Dana, early am: I woke up and headed into the dining room for my usual (at least for the past 5 days) delicious breakfast of oatmeal, brown sugar, walnuts and raisins. Through all the months of traveling this has to be the closest thing to home for me, because we don’t have to pack our bags and move every day, and the food has been excellent. Since one of our landings was cancelled yesterday, we had an extra excursion added to our itinerary. Both Adam and I were excited because today we were going to be landing on the actual continent of Antarctica.
Our first landing was to Cuverville Island, home to another rookery of Gentoo penguins. As soon as we arrived we noticed a different looking penguin all by himself, and found out he was an Adelie penguin, our fourth species of penguin in Antarctica so far. With his all black head and small ring of white around his eye makes him look a little different than all of the other penguins we’ve seen so far. I hope we see more of them because this guy was a bit shy. After he ran away and dove into the ocean, we hiked to see the rookery of Gentoo’s where we saw a lot of baby chicks and parents going to and fro calling out to each other with their honking noises. Another funny thing I saw was that they like to build their nests out of rocks, and if you just focus on one penguin you’ll notice him stealing rocks from his fellow penguins. It’s almost as if any old rock won’t do, he needs that one… and that one. Walking back to the zodiac we saw some huge whale bones, evidence of whaling in Antarctica from the past.
Neko Harbor Zodiac Cruise
Dana, afternoon: I’m a little scared of the zodiac, especially in choppy waters, so for the whole ride I was a little uneasy, but still managed to enjoy myself. I was excited about getting closer to the icebergs and to see some seals who would be resting on top. Driving around the icebergs was unreal and too see how much ice is actually hidden in the waters was surprising. We even got to touch a real iceberg! They are as hard as a rock.
For awhile we were able to follow a few minke whales, but we didn’t get any good pictures because they would surface too quickly. There was so much going on during the cruise, it was almost sensory overload. I couldn’t believe how the icebergs make the water change to such vivid blue colors.
My favorite part of the zodiac cruise was spotting the seals resting on top of the ice and figuring out what type of seal it was. We saw many Crabeater seals, they are the most abundant seal in the world, and the ones we saw had old scars on their bodies from Leopard seals. We were even lucky enough to spot a Leopard seal. When we caught him yawning he was showing off his rows of razor sharp teeth, he almost looked reptilian. Adam thought they looked like the Joker from the latest batman movie.
Adam, evening: We have had quite the action-packed day today! Our visit to Neko Harbor marked our official first time stepping foot on the continent of Antarctica. The harbor is actually a bay that has gigantic glaciers on the opposite side we land on. The entire group was warned about where we were able to go because when giant chunks of ice spontaneously fall from the glacier, mini-tsunamis can roll through the bay and totally flood areas that were completely dry moments before.
Stepping foot on the actual continent was quite an experience, not so much for the views we had but because we can always say now that we have really been to Antarctica. It will be a strange day when we arrive in Australia sometime in the future and complete our visits to seven continents, because normally it is Antarctica that is the last one for people to visit.
But we didn’t just sit around, there were penguins to observe and views to take in. The gentoo penguins here were quite lively, and I managed to get a picture of what might be one of my best pictures while in Antarctica: swimming penguins! Yes, while they sure do look goofy waddling around on land, they are some of the world’s most graceful swimmers. We saw dozens of them intermittently swimming through the harbor, popping out of the water, almost looking like living torpedoes.
On a slightly frightening note, I managed to have one of my camera lenses slip out of my pocket when I was sitting down photographing penguins. This is the all-around lens that accounts for about 80% of all the photos I take. It managed to slowly roll its way down to an entire rookery of penguins, and it felt like watching plinko in slow motion. One of the biologists gave me the go-ahead to carefully go and snatch it up even though it was only a few feet away from the penguins. It was pretty embarrassing, but thankfully the lens was spared from any scratches on the lens and worked fine once I recovered it.
After we got back from such a long day, there was a special BBQ ready for us on our arrival. Grilled chicken, steaks, sausages, pork, was available to choose from. I know we’ve mentioned the food a lot lately, but we couldn’t go without mentioning this dinner!
The crazy thing about Antarctica is that there is almost always something interesting to see or photograph, and since there is proper daylight for around 19 hours a day, you never know what you might see. For example, finishing up after tonights dinner, the boat managed to parallel park (read: get stuck) on an iceberg, knocking out a guardrail on the second floor of the ship’s rear deck. While I’m sure the Captain wasn’t thrilled, it did provide some wonderful views.