Endless Expanses of… Penguins?

Despite the wonders of Grytviken, my mother mentioned how disappointed she was that we hadn’t been able to land at Salisbury Plain due to bad weather, which had been our original plan.  Having no associations with that name, I shrugged it off, thinking, well, this is still incredible, right? It wasn’t until the sky dawned clear the next morning and our ship neared Salisbury Plain that I realized what she must have heard about it.  We approached a vast, green plain, surrounded by mountains and backed by steep hillsides.  Covering almost the entire thing, and most of the hillside, were what resembled millions of black, brown and white dots.  At first glance, the  most logical classifications of these dots raced through my mind – gravel, or boulders, or giant expanses of flower fields?  Nope.  What we were looking at was a colony of over 200,000 King penguins.

Surely, you can imagine our elation upon realizing that we would now be amongst the few lucky humans on earth to set foot amongst this wild spectacle of Nature.  We hurriedly pulled on our parkas, life vests and expedition pants, stowing our camera gear into waterproof backpacks and shuffling into the zodiacs.  The smell hit us before anything else, carried onto the water by the morning breeze.  “Overwhelming” and “intense” are the most accurate adjectives I can come up with.  I mean, think about it.  200,000 giant fish-eating birds that spend a lot of time standing around in their own guano make for quite a sensory overload.  What was interesting, though, is that we got used to it.  After the initial shock, the penguin stench wasn’t bothersome, because it was natural.  If you think about it, Antarctica and its surrounding regions are the cleanest places on earth.  No pollution, no garbage dumps, nothing.  Just nature, which reserves the right to smell however it pleases.

Our zodiacs coasted onto what can be described as a typical beach on South Georgia.  Snow-capped peaks in the background, penguins hurriedly waddling to and form the ocean, fur seals and elephant seals laying about.  It was quite a scene.

We then began our approach to the actual penguin colony, accompanied by the increasing volume of the roar produced by 200,000 birds calling to each other simultaneously.  Interestingly, the chicks are so fluffy that they actually appear larger than the adults, and can only recognize each other by the unique sounds they make.  Many of them were awkwardly molting into their adult forms, making for quite a laughable sight as tufts of brown fuzz either stuck out or were missing at random.  As we climbed higher and higher onto a grassy hill, the full colony came into view.

It was wild.  Totally unreal and indescribable – and, if you couldn’t guess, the wildlife photographer’s dream!  Although we were required to attempt a distance of 5 meters between ourselves and all wildlife, it wasn’t uncommon for the curious penguins to approach us willingly, sometimes within mere feet!

After a few hours of observing the penguins, repetitively exclaiming about them, and falling in slippery mud, it was time to take a few portraits in our classy parkas before heading back, ever so reluctantly, to the ship.

Verity and Alistair

Wendy and Jasmin!

Happy siblings looking very much related!

Only the coolest senior portrait ever…

I feel like I should have more to say about this, but the pictures are really the most accurate description that I, personally, can bring to you.  What was crazy about this day was that our landing at Salisbury Plain wasn’t the end of the excitement.  However, to avoid the Longest Blog Post in History, I will separate the day into two separate ventures.  Up next: THE SHACKLETON HIKE!

 

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