A Chile Welcome & Party Antarctica Style
Trip Start Oct 05, 2012
64Trip End Apr 01, 2013
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Our briefing the night before had included a warning about the potential for tsunami style waves in this bay. Ice falling into the water on one side could easily generate a wave which would engulf the beach (where we would be landing) on the opposite side. We were under strict instructions to run at any point we heard ice falling and saw the sea rising
The second part of this landing was a zodiac cruise around a neighbouring bay. I was part of the second group of zodiacs to go out, and had high hopes because the first boats had come in having seen humpback whales. Our boat set off and first of all saw a lone crabeater seal sleeping on a iceberg - it looked hurt as had blood coming from its mouth. We then made our way further into the bay and joined another of the zodiacs. The engines were cut and we just floated, watching the water to see whether there was an movement. All of a sudden there was a loud splash behind us and a huge humpback whale surfaced and blew water out of it's blow hole, literally 5m from the front of the zodiac. It stayed there for quite some time, coming up every once in a while to blow and then dropping back to just below the surface. We were so close to it at one point that we could see the barnacles on its dorsel fin, and also the scars from old wounds. 3 more also surfaced about 40m away from us on the other side of the bay. It felt so surreal to be in this setting just watching these amazing creatures!!
We set sail again shortly before lunch, with the intention of landing in the afternoon at an Argentinian station located in Paradise Bay. Beautiful sunshine and blue skies were very deceptive from inside the boat, as when we finally arrived there the wind speed was around 40 knots, which apparently is too dangerous for the zodiacs to go out in. Or atleast, they can go out with people in but then they cannot return as the wind would have just blown them away. Luckily for us (as it would have been a long afternoon on the boat without any landings) there was a Chilean station called Gonzales Videla which was only a short distance away and in a much more sheltered location. This still required a fairly rough zodiac ride across to it, water splashed into the boat and by the time we got there I couldn't feel most of my fingers as they'd gotten so wet from the splashes from the zodiac!!
The station is home to 13 Chilean naval officers who spend the summer months living there amidst an enormous gentoo penguin colony. They were apparently really pleased to see us as they rarely get visitors, and certainly not ships of 100 people and crew at one time. So much so that they gave each of us a welcome drink of pisco sours!! We later found out that there had been some sort of incident that day, and the station commander was especially glad we had arrived as it helped alleviate the tension from this
As we stepped from the boat to the landing area there were hundreds and hundreds of nesting gentoo couples; building nests, lying on their eggs, waddling along or across the paths, fighting, squawking, flirting and many other aspects of penguin life. This was easily the densest colony we had seen, and many of the penguins were covered in each others poo because of how close their nests are. Apparently, as a species the gentoos really like living in such close proximity to humans and quite often set up their colonies purposefully close. It must be hilarious to live amidst their antics - I'm not sure I could ever get sick of watching them!! They are also apparently not shy in coming into the houses and buildings on the islands, so we were under strict instructions to keep the doors shut so that they wouldn't get into anywhere where they shouldn't be. A stray Adelie penguin was also on the island, another species which is smaller and black/white coloured with white circles around the eyes. A very lucky spot as we weren't going to get to visit any Adelie colonies!!
The island has a very small museum and also sells gifts, including bottles of rather nice (and reasonable!) Chilean wine. I could even use my Argentinian pesos, and left the island with a bottle of wine and a certificate to say I had visited the station and Antarctic Territory. Definitely not required and something which is unlikely to survive the next weeks of travelling, but something nice to get from the station anyhow!!
Dinner that night was a BBQ which the kitchen crew had been working hard at all day
We only sailed for a short while during and after dinner and finally anchored in a beautiful bay. This signalled the start of the party which - unknown to us passengers - the crew had planned. Around 10.30pm we were all invited downstairs to the 'restricted' area behind the conference room. There turned out to be quite the disco in a very small narrow space - flashing lights, music and a whole lot of willing and able latin dancers!! The music was a mix of pop and latin, although definitely more emphasis on the latter which was interesting for those of us who really can't dance. There was no shortage of teachers though and the night passed with a lot of fun and new dance moves covering most varieties of Latin music. I wish we had the ability to move the way they can!! I guess you're either born with it, or not...!!
The night ended far too late, or rather far too early in the morning. At this time of year there is no sunset in Antarctica, the sun just dips below the horizon. It is therefore light all night, which feels strange as you always think it's much earlier than it actually is. It is amazing to be able to see 24 hours a day though, and as the party finished and I made my way from below deck to my cabin, it was stunning looking across the water at the glaciers and the snow covered land surrounding us...