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Antarctic Adventures with Joyful World Traveler Georgina "Gigi" Satchell

photo taken by Kristie Green
Dr Diane and Gigi on the first Continental Landing in Antarctica

In this episode of the Adventures in Learning podcast, we meet joyful world traveler Georgina "Gigi" Satchell. I met Gigi on deck as we both drank i our first views of the Antarctic Peninsula. Join us as we share our love and passion for Antarctica (it took Gigi two attempts at crossing the Drake Passage to make it to the Continent), discuss lessons we've brought home to our daily lives, and discuss Gigi's passion for baking, travel, and making a difference in the world. Following left and right pelvic reconstruction surgeries to treat hip dysplasia, Gigi Satchell decided to pursue her dream of visiting Antarctica. Her YouTube channel, Satchellstravels, aims to inspire others to travel while disabled.

"Yes, the reason probably why I have this outlook is just because I was really quite severely disabled for quite a long time and so stuck in the house a lot. Being in that situation just made me a lot more appreciative of little things. So being on the other ship and it's turning around and being horrible, I was still like, okay, but this could be a lot worse. I'm still in Ushuaia, and I'm going to make the most of that situation. And it's like Ushuaia is a beautiful city, so I just did lots of extra tours and went and flew over the city, and so, yes, I think that's probably where my enthusiasm comes from. Just from when you haven't been able to walk for a really long time, it makes you very appreciative of it. And even though there are still things I can't do with my disability, I'm just very appreciative of the little things I can do. So at the moment I can walk. So I'm very happy about that. So I do as much as I can when I can and take my medicine when I have to, and yeah, I got to go to Antarctica, which is just amazing. Yeah, how could I not be happy about that? I don't know how I could exactly." -- Gigi Satchell Aside from travelling, Gigi volunteers with children and young people at IntoUniversity, an organisation which inspires young people to achieve and breaks down barriers to social mobility. Gigi is a firm believer in lifelong learning and just completed a second Masters degree at UCL (University College London) in European Studies.

Georgina "Gigi" Satchell aboard the Ocean Victory in Antarctica, photo provided by Gigi
Georgina "Gigi" Satchell aboard the Ocean Victory

This Woman Crossed the Drake Passage FOUR Times in a Month!

I first met Gigi as we both saw Antarctica approaching. We were both looking out at it with the same childlike wonder and joy. And I knew as soon as I saw this woman, I wanted to be her friend. My instincts weren't wrong. I was thrilled to discover a fellow voyager with such passion for Antarctica. And the passion extends to all she does. Meet the joyful world traveler.

Our voyage on the Ocean Victory was actually Gigi's second attempt to get to Antarctica. I asked her about the first attempt and what happened to cut the trip short.

[01:10] Gigi: Okay. Well, yes, I'm Georgina Satchell, but everyone calls me Gigi. And yes, basically I was quite, well I'm still disabled, but I was in hospital having pelvic reconstruction surgery and dreaming of something else. And so I wanted to go to Antarctica, and you have to go by Argentina. And it was the height of COVID so I booked a long trip to go there and everything went quite swimmingly until I got onto the boat, essentially. It was quite a difficult Drake Passage. Do your viewers know about the Drake Passage or do I need to…

[01:50] Dr Diane: We can talk a little bit about the Drake Passage. I think that's definitely worth sharing.

[01:55] Gigi: Okay, so the Drake Passage is a part of the sea that is the roughest seas in the world, known for being the roughest seas because that part of the Earth, the wind just has no way to stop. So it just goes round and round and round around. And the only way to get to Antarctica on a boat, a ship, sorry, is you have to get through the Drake Passage. So we entered the Drake Passage on my initial voyage to Antarctica for two days. It was the roughest piece. From my little window in my cabin, what I saw was sea and sky sea and sky, just constantly.

[02:36] Dr Diane: Oh, talk about a recipe for seasickness.

[02:38] Gigi: It was very bad. We didn't see some passengers because the journey was so bad. And we got out of the Drake Passage, we got to 61 degrees south, which is officially Antarctica, technically, like part of the Antarctic Convergence, so that's below 60 degrees south. And the seas calmed down and we went to look for icebergs. And we were 3 hours away from Antarctica, landing at the South Shetland Islands. And then we had a meeting and we were told we had to turn around because one of the passengers fell during the rough seas and was in a life and death situation and needed a doctor, a hospital, sorry. And the weather was so bad there was no way to evacuate them. So we went back into the Drake Passage for two more days and that was it. That was the end of that trip. That was the end of that voyage. Five days, essentially, on the Drake Passage. No Antarctica. So I tried again a month later on the Ocean Victory, which is where I met you. And well, you can see yourself, the Drake Passage was fine.

[03:53] Dr Diane: There were passengers who would not agree with us.

[03:56] Gigi: But, yeah, it was fine. I assure you. It was funny. Yeah, you got seasick because you just do get seasick. There's no escaping it. But it was lovely. A lovely passage.

[04:07] Dr Diane: I thought it was much more Drake Lake than Drake's Shake.

[04:11] Gigi: Definitely. And yes, and somewhere along the way I'm recording my little Vlog. And I saw you and interviewed you and met you and met with lots of people, wonderful people on the ship.

[04:25] Dr Diane: Well, and that was one of the things I absolutely loved, is you were embracing the experience with such joy. And I think for me, that was like speaking to like because it felt like you were truly there to see the animals, to see that part of the world that you don't get to see, and to embrace it with every bit of who you were.

[04:48] Gigi: It totally was that. I didn't have any expectations at all. I just knew I wanted to get to Antarctica. I didn't have anything on my checklist like I wanted to do, apart from landing and walking on the continent. That was the main thing. But other than that, I was just open to any wildlife, any people, any of the experience, and just enjoying it completely. And I really did. It was magical.

What were the most surprising parts of Antarctica?

Gigi says the people she met on the expedition surprised her the most. "I'm a massive Star Trek fan," she notes, "and one of the things about conventions is that you meet all of these people who have the same enthusiasm and passion and joy as you." She said she was surprised at how many people were on the voyage for reasons that went beyond claiming a 7th continent. "There were so many who just wanted to see and feel the environment and shared my same passion. And so to meet so many people who were enjoying the lectures and loved that side of it, and the learning, this lifelong learning thing, that was the biggest surprise, I think."

From my point of view, it was magical, the number of people who were committed to learning about Antarctica and then going back and sharing in some way. I think one of the big challenges we face is figuring out how to tell the story. How do we continue to try to help people understand why Antarctica and climate action are so important?

Gigi spent a month after Antarctica traveling around South America (follow her adventures @satchellstravels on Instagram or her YouTube channel, Satchellstravels). We caught up just after she returned to England.

[06:27] Gigi: Yes. I mean, I've only been back a week, and even now people have asked little questions, and I'm like, oh, well, loads of people have no idea about the treaty. They have no idea that there's all these rules in place. And so when I was saying, oh, well, we have to stay far away from the penguins. We have to stay and we have to respect, and there's rules and international cooperation. Loads of people have no idea about that. And I think that's one of the most magical things about Antarctica is that it's the only place on Earth that there's peace and international cooperation.

[07:01] Dr Diane: Agreed. And I sure hope we can keep it that way. That was one of the challenges as I started learning about the treaty and realizing that countries could literally torpedo this treaty over the next 30 years if they wanted to, for their own selfish aims. It made me realize that as we're talking about the environment and talking about climate change, that's one of the things we have to protect is this place of peace and science.

[07:28] Gigi: Definitely. I mean, I think the treaty officially is up for renewal or modification in 2048, so we're getting closer. And I think one of the important things is to make sure that it carries on and it doesn't suddenly get up for grabs, because there are territories in there that are disputed officially. And everyone's agreed at the moment, just ceasefire and just be cooperative. But if that ever changes, the whole continent is going to be up for grabs. And it's a scary prospect.

[08:00] Dr Diane: It's a very scary prospect. One of the things I was realizing, I've been trying to articulate it for myself as I've been writing about it and looking back at the pictures and just looking at the vast expanses with no billboards, no advertisements, where the animals and the wildlife do get that priority, you're not getting on top of them. I did not do my belly slide with a penguin. If there was any one thing that in my preconceived notions, I had imagined, I'd be belly sliding with penguins. And as you said, I absolutely respected the rules because it's like, I don't want to endanger them.

[08:38] Gigi: You didn't do it by accident, though? You didn't have a fall?

[08:41] Dr Diane: I thought about doing that, but no, I was a good girl.

[08:46] Gigi: I did fall quite a lot. Like, a lot with my hips being not the best and then the boots being not the best, it was constant. But, I mean, the penguins fall a lot, too. They do.

Let's Visit the Port Lockroy Post Office and Museum

One of the places we landed on our voyage was the Port Lockroy museum and post office. Port Lockroy is a UK Antarctic Heritage Trust Site, staffed each summer by four lucky adventurers who work and train together. The Antarctic base, located on Goudier Island, includes the most southerly operational post office in the world. It was established by the British in 1944 and is known for the scientific work in meteorology and atmospheric studies conducted there.

[11:23] Dr Diane: So I have to ask, are you going to apply to work in the post office?

[11:29] Gigi: I keep looking at the updates for different Antarctica jobs and all of my postcards have arrived safely from Antarctica.

[11:37] Dr Diane: I haven't gotten a single one yet. They said two weeks or two years. I'm evidently on the two year mark. (NOTE: All of my postcards arrived to the States within two months!)

[11:43] Gigi: Well, what I would say is, though, I sent all of mine here. Britain's first stop, and they're about, two weeks ago they got here. So they're probably on their way now to America, I think.

[11:55] Dr Diane: Well, that's good to know. We sent the same day.

[11:57] Gigi: Yeah, we did. So I know that they're definitely on their British shores, but also we did have royal mail strikes in the UK and lots of holidays with Christmas and New Year. Despite that, I'm still really impressed that they've all got here.

[12:18] Dr Diane: For those who don't know, that was one of the coolest things I thought we saw, was Port Lockroy and the idea that Britain has a post office and it's the southernmost post office you can reach in Antarctica. And for me, one of the cool, striking things is that there was a pride flag flying outside and there was a penguin that saluted the pride flag as I was waiting to go in, which I just thought was really adorable.

[12:45] Gigi: I actually did ask them about that because there's been a move in the UK, so actually, my pride flag over there, and it has black and brown included in it now, and they said, yes, actually, we're trying to get a pride flag that's even more inclusive.

[12:59] Dr Diane: I love it.

[13:01] Gigi: And they've actually started something called Polar Pride, because Pride in the UK, I don't know if it's the same in America, actually, but in the UK it's in July, so they've done one for the polar Antarctica in November on the polar opposite, because nobody's at the station in July.

[13:21] Dr Diane: Fair enough.

[13:23] Gigi: So, yeah, they are really being really awesome, I think. And I love the post office anyway. I am a patriot, I guess, or something, but I do love the Post Office. I think it's one of the best institutions we have in the United Kingdom. So I'm like a massive fan and I'm so glad that they're doing a great job.

[13:42] Dr Diane: I thought that was just fascinating and I would have loved, I want to work there. And of course, they've changed the rules and Americans are out of luck.

[13:53] Gigi: No, I know. And now I think with Brexit as well, even the Europeans are out of luck, so it is just for British people now, so I've got a bit more of a chance.

[14:00] Dr Diane: Well, I hope you get it, and if you do, I'm going to find a way to get there to see you.

[14:04] Gigi: Oh, my gosh, yes, please do. I'll be waiting, like, oh, hello, because well, it's also a museum, isn't it? It is so, yeah, that was interesting. All the girly pictures were quite interesting.

[14:53] Dr Diane: Yes, I was fascinated by the meteorological tools that they had in there. As well, just looking at what they used in the past versus what we use now and thinking that they were using weather as a way to help with the war effort in World War II and beyond. And it was just kind of fascinating to me.

[15:14] Gigi: All of the things in there were fascinating, actually. The museum for me, one of the most striking things was all of the food. They had a lot of luxuries because some of those brands are still top end now in Britain. I'm like, oh, no, they've got the best stuff there. They were really kitted out with the best equipment, the best food, the best to give them the most comfort in the 50s that they could have had.

[15:44] Dr Diane: I think that's a really interesting perspective, because you would know what I wouldn't determine.

[15:50] Gigi: I'm from the north of England, and in the north of England in the 1950s, that was not accessible to a lot of people. So I'm like, no, these guys were, like, really lucky, actually, at the time.

[16:03] Dr Diane: So they had good food.

[16:04] Gigi: They had good food, they had really good equipment, as you say, for studying the weather. And just apart from obviously it being very cold and dark and Antarctica and all that stuff, the rest of it was great. I think.

Overcoming Adversity with Joy and Determination

Aside from travelling, Gigi volunteers with children and young people at IntoUniversity, an organisation which inspires young people to achieve and breaks down barriers to social mobility. Gigi is a firm believer in lifelong learning and just completed a second Masters degree at UCL (University College London) in European Studies. Gigi also makes cakes for television and film and also birthdays. Her joyful attitude and her ability to embrace travel with zeal, determination, and a wonder that invites people in stems from the circumstances that kept her grounded for so long -- recovery from left and right pelvic reconstruction surgeries to treat hip dysplasia.

"The reason probably why I have this outlook, which I think you think is unique, is just because I was really quite severely disabled for quite a long time and so stuck in the house a lot," she says. "Being in that situation just made me a lot more appreciative of little things. So yes, I think that's probably where my enthusiasm comes from. Just from when you haven't been able to walk for a really long time, it makes you very appreciative of it. And even though there are still things I can't do with my disability, I'm just very appreciative of the little things I can do. So at the moment I can walk. So I'm very happy about that. So I do as much as I can when I can and take my medicine when I have to, and yeah, I got to go to Antarctica, which is just amazing. How could I not be happy about that?

You may have seen Gigi's food on the Netflix film Father Christmas Is Back, as well as in English advertisements. She got into baking when she was homebound.

[26:33] Dr Diane: How did you get into baking again?

[26:36] Gigi: Because I was disabled, so I just was like, okay, I can't walk, but I'm at home all the time, so what can I do? And you can make cakes while you're sat down in a chair. So that was how I got started.

[26:47] Dr Diane: So would we ever see you on the Great British Bake Off?

[26:50] Gigi: No, because they have to stand up for that show. I did think about applying for it, but I was like, I can't. And I don't know how they would make it accessible for me.

[27:05] Dr Diane: I think you should apply and ask them to make it accessible.

What were some of the moments of beauty and wonder in Antarctica?

What moments did you bring back to your "regular" lives?

Recently scientists used satellite imagery to discover a brand new Emperor colony. It's one that they'd never seen before. It's in Western Antarctica and it was discovered in December, but the information was released in January to coincide with Penguin Awareness Day. And they had seen the smudges from the satellite. It was penguin guano, which is so distinct with its pinkish brown stains. Scientists saw these brown smudges on the satellite and they were able to zoom in closer and see the penguins themselves. There are about 500 penguins in this Emperor penguin colony. While they say it's a small colony, I find it reassuring to know that there's another one, because they only breed on sea ice, and so as the sea ice is melting, they're probably the most endangered of the penguins, along with the Adelies. And so to find another one was a big deal.

There's so much we still don't know about Antarctica, so many facets to discover and explore. For example, did you know that there are rivers that flow underneath Antarctica?

[19:11] Gigi: I think there's so much we don't know and we can't know because it's so remote and so difficult to get to. And I think there's lots we still don't know about penguins, as you say. There's lots of things that, until you see them in real life, you don't really get how they're birds, but they're very mammal like in behavior, and they're very inquisitive and nosy and just very curious creatures.

[19:41] Dr Diane: Do you still dream in penguin?

[19:43] Gigi: No, not really. It was the icebergs that got me the most. I cried a lot when I was looking at icebergs because a picture can't tell you, and it's not just the color, it's the movement of them. And I really felt like they looked like they were breathing and alive and the changing colors and the movement and I don't know, it was still overwhelming. It's still overwhelming to me when I think about it.

[20:16] Dr Diane: I love the way you just described that in terms of the iceberg's breathing, because I've been trying to find the words for it, and that's exactly it.

[20:26] Gigi: And it just feels so relaxing. It's like sort of watching a child sleep or a dog sleep. It's almost like that sort of movement, but with wonderful colors as well.

[20:36] Dr Diane: Well, and then that whole compressed ice with the bubbles and the sound that accompanied it. I love that constant bubbling. It was like you were sitting in the middle of a big seltzer bath.

In addition to walking on the Continent and exploring via Zodiac, Gigi and I both were fortunate enough to ocean kayak in Antarctica. She also did overnight camping. And we both were brave enough (foolish enough?!?) to do the Polar Plunge.

[20:53] Gigi: I did camp. On the boat, you still can hear the engine hum. But on the camping out, it was the quietest that I experienced Antarctica. And you could hear just ice moving, ice cracking.

Photo taken by the Ocean Victory
Sea kayaking Cuverville Island with my friend, Tom.

[21:13] Dr Diane: That's amazing. Yeah, I did the kayaking, which for me was one of the most amazing experiences possible. I was on the group that went around Cuverville Island. At first I was like, oh, I'm going to miss getting to go on land and see the penguins. But it wound up being the most beautiful way to see that island because we got so close, we were within 10 meters of shore and you got to see them as they were interacting with their environment. They're swimming, doing their porposing thing right around you. And then what was even better for me is we went around the island. So you leave the penguins and you see the cormorants nesting and the terns, and then you come into ice fields, and there were these, just as you said, these gorgeous icebergs that were just breathing, and you had to give them their due because they're dangerous and you don't go right close. And there were a few moments where we had to paddle through bergy bits.

[22:20] Gigi: And I completely agree with you, the thing where you're like, I don't want to miss out on a landing. But it was worth it, it definitely was.

[22:29] Dr Diane: It was worth the trade off and it was so quiet and just such a different way to see Antarctica and to realize how clear that water is.

[22:38] Gigi: Yes. Wow. Yeah, because you're in it when you kayak. And I think if anybody does ever go, it's worth spending the extra money, if you can, to do all the extra activities. Because you're in the water and you're so close to the ice, so close to the wildlife and the way that you can't get in a Zodiac, you can just get so close to everything.

[22:57] Dr Diane: And it's just quiet and peaceful.

Photo provided by Ocean Victory
A sense of the magnitude and majesty of Antarctica

[23:00] Gigi: Yes, that was the thing that was for me as well. One of the best things about hiking and the camping, the silence, because on the Zodiac, you've got the engine, you've got everyone's cameras clicking, all those things. But when you're on the other experiences actually, my best sleep on the whole trip was when I camped out.

[23:23] Dr Diane: That's amazing.

[23:25] Gigi: Because it was quiet. Because it was permanent sunset, the sun was out, so it must have just been the quiet. As soon as I stopped talking to my friends, I literally fell asleep. And just every now and again I'd wake up when I heard some ice cracking or a penguin or something. I'd peek up and look around and I'd be like, oh, this is beautiful. And then I'd just fall back asleep again. And it was the best sleep I've ever had.

Where do we go from here? How do we translate a love for Antarctica into concrete steps for climate action today?

[28:05] Dr Diane: So what's it like being back in England after traveling for the last it's been a month at least, right?

[28:11] Gigi: Three months, yes, actually. So the biggest thing that I noticed when I came back was it's really cold, but I'm really happy about that. It's actually colder here than it was in Antarctica. And, I mean, if that doesn't say something about global warming, I don't know what exactly does honestly, because London is quite warm compared to where I'm from. So I'm from Manchester, so it's further north. It's really cold. But yeah, other than that, it's just the same when you get back, really. Nothing's really changed.

[28:43] Dr Diane: But you've changed a little bit, maybe.

[28:46] Gigi: I'm definitely more, like, looking into how I can help Antarctica, and that's something that's changed, I think. Before I went on the trip, I knew I wanted to go to Antarctica, and I knew one day I might want to work there. But I never thought that maybe my political research would want to maybe go in that direction. Whereas now I'm quite seriously considering how I can do more research on Antarctica in terms of the politics and the treaty and just to make sure that the treaty stays in place. And so that's also part of why now I'm quite considering and going to apply to work there, because the more time I spend there, the more I can probably inform policy about Antarctica.

[29:31] Dr Diane: That makes sense. And for me, I work with teachers and I work with children, and it was kind of that same concept of how can I educate about Antarctica? There was a quote that David Attenborough from the UK came up with that I've taken to heart that means a lot to me, the idea that if you don't know it, you won't love it and you won't care for it. And so the first step is to help people, I think, know it and develop that empathy and that attachment to it, so that they want to protect the policies. So that's sort of the angle that I'm trying to take. And what I do is to help ignite that love affair for people so that they understand how big and beautiful this world is.

[30:11] Gigi: We don't get to really spend that much time with that kind of nature. You know, you can go for walks and things, and that's still great and everything, but to see the scale of it. One of the things that did strike me the most as well was just looking at this huge landscape of just vastness of snow and ice, and it's just unfathomable. And a lot of the time you don't see that sort of unending horizon of the land, so it's hard to picture how big everything really is and how small we are. And to try and get people engaged in that and not just thinking about their little life, but how their little life affects everyone and how we're all so interconnected. I don't know how we do that yet, but I hope your work with children, I do hope that that's a way to do that.

[31:28] Dr Diane: I'm a great fan of Doctor Who, I always have been. And one of the things that they always talk about in time travel is you're not supposed to talk to your former self. You're not supposed to disrupt something in the past because it can change the future. And I've been thinking a lot about that in terms of where we are right now, because we're somebody's past, potentially, and we've got the opportunity, I think, to disrupt it and change what the future could be for these kids. And so by doing the political research you're doing, by doing the educating I'm doing, if each one of us who was on that ship does just even a little bit to disrupt, we might help alter what the future looks like.

[32:06] Gigi: That is true, because there are more and more ships going, and if each person can come back and talk about it.. And also the thing with the tourism thing. It's a difficult thing to sort of get your head around. Is this okay for us to be going here? And I think as long as each person who goes does come back and talk about it and promote and do some activism for Antarctica, then it is worth any of the journeys that we make and it is worth any of the tourism and the disruption that comes with that. Because each person has the power to affect the outcome there.


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