Some frequent flyers complain when they’re obliged to get a long flight, aggrieved at the thought of being stuck on a plane for nine or ten hours. For me, it’s still a miracle that we can get on a plane in London in the morning and arrive on the other side of the world on the same day. Think of how hard it was to make the journey for poor old Magellan, who still gets credit for being the first person to circumnavigate the world, despite dying halfway (in the Philippines).
Flying to Japan from Germany earlier this year was a real treat. As we flew over places that I had only ever seen before on the Risk board, like Kamchatka or Yakutsk, I was the only one on the plane still awake with my window blind open. (Well, I suppose the pilot was still awake too – at least, I hope so).
At first, it was night, which had an interglactic feel because all you could see through the window was stars and the crystalline cold of the upper atmosphere.
As we headed over Northern Russia, dawn broke with a pink light that mingled with the low mist floating over the tundra. So uncanny was it that it was like arriving on an alien planet with new colours and weird landscapes.
It was a beautiful vision and I wanted to take a photo but my camera was in the overhead locker and I would have had to wake everyone else up to get it. I didn’t mind. We can’t save every moment for posterity. There are too many photos as it is. Some people estimate that 10% of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last year.
On the journey back, I had my camera firmly in hand. This was a daytime flight and we travelled over miles and miles of barren steppe. It was not lost on me that if the plane crashed and we did somehow manage to survive, we would still perish in hours in that bare, open landscape.
Now I truly see why we live on a planet of ice.
We saw frozen rivers:
And pack ice drifting in the sea:
This wasn’t something that appeared for some small part of the journey. The great part of the flight was crossing this wild, hostile terrain: