Writer Ludmila Filipova:
I am interested in our planet's future
The people in Antarctica are so devoted to the last virgin continent and its nature, even to the extent that they are prepared to shield it from their own presence
Vanya Kostova, Stanislav Dimov
8 May, 2015
Close-up: Born on 10 April 1977 in Sofia, Ludmila Filipova earned a degree from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia and City University in London. She is the author of novels like Anatomy of Illusions, Scarlet Gold, Glass Butterflies, The Parchment Maze, Dante’s Antichthon, The Anomaly, Typo, The Eye of The Sky and The War of the Letters.- How did the idea of travelling to Antarctica come to you and why did you join the polar team? - Antarctica is no tourist destination but a place where people work on very specific projects involving a great deal of risk. Going to Antarctica only make sense if your goal is to help preserve the continent of ice and our planet in some way, i.e. something in the field of science, research, education and social, peace or environmentally significant activities. The project that took me to Antarctica was to see, photograph, hear and learn as much as possible about life in Antarctica, the region’s essence, mysteries, nature and meaning to us all, so I could bring it back to our world in the form of pictures, footage, text, impressions and data. As I was embarking on this journey, I was aware of how little the general public knows about this place and there is still a lot of scientific research to be made, too. I had to study a lot on my way there. My plan was to let myself visually experience the place first without any preconceived notions, to ascertain for myself what I have only heard about, to live what I have been told and beyond and finally to find a way to convey all of it in a different, captivating and yet simple form. I hope I have managed to achieve all of that in my book/photo album A Journey to the World’s End. - How long did you stay and what is your impression of the Bulgarian base and researchers there? - Not long enough I would say. Just travelling to and back from Antarctica took nearly 20 days. I spent about a dozen days on location. It is no secret that the Bulgarian base is one of the poorest on the South Pole, but it has one of the cosiest and most kind-hearted atmospheres, just ask any visitor. But the more important thing is that Bulgaria is not only one of just 28 countries with a presence in Antarctica but it is among the first wave to have set foot there. Dozens of scientists visit the base each year. Prof. Pimpirev and Reader Dimo Dimov have made discoveries of global importance, even changing what we know about the age of the continent. The Bulgarian base and researches have earned worldwide recognition. - You celebrated New Year’s Eve surrounded by the icy scenery of Antarctica, what did you wish for? - To be honest, I do not have the habit of making wishes on holidays. I simply set goals for myself and go after them. Christmas and New Year’s Eve were just like any other workday for the base and for me too. By the way, it was then that the greatest surprises happened and they are in my book. The whole base kept working and did not pause for even an hour. We did have a slightly more copious meal during the holidays, although this sounds exaggerated given the restrictions we had. - Were you the only woman in the team and how did the men treat you? - On the long way to the base there were moments where I was the only woman on a military ship or transport aircraft. But at the Bulgarian base there were two other women – journalist Tsvetelina Atanasova from the Bulgarian National Television and iconographer Ganka, who has been painting the Bulgarian church there for two years now. It is interesting to see the unique type of social structure that is formed in the polar military conditions and the bases in Antarctica, something I describe in my book. There is no nationality, gender, money or inequality, only this spirit of mutual assistance, a real community – there is even no sense of people feeling superior to animals so I was filled with joy and pride to know that such a place still exists.- Tell us more about your book A Journey to the World’s End. How long did you work on it? - The text is both about travelling to Antarctica, the longest journey to any point of the planet you can have, and about human nature, our limits and capabilities, about strength and hope, solitude and love, the state of the planet and its future. There is something for everyone in it. The book contains more than 500 colour photos, and it is both in Bulgarian and English, a novelty that took a lot of effort. I am grateful to Egmont Publishing House for taking this difficult creative journey with me. I created this book with photos and text – I made use of every moment I could grab a pen, a computer or a camera on that journey. I will tell you a secret – the novel I have been working on for several months is also connected to the continent of ice, but in a different way. I also have some great footage and I am working on a documentary right now. - What are the living conditions on the base like? What do people use there for heating or food? - Many people would find just the trip there trying – it is mainly military groups and transport means in strict discipline. And you have to change several flights and busses to get to the southernmost point of Chile or Argentina. Conditions at the Bulgarian base are not easy either – you have electricity for only one hour a day, the bedrooms are not heated, often times there is no water or it is freezing cold. You eat whatever there is. But, like all the other people there, I never for one second thought that these are tough conditions. On the contrary, I was thankful for the roof over my head, every bite of breath or sip of water, because there were times when even those necessities were missing. - What can you tell us about the continent of ice and the challenges you encountered there? - Antarctica is one of the largest and most desolate deserts on the Earth, even though it is covered in 85% of the world’s reserves of fresh water, it is all in the form of ice and snow. It is the place that is most similar to the conditions we expect to find on Mars and Europe (Jupiter’s satellite). Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and most dangerous continent in the world, but it has its own remarkable beauty. You never meet people. Animals inhabit only the shores. There is no native population in Antarctica and the continent belongs to no state. Just 20 countries have camps there and Bulgaria is one of them. Only civilian, research, educational, space and exploration missions that could help nature and mankind without hurting the continent are allowed. I was there during the Antarctic summer when the temperature varies between -40°C and -5°C and the day is 24 hours, which means no sunsets and nights. It is a miracle that I was able to capture on film scenery in colours other than the ever present shades of grey, blue and white – it is very rare for December. - What did you find out about Antarctica and yourself? - The biggest surprise was that I met the most kind-hearted, dedicated and strong people. The people there are so devoted to the last virgin continent on the planet and its nature, even to the extent that they are prepared to shield it from their own presence. People there help one another irrespective of nationality, status, profession or gender. I also lived my lifelong dream of meeting a particular person, but let this be a surprise for readers. I saw the largest and most ancient glaciers in the world, I sailed the stormiest waters where few people manage to stay on their feet. I took the coldest flight you can have on board the military aircraft Hercules to Antarctica – 5 hours to our destination and back because we could not land due to bad weather conditions. I found myself in risky situations I had not even imagined on a daily basis. I experienced the most severe weather conditions on this planet. - What are the rules people in Antarctica follow so as to avoid disturbing the ecosystem? - There are strict rules and breaking them is considered illegal. We are banned not only from touching animals but getting closer than 10 metres from them or even helping them if they are in trouble. Getting the smallest pebble out of there is forbidden, not to mention biological species. No garbage or waste waters, all unnecessary organics are burnt and the rest of the garbage is collected and shipped back to civilisation. - Give us a glimpse of what we can expect from your upcoming novel about Antarctica. - I cannot give away much, except that the first chapter begins with the opening of the time capsule, which we will send to Antarctica. You can contribute to its content now on poslanie-antarctica.com and become a character in my novel or change the future of mankind. I decided to start a project that would help us realise what is really important today and preserve our future. This idea can stimulate us to get to know and protect nature from ourselves so that we can live in it for the years to come. My idea is to create a time capsule, sealing in it for the next 50 years a letter from this generation to the next, a type of Noah’s Arc of knowledge, and place it under the Bulgarian church in Antarctica (the first Orthodox church there).