Antarctica Journal – Day Six, pt II

January 3, 2011

Yalour Islands
65°14S 64°10W/ 65.233°S 64.167°W

While the ship chugs through the channel toward our afternoon landing, I took a few minutes to skim through the cookbook I picked up at Port Lockroy, subtitled “How to Keep a Fat Explorer in Prime Condition.”  Though I’ve poured through plenty of first-hand accounts of explorers who had to eat penguin and seal in order to survive in Antarctica, there’s been nary a mention of what the local fauna tastes like (again, please don’t think I personally advocate eating these fabulous creatures — this is purely research for a character who will have no choice but to eat what’s available).

Gerad T. Cutler, the chef and author of the cookbook, got queasy just at the thought of having to filet the little guys.

I have an awful feeling inside of me that I am cooking little men who are just that little too curious and stupid.  I never got to the stage of dreaming about them chasing me around the kitchen with big knives, but I did have one pop into the kitchen once just to see what was going on.  At first I thought how nice to have your meal come to the pot in such a fresh state, but alas, I never had the heart to do it in.  Even though I have cooked many I have always left that job to those who would eat it.  Since cooking so many I have given up drink as, strange to say, I got into the habit of seeing pink Penguins instead of the usual pink Elephants, and our doctor said it might not be so good for my health.

He goes on to say that aficionados consider the flesh “really delicious.”

Obviously, I planned on a vegetarian dinner after reading that passage.

We arrived at Yalour Islands in the early afternoon, greeted by a light rain.  Our landing took place on a flat snow-covered island with various rock outcrops which serve as rookeries for Adelie Penguins.  While I love the visual markings on the Chinstraps, I would have to say the Adelies were my favorite.  They’re certainly the most agile, using their bellies to tobaggon up and down the snow banks, but more importantly, their “vocabulary” seemed to be the most complex.  I’ve lived on a farm now for 15 years and have grown used to “listening” to the sounds animals make.  While the Gentoos and the Chinstraps have maybe a dozen different chirps and caws — almost like single word sentences — the Adelies communicated back and forth in complex multi-sound phrases.

Tons of photos and videos to share here, so let’s start out with the pix – a random collection of shots as we hiked around the island:

Now for some video fun…

Firstly, here’s a view of one of the rookeries.  Take a listen to how they talk back and forth to each other:

Here’s some video of the Penguin Parents and their grey chick babes:

Cute, huh? Well, you haven’t seen anything yet…
Here’s two Adelie Tobaggon Scenes:

After a couple of hours of watching the penguins, I have to admit to growing bored.  Again, don’t get me wrong — they’re frigging adorable, but there’s just so much “cute” anyone can take at a time (Oh oh.  I’m beginning to sound jaded, right?).  But seriously folks, when you have an expansive view of the Yalour Islands, you can’t help but want to get out and see it all.  Hence the photo on the right here — a view from on top a hill overlooking the LeMaire.   When I was offered an opportunity to join others on a zodiac cruise, I jumped at the chance.

Brent (our zodiac driver — and don’t be fooled by his “job,” he has a PhD in Marine Biology) took us around the islands, going out of his way to show us some of the more UNordinary bergs floating around the channel.  A New Zealander, Brent seemed happiest when at the helm of a zodiac, flitting between bergies, casting an eye for the next unusual thing to study – be it bird or berg.  He’s supposed to present a few lectures starting tomorrow and I’m looking forward to him sharing his research.

I had thought I’d seen all there was to see in unusual icebergs by this point, but boy, was I wrong.  The blues were bluer, the shapes were crazier, and in some cases, I had a hard time believing nature had formed some of the smaller bergs — note the heart shaped berg with the penguins on top (in the photos below).  Speaking of penguins, we found quite a few hanging out on some of the bergs.  We also found some extraordinarily old ice – the larger air pockets creating an almost crystalline structure across the surface.  One of these older pieces had almost a black pall to it.  We drove close enough to take a few photos (see below).  Another piece was small enough to bring on board the zodiac (and thus become the evening’s source for ice when sipping a bit of 18 yr old Glenlivet).

After a good hour of snapping off shots and then, yes, putting the camera away just to soak it all in, we decided it was time to return to the ship for dinner.  A lone Adelie waved us fairwell.

By the time we got back on board, I have to admit to being a bit chilled from sitting in the zodiac for so long.  It couldn’t have been much less than 25F by 5pm, so I think it was just lack of circulation.  Happily, the ship provided some amazing hot dark chocolate laced with dark rum and even my toes were happily warmed.

Dinner: Leek and Spinach Strudel, Poached Pear w/candied walnuts, Cheese Tray

Pleneau Island
65?06’S, 64?04’W

After dinner, we suited back up again for one more landing.  Mind you, this is NOT an easy feat.  By the time you’re done donning your gear, you’ve got at least 3 layers on:  long johns, fleece pants and pullover, snow bibs and parka, and then a lifejacket.  All to make you nice and toasty — sometimes to the sweating point which is how you can get cold.  The fabrics used in extreme weather are designed to wick away moisture as it’s the dampness which can set off a chill.  Most of the time, they’re effective, but there’s been a few occasions where I’ve had to pull off my parka for a few minutes just to cool down.

Pleneau is located west of Booth Island at the southern end of the Lemaire Channel.   It was charted as a peninsula of Hovgaard Island by the French Antarctic Expedition, 1903–05, under Charcot, who named its northeast point for Paul Pleneau, photographer of the expedition.  Hannah wanted us to see the Gentoo penguins and elephant seals.  At this point, however, pretty much everyone else was a bit burned out on the penguin front.  Still, any excuse to get ashore is a good one. Happily, I was able to hop a ride on zodiac and tour the surrounding waters instead. (Note: The following shots also include a few sunset pix taken as we left the channel – see below the pictures for more on the subject including a video and my last thoughts on the day).

We’re leaving LaMaire Channel now and it’s the first time we’ve seen anything remotely appearing like a sunset as the ship breaks over the ice. Though I know we’ve one more day on the peninsula tomorrow, I feel as if I’m saying goodbye because tomorrow will end with our heading back through the Drake Passage and home…

Though I find myself feeling that Antarctica has become my home. There’s an honesty here – amongst the mountains and snow, the bergs nestled in the waters, the cold crisp nature of the wind. Something genuine that demands nothing less of those honored enough to visit and walk upon its shores. While great explorers have traversed the blue-white snows with mixed feelings of dread and rapture, those of us who follow do so warmed by their eternal shadows. Greatness has been here in the form of men like Shackleton, Ross, Amundsen and others, a greatness that resonates across the barren snowscapes, the craggy rocks, and clean waters-both of the sea and the ancient glacial monuments of Earth’s eternal nature.  I know I may sound redundant at this point, but truly, the impact of Antarctic on my heart and mind is intensive.

It is impossible to spend time here without finding peace and comfort within yourself – a peace derived in no small part by a knowledge of Antarctica that goes beyond humanity’s history in the region. It is the knowledge that such a place as this still exists in a world where noise has won out over signal. The trick now will be to remember this simple truth and return to the world all the better for the blessed time spent in what is truly magnificence.

11:30PM – On the M/V Polar Star’s Bow


Penguin Preview
Gentoo penguins at Port Lockrey

Day One – December 29, 2010
Ushuia, The Beagle Channel

Day Two – December 30, 2010
The Drake Passage & Its Avian Escorts

Day Three – December 31, 2010
Arctowksi Station – Icebergs, Penguins, Seals

Day Four – January 1, 2011
Aitcho & Deception Island – Chinstrap Penguins and Volcanoes

Day Five – January 2, 2011
The Antarctic Peninsula: The Errera Channel, Alimante Brown Station, Port Lockroy
(Blue Bergs & Glaciers. Penguin Squabbles. Crabeater, Weddell & Leopard Seals.)

Day Six – January 3, 2011
Part I: LeMaire Channel, Vernadsky Research Base, Wordie House
(Breaking Ice, Ozone Research and Vodka!)

Part II: Adelie Penguins, Yalour & Pleneau Islands, Sunset over LeMaire Channel

Day Seven – January 4, 2011
Part I: Humpback Whales Ahoy!

Part II: We Almost Became Leopard Seal Bait

Day Eight – January 5, 2011

Part I: The Drake Passage Home


More to come…