I wake up feeling a bit poorly. Subdued. I'm worried I have the plague that has infested Sean and kept him in the bed lately. Maybe my frail immune system gave up in the face of yesterday's immersion in the waters at Deception Island. I'm not actively sick, I just feel on the edge of something. Puts me in a bit of leave me alone kind of mood.
We are anchored at a place called Danco Island. There used to be a small British base here, but it has been dismantled as part of the general cleanup of disused bases. There's nothing left here but a few slabs of concrete, a plaque and a Gentoo colony.
We've seen Gentoo in small numbers already but this is the first colony. There are fewer Gentoo in the world and they have smaller colonies than the Adelie and Chinstrap. This is kind of a relief. The Gentoo are slightly bigger and present a different personality.
From on deck I can see that we're in a different sort of place than we've been thus far. Here there is a lot of ice in the water, little and medium. The huge tabular bergs that come from shelf ice that we saw further north are now replaced by lumpier things that have calved from glaciers that surround us.
Before we head for shore, we are reminded to not step in what we call penguin highways. There is more snow here than where we've been before. As the penguins walk to their preferred real estate up the hill, they wear paths in the snow. Since it doesn't actually snow all that often, these paths become deeper deeper until they sometimes obscure the penguins walking in them.
However, if a path is not that deep, and a person steps in it, their footprint can create a hole into which a penguin can be trapped. So, we don't walk in their highways.
The day is beginning a bit gloomy. Better than the previous two days, but still a bit grey. I decide this is how it is going to be and it suits me just fine: It is Antarctica after all and it's not like the weather is supposed to be good here.
After we land most of the group heads up the hill to check out the view. I wander around lazily.
The Gentoos are curious. They want to know what I'm up to. One comes close as I'm sitting in an area without snow. I start building piles of little rocks near it. I think it thinks I'm flirting. I haven't the stamina to gather the 3000 or so rocks that build a proper Gentoo nest and I don't reckon it would ever work out between us. We stare at each for a long time.
I make my way closer to the water. This is a good area for Minke Whales we're told, and soon enough we hear them. A new plan is made: We're going to hop in the zodiacs and cruise around.
Every one is elated as we board the Multanovskiy to move on. Ice, whales, seals, penguins!
We head for Neko Harbor. It's twelve nautical miles away, but relatively slow going as we must navigate the ice. It's okay to run into little icebergs, the ship is hardened for such things, but the big ones must be avoided.
Neko Harbor is where we will camp. I'm still feeling a bit worried and wondering about skipping the camping but my mood is improving. So is the weather. The clouds are rolling back to reveal mountains and glaciers. It's hard not to take a picture every minute.
It turns out that I took around 700 pictures this day. Most of the time my camera was set to do auto exposure bracketing so this was really a bit over 200 pictures. I spent most of yesterday choosing the best one of each group of three and then attempted to whittle the 200 down to the 20 best or most interesting that I would post at flickr. My first pass yielded 110. The 20 that I've posted were very hard choices. A slide show of the 110 is very lovely indeed.
Neko Harbor has a rocky beach, an (hands off!) Argentinean rescue hut, some chillin' weddell seals, a nice hill to climb and rocky outcrops covered in Gentoo with eggs or chicks. And there's a spectacular view in pretty much every direction.
It's mind numbingly beautiful. Many people head up the hill to an opportune view point. I can't do it, with every step I'm distracted by a unique vision. In this light even the worn red paint of the rescue shed is lovely. I look at some penguins and then shift my focus to what's behind them: blue sky, wispy clouds, giant glaciers, powder avalanches down mountainsides, the Multanovskiy comfortably anchored in still and shiny waters.
Plus it's downright comfy out. There's not much wind and while an in the shade thermometer might read around freezing, in the sun it's positively balmy. Everyone removes their parkas.
We're going to camp here, but first we go back to the Multanovskiy for dinner (I should write about Eating on the Multanovskiy). Our time on land for camping will be limited to setting up our tents and sleeping. This will minimize our impact.
After dinner those of us who will camp head back to shore. We are a group of about 20, maybe two thirds of the passengers. I've recovered from my doubts and Sean is sufficiently on the mend so we plan to share a tent.
Before today I had worried about being cold, but the weather is too good. Tim and Keith, our guides, will sleep without tents.
A few penguins come to see what we are doing. We wonder if they will visit our tents in the night.
Derek joins Sean and me for a three man tent. Everyone puts their tents together and then wanders around a bit enjoying this odd thing where the light is coming from the side instead of above. Plans to stay up all night enjoying quickly disappear in the face of well earned exhaustion.
Sean doesn't sleep so well, in part because Derek breathes a bit like a seal (inhale, long pause, puffing blow out). Derek sleeps better than Sean but not great (perhaps because he breathes like a seal). I, with my earplugs and sleep mask (secured for the plane, but useful in the land of the midnight sun), sleep great.
It's now December 24th, 2006.