When you're a child, life is filled with a palpable excitement at even the smallest things. Those that know me well will be surprised that this is a concept I'm familiar with. However, even I experienced it until deep cynicism and fierce objectivism took hold at the age 6. I'm happy to report, that the days leading up to our trip to Antarctica were filled with this excitement. So excited, that we turned up at the briefing for the cruise two hours early.
The briefing was anticlimactic, and frankly, worthless. We did, however, learn that at 4:00 PM the following day we would be boarding. Jordan reigned me in until about 3:15 when I told her that I was simply going to leave without her if she didn't come along.
We boarded the ship with everyone else and waited in line to get our room keys, get our ship IDs, our pictures taken, and hand over our passports. We immediately proceeded to our room to unpack. What wonders it held, they provide soap, shampoo, towels, more hangers than we have clothes for, and wonderful linens. At this point, we realized just how far our standards had eroded. We had the first of many enormous dinners and set off into the great beyond. We had one full day at sea before we would arrive at the Falklands.
The day at sea was largely filled with mandatory meetings about landing protocols (zodiac, wet landings) and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operator (IAATO) guidelines. These explained the measures that we were to take to ensure that we weren't transporting seeds or bacteria between landings as well as interaction with wildlife. The landing briefing also explaing how to get in and out of the zodiac and what exactly a wet landing is. All meals for the day were enormous and of excellent quality (this trend continues and [SPOILER] both Jordan and I were quite bloated by the end of the trip).
Our first day on The Falklands was set to visit two of the more than 700 smaller islands that surround the two larger islands. At Carcass Island we were set to see our first penguins, an array of birdlife, and the opportunity to climb a small hill to get a nice view of the island. This island in particular is a bit special because it is the only one where rats have not been introduced. This means that there are an abundance of birds and the endemic Tussock grass is flourishing. We completed our first landing without issue and set off for our first look at penguins.
There were two medium sized Gentoo penguin rookeries near our landing site. Jordan and I spent most of our time around these, just sitting and observing the penguins. I was lucky enough to sit in the perfect spot and penguins frequently came very close to me on their way to and from the ocean. Penguins are very curious in general and if you just sit on the ground quietly, they're likely to come inspect you.
After spending the majority of our time with the penguins, we wound our way through the Tussock (it grows to be quite tall) navigating around the burrows of Magellanic penguins. We glimpsed a couple amongst the Tussock, and made it back to the landing to attempt the aforementioned climb. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete our assent as it was time to return to the ship. Not wanting to be those people, we returned as instructed, but not without some pictures that had excellent views.
We had lunch while the ship repositioned to Saunder's Island, specifically the area called The Neck. The Neck is noted for the density of wildlife, including nesting Albatross, Rockhopper penguins, huge colonies of Gentoo penguins, and a handful of King penguins. Unfortunately, during our repositioning, the weather turned quite foul. By the time we'd landed, it was raining heavily. Despite the mud and rain we made our landing and up the rather steep hill to the Albatross and Rockhopper penguins.
On our way we saw a lone King penguin on the lush green backdrop of the Falklands. Additionally, we saw two King chicks braving the weather, standing in a whale skeleton. King chick look like giant brown fur balls. They differ so much from their adult plumage, that upon discovery they were thought to be a separate species. After snapping couple pictures we continue onwards.
It was likely (and turned out to be reality) that this would be our only chance to see Rockhopper penguins. The Falklands house the largest Rockhopper colonies in the world, but they aren't terribly prevalent elsewhere. To me, the Rockhoppers look constantly angry, their eyes and eyebrows are very distinctive and given the a seemingly constant scowl. Thousands of them were precariously perched on a steep rocky outcrop. True to their name, they spend most of their time on land hopping from rock to rock, it is impossible to not find this to be ridiculously cute.
We returned to our cabins, our gear completely soaked, but extraordinarily pleased with our first day.
Nuts and Bolts
- The ship takes your passports, but you will get stamps from both the Falklands and South Georgia Island. We did NOT get stamps from Antarctica, however perhaps you would if you landed at an inhabited base. The ship takes care of all of this, we never saw our passports until just before disembarkation.
- Make sure you have waterproof/windproof pants. They were absolutely essential for almost the entire trip. Similarly, you'll want windproof gloves. You could take the stylish route of a normal pair of gloves with rubber kitchen gloves over the top as well. All of this can be rented in Ushuaia.
- Bring some ziploc bags for the stuff in your bag or, better still, an entirely waterproof bag. These are great for the landing and help keep expensive cameras, memory cards, and spare batteries from being destroyed.