To the bottom of the Earth and back

By Jessica Cheam

So, we made it to Antarctica and back.

Apologies that we were not able to update this blog while on the expedition. At the bottom of the world, there was no phone signal or mobile data, and internet on the ship was very limited, unreliable and costs a million dollars.

But what an incredible journey we have been on - along with some 80 amazing people from all over the world - led by Robert Swan on his signature 'Leadership on the Edge' programme.

Countless people have since asked, "How was your trip?"

It's not an answer we can give easily, for how do you convey the magnificence of Nature juxtaposed with your own insignificant existence, or describe the desolateness of an environment so pristine that it makes you question everything?

But we will try our darndest best.

In fact, Fraser and I dedicated ourselves to documenting this expedition as comprehensively as possible — filming in difficult, extremely cold conditions, and squeezing interviews out on the snowy ship deck in between our rigorous training programme.

This, after surviving the notorious Drake Passage — the roughest seas in the world — which saw a lot of our expedition members throwing up in their cabins.

Still, we crossed the Antarctic Circle successfully — the furthest that most people have ever travelled south — and in between exploring the beauty of Antarctica, Robert regaled us with tales of his inspiring journeys that he and Barney — his son, who just completed the South Pole Energy Challenge, walking to the South Pole only on renewable energy — achieved.

It's not difficult to see why Robert has dedicated his life to his 2041 mission of preserving Antarctica. Once you've experienced it, you can't not want to protect it.

When we weren't on zodiacs exploring the continent or making landings on its snow-covered islands, the Explorer's Passage leadership team took us through a series of training sessions focusing on diverse topics such as climate science, what it means to be an authentic leader, women's empowerment, and practical low-carbon solutions for countries, to support our personal and professional growth.

The result is over 3,000 high-def video clips and thousands of photos which we will now have to organise. We are incredibly excited about the footage, photos and stories that we've amassed, which will provide the beautiful visuals for our upcoming documentaries for the Eco-Business Changing Course initiative as well as Channel NewsAsia.

We will be posting regular updates now as we reflect on this journey.

As for that question "How was your trip?", I think this quote by John Steinbeck sums it up best:

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."

We'd like to thank all our partners for supporting us in this journey. Sony - for providing us gear that survived the extreme conditions really well; Emirates for supporting our flights there and back; CDL and GGEF for making the expedition possible, and OCBC Bank for being our exhibition partner.

Here's a sneak preview of some of the photos from the expedition.


All images copyright Jessica Cheam.