Friday, December 30, 2011

Antarctica Day 6: Neko Harbour (Andvord Bay) / Orne Harbour

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.

--- T.S. Eliot

Seven thirty am wakeup brought a mild case of “red wine” head. Sebastian, the main guide and our voice over the airwaves started his day a little worse for wear. He gave us a good morning and Merry then paused for 15 seconds. Then we heard ok let’s try that again, “Good morning and Merry Christmas everyone, breakfast is now ready in the dining room”. He did not turn off the microphone and we all heard “Ok I did it, now I have to go to bed”. He was rocking at the party last night and as suspected went right from the party to the microphone. It was brutally funny and we tortured him the entire day. Little did we know that Christmas Day was going to be a banner day.

Today we landed at Andvord Bay for our first stop. The briefing before the launched talked about the possibility of huge chunks of ice falling from the glacier into the bay causing huge tsunamis so we had to get up to the 5 metre lever right away. We had an opportunity to climb up to a rocky outcrop maybe 300 metres high that provided lookout over the bay and it did not disappoint.  It was eerily quiet with the 20 or so of us sitting there just taking it in. Ice flows were starting to fill the bay and it was surrounded by an immense glacier. You could hear the glacier cracking and in the distance the telltale booms of falling ice and snow. It did give me a sense of how powerful these glaciers are.

After an hour I walked down and to the beach side of the bay. I crossed over a small rise and found myself alone and out of view of everyone. I had the beach full of penguins and shifting ice to myself.

**I did tell the guides where I was going so I was not going to be left behind**

The penguins waddling on the beach seemed more that a little shocked to see me but I hung with them for an hour. I had the place to myself and it was remarkable. I also think I got my best ice pictures here. There were huge bergs in the bay, smaller bergs near the shore and black ice covered mountains in the distance. Any more self reflextion and I am sure I would have turned into a penguin and swam away like Mr. Limpit.  (Yeah I know, he turned into a fish)

How could the day get better? Well sir, let me tell you how. Back on board we get the announcement of Minke whales in the harbour. Yeah sure we have seen this before. This time 2 playful Minkes followed the last zodiacs returing back to the ship. They swam in and around the zodiacs for an hour or so. We lined the rails of the boat and watched in amazement as these 9 metre monsters were having the time of their lives. At one time someone on one of the zodiacs let out a scream because she turned around and the whale was right in front of here. The laughing was contagious, and even the whales recognized it because both of them went to the boat. (Check out that ice blue water)

Exciting stuff as we all retreated into the bar to talk about the experience. Not 15 minutes later we hear that the Minke whales are swimming off the bow, so off to the bow we go. What a treat. There were 5 whales leading the ship and jumping through the water like dolphins, huge 9 metre dolphins.  They would swim just below the surface and then break the water sometimes 3 at a time. They would dive under and spin then jump again. This lasted for 30 minutes or more until the captain had to increase our speed and off they went, back to where ever they came from. What a Christmas gift.

We had another of my favourite Zodiac cruises through the glaciers and icebergs. No amount of pictures can ever do the majesty of this place any justice. We found Crabeater seals who oddly enough do not eat crabs.  Gentoo penguins were everywhere and we and a huge group of Gentoos swimming together which looks funny as hell. I was lucky enough to take this picture of Gentoo penguins jumping and torpedoing through the water.This is another wonder of Antarctica that you can never get tired of.
At dinner it was the general feeling that Christmas was good to us. The crew said with everything going on and the clear blue skies it was a rare day indeed.  Having eaten a nice meal of fish and salad and waiting for desert there was a rap on the dining room window and a very excited Monica (the lead biologist) jumping up and down. It was chaos with everyone jumping out of their seats to get outside. HUMPBACKS!! So close to the boat you could reach out and touch them. I was more startled then anything. These suckers are massive, I mean beyond realistic massive and they fall somewhere in the middle of sizes of whales. They were feeding in pairs as we counted 6 in different locations around the boat. I got to the top of the bow and squeezed in with everyone else. They were close enough for good, well great photos. The highlight of this being a couple of them started towards the ship right at us. Holy crap! They passed the bow at just below the surface and went under the boat. Although they are herbivores if I was a fish I would be getting out of there pretty freaking fast.

The captain slowed the ship and letting us enjoy the experience. The whales were moving away from us and seem to find specific areas that they were going to feed in. The captain literally followed and almost like he knew how to make the most of it pointed the ship into the sunset with the whales between us. Shit, in Canada I can have trouble getting a second cup of coffee at a diner and here a ship’s captain is manoeuvring a ship for us to get the best photo. It was then decided that we would stay here for the night, the movie was cancelled and after a while most of the cameras were put away. Some of us hard core just hung out on the deck, freezing our asses and watching humpback eat and play in the twilight. I checked the time and it was 3:30 am and the cloud formations just punctuated what was an absolute perfect Antarctic day. The sky was clear and the sun had no intention of setting but I went to bed.

Antarctica you just kicked Santa’s ass as far as Christmas presents are concerned.

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