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Harris goes down south — way down south — to visit his seventh continent

  • Murray Harris saw seven of the 18 different species of penguins who reside on Antarctica. (Photo submitted.)

  • Passengers took Zodiacs — smaller motorized inflatable watercraft — from the ship to the shore. (Photo submitted.)

  • Murray Harris visited his seventh continent earlier this month when he joined an expedition to Antarctica. (Photo submitted.)

  • Murray Harris got a close-up look at some seals when he visited his seventh continent earlier this month when he joined an expedition to Antarctica. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob,

North America, South America, Asia and Africa …

Most people learned about the seven continents in a grade school social studies or geography class.

Europe and Australia …

An elite few have actually been to all seven.

With his trip south earlier this month to Antarctica, Charles City’s Murray Harris is now one of those elite few.

“It’s been a 60-year dream of mine,” Harris said. “Sometimes I just laid in the snow and took it all in.”

Harris hooked up with Poseidon Expeditions, a provider of polar expeditions in the cruise industry. The company facilitates icebreaker cruises to the North Pole, the Arctic and Antarctica.

Harris left home on Dec. 2, flew into Miami, then to Buenos Aries, then down to Ushuaia, Argentina — known as the world’s southernmost city — just across from the Antarctic continent on the Beagle Channel. He then climbed aboard the 300-foot passenger ship the Sea Spirit, along with 113 others, plus a crew of 75.

Murray said that of the other passengers, 10 countries were represented, including China, Russia, India, Germany, France and Austria. The crew included marine biologists, geologists and other environmental scientists from several different countries who all had been in the business for a decade or more.

The ship left port for a two-day trek across the passage to the Antarctic continent and it’s many islands.

“We could only go to places that the ice would permit,” Harris said. “Some days are not as good as others.”

From the ship, the passengers would take Zodiacs — smaller motorized inflatable watercraft — to shore and spend three to four hours excursions, where they could follow a trail, hike or climb if they wanted. Harris said that often times, he just stayed back on the beach and enjoyed the scenery and wildlife.

“They would get you as close to an island or the mainland of the continent as they could,” said Harris, who added that trails were marked to travel.

Before they want on the trails, Harris and the other explorers had to wash and disinfect their boots — and they had to do the same when they came back.

“They want to keep it as pristine as possible,” he said. “It was so pristine there — the air, the water — you could see 10 feet down in the ocean.”

Passengers on the expedition also visited old abandoned whaling villages, kayaked and camped. Harris said that camping consisted of digging foxholes in the snow, about 18 inches deep, to sleep in.

“Then when we woke up we had to fill the holes back in, so the penguins wouldn’t fall in — because they wouldn’t be able to get out,” he said.

Harris said he was able to see seven of the 18 species of penguins that reside on the continent. He said the flightless birds are nesting this time of year.

“The little guys are so curious,” he said. “By international laws we had to maintain 15 feet from them, but if they came your way, you would just stand still and let them cross.”

Harris said that it’s currently summertime in Antarctica, and temperatures ranged from as low as 0 to as high as 50 degrees. Around 1,000 people live on the continent year-round. Researchers from about 12 different countries have bases there.

Harris said research is done on the weather, the climate and the marine life, and researchers also monitor the continental shift.

Harris has visited nearly 50 countries. He was born and raised on a farm north of Elma, then spent 35 years in the printing business before retiring. He has lived in Charles City since 1982. Linda Brant, his wife of 25 years, usually accompanies him on his trips, but she stayed behind this time.

“She didn’t go on this trip — it was on my bucket list,” said Harris, who returned home from Antarctica last Tuesday.

Among other places, the couple has been to Egypt to see the pyramids, to Easter Island, China, Tibet, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.

“I’m just curious how other people live,” Harris said. “I like to go behind the scenes and find out as much about the country as I can. It’s fun to see, in person, the things you’ve read about.”

Of all the places he’s visited, Harris named Scotland as his favorite.

He said he made the decision to do all his globetrotting when his late wife passed away at the age of 40.

“Like a lot of couples, we talked about how when we got older, we would travel,” he said. “Well she never got the chance, and I decided there was no tomorrow.”

Through it all, however, Harris said that one of the best things about traveling to far away places is returning home to Charles City.

“When you come home, you realize the freedom Americans have,” he said. You learn to appreciate your home. You appreciate living in Iowa.”