Finally Antarctica

My next adventure starts Monday, so it’s time I got the rest of the Antarctica photos up and the stories told.

Antarctic iceberg

Little red dots of people on a big slab of ice

Not everything went according to plan.  There was one day we couldn’t get into the shore area due to ice, so the ever resourceful captain tied the ship up to a massive piece of flat ice floating in the area and people got off and played in the snow.

The crew set up a champagne bar, there were Zodiac rides around the sea and some people just made a snowman.

When our time was up, the crew cleared every trace of our visit away, including leveling Frosty.  These people are serious about no impact tourism.

We had a small party in our room.  Gail, Kate and Colleen all had purchased the identical shirt from the ship’s boutique.

Antarctic iceberg

Trio Australis

Then there was another landing, and more penguins.  The ship looked magnificent in the brash.

Antarctic iceberg

Le Soleal in her element

This was a colony of Adelie penguins, slightly smaller and darker than the Gentu. The colony was quite large, and the chicks were a week or two older.  This group reminded me of photos of wet and muddy soldiers in WWII

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I haven’t shot black and white film since college, but it sure looks like it from the photos I got here–the only color is a slight blue in their eyes.

Where there is life, there is death.  This is gull picking at the remains of a baby chick.

And the bones of penguin that didn’t make it.

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Who says penguins can’t fly?

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He’s just jumping off a floe, of course.  Joining the hundreds of others marching from their nests to the the water.  The rookery is up from the beach, and there is a constant stream of birds making the walk to go get some food and take a dip.  They choose a spot to enter the water where it is too shallow for larger predators to be waiting.

I have to get all artsy sometimes, here is my impressionistic shot of the endless march.

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Kate was always busy shooting, too.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Getting close to the subject.

The wildlife is more than just penguins, there are other birds that prey on the penguin chicks.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

I don’t know what kind of bird this is, but his tail feathers remind me of a turkey.

And there are just limitless opportunities to take pictures.  I couldn’t stop.

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Sometimes a chick just needs mom.

The process of building a nest never ends.  This guy was very industrious, taking stones from an empty nest and moving them to his own.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Work, work, work.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Just hanging out.

We went to another landing, this one with the only plant life to be found. There is moss, and there is a small amount of grass that we avoided stepping on.  There are no trees, no shrubs, no bushes.  There is one kind of wingless fly, that eats the moss.  If the fly had wings it would get blown away, so evolution took them away.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

A bit of hardy grass.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

The grass with a sleeping seal.

Seals.  We saw a bunch of them, sleeping off their huge lunches in the warm Antarctic summer sun. When the ocean is 28°, because salt lowers the freezing point, then a 40° day on the beach is marvelous.

The elephant seals are immense–the males look like they’re over a ton, with baleful eyes and a large probocis the causes their name.  The females are smaller, without the nose, but still large.  They all sleep in a pile on the beach.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

I don’t think you want to mess with this guy.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal conversation

And then we were done.  Sun setting slowly in the west and all the other clichés.  We loaded up the Zodiacs and set sail for Ushuaia.

Crossing Drakes Passage this time was more of an adventure.  We had calm seas on the southbound trip, but went home through seas with a 9-10 meter swell.  The crew thoughtfully placed barf bags in the railing of all the passageways and on the elevators.  The upper deck buffet was closed, and all the tables and chairs roped together.  Almost everyone had a scopolomine patch behind their ear to avoid the dreaded mal de mer. I can’t say it bothered me, I thought it was just an E ticket at Disneyland.

Arriving back on land, we had the absurd experience of getting on a tour bus to travel 400 yards and park, then we walked around “downtown” Ushuaia for an hour.  I saw travel agencies that specialize in last minute Antarctica cruises–if one of the many ships has an unsold cabin they’re willing to make a deal.  For someone flexible on time, this would be a great way to save a bunch of money.

Then came the long trip from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires to DFW to SFO to home. The dog seem happy to see us.

I’m off to New Zealand for a week of sightseeing with my brother tomorrow, which is why I had to get off my tuchus and get this posted.  Stay tuned, more adventure to come.

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