Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 5: Neko and Paradise Harbors

I have to say, one of the awesomest things about this excursion is the people on this ship. I have already said that the staff is amazing, and they totally are, but the passengers are pretty awesome as well. Since I have been sick, everyone constantly stops and inquires as to my health and asks if they can do anything. Everyone is so very nice and interesting and so very, very happy to be here that you can ask anyone how their day was and they will light up and say that it was simply amazing and that they are so lucky to be here. We don't really have any people on board that are unkind or rude and while there's about 30 Chinese people on the boat as a group that do not speak English and we can't really communicate with, they are all really happy and excited too and let us all look at their amazing camera equipment. They even occasionally go up to Chris and point at some doo-dad that he has for his camera and they have some non-verbal exchange of camera envy and checking each other's gear out. All the English speakers are super friendly and we all switch around who we sit with at meals and talk to different people and get to know them. There's a lot of Australian, English, and Canadians on this ship. We have made particular friends with a family of Canadians who are really cool. Anyway, not to gush about it all too much, but I did want to call out that they are right when they say "there's a certain type of person that takes this trip". I don't know if we just got lucky or not, but it really makes a difference in the experience.

On to the trip report! Today we started the day in Niko Harbor were we did a cruise and a shore landing. We started with about an hour and a half on the zodiacs puttering around ice bergs, watching Minke whales come up for air, checking out Crab-eater, fir, and Weddell seals and, of course, penguins a plenty. Cruising around harbors here is a crazy magical experience. Our guides know exactly where to go, and how long to stay so we all get good pictures of really beautiful scenery and wildlife. After the boat ride, we got off at a Gentoo penguin colony where there was also a nice title hike up to a high point to have a good look at the bay. I can't even describe it. It looks fake. It is so pristine and overwhelming and large and everywhere you look is so beautiful that you are speechless. You stop trying to photograph things in a grand scale because you are constatly dissapointed that the pictures simply do not do what you see justice.

Anyway, back to the trip report: We also saw calving happen twice here. That is when he ice avalanches off some random high point, either to a lower point or to the water. It's really cool when it hits the water because it makes all the icebergs bob up and down and sometimes it convinces them to flip over. It makes this cracking sound like thunder and lightning and then the deepest of rumbles as it all rolls down the hill. Every time the crack happens, everyone immediately shuts up and starts scanning around to see where it is coming from.

In the afternoon we also had a cruise and landing experience. We started with the landing this time at brown station, which is a non-working, but still occupied Argentinian research station. It actually would cost them more to dismantle it than to man it, and they are talking about turning it into a small museum, so they leave it there with four Argentinian dudes who just sort of hang out there. We checked that out for a bit and then boarded the zodiacs for a cruise around that harbor. I can't even try and explain how awesome that was. The most amazing ice bergs were there, including one with a tunnel through it. Our guide on this ride was kind of a dare-devil and he took us all the way around it, which actually put us really close to it and in between two of them, which were both about 100 feet tall. The boats are really fast, though, so in an emergency he could have moved us easily to safety. We also saw a leopard seal, which are the hardest of the seals to find just laying around (the other seals are simply everywhere - if there's a piece of ice floating around, there's probably a seal on it). Leopard seals are truly freaky looking animals. They look almost like snakes (or Lord Voldemort for those of you in the know - now every time I see one, i think of Ralph Finnes). They are also the only species that can dislocate their jaw if they need to, just like a snake. Their heads don't look right on their bodies. Anyway, they are are weird, and they eat penguins and other seals, so I am not on team leopard seal.

Both of these landings were on mainland Antarctica so I am officially a member of the 7 continent club! I guess i need to think of a new goal now...

Health report: I am on the mend. Still coughing a lot when I lay down, but for sure getting better. Yay. However Chris is not feeling 100% now. I hope that this is simply because he camped outside last night. He had some pretty funny visitors to his camp so hopefully he'll write a report about what happened there!

At the risk of repeating myself, you should come here. I have been to many many magical and beautiful places all over the world, but this is simply the coolest thing that I have ever done. And the thing is, that every day they take us somewhere that is even better, more awesome than the last, and we keep having really great experiences here. We can only hope that our luck holds with the weather, but so far, everyone is really grateful that we have been blessed with fantastic conditions to keep visiting really neat places.

Tomorrow we have a cruise in the morning and then a station that has been turned into a museum and gift shop. Too bad we have full capacity on our luggage! Here's hoping that tomorrow is as cool as today!

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