Sunday 11 November 2012
Highlights: Antarctica Continent Landing, Gentoo Penguins, Weddell Seals, and Sleeping under the stars!
Today was the big event, stepping onto the Antarctica Peninsula and then the Continent itself! My group was drawn for the first landing attempt. With my new Canadian jacket, water proof pants, thermals and a few other layers of clothing I boarded the zodiac very excited as we headed for Danko Island. Some passengers struggled to follow directions like don’t stand in the zodiac but most got the hang of it and no one fell in.
What a special event this first landing was, penguins everywhere going about their business and for the most not caring about us humans other than trying to work out what we were. There was a hike to a hill to look at a rockery (nest). I can tell you that trying to walk in this snow is extremely difficult. Often I would sink down to my knees in snow and occasionally to my hip. In these conditions it takes a lot of effort to walk.
Penguins however have no such troubles. In fact they were going faster than us humans on land. It’s amazing to watch them walk up a steep hill and do it so easily. On a few occasions I dropped to my knees or stomach to get some good shots. The penguins seemed to prefer it when we were at their level. A couple of penguins checked me out, I didn’t move as per instructions, here they are king. After about 1.5 hours in the minus 3 degree weather reluctantly I had to return to the warmth of the ship and let others land.
During lunch the ship moved to Neko Harbour which is on the continent itself. This time I was drawn with the second landing group as was Ben who decided to skip kayaking for our only chance at landing on the continent. This allowed us both to get some photos with ourselves in them. We were running about an hour behind schedule at this point.
The weather in Neko Harbour was perfect, no real wind and close to zero temperatures. Zodiac rides are very cool, just need to remember to cover your face which I did this time with sunglasses. This time we got to witnesses Weddell seals, a mother and her pup on one part of the coast and another seal down the other end. The genteel penguins also were in great number and as long as we stayed a few metres away they didn’t seem concerned about humans once again.
Back on the ship we were informed that camping is on for tonight!!! I decided to take my daypack to use as a pillow stuffed with my Kathmandu jacket. Fifty nine people had signed up for this event and everyone was super excited during dinner. Ben and myself drew the first landing party.
We were given our tent, sleeping bags and mats to bring to the shore so a bit more gear this time for the zodiac ride. One of the seals decided to sleep in the middle of our selected camping site so we had to move further down the coast nearer a glacier. You set up you own tent meaning you first compact the snow and then dig some of the snow / ice out of your base. Next comes the poles and the basic tent structure, then the overlay and finally the stalks to ground us.
Two portable mini toilets were installed by mostly female campers, building a small privacy snow wall. I had no intention of using the ‘toilet’ on the mainland. We were not allowed to bring any food and they are no fires allowed either. It doesn’t really get dark to around midnight so I didn’t need a touch.
The ship dropped anchor off the coast so we could evacuate quickly if needed. Most of the first hour of so I just took in the amazing scenery. Eventually I went to ‘bed’ on the ice wearing everything I bought and trying to keep my feet warm. This was to be a common problem for everyone. We they just listened to the penguins and occasionally to falling ice from the nearby glacier. An exceptional day.
AND I SLEPT UNDER THE STARS WITH PENGUINS WALKING BY!