Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Disembarking Professor Multanoskiy

24 January 2010
Ushuaia, Argentina

Early this morning, we disembarked our cozy home of the past 18 nights, Professor Multanovskiy. Many of us headed to the airport, bound for connecting flights to North America. A few lingered in Ushuaia, a town I could never have enough time to spend visiting. The dozen or so of us who participated in the pre-trip in Chile, boarded our bus headed to Punta Arenas, Chile.

Each of us collected many memories, and some, photographs of the special places we had visited during our time in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Over the weeks, we have come to reflect on our remarkable days in what is surely one of Earth's most pristine and glorious destinations.

Here are the words of Bernard Stonehouse:

"Well, we've visited Antarctica—in reality and in spirit—and now we're rolling back to civilization. This is the time when thoughtful travelers sit down and think. On the way south we were too excited; in Antarctic waters we were too busy. Now there is time for reflection. What have 1, 2, or 3 weeks in the wilderness taught us? What are we taking home from Antarctica? Has it all been worth it?

Most passengers I've met, on dozens of cruise ship voyages, are at this stage exhausted but pleased with life. They have had a wonderful experience. There have been things to complain about on board—the cabins, the plumbing, the food, the stuffy lecture room—all matters that good cruise operators want to hear about and take seriously. There are seldom complaints about Antarctica. itself. People have loved it: in sunshine, sleet or rain, in howling gales or flat calm, with three landings a day or none—Antarctica has met and far exceeded their expectations.

Underlying the euphoria is often a sense of unease, perhaps even of guilt. We have put down money and bought Wonderland: Is it really as easy as that? Have we harmed Antarctica? Do visitors like us really leave no trace? Are there no lasting effects on the environment? Don't we owe Antarctica something in return? Then come the practical questions. Who owns Antarctica? Who manages it? Who controls its exploitation? Who left all that rubbish, and why are they allowed to get away with it? How many people visit each year? Who keeps an eye on tour operators, to see that they stay up to the mark, and who sets the mark anyway? [And, he goes on— this could have been the topic of another lecture on board!]

Many travelers regard their Antarctic cruise as a turning point in their lives. They want to keep in touch, possibly to return, certainly to learn more about the place and its problems, perhaps to contribute in some way to its protection. Of these, a portion retain their interest for many years or forever. The Antarctic bug—the one shipboard naturalists didn't warn them about— has claimed many victims.

Whether or not you keep in touch, keep your memories alive and warm. Antarctica was, and is, a wonderful place. It needs friends— folk who will cherish it for its own sake, not just for the living, the knowledge or the prestige that they gain from it. If you enjoyed Antarctica, tell your friends about it. If they are the right kind of people, don't be afraid to get them to visit Antarctica too. "— Bernard Stonehouse

Some, have already gone on to become "ambassadors" for the Antarctic region. This is as it should be. David Campbell in the Crystal Desert has this to say:

“I’ve never lived in a place where light mattered more than in Antarctica, where the photons seemed newly minted... Today, more tourists than scientists visit Antarctica... making a pilgrimage and returning home transformed. This is as it should be. Antarctica should no longer be the exclusive province of government-funded scientists, whalers, and krillers. It should be a world park—the first ever—accessible to all people but possessed by none... The Antarctic Treaty was designed, at least in part, to show us a way out of the cold war, and it seems to have done that. On a continent where the blood of no mother’s son has been spilled in defense of homeland and where no brother has slain brother, people have laid down the tooth-and-claw lessons of savanna and forest, of city-state and nation-state and, by necessity, learned tolerance. This may be Antarctica’s greatest gift to the rest of the world. Is it the way of the future? Perhaps not. But for a while, at one place and for one brief time in human history, we are living up to our name: Homo sapiens.” —David G. Campbell, in Crystal Desert.

Antarctica forever,
Debi Shearwater
Charter Voyage 2010

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