South Georgia Island

If you plan a trip to Antarctica, do NOT skip South Georgia Island! It was the highlight of our trip by boat. If you are familiar with Sir Ernest Shackleton and the “Endurance” you have heard of it. On his epic journey to find help for his stranded crew he ended up there, crossed the island from King Haakon Bay to the whaling station at Stromness Bay.

The island is covered in snow and ice, a windy place.  We had to bundle up because of the wind chill, it really was not that cold there.The world’s largest breeding colonies of king penguins live here, close to 600 000. Their numbers are increasing. We visited several different bays and got to watch them. They, as well as the marine mammals on the beaches were totally fearless of human beings.

Life on the boat was great. Our room was comfortable and clean and soon we were settled in and enjoying the routine. This is not like a regular cruise, wake-up calls could be early, as early as 4.30 am one day. It all depends on the weather and tides. Bundle up, grab a quick cup of coffee and off you go. Not too much coffee though, because you are not allowed to go to the bathroom while on shore. The rules are strict when you step on the island, our boots get thoroughly cleaned before we leave the boat so not to introduce new plant material, even the velcro on the jackets gets checked for seeds. Rats have been a big problem here, they are slowly getting eradicated. (They did not check our pockets for rat babies 🙂

IMG_20171119_125716

IMG_20171116_084248

The Southern Elephant Seals rule the beach, our presence did not bother them at all. The hiking pole is also a way to keep the occasional pesky fur seal at bay.

IMG_20171116_154751IMG_20171116_152520

King penguins

IMG_20171116_151943IMG_20171116_103607Surfing King penguins

IMG_20171116_160248

“Oakum Boys” they call the fluffy brown King penguin chicks

IMG_8025

These chicks have already survived one winter and are still being fed by their parents.

IMG_8020

IMG_7994IMG_7989One of the colonies of King penguins.

IMG_7958

Snowy Sheathbill

IMG_7939IMG_8014

IMG_20171117_102323

Elephant seal are huge, the males grow to 6,2 m (20 +ft),  can weigh 3500+ kg. IMG_20171117_102215IMG_20171117_100306

What looks like a rock in the water is a giant sleeping Elephant seal. He moved only once the whole time we forded the stream – and actually came closer.

IMG_8035

IMG_20171117_085114

 

IMG_8037-001Yes, that is Barbie at a photo shoot.

IMG_8056IMG_8058

IMG_8060

Burnet is one of the few native flowers that can grow in this environment.

IMG_8105

That was a great day, tomorrow another bay with different penguins.

IMG_20171117_164633

Gentoo penguins nest way up on the hills. While Günter hiked up to a lake I sat up on the hill in the tussock grass for more than an hour watching their nesting behaviour. They keep working on the nest even though it is perfect, stealing material from other nests and getting pecked at for it. As I looked up to the ridge I saw a group of them climbing up that way. Whatever posesses them to go that high I don’t know.

IMG_8087IMG_8082

IMG_8075IMG_8097

IMG_8099

Reindeer were introduced by the whalers as a source of food about 100 years ago. The were devastating the plant life and since then have been eradicated.

IMG_20171118_053804

Hiking from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, following in  Sir Ernest Shackletons footsteps.

IMG_20171118_055741IMG_20171118_065914

IMG_20171118_075108

Shackletons view when he finally reached Stromness.

IMG_8114

The waterfall.

IMG_20171118_074037IMG_8111

Günter, Fred and Doris arriving at Stromness after the three hour hike.

IMG_8108IMG_20171118_103225IMG_8117

See Günter run, he almost stumbled over the fur seal under the propeller.

 

Larsen Harbor

IMG_20171118_130026

A whaling station with a big blubber rendering operation in its days.

IMG_20171118_141232IMG_20171118_142146

IMG_20171118_142225

 

IMG_8135

The whalers built a church and ski jump, must have been Norwegians, they have their priorities.

IMG_8133

IMG_8142

Blue eyed shag

IMG_8144Fur seals

IMG_8151

A face only a mother could love

IMG_20171118_144821

 

Drygalski Fjord

IMG_20171119_073928

This is one of our great guides “Sean”, he lives in Juneau.IMG_20171119_054949IMG_8199IMG_8196

Antarctic terns

IMG_8177IMG_8166

Weddell seal.

IMG_8158

 

Good bye South Georgia and on to the Antarctic Peninsula

IMG_20171115_174618IMG_20171114_160859750_HDR

 

Posted in South Georgia Island | 2 Comments

The Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

The Falkland Islands November 10. to November 27. 2017

Tourism is has grown steadily in the Antarctic region. The “Lindblad Explorer” first started taking a few interested people to these places in the late 1960s. I remember as a young woman seeing their advertisements in the National Geographic magazine. Now there are several “Expedition Vessels” that make trips to Antarctica and neighboring islands.

So with the help of “Freestyle” in Ushuaia booked a trip with Quark Expeditions, we wanted to see the frozen world beyond.

The trip included the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. After parking our camper in a gated lot in Ushuaia we embarked on an amazing journey.
The boat (129 passengers and 80 crew) was comfortable, we had a nice stateroom, the crew was welcoming and as we were traveling down the Beagle Channel we were looking forward to a new and different kind of adventure.
The Falkland Islands are remote and not many people visit this windy and treeless group of islands, they consist of two large islands and 740 small islands and islets. The main industry is the sheep that can be seen everywhere and fishing right leases to foreign companies.
Argentina insists that it has ownership of the Falkland Islands, Las Malvinas, but they are still British for now. And when you go there you can feel it.
Our ship took around two days to get to the northern-west tip (of West Falkland) where we disembarked on the islands of Steeple Jason, Saunders and West Point Island, (1255 ha or 3100 acres and owned by one family). The Zodiacs took us ashore and dropped us off at the beach. Our guides not only are great Zodiac captains, but full of knowledge about the area and animals. Some of us needed extra help with getting in and out of the Zodiacs,especially when the seas were bumpy, there was always a helping hand and a smile from them.

From there we went for walks through high tussock grass, over hills, to large bird colonies. The birds are almost fearless of humans and walking along nesting Black-browed albatross and penguins we could observe them without feeling like an intruder.

Of the 3000 people who live on the islands, 2000 reside in the capital Stanley. In the harbor we saw three sail boats, one flew a German flag, we were tempted to go down to find out more about their travels. Were they going to round Cape Horn? We never found out because it was time to go back to the boat and head to South Georgia Island.

IMG_20171113_102828949

Falklands

IMG_7834

IMG_7817

“The Gang”

 

IMG_20171111_201023

IMG_20171112_155134

score!

IMG_20171112_155339

Rockhopper penguin

IMG_20171112_155511

nesting Black browed albatross

IMG_7824

IMG_20171112_161557

IMG_20171111_202141IMG_20171112_172058IMG_7837

 

 

IMG_20171112_171837

 

Posted in Falkland Islands (Malvinas) | 3 Comments

The Peninsula Valdes

We have been working our way down the east side of the South American continent,  pretty much following the main route to Ushuaia, veering off for a few days here and there. We camped along rivers, on beaches and twice even in a turn out with high enough walls to protect us from the incessant winds of Patagonia. It is still early spring here and there are few tourists at the famous spots like the Valdes Peninsula. This place is famous for the orcas that sometimes beach themselves for a short time to catch a succulent sea lion pup for dinner. Well, we drove there and never saw that, just a few snoring sea lions on the beach. We saw our first penguins, the are nesting right now. At night we camped on a bluff overlooking the bay, a great spot, quite a few right whales were just hanging out right in front of us. But then the wind got stronger and stronger and after we went to bed I could not sleep for hours because the wind was shaking the camper. It was really loud and we used ear plugs, but every time I dozed off I dreamt that we would blow off the edge of the cliff, or that I was dragging anchor with our boat. The next morning I made Günter promise to never camp that close to the edge of a cliff ever again.

As we kept driving south we have enjoyed watching penguins and sea lions near our campsites and the winds are not that strong anymore. The coastal roads are breathtaking and worth the extra time it takes to drive them since they are not paved. There are many places to wild camp for the night and each one has its special charm. Some days the pampa is endless and mostly flat, other days it is hilly, with lakes and ponds, flamingos and ducks. We have seen countless guanacos and many rheas. Today we are at a campground in Puerto San Julian, it is a treat to get the laundry done, take long hot showers and find wifi. So I am catching up on some emails and then we will be off again, still headed to Tierra del Fuego. This town is a little dreary, but it has an interesting history. Magellan found this bay in 1520 and waited out the winter here. (He is famous for being the first to circumnavigate the world – his boat anyway.) The thousands of Magellan penguins up and down the coast here were named after him.

IMG_7454

IMG_7462IMG_7478

Lots of rheas share the pampa with the guanacos and sheep. Each female lays 20 to 40 or more eggs, amazing.  The male incubates them. The male will use a decoy system and place some eggs outside the nest and sacrifice these to predators, so that they won’t attempt to get inside the nest. The male may use another subordinate male to incubate his eggs, while he looks for another female to start a second nest. The chicks hatch within 36 hours of each other. The females, meanwhile, may move on and mate with other males.

IMG_7473

 

Where-is-Peninsula-Valdes-on-map-Argentina-596x480

IMG-20171028-WA0007

 

IMG_7481IMG_7497

The Magellan penguins and sea elephants on the Peninsula Valdes are used to visitors and go about their business without being disturbed by us.

IMG_7504

 

IMG_20171027_193512

Here our camping spot, there was not a grain of sand anywhere, the cliff was swept clean by strong winds that blow almost all the time.

Posted in Argentina | 1 Comment

Colonia, Uruguay and on to the Argentine Pampas

After we dropped off our camper at Sandra’s near Colonia in Uruguay in March 2016 we flew home for a break. The plan was to return after a few months to drive south to Ushuaia. The standard route for most overlanders. Due to some medical issues we had to stay home much longer and our camper would have overstayed his welcome in Uruguay. So with Sandra’s help we applied for an extension from Aduana in Uruguay which allowed us to keep it stored until the fall of 2017. When we returned to Uruguay a few weeks ago we found out that some overlanders were in trouble for leaving their vehicles in the country and flying home. So after we picked up our camper and said goodbye to Sandra (who – together with husband Enrique –  took great care of the camper and helped us with all issues) we headed for Argentina. When we approached the border we were a little apprehensive, but we breezed right through, got our piece of paper and then we were back in Argentina. The truck had been sitting for  1 1/2 years and we were not surprised when it had some issues, it barely made it up the hill at one point.  We stopped at a gas station and after removing a rat’s nest from inside the air filter and adding some booster to the “old” diesel it ran like a charm again.

So we are off, headed south and getting used to camper life and close quarters. The wet pampas flew by the car window, lush greenery, beautiful birds and cattle as far as you could see. In Sierra de la Ventana we took a break, got our bikes out, dropped the laundry off and stayed for 4 days. Exploring the area on a bicycle or horse is the way to go, we ended up riding for 50 + km one day, through fields and past Estancias, their houses shaded by large trees. Beautiful horses everywhere and of course the beef cattle.

We never saw a car and at one point did not know exactly where we were, having left all electronic devices back at the camper. So we talked to some friendly gauchos who showed us the way.

It is a nice place to hang out in the off-season, a favorite vacation spot for Argentinians,  probably a zoo in summer. We were camped beside the indoor pool and close to the creek in town, on the other side of the creek in the high bank, the burrowing parrots were nesting in caves. I loved sitting in front of the camper watching the parrots working on their nests and carrying on, noisy neighbors they are.

URUGUAY_map

 

IMG_7301

Buenos Aires seen from Colonia. Unadulterated photo.

IMG_6142IMG_6136

IMG_6129

visitor in the camp ground

IMG_6112

El faro in Colonia

IMG_6108

Green parrots in the palms in Colonia.

Argentina, the Pampas

IMG_7315

Roseat Spoonbill

IMG_7316

Wood Storks

IMG_7322

Gauchos

IMG_7335

Asking directions after we were not sure anymore about the way home. One of our favorite photos.

IMG_7343

50 km, more than we had planned.

IMG_7311

all alone somewhere in the wet pampas

IMG_7350

IMG_7351

“My home is my burrow”

Posted in Argentina | 7 Comments

Taking a break

We are skipping winter in Patagonia and will continue our travels in October 2017. So long.

Posted in Argentina | 1 Comment

Las Leñas and Valle Hermoso

February 2016

Driving through the irrigated vineyards of Mendoza we marveled at the fancy wineries, it felt like we were in California’s Napa Valley.

malbec

Malbec

You can tour the different plush wineries, taste the Malbec and buy a case. After an overnight stop in Manzana Historica and more wineries in the Valle de Uco we had seen enough famous grapes, tasted some good wines, so we headed up to the ski resort Las Leñas. Both of us are skiers and grew up on skis, so names like Las Leñas and Portillo ring a bell. As kids we watched world cup ski races held here on TV.

IMG_5752

Las Leñas in summer is like many ski resorts without snow, not very exciting.

IMG_5793

Las Lenas

We drove on and worked out way up a pass and back down the other side. Valle Hermoso, a pretty valley ringed by mountains and with a small lake was on the other side. At the end of the road there is a steep trail and one can continue over to Chile with mules and horses only. We spent a few nights by a creek, hiked in the valley and enjoyed the solitude in the mountains. Some farmers and some fly fishermen came by, all waved and kept going.

IMG_5754

Valle Hermoso

IMGP6607

Our camping spot by the creek in the Valle Hermoso

IMGP6617

Almost the end of the road

IMG_5771

IMGP6549

Rhodophiala (in the Amaryllis family) grow high in the Andes

Life along the creek, we went for long walks every day, watching wildlife and finding flowers.

IMGP6576

Andean goose

IMGP6623

IMGP6563

Plant life in the creek

IMGP6597

Andean ibises (black faced)

IMGP6616

He came by every day, rounding up sheep, goats and horses.

IMGP6551 IMGP6611

 

 

Posted in Argentina | 2 Comments

Northern Argentina , south along the Andes

End of January 2016

The eastern slope of the Argentinian Andes is drier than we had expected. However, sophisticated watering systems, some dating back to the indigenous people, allow for irrigating and agriculture.

Slowly we worked our way south. We wanted to visit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 6,961 metres (22,838 ft), and the highest point in the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

In Cafayate we stocked up one more time, coffee had been hard to come by and we love our two cups every morning. Time and again we bought beans or ground coffee that did not make us happy. It tasted weird, we couldn’t figure out why, maybe they were just cheap beans (robusta) usually roasted with sugar. The cup of coffee in the coffee shops tasted great though. Still, mate is what many people drink and coffee is not that important.

IMG_20160120_124539795-1

Finally, some decent coffee beans.

 

IMG_5323

Molinos, south of Cachi.

IMG_5370

The countryside on the way to Cafayate is amazing.

IMG_5339

IMG_5321

Red pepper tree near Molinos

Barreal-007

Torrontés is a white Argentine wine grape variety, producing fresh, aromatic wines.

IMG_5319  IMG_5322 IMG_5320

 

IMG_20160121_074840769_HDR-1

After a long drive from Cafayate we headed up into the mountains and settled down at Los Nascimentos Hot Springs.

IMG_5398

IMG_5388

IMG_5405

The road ends at the hot springs. We were alone there for three days.

IMG_5390

IMG_5428

Bye bye Nascimentos, it was great.

Cienaga to Barreal-045

Not a bad view from this camp site at La Cienaga.

20160124_065744

Here comes the sun na na na

Cienaga to Barreal-004

Cienaga to Barreal

Heave rain fall in the mountains made for some crazy “baden” crossings.

Cienaga to Barreal-010

IMG_5606

Uspallata Pass, 4000 m (13 000 ft)

IMG_5623

“Christ the Redeemer” The 7m-high bronze statue was commissioned from sculptor Mateo Alonso of Buenos Aires and erected here in 1904. There are two plaques at its base. One reads “He is our peace who hath made us one.” The other, placed there in 1937, declares: “Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than Argentines and Chileans break the peace sworn at the feet of Christ the Redeemer.”

IMGP6425

Wildflowers at the base of the mountains near Aconcagua

IMGP6424

Aconcagua

IMG_5575

Aconcagua again

IMG_5611

Uspallata Pass, border to Chile.

  IMG_5635 IMG_5630  IMG_5614  IMGP6427  IMGP6412 IMGP6411 IMG_5583 IMG_55862016-01-30_19.49.52[1]   IMG_5595

IMG_5570

Hot sulphur springs at the Inca Bridge. There was a hotel-spa here years ago, now all you see are the remnants.

 IMG_5571 Barreal-012

 

IMG_5540

Leoncito National Park has several observatories.

Cienaga to Barreal-031

The only living thing we saw in the pampa were horses.

Cienaga to Barreal-037

Tocota pampa, not a good place to cross after rain storms in the mountains.

 

Cienaga to Barreal-026

CHRISTO DE TOCOTA: This Jesus statue stood there all by itself in the middle of nowhere, we camped at the base and felt protected.

Cienaga to Barreal-030

IMG_5558

 

Posted in Argentina | 2 Comments