Antarctica is not the typical cruise destination, but three Greene Countians experienced the beauty and pristine nature of the southernmost continent as part of an expedition in February.
Jeanne Stokes and Jim and Kristen Small traveled to Antarctica aboard the Norwegian-owned Hurtigruten line for a 16-day cruise through the Antarctica Passage.
“It was a trip of a lifetime to a place that is untouched,” Stokes said of the expedition to the southernmost part of the planet. “The continent itself is absolutely gorgeous and pristine.”
The expedition was “awe inspiring and humbling,” said Kristen Small.
“It was not what I was expecting,” her husband Jim said. “In the weeks before we left, I read a lot about the explorers and also about the habitat and wildlife. But, it is just so raw.”
Traveling from Argentina, it took two days to reach Antarctica by ship, which included passing through the Drake passage known for its rough waters.
The swells got up to eight meters in the passage and the ship rocked and rolled in the waves, Stokes recalls. “I liked to sleep when it was like that,” she continued. “You could tell how bad it had been by the number of people who did not show up for meals.”
Both Stokes and the Smalls noted that the cruise was not a typical pleasure cruise, but more of an educational, adventure excursion.
The staff on board were all “-ologists,” Stokes said, scientists who would give lectures during the days when there were no landings on the continent. The two days of sea travel before reaching the continent were filled with lectures, she said, and there were also lectures each evening as well. The lecture sessions were about an hour in length.
The Smalls said that the cruise had two objectives: to enter into the Antarctic Circle and to land on the continent. Once they reached Antarctica, the ship’s passengers were able to participate in 12 landings on the continent.
Stokes said the temperatures were not as frigid as one might expect. “It was not as cold there as it had been [in Greene County] in January,” she said. “The temperature was in the 30s most of the time. It was summer there.”
People bundled up as they landed, Kristen Small said, but once people were on land for a while they started unzipping their coats and taking off gloves as they got warmer from the exertion. And although they were surrounded by water and ice, the weather was dry.
On the trip itself, their group from the Southeast got to experience all four seasons, Kristen Small said. Travel agents with Cruise Planners-Premium and Elite Travel, the Smalls led a group of 10 from the region on the excursion.
“We went through all the seasons in a month time,” she said. The group flew into Buenos Ares in Argentina on the way down, where the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s. On the return trip, fall had begun in Argentina. And returning to Tennessee, they landed during the spring-like week the Greeneville area experienced.
Getting out on land was an experience. Both Stokes and the Smalls were struck by the environmentally conscious measures taken on the cruise to make sure that the neither ship nor its passengers disturbed the environment.
“We could not take anything onto the land,” Stokes said. “We had to step in a solution to go onto a land.” Returning to the boat from a landing, the passengers had to rinse their feet once again. The passengers were given muck boots that went to their knees by the cruise line, she said, and they wore them whenever getting off the ship, noting that sometimes the passengers had to step into a little bit of water to get to land.
The landings allowed the passengers to see some of the wildlife up close, particularly penguins and seals….
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