Not long after lunch, we passed through Neptune’s Bellow’s as we arrived at Deception Island where the ship threw down it’s anchors. This was an especially exciting day for us. Although we had already been off the ship to kayak, this was to be memorable because we were about to set foot on the Antarctic continent for the very first time.
The ship had issued us all with Wellington (gum) boots and as part of respecting the Antarctic treaty, we had to dip the soles of our shoes in large shallow tubs that had a special solution in them, located at the entrance/exit where we left to go ashore and return to ship. This was also part of the effort to prevent cross contamination.
After putting all our warm protective layers on we donned our life jackets, clocked out, dipped out boots and boarded the zodiacs to go and explore Deception Island. This is an Island that was once an active volcano and so is made up in large part of volcanic ash. Climbing off the zodiac was a very special moment for all of us. We were all acutely aware of the fact that we had just made modern day history by being the first group of breast cancer survivors to set foot on the Antarctic continent. It was a thrilling prospect. The sand on the beach was charcoal grey. Exploring the Island we were quickly greeted by a group of Chinstrap penguins. It was too cute for words to witness how really adorable they were waddling around and fussing over each other. They are real busy bodies and some of them stopped and looked at us as if to size us up in microscopic detail. Others couldn’t have cared less and just carried on with their daily activities. We were told not to approach them and try to touch them because as cute as they appear, they have also been known to be rather unpredictable and snap at people. They have very sharp beaks and can do some real damage. What we also very quickly realized is that penguin droppings absolutely reek. It’s an almost overwhelming smell and takes some getting used to, but that is rapidly overshadowed by how much character they exhibit.
The snow in Antarctica is not very compact and as a result, one tends to fall through it leaving a bid gaping hole. We were told that it was very important to cover the hole back up again because the penguins can fall into the hole and are not able to get out again. They can die of starvation, trapped and helpless.
Our day on Deception Island just happened to coincide with International Mountain day and so to honor that, we took a hike up Neptune’s Window to take some photo’s with the official banner that we had, recognizing the occasion. On the way up it started to snow. I got so excited as this was the first active snow fall I had ever experienced in my life. After reaching the top of the mountain and taking photo’s, it was time to descend again. On our way back across the beach, some of the team members took complete leave of their senses and decided to take a polar dip. They had put their bathing costumes on underneath all their layers, so stripping all their layers off, six of them made a mad dash into the shallow waters of the sea. The rest of us all stood there and cheered them on as they ran straight back out again…their eyes wide from the shock of the cold water looking like deer caught in head lights. We all waited with towels to throw around their now very shivery bodies. I was not going to participate in that. I’m not one for swimming much in the first place, never mind taking a dip in absolutely freezing waters.
Once everyone was dressed again we all climbed back into the zodiacs and, saying goodbye to Deception Island made our way back to the ship to gear ourselves up for the next chapter of our expedition.