Almirante Brown: An Englishman in Argentina

This was to be our last morning on land. I was filled with trepidation.

This would be my goodbye to this fragile wilderness and hello to my fragile health.

My health was fragile as we were to cross the Drake Passage after the landing.

William Brown is anathema. He was born in the 18th century in Ireland, emigrated to Philadelphia with his family as a nine year old and lost his father soon after to yellow fever. He was offered a job as a cabin boy on a steamer and worked his way up to captain. He was pressganged into fighting for the British in the Napoleonic wars. He then established and fought battles around Argentina and is an Argentinian national hero, and popularly regarded as the founder of the Argentinian navy. Then the Argentinians named a research base after him on the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Vavilov with ice blowing in

The Vavilov with ice blowing in at Paradise Harbour

I often wonder how the passage of world history would have changed if it were not for the Irish that stood up to the English and the United Kingdom. Is say this because of one of my great grandparents who was Irish and who came out to South Africa to support the Boers in the Anglo-Boer War.

Paradise Harbour is a beautiful natural bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. The mouth is not too narrow but steep mountains rise up from all sides, with glaciers reaching the see in the valleys. We landed at Base Brown, and Argentinian Scientific base that was not occupied. A colony of Gentoo penguins were breeding in and around the buildings. The base had suffered a serious fire when one of the Argentinian doctor who was conscripted into military service set he base alight when a service ship did not have space to take him home after his due service. He and his team were forced to camp in tents till the next ship a few months later. The base has ugly debris in its center.

Glacier mouth in black water

Glacier mouth in black water

Most of the Vavilov’s passengers fanned around the base and up the hill to the highest point. The came tobogganing down on their backsides, whooping in excitement. Reece, her boyfriend, proposed to the ship’s doctor, Sarah, on top of the hill. There were loud whoops of joy and congratulations as the messages were relayed down the slope to the base.

The peace of Paradise harbour

The peace of Paradise harbour

I stood alone absorbing the peace and grandeur of the place. The stillness away from the passengers was intense, broken by occasional glacier calving. The sea in areas was black and reflected the glacier faces like a mirror.

Blue….

Blue….

I looked back on the sturdy Vavilov moored in the bay. It was small, but I knew I would be safe in the Drake crossing. I was just scared I would be sick. Then the bay filled with ice as the wind changed.  The winds were only supposed to pick up later in the afternoon. Back on board Boris announced that we would be making a dash for the Drake on account of some serious weather that was coming.

Oh, boy. My heart sank!

Norwegian grave stone: hidden but not forgotten….

Norwegian grave stone: hidden but not forgotten….

Ocean Notes Day 16

Ocean Notes Day 16

 

A Scintillating Afternoon in Cierva Cove

Humpback Diving in front of a glacier wall

Humpback Diving in front of a glacier wall

After lunch we entered Cierva Cove. The Vavilov moored in the bay.

We lined up eagerly on the gangway. The northern sky was a foreboding grey yet filled with texture.

Humpback whales were swimming in front of giant icebergs.

Nothing can prepare you for the beauty and peace of this land at the bottom of the world. The ice masses intrigue. From steel blue to pure white, geometric and haphazard, the shapes appear in front of your eyes and fall away as the next more beautiful piece appears.

Near a giant iceberg we slowed the zodiac and had humpback whales diving in front of us. Their deep sigh near us as they breathed out resonated somewhere in my soul. I have felt their breath before in False Bay in the Cape, but here in this wilderness I was truly honoured.

The most beautiful sight on earth?

The most beautiful sight on earth?

 

We followed another whale, then another, trying to frame the big tail as it dripped water first against a glacier face, then an iceberg and finally a black cliff. Taking pictures in the freezing cold and poor light from a kneeling position in a zodiac is not easy, but the experience was worth just being there, even without a camera.

Penguins prints in the ice

Penguins prints in the ice

 

We left the whales and made our way to the western edge of the bay, to look at giant icebergs. Along the way we saw smaller more interesting shapes and shades. We had penguins on the ice, a small group on a massive slab. Then two on a smaller block. Suddenly they became three as one flew onto the ice from the water. Penguins transform in water as pure swimming machines to land on ice  as  clumsy clowns. The transition is instant.

 

Chinstrap penguin porpoising

Chinstrap penguin porpoising

It started snowing and we headed back. We were far from the ship and were thinking up excuses for Boris, the expedition leader, to explain the delay:

 

Giant icebergs in front of a Giant Continent

Giant Icebergs in front of a Giant Continent

“Tell him we had a puncture” piped up one voice.

“No, tell him a whale breached right next to us and we nearly sank” said another.

As we joked and squinted through the sea spray and snow three Minke whales breached right next to us a few times, feeding. It was a beautiful and inspiring sight.

Back on board the Vavilov we celebrated with a whisky on glacier ice. As we steamed out of Cierva Cove we had humpback whales circle feeding on either side of the ship. The lounge erupted like a rowdy football crowd, with each side cheering as their whales breached.

 

Floating penguin troop on a n iceberg

Floating penguin troop on an iceberg

Truly, a spectacular sight.

I have no idea why we still hunt whales. Nor do I understand why we are systematically destroying our fragile earth?

Three pairs of happy feet

Three pairs of happy feet

My Travels: Gentoos Being Born

Gentoo Chicks

Gentoo Chicks

The Vavilov had sailed on the north of the South Shetland Islands because thick ice prevented us entering the Antarctic Sound.

Now we had turned and were sailing in the channel between the islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

On ether side of the ship rose towering black cliffed mountains with thick glaciers cutting the valleys right to the sea.

Inquisitive land birds: the Gentoo penguin

Inquisitive land birds: the Gentoo penguin

After a fresh smoothie from Amanda and breakfast we landed at Mikkelsen Harbour, facing the great continent. The ice and snow shone bright white in the sun, under a blue sky with small cumulus clouds dotting the horizon.

We landed amongst the debris of whalebones, geometric vertebra lying like toys in the gravel and ice blocks. I lay down to compose pictures with the ice shapes and the Gentoo Penguins came to investigate me. They were inquisitive, like short-necked giraffes; dreamy eyes stretching forward to see what was lying on the ground.

After a while I climbed a short hill to the other side of the bay, where the weathered red container structure of an Argentinian base scarred the rocky promontory. Before reaching the Gentoo colony at the base, I played around with penguins on snow highways and then moved to the colony. From there we had sight of a long highway coming straight at us down the slope, but somehow the pictures were not working.

Lost in a penguin highway

Lost in a penguin highway

Another sunny morning in the Antarctic

Another sunny morning in the Antarctic

There was a lot of excitement around the base. The penguins were not feeding but roosting on their eggs. Movement was limited. Then slowly one would bend down and nudge the speckled white egg as the chick breached the shell and came to life. We saw a few at various stages of birth. Time seemed to stand still as these noisy garrulous ungainly on land birds shifted up and moved back to allow the egg to crack and the young chick to hatch.

We had to rush back to catch the last zodiac to the ship, passing another Gentoo on the beach that was pecking at the remains of one of his kin.

On deck the sun remained low and it got much colder. The kitchen staff had put barrels on the stern and had prepared a braai (a South African barbeque). The smells were incongruous for me and as the meat came off the grill it froze to the plate in my hand. I was warm initially from the activity on Mikkelsen Harbour and did not take all my outer gear to the braai and froze. I found a protected spot and stood chatting to Luis who guides for Rock Jumper birding tours and also Suricato in South America.

As lunch wound down and people snacked on the fresh profiteroles for desert, the sky became grey and we set sail for Cervia Bay. Between the

peninsula and us we spotted 5 Orcas, about 1 kilometer off the starboard. What excitement on the ship.

Family of Orcas

Family of Orcas

 

This way, then that way

This way, then that way

 

Ocean Notes Day 14

Ocean Notes Day 14

Ocean Notes Day 15

Ocean Notes Day 15

My Travels: Halfmoon Island before Full Moon and Deception on the Vavilov

Chinstraps on a highway

Chinstraps on a highway

Penguin Highways

Penguins on snow highways. That was one of the photographs I wanted to capture, Today was the day.

After three days at sea it was exciting to be doing an excursion again. This morning we would be landing on Halfmoon Island, with three big Chinstrap Penguin Colonies, and perhaps one or two Macaroni penguins.

It was like being in grade school again. We were all very excited. Waterproof bags were shouldered with camera kit and after breakfast we loaded onto the zodiacs and landed near the wreck of an old rowing boat.

There were no seals here, just snow ice, penguin highways and penguins. I stepped of the contour highway that passed the first colony on my right. You have to step off to give the penguins right of way. I was on my knees gazing at the sheer beauty of the colony nestled on rocks stained red with regurgitated feed against a backdrop of black peaks shouldering above the white ice.

A colony on the rocky in majestic surroundings

A colony on the rocky in majestic surroundings

After a while I flopped exhausted onto my back and gazed up at the blue grey sky. Everyone passed me on foot and looked down at this crazy snowman. But I was so happy. And tired. I was exhausted by being bunk bound for so many days and not eating. But this was the new me on ice and snow.

I moved to a saddle where a few people were sitting. It was a great position as from our left we could see the penguins walking towards us along a contour, and from our right we could see the clean penguins coming up from the sea, cresting in the s-shaped path.

We made our way along the beach to another colony where we say the macaroni Penguin and many

Reaching for the sky: Chinstrap penguins

Reaching for the sky: Chinstrap penguins

young Chinstraps. We could see across the bay to glaciers carving their way through mountains reaching the sea.

It was wonderful and invigorating to be on solid land again, even if it was covered with ice. The outing broke three days of sailing and being ship bound. It was good to get back to the Vavilov and have a hot lunch.

The topic at lunch was the visit to Deception Island and the Polar Plunge. Before the trip I had thought about the raw beauty of the continent I was to see, of the explorers of the last century and of the amazing wildlife spectacles I would witness. But I had no idea that people made a thing of swimming in the icy waters. I first saw this the morning before we left when I was doing some research on the small ship I had seen from the helicopter. But I knew I would want to do something crazy like that and soon I would be.

Deception Island: Whaler's Bay - the safest harbour in the Antarctic

Deception Island: Whaler’s Bay – the safest harbour in the Antarctic 

Deception Island

Entering Whaler's Bay

Entering Whaler’s Bay

We entered Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island through a narrow gorge. More tension showed on the Russian crews’ faces. About as much tension as on the faces of the rest of us who would be doing the swim. We landed in a Mad Max world of the remains of a whaling station. This was destroyed not only by the severe climate but also by a volcanic eruption in 1970. Yes, we were in the crater of an active volcano. The air temperature was -2 °C and the water surface temperature was 2 °C but close to zero  a few centimetres below the surface. It had snowed heavily here two weeks before, and although thick snow lay on the slopes, the beach was dry with dust from the heat of the volcano. I took my gloves off and could not feel any warmth. Come to think of it, my feet were not warm either!

Marius, Steven, Johan and I walked around the bay, up onto a hill and had a relaxing afternoon of fun photography. It is important to do that in photography, because if you do not have fun your pictures die a slow death. It always amazes me how photography ( or any creative pursuit) is just like life. Best to enjoy it.

Ira Meyer (left) and me in full kit before the swim.

Ira Meyer (left) and me in full kit before the swim.

Then we met at the water’s edge for the swim. I joined the girls who would be swimming with me: Angela, Danielle and Alex.  The truth be told I could not sneak a peak at them in their bikinis because my eyes were watering.  There is only one way to do the Polar Plunge. Strip and run into the water. You have to submerge your head to qualify. I did

No looking -we just ran into the water!

No looking -we just ran into the water!

that and came up with a mouthful of sulphurous volcanic gravel.

Back on land everything froze. The wind had picked up. It was difficult to dress: numb fingers would not pull zippers, my face and head were locked in a grimace, trying to breathe but there was no warm air. I do not recall any of the pain of entering the water or submerging. Nor trying to run out onto the dry gravel. But the drying and dressing part was excruciating.

After what seemed like a full moon rise we clambered aboard the zodiac and saw whales breaching between the Vavilov and the beach. On board I had a hot shower (I declined the invitation to the sauna with the girls on account of me still searching for my manhood) but took my bottle of whisky from duty free that had not been touched for two weeks up to the bar and celebrated.

I was Polar One. Angela Polar Two. Danielle Polar Three. And Alex was Polar Four. We were crazy enough to have gone for a swim in midsummer in the Antarctic waters.

I was so happy. What a fantastic day on and about the Vavilov!

Thanks to Johan Slazus for the pictures of the Plunge.

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Certificate of Insanity!

Certificate of Insanity!

Ocean Notes Day 14

Ocean Notes Day 14

 

 

 

My Travels: Another Two Days in My Bunk

Cool blue icebergs

Cool blue icebergs

I started a course of antibiotics and took anti-inflammatories to control my fever.

At least I was not nauseous. I just lay in my bunk alternately sweating in my shorts on top of the duvet then shivering under the duvet and two blankets with my thermal underwear on.

I left my bunk on the morning of day 13 on the Vavilov.

Over the last two days I missed incredible talks by the ship’s photographers, historian, biologist and ornithologist. I also was too sick to watch the reenactment of Shackleton’s journey across the Weddel Sea where a group of modern day explorers did the same trip from an ice flow to South Georgia in a small boat built to the original specifications with the same clothing and food: Shackleton, Death or Glory.

Katie Murray - in love with Tom Crean: eccentric and loveable Antarctic explorer and publican.

Katie Murray – in love with Tom Crean: eccentric and loveable Antarctic explorer and publican.

Day 13 was a crisp day with us cruising past Elephant Isle. The sky was a strong blue with streaks of cirrus clouds laying a soft pattern in the sky. The white of the clouds matched the snow and ice on the island. We got in close enough to see the bust of Captain Luis Alberto Pardo, the Chilean captain of a steam tug “Yelcho” that rescued Wild and 21 others. We had started their trip in reverse. First we saw the harsh Alps of South Georgia where Shackleton had landed and crossed the snow and ice laden peaks. Then we crossed the sea to Elephant Island, and now we were moving towards the South Shetlands and we seeing icebergs along the way. Schackleton and all his men had survived an 800 mile trip through ice and storms. It is one of the most incredible expedition stories of our time. Although the expedition itself was not successful in it’s objective to cross the Antarctic from side to side, the journey expressed the strength of men and solid and visionary leadership. Shackleton was truly loved, admired and respected by his men. The story is worth a read or watch the film.

Wild Point on Elephant Island

Wild Point on Elephant Island

First thing that morning I went to the bar, weak again from not eating, and was happy to see Amanda’s smiling face and the blender filled with fruit and berries for a smoothie. I sat next to one of the older passenger whom I had only greeted before. She looked and me, said good morning then asked:

“Do you dream?”

God's fingers

God’s fingers

I was flabbergasted, then remembered that this universe is filled with synchronicity.

“Oh, yes I do” I said to the stranger. “In fact I really had a terrible dream about someone close dying last night. But I know they are OK for now, but that it will happen in the future.”

“I didn’t dream so much when I was on medication for depression”, she said, us not having said anything before except “Hi, where are you from?” She was from New York. “Now I dream more and talk about it a lot to my therapist” she finished, and sipped her smoothie.

I then told her about Ian Player and his Dream Centre Workshops in the Karkloof, and how he has kept a Dream Diary for most of his adult life

We parted and I continued my dream trip to the Antarctic.

Christina Cruz whalewatching

Christina Cruz whalewatching

Ocean Notes Day 10

Ocean Notes Day 10

Ocean Notes Day 11

Ocean Notes Day 11

Ocean Notes Day 12

Ocean Notes Day 12

Ocean Notes Day 13

Ocean Notes Day 13

 

My Travels: Riches in Gold Harbour and Snowstorm Closes Drygalski Fjord

We landed on a stone beach in moderate surf amongst a group of Elephant seals.

Glacier and Cliff above the King Penguin Colony

Glacier and Cliff above the King Penguin Colony

Grey-black clouds billowed over the mountains, attempting to cover the gun blue glacier face that divided the black cliff at the other end of the bay..

A loud crack and puff of pure white snow announced the birthing of the glacier.

The Five-Meter Rule

Simon Boyes, the ornithologist on board, led us through the giant Elephant Seals that were jousting to secure their harem.  They can weight up to 3 tons and raise their necks by extending their backs to face the competition. They are a lot less graceful and if you stand 5 meters away (the rule of wildlife viewing in the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic region) then invariably some penguins walk up behind you and start pecking at any loose straps. There are 400 000 Elephant Seals on South Georgia, making up 75% of the global population. The scientific name is Mirounga leonina

The Origin of Scientific Names

My fascination with the origin of names was worthwhile in this instance. Many have Greek derivation, as in the leonina for lion-like. But the Genus Mirounga is derived from the old Aboriginal word for these animals, whose range stretches to the Sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia.

Southern Elephant Seal amongst the King Penguins

Southern Elephant Seal amongst the King Penguins

Simon led us to a breeding colony of King Penguins on the beach. He drew a line with his foot in the pebble beach to keep us from entering the thickest part of the colony. This line did nothing to prevent the penguins from coming to investigate us. We set up to photograph in a jaw dropping position: penguins squawking; elephant seals jousting; penguins incubating eggs while last years hatchlings were bigger than their parents and covered in brown down; wieners barking and skuas flying and landing like scavengers at war.

Snow Does Not Stop photography

Portrait of an Elephant Seal in the Snow

Portrait of an Elephant Seal in the Snow

Then it started snowing. First lightly then much harder, then the wind picked up to break the muffled quiet of the snow. Many of the group slowly returned to the zodiacs and the ship, but we stayed till the last and were frozen, even with thick and proper layered outdoor gear.

Marius had a moment of genius when he noticed penguins waling through the brood and panned them at a slow shutter speed. He gracefully shared his idea with his clients. What a great and generous photographer. Have a look at his website here.

Back to the ship and we were all on a high from an intensely beautiful yet rugged morning.

 

Skua bombing the colony

Skua bombing the colony

The Elusive South Georgia Pipit

A Walk in the Snow

A Walk in the Snow

Elephant Seals Jousting

Elephant Seals Jousting

Wiener irritating a penguin

Wiener irritating a penguin

It was to be the birders afternoon as we cruised onto Drygalski Fjord. The bridge is open at all times to passengers but the tension is palpable as the captain and crew negotiate the narrow entry into rocky harbours or fjords. I am sure they must use some vodka to distress afterwards.

The birders were there to see the last remaining South Georgia Pipits, the most southerly passerine in the world and endemic to South Georgia. There was a rat free island here where the bird could breed and the eggs were not destroyed. The birder’s disappointment was audible when the ship had to swing around in the fjord and exit because of a snowstorm.

Crossing the Scotia Sea

The next two days saw us crossing the Scotia Sea. I survived the trip in terms of motion with three drugs now: Epanutin, Stugeron and Scopolamine. Then I was struck down by ‘flu, and took to my bunk for another two days of hallucination.

But when I surfaced we had crossed 60 degrees south and we were in the thick of ice.

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Marius Coetzee’s Idea. Thank you!

Ocean Notes Day 9

Ocean Notes Day 9

My Travels: The Fjords and Harbours of South Georgia

Whale blubber tanks are only slightly smaller than oil refinery tanks.

Katie Murray (Ship Historian) at Sir Ernest Shackleton's Grave

Katie Murray (Ship Historian) at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Grave

The tanks and town buildings of Stromness Bay were uniformly red from the rust and looked peaceful set at the base of glaciers and in the green grass at the water’s edge.

This Mad Max like setting belied the peacefulness of the bay and mountains: the buildings were built with asbestos insulation and it was dangerous to land and disturb the carcinogenic fibres.

The size of the tanks disturbed me. We were still hunting whales, our 7 billion inhabitants of this fragile earth. We were still building tanks, but now there were many more, mainly in the hot arid desert regions of our earth, filled with fossil oil. We are still so inefficient and have so much to learn.

After lunch we moored in the bay of Grytviken and were introduced to the Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Sarah Lurcock who presented on the history of the trust and the Rat Eradication Project.  Rats are exotic to the islands and arrived with the numerous shipwrecks. They breed like rats (or rabbits) and eats small bird eggs to the point that they almost eradicated the South Georgia Pipit, and endemic species and the most southerly passerine in the world.

The program started with a pilot study, which used helicopters to drop poison pellets with minimal secondary fallout. They are currently completing the second phase and have the third and last phase to complete to have eradicated the rodent from the island. Interestingly, the effect of global warming is felt here. Before the glaciers would reach the sea and form district geographic barriers to the rat movement, but now with them receding there is a beach between the wall of ice and the sea, which the rats use to traverse to previously, unexplored (or now eradicated) areas. So there is some urgency to use the remaining barriers to optmise the rat eradication program.

Grytviken

Grytviken is the capital of South Georgia. The buildings have been cleared of asbestos and there is a museum, post office and a research station. About twenty people live on the island in summer. Our ship’s historian, Kate Murray, did and internship there last year and indeed she was the kingpin in getting us to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery of Grytviken.

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The Vavilov at anchor in Grytviken

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Grytviken is littered with shipwrecks

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The Whaler’s Church in Grytviken

For those not familiar with the one greatest explorers of our world it is best to read his book “South” it is well worth it. He stands out as a great leader of men in desperate times.

The landing at Grytviken was somber with our toast at his grave. A wee dram of whiskey burnt our throats and the brought life to his grave.

There is a Mexican belief related to All Saints’ Day:

“We all die three times. The first is when the body ceases its function. The second is when the soil covers our grave. The last is when our name is no longer spoken.”

Ernest Schackleton will live forever.

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The back of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Grave

The back of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Grave

Ocean Notes Day 8

Ocean Notes Day 8

My Travels: Amazing Wildlife Spectacles with South Georgia on My Mind

Overnight we crossed the Antarctic Convergence, where the icy waters of the Antarctic mix with the warmer waters of the Atlantic.

Map of South Georgia

Map of South Georgia

The ship maintained a blackout with no outside lights except essential navigation lights and all cabins had to have the blackout curtains drawn. We were doing this to avoid petrel mortality as they flew into the light like moths.

I awoke a new man. No sickness. I was so happy to be alive!

I was up before breakfast and went upstairs to the lounge and to the deck to suck in the sweet cold dry air and be faced with glaciers a few hundred meters away on either side of the ship. After being laid low I had forgotten all this port and starboard stuff.

I was looking at South Georgia, a long island running north south with a western seaboard that was hammered by Antarctic weather systems, and the eastern seaboard that had numerous bays that had been carved out by glaciers that still reached the sea, although in some places they were receding. The sea was ice blue, the sky clear with some wind. It was 1 Degree Celsius. Penguins were porpoising along side the ship and seals played like puppies around us in the water.

The Bay of Isles, South Georgia

I sat at the bar and had one of Amanda Jurinen’s famous Smoothies. It paid to get there early. Amanda always had a smile on and with her soft voice a Amanda at her smoothie barwarm greeting and a story to tell. She was a wonderful hostess.

Sailing Along Salisbury Plain

After a light breakfast we readied ourselves for an excursion to Salisbury Plain, which is found with the Bay of Isles.  The expedition team tried to land but decided it was too rough with big surf breaking on the black gravel beaches. We ended up riding the Zodiacs behind the backline, which was only 20 meters or so from the beach, so we would get good close ups of the view.

What a view it was: silver-white waves rolling onto the beach that was home to a breeding colony of King Penguins of more than 300 000 birds. Fur seals too numerous to mention. The colony stretched up from the beach, which was the widest point up into a low valley in the Alpine setting between the Grace and Lucas Glaciers. Yes, the mountains of South Georgia rise above the glaciers like the Alps rise above the plains of Italy and Germany. Except here he plains are the sea.

In the Zodiacs we could almost touch the penguins and seals. They launched themselves into the surf and played, some penguins swimming backstroke while others dived. They played in groups and broke away to hunt. On the beach the masses thronged and it was truly one of the amazing wildlife spectacles of this fragile earth of ours.

The breeding colony of 300 000 King Penguins on Salisbury Plain

The breeding colony of 300 000 King Penguins on Salisbury Plain

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King Penguin doing backstroke in the surf

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Seal swimming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squadron of King Penguins readying to dive

Squadron of King Penguins readying to dive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Lucky in Fortuna Bay

We boarded the Vavilov and made our way further down the island to Fortuna Bay. This was much more protected than Salisbury Plains and we landed easily and in the midst of penguins and baby seals, or wieners. There was a King Penguin breeding colony at the base of a glacier about 1 kilometer inland, but I was so engrossed with the wieners and the young penguins in their brown down that I hardly moved from where we landed.

Fortuna Bay

Fortuna Bay

 

Seals sparring in Fortuna Bay

Seals sparring in Fortuna Bay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were clear streams of water flowing in the green grass, while the waterfalls not a few hundred meters away that fell into the wetland were frozen. The peaks were high and covered in snow, the valleys lined with glaciers.

As we stood to take pictures and compose penguins and wieners would come up behind you, and when you turn around the wieners would bark and feign attack, just like a playful puppy.

Seals in action

Seals in action

Both Salisbury plain and Fortuna bay were stellar introductions to the spectacular wildlife of South Georgia.

Ocean Notes Day 7

Ocean Notes Day 7

My Travels: Laid Low by Aggressive Soup

Sunset from my window

Sunset from my window

The next 48 hours were tough. When the aggressive soup was restrained at dinner on New Year’s Eve I received a visit from Liz Gifford shortly after

dinner started.

She was doing her cabin check and there I was groaning in my bunk with the window opened a slit for fresh cold air. I was on the 5th level and between the roll of the boat and the size of the waves they were breaking at my window level and would drench me if it was left open.

Liz is a wonderful person; very caring and sensitive. She is well read, an anthropologist who studied in Greece, a yoga instructor, a qualified wilderness guide and knows bears very well.  She is also an excellent host for Penguin Pictionary.

More than that, as I was to discover later when I had recovered, she takes the most amazing photographs. I have never seen such sensual and sensitive pictures of icebergs like the ones she has captured. I cannot find a link to any over her beautiful work, otherwise it would be here.

Liz Gifford Bio

Liz Gifford Bio

I sipped water through the night, double dosed on Stugeron and still struggled. I was bed bound. The next morning Liz found me in bed still after the breakfast call. I felt still the same at lunch. It was my first New Year’s Day that nobody wished me for St Basil’s Day. It really felt empty. At lunch she brought me my One Ocean motion sickness survival pack: a packet of cream cracker biscuits and a can of ginger ale. I was still in bed at dinner.

The ship’s doctor, Sarah Oxley, had been to see me and given me another tablet at first. The next day when I was still sick she gave me some Odansitron.

Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.

Fuji Moment: Portrait by Marius Coetzee -he does not know how to use a Fuji yet.

This is a super strong medication they use in post-anaesthesia nausea, but it made no difference. When she gave me the Odansitron she said something to the effect that “you really shouldn’t be on the ship if you get this sick, because it is going to get much rougher!” Liz visited me again that evening and during the day, Stephen, my roommate kept popping in and supplying ginger ales. Marius came by a few times and the next morning captured a Fuji moment with me weak in bed. Johan also came by on the 1st and then on the 2nd  he brought a small bread roll after lunch and left it on the counter next to my desk.

Liz visited again at dinner and for breakfast. On the morning of the second I was so weak and scared I was thinking of getting hold of the satellite phone and calling for a helicopter to get out. Sarah came by after the Odansitron had failed and gave me an injection of Phenergan later that morning and I slept till late afternoon. When I awoke 2nd Janaury I devoured the bread roll, cancelled the satellite phone call and wrote in my journal:

Hmm, only writing now after Stanley’s fish & chips.

 Sick forever.

 1 Jan: was very sick. Lay in bed.

 2 Jan: Got Odansitron from Sarah then injection of Phenergan and woke up OK.

 Am so weak & tired. Managed soup for dinner.

                         Good night

Lights out to save petrels en route to South Georgia

That evening I hobbled into the dining room and raised my hands:

“I am no longer Basil. Lazarus has arrived on board!”

Everyone laughed and from then when anyone was sick on the ship they used a new euphemism. No longer did they say the person is sick. They just said they “had been Basiled!”

This is a long post to explain what happened when the forces of nature relegated me to my bunk and had me wish for a puff of grass as instructed by my anesthetist, Pawel Wisniewski. It was just not available in the dispensary. Maybe if I sailed through Colorado where it is now legal I could get some for the nausea.

But the setback cleared two things in my mind:

  1. I really wanted to be going to South Georgia and the Antarctic, and I would survive anything to get there.
  2.  During the two days in my bunk I came to the realisation that I had not been touched nor had touched anyone for days and felt strangely isolated. My everyday life is filled with touching people, at home and at work, and I really missed that.
Ocean Notes Day 5

Ocean Notes Day 5

Ocean Notes Day 6

Ocean Notes Day 6

My Travels: Poems and Delirium

Feather in a snow bed

Feather in a snow bed

I had not penned a poem for years but as I lay curled up in my bunk rocking from side to side, my mind light from the two-day fast and the drugs to try control the nausea, my thoughts floated away.

I grasped these words out of nowhere when I realized how important it was for me to touch people, physically and with an aura of thought expressed in writing and pictures.

Liz and I had some deep conversations when she visited me but I cannot remember any details. We spoke of travel, of exploring, of growth, of wilderness and of the collective subconscious.

Then out of nowhere came this poem:

Far away, where even eagles do not soar,

Where sunset never happens but can hold the evening.

A land so harsh, yet a land so beautiful.

 

A land where our dreams are lost, where the spirit is gone.

Emptiness fills the silence and the white.

 

A land where the sea closes you off with waves,

Or great ice blocks your passage.

An empty land, cold and fearless,

Where our collective unconscious fails.

 

God fails almost?

Something I saw a lot of was bird feathers; when the penguins moult the feathers collect in patches at the water’s edge and then get blown into the snow to form pockets or ice to form frozen fossils. Finding feathers all over the place was reassuring, and slowly I began to record the dreams I had and look for the feathers. My spirit was connecting but I was struggling to define to what. There seemed a paucity of spirits in this place, like no other wilderness I had been to.  Yet there were just so many messages that I saw but I was just not ready.

Quiet in heaven’s soft light

Glaciers glowing blue at the water’s edge

Cold feet and fingers frozen

Eyes watery to frame a feeling

 

Close enough to touch

And to dive into the water

Black blue land on the horizon

Swallows a single stony peak

 

White fades into blue into grey

Absolutely nothing in the way

The sea waves stop moving

The world is growing  closer

 

Still colder camera battery fails

Slow picture making

Thinking, meditating

No wind or sun just being

 

Slowly a picture appeared at my  side  and then in the camera:

Black blue land on the horizon Swallows a single stony peak

Black blue land on the horizon
Swallows a single stony peak

Three weeks later as I walked down the steps into my home a single feather floated down in front of me and whispered: “ Everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”

I felt an immense peace descend on me in the midst of the bedlam of city and surgical life.

Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening

Where sunset never happens but can hold an evening