““All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Day 12 – Cierva Cove Zodiac Cruise
We woke up to absolutely stunning scenery this morning. We’d sailed south from the tip of the peninsula to our first stop of the day. Outside was everything we’d expected from Antarctica – massive white snowfields on the land, and thousands of ice floes on the water. It’s really indescribable. The pictures will give you some sense, but the enormity and the alien-ness of the landscape is hard to put into words.
The most surreal thing was when we walked into the Plasma room and on the screen was the BBC documentary Frozen Planet, showing footage from the Antarctic. Looking outside and seeing exactly what was on the screen was just unbelievable.
Our plan for this morning is actually not a landing but a Zodiac cruise around this bay. We were disappointed at first, but this was probably the best thing we had done so far. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and being on the frozen water, navigating through the floes was truly amazing. I now think icebergs are one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. They come in every shape and size and reflect this most amazing shade of blue. I keep trying to capture it in pictures but it doesn’t come out exactly.
You could stare at the icebergs and the snowpack on the land for ages and not see the same shape twice.
As we motored around the icefloes, we were lucky enough to come across five different Leopard Seals. Leopard Seals are known for eating penguins so I had never thought of them other than predators, and it was interesting looking at them for themselves. They aren’t pretty creatures, with slightly reptilian heads too small for the rest of them, but I did get some good closeups.
Leopard Seals – 5
Day 11 –Gourdin Island, Antarctica
We left Brown Bluff to go to a small island in the Antarctic Sound called Gourdin Island, home to a massive colony of Adelie penguins! We thought we had seen penguins that morning, but that was tiny compared to this. Thousands on thousands of penguins have nests here, and the sound and smell was overwhelming!
It’s incredible to watch them. They are constantly moving, picking up rocks to make nests, waddling about to different area, and bobbing their heads to their odd vocalisation dance. The funniest thing to see was the adults shrieking at the chicks when the chicks were annoying them (pestering them for food, or bugging one that wasn’t it’s parent). Goes to show not much changes from human to animals!
I also happened to inadvertently capture some penguin porn! I saw one penguin standing on the other’s back, and it took about 5 seconds to realise what was happening! It’s all very National Geographic around here!
Speaking of National Geographic, there are other natural scenes we saw that were harder to stomach. I thought Penguins only predator were Leopard Seals and the odd Killer Whale (Orca). I wasn’t aware that where there are penguins, there are also other predatory birds. The brown Skua birds are a constant threat to the penguins, flying and landing in their colonies. We saw a number of penguin skeletons and an adult Skua standing over the corpse of a baby Adelie.
On a better note, we also saw our first Chinstrap penguins! There were only a few, but they are my favourite so far. They are more cautious then the Adelies but seem to be smarter. Their chicks are smaller than the Gentoos and covered in light grey down.
There was also another lone seal on the beach here – an Antarctic Fur Seal (very similar to the California Sea Lion). We’re racking up the sightings!
Besides the animals, we have started to form a small group on the boat . There’s about eight to ten of us that hang out now, with a few others that come and go.. Fergus, Sarah, Simone, Zach, David from Houston, Manuel from Germany, Marco from Italy, and Wong from Malaysia.
Moment of the day: Getting a mobile phone signal from an Argentinian Antarcic base for about 10 minutes and everyone frantically sending text!
Adelie Penguins – thousands
Chinstrap Penguins – a dozen
Antarctic Fur Seals – 1
Day 11 – Brown Bluff, Antarctica
Late last night we went past the Shetland Islands and woke up this morning chugging towards the Antarctic Peninsula. Our first stop was Brown Bluff on the northernmost point of the continent, on the Antarctic Sound. We were a bit surprised to see there wasn’t snow where we were landing, as we expected the whole continent to be white, but they told us Adelie and Gentoo penguins only nest where the snow has melted so they can make their rock nests, so we hopped in the Zodiacs and hit the beach! The Adelie penguins were marching up and down the beach, in single file lines like tuxedoed soldiers! They don’t seem to really know where they are going, just as soon as one makes a decision to walk, they all follow! They aren’t afraid of us at all, but they all seem to have this kind of anxious personality, like they are a bit twitchy all the time. Like a nervous footman or something! It was very cute to watch them walk in their rows to the water, and then after taking ages to decide, finally launch themselves into the water!
Walking a little way up the beach, we found the other type of penguin, the Gentoos. It’s so odd to see, but they have totally different personalities then the Adelies. Where the Adelies are nervous, these guys are adventurous! They constantly run around, chasing each other, doing the vocalisation dance. They only seem to be wary of us when they run right up and then realise where they are! And there are chicks!!! When we reached the Gentoo rockery, there were loads of babies, with their fuzzy light grey and white feathers. They look like little plush toys! I couldn’t stop taking pictures, especially as there were a few that were teeny and still in the nests with their parents. The chicks have no fear.. At one point five little fuzzballs ran straight towards us, like kids playing tag, stopping about two feet away, going ‘Whoah, now what do we do?’ So amazing!!
The Gentoos and Adelies share the area and do intermix a bit but their rockeries are separate. We’d only seen adult Adelies so far when we got to one of their nesting sites, and they had babies as well! Adelie babies are smaller and puffier then the Gentoo chicks, with heavy dark grey coats. When they moult, the white adult feathers appear. The Adelie chicks are a lot less active then the others, splaying themselves flat on the ground wings out for a nap. So cute!
We stayed watching the penguins for quite a while, and I think secretly hoping that we could touch one, but no luck! On the way back to the boat, we got told that there were Weddell seals on the beach. They were sunbathing (snowbathing?) with some penguins standing sentry. We got to within about 15 feet of them and they were gorgeous!
We have another stop today, but I’ll make that a separate blog!
Gentoo Penguins – hundreds
Adelie Penguins – hundreds
Weddell Seals – 2
Day 10– Open Sea, The Drake Passage (Day 2)
We’ve hit rougher waters today and about a quarter of the boat is sick, including Zach. It’s kind of funny though, as they have taped seasickness bags all over the boat, as a kind of practical decoration! I’ve only been seasick once in my life (diving on the Great Barrier Reef), but I’ve been taking preventative medicine because the Drake is infamous, and I remember the horrible feeling of being ill! The Kwells seem to work, and they are meant to be non-drowsy (although I just find them less drowsy-making then others seem to be). I would recommend them, and I got mine at Boots pharmacy in the UK.
More lectures today – this time on Penguins and Seals. The seals info was really good – I didn’t know that there were six different types in the Antarctic. You generally hear about Leopard Seals as they and Orcas are the main predators in these waters, but there are also Weddell, Crabeater, Ross, Elephant and Fur seals, who all eat krill. The Penguin lecture was a bit basic. Anyone who has seen Frozen Planet and Happy Feet has a good idea of what penguins there are. Happy Feet was just on over Christmas in the UK, so I was looking forward to see the little Adelies (who in my head do speak with a Spanish accent)! Emperor Penguins only nest in the center of Antarctica, not on the Peninsula, so we won’t see them, but there are also Macaroni, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins to look forward to. Everyone we’ve met says penguins are the one thing they really cant wait for!
We also did our Zodiac briefing where we learned how our shore landings were going to work, and how to get in and out of the boats.
The mist limiting our visibility kept coming and going today and everyone went to the windows repeatedly for the sighting of the first iceberg. It was about 9 or 10pm that Simone, an Italian guy living in London saw something on the horizon. It wasn’t big but it was definitely there!
As we went on, they kept coming and finally we saw the first of the big majestic icebergs. All different shapes and types but all massive! Everyone got very excited as it’s finally hitting us that we’re almost to Antarctica!
We devised a new sport today – Extreme Showering! The best way I can describe showering on a ship that is pitching heavily is like the Funhouse ride at a carnival or fair. You know the one that you walk through and the floor moves, and at the end there is a room that shakes from side to side? Yep, now try showering on that!