Probably as a result of growing up in a beach town, I enjoy watching tourists. During a recent cruise to Antarctica, the largest group of passengers, not surprisingly, was affluent over-60 whites. There was only one black couple. There were zero children, not even teenagers.
Most passengers were fit enough to get into and out of Zodiacs (eight-passenger rubberized boats) and to walk along rocky beaches with slippery snow, but it was still surprising how many people travel to Antarctica and stay on board the ship, without actually walking on the continent.
For lovers of beauty, it was impossible to ignore the dramatically beautiful landscapes – in white and blues! There must have been a million dollars in fancy cameras on the ship.
For environmentalists, it was heartbreaking to see the impact of global warning. Antarctica is surrounded by an ice shelf that has decreased a whopping 90% over the last 11 years. As if slow melting was not enough to worry about, scientists estimate the gigantic Thwaites glacier may raise sea level worldwide by a whopping ten feet. Worse, it is the size of Florida and is expected to break off at some point from the continent suddenly, producing a terrible tsunami.
For animal lovers, there was a sense of frustration – so many interesting animals . . . that you cannot hug!
For existentialists, Antarctica is a hostile beauty, with life-threatening danger everywhere. It is a humbling sight. If you feel strong and powerful in ordinary life, you will feel small and insignificant in Antarctica, which is good for the soul.
The smallest group of passengers was those people whose trip to Antarctica meant they had traveled to all Seven Continents — North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia . . . and Antarctica! There was only two of those passengers! One was a 91-year-old retired doctor from Connecticut, and the other was a MUCH younger financial advisor from Virginia.