I was at a party last night, chatting to some guy I’d met before. Lovely dude. He mentioned he’d recently come back from Antarctica. Antarctica is one of those beacon subjects for me at a party. I don’t know why. It’s not the first time I’ve talked to someone who travelled there for work, but it never ceases to be a fascinating topic. Maybe it was growing up in NZ, the proximity meant that we heard about Antarctica a bunch. I remember watching all these old school videos of large barges breaking up the ice. Or March of the Penguins style documentaries. I remember being so excited to visit the Antarctic Adventure at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium when it opened. There was just something otherworldly about such an inhospitable location. It was exotic and outside of the realms of anything I ever imagined experiencing. So when I chatted to this dude I was understandably engaged.
As he talked, I was struck with how subdued life in Antarctica sounded. We’re so overstimulated in our daily lives. Between the infinite sprawl of the internet and the constant bombardment of advertising, Antarctica seemed stark, like the simplicity would bring things into focus. The guy talked about how mundane pleasures really meant something while he was there. The emotional warmth of a luxury item brought from home. Maybe some Baileys he’d stowed away added to a hot chocolate. Being able to send and receive scattered messages from his girlfriend back in Canada. Having to be driven around by someone else until he got his bearings, then having the freedom to explore. Someone else asked him how he passed the time, if he’d brought hard drives full of series’ to watch. He countered that while he’d assumed that’d be the way, he never found himself having the spare time. Antarctica was still so fresh and new. If he wasn’t working, he was sleeping or adventuring out just to see things. That without stimuli constantly vying for his attention, his mind seemed free to run wild. He was processing information in a whole new way. Friendships he built seemed built on a genuine desire to connect and see the best in one another. Supplies were rationed, which took his mind off a lot. He was able to exist in a way that wouldn’t be possible back in normal society. He could kind of just “be”, y’know? He couldn’t wait to go back.
Imagine finding your centre like that. Arriving somewhere that enabled you to find parts of yourself you didn’t know were important to you. I’ve gone on holidays before, obviously. I’ve had a great time exploring, living as the locals do. Losing myself in how it feels to travel, to feel uninhibited. At the same time, it’s always felt temporary and fleeting. I’ve never been somewhere that resonated with me in such a profound way. What does that feel like? I swear I’ve had those passing moments, but it’s never struck me to my core. At the same time, I’m sure there’s somewhere out there. There has to be. How do you find that? Do you just know once you’ve arrived? What if there’s a life out there that would complete me, but I’ll never know it?
Egads, I wasn’t looking for a personal crisis. I just wanted to know about penguins.