Sunday 12 December 2010

Under two volcanoes

Malcolm Lowry famously wrote about life under a volcano; today, we briefly lived under two: Paulet and Brown Bluff! But apart from the topographical similarity, there are major differences between his experience and ours: his character drank himself to unconsciousness under the blazing Mexican sun, we became intoxicated with the beauties to be found under the spell of these two majestic Antarctic mountains.

Paulet is an active volcano that formed an island in the Weddell Sea; and if this was not spectacular enough, it is covered with Adélie penguins. These natural born comedians were named in 1840 by French commander Dumont D’Urville to honour his wife – was he perhaps also an involuntary comedian?; or was his wife pleased about her namesakes? Obviously, a matter for historians to clarify… 

After this exciting first landing, we started travelling north in the Weddell Sea, and watched in the distance the many tabular icebergs floating in these waters. During this tranquil cruise, we also came across sea ice, which was split apart by MV Fram’s solid hull, much to the amazement of our passengers, who flocked out to deck to enjoy the occasion.
 In the afternoon, we landed in Brown Bluff, an imposing reddish cliff on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, which was formed by the eruption of a volcano under thick icefields. Because the eruption took place under ice, the volcanic material cooled down very quickly and formed colorful and interesting rocks – so geologists will tell you. But even if you don’t care about rocks, what an imposing and beautiful place this is! And yes, there are Adélie penguins too, which are fun to watch as they walk the length of the beach in search for an appropriate spot from which to jump into the water. So, this is how life under two Antarctic volcanoes was for us today.