Cynthia had originally planned on spending her vacation exploring Thailand, Cambodia and New Zealand. A friend, however, suggested she consider an Antarctic adventure as an exciting alternative. “I wasn't too crazy about it,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, why would I want to go to the bottom of the earth? What could possibly be exciting about that?'”
As she started researching and reading up on Antarctica, she became thrilled by the possibilities.
“It was something I don't think anybody I know would do,” she explains. “I'm not sure I even have friends who would go on an adventure like this. That was appealing – doing something unique.”
Cynthia realized that having an unexpected, brag-worthy experience was important to her, and this began to bring the trip into focus.
“Everyone goes to climb a mountain, everyone goes to Thailand, and that's where I was headed,” she says. She found that there was a lot of information available about where to go and what to do and see in these parts of the world because so many people travel there. “The idea of going to Antarctica was so different and made me think, ‘OK, this could be a very blissful, peaceful and quiet trip,'” she explains.
Cynthia did a lot of her own research and spent a good deal of time discussing her options with Polar Travel Adviser Naomi Box, who has traveled to Antarctica several times herself, including on this unique expedition. “I got really excited, and Naomi and I stayed in conversation for about three months about it,” says Cynthia. “There was a good three-month build-up for me before going to Antarctica.”
Preparing for the Unknown
Cynthia had to address several fears in order to prepare for her Antarctic expedition. Traveling solo also presented a number of misgivings, as well.
“Just the thought of being alone… Even though I understood there would be other people – expedition staff and all kinds of experts who would offer education and knowledge – it still felt like it could be quite isolating,” she says.
She also worried that she couldn't possibly prepare for such an experience. “You know, being in the middle of Antarctica and not having the right insulated pants or not having enough warm clothes,” she says, laughing.
“I just kept reading blogs about cold-climate traveling and watched a bunch of YouTube videos on the best ways to pack. After doing my research, I realized that it's really not that intimidating and my trip would be quite comfortable.”
Getting ready for that first adventure was exciting as she prepared for the completely unknown. Cynthia recommends that you read, watch videos, talk to a Quark Polar Travel Adviser and work your way through any fears you might have about cruises to Antarctica.
Every Voyage is a Unique Antarctic Experience
Cynthia returned from her first Antarctic adventure full of gratitude. “Spiritually, what it moved in me was something I didn't expect,” she says. “Since then, I've paid more attention to organizations that work toward preserving nature and environments for animals, even within my own city. I've been much more engaged with communities and organizations that are out to sustain and keep things alive and well and growing. It definitely changed my perspective – I had a new, vested interest in Antarctica.”
She surprised herself, though, when she tried to plan that trip to Thailand, Cambodia and New Zealand again. Instead of going through with those plans, she found that what she really wanted to do was return to Antarctica.
So, 3 years after her first Antarctic adventure, Cynthia set off on the 20-day expedition.
“I thought my mind had been blown the first time,” she says. “But the second time…” Even now she is at a loss for words.
“I'm standing on a beach,” she recalls. “The water is green, the sun is beaming down and the sand is white, and I'm in full gear. It's hot but also cold at the same time. And there's a penguin sunbathing beside me, there's a dolphin playing in the water, and I am just, like, what is happening? I can't stop thinking about how surreal it was.”
Relishing in her memories of seaweed washed up on pristine beaches and birds she'd never seen singing songs in her ears, Cynthia likens the experience to walking around inside a child's wonderful science project.
“It brings me back to being in sixth grade – you just want to know everything!” she says. “You want to touch every grain of sand, see every plant, and walk around and inspect everything around you. Everything just feels and looks different. It smells different. I felt like Darwin was just going to show up out of nowhere.”
So how can you possibly prepare for a journey like that? Keep an open mind, Cynthia advises, and always expect the unexpected. Antarctic expeditions are completely unique and change even more with the seasons.
“When we went to Grytviken in South Georgia. Just to be in that deserted place, with all of that history, it's like time traveling. The world was so different then,” she says, wistfully. “You're not reading about it in a book – you're actually standing in it.”
Photographer Cynthia Phillip recently shared a personal account of her first trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions. That initial expedition was such a rewarding and transformational experience, she booked a second, longer expedition to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica.