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

Antarctica Dispatch series

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. He'll be transmitting on-site reports to Travel Weekly's New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (weather and Internet access permitting).

It always tears at my heartstrings to break the bonds that form when I fall in love with a place. It was never more true than with Antarctica. It's such a strange, remote, awe-inspiring destination, and it seems unlikely I'll have a chance to visit again.

As the fourth and final day in Antarctica wound to a close with the fanfare of a snowstorm barbecue and the crews show, the euphoria dissolved and the Drake Passage loomed ahead.

The passengers consciousness drew back from the mysterious, icy peaks and into the ship, which would be their sole environment for two days. I found myself identifying with the onboard community, especially the ones who make it their job to return to Antarctica over and over.

Those who live the Antarctic life are a rare breed; they share a camaraderie imaginable to only a few. For Russ Manning, an expedition leader who would be returning south with another group as soon as the ship dropped us off in Ushuaia, spending the winter back home would never do.

I've been coming here 17 years, he said. I dont know what Id do back in London, where its all overcast, snowing, everybody's driving their Mercedes and the BMWs.

He spoke with the wide drawl of an Aussie, but he is originally from Manchester, England. In his many years of nautical Austral travel, he developed a sailors accent that sounded more Australian than proper English. Manning never even wore a hat when he was piloting the Zodiacs through the icy waters. He was tough as nails. As I talked to him I felt transported into a Joseph Conrad novel.

He'd built an igloo in his backyard in Manchester when he was five years old, he said. No one told him how to do it. I wanted to sleep out there, but my mum frowned on that, he said. He joined the Royal Marines, just for adventure, and it took him into the Arctic for a few years. After he left the service, a job came up in Antarctica and he went for it. As he built his experience, he no longer had to look for jobs. They came looking for him. The world of the Antarctic is a small community.

For me its like destiny, he said. I was born to be here.

I knew he was glad not to be me, to be going where I was going, back to an office.

The trip across the Drake Passage to Ushuaia would be another two days. Then it would take two more days to make the flights back to New York. Ironically, we only spent four days of the two-week trip in Antarctica. The rest of the time we were traveling to and from the destination. This is the longest trip to a trip Ive ever taken, said one guest.

The Drake was kinder on the return trip. The veterans called it Drake Lake, though sometimes its even smoother, they said. It was as if the gods were being kind to us, as if we had paid our dues to get to the forbidden kingdom and now we were among the initiates.

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


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