A Travellerspoint blog

The Elements of Antarctica

Blizzards, Ice Sculpture, The Slide and Penguins

semi-overcast 22 °F


After much thought, I’ve decided I’m a struggling as a writer. I don’t know what adjectives to use when trying to describe the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. My thesaurus has run dry. It’s hard to find words that illustrate supreme beauty-except those very words. Antarctica IS supremely beautiful, and that is all I have to say about it.

The Antarctic Peninsula is essentially made of six elements. These are: ice, rock, water, atmosphere, snow, and wildlife (which includes humans). The interplay of these six simple elements makes Antarctic landscapes magnificent.

Here is my proof.

Blizzard on Deception Island
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There is nothing like walking around in a blizzard in Antarctica to make you feel alive. I landed on Deception Island in the midst of a fierce gale. The snow wasn’t really falling so much as it was whipping horizontally over the ground. It never really had a chance to hit the ice. The wind grabbed those flakes and used them to scour the land and the people who walked upon it. It was awesome.
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It was a great day for photography. The wind and driving snow obscured the details of the landscape. I shot these photos in sepia to give an “olde tyme” feel to them. They are some of my favorites of the trip.
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Neptune’s Window
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My compatriots and I took a hike to a high point called Neptune’s Window. I love how these lines of people look in the heavy wind and snow.

Slush
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I found a pond with interesting patterns made of slush.

Cuverville Island
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Natural Ice Sculpture
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A beautiful collection of natural ice art surrounds Cuverville Island. What I really love about these sculptures is not only are they completely natural, but they are only momentary. You have to appreciate them as they are in this moment, because a day from now they might be completely different. In the Antarctic, the flow of change is constant.
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Weddell Seal
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Seals spend much of their time sacked out on the ice floes.

Gentoo Penguin Colony
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Gentoo penguins have a colony on Cuverville Island. It’s interesting to watch gentoos during this time of year, because they are beginning their mating season. All over Cuverville, the penguins gather about in groups on the highest points of the land. They choose high ground because the snow will melt the quickest on top, and it is here where they will make their nests made of rocks.
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In the colony, the penguins consisted of two groups: those that are still looking for a mate, or those that have found one. The courting of penguins is quite elegant. After a good sit, the penguins will slowly walk in a circle. Together, they will bow down very low to the ground and open their beaks while looking at one another. Then the birds will return to a neutral pose and continue sitting around for a few hours.
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The penguins that haven’t found a mate yet spend their days wandering from one group to the next. Often they will stand in trios and call out in a loud “purr.” These calls are announcements of their availability and fine genetics.
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Penguin watching is a fascinating pastime.
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Neko Harbour Shenanigans
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I took my first footsteps on the Antarctic Continent on a cold beach at Neko Harbour. I started my afternoon off by hiking high up on a massive bluff. I passed the ever-present gentoo colonies as I sweated my way to the top. It overlooked the massive glacier that was just across the small cove from where we landed. The glacier had a huge piece of ice poised to fall into the sea below. It would have made a tremendous wave had it fallen. The glacier did sheave off some ice, but the giant piece stayed in place.

Since I was on top of a very steep hill, it only made sense to slide down to the bottom on my rain pants. I managed to talk two of my friends into joining me. At first, it didn’t look like we were going to have any luck. The snow was too soft; the slope not steep enough. We tried a few different techniques, before the snow and slope cooperated. We were soon sliding easily along the snow, laughing, giggling, and whooping with joy. We picked up speed. The joy turned into sheer terror as we reached the lip of the true slope. At this point, there was no way to slow down, and we went into a free fall down the side of the cliff.

I tried to dig my fingers, boots, and arms into the snow, but it was no use. I was at the mercy of gravity, speed, and friction. I finally managed to dig my feet into the slope, but that only caused me to summersault heels over head. I body slammed into the ground and lost all control of descent. Finally, I began to slow and gradually slid to a stop. I laughed. It was exhilarating. I looked over to see how Amy was doing and she was fine. Then we both watched to see the giggling Tiffany fly down the last slope to where we were sitting in the snow. We compared notes, laughed some more, and finally got up to collect our things.
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After the slide, I watched penguins for the rest of the afternoon. They were up to their usual antics: Waddling around, bowing to one another, making nests, and looking cute. I had several of them bob right up to where I was sitting in the snow. I had a good look at their fine lines and remarkable feet.
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Lemaire Channel and Booth Island
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Lemaire Channel is one of the most beautiful stretches of water I’ve passed through. It is bound on both sides by steep, snow-laden mountains. Icy fields descend the mountain and form tidal glaciers at the waterline. I ventured through a corridor of blue glaciers. I felt like I was in a hallway of the Gods.
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After passing through the channel, I rounded the south side of Booth Island. It is in this area that the big icebergs have gathered. There size is immense. Only about ten percent of an iceberg is above the waterline. Keep that in mind as you look at some of the photos of these icebergs.
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The Keyhole
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Leopard Seal
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This is a male leopard seal. The leopard seal is a fierce predator that eats penguins as its main source of food. Their lithe, sinewy bodies are ideal for slipping through narrow openings in the ice. Leopard seals are territorial, claiming a patch of water as their own.

Compressed Ice
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The heavy weight of the dense glacier compresses oxygen out of the ice, which is why it is so clear. The clearer the piece of ice is, the less oxygen is in it. You can see this same process for yourself if you take a small scoop of snow and begin working it and squeezing it with your fingers. As it melts, it becomes easier to form, try to keep it in the shape of a cube as you compress it. You will notice that it becomes clearer. Now you won’t be able to make it as clear as this piece, but the concept is still the same.

Pack Ice
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It was an odd experience to be moving through pack ice on a ship. I have read about pack ice in countless books about Polar exploration. In my mind, I always wondered what it was like to be bashing one’s way through an endless plain of moving ice. As with everything, it’s one thing to read about it; it’s quite another to actually experience it.
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First, some science. Essentially, pack ice forms when a large flat piece of new ice breaks up in smaller chunks and collects en masse by wind and currents. Most pack ice looks like a large collection of giant snow pancakes, with smaller chunks of ice in between.
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Our ship is an ice class vessel, which means it can push its way through pack ice with relative ease. After the days activities, with dinner firmly lodged in our stomachs, everyone on board went outside to enjoy this unique experience. I bundled up against the cold, grabbed my camera, and went out to the bow of the ship.
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The lighting was incredible. Photographers and painters dream about this light. It was low angled light from a golden sunset, diffused through bands of thin clouds. The sunset seemingly lasts forever in the Antarctic during the summer months, and this was no exception. In the background were heavily clouded mountains that contrasted beautifully in the sunlit foreground. The photographers on board were in ecstasy, shooting hundreds and hundreds of pictures in a couple of hours. They ran around singing Paul Simon’s “Kodakchrome.” They talked to the icebergs, complimenting them on their beauty as they snapped their shutters. It sounded like machine gun fire.
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I loved every part of it. The ice pancakes were beautiful. Hell, everything was beautiful. It was an amazing evening in a unique landscape.

Adelie Penguins
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This is the classic Antarctic scene: A small group of adelie penguins popped out of the water onto a flat sheet of ice right in front of me. They shook and rolled around on the floe, which helps them shed water from their dive. They were curious, yet cautious. They kept one eye on me as they rested. I halfway expected them to start tap dancing, but they didn’t.
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Then one of the penguins took the lead and readied itself to jump back in the water. The other penguins followed it, and they all lined up before diving back into the frigid water.
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Antarctica is supremely beautiful… Yep.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:49 Archived in Antarctica Tagged islands ice oceans ships photography penguins icebergs blizzards Comments (2)

South Georgia Island In Pictures

Peggotty Bluff, King Penguin Colonies, Grytviken, Shackleton's Grave and Dawn at Gold Harbour,

semi-overcast 32 °F


There are many things I want to write about South Georgia Island. However, South Georgia is another one of those places where the written word struggles against the island‘s reality. It’s too big, it’s too beautiful, and it’s too complex. I will do my best, but I will try to keep it short. My photographs, though poignant, cannot fully encompass this island for the same reasons. I chose these images because I liked them, they stood up to my artistic eye, and they offer views of the island as it looks today. And today, this island is magnificent.

South Georgia Island In Pictures

Peggotty Bluff, King Haakon Bay
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This is the spot where Ernest Shackleton and company made landfall on South Georgia Island after crossing eight hundred miles of rough Antarctic waters in an open wood boat. During that crossing, he sailed through a hurricane and was able to make only three sightings with his sextant. He named the bluff “Peggotty Bluff” after a scene from “David Copperfield.” He stayed for a day or two, then with two other men made the first crossing of South Georgia on foot, a feat that is easily as impressive as the watery crossing considering their condition and the landscape they faced. I could talk about this odyssey for hours. If you want to learn more about this amazing feat of survival, read “The Endurance" by Caroline Alexander.
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To me, it was a fitting place to make my own first landfall on South Georgia. This island is steeped in maritime history and amazing natural beauty. In my first fifty steps on the beach, I saw both. Wherever I looked, I saw high mountains, glaciers, and foothills. The beach was dotted with amazing wildlife I had never seen before. I gaped at a group of king penguins. I nervously grinned at sleeping fur seals and huge elephant seals. It was amazing.
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And with all that natural beauty about me, I walked in the footsteps of Shackleton. Who, upon reaching this spot, had already been through hell, and still had not given up. I had admired “The Boss’s” grit before, but being here and seeing what he faced gave me new appreciation for his feat of survival.

Trinity Island, Stewart Strait
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We passed through Stewart Strait in the late afternoon. The wind was howling from the northwest, a raw lashing from a cold whip on any exposed skin. I sat in the comfort of the ship’s library. I was content to watch the seals and penguins swim in groups through the lumpy slate gray ocean. The albatross and cape petrels zoomed by, gliding easily on the ferocious wind.

The sun cracked through the gloom just as we were passing Trinity Island. A compelling scene of ocean surf and misty islands unfolded before me. I grabbed my camera and shoved the door open against the gale. It felt like I was in a cyclone, but I steadied myself against the cold bulkhead and captured this shot. I stayed outside for as long as the sunshine lasted, which turned out to be only about ten minutes. I felt fully refreshed from my impromptu photo shoot. I pulled my way back into the library, took a sip of hot tea and smiled.

The Penguins of Salisbury Plain
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Salisbury plain is on the north side of the island located on the Bay of Isles. This plain is home to one of the island’s largest king penguin colonies, ranking forth or fifth in total number.

Let me tell you about a king penguin colony. First of all, they stink. Penguins don’t care where they shit. Picture hundreds and hundreds of penguins mingling together, each of them shitting several times a day. The aroma is over powering. The main part of the colony stood around in a giant plain of greasy muck. I gingerly stepped through the sticky sludge as I moved around the edge of the colony. If any part of your clothing touched this gunk, it remained there even after brushing it off. Penguin shit is half Velcro and half toxic waste.
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Secondly, the king penguin is a very handsome bird. It‘s plumage has very delicate lines with colors ranging in light gray, black, and bright yellow. It’s beak is bright orange along its side and black on top. It carries itself well, as though it is always just going for a stroll through the park.
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The penguin chicks are extremely cute. Known as “Oakum Boys,” they wear a fluffy brown suit of feathers that looks to be a size too big for them. They are very plump. They walk around in a gawky toddler awkwardness that brings a smile to my face whenever I think of it.
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Here are two of my favorite moments. Three chicks walked up to me and lifted their heads up to see what I was all about. Then, probably in frustration, one of them tilted its head skyward and started chirping quite loudly. It began flapping its useless scrawny wings as hard as it could. It ran around the colony with reckless abandon. It circled until it bounced off another adult bird, the latter bewildered by the young chick. It was hilarious.

One poor chick was convinced it had found its mum. It dutifully followed this mature penguin around the colony for over an hour. At intervals, the mature penguin would stop, turn around and curse the young chick out insisting it wasn’t its mum. It could not persuade the young chick of this. When the older penguin walked on, the younger one followed one-step behind. At one point, the young chick walked right into the back of the older one, which caused another bout of cursing. No matter what trick the mature penguin tried, the young chick stayed right behind.
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Penguins are curious creatures. During the course of the morning, I sat on my haunches to gain a penguin perspective, or to use my camera. If I remained there long enough, a king penguin would come up to me and watch me for a couple of minutes before moving on. “What are these giant red penguins?”

The Ghosts of South Georgia
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All that remains of South Georgia’s whaling history are decrepit artifacts of the once busy whaling stations. These old run down buildings are slowly rusting away- blown apart by the relentless wind. They are dangerous places, filled with asbestos, flying bits of metal and unexploded harpoon tips.
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I walked through the largest station at Grytviken (pronounced Grit-vee-ken). Grytviken sits in a small cove on the west side of Cumberland East Bay on the north side of the island.
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I had mixed feelings about Grytviken. As I looked over the huge collection of rundown machinery, broken concrete slabs, heavy chains, and rusted hulls of beached whaling ships, I couldn’t help but feel repulsion. All of this used metal was once part of a giant assembly line that killed and slaughtered the whales of the southern ocean. They turned the giant whales into barrels of oil, and sacks of fertilizer. It felt like a death camp - a disassembly line of the magnificent southern whales. They were very efficient. As the plaque states, “On a good day, thirty fin whales could be rendered in 24 hours.”
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The whale populations of the southern oceans still haven’t recovered. International law protects them, but there are still some countries that continue to kill whales. It’s a very controversial issue.
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On the positive side, Grytviken is home to an amazing collection of vintage maritime memorabilia. Throughout the grounds, there are interesting pieces of maritime history, from the giant chains, the rusting vessels, complete with a crow’s nest, and finally the well-stocked museum. With my camera in hand, I walked the grounds looking for history. It was all around me.
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Shackleton's Grave
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A very heavy snow squall fell upon me as I walked through Grytviken’s quiet cemetery. Shackleton lies here, his grave oriented north to south. I paused to reflect on the final resting spot of one of the great survivalists, and drank a toast to his spirit.

Gold Harbour Beach
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I landed on Gold Harbour beach shortly before four in the morning. It was chilly, but I was comfortable enough in my xtratuff boots, long johns and rain pants. I wore three thin layers of protection over my torso topped off with a windproof parka. I was snug.
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Upon arrival, I found elephant seals lying around like giant stuffed sausages all over the sand. Elephant seals are huge. The male can weigh over four tons, the female much smaller at only one ton. This bulk is primarily blubber. The male elephant seal looks much like Jabba The Hut (of Star Wars Fame). They spend most of its time fighting other males, mating (if it’s lucky), or sleeping in the sand. For such a large creature, they are surprisingly light on their flippers. If you aren’t careful, an elephant seal can sneak up and reshape you into a flat Stanley.
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I must admit it was a bit unnerving to walk among the sleeping males. At the same time, it was exhilarating. I snickered at the slumbering giants. They were snoring and snuffing through their giant nostrils. I thought of my brothers after a hefty afternoon meal.
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The weaners- the small elephant seal pups that have been weaned off mum’s milk- were very curious, and came right up to where I was standing. They were adorable. Their giant brown eye reflected the scene around it, and I had a hard time keeping it from chewing on my boots and tripod.
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Mixed into the hundreds of seals were thousands of king penguins. This was another beachside colony and these birds chose one of the most beautiful beaches on earth for their home. I spent a lot of time admiring their clean plumage in the crisp morning light. The “Oakum Boys” were active; the curious chicks waddled over to where I sat in the sand.
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Along with the king penguins, gentoo penguins waddled around in small groups. These penguins are much smaller than the king, but no less charismatic.
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This was a fine morning. Gold Harbour has one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. This was South Georgia at its finest, an experience I won’t soon forget.

The Penguins of Cooper Bay

Before we started making way towards the Antarctica Peninsula, we made one final stop on the eastern side of South Georgia Island at Cooper Bay.

In this small bay, I saw four different types of penguins. This includes two types that I had never seen before: the chinstrap and the macaroni.
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It’s easy to see why they call them chinstrap penguins, as they have a dark line that runs underneath their chin. Though penguins cannot fly through the air, they can swim like mini torpedoes. To breathe they often pop up through the surface to catch a breath of air before diving back under. I was quick on the shutter for this shot of three chinstraps taking flight.
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The macaroni penguin is easy to distinguish from other penguins by its bright yellow feathers that stick out of the back of its head. I was fortunate to get close to a small group of them lounging on a large rock near the water. It would have been nice to spend more time with the macaroni penguin, but it wasn’t in the cards. My time on South Georgia Island had ended.
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I feel very fortunate to be one of the few people in the world who will ever make it to South Georgia. It is a very remote island located far in the south Atlantic. The wildlife and landscapes were among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Looking back at my photos from this trip, I realize that I only spent four days at six different locations on South Georgia. Imagine what a person might see if he spent a lot of time here on this amazing island.
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“Onward!” We are now sailing to Antarctica.

Posted by Rhombus 11:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged mountains islands wildlife oceans ships photography penguins seals maritime whaling southgeorgia Comments (0)

The Falkland Islands

New Island Bird Colony, Hiking Across Carcass Island, Slacklining in Stanley and Remembrance Day on Tumbledown Ridge

sunny 55 °F

New Island
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I fell in love with the Falklands almost immediately. From the ocean, the Falklands appear to be a barren collection of windswept islands. Upon closer inspection, the landscape consists of long grasslands that rise slowly from one side of the island to the other before falling abruptly into the sea below. The wind blows relentlessly from the west, building waves that smash into its western shores in a foamy crescendo.
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Birds are everywhere. The upland geese graze along the hills like docile cows. Long-tailed meadowlarks sing among the tussocks. Turkey vultures glide effortlessly on the strong breeze above the highlands, and penguins, albatross and shags populate the rocky cliffs. These islands are far from barren.
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I stood upon a western cliff of New Island not more than ten feet away from a breeding colony of rock hopper penguins, black browed albatross and blue-eyed shags. There were hundreds of birds along one section of cliff. These birds were mixing in a giant melting pot of feathers and fowl language. The cacophony of three types of birds squawking over the bashing surf was intense.
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The penguins hopped up and down the cliff (hence the name) from their nesting site to the top of the cliff. They were keenly interested in dried grass in which to build their nest. The shags had the advantage with the ability to fly and could gather grasses in clumps from the hillside before crash landing into onto a narrow section of unattended rock. The giant albatross stood watch on their nests. On occasion, they would waddle over the slanted boulders often tripping over their giant webbed feet. While good for swimming, the webbing makes for walking over boulders quite difficult. Imagine wearing snorkeling fins and walking through a pumpkin patch, and you can see the difficulty.
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Besides the din, the cliff smelled much like a bird colony- the pungent aroma of guano wafted through the breeze. I walked the ridge stopping at intervals to admire the variety of birds. For me, the rock hoppers stole the show. This was my first experience among penguins in the wild, and, well, if I didn’t love penguins before, I certainly love them now.
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Carcass Island
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I passed by a line of Magellanic penguins that sat idly on one of the beaches of Carcass Island. They were content to stand or lie down in the warm sand, seemingly at ease. I gave them a wide berth as I passed them, climbing up onto the flat grassy plain fifty yards past the waterline.
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I walked counterclockwise around the large bay at the south end of the island. The land rose steadily from the waterline to a ridge high above me, but I was content to walk the path that straddled the fence line. The owners of the land raise sheep. In the distance, I could see their dirty cream bodies high on the hillside.

The walk was very pleasant. I took my time, enjoying the beautiful landscape spread out in front of me. The afternoon sun was warm, and I was glad I hadn’t worn any heavy clothes. Who knew the Falklands would have such nice spring weather? I sat down in the warm grass to make some quick sketches of the landscape before moving on. I listened to the plethora of birds, and decided the Falklands are a birders paradise. I walked on.
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As I neared the farmhouse, I passed bright yellow thickets of gorse. The gorse plant is an invasive species to the Falklands. If left unchecked would run rampant over the native vegetation. The thickets are incredibly dense; a twisted trap of strong branches and razor sharp needles. I wouldn’t want to try to walk through such a devilish mess. For as nasty as navigating through them would be, to walk around them is quite enjoyable. The bright yellow petals of the gorse are quite beautiful, and they smell of coconut oil. Many songbirds would sit atop the gorse and sing its springtime song as I passed by.
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“It was one o’ them zippidy doo-dah days.” ~Uncle Remus.

Stanley
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Stanley is not a large town, with something near two thousand full time residents. Stanley sits on a long gentle hillside. The homes and businesses terrace downward from the top of the ridge to the water. The houses are a comfortable size and built low to the ground to get out of the wind. The small yards stand in their natural state, with clotheslines strung up for wet laundry. The strong breeze makes quick work of wet laundry on a sunny day.

The central area of downtown is British. It reminded me of images of the quaint British town, full of red telephone booths, small shops bunched together and narrow twisting cobbled streets. I wasn’t much interested in the many gift shops (much to my niece’s dismay). I was on a mission. I was trying to find two trees with just the right distance between them.

Why was I looking for two trees? Because I wanted to slackline. I reasoned that if I could find some trees to set up my slackline, that I might just become the first person to slackline in Stanley, and perhaps the Falklands. There aren’t many “firsts” left in this world. Somebody has already gone to the moon, somebody has already climbed the Matterhorn, and somebody has already eaten over sixty hotdogs. And it was my hope to be the first to slackline in the Falklands.

The problem was I was having a hard time finding trees. There aren’t many trees in Stanley, and most of them belong to the government. I walked through the memorial wood of 1982, but the trees were too flimsy. I also felt it might have been disrespectful to the fallen, or those that loved them. The Falkland Conflict of 1982 is still fresh in the minds of the residents. I was there on Remembrance Day; more on that later.

I walked past the chapel, past schoolyard playgrounds, and all the way to government house. In fact, I was navigating by treetops, hoping that I would find two trees that would suit my purpose. But all of the trees I found were surrounding public or private buildings. I was about to give up.

Finally, I found an empty playground with a telephone pole and a jungle gym the right distance away. I smiled. The warm grass felt good on my bare feet as I took to the line. During my session, a tour bus full of passengers drove by, and the driver announced in full British accent, “And here we have a man walking a tightrope in the park. How very strange…”
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One of the passengers told me this when we later met on the ship. I laughed aloud at my strangeness.

Remembrance Day on Tumbledown Ridge
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I stepped off the bus onto a gravel road right next to a minefield. This was my first minefield I’ve been close to (unless you consider the cross examination I’ve faced from several females I‘ve known). It was slightly unnerving seeing the minefield. Who knew if they found them all? I stuck to the path through the native grasses from the trailhead, and it took awhile before I felt comfortable in leaving it.

As I’ve said, the conflict of 1982 is still fresh, and there were still many reminders of the war all along this hike.

Hiking in the Falklands is easy and enjoyable. The ground often rises along a gradual slope that isn’t hard to climb. It’s not long before you are hundreds of feet above the trailhead from where you started. After making the initial assault to reach the ridgeline, I saw where Argentine troopers had dug foxholes into the damp earth. I haven’t walked through many war zones in my life, but it had a sobering effect on my hike. I kept wondering what it would be like to be here on this barren ridge, fighting for my life.
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The heights of Mt. William jutted out of the ridge at a steep angle. I wanted to leave the group and climb them on my own, but I knew if I ran off to scale them, some other fool would too. While I’m confident in my own ability, I didn’t think most of my fellow passengers could handle what I had in mind. I stuck to the course.

From Mt. Williams I crossed a narrow peat covered valley across to Tumbledown Ridge. I weaved around perfectly circular holes punched in the peat where artillery fire had landed. From there we climbed up the rocks to where the cross stood. It stands to salute the British troops who had fallen in the skirmish.
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The wind howled over the ridge from the west. I could barely stand upright in the gale, and soon sat down to get out of the pummeling. I listened to one of our guides talk about the battle, how the fighting went from high point to high point all the way down to Stanley, several miles away.
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In fact, I really enjoyed the company of one of our guides. Derek’s family has been in the Falklands for over five generations. This is his home, and he is rightly proud of it. I asked him how his family came to the island.

“Well, back then the colonies offered a chance to get away. Quite a lot of us went to Australia or New Zealand, Canada or America, but somehow, we came here… It’s home.”

We chatted for the rest of the hike, enjoying the exercise and endless beauty around us. He told me he was in the Ramblers association, which had occasional group treks to various islands. I asked him what his favorite place was on the island.

“That’s a tough one; each island has its own charm. There are good things about all of them, I suppose. I like New Island. It’s very nice. And Carcass island is very easy to walk on.“ I had to agree. At one point, Derek walked off to gaze over a cliff, and I took this picture of him. Should you find yourself in Stanley and looking for an interesting guide, Derek’s your man.
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Though my visit to the Falklands was brief, I feel I made the best of it. I enjoyed two solid days of hiking, and became the first to slack line there. I hope I make it back there some day.

Our ship has since turned southeast and is heading towards South Georgia Island. We’ve been at sea for a day and a half, and expect to make landfall tomorrow. By all accounts, South Georgia is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and full of dynamic wildlife. We’ve crossed the convergence zone of the southern ocean. This is where the water temperature drops, and currents between the relatively warm water of the northerly oceans meet the cold water of the southern ocean. I expect we’ll be seeing icebergs soon.
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“Walk On!”

Posted by Rhombus 07:21 Archived in Falkland Islands Tagged landscapes birds islands hiking photography penguins stanley slacklining falklands Comments (0)

To Argentina: Suspended Animation

On Working Nights, Los Angeles, Problems in Houston, Waiting, and Hope

sunny 66 °F

Do you know what it’s like to work night shift? I’ve had to work nights out of necessity this past week. My fellow deckhands suffer from motion sickness, and the ocean was giving us a hell of a ride on our positioning trip from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles, California. The ocean’s motion doesn’t affect me, so I volunteered to stay up and do the hourly rounds all night long for the last five days.
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This isn’t normally a problem. I like the nights, and I love the ocean’s movement. However, yesterday was the start of my trip to Argentina; a travel day. Starting a travel day without a full nights rest is akin to spraining your ankle five steps before running a marathon. I knew it was going to suck, but that‘s the way it goes. There was nothing to do about it, so let’s get on with it. Ha! I love my stoicism, sometimes.

A Day of Suspended Animation
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I sat along side of the trash-strewn road in the dusty bleakness that is the industrial wastelands of the Los Angeles waterfront. Fare the well, Seabird. I am gainfully unemployed and uncaring. After three and a half months aboard my beloved ship, it’s time for a little rest and relaxation.

At LAX, my friend and I breezed through check in requirements and soon found ourselves with drinks in hand at 10:30 in the morning. A good start. My friend surprised me with a gift from one of our chief engineers. It was a travel pillow. I choked up a little bit, moved by his kindness. When I’m sleep deprived, the highs are higher, the lows are lower; life gets more potent.

I passed out in a terminal chair, fading into suspended animation. These places are terminal. I woke up a half hour later, feeling much worse.

Finally, our flight time arrives, and I board the plane. Inside, I could feel the mood of the plane was reaching the boiling point. Everyone was exasperated, nearing meltdown. “People, please! The overheads are filling up. Please check them to your next destination.” My fellow passengers were annoyed and turning selfish. Ugh. I sat down. I had no room to stretch my legs, and crumpled into the most comfortable position I could. I looked out the window as passed over the ocean beach. I see a white line of waves. We arc, turning east. At ten thousand fifty feet, I pass out.

I awoke two hours later. My dreams were vivid and of the terrifying kind. I think I angered the gods, but I’m not sure. I feel like a zombie. I can’t remember how long I’ve been awake compared to these paltry naps. I don’t care. I will carry on. I can sleep on the next flight.

“Houston, We Have A Problem…”

The Houston airport was nice. We had a long walk in front of us, but our flight was delayed by a half hour, so there wasn’t any hurry. We ate dinner. We sat around. The intercom blared, “Flight blah-blah-blah to Buenos Aires has been cancelled. Please wait in line.” Uh-oh, now what?
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We waited somewhere near the end of a very long line. In ten minutes, it didn’t move. I laugh. What can you do? Suddenly, the kiosk at the other end of the terminal opened right where we were standing, and just like that, we were first in line. Ha! What a twist of fortunes. The patient airline representatives offer us apologies, a hotel, a cab fare, food fare, and an amazing display of stress management. Imagine dozens of travel weary annoyed people who want answers, and alternatives. They are impatient and surging, and looking ready to scream.
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My friend and I are not impatient. After all, we are first in line, and we understand that shit happens sometimes. Then the booking system crashes, and the airline people are really feeling the crushing stress. They make calls, they offer more apologies, they keep trying. When they hand us our documents, minus one boarding pass, we thank them, and wish them well.

We walked through the quiet terminal to ground transportation and the next fiasco. United gave us vouchers for the Yellow Cab Company. The six other taxis in line couldn’t help us. We thought of the hundred people that would soon be waiting for a yellow cab, and shuddered. This was going to get ugly, very soon. Luckily, a yellow cab rolled up and we hustled over to it. After a confusing conversation about the validity of our roundtrip voucher with our driver, we settled on a compromise. We’d call him in the morning, so he could give us a ride back to the airport, which would settle our voucher.

I tried to enjoy a long ride to the hotel through the dark freeways of Houston, but I didn’t. I was exhausted beyond caring.

The Breakdown

What does this mean for me? Well, first things first: I slept in a bed instead of an airplane seat. Gods, be praised. Six hours of sleep in a real bed was a short trip to heaven.

Here’s where I now stand.

The next flight leaves today at 1 pm. We crunched the numbers, and figured out that we will arrive at 2 a.m. After customs, we’ll have to beeline it to the hotel to meet our charter flight group at 5 a.m. It’s going to be close, but it looks like we can make it. It’s important that we make our charter flight, because this is the one going to Ushuaia, where we will board the cruise ship.
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At this moment, I’m sitting in a chair at HoustonX. I look like hell, but feel much better than I did yesterday at this time. Someday, I will sleep, but not today. Our flight leaves in three hours, and I’m optimistic we will make it to our destination. It’s going to be a long day, but I’m still smiling.

If all else fails and we miss our ship, we’ve decided we’ll just rent a beach side cabana and chill out for a couple of weeks. How can I lose?

Wish me luck!

CODA

We sat in the plane still connected to our gate for another hour and a half. We were waiting on approval from the Argentine government, which required a piece of paper. I kept running the numbers through my sleep-deprived head. “Ok, if we leave here at two, that makes it five o’clock in Buenos Aires, a ten hour flight has us arriving at three a.m.” Two o’clock came and went. We finally took off at two thirty, meaning we would land at three thirty in the morning. With customs, and trying to find the rendezvous location somewhere downtown, this didn’t leave us much time for any more delays.

This was my first long international flight, and I spent my time engrossed with my entertainment screen on back of the chair in front of me. This system was our in-flight entertainment, with games to play, movies to watch, television shows, music, and an in-flight map of our current location. I played a couple dozen games of “Battleship”, some golf, and chess. I watched part of “The Hustler,” “Finding Nemo,” and all of “Prometheus.”

I only slept for an hour. This meant that by the time we landed at three thirty in the morning, I had more or less been awake for eighteen and a half hours. And I still had a completely full day in front of me before we even arrived at the ship.

There were no problems at customs. They stamped my passport, wished me luck, and motioned for the next person in line. We were fortunate to find out that there were other members of the Antarctic expedition that were on the same flight. This meant that there was no way we would miss our flight to Ushuaia, and we could relax a little. The van to the rendezvous was full, so we had to take a cab. This was easy, but we forgot to get an address to the hotel where we would all be meeting. Our cab driver was a saint, called for information and soon had the address. He hit the gas, and we rocketed through Buenos Aires at five in the morning.

It was sweet relief to see the hotel, and our friends waiting for us. The hard part was over. We had made it with an hour and a half to spare. There’s nothing like making it interesting.

I’ve had some very bad luck with my flights over the years, and this one was one of the better pressure cookers I have faced. There was a lot at stake for this one. If I missed my flight to Ushuaia, chances were good that I missed my shot at seeing South Georgia and Antarctica. I was aware of the stakes, but kept my usual calm demeanor. It was kind of fun racing the clock to make the trip, it made it a lot more interesting than being in the city a full day ahead of time. Despite staying awake for endless hours, waiting in the airport, airplane, and all the rest, we made it. And that’s the bottom line.

The rest of this story isn’t as interesting as what I’ve already told you.

We had breakfast at an opulent hotel for the well to do. I looked like hell, felt worse, but thoroughly enjoyed breakfast, chatting with my friends, and relaxing. I’ve never been in such a luxurious hotel before, and I kept my manners in mind as I ate. I can only imagine what the staff was thinking. “Who let this bum in here?”

We took a bus through Buenos Aires, and I fell in love almost immediately. I will be back. You can count on that. We took another flight south to Ushuaia, and by the end of it, my lower lumbar region was cramping and I didn’t want to sit on airplanes anymore. I was sick of it. We landed, disembarked into the brisk wind rain and snow of Ushuaia.

Our guide on the bus told me, “We have two winters here; one is colder than the other. We don’t have any summer, and the wind always blows.” I smiled. I was unprepared for this as I wore my leisure airport wear. I am used to cold wind and rain, and I walked on enjoying the fresh air. My “high watered” pants actually came in handy when I had to walk through an icy puddle.

More on Ushuaia in future posts.

We took a lunch cruise along the Beagle channel in a catamaran. It was a full lunch, delicious and made with love. I ate a ham salad, chicken stew, and drank three glasses of wine. It was delightful. I stood on deck in the chilly breeze and saw my new home moored to the dock. We unloaded, grabbed our bags, and walked up the steep gangway to our flagship, The National Geographic Explorer.

I made it.

Posted by Rhombus 08:30 Archived in Argentina Tagged food friends argentina airports waiting philosophy problems Comments (0)

On Travel Philosophy

Delving Deep into the Art of Travel, An Autumnal Romp Through A Western Landscape, Misfits

semi-overcast 53 °F

Argentina Travel Philosophy

I was thumbing through my brand new Argentina Travel Guide the other day. I suppose it was going all right. I was looking at various towns and locales, trying to memorize the interesting tidbits each place offered. I hoped to piece together enough interesting locations for my upcoming trip. I was “making a plan.” Something about it didn’t sit right. I wasn’t interested in reading this humongous fact book, and I felt overwhelmed by the task. That’s when I set the book down. I had reached yet another epiphany.

I don’t know much about Argentina. My attempt to memorize a travel guide isn’t going to help me understand it any better. I’d rather enter the country without a clue, making each experience that much more thrilling.

This bit of logic sent me deep into the bones of travel philosophy. The fact is, the planet has been thoroughly explored. It is mapped, photographed, and documented. Argentina is no exception. However, my ignorance is a beautiful concept. No matter where I travel to when I’m in the country, it will be new experience. And I will feel that surging high of excitement at each “new discovery.” This can be as simple as a pleasant park in Buenos Aires, or as involved as my first glimpse of Mt. Fitzroy.

While I’m at it, why plan anything at all? I’m going to bring a map. I’m going to start in Ushuaia, and somehow I’m hopeful that I will end up in Buenos Aires by January 30. What I experience in between is the great unknown. This is how I want it.

Now, this might mean I may not get a place to sleep every night, or food on a regular basis, and I might have to wait a week before I can catch a ride on a bus to my next town. That’s the way it goes. That’s all part of the fun.

I’m inclined to admire the wisdom of Lin Yutang who wrote, “A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond. Either travel is ‘vagabonding’ or it is no travel at all. The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, and no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going.”

Last Ride on the Columbia
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Before I leave the country, I still have some business to take care of in this one. Namely, finishing the River season, and positioning the ship down to Los Angeles, California.

The Columbia has been good to me this year, but I’m ready to move on to other adventures. In nine days, I’ll be unemployed. This thought doesn’t scare me; I’ve been unemployed before, and will be again. At heart, I’m a writer, a rambler and a photographer. I just don’t make any monetary gains with my passions. I’m ready for a change, though. If anybody has any ideas what I should do for my next occupation, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say. I’m certain something will work out, I’m just curious to see what that will be.

Autumnal Romp
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The thigh high grass was wet from the rain that had fallen the night before. The autumn wind is like smoke. It carries a tang of something soothing, sweet, and earthy decay. The sky was mostly cloudy, but large patches of pale blue sky were forming above me. It appeared the rain had passed, at least for now. I follow a mule deer trail as it rises along the steep grassy bluff to where the black basalt outcrops break through the earth. High atop the rock eyre, I pause for a moment to admire the view. The Palouse River is far below stretching wide between the steep canyon walls. This is the confluence, where the Palouse and Snake Rivers join in Southeast Washington.
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I move on; walking easily among the wind swept grasses and bobbing prairie sunflowers. The only part of the flower left on the stalk is the center, which has turned a dark Dijon beige. In the distance, the bluff rises higher to more basalt outcrops. I’m happy. I love early morning autumn jaunts through beautiful landscapes. Who doesn’t?
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I reach the first of the section of columns, and I know I have found what I am looking for. It’s peaceful here. It’s far away from the ship, and the view is spectacular. I put down my backpack, and start composing pictures. I take a few shots, but I’m waiting for the light to get better.
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In the meanwhile, I sit on top of the highest rock column. The column has layered horizontal sections of basalt piled on top of one another. Wind and water have eroded it over the eons into a beautiful sculptured piece of stone. If this rock were to crumble, I would plummet off the face of the cliff reforming myself into a twisted pile of broken bones upon impact. I’m not worried about that just now, as the view is excellent. The wind is buffeting my back, letting me know that its there to support me. I drink some water. I eat a granola bar, and a kiwi. Life is good.
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I love the landscapes of this region. If it weren’t for the fabricated infrastructure that dots the land, I’d think I was in Mongolia.

Palouse Falls
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Later in the morning, I find myself perched high above Palouse Falls. I love this waterfall, and I love the park that contains it. It’s one of my favorite in all of Washington.

The wind is amazing. It whips the waterfall spray, dragging it high above the waterfall on a strong updraft. The cloud swirls in the air, forming the symbol for the number nine (my lucky number) for the briefest of moments. I smile. I love noticing quiet details.
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The wind gusts pluck leaves from trees on the rim of the canyon and carry them far out into the gaping void. They never get a chance to touch the ground. They fall for twenty feet before twirling upward in the draft high overhead. They disappear in the distance, and I am envious.

I love autumn.

Photos That Didn’t Belong
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In a given week, I’ll take many photos that I enjoy, but don’t fit the scheme of what I’m writing about. Since I’m nearing the end of a work period, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite misfits that didn’t find a home.

Author’s Note: The line, “The autumn wind is like smoke” is taken from Lin Yutang’s classic, The Importance of Living. I love that line, but I felt quotations would have been distracting in context. I give him his deserved credit here. Thanks.

Posted by Rhombus 08:31 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes rivers hiking travel autumn argentina photography washington palouse philosopy Comments (1)

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