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Journey to Antarctica

By Shabana H. Shaikh, June (2011) edition of bazaar
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Maryam holding the Kuwaiti flag on February 25, 2011 - Kuwait's 50th Independence Anniversary
Maryam holding the Kuwaiti flag on February 25, 2011 - Kuwait's 50th Independence Anniversary

‘We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.’ ~ Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), Antarctic Explorer


“The meaning of Maryam is uncertain – one of the many being ‘a drop of the ocean’. When I was on the Zodiac for the first time, feeling the splash of the Antarctic waters was priceless. I suddenly wondered how I might appear from space on this little Zodiac in the ocean. I was far south, the furthest south I had ever been on the other side of the planet. I felt so very small in the vast ocean. I had never felt so small! We live in concrete buildings, on paved streets – and you cannot imagine how beautiful the Earth really is and just how small we as humans are in its glorious vastness. We made so many negative changes on this beautiful planet, but this isolated place, gave me a glimpse of the past – when Earth was barely affected by humans. I’ll always be in awe.” – Maryam Aljoaan, Oceanographer, specializing in Southern Ocean.

In January this year, bazaar featured Kuwaiti adventuress Maryam Aljoaan, whose pioneering voyage to Antarctica in February 2011 has not only made her the first Kuwaiti woman on a scientific mission to set foot on the frozen continent, but possibly impacted future explorers from the region, particularly, women. Regional media has reportedly linked Dana Al Hammadi, Emirate’s first woman who is set to go to Antarctica, to have been influenced by Maryam’s expedition. The memorable instance of Maryam raising the Kuwaiti flag over Antarctica on 25th February to commemorate Kuwait’s 50th Independence year, caused a flurry of patriotic excitement and exhilaration among her Facebook fans, blog-watchers, family and friends on that day.

Post-Antarctica, when I caught up with Maryam again during her brief and very hectic visit to Kuwait in April, I almost envied her journey – so vivid and breathtaking was her recount and photographic collection! By then, Maryam had already been featured on Marina FM’s Diwaniya, KTV channel and met with His Highness the Amir. “The Amir was aware of my recent travel to Antarctica and said, 'so Maryam, I see that you have been around the world',” she shares.

On her personal account of Antarctica, here is what Maryam had to say: “In Antarctica, animals are not afraid of humans, because they have never been hunted or threaten by them. Penguins were curious – they even came closer to check you out! It was new to me and yet, I felt I was connected to this wildlife in a strange way.

“I was supposed to wear my sunglasses at all times (protection from UV light since the ozone hole gets bigger during the summer in Antarctica), but I didn't wear them, because of the beauty of icy-blue colored icebergs.”

Maryam was able to blog briefly on her journey from aboard the MV Ushuaia during the expedition. The journey, which took her through key locations like Deception Island and Paradise Bay, was as action-packed and tedious, as it was enlivening. “I don't remember having a single dream on the ship due to lack of sufficient sleep. Sometimes our day started as early as 4:30am, because we had perfect weather conditions and had to land immediately, and our activities ended not before 10:00pm. Sometimes the ship rocked from side to side, making it hard to get undisturbed sleep,” recalls Maryam, adding with a conspiring smile, “But I enjoyed hanging out at the captain's bridge with binoculars, watching the waves, the icebergs, spotting whales and simply soaking in the view of the bluest horizon.”

It was after four days at sea that Maryam’s team was able to set foot on ground, landing on Seymour Island, an island in the chain of 16 major islands around the tip of the Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. “I woke up around 5:00am, and the ship was already surrounded by all kind of icebergs!” recalls Maryam, her eyes taking on a sparking light of its own. It was obvious that Antarctica had made an unmistakable impression, forever on her psyche. “I got on a Zodiac and headed towards the Island. I loved the feeling of the fresh cold air, the blue water, and the icebergs. I also got my first taste of Antarctic water - it tasted like salt water, but was still lovely! I felt I was on another planet, exploring the other side of Earth – unspoiled, tranquil.”

Brown Bluff was their first landing on the Antarctic continent, “And there I got to see colonies of Gentoo penguins, some Adélie penguins and Fur seals – wildlife of this incredible continent!”

Awesome sightings and spectacular views soon became a permanent feature of the expedition. During one instance, thousands of penguins were spotted on a huge iceberg in front of the ship, probably molting, i.e. loosing feathers, and finding the iceberg a safe spot.

Even so, it was probably when Maryam was in Paradise Bay on the 8th day of her journey that the largely virgin beauty of the region began to manifest itself. Aptly named Paradise Bay, Maryam describes this particular place as ‘mind blowing’ for lack of a better word, as well as declaring it her favorite place on Earth! “I had the privilege of riding among the most beautiful icebergs and mountains. The water was so calm and still that I could see mirror images of the mountains, the sky. I also saw the most mesmerizing sunset in Paradise Bay,” she reveals.

Her last three stops were at Deception Island (an active volcano site), Pendulum Cove, and Robert Point, proudly obtaining an Antarctic stamp on her passport at the British base in Port Lockroy. On her journey back, the MS Ushuaia encountered a storm on the Drake Passage with speeds of 60 knots (=111 km/h) and 8-9 meter-high waves! But Maryam would not have had it any other way.

Maryam begins her internship this summer at Works, at Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhave in Germany. She aspires to gain further knowledge and experience on the Southern Ocean after her Antarctic expedition, which has ignited in her an undefeatable lust for exploring Planet Earth.

Not one to rest on her merits, Maryam has now set her sights on the Arctic continent and knowing Maryam, I have no doubts that she will be relentless in her quest to reach the Northern hemisphere in the coming future. 

Maryam has already made it 65° south – to Antarctica – with sheer willpower and a voracious desire to explore the deepest, darkest secrets of Earth and Space.



Join Maryam’s fan page on Facebook. Her website:

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