I have a habit for celebrating big birthdays with big trips. The type of bucket list item trip. Ten years ago I went to Everest when I turned 40 and trekked up to Gokyo Ri – a wonderful journey. A few years ago I started to turn my attention to the question of where to for my 50th and knew there could be only one place: Antarctica! And I was keen on adding South Georgia to the mix as well, island of mountains and glaciers, where Sir Ernest Shackleton made his epic crossing to find rescue for his men. And so the plan was hatched.
Shortly afterwards I mentioned it to my friend Kate, who was also keen on doing something special for her significant birthday, which fell a bit earlier than mine. We tried to plan it right in between both birthdays, but ended up squeezing it in just before mine. In November we boarded our ship the Silver Explorer in Ushuaia for the trip of a lifetime.
While the ship was still in the harbour, we unpacked quickly, finding room for our stuff in lots of drawers. Late in the afternoon the ship sails from Ushuaia and begins to move through the Beagle Channel in the direction of Staten Island. We catch up with our friends on board, who have been on the ship since Valparaiso. The skies are blue, the breeze is steady and the scenery magnificent. Once the evacuation drill is over, we can all file down to dinner.
Ah yes, the food, which will soon become a theme on this trip. The temptation is all too much. Best intentions to limit intake founder at the first buffet trays of breakfast and lunch. Not to mention pastries, cookies, salty snacks and the list goes on and on. And I haven’t even started on the wines yet…
The first day is a sea day, which initially poses some challenges for me. Medication is the only remedy and by the afternoon I start perking up a little. Not even sure why I felt so queasy; the sea certainly isn’t big, but I clearly haven’t found my sea legs yet. The day is spent quietly, sometimes on the deck, looking out for whales, sometimes reading tucked up on a sofa somewhere, or sleeping off the effects of phenergan.
The next day we arrive early at New Island in the Falklands. All passengers are divided up into four different zodiac groups. We are in the second group for the zodiac landing and from the landing site, accompanied by Upland Geese, we walk over the isthmus to the other side of the island where we find colonies of black-browed albatross, rock cormorants and rockhopper penguins. It is a delightful morning that passes far too quickly. The penguins are fabulous photo subjects and the scenery is constantly shifting.
The rockhoppers are busy building their nests and courting females. Some couples already have an egg in the nest. The albatross are also pairing up. Later reviewing my photographs I see an albatross that has clearly been caught in a fishing line – a big gash runs from its back into its face. Its obviously in the process of healing, but the injury must have been severe when incurred. This is one of the reasons why albatross are now so endangered and listed as critical.
In the afternoon we visit West Point Island under beautiful blue skies. It is a longer walk here to get to a similar colony of birds. The environment is different, not rocky as in the morning, but tussock grass, which makes the getting around a little challenging. It does offer a nice backdrop and a chance to get more individual pictures of the birds.
At one point I am flat on my stomach on the ground in an effort to take some shots of the rockhoppers, much to the amusement of my friends. Then one of the rockhoppers decides to take a bath in a tiny bit of water and makes an absolute comical show of it, hamming it up for his audience, to the extent that we are all shaking with laughter.
When we return to the landing site the weather has changed and the perfect blue skies have disappeared in cloud. We feast on the tea banquet laid on by the caretakers of the island before it is time to return to the ship. You guessed it: to eat more.
Overnight we sail to Stanley and endure a very rough night. The winds blow hard and the swell has picked up substantially. When we arrive in Stanley in the morning, it is raining and it all presents a bit of a miserable picture. We are the last group to board the zodiacs this morning and in Stanley board the bus first for a quick tour of the town. This is followed by a visit to the museum and a little shopping before returning to the boat. To be honest, Stanley was interesting, but I preferred the visit to New Island and West Point Island.
Back on the ship, the weather is clearing a bit with some blue sky returning, but the winds are still strong and we are in for a rough crossing to South Georgia. In preparation I stuff my phenergan in my bedside drawer. The next two days are not going to be fun.