Saturday, 27 March 2010

El Bolson - the art of relaxation

My first stop after saying good bye to Urvi was the small encampment in the Argentinian lake district called El Bolson. Located perfectly between two mountian ranges, one of which were the Andes, this town is pretty, artsy and perfect for relaxing. There is some outstanding trekking around these parts but despite arriving with the intention to explore I just was taken by the easy pace of the place and the hostel I stayed at.

Located 3kms outside of the town, el publieto was a cosy cottage of a place, the creaking wooden main house could have come straight from a Laura Ingles Wilder novel such as a little house on the prairy, the mountians towered around us and once you arrived you found it hard to leave. Of course what made the stay here perfect was the community feel. It was not a big hostel so pretty much immediately on arrival I found myself talkin to new folks and sharing travelling experiences. I found it was not a place that attracted the wide eyed gap year traveller, so there was something special about each of the people who found themselves there. This was really exciting and made for hugely interesting conversations.

Funnily enough I bumped into James (from El Chalten) at the hostel, and met some of the friends he had met on the 26hr bus journey - Jamie and Liz, and Tyrone all from London. Together with Lindsey and Jennifer from the US we formed a really nice group. Together with a number of people the stay in El Bolson was super cool and relaxed. I really felt that I had time to think and really reflect on some major issues in my life.

We spent a beautiful Sunday at the local lake which had crystal clear and super cool water, together with a simple packed lunch we had a great deal of interesting am funny conversation, it really reflected the value of having friends and doing stuff with them. It a simple and yet memorable day in a memorable and special place. El Bolson is the type of town that holds you safely and let's you think, play or simply be.

Sent from my iPod

File note - where have all the pictures gone???

Anyone reading this blog will know that I really like to make photos
(I love this very European way of describing photgraphy!!!) and I
always add pics to my blog posts. So you might wonder where he pics
have gone over he last month???

Well simply answer in our 'seperation' agreement Urvi go the computer
and I got the camera this means for me there is no easy way to upload
pics, in fact I have been writing he blog on my iPod touch, which
actually is kind if fun!!

You will have to wait till April end for the mass uploading of pics
from north Argentina, atacama and bolivia, trust me I hope they are
worth waiting for!!!

Sent from my iPod

Friday, 26 March 2010

Why do people think travelling alone is bad?

Let me first set this into context. When we told people that Urvi and
I were going to split for a month and travel or be alone for that
time, the reactions ranged simply from caution and worry to pretty
much utter disbelief. No one thought it was anything but a bad idea.
In the true spirit of this trip we carried on regardless, did what we
wanted and duly split on the 25th of march.

Since being alone however I have started to think and explore why
being alone in this context was taken so badly...

I honestly am confused at this. We have been married for 8 years
nearly 9 and during this time have hardly been apart. Not just that,
it is true to say that Urvi has hardly spent any time alone, by
herself at any stage in her life. Why is this significant? Because I
truly believe there is another window on the world that is curtained
off unless you are in the room alone. Being with nothing but your
thoughts, your senses and your take on the what you see is a really
liberating and pure experience. You see things the way you understand
them and learn new aspects about yourself through this. Purely from
the traveing perspective it is wildly interesting and excitng for a
couple to do the splits, let alone the instant therapy it gives a

I feel this is a good idea because I know people that possibly have
never been alone in their ENTIRE lives and I can't understand it.
Maybe as much as those people can't understand wanting to be alone.
Don't get me wrong I am not a loner perse, I seek out company as much
as the next guy, but there are times when you want to feel the
deafening silence of simply being alone, by yourself. If you have
never been alone in your life how do you know that feel? For me it
breeds and horrendous sense of dependence, and feeling that one can
only enjoy an experience when it is with a group. I think that
couldn't be further from the truth and a really onesided perspective.

So what is it that makes people react to being alone?? Maybe its the
feeling on having no one to relate the experiences to - in the moment,
it's surely the fact that you would have life changing times wihout
the special someone in your life. I can see these points of view but
for me they are trumped (for a time limited period) by the sense of
discovery and actually the yearning to take the stories back to your
love one and tell them about it.

Of course I miss Urvi dearly but I personally and so glad we decided
to have this apart. It makes a real difference and enables us to
challenge our comfort zones.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Route update

After 6 weeks in South America we have travelled just a tiny fraction of the continent. We have seen many amazing wonders of nature and enjoyed the cultures of this place that are so similar and yet so different to what we are used to or what we have seen so far. From our current position in Patagonia Urvi and I split for a month, and Urvi returns to her beloved Buenos Aires. She had to sort her passport out and also await some new credit cards. More importantly though Urvi is gonna learn some Spanish and also a bit of Tango/Salsa! So she will live it up in BA for a few weeks.

In contrast I am going to carry on with my backpack and camera, and travel north through Argentina. I plan on going to El Bolson and Mendoza, both in the Argentinean Lake District. I then think I will kick back in Salta for a while before heading over to the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Salar De Uuyne slat flats in Bolivia. We then meet up again and travel north. We expect to be in South America for another 2 months before going to Mexico, for warm weather and spicy food!!!

Longer term, we go to Cuba, Toronto, Boston and then fly past home to Jordon to begin the final continent of this epic voyage!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Virtual travelling over Facebook

Although I am a self proclaimed techno junky I must amid to having been a little wary of the social networking world. Of course I was aware of the many sites that clog up the internet such are Bebo, Orkut and the king of them all - Facebook, but I didn’t really appreciate just how addictive and honestly useful they can be.

In particular while travelling Facebook and its next of kin take things to another level. It’s not uncommon to arrive at a hostel and look around, confused, thinking you have arrived in a South East Asian internet cafĂ©! Everyone is blogging and posting and linking and poking on Facebook. Photos ping up on peoples walls, and immediately their whole circle of friends are commenting on how funny they look while handgliding in Rio. Parents are commenting on how much weight their kids have lost and generally work colleagues are totally jealous of the travel stories they read on Facebook pages of friends.

I think my growing amazement with the way Facebook works for travellers isn’t the updating of people back home, it’s the way it transforms the real time travelling experience. With so many places hosting WIFI and ipods and phones all accessing Facebook, people are turning into real time travel consultants, advising and reviewing on journeys they have JUST taken or even ARE taking.

The other angle is the ability of travellers to keep in touch with people at home immediately through these sites. You never feel to far from the latest works party being organised, or the baby shower that took place last weekend. You are able to see the events unfold at home and connect with them. It is nice for this. News can travel fast also. Despite being thousands of miles from the Chilean earthquake, people understandably worry – Facebook comes to the rescue and one post to tell everyone that you are fine and well, and happen to be in Argentina not even in Chile and things are all fine again!

Of course there is a negative side to all of this, which is that you never really get away. With access comes expectation, and the expectation that you will always be in touch. This can be a bit much sometimes.

All the friends we made on the MV Ushuaia are Facebook pros and so within hours of the expedition ending plans were being made to catch up in various locations across South America and further a field; pictures were being shared and lives explored. It was actually really a great way to keep and develop these friendships that often turn into distant memories following the vacation.

I have to say that I am not quite a fully paid up convert yet, but I am in awe at the ability to connect people.

Travelling has changed totally from the how is was even 5 years ago and Facebook, social networking and blogging are at the forefront. I feel that I am almost doing 2 world trips. There is the real, physical tangible one that I can see, smell and touch, and there is the virtual trip that takes place in the bloggosphere, in the realm of Flickr, Picasa and now Facebook. Long may this continue, but I will always say, this virtual world is a way to share the amazing real experiences, it can’t be a proxy for them.

I am off now to write on my wall and check out all the new pics people have posted!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Doin the “Dubbia” in Torres Del Paine National Park

20100314_069745_DIG_CHL_RTW_9999_A200_Torres Del Paine National Park

It should be noted that neither Urvi nor I are the best trekkers in the world and more than that we are not the kind of people to seek out trekking opportunities everywhere we go, but there are some places that just make you want to get your boots on and get out there. Actually I am becoming more and more interested in trekking and being in nature. It is a beautiful way to see places, and think through your problems. All you have to do is take your route and walk, then look around you and lose yourself in your mind.

Alongside Nepal South America probably has some of the best and well known trekking destinations in the world, and within SA, Patagonia is right at the top of the trekking league. This is a total Mecca for trekkers all around the world, and we were lucky enough to be here at the best season (thanks to Urvi’s planning). One of the best places to trek is Torres Del Paine National Park. Situated in Chile it is a beautiful combination of stunning mountains, ice glaciers, lakes and rolling moss covered hills. the most popular walk to do here is called the W, so called because it makes a W shape between 3 significant land marks – the Torres Del Paine (three stunning mountain peaks that literally tower out of the ground) the French valley (Glacier surrounded valley that cut up to a wonderful view of the range) and the Glacier Grey (a huge glacier front that opens out into a beautiful lake with icebergs bobbing around it. These 3 main locations are joined in the W shape.

This walk takes 5 days and 4 nights to complete, and covered over 75kms. To do this trek you base yourself in a town called Puerto Natales which is about 90kms from the national park. There we got things ready, got food etc and embarked for our trek.

There are 2 main options for how to do this trek, either you can pack your tent and gear and camp, which is the cheapest and most authentic way, or stay in the Refugio’s (park lodges). We opted for the latter simply because, for us trekking had to be enjoyable and I didn’t fancy carrying 20kgs of gear for the average 7 hours of walking per day. The winds are fierce in Patagonia (its famous for this) and again we didn’t fancy walking for hours only to sleep in a tent that might blow away (we saw some that did!)

All in all the trek is very weather dependent, and we were really blessed with amazing weather throughout. We even got a day of rough winds to give us the perfect authentic Patagonian experience.

Our route took us as follows:

Day 1 – arrival to the park, trek to Torres Del Paine Mirador (view point), stay overnight at Refugio Chileno – 15kms total
Day 2 – trek to Refugio Los Coures – 12km total
Day 3 – trek to French valley, visit Mirador, trek back down to Refugio Paine Grande – 28kms
Day 4 trek to Glacier grey, stay overnight at Refugio Grey – 10km
Day 5 return to Refugio Paine Grande, and take Catamaran ride on lake to meet the bus – 10km

We loved the trek, it was tough in parts and just walking this far is a challenge, the 3rd day was real tough with over 25kms and some horrible rocky boulders to overcome, but the scenes and the weather made up for everything, anytime we felt fed up with the walking all we had to do was look around, and be refreshed by the scenes that greeted us.

Because many people undertook the trek in the same way that we did, we ended up meeting a number of people each night. It was a great way to make new friends and to share travelling stories. In particular we trekked with a French Canadian lady from Montreal – Suzanne, a Canadian guy – Terry, and a couple from Poland. We also met an American couple that we had met in Nepal about 5 months ago! That was a real nice surprise!

What amazes me is that people come from all parts of the world just to walk to W, it is a special place and a trip of a lifetime for some. We arrived did the W and walked on – this journey of ours is full of special experiences, and we have to keep thinking about just great it is, we join up what could be a 100 amazing trips into one. The W was a great challenge and a great achievement, and I would rank it up near the top of the treks that we have done. The variety of the environment and the quality of the lodgings make it a real pleasure.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Antarctic summary

20100307_069498_DIG_ANT_RTW_9999_A200_Antarctic Expedition

For everyone aboard the MV Ushuaia the trip was something very special. We all came with expectations, hopes, dreams and vision of what this magical place would look like, feel like. I think for all of us Antarctica specifically and the trip overall exceeded these expectations. This was a trip that held special importance for me – papa always talked about coming here and never did. I wanted to complete this for him as much as for us both. I think he would have enjoyed the place a lot.

The trip was special for us both also because of the people we met. all of us from day one came together to learn and more importantly enjoy the experiences that we were so lucky to be having. I think that the trip would not have been the same without them.

We saw a great range of wildlife from majestic birds, to aggressive seals, cute penguins to royal whales. The scenery took your breath away at each turn, and meeting the people who actually live and work in this inhospitable place just added to our understanding of this wonderland.

Antarctic is a truly special place, right at the end of the world. Only 33,000 people are able to explore this place each year, and we were really lucky in doing this. 33,000 may sound like a lot of people, but just imagine over 200,000 people visit the Galapagos Islands each year! Was it money well spent?? There is no question - I don’t think there is any doubt that the quality of the expedition, the uniqueness of the location and the special poignancy the trip have made it really a trip of a lifetime.

Antarctica is a place where the extraordinary remains extraordinary

The only negative would be that anywhere else we visit is going to fell just a bit normal, now that we have set foot on to the 7th and final continent!!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 9, 10 and 11 8th-10th March 2010

Summary – return voyage home
Places visited – Drake Passage, beagle channel, Ushuaia
Species Encountered – very sea sick tourists!

I don’t think there is much to say about the journey back to the mainland, other than the seas were rough rough rough and for me personally the journey was far worse than the route out! There was rolling and pitching of the boat, numerous episodes of sick sickness and generally being unwell, falling out of bed, a total loss of appetite and therefore no energy to do anything! The height of the bridge was 11m above the water line, the waves were at times getting up to 12m, so essentially we were totally surrounded by water. It felt that the boat was totally at the mercy of nature and even though the captain assured us that we would be fine up to a rolling angle of 71 degrees. We got to 45 and let me tell you it is not easy drinking coffee when its moving like that!!

All this at a time when we were all a little down about leaving Antarctica, but also very much up about having met such a wonderful group of friends. Essentially total confusion!!

The final evening was great, we had a great dinner all together with the expedition crew, there was lovely presentation of certificates by the captain, and best of all we were treated to a wonderful compilation video of photos the crew had taken during the trip. It was not just penguins and whales, but the stories and people that we had shared the last 10 days. It was a great final touch and really emphasised to me that this trip was not just made by the scenes and the animals we saw, but really it was made by the people we shared this time with.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 8 7th March 2010

Summary –
Places visited – Landing 9 Final Landing in Antarctica
Species Encountered – Gentoo Penguins, Fur Seals, Leopard Seal live kill.

Today was to be our last day on the Antarctic Peninsula before the MV Ushuaia turned back and started heading towards the South American mainland. Nobody wanted this trip to end, not least because we had the drake passage to tackle again! But the experiences on the trip were so unique and special it was hard to see how things would be the same in my head. I felt really proud that I had now set foot of each of the 7 continents of the world (Urvi would achieve this when we headed to Africa).

This trip also shows just how bad a job my blogging does of communicating the awe and amazement of this things we saw and the experiences we had. But I think this is to be expected!

The last landing was special and super cool. We cruised along with the sun bursting through the clouds that had accompanied us for most of the trip and the scene was a blaze of deep blue seas and crystal white bergs and snow. The ship was very quite and people were deep in contemplation as we traversed the huge bergs through the channel. The blue skies set off the white ice in an amazing variety of colours and hues it was truly another world. At the final landing spot we were to encounter many hundreds of Gentoo Penguins and seals, but we didn’t count on the truly shocking display of nature that we were greeted with…

After a short while on the shore people become aware of a huge Leopard seal prowling in the waters close to shore. These are totally alpha predators and are really only 2nd to killer whales in the Antarctic hierarchy. I soon found out why. From the shore we saw a leopard seal catch, toy with and then rip apart a poor Gentoo penguin. It was an awesome display of the force of this creature and the balance of nature. Things got more gruesome when we found a penguin that had ‘survived’ a seal attack, half of its lower body was missing, but the poor creature was still trying to makes its way back up the beach. Then to cap it all off we were treated to a front row seat ad the leopard seals dinner. We were about to embark on the last zodiac cruise in Antarctic waters when the zodiac suddenly turned back… there about 4 feet from us was the leopard seal, tearing apart a 2nd penguin. Their killing technique is simple, tear the skin from the flesh of the penguins, dead or alive, and then devour. It is shocking to see, but honestly I felt kind of special, as this is truly the wild. This is not a show and not animals under training. This is life in the wild. The pictures don’t do the ferocity of the attack justice, but the worst part was the noise of the penguin being slapped against the water. The seal was ruthless.

The remainder of the zodiac cruise was special, the bergs looked even more brilliant and the shapes even more intricate. I guess there are only so many words to demonstrate just how wonder this was, but again nothing really does it justice. All I can say is that after 10 months of travelling it becomes very easy to make the extraordinary seem very ordinary. Antarctica was truly extraordinary, and it was impossible to be under whelmed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sharing stories of the seal kill and checking out the many photos and videos that people had taken, it was strange how such a horrific event brought people even closer together!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 7 6th March 2010

Summary – Sailed North of Lemur Channel, south into Lemur Channel navigation, went to Argentine Islands, Booth Island.
Places visited – Landing 7 on Vernaski Station (UKR) Argentine Islands Ukrainian Station. Site of the southern most bar in the world. Also visited Wordie House, ex UK station before abandoned in 1954. Landing 8 at Booth Island and Zodiac Cruise of Iceberg Alley
Species Encountered – Humpback Whale with calf, Gentoo Penguins, Adderley Penguin.

The first landing we undertook today was at the Ukrainian research Base, called Vernasky station. This station used to be owned by the British and was the site of the research that confirmed the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer. This was quite a place. During the winter 13 men live here and undertake scientific research work. It was cold and windy even at this time in the summer and I couldn’t even imagine how the winter would be. People rarely visit during the season, and in the winter the guys here don’t see anyone. It makes the basic really important. I guess the cook here was the most important person! The station is also famous for housing the southern most bar in the world. This doubles as the living room and general chilling out area. It was really cosy and really gave me a sense of what home comforts can mean. People need company, they need distraction and they sometimes need a few luxuries, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that! We had a great time visiting the guys of Vernasky, and some of the group even thought they could survive a season there. I am not sure, but it wouldn’t be beyond me to try!

In the afternoon we embarked on another landing to Booth Island. More amazing penguins and more stunning scenery to gaze at and lose yourself totally. I did a lot of that – just looking out into the distance and letting the wind engulf me. It felt it was a pretty calming and special moment to collect my thoughts in such an isolated place. The wind was howling and the temperatures dropping and although it probably wasn’t lower than 0 Celsius, the wind-chill meant it must have been below that, maybe -15 or so. Our rented gear wasn’t the most fashionable on board but I felt it did the job! Thank goodness we didn’t make the mistake of thinking that we would be able to get by with just our warm fleeces etc!

The zodiac cruise of Iceberg alley that we did from Booth Island has to be one of the highlights of the trip so far. Icebergs are truly amazing creations of nature. I have said it before but how these shapes and patterns can just be created directly from water acting on water is beyond my comprehension. They were outstandingly beautiful and sooo old. The water locked in these bergs could be thousands of years old. The zodiac would meander around these bergs like we were touring an art gallery, each turn would bring something new to behold and marvel at, it was super cool (literally).

For some reason Phil (awesome guy from NYC) decided to put his hand in the water, to take the temperature as it were. I stupidly followed him and for a minute my hand was slowly turning blue in the water. It is the coldest any part of me has ever been, it was crazily cold, the fingers on my hand didn’t feel attached, and the water was biting at me like I had put my hand in a bucket of knives! It was crazy! Of course not as crazy as the guys who decided to take a plunge in the waters completely! There is a fine line between total bravery and complete insanity!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 6 5th March 2010

Summary – Cruise through to the Antarctic Peninsula to Amber Bay. Travelled to Paradise bay, and Browns station.
Places visited – Landing 5 on Neco Island the first continental landing, trek to viewing point for Glacier. Landing 6 at Brown Station (Argentina). Also Zodiac cruise around glacier in Paradise bay.
Species Encountered – Humpback Whales, Minke Whale, Weddell Seals, Crab Eater Seals, Gentoo Penguins, Adderley Penguin, Cormorants, Skewers

This has been the best day of the expedition so far. We saw so much and experienced such a variety of weather and environmental conditions.

The day started with a clear sky sun rise over the Antarctic Peninsula, our first sight of the mainland of this mammoth and mystical continent. The announcement of the sun rise didn’t really get many people up but the second announcement of the whales next to our ship got everyone out on deck. We weren’t disappointed, there was a most amazing humpback whale diving in front of our ship with the ice clad mountains all around. The perfect start! We then continued cruising through the various inlets of the peninsula, with crystal clear waters that were so calm and still that you could see you face’s reflection in the water as the ship slipped through. The mountains and glaciers towered around us and there was ice and bergs all around. It was the picture perfect scene that one would expect of Antarctica. It felt as though we had finally arrived!

The first landing was pretty special. It was on Neco Island. The key characteristic here was that the glacier was so close to the landing sight we could have really amazing views of the calving (breaking off) of large pieces of ice. The beach landing site was close enough that if a large piece fell a wave might sweep us away!! Pretty special. The glacier was immense and really demonstrated to me the awe and scale of nature. All I could think was that we were so lucky to see these sights with our own eyes.

A short 20min trek up the snow clad peak got us to a great lookout point where you could see the bay, the ship, the glacier and the 100s of penguins all around. It was a moment to stop and reflect, to think about how far we had come on this trip, the amazing things we had seen, and the stories that filled my mind. Momentous.

After all that deep thinking it was time for fun! It took us 20 mins to stomp up the mountain, but with fresh soft snow all around there was only one way down – to slide like a 10 year old all the way to the bottom! So cool, and much faster!

If that all wasn’t enough then after a hearty lunch we arrived at Paradise bay. The snow had started to fall and the wind whipped around a bit. It was kind of special, and really made us feel that we were at the very end of the world. The plan here was to take a zodiac cruise around the bay and up to the glacier, and then land at the Argentine station. We took the zodiac cruise first and this was totally the highlight of the day. The Zodiac boats carry 10-12 people, and are highly manoeuvrable. This means you can get right up to ice flows, bergs and seals resting on them. We saw a run of tremendous bergs, glimmering blue and silver white. They were carved in the most beautiful shapes, so intricate that only nature could conceive them. The water around the bergs was a pale blue, so exotic that it belonged in a Caribbean sea, but the ice just made the water shimmer this colour. We looked up and the glacier loomed large, so large that the zodiac would simply disappear near it. The ice was cavernous and the cuts deadly. It was deadly beautiful and most of the time you just looked and stared, and wondered what being could make such a thing, such a beautiful thing. Then you remembered it was simply water acting on water, as simple as that.

If this trip is one of the highlights of our trip overall, then this day is one of the highlights of the expedition.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 5 4th March 2010

Summary – Overnight stationed near King George Island, travel south to Deception Point, and then further south towards the Antarctic Peninsula proper
Places visited – Landing 4 at Ardley Island, Antarctic Special Protection Area (ASPA)
Species Encountered – Gentoo Penguins

Due to the Medical Evacuation of one of the passengers who fell and broke her back a few days ago, we were camped in the Bay of King George Island waiting for the Chilean Airforce plane to arrive and take her back to Holland. This meant that we planned another landing close by to King George Island. The island called Ardley island was our destination. The great this about this lading was just how close you could get to the penguins, or to be more accurate how close the penguins could get to you! It was amazing to see the various behaviours that they exhibit. Does this feel like voyeurism? Not really, I think that the responsible observation techniques that the expedition guides ensure we undertake is really good. We are fortunate to see these animals in the wild, in their OWN wild. Zoos and television has made access to animals so easy, and possibly it feels underwhelming to be in the wild with the ‘cute’ seals and penguins. Let me tell you when you encounter these animals naturally it is just so humbling and so extraordinary that no TV or Zoo will feel the same again.

We moved on from the King George Island area onwards to the proper Antarctic Peninsula, I can’t wait!! Deception Island was our target…

The crossing to Deception Island was again rough, as most of the open Antarctic waters are. But the entry into the way at Deception Island, through a 500m opening called Neptune’s Bellows was crazy. The winds were so powerful it was hard to stand and you felt as if you were in a wind tunnel. I just have never felt wind speeds of such ferocity. The ship was pitching and yawing so much you felt it was going to hit the edge of the gap at any moment, but of course it didn’t! The landing scheduled for the afternoon on deception point was cancelled due to the dangerous lading conditions. But we did stop in the bay and have dinner there.

The ship re-entered the open waters of the straits and headed due south, tomorrow we would see the first sight of the Antarctic Peninsula, together with its glaciers and icebergs. This is the moment we have all been waiting for.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 4 3rd March 2010

Summary – Stationed in the English Channel
Places visited – Landing 2 at Robert Island, Robert Point. Landing 3 at King Edward Island, Chilean (Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalava station) and Russian (Ballingshuan) Camps
Species Encountered – Fur seals, Elephant seals, Distant sighting of a humpback whale. Gentoo Penguins

Today was an early start and we spent another great 3 hours on a landing on Robert Bay. This landing was all about seals. The fur seals were everywhere and really active, jostling with each other, chasing us, being generally loud! They are pretty amazing and so powerful. The stars of the show for me were the elephant seals. These are the largest type of seals and can be 10-12 feet long, they are huge and bulky on land, but in the water they slip around like agile fish! They were amazing, and with very few natural predators they were very approachable. The guidance the tours follows say that you must be at least 5mtrs from the animals, trust me, when it comes to seals you don’t get anywhere near that close, they are to territorial to let you!

We walked up to the top of a hill on the bay and looked out on the beach, the nesting birds and the rough seas. The view was totally breathtaking, just nature nature nature. I feel so small in places like this, with nature all around me. It is such a grounding feeling.

Urvi was fortunate enough to take a ride right along the huge glacier that spanned one part of the island. This was an immense structure and a real thrill. Then in the afternoon we were iceberg spotting. We came up close a huge blue iceberg. It must have been two times the height and length of the ship and would have been 5 times deeper in the water. The blue icebergs contain older ice and are denser than the white ones. This means it was HUGE underwater! Amazing

The afternoon was spent landing at a Chilean and Russian Camp, where we visited and met some of the scientists and staff who set up camp here all year long. This was by no means one of the most remote camp, but it still gives you a feel of the awesome power of nature and the harsh climate that people who live and work in Antarctica face every day. The wind was strong and howling around us, we climbed up to the Russian Orthodox church and just at the top, it was so powerful that you could hardly stand. I was amazed at just how far people were prepared to travel and the life they had to live in. I was glad to see the camps and have a new found respect for people who live and work in horribly tough places.

We sent postcards from one of the southern most post offices from the world and definitely from the Antarctic Continent. Just this act felt special to me, I felt very fortunate and very lucky to be able to travel to this wonderful place. I feel sad that people don’t have the ability or the inclination to travel even a small distance, and having travelled to the very end of the world I feel proud and pretty special.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 3 2nd March 2010

Summary – Completed crossing the Drake Pass, Arrival to South Shetland Islands via English Channel
Places visited – Landing 1 at Barientos Island, Aischa Point
Species Encountered – Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, Fur Seals

The travel today was much better. The sea had calmed right down, and knowing that we were shortly to arrive into the Antarctic waters we were pretty buoyant. The sun was out too, and the first sighting of icebergs was a pretty amazing and momentous sight. It is really easy to lose sight of just how remote a place the Antarctic continent is. The 2 day journey was one clue but the weird sense of seeing icebergs bobbing by and the super chilly water made it clear for me! All in all the experience of arriving to Antarctica was a challenging one for me but just made it feel even further away from everything. Also you totally forget these worries the moment you see the first ice shelves, ice bergs and whales!

In the late afternoon we arrived at the South Shetland Islands. These are a collection of islands just north of the Antarctic Peninsula. One of the small islands within this group was to be the first land we would arrive on. A place all Aischa Island.

Getting to land is a great experience in it self! We use small boats called Zodiacs to travel between the ship and the shore. This is essentially because the ship is way too big to get close to any of the land, and the strict rules in place to minimise the impact of travellers on the wildlife don’t allow large ships close anyway. The journey on the ice cold seas can be pretty daunting for many, and again I felt pretty well reassured by the crew’s management of us. They really take safety very seriously and it just makes you feel confident.

Once on land, we spent a good 3hours admiring, photographing and general standing in awe of the abundant wildlife. There were over 2000 penguins all camped out on the beaches. This time of the seasons finds them malting (shedding old feathers) and raising their young before heading out to sea for the winter. They were amazing and the more time you spent looking at behaviours the more they surprised you and made me want to know more, see more.

There were also many fur seals. These are huge seals, which are pretty aggressive. I feel that when you stand a man next to some of these awesome creatures it shows how weak we can be. These animals are hugely powerful and not to be taken lightly.

The overwhelming sense I had on the landing was just how special it was to set foot on these real wilderness zones. The animals are totally free and so much at peace in their own lives. When we tread carefully and respectfully we see the amazing wonders that nature hold for us.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Antarctic Expedition Day 2 1st March 2010

Summary – Crossing the Drake Pass, Major waves and coping with sea sickness
Places visited – Drake Pass
Species encountered – NA

Breakfast was scheduled for 08:00, but put it this way, most people didn’t make it for breakfast, and those who did were fairly ill. The sea sickness had kicked in and hit me too. Urvi was fine and seemed to cope really well but I struggled through the first half of the day, jumping between being sick, trying to sleep and feeling too rough to close my eyes. Between this we were all trying to make each other feel better and also attend some of the lectures the expedition staff put on. The focus on the first 2/3 days is to cross the Drake Passage, get used to the ship, meet people and to attend the lectures on various topics relating to Antarctica, and its flora and fauna. It was really nicely done and all the expedition staff seemed to be very knowledgeable and approachable. On this day we attended lectures on Antarctica’s geology, a descriptive lecture about the Antarctic ice.

By the evening there was an improvement in my fortunes but this was mainly due to the sick sickness tablets that I took.

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by 2008

Back to TOP