We have just spent 2 days at sea, going from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Falkland Islands. I'm not going to lie. Not having my sea legs on the first part of this trip has resulted in a persistent state of nausea that I would rather forget. Nevertheless, we've made it to the Falkland Islands, and I'm anxious to make my first landing.
Never having taken this kind of trip before in which our ship, the Sea Explorer, approaches a destination and anchors off shore, I learn quickly how plans can change depending on the weather conditions. The normal protocol is that a zodiac, or raft-like boat with a motor, is lowered from the ship, and then staff members travel to shore to make sure that conditions are acceptable for a landing. If the OK is given, multiple zodiacs are then lowered, and we cruise to the beachfront, cameras in tow. If the conditions are found to be sub-optimal, usually because of wind, the ship picks up anchor and navigates to another possible landing site.
On this day, we are extremely lucky. The conditions are perfect for a landing. As our zodiac approaches the beach, I am able to get my first view of a large population of gentoo penguins scurrying along the shore. There are up to 6700 breeding pairs of these creatures, and the soft cackles I hear as they communicate with each other are really something to behold. The gentoo penguins have plenty of company with the likes of king penguins, rockhopper penguins, macaroni penguins, black-browed albatrosses and ruddy-headed geese.
Saunders Island is the fourth largest of the Falklands, measuring about 13 miles from east to west. It was first discovered in 1765 by the British Captain, John Byron, who named the harbor Port Egmont. Spain and Britain nearly went to war in 1770 over control of this enclave. Eventually, Spain deferred, leaving its status known as the Saunders Island Settlement, a British territory.
I leave my group to follow a trail to a large beach, known as The Neck, up a fairly steep precipice. Due to the angle of the sun's rays, the water surrounding the
beach has a dark aqua hue. This is a narrow sand isthmus that stretches between 2 high parts of the island. Beautiful white sand that is pounded by majestic surf comes into view. There are many birds swooping down to the shore including petrels. It takes me many attempts to capture one with my camera while in flight.
After reaching the furthest point overlooking the beach, I decide to start heading back towards the rest of my group. There are numerous penguins along the way including rockhoppers and kings. It is especially fascinating to see a mother king penguin incubating an egg amongst the throngs of other penguins.
After a few hours of taking this all in, I'm told by our group leader that it's time to board our zodiacs for transport back to the Sea Explorer. This is OK with me since I feel that I've gotten a good sense of the physical beauty of this island together with the rich wildlife. I'm looking forward to our next zodiac excursion this afternoon on West Point Island.