In the early morning light of our last day aboard the Sea Spirit, when the ocean sparkled gold yet our balcony still remained engulfed in shadows, Cape Horn faded slowly into view. Exactly how many people have died attempting to sail the waters off Cape Horn is unknown, but I have heard it estimated to be around 30,000. That particular stretch of ocean is absolutely notorious, yet the sun shone as we sailed past on relatively calm seas. To think that now we have seen it, among everything else!
The day was spent exchanging emails, socializing, and reluctantly packing up our belongings. There were speeches and slideshows and an ornithologist dressed in a penguin suit. We docked in Ushuaia, staring wide-eyed at the civilization before us, unsure of how on earth to reenter into society. We feasted on fresh food for the first time in weeks at the Captain’s Farewell Dinner that night. And then we went into town.
The feeling of putting on “town clothes” and walking into Ushuaia with the group of friends I had made on the ship was one of the most surreal experiences of the whole expedition. It was like crossing back over into reality, yet a reality that seemed unfamiliar and strange. Paved streets felt oddly firm beneath our feet. It was weird not to know everyone we saw, to think that really, we were just another group of tourists. It was so much more than that!
Early the next morning, we left ship in chaotic waves, some of our fellow passengers departed before we had even said goodbye. A favorite moment was eating breakfast with Verity and her father, who was in the middle of saying goodbye to another passenger. After exchanging an assortment of farewells and warm wishes, the passenger looked him straight in the eye, said “Hope you get better results”, and left. Uhm, what? We stared, waiting for an explanation, but all he did was raised a confused eyebrow. “Better results?” Verity and I laughed until we cried (probably more out of delirious fatigue than anything, but still, it was hilarious).
Then we all went separate ways. Regardless of how much of a community the Sea Spirit had been, everyone returned to their respective corners of the globe. Verity returned to Australia to become a physical therapist. Tom and Josh went off to become lawyers and doctors. Alex continued to sail the polar regions of the planet on tourist expeditions (lucky). Wendy and Jasmin returned to their jobs on the East Coast… and I went to the Dominican Republic. And that was that. It was over.
Yet the full impact of Antarctica was not over. It probably never will be. To start, we spent the first few days on dry land feeling seasick because the ground wasn’t moving. (“It’s nice to use a shower that doesn’t move”, I remember Devin commenting.) All we could think about was Antarctica. Then the dreams started. The second I closed my eyes, Antarctica would take over, a glorious universe of ice and snow, penguins and seals, everywhere. For almost a month, seals frequented my dreams every night. According to an online “dream dictionary”: To see a seal in your dream, indicates your playfulness, prosperity, good luck, faithfulness, success, security in love and spiritual understanding. YES! Haha, but no, really. The experience changed our lives in ways impossible to explain. Just go. See it for yourself. You’ll know what I mean.