January 25

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The usual calm voice came a cross the intercom at 6:30 as promised. I was up at that time already, and the look thought the window was not a very promising one: dense fog. Everyone still got up and joined the small Antarctic Circle celebration taking place at the front of the boat. We were served a sort of hot chocolate and cookies, but even with this hospitality most people didn't last too long. To pass the time waiting for spectacular things to show up two crew members, Karin and Phil apparently placed bets over the "guy in the yellow hat"'s accent - that would be me. On the 3rd guess Phil hit right home, very much to Karin's surprise and disappointment. With that we all retired from the deck to the dining hall to have breakfast, an hour after which the first signs of land appeared to the left. Adelaide island, only as a soft shadow peeking through temporarily parting fog, and in a few minutes even that spectacle was over. Since I was already on deck I shot a few more pictures of birds flying up close as well as the increasingly numerous icebergs. The size of my lens and camera still maintained its position as a conversation starter, if for no other reason than nobody understanding how an "only 300mm" lens could be this big, given that theirs are so much smaller and lighter, not to mention cheaper. Cold and moderately damp I retired again into the warm ship, where we listened to Phil's presentation about underwater animal communication. At the same time the fog was getting thicker and thicker, making it impossible to see across the whole boat. Even though we were planning on a Zodiac excursion this afternoon, the outlook was getting increasingly grim. For Essan it was even harder to stay positive as on top of all things she got sick, requiring interaction with David, the ship's cute doctor. So as things were, the biggest entertainment next to the scheduled presentations were the occasional goofballs who announced sightings of whales.

Click on the first image to start a slide show for this day (74 pictures)
Images shown below are a small selection.
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Through the cooperation of Bill and the boat's captain we found an accessible spot other than the originally planned location, changing course around Adelaide Island to Avion Island, where we weren't allowed to land because it's under strict protection, but we could approach it in the Zodiacs. The swell was just borderline permitting us to get into the Zodiacs, and the ride was rather bumpy. Our Zodiac was driven by Bill himself, who drove it first around a large iceberg on which a few penguins were camping. Because of the overcast weather the iceberg was showing its full magnificent blue / turquoise color. The only problem was that due to the waves we had to hold on for our dear life and weren't really able to take many pictures, or even point things out. Fortunately, experienced Bill navigated the Zodiac into a small bay inhabited by millions of penguins, and on top of that with very calm water. It's here where we got to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, diving penguins and big and lazily rolling around elephant seals, and where six gigabytes of memory were filled unprecedentedly quickly by my weapon of choice, where others went through as many rolls of film. From the distance we could hear the thunder-like roaring of large walls of ice crashing into the ocean. Even though we didn't get to see it, the noise alone was incredible. And once again, millions of Adelie penguins. Later at dinner bets were being placed on how many penguins there really are, but the consensus among experts seemed to be in the 1-2 million well dressed little birds. An independent jury of scientists will be contacted by radio to provide the official answer, given that our staff members could not agree on a figure.

One could write books about what we saw, and some people do just that. I will for once keep it short - it was simply amazing. You need to experience it on your own to understand it. Of course we don't know what's yet to come, but this first day has already pretty much exceeded everyone's expectations for the whole trip - and that was on a 2-hour long Zodiac ride.

Dinner was as usual healthy and plentiful, and we had good company. As so many times before we sat with John and Penny from London - Penny being unmistakable with her infectious laugh that could be from a Fandango commercial; and also with Dr. David who explained to us how people get selected for this job. He's by now a veteran and as such explained that it's usually quite impossible to get this far south because of the amount of ice; this year seemed to be an exception.

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