When we arrived at the island, it was shrouded in a very thick fog. (And, yes, Brandon told us that this was the first time he'd ever seen this!) The picture below was actually taken on the way back out.
Because of the fog and poor visibility, Louise told us we wouldn't be able to kayak there as planned. We also knew we weren't going to be able to paddle at that afternoon's location, so it turned out that the previous afternoon was our last outing in the boats. We were all a little disappointed, not just because we couldn't kayak, but also because since we had been expecting that we would be paddling today, a couple of people hadn't come out with us the day before. It would have been nice to have everybody all together one more time (the only time it was all ten of us was the first day).
After anchoring, we all did a landing at Telefon Bay, which is covered in black ash. The volcano is still considered active and its last eruption was in 1969, totally destroying some research stations. While we were there, we did a short walk up a path to another caldera in the island's walls. (Is it my imagination, or does the area in the background, with the dark ash against the ice and snow, kind of look like the Canadian flag?)
Here's a picture of Chelsea that does a good job of depicting how a lot of us were feeling by that point.
But we still had some interesting adventures ahead. Our next stop was Pendulum Cove, an ashy beach where the more daring (or crazy) of us were planning to do the polar plunge, which is exactly what it sounds like—a swim in the frigid waters of Antarctica! (And to get the prized certificate proving our insanity, we were told it only counted if we fully immersed our heads.)
The reason they use this location for the plunge is because there's geothermic activity along the beach that creates what is jokingly referred to as a “hot spring.” In reality, there was a little strip of water bubbling through the ash whose temperature can sometimes go as high as 50-degrees celcius.
Now, most people just stripped down to their bathing suits, ran into the water, and immediately ran back out to the large, thick beach towels provided by the crew. A few of us had a slightly different experience, however.
The day before, when we were kayaking, Sarah had mentioned to me that she would really have liked to do a wet exit while we were there, just to see what it was like. I said that there was no way that they'd allow that. Well. At our afternoon meeting, she mentioned this again and Louise thought it was a great idea (no one had ever done this before), but she had to run it by Brandon. When she said it was a real possibility, Chelsea and I both said we wanted to do it as well. And we realized this could be our way of doing the plunge (since our heads would DEFINITELY be submerged!)
Brandon approved the plan with one exception. He didn't want us actually using our spray skirts because he thought it was one additional untried variable that could cause problems. So we didn't do what would normally be considered a wet exit. Instead, it was really just a capsize (thus breaking their perfect record. :) Because we'd be wearing our PFDs (personal flotation devices), we'd pop right back up to the surface. And, of course, we would be doing this in shallow water with Louise standing right beside us, ready to step in if there were any problems.
Sarah went first (of course!), followed by Chelsea. After she exited, I began to run into the water to get into the kayak, so Louise wouldn't have to stay standing in the cold water any longer than necessary, but she yelled at me to wait while she dumped the water out of it. My feet were almost numb just from that, but I stood in the little trench and warmed them up again. Then Louise was ready for me. And if you're thinking it must have taken a lot of guts to do this, I think it takes a lot more guts to post a video of myself in a bathing suit! :)
By the way, before I went over, Louise had just finished telling me that the plan was for me to capsize away from her, towards the shore. As you saw, however, the kayak—which was Louise's single, and therefore less stable boat—had other plans.
And just in case you missed my expression after coming up from the plunge, someone (I think Gustavo) managed to capture it for posterity.
When I got back on shore, I was so pumped up from the adrenaline rush that I didn't even think to bask in the warm water, so here's a pic of some of the others enjoying the spa.
Instead, I just pulled on the special flannel pajamas I had brought with me—the ones with the penguins and candy canes all over them. I'd say they were pretty appropriate for this trip.
I had mentioned earlier that Brandon had changed the direction of this trip from the usual itinerary, i.e. we started further south and worked our way north. So on those other trips, the passengers do the polar plunge on the first day of arriving at the continent. I'm much happier we did it this way, because by this point, we all knew each other a lot better and really cheered each other on. I don't think it would have been so much fun if we hadn't already shared so many great experiences together.
And as much of a blast as the capsize was for Sarah, Chelsea, and I, I think Louise got more of a kick out of it than we did. She told us that our group as a whole was by far the most enthusiastic kayakers she'd ever led in Antarctica. I was a little surprised, since only three people had actually gone out all six times—Sarah, Chelsea, and Calvin.” But she told us that on most trips, after the first paddle, she practically has to beg people to go out again. So Team Leopard Seal (as we had christened ourselves) were feeling pretty darn good about that!
After lunch, we headed to Aitcho Island, which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the mosses and lichens growing there (which meant we were absolutely forbidden from going off any marked tracks).
We also knew there was a good possibility of seeing hauled-out elephant seals, and we did. We have elephant seals in northern California as well, but apparently they're a different species and the ones in Antarctica are much larger. At one point, this guy woke up and pushed over one of the penguins, but it happened so fast no one got a picture of it.
But there was something even more exciting awaiting us. Brandon had told us at recap the night before that there was a rumour floating around via e-mail between the ships that there had been recent sightings on the island of a single macaroni penguin and a single king penguin—neither of which belonged anywere near there.
We never found the macaroni but the king penguin was right there on the beach. We had a good laugh because Snowy, our ornithologist, had walked right by him without seeing him. He claimed it was because he had been told it was up higher on the island. But how on earth could anybody miss this gorgeous creature?
Once we spotted him (it could have been a her), we all began furiously clicking our camera shutters. Brandon reminded us to keep our distance so as not to frighten him (we especially didn't want to scare him into going back out to sea), but he didn't seem the least bit disturbed by us. In fact, he walked all around us, seeming quite proud of himself.
Every few feet, he would stop and reach his head up as far as it would go and let out the most beautiful call. (I also found it heartbreaking, because I knew he was doing it to try to find a mate, or at least another penguin that looked like him.)
I so wish I had brought my video camera with me so you could hear it for yourselves. Instead, I'll just have to settle for posting more pictures. There are plenty to enjoy, because it was so hard to choose among them!
This next picture would have been so great to give to Brandon, but of course it's the one that had to be out of focus!
The next one is one of my favourites. I love the way Louise and the penguin seem to be checking each other out.
And this was how we spent our last time on land in Antarctica. I couldn't have imagined a better way to end it!
Next installment: My final thoughts.