As of 9am, Monday, December 3rd, I have been to 6 continents and this is definitely one of the most exotic and remote. I was standing on Antarctica, not just the islands near Antarctic, but the actual continent.
Neko Harbor, the location of my first landing on Antarctica, was a gorgeous place with a large glacier along one side and a rocky beach along the other. Here we were able to watch countless Gentoo penguins bathing in the ocean and smoothing their feathers on the beach. While we are required to not get any closer than 15 feet from the wildlife, if the animal such a penguin comes closer to us we don’t need to run away; therefore, those with patience could wait while the penguins wandered within a foot of them.
In the afternoon we had our second landing on the Antarctic Continent at Waterboat Point, which is now a Chilean Naval Station that is covered by nesting penguins. It seemed every pair of Gentoo penguins, even the one laucaustic (similar to albino) penguin, had a nest made of pebbles with at least 1 egg in it. The eggs will start hatching in another 4-5weeks, so alas no chicks. Still, it was quite entertaining to watch one penguin try to steal the stones from another’s nest and get squawked at and pecked at by the other penguin.
We also found a large Weddell Seal snoozing on a iceberg that was cooperative enough to look up when we went by to take its photo 😉 . We’ve now seen a few of these seals and they never seem to do anything other than sleep. I’m beginning to think they are the Antarctic equivalent of China’s panda bear in their laziness.
Besides seals and penguins we continue to see birds of prey such as skuas, petrels, as well as gulls, snowy sheathbills, Antarctic terns, and Antarctic cormorants. Before dinner, we also had sightings of Orca whales. Our wildlife watch has been great. Our weather has been good; good enough for all the scheduled landings and passages but we’ve had almost no sun and instead snow flurries when we’ve been on shore.
Due to the lengthy day, ie nearly 20hours of daylight in this part of the world, we were able to have a post-dinner landing on Cuverville Island. This island has a small mountain that when climbed affords great views of the surrounds. We arrived on the island about quarter to nine and were given the option of ‘march of death’ or ‘walk of life;’ we laughed at the joke, but little did we know… So like the majority of the passengers, we followed after the excursion leader in the hike up the ‘hill.’ Over the course of about an hour we switch-backed up at 1200foot mountain in knee-deep snow. With each step my rubber boots, already heavy by being fully insulated, kept getting getting heavier and heavier and hard and hard to lift. Certainly there were some people that turned back but for those who did make it, at top there was a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment for the group. Pictures were taken, snow angels were made, snowballs were flung all in the exhilaration of accomplishment in making it to the top.
But the best part was coming down! It was like Shoots and Ladders. We walked a little and then someone would carve out a smooth slope by sliding down. Then we’d all slide down on the seat of our pants. Then we’d walk to the next steep slope and do it again. We slid forward, backward, sideways, with snow flying in the face, it was great fun! Back on the beach, got in the Zodiacs and motored back to the ship about 11pm endorphins rushing but still exhausted and ready for bed.