34 young people from all over the world visit the fragile continent.The participants did not have much in common, other than the fact that they were all between 18 and 24 years of age. One was a Chechen guy whose father was missing in action. Another was an Irish man, a farmer and the father of one, alongside a Scotsman who, after eight years of substance abuse, had completed his detoxification and had devoted himself to fighting against drug use. And then there was the Serbian girl who had to flee the war in Bosnia and live illegally in the United Kingdom, unable to do the one thing she likes most: ballet. This trip was going to demonstrate how strong, yet how fragile, we all were. Antarctica's endless white plains and the elements would affect us all to the same extent.
My trip began the day after New Year's day as I flew to Buenos Aires via Paris. The flight was long and tiring but, in anticipation of the exciting days to come, I wasn't bothered.
I arrived at Buenos Aires at midnight where I joined our group. We then flew to Tierra del Fuego, to a place called Ushuaia, otherwise known as "the end of the world." The first glimpse we caught was magnificent. We saw a small village amongst the snowcapped mountains. Beyond was the ocean punctuated by many tiny islands. And then there was Hotel Tolyeken, marvelous and all ours.
The new year (1997) began on a high note for these 34 individuals from 35 countries. It started out by offering a once in a lifetime adventure, allowing these people from all over the world to join forces to discover Antarctica, led by some of the most renowned guides. These young people were to discover their abilities, be educated on topics such as universal cooperation, leadership, and environmental awareness in the course of 35 days on the continent.
We spent the first day playing educational group games. At 23:30, when it grew dark, I was sadly reminded that this marvelous month I was to spend here had already begun counting down. We started our second day of training with learning to use a camcorder. Then we went to the National Park and practiced hiking, climbing, administering first aid, surviving on ice, canoeing, and choosing an appropriate campsite. Each time we thought that it was pushing five o'clock in the afternoon, we would find out -- much to our amazement -- that it was already 10 PM.
As we began climbing the steep mountains in Ushuaia, I was disappointed to find out that I was under prepared for all of these things we were practicing. But I soon realized that what was important was not to give in to feelings of despair but to be strong. I mean, when I looked on the bright side, I was learning all kinds of things that were foreign to me before. Our Vietnamese friend was even more bewildered than I was: he had just seen snow for the first time in his life!
The architect of this project was Professor Swan, who had led expeditions to both the North and the South Poles. He first made it to the North Pole in 1989, accompanied by eight people from eight countries. This was the first international expedition to set foot on the ice. His next goal was to assemble the largest group of youths and march down to Antarctica. He started the expedition with two friends walking towards the Berkner Island from the South Pole -- a trip on foot that was 2,100 kilometers (1,300 mi.) long. The expedition then met up with the 34 participants in Ushuaia. On the morning of our fourth day in Ushuaia, our excitement reached its peak when we were joined by Prof. Swan. He had had to shorten his long march just to meet with us. We were finally able to meet the man who devoted three years of his life to making this expedition possible.
The following day was an important one. We were to embark on our journey towards Antarctica in a boat, the Khromov. The boat had run aground on a previous trip and had undergone repairs.
First we moved to another hostel in a neighboring village because there were no rooms available at our hotel anymore. The villagers were very helpful and tried to assist us in every way, even if that meant putting their own work aside for a while. For those of us who spent the better part of our lives in large cities, this was an attitude we were not very used to. Still, I was not prepared to leave the city for a small village.
We spent our time preparing for the days to come by sharpening our trekking skills, walking, playing educational games, and listening to various presentations. Since I was part of the media group, I spent most of my time shooting footage of the trip. Every day, we watched the footage and discussed it.
Finally, it was time for us to embark on our journey. Our luggage and equipment was really heavy. In order to load all of it onto the boat, we created a human chain and passed the luggage along and onto the bus that took us back to Ushuaia. We could see the Khromov from a distance. We were all very excited. Finally, we were on the boat.
It took as two days to get through the Drake Strait through which one must pass on the way from the southernmost part of South America to Antarctica. The waves here can stand at 30 meters. On the last evening, Bronco Lane told us a little bit about Antarctica. "Most of you have been waiting for this moment for years," he said. "We will begin seeing the first signs of Antarctica tomorrow, and tomorrow starts at midnight today." Having taken this cue, we all assembled on the deck at midnight. We were now passing through the "Antarctic Convergence" where the cold waters of the south meet the warmer waters of the north. We were surrounded by fog. It was as though we were traveling into the unknown on a ship that was moving through the fog. It was as though we were the only ones on the planet. When we emerged out of the cloud of fog, it was all white. On 18 January 1997, we spent the first hours of the day admiring this faraway continent from the deck of our ship. A strange kind of white, almost bluish, surrounded us. We watched the mountains of snow until 3 AM.
Thirty-four young people from 25 countries were about to embark on an adventurous trip to Antarctica, "the icy continent." The project was funded by the United Nations and UNESCO and was to take place within the scope of the Tandem One Step Beyond program. The trip was the brainchild of Robert Swan, an impassioned explorer of the North and South Poles and the first person to reach both on foot. The group embarked on its journey in Ushuaia in Argentina -- know to some as the "end of the world."
The first stop on the way was Port Lockroy. The canal that was to lead the group to Rothera -- Le Maire Canal -- was full of icebergs. One was the largest our group had seen, including Robert Swan.
One of the scientific experiments undertaken by the young explorers was counting penguins. Sharon (USA) and Theodora (Serbia) meticulously weighed the baby penguins.
The boat that carried the group to Antarctica was called Professor Khromov. The Khromov had run aground on a previous trip and had to be repaired which put this trip in jeopardy. But the boat was repaired in time, and the group embarked on their journey, defying all obstacles. When Khromov emerged from the icy Le Maire Canal, it was met by an icebreaker boat.
Our first lesson on Antarctica was about how the continent was formed over millions of years and how we could survive here. Our first stop was Port Lockroy. We all disembarked. I and three others went to the campsite and struck our tents. One of the most fundamental things you must know in Antarctica is to know exactly where all the things are that are instrumental for your survival: these are sleeping bags, tent, and food. Our camcorders and journals were not that important at this point, because they weren't directly helpful in keeping us alive. You needed four hands if you wanted to carry a heavy backpack, shoot footage and break ice with you pick all at the same time.
We ran into the first penguin colony here and began counting them. We were surrounded by hundreds of penguins who had recently had babies. Shewers (birds that prey on the young of the penguins) were patiently hovering above us as the penguins tried to scare them away by letting our horrible cries. We also noticed the huge whale bones. Apparently, Port Lockroy was used by whale hunters before the Port began to be used by the British Navy in 1944.
Our second stop in Port Lockroy was Rothera. It was impossible not to be amazed as we passed through the Le Maire Canal. The canal was filled with hundreds of icebergs of all sizes which, as a result of the wind, were pushed towards the canal. We sailed past them. The weather was perfect. Along the way, we saw many Adelie penguins and Leopard seals. Because of the changing weather, the captain decided to change his course and head towards Paradise Bay instead of Rothera. When we reached the bay, we could not believe our eyes. It was as though we were surrounded by the Alps. We made a team and left to check the place out. We found out that the hut near the shore had disappeared and were forced to camp elsewhere.
"We must all have lost our minds!" That was probably what was going through everyone's head. Today was January 23. We were not able to reach the Argentine base as planned because there were some scientific experiments underway where we wanted to camp. The weather had taken a turn for the worse. The wind was blowing thousands of icebergs -- large and small -- into the bay. Before our very eyes, a gigantic iceberg had been shattered to pieces. This mountain of ice had all of a sudden started to shake and split in two. Its pieces, which at this point had drifted apart, were further crumbled into pieces. Within five minutes, the huge iceberg was nothing but scattered heaps of ice.
Since the weather was so bad, it was almost impossible for the ship to stop and for us to reach land in our small zodiacs (inflatable boats). So we started towards Deception Island. It was almost six in the morning when we reached the island. We immediately took off for the island on our zodiacs. The beach was black. Near the shore, the water was pretty warm. If you dug some on the shore, what came out was warm water. Two meters from the shore, however, the water was icy cold, 1 C (34 F), according to our measurements This is because Deception Island is volcanic.
Once on the island, we divided up into functional groups. While some of us were busy doing various experiments, others were preparing our gazette to be posted on our homepage on the Internet. Sometimes we would take a break from what we were doing and reflect on the trip as a whole.
After our adventure on Deception Island, we headed towards Robert Island. When we got to the island, some of us went to the Chilean base. I, along with some others, remained behind to do some ice-climbing. Ice-climbing is a lot of fun, but it is also quite dangerous. It involved climbing down an iceberg towards the sea. That evening, we celebrated the birthday of the Captain of our ship. The festive food, prepared by Walter the cook, was delicious. And we blew some steam dancing the Macarena.
On the following morning, we left for Hannah's Point which was the last stop on our itinerary. Hannah's Point was where you could get closest to penguins and elephant seals. When we disembarked, we were amazed by the number of penguins around, which seemed to fill the entire beach. The penguins were incredibly cute but their smell was terrible. We also saw some elephant seals. Since it was time for the seals to shed their skin, there were large numbers of them on the beach. Their skin was coming off in pieces and they were making unbelievable noises. We were fortunate enough to see some Atlantic seaweed on the island, something that is becoming almost extinct.
We could not get enough of the cute penguins, but we had to start heading back. Accompanied by albatrosses, we began our two-day journey back to Ushuaia. Most of us were terribly seasick all the way to Cape Horn because of the incredible waves that seemed to have no end. These waves were coming from Northeast Russia. Having gathered steam along the way, they were huge when they reached these waters. The only sentence we could possibly post on the Internet regarding this portion of the trip was: "Sorry, we are all seasick!!"
We flew back to Buenos Aires on February 1. At 11 AM on the same day, we held a press conference. The goodwill ambassador from the United Nations, some ambassadors -- including that of Turkey -- and other state officials were present at this conference. We single-filed onto the stage to get our UNESCO youth ambassador certificates from the UN official. We then received our medals from Robert Swan. The display of emotions on stage is difficult to describe: some were crying after having spent 35 days together, others had locked themselves together in a collective hug.
We all got up early on February 4. This was an important day because 27 of us were returning to our countries via London that day. We all went to the airport. After we saw them off, there were only 12 of us left behind.
On the following day, we got on the airport shuttle. On the way, we talked about how well we got to know our fellow participants. Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes at the airport. This farewell was painful: for the first time in my life, I had gotten this close to a group of people. This thirty-five day saga had been an unforgettable experience: one that included sadness, joy, challenge and a host of other things.
Since the weather was so bad, the captain decided to change the course of the ship toward Deception Island. The island is volcanic in origin and the water at its shores was hot. Just a couple of meters ahead, however, it was icy cold again. The group tried to "cool down" on the beach. As the waves, bringing the cold waters, rushed in, we tried to offset their effect by digging small wells into the sand from where we could get warm water. Among those on the beach is Robert Swan, the one in the interesting hat.
Damvoy Hut was one of our campsites. At Davoy Hut, moving the camping equipment to the shore sometimes looked like mission impossible.
Sue Stockdale, the first English woman to reach the North Pole, led us on walks around the campsite.
Crispin Day is one of three who walked from the South Pole to the Patriot Hills during an expedition led by Robert Swan in 1989. The purpose of this expedition was to cross Antarctica from one end to the other. In order to complete this 1,200 kilometer (750 mi.) trek, they relied on "tailwind" whenever possible.
The only means of transportation into the heartland of Antarctica is cargo planes.