This morning we were woken up and told to get extra warmed up because we were going cruising through one of the straights that separates mainland Antarctica from it's hundreds of islands. We were also told that we had a big pod of humpbacks along side of us, and some people on the boat saw some distant breaching. I was sadly in my room at the time coughing my lungs out, but did see a spout out of my window at one point.
We got all suited up (it's 0 degrees C outside so this means 4 layers of clothing, the top layer being waterproof) and headed out on the zodiacs for a cruise. They brought us up to a bunch of really beautiful, super blue icebergs, floating ice with penguins, crab-eater seals and fir seals getting some sun (through the clouds, it's perpetually gray here), and lots of really cool birds. There also was a sunken whaling vessel to check out as well as small wooden landing boats that have been sitting on the shore for about a hundred years. I got to hold some glacial ice that looked like it was made by a golf ball maker, and we got to witness an iceberg drop some snow and then roll over, which is accompanied by a really crazy sound. It's a fairly amazing thing to watch. I have to say, this particular cruise, so far is possibly the awesomest thing that I have ever done.
At lunch time we were given a PA announcement that there were orcas off the port side, so I ran up to the ship's helm room to take a look and indeed did see at least 3 orcas porpoising (which is when they roll out and back into the water - like what dolphins do next to ships) (oddly, penguins also do this, and they fly right next to the ship sometimes just like dolphins would.). That was pretty amazing to see them in the wild.
In the afternoon we landed on an island to check out the largest Gentoo penguin colony around. As was the case yesterday, it smelled like penguin, so now the ship does too, despite the crazy sanitation procedure you have to go through to get back on board. This colony had some late-bloomer chicks in nests with their parents. Yesterday's chicks were almost as big as their parents, but these were much smaller, and only about 3 weeks old. SUPER cute.
On the health front, my voice is a little better, and i feel much much better internally. I still cough in fits, but they are much less harsh and I don't feel like they are sucking my soul. However, there is some bad news. The camping expedition is tonight. I have made the decision to give up my spot and stay on board tonight. It's snowing, its really cold, and they are coming back at 6:00 in the morning to get hot showers before breakfast, so I strongly suspect that I would just lay there all night freezing, being really uncomfortable and wishing that I was not making myself worse. If it was the last night of excursions, I would totally go and just sleep through the two day return trip back to Ushuaia, but I don't want to loose a night of sleep, set back the improvements that I have made to my health and be too exhausted to do the excursions tomorrow. Chris offered to stay on board with me, but I told him to go live the dream for me, so he is currently setting up camp out there somewhere as I look out of our window. I hope that he has a really great time.
Speaking of excursions, this trip has FAR exceeded expectations so far on every front. I was expecting to only go to shore a couple of times and to be pretty bored the rest of the time, but it is not so. We go out 2x daily for 5 days, and I have to say that so far, cruising around in the zodiacs is totally my favorite part. The staff at Quark are amazing and unless it's strictly forbidden, we can request to go pretty much anywhere within bounds to go look at anything we are interested in. They are all really fun and knowledgeable and bend over backwards to make sure that we get the very most amount of awesome out of this trip.
Speaking of awesome, tomorrow we are going to go to land on Antarctica proper. We are hoping to go to Neko Harbor to see more penguins. Then on for a landing near an Argentinian station *and* another cruising opportunity around Paradise harbor in the afternoon. This sounds fantastic.
Reflections on this trip near the 1/2 way mark: The pictures don't even do it justice. As I was walking around today, I tried to think of how I can explain how completely amazing this place is. I have decided that I cannot. There aren't any words to describe the scenic beauty, the feeling of seeing 6,000 penguins, whales, seals, birds and icebergs all in their natural habitat. We have the privileged of being the only ship where ever we go as well, so there no other distractions. It's breathtaking, unbelievable and humbling. I highly recommend that people take this trip. You will not regret it. Before I came, I thought that the price was steep, but hey, it's the price you pay if you want to get to go. Now, I think it is worth every single penny and more. I'd pay twice as much to come here and have the honor of seeing what we are seeing. It is truly a priceless experience and we are so fortunate to have the means to come and do this. When i say that it is a privileged and an honor to be here, I really mean it.
I am really grateful to Chris for making this happen. It's really amazing.
If you can manage it in any way, come. It will change the way you see the world.