October 31, 2017 Halloween
Good morning, good morning – we made it!
We got our wake up call, which is Doug coming on over the intercom saying, “Good morning, good morning…” at 7:00am. Turns out we made great time crossing the Scotia Sea and since we arrived earlier than originally planned, we had the chance to start touring early.
We anchored at Elsehul Bay, described to us as “incredibly picturesque and stunning.” This is an amphitheater of a bay which we would be exploring by zodiac, searching the shoreline for Albatross and other seabirds.
The ship entered the bay. We went up to the bridge and the upper levels of the ship to look out at the mountains and views. We watched as the zodiacs were lowered into the water and as those who were called first left the ship to begin their explorations. The fog sat at the top of the mountains. There were albatross nesting everywhere. The color of the water was a deep blue in parts and a brilliant turquoise in others. Birds were flying everywhere. At times the sky seemed full of them. And on the deck, the birds just landed and watched with us.
We donned layers and layers of clothes (temperature was in the low 40s F but out on the water it is windy and cold) and our life jackets and were finally called to board our zodiac for a “cruise” of the bay on the lookout for wildlife. Our first sighting was right off the boat where a large group of giant petrels and other birds were feasting on a baby elephant seal pup. We don’t know how the pup died, likely not by the birds, but they got to enjoy the sudden abundance of food. One bird would lift the pup and the others would eat. Then they would switch around. I didn’t get to see the pup, but I did see all the birds congregating and pushing each other out of the way and we did hear them squawking.
We watched for a bit and then headed off. We passed more albatross nesting and headed towards a cove that was full of elephant seals, fur seals, and a bird or two. There was one white fur seal, quite an anomaly. The elephant seals are huge, HUGE, and lie about looking just like rocks. The fur seals are more active, barking and jostling each other when they aren’t sleeping. This is the season when the male seals are searching out the best place to breed, so they can be quite aggressive. This time we weren’t on shore, but we will need to be aware and beware once we do land.
We kept cruising around the bay. Our next sighting was of Macaroni penguins. The hills around us were green and dotted with white albatross nesting. It looked like hundreds of them. And in the areas that were rock, in between the green, were the Macaroni penguins. There are 3 million Macaroni on South Georgia. The Macaroni are related to the Rockhopper (which we saw at the Falklands) and both are part of the crested penguin group. They stand a bit over 2 feet tall and weigh about 12 pounds. But they live until about age 20. As it was described to us, the Rockhopper that we had seen at the Falklands have the “get me out of bed” look, while the Macaroni are more slicked back (Kookie, Kookie – lend me your comb”).
And then we cruised into another cove that had King penguins, all lined up on the beach, like soldiers waiting to greet us. And as we got a bit closer, we saw that they were standing at attention all the way up the hill as well. Although there weren’t hundreds of them, it was still a magnificent sight. [For a full description of King penguins, see Days at Sea: The Scotia Sea on the way to South Georgia.]
Vikings in South Georgia?
And then, suddenly, we saw two Vikings in a zodiac. Two of our staff had donned Viking hats and were passing around hot chocolate, with or without schnapps. Now that was a nice touch and a great way to warm up!
We were one of the last zodiac’s back to the ship as we were all having so much fun. As we approached we could see them lifting the other zodiacs out of the water. The waves were picking up and the ship was going up and down and up and down with each wave. That made getting back on board a bit trickier. We stood on the step stool in the zodiac and had to time stepping onto the ship exactly at the point when we were even with it. Always fun and excitement.
Back on board we warmed up, had lunch and then headed up to the bridge and upper deck to see the beauty of another cove, on Trinity Island. The captain piloted the ship right into the cove. The sun came out. The water was a deep blue alternating with spots of turquoise. It was so beautiful that it was mind-boggling. It is almost impossible to describe in words or capture such beauty in pictures. You have to experience it. Surrounded on three sides by these tall, tall mountains, covered in green with white dots. Hundreds upon hundreds of white dots, all of which were nesting albatross. And every so often, a group of penguins. And birds flying everywhere. It was the best of nature. All we could do was stand there on the deck in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes away. I couldn’t stop taking pictures, although I knew not a one would do it justice.
We finally backed out of the cove and proceeded to Salisbury Plain, just around the corner. At this point we were passing glaciers which looked like long and wide fields of pristine white snow, running between mountain ranges. Unfortunately the glaciers are receding at a rate of 6.5 feet a day! Global warming is real.
And there suddenly was a beach covered with hundreds, no, more likely thousands of King penguins. Seeing them from the water as we looked out was a sight I will never forget. It was like a carpet of penguins, black and white with orange. And every so often, a large gray rock that was really an elephant seal.
The water was glistening from the sun. On the other side, the moon appeared. We could hear the seals barking. Birds were flying all around us. It was magical. It was magnificent. It was wonderous. Breathtaking. Stunning. It was beauty at its best. And we were promised that we would try to return here and land on our way back. Something more to look forward to.
That evening, all the shades were drawn, and all the outside lights were changed to red. We were in blackout mode. Over the years, they have learned that the birds are attracted to the lights. So now, when the ship approaches South Georgia, the lights are all blocked. This has saved many a bird’s life.
At our nightly the rap-up in the lounge, one of our young guests (there was one child on the trip with us) played reverse Trick or Treat with us. She and her mom had brought candy and were giving them out to all the guests. Happy Halloween!
Dinner in the Chart Room
A few nights before, we had been invited to join Gianluca Culla, the trip Nat Geo photographer, who is an Italian living in Switzerland, for dinner in the chart room. But because we were at sea, and the waters were rough, and the boat was rocking, they postponed it. So tonight was our repeat night. After the daily evening recap, we made our way to the chart room, where there were two oblong tables set up with assigned seats. One table was ours with Gianluca. The other was for those that had been invited to dine with David and Doug.
We were served champagne while we chatted, standing around the charts (maps showing our progress and path), and then David led us in a toast to South Georgia. Dinner was a set menu of wonderful food, and since it was Halloween, the decorations were all orange and black. The company was delightful. One couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary. Each person had some interesting story to tell. That is Lindblad/National Geographic. The clientele is always interesting.
And as Gianluca and I looked out the window, we saw the sun setting and the sky turning pink. So, like all photographers who are never without their cameras, we each grabbed ours and ran out to photograph the setting sun.
And since it was Halloween, after dinner they showed Rocky Horror Picture Show in the lounge.