Above the waves, South Georgia’s mountains appeared and disappeared out of the banks of mist and cloud. At times it looked like a split-screen montage of ocean seascape and floating glaciers. After hundreds of miles of open sea it looked like we had happened upon a wall of Alps levitating above the waves.
Nosing its way out of the swell through twisting inlets, the Shackleton reached the abandoned whaling-station of Grytviken – glowing rust-red beneath the black and ice of the jagged skyline. The small science-station here studies marine life in their carefully chilled tanks and the whaling museum deals with cruise-ship millionaires that are carefully delivered in to the island in their identical, red Antarctic outfits.
The various islands have been scarily and beautifully bleak. South Georgia is larger (about the size of Corsica), but with no-one on it. Sailing along the coast, we stopped off at ‘Stromness’ – the abandoned whaling station where the explorer Ernest Shackleton finally found salvation. Arriving by rubber speedboat onto the crumbling jetty we entered a post-apocalypse movie – a ‘Planet of the Seals’. The Norwegian buildings are slowly collapsing but look like they were left at a moment’s notice. Cups sitting on counters, chairs still waiting at tables, and beds and baths lying empty. All of this, though, is now overrun with elephant and fur seals fighting, shitting, howling and sleeping in a post-human era with snow drifting in through the broken windows. Every room has a new cast of blubberous inhabitants sliding over the breaking remnants of early twentieth-century life.