Antarctica, day 21b: Leaving and heading north

March 25, 2022 • 1:00 pm

This is the second part of yesterday’s post (recounting the events of Wednesday) that began with a wonderful morning visit to Cuverville Island. After lunch, we turned stern and headed north, with the next stop being Puerto Natales, gateway to Chile’s fantastic Torres del Paine National Park. (I was there on a 2019 trip, and rather than see it again—though you MUST at least once in your life—I opted for a tour on Sunday of the local area.)

But here I want to show the three hours of wonderful views we had heading north, before we left all the land behind entered the turbulent Drake Passage.  Wednesday afternoon was sunny, the glaciers were abundant, and islands were one one side of us and the Antarctic Peninsula on the other. I froze my butt off taking photos and running around a deck slippery with melted snow.)  At this advanced age I always wonder, when leaving a place I love, whether I’ll ever see it again, and so I wanted to imprint on my neurons as much as possible of the magic of Antarctica.

There will be few penguins, as we weren’t on land, and perhaps you’ve seen enough snow-capped mountains and glaciers, but in case you hadn’t—and just for the record—here are more.

First I want to show two similar pictures of a trio penguins. The photos are almost the same, but they’re among my favorites from this trip.

A trio of gentoos facing Cuverville Harbor.  Please don’t forget to click at least once on the photos to enlarge them!

Peaceful penguins:

Frolicking penguins:

The waters around Cuverville:

On the way out:

One of the lovelier bergs I’ve seen. Note Darwin’s “beryl-like blue” that he noticed in the glaciers of the Beagle Channel.

When I was walking around the next-to-upper deck, a nice British lady came up to me to show me a picture she took with her cellphone. It was a bird lying on the top deck, and she asked me to identify it. I didn’t know, but told her and her companion to report it to the Exploration Desk, as they were experts in dealing with seabirds that land on the ship.

I then went to the top deck and they showed me the bird, huddled in a place that was inacessible to normal humans. I couldn’t tell if it was sick or just hitching a ride. It turned out it was neither. The women duly reported it downstairs, and thus saved its life.

That evening, Lancy, our bird expert, explained that this was a beautiful specimen of a Cape Petrel (Daption capense), one of the handsomest sea birds of the Southern Ocean. They’re the only species in the genus Daption, and are extremely common, but none the less beautiful for that.

It turns out, or so Lancy tells us, that many seabirds landing on a solid surface, or land, are unable to take off; for some reason they require water (perhaps they need to paddle to get airborne). Once this bird landed, it couldn’t take off again, and needed to be rescued. Unable to take off, it would starve to death.

Lancy and several team members (we were told; I didn’t see this), first tried to crawl out there and grab the bird, as sometimes they keep them overnight before release. But they couldn’t reach it, so plan B was to simply push it off the edge, hoping it would fall into the water and be able to take off. And that’s apparently what happened, though I’m not sure if the falling bird even hit the water before it began flying. It flew near by the ship for a while, and then flew away. I was very glad that it wasn’t ill.

Below: the waters outside the dining room. For some reason I can watch the waves or churning water for hours; it gives me an odd sense of peace.  Whenever I watch the sea, the words of Prufrock come to me:

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

Dinner the night before last: culturally appropriated Chinese food. Two courses: dumplings (shrimp, pork, and beef). They were good.

. . . and three steamed buns (beef).  There is almost no vegetarian food in the Fredheim, but sometimes they have chickpea dumplings. I gave them a pass.

And my favorite dessert, a milkshake (cloudberry this time):

And last night I felt I deserved a burger and fries, so I had the “steakhouse burger” with bacon, cheese, tomato, and lettuce, washed down with the house sauvignon blanc, for which I’ve acquired a taste. I will had to go on a detox regime when I get back to Chicago.

And a strawberry shake for dessert:

I watched the Sun until it began to sink beneath the sea, hoping to see the vaunted “green flash” that sometimes occurs right when the Sun disappears (it’s actually a green dot that you can see at the aforementioned link). I’ve looked for it many times, but have never seen it.

I regarded Wednesday as my last real day in Antarctica, because that’s the last time I saw its beautiful snow-frosted mountains.

Will I be back next year? I hope so, but even if I don’t go again, I’ve been there twice in my life, and that’s something.

18 thoughts on “Antarctica, day 21b: Leaving and heading north

  1. Splendid … ahhh….

    Oh by the way, I forgot to say that, while Panoramic mode pics tend to be tough, I recommend trying even a tiny Panoramic in some cases – just like a few degrees – it can cat catch things possibly a little better than a conventional photo… some of these appear to be such tiny Panoramic pics, but I skimmed the headings.

  2. It’s been fun to follow this adventure for the last few weeks. It looks like a great trip in spite of the COVID interruption, and a dramatic departure—penguins, blue ice, scenic mountains and skies, and that beautiful petrel—what a day!

  3. Can anybody explain to me what cloudberry tastes like? Or is it an impossible flavor to describe?

    The photo of the petrel and the story about his rescue are wonderful. In my bird class, we learned about tube beaks, and this photo is the best one I’ve seen of that. Also that delicate spray of black on the feathers is so beautiful and charming-it looks almost like polka dots. I’m so happy he was able to fly off. This seems like such an exciting trip for bird-lovers and not just because of the penguins.

    1. I cannot explain the taste, but cloudberries sure are nice. Our close friends in Norway have some patches in the bush near their cabin, up in the small mountains just south of Fagernes. They are very careful to not ‘telegraph’ this location to passers-by.

      In Canada, Newfoundland has them. I know of no other place here, nor any in US or UK.

    2. It’s very hard to describe a taste. Try describing strawberry or vanilla without using those words. All you can do is compare it to another taste – hence all the reviews comparing the taste of a wine to a stone fruit or to granite, even though no wine actually tastes like either of those.

      1. I don’t understand it. There are indeed flavors of pear and honey and black olives in wines, even though the whole wine tastes different from any one of these. This doesn’t render those reviews worthless, but gives the reader a hint of what it might taste like.

  4. Thank you for your wonderful photos of the Antarctic. Although I’ve never been there, I have been to Torres del Paine on a day trip from Punta Arenas en route to the Falkland Islands. I agree that Torres del Paine is something that everyone should see. Alas, I doubt if I’ll ever get to Antarctica.

      1. In the position it was in it didn’t have the leg strength. It had to be moved (I spoke to Lancy; what they actually did is prod the bird out of that position with a mop onto a surface from which it could take off. And then it did take off. Seabirds have trouble taking off from hard surfaces, Lancy told me, because they have weak legs and can’t jump up, but on the water they can run and paddle to take off.

  5. Fantastic pictures. Sad to be leaving such an exotic place. Thank you for sharing your amazing trip.

  6. Great pictures. Your pics of icebergs and mountains this year seem more compelling in some way than professional pictures of antarctica. The bergs are bluer and clearly ice, not white snow. The mountains are so sharp in places and look like basement rock.

    I am surprised that the sea bird did not just take advantage of the ship’s 10-15 knot speed and just spread its wings to gain immediate lift, as it apparently did in its fall.

    I first learned of the-green flash from a Scientific American article when I was in elementary school. I can still see the magazine cover in my mind. It was a much kinder and gentler publication in those days (late 1950’s)

  7. “It turns out, or so Lancy tells us, that many seabirds landing on a solid surface, or land, are unable to take off”

    This cannot be entirely correct as all birds need to land on some kind of solid surface in order to lay and incubate their eggs. Some short-legged birds such as swifts are unable to take off from level ground and nest in locations such as crevices in buildings that allow them to drop downwards from the nest in order to get airborne. According to del Hoyo et al (Handbook of the Birds of the World), Cape Petrels nest “in shallow crevices, in scrape on rock ledge, on stable beds of gravel or among boulders”. Marchant and Higgins (Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds) refer to the species nesting in a variety of locations including on shallow slopes. These descriptions of nesting locations suggest that it is able to get airborne from a variety of land surfaces although it may be that it needs a slope and/or space for a run-up.

  8. Beautiful photos. They really do need to be blown-up for full effect, and I’m glad you were able to upload larger files on this trip.
    That burger looks glorious.

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