5:00am expedition - no coffee - things are looking kind of rough
Our ship, the Quest arrived at Brown Station in the wee hours this morning. At a very painful departure time of 5:00 am, ours was the first excursion to depart the ship for a 1 hour Zodiac tour of the bay and 1 & 1/2 hour stop at the Argentinian Antarctic base, Brown Station. We were very fortunate to be in the care of John Fonseca, a U.S.. Polar Program Antarctic and Arctic veteran. John, having spent years in the Polar regions of the planet is one of the very few people who has ever wintered at the South Pole. Because of this he has been given a number by the U.S. Science Foundation to signify this fact. John's number is #1121.
During the first hour of the day we spent cruising Paradise Harbour in a Zodiac. It was, without question, the most beautiful place I have ever been. We travelled past nesting cormorants/blue-eyed shags and porpoising Gentoo penguins. BTW, Penguins can swim 20mph. Who knew?
Across the bay we glimpsed breaching humpback whales which we were later told was a mother and her calf. We threaded our way through icebergs that resembled fairy tale castles. It was all stunning and very special since we were at sea level and so close to the action. This closeness afforded all of us a unique opportunity to see into the water, onto the landscape and details of the lichen on the sides of the mountains. Needless to say it was a unique perspective being right next to an iceberg and hearing the boat you are riding in crunching through some of the ice underneath.
Generally bases are built by various countries staking a claim on Antarctica and then pretty much left abandoned as had been the case at Half Moon Island. Some are used for research and that's a wonderful and noble cause. However, since no country actually "owns" a piece of the continent these bases are mostly useful for emergency shelter. At Brown Station an Argentinian base, there were 2 oceanographers who asked our ship for fresh water, vegetables and fruit which Seabourn was happy to provide.
Conditions on the base were pretty rough. The air was cold and the ice was compacted making the terrain very slippery and treacherous as we stepped forth on the continent (Michael's 7th continent, my 6th continent - I have Australia to go!)
However, the welcoming committee of Gentoo Penguins were quite curious and full of energy. They danced and porpoised around our Zodiac while we were disembarking. They performed daring feats of cliff jumping (some more graceful than others) to our delight. Some of our fellow passengers climbed to the top of a steep hill and slid down on their butts! Michael and I decided not to try that particular trick since we were both concerned with impaling ourselves with our camera lenses on the way down. No thanks, I'll pass!
After a while I decided to leave because even with 4 layers of technical cold weather gear, my fingers and toes were starting to become uncomfortably cold. (I wish I had of packed the hand warmers into my pockets!) Michael stayed on and photographed the Gentoos nesting. Gentoos have a white marking across the top of their heads and you can recognize them quickly in the stark terrain because of their bright orange bill.
Later back on the ship, we watched two avalanches of snow cascading down several different rock mountains, humpback whales feeding in the water, penguins playing and jumping through the water and looking for krill or fish to eat all while surreal icebergs in vivid aquamarine and pure white floated by our ship. What a memorable day and most memorable end to 2014! Happy New Year's Eve to All!
Michael and I travel mostly because we like learning and experiencing new things, seeing new places and learning about different cultures and food that only comes from getting out and about in the world.
©GoGo Verdu. All rights reserved.