Drake's Passage looms as a malevolent toll taker, in between the southernmost tip of South America and the continent of Antarctica. That 400 mile stretch of water has some of the worst reported sea weather in the world, ad is a place where no speck of land big or small could cause the currents a moment's pause in their collision course toward one another. The only expectations I had were of icebergs and penguins. I didn't really know what to expect since I had no real grasp of the topography. Never having been keen on geography, I wasn't prepared for what Antarctica had in store.
While we were warned ahead of time of the possible dangers of braving Drake's Passage, the trip down was without incident. We were thoroughly beaten by the Passage on the way home. The sea was grey and calm our first morning in Antarctica.
We didn?t see the ice until after we?d see tall, hazy grey-brown mountains in the distance. Little ice chunks bobbed and floated around the boat. Everyone is issued a bold, red expedition parka when they arrive. I threw mine on and secured my camera inside it before I dashed out into the brisk, heavy air.
When we were not listening to and watching the slide lectures of the naturalists on board, we were running out to take pictures of leaping whales and dolphins, or to gaze at penguins despite the lowering skies and gun-metal sea. We were in a great mood as we took off in our small raft from the mother ship, and began floating free amongst the icebergs. We could finally see the rocky, icy coast. The edge was rimmed by penguins thinking about getting in the sea.
Honestly, we were surrounded by them. Itty bitty little gentoo penguins were kind enough to share their little island in Paradise harbor with a group of researchers like us! Waddling about, they look like they are in a hurrying to accomplish a million things. Some of the penguins were content to stand on rocks and stare at the funny beings dressed in red and pointing at them. Many of the penguin parents had already left their chicks on their own - expecting that they would be able to fend for themselves. Many of the baby penguins behaved as though their parents were still there. These adolescents are given down-covered sacks of krill. This is a kind of food that the parents will often bring back from the sea, regurgitating it into the chick's mouth to nourish them.
We saw that they evidenced different phases of molting. The majority of their baby coats had been replaced by feathers. But, some gray down still stayed on hard to reach places. They looked like they were wearing hats and earmuffs, or had gotten a really bad hair cut. We cruised through ice floating on the bay when we headed back to the ship. Our driver took us straight past a big jagged piece of mountainous ice on which a lone seal was majestically stretching. He yawned at us as we passed, which seemed to say that he cared very little for our affairs. It was just the right way to end our day.
Right away, the penguins turned on their cute factor. Penguins and their waddle belies their gawky nature. The formal look of their feathers combined with the orange webbed feet The penguins were more clean than others because this particular area had more rocks than dirt. The thin black accent line under their chins makes them look like they all have chubby cheeks.
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