In early 2015 Pamelia and I decided to seize an extraordinary opportunity. We would join an expedition to the planet's largest, coldest, most remote wilderness led by Mark Carwardine, a British zoologist, conservationist, wildlife photographer and writer whom we had admired for more than 20 years.
The trip would begin October 30 on a Russian ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. That scientific research vessel, chartered by One Ocean Expeditions, would take us from the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia, Argentina, at the tip of South America, to a succession of unique and amazing places: the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica. We would be at sea and away from all distractions—no phones, no Internet—for 19 days.
We didn't know at the time that during the trip we would twice battle hurricane-force winds and monster waves in Earth's roughest sea, the Southern Ocean. Or that we would have even closer encounters than we had imagined with hundreds of thousands of birds and mammals in settings almost too spectacular for words. Or that one of us would come home as a winner of an international photography competition. Or that Pamelia would invent a new art form involving penguins. Or that by journey's end people would break into applause at the very sight of the shirt I was wearing.
With a stellar cast of about 100 shipmates—including not just Mark Carwardine but also one of the world's 40 most influential nature and landscape photographers, a longtime editor of BBC Wildlife magazine, an ornithologist, a research entomologist, a primatologist, a cosmologist, a geophysicist and a wildlife filmmaker and former producer of David Attenborough's BBC documentaries, who would be shooting footage during the trip—we would venture into the realm of great explorers such as Capt. James Cook, the heroic Ernest Shackleton and history's most important naturalist, Charles Darwin.
Little did the others know that Pamelia and I would be smuggling Charles Darwin onto the ship, but I will save that story for later.
So come along with us, our naturalists' notebooks and our cameras as we share this adventure at the Bottom of the World in a series of diary entries that will unfold before you in the days ahead and may change the way you view our planet.
Oh, the places you'll see.
—Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood