Escaping into the air-conditioned comfort of the E Street Cinema this past Sunday, I saw Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World. It was a fascinating look into Antarctica's McMurdo Station, which is the dedicated to scientific research and the only permanent "settlement" on the continent.
Herzog walks around the base talking to the people who work there, how they got there, what they do, why they do it. I enjoyed myself, but I felt like he was trying to get the audience to laugh at the people who work in Antarctica. Don't get me wrong, the folks who work at McMurdo seem like loners who've finally found their pack (and have the stories to go with their adventurer personalities), but I always wanted to be one of them - and applied numerous times to work at McMurdo - so I guess I took it a little personally on their behalf when they seemed to be played for laughs.
See lots of photos of McMurdo here and here.
Interestingly, the director was surprised that McMurdo looks like an Alaskan mining town. It's hardly pristine, it's filled with construction equipment and people running around in dirty white bunny boots. I think this disappointed the director since his conclusion at the end seemed to be that he wished we left blank spaces on the globe, wished humans allowed places to hold tight to their secrets rather than feel an insatiable need to uncover them. I see his point, but I think that we go to new places not only to learn more about them but to learn more about ourselves. I think of traveling more as allowing yourself to be changed by other experiences so I don't see discovery as a zero-sum proposal. And if someone else has been there first, that doesn't make the journey less significant for me.
Personal quibbles aside, go see this or at least put it on your netflix queue and be pleasantly surprised when it lands in your mailbox. After all, armchair traveling counts as journeying, too.