Thursday 8th November – Fortuna Bay

The afternoon excursion

Into Fortuna Bay, we headed towards Whistle Cove.  The first two maps are from Google and the third is from the Poncet/Crosbie booklet.Fortuna Bay.JPG

Whistle Cove Fortuna Bay.JPG

Fortuna Bay.JPG

I could see the new snow has dusted the once empty rocks of this morning and the beaches are covered in snow. IMG_4002.JPG

IMG_4008.JPGFour or five metre waves crashed into the Level 2 restaurant windows during lunch.  We all gasped loudly as each window wash surprised us.  In pleasure not in fear.

It didn’t rain this afternoon when we disembarked from the ship nor at any time after that. I could have taken a camera.  I should have taken my camera but didn’t – for fear of rain and difficult wetness again. What a loss!

I plodded carefully for about 1 km before returning to the landing/departure point. What did I see? A deer antler – evidence of the now eradicated introduced animal, maybe 10,000 brown furry baby King Penguins (perhaps the size of my normal backpack when full and round), thousands more of their Mums and Dads and some new adults singing songs for a partner – in one plain. Elsewhere other smaller clusters of King Penguins stood, and occasional individuals walked along sometimes next to our red coated penguin-like walks. Unconcerned about us in the main. I was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow passenger and he pointed down; when I looked, one large adult walked around my legs seemingly unperturbed.

For the first time we saw a fur seal with a small female harem of fur seals and a fur seal pup interspersed amongst a layabout collection of a few elephant seals.   The latter are the ‘logs’ that seem to litter the snow covered beach in the photo below.IMG_4017.JPGThe seals were sometimes concealed in the tussac grasses and when we walked, sometimes we needed to take divergent paths to and from our Zodiac landing, in order to avoid agitating them.  Once the females start arriving from months at sea, they become excited if not aggressive and therefore dangerous.

We walked about one kilometre to a super-sized colony of King Penguins; with my clown length boots I plodded slowly trying not to slip on the thin melting snow layer, which covered the grass and mud, and not to trip on rocky ground especially when crossing streams. The area was relatively flat and exposed and strong gusts whipped across the water and across this plain; sometimes I had to spread my legs wide and brace so as not to fall over. This was real. This wasn’t a photograph or a film.  I could feel the air, hear the callings of the birds, penguins and seals, and smell the odour that would become a natural and expected part of all the landing excursions.  With the accompaniment of the visuals, I felt almost overwhelmed by this multi-sensory experience.

Looking up at the mountains, which rose from the shore about 50 metres back near the beginning and perhaps 150 metres back from the shore when we reached the large King Penguin cluster, I seemed to stop breathing – the scale and shape of these was completely awe inspiring.

A mini avalanche of rock was visible down one slope – perhaps the slide happened this afternoon because the rock was clear, and this morning’s snow storm would have powdered it.  By the way, when we entered Fortuna Bay the old snow was a given but the rocks on which snow had already melted/departed were powdered with the new snow.  Within the three hours after our arrival that new snow was gone, and the greenness of the grass and the grey brownness of the rock was again visible.

During this landing we were free to walk at our own pace and were allocated roughly two hours to walk across the area (within Expedition Team controlled limits) and return. I never felt rushed and my slow plod and many standings just looking and thinking and seeing and experiencing fitted easily into that time allocation.

Back on board, showered, clean and dry, I headed off for a recap of the day and a briefing from the Expedition Team about tomorrow’s excursions.  After two landings we felt that a routine was developing and that each future trip onshore would become easier.  A terrific day.  A day of great privilege.

Thursday 8th November – Grytkiven

Look at how raw and rugged South Georgia Island seems just in profile on a Google map.  The second two maps are from a booklet ‘A Visitor’s Guide to South Georgia’ by Sally Poncet and Kim Crosbie published by Wild Guides Ltd UK. South Georgia Island.JPG


SGI sites

The morning excursion

This is the posting you have probably been waiting for; hoping for.  A post where the story is not about me but about something large and majestic and more spectacular than you can imagine.

A blur of insanely steep mountains with massive snow patches and bare rock plunging into the sea appeared from the mist at 5.02am. ‘This is it’, I thought. ‘You have made it into the Southern Ocean. You have actually travelled to one of the remotest parts on earth. Inscrutable. Mysterious. But that snow and those mountains appearing through the clouds are real’. And I stood there feeling like I was glowing, emanating a light of happiness from within.IMG_3960.JPG

IMG_3961.JPGWe were on the northern/eastern side of South Georgia Island and headed for Cumberland Bay and to the remains of the original whaling station at Grytviken and the currently operational King Edward Point settlements (for researchers). A little sun, emerging through cloud, lighted the settlements and made the snow fluoresce.Cumberland Bay

When sailing into Cumberland Bay the sky cleared, presenting stupendous views of the landscape.  IMG_3962.JPG

IMG_3968.JPG The tiny dots in the distance in the photos below were the red rooves (the red colour is so British, I thought) of the research station at King Edward Point.  A while later we were sailing past this research station. I could hear the grunts of the elephant seals on the beach and could see the uprights a cluster of King Penguins standing on a patch of snow.  I was thrilled to the core. IMG_3972.JPG

IMG_3978.JPGA few moments later Grytviken was in view, over wonderfully calm waters.IMG_3981.JPG

IMG_3983.JPGThe first map below is from Google and the second from the Poncet/Crosbie book.Grytkiven and King Edward Point.JPG

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Anchor was dropped around 6.10am.  A Zodiac was put into position.IMG_3985.JPGAt 7 am we listened to a presentation from the Grytviken museum director and by 8am I was in the Zodiac with 9 others heading for shore.  The ship photographer was in attendance – I am second in on the left in the photo below.Helen 2nd left.JPGThe Zodiac offloaded me below the Grytviken cemetery where my eyes were full of the novelty of a few fur seals and a few slumbering giants – the elephant seals – around about us.  I stood for a long while and tried to ‘arrive’. Unbelievably amazing to be on such a remote island with no wind. Just standing still. Just observing.

Encumbered by layers of clothing and bulky jacket and oversized boots, I had little flexibility of movement, so I was determined to move slowly and then benefit from having most passengers rush off and leave the spaces fairly people free.  I ambled up hill to the cemetery where the ground remained partially covered with snow.    IMG_3994.JPG


IMG_3986.JPGThe non-standard ‘obelisk’ pictured in the rear at the left background marks Shackleton’s grave.IMG_3987.JPGAs the clouds offered a light sprinkle merging into rain, I pulled over my parka hood and tried taking photos with two layers of gloves to remove and replace for each photo and everything wet. It was all too much bother, so I stopped taking photos at the end of my cemetery visit and spent the rest of the onshore excursion simply looking from under the hood.  But Verity – before I stopped, I have couple of photos of Shackleton’s grave just for you – and for me and for anybody who is interested.  I thought I would be able to enlarge the photo to read the quite lengthy inscription on his headstone and so I did not memorise the words. Alas – I can see this is not possible.IMG_3988.JPG

IMG_3989.JPGBefore I left the cemetery, I stared at my first cluster of King Penguins in the process of their annual moult. Near the top left corner outside the fence was a patch of snow where they had gathered.  Standing and occasionally pecking themselves to remove their moulting feathers.  These were real. I was no longer consuming David Attenborough documentaries. So I stared and stared and tried to be in the moment.IMG_3991.JPGWild was buried next to Shackleton but the colour of the gravestone and the wet light made it impossible almost to read, leave alone photograph, so I shrugged my shoulders and set out to be even slower and look and feel the environment more acutely. I hoped that when I returned to my cabin, I could type up my memories before forgetting.

I walked downhill across spongy ground with irregular channels and rivulets meandering over the land around me.  I plodded along past massive elephant seals, past historic and more recent buildings, experienced a young male fur seal walk across my path big noting himself, saw two ducks that are native to South Georgia Island, all before the rain turned to gentle sleet as I passed lots of disintegrating buildings, rusting boats, etc.

The following photo of elephant seals was published in the Poncet/Crosbie booklet. I saw the metal cauldrons as I walked through the persistent rain and snow flurries.Elephant Seals.JPG

Finally, the sleet turned to gentle persistent snow.  I was wet, my backpack was wet, I hadn’t yet learnt how to manage the awkwardness of all my additional clothes nor how to keep the camera dry. We have been disappointed that the Antarctic parka given to us was designed with no flap over the outer pocket zips so the water seeps through the zip fabric and nothing inside the small pocket stays dry.  Despite placing my camera inside a zip lock bag, the outside of the bag was slippery and it was impossible to manage. Very poor design for a jacket that is meant to protect (and the leader of the Expedition team Florence told me as an aside that their special yellow jackets leaked). Not good.  We all learnt from this experience.

Through the down drafts of flaking snow I saw the white wooden Church and plodded inland. Many were taking shelter inside without a care in the world that this was a religious institution, one established by Norwegians last century. Everything was so difficult for me – the long boots, and the total wetness of everything meant that I was particularly careful climbing the stairs to the church entrance and then departing in the rain. I didn’t want to slip over and break a leg.  Not so early in the trip. Well not at all.

I continued through the remnants of this settlement, passed three more standing/moulting King Penguins, and directed myself towards the Grytviken Gallery which housed a replica of Shackleton’s boat. There is nothing like walking around a tiny partially open vessel to focus my attention on the mental strength and stamina required to sail for 800 miles from Antarctica to South Georgia Island. Very instructive.

I continued to the Post Office; this contained a mini museum to the rear, plus postcards and other items were for sale.  I could have purchased post cards and specialised South Georgia Island stamps; I thought of Mum and Dad and knew that’s what they would have done. But everything was so wet and it was so difficult to get at anything on my inflexibly packaged body without making it wet that I couldn’t face the prospect of finding a space to write a card and keep my address list dry, and find some money – and it couldn’t be credit card and had to be cash at the post office (in English pounds, Euros or Argentinean pesos). I had 28 euros with me (more on the ship but I had expected to buy a card and not much more. It was the bulk I was trying to manoeuvre within, and the wetness of everything that seemed to present insurmountable obstacles that was threatening to make me a grumpy old woman. In the end I purchased A Visitors Guide Book to South Georgia Island with my 28 euros cash plus one Euro loaned by a Frenchman who I will never recognise again – we were all penguins in red coats. Everyone gasped when I tendered the rest in minor Euro change which I had retained since my last overseas trip to Europe. I should say that I have guessed that I am probably the least wealthy by a million miles of every passenger on board.

Onwards I plodded to the nearby Museum. This building had many rooms containing excellent artefacts that helped extend my understanding of the history of the Grytviken and South Georgia Island generally.  I could have spent a longer time there.

A single masted yacht was moored at the jetty with young guys organising provisions. Nearby, 3 or 4 sunken boats/ships were in various states of disintegration.  I liked the enterprise of a white kelp gull that nested in grassy tussacs that grew out from the rot of a sunken boat. Kelp was washed up on shore and kelp tangles were visible occasionally in the bay near the water surface.

With snow gently resting on my wet back pack and my jacket and boots, I ambled some little way along the track towards King Edward Point then returned to the landing/departure zone to be Zodiaced back to the ship.  We could not have been more fortunate. There was no wind.  Snow drifted onto us.  All my layers kept me warm. There was a time when I removed my inner gloves because, with damp hands, they made it such an exercise routine to get the outer gloves over them.  So, hang the expense and later travel difficulty I may go to the ship Boutique and buy a proper waterproof backpack.

11.50am the anchor came up – 26 miles and 2 hours to get to Fortuna Bay to arrive around 2pm. As we moved off, I could see the King Penguins at the Grytviken cemetery were still as I found them a few hours previously.  Standing. Seemingly motionless.

7th November 2018 – preparation day for tomorrow’s first landing

The seas and sky that I woke to were similar to those from some other mornings; overcast, some white tops and more than a few deep troughs. Noticed an albatross sliding through the air past my balcony a short while ago.

Today is not a day to sleep the time away; our schedule is packed with mandatory and other information sessions that I will attend.  Front cover.JPG


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Feeling a need to test myself against the air and to understand the limits of my new jacket, I bypassed the stretching class at 8pm and donned my bright red Antarctic parka and walked outside up front where I watched the waves, the horizon and looked for birds.  A large bird with high contrast black and white markings on its back and wings attracted my attention and I followed its wheeling for ages – until I was too cold (now I have an idea of how many layers I might need tomorrow when I go ashore). Later when I met a naturalist and described the bird, I learned I had been watching a Cape Petrel – Google this bird and I hope you can find pictures of this extraordinarily attractive flyer, although Google is unlikely to give you a sense of scale or show you the way they move.  I have since seen a few gliding on the air currents either side of the ship including past my cabin balcony.  Without a zoom camera, my photos only show a speck in the great ocean – so no photos will be added in here.

After breakfast I picked up a news sheet – the ship develops these for different countries – so I have ‘Australia Today’ in my hands.  Australia Today front cover.JPG

And what had I forgotten – can you believe I had forgotten the Melbourne Cup was run yesterday?  Apparently, it was wild and wet over in Melbourne – I think about all those expensive shoes!!! I wonder how many blog readers lost their money on sweeps or at the betting office.  I read that the shark which has been swimming in the Whitsundays waters continues to be hungry for human flesh.  Loved reading that voters are going cold on Morrison while he is on the campaign trail in Qld – of course I no longer know who I support politically: I just know it is not the Liberal party.

Much more interesting for me now is that I attended a compulsory South Georgia Island briefing; in fact, this included a beautiful and highly instructive film developed by the BBC explaining all the dos and don’ts for travelling near and then stepping onto and around South Georgia Island.  Our expedition leader confirmed we will be going onshore tomorrow at Grytviken where we will see the remnants of a disintegrating whaling station, the church, the grave yard with Shackleton’s gravesite, and much more in terms of plant and animal wildlife.  We are all super excited.

From 11.30 am I listened to a lecture ‘South Georgia, a jewel in the Southern Ocean’.  By attending this lecture, I missed another session of Bingo and live music. Ahhh – it can’t be helped.  Of course, having attended, I am so much better informed about the history associated with South Georgia (or San Pedro as the Argentinians name it), and the huge volume of wildlife that calls the island home (31 species numbering 30 million species of birds make their nests here – those numbers are staggering).  Because of the proliferation and scale of the wildlife population, South Georgia Island is referred to as the Serengeti of the South. Only 170kms long and 40kms wide with 70% covered in snow and glaciers, this Island sits on part of the curving Scotia Ridge that extends from the bottom of South America to the Antarctic peninsula and then into Antarctica. In coming days, we expect lectures on the way the tectonic plates are moving in this part of the world.

This morning the ship crossed over the ‘line’ where the northern comparatively warmer waters meet the colder Antarctic waters, and we are now in a substantial current that runs around the Antarctic continent. This is a region of high nutrient content in the waters and attracts more sea life in and above the water.  I have seen many more birds gliding around outside today.

At lunch, in the distance at different times were two icebergs.  Later I spoke to the Captain and asked about where and why they might be around this early so far north. One explanation was that an iceberg can break off the ice shelf and then get caught in the current and can go around Antarctic a number of times even over a few years then suddenly it can get spat out at any time and can finally begin to travel northwards and melt.

I noted card players at 2pm were meeting again but I chose to watch a documentary about Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. My memory is so temporary that I need information reinforcements.  The story of the patience and endurance – the will to live – of Shackleton and his men over almost two years of being stranded and overcoming herculean obstacles, has to be one of the epics of all time. It adds so many profoundly powerful layers to my simple dictum to take one step at a time and keep doing it.

I disregarded the opportunity for afternoon tea with ‘Choco’, but I realise some blog readers would have made a beeline for such an offering. I needed a break from the intensity of The Endurance and came back to the sunlit warmth of my cabin.

The afternoon ended with a briefing about tomorrow’s program when we expect to go ashore somewhere on South Georgia Island.  Super exciting!!!  For some unknown reason the cruise director has scheduled a dance class in another new dance that I have never heard of, the Merengue, at the same time as the briefing.  What is in her mind to do such a thing!!! All of us who have been joining the dancing class have been those eager to get out into the Zodiacs and whizz onto shore, so I can’t think who will be attending the dance class this afternoon.  There are several people on crutches and walking sticks – I can’t imagine them going onshore (I was later proved wrong on that assumption) nor dancing.

Again, I am absenting myself from a quiz session along with more live music and piano melodies before dinner.

The Captain created a special Australian only cocktail reception this evening at 6pm (Sydney-sider Duncan later told me he had made the suggestion to the Captain because the Australians represented almost a fifth of the number of passengers. Great idea).  Over more Champagne and canapes, we discovered there were 34 of us on board.  This is where I began to consolidate on-board friendships with people such as Sue and David, Ian and Judy from Melbourne, Andrew and his partner and some of the others.  I am the only Tasmanian.

Later in the evening after dinner, a French songs set was offered for listening, before the screening of a Tom Hanks movie.  As usual, I was fast asleep by that time.

6th November 2018 – the first iceberg

I don’t know whether it was the days of sea air, the airconditioning, or the occasional glass of wine, but I felt like not getting up this morning. I felt like staying in bed and dozing all day. I was lying there trying to talk myself into getting up for the Stretch class at 8am telling myself that I must and that I should attend, when the Captain spoke on the loudspeaker.  He informed us that in fifteen minute’s time we would be passing the first iceberg of the season – unusual for this time of the year he said – on the port side. Drat – I am on the starboard side.  Pulled on clothes, grabbed the camera, and left my cabin. At first glance, tucked into the hallway railings were what seemed like little white boxes, but I soon realised they were firm structured bags for anyone who needed to vomit in a hurry.

I hurried outside and gasped with astonishment. In the distance was a huge island of ice.

I was seeing my first statuesque iceberg – and a long way north from Antarctica.  With no one to explain the options to me, I wondered if this was a remnant of some of that big ice shelf which broke off from Antarctica earlier in the year; has it been slowly melting over winter while drifting north?

You can see my view as we sailed past here.

From the Daily Program I knew where I ought to be.

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By now it was a minute to 8am so I jumped into an elevator, reached Level 4 and raced down to join the first of the morning’s stretch fitness classes.  Half an hour later much extended, I travelled up to the 6th floor, joined a couple I meet with every day from Victoria’s Torquay, Jane and Willem, and ate breakfast.   Not feeling right – and not seasick – just not feeling unspecified right (although being a worry wort the weird occasional pain in my left leg between knee and groin makes me wonder if I had a blood clot), I returned to my cabin and prepared to sleep.  I was not quite asleep when the Captain spoke to say we had sailed 910 miles and had 540 to go with the expectation of arriving somewhere along South Georgia Island around 6am on Thursday morning. He also added that outside, the troughs in the sea were now about 5 metres deep – to me it was a gentle swell and immensely calm, and the sailors described it as calm.

Woke as the late morning lecture was starting. Donned my clothes and raced in to listen to Valentin Nivet-Mazerolles giving a lecture on; ‘What do we know about penguins?’  Everything from how they came to be named, the nature of their feathers (a Velcro-like connection) to their habitats, breeding habits and locations and much more.  Immensely engaging.  A well spent hour.

Returned to my cabin and slept until late this afternoon. Again, and just in time, I re-clothed and headed off for a new lecture; ‘In the footsteps of Shackleton’.  Excellent presentation which reminded me of much I had previously known, and which added new information and gave me a broader perspective.  Depending on the weather, when we reach South Georgia Island and Antarctica, we may be able to get off the ship at related sites and ‘feel’ that social history.  The constant message from all the crew and Expedition team is that there is no set itinerary from now on – every stop will be weather dependent.

It is now almost 6.30pm and the sun is shining strongly into my cabin bringing lightness and brightness. Another large albatross is gliding on the air currents just off my cabin – I can’t identify which. Magical.

So, what did I miss today?  Bingo with the cruise director, meeting the cruise sales director and buying into a new cruise trip somewhere, live music before lunch, lunch, a meeting of card players (which I would have really liked to have joined), a lecture (in German) about a German explorer in Antarctica (well I could have learnt something from the pictures), a lecture in French about a particular Antarctic bird, an afternoon tea with ‘Choux’, a quiz run by the cruise director, more live music playing now, and ‘piano melodies’ being played elsewhere.

But most sadly I missed the dance class which started while the Shackleton lecture was being presented.  The dance to be taught was not one I knew – Bachata. There are so many moments like these when I miss Google, and researching that dance is one of them.  For just under $AUD50 I could buy 1 hour 40 minutes of internet.  For just under $AUD100 I could buy 4 hours of internet.  For just under $AUD300 I could buy 16 hours and 40 minutes of internet.  Our exchange rate really disadvantages us. People on this ship who have purchased time, have had connection problems and tell me the bandwidth in their cabin is minimal and that sometimes they need to go to some of the public computers on board.  So that doesn’t sound like fun at all.  I can wait … I think.

On route to dinner I noticed a mini lecture was happening in the theatre. I sat down and listened. It was for the American amateur photographers and one fellow was explaining how he manipulates photos to create his preferred ‘natural’ image.  He started with one program and then migrates that adapted image into the latest bells and whistles all-encompassing Photoshop software.  Even though I am not expecting to be working on any photo that I take, I have in the past ‘cleaned’ up some images, so this lecture was instructive, and I am glad I found it.

I finished up eating dinner in the enjoyable company of ex Vietnam/Alaskan flying veteran Mick/Mike and his Oklahoma wife Susan. Then I retired early.

5th November 2018 -into the roaring forties

I enjoyed another silky sleep and woke refreshed and excited about the possibilities for today.

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When I drew back the curtains this morning, at first, I noticed the green-grey leaden sea with the occasional white lacy edge on some of the rollers. I stepped out onto the balcony and knew there was a spot of mild wind, although in my thick white Polant bathrobe it wasn’t cold. The further south we travel today the stronger that wind is likely to be, and the more the temperature is likely to reduce.  Since I normally live in the Roaring 40s there are no surprises for me, but I suspect some passengers may be bothered by the wind.  One man, that I met a few days ago, has been under the doctor with mild seasickness for the past 36 hours so I hope the medications will have settled him – the future is only one of higher crests and deeper troughs, and more imbalance for susceptible stomachs.  I suspect what I am seeing this morning is as good as it gets after the almost flat calm of yesterday. As the moments pass, more white crests cap the rollers across the seemingly endless sea. These are becoming the norm.   Have a look here and compare with the short video of the sea made at this time yesterday.

A full day’s program out of the cabin started this morning with my normal oats and fruit breakfast, then the stretching class extended me in ways that yesterday’s class did not.  I couldn’t face the subsequent Pilates class feeling enough was enough for the moment (maybe I will use the treadmill in the gym later- well I have looked at it and that didn’t burn the calories, so some action is required there).

It has been a slow rush all day with events to attend and things to do one after the other. Following breakfast, we listened to a mandatory briefing on the protocols associated with the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators) and Antarctic Treaty matters in general, and I thought of Andrew and his PhD thesis covering the negotiations associated with the changing Antarctic protocols and treaties last century.

The focus then changed to the means for travelling onto shore and back to the ship.  We learnt about the processes to access and use the Zodiac crafts.  At that point we received our life jackets and went off to adjust them to size.  Being warm and safe is paramount even if the look isn’t beautiful.IMG_3935.JPGSoon after, our onshore boots were fitted and distributed, and we had extensive coverage on bio-security practices which will be required of us by South Georgia Island’s (read British) governor (their government is based on the Falklands Islands thousands of kms away and only a governor lives on SGI).  With tiny feet in comparison to large calves I am wearing a boot that almost has room for my foot again, and the leg sides are folded down in half.  I hope not to trip – you know the outsized shoes that clowns tend to wear; think about those and you will have some idea of the ‘look’.  That is, the boot will arrive before I do. IMG_3945.JPGI had just enough time to race up to the ship bridge which was open to guests for the only time this voyage; had a chat with the Captain and learnt we won’t be the first tourist ship into the South Georgia Islands. Another is already there but thankfully it will leave before we arrive so we can pretend we are the first after winter – unless there are footprints.

Then there are non-consequential details like the flag at the stern is the flag of France but at the bow it is the flag of Brittany; and the flags must be replaced each week because they become wind torn.  Have a look at what I saw today here.  Found the pigeon holes on the bridge contained flags for many countries.IMG_3939.JPGLiked seeing some of the rules for bilge waters, food wastes, and more being carefully prescribed.IMG_3940.JPGThen I was back to eating – lunch – more lovely vegetables and salads.  Phil and Jenny from Canberra were very good company.

A stall selling oversized postcards related to the Antarctic enticed me.  Three lucky people (the photos show gorgeously pristine vistas and are stunning) can expect to receive a card stamped in Antarctica.  It will be interesting to see how long they take to arrive in Oz.

Mid-afternoon I took all the pieces of outerwear and bags (which are not brand new and never used), that I expect to take to shore, for mandatory bio-security cleaning. Vacuuming and more. My back pack has never been so clean!

The 5.30pm cha cha class allowed me to revisit my cha cha skills.  Possibly handled this dance class better from prior experience than at my debut with Salsa dancing yesterday.  But with the rolling of the boat, when you are mid step, the strangest things can happen.  Loads of fun.  Exhausted at the end, grabbed a sparkling wine (which the bartender pointed out was actually Champagne), and drifted out the back of the boat to see what one of the naturalists was photographing/filming.  He was watching the medium sized Sooty Albatross not flying at all but drifting on all the air currents – just like a cyclist in Le Tour de France gets into the slipstream of a front rider and takes a rest.  I watched her/him for 20 or more minutes and even half an hour later s/he was gliding past my cabin balcony from time to time.  While out there the naturalist also pointed out petrels and prions.  Marvellous!!!!

It had to come – today’s schedule announced the Captain’s Gala evening with a welcome cocktail followed by a Gala dinner where Veuve Clicquot would be served. During the day I sounded out an Israeli couple who I quite liked and they were not much for fancy formal dinners either, so we agreed to meet at the cocktail reception and then let others go to the main dining room and we would go to the smaller more casual restaurant.  Well the dressing up of the staff and of some women and men had to be seen to be believed. Lots of silk and classic evening wear styles. By contrast the Australians dressed with verve and colour and looked contemporary. Although not me in my comfortable forever travelling clothes. But I did get to chat and be photographed with the Captain.Helen with Captain.JPGThe Veuve Clicquot flowed, the canapes were colourful (although none vegan – I didn’t care.  I am not moving enough to need the amount of vegetables I am eating at meals anyway), there were speeches mostly in French and the English French was often almost as opaque.  As much as I would have liked to photograph people, I did get a twinge that told me it could be invasive. Meanwhile I have been befriended by some Indonesians (that I keep meeting and who call me by my name, but I always forget theirs), accompanied by Australian Greg, and we had a chatty time.

Eventually, that whole tedious glamour business was over, and I met my Israeli ship-board friends Tagita and David.  Both professional architects running a business out of Haifa and Tel Aviv.  I learnt a lot about Israeli history and for the first time I have some inkling of the true complexity of the problems both Israel and Palestine have. I had always thought that post World War II ‘the world’ created the two states. I had not understood that the colonialist forces of particularly England and France had been manipulating and determining all sorts of powers in that area for the preceding century.  For me it was a history lesson and one I found fascinating.  We agreed to talk about more pleasant things next time we meet.

I am very glad to have my writing to occupy me between events. Tagita perhaps feels a little trapped because she is eager to be doing or learning more things; she is not negative simply keeping her eyes open for more.  I guess we both expected more lectures on board each day, and for them to be delivered by seasoned experts.

Like my early-to-bed nights recently, yet again I missed the after-dinner movie even though connected to the theme of this voyage, and I missed the late evening piano recital.

Note below the band where the ‘roaring forties’ winds operate.  In a day or so we will be cruising through the ‘furious fifties’ further south; our first destination South Georgia Island is situated within that band (a white dot way east of the bottom of Argentina on this map).

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4th November – first day at sea

I woke a little before 6am feeling the slightest of rolls and following a very satisfying night’s sleep.IMG_3919When I opened the curtains, the sea was like a large rippling pale grey silk sheet.  Half an hour later the surface was ruffled with strong contrasts between light and dark. But no waves, except for those formed by the bow of the ship as it charged southwards. See the view from my cabin this morning here.

Marvellous to have my own tea set-up so I boiled the jug and started the day well with a cup of tea. Noting breakfast started at 7am, I soon headed off; only one person preceded me into the impeccably presented dining room.IMG_3926


IMG_3928At reception I collected today’s program.

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Before my breakfast had settled (shame I didn’t have the program beforehand – I would have exercised before eating), I was off to a half hour stretching class with the ship’s lead dancer.  One man and all the other women in various styles of ‘active wear’.  Not me. Nobody over 50 except me.  Many moves were similar to yoga moves and I felt much better for those movements.  Each day there will be something equivalent and if time permits (well there are so many other things on board to occupy my time) then I will be there. The ship also has a gym room with treadmills and other equipment.  I may check that out before lunch. After walking an average of 10kms or more a day for the past 10-11 days I don’t want to lose that walking fitness. (Note – I never did have time today to visit the gym.)

This morning, while I sat typing, the Captain spoke; a sperm whale is visible off the port side.  Out I raced (my cabin is on the starboard side) and watched the whale blowing off steam (as it were). Then we all marvelled when its massive tail rose from the ocean before it dived deep. I understand they can stay way below for around 2 hours, so we dived back into the warm insides of our ship.  Other passengers used their zoom cameras to take detailed photos. By contrast, while the whale was clear to see with my eyes, you will never pick it in the tiny speck of white lace of water in the middle of my mobile phone camera image.IMG_3929It was time to collect my Antarctic parka.  We were given various sizes of parkas to try on; when we found our best size then we were given a packet with an unopened jacket.  Of course, my comparatively small upper body size when compared to my larger hip measurements created havoc – choosing a parka that fitted was a challenge.  It is massively large on the top and about right down below. The sleeves are too long, but I will get used to that – it does mean more warm air can be trapped in there once we hit the serious cold.

At 11.45 am the ship’s itinerary was presented in association with the Expedition Team, by Captain Remi Genevaz and the very impressive expedition leader Florence Kuijper; over a dozen naturalists introduced their specialities which ranged from birds to marine mammals, geography, geology, plants, environmental law, geopolitics and history.  Passion. They all had passion, and they explained that many of us will catch the ‘Polar Bug’ and be forever changed by our voyage of over 6000 kilometres. They stressed we were not on a cruise but part of an expedition. They noted that because we would be the first ship reaching the South Georgia Islands since winter, the environment will be pristine, untouched, and presented in beautiful natural glory.

Florence urged us not to ask the question ‘what is it I want to see?’ rather to ask, ‘what is it I want to experience?’ I am surprised to realise I don’t know my answer to that question – it’s an impossible question to give a precise answer to. My best answer is to say that I want to experience, without injury, situations which are outside my comfort zone. In so doing, I want to remain sufficiently mindful amidst the sensory overload. I want to be able to remember what I see and smell and hear – not just remember scenes that are packed into my photos. In fact, Florence recommended we don’t bother with taking photos because looking and feeling the marvels of the environment requires our eyes not our technological devices (Ponant’s professional photographer will be there snapping away and we can buy the photos later if need be).  She discouraged the team of American amateur photographers from lying down to take their photos because they will appear to the seals as a competitor to be fought and despatched.

Lunch – a buffet from which I picked and created a plate of salads. No surprises there.

At 3pm I attended a lecture presented in English ‘Sea birds of the Southern Ocean’ by Samuel Blanc.  He was an excellent presenter and offered 45 minutes of fascinating information. What I remember is –

  • that seabirds are those that almost never spend time on land and can spend weeks if not months at sea and may only return to land to breed (while they glide on the currents, they take mini ‘sleeps’) –so what we call ‘seagulls’ are not seabirds;
  • that the windier and stormier the environment the more likely we are to see seabirds because they use the winds to glide, float and generally reduce their energy expenditure. They are wanderer birds.  Usually long-distance travellers.
  • The families of birds we can expect to see are: albatross, petrels – shearwater, blue and prions, storm and diving, and penguins. Within each category Samuel showed us photos of many varieties (and explained their features and flying styles) – which, depending on the weather and circumstance, we may or may not see on South Georgia Island and/or the Antarctic peninsula.
  • That the Emperor Penguin is recorded to have dived as deep as 564 metres and researchers have analysed their body structure and systems and believe they are capable of diving down to up to 800 metres – even though they typically dive to 80 – 100 metres in search for food. As climate change continues to change the food chain and supplies, this is influencing an increase in the mortality rates not only of penguins but other birds as well. If they must walk/fly further away from their chicks it will take longer to return with food and, in that time, onshore predators have an easier time with weaker fledglings.

Since arriving on board all I can think of is the Spanish language and today’s stretching class and constant use of French on board (perhaps a half of the guests are more comfortable with French than English as observed by attendance at the Expedition introduction earlier – the French had their hour before we had the English hour) is helping me to reorient my brain to the French.  It was so bad yesterday that when I went to say thank you, I could not remember for the life of me, merci beaucoup.  All I had was gracias, much gracias, me gusto mucho, etc.  I always feared this would happen.  When I return to Argentina and then onto Spain, I will have the new problem of forgetting the French and reorienting myself to Spanish.  Admittedly all the staff on board speak English but not all understand my accent that easily – even though I am careful to s p e a k  s l o w l y.  As for the guests, including perhaps two dozen Australians, I have met a number of people who come from the USA but all come from other countries such as India originally, a couple from Israel, a Belgium woman who has been on this ship since Tenerife, quite a few French and Germans; there around 200 people on board so I haven’t scratched the surface in terms of meeting other guests.

Five o’clock was Salsa dance class time. Since I am trying to accept everything on offer and not waste a moment, off I went.  The ship photographer was in attendance:Helen learning Salsa1

Helen learning Salsa2Others who I already knew were waiting to start when I arrived, and we all participated with gusto; had an extremely amusing time with our two lean, agile, flexible instructors looking patient.  ‘We are up for it again’, we said but they didn’t make murmurs about future classes.  It was loads of fun and we collapsed into waiting chairs and the ever-attendant staff brought us full glasses of our favourite beverages.

Now showered and freshened, I have been sitting out on my balcony with the sun on the way to the horizon and sea in all directions.  I am empty of new thought and can only think in cliches: it fills my heart with gladness; my cup is overflowing.  Oh oh.  The round sun has gone, and only grand expanses of intense reds, pinks, blues and greys remain. The sea is a wonderful leaden green-grey; rich and dense.

Vegan options are deliberately on the menu at each meal the chef told me when I arrived at the restaurant (later I found this was not the case). I  forgot to take my camera to dinner; a small entree of a large skinned and steamed tomato dome garnished with a leaf of rocket resting on a thin bed of white quinoa and eggplant. The main was a mix of burghal, lentils and a range of tiny cubed vegetables with a fresh taste of mint throughout.  I was delighted.  Everyone else is happy with their meals as well – lots of variety.

I wandered down to the front of the ship and found the library; picked up a book about the work of an artist (J B) who exhibited in the 2017 Venice Biennale.  An extensive body of work was reproduced; the flame was the artist’s ‘equipment’ and burning of paper and other materials was the method. I did like some of the imagery and I can imagine a whole pavilion full of his work would have been stunning to view.  The curator’s essay was variably informative and interesting or opaque and wordily opinionated under the guise of really ‘getting at’ the meaning of the artist’s work.  One phrase has stayed with me; ‘books are the folds of an artist’s soul’. The essayist continued with the notion; he understood the folds are the traditions and rituals of communities and religions that have conditioned and backgrounded an artist’s life.  It is the concept of a folding soul that I am grappling with.

Later in the evening, at 9.30 pm a documentary was screened; ‘Tabarly’. The daily schedule blurb informed me this is from Pierre Marcel, with Eric Tabarly and Olivier de Kersauson and would be screened in French with English subtitles.  Despite eating less this evening, I was not able to hold off feeling tired and went to bed before 9pm. I am here to learn, to be a sponge and take on every morsel of information I can gather, however sleep is what my body craves. Simultaneously a dance show was presented elsewhere – maybe another night that will be rescheduled and I might attend.  It is not the greatest priority for me.

Sunday today has been a wonderfully satisfying first whole day at sea. I can only imagine now that the days will fly. As the ship glides onwards, I will slip into bed for another night of silky sleep.

3rd November – reaching the ship and departing

The start. Where it began. Before 4pm I and a small group of other Australians, dragging our luggage, tramped across the highway into the port and towards our ship.  I was trying to put a lid on my brimming excitement. There was the ship (see photo below)– not the one in the foreground 😊. I was about to embark on a great adventure to the south.IMG_3869.JPGThe wharf side greeting from all manner of Le Lyrial staff was overwhelmingly inclusive and a great show of top-level customer service.  I handed over my luggage to porters.Luggage tag 2.JPG

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Onto the ship, and I was handed a cabin card, led up to and shown into my room within a blink of an eye.

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So smooth, effortless and pleasing.  Luxury oozed from every pore.  Not a mark on walls or furniture. No signs of the slightest wear or tear. Pristine. Spacious. Extraordinary.IMG_3872.JPG



IMG_3882.JPGI had a quick look around the ship to begin to familiarise myself with my new home for the next 15 days.  Then I went outdoors again, onto the decks.

Looking out I saw that Uruguay hosts a ship graveyard.  It seemed to me that a great deal of valuable metal was sitting there waiting to be collected, but I couldn’t see any activity.IMG_3897.JPGAt a certain point before sundown, I felt compelled to accept the ship’s offer of a free glass of sparkling wine and chatted with others as they arrived.  I met some members of a team of 15 amateur photographers from the USA; some had won international awards for their photographs.  They were all excited about what might be seen when we reach South Georgia Island (our first land after four days at sea).

A Welcome on Board program was waiting for me in my cabin on arrival; a new version was provided from then on as a daily program of scheduled activities. Nevertheless, when the Expedition Team were introduced to us we were warned that the program might change depending on the weather, icebergs, or other factors as determined by the Captain in association with the Expedition Leader.

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We sat through the briefing ‘life on board’ and then learnt about the security and safety procedures before following a mandatory life boat drill. This included returning to our cabins and donning our safety jackets, after which we were checked to be sure we had tied ourselves in appropriately.

Finally, the ship pulled away from the wharf and we were sailing just after sunset.  I cannot convey how excited I felt. How privileged. How fortunate. I guess my inner voice over all the years has been ‘Helen from little Burnie steps out into the great wide world, and she is apprehensive’. Despite being much travelled that inner voice persisted. I wondered whether this will be the last time I step out and push myself into the constant problem-solving situation which is the ‘work’ of travelling independently.IMG_3909.JPGGradually Le Lyrial was cruising out into the river and then into the sea, and Montevideo was over there getting smaller. Finally, I am on board and can see Montevideo receding into the distance as we head south for “The Great Adventure”.  IMG_3912.JPG

IMG_3916.JPGI ate at the upper restaurant buffet – and enjoyed a plate of salads and cooked vegetables.  In the pleasant company of Sue and David and other new friends to be. With all the sea air of the day, and the energy expended in anticipation of this experience, I was exhausted, enjoyed my spacious private shower, and dropped into bed by 9pm.  Slept like a log.

Preamble to the Antarctic blog postings

Tomorrow the first of a series of daily posts will be published so you will be able to have a daily dose of the wonders of the sea and land in the Southern Ocean.  For those who have travelled there before or with me, the images and videos are sure to prompt great memories. For those who have not been there (yet), maybe you will plan and budget to travel there.

We were warned at the beginning of the voyage that each of us would be forever changed by the experience.  This feels very true for me.

We were also warned that describing and explaining our experience to friends and relatives would fairly quickly meet an impasse – thanks to documentaries and endless books and magazines, everyone has seen cute photos of penguins, sweeping glaciers, and the colours of icebergs. To see and experience these in the flesh is quite different and words are inadequate to help a person who has not seen these to ‘see’. If anything, my blog posts offer a taste and perhaps give some of the flavour. Hopefully they will provoke in you some of the wonder and exhilaration I felt. Those feelings endure in me. In a flash I am back there and can remember details.  I am there again.

On the blogsite there is a menu item South Georgia Island/Antarctica. Once all the posts have been published in the main blog stream, then I will include them as one consecutive connected story under this menu item.  That is, eventually there will be two locations where you can find the stories and the photos –if you want to search for a particular item in the future, all you will need to do is to go to the main site and click on the menu item – – and put your search words into the search box on the right of screen, and click.

Some of what you will read and see is super thrilling. I hope you will feel the excitement.  Here are a couple of photographs to whet your appetite.IMG_4066.JPG


IMG_4179When I returned to Argentina, I posted home a large package of papers, plus photos taken by the Ponant ship’s professional photographer that were compiled onto a CD – some papers have been copied and inserted into the posts where relevant.

Where did the journey to the Antarctic start – give me a map some people say. The Ponant ship Le Lyrial left the wharves of the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo and headed in a south easterly direction.Montevideo

3rd November 2018-through the last day in Uruguay before boarding the ship and away

This posting is republished with some amendments.  For all the photos originally published, revisit that earlier posting.

I always felt it would be a long day waiting to board Le Lyrial at 4pm in Montevideo, Uruguay. Nevertheless, there were many hours to be lived through before then. After packing and storing my luggage at the Hotel I set off to look into the Museum of Decorative Arts.  No surprises. There was no looking into only looking at; the museum (housed in a superb 19th century building) remained closed after its opening time.

At the end of the street the brown flow of the river (the Rio de la Plata which separates Uruguay from Argentina) turned my attention; I thought to simply walk along the river edge for a goodly part of the day and off I went.  Yesterday was a public holiday and today -Saturday – the streets remained virtually empty. Along the promenade locals and tourists meandered or sat and enjoyed the sun and their Mate.  Very relaxing.IMG_3840A tall brick tower reminded me of the 19th century kiln towers in Hobart, but this was built on rocks just above the water – what would it have burned/cooked/fired? IMG_3842

IMG_3843Fishermen and women had their rods out waiting for a bite. While I watched a school of long silvery fish spinning out from the river and arcing through the air where nobody fished, I never saw a fish on the end of a line.IMG_3841Walking along, the vistas included:IMG_3844

IMG_3845I continued until I reached the western end of the suburb of Barrio Sur through which I had walked yesterday. An accidental smear over the lens gives the following set of photos a soft edge that does not represent the locality accurately.  IMG_3851By now I was near to Maldonado street in which that wonderful vegan café of yesterday was located.  Alas, of course, it was not open.  I plodded on towards the Independence Plaza and passed it to reach the Korean restaurant where I was hoping for vegetables. Instead it was an excellent lunch of tofu and seafood soup (with 3 small smoked oysters and two of the tiniest pipis in the world), with steamed white rice and assortment of small plates of additives.      IMG_3859I walked across the eastern side of the old city and along the port side, passing a tiled sign indicating the naturalist Charles Darwin had been here in 1832, and eventually I plodded into my hotel. IMG_3867Sat in the hotel foyer and met others who were expecting to join the ship as well.  This is where I met Ian and Judy from Sydney.  Anticipation. Curiosity. Sometimes shrill, sometimes subdued chatter that comes from suppressed excitement. And we waited.

10 December 2018 – depart Japan and arrive Hobart

‘What?’, you mutter to yourself.  ‘What does that headline mean? I thought you were in Japan until nearly Christmas day. What is going on?’

About a week ago I was worn out by my coughing cold and felt I could not go on.  Some people mentioned in their emails and blog post comments that I hadn’t remarked on my bout of poor health; they wondered whether I had come through it and was well.  The truth was that I had only sufficient energy to get through each day and to write the posts of the glories of Moorish architecture as I found them in southern Spain; this left any description of my health missing – well anyway I thought, ‘How boring. You want to read about and see the new not to hear about the old’.

So, with the help of sister June and the wonderful Alanna Porter (at Thorpe and Turner Travel Associates, 127 Macquarie Street  Hobart, 0449528744/ 03 6281 6000/ I was able to make flight changes.  I decided to complete my planned itinerary in Spain, forgo the proposed experience in Japan, but travel the same route home and this kept additional costs to a minimum. Nevertheless, the result was that I had the longest possible time getting home from Europe in the history of modern-day travel  (maybe): I left my Barcelona hotel at 6.45am Saturday and arrived home around 4.30pm yesterday (Monday) afternoon.  Apart from flying time there was almost 2 hours waiting at Frankfurt in Germany between flights (although a sizeable proportion of that involved speed walking getting from one gate to another), 10 hours at Kensai International Airport near Osaka and Kyoto in Japan (with special permission given to use the Sakura Lounge all that time if I chose), and 7 hours at Sydney airport yesterday (I was booked on Economy for the final domestic leg home so did not have the benefit of a lounge to rest in, as you do when travelling Business Class).

By the way – by comparison with Argentinian and Spanish cities, and with Frankfurt and Osaka airports, Australia is not in the Christmas decoration game.  Those places sparkled at every turn and have done so since November; I saw only one set of decorations in one spot at Sydney airport. Very dull by comparison.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a Spanish woman in Granada.  We had passed a scene of the Three Kings and I learnt there is a special day devoted in Spain to the contribution that the three kings make to Jesus’ birth. I was asked whether Australia does something special.  My response was that we were not an overtly religious country and that while we had sections of the community following specific religions, celebrating the religious aspect of Christmas was not something undertaken by a most Australians. For us to dig down to celebrating one component of that nativity scene was not on the radar of most Australians. I added that, of course, there are people here that are staunch believers and follow the form. The woman in Granada remarked that perhaps not all the Catholic Spanish were believers but the day for the Three Kings being a present giving day in addition to the present giving day of Christmas Day was not a day/celebration that people wanted to give up.  Consumerism is thriving!

June waited at the Hobart airport but not where I entered the building.  Eventually we found each other, all smiles. Back at my place we enjoyed a couple of glasses of sparkling wine to celebrate my getting home in one piece with all luggage accounted for, and to celebrate the wonderful ‘discoveries’ I made during the 6 weeks while gallivanting across 3 continents and Antarctica.  I am home to recuperate. I am not at death’s door and in fact already the frequency of my cough is lessening – I just need to rest and reinvigorate. But I am home. I am so relieved.  Home Home Home. I can stop now. The decision making, and the mini-problem solving that is the moment by moment work of overseas travel as a solo independent traveller, is over (all fun when you are well, of course). A special thanks must go to my wonderful friends and neighbours Ieky and John; I can see the lawn has been mowed and weeds have been pulled.  I feel so fortunate.

It has been hard work for most of these past 6 weeks and I have been so grateful for the written interest and support of lots of blog followers. Your positive comments and the additional information you provided were a boon and lifted my spirits. Each morning I looked forward to seeing who had made contact and what they had to say. In this way, friends and relatives were like a life-line as I fought against my poor health; you helped to motivate me to push myself and go out and experience each city. And of course it was always worthwhile to get out and see more. A special note of recognition goes to Verity who always ‘liked’ each post; there was no way I could see who else was looking at the blog – WordPress does not offer that sort of information. Verity’s daily acknowledgement kept me feeling in touch with the world back here. Thanks also to the two Skypers – June and Betty.  Great to see you and talk with you. A massive big thank you to all who kept in touch.

I have crossed many degrees of latitude, and longitude, and spent time in the two hemispheres so that the length of days has varied; down near the Antarctic it began to be light sometime after 3am whereas in Spain the sun was rising only around 8.30am, are the extremes. Therefore, this morning in Hobart (and I have been up since 2am) I am delighted the day was lighting up around 4.45am. I have arrived back here in time to appreciate the lovely long days of summer.

And it was the right time to come home. The battery in my computer mouse has just failed; this morning I discovered it uses a larger than normal triple A so I doubt I would have found a replacement overseas. I don’t have the skills to use a computer touchpad, so the posts would have stopped.  Phew!  Home just in time.

This trip has helped me to realise that I am incredibly happy here in Hobart working on my blogs and other projects, and writing daily.  I understand that I don’t need to travel or travel far to continue with that ‘work’.  So it is likely I will stay put in the foreseeable future with the exception of occasional forays to my North Queensland based family, and some local wilderness walks and discoveries around remoter parts of Tasmania. During the coming days I will work on getting the stories of South Georgia Island and Antarctica onto the blog.  Hopefully that should be a treat in the lead up to Christmas, if you have time to read each post.

So for now – expect nothing until the Antarctic adventures stories appear.  I look forward to your comments and emails about those ‘discoveries’.