We flew into Santiago de Chile, where we did a little sightseeing before meeting the group and taking the charter flight to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. There, we did a brief tour before boarding the ship and setting out into the Drake Passage.
Upon reaching the South Shetlands, we made our first stop in Antarctica, Half Moon Island, where we met our first Chinstrap penguins -- and one lone Macaroni penguin.
Heading out, we started to see our first serious icebergs.
Nearing Paulet Island, we thought it looked like bare rock -- until we looked through the binoculars and discovered it was carpeted with thousands of penguins, from the beach to the ridge line high above.
Mostly Adelies here, with some Gentoos in the "suburbs". The Adelies are the plain "tuxedo" penguins. The Gentoos look like they are wearing a headset -- we called them "iPenguins".
The captain decided to try pushing into the Weddell Sea, in the direction of an unreachable a colony of Emperor penguins. This is the realm of the ice, from the floating brash ice and frozen sea to the great tabular bergs towering above. There is only the occasional seal, with here and there a juvenile Emperor penguin, wondering why it is not being fed.
This colony of Adelie and Gentoo penguins had nested earlier. Most of the chicks were hatched, and a bit bigger.
Deception Island is an active volcano, which last erupted in 1969/70, burying a British research station. The caldera forms Paradise Harbor, which can only be reached through the perilous Neptune's Bellows. This old whaling station operated until 1930.
At 11 pm on the summer solstice, we headed for Lindblad Cove, named for Lars-Erik Lindblad who founded this company and came up with the idea of taking visitors to Antarctica -- essentially inventing eco-tourism.
As the ship pushed into the ice, Snow Petrels and Kelp Gulls flocked in to feed on the krill that live on the under side of the ice turned up in our wake.
A day of kayaking and Zodiac tours among the icebergs.
We make our way through the Le Maire Channel to a romp in the snow among the penguins on Neco Island. Upon our return, we find that it is suddenly Christmas aboard the Endeavour!
More snow, including a snowball fight and a snow-penguin. We visit a colony of Gentoos nesting together with Blue-eyed Shags (an Antarctic cormorant).
It's Xmas Eve, so it is only fitting that we stop at Port Lockroy. Once a whaling station and later a British WWII base, now it's a museum...and the only gift shop in Antarctica!
Heading back out through the LeMaire Channel, we were treated to some very special displays.
Just at the end of our lovely Xmas dinner, we hit the open water of the Drake Passage. It was a little more spirited this time around--some of use were relieved to get back to the Beagle Channel two days later. We disembarked at Ushuaia in the clear morning light, and had some time to wander around before our charter flight back to Santiago. Definitely a tourist town.