Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Expedition to Antarctica
Bella Vista couple enjoys ‘trip of a lifetime’
“We really felt like we had been dropped into a National Geographic. You feel like a speck of dust in the universe because it is so remote.”
— Denise Klinger
BELLA VISTA — Jim and Denise Klinger of Bella Vista recently returned from an expedition cruise to Antarctica that they say was the trip of a lifetime.
They had the idea to go on the adventure after hearing from friend and Bella Vista resident Linda Lloyd what a wonderful time she had on such a cruise.
They flew from Northwest Arkansas to Houston to Buenos Aires, to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the southernmost tip of South America, Denise said. From there they boarded a small cruise ship to travel 560 miles from Ushuaia to Antarctica. That journey took them through the Drake Passage, which is known to every sailor as the roughest seas on Earth, they said.
Jim said the Drake Passage is where the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans come together with the Southern Ocean, which circles Antarctica. There are huge waves with no land to stop them, Denise said, so the journey can be very rough. The couple reported the journey there was rough, but the return journey was the roughest seas the crew had seen all season, with 100-mile-per-hour winds and 36-foot waves.
The Klingers sailed with Atlas Ocean Voyages on the World Navigator. There were 155 passengers on the ship, because an international treaty states that if a ship has 200 or more passengers, they cannot get off the ship and go on expeditions, Jim said. The cruise was called an expedition cruise because it was primarily for doing activities off the ship and learning scientific information, Denise said. There was an expedition crew with 12 members with polar experience, some of whom had wintered in a polar research station. Crew members gave lectures on various topics and were available on the ship to answer questions.
The couple noted that many on the cruise were visiting their seventh of seven continents. Crew members were from all over the world, representing 32 countries.
Denise said every activity was “captain’s choice,” meaning each one depended on what was safe to do at the time given the wind and weather conditions. November through March is cruise season in the Antarctic, as that is summer time, she said. Jim said the temperatures were between 30 and 32.
For activities, groups of 10 would load into heavy duty inflatable boats and move from the ship to land. Denise said they visited some islands and at one point walked on the continent. They were able to see three different species of penguins, three different species of seals and humpback whales. Because the penguins have no predators other than seals, they are not afraid of humans and will walk up to them, they said. The couple also saw glaciers and icebergs.
“We really felt like we had been dropped into a National Geographic,” Denise said. “You feel like a speck of dust in the universe because it is so remote.”
The crew took pains to protect the environment of Antarctica, they said, as another international treaty has provided for its protection. Before the couple left their home, they received instructions to check their pockets, zippers and Velcro for any dirt or debris that could contaminate the land. Then on the ship the crew vacuumed the Velcro on their gloves, she said. They had to sanitize their boots when getting back on the ship so they would not transfer contaminants from one part of the land to another.
Protections were also in place to keep the guests safe, Denise said. For every hour travelers spent on shore, the crew spent four hours preparing, she said. For example, the crew placed cones out to form a path to follow so that guests would not fall into a crevasse.
“You did exactly what they told you to, because you did not want to fall into a crevasse,” she said.
They saw many whales because the waters of the Antarctic are rich with krill, and the whales were feeding to gain weight before traveling north to South America to give birth to calves, Denise said. They visited a place called Deception Island, which is an active volcano which has blown off its top and is covered by water.
At one point the couple was able to join in a polar plunge. One at a time, passengers leapt off a platform on the side of the ship with a safety rope tied around them and swam back as a slight current attempted to pull them out to sea. They each received a certificate for their participation.
“It didn’t feel cold until your head went under, then it was literally this numbing cold to the bone,” Denise said.
She added they wanted to visit Antarctica while they were physically able to complete the trip — which included 29 hours of travel to get to and from Ushuaia.
“We wanted to see it before it’s gone. Climate change is really wreaking havoc with this,” she said.
Jim said, “It’s so different from anywhere else you can go. No people, virtually no man-made structures. The animals have virtually no predators, so they get close to you.”
Denise said they still need to visit Asia, Australia and Africa to get their seven continents in, and she hopes to visit those places soon.
“I’m not sure what else would top this,” she said. “It was this immersive experience into everything Antarctica had.”