Monday 1 January 2018

Silver Explorer, Day 15 - Best New Year's Day ever

With thanks to Silversea for this hosted cruise
Oh wow, 2018. You’re going to be an incredible year, if New Year’s Day is anything to go by. Simply the best ever, people.
It began with the Silver Explorer sliding into Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay on the Peninsula – so, actual mainland Antarctica again, the real thing. It was an overcast morning, and changeable, but we saw some good reflections of the towering glaciers around the bay. One of them is particularly active, frequently calving and causing minor tsunamis on the beach where our Zodiacs landed – I say minor: one of them was evidently big enough to flip a fortunately empty Zodiac once - so we weren’t allowed to hang around on the beach just in case, and were sent straight up onto the snow.
I followed the trail of red flags uphill, under strict instruction not to stray, because of the chance of crevasses. When I got to the top, I could see for myself what might lie under a coating of snow: opposite was a tall glacier that was riddled with deep, blue crevasses. It was tempting to hope for a spectacular calving, but I remembered the Gentoo penguin rookery down below and tried not to. One bit did still fall from the face, though, in slow motion and with a low rumble, which was sufficiently impressive but not enough to make a wave.
The weather was very indecisive, and it actually snowed quite big flakes at one point, but then it started to clear. I spent a lot of time (the great thing about Explorer expeditions is that there is no rush at all to return to the ship) watching the penguins on their nests, stealing pebbles, hooting, preening and waddling along their highways: waist-deep (to them) trails through the snow complete with intersections. They were a bit wary about getting to close to us and sometimes lit out across the fresh snow, struggling and often resorting to scooting on their bellies.
We set off then for Cuverville Island along the Errera Channel as the sky cleared and the sun shone from an increasingly blue sky. The mountains glistened, the ripples on the water glittered, the icebergs glowed and we were blown away by how beautiful everything looked. It was all too good to miss, so we lunched at the Grill outside on Deck 6 – yummy panini for me, which I was just about to enjoy when things got even better. The captain’s announcement and a change of direction brought us alongside a pod of ORCAS!!! Regular readers (hi, Queen) will remember that I have been hunting orcas all around the world for many years, have never seen one, and have become convinced that they are avoiding me.
But here they were, a pod of at least 15, cruising along quite close to the ship. Of course I didn’t have my camera with me, and had to race upstairs for it – and then the battery gave out. But I got some proof, and was – am – thrilled finally to have made the acquaintance of these classy, clever and charismatic dolphins. And intrigued, too, that instead of being classically black and white, these were black and orange – apparently thanks to diatomous phytoplankton in the water, which stick to their skin. Anyway, it was the reason to order a celebratory Kir royale (or two).
Cuverville Island is a huge Half Dome-shaped rock sticking straight up out of the water, and some of the passengers departed on a hike that the daily newsletter, The Chronicles, seemed determined to put us off tackling (difficult, long, steep, slippery, must be fit, etc) so I channelled my feeble side and stayed down on the beach. And was so pleased I did! The sky was blue, it was sunny and warm enough to strip off several layers, and this big colony of Gentoo penguins was so busy and entertaining that I would have hated not to have the hours we did just to sit and watch them.
They were porpoising through the water, nipping in and out from the beach, sitting on rocks in the sun, literally playing on small sculpted bergs in the shallows, jumping onto them, slipping off, pushing each other off, and generally clowning around. What with that as the main entertainment, against a background of a huge variety of icebergs, all sparkling in the sun, time just whizzed by. And then even when we had to return to the ship, dwarfed by the sparkling mountains behind it, there were crab-eater seals to inspect on the way, and yet more beautiful, sculpted, transparent, blue-glowing icebergs to admire.

We thought we might have a little down-time then, but Captain Piers summoned us outside again to admire the classic beauty of the barque Europa sailing past, posing against that theatrical backdrop - such a gorgeous sight.
Finally, it was time for the evening recap and briefing in the theatre, but just as we got to (unfavourite) Danny’s bit, he passed on a message from the captain that we should all go outside straight away. So we did, and there was a big pod of humpback whales this time, bubble-net feeding. Now I’ve seen humpbacks often, but never when they’ve been working together to ball up krill and then to scoop them up in their huge mouths. That in itself was fascinating – but add on the flocks of terns over their heads, the low sun highlighting their blows, the sparkling sea, the mountains, the icebergs… Spectacular, glorious, glamorous, unforgettable. And it went on and on, the crew ushering us into their bits of deck so we could see better, and closer, and it was just the best.
So we ate dinner in our suite, efficiently and beautifully served by our butler Ivy, and drank the sparkling rosé that was waiting for us here when we first boarded the Explorer and, with interruptions to look at yet more humpbacks from our veranda, we watched March of the Penguins and considered this the absolute best New Year’s Day ever.


the queen said...

How can I resist coming back when you use every color in the dictionary to describe a place that I think of as solid white?

TravelSkite said...

Just wait till I’m able to upload the photos - then you’ll see what I mean. Antarctica is the most wonderful place and I’m so sad that today we’re sailing back north.


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