Expedition To South Georgia Island

By Maureen

Star 1

Comment0

My name is Maureen and work for Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris (www.cheesemans.com). I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join our 2015 expedition to South Georgia Island in the Antarctic region. After helping to get all our participants on this trip, I am excited to actually be experiencing the trip myself.

Thank you to each of my coworkers in helping make this possible -- thank you for taking care of my cat, for loaning me clothing, for giving me lots of advice on what to bring and what to expect, and everything else you've done :-)

Star 0

Comment0

3:20am Shuttle from home to SFO, this is way too early

5:00am Check in at SFO

7:00am Flight to Miami

3:30pm Arrive in Miami, it's too hot and humid and I have heavy carry-on, so I decided against venturing to the beach during my layover -- another time, Miami. Another time

10:55pm Flight to Santiago, Chile

Photo: My 3 pieces of luggage for the trip

Star 0

Comment0

Flight attendants begin waking us up with pink lighting and breakfast. I should have taken a photo of my breakfast sandwich: paper-thin white bread with the crusts cut off, a very thin layer of ham, and a thin layer of white processed cheese -- my travelmates tell me that this very thin sandwich is normal for the region. As the sun starts lighting the sky, my view out my window seat turns magical: rocky islands poking up out of a beautiful white sea of clouds. There is even what looks like a vast waterfall of clouds plunging down towards earth between "islands" -- just stunning. My photos do not do the view justice.

Star 0

Comment0

8:00am Arrive in Santiago!

9:00am to 6:30pm Cheesemans' staff duties which include meet-and-greet in the hotel lobby as expedition participants and staff arrive, pre-expedition staff meeting, and more meeting-and-greeting

6:30 to 8:30pm Dinner at the hotel. Budweiser is listed in the Imported Beers section on the menu! Had a nice dinner with Gina, Ray, Irene (my roommate for the trip), and Tom Murphy (leader of our South Georgia Island expedition aboard the Hans Hansson, a 12-passenger vessel -- this expedition will stay around the island for about a month and conduct penguin research).

10:30pm Sleep, preciously needed sleep...

Star 0

Comment0

5:40am Flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas and layover. Our Patagonia pre-trip participants are meeting us here and I introduce myself and give them the run-down of the day ahead.

11:30am Flight to Mount Pleasant/Stanley, Falkland Islands.

2:00pm Arrive in the Falkland Islands, get everyone through immigration, get everyone their luggage, get everyone through customs, get everyone's luggage tagged, get everyone a packed lunch, get everyone on the bus. We also learn that a big storm is coming and that the captain says we have to leave as soon as possible, so we now have no time to tour Stanley.

3:30pm Guided bus ride from Mount Pleasant Airport, which is a British Army Base, to the ship. What we hadn't noticed (and what we were told by our guide) was that our airplane got a military escort by 2 military planes as we entered the Falklands' air space. We had a mini-tour of the base as we left the area -- saw some Welsh flags, so a Welsh contingent must have been present. After we left the base, the tour guide talked about: the geologic history of the islands and pointed out that the rock runs found here are the largest (and therefore best) in the world; the land-area of the islands, which is about the same size as Wales, which is the same size as Connecticut, which is the same size as Lebanon; the political history including the war in 1982 and the landmine removal that is still happening (and the ensuing landmine explosions that happen about 4pm once a week); and about the various money-making schemes people have come up with to use the open land on the Falklands, such as sheep farming and reindeer farming (so far only the sheep are somewhat successful, though there isn't much market for sheep products nowadays). By the time we reached Stanley, we only had 10 minutes to explore before needing to hop back onto the bus to the ship. From what little I saw of Stanley as we drove through, it looks very pleasant and quaint, and should since they have a population of about ~3,000.

5:30pm Board the Ortelius! We each get delivered to our cabins (I take a dramamine tablet that I should have taken earlier in the day), then we are all directed to the Lecture Room for a short orientation. After that, we have to get our lifejackets from our cabins and join the group in the Bar so that we can learn and practice our muster stations/procedures. Then we have a quick meet-n-greet in the Bar that ends in a champagne toast.

8:00pm Dinner, we all find seats in the Restaurant. I'm sitting with Ray, Moe, and Elaine. We order our meal, get served our salads, eat our salads, then one by one, we retreat back to our cabins without our dinners: first Ray, then Moe, then me and Elaine. I was feeling OK so long as I could look out the window and watch the horizon as it rose and fell. After dark crept over the ocean, my view disappeared, and the motion started to get the best of me. I got ready for bed, then got to sleep.

Top photo: View from the plane taken somewhere between Santiago and Punta Arenas
Bottom photo: Cabin 430 -- my home for the next several weeks

Star 0

Comment0

12:00am The ship's rocking and rolling went from bad to worse. I fell asleep fairly quickly, probably due to the Dramamine and the general feeling of being unwell. I was woken up quite a lot during the night. The way our beds are situated in the cabin, the rocking rolls us from head to toe, not side to side. Throughout the night, I was very aware of gravity pulling on my toes, sometimes moving me down the bed a little, then pulling me up by the head, causing my head and shoulders to scrunch up into the pillow. Back and forth, toes then head, toes then head. Occasionally, there was the loud ker-SPLOOSH of waves hitting the side of the ship, sounding like waves crashing on breakers. And rarely, I could hear the heavy pelting of rain against the ship, though not as much as I would have thought. Every now and then, the ship would also give an all-over shudder, like an earthquake, and I'm not quite sure what caused that.

~1:00am Back and forth, toes then head...

~3:00am I never actually looked at a clock this night, so the times are guesses. It felt like a very long night. At some point, the items in our room started moving across our floor. I could hear something dragging across the bathroom floor, but couldn't come up with what it could be. Our desk chair scraped backwards from under the desk, fell over, then moved half-way across the cabin. I moved to the end of my bed and grabbed a chair leg and heaved it back to where it belonged. There are noises coming from all over the ship -- from within our room, there was lots of creaking and sliding; from across the hall, the Hospital sounded like many things were moving around and jangling from the walls; and then the outside noises of waves against ship, the ship's motor chugging along, and general rattles and bangs.

~4:00am Back and forth, toes then head...

~5:00am Swells are still going strong. In fact, the largest one causes the desk chair to again slide back from its position, topple over, and slide up against the cabin entry (~15 feet), followed by Irene's luggage. Think about this feat: the ship needed to be rolling over steep enough (and long enough) to cause the chair to move as far away as it did!

~7:30am Ted wakes us up with morning announcements. He tells us that the storm we are in the midst of is big. It is rated a 10 out of 12 on the Buefford Scale. He tells us that the average swells outside are 6 meters high and that they're causing the ship to roll about 20 degrees; the highest swell was caught at 10m, the largest roll was 25 degrees. It's weather like this that causes Mal de Mer -- seasickness -- in the best of sailers. Breakfast will start in half an hour. I will not be there. Irene informs me that it was the bathroom's trash bin that banged around in there all night.

~8:30am Ferdinand, our cabin steward, checks on the room to tidy up and sees I'm still in bed (Irene is somehow able to function); Ferdinand was super sweet and brought me back some bottled waters, fruit, and a yogurt, then tidied up my cabinmate's side of the room. I did not attempt to eat anything.

~9:00am Back and forth, toes then head...

~11:00am I start to get ready to head out of the cabin so that I can join the lectures happening throughout the day (I've already missed a few). I'd also like to see outside. Our cabin's portholes are tightly shut while in open seas. I manage to get dressed, washed, and brushed, but that's it before my seasickness kicks in. Back to bed for me.

~12:30pm Irene brings me back a bread roll from lunch. I'm still not feeling up for eating anything. Time for more napping. Back and forth, toes then head...

~2:00pm Irene comes back to the room and guilts me into eating. I eat the bread roll and the breakfast from earlier: watermelon, pink grapefruit, red grapes, and strawberry yogurt. It's time to go down to the Lecture Room to get fitted for the boots we'll take ashore. I decide I feel well enough to do this. I make my way down, suggest a boot size which is then brought out to me, and as I'm trying on the boots, a cold sweats breaks out. I quickly acknowledge these boots will work great, put my shoes back on, then start heading back to my cabin, getting tossed from side to side as I attempt all these things. I feel the first heave from my stomach as I'm trying to get up the stairway, the second heave as I get through the door from the stairway into my hall, the third heave when I'm almost to my doorway, and the final heave as I'm pushing up the toilet lid and kneeling to the floor. I throw up pink. Not too bad since it wasn't digested and, as I said, it was pure pink. Back to bed for me.

~4:00pm Back and forth, toes then head...

~6:00pm I feel able enough to unpack my duffle bag and get things put onto cupboard shelves. Then it's back to bed.

~8:30pm Irene brings me more bread rolls from dinner. I eat them in bed while we chat.

~10:00pm Ready for bed. Back and forth, toes then head...

Photo: Curtains moving as the ship rolls

Star 0

Comment0

7:30am Ted's wake-up call is more welcome today. He tells us that we should have changed our clocks to be on South Georgia time and that the storm has subsided. The weather outside is about 33F, overcast, misty with rain and snow, and that they are still spotting sea birds from the decks, though not as many as yesterday. Breakfast will run from 8 to 9. I immediately notice a difference in the ship's movement. I still woke up throughout the night, but not nearly as much as the night before, and we didn't have anything roll around the cabin.

8:15am I'm out of bed and showering.

9:00am The Restaurant has already cleared away most of the breakfast items, but I grab a glass of apple juice and a little pastry to-go. I head up to the Bar on the 6th deck and find myself a corner window to look out of. This is the first time I've seen the outside since I lost sight of my horizon that first night at sea. It's overcast, misty, and foggy. There are whitecaps on the waves and the ship is still swaying, but the waves aren't too tall. I brew myself a cup of Darjeeling tea and take a digestive back to my window seat. This feels like a breakfast of champions! I'm feeling much more whole than I did the day before.

10:00am to 10:00pm I filled the rest of the day with attending lectures, going outside to watch the sea and look for birds (I learned how to identify Petrels (not specific ones) and Black-browed Albatross), complete my bio-security screening (pulling all the foxtails and bits of grasses from my backpack, hat, gloves, etc.), and chatting with Ana and other passengers.

Today was a much better day than yesterday!

Star 0

Comment0

Hurray! The weather and sea conditions are good enough that we can board our Zodiacs and go to shore!

It's quite a chore to put on all my cold-weather gear: camisole, base layer bottoms and top, sweatshirt, thick waterproof thermal pants, base layer socks, middle layer socks, another thick layer of socks, neck scarf, puffy jacket, waterproof pants, waterproof jacket, hat, hood, base layer gloves, middle layer gloves, waterproof mittens, muck boots, and finally my lifejacket. I am ready for the Zodiac!

Star 0

Comment0

After getting a bit splashed on the Zodiac ride over and seeing some penguins porpoising up out of the water on their own way to the beach, we all disembark our inflatables and make our first landing on South Georgia Island at Undine Harbour. And here, we experience almost every weather condition there is: sun, rain, hail, wind (normal to gale-force), and snow. There is definitely an odor on the beach -- not sure how much of it is penguin guano or elephant seals -- luckily for us, it's not overpowering (yet). The view is outstanding! I see Gentoo penguins, some King penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, sheathbills (I'm told they eat everything and that's why they have featherless chicken-like heads), flying skuas, various albatross, terns, and petrels (I now know how to tell a few species apart, but not all).

I wandered down the beach a bit, being careful to give the seals their space and not getting in the way of the penguins who are also wandering around. The landscape was stunning, especially in each of the weather conditions as the sky turned gray to yellow to gray-with-blue-patches. And the soundtrack was just amazing: all the usual elephant seal noises (sound to me like belches, farts, and hiccups), penguins calling, the sea breaking against the beach, wind in our ears -- everything screaming South Georgia.

Top photo: Gentoo penguins in the tussock grass (they have a white patch around and behind their eyes)
Middle photo: King penguins (they have brilliant sunbursts on their chests and ear/neck area) -- they remind me of mafia bosses when they stand around
Bottom photo: More gentoos

Star 0

Comment0

This morning, we were supposed to land at King Haakon Bay to let our Shackleton Cross trekkers off the ship, but the weather was so bad it wasn't possible to do so. Near this bay, the rest of the ship passengers were to land at Peggotty Bluff, but the weather there was also not good. So no landings this morning and instead we made our way back north and around the other side of the saddle of Undine Harbour to Elsehul.

Elsehul was a beautiful place to land! We drove the Zodiacs up onto a little beach where we were greeted by the usual elephant and fur seals. This landing was a special one because the Grey-headed Albatross nest near here and normally the fur seals are so thick and aggressive that no one can land and see the nests. At this time of year, we are early enough to arrive before the majority of fur seals do. The nests were pretty far from the beach, so a group hiked about an hour along a strenuous route to view and photograph them. The rest of the group could take a shorter hike from the beach to see light-mantled sooty albatross nests or stay on the beach where we could watch elephant seals, fur seals, sheathbills, giant petrels, gentoo penguins, king penguins, pipits, pintails, skuas, and other petrels and albatross.

I joined Juan for his pinniped talk on the beach. At the tail end of the lesson, we witnessed elephant seal copulation (sorry, no photos). Juan also pointed out a skua stealing milk from a nursing elephant seal pup. The milk is very nutrient-rich and it's an easy take for skuas because the elephant seals usually leave them alone and they're stealing sips out from under pups.

Top photo: Fur seal pup
Middle photo: Milk-stealing skua
Bottom photo: King penguin taking a stroll along the beach (reminds me of a city street scene)

Star 0

Comment0

While walking back across the beach, I noticed a male gentoo penguin picking up beach treasures and taking them to his girlfriend at their tussock grass nest. I watched the male do this for about an hour, but according to my travelmates, he did this all afternoon. It was very cute, though the female seemed to care less. I hope their relationship makes it. Here's a video of the treasure-gathering action: www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153791328902072

Top photo: Male gentoo bringing his girlfriend a rock
Middle photo: Dropping the rock at her feet
Bottom photo: Bringing her a bone

Star 0

Comment0

We had to cancel our landing at Hercules Bay due to rough conditions, so we've been cruising around the island to Grytviken which is in Cumberland Bay. The scenery is just stunning! The mountains are so... mountainous! With the water and sky so blue, the edges of the cliffs so bright green/yellow, and the snow-dusted mountains rising up, the scenery just ceases to amaze. We've seen several glaciers. Lots of small icebergs and floating ice. Several birds. One sail boat at anchor in a small cove.

Star 0

Comment0

After lunch and a bit more cruising, we arrive at Grytviken: the first whaling station erected on South Georgia and the last complete one that is open to visitors. We all arrive on the beach and need to peel off our cold-weather gear -- it's actually "warm" here! We first congregate at the old cemetery where Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave is. Pauline gives a nice tribute, then we all take a small shot of whiskey to toast him.

Top photo: Fur seal greeter on the beach
Middle photo: View of the Ortelius from the beach
Bottom photo: Gina toasting Shackleton :-)

Star 0

Comment0

After we toast to Shackleton's great accomplishment on South Georgia, some of us take a guided tour of Grytviken's whaling station. It was both interesting to hear about the whaling industry and horrifying to learn how many whales were killed during this time. (I know that many of the alternatives to whale products hadn't been discovered yet, so we can't judge the industry too harshly. One of the mayors (?) of Grytviken at some point tried to make the whaling industry at this location more efficient (though not more sustainable) after he noticed how wasteful the whale oil process was, so that's something positive.)

Star 0

Comment0

Tonight, we invited the Grytviken staff aboard the Ortelius for an outdoor BBQ dinner. It was FREEZING outside. I grabbed some dinner, sat at a table, ate only a little bit while wearing gloves, then went to the Bar to warm up. It was a nice experience to eat dinner outside with that view, but not a nice experience to actually eat in :-)

Photo: Travelmates eating out on deck

Star 0

Comment0

Woke up bright and early this morning, had a nice breakfast, went back to the cabin to bundle up, and then hopped in a Zodiac for a cruise around Cooper Bay. Hugh, our chauffeur for the morning, took us right up into a tiny inlet where fur seals guarded the beach, but Macaroni Penguins were the highlight. The Macs were landing ashore and then making their way up a steep hill to the colony. Another Zodiac joined us in the inlet and we played bumper boats through the surf until our Zodiac managed to get stuck between some rocks. At that point, Hugh had asked some of us to jump out onto the beach to lighten the load and let the boat dislodge itself from the rocks. I was out first in knee-high water, letting the male fur seal closest to me on the beach, Mr. Grumpy, who barked his presence, know that I knew he was there, but that I was bigger than him (which I was not) and that I'd leave him alone if he left me alone. I helped a couple of the gals to the beach while keeping an eye on Mr. Grumpy (he's in the photo below). After 4 of us gals jumped out, the boat was light enough that a couple waves dislodged the Zodiac and Hugh was able to sidle up to a big rock about 10 feet away. I again helped the ladies to the boat and then hopped back aboard. It was a mini adventure :-)

Top photo: Mr. Grumpy (foreground), Macaroni penguins hopping up the penguin highway to their colony
Middle photo: Macaronis on the rocky beach just after they came out of the sea
Bottom photo: Skuas "sharing" a carcass

Star 0

Comment0

After that, Hugh drove us around to some other small inlets in search of wildlife. We did find a King penguin with a bit of blood on his chest standing on shore -- Hugh tells us the most likely culprit was a leopard seal, but we saw no sign of it (too bad, but they are more common in the Antarctic and less common up here). Hugh did give us a mini lecture on the geology of the area because it does look very different from the other regions we've visited. This part of South Georgia is remnant of Gondwanaland. (I'm sorry I don't remember everything he told us, just the Gondwanaland part.)

Top photo: Inlet scenery
Middle photo: Blue-eyed shag
Bottom photo: View of Ted's Zodiac as we neared the next beach

Star 0

Comment0

We headed back the opposite direction in the Zodiacs along the shore. We found a beach with a ton of elephant seals hauled out and some gentoo and king penguins present as well. Then we headed a bit further around the coast and came across a major find: chinstrap penguins!

Chinstrap penguins were almost wiped out about 15 years ago when a native avian cholera broke out, then when the population rose up a bit, it was hit by the cholera again. Now, making landings where chinstraps are present is prohibited: humans don't carry the virus, but we want to leave the population unstressed and able to recover its numbers. In fact, Cooper Island is a protected area where no one can land, so it is now home to millions of birds who can breed and live there undisturbed.

The chinstrap beach was quite a sight! Beautiful birds against an always beautiful backdrop of snowy mountains. There were a few king penguins also hanging around, looking like mob bosses as usual. The beach also had a few elephant seals hauled out, and one in particular had been in a recent fight and injured its left eye pretty badly. After we made a couple passes along the beach from the Zodiac for the photographers on board, we headed back to the Macaroni penguin colony.

Top photo: Little chinstrap gathering on the beach
Middle and bottom photos: Chinstraps!

Star 0

Comment0

After we viewed the chinstraps, we headed back to the beach where we could land and then hike up to the Mac colony. The hike was steep and covered in snow, but it was short and the snow was pretty well packed down (which was good sometimes and very slippery others). The Macs were atop a bluff in tussock grass. I ended up spending over an hour watching these guys in clear windy and then snowy windy weather. They were doing a fair bit of behaviors such as preening, calling (where they bob their heads from side to side, shoulder to shoulder), eating snow, laying on their tummies, hopping and walking around, and fighting. The view from the bluff was also really beautiful of Cooper Island, the Ortelius, icebergs in the distance, and the penguins in the fore. (The cover photo for this travel journal was taken from here.)

Top photo: Macaroni colony
Middle photo: Parading penguins
Bottom photo: Beautiful guy

Star 0

Comment0

We're staying on the ship for a cruise up Drygalski Fjord. The scenery is STUNNING! The mountains here are part of Gondwanaland = old! There are quite a few glaciers coming down through between the mountains. Some glaciers come right down to the sea; others now stop further upslope, but where they end, they look like an avalanche that has been stopped mid-collapse, like the rest of the ice and snow is about to come down in a massive ka-boom! There is also lots of sea ice floating in here, mostly small chunks.

There's not much wildlife on this part of the island. This is supposedly a good region to see whales, but we've seen nothing. There are many snow petrels here due to not being decimated by the invasive rats which never came into the Fjord.

Top photo: Iceberg, looking back towards the opening of Drygalski Fjord
Bottom photo: Iceberg in front of a glacier

Star 0

Comment0

They are offering Zodiac rides up into Larsen Harbour now. Ray and I walked around the deck to test the weather which looks pretty awful from the warmth of the Bar. And... it is miserable outside. It's cold which is now normal, but the wind is gusting like crazy and the snow is coming down in painfully hard little balls. Riding in a Zodiac for an hour and a half in this weather? Nope, nope, nope.

Update around 5pm: per the people coming back from the Zodiac cruise, they saw a mom and pup Weddel seal, a snow petrel getting into its cliff-side nest, and it was cold, though calmer in the harbor than what we could see from the ship.

Top photo: Foggy opening to Larsen Harbour
Bottom photo: Better look at the foggy opening

Star 0

Comment0

This morning, we were supposed to have a 4am (!) wake-up call, a quick, cold breakfast, and then be on the Zodiacs to shore at 4:30 for sunrise. (I guess the photographers had been asking when they'd get their sunrise-on-land shots...) Well according to Ted, we had anchored off of Gold Harbour last night around bedtime, but the winds got way up around 1-2am and starting pulling the ship from its anchor, so they had to head to shelter. This part of the island isn't very sheltered and there are multiple glaciers that come down off the mountains into the sea, carrying very strong, cold winds with them. Heading away from Gold Harbour meant that we were no longer near enough the beach to make landings at 4:30am. Instead, Ted woke us up at 6:30am, explained the situation, and said that breakfast would be from 7-8 and then we could head to the beach at 8. That plan worked!

Today's weather was very blustery and snowy, but that didn't stop us! The fore of the beach was covered in elephant seals made up of many harems and pups/weaners making the usual racket. The rear of the beach was covered in King penguins, including the super cute Oakum Boys, also making their usual racket. I stayed for 3 hours, taking in the sights and behaviors of the wildlife and there was always something interesting happening in any direction you faced. The elephant seal weaner pups are so cute with their big, glassy eyes, playing with each other and biting faces and flippers. The Oakum Boys in their puffy, fur coats will mostly stand around, walk a bit, flap their flippers, and then one will go crazy and start running amok amongst the group -- that scene made me laugh aloud every time. They are so stinking cute! And every now and then, a group of the Boys would get brave and wander very close to us, within a foot or so. Such an amazing experience, and makes me wonder what's going through their little bird brains.

Weather turned back to nasty by 11am and the Ortelius started having trouble maintaining its position again. By then, Hugh and Ted decided to call everyone back before the weather got worse. My Zodiac ride back to the ship was a bit wet -- waves were splashing over my back and unfortunately, into my waterproof gloves... seems I needed to put the ends UNDER my waterproof jacket, not over.

Top photo: King penguins everywhere!
Middle photo: King
Bottom photo: Molting king

Star 0

Comment0

We were supposed to land at St. Andrew's Bay -- the holy grail of king penguins -- but we were experiencing 70 knot winds, so it wasn't possible to Zodiac on the ocean, nor would we want to stand on a beach during such blustery weather. Instead, we header to Godthul (translates to Good Harbour) for the afternoon. What a difference in weather from the morning! As Ted has told us, South Georgia has many microclimates, so this little bay was very protected from what was happening on the ocean (and from what we experienced this morning) -- at beach level, there was no wind and so much sun I almost started stripping layers; a short hike up the ridge made for windier weather and some small snow balls blew in our faces.

As with all the beaches we visit, we were welcomed by elephant seals. I finally took some photos of the "small" pups who still have their black fur.

Top photo: Young elephant seal pup
Middle photo: A "weaner" pup -- mom has abandoned the young and now the weaner fends for him/herself
Bottom photo: Godthul beach

Star 0

Comment0

After I finished hanging out with the ellie pups on the beach, I hiked up the tussock grass slope to the grassy/mossy slopes where the gentoo penguins had set up their nesting colony. Here, I was able to sit on a rock and watch gentoo penguins laying upon their nests, which are raised slightly above ground. Gentoos lay 2 eggs about this time of year and the mom and dad take turns daily to incubate the eggs. I watched out for but didn't see the changing of the guard. I did see a parent rise up off the eggs for a minute while it stretched a bit before going back down on top of the eggs. I also saw a penguin chase another one off a nest site (and chased it pretty far), only to eventually wander off after laying on the empty nest a few minutes -- jerk penguin...

Star 0

Comment0

Today was another early day! Breakfast at 6:00, zodiacs to shore at 6:45. Fortuna Bay opens to Fortuna Glacier on one side, and Konig Glacier at the very end. Where we landed, we were met by only a few elephant seals and more fur seals. I started my morning here by walking towards the Fortuna Glacier side of the bay. I passed by several groups of king penguins, some pretty waterfalls and streams from the upper regions, and a small gentoo penguin colony way up on a hill. It was very pleasant so long as I kept my distance from the fur seals -- they snort a bit when you get too close.

Top photo: King penguins
Middle photo: Male elephant seal
Bottom photo: Male fur seal

Star 0

Comment0

As I was passing by a sandy/muddy flat at the base of a tussocky hill, Joe -- our bird expert -- grabbed me and asked, "Do you want to see a baby pipit?!" "Yes!" was my reply. So Joe led me back into the tussock grass and then pointed to the snowy base of one tussock lump and there was a big baby pipit, looking mostly like an adult except it still had some fluffy baby feathers and wasn't flying away from its home base. Joe said that its parents are going out and finding food to bring back to big baby.

Pipits are the only songbird on South Georgia and they were almost wiped out by the rat population that invaded the island from the whaling ships way back in the day. Pipits nest on the ground, so rats would come right along to the nests and eat the eggs. After so many years of this, the pipits were close to being no more. The South Georgia Heritage Trust undertook the huge project of eradicating the rat population from the island and thanks to that project, the rats appear to be gone! (The project is still monitoring the island for rats, but there's been no sign of them yet.)

After I wandered back to the muddy flat, I saw a couple more pipits, then one came flying right towards me and landed practically at my feet! It started poking around a bit in the sand, making its way right around me in search of food. Very cool and what a nice experience considering these guys were so endangered just a couple years ago :-)

Top photo: Baby pipit!
Middle and bottom photos: Pipit parent (?)

Star 0

Comment0

This colony wasn't as energetic as yesterday morning's, but they made up for that by displaying some amazing behaviors. Here, it was much more clear who the parents and young belonged to. The oakum boys closely followed mom or dad and we were able to watch mom/dad feeding the "boys."

Top photo: The colony, the oakum boys tend to huddle together
Middle photo: Parent feeding a youngster
Bottom photo: The oakum boy in the background looks so serene, enjoying the snow...

Star 0

Comment0

We headed back to the ship for lunch. After lunch was the Fortuna Bay to Stromness Whaling Station hike that Shackleton, Worsely, and Crean made when they finally made contact with people after 17(?) months. I had signed up to do it, but after the rain this morning, we were told the snowpack had turned slushy on top. The hike was only a little over 3 miles, but up and down steep passes, and I decided that even with the aid of snowshoes, I didn't want to risk a twisted ankle. Really too bad because I was looking forward to this part of the trip, especially after reading the book 'Endurance' about what Shackleton and his men went through. Oh, well. Perhaps I'll be here again someday to complete it :-)

Instead of the hike, I stayed aboard the ship, took a shower, relaxed in the Bar catching up on this travel journal, and then took photos of Stromness from the ship. It's a derelict whaling station that is closed off to visitors now, so very rusty, full of asbestos, and falling apart.

Star 0

Comment0

Since we weren't able to land here a couple days ago due to the high winds and swells, we came back today to experience this spectacular location. I was up at 3:45am, dressed, had a bite to eat, and was out in the Zodiac by 4:30. The sun had just risen up over a mountain and was casting a beautiful light over the beach and the surrounding mountains. Plus, we were greeted by our friends, the king penguins, as well as the elephant seals.

Top photo: King penguins at the landing site
Middle photo: Ted and Gina and the decent-sized bull elephant seal that came galumphing over to us
Bottom photo: View of the morning

Star 0

Comment0

St. Andrews is home to one of the largest king penguin colonies, and the largest on South Georgia. At this time of year, we can estimate that there are over a million penguins here (though in Dec/Jan, there are almost twice as many). King penguins don't have a set breeding period and tend to breed twice every 3 years. Their reproductive cycle is breed, lay an egg, both mom and dad incubate the egg for about 55 days (each taking 2-week turns, sometimes shorter), egg hatches, and mom and dad feed the young for almost a year. (Most penguins are monogamous, but the kings have about an 80% "divorce" rate, scientists think due to having such a long breeding cycle and not wanting to wait around for the same mate to arrive.) This time of year, "single" penguins come to shore, molt, court, breed, lay and incubate an egg, and then feed the young continuously until about April; by then, the young penguin is pretty much the size of an adult, but over winter (April/May-Sept/Oct), the young fast and lose a bit of weight until the spring arrives and mom and dad bring food back on a regular basis again. Once the young are almost a year old, they molt their brown downy coats.

While the sun was out, the weather was pleasant (still cold), but the sun was warm on my face and the sky was clear. Then the clouds rolled in, the temp seemed to drop, and the wind got up. That didn't stop me from sitting atop a hill overlooking the colony for almost 2 hours.

Top photo: The golden, glowing oakum boys
Middle photo: Kings lined up to the glacier
Bottom photo: Me and the kings :-)

Star 0

Comment0

I have seen photos of this area, both at this time of year (the less busy time) and during Dec/Jan when you can't even see the ground because of the penguin density, but to actually experience this place is something else. To be bundled up against the cold, to smell the odors of the seals and penguins (not all unpleasant), and to hear the cacophony of king penguin trumpets and whistles (adults and oakum boys) and bull elephant seal calls.

When the kings call, they point their head and bill skyward and trumpet in a very odd voice; the oakum boys have more of a whistle as their instrument.

Top photo: King in the sun
Middle photo: Scenic kings
Bottom photo: Marilyn Monroe pose

Star 0

Comment0

Ok, I was planning to head back to the colony for a bit longer, but it's time to head back to the ship and warm up. Lunch is in several hours, then we should have the opportunity to go back to shore so long as the weather holds up.

Before loading up on the Zodiac, we did have some penguins coming and going in the surf.

Top photo: What are you looking at?
Middle and bottom photo: Coming in from the surf

Star 0

Comment0

After lunch and a little nap, I headed back to shore at St. Andrews. Since there was only about an hour and a half left of the day, I stuck to the beach rather then head out to the penguin colony. I was glad I did because the bull elephant seals were full of energy, roaring quite a lot, copulating (I was too late for that, but apparently it was mostly the "sneaky bastards" mating on the sides of the harems where the beachmaster bull couldn't see), and chasing each other around the beach, including right where our loading site was.

As I've said before, the elephant seals make such a racket -- all the noises are coming from their mouths, but it all sounds like belching and farting and hiccuping to me. The males are HUMUNGOUS! We're told that the average male coming to shore now is about 5 tons. This time of year, the males and females are all coming to shore to breed. The males fight for territory and access to females. The females are coming to shore to give birth to pups, they nurse the pups for about 25 days, the big "beachmaster" male will breed with the female, and then the female heads back out to sea, leaving the young pup behind to fend for itself and grow up.

I wandered down one end of the beach, away from the colony, and hopped over to some rocks to do some tide-pooling. Unfortunately, there wasn't much interesting in the pools -- seaweed was about it. However, there were some bulls in the water and near me on shore and they were as active as the other bulls on the beach. I took some videos of the craziness going on around me (www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153793158337072). The weather was calm when I arrived, but then the wind started up, followed by snow. Good timing since the Zodiacs were being loaded up with the last of the visitors. Shower and dinner sound good.

Today was a good day.

Top photo: Sleeping bull
Middle photo: Playing pups
Bottom photo: Talking bull

Star 0

Comment0

Another early morning. This morning is sunny and "warm" (4C), but the wind is up around a constant 30 knots with occasional gusts, so the temp is actually really cold and the ocean is rough. We get a little wet on the Zodiac ride in, but not too bad. There are tons of king penguins lining the shore and making their way inland.

Salisbury Plain's king penguin population isn't as numerous as St. Andrews, but it's well-known because of the possible views (photo opportunities) of the colony. The views just from the beach are magnificent -- lots of mountains, a couple glaciers, and islands off the coast.

Star 0

Comment0

I start out the morning by joining our birding staff, Joe and Dave, on a "pipit and kings" tour. The area right off the beach is tussocky and very muddy/boggy. But pipits like tussock for their nests and we see some flying around. We manage to track them to a general nesting area where parents are flying back and forth with food for their nestlings. The babies make lots of noise as soon as the parents arrive, though we can't see the babies through the thick grass (and we don't want to disturb the nests). We wander around quite a bit finding other pipits. Dave tells us that in 2009 when he was last here, there were rat tracks all over the beach and, therefore, no pipits present. Now, they seem to be thriving. The sun has disappeared and it's still cold and windy.

Top photo: Finding pipits
Middle photo: Pipit found
Bottom photo: Penguins sludging their way through the boggy mud

Star 0

Comment0

After Joe and Dave and the rest of us exhausted our pipit-finding skills, we turned to the king penguin colony here. There are an estimated 60,000 pairs of penguins who come here to breed each year, plus all the oakum boys, so this is quite a colony! They stretch out for quite a distance on the plain, but they also have colonized the mountainside. And as we've come to expect, they make a raucous ruckus, trumpeting and whistling up a storm. The oakum boys are still my favorite, even if they're still more laid back than that first group we met.

Top photo: Portion of the colony; you can see the brown oakum boys on the side of the hill
Middle photo: Oakum boys
Bottom photo: Colony

Star 0

Comment0

After watching for pipits, I walked up the wash area towards the hills/mountains/glaciers. Both sides of the wash were covered in molting penguins. They were noisy. The wash was quite muddy and slippery -- I slipped a couple times, but nothing bad that hurt or made a mess of me. Plus, I needed to walk slowly for the penguins -- they don't like quick movements and prefer when you move at their slow speed. I tried to get photos of the rivers of penguins in the wash, but I couldn't really do the scene justice without a higher elevation to take photos from. Unfortunately, my way to a higher spot was blocked by penguins. I did attempt a different higher spot up the side of the nearby mountain, but it wasn't the right angle. Still, it made for a nice mini hike.

Top and middle photos: Rivers of king penguins
Bottom photo: View of the glacier, mountains, and penguins

Star 0

Comment0

On my way back from the penguins, I stopped at what sounded like a busy hillside for pipits. I made my way slowly up the tussocky hill, stopping to watch for pipit parents going to nests. I finally worked my way over to a very busy nest (perhaps it was 2 nests, or they were just super parents that seemed like 4 birds instead of only 2). I did manage to get some good photos of parents with full beaks for the babies. The babies were so chirpy when mom and dad were there. As I sat on my pipit hill, the sun came back out, the wind died down, and it was really pleasant to sit in the sun and observe these little guys who are making such a great comeback for their species.

Top photo: Pipit with a bug in its mouth
Middle photo: Another pipit with food
Bottom photo: Pipit outside the nest

Star 0

Comment0

Prion Island is home to nesting wandering albatross. The birds are endangered, so the Government of South Georgia requires special visitors' permits and protocols so that the birds aren't bothered. They have built a boardwalk path for visitors to keep them out of critical areas. The Government closes the island to visitors from about a week from now for several months -- I'm not sure how much of that is due to the albatross vs. fur seals taking over the island for breeding. Prion is also home to many pipits because rats were never introduced -- it is the pipit population here that colonized Salisbury Plain.

Due to the restrictions on visitors, the trip participants had to split up into smaller groups. We Zodiac'ed out to the island, fought off the fur seals on the beach, then headed up the boardwalk for our first view of wandering albatross chicks.

Top photo: Walking up the boardwalk
Middle photo: Looking down at the view from the boardwalk
Bottom photo: Wandering albatross chicks (and also some giant petrels)

Star 0

Comment0

These chicks are quite large and sit atop nests. After our first stop on the boardwalk, we headed to a higher area where there were a lot more nesting chicks and some were super close! I really l liked their wispy downy feathers and humungous feet :-)

Top photo: Wandering albatross chick
Middle photo: Chick working on his/her nest (www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153791333132072)
Bottom photo: Yawning chick

Star 0

Comment0

Today was a day at sea as we make our way back to the Falklands. I received a skin patch for seasickness last night from our ship doctor, so I was able to be up and around all day today. The weather isn't stormy, but winds are around 26 knots and the ship is still doing lots of both pitching (front to back) and rolling (side to side), so I know I wouldn't be functional without wearing the medicated patch.

It was nice to be able to sleep in this morning and it did feel funny not to be getting ready for landings -- no multiple layers of clothes, no cramming muck boots on, no fastening lifejackets. Instead, we had lectures going on in the Lecture Room and I spent a fair bit of time up in Bar going through photos and editing this travel journal. We did pass by Shag Rocks around 10:30am, and I think they're very photogenic at certain angles, but not really from our ship, so I didn't take pictures. And tonight, we watched a short film called "Around Cape Horn" -- it was fascinating and funny and was narrated footage of the last big sailing vessel that made voyages around Cape Horn.

Now it's off to bed for me. The scolpomine patch makes me sleepy...

Star 0

Comment0

So today is my birthday. Irene sang me "Happy Birthday" as soon as we were up. Ted included it in the morning announcements. I had many well-wishes at breakfast. When I got back to my cabin, the door was decorated with balloons by the "St. Louis 6" - the group of ladies that came here together and celebrated a couple of their bdays earlier in the trip. And I know that at dinner, I'll be sung to and given an ice cream cake and an autographed book about the Antarctic region.

Definitely not a bad way to spend my day :-)

The weather was nice and sunny out on deck and we did have some seabirds following us, so I took a couple photos.

Top photo: My decorated door
Middle and bottom photos: Albatross

Star 0

Comment0

The ship started to get a bit more rocky as the day wore on. By dinner, I was starting to feel not super great, but I made it through and was indeed sung to and given an ice cream cake and a book. After dinner, there was a short video shown, made by one of our passengers on an earlier one of of our trips. But after that video, I was having trouble holding myself together, so I went back to my cabin and laid on the bed, trying not to get sick. Not a great way to end a nice day, but I'll survive.

Star 0

Comment0

Today is another day at sea. We'll be back in Stanley by around 7pm, but just to drop some passengers off. I don't think we're allowed to anchor in the (sheltered) harbor, so not sure what to expect of the rockin' and rollin' tonight.

Throughout the day though, we're still holding lectures, then we'll be hosting a fundraising auction and a trip slideshow. We also had some whales around the ship just a bit ago, but all I could see was spouts and a fin, so nothing that was identifiable to me.

Quote of the day: Oliver told us story of when he was constructing something with a friend. When his hammer missed a nail, his friend told him, "You can't scare it in!" :-)

Star 0

Comment0

Not much happened today. Lots of lounging in the bar, attended several lectures, wandered around the decks outside. During our final dinner, all the ship staff who had been feeding us and tidying up after us were introduced. They were so great and so friendly and they all received quite an ovation :-)

Sometime around dinner, we passed through the Beagle Channel. Seas were calm and falling asleep was easy.

Star 0

Comment0

The Ortelius docked in Ushuaia sometime earlier this morning. Ted's wake-up call/morning announcements let us know that it's about 45F outside and a bit overcast, but the view is wonderful. I'm getting ready for the day and finishing packing my luggage. Breakfast should be announced any minute now -- our last meal with the group :-(

Top photo: Ushuaia from the dock
Bottom photo: Ushuaia from the other side of the ship/dock

Star 0

Comment0

So after a nice last breakfast, everyone gathered their luggage and made their way off the ship and onto their respective buses -- some heading for the airport, some heading for hotels. Most of the staff who are staying extra nights in Ushuaia are staying at a different hotel than our expedition participants -- it's a little less fancy, but has a ton of charm. We arrived at the hotel, dropped off our luggage, were able to grab a pastry and coffee, and sit for a few minutes in the common area.

Top photo: Lom, the hotel dog
Middle photo: Mural on the street the hotel is on
Bottom photo: Gina showering in our windowed shower :-)

Star 0

Comment0

After dropping our luggage off, we grabbed a couple taxis to take us up to Glacier Martial. Ted and Tim brought their skis and went up the mountain with that purpose. Pauline, Gina, Irene, and I went to hike and so we did. At other times of the year, our hiking road is a ski slope with a magnificent view of the bay below and mountains towering above. Most of the hike was on the ground, though a fair bit was trudging through the snow. Lucky for us, we all had our various cold-weather layers packed away and brought them out as the wind picked up. We saw several pretty species of bird -- Gina and Pauline knew some, Joe, who we met up with later, knew the rest.

We gals tried to hike up to the saddle region on one of the mountains, but the snow pack got really slippery and it wasn't worth making it to the top, especially considering the views we were already taking in.

Top photo: Gina, Irene, and Pauline hiking up the hill
Middle photo: The gals walking across the bridge as we hit the snow line
Bottom photo: Looking back from the bridge

Star 0

Comment0

Today was a lazy day. I had breakfast with Lynne, Joe, Irene, and Pauline at our B&B; then we all moved to the couches and chairs and chatted until it was time for Tim and Pauline, and then Lynne and Joe to leave. Gina, Irene, and I didn't leave the B&B until lunchtime where we wandered around until we ran into Ron and Oliver. Had lunch with the boys then wandered around a bit more. Tonight will be a lazy night. Tomorrow we're off to Buenos Aires.

Top photo: Proof that I was in Ushuaia :-)
Middle and bottom photos: View down the main street in Ushuaia

Star 1

Comment0

This morning, we left cold and snowy Ushuaia and flew to warm and humid Buenos Aires. We grabbed a taxi to our hotel in downtown BA. It's a beautiful time to be here -- all the trees lining the streets are blooming purple flowers and the parks are very green. As soon as we checked in to our room, the lady we booked a city tour with called to let us know she would be at the hotel shortly.

Liz arrived and met us in the lobby with city maps. She sat us down and gave us an overview of the city and its history. Then we hopped back into a cab and made our way to La Boca, the district that used to be the first port in BA and holds a lot of history, including originating the Tango. As a port city, a lot of men arrived here from European cities as well as local regions. Therefore, brothels also popped up. The tango as a dance began as a way to, "get men ready to go in five minutes," according to our guide. The music was played on accordions and violins because those were the instruments that were brought over from Europe. Many of the songs were sad and were about longing for home.

Top photo: Gina walking through La Boca
Bottom photo: La Boca - very colorful

Star 0

Comment0

After La Boca, we drove through the new port area: it's very new and like most port cities, it's redone its old warehouses and turned them into apartments, shopping, and offices. We then drove to La Recoleta -- a district where the old 1% moved to when the original port area (La Boca) became overrun with port workers and when yellow fever started spreading. This area became known as the 'Paris of South America' because many of those 1%-ers travelled often between the big European cities and BA and so they brought over the designers/architects of the time to build their palaces -- they wanted to be the royal families of BA. We were told that when the women would come back to BA with their fancy, new, European dresses, they were't quite fancy enough and so gold thread was woven through them. This area now is like the 5th Ave/SoHo of NYC and is full of fancy shops and buildings.

Star 0

Comment0

Next, we explored the Cemetery -- Cementerio de la Recoleta -- where the rich families built mausoleums for their dead. These mausoleums could hold up to 17 family members, both above and below ground. It reminded me of New Orleans' cemeteries, except at a much larger scale. Each family mausoleum was designed according to the times and the wealth. Some are still very well maintained and are updated with stained glass and other fancy things, while others have been abandoned and are falling apart; but the families bought these spaces and so even the abandoned structures are there to stay. We did see where Evita is entombed, as well as other famous Argentinians. This cemetery is also well-known for its cats -- there are many strays who live here and are well-fed.

Top photo: Depicts the differences in family mausoleums
Middle photo: Wandering through...
Bottom photo: Gina petting a couple of the resident kitties

Star 0

Comment0

After exploring La Recoleta, we taxied over to the Catedral Metropolitana -- there were plaques set aside for Pope Francis -- he comes from BA and was appointed Archbishop here at some point. It was very pretty inside with lots of gold decor and marble walls and mosaiced floors. By this time, the tour was about finished and we were famished, so our tour guide took us to Cafe Tortoni which was a famous French-style cafe known for thoughtful discussions about art, politics, philosophy, etc. We each ordered hot chocolat y tres churros. (Irene took all the photos, so photos to come once I receive them.)

Star 1

Comment0

When in BA, one must attend a tango show. Our tour guide set us up with one -- La Ventana: Barrio de Tango. We were picked up at our hotel a little after 8:00pm, started dinner around 9:00, and the show started at 10:00. There were live musicians and about 5 pairs of tango dancers who did group routines as well as highlighting different types of paired tango dances. There was also a section of the show that spotlighted native music with pan flutes and drums and guitars. Then there was a surprising tribute to Evita with the female singer dressed in a fancy gown while clips of Evita giving speeches and doing Evita things played behind her while she sang 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' en Español. At the end of the tribute, the tango dancers came out waving Argentinian flags. It was quite patriotic... While the tango dancing and music were impressive and entertaining, Gina, Irene, and I agreed that we preferred the native music portion of the show the best.

Top photo: Our location-specific wine (Argentina is well-known for its Malbec grapes -- we consumed several bottles of Malbec throughout our several days in Argentina and can attest to its popularity)
Bottom photo: Gina and Irene before the show

Star 0

Comment0

We met our taxi out in front of the hotel at 5:30 this morning and drove quite a ways to the international airport. Once we arrived, we were told (kind of) that our plane was out of commission and that we would have to wait until 10:00 to get any sort of update. The airline gave us a breakfast voucher for free coffee and croissants, but waiting in an airport restaurant for 4 hours is kind of a drag, especially when we still have all our luggage to lug around with us. We've heard the Amy Winehouse album about 4 times now. The TVs are only playing the sports network, so I'm seeing lots of futbol updates. I'm really tired and trying not to be too bored. I did venture out into the shops and got myself a magnet. I tried to find souvenirs for Christmas stockings, but nothing seems worth hauling home. Sorry, family stockings.

Star 0

Comment0

So we have new flights that will depart now and have us arrive in Lima. The airline will supply us with a hotel room there, then we'll have a 2am flight to LAX, then another flight to SFO afterwards. Ugh, but at least I'm adding another ciudad to my Sud America list. Depending on whether we get out and about in Lima, perhaps I'll pick up another magnet.

On this flight, we pass over the Andes.

Star 0

Comment0

We arrived in Lima and headed to the airline desk to get a hotel and taxi voucher. The taxi from the airport to our downtown hotel during rush hour took us over an hour. The streets are lined with cinderblock boxes stacked upon cinderblock boxes -- the homes and businesses here are not what I imagined, much more poor. The drivers here are worse than those in BA -- they seems to be trying to get their cars as close as possible without actually touching, and like in BA, the painted lanes just seem to be suggestions that no one pays any attention to, and they like to honk a lot. There are people trying to sell things to the stopped drivers in traffic -- some things are fairly normal, like sodas and candy, while others are selling Kermit the Frog puppets and various sizes of world globes.

When we finally arrive at our hotel, we get checked in. The lobby has a blue Porsche in it and the music is too loud and club-like. As tired as we all are, this lobby is hellish. We're told that we get a free dinner and that their restaurant opens in an hour, so we head up to our rooms. There's a jetted hot tub in the middle of the room. But the rest of the room/bathroom is nice. I take a luke-warm shower and feel a bit better. Dinnertime rolls around.

The restaurant is really fancy. We're told our free meal comes with a free soda, appetizer, and entree. We all choose the Peruvian steak dish and lemonada to drink -- no choice on the appetizer which turns out to be fishy, but it was pretty. I ate the garnishes and gave the fish to Gina. Then our steak dish arrived -- it was the best meal of the whole trip! A silver lining to our travel mishaps! All throughout dinner, Irene keeps nodding off. With dinner finished, we head up to our rooms and sleep for about 3 hours. Ugh...

Star 0

Comment0

After being woken up by the front desk letting us know our taxi had arrived (good thing they called because our alarm was accidentally set to am instead of pm), we headed back out into the city for the airport -- it was much less busy traffic-wise, but there were still people selling things to passersby.

Since we already had our boarding passes, getting through the airport at 12:30am was pretty easy. We boarded our flight bound for LAX at 1:30 and took off. Whew! We're on our way home!

Star 0

Comment0

After running through LAX to get to my flight bound for SFO, arriving at SFO, being picked up by Nicole, and driven home, I am ready for bed.

What a wonderful trip I had. The last travel day was a mess, but well worth the rest of the journey. This was truly a trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to all my coworkers at Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris for making the trip possible and enjoyable, as well as to all my travelmates for sharing in such an amazing experience.

Next big trip: Senegal (to visit a friend), Tanzania, and Rwanda in 2016 (www.cheesemans.com/trips/tanzania-feb2016). I'll keep you posted.

:-D

SHARE THIS JOURNAL