Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Our new look

The observant among you may have noticed a few changes to the blog. Don't worry, you are still on the right site, I've just had a bit of a play around with it. The main change, other than the colour, is that I have added a 'latest blogs' section so that you can quickly see what the ten most recent blogs are and more easily see if there are some that you have not yet read. You just need to click on the title of the posting to read the whole thing. The most recent one will still be displayed in full underneath this new section.

For those of you who like statistics, I have added our number of page views to date, and a list of the ten blogs that have had the most page views so far. You can still search the blog by date through the archive or by key words if you want to, but right at the bottom of the page I have added a list of the labels that I have put on posts. These are ordered by the number of posts that they feature on. So if you want to look at any posts about Colombia, you can click on that, or wildlife will give you any posts that talk about the various birds or animals that we have encountered.

Finally, I have added a little question about why you are reading the blog. It will only be there for a few days, but please do just take a moment to tell us who you are. I may add a few more in the future, so keep an eye out for them.

I hope that you like the new version

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Boca and Caminito

When we were here last time we didn't make it to the area of Boca. Boca literally means mouth and it is the part of BsAs that sits at the mouth of the river. It is a run down part of town, that is not regarded as a particularly safe place for tourists, so is generally to be avoided unless as part of a tour group.

However it does have a little street near to the water edge, that is famous for its colourful buildings. So we left out valuables at home, got on a bus and paid a visit to Caminito.

We were immediately greeted by a Maradona look(a bit)alike, offering to have his picture taken with us, for a price of course. We declined. Next we saw a couple of tango dancers. They didn't really seem to have a great deal of enthusiasm for it, so we passed on them too.
On the bus on the way through Boca to get to and from Caminito, we could see that some of the houses really are painted in bright colours, and have moulded reliefs on the walls, albeit that they are now a little past their best and faded.

So the brightly coloured buildings here are authentic in style but like many tourist sites, they keep them repainted and perhaps over emphasise the reliefs of the likes of Maradona and the Perons for the benefit of the visitors. Still it is interesting to see.

What we could have done without are the additional tourist moneymakers. The Maradonas and the tango dancers are one thing, and you expect the somewhat tacky souvenir shops and the waiters trying to get your to eat at their place.

But really, do you absolutely need to have a dozen of these horrible pictures with holes for you to put your head through and have your photo taken? You could be a tango dancer, or you could be an Argentine footballer with your arm around Maradonna, or be another tango dancer etc. Really? Does anyone actually do that?

Is Caminito worth the visit? I think so. We didn't spend long there but it was only a 17p bus fare each way and you don't have to spend anything there. It is more touristy and tacky than it should be, but it is interesting even so and it does have genuine roots, so is an indicator of the true nature of the area. Just don't go off wandering around the rest of Boca unless you're feeling lucky.

Teatro Colón

The grand theatre in Buenos Aires is the Teatro Colón.  Dating back to 1908, it is a grand building on the outside and resplendent inside.  Its seven floors are all gilded wood, fancy lighting and red velvet.  Well maybe more pink now as some of it is a bit faded.
The six balcony levels are only shallow and are steeply inclined.  The first three  are entirely made up of little boxes for six people.  The top three have a few rows of seats and then standing areas.  The standing areas are split by gender, with women only on the fourth level, men only on the fifth, and mixed on the sixth.

We went along to a ballet production of Carmen, which to my untrained eye seemed pretty good.  There were certainly a lot of 'bravos' at the end for some of the leads.

Note to self though, next time we go to a ballet we should read up on the plot first; whilst we followed it mostly right, I did make the already complex relationships even more so by mistaking a girl's prospective mother-in-law for her school teacher and possible lover.  Oops!

But back to the theatre.  It is large and impressive, and I can see why it is so well regarded in Buenos Aires, but personally I prefer some of the London theatres.  Some of the smaller and older ones in particular have a real character to them, while if you want impressive, you need look no further than the Royal Albert Hall.

That is the nice thing about travelling, sometimes you see things that blow your mind and make you want to always be somewhere new, but other times you are reminded of what is great about where you are from.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sellotape and cigarettes

Both times that we have stayed in Buenos Aires we have rented a flat in Palermo.  The first was in a more modern building and was generally a bit better, but both were fine. They were both in normal apartment buildings, living alongside local Porteños.

The second place was a bit older, with one of those lifts where you have to open an internal and external door and if you don't close both properly it won't move.  Thankfully, as we were on the seventh floor, it always worked.

The flat owners obviously weren't too keen on fixing things.     There was the collapsed leg on the bed bit of the sofa bed and the glued on oven door handle that came off when the oven heated up and melted the glue.  But generally their solution of choice appeared to be sellotape, with light fittings, the dodgy leg of the bedside table, and the loo seat all taped back together only partially effectively.  That said, very thing was generally OK, and we were perfectly happy there for a month.
What really amused us though was something that presumably the caretaker, but possibly another resident did in the lobby.  They had obviously been having a problem with someone dropping cigarette butts from one of the upper floors into a small courtyard area.  We came back on day to find a notice on the mirror telling people to stop, with the notice surrounded by the offending butts sellotaped to the mirror.
We thought that was funny enough, but the next week the problem had escalated from cigarettes to used condoms.  So there was a new notice on the mirror, and yes, a condom stuck above it.  I have no idea whether it was the actual discarded used one, or a fresh one for demonstration purposes.  I didn't really want to get close enough to find out!

Clearly though the offender still didn't get the message, as a few days later there was another notice saying that the police had been called and would be coming out to interview everyone on the relevant part of the building.  This one was even translated into English, presumably so that there could be no mistake if the guilty party was a non local resident.

Thankfully our flat wasn't in the part where all this was going on, so we weren't suspects and didn't have to see the police.  I don't know if they did actually come out or not - I can't see the UK police having time for that somehow - or whether the offender admitted their crimes, but it must have put a stop to it as there were no more notices after that.

Good Friday

Not being a religious person, Easter for me is more about family get togethers, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs than about going to church.
Obviously I know what it is all supposed to be about, and I respect those who follow their faith.   But while some Christians clearly go to church regularly and  make efforts to give some thought to their religion at Easter, it does seem to me that these days many of those who say they are Christians spend their Easter much the same way as I do - all Easter Bunny and no Jesus Christ.

I don't necessarily think that everybody has to be in church every Sunday to be a Christian.  Personally I think that how you act day to day is far more important.

But at the same time, you surely have to make a proper effort to remember the point of special days like Easter and Christmas, and not just go with the commercial and fun bits.

This year I am in Argentina for Easter, a country where religion is still very important to most people and it was interesting to see the difference.

In the UK you can't move in the shops for Easter eggs from February onwards. Here, there are some Easter Eggs around, but relatively few, and they don't seem to compete for which egg can be the biggest - or at least have the biggest packaging.

But more importantly, there was real evidence of religion.  In a city that rarely closes streets, the Avenida de Mayo was closed on Good Friday to allow a Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, procession, which follows the 14 stations of the cross.

The procession was led by a priest with a cross.  There was one group where people were dressed as Jesus carrying his very large cross and a bunch of roman soldiers.

A few carried large statues of Jesus or Mary on a bed of flowers.  Another group carried a huge cross with tea lights lighting it up.  Others were just dressed as they happened to be that day, having come from work or home, or wherever.

Most people carried lit candles as they walked, and sang or prayed along with the priest, who was piped out to the streets through huge loudspeakers.
It didn't really matter what they wore or whether they carried anything.  The point is they were there - a few thousand of them - taking a couple of hours out on this Good Friday evening to demonstrate their faith.  Nuns walked along mixed in with the public; there was no big deal of church groups first with a big banner and everyone else follows.  When they reached the Plaza de Mayo there was a big open air service outside of the cathedral.  This wasn't about displays or showing off, it was simply people moving together to commemorate the death of Jesus.
To me, this seemed to be what faith should look like.
And just so you know, the reason I have a photo of one particular girl is that I was trying to take one of the nun walking behind her, but she saw me and kept getting in the way. She seemed so seemed desperate to get in the picture that I took one of her. It made her happy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Please stand clear of the doors

I know that we sometimes feel that the UK has become a bit of a nanny society, but the same could not be said for South America.  We have seen and experienced various things that would never be allowed under health and safety in the UK. The latest though was the trains whizzing past with their doors open and people sitting and standing on the steps.  Particularly interesting in light of the recent train crash with muliple fatalities.

Malvinas Day

Malvinas memorial in Ushuaia
In Argentina the 2 April is a public holiday called Malvinas Day.  Las Malvinas is the Argentine name for the Falkland Islands which if you've been reading regularly, or just watching the news, you'll know the Argentines believe should be a part of their country.  It is also the anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands back in 1982.
I've talked about the reasons why Argentines feel that the Falklands should be theirs before, but I have not talked to any Argentines about what they really think should happen or how strong the feelings are.  I would like to, but my feeling is that the opinions here are very strong, having been taught from an early age, but also very complicated.

It seems fairly clear that the original conflict in 1982 was a desperate effort by the ruling military junta to deflect public opinion from their failings and stay in power.  Some of the television and news items that we have seen makes it clear that the media at the time actively lied about the progress of the war. I have seen one person write that they were scared that the British would attack Argentina during the conflict. Many Argentines seem to be unhappy with what happened back in 1982, but at the time, it seems there was significant public support for the invasion.

From what I have read and seen, children here are taught that the British stole the islands from Argentina and that they should be given back. They are perceived as the lost little sister. But it is not at all clear to me how how much of what is taught is factual and how much is propaganda. I have no idea how much or how little the average Argentine knows about the islands or the islanders. The story of Las Malvinas is certainly a deep seated one here, and it is a major political issue, but I cannot tell from what I have seen what most people truly believe should happen.

Malvinas protest in Paza de Mayo
We know that there is a swell of opinion that Christina Kirchner is once again using the Falklands to deflect the public from the serious issue of high inflation in Argentina, and the general concerns about her ability to run the country. She started her career in the South of Argentina, which claims to the the province that the Falklands belongs to, so this would always be a political rallying call for her. She certainly seems to have been trying to blame the failure in 1982 on the military junta, possibly in an effort to prevent any efforts by the military to oust her.
On Malvinas Day itself, we were heading home in the early hours and saw that the protest outside the Casa Rosada was gearing up. We didn't stop to say hello. They had also changed the usual pink lighting on the Casa Rosada itself to blue.

There were at least six channels dedicated to the issue for the whole day and we looked at some of it. Sadly our Spanish isn't really up to understanding what was being said, but there were former soldiers, academics and various others being interviewed and opinions seemed to vary. There were some debates, which seemed to have some clear support for backing off the issue. And we read about a group of respected Argentines sending a letter to Christina to say that Argentina should reconsider its claim to own the Falklands in light of the islanders right to self determination.
We also caught the tail end of a film about the Conflict, which showed a soldier dying and then his friend and fellow soldier going back to the Falklands afterwards to visit the sites where they fought. Strangely, although the first part was in Spanish, when they got to the Falklands the speech was in English and there were no Spanish subtitles. Not sure why. From the looks of it, this was not a political film, but the story of people involved in it, but the film made no attempt to hide the very British nature of the place or that the islanders seemed happy as they are.

Casa Rosada in blue
But of course Malvinas Day itself was always going to be the catalyst for any trouble. A left wing group called Quebracha had already been attacking businesses with British interests of the past months, and putting graffiti that the English should leave Las Malvinas, and on 2 April they rioted at the British Embassy. The embassy was empty and the Argentine police were well prepared to defend it, but they threw petrol bombs at the police and what looked like little home made explosives with marbles in them. They burned an effigy of Prince William outside and generally made a lot of noise and a mess. But the police contained it with water cannons and they soon left without anyone being hurt or any major damage. You may well have seen the coverage on the UK news.

We had figured that there might be trouble today, and so although we know that most people are very friendly and wouldn't even consider taking this out on us, we also know that it only takes one idiot to take offence at our accents and there could be a problem. So we decided not to take the chance of meeting that idiot and getting into a scrape; instead we took the easy route and holed up in our flat for the day with some nice Argentine wines. The next day we were back out again with people being friendly as usual.

Down but not out

When I think of a homeless person, I think of someone who lives constantly on the streets, perhaps with a cardboard box or two to call home.  They will probably have a few sleeping bags and some carrier bags with their worldly good.  They probably need a good wash, and are likely, especially in South America, to have a dog for company.

What I don't expect is that they will have a television.

There is a guy on the streets of Buenos Aires who fulfills all of the above.  It appears that he may have persuaded the local business that he sleeps outside of to let him run a power cable onto the street so that he can lie on his box and watch the TV.  And it isn't a small TV as you can see in the picture.

It comes to something that a homeless guy owns a TV when I don't.

Buenos Aires again

When we got off the Plancius, we had a couple of days in Ushuaia to get our land legs back and have a few more drinks with some of our shipmates, before flying up to Buenos Aires for a month. Originally we were only passing through for a few days, but as our budget got more and more stretched, we figured that it was time to take some budget friendly decisions.

As we will be planning to go back to Brazil some time in the future, and it is one of the more expensive countries in South America, we decided to only do a small bit of Brazil this time, and save some money. It is relatively inexpensive to rent a flat in BsAs, and with our own kitchen we can cook for ourselves often enough to make up for the steaks and wine that we inevitably buy.

As it turned out, with me feeling decidedly under the weather still, it was good to have a break from travelling to have a chance to get over it. It also allowed us some time to catch up on some of our practical issues like planning our route for the rest of this year, thinking about our plans for the summer and booking flights for next year.

So we had a month of relative relaxation in BsAs, with its fabulous graffiti and the paseoperro dogwalkers, spending plenty of time in cafes.

The weather was much warmer than last time we were here as it is the tail end of their summer. It was generally around the high 20s to early 30s, so even the Porteños weren't complaining about the cold this time. It did however rain a few times. On our first full day, when we were moving from our hostel to the flat, it bucketed down. It was literally stand outside for a few seconds and get completely drenched.

Unfortunately the taxis here are a law unto themselves and refused point blank to take us with our rucksacks. In the end, with little time to spare to meet the rental people, I stayed in a cafe with the bags so that Nic would be unhampered by them and could get to the flat. By the time he came back it was largely stopped and we both walked up. A few taxis sounded their horns at us to see if we wanted to use them - oh now they want our business - and it was only the fact that these were probably different drivers that stopped them from getting a mouthful of abuse.

Other than that, we we lucky to be able to avoid the downpours, and could instead watch them from the safe harbour of either the flat or a cafe. They were worth watching for the sheer volume of water that they dropped and the amazing thunder and lightening.

One evening we were sat in a cafe and watched the road become almost a river, and pieces of tree and other debris flowing along it. The rain set off car alarms and drenched anyone who moved. We later heard that four people were killed in the centre and a further eleven in the suburbs of BsAs.  The wind had been 60 miles an hour, with reports of it reaching 75 miles an hour at times.  Most of the people killed were hit by falling trees or masonry, but one was electrocuted by a fallen power cable.  Ten people were injured by a church roof that lifted off and landed where they were waiting for a bus.

We were glad that we had been inside a restaurant.  Just as an aside, the restauant that we ended up in was one that had a lot of bottles with messages on around the walls.  At the end of the meal they asked us to write on ours.  It is the one third from the left at the front above the bar.

Antarctica - good, bad or indifferent?

So having spent a lot of money, and four days there and back through the Drake Passage, is The White Continent worth it?

Well it is a lot of money, and if you have to choose between going to Antarctica and paying your mortgage or rent, servicing your car, or feeding yourself anything other that bread and water for the next year, then clearly of course not. And the seasickness has certainly put off a few people that we met from considering returning - though not one of them regretted having come this time.

It is probably not the best place for someone who absolutely can't stand being cold, although we found that if you wrapped up really well, it wasn't so bad most of the time. And the ship was always nice and warm to come back to.

But if you can make it past those hurdles, then Antarctica is fantastic. I have already said that we were disappointed not to have gone where we expected to, and that thought was with us all the while we were there, but even that rather large cloud couldn't stop us appreciating what an amazing place it is. And now that we know we will be going back to the part we most wanted, we can appreciate what we did see all the more.

Antarctica is officially the coldest, windiest, highest, driest - and certainly the whitest - continent. It didn't always feel like the driest to us, but we couldn't argue with the rest.

It is hard to imagine how something so devoid of colour can be beautiful, and at times when the day was so grey and cloudy that you couldn't see where the snow covered land finished and the snow filled sky began, some of the panoramic views weren't that great. But when the clouds lifted, or even just when some sunlight broke through, you could see the immensity of even just this very tip of the continent, and it is unbelievable.

And even on the dullest of days, if you let your eye forget the big picture and focus instead on what was close to you, all of the subtle variations and remarkable details jumped out at you. For a start, the monochrome black of the land and white of the snow breaks out into a variety of colours. Much of the ice is a pale blue, with deeper veins of blue running through it. Every so often you get a deep blue, transparent iceberg that is truly stunning to see. In the glaciers there are lines of colour running through that show how the snow has built up year on year, like the rings of a tree. And in both glaciers and icebergs the textures and shapes are constantly different and fascinating to look at.

Then you get the other colours in the snow and rocks, caused by lichens or minerals. Reds, greens, and oranges contrast fabulously against the blocks and whites, and those hits of colour give both a beautiful contrast. Add to this the human elements of science stations and old whaling posts, and you have some amazing features that are incredible just for being there and alo help to give you some perspective about the size of this vast white wilderness.

And it is a wilderness. Our expedition leader reminded us that nature is in control here, not us, and it proved her right. Even at this edge of the continent, in the relatively mild conditions, it was clear that this was not an easy place to exist. We saw reminders of how harsh the environment can be and how easy it could be to die out here as so many experienced and capable people have done in the past. Of course our little expedition was tame and as safe as it could be made, but the captain still has to navigate the icebergs and if you get stuck onshore after a landing because it is too dangerous to use the zodiacs, then you could have a cold night ahead of you. Thankfully we only had to imagine what it would be like to be stranded in the coldest place on earth.

Of course if the sheer beauty of the landscapes aren't enough for you the there is always the wildlife. Many of us have been lucky enough at some time or other to be close to a dolphin swimming alongside a boat in the sea, or to have had some other relatively common, buy nonetheless wonderful encounter with an animal in the wild. It is even more amazing when that animal is a humpback whale, close to the ship, and you get to see firsthand that iconic image of the tail fin rising up out of the water.

Equally the feeling of have the predatory leopard seal circling your zodiac, or letting you get within a few metres while it rests of the ice is awesome. And even for a non bird watcher like me, it was fascinating to see some of the birds here, so someone who can recognize more than just an albatross and a skua would be in their own kind of heaven.

But really, the true icons of Antarctica are the penguins. When you think about a penguin they seem like a strange creature, and it is right, they are. But I defy you not to love them! Even the most indifferent of people we have met have been captivated by the penguins. In the water they are agile, fast and fairly impressive when they porpoise through the water like mini torpedoes, but they aren't quite so interesting.

When you get them on land it is a different matter. It is endlessly fascinating to watch them. They are proud, curious, determined and comical all at once. They aren't exactly built to walk on land, with their tiny legs, but they waddle around and can move pretty fast when they want to. They are frequently faced with obstacles like rocks that are enormous to these little guys, but they are not deterred. Whether going up or down, you can see them concentrating very hard on the jump that have to make, they put their flippers out behind them and arch their bodies in preparation, and then they make their huge two footed leap through the air.

Most of the time they make it. Every so often though, one comes a cropper and falls over. When it does it hurries to right itself in a flurry of flapping wings and scrambling feet, looking around to see if anyone noticed its little mishap. Sometimes, especially when they are trying to get out of a deeper rock pool, it can take them a few goes to clamber over the edge, and it is all you can do not to run over and try to help them.

They are also such curious things. Invariably as I walked around the sites I would get some little visitors. Some would just watch me from a few metres away, but others would have a little peck to check me out. And they are fascinated about any objects around them, from the station buildings or equipment to the whale skeletons that have been there for years, through to the items we had with us like backpacks, or snowshoes. If you don't want to find a penguin standing on it or pecking at it, don't leave anything unattended within their reach. Luckily they don't do much damage so the worst that is likely to happen is that it gets covered in their projectile penguin poo.

So I guess if you don't like snow and ice, have no interest in whales, birds or seals, and are truly convinced that you hate penguins then you shouldn't consider coming here. But otherwise I think Antarctica is an amazing place visit. To experience for yourself what an extreme place it is, to see the beautiful ice, to imagine living in a tiny science station for months on end, and to have close encounters with the penguins and other creatures. I don't know anyone who has been to Antarctica and regretted it, and I am thrilled to be going back in November.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Back in the Drake Passage

As we left the Antarctic Peninsula and sailed back through the South Shetland Islands to the Drake Passage, we all had mixed feelings. Everyone had enjoyed seeing even this tiny part of the amazing White Continent, and all of us were sorry to be leaving.

And for some, the was a dread of the potential rough crossing and worse seasickness than last time. In fact we were lucky with the crossing again and though we had a few bumpy moments, it was no worse than a bit choppy.

As there was no longer a steady flow of ice and wildlife to look at, just the occasional wandering or black browed albatross, the plan was to write up some blogs during the crossing back.

Unfortunately though I had by now had to give in to the lousy bad throat that I had picked up in the last few days, so between that and the obviously completely unavoidable need to spend time in the bar with our new friends, I didn't get any done at all. Never mind.

By the time we got back to Ushuaia, we were all missing the penguins and having to resort to looking at our photos for our daily fix.

Mind you, as much as I liked the penguins, I didn't do what one Antarctic visitor apparently did. One of our crew told us about a time when a passenger arrived back from a shore landing on their first day, but the expedition team were suspicious about their backpack. They opened it up to find a penguin inside. Who knows where the person was planning to keep it until they got back to land - in the shower perhaps! Needless to say the penguin was returned and the individual was not allowed off the ship again.

I don't really have pictures for this blog, so have added photos of a few of the great little displays that the crew created from fruit and vegetables. I thought they were really good.

Our last zodiac cruise in Antarctica

On our last day, we had planned to make a stop at another bay, but it was too windy to launch the zodiacs there, so we sailed on further.  En route, we passed through yet more great scenery, spotted a few more humpbacks, and got another tail fin shot.

Of course with my little camera it is little more than a speck in the distance, but it is still a tail.

The area that we stopped at is completely protected.  Noone other than scientists is permitted to make any landings on any part of the shore, so we just did another zodiac cruise around the bay.

The ice was fabulous.  We passed some huge bergs on the way here and there were some reasonably big ones floating in the bay.  I have included one picture that shows our ship (the smaller looking one because it is further away) and another ship near to one of the medium sized icebergs to give you some idea of the scale.

With the wind up as it was, even in the relatively calm waters here there were a couple of the smaller icebergs that were rocking in the waves and close to flipping over.

It would have been good to see one actually turn, but none did while we were there.  Probably best not to be too close anyway, as I guess they make quite a wave of their own when they do go over.

Some of the bergs had some amazing shapes and colours.  There was one that looked almost completely smooth, while another looked like someone had taken a huge knife and sliced through it repeatedly, but just leaving enough to hold it all together.  Most were a pristine looking pale powdery blue, perhaps with some veins of deep sapphire running through them, but a few were different.
One in particular was a deeper, more transparent blue with brown areas that looked like it had rolled in the dirt.  It also had a totally clear section that pointed out like a finger from one end.  Another small berg was like a curled leaf, complete with an etched pattern of veins.

One of my favourites here were a set of three, or possibly a single one with gaps, where one piece stood quite tall and looked very moody against the cloudy sky.  It had a small round hole in it which we found fascinating too.

Another was one with a really deep blue base but got lighter at the top, that seemed to have hollow funnels all through it.  It just looked stunning.
As fascinating as the ice was though, we were all pleased to spot a few more leopard seals.  The first was swimming around the ice and took little notice of us watching it.

The second was a young one, laid out on a piece of ice and was quite relaxed as we approached.

He looked at us occasionally, just to check that we weren't going to give him a problem, but appeared totally at ease with us there.

He was certainly relaxed enough to relieve himself while we watched.  And a very, very long wee it was too; we were quite surprised he didn't sink his bit of ice.
He did let us get very close indeed and it was great to be able to see his beautiful spotty markings so clearly.  He appears to have a different coloured underside, but that is just from where he had been lying on the ice.

When we moved around to the back of him, we saw that he had been fitted with a transmitter and a little blue toe tag, so he is being monitored by some scientist somewhere.  The transmitter didn't seem to bother him at all and it will fall off naturally when he moults.

Arriving back on the ship, we were greeted with a hot chocolate with rum in.  Just what we needed to round off our Antarctic cruising and warm up again for the evening sail back to the Drake Passage.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Zodiac cruise in Paradise Harbour

Over lunch we sailed back to Paradise Harbour and this time as we sailed into it we got a better opportunity to enjoy the scenery.  Large swathes of brash ice covered the surface of the water with bergy bits providing convenient platforms for the odd seal or penguin.

We were also lucky enough to spot couple of humpback whales, mother and calf.  Even to a novice whale spotter like me, you could tell the distinctive arched motion as they move, and we all waited in hope of seeing the tail coming up.
Humpback whale tailfin
We weren't disappointed as they both dived a couple of times giving us a great view of the black and white underside of their tail fins.  I was pleased that  I just about managed to get a shot of it.
In the afternoon, Nic and I took the zodiac cruise. The general plan for the zodiac cruise is to have a chance to get up closer to the ice, and have a hunt around for any wildlife that might be nearby.
Because the captain keeps a reasonable distance between the ship and any icebergs, not surprising given the reminder of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that they are smaller than they really are.

It is so hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the ocean and islands, let alone the continent itself, and if you can't grasp just how enormous they are, then you can't possibly realise how big the icebergs are.  Getting up close to even the little ones, and seeing that they are not little at all, helps you to get a better perspective.

And it is fascinating to look at the different forms that the ice takes. In particular you can see the ones where the ice has turned over, so that the section that was below the water is now on top.

This is when you get to see the fabulous dimpled effect on the ice, or can see the steppes that the water creates.  There is more that I could say about the different types, colours and textures of the ice, but as we are now going to the Weddell Sea at the end of the year I'll save it until then.

Much of the water surface in Paradise Harbour is covered in brash ice. The ship ploughs through this easily, but it is a different story in a zodiac.  The drivers are all practiced at getting through, but you can see they need to pick the path of least resistance, and even then they get stuck every so often.

Blue eyed shag
Generally this is because the motor has got blocked by the ice, and they have to work it free, but sometimes they just reach thicker ice that they can't pass through, so have to back up and go around it.  But despite a few problems we got about pretty well.
We passed the Argentine Brown station, where the original buildings were destroyed in April 1984 when the station leader started a fire because he didn't want to stay here for another winter.  The people were rescued by a US ship. I assume he had timed the fire for when he knew a shop was scheduled to be nearby, as being left out and exposed once the fire had burned out would almost certainly be deadly.
Crabeater Seal
Our first wildlife was the small nesting site of blue eyed shags (keep the smutty comments to yourselves please, we've already done them all!). Their home is a steep multi coloured rock face.

Like the snow, the rock can be turned different colours by various natural elements.  They can be blue-green from copper deposits, emerald green from mosses, or orange and yellow from lichens.

Leopard Seal
As we were watching the birds, we spotted a couple of crabeater seals.  Crabeaters are apparently the most abundant type of seal, but despite their name they don't eat crabs at all, they eat krill.  They weren't overly keen on hanging out with us so we watched them for a short while but then left them alone and carried on around the bay.

We soon spotted a leopard seal on some ice and got up fairly close to it.  It kept an eye on us but didn't seem bothered by us at all.  In fact it was so unimpressed that it proceeded to do an incredibly long and very bright red poo.  The bright red was from the krill that it eats.  I can only assume that the huge amount of poo meant that a lot of krill had died to satisfy his appetite.

Hearing from another zodiac that a second leopard seal was lounging about on a different bit of ice, we went to check that out.  This one didn't stay on the ice for long and for a moment we thought we'd driven it away, but we needn't have worried.  It was taking an interest in us, and was swimming nearby to the zodiac, circling around us and popping up regularly.
After  a while, a second zodiac turned up, but that didn't bother it either. It just kept on swimming even closer around us, between the zodiacs and underneath them.  We had already been told that it is not unknown for the leopard seals to take a bit at a zodiac, so our drivers were keeping a watchful eye to see if the seal turned aggressive and we needed to leave.  Happily though, the seal showed no sign of attacking, and just kept swimming around right next to us.

We watched him for a while, and then figured it was time for us to head back.  The idea was to leave the second zodiac alone with it.  However the leopard seal had other ideas and followed us.  It carried on swimming after us for a while, but eventually gave up and went elsewhere.  One theory about it following is that it likes the bubbles in the water created by the motor, but we preferred to think that it just taken a liking to us.