Jan 9: South Shetland Islands

Penguins swimming along side, humpback whale jumping out of the water in front of the ship as if to say: "This way, guys!" A real welcoming committee to the "White Continent". The air temperature has drastically dropped and unfortunately today is very foggy, so long distance observations through binoculars are difficult. But that doesn't stop anyone from layering up and hanging out on the outer deck to look for icebergs. 9:30 am -- first iceberg sighted off the starboard side. It looked only several stories high -- but then only one seventh of an iceberg is above water. Using that reference point, this iceberg is well over 30 stories high!! Fortunately we have an experience captain and a steel hull ship so the ice isn't a great worry. We are not on the Titanic!!!

The ship is threading itself through the South Shetland Islands with a stop at Aitcho Island, a part of the Barrientos group -- a small island sitting in the middle of the English Narrow between Robert and Greenwich Islands (just north of the Livingston Island on the map above). This is the first step on the soil of Antarctica!! And of course, its landing is to give everyone a chance to ride in a zodiac. After being divided up into groups the zodiacs were lower into the sea and each filled with about ten passengers. A five minute traverse across frigid water to the shoreline of the island and onto the island. This is our first "wet" landing. With zodiac beached on the sand, one merely had to sit on the side and swing one's legs over the side. a small splash as the boots land in about 5 inches of water and then just a few steps to dry land. That is far more graceful and easier than the "getting back into the zodiac". The weather is a very fine and wet snow, but the air temperature is hovering around freezing, so not uncomfortable with the parka and layers underneath.

Aitcho Island is the home to a colony of Gentoo and Chipstrap penguins. With cameras in hand the adventure began! The animals see little to no humans during their stay on this island, so there is no fear on their part as we approach. The group had been instructed not to get within 15 feet of any of the colonies, which all of us obeyed. However, the penguins didn't get that same message. Within minutes of stepping onto the island the individual penguins came running up "arms" spread open in welcome.

Land in Sight!

First Iceberg

Our Zodiac!!

Zodiac fully Loaded

Mom Gentoo and Chick

Another Mom with Chick

Mr Chinstrap

Family Meeting

A rare Leucistic Penguin (white)

Look Mom, NoHands

Wait for Me!!!

Rare Red Waddler!!

Ship from Land

Another Iceberg