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ANTARCTICA I

PENGUINS AND WHALES

sunny 30 °F

large_IMG_0493.jpglarge_IMG_0494.jpglarge_IMG_0506.jpglarge_IMG_0516.jpglarge_IMG_0507.jpglarge_IMG_0501.jpgIt is summer here in Antarctica: the days are 21 hours long. Last night we didn’t close the curtains all the way so about four o’clock this morning we awoke when brilliant light flooded our suite. Sun streamed across the ice and the reflection from the snow made everything shine and twinkle. After days of sailing through grey waters, we see 6000 foot tall mountains, icebergs that have calved pierced by turquoise spaces and crevasses. There is pink ice, blue ice, cream ice, brown ice, and every shade of white ice. There are snow tracks where melting snow has made patterns like someone has combed the mountainsides, and there are tracks that penguins make going back and forth to the water. There are no roads, no cars, no buildings, no wires, no people. Just snow and rocks and thousands of Gentoo penguins. And some humpback whales, blowing and playing shipside.

The Drake Passage was indeed Drake’s Lake. We sailed through easily, down Gerlache Passage to Danco Island where we stopped. We are not at anchor, we are drifting; whatever that distinction is, we aren’t moving.

So we started preparing for our expedition. Here are the layers: underwear, silk long underwear, synthetic long underwear, waterproof pants, socks, boots, then a hooded many-layered parka (red so they can always find us) which can be detached into three parkas and has zip pockets inside and outside, in the sleeves and in the lining. Then undergloves and overgloves and a scarf and hat (we left the neck gaiters behind). We were barely able to move but managed to waddle (a little like the penguins) down to deck three where we joined many other guests in red parkas. Some of them had fur hats. We were all very very hot.

Next into the zodiacs. Teams of two grabbed our wrists and moved us from one team to another across the loading platforms into our little boat. Once in, we sat and scootched ourselves along the side – and then we were off across the waters. How astounding, how fortunate we are, how amazing this is, what a privilege; how awesome, how mighty the snow and ice covered mountains, how many many many penguins. The rookery could be heard and smelled before we went ashore, thousands of them chattering raucously. The little guys leave the rookery, in pairs and trios and often alone, and they waddle to the water, hopping over rocks. They are pretty skinny until they emerge from the sea fat and tubby. What they are doing is stuffing themselves on krill and carrying it back to regurgitate and feed their young.

Then back into the zodiacs. The return is a little harder because you walk through the water on slippery rocks and then heave (maybe some people moved gracefully but Hope heaved) yourself across the boat for the trip back to the mother ship. And then you climb up a ladder and walk through some chemical to kill whatever you have stepped in. (One thing we stepped in was salp, a tiny chordate that is jellied and transparent – and looks like nothing we have ever seen before.) And then we rejoiced that we were on Silversea. The crew had prepared chairs for us; they took off our boots and gave us slippers. Then they cleaned the crannies on the boots and our butlers returned them to our suites.

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Posted by HopeEakins 13:31 Archived in Antarctica

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In the first photo it looks as if you could sit out on the deck in the sun. What is the air temperature?

Will you go there another day, or to a different outcropping? Will you see any of the research stations?

It must feel amazing, other-worldly.

by HARRIET

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