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Seven months ago, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation: standing on the back deck of an ice-breaking ship in Antarctica, in a bathing suit chosen for style rather than substance. Beside me towered my husband and a few other men from our cruise; before us, a National Geographic photographer on a raft, ready to capture the world’s most intelligent species performing one of the world’s most foolhardy acts. Behind us, a doctor stood in wait with a defibrillator.
“Why are we doing this?” I whispered to my husband. Our ship’s captain had just announced that the Weddell Sea—the body of water we were about to jump into—was below-freezing thanks to its salt content, hovering at around 28 degrees. I was convinced I was not going to make it.
“Because we’re here,” he said, as though the answer were obvious.
And then, without thinking, we jumped.
Thirty seconds of horror gave way to hours of endless, breathless buzz. Of sitting in towels with our equally nonsensical shipmates, sipping hot cider and laughing at ourselves. Of toasting to my mid-plunge wardrobe malfunction (so spectacular it made even passing penguins blush) and my husband’s peerless campaign of peer pressure; to a son’s recent graduation and the would-be 90th birthday of an older woman’s mother.
“Now,” said my husband, “aren’t you happy we jumped?”
I hate clichés, as a writer. As a traveler, I’ve found that well-worn phrases are sometimes the only ones that hold up. After all, it’s true that, when given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you should almost always dive into it; that not all who wander are lost; that the journey is, in fact, often more important and special and educating than the destination.
Later on in these pages, for example, you will travel to Detroit with us. There you will find a vibrant community of Middle Eastern immigrants who are preserving their cultures’ precious, centuries-old culinary traditions in family-owned bakeries and restaurants. From them we are reminded that we’re more alike than different; that there is nothing to fear, but fear-mongering itself.
In Portugal, and in Portugese communities across Long Island, you will join us as we experience hospitality that’s warmer, tastier and more plentiful than almost anywhere else. You will feast on pasteis de data—golden, custard-filled pastries—and the confirmation that, yes, places often pale in comparison to the people who populate them.
In Quebec, you’ll tag along as we collect memories—of poutine, toboggan rides, and farms—rather than objects. We hope that, like us, you’ll be the richer for it. In Greenport, you’ll hole up with us in a transformed, historic inn, not to escape life but to ensure that life does not escape us. In Antarctica, you will plunge with us into beauty so grand and indifferent it’s indescribable—and increasingly at risk.
All these easy, overused phrases, just like the world’s great, wanderlust-provoking places themselves—things we return to again and again because, for whatever reason, they continue to call to us.
And they’re ours to taste and feel and experience. All we have to do is jump.
Wishing you and yours the most fruitful travels this season and always,