Dispatch: Voyage to the Bottom of the World -- Beginnings

Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell departed for Santiago, Chile, Jan. 3 to begin a two-week adventure to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent. Hell be transmitting on-site reports to Travel Weeklys New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (weather and Internet access permitting).

For me, nearly every trip begins with a long, meditative ride to the airport. Only as I actually step into the car, it seems, do all my efforts to meet deadlines, tie up loose ends and make travel preparations come to an end so that I can finally give my full attention to the adventure that lies ahead.

But in a larger sense, each journey begins with the germ of an idea. The best tour operators are well aware that much of the experience they are selling takes place before the trip, in the customers imagination, in the anticipation of what is to come. Thus they strive not only to create expectations but to meet them.

In that respect, traveling to Antarctica distinguishes itself from any other trip. Its hard to get ones mind around, to even imagine the possibilities. At the same time its very unknowable nature means there are few ways for the mind to turn it into a cliche, compartmentalize it, diminish it with a been-there-done-that attitude. It somehow stands much larger than the ego.

In a way, the closest experience to an Antarctic expedition might be interplanetary travel, because this really is another world -- the only significant land mass on the planet shared by all countries under international treaties. No national government, no customs, no immigration. Defined by no culture. Predisposed to no political philosophy. Even its orientation to planetary motions is alien to our experience. During the austral summer, which is now, the sun barely goes down at all. At any other time of the year, the continent is virtually unapproachable. I expect all of this must have a profound impact on anyone who goes there.

So, when the time came time to actually commence this trek, to finally temper my imagined Antarctica with my experience of the real thing, I found myself heading to the airport without the kind of anticipation that had eased me into other journeys. Today the airport represented a threshold to the unknown, a place different in fundamental ways from any place I had ever visited.

Please share the experience with me. I plan to send back dispatches from the bottom of the world on a daily basis, when possible. Abercrombie & Kent's two-week Antarctica and the Falkland Islands trip begins with a flight to Santiago. The closest international airport to Ushuaia -- the southernmost city in the world and the place from which most Antarctic trips embark -- Santiago in summer is perhaps the antithesis of what lies ahead.

But more on that tomorrow.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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