Antarctica, the Wildest Place

Venturing to the "White Continent"
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For most of history, mapmakers had no idea Antarctica even existed. It was actually discovered not by an explorer but by a mind. In the fourth century B.C., Aristotle speculated that a great southern landmass had to exist in order for our planet to rotate smoothly. Nevertheless, more than 2,000 years passed before anyone ventured into the icy waters that might hold the hypothetical continent.

Early explorers were motivated by curiosity, hoping to discover fertile land. Their disillusioned successors were driven by materialism, slaughtering seals for pelts and whales for oil.

By the late 1800s, more than 1,200 ships boldly challenged the great Southern Ocean. Today, only about 15 vessels transport visitors (fewer than 8,000 a year) to the "White Continent."

By good fortune, we crossed the Passage in calm weather, savoring halibut, apple strudel, and sauvignon blanc in place of the hardtack and jerky served earlier voyagers. The ship's deck crew was Ukrainian, the chef Swedish. Dining room waitresses wore ruffled blouses and short patent leather skirts. In other words, the Adventurer was very different from the type of cruise ships that offer swing bands and over-the-hill comedians.

Most of the 60 passengers were Swedes or Finns, with a handful of North Americans and a Hong Kong psychiatrist thrown in. All were well-traveled, which is not surprising since Antarctica is unlikely to be anyone's first foreign destination. One of my dinner-table partners was Anna-Frie, who toured the world as the first "A" in the renowned music group ABBA. Manfred, another table-mate, told heroic tales arising from his friendship with the Rajah of Mustang.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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