stick as our boots tramped over pale golden rocks and chocolate colored boulders and crusty ice. Richard from London and Piero from Milan stretched a helping hand, a challenge that required careful footwork.

The fishy smell was noticeable. In this big spot there was enough wind to whisk the rank smell. Thousands of gentoo, chinstrap, adelie and rock hopper penguins were chattering to themselves and opened their beaks operatically wide. They balanced their laborious way, stumbling and falling. Some were in the sea huddled floating on ice floe, a perfect scene for cartoonists and animators. Grayish, straw brown skua polar birds were perched on rocks.

At Wilhelmina Bay we were two feet away from groups of humpback and killer whales. They spun their tails in a choreographed position. In groups of three or more, they transformed from gray to silver in the snow-blown light. Shaking in fear, I exclaimed, “We will be thrown overboard. They will swallow us!” “No, no!” With no natural land predators, such as polar bears or man, whales in this water behave much differently –showing little fear of man.

At Port Lockroy, everything was radiant. Believe it or not, it had a Post Office where you can buy postcards and stamps. Mail it right there!

We had no dark nights, just daylight and sunshine all the time on the East side, blizzard on the West of the Peninsula. Because it was seldom pitch dark, the stars were invisible under the clouds. At 2 o’clock in the morning, we could see the sun rising. The mist filled in with light where dreams became too vivid.

The future shines for everyone. Antarctica has much more than ice and penguins. It is like walking on Mars, a unique window into space. It has valleys that time has forgotten, mysterious hidden lakes, under-ice waterfalls that flow uphill.

The Bar was on Deck four. We sipped cappuccino at dawn, grouped with early risers who doled out their season’s travel stories. While they talked, quietly, I inched my way to the polished and shiny Yamaha grand piano. Then played my all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and the powerful “Besa me Mucho.”

Call it inspiration, call it grandeur. It is simply that indescribable feeling; we are a small speck in a vast, harshly beautiful land.

Right now, Antarctica still has me in its grasps. It is not a magic spell. The inner workings of my mind are clear. I fell in love with its beauty and splendor. Obsessed and possessed, I hope we continue to leave Antarctica untouched.

Captivated, I still see Antarctica when I close my eyes. Not as a passing meteorite but with visions of the future. An experience that will resonate long after the trip is over.

Odette Ricasa has traveled to 250 countries. Send your comments to Odette25@aol.com.



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