After almost 30 hours sailing through The Drake Passage, the Sea Spirit arrived to the Southern Ocean. In the early hours of March 8th, amidst the strong wind and heavy cloud coverage in the sky, we got our first glance at the magic continent: glaciers in the distance as far as the eye could see.
Through the morning we began to see small icebergs as we approached Melchor Island. Since we had arrived earlier than expected, we were in for a treat and took our first zodiac excursion here.
In preparation for our landing we received a briefing about the wildlife on the island as well as instructions on how to conduct ourselves if, say, a leopard seal approached you. In tandem with the precautions we had to take, we were also assigned teams named after Antarctic explorers like Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton. This came after a previous briefing during the crossing of the Drake Passage when we were introduced to the history of these explorers who risked it all.
As we neared Melchor Island, we had to go through a bio-security check to remove all dust, debris and possible seeds from our clothing and make sure every single piece of equipment that we took was clean so that we wouldn't introduce foreign particles in the pristine environment of Antarctica. All vessels that come to Antarctica have to take strong measures to ensure that no harm is done to the wildlife and the historical sites.
Once we had gone through the bio-security check, the 2041 staff assigned us to zodiaks for our first landing on Melchor Island. This was the first opportunity to test our equipment and to ensure that we understood how to use multiple layers of clothing without overheating.
It is important to know how to layer because if you start hiking and you begin to overheat, you will begin to sweat a lot. If you don't remove the layers as you go, you run the risk of exhaustion. The hazard here is overexertion and stopping—sweat could freeze in your clothes and this is dangerous for your health. For the same reason, you don't wear cotton in Antarctica. Synthetic fibers draw out the moisture through the layers and keep you warm.
As a designer the clear analog is to iterate. Iterate often, rearrange your gear and keep on walking, otherwise you won't be successful in reaching the summit.
As we lined up in the zodiac docking bay, I remember listening to my breath and taking it all in slowly. The polarized ski goggles I had with me were the best layering decision I made as it fully covered my face and saved me from the freezing rain during the zodiac transfers to shore and to/from the ship. It also minimized the glare from the sun and the ice. You simply can't go to Antarctica without eye protection.
As the zodiak made its way to Melchor Island, we began to see the colors of algae that live on the ice in shades of green and red. We also saw the small Chinstrap penguin colony and fur seals. The view was stunning and the smell was strangely familiar: if you have visited a farm and found yourself surrounded by chickens, you have a pretty good idea of what being with penguins smells like. In all of my preparation I never thought of how it could smell, so this was an absolute surprise.
Once the zodiak arrived on the shore and the engines stopped, we could finally listen to the beauty of Antarctica: it's penguins, seals and all the magical sounds that water can produce—crashing waves, snow or icebergs collapsing in the distance.
From the moment we left Ushuaia, the only prevalent sound that moved us was the engines of the ship. All of the things we did onboard depended on fossil fuels: turning on the lights, the heating, water filtration, food, shower, etc. Everything was noise and fossil fuels.
This was such an important moment for me because it underlined why we were here to begin with: to begin with a clean slate and imagine a world that can move without fossil fuels. A world where the only background noise you hear, isn't noise but nature.
Having this shared awareness is what strengthened our plan ahead: to commit to a sustainable energy transition around the globe in the companies and communities where we lived.
There is so much to what Sir Robert Swan had told us up to this point. But to live it, smell it and see it with your own eyes was something else entirely.
Could you imagine a day without listening to engines? I thought a lot about what it meant for us to land right then and there at Melchor Island. The penguins embraced us and as we admired their footsteps in the snow, it was quite disheartening to see how it only took a few minutes for a stampede of human feet to disrupt all that natural harmony. By the time we left that island all we could see behind in the ground was human footprints in the slush and the snow.
Footnote: As we left Melchor Island and headed to the Lemaire Channel, we prepared for dinner and had the opportunity to see Humpback Whales in a fantastic sunset.
About Arturo Pelayo
Arturo's passion is to connect people. He believes that Design is an art of listening, observing and emergent thinking. His work lies at the intersection of Social Media and Instructional Design. Learn about his work through his portal: ArturoPelayo.com or follow him on twitter @mexiwi