A few more sights from SGI.
Here's a few more from South Georgia Island.
Fur seal. Right Whale Bay.
A sleeping Elephant Seal.
This most accurately summarizes South Georgia Island for me. I remember babbling to anyone who would listen on the way back to the boat that I didn't care if we turned around and went home because I'd seen the most beautiful thing I could imagine. Day 1 on the island. Bold statement here. Hang tight. Plenty of stuff to see, Glenn.
This is Shag Rocks. Although not really that large (nor inhabitable) as islands go, it is a significant land mass due to it's remoteness and likely it's usefulness as a means of navigational reference. You can find it on some maps.
I thought I'd seen it all on day one, so it was quite a surprise to me that Drygalski Fjord could be so immense and overwhelmingly beautiful... especially since we didn't even plan to go there. We only went so that we could take cover from strong winds that interrupted our afternoon. I can't remember if they were 70mph +, but that's what I'm going to go with. As far as happy accidents go, I couldn't have been more excited that we were forced to take refuge here. Twist my arm, show me beauty.
These are our friends who didn't go into the fjord for cover. That's confusing to me. More from Drygalski Fjord in a later post.
A King Penguin chick.
King Penguins marauding about at Right Whale Bay, our first landing on South Georgia Island. I was so excited here that I couldn't even care that I was literally sitting right on top of dead animals to take in this view.
A baby fur seal.
Fur seals, while not as intimidating as the giant Elephant Seal beachmasters, are also very territorial. They often scuffle, and sometimes the outcome isn't pretty.
A King Penguin colony on South Georgia Island (Right Whale Bay).
There's a trick to all this wildlife viewing. If you approach these South Georgian creatures, they are not interested. When you have hours to spend in a remote location, there's really no rush. I learned pretty quickly that if you just sit down and relax, they will come to you. When the encounter is on their terms, they become curious. On South Georgia Island it is inevitable that you will be sitting on some charming combination of penguin feces and carcasses... but you return to the boat and shower with your pants on to wash it all off... or at least that's what I did.
On one such day, while laying flat on my stomach to check out a group of King penguins, I was approached by a skua - the dirty scavenger bird of the Southern Ocean. I didn't actually see it until it was right in front of me. At first I thought I was having some sort of incredible wildlife encounter. Then it got really close. So close that it began pecking at my camera lens. It must have thought I was a dead animal, for I'd been laying still for some time. If I wasn't holding a camera, would it be attempting to steal my eyes? Then it grabbed the skin between my thumb and my pointer finger on my left hand in its beak and began to tug. That's where I drew the line. I told it I was going to pluck its feathers and make it watch One Direction performing on SNL on April 7, 2012 and it flew away with it's life.
Are you watching Frozen Planet? South Georgia Island (SGI) has been an oft covered location in this program. Seeing a cliff on this show and knowing I stood in that exact location has brought back some excellent memories... and reminded me that I have a lot of posting to do.
One morning Graham woke us up at around 5:30am to make an early landing at Gold Harbor on SGI. Graham, our expedition leader, has a travel adventure resume that is an outrageous list of "firsts" and "only man to ever's." If he says Gold Harbor is worth getting up early to see, you don't ask questions. You get up early and prepare to have your mind blown.
Seals flip sand onto their backs to keep cool in the sun.
A King penguin chick molting out of it's furry coat and into it's adult tuxedo.
Kings. Staring at each other. For hours. I get it. This is a nice place to stare at stuff.
Elephant seals battling for control of a harem. A dominant elephant seal will control a group of up to 15 females and is known as the "beach master." My ocean home for 18 days in the background.
South Georgia Island was the highlight of my trip for a few different reasons. The stunning scenic beauty. The accessibility and sheer volume of wildlife. The historical significance with regards to Southern Ocean exploration. The remoteness. And most importantly perhaps the happenstance nature by which I was able to get there. I flew 23 hours with five layovers from Mexico and spent 15 hours on a bus to get to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. It was there that I'd read I could potentially find a discounted boat ride to Antarctica. I picked up a hitchhiker when I was living in Bariloche who used to live there. Even in our brief minutes in the car, the topic came up, and she told me it could be done.
I arrived in Ushuaia on a Tuesday night at 8pm with nowhere to sleep, which wasn't uncommon during my time in South America. I found something for about $12 a night (the best hostel I've ever stayed in). A few flyers hung on the wall as I waited to check in. "50% discount to Antarctica!" I inquired. They told me to chat with the hostel owner in the morning. The next morning I met Alicia Petit, a sweet woman from Argentina who spent most of her life in Teaneck, NJ. She'd been called by the hostel owner to come in and explain to me what options were available. She is an agent of sorts and has a handle on the vacancies of all boats leaving the Ushuaia harbor. She asked me what I was looking for. My budget. My timing. Nothing really mattered to me as much as three words I'd seen on one of the flyers: South Georgia Island. I'd read about it. I saw a photo in a magazine once, and I couldn't believe it was real. You think about the fact that things like this are out there in the world. Then you think about how you'd like to see them some day. There's nothing quite like the realization that it's within your reach. And by "within your reach," I mean 5 days away by sea, in the roughest, most dangerous waters the Earth has to offer.
When I said, "I'm particularly interested in the trip that also goes to South Georgia Island," Alicia's eyes lit up. If this were a movie, we'd be closing in on her face, the music would become intense, and she'd tell me that sacred scrolls were buried there and guarded by The Kraken or something. At least her face was playing the part. She said it was her favorite place in the world. Oddly, for years, I'd speculated that it could one day be mine. Again, she asked for my comfort level with the price of the trip, so I told her it was my 30th birthday present to myself. We'd be returning just two days before December 2nd. She ran off to confirm that the boat was still looking to add a last minute passenger when it would depart in just three days.
I waited for about an hour for her to call back, perusing through magazines and books in the common area of the hostel. Mostly I tried to convince myself that if I couldn't fit on the boat that I'd be ok with it. Which wasn't true. I'd traveled from far away to try to make this work. Really far. If it mattered that much to me, why didn't I just book it a year or more in advance like everyone else? Well, the discount awarded to those with an open schedule for one. Secondly, the adventure. For not knowing and instead relying on hope and chance. For the overwhelming feeling of happiness when it works out and you're actually there. For the story. And ultimately for knowing that I took a bag of sour rotten neglected fucking lemons and I made it into the most delicious batch of lemonade I could imagine. You don't have to drink it, but I did.
The phone rang. "Happy Birthday! You're going to Antarctica!"
And South Georgia Island.
Grytviken Whaling Station, South Georgia Island
King Penguins - Gold Harbor, South Georgia Island
contemplating an iceberg. warm on the ship.
a "beach master" displaying dominance over his harem - Gold Harbor, South Georgia Island
baby elephant seal - Grytviken, South Georgia
sunset over South Georgia Island after leaving Drygalski Fjord
Macaroni penguin crying out (Cooper Island, South Georgia Island)