This wake up came pretty easily today. I am not sure if it is because I slept well or that I never slept at all – the excitement of jumping into the polar waters never quite dying down so I could rest. I woke up early and got right out on the deck. The quiet and stillness had a voice of its own. As the sun beamed brightly down, it gave a sensation that permeated all of your senses. Everywhere you looked, there was a reflection. In the dark waters, the icebergs floating by now had twin friends below them. Glass from the ship’s windows suddenly became organic as you could clearly make out watery details that now were shimmering hundreds of feet above your head. The ship was quiet and this lead to auditory sensations unlike any I have had so far. The penguins were crooning in the distance. An occasional booming would announce to the planet that a new piece of glacial ice had calved and was now sliding into the ocean. It was almost as if the penguins were cooing over a newborn baby to say to the newly calved ice, “Good morning, welcome to our world!” All of this was wrapped up with the whooshing sounds of hidden waves cleaning the shorelines like earth’s brooms sweeping a watery brush.
Our landing site was Neko Harbour – where a lazy baby elephant seal was in a deep, zombie-like sleep. Penguins were hopping and skipping to their own song all around this torpid animal. The pup showed complete disinterest, occasionally flipping his rubbery feet covered in fur – stretching his toes. This slight movement always brought us excitement thinking that our giant friend would provide some action to record. That wasn’t a part of his plan as settled down, ignoring the landing parties, the penguins marching about, and the arctic birds soaring overhead.
The hike up the mountain offered impressive views. As the light changed from bright sunlight to a cottony haze – shadows came to life. The march to the summit brought us past two Gentoo colonies. There was familiar sound of the penguins singing a chorus of cries with the approach of a Skua or Snowy Sheathbill. Even though we were being safely guided along our way, the snow was soft and wet.
The afternoon brought us to the Gerlache Strait. The waters were calm this afternoon as we explore the cavernous coastline looking at the nooks and crannies searching for life. A Weddell Seal was found in another trance-like sleep hypnotized to sleep; the deep purr of the zodiac engines did little to disturb the slumber. We toured some more and found playful chinstrap penguins. The personalities of these three amigos made us all laugh as they behaved like supermodels on a photo shoot. Slipping and sliding, they were certainly in command of us, the humans, forcing the crane of our cameras to capture their brilliance in the afternoon light.
Dinner came to an abrupt halt! There was an announcement over the speaker system proclaiming, “There are humpback whales on the bow!!!!” We were dining with Magnus a naturalist from Sweden. He quickly shooed us as if there a fire alarm up the steps to take part in one of natures wonders. It only took a moment to see the air bubbles peculate to the oily surface. In a split second, whale tails became to break through and proclaim that they were there! There were three tails in all providing us with the joy and wonder of how animals behave in the while. Water was splashing and spewing when the whales would flop creating droplets of water across the air. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. Nature in its most mystical and vibrant hour!
So far, this has been such an incredible journey. There is just one more day before we head back across the Drake Passage. I continue to soak up the beauty and perfection that I am surrounded by every second of every day.
Mr. Szymanski is a 1st grade teacher at Walt Disney Elementary School in Chicago, IL. He is bringing the world to his classroom with the help of National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Here, he chronicles his adventures to Antarctica and South America in December 2014.