Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
Betty Ingerheim Voiland
Betty Ingerheim Voiland
Betty Ingerheim Voiland
Sailing into South Georgia, the Captain expertly navigated the ship as everyone eagerly awaited up on deck. For the next 3-days, the promise of heaven on earth became a reality! It was at Salisbury Plain where my ultimate penguin experience took place. As the ship approached, my eyes could not believe what stood before me! However, my nose told a different story...! There in front of us were hundreds of thousands of king penguins!! Once on shore, I wandered to the middle of them and sat down overwhelmed with gratitude.
During one of our excursions, we trudged up Prion Island, at times pulling ourselves up by the tussock grass only to find hidden fur seals. We struggled in the mud, occasionally falling into sink-holes up to our knees, but all the time laughing in good fun. Finally, reaching our destination, there was a sigh of relief followed by awe as we came upon the noble wandering albatross. A few of us were fortunate enough to witness a pair mating.
At Grytviken, we visited whaler's cemetery and shared a toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton. It was at Gold Harbor where I encountered my friend whom I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life: A "weaner," a several hundred pound baby elephant seal. He waddled towards us and looked longingly at me. Its mother had returned to sea, and like many of the weaners, he was left on his own. I sat on the beach to observe them. We were instructed by the staff not to touch them, but if they came up to us, it would be alright. The weaner approached me, and to my amazement, crawled onto my legs -- all 200 pounds -- and looked me straight in the eyes. It nuzzled on my jacket, then gradually dozed off to sleep... I took a moment to look around and tried to absorb all that I saw: The magenta early morning sunrise, snorting fur seals, a pile of grunting adult elephant seals, and thousands of soldier-like king penguins marching about.
In between excursions, we enjoyed the comforts of the ship. The Ocean Adventurer is a handsome expedition ship. Her spacious decks allowed for wonderful viewing perches to spot wildlife, a favorite past time of mine. As she is equipped with stabilizers, she sailed open waters gracefully. We enjoyed the spacious bridge where all were welcome. The Captain always had a smile on his face, and it was obvious he was liked and admired by all his staff. Our hotel director was the most gracious and accommodating I have encountered. She seemed to be everywhere at once, visiting with guests to ensure everything was to their satisfaction. The crew greeted us daily with warm smiles, and consistently remembered names and a favorite drink. The cuisine was very good, and many of us enjoyed the option of either the usual sit-down affair in the dining room or a light lunch offered in the lounge.
The natural history staff lived up to its reputation of being some of the most knowledgeable in the industry. Marathon lectures were offered on days at sea, which prepared us for upcoming adventures and quenched our thirst for knowledge. I never knew geology and glaciology could be so interesting and fun with homemade props! The ornithologist who hailed from England became everyone's favorite on deck and on shore as he identified and taught us about our pelagic friends.
After discovering the magic of South Georgia, Antarctica called to us. En route, some passengers were fortunate to see Orca whales. I spent much of my time up on deck with roommate, a naturalist from Florida, watching for whales, visiting the bridge and becoming friends with the Mates, and sitting on lounge chairs in the sun.
We stopped at the South Orkney Islands where the ship dropped launched the Zodiacs for cruising along the glacier blue ice shelf. Here, we found leopard seals, the notorious penguin-eating seal.
We were also fortunate to land on Elephant Island where Shackleton and his men spent four unimaginable months. The statue in Shackleton's honor stood surrounded by soldier-like nesting chinstrap penguins.
Antarctica was everything and more to me. The sheer experience of ice...! I have been in the Arctic many times. While beautiful in its own right, the beauty of ice-covered land and glaciers is truly an amazing experience. We made our first continental landing at Neko Harbor. It was an exciting moment for a number of my fellow shipmates to set foot on their 7th continent!
When it was time to sail through the Lemaire Channel, everyone was on deck ready for the photo opportunities. The sun shone brightly and the water looked like glass. It was some of the most dramatic landscape of our voyage. Massive icebergs, bergy bits, seals lounging on ice...
Later, Zodiacs were launched at Plenaeau Island where a Minke whale appeared just off the starboard side of our Zodiac - within just a few feet from us! Then, it dove back in the crystal clear glacier blue water. We squealed in delight over our gentle close encounter! We returned to the ship for a wonderful BBQ lunch on aft deck.
Eventually, our voyage was coming to an end, and it was time to leave and head back to Argentina and cross the Drake Passage for the next 36-hours. We arrived in the quaint town of Ushuaia and bid farewell to our ship and to Antarctica.