Alexandra, 15, gives us all an insider’s view of one of the world’s most-remote locations… and connects us with what a wish can do for the kids we serve.
As told by Alexandra...
Make-A-Wish is certainly one of the most amazing organizations in the world. When they granted me my wish to go to Antarctica (yes, that cold place you always hear about whenever global warming issues come up!) they proved just how incredible they really are.
So, I guess I'll start with the very beginning. Let's go back to my third-grade class. In that class, the teacher had a desk sitting in the back of the room, by the window, where all the talkative students were sent. Well, I was sent there nearly every day. This desk was labeled, "Antarctica," and had a map of it taped to the surface of the plastic modeled to look like wood. From there on out, my fascination with the mysterious, icy, continent began.
Connected to the Coldest Place on Earth
I get asked a lot why I wanted to go to Antarctica in the first place. For starters, my wonderment with it went deep. Antarctica is the highest, driest, windiest and coldest continent on Earth. It is the one place that hasn't been "corrupted" by humans, and it's completely isolated. I think I craved that feeling of isolation. I wanted to experience nature at its peak. Plus, I had always loved the cold, snow and penguins.
When I had graduated from junior high, I was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. That made me eligible for Make-A-Wish, and many people began asking what I wanted to do with it. I thought hard. Really hard. My main concern was choosing something I'd probably never have the chance to ever do again. I jumped from one crazy idea to the next, and finally settled on one. "Yeah, I know. I'll go to Antarctica!" Looking back on it, I probably seemed crazy to the Make-A-Wish staff! Despite the almost insane wish, they made it happen. After months and months of coordination, Make-A-Wish, as always, had the power to make it come true.
The wish itself was an incredible experience, and it's so difficult for me to describe it with words. My journey started with several incredibly long plane rides. (At least for me, a Californian girl and my mother, who rarely leave their apartment in the city.) Eventually, we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We were to stay there overnight until settling onto another airplane and finally boarding the ship.
After Buenos Aires, my mother and I flew to Ushuia, the southernmost city in the world. We were there for only a few hours, but in that time, a young girl laughed at me for using an umbrella in the rain, since they get so much of it. From there, we boarded the ship that would guide us to Antarctica, the M.S. Fram. While the boat was considered to be small, it was pretty large for us!
Journey to the Bottom of the World
I'm not sure if many of you have heard of the Drake Passage, but it's one of the wildest parts of the sea out there. After two days of sailing, we finally spotted land, as well as tons of penguins and whales! The excitement overwhelmed everyone; we peered through binoculars and telescopes to catch quick glimpses of the icy continent. Not to mention, the tons of icebergs floating around!
Now, I would also like to mention all the great people I met on the ship. For starters, by total coincidence, I met another Make-A-Wish kid and his family from Alaska – shout-out to you, Sam! I also met an incredible intern, as well as countless other crew members and friends onboard. These people shared the experience with me, and made it all the more interesting!
Onto the Ice
The feeling of stepping on Antarctica for the first time is indescribable. It's ... humbling, in a sense. To be among so many penguins, in a place nearly untouched by humans is really life-changing. It makes you really understand just how incredible the Earth is, and why people are so passionate about conserving it. You really don't understand it until nature puts you in a position like this, where you see its true beauty. There really is no place like Antarctica, and certainly nowhere as beautiful. Its snowy landscapes and crisp air are amazing. You feel so small, but so at peace. Once you are there, nothing else matters. It's just you and nature, and that is all you need.
The wildlife that my mother and I saw in Antarctica was amazing: thousands upon thousands of penguins, plus seals, birds and whales. It was common for the ship to announce, "Humpback on port 2!" Everyone would rush out with their huge cameras to capture the moment. While I love taking pictures, I'm more of a "life outside of the lens," sort of person, so I'm giving most of the photo credits to my mother, who did an amazing job and capturing the beauty of Antarctica.
Another question people ask is what I did in Antarctica. Well, for starters, my mother and I just loved walking around observing everything. Technically, you cannot approach penguins, but they are allowed to approach you. The thing about penguins, though, is that they are so calm around humans. We've never given them a reason to be scared since they hardly come in contact with humans. They have no problem pretending you do not exist.
Just strolling around the ice was incredibly breathtaking in itself. It also was not as cold as many think it was. Apparently it was much colder in New York at the time, to give you an idea. My mother and I also went snowshoeing and kayaking to see more views of the landscapes and icebergs. There was also the chance to go swimming, and get a certificate. While my mom declined the offer, I jumped for it. I ran into the freezing cold water in my bathing suit. By freezing, I mean there were chunks of ice floating in the water.
The Impact of a Wish
Now, I'll get to the most important part of the wish. How it made an impact.
Well, for one, it changed me as a person. It really has. Being "one" with nature really opened my eyes to seeing what the world is really like. I've never been out of the United States, so traveling to Argentina and then Antarctica was certainly an experience of a lifetime. Until you experience nature like this, you don't really understand what all the biologists and ecologists are really talking about. You don't really understand what people who work for National Geographic see. Most of us just see glossy pages of scenery in magazines, and understand that it's pretty, but we don't really get it. It's just another landscape, another perspective of the Earth. No matter how gorgeous a picture may be, it can never capture just how stunning our Earth really is.
By traveling to Antarctica, my eyes and my heart are open to really appreciating and loving the planet we live on. I can now understand just how important conserving the Earth is, and why so many people care about it. Once you see the true nature of it, it really feels like home.