The Ghosts of Antarctica
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Last night, we sailed 117.2 nautical miles north of our position yesterday at Danco Island, arriving early this morning off the barren shores of Telefon Bay. As the port side anchor of Hurtigruten’s FRAM clattered down into the sea below, another day for the 199 of us onboard this spectacular Voyage of the Penguins voyage began.
Volcanic in nature, Telefon Bay is named after a ship called the Telefon that ran aground and was repaired in this protected inlet in 1909. It is part of Deception Island, which is so-named because of the many unassuming but deadly navigational hazards that posed great risk to the early sealing vessels that came here.
On a map, Telefon Bay looks like a broken ring; a doughnut that someone has taken a small bite out of. But it is this ring shape that makes for such a safe and sheltered harbour; a standout among the numerous unprotected islands here in Antarctica. Located much farther north than you might expect from the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island is the place that makes me glad I brought along a small map and guidebook of Antarctica.
This isn’t like the other spots we’ve been to. The landscape at Telefon Bay is completely monochromatic; a world where blackened earth gives way to grey mountains that rise like a gradient into white snowcaps that blend seamlessly with the featureless sky.
It is a sad and infinitely lonely place. Whereas yesterday showcased Antarctica’s unbelievable natural beauty, our journey this morning revealed its desolate and unforgiving side. This is the side that reminds you of how many polar explorers have lost their lives here. Like a nightmare, it prods you with the thoughts of those who have struggled to merely stay alive in this harsh and unforgiving land. It is the split personality of a place that is at once alluring and welcoming, and viciously unfair.
Yet, even here, in this Ansell Adams-like landscape, there is a quiet stillness that can inspire. The longer I stood at the top of this Martian hill, the longer I became convinced that this might be one of the most soulful places on earth. Not a sound could be heard – not even penguins or birds. Just the howling of the wind that whipped at the back of my bright blue Hurtigruten jacket; the only instance of colour as far as the eye can see on Telefon Bay.
I love listening to movie scores – you know, the instrumental tracks that run in the background of a film. As I stood on the ashen earth that surrounded me, one track kept running through my head. That track was called, “It’s a Process”, by Mychael Danna from the movie Moneyball. I have hyperlinked to it so you can pull it up on YouTube; I think it’s appropriate for these bleak surroundings, particularly considering that standing there this morning felt like being part of a movie; one where all the external sounds have been turned down, leaving nothing but the score running underneath.