Ladies and Gentoo-men! The morning dawned with heavy fog shrouding the landscape, but it quickly burned off as the sun rose on a glorious and sunny day. Here was the itinerary for the day:
We were docked in Orne Harbor and from the ship we could see a winding path that climbed high up a mountain. We were one of the earlier groups to land, but before we did we got a great close up view of a fur seal basking on a rock. We started up the icy but well defined path with the promise of a colony of chinstrap penguins at the top. Unfortunately that took longer than we hoped as we got stopped behind some people that seemingly could only go three steps up before pausing for a rest. Apparently the medical questionnaire on physical fitness and ability was not as strict as it could or maybe should have been. The one benefit to the delay was about half way up the hill when we looked back down into the harbor and saw two humpback whales, one of which CJ had seen breach and flop. We crested the top, with a great view of the Errera Channel and the Gerlache Strait where we would see even more humpbacks, at times four at a time. We trekked to the right further of the mountain ridge to the Chipstraps, and spent a great deal of time watching them feed their chicks and enjoying them climbing up their penguin roads in the snow. Coming down, the snow path had softened with the sun, and created a slushy sliding type experience where you almost had to ski down in your boots. We found that actually getting off the path made it a bit easier, and the same humpbacks in the harbor entertained us as we slipped and slided our way down, having fun outside of the guided path.
After lunch we landed at Danco Island, and potentially the promise of an Antarctic polar plunge if the conditions were right. Hurtigruten does a great job of making sure everyone has equal amount of time doing the events and on the continent. There were 8 zodiac groups to alignfor the timing of our visits (only 100 people can be on the continent at one time) and we were in group 5. Hurtigruten then rotates the groups, so that everyone has a chance to be first. For our visit to Danco our group 5 was first to hit the land, and we were first to make our trek up the hill to vast vistas of 3,500 ft peaks, and then down a bit to a colony of you guessed it Ladies and Gentoo-men, a colony of Gentoos! We were able to get close and take some great pictures within that gentoo colony as we sat on the snow, with perfect lighting and a lot of sun.
Afterward we headed back down to the landing site and away from the Gentoo penguins (but not too far, they’re around!). We were cleared to swim, and I came prepared with my bathing suit underneath my thermal underwear. I stripped down, and thankfully the sun was out, and the air didn’t feel too cold. A short but painful walk across the pebbled beach, and into the Antarctic water I went. It was cold, but actually didn’t take my breath away nor give the abrupt shock that I have experienced jumping into glacial lakes on previous travels. Perhaps because that was usually during summer with a greater temperature differential between the air and water. While CJ took pictures from the beach, I swam around for a bit and near some icebergs, feeling the numbness that had quickly crept into my hands and feet almost like I had been sitting on them for too long. I did a few laps and floated for a short bit, and then gingerly walked on the pebbles out and dried off with the towels that Hurtigruten had provided for after the swim. After the water the air felt warm and I didn’t need to rush to cover back up. A good gathering of people were partaking in the plunge and even more were sitting around watching, maybe thinking we were all crazy!
Kevin, the videographer for our trip wanted to film a few folks going in, and I figured why not, so I goaded another French gentleman who had just swam into another go at it, and we both quickly did another dive back in for the camera.
I will say that this time it didn’t feel as cold, though I also didn’t stay in as long. I got out, dried again, and with great difficulty, not to mention kelp and pebbles sticking to my feet, got dressed again. Our guide the previous day kayaking had mentioned that the water was often -1 degrees Celsius, so it had definitely been a cold dip, though it woke me up and seemed to do my sore muscles good. Later, I’d receive a polar plunge certificate from Hurtigruten. A hot shower awaited us both back at the ship.
At this point we confirmed a few additional things with the Expedition team – the MS Fram was still Covid free, which meant we would be making the trip to the Falkland Islands after all (at least as long as no one voluntarily went to the medic and happened to test positive). We also discovered that reaching the Antarctic Circle was never part of this itinerary, contrary to the marketing materials and confirmations we had booked under. Spilt milk now, but not good on behalf of Hurtigruten to lead people to book this itinerary thinking that was possible. We ran into a few other couples who had booked this particular itinerary as well under the false expectations of potentially reaching the Circle.
After dinner, we gathered our things in anticipation of camping overnight on the continent at Kerr Point.
At the end of every day, we also consistently enjoyed tracking the progress of the journey, as well as the quotes of the day and other educational material Hurtigruten put together near the science center.
The daily fare included:
- Breakfast: usual
- Lunch: Both had pasta salad with pesto, baby corn, radish, cherry tomato and parmesan, then for a main CJ had a vegan burrito and I had conchiglie carbonara
- Dinner: We both started with a roasted cauliflower salad and hot and sour soup, though we didn’t finish our broth as we were trying to keep down our liquids in anticipation for camping that night. Then for our main we had steamed halibut on mushroom and herb risotto accompanied by bacon, chanterelles, and baby onion. I skipped dessert, but CJ had the cheese plate, which may in hindsight not have been the best choice before camping.