By Arwa Mohammad Abulhasan
There was a frenzy of excited passengers on the slippery decks of the Sea Spirit as soon as the first iceberg was spotted. We were approaching Antarctica, the icy continent. At that moment in time we were in the infamous Drake Passage, which is similar to an oceanic roller coaster. We were still 10 hours away from Antarctica, but we were getting closer. The excitement was palpable. The 2041 International Expedition to Antarctica had started two days ago in Ushuaia, Argentina where the stellar 2041 team bombarded us with safety briefings, lectures on sustainability, climate change, leadership, and most importantly, the inspiring story of Robert Swan’s walk to the South Pole and how that spurred him to be a champion in the preservation of Antarctica.
The next 10 days made every one of the 81 expedition participants want to dedicate their life to the preservation of this pristine continent. Antarctica was truly breathtaking and every hike or zodiac cruise would prove to us that it was incomparable to any other place on earth. The expedition activities ranged from gentle walks on the ice to reflect and write in our journals, to camping on the ice in -5 degrees Celsius, and hiking a crevasse filled glacier in rope teams. And for the truly daring, there was the much anticipated polar plunge where you jump into the icy Antarctic waters just for fun. But what set this expedition apart was that every activity was planned perfectly with safety at the forefront. Every staff member was fully informed and always there to ensure the animals’ wellbeing and our safety.
Luck is also a big part of any expedition to Antarctica. Mother Nature took from us a chance to hike the brown’s bluff glacier because the waters were very icy that day and we would have been stranded for days or weeks perhaps if we had attempted to go there. But, when life gives you lemons, you learn how to make lemonade. Our lemonade was landing on a large piece of sea ice, which is essentially frozen ocean, and not something that has broken off from a glacier. In return, Mother Nature treated us with the rare opportunity to see around 30 orcas swimming and jumping around our vessel and later, an immense sperm whale, which came close enough for some amazing photographs.
In between the ice landings and zodiac cruises to view the wildlife, we had lectures about the history, geology, and wildlife of the continent, as well as a myriad of talks on leadership and sustainability. We even got the opportunity to help one of our fellow expeditioners collect water specimens to look for microplastics in the Antarctic ocean, and another to test solar panels on the vessel. In short, this was truly an experience of a lifetime. One that left all of the participants hungry for more and sad to land at the port of Ushuaia at the end of the voyage.
Yet, the journey has not ended, in fact, it has just begun. Each and every one of the expedition participants has to make their mark to help raise awareness so that in the year 2041 the Antarctic treaty will remain the same to keep Antarctica as a land reserved for peace and science. The filmmakers in the group will make a film, the educators will educate, the scientists will continue their research and development of alternative energy so that we will never need to drill or mine in this pristine continent. As for me, I will tell my story so that next year there will be more than just one Kuwaiti on the 2041 expedition. So that Kuwaitis view Antarctica not as a touristic destination, but a place to learn and grow and challenge themselves both physically and mentally. Most importantly, my mission is to tell my children how sad the penguins are that they are losing their homes now that their icebergs are melting, as a consequence of us using too much water every time we take a shower or brush our teeth. Every time I see my children turning off the tap or turning off the light, I know that we are that much closer to preserving Antarctica for our grandchildren.