(This blog is in an unconventional format: The dates displayed are actual trip dates - not post dates.)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Down the Gullet

January 26, 2010
67°10"S, 67°38"W

The further the ship pushed into Crystal Sound, the harder the wind pushed back - and by mid morning it was becoming clear that the public liability risk of running landing operations in such weather was starting to exceed the Fram's insurance policy constraints. The bit of chop on the water really wasn't anything beyond what your average explorer could handle while fighting a bear one-handed, but there were so many old ducks and geese on-board who would get seasick in a bathtub (or forget to stop taking photos and just hang-on) that the afternoon landing at Detaille Island had to be canned. The island held a visit to the abandoned British Base W; but given that there would be other British bases to visit, and that this would be the only landing missed when there's usually an average of four - I couldn't really raise a complaint.

But as a consolation prize, the captain offered up a "rare" opportunity to instead cruise down The Gullet - a narrow channel between the eastern extremity of Adelaide Islands and Graham Land, a passage usually filled with pack ice and large bergs. It also became apparent at this time that someone on-board had let slip to the crew that it was Australia Day - and so as an afterthought, this little adventure was sold as a special gift to the ten Australians on board (two of whom were Austrians, but like that matters).

In a classic display of Antarctic weather, the wind dropped and the water flattened (perfect for an, ahem, landing) as we traveled southward through the large open expanse between land masses that funneled down to this fabled Gullet, some hour or so later. The side of this stretch were a mix of sheer glacial walls, tall jagged peaks, and mountains completely covered by undulating snow that gave them a close resemblance to giant puffs of meringue. Minke whales surfaced and dived around the boat, while a lone South Polar Skua escorted us down the channel. Rarely seen Snow Petrels glide around the bergs passing by the ship.

The Fram pulled back short of the Gullet itself, lowering a landing boat into the water for the crew to investigate the narrowest parts of the shortcut into Marguerite Bay. Some thirty minutes drew out before the small craft re-appeared around the bend; returning the report that a huge unpassable berg lay just around the bend. A public apology was give to the Australians, and well, everyone else had to just lump it. The Fram lowered its tail between its legs and settled for the long way round.

The afternoon light in Antarctica is beautiful. The suns rays are lightly filtered by thin jet-streams of cloud stretched across the sky, refracting soft oranges and yellows on the iceberg littered waters. This perfectly compliments the smooth snow covering of the landmass, and the flat still water. Loosing the afternoon on the observation deck, we watch icebergs as big as apartment blocks glide by at an arm's length. They are unaffected by the movement of the water, their shear underwater-size has them wedged tightly against the seabed. Smaller examples float by, the resident Weddell seals lift their heads to witness the commotion, before flopping back into their relaxed state.

About 8pm after a solid meal and a warm shower, we arrive back on the observation deck for the Australia Day party. Lyndall had been so excited about the prospect of spending an Australia Day with temporary ex-pats, binge drinking in the Antarctic. However, despite a good forty-five minutes of trying to kick start that party, it was just too difficult to get into the mood at a bar that was empty save for an aging German tourist who was snoring in one of the near by recliners. None of the other Australians had shown up - not even the Austrians.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Neptune's Blessing

January 26, 2010
66°33"S, 66°30"W

We'd staggered back to our cabin sometime shortly after midnight, the sun long disappeared from above the horizon, but not before its colour had seeped completely from the sky. With calm seas at the end of a long day, sleep came easily, and it was well into the morning when I awoke. Our inner cabin was all to complicit in allowing a sleep-in, completely dark at all hours save the thin line of light slipping under the door and through the cabin door's peep hole. Without an alarm set to remind you of the risen sun, you'd never otherwise know. I flipped the light on and brought up the view through the camera watching over the foredeck and ahead over the water.

A little before 10am, a crowd of people where gathering on those very same foredeck, and I arrived to assess the situation, equipped with a belly full of warm buffet breakfast. The skies were clear, and an icy breeze pushed back against the Fram as it cruised into Crystal Sound, wind-chill bringing the temperature slightly below zero.

The Sound is littered with glacial wreckage, floating haphazardly away from the approaching mountains. Each has its own special sculpture; coloured from powdery white to the richest of blue. They disappear into the distances until they're just shadows on the horizon, a silent army of ghosts watching us pass. Large flocks of cape petrels wheel and turn around the back and sides of the ship as it glides in a general direction while making multitudes of small adjustments to find a clear path.

Ominously, the centre of the deck held a small table with a large silver stock-pot sitting atop, filled almost to the brim with ice-cubes and melt-water. Before this alter was a kneeling cushion, and a long ladle sat idly in the cauldron. Maybe more ominously was the way the passengers stood in a loose circle around it, keeping a small distance clear.

A little after 10am, King Neptune arrived on the crowded foredeck, moving leisurely with his procession as the crowd pealed back to form a path to the alter - and by King Neptune, I mean a member of the crew (i.e. no stranger to donning silly costumes) wearing a dressing gown, fake beard, gum boots, and a pair of knock-off ray-bans, sporting a matching plastic trident and crown. The look is surprisingly effective. He takes position behind the stock-pot and stands silently, waiting. There is little noise but for the headwind and a lone South Polar Skua circling overhead.

At 10:30am, the Fram's horn blasts, signifying that we've crossed into the Antarctic Circle - Sixty-six Thirty-Three South; the line at which the sun does not set for a whole day on the summer solstice, and does not rise for a whole day on the winter solstice. A cheer rose up around the deck - and now Neptune would bestow his blessings. A small majority of the waiting crowd jostled to kneel before him. Everyone else, armed with a camera and too much sensibility for fun, jostled for spectating position.

It didn't take a detective to figure out what was coming, or that I would be as close to the head of that queue that a few well-placed elbows could offer. I found myself kneeling before the stock-pot, my warm clothes loosen around the back of my neck. Neptune gently pressing my head down against the table that cradled the stockpot - the intention is clear: I'm not meant to see whats coming. I can hear a ladle clanging on the side of the pot, the movement of ice and the gushing of water. The crowd breaths in and holds. And then fiery ice and water gushes down my back, catching in my shirt and jeans pockets. My back arches in response - it's possible that I've never received such a cold shock before in my life. Neptune gives my jacket a good shake to make sure that the blessing is complete and total. It is. I stand up and water and ice runs down through my jeans, and ice falls out of my shirt. The cold wind wakes me up. I step away and one of the crew hands me a shot of whiskey.

Lyndall is right behind in the queue, and quickly hands over the tourist's tools of trade. She (and everybody else) is completely unaware that as the first woman to receive the day's blessing, that she will qualify for a special double blessing. Now, let me explain something to you: Lyndall is the kind of woman you find wearing two jumpers and warming their hands by the fire on a humid, topical, mid-summer day. Thus, the first blessing almost knocks her rotten, while a second ladle of ice cold blessing almost completely incapacitates her. A compulsive sipper of any liquid in a shot glass, her whiskey is taken in an uncharacteristic single drop.

It's not long before the wind and blessing combine to make the foredeck a very uncomfortable place to be, so we soon opt to skip the remaining blessings of the few young-at-heart types on the manifest. There are few times that heated bath tiles and a warm shower would be so grandly appreciated.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The LeMaire

January 25, 2010
65°13"S, 64°00"W

The late evening began shortly before 10pm, knocking off a few cocktails on the observation deck while waiting with the rest of the passengers for the imminent start of the MV fram fashion show. That I remember almost nothing about said show speaks loudly of either the amount of cocktails consumed, or just how absolutely thrilling the show was. Since the rest of this particular evening makes up some of the strongest and most vivid memories of the whole trip, I'm going to go with the latter. A bunch of the officers and crew took turns in parading the deck in completely ridiculous outfits, to the raucus cheering and laugher of the mostly senior audience. But lets face it, we weren't on the Fram because we expected entertainment on the ship, we were there for the entertainment around the ship.

With my tendency to feel an awful empathy on behalf of people making complete fools of themselves, I was thankful that the pain passed relatively quickly as it was announced we should all get ourselves out onto the deck for our entry into the LeMaire channel. By the time we'd pulled on many layers of clothing it was nearing on 10.30pm, and the sun was making its lazy fall from the sky.

Up ahead a gap was forming between sheer rock walls - in the growing twilight, their darkened, shadowed forms accentuated the glowing hues of sunset pushing through the opening passage. The Fram sat while a second boat slowly turned and moved northward out of the channel. With every inch we moved forward, the unfolding scene was becoming impossibly better. What we were witnessing is almost unheard of in Antarctica travel; many of the crew are saying that in years of expeditions, they've never seen the LeMaire like this.

A traversal of the LeMaire channel is a standard feature of almost any cruise along the Antarctic Peninsular; formed by the narrow stretch of water running between Booth island and the mainland. Peaks on both sides climb abruptly from the ocean up to over a kilometre in height, keeping the waters protected and still in even the harshest gale. Many travellers refer to it as the Kodak-crack; the most photographed part of Antarctica - but many of those photos show fog, or snow or blizzard. We had the superb luck to be sailing into a perfectly clear sunset.

Almirante Brown

January 25, 2010
64°89"S, 62°87"W

As we sat down to lunch, the Fram pulled southward from Cuverville Island and deeper into the Errera Channel, wedged between Ronge Island and the Antarctic mainland. It was a careful journey, as the ship maneuvered through the tight spaces between monoliths of ice randomly stranded throughout the channel, and squeezed between rock walls that seemed to close in tightly from the sides.

I was standing above deck when the channel opened up into a placid Andvord Bay, an incredible sight that I'm sure will always remain with me. I could swear that we floated on a unimaginably large crater lake, for the way that every horizon was lined with snow capped peaks, and that no visible escape to the open ocean stood out along the seemingly continuous wall of rock, ice and snow. It was apparent as soon as the viewfinder enclosed my vision: an 18mm exposure could never capture the feeling of the crisp air, the gentle passing breeze, the sound of bow planing through smooth crystal surface, and the encompassing weight of scenery as it flooded into to every last inch of my periphery. I simply stopped trying, and let the moment happen.

With the sound of insignificant blocks of ice resonating from their impact with the hull, the Fram cut its way toward the northern entrance to Paradise Harbour. The expectation was high, as the daily itinerary delivered that morning informed us that "It's almost impossible to write about Paradise Harbour without referring to it as the 'aptly named' Paradise Harbour.". Not far inside the harbour, a cluster of black building appeared on the port side, making up what can only be described as one of the most scenic offices in the world. Gonzlez Videla Base (named after the Chilean president who became the first head of state of any nation to visit Antarcia) is supposedly inactive if you believe Wikipedia, but the building looked extremely well maintained, and on this day a few people even waved to us from the shore. Its almost hard to believe that two Englishmen wintered in the spot in the 1920's with only a discarded whaling boat for shelter.

On the southern side of the harbour, however, sits Almirante Brown - an Argentinian base that's occasionally used in summer, but on this particular year was sitting dormant but for the occasional flock of sightseers. It was partially burnt down in the mid eighties by an Argentinian who wasn't staying here for winter no matter what anyone else said.

Having been the first group to set footfall on this morning's landing, that positioned us squarely last to leave the boat this afternoon. It made me slightly nervous, as that left hours for the weather to turn ugly and deny our group its turn on the ground. This landing was irrationally important to me, as it would be the only chance I'd have to stand on the Antarctic mainland. Realistically, its not like that would mean I hadn't stood on the Antarctic continent, because deep down inside, all these islands we've been on are part of that continent. But in my heart, it just wouldn't be the same if I didn't stand on a piece of land that was contiguously above water all the way to Amundsen/Scott station.

But luck being with us, it was still and sunny at 6pm when I stepped onto the dock. It was hard not to feel a sense of abandonment as you passed between the locked and boarded buildings of the base. Supplies in crates and drums lay stacked on raised platforms, partial collapses in their careful arrangement spoke of only occasional visits by official parties. Gentoos nested under and around the site's structures, noisily arguing about personal space.

Bright orange cones marked the path and bounds of all our visits, set out by the expedition team during setup. Today however, the trail along the front of the peninsula was easily visible, for the hundred of feet that had already reduced it to a muddy brown stain through the smooth white covering of snow. I took a moment to examine a strange pattern of melting either side of the track - occasionally, the snow was broken by a perfectly formed vertical melted cylinder through a foot of snow, with a single small pebble lying at the bottom, dead center. It felt strangely unnatural - but it was nothing more sinister than pebbled thrown up onto the snow as people traversed the path. Lying atop the snow, the pebble's darker colour would absorb heat and then melt snow around it all the way back down to the rock.
At the end of the peninsula, the path turned upwards for a moderately steep climb up to the small peak that overlooked the base, the difficulty in its ascent lying in the slipperiness of the terrain. A few feet to the left started into a gentle slope that quickly accelerated into a sheer drop over to a small bay wedged between the peninsula and the soaring peaks that formed the eastern wall of the harbour. Clambering over a few lichen covered ledges found us on top of our summit.

I wouldn't have described the location as a great height, but it greatly amplified the scenery in a way that only elevation (and a seat on the edge of a long fall) can. The view across the harbour (through the clearest air left in this world) was magnificent, sweeping from the eastern peaks, across Anvord Bay, LeMaire and Bryde islands, and the terminus of the Gerlache Strait. Parked out there in the bay, the Fram appeared small. This was a moment of quiet reflection and deep breaths. A moment to be soaked up.

The way back down was far quicker and easier: a channel had been cut through the snow to make a slide, and each waiting for their turn, the big blue penguins would seat themselves and push off. I got myself ready at the top, positioned my camera ready in and edged out into the slope, finger holding down the shutter release. A surface now well slicked by refrozen melt, I had to dig my heals into to avoid letting the situation slip away from me, so to speak.

I arrived back at the dock to find a bit of a queue - the landing boats were doing a long cruise back to the boat, and it'd be a little while before we leave the base - so I took the opportunity to get to know the local penguins a bit better. This small colony was entirely made up of Gentoo, most busy with some sizable chicks. It was in this short moment that I saw the best penguin fighting that I would see for the entire trip.

Being on the last few landing boats heading back to the Fram, there wasn't a lot of choice in how they were loaded - and with only seven spaces per boat to carry seven couple, one couple had to draw the short straw. That was us. Lyndall waved to me a bit unsure as her boat took her from the dock. It would only be 15 or so minutes, but it was just a shame our first longer cruise in the landing boats was apart.

Skimming over the water so close to sea level is a completely different perspective to standing on the deck of a ship; it feels much more real.  The sound of the bow cutting the water, the shudder as it hits larger blocks of ice. Fingers breaking the flat icy surface, leaving a wake of their own. There's also an opportunity for reflection that you just don't have with elevation. This close to the water, you could well be floating across a mirror. I'm sitting up at the nose of the boat, working the shutter release on the better half of my memory.

Pulling back the throttle on approach to a floating ice platform, a few Weddell seals look up and cautiously eye the boat. Like penguins, you can smell the Weddells before you see them; or more to the point you can smell the trail of chum that marks their path from the edge of the berg to where its now lounging in the evening light. The bigger seal drops his head, comfortable we're not close enough to spoil his mood. You have to have respect for the Weddells , they're only one of two animals that stay here for winter, a time they spend wholly by chewing ice to keep an opening between the water and the air.

They care less as the boat picks up speed and takes the paparazzi away. A few minke whales show us the way back to the Fram, before disappearing into the depths. It must have been their dinner time, too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cuverville Island

January 25, 2010
64°41"S, 62°38"W

Being on a boat these last few days is a lot like being drunk. You can't walk straight to save yourself, you run into walls and accumulate bruises. You collapse into bed, and it does its best to eject you from it as the world rolls. You feel a bit ill. The world goes dark.

Waking up, everything is still again. Your mouth is dry and you feel a bit hungover - maybe a bit of a cough. Thats ship's air conditioning for you. I turned on our LCD window and watched the ship cut through the middle of the Gerlache strait in the merky twilight. The sun no doubt has been up for hours, but twilight lasts for much of the day (and night) here.

Casually passing icebergs have groups of Gentoo penguins onboard - other Gentoo penguins are circling in the water looking for a good wave to help launch them onto the deck. Many try. Some get a face full of ice, and slip back into the water. Clusters of gentoos speed just below the surface, leaving a trail of turbulence in the water. Occasionally they launch from the water in a smooth arch then ends with a perfect dive back below. I watch the scene play out between mouthfuls of bacon and toast.

In a little over a hour, we're on the first landing boat making an assault on Cuverville Island. The setting is magnificent - we're surrounded by glaciated mountains and sapphire blue icebergs. And the pleasent aroma of Gentoo Penguins. As, in a previous briefing, we'd been told of gentoos: First you smell the Gentoo, then you hear the Gentoo, then you see the Gentoo. As it turns out this order is somewhat jumbled, but this in fact correctly lists the most important traits of the Gentoo, from most offensive to least offensive.

The small, beached-whale shaped island has, in stark comparison to the islands around us, very little snow and no glaciation. In fact it's as green as things get here, with large stretches of rockface covered in lichens and moss. There's two directions we can go along the beach on Cuverville - Lyndall lays down the choice: to the left theres more scenic mountains, to the right, theres more colour. Photographer's instinct answers 'colour'. We decide to do only one dirction rather than squeeze both into an hour. Its not like we won't see plenty of Gentoos, they're everywhere.

Back in Penguin 101 (while we were busy crossing the Drake), the Ornathologist strongly suggested taking time during one landing to find a quiet place to sit and become invisible to the penguins - so I found myself crouched down in between two rookeries playing statue. In every direction (and I'm talking about less than a 10m radius here), I'm surrounded by Gentoo mothers and chicks, and Gentoos waddling within arms reach on their way to the water. That they so fearlessly do this speaks largely of an animal at has no land-based preditors - I am something to be curiously watched or inspected, but not feared.

One Gentoo is inspecting pebbles in the rockheap next to me, trying to find the perfect fit for her front porch. Briefly, she inquisitively pecks at the Ornathologist's gloves, which have been placed on a rock within reach, and decides they're not much use for her purpose. Attention returning to her quarry, she carefully takes a prize selection in her beak and waddles a few meters up a short slope, carefully placing it into a jigsaw of stones and excrement, miticulously shaped like an egg cup the size of a penguin's rump. Quickly she runs back to the source, no doubt worried some other penguin might be quick to take her next pick. Penguins are extremely protective of their stones - when you hear an outburst of squawking, odds are that's what the arguement is about. It's suprising how much time can pass like this - or how you might sit in a pile of processed krill and not even realise it (this would go on to fill our cabin with the aroma of penguin - even after it was sprayed with a high-pressure hose full of disinfectant)

"Quick, quick! Come see this!", my vigil is suddenly broken by the Ornathologist, who's been snapping shots a few metres away. I move over quickly and follow his ridiculously sized camera lens towards its focal point: two Gentoos fornicating nearby. Its pretty late in the season to be dancing this tango - looking around, most chicks in this rookery are a fair size already, and given its the end of January, that doesn't give this couple a lot of time to gestate, hatch and fatten their chicks for their winter escape from the continent. Still, everyone loves rude animal photos, so I snap a few for prosterity.

The long hand has been busy chasing the little hand, and I find its time to head back to the landing boat. Having been in the first landing group, there's another few hours to kill before the Fram moves on - and even though its early in the day, its not so early that the bar isn't serving up cocktails. The "fram tropical" is my poison, with a blend of rum, malibu, pineapple juice, fruit cocktail & coconut cream - while Lyndall likes the way they mix up a cosmo. These quickly become the meaning of my nod to the bartender, and at the bargain price of "can i see your ship card?". I spend the morning putting away a few pages of a book, a few cocktails - and deal with the horrible view.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Deception Island

January 24, 2010
62°58"S, 60°39"W

After putting away a good hot shower, meal and a few cocktails, the boat had left behind the relative calm of the south shetland islands, headed through the swell for a late evening arrival at anotheqr member of the South Shetland group, Decepetion Island.

Deception island is the flooded remains of a volanic caldera, some twelve kilometers in diameter. Over the last century or so its safe harbour, guarded from weather and ice floe by its walls, have been home to whaling, scientific and military stations. Everybody loves it so much that several countries have setup their beach houses there in the hope they'll be able to call it their own. Its most recent eruption was less than fifty years ago.

For the lucky traveller, entrance into the bay is permitted through a narrow gap known as Neptune's Bellows. It was a few short kilometers from here the Fram cut back its engines about 11pm that night. For a ship of its size, the Bellows has another suprise lying just under the surface of the channel - a reef known as Ravn Rock.

If there was one thing our crew had nailed down, it was expectation management. I'ts an incredibly important skill when you have a boatload of clients of the age and background that expect perfect weather to be part of the package they've been sold. Long before we arrived at the island it was made abundantly clear that we may only be viewing it from a safe distance. The clouds pulled tight around the horizon and a drape of golden blooms hung in the sky between them and the disappearing expanse of ocean. The sky above the cloud bank took on a gradient of twilight. Hovering a few kilometers from the entrance to the caldera we waited patiently for the captains word.

But with an unfavourable swell, this day we'd have to be content with a historical narrative, and a few photos of a beautiful sunset.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to Antarctica

January 24, 2010
62°36″S, 59°55″W

There was something subtly different about the deck. After a day and a half of moving around like it were a bull at a rodeo, it was now a simple matter of choosing a direction to walk and going - no more of that brownian motion stuff. After reaching the front of the top deck in record time, I could see a huge mass of cloud was welling up over the peaks of Livingstone island in front of us, spilling down towards our first landing site - Half Moon island. I was nervous like a child who's anticipated day at the park was about to be disrupted by rain. As the island drew closer over the next thirty minutes, the sky mercifully cleared.

Half Moon Island is a relatively flat platform of rock and shale pebble cradled in the arms of the huge, glacier covered Livingstone. On the eastern side of the island some small craggy hills sit above the remaining snow, but they are so vastly overshadowed by the mountains of Livingstone behind them that they look completely insignificant. Sweeping around to the west, an Argintine base, with its characteristic red buildings and flag-coloured tin roofs, stands on one of the flatter parts of the island.

I remember the ship Historian taking my arm in a sailor's grip as I stepped down from the landing boat, he said to me: "Welcome to Antarctica". I took a few careful steps up a litterheap of stones and pebbles and stopped. I'd like to say I took a deep breath of the pristine, untainted air, but instead there was a hint of fish on the nose. I looked over to the right, and standing not too far away, a similar distance from the shore was a solitary Chinstrap Penguin - like me, contemplating the walk up to the higher part of the island.

Looking the other direction a few more chinstraps were waddling from stone to stone, occasionally stopping to measure up a hop to the next. They moved up and around a wrecked whaler's boat lying above the tideline - a relic of late 19th / early 20th century, before the invention of the harpoon. Following the lead I moved up the incline in a somewhat less waddle-like gait.

I say less waddle-like, because I'd taken a risk and chosen not to dress like the Michelin Man - a decision that made me feel a little less like I'd just gotten off a boat full of tourists. Sometimes the thought of being in Antarctica can work a sense of stupidity into your thinking when it comes to temperature - and it was, after-all, a warm 5 degrees. I remembered taunting a colleague who was travelling to Chicago at the same time of year, and smiled. I was wearing a set of themals under my thin water-proof pants, two thin layers of Merino Fiber on top, gloves & beanie, and finally my ship-issue wind & waterproof blue jacket. This was, at times, overkill.

At the top of my ascent, I stopped at the foot of the first penguin rookery. It was a red-coloured craggy rock jutting up from the surrounding snow and pebble, covered in fat, roosting Chinstrap Penguins. You might initially think the deep redness comes from the iron content of the rock, but on closer inspection it is in fact piles of penguin faeces that have built up in these spots in small incremental squirts over the passing millenia. And it stinks. But even such smell is overcome by the amazing sight of these fat flightless birds tending their chicks and fighting over personal space.

Staying a careful distance behind a penguin who was running along a penguin highway (and was occasionally stopping to curiously eye the huge blue penguin following) I made my way around the island, and up a rocky passage between two crags. Convoys of Chinstraps made their way through the narrow pass, bound for their own special piece of shit-covered rock. 
One of the key rules here is that you always give way to penguins. With several thousand constantly re-gifting belly-loads of krill into the demanding mouths of the youngsters, as you might imagine, there was a bit of a traffic jam. And those that walk up from the water aren't fast either. They're carrying a good few kilos of seafood buffet, which is a mighty proportion of their normal bodywieght. Standing fifty or so centimetres tall, they have the perfect fat-man run, complete with stop-suddenly-to-catch-some-breath. Its not unusual to see a penguin sleeping halfway up the climb.

I reached the other side and found myself sitting on a large rock - high enough to be out of reach for a penguin, and thus a distinctly undecorated seat. It was perched at the edge of a long slope of snow, covered with the tiny imprints of penguin feet. Take the time to examine the colour of the slope - yes, that's right, snow is not that colour. A lot of what you can see was, until recently, fish. As it is so easy to do here, I lost track of time. Chinstraps came in numbers up the slope, paying little attention to me silently watching from my rock only meters away.

A short walk along the beach on the far side of the island, and a climb up some jaggered rocks delivered me right to the heart of a large penguin rookery with three-hundred and sixty degree views of the island. Within meters in every direction I was surrounded by Chinstrap penguins in their hundreds, most with two chicks nestled right at their feet, some sleeping, some fighting with their sibilings for a share of the fish chowder. This is, after all, what these penguins are here to do. The food is so abundant in these waters that it is a perfect place to provide these fat, hapless furballs the truckloads of food they require to stay alive. It's still early in the season, and these chicks are still extremely small and immobile. In amongst the rabble a single maccaroni penguin stood silently and majestically, far from home, like it was in a bar full of strangers and their noisy children.

I looked at my watch, and turned for what would soon become an all too familiar run back to the landing site.