THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

ANTARCTICA – NOT OF THIS WORLD
2001 EXPEDITION

Macaronis

The yellow crests on the Macaroni Penguins give them a jocular look.

King saying hello

A King Penguin checking out prospective mates - they like to point their beaks at the sky.

Brr

Our island excursions were often in nippy and wet conditions.

Beaching

Landing meant wading through the last few feet of Antarctic water. The Gentoo Penguins greeting us here are my favorites.

Palmer Station

Visiting one of the few inhabited research stations on the Antarctic continent.

Dying Berg

Beached iceberg whose days are numbered. This is in a large area called the "iceberg graveyard".

Salisbury

Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island. That's the CLIPPER ADVENTURER at anchor, our crowd in red parkas on the left sharing the beach with more than one hundred thousand King Penguins.

Lemaire

A sparkling day south of the Antarctic Circle.

Toasting the full moon

Peter Harrison is in the center. We are celebrating the full moon on the upper deck with friends Tom and Dorothy.

Recap

Expedition travel ends the day with "Recap" involving libations and a review of the day's finds. We are ruddy from exposure to the elements.

Washing Up

Thousands of penguins relieving themselves on the beach requires a thorough cleaning of one's boots when returning to the ship.

Grytviken

Derelict whaling ships abandoned years ago by Norwegian owners in Grytviken, South Georgia Island.

ANTARCTICA! This voyage was our introduction to the world of expedition travel. Subsequent to this trip, our lives were never the same, as we were irrevocably hooked on exploring remote places of difficult access and where raw nature still rules daily life.

Following a day exploring Port Stanley of the Falkland Islands, we boarded the small, but comfortable CLIPPER ADVENTURER. It is an “ice-strengthened” passenger vessel of Yugoslav construction, with hot showers, ice cubes, laundry service, and attentive Filipino waiters in the dining room. Shipboard fun was quite different from earlier cruising experiences - perhaps best marked by the early start to the day. There would be a 4:30 am announcement on the PA system from the expedition leader, setting out the schedule for inflatable zodiac excursions ashore to yet another desolate island.

Climb out of bed, shrug on a barely dry parka, waterproof pants and wading boots, check the gear (gloves, watch cap, camera, film, water, granola bar), grab some coffee and nourishment on the way down to the ship’s lower deck where a hatch opens onto the boarding platform. Remember the mariners’ grip in boarding the bouncing zodiac and shiver in the slipstream as the demented boat handler races to the beach at 20 knots. Then wade ashore in two feet of icy sea water. No, Martha, this is not the CARIBBEAN PRINCESS.

What we found out there was a totally alien world, with rare traces of any human passage, with just a few animal species making the most of the very short summer season. Yet, those few species were represented by vast multitudes of individuals, all thriving, and mostly totally uninterested in our voyeuristic presence.

The dynamo at the heart of the expedition was Peter Harrison, recognized as the world’s authority on seabirds. Besides being a fanatic of birds, he is an accomplished artist, responsible for thousands of bird pictures. His unrestrained enthusiasm, not only for birds but for adventure, was highly contagious. Following Peter on a trek to, say, a Gentoo penguin nesting area listening to his nonstop commentary on every aspect of the Gentoo’s life, while surrounded by snowy peaks, right after a short night during which the sun hardly set resulted in what I can only describe as an altered mental condition.

We became quite knowledgeable about penguin species, enjoying observing in sequence Magellanic, Rockhopper, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni, King, and Adelie Penguins in their differing behaviors and appearances. We even caught up with a pair of Emperor Penguins resting on an ice floe, drifting far from their usual inland summer habitat.

We visited Elephant Island where Shackleton's crew awaited their rescue, and we held a little remembrance ceremony at his grave in the small cemetery at Grytviken, the "Capital" of South Georgia Island. We called at a couple of active research stations, including Esperanza, an Argentine-operated camp at Hope Bay where we found that a thriving penguin rookery close to the station far healthier than a more distant one. Apparently the proximity to humans discouraged the predators that prey upon penguin chicks.

January was a good month for this voyage: the bird colonies are in full swing with the young hatching and preparing to fledge, and the parents taking turns tending to their eggs and their young. One could choose to visit in November, the beginning of the season when the birds are courting and nesting, or later, in March, when all the birds are in full activity, ready to return to the Ocean during the long winter months.

After 17 days aboard ship, far from any support or rescue service, dodging icebergs and dicey weather and sea conditions, goggle-eyed the whole time by being thrust in the center of unfamiliar and majestic nature, we crossed the Drake Channel in very heavy conditions passing Cape Horn on our way to dry land at Ushuaia, Argentina. We disembarked somewhat disoriented, and henceforth, for us, there would be “Life before Antarctica” and “Life after Antarctica”.