Heads or Tails – Rumble in the Ice

February 28, 2023

Neko Harbour – AM

We crossed Gerlache Strait that seperates the Antarctic Peninsula and Palmer Archipelago and sailed to Neko Harbour, an inlet in Andvord Bay connected to the Peninsula. Remember the “Belgica” expedition? It was on that expedition, Lt. Adrien De Gerlache named the strait. Humpback whales gliding through the water softened the chilling air and endless jagged peaks submerged in clouds.

We anchored in Neko Harbour, discovered by Lt Gerlache and named by Scottish Geologist David Ferguson in 1913 after Neko, a whaling ship owned by Christian Salvesen (CR). CR was a Scottish transport & logistics company set up by Norwegian ship owners who moved to Scotland in the 18th Century. Neko didn’t live that long, she was wrecked in 1923 at the entrance of Rio harbour in Brazil because the Captain revved it up to race another ship (owned by CR) lost control and brought it to pieces.

Before the 1923 demise of the Neko, it frequently anchored here between 1911 – 1923. After two $$$ takeovers, the Christian Salvesen is now a part of a multi billion dollar American Transportation & Logistics Company, XPO, a total digression to what it was formed originally. It was on a Christian Salvesen ship that the first King Penguins were brought to Edinburgh in 1913 and donated to the zoo where they were first bred, first chick hatching in 1917. 

We landed on the cobblestone shore flooded with gentoo penguins waddling around large boulders at the base of the snowy plateau. A popular breeding ground for over 2500 gentoo penguins, chicks were squaking, snug to their moms, perhaps pops, depending on who went out to forage for food. They take turns with nursing and feeding. Some opened their beaks to the sky, regurgitated into their chicks’ mouths and called one another in high pitch sounds.

I left them alone to exercise. I had a hankering for an outdoor adventure that didn’t involve balancing on a rocky zodiac with a camera I was protecting from salt spray. It’s been a week since I ran an awful half marathon, I trained 6 months for. The hike uphill looked like a good idea to start the recovery process. My heart rate went up as soon as I struggled to attach the snowshoes to my boots. I looked up the slope and cursed. No turning back. I sweated my a** off under all my layers, huffed and puffed while the glaciers were rumbling in the background, calving moments every so often. I was about to give up. Waa? No way!

I finally made it to the top and OMG, I was out of breath because ..of the view. The way down was a tad easier, secured by snowshoes that kept me from slipping and losing my balance. Back on shore, I spent a little more time with the gentoos, watched them slip and fall, get back up, shake themselves off on the penguin highway that radiated the landscape. Some of them went out to sea, they can swim as fast as 22mph. On that note, I hopped on the zodiac.

We rode into a beautiful canvas of serenity personified, intricately carved icebergs in varied tones and stripes floating around the harbor, identical to an enormous mirror. We circled around jagged ones. As a matter of fact, those are just exposed tips. The rest of the ice berg runs hundreds of meters deep revealing a stunning aquamarine blue I couldn’t take my eyes off. A sleeping humpback at a distance, a couple of playful ones a hundred meters away from it. The sleeping one joined the dance party. A cacophony of blows, flipper flapping, water splashing and skuas calling away. Last but not least cheerful humans as the whales were heading towards the ship and kept us company until our next excursion to Paradise Harbour, round the corner.

Paradise Harbour – PM

As we sailed into Paradise Harbour’s Stonkorp Cove entrance, the weather took a chilly turn. Fog spilled over the cliffs, the sea looked intense. We made a short landing on the rocky Coughtrey Peninsula, another Ferguson discovery in 1913-1914 to check out one of Argentina’s research stations, rebuilt after a bad blow and now functions only in the summer. Almirante Brown Station was set up in 1951 as a permanent station with a top notch set-up to carry out scientific research. Unfortunately it was burnt down by the station’s doctor in the winter of ’84 after the team refused to stay for the winter. Ay Dios Mio! It was named after Argentina’s Irish born Admiral William Brown, a national Hero and “father of Argentina’s Navy” with a substantial legacy from 1793 – 1857. I shall not digress.

I ditched the hike up the steep snowy hill and chose to look at the station and the base sightseeing from the zodiac rather than panting from the top of the hill. My imagination ran wild as we circled around loose ice and gigantic icebergs waves, washing up to their sides. Some looked like a cubist painting, flowers, animals and probably some people. We circled around a leopard seal reclining on an ice sheet for ages unfazed by all the cameras pointing at it, another one swimming nearby. We floated around the station where tons of Blue eyed Shags were perched on the rocky side of the mountain, circled around the ice some more and called it a day.

Dinner was cut short. Someone yelled “Killer Whales” and everyone rushed out on deck. Gerlache Orcas – Type B, they said. My camera lens acted up and stopped working. Right on time. I used the other lens and comforted myself into thinking the blurry picture below was “art”. In spite of that, it captured the present moment’s reality.

4 responses to “Heads or Tails – Rumble in the Ice

  1. Wow, I’m impressed with you running a half marathon, Sarah. I’m not a fan of running, so I admire people who enjoy these long distances. I guess one cannot fully appreciate the steepness of hills in a white environment like that. So glad you persisted, though.

    • Thanks so much, I love running half marathons, I’m thinking of doing a marathon this year. Not sure yet, you know training in Dubai’s heat…. can get crazy!

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