Antarctica travel diary – Part 2

16 Feb

Second stop on the trip towards the Antarctica is South Georgia – an island without humans, yet populated by other friendly creatures. Philipp Katzer describes an overwhelming experience.

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For two days and three nights we have seen no land. Only water, wind, waves. The ocean causes the ship to dance to such an extent that we on board fall into a kind of trance. On the third day early in the morning, we are awoken by the captain. The ship is finally standing still. I jump out of bed and push the curtain to the side. The sun floods into my cabin. Through the porthole I can see icebergs floating on the water. Are we in the Antarctic already?

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I hurriedly get dressed and rush up on deck. Outside a nasty wind is blowing, I pull my cap low over my face. Peering through the gap between the cap and the scarf, I can see an island like out of a fairy tale. A range of snow-capped mountains rises from the deep-blue sea. All around beaches and green rocks. This must be South Georgia – the lonely island.

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South Georgia lies some 1,500 km east of the Falkland Islands and 1,500 km north of the Antarctic Peninsular. In the middle of the South Atlantic, in the middle of nowhere. The island is not officially part of Antarctica although lying within the Antarctic Convergence. This is the boundary, at which the cold Antarctic water masses meet the slightly warmer waters from the north.

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South Georgia was discovered in 1775 by the British explorer and navigator James Cook, who took possession of the island for the English throne. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Norwegian seafarer Carl Anton Larsen established a whaling station on South Georgia. The whale oil was boiled out of the blubber harvested from whales. This oil was used as a fuel for lamps and as a raw material in the manufacture of margarine and soap. In the period between 1904 and 1965, some 175,000 whales succumbed to the South Georgian whalers. Today many species of whales have been virtually wiped out.

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 We have been attracted to this island by the huge colonies of penguins living here. It is estimated that there are several million of them – primarily king penguins. Added to this are thousands of seals, seabirds and elephant seals. We are all quite excited as the inflatable – still before breakfast – makes its way towards South Georgia. We will soon be stepping foot onto a new world. A world without humans. Unspoiled.

Mathias Thiel, Richard Klemm and Yadegar Asisi describe the moment when they step onto Salisbury Plain beach at South Georgia.

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Richard Klemm, cameraman: „We’re sitting in the inflatable on our way from the ship to the island. Just before we land – hardly ten metres from the beach, I see the incredible teeming masses for the first time. Then we hit the beach, and I get out. A few steps and I am suddenly standing in the middle of a different species. I feel like I’m on another planet. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that the king penguins all look the same. The same face hundreds of times over. It’s like being amongst a colony of clones. It’s overwhelming.“

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Mathias Thiel, asisi Creative Director: „The first contact with the penguins – magical. We approach the island from the water and travel with the inflatable right into the heart of the colony. I can hardly walk on the beach – there are penguins and seals everywhere. I have never seen so many animals in one spot in all my life. 200,000! I feel over the moon – an absolutely inspiring experience.
Also because the animals are not scared. We were told beforehand to keep at least five metres away from them. The problem here is that the animals don’t keep to it. I’m simply standing there, taking pictures – and the penguins come up to within half-a-metre of me. It’s incredibly important to experience something like that to get a feeling for a place. You’ll feel this later on in the Panorama and the exhibition.“

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Yadegar Asisi „I’d hardly set foot on the island and suddenly these creatures come from everywhere. Penguins and small seals. What immediately made a big impression on me: the sound of the animals. The quacking. I just stand there, still on the beach. I can’t go forwards because I don’t know how I should behave amongst the thousands of animals.
But the penguins accept me, I quickly realise that. They don’t run away. Some shy away, while others are curious and come up to me. The naturalness, with which the penguins simply stand there without doing anything, has a certain absurd quality. I will never forget this morning on Salisbury Plain beach for as long as I live.“

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