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

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.

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