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Published: January 3rd 2013
The captain wakes us this morning around 8 am once again. We have arrived during the night at Paradise Harbour, a natural shelter formed by two islands and the mainland. This location, delineated by mountains and glaciers on all sides and sheltered from stormy seas, must have seemed a relative paradise to whomever named it. It is a brilliant sunny day with wispy clouds, and the beauty of the surroundings once again takes our breath away.
There are two research stations here: Brown Station, an Argentinian facility, and a Chilean station named for a Chilean president who was the first head of state to visit the Antarctic continent. Both stations have interesting histories. Brown Station is famous for having once been burned to the ground by a scientist who went crazy. The Chilean station stands on Waterboat Point, a historic site where two marooned scientists once had to use an old whaling boat for shelter. Both the stations jockey for space with hundreds of penguins. I'm sure the residents quickly grow to hate them, with their vile smell and incessant hooting, both of which are easily perceptible on the ship.
Penguins on the ice floes and in the water are now commonplace. We also spot a leopard seal and a crabeater seal. The former is the main pedator of penguins and the latter is badly misnamed, as it feeds exclusively on krill. Seabirds are numerous, including the Snowy Sheathbill, a bird famed for stealing food and anything else that isn't nailed down. And indeed, three or four of them flap over to the ship and strut about the deck looking for easy pickings.
The French cruise ship we met earlier is awaiting its turn in Paradise Harbour. We exit through the other entrance, heading north into Andvord Bay. Eventually we reach Couverville Island, renowned for the beauty of its sheer cliffs and for its gentoo penguin rockery, one of the largest in the world. There are also numerous species of seabirds nesting on the island. The weather continues to be gorgeous, and our captain reminds us again how privileged we are to visit Antarctica under these conditions.
We continue northward until we re-enter Gerlache Strait, and the spectacular shorelines gradually recede. Eventually we turn northwest and enter Schollaert Channel, which leads to Dalmann Bay and thence to the open ocean. At that point, our visit to Antarctica is over. What an unforgettable experience it has been!
After a late lunch, I am looking forward to spending some time on the piano. Unfortunately, I am just a few bars into a Bach prelude when one of the passengers seated in the bar area, a German, comes up and objects. I finish my piece and close up, because a single complaint to management will end my privilege. Ironic that a German would shut down Bach.
Instead I go for a solo walk around deck 6. Four times around the deck is one mile, and I have been trying to walk that distance most days. Behind us in the distance I can see a white line on the horizon: the Antarctic continent. In all other directions is ocean.
We are now in the Drake Passage between Antarctica and the tip of South America, one the most infamous stretches of sea in the world. We are already rocking gently from side to side, but so far so good. Very gradually, the fog rolls in. By the time we go to bed, you can't see ten yards from the ship.
Tonight is yet another formal night. The entertainment is a return performance by Juan Carlos, the Latin pianist. Following the concert, the Black and White Ball is held in the Crow's Nest. A good time is had by all.
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