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1.23.2013

Early this morning we picked up the cold, wet campers and had a leisurely morning. I was right, it was an exercise in counting sheep..they had a sleepless night, though many said it was neat because they got to experience the solitude. As kayakers, we have gotten to experience that solitude every day, and it is very special.

Later this morning we had a choice of taking a zodiac ride through the Neumayer Channel or staying on the ship and following the zodiacs through the Neumayer Channel. Nicole and I chose to stay on the ship because we wanted to go up on the bridge to see all glaciers and to watch the captain and crew navigate. Not to mention, earlier it was snowing! It sounded more appealing to stand on a less crowded ship deck and heated bridge to enjoy the views than to bounce around in a cold crowded zodiac, though I suspect the adventurers are getting some good close up shots of the glaciers and some animal life. The good news is, Quark shares any photos that are loaded on their computers at the end of the voyage, so if I’ve missed something, perhaps I’ll still see it through someone else’s image. I can’t be everywhere!

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The afternoon lent itself to another wonderful kayak adventure. We sailed into Torgersen Island under intense fog. Much of this island and the surrounding area was highly restricted due to the Bahia Paraiso sinking in 1989. It sunk around the same time as the Exxon Valdez so it didn’t get much attention, but oil spread 30 kilometers around Janus and DeLaca Islands, two small islands near the entrance to Torgersen. We could still smell the oil and the color of the water near the ship wreck was a dark ink while closer into the harbor by the USA Palmer Research Station on Anvers Island the water was an aqua blue. The ship, an Argentine re-supply vessel, when it sunk, was carrying 200 passengers. They were coming into port to see the station. They got an extended stay until other passenger ships altered course and returned the stranded tourists to South America. The station only allows one visit per expedition company and our trip didn’t make the list. We actually came to the area to view the Adelie penguin colony. As much as I would have liked a tour of the research center, I’m glad I wasn’t on the Bahia Paraiso, or for that matter the Costa Concordia, or the Carnival Triumph.

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After kayaking around the ship and the nearby island where an Adelie, Chinstrap, and Gentoo penguin all sat together, we were joined by porpoising Adelie penguins as we crossed the bay of lapping swells to the brash ice in the harbor by the research center leaving behind a magnificent iceberg towering in the distance.

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As we paddled through the brash ice, which sounds like Rice Krispies in a bowl of milk – snap, crackle, pop – as its melting, we found a leopard seal hauled out on the ice floe. It was snoring! We continued playing and inspecting the shore full of elephant seals from a distance (we had to stay fifty meters away due to restrictions) until it was our turn to go ashore. Passengers were split into three groups because only forty people were allowed on Torgersen Island at a time. The elephant seals were being thigmotatic – the word of the day. They liked keeping their bodies in close contact with each other. Which of course is not always the case when they are being territorial!

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As I mentioned before, we were here to see the Adelie penguin colony nesting. This is one of the best places in the Antarctic to see them, but many boats skip this spot if they can’t visit the research center. These penguins were farther along in their breeding cycle than the Chinstrap and the Gentoo. The chicks were about five weeks old and quite large. Their feathers were still down. Their markings varied between grey or black and white depending on their age. The parents were able to leave their nests a little now and could fight off the skuas without the fear of another skua swooping in to pick off another chick in a diversion tactic. We watched them defend their nests from skuas, pick up rocks, and fight each other. They needed to do a bit more preening, it was a lot of work to find some clean penguins. These were the filthiest bunch we’ve found…and the stench proved it!

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The island was absolutely beautiful. It was one of the few we’ve seen with vegetation. The small patches of grass are fifty to one hundred years old, thus we tried our best not to step on it. The rocky island was only 17 meters high and looked out onto the brash ice harbor and blue ice cliffs beyond. It was absolutely lovely. During the two hours we were out there kayaking and walking on shore, the fog lifted, and the temperature started dropping. Our hands and feet turned to ice blocks, despite our gloves and warm gear. We were ready to head back toward the ship! As we returned toward the zodiac, two penguins torpedoed onto it and promptly left some poo. Yep, lots of penguin poo on these islands!

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Tomorrow we plan on crossing the circle around 9:30 am and at some point the most adventurous are participating in the polar plunge! Another good day in paradise…ETB

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