Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We got a little bit later wakeup call today, because there is a 1 hour time change between Ushuaia/Falklands and South Georgia (we didn't change the time on our cameras, so all our photos from South Georgia are off by 1 hour). At breakfast we ate with a British couple that was on their second trip. They talked about what they liked, and calmed our nerves a bit about spending so much time at sea - they said it was definitely worth it.
There wasn't anything else scheduled for the morning, so we got cleaned up and ready to go on our zodiac cruise. Included in this was the near-impossible task of taking a shower. Again, the bathroom is the shower, so there are plenty of things to smack your head on if you were to fall - medicine cabinet, sink, toilet, heater, etc. There are handles to hold on to the sides, but this of course limits the ability to clean yourself thoroughly. So this would be tough as is. But, to add to the fun, the hot water is scalding hot, and intermittently comes on. So in addition to having to worry about falling over, there is also the worry that you could get scalded at any given moment. So, for example, when shampooing your hair with both hands, if a big wave comes up at the same time the hot water kicks in, you have a decision between falling over into who-knows-what or getting scalded.
Outside, we saw our first iceberg, and there were also Macaroni penguins and fur seals about. Shortly thereafter, we started to see some of the outlying islands of South Georgia, and as we got closer and closer the amount of birds, penguins, and seals increased. Around 11am we rolled into Elsehul Bay, and the water was a nice blue-green color, and the cliffs were shrouded in clouds. Perhaps because of the cloud cover, and the amount of animals everywhere, it had an eerie, mystical sort of appearance. Many of the rocky cliffs were covered with nesting gray-headed albatross. The bay was completely full of fur seals (and we may have seen other seals as well). On the beaches, we could see penguins, but we weren't sure exactly what kind. We were very excited to go out on a zodiac around the bay after lunch.
And then Anja told us at lunch that we couldn't go because the swells were too high. She said she was working on a Plan B and Plan C, somewhere else on the island, somewhere with less wind and/or lower swells. The disappointment in the room was palpable. We came all this way for this island, and now that we're here, we can't go. It reminded us of National Lampoon's Vacation, where the family drives cross-country to go to Wally World, only to find it is closed. The boat weighed anchor, and we were off to who knows where by 1:30.
Fortunes changed again at 2pm. Anja told us we were now shooting to go to Salisbury Plain, which was one of the places we really wanted to go to. The books we read indicated that Salisbury plain has close to 250,000 king penguins when there are chicks and when the adults are moulting (and thus not at sea). With the wind we had, while it was bad at Elsehul, it was potentially good for Salisbury Plain. We crossed our fingers.
We knew we were approaching Salisbury Plain because what initially appeared to be shrubs or grass on the hillside turned into penguins. They were everywhere on the hillside, and the beach. Our hopes were raised also by the ocean - it was the calmest it had been since we left the Beagle Channel. We heard someone on the radio, and we forget the words exactly, but we all started running to put on our gear and get in the zodiacs. They gave us very specific instructions, because this is one of the most difficult landings of any Antarctic trip. It is a beach landing, with waves crashing on the beach, potentially into the zodiac. We found out afterwards that one of the boats had someone fall out at the beach, and several people dropped gear, gloves, etc. Fortunately, we didn't hear of any catastrophes (e.g., broken cameras).
On the beach, there were fur seals and king penguins everywhere. We just sort of wandered around, meandering towards the rookery down the beach. We had to be cognizant of the fur seals because they are very territorial, and will charge people. We were told to just make a lot of noise and look big. We didn't have the same concerns with the elephant seals, which look like puppy dogs, and, while they make a lot of noise, are not dangerous to humans. It started to rain on our way over, and rained progressively harder the whole time we were there, but we kept taking pictures and video anyway. There's not much more to say on this - the pictures speak for themselves.
On the way back, getting into the zodiac was difficult. Justin was the last one in, and a wave crashed before he could board. Thankfully, his waterproof pants and boots actually are waterproof. Once we were all in, another, bigger wave crashed, but it didn't flip the zodiac or toss anyone out. We were very happy to be back on the warm, dry, boat. We skipped dinner because it didn't sound so good, and instead we ate the packed lunch we made the day we went to Stanley. We anchored off of Fortuna Bay a little after dinner, meaning that the boat would be (basically) still for the night. Given this opportunity, we got to sleep early.