Woman Gone Wild

Travel, photography, adventure

The Bucket List - Antarctica

Nicole Duncan

A very long time ago, my grandmother wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska. I don't remember her ever asking to take another  trip. She just wanted to take one of the cruise ships out of Seattle to Alaska. And you know what, none of us could make time or be bothered to take  her. We didn't want to be on a cruise ship, we were too busy with school and jobs and doing other things. So she never went and then she was diagnosed with ALS and passed away a couple of years later. We never made the time to take her to Alaska. Fast forward and my mother mentions that she wants to go to Antarctica. She says she has always wanted to go to Antarctica. Sounds fun to me and I start doing a little checking around. Gasp at the price and just as quietly drop the entire thing. But my mother wants to go to Antarctica. After a photography workshop with Mark Carwardine I almost booked one of his trips for us, but the timing wasn't great, she wanted to bring the grandchildren. The obstacles were endless. Sometimes answers are found where you least expect them. Scrolling through my twitter feed last March was link to a blog post inviting readers  to join David Meerman Scott and his wife, Yukari Watanabe, on a trip to the 7th continent not only for the adventure of a lifetime but also a chance to understand the impact of climate change first hand and discuss ways that social media and other marketing tools can be used to raise awareness. We could make the trip, meet some wonderful people, and learn something. The timing was good as it was before Christmas instead of January.

Mom realised it was now or never and we weren't going to wait for all of the grandchildren to grow up. We contacted Quark Expeditions and nine months later, it is time to pack everything up and go on this great adventure. We're a little afraid about the cold but we're signed up for the camping on the ice and some kayaking as well. At 5:00am, on the way to the airport in the dark, I became absolutely convinced that I had completely messed up all of the travel reservations. That the cruise ship was in fact leaving on the 10th and we were travelling a day too late. This despite the fact I checked and double checked all of the arrangements when I booked the tickets eight months ago. This despite the fact I have reviewed all of the joining documents. This despite the fact the detailed joining instructions months ago. I became irrationally convinced my mother and I were going to arrive in Ushuaia and see the ship sail away. The sun is now up, I've re-read all of the joining instructions and we are very definitely not expected in Ushuaia until the 10th with the ship leaving on the 11th. I'm still not convinced I haven't mucked up something in all of these plans somewhere. Three connecting flights on three airlines with three separate reservation record locators. I just know I've done something wrong. When there are no pictures in this blog but plenty of funny stories you should perhaps become convinced I am doing a Donald Crowhurst and faking the journey. Though I shall be doing so from a Four Seasons hotel somewhere and not floating around in a leaking boat.

Earlier in the week, as I laid out all of my travel documents in neat folders with everything cross-referenced and annotated, I thought of my other grandmother. My thoughts of my mother's mother were the ones that inspired me to make the most of time and opportunity to take a long desired trip before it was too late. But it is my father's   mother to whom I owe the debt of teaching me to plan my travels, carefully balancing the pieces that are pre-arranged with the days that aren't so there is some adventure. A map and a plan but not a rigorous timetable. Early on she would send off letters to the hotels in places she knew she needed to book but others there would be a destination in mind and we would find B&Bs when traveling in Europe. Her round the world trips and her trips photographing for missions were different of course. More complex but looking at the pictures and hearing her stories there was always that sense that while the wider trip was structured, the details of the day and what might happen were often left to chance. How else would she have ended up on the back of a motorbike or taking off in a helicopter with bullets flying. 

It is also to this grandmother that I owe my love of photography. My grandparents took early retirement and turned their photographic hobby into a second career, taking pictures of mission projects and seeing the world. At last count, my grandmother had traveled to 104 countries. Someday I will complete the epic project of digitizing all of her negatives. I am only a few hundred into the 10,000 medium format black and white negatives in the basement but each one I scan brings back memories of their house where images were displayed on a rotating basis on the walls. Memories of my grandmother standing behind me with her arms around me holding the camera so I could look down into the viewfinder of her Rolleiflex, with its upside down view of the world. My grandfather copying his slides in the California sun. My grandparents disappearing into the dark room for hours while we were visiting. The times we were old enough to be allowed in the darkroom to help, my grandfather teaching me to dodge and burn the images he was developing, then moving the print from tray to tray of developing fluid and watching the magic image appear. I'm going to check that I have all of my camera batteries and memory cards one more time, give thanks I don't have to  take hundreds of rolls of film with me but also be nostalgic for those days in the dark and watching magic happen.