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02 January 2005 13:38

Judith Crick's Trip Note

South Georgia and Falkland Islands

24th Dec 2004

Now I’m in Quito. Since leaving Ushuaia (Argentina), I have been to Brazil (Iguazu Falls) and Chile (lake district and Attacama desert) and I wasn’t able to use my storage disk, so was difficult to send emails and impossible to carry on with the second installment. Using the internet involved a walk into town and very ancient machines, in cramped, hot, sweaty conditions! In Quito the hotel has free internet, in a pleasant room! What a relief!

Writing this 2nd Installment has brought back the wonderful memories of South Georgia. Really missing it. The 2nd installment is chronologically prior to the 1st installment, but I’m sure you will forgive that. Again please excuse spelling mistakes, as I am doing this on a Spanish keyboard. I hope you enjoy.

In the meantime Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone – hope you all have a great time.

Day 1 at sea was allocation of Wellington’s day. The only blue pair were the only ones that seemed to fit me and thereafter I got called the blue girl – can’t imagine why..... There followed a few days at sea on our way to the Falkland islands. We were well entertained by ancient films (e.g. Frank Hurley´s cine film of Shackleton’s 1914 expedition), videos and lectures of the highest calibre: from the marine biologists, Dr Gary’s, very amusing lecture on “How to love a skua (carrion eater and scavenger bird) and the Empire (penguin) strikes back “complete with realistic and amusing impressions of their various calls; to David Burkitt’s real life experiences - 4 months living on Elephant Island as part of the joint services expedition to survey the island in1970; to how to handle a dog sledge in Antarctica from David’s 2 year tour of duty there in 1975 (all non indigenous species were removed from Antarctica in 1995). We also saw all six episodes of “Life in the Freezer”, which I had somehow managed to miss – filmed in 1993, I think. This is a fantastic film by David Attenborough, of just about everywhere that we visited, apart from the interior of Antarctica.

First landing - on Sea Lion Island – part of the Falkland Islands Before we landed we saw a pod of Orca whales from the bow. Their dorsal fins cut the water like black knives in the blue sky. Briefing for 1st visit - beware of Antarctic male Fur seals (they can run after you) and Elephant seals. Both are extremely territorial of their area of beach and their 100 strong harems. Don’t get closer than 30m (!) – extremely difficult when the beach is packed. Told it was cold, so wore so many layers and took extra gloves, socks etc. We were warned getting in and out of zodiacs can be a tricky business on to a beach, rocks or ice, especially if the waves were large! Mananged this first landing without getting wet. Wondered around on Sea Lion Island and kept well away from the male fur seals. There were some Gentoo penguins and one lonely King penguin, that was looking very lost and trying to join in with the dainty Gentoo, who were not at all keen on this monster. The Gentoo were furiously guarding their chicks, while skuas waited patiently for an unguarded egg or chick. Upland geese with a gaggle (the right word finally came to me!) of goslings and steamer ducks. I was avoiding getting to close to the waves on the delighted white sandy beach as I didn’t want to become lunch for an orca. Later I was told the whales only risk beaching themselves in Patagonia, but I wasn’t about to risk a whale, with a poor sense of direction! I was so hot - sun was shining in a blue blue sky and after walking around for a couple of hours, I sat down on a hill above the beach, reading lonely planet Antartica book and fell asleep in the sun!

Back ashore in the afternoon and a 3 mile walk to a rock hopper penguin colony and nesting site of blue eyed cormorants, all on towering cliff stacks. The rock hoppers were delightful and not called that for nothing, they literally hop from rock to rock, to and from their food gathering expeditions. As soon as they relieve their mate on the nest, the mate sets about stealing stones from other nests, in true penguin style! This colony was at the site of a cross on the cliffs (Sea Lion Island), above where HMS Sheffield was sank in the Falklands war. Interesting walk back through tussock grass, that was taller than me and later in the season can be full of elephant and fur seals.

Port Stanley Next day we are in Port Stanley and I decide I need some exercise (food on board is mouth-wateringly delicious – even for a veggie!), so I choose a “coastal walk” rather than the town (which appeared very British, complete with red telephone boxes and English pubs!). Beautiful blue sky again and WARM sunshine – beginning to believe we are taking our own personal weather bubble with us – as the Crowded House song goes “Always take the weather with you....” Walked for 3 hours past the port, FIPAS (sad!). Coastal path signs told me about the various wrecks along the way – there seem to be lots of wrecks in the Falklands. Walked to the wreck of the lady Elizabeth – a tall ship- and then over to what looked like a lovely sand dune beach, but was blocked off with barbed wire etc. and warning signs “mines ahead” – a poignant reminder of the war, 21 years ago. On the way saw one lonely king penguin and wondered if he or she was the mate of the one on Sea Lion Island – how to reunite them? The coastal path wasn’t actually that nice - lots of debris and rat poison (seems they have a rat problem), but I was glad of the exercise and the beautiful day.

Next couple of days at sea, making way to South Georgia. Beautiful, beautiful Southern ocean – so glad to be back – more blue blue skies. Spent most of the day up at the bow, black browed and wandering albatross were with us all day. Eventually it was announced that lunch would be on deck. We had soup and BLT rolls followed by ice cream in a cone! Seemed surreal to be in the southern ocean and eating ice cream in a cone, on the fore deck – had to have my picture taken. We had a lecture about South Georgia, first sighted by midshipman Willis and subsequent claiming of South Georgia by Captain Cook in the name of King George V, at Possession Bay. The exploitation of the whales and seals by the Norwegian, British, American and Japanese until 1968. This torrid history is only one aspect of the island. It is a wildlife oasis and adventure wonderland.

1st Iceberg at 53. 31S, 42.17 W – towering cliffs of majestic ice, the thought was that it was so large that it was probably aground. The sea here is about 300 metres deep. Crossed the Antarctic convergence and the temperature drops dramatically. A pair of breaching Right Whales (so called by the whalers as they had a massive amount of blubber and baleen and were slow, so easy to catch by the early whaling methods) sighted – the ship circled them and they performed for us (more likely for each other!).

1st landing on South Georgia was to be in Fortuna Bay and with the hope in the afternoon of walking from Fortuna over to Stromness, tracing the footsteps of the very last part of Shackleton’s epic journey. What a great day! The fur seal beach masters were already on parade - their noses pointing towards the sky, guarding their beach plots and harems. A wide stretch of tundra like grass dotted with weaners (impossibly large black eyes lazily watching), moulting elephant seals, small streams and yes more fur seals, had to be negotiated, in order to reach the King penguin colony. Crèches of king penguin chicks - fluffy brown jobs larger than their parents - stood about whistling to their trumpeting parents. Sat down near a group and one very inquisitive one immediately came so close he filled my lens, so we just had a chat, rather than a photograph. Then the weather closed in and the proposed Shackleton walk was cancelled. I was so disappointed. We cruised around to Stromness – a deserted whaling station. The bay was filled with icebergs and on the slopes behind we could see deer – introduced by the Norwegians – probably as an alternative to penguin. Ashore more fur seal dodging – I hate fur seals! The weather improved dramatically and I was able to do the Shackleton walk in reverse! First up to the waterfall – his last obstacle - he climbed down the frozen fall in May (winter) 1916. I then climbed up to the top and was able to look back down into the wonderful view of Fortuna Bay, filled with Icebergs. What a feeling – I’d done a tiny part of Shackleton’s walk, even it was in reverse!

In the days that followed we had many more landings in South Georgia. Next stop, Bay of Isles and landings at Salisbury plain and Prion Island. Prion Island was memorable for how close we could get to wandering Albatross and watch the year old ones trying to manage their massive wing span - 3m. There wasn’t any actual takeoffs, but lots of staggering about, like drunks and posturing! I hadn’t appreciated that when you have five foot of wing on either side, they fold neatly in three when closed! After a while felt all Albatrossed out – Monty Python creeping in! It was black and cloudy when we turned into Possession Bay that night. Discovered by James Cook, who thought he had discovered the great white continent and was SO upset when he reached the furthest east and south of South Georgia and turned the corner, only to find that South Georgia was an island, that he named the bay “Disappointment Bay”.

Grytviken, where I got a South Georgia stamp in my passports (I am actually the proud owner of a Falkland Island stamp in my passport as well) Another impossible blue sky sunny day. 4 hours walking around visiting: - The graveyard with Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave – he is buried there, he died of a heart attack on a later expedition, and on hearing of his death, his wife asked that he be buried on his beloved South Georgia; - the abandoned Norwegian whaling station constructed by the Norwegians in 1904 and operational to 1965 – lots of Whale bones visible on the beach. Yuk! It is currently being dismantled, presumably at great cost – there is asbestos there; - The Norwegian Church – very Norwegian – I’ve been to some in Norway! - The museum – fantastic, a must if you ever get there – left messages for my cousin in both church and museum visitors books – she is travelling there next Feb; - The post office - yes you can post mail from there, but when I looked on 28th Nov, the next posting date was 7th Dec! I bought some very good stamps (20), depicting life in South Georgia from 1904 to the present day. - The Shackleton Memorial above King Edward Cove

Climbed up above the memorial and the view was breathtaking – the bay is filled with icebergs. Who can’t take a good picture here? Blue sky, dark blue sea, turquoise icebergs, glaciers, green land.... Everything almost too much, too breathtaking, too clean in the warm sunshine. The most incredible array of icebergs north of Antarctica. East Cumberland Bay was chock-a-block. These towers, sails, cathedrals, monoliths, glistening like jewels in the sun. Back on board we moved across the bay and walked from Sandebugten to Godthul – these are only place names no one lives there – or ever has. By 2pm we were walking up, up, up – but the wrong way! – no one has ever done this walk before! Eventually over a saddle in the mountains to an expansive U-shaped valley and massive - yes you’ve guessed it, turquoise lake! Skirted the lake through snow and boulders (moon landscape) and down, down, down – following deer tracks (to the calls of sooty albatross – lovely). The last bit down through the tussock grass was not pleasant – the usual fur seal problems. Zodiacs waiting and a tour of Godhul bay filled with icebergs. What a treat and thank God for digital cameras – I just couldn’t resist taking photo after photo. Apparently it is unusual to have a few icebergs off the coast of South Georgia, but what we were seeing was phenomenal!

>Three hours ashore at Gold Harbour, finally felt relatively safe on the beach with the very few fur seals! This was a beach dominated by elephant seals and although they are territorial over their beach and harem, they are so massive, they don’t have the ability to run after you. The worst they could do is crush you to death by rolling on you – if you were stupid enough to get that close! More fluffy brown jobs – king penguin chicks and a calving glacier high above cliffs! Thunder split the air on this brilliant sunny day, it was the glacier calving – what a sight! The falling blocks of ice boomed in the silence, like blasts of dynamite.

The last outing in South Georgia was this pm in snow (what’s happened to our weather bubble?)! Defeated beach crossing - very aggressive fur seals, decided there was no way we were going to enter their territory and for once they won! Eventually reached a Macaroni penguin colony in heavy snow. Macaroni penguin are delightful, with a kind of yellow Indian headdress – called macaroni after Italian dandy dress of the time (1850) – with a feather in their cap. Then off to a beach of chin strap penguins (they have a strap under their chin!). The live ones were delightful, but there were so many dead bodies – carcasses everywhere, it looked like death valley and of course the obligatory skuas plucking meat from the bones. Sad and revolting! Our marine biologist guide thought they must have died of some illness and reported it to the relevant authorities. Back on board we were extra cautious washing our boots. Cruise up Drygalski fjord, right up to the glacier cliff face end – 7 miles and despite the captain repeatedly sounding the ships horn, the glacier would not oblige and calve. Cape Disappointment was our last glimpse of South Georgia, as we departed for a couple of days at sea and on to the South Orkney Islands.

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