Saturday, December 30, 2017

Silver Explorer, Day 13 - Seven continents, tick

With thanks to Silversea for this hosted cruise
Name-dropping: there's always a degree of one-upmanship when you're in the company of other travellers. Sometimes it's subtle, sometimes blatant, but you're never for long in ignorance of the other places they've been. Of course it can be hard to avoid when you're a bunch of strangers parked around a dining table trying to find common ground, and normally I find it more amusing than irritating (apart from that teeth-gritting skite on the Intrepid trip who defined the latter extreme). I'm always aware of how many places i haven't (yet) been, which is a bit shameful for an even incognito travel writer, so I let the others get on with it. But tonight? Tonight I boasted about scoring my perfect seven. Continents, that is: Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Africa and now, finally, Antarctica. 

I set foot on it this morning at Brown Bluff, an extinct volcano on the tip of the Peninsula where a snow-streaked bare rocky cliff rises up over 700m. Some people did a bit of a climb up onto the glacier, but I stayed at sea level, poking around on the pebbly beach ogling the Adélie penguins who have a 20,000-strong rookery there. Two hours passed effortlessly - well, there was some effort, but it was all to do with the preparatory dressing in five layers on my top half and three on the bottom, and then doing impossible things like bending my arms. It was minus 1.6 degrees outside today, and just a touch chilly.

The penguins didn't seem bothered, busy nesting, sitting on fluffy grey chicks, canoodling, squabbling, hooting and screeching, and rather sweetly collecting pebbles as a present for the nesting partner. Every so often there was a literal March of the Penguins, as they filed along the beach to cluster together beside the water until one of them was brave enough to leap in, followed by all the rest. Apparently there are leopard seals here for them to contend with, so there's safety in numbers.

Besides all the penguin activity, there were beautiful icebergs to admire: blue, white, transparent, sculpted and hung with icicles, small, big and gigantic. They make a constant popping noise as air bubbles break: it's very distinctive.

Our afternoon expedition was along the coast a bit at Hope Bay - aka Esperanza, as Argentina has a base here with a permanent population which includes children, astonishingly. Here we did a Zodiac cruise around the bay, getting a closer look at some lovely bergs and failing to resist the urge to take yet more penguin photos. They're so cute, and move so fast in the water, that the perfect shot is always tantalisingly tricky yet possible.

Finally there was dinner, with the Persian/US couple again, and the young SAFAs who now live in Sydney - tonight's conversation included a very old joke, a car high-jacking, Adelaide and Hurricane Irma; while the Explorer sailed past a huge variety of spectacular icebergs back up to the tip of the Peninsula and headed down the other side.

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