Antarctica: One fine day


Gentoos on parade

Gentoos on parade

The group before us has caught fine views of a humpback whale. By the time we clamber into our Zodiac and head out, the snow has started, and the whale has gone deep. We cruise the edges of the island, immersed in the elements.

The afternoon brings a steep, short climb to a gentoo penguin rookery. The snow is soft, causing potholing with nearly every step; to prevent penguin panic, we fill the whole back with enough snow to keep them from becoming stuck. A dozen or so birds march back and forth along a snow bank, anxious sentries uncertain whether to come or go.  Up the incline, on the rocky nesting bed, one half of a feathery couple has burrowed down into the snow, building its nest beneath the surface. Its mate – heaven knows which is the male and which is the female – continually waddles to and fro, bring rocks and sticks to line the next. The deliveries go on and on for hours.shippull

Post-dinner, we’re afforded a chance to go shopping at the small historic outpost of Port Lockroy. It is literally possible to use a credit card – anything except American Express – to purchase book marks and mugs and sweatshirts that help support the small museum dating from the 1940s, complete with the jarred marmite and canned tomatoes that serve as relics of an isolated life.

To visit, we need to park. Setting anchor is folly in seas hundreds of meters deep. Far easier, and more engaging, to bury the ship in an ice shelf and let us human penguins waddle about the ice. Usually the ice is too long melted, but because the ice has been late this year, we’re able to crunch out on the shelf in the fading (but never quite gone) light and romp right next to the ice-hardened hull. It’s a sight none of us could have imagined … made better with the assurance that unlike the Shackleton crew, we’ll be able to climb right back on board into the comfort of duvets and hot chocolate.