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Monday, February 24, 2014

Antarctica - preparing for landing and our first stop Aitcho Island

In preparation for Antarctica, OAT sends each adventurer (that's my description!) a bright water-proof, red jacket. Other expedition companies provide red jackets as well. The jackets are well designed, as we enjoyed numerous pockets, the long length of the jacket and a hood.  Don't we look better dressed identically in our photographs? My guess is the folks at OAT have learned over the years that adventurers has more fun when they are well-prepared and comfortable. We received a detailed list of what to bring, such as long underwear, water-proof pants and water-proof gloves. Those venturing from Florida and California had to do some heavy-duty shopping before the trip.

Above is one of the informative maps prepared by Iggy's wife, Claudia. She was a PHD biologist from Brazil who had studied tropical wildlife. We wondered why a tropical biologist would spend her life in Antarctica.  On the last day, we realized she was married to Iggy.  Da....

Prior to our flight to Ushuaia, we were advised to place our warm coats and pants into our backpacks as to not risk baggage problems. We also cross-packed to make sure we would not ruin our good time!

Good advice as Andy and Marcia experienced first hand the loss of a bag. Andy's bag did not arrive until we were on the way to Antarctica. Consider not having any of your warm clothes or change of clothes for 4 days!
 Does Andy look happy?

After dressing for the weather (which averaged 34 degrees - much warmer than in Michigan!), we prepared for landing. We received our (previously-sized) boots in Ushuaia and stored them outside in our personal locker on the stern of the Corinthian. Our group (the Sexy Seals) contained 25 people.  We would be called on the ship intercom and then proceed to the stern (back) of the boat to disembark. We would step into a disinfectant solution before we stepped into the dinghy. On embarking we would brush off the dirt, stand for our boots to be power-washed on our person and again, step into the pink solution for what was called the "biosecurity and inspection procedure".
Ready to board the dinghy!
Aitcho Island was not a scheduled stop, but the crossing had been easy and we arrived into the South Shetlands earlier in the day than had been expected. The Expedition Team was the first to head to shore to see if the conditions were suitable for landing.  Meanwhile we bundled up and gathered our cameras. We were advised to cover our cameras with a "zip lock bag" as we would experience splashing as we headed to shore.  Hats, gloves, long undies, coats, hats, cameras - what else! Our leader, Ignacio would give us a briefing and send us off. Ignacio was amazing. He would keep us up to date at all times on the ship intercom.  If someone saw wildlife from the deck, Iggy would alert us. We wanted to see it all and wonderfully, the crew of the Corinthian wanted us to see it all!

Our goal in landing was not to disturb the penguins or other wildlife, but we were still able to view them closely. Often they would be walking and we would wait while they crossed in front of us. We would laugh while the big babies would chase their parents, looking for a meal. We enjoyed both the Chinstrap Penguins and Gentoos on Aitcho Island.

The penguins on the right are Gentoo Penguins. Notice the white patch on their heads. They average about 30 inches in height. As with other Penguin types, the parents typically form long-lasting bonds and both are nurturing. The preferred nest is made of pebbles, which they occasionally steal from another Penguin's nest.  The mother lays two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about a month. The babies remain in the nest for up to a month and the parents take turns foraging for food, sometimes leaving the other parent in charge and without food for up to a week.

 This Penguin is a Chinstrap Penguin. Can you guess why? They are a bit smaller than the Gentoo Penguin. The lifespan of a Penguin is from 15-23 years. The feet of the Chinstrap are a beautiful pink color. They are easily distinguished and are, I must admit, my favorite!

We were fortunate to see many Humpback Whales.  Notice the "blow". Humpbacks range in size from 40-50 feet and can about 80,000 pounds.

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