We left Brown Bluff yesterday, at 5:00 am, having abandoned any chance of landing there. We sailed all day yesterday, and in to this morning. We were expected to anchor in Neko Harbor around 8:00 am, and start loading the Zodiacs with big, puffy, red people shortly thereafter.
Everything was right on schedule, and we stormed the beach at the designated time. The penguins never had a chance – ha! (It’s really us that doesn’t stand a chance against an animal so incredibly well adapted to the harsh conditions of their Polar home).
At this point, we need to clarify something we said earlier about stepping foot on our 7th continent. Many would not consider the South Shetland Islands, or any other island for that matter, to be part of Continental Antarctica. For those purists, today, we truly stepped foot on the mainland continent, and have become members of the seven continent club (exact membership numbers to be determined)!!
Today’s offerings include Gentoo Penguin colonies, Crabeater Seals lazing on the beach, and a hike up the glacier. For those not so feint of heart, a slide on your butt back down the glacier is also on the menu of options. We, not being brave or wild or crazy, decided to partake in all of these activities, anyway. The glacier is quite steep, so the walk up is a serpentine flow – back and forth – up one end of the glacier, followed by a walk across the ridge. Once on top of the ridge, there are two ways down. Either the serpentine path back down, or simply start scooting down the hill on your butt, and let gravity take over.
Gravity definitely took over. It starts out with scoot, scoot, scoot – nothing. Scoot, scoot, aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I’m going to die … WHAM! – dead stop in a depression in the snow. We are talking 60 to 0 in .001 seconds! Mark thinks he is about three inches shorter this afternoon. Note to selves: DO NOT slide down glaciers on butt!
The next order of business this morning was a Zodiac tour around the harbor. This started out quiet and relaxing until a humpback whale was spotted. Then, off we went, shooting to the other side of the bay as fast as the Zodiac could carry us. We followed the whale for close to an hour; it surfaces and blows about every 30 seconds. It was obviously not doing any deep diving to feed – just hanging near the surface, and moving in a slow, somewhat predictable manner. When it did surface, it is typically about 75-100 feet from the Zodiac. If it had been upwind from us, we would have felt the blow on our faces.
During lunch (where the roast duck was incredibly delicious), we sailed back through the Errera Channel on our way to the afternoon landing site on Cuverville Island. Again, the island is home to a number of Gentoo rookeries. But, it’s the views of the icebergs that steal the show here. The penguins are cute and behave so adorably, but it is the icebergs that reign this afternoon.
The ship left Cuverville Island in the early evening, and was once again under steam in the Gerlache Strait. We entered the Neumayer Channel, and anchored a short distance from Port Lockroy (www.ukaht.org). There are four staff (all young women) at Port Lockroy for the summer season – 5 months in total. Living conditions at this historic site are fairly primitive (no running water for toilets, showers, etc. and canned food for the duration), so the four young ladies were invited on board the ship to enjoy a nice hot shower, and dinner in the restaurant.
Speaking of dinner – this evening was a Venetian themed meal. Both Mark and I started with a crunchy prawn. This is followed by soup for Mark, and salad for me. We finished off by sharing entrees of herb encrusted lamb and osso bucco (some of the most delicious veal I have ever had). Between duck at lunch, and veal/lamb for dinner, Mark was in hog heaven (although no pork!).
This evening, the sea was like glass, and the reflections of the mountains in the water were glorious. With conditions so calm we should sleep well tonight, with visions of Gentoo Penguins dancing in our heads (no sugarplums for us)!