At 4:15am we were woken by the disembodied voice over the speaker in our room telling us that there were killer whales off of our port side. I almost didn’t go down because I had only gotten to bed at 2:30 after finishing the blog and the DER. The temptation to role over and go to sleep was strong, but it was the first good whale sighting and I wouldn’t forgive myself if I missed. I rolled out of bed, threw on a sweater and headed out with my camera. If I had been worried about what I looked like, all I had to do was look around at the others and realize I was fine! There was a mish mash of robes, penguin pajamas, bright orange jackets and sweaters all huddled around the front of the ship, trying to get a good picture while half asleep. Most of us had forgotten gloves in our haste to get upstairs and so it was a game to see how long you could last out in the cold. At first the pod of Type A (large) killer whales was far off our bow, but after a time they swam directly up to our boat and surfaced numerous times not 20 feet away from us! The challenge was predicting where they were going to come up next! When I could no longer feel my fingers (I lasted about 35 minutes) before heading back down to our cabin to try and sleep for another couple of hours.
We were in a group that spent 1 hour at Cuverville Island and then did our kayaking. At Cuverville we were given the choice of staying by the water and checking out the largest Gentoo rookery in Antarctica, or hiking up to the peak of the island (1000ft which is the highest one we’ll have a chance to hike up on this trip). Is there any question of which one I chose? We had exactly one hour before we had to be back at the zodiac so we kept a pretty good pace up a steep switchback trail. We were rewarded at the top by 360 degree views of the area, including the ridge that we had just come from. Again this hike was done in a t-shirt, only putting on my jacket to protect my arms from the sun on the ways down. Too bad my right hand didn’t get that same sun protection. Again, the descent was sitting down and sliding our way to the bottom, just in time to catch the zodiac back to where our kayaks were waiting.
But there was no time to dwell on that; it was off to our room to put on swimsuits! It was time for the dreaded polar plunge. For my outfit, I decided to go with the flannel penguin shorts that Megan made me. They were perfect! Thank you Megan. I'll post pictures when I get them.
We were one of the last groups to go so we got to watch everyone come back from the platform on which it was being held. I would say it was a pretty even split of people who thought it was the coldest thing they’d every experienced, and people who thought it was amazing and wanted to do it again. When it was our turn, the four of us, Nichole, Mariam, Nina and I, all jumped together. I was smart and chose the inside spot closest to the platform. The shock of the cold water is instantaneous and it feels like a million pin pricks. My only two thoughts were “it’s sure taking a long time to swim to the top” and “grab Lisa’s hand because she’ll pull you out”! And just like that it was done. A few seconds later I was wrapped in a big towel, sipping on hot chocolate with an bit of something special and pepperminty in it to help warm us up. Although I had no desire to do it again at that very moment, I definitely enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to jump into 1degree water!
The polar plunge was the perfect activity for Christmas Eve. The music, the excitement over our bravery, the “special” hot chocolate all worked to create a festive mood. This extended into dinner (which was a special Swedish smorgasbord, complete with meatballs, pickled cabbage and pickled herring) and the evening activity (a showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas). Of course, not to be forgotten, the humpback whales decided to put on a couple of displays for us, completing this whale themed day. It’s neat to see families here spending the evening drinking wine and playing games. Even though I miss my family at a time like this, I feel incredibly fortunate to be travelling with some pretty amazing people who have quickly begun to feel like family. This will definitely be a Christmas to remember and I’ve decided that my official Christmas present to myself will be being in bed by 11pm so that I get a full 8 hours of sleep, a true Christmas miracle. That is, unless I wake up earlier to watch as we pass through the Lemare channel. Knowing myself, that seems like a pretty likely thing, so I’ll probably have to settle for 7.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from the Great White Continent! I will be thinking of you all tomorrow.
I am writing this as we cruise down a channel and I can’t tell you how many bergs we’ve passed with anywhere from one to a dozen penguins just hanging out on top. This is actually becoming commonplace, to the point where I no longer jump for my camera every time I see it. I think I’m becoming a little bit spoiled.