We began our day today in Paradise––an aptly named bay where massive, jagged glaciers calve into the sea, and floating ice, weathered by brine, takes the shape of sea monsters and dragons. Upon arrival, the deft hands on the bridge of National Geographic Explorer carefully laid our bow against the rocky shore and held the ship in place with gentle engine thrusts. Their expertise enabled us to board our inflatable landing craft as surely as if we were tied to a dock.
As we navigated the brilliantly blue icebergs, we spied imperial cormorants and cape petrels nesting on high, whitewashed ledges. We spotted gentoo penguins on the lower rocks around a vacant Argentinian research station.
Just as a chill began to creep into our fingers and toes, Viking-clad servers met us on the water to offer hot chocolate laced with whatever spirits we desired. It was just the ticket on a cool, overcast Antarctic morning.
After lunch, we negotiated a thick soup of brash ice to land at Neko Harbour. An easy hike in the snow offered breathtaking views. We spotted recently hatched gentoo penguin chicks, which are quite possibly the most adorable creatures on the planet. Our hearts melted when we heard the faint peeps of these gray fluff balls, small enough to cradle in a hand. We spied them cuddling gently beneath the soft bellies of their parents. Their vibrant orange beaks begged for snacks delivered by the gentle, doting parents.
While some adults were busy caring for the young or incubating eggs, others engaged in flirtatious dances of courtship bowing.
So much penguin love was present, but snow thundered to the sea down a massive avalanche shoot behind the colony. A nearby glacier calved into earth-blue water. It was the perfect juxtaposition of tenderness and power.
Our day ended with an Argentine barbecue presented by our head chef Sara, delighting our bellies as completely as the parenting penguins warmed our souls. Such an amazing day left us wondering why only such a small corner of Antarctica bears the name “Paradise.” Surely, the entire continent deserves such a moniker!