The wonderful thing about the wildlife down here is they don’t run away as you approach them. The penguins are likely to waddle up to you and take a good look. Tourism is restricted down here and those who do tour are usually nature enthusiasts. I was in my element walking among fur seals. They will occasionally squawk at you and even venture to take a lunge, but if you talk back to them gently and wave your arms around you’re fine. Walking amongst the penguins is wonderful. I have a smile on my face from start to finish. They’re the most comical creatures and I’ll try to upload a short video of one particular Gentoo penguin I sat and watched for ages. If you sit long enough your eye will soon begin to follow a group of two or three amongst the hundreds in the colony. Their interactions are hilarious and by the time you leave you’ve anthromorphasized the creatures to becoming family members. That long word I don’t know how to spell means giving animals human character. It’s impossible not to. Them wobbling along upright on two legs brings them within the human experience just as chimps and baboons lolloping along the forest floor. Penguins are a lot less threatening of course which strengthens our fondness.
We saw three separate pods of whales on different days. The first sighting it was thought up to 40 and the last sighting of over a hundred. Everywhere you looked, and walked around the entire ship all you’d see were whales spouting. Again, there was that wonderful feeling they were putting on a show for us as they showed no fear of our presence The ship’s propellers would have been bringing a lot of krill and other fish to the suface. We had a penguin try to jump up in our zodiac. A humpback whale slid alongside and under our zodiac giving everyone on board one of those minty moments. Our expedition leader teased a leopard seal who moments later corralled a group of penguins, and I’m sorry to tell you the seal managed to catch a wee penguin. It was gone in a flash. One thing about observing all this wildlife so closely you realize how everything depends on eating something else, often just as appealing and cute. We saw hundreds of different species of birds. Some fly all their lives even managing to sleep on the wing.
The food chain of course ends with the krill which makes up over 50% of the food diversity in the Antarctic. We seemed to eat heartily too after a day watching animals feed all day on one another.
Sometimes this cruise feels more about an exercise of dressing; checking dressing; adding more and undressing at the end of the day. I’m both surprised and very pleased to discover the stringent enforcement of bio-security down here. We travel from island to island; bay to bay and in every instance you slosh through tubs of bright pink stuff to ensure there are no live bugs or vegetation hitching a ride to the landing. Likewise coming back from a tour around ice in the zodiac you go through the same procedure and this time need to scrub footwear and brush this horrid pink stuff over anywhere you might have come into contact with what was on land.
But that’s only part of it. Once we came aboard we were issued with canary yellow PVC raincoats with polar fleece inner; a total of 4 zips to cope with. Boots that make cow-cocky gumboots look positively feminine. Then there’s the other three layers underneath that all have to be tucked in and zipped up over the ever-growing ‘you’. Bugger! I forgot my three layers of socks and now I can’t bend over in what has become 5 layers to pull them on. When you’ve reached this stage you’ve only got putting on the boots, gloves and lifebelt to go. Started off taking us around 40 mins but at this stage we have it down to about 15 mins but usually need some readjustment at the point where we exit.
Before disembarking at an official Port we first need to eye-check all outer clothing for grasses that may have become caught in Velcro tabs (a dozen) then take all the clothing along to bio-security stations set up on each level to get vacuumed. After this final step you sign off as having been cleared and you’re ready to step on land. This procedure has been responsible for us all getting to know each other on the respective decks very quickly.
Two nights at sea and the lbs were packing on! Approaching Saunders Island, part of the Falklands, I looked forward to walking against the wind and hopefully shed a few hundred grams (never be over-ambitious). The sea had been calm and a little boring. Quite a lot of birdlife followed the wake of the ship to eat at the buffet of seafood churned up by the propellers. The weather was sunny and so far our ‘adventure’ in the South Seas could be described as uneventful. However, I wasn’t prepared for the fun of riding ashore in a zodiac; wet and wild. Hooray; a load of fun! A few metres from shore we disembarked (read slithered out) and waded up to the beach. We wore waders and all the gear so there was no fear of getting wet.
And the penguins; hundreds and thousands of them – everywhere you looked. King penguins, their hicks, hatching eggs, we certainly had come at the right time of the year. The Gentoo penguins were engaged in lots of to-ing and fro-ing; bustling here, there, and everywhere; wobbling from side-to-side, flapping their wings with much purpose. We walked a kilometer or so along the beach and we came to the Rockhopper penguins. Only one word to describe them: cute. Very, very cute. I took so many photos of this species but not one of them captures their quirky habits. They jump rather than hop. They’ll waddle a few steps then for no reason decide to jump. It makes perfect sense to hop between rocks, up and down (hence their name), but jumping along a sandy beach for no apparent reason makes them very comical with their long, yellow eyebrows and whiskers. We were disappointed to miss out on getting closer to these penguins at their colony. Harry got some great shots that of the Emperor and Gentoos but the rock hoppers were just too far away.
After a couple of hours we headed back to the ship. The weather had cooperated and stayed dry and all the layers of merino & possum, wool, thermals etc had paid off. Boy was I relieved to get rid of it all. I felt like the Michelin man plus some, but not a blade of wind penetrated all those layers.
The next morning the ship berthed at Stanley. Stanley is a very small port so a lot of the cruise liners have to drop anchor in the harbor and set passengers ashore in zodiacs or lifeboats. Our boat however, the Sea Spirit, is comparatively small with just over a hundred passengers. We berthed at a wharf. A few minutes by bus and we were in the town. With a population of just 2,000 it has evolved in isolation and developed a character reflecting the absence of outside influences. People here are all very much involved with the outdoors and local dress comprises gumboots, windbreakers and waterproof pants. Walking along the waterfront the usual array of souvenir gift shops open their doors to tourists and belie the strange goings-on. We came across a wedding in a small local church that was named a ‘cathedral’. The oddest thing though was the guest list. Someone hadn’t been able to make it and set a life-size cardboard cut-out of himself to accompany the wedding party; just hope it wasn’t the groom!
We headed up toward the residential area and peeking over fences found gardens full of gnomes. Someone found a ‘gumboot’ monument on a hill; dozens of odd gumboots on stakes driven into the ground. A notice in a women’s toilet requests: ‘Only flush it if it’s been eaten’ something getting lost in translation there! Everywhere is evidence of the 1982 conflict, and what the residents of the Falkland Islands support. A very obvious patriotism exists toward Britain. This is evident more in the declarations of independence from Argentina. I made the mistake of asking one shop open whether they took ‘pesos’? I received a very frosty stare in return. My credit card was grudgingly accepted.A day at Port Stanley was long enough. We arrived on a Sunday and there was nothing much going on; not much open and very reminiscent of NZ in the 1970s pre Sunday trading. I was becoming increasingly excited as we headed down toward South Georgia.
We have just disembarked our Antartic expedition. We arrived back in Ushuaia, Argentina and hour or so ago and have finally come in contact with Wifi that allows me to upload posts so forgive the delay and confused time-line. We’ve been out of range of public satellite the entire time.
“POOR NIAGRA”. This quote is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt when she visited the Iguassu falls earlier last century. I’ve never been to Niagra so can’t add anything to her statement other’s very little I can add, apart from a coupe of statistics: National Park: 1.57 thousand cubic metres of water per second cascade from the 127 waterfalls into the Iguassu river. The photos are as close as I can get to show the amazing experience of being at the 7th wonder of the natural world.