Today was the day we did what we most wanted to do. For Phil, Carol and Dwight, the day made them “Seven Continent Travelers”. Stepping onto the land (yes, mucky, muddy land) in the Antarctic was certainly an exciting experience.
Here, on Half Moon Island, the ones in charge are certainly the penguins or “pinkwinks” as our Norwegian cruise director pronounces it. NO stepping onto penguin highways. NO walking up to the penguins. NO food allowed on the island (so NO feeding the penguins). NO taking care of bodily functions while on the island (if nature calls, you must go back to the ship to take care of it). And, of course, NO touching the penguins. You can not approach them closer than fifteen feet, BUT… if you stand still and they approach you, even to the point of nipping at your pants, that’s OK (since it’s their decision).
Today we saw Penguins traveling up steep “Penguin Highways” (paths through the snow) by hopping up a few steps at a time. They launch themselves up the hill, then waddle a few more steps, like their baggie pants have fallen halfway down. Occasionally, a hop doesn’t end well and they slip onto their bellies and slide into home plate.
If you come too close, there is an orchestra of screeches to let us humans know that you are breaking the rules.
Chinstrap penguins, with their black line under their beaks, where the majority breed that we observed today. They seem to be perpetually smiling. There was one Emperor Penguin who had strayed away from his own kind and peacefully sat on the beach with his back turned to us. Emperor Penguins are the biggest of the penguins so their name suits them well.
One lone beige seal slept through it all on the beach, as if he was sleeping off a long night of drinking. He was very fat and very good with that. You don’t have to diet in Antarctica, after all!
Getting on the tender boats requires a person to be somewhat athletic. Bundled up in long johns, hats, gloves, puffy down jackets, wool socks, scarves and heavy black boots makes it difficult at best to throw your leg over the side of the boat in the way you were instructed. Coming back there was the added handicap of having penguin poop all over our boots. On the ship, all boots were put through an electric boot cleaner and then disinfected.
Ahhh…. The hot, apple-flavored tea that greeted us upon our return was absolutely heaven on earth.