Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Elsehul, South Georgia Island

Posted at 8:40 pm, October 11th, 2004

Any misgivings I had about quitting my job, leaving friends, and coming to South Georgia are gone — today exceeded all expectations. The day started with a really nasty four hour trip from our anchor point to Elsehul that kept everyone in their bunks. However, once at Elsehul the day improved as dramatically as could have happened. We hiked briefly from the beach and up to the cliffs where grey headed albatross were nesting — these were simultaneously some of the most beautiful and tranquil animals I’ve ever seen, and their nesting spot high up on the edges of sheer cliffs was the perfect setting for them. I was sitting within a few feet of the birds, but they didn’t seem to be phased by my presence at all — one even flew in and landed within inches of me. My analytical brain isn’t capable of describing the peacefulness and beauty of the experience with words; the task requires a poet.

Grey Headed Albatross

Grey Headed Albatross at Elsehul

After leaving Elsehul we spent an hour motoring across the roughest seas we’ve yet faced in order to drop some things at the British research station on Bird Island. The island is closed to anyone but the research staff, but we were invited ashore to chat with the five-person staff and to hike out to see the birds. The Brits on this base were awesome — they had pictures on the walls that ranged from the group skinny-dipping in an iceflow on Midwinter day to one chap decked out in a tuxedo standing in the midst of a penguin colony. At one point we heard a loud banging on the roof, and looking to the Brits for guidance one simply said “Sheathbills. Station’s been here since 1982 and they still haven’t figured out it’s not edible.” It seemed an enviable existence.

When they took us out to see the birds it was completely amazing — the animals are totally habituated to humans, and I was within inches of numerous wandering albatross chicks. The chicks sit almost two feet high and have definite intelligence in their eyes, which was moving to experience up close. The petrels and skuas were also very tolerant of us, but it was the wanderers that were by far the most impressive, and definitely something I will remember.

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