Button up your best threads. Zip on that swanky dress. Shine and strap on those fancy shoes. Coif your best do. Feeling dapper yet? Because your dates are here and they're dressed to the nines. All hundreds of thousands of them. In the same tuxedo.
It would be an understatement to say that the penguins of Antarctica stole the show. And aside from the few misguided souls that anticipated polar bear sightings (that's the other pole, people), possible penguin encounters conjured up the most pre-journey excitement. And rightly so. From our very first excursion to Aitcho Island in the Shetlands, it was abundantly clear that there would be no shortage of penguins on this expedition. From Chinstrap penguins at Aitcho to Adélie penguins at our first continental landing (Brown Bluff) to rafts of Gentoos in the waters around remote Cuverville Island, they were the cutest force to ever have been reckoned with.
All geared up, loaded on to the zodiac boat, and approaching our first landing in the Shetland Islands. It was exhilarating to see all those penguins waiting for us!
Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adélie penguin species respectively
The adorable hops over the ice. The let-me-stay-here-one-minute-longer belly flops. The lovably efficient body sliding. Seems those little feet were always headed somewhere. Particularly those who chose real estate way atop steep, craggy cliffs. At this time of year, most Antarctic penguins are mating and establishing where to nest. From the shoreline to the hilltops, dry, solid ground is in hot demand. So I always felt so bad watching the exorbitant amount of steps taken on precarious paths to get back home from their outings at sea. Those feet put on a lot of miles. I never saw the movie Happy Feet but I can't imagine all those feet were too happy.
Nesting Gentoo penguins high atop a steep slope. That's some real estate!
While in penguin hoods, guiding flags were followed so as to be the least disruptive to the habitat. But I often simply plopped down in the snow and allowed the curious critters to come to me. They certainly had no fear. There was clearly a sense of mutual respect. Or perhaps they just liked being the stars of the show.
The Belly Flopper
Academy Awards all around. But no question that one penguin, in particular, loved the limelight. All alone. By itself. One Emperor penguin made an incredibly rare appearance in an area far from where Emperors breed. We shouldn't have seen even a single one. The crew was amazed and our journey halted suddenly in order to take advantage of every minute this distinguished beauty chose to grace us with its presence. Better yet, those of us out on the decks later that day caught a glimpse of yet another Emperor, so far out of its usual environs. I guess the Emperors couldn't bear to be left out of the week's exhibition.
There was only one other time in RobinGoesTo history when I actually kept getting mad at myself for my obsessive picture-taking. Like a force came over me and I couldn't stop! The scene being so ripe with eye-popping subjects. The first time was hiking Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland and this was the second. It's appropriate that those penguins are all decked out for their moment. Experiencing them in Antarctica certainly gave me one of my most favorite.
Until the next polar episode...
The mud room (my locker there on the left) where we suited up for all landings and excursions off the ship.
The first penguin encounter on Aitcho Island in the Shetlands
Approaching Paulet Island, and the biggest Adélie colony, through an ice maze that felt like a polar version of It's a Small World
It's a penguin party at our landing in Mikkelsen Harbor!