I have just been on a most spectacular jolly down a fjord on (in? at?) South
Georgia. Drygalski Fjord. Spectacular. Even those who had seen rock in the last
year were staring with gaping jaws. And grinning like pigs, if pigs could grin.
We’re talking ice, ICE, 30m high at the end of the glacier and that’s
just where it pours off the rock. Glaciers everywhere it seems, to my uneducated
eye. And cliffs, mountainous, peaks in the clouds, towering around us. I couldn’t
really cope with the scale. From our little dinghy it all seemed very big but
then, when I got back on the Shack, it all seemed even bigger.
Tall, straight cliffs plummeting into deep aquamarine milky blue glacier water.
The spray of salty ocean in my face, the taste, the smell of seaweed and cry
of birds all around us.
All these great memories overwhelmed by the magnificence of the land around
us. The Fjord is long and deep, as you would expect, but reasonably wide. Wide
enough to hold many bays each with it’s own glacier pouring into the ocean.
From a bird’s eye view it could well have all been the same glacier with
many outlets but I didn’t have a bird’s eye view. I was at sea level
in an inflatable boat, loving the waves. At the far end of the first end we
visited (that I at the time thought was the only end to the fjord), were hundreds
of little storm petrels floating on the surface, below the ice cliff. Like flies,
but pretty. Further back, a bunch of giant petrels gathered around us, trailing
water as they ran and flapped in an attempt to become airborne. A few penguins,
camouflaged on the black and white scree. The occasional seal, loafing. But
these were the jesters giving scale to the land, the ice, the rock, ice pouring
on ancient timescales, splashing into the bay beside us.
The last fjord we visited was called Larsen Harbour. I don’t think any
of us jolly merchants knew where we were going at this point, or what to expect.
If the main fjord was a motorway, this subsidiary was the lane you leave on.
(I can’t even remember the words for these things!) It was thin and quiet,
sheltered, the cliffs towering and vertical. And long. We explored, our little
boat and the fibreglass rescue craft, continually expecting an end in sight.
And it kept going: deep, thin and quiet. Oh yeah, and cold. Our skipper stopped
the boat at the far end and out we climbed. That’s right, we climbed out.
The first rock I have stood on for 14 months. Not a bad re-introduction I would
The above happened three days ago. Since then we’ve spent two days at
Grytvikken and are now floating off the coast of Bird Island. My feet have been
re-introduced to land! And how luscious it feels. Soft soggy green moss that
bounces underfoot, rocks, hard to touch, warm wind. Falling asleep outside in
the sun after eating a packed lunch. Entire days outside without having to fear
the inevitable cold encroaching. T-shirt weather. Hills.
South Georgia was still as beautiful
as ever and the people and wildlife as friendly. King penguins, elephant seals,
juvenile furries, albatrosses, petrels and blue-eyed shags. The South Georgia
pintail: beautiful innocent looking carnivorous ducks. Annoying prickly stickly
burnet clusters that stick all over your feet and legs. Men playing football
on the old pitch set up by the whalers early last century. The old church, I
rang the bells, tiny star-shaped flowers in the dry grass, tussock grass hiding
fur seals and other dangers, a king penguin with freshly hatched chick. The
rusty whaling station and old dam for hydroelectric energy. A crashed helicopter,
a WW1 gun, wildlife overtaking them all. If any of you out there reading this
ever consider an Antarctic cruise, make sure this island is on the itinerary!