Back on December 23, 1986 and on our way to Antarctica, Terri and I found ourselves strolling through the ghost town of Grytviken on South Georgia Island. South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The population consisted almost entirely of elephant seals and penguins.
When we visited Grytviken, an old Norwegian whaling station abandoned 20 years before in 1966, it only had a small outpost of British soldiers acting as a deterrent after the station was captured by Argentina during the Falkland Island War a few years earlier in 1982.
This small conflict aside, the main claim to fame of Grytviken may be that it is the last resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the legends of polar exploration. His epic leadership while overcoming unimaginable hardship during the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 is a tale of greatness. Against impossible odds, he didn’t lose a single man in his crew, who fondly called him the Boss.
It was here, in 1922, on his way to yet another Antarctic expedition, that Sir Ernest died of a massive heart attack aboard his ship. He was eulogized in the small company church, and buried in the station’s cemetery, facing south, the direction he was so drawn to.
We had already been regaled with many tales of Shackleton on our journey to Antarctica, so it seemed impossible to think of leaving South Georgia without paying homage to Sir Ernest at his grave.
So, we decided to hike over to the small whalers cemetery containing Shackleton’s grave just south of the station. This grave yard mostly holds the remains of fallen Norwegian whalers that lived a hard life far from civilization.
We headed out through the slushy snow and about half way there we came across this King Penguin heading the same direction…not wanting to frighten it, we stayed back behind him as he waddled, slipped and slid through creeks and mud holes all the way to the cemetery. This was quite some distance for his tiny legs and the little fellow looked like he was on a mission.
As we got to the cemetery we expected him to continue on past towards some other penguins in the distance…but he circled all the way around the small fenced cemetery to the gate opening, entered, and walked right up to Shackleton’s grave stone. We followed along behind him as he then stretched up straight, pointed his beak upwards, flapped his flippers a few times and gave several loud penguin cries as if that was exactly what he came to do.
I snapped this photo and he then turned, walked out the gate and headed back the same way he had come. Terri and I looked at each other with wide eyes like “what the heck just happened here”? The whole experience was so extraordinary we decided that little King Penguin must have had a spiritual connection to Sir Ernest. Wild!