Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Antarctica Journal day11- January 24, 2007

Part 1. I am enthralled. The Shetland Islands. As we swing on the anchor after a dinner of moonfish and cabernet I look out at calving coastline-not one glacier but a mountain of glaciers booming as they crash into the sea. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin cut scallops in silver water while we sip lemon drinks with 1000-year-old ice. What a day! Jerome says in 30 years he has never seen the mountains clearly so today is a gift to him as well. The old pirate is hobbling about with one crutch and one bright turquoise crock. Everyone on the boat, except me, looks like they have penguin feet. We climbed ashore from the zodiac into a Chinstrap colony of a zillion?! They are shy-not like the Gentoo who climb in your lap, Shy or not though, they are fierce to each other now. The chicks are as tall as their parents now and dull gray. They are totally invisible against the rocks. The mother Chinstraps attack any chick who moves. Then that chick's mother attacks back and suddenly it's a penguin war! Every bird jumps up throws their head back and shrieks like it is dying.

The ground is pink with guano-they are feeding on the pink krill, and their nests are a circle of rocks. Steve - I call him Lefty - is beginning to look and smell like a penguin. He is the youngster on this adventure. He climbs every hill, looks for every angle. Long after the rest of us have put our cameras away he is still out there.

Today we saw 3 Weddell seals and a herd of fur seals. The fur seals look like fur seals in the Pribilofs and are semi-aggressive. The Weddell would be an Eskimo's dream animal. It is huge, probably 1000 pounds of seal meat and fat. When you approach it one eye slowly opens. He blinks. Then goes back to sleep. Steve practically crawled in the seal's mouth. Then the seal made a giant-and I mean giant-poop. That got rid of Steve real quick.

There are whale rib bones all over the beach. And a vertebra. It looks like a blue whales'. Leiv assures me I will be hung or beaten or jailed if I try to take my guanacos and penguin skulls home. Maybe but I have a powerful password…Teacher.

We moved about 20 miles thinking we would leave tonight for the peninsula - six hours away. I know I came here to find a story but I don't have a clue what to write about yet. This whole deal is wondrous. To know there is still a place this wild and dangerous is comforting to me. It's kind of like the road not taken. I remember feeling this way when I took Kye climbing at Joshua tree and came in contact with the "climbing culture" for the first time. It was a road I never knew existed but I loved it.

Part 2.
We had a meeting at 4pm to decide what we do next. There are not a lot of icebergs this year so to find blue ice we have to go way south. We are headed for the peninsula lickity split. Jerome hates cruise ships - who doesn't ? - so he tries to steer clear of them but it's big business down here. From experience in Alaska I know many cruise ships dump garbage at sea. In Alaska one dumped dry cleaning fluid and destroyed salmon runs. The waste is very toxic. So whenever cruise ships show up - watch out! Whoever is in charge down here needs to keep their eye on protecting this place.

Everyday begins this way. Cereal and the beach. We pull our gear together and Liev takes all the photographers in the Zodiac.
There is a hoist which lifts the Zodiac, then swings it free of the boat and into the water. Then we get onboard. I'm always ready because I hate to be late and put people out. Russ is always late because he has so much gear (video dude) Diana never knows we are going then runs around like a maniac. John and Eva have been sick pretty much the whole time so John goes and Eva stays. And the pix the two of them get are better than all the rest of us combined. For these guys the trip is all about the photos but for me, well, I gotta find a story and sometimes the camera actually gets in the way of the experience.

We are doing a beeline now from the Shetlands to the Peninsula. Due south. On the right are some major beautiful mountains-elevation 4000' right up from sea level and covered in snow. Other than penguin poop there's not much dirt around. And the air. So clean. This is what life used to be like on earth…except for Steve,
it is Lefty's 8th day without a shower. We all think he's gonna hold us up for something big before he agrees to bathe…

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