CRUISING

Penguins, elephant seals star on a cruise expedition to Antarctica, South Georgia Island, Arctic waters

As travelers, we waltzed in, after the wildlife had endured arduous, dangerous migrations to breed, feed, molt, and play. They performed their basic stages of survival in a dramatic, awesome theater of nature

2022-01-12 Macaroni penguins on the rocks, Le Lyrial at anchor at Cooper Bay (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TravelMavenBlog.com)
Macaroni penguins on the rocks, Le Lyrial at anchor at Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island (Photos by David G. Molyneaux, TravelMavenBlog.com)

By David G. Molyneaux

Turret Point, King George Island, Antarctica

At the bottom of the earth, as the summer temperature reached a balmy mid-30s, I encountered a penguin on a mission. Each of us was walking alone on a remote beach where our paths soon would intersect — the traveler overstuffed into a red polar jacket, the black and white penguin, Adèlie in species, looking sleek and dapper.

My friend, the Adelie penguin, awaits his space in Antarctica  (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TravelMavensBlog.com)
My friend, the Adelie penguin, awaits his space in Antarctica

Water’s edge was to my left. The penguin, ahead of me and to my right, was shuffling steadily toward the sea. Until, simultaneously, we stopped our progress. Did the penguin judge intentions? No question who would give way.

Before our wet landing on Zodiac inflatable boats from our cruise ship, expedition guides had explained that our role was to give the wildlife space, so as not to cause them to alter their natural behavior. Besides, penguin patience is far greater than that of humans.

Following protocol, the human retreated about two paces. Which apparently was sufficient. The penguin resumed its deliberate waddle to the water, hopped into the sea, and swam away in a series of penguinesque breaststrokes graceful beyond imagination, a style that guides call “porpoising.”

“See you later,” I said, smiling at the crazy thought of recognizing this penguin again. From a distance, they look pretty much the same. And their numbers, in and around Antarctica, were astonishing.

2022-01-11 King penguins form a colony at the bottom of Heaney Glacier at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island (Photo by David G. Molyneaux, TravelMavenBlog.com)
King penguins form a colony at the bottom of Heaney Glacier at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island. CLICK on pictures for a larger view

Though the long journey to my seventh continent — a total of 20 days round trip from home in Ohio — was aimed primarily at observing penguins, I had no expectation that my eyes would feast on at least half a million of them. Nor that I would feel an intimate connection, even for a moment, between a pampered vacation traveler and a single creature in the wild on a life-sustaining mission to feed.

That exhilarating experience was a highlight of a trip that unfolded swimmingly in January (2022), operated by venerable luxury expedition leader Abercrombie & Kent (A&K).

My fellow travelers and I explored amazingly close to species of seals, penguins, and seabirds on South Georgia Island and in icy waters and landings on the White Continent.

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