Co-ordinates: 64˚49.6’S, 062˚52’W
Weather: Moderate temperatures, mostly sunny and calm in the morning, partly cloudy and some wind in the afternoon and evening
PARADISE! Our day began in paradise. The Prince Albert II sailed into Paradise Harbor this morning under the bluest of skies. I pulled down the brim of my hat and donned my sunglasses to step out on deck as the sun reflected off of the glaciers that spilled over the mountains ahead of us and on both sides of the ship. Early risers were treated to a fleeting glimpse of the blow of an Antarctic Minke whale as it moved among floating icebergs. The morning was framed in beauty and the rest of the day looked equally promising.
While at breakfast, the Captain dropped anchor close to a Chilean Air Force base named Gonzalez Videla. Dwarfed by the surrounding high mountains wearing their shimmering glaciers, this spot was a scenic treasure. If that wasn’t enough, the retreating tide stranded massive icebergs along the shore. Our Zodiac ride to the base was as exciting as the visit to the base itself. Someone shouted, “LOOK” and I turned just in time to see one of the large icebergs roll. A wave quickly formed from the movement of the ice and we watched as our friends in the next Zodiac stepped onto the dock in time before the wave rocked their boat.
The scene at my feet was comical, serious, sloppy and curious. Once again I was watching the antics of Gentoo penguins. Nesting just a body length from the walkway, these creatures went about their lives only slightly interested in us towering over them. They stole each other’s rocks, pecked at their neighbors, gave raucous greeting to their returning mates, and were extremely attentive to their little treasures, the eggs upon which they brooded. Guano was everywhere. The snow was melting under the heat of the sun and the mud/guano mix was to be avoided, where possible. I quickly tucked my pants inside my boots to keep the pant legs from bringing along the aromatic goo.
The 17 men stationed at the base had just arrived about 10 days earlier and were particularly glad to see us, as we were the first ship of this season to pay them a visit. They opened the doors to their humble museum, which displays historic pictures of this site. There was also an opportunity to shop as they provide a small assortment of t-shirts, hats and warm fleece headbands and neck-gaters, all embroidered with a symbol of Antarctica.
The clouds began to arrive. The sunlight came and went, illuminating certain pieces of ice against a graying sky. It was a photographer’s dream in all directions. I am now the proud owner of 4gigs of pictures of icebergs.
The clouds kept coming and dropped a few raindrops by the afternoon. After lunch we boarded Zodiacs for a tour of Scontrop. This is in the far reaches of Paradise Bay. Again the icebergs caught my attention, but now we were sailing among them and headed toward the faces of the glaciers. Icebergs of a variety of shapes and sizes shone blue against the snow-covered mountains in the distance. Then something moved. It was a Weddell seal asleep on the shore. We looked around and two more were close by. All of them gave us no more than a passing glance then back to their naps. The time flew. We turned toward the ship and spotted a young Crabeater seal stretched out on a floating piece of ice.
The day was now complete. We got back aboard the Prince Albert II and got ready for the news about our next day’s adventure.