On the 12th of February we had arrived. We arrived at night when I was asleep. In the morning I had my first view of a piece of Antarctica, Isla Barrientos, part of the Aitcho Islands.
It was a strange feeling, to finally have arrived, the ship not moving, a stable deck and no welcome comittee. But, we finally could take a shower without running the risk of sliding through the cabin.
The days before we had gotten instructions on rules and regulations, like disinfecting your boots on leaving and returning to the ship, where you are allowed to walk and where not and the distances to keep when encountering animals.
We disinfected our boots and entered the zodiac to make our first landing.
The first thing you notice about penguins is that you smell them before you see them.
A penguin colony has a strong odor.... , like a huge chicken coop.
Then we saw tiny moving dots, and more and more and still more. A lot of penguins.
The minimum distance to keep for penguins was about 3 meter unless they approach you, because then it is natural behavior . This was our welcome committee.
We were allowed to walk on our own as long as we remained between certain landmarks and followed the rules. The first hour or so I just remained on one place, there was no need to walk around, everything in penguin life just happend in front of me. They really went on on their own business.
Adults were feeding their chicks, the chicks were running after their parents hoping to get more food.
Skuas were attacking penguins hoping that they would vomit up their food and some people saw a Gaint Petrel killing a youngster. I saw the dead body floating around later.
In the afternoon we made a second landing and went for a walk to the other side of this island. After climbing a short ridge we saw a dramatic landscape with razor sharp rocks peaking out of the sea, truly an alien landscape.
On this side of the island were less penguins but we would see fur seals and elephant seals here.
The first seal however was a mummified carcass.
The Elephant seals were lying in groups, they were moulting, shedding their coat for a new one to be prepared for the next winter. I had to pinch myself that it was not a documentary I was viewing, that I was not in a zoo but that this was real life. It is truly a sight to see these huge animals in their own environment.
When we returned and I tried to find a way between the mosses we were not allowed to tread on and the penguins I had to keep distance to I overlooked a fur seal, they have good camouflage, but after some growls and me returning quickly the peace was settled again.
Just this day alone would have been worth the journey.
This album here has pictures of Isla Barrientos, Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, Skuas, Fur seals and Elphant seals.
It has 69 pictures.
click here for the album
Here is a short video: