Today we traveled the remainder of the way across the Drake Passage. Seas were relatively calm and we get to relax for most of the day. Sea birds take up most of our sightseeing until dinner. They serve us an early dinner and announce an evening excursion to visit a place called “Bailey Head”. Everyone is intrigued to see our first land excursion of the trip.
I have to wonder about what we will get to see, after all it is evening after dinner and we probably won’t have daylight much longer. It hasn’t set in yet that it is Summer in the Antarctic and it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight in this part of the world. If we had come a couple months earlier, it wouldn’t get dark at all! It is the end of Summer down here heading into their Fall.
We all suit up in the excursion coats and boots they supplied us with and line up in cues as they prompt us over the ships intercom. We are assigned different groups for Land Excursions to streamline the loading and unloading of the Zodiacs. There are no Ports of Call in Antarctica and every day the itinerary changes with the weather. So all land excursions begin in the zodiac boats. They can be very fast (or slow, depending on whether they are taking you somewhere or trying not to scare the wildlife) and are quite efficient in getting you from the ship to land. We are instructed to step into a tray of disinfectant to make sure our boots are sanitized so we don’t bring anything onto land that shouldn’t be there!
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) does not allow more than 100 people to land from a single ship at any location, so the 187 passengers on the ship have to split up into different groups. That means that about half of us can go on land and the other half takes a zodiac tour of the area. Then the land group gets back in the zodiacs and takes a tour while the other half goes on land. A very nice way of doing it so everybody gets 2-3 hours off the ship at a time.
So off we go in zodiacs and we find groups of “Porpoising Penguins” as they are referred to for the interesting way they swim. For such chubby little creatures that waddle on land and are seemingly ungainly, they are graceful and speedy in the water!
When we finally make it to land, we are greeted by Fur Seals galore. Once the whole group is ashore, we walk inland among tens of thousands of “Chinstrap Penguins”, named for the coloration of their feathers that that make it appear they have a “Strap” under their chin.
We walk among them, amazed at their numbers and marvel at the antics and the cuteness they exhibit. As far as the eye can see, they cover the hills. And for the most part, they appear to be walking on snow and ice, but it is Summer here. Even though there is snow and ice on all the mountains, the white stuff they are walking on is a mix of their Guano and their molting feathers!
The circle of life is also evident as we walk by the not so uncommon penguin that met its demise!
We chat amicably with our ship’s Naturalist who is knowledgeable in all things living! Before we know it, the sun is beginning to set, a process that takes hours and bathes everything in magical hues of yellow and orange that makes all it touches glow as if painted.
Even though we have been off the ship for many hours, too soon comes the message to get back in the zodiacs for the trip back to the ship. When we board, we are led through an area where we have to step into disinfectant again to make sure we don’t bring something foreign back onto the ship and our boots are clean for the next excursion!
Back on the ship, we head for the lounge and happily swap critter stories with our shipmates. Then it’s off to bed to see what tomorrow will bring!