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  Peace Expedition to Antarctica - 2004


On January 1st, 2004, four Israelis and four Palestinians (two women and six men) set off on a sea and land expedition to the distant reaches of Antarctica. Their goal is to summit and name a previously unclimbed mountain. Their expedition is called : 'Breaking the Ice'. This journey combines the spirit of adventure with a quest for understanding. It will force people separated by deep political and religious differences to cooperate in pursuit of a shared goal.

Stormy Night (Expedition Log 4)

By Torsten

The storm hit us like the overture to an opera -- a wild, dramatic clash of weather systems that seemed to be setting the stage for an epic saga.

After two days of smooth sailing (relative to these climes) some of us aboard Pelagic Australis were beginning to think that the horror stories they'd heard about sailing across the Drake Passage from Chile to Antarctica had been blown out of proportion. Yes, some were seasick and others drowsy from pills to prevent seasickness but, all in all, the Drake, named after 16th century English explorer (and, say some, pirate) Sir Francis Drake, had been anything but horrific.

During watch shifts on deck, the Breaking the Ice expedition members Yarden and Nasser had time to ponder the vast southern ocean, its emptiness punctuated only by the occasional appearance of a solitary Great Wandering Albatross or a duet of Cape Petrels. The former is a massive black, grey and white avian with a wingspan of up to four meters, who glides gracefully above the water. The latter are smaller birds that skitter along the very tops of the waves, showing off bold black and white patterned plumage on the tops of their wings. Both come out here in search of food, covering incredible distances to find it. With no land in sight and no place to rest, it's difficult to imagine their existence.

The team on the boat leaving Puerto Wiilliams for Antiarctica

On Saturday afternoon, the serenity began slipping away. Pelagic Australis crossed the Antarctic Convergence, an imaginary irregular circle surrounding Antarctica where sea and air temperatures drop dramatically, affected by the ice mass of the still distant frozen continent. First, the clear skies and endless vistas we'd enjoyed since leaving Chile gave way to a dismal, claustrophobic fog. Then, the brisk breezes that had pushed us along began building, growing into gale force winds of up to 65 km/h. For those of us who had finally found our 'sea legs' and had adjusted to the boat's normal rocking and rolling, the world was about to turn on its side.

Even with its sails trimmed, Pelagic Australis was severely buffeted by the storm, tilted to a 45-degree angle that left the expedition team wondering where to find the floor. Up on deck, waves crashed over the bow, showering the watch with icy spray. Down below, there was no distinction between experienced sailors and rank beginners (like us): everyone was pitched to and fro as they tried to move about the interior of the boat. Climbing in and out of berths became an acrobatic challenge. Pouring a glass of water required guessing the correct angle -- and always getting it wrong. Using the head (toilet) became an indescribable experience that everyone, of course, felt absolutely compelled to describe. Their laughter showed that on this subject, at least, these Israelis and Palestinians seem to be in total agreement.

But the humor gave way to seriousness when Olfat Haider finished her trip to the head with a flying leap, back first, into a handrail. The expedition's physician, Arik Shechter, treated her for a severe bruise to the pelvis but told her she could expect a full recovery.

By Sunday morning the worst was over. The winds began to drop and the seas were somewhat calmer. Those of us who poked our heads above deck discovered that the overture was at an end and the real saga had just begun. We had reached the land of the icebergs.

Most of us have encountered icebergs in the pages of nature magazines, school textbooks or television programs. Every Israeli and Palestinian schoolchild knows (or is supposed to) that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg, that at least three-quarters of its mass is hidden beneath the surface of the water. This theoretical knowledge spawns many comparisons, including those that liken the enormity and depth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an iceberg: their genuine complexity and intractability have exceeded the ken of all erstwhile peacemakers to date.

This morning, as they sailed on toward their final destination in the Antarctic Peninsula, the Israelis and Palestinians of the Breaking the Ice expedition saw icebergs with their own eyes -- up close, from the deck of a small sailing yacht. They were dwarfed by massive, moving white mountains of ice: icebergs tinted blue by the pure waters of their glacial birthplaces; icebergs as big as cities; icebergs whose real size we could only guess at; icebergs lapped by chilly Antarctic seas that will, inexorably, push them into warmer waters that will melt them into oblivion.

For a moment, at least, there were no Palestinians or Israelis aboard Pelagic Australis. There were only human beings, humbled and brought together by something far greater than themselves and stimulated, perhaps, to wonder when the ice that separates their two peoples will finally thaw.

And then it comes into view. A rocky island, surrounded by scattered icebergs-- seemingly no place to visit. Yet, as we sail along its shore a surprise awaits: an opening comes into view between two rocky protuberances. Beyond it lays a vast expanse of water surrounded by snow capped mountains. But this is no lake. It's a volcanic crater where once British whalers made their camp. This is Deception Island -- the first destination on our Antarctic adventure. Tomorrow we begin to explore.

Among the South Shetland Islands (63 S -- 62 W)

 
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