The Antarctic Peninsula

IMG_8546Antarctica made headlines not too long ago when a huge iceberg broke off and now is drifting off the continent. The one trillion ton iceberg, measuring 5,800 square km, calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica sometime between July 10 and 12 2017.
Global warming is on your mind when you go the polar regions of our world. Frozen but still rich in wildlife, life depends on the cold temperatures. Krill is the main source of food here.
There are some commercial fisheries going on, Ice fish, Patagonian Toothfish (sold as Chilean Sea Bass) and yes: Krill. Stocks are good so far and hopefully the krill fishing is not damaging to the eco system. Norway and Japan still kill whales here, and while they say it is for scientific purposes everybody knows that the whale meat is sold for human and animal consumption.
It took us two days to cross from South Georgia Island to the South Shetlands Islands and then on to the Antarctic Peninsula. The days at sea are by no means boring, there are presentations and lectures several times a day. We made new friends and met interesting people on this trip.
It was an international group, most guides spoke several languages and one of the guides spoke fluent Chinese. Naturally he spent a lot of time with the Chinese passengers which were very happy about that. While not all of our Chinese fellow passengers spoke English, I enjoyed talking to the girls. They adored our young guides. Dressing up for photo ops was very important and we had some good laughs with them.
One nice evening the crew put on a big BBQ on the back deck, another evening – on the back deck we had a beer tasting competition and Glühwein to warm up again after the cold beer. Haha, good thing the boat was stuck in the ice and did not rock, so we made it back to the cabin without bouncing off the walls.
We both liked spending time on the bridge, a familiar place for us since we make our living and spend a lot of time on our boat. The captain, from Russia, did a great job handling this ship, it was interesting to watch the crew do their job. They are always on the lookout for icebergs and for things that might be interesting to the passengers and would point out some whales or birds.

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The penguins climb very high and breed up there

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Tonight we will celebrate !

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Sunrise

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We were part of the group “Wild”, here we wait for our group to be called down to the zodiacs for another trip to the icy wonderland.

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The boot washing station, coming and going we had to disinfect our boots to prevent introducing new organisms from one place to another.

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Sometimes you move faster when gliding and sliding.

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Skuas are always looking for lost chicks, dead or weak adults.

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They are sitting on eggs, the nests are made of pebbles.

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Headstand with penguins.

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Pinturas (Petrels)

 

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I love this picture.

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I am giving the chinstrap penguin the right of way, they always have the right of way.

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Chinstrap penguin rookery. The highest slopes are the most popular because they become ice-free first and they use their beak and claws to reach seemingly improbable spots.

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A chinstrap for sure.

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Fred decided to join Günter.

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This guy carried a single pebble back down to the beach, who knows why?

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Deception Island

  in the South Shetland Islands, with one of the safest harbours in Antarctica. This island is the caldera of an active volcano, which seriously damaged local scientific stations in 1967 and 1969. The island previously held a whaling station;

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Blue eyed shags.

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One of our fellow passengers (from China), selfie time again.

 

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I really liked this place for some reason.

 

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THE POLAR PLUNGE

Many people signed up for the “polar plunge”, the water was  – 1° C (30° F)

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Drake Passage

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The trip back was rough and wild and beautiful!

 

Posted in Antarctica | 4 Comments

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 🙂

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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.

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King penguins

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IMG_20171116_103607Surfing King penguins

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

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

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IMG_7989One of the colonies of King penguins.

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Snowy Sheathbill

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Elephant seal are huge, the males grow to 6,2 m (20 +ft),  can weigh 3500+ kg. IMG_20171117_102215

 

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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Shackletons view when he finally reached Stromness.

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The waterfall.

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

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

 

Larsen Harbor

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

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

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Blue eyed shag

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A face only a mother could love

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Drygalski Fjord

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Antarctic terns

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Weddell seal.

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Good bye South Georgia and on to the Antarctic Peninsula

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Posted in South Georgia Island | 3 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.

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Falklands

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“The Gang”

 

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score!

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Rockhopper penguin

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nesting Black browed albatross

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Buenos Aires seen from Colonia. Unadulterated photo.

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visitor in the camp ground

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El faro in Colonia

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Green parrots in the palms in Colonia.

Argentina, the Pampas

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Roseat Spoonbill

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Wood Storks

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Gauchos

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

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50 km, more than we had planned.

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all alone somewhere in the wet pampas

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Valle Hermoso

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Our camping spot by the creek in the Valle Hermoso

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Almost the end of the road

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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.

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Andean goose

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Plant life in the creek

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Andean ibises (black faced)

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

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