Finally Landing on the Antarctic Continent!
Continuing from my previous post on Antarctica, where we made our journey from Ushuaia, crossed the Drake Passage and then made our first landing. The first landing on our journey was on the South Shetland islands, which are considered sub-Antarctic islands. In theory, we haven’t really set foot on the Antarctic continent itself at that point yet.
Here’s the next couple of days’ events that happened during our journey in Antarctica:
Day 4 – Cuverville Island and Paradise Bay
Our boat cruised overnight along the Gerlache strait and docked near Cuverville island, where after breakfast, we boarded the zodiacs again and landed on Cuverville Island itself. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we all dressed up warm. In fact, we prepared for the cold too much that most of us felt hot when we got to the island! When we landed, our guides told us to either choose between staying just on the shore area, or hike up this hill, which is supposedly medium in difficulty level. Most of us passengers then decided to hike up this hill, which ended up feeling like a steep hill for me! The top of the hill is supposed to have amazing views of the bay and the other side of the island. And it was! But man was the climb tough for me, as the path was very narrow, slippery and steep! There was a Gentoo penguin colony halfway up the hill. It was a difficult climb for me and I somehow had to hold the expedition biologist Julieta’s hand to get down the hill!!
When we got back to the ship, I was feeling so hot from the thick clothing (and also my fear of heights/vertigo setting in made me sweat profusely) that I just dressed up in t-shirt and hawaiian shorts. I went to the dining hall for lunch just wearing this outfit, and nearly every passenger was just staring at me! I had no idea why they were looking at me strangely until one of the guys pointed to my hawaiian shorts! Wearing hawaiian shorts in Antarctica! Now that’s really odd! Everyone had a laugh!
In the afternoon, our ship cruised along and reached the area of Paradise Bay. We went on a zodiac cruise first around Paradise Bay, and saw some crabeater seals, and Weddell seals. There were also penguins on some of the seal colonies. We also saw some Cormorants nesting on the side of a cliff. After the zodiac cruise, we went to the old abandoned Argentine station called Brown Station, and this was our very first time to set foot on the Antarctic continent! It was one of the very few places in the continent where you can make a landing from sea straight to land without having to use an ice axe! We then climbed up this hill and saw an amazing view of the harbour. Truly a paradise! On our way down, we slid down the hill on our bums, which was really great fun!
In the evening, we had a parillada (Argentinean BBQ) snack and dinner. We had chori-pan for snack (yum!) and asado for dinner. It’s one of the best dinners so far on this trip!
Day 5 – Xmas eve – Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy, Danco Island
Our ship attempted to go into the Lemaire Channel, which is a very narrow passage between towering peaks and glaciers. This passage was only discovered less than 100 years ago, as it was very narrow, and few ships can get through it. We were told that this passage was blocked with lots of ice in the last couple of days, and some cruise ships who had been in the area the day before were not able to get through due to so much pack ice. But still, our captain wanted to give it a go. We were all looking forward to this, as we would be able to see the only Adelie penguin colony that is still accessible on Antarctic cruises, plus the spectacular scenery of going through the Lemaire Channel. Unfortunately for us, it was still blocked with so much ice, so we had to do Plan B.
Plan B was to visit to Port Lockroy and Wiencke Island. It was snowing, and weather was not that great. Wiencke Island was our first stop, with more Gentoos penguin colonies, and remains/bones of a whale being left on the island. First time I saw a penguin’s egg still being incubated by the mother penguin, and I also saw some broken eggs that the Antarctic skuas managed to steal and eat from the mother penguins. Next we moved over to Port Lockroy, just on the other side. Port Lockroy is a British-run museum and semi-research station, and had a gift shop and post office in it. It was our only chance to buy a souvenir that is really from Antarctica and send our postcards from the frozen continent!
In the afternoon, we went to Danco island, and hiked up to a small hill which had a Gentoo penguin colony. There were penguins along the beach as well, and it was very funny to see them walk along and swim into the water. I learned a new term – raft of penguins – which means a group of penguins swimming together! Then we went on a brief zodiac cruise through the icebergs floating around.
In the evening, we had the traditional Xmas eve dinner in the ship with duck as the main meal. Afterwards, the party started in the bar! We had some music, dancing, people playing with the balloon decorations, someone creating a snowman on the deck, and the funny part – a group of guys taking their shirts off outside in the snow at the front of the ship! Crazy lads! Someone made a snowman on deck, as we had enough snow on board to make one! X’mas eve is traditionally when most Argentineans and South Americans celebrate X’mas, and since most of the crew were Argentineans, we did it their way. It was a shock to most Westerners who are used to celebrating on the 25th (Xmas day itself)!
Til the next part of Antarctica Diaries – hope you have enjoyed it so far! Please leave some comments if you wish