Friday, December 30, 2011

Antarctica Day 3: Drake Passage, Aitcho Island (South Shetland Islands).

“The best way through ice is around it”

--- Anonymous

From our itinerary: The first sightings of icebergs and snow-capped mountains indicate that we have reached the South Shetland Islands, a group of twenty islands and islets first sighted in February 1819 by Capt. William Smith of the brig Williams. With favourable conditions in the Drake Passage our lecturers and naturalists will accompany you ashore as you experience your first encounter with the penguins and seals.  The South Shetland Islands are a haven for wildlife. Vast penguin rookeries, beaches ruled by Antarctic fur seals and Southern elephant seals make every day spent in this amazing island group unforgettable. Sailing through the narrow passage into the flooded caldera of Deception Island is truly amazing. King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, features colonies of nesting Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels and is home to scientific bases of many different countries. Macaroni, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins as well as elephant seals await you at Livingston Island.

We made real good time coming across the Drake Passage; our captain said we made up 12 hours because of calm seas. The upside of this, besides the lack of everyone getting sick was we now could make an unscheduled stop on the South Shetland Islands. We had a morning brief on behaviour in the Antarctic and it was followed by a Zodiac loading and unloading seminar. Me like everyone else are chomping a bit to get off this boat. At 3:00 we hit the beach. We received our permanent life vests plus our Wellies. To those living in Canada and the US those are Rubber boots, but Wellies is another fun word to say.

The zodiacs are cool with a big old C and after lining up and loading up I was off. We hit the beach in about 10 minutes. I really did not know what to expect. Well our first stop was pretty damn sweet. There was a small briefing after landing but it was hard to focus because there were penguins everywhere, chinstrap and Gentoo penguins

I spent the next hour checking out all the different rookeries on the hills and the beach. Some would ignore you but others waddled up to about 2 feet and just stared at me. I found a mother and newly hatched chick plus others fighting, finding mates, pooping everywhere (oh my god the smell on this bit of paradise) and well just being penguins. We then wandered for 20 minutes to the other side of the island. The new views were impressive, there more penguins and sea lions, large, fat and smelly sea lions.

Returning back to the ship everyone was having a post landing beer when to our port side we saw a huge fin of a Humpback whale. It was close enough to try and take a picture but not close enough for them to be any good. It was just impressive to watch this big old boy eating and diving.

 ** First sighting of an Iceberg contest goes into effect today. The first person to see and iceberg and calls the bridge and informs the captain wins a bottle of wine. Everyone was oohing and ahhing while I was looking for the closest house phone. Guess who had wine with his dinner?**

Landing on the South Shetland Islands just took my travel experience to a whole new level and proved to me that not only can you do anything you can go anywhere.You just have to decide to do it.

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