Antarctica, Day 9: Chinstrap Penguins and a Self-Made Sled


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One thing about being on a ship in close quarters with a hundred and fifty people is that a virus or two is going to make its way on board and is going to make the rounds. By Day 9 my cold was in full swing and I couldn’t go 30 seconds without a tissue to the face. So I wasn’t in much of a mood to be up and at ’em at the crack of dawn and ready for breakfast.

I did make it out of bed with enough time to put on all my layers, but would soon experience one of the great Antarctic mysteries of all time. The night before, I had pulled out a few things that I knew I’d be wearing – base layers and a couple of fleeces that I had pretty much relied on every time we went outside. My purple Patagonia Capilene 4 hoody, possibly the warmest, coziest, most comfortable piece of clothing I’ve ever owned, was there one minute, and the next it was gone. I looked through my other clothes, under the covers, in the closet, behind the very few pieces of furniture we had in our cabin.

I almost started to panic – not because it was gone, but because I hadn’t left the cabin between having it and not having it, and the mystery of where it could be was absolutely doing my head in. Kate was nice enough to lend me one of her base layers, which I took reluctantly, convinced that my purple hoody HAD to be in that cabin SOMEWHERE. It was nowhere to be found.

As we started reaching the end of our adventure and moved north along the Antarctic Peninsula we saw fewer and fewer icebergs, but in return were greeted by larger colonies of penguins. We took our usual zodiac trip to a landing spot and proceeded to hike up what ended up being a pretty steep hill, although it didn’t seem that way when we started on our hike. Maybe it was the effects of my cold.

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About halfway up we stopped off to visit a rookery of noisy chinstrap penguins. While one squawking penguin is loud enough, 20 or 30 of them shouting at each other is pure madness. Feeling pretty miserable at that point, I had a bit of a lie-down and observed them from a horizontal position while resting. Dick, one of our expedition leaders, asked if I’d like a picture of myself with the chinstraps in the background and I initially declined, thinking my stuffed up sinuses and red nose probably weren’t doing wonders for my photogeneity. Then I figured three quarters of my face was covered anyway, and I could always delete it if I looked in any way how I felt.

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Any time one or two started making a fuss, they would all join in.

Despite my sniffles, I continued up the hill to join in on another sledding session already under way with some of my fellow travelers. I stopped atop a perch overlooking yet another spectacular viewpoint, this time of Orne Harbour, and waited my turn for Chad to push us down the hill.

Mountain CONQUERED!

Mountain CONQUERED!

Getting ready to sled

Getting ready to sled

I had observed the others in their sledding and noticed that the red skinsuits were slowing them down, so I removed mine and slid down on my shell. It made quite the difference – between some good, slick clothing and a heavy push from Chad, I actually got quite a bit of speed.

Once I returned to the ship I went straight to the cabin to take a few layers off. Kate was already there trying to nap, but was rudely jolted from her slumber by the sound of my voice, shouting “MY HOODY!!!!”. It was folded up neatly, lying on my now-made bed. I still have absolutely no idea how I could possibly turn a place inside out and not find it, yet the housekeeping staff managed to locate it without even knowing it needed finding. It’s a mystery that will always rack my brain.

In the afternoon I was faced with a tough decision: zodiac cruise or kayak? Our last excursion of the day was in a place called Wilhelmina Bay, often dubbed Whale-mina Bay due to the abundance of whale sightings. My sniffles were leaving me feeling like I should take the less active route and jump in one of the zodiacs for an easy-going cruise, while the FOMO (fear of missing out) side of me figured whale spottings are a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and I should be in a kayak, closer to the water and without a noisy engine to have a chance of getting closer views. Turns out I was wrong.

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It was a beautiful day for a paddle, but slightly marred by the fact that the staff hadn’t brought enough single kayaks along, so I was left sharing a double. Not that I normally would have minded, but I felt bad that my kayak buddy Hillary had to listen to me sniffle, sneeze and moan the entire time. I also soon discovered how much I like being in control of where I paddle and how fast. Before long, we spotted a humpback whale off in the distance and excitedly paddled towards it, but to no avail. It turns out whales swim faster than kayakers paddle. Who would’ve thought. Not bad though, I mused to myself. Seeing a whale, if even just from a distance, was an amazing sight.

At least, that was my thought process until I returned to the ship for dinner. The entire place was abuzz and I sat listening to fellow passenger Andrea recount how one of the zodiacs turned off its engine and waited a few minutes to then be rewarded by a humpback whale swimming right up to within arm’s reach of the boat. Everyone on it stood, sat and kneeled practically holding their breath. Some held cameras under the surface of the water, getting close-ups of the giant creature, while others snapped photo after photo of its back, partly rising out of the water. After it was all over, Andrea reported, everyone in the zodiac cheered jubilantly, hugging and high-fiving. One of the staff members, a full grown man with 20 or 30 trips to Antarctica under his belt, slumped to the floor of the boat and began wiping away tears. Suddenly my distant sighting didn’t seem so amazing.

Nonetheless, despite a terrible cold, mere distant whale sighting and the mystery of the disappearing and reappearing hoody, it was a very memorable day. Not to mention, I got faster speed down an Antarctic hill than any of my fellow passengers. And what would a great Antarctic day be without yet another spectacular Antarctic sunset?

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Facts about Day 9:
Latitude: 64°43.0’S, longitude: 62°35.8’W
Sunrise: 4:11 a.m., sunset: 10:35 p.m.
Air/water temperature: +1°C/34°F, +0.3°C/32°F
Wildlife spotted: penguins (Gentoo, chinstrap); petrels (Southern Giant, Southern Fulmar, Cape (Pintado)); Wilson’s storm petrels; Antarctic shags; skuas (Brown, South Polar); kelp gulls; Antarctic terns; snowy sheathbills; whales (humpback, Antarctic Minke, Killer (Orca) Type B); seals (Weddell, Leopard, Southern Elephant, Antarctic fur)

Categories: AntarcticaTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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