The more you travel, the more you discover that the world is beautiful everywhere.
Off yet again being a tourist, just looking around, poking about and seeing new and old things. This time to visit the United States capital – Washington D.C. As a friend said, everyone should visit their capital at least once just to see the physical place in which our nation’s primary workings are determined. Maybe not the primary working, that would be out with the results, people working and the land in which government rules. But government being a necessary entity with which our species survives, has to have a place for people to meet and determine how they will get along. In the United States that is Washington D. C.
Hence back in October my wife Jeanne, got us tickets to go to Washington. The average spring cherry blossoms peak apparently 2 March and that seemed perfect. (Originally I wrote April but corrected it.now). She has never been to Washington and I have been there only once, in 1965, riding my bike for a month about the area starting in Philadelphia and ending in Washington. It was an amazing trip, 10 kids ages 15-17 and our 21 year old leader. I became hooked on bicycling.
My memories of Washington D.C. consist of riding my bike along a delightful gravel paths alongside the Potomac river. I believe it was the B & O towpath. It was designed apparently as a horse path to tow the barges along the river in the 17 and 1800’s. This section was a great ride as we went from hostel to hostel. As I was riding through the lush forest one of the others in my group yelled out to stop as we were to exit here. I mentioned we were heading to the city, and this was still forest. They said we should climb the stairs and exit here, which we did. Wow, at the top of the climb out of the river valley, we exited the forest and there stood the Washington monument, instantly recognized. My ideas of the east coast being totally developed were being erased, as I realized the forest behind us, easily hid the city. We arrived at our hotel and prepared for 3 days of walking and sightseeing, within the city.
The next morning we first hit the local White Castle hamburger place for breakfast, downing as I remember 5 burgers. (Which in those days were much smaller being about 2-4 bites, and costing usually a nickel). Then on to the Washington monument where we all ran up the stairs, to enjoy the view about the city. Back down and my stomach was not happy and proceeded to vomit a large quantity all over the sidewalk at the base of the monument. Somewhere along the line I had gotten a bug and spent the next days resting in the hotel, while the others explored without me. I did venture out to do a bit of walking, seeing the Roosevelt memorial, which always impressed me. It was not a big thing , just a small life size statue of him, his dog, in the wheelchair. Then on to the natural history museum and wondrous dioramas. And somewhere in there I got a tour of the capital building. That is my memory of the city.
The surrounding area did impress me, with its historical sites.Harpers ferry, Gettysburg, Shenandoah National Park and a day hike along the Appalachian trail climbing Mt. Hawksbill – the highest point in the area, all of about 4700 feet (1400 meters). Back to Washington where I boarded the train for the 2-3 day trip back to Utah. (Trains in the U.S. aren’t much faster today)
Fast forward to 2018 and I am returning. Alas even with the best laid plans things change. Neither Jeanne or I like to have everything perfectly laid out with every stop and moment choreographed to fill ones time with all one wants to see and do. But to me that is just sightseeing and one does not get the feel. I tend to forego the reviews, and much prefer to “wing it”. Yes it is nice to have recommendations, but to feel a place one has to slow down and let it come into you. Talk to the people, experience what they do. Yes one cannot see all there is and you will miss stuff, but one can see what the place is about. I believe it was Anthony Bourdain, the food critic, who told the story of going into a foreign restaurant, not having a clue about the language, and just pointing to the meal someone else had ordered, which looked good.
And so it is with this trip. When we told people where we were going, those who had been there all said we had to go see (insert museum, memorial, home or whatever). In the 7 days we are there we have a list of things which would occupy years. I suspect those that live there have not seen it all. I have told people my goal is to sit on the steps of Lincoln memorial and just soak it in, watching the world go by, and I would like to see the air & space museum. But whatever comes along will be great. I suspect a few more people than 1965 when one just walked up and enjoyed. We shall see.
It was mentioned am I going to try and give a piece of my mind to those who like to set the rules of government. I do write numerous letters to our illustrious representatives and always seem to receive a letter back thanking me for my letter and proceeding to ramble on about something only vaguely resembling what I write about, never answering the questions I ask. Why should I waste my time visiting someone who is going to dismiss me categorically. I will continue to vote trying to get them out of office and replaced with someone whobelieves it is for more than just a well paying job of which they have to accomplish nothing. And I will continue to write letters stating my ideas, fully expecting them to write back with their drivel. Several said a tour of the White House, where the president lives is awesome. I do not want to even be associated with the current residents there. There is a tiny remote chance they might be present. There philosophies are not my vision of the world.
One thing we wanted to do was participate in the “gun march on Washington”. Certainly was not scheduled when we made arrangements for the trip but stuff happens. As noted above our illustrious representatives refuse to listen to the masses and prefer the big organizations, which represent the big organizations. Thus after yet another shooting in the United States and the representatives giving their thoughts and prayers and moving on, finally the youth are speaking. We want to show our support, plus I have never been in a protest with 500,000 people. It must be something.
Alas, travel is a risky proposition. We departed Tuesday planning on staying a short night in Seattle. I am finding I do not do as well as I used to, and flying all day and night arriving exhausted has better options. One can fly cross country in a day but why. Thus I convinced Jeanne to spend a night in Seattle and then fly during the day arriving at a reasonable hour, still tired, but not totally out of it, requiring several days to recover. Sometimes that is unavoidable but I find it much nicer if one can to take a bit more time.
Thus arrived Seattle, checked into motel across the street from airport, and hopped on train for trip to visit our nephew and his girlfriend. It was a delightful visit, not having seen them in about a year. And along the way stopped at some fabric stores which are unavailable in anchorage, for supplies for ski jumping suit repair, which Jeanne performs for the anchorage ski jumping club. A great use of time, and got to see Seattle from the train , rapidly going from airport to downtown Seattle in minutes without a hassle.
Back to motel and up early for 8am plane departure, keeping an eye on weather back east. The 4th big snowstorm in a couple weeks was expected to hit on Wednesday, our flight day.
Off for the day
U of W quad cherry trees.
I nearly had my hand on door to walk out of motel and Jeanne says flight is cancelled. Ok stay in motel, call airline and find options are a flight that afternoon to San Francisco and an all night flight arriving in Washington DC at 5:30 am. That is what we were trying to avoid. Or a flight on Saturday. At first we decided to cancel whole thing, get a refund on air tickets, but we would give up our B & B without refund of $750. We needed coffee and called another friend taking the train to her place where we drove to a delightful breakfast place and caffeinated ourselves. Thus we decided to wait for Saturday and spend 3 of our 7 days in Seattle. We have numerous friends and relatives and there are multitudes of things to do.
Seattle is a delightful city although it has grown way too big way too fast. Like many things the time to do things is before they need to be done, because when they are necessary it is often much harder to do. We borrowed a friends car and experienced the traffic nightmares of Seattle. That was only one day, and from then on we took the train to our motel back at the airport, walked, took the bus, and Uber. (Uber drivers are awesome to converse with as they live and feel the city)
The homeless problem is ongoing in Seattle with tents and camps scattered about sometimes just out on sidewalk. Apparently Seattle is trying but because it is so expensive to live there, the homeless population is increasing faster than solutions can be created.
But we visited friends on a one to one basis, caught up, reminisced, planned new ideas, and conversed.
And we visited the zoo which for a zoo is very good, seeing animals I would never get to see, and when I have seen them in their natural wild environment, lamenting how awful it is for an animal to be in a zoo.
young Komodo dragon searching out food (maybe 4 feet long)gorillaWe visited the aquarium which has always been one of the best. The information presented is prodigious and would take a long time to process and absorb it all. Continue reading →
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time
Since returning from Steamboat Springs in Colorado, the streak of sunshine here in Alaska has continued. Awesome feeling to see and feel the sun returning. In a few days we will again have more daylight than darkness. The winter has been one of the better ones in many years due to the return of snow and cold. As I have said winter consists of three things, snow, cold, and darkness. If only 1 of three it can be”what’s the point”. This finishing season we have had an abundance of all three.
Hence after the great trip to Steamboat Springs we returned and I got a email wondering about the Knik Glacier. It is a glacier about 45 miles away (72 kilometer) and one can ride bicycle or snow machine to the face of it, if the conditions are right. The past years it has been too warm and the river and lake were a bit dicey to cross. I have wanted to do it for years but only tried once having to turn around after 10 kilometer because of thin ice and open water.
But the traveling is awesome, especially when traveling with companions who know how to deal with the cold and are great bicyclers, and are as excited as I am to be there. I will let the pictures speak.
As for the cold one just learns to work with it. Gloves and mittens are a necessity and sometimes a challenge if there are small things to work with (like a camera). One learns and it is awesome.
While there we discussed how if this area were down south it would be mobbed with people as it is spectacular. When I got home and looked at some of the pictures on the phone which gives location it said they were taken at the Lake George National Natural landmark. Wow who knew, I had never heard of it but having flown over it, I knew it was spectacular.
Then the next day wanted to ski some valleys which are often good in the spring. Natasha (ski jumping coach) and I went out to see what we could find. Alas, it has not snowed in weeks and the wind has been blowing over the gully we wanted to ski and it was a bit bare. Could have skied but the breakable crust and scattered rocks did not entice us further. We opted to return a different way making it a delightful tour. It is difficult to go wrong when the sun is shining, and the tracks are good. (or it is just plain crusty snow and you can go anywhere)
On day three Jeanne and I drove down Turnagain Arm just to see it as we never get tired of this drive. Turnagain arm was named by Captain Cook on his third voyage supposedly while looking for the northwest passage and he had to turn his vessel again.. (it was actually his first mate Bligh (of later fame elsewhere) who explored up the valley and had to turn again). Or a second version is the waters reverse course with the tide every 6 hours forcing one to turn again as the current reverses. When in full flow the waters, and ice flow at 9 knots) Either way Australia and New Zealand do not have a lock on Captain Cook history.
Video of moving ice in Turnagain arm. It is not bike able or boatable.
I have been trying all winter to get a video of the incoming bore tide with the ice as it is incredibly dramatic. Timing is difficult and it must be at full or new moon for maximum tide and I have not succeeded but will hopefully try again later this week. If I succeed I will try and post.
Sometimes the best travel is in one’s own backyard. Often that is the best of all.
Has been an interesting week. The one thing we really wanted to do was go to Iguazu falls, a world heritage sight and one of the wonders of the natural world. We had been having trouble piecemealing a trip together and decided to get to a travel agent in buenos aires.
On arrival caught a taxi to the airbnb we had rented, nearly leaving my computer on cart at airport. Uh oh, traveling always is risky. Had to wait a bit as they needed to clean the apartment after the last tenants. Went to local parilla restaurant (barbecue) and did the usual ordering with a nice sounding name which I had no idea what it was. I ended up with blood sausage which was good, but Jeanne could not eat. Never ask what is in your food, just do you like it. Called on arrival so they could let us into the apartment and told them we were out front. Alas an hour later they came down wondering why we had not rung the bell. We did not know apartment number hence could not ring. More language misinterpretation.
Then began walking to the supposed tourist area of Florida street which had lots of street vendors but proved difficult to find a travel agent. Finally one was hidden away and only caught our attention when a vendor outside wanted to know if we wanted to travel somewhere. The office was right there we just could not see it.
No air tickets to Iguazu falls as christmas time and everyone traveling. Could get a pickup at airport to falls and hotel but no tour available and no flights. Burned again by traveling at christmas time.
But made arrangements to go to a Tango show and for a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay, across the river. Thus we have six days in Buenos Aires which was supposed to be three in Buenos Aires and three at falls, so OK go with the flow.
Saturday headed off to the number one tourist attraction in Buenos Aires, and the Cementerio de la Recoleta, the cemetery. Evita Duarte remains there. The places for caskets was quite impressive, many larger than actual homes.
Then shopping at the vendors and a street tango performance. I went to tip them as their performance was incredible. They thanked me and inquired if I would like a picture. Hence the tango dancer in crocs. My sister noted the crocs foot ware and probably the only person to see there is a guy in the picture. I still can’t see him when I look at picture.
That evening we had arranged for a tango show of which there are numerous in Buenos Aires. Dinner including wine beer, and delicious carne. (What else is there in Argentina?) along with a small salad and a wondrous desert. Then the show for an hour and half the dancers, musicians, and singers exhibited their skills. Quite the athletes. Amazing skill, I suspect acquired over years of training.
Sunday we heard there is a great street market where they close the road and vendors exhibit their wares. As per usual though a few problems: it was raining, the vendors were mostly of antiques, and not the artisan jewelery Jeanne was looking for. But walking along did see Greg and Liz from Australia who were on the expedition to Antarctica with us. A town of 4 million and we come across someone we know. I am still amazed at how that works.
Purchased another umbrella as had not brought ours along for the day and walked back to apartment. A nice walk through the city.
Exciting day as we were going to Colonia, Uruguay. Cross another country off the list, whoopee! A less than exciting ferry ride across the river which here measures 65 kilometers across. As near as I can tell this is second widest river in the world, second only to the amazon at 215 kilometers across. The ferry ride was less than exciting being more a cattle call than a boat ride. No place to even go outside and upstairs was for vip’s only.
Colonia a delightful place to just wander. Long clean beach along the river (I tested the water and fresh as expected) the city itself is a world heritage site and is nearly 500 years old. Interesting history with Spanish and Portuguese invaders. Spanish wanted to conquer, exploit and declare it theirs. Portugal just wanted commerce, hence often the Portuguese were just along the coast but eventually had choice of leave or be killed, and Spanish language resulted. Another case of I am better than you and will kill either you or myself to prove it.
A wondrous lunch of beer and squid looking out over the beach and water and sun. Umbrella handy today for sun.
Return on even more unimpressive ferry. They make a boat very unexciting. On return to Buenos Aires, tried to figure out cabs but taxi stand seemed only for VIP passengers so we started walking again, this time along the canal, and it proved delightful. People just strolling along in the evening. Stopped for some beers and to sit and people watch, finally about 8 pm decided it was time for dinner. Again only ones on arrival but when we left at 10:15 place was half full.
The colors across the canal as the sun descended were amazing reflecting off the glass on buildings on other side. Pinks, reds, blues, magentas- not the clouds but buildings as sunset progressed.
Tuesday 20 December
After a busy few days it was time for a rest and lounged about apartment until noon when stomach growling began and off to the neighborhood perilla 50 meters away for lunch. No sausage this time but veal and wine.
Off to the evita museum although cab driver did not know where it was and even with address insisted on taking us to the nearby art museum. We just walked the kilometer to evita museum, with a stop for a Starbucks frappuchino to combat the heat.
The museum itself is built in a building evita used as a shelter for homeless, abused or similar circumstances of women. Her story is a bit different than that of the musical: they did not cover the use of charity to increase their own fortunes. Here they covered labor reforms, voting rights for women, and the buildup of social programs many of which are still being fought about in the United States. And this was in the forties. Way ahead of her time and obviously a go getter. But stil the rich and powerful fought her, although in this case the people supported her. Although never holding a political office she has pictures on posters and buildings about town.
Back to the canal where I attempted to photograph the previous evenings sunset without success. The colors did not develop as the previous evening but still magnificent. Technical camera issues ensued, but Jeanne patiently sat at a nearby restaurant. The waiter from Italy spoke 5 languages and loved travelling. He loves Buenos Aires for its liveliness and comfortable atmosphere. He said he works til about 1 am when restaurants tend to close and the bars and clubs begin to open.
Wednesday 21 December and the sun is high over the Tropic of Capricorn, meaning it is winter solstice. Here there is about 13.5 hours of sunshine, in anchorage about 5.5. It begins to reverse with here losing light every day and up north they gain light daily for another six months when the annual rotation about the sun again changes again.
We celebrated by going on yet another tourist activity. This entailed a 2 hour bus ride out to the estancia (ranch). In the states we would call this a dude ranch. On arrival they met us with wine and empanadas which were delightful at 11 am.
Then for the horse rides. One should definitely ride a horse at least once a century, and I have now met my quota. Took me 5 times to get up onto the horse, as I seemed to have difficulty using the mane as a handle. The saddles here are not western saddles and do not have the handle in front. (Yes I know that is not the purpose). After a kilometer I was sore. I can ride a bicycle thousands of miles without being sore but a horse ride does me in.
Then a carriage ride and as with the horse ride the best part was the birds: burrowing owl, cara cara, herons and a bunch I could not identify.
Lunch was a 5-6 course meal of numerous meats, a small salad, and desert. Along with beer and wine, plus coffee after. Then the musical show and dancing. Songs by a “gaucho” then tango dance demo again very artistic and athletic. Some gaucho dances with bolos and delightful along with some of us in crowd getting up and dancing.
After the show off to the fields where the gaucho horse show began. Not your usual cowboy harassing cows in a variety of ways, but a high speed run with a tiny stick about the size of a finger which you had to spear a ring hanging down. Most runs they succeeded after which they rode up to the crowd and gave a lady the ring, along with a kiss. Jeanne’s’ ring fit nicely over her middle finger.
On return to the city our guide said demonstrations were taking place and would be difficult to get us back where they picked us up. Our pickup point was not necessarily near our apartment, but planned on another cab ride. The guide advised against a cab ride due to demonstrations as we would just sit in traffic. Ok we would walk which was acceptable as only about two kilometers, although finding walking on cement is harder than on regular trails. Along the way we saw no signs of demonstrations as we know them but power out occasionally but not an issue. ( think, traffic lights). Traffic although it appears quite crazy, is rather civilized once you figure it out. Not one incident of road rage or rushing, was rather pleasant and great fun to drive about and see the city.
And I think I love Argentina. Having ridden the Andes trail and spent several months in the country, it has such wonderful varied sites. Mountains, deserts, glaciers, beaches, oceans, and a people who are friendly and proud of their country, as they should be. As per usual the people are just here making a living where they are born. The government is often as separate entity.
In 1967 I was an exchange student in Germany. I had been taught that the United States was the greatest country in the world, but I found perhaps there were other places that are great too. I had been taught of the atrocities committed by Germany, but discovered it came from both sides. Perhaps we think our home is the best because we understand it. Again I am better than you thoughts prevail. But maybe that is not so, maybe just different and that can be exciting. Embrace the diversity. Just because we are different does not make us better or worse.
And I wrote this enroute from Buenos Aires to Santiago Chile. On arrival I attempted to save and everything except pictures was erased. Internet at airport is very slow, frustrating, and intermittent. I have what is called a sky roam which connects me to internet via cellular network but it seems similar to airport wifi. Ugh. I think I will try and post and edit more when arrive in Dallas in 12 hours. Well go figure as I posted this at Santiago airport wifi pictures would not show and writing was sporadic, but I look here in Dallas on arrival and shows up, so there you go.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time
First week aboard the MS Expedition.
Has been amazing spectacular stupendous and awesome. In other words “adequate”!
Boarded in Ushuaia pondering what kind of people we would be spending the next three weeks with. 123 passengers and approximately 70 crew. Of course seeing people at hotel it seemed like a bunch of old people, but then I realized I was one of them.
Once onboard introduced to life boat drill and emergency procedures, then we were off. One gal exclaimed “I am little kid excited”. One began to realize it may be a bit older crowd but rather adventurous although I do not think very many will go off on a bicycle tour of South America or Nepal or Germany. Only 8 from the United States, others from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada, Norway, Czech Republic, and a multitude of other places. All speak English. Ages are all over probably around 60 as an average, with several I am guessing in their 30’s. All are excited about learning and seeing. As we mingle about I am learning they all have incredible stories accumulated through out their lives.
The crew is again a variety, Filipino cabin crew, a Brazilian hotel manager. First mate and captain from Ukraine.
Warned the seas may be a bit rough after leaving beagle channel but proved quite calm in the full days travel to the falklands. I took a Benadryl as precaution but it proved totally unnecessary.
And thoroughly enjoying the knowledge level and excitement on board. Birds were amazing. Giant austral petrel, cape petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel and a variety of others. About noon a couple of fin whales went by. Photographers are going crazy. With the fin whales I spent about half the time trying to adjust my camera before I just put it down and watched the whales. Sometimes one must just deal in the present and forget the future.
Accommodations are wondrous, the bed incredibly comfortable with just a comforter over. Alden is our cabin attendant, and cleans the room twice a day, makes up the bed in morning, and turns it down in the evening. Amazing service and incredibly friendly. They work about 10 months a year with 2 off, and seem to work 18 hour days 7 days a week. In other words very hard working. Boat crew is standard 4 hours on with 8 off. As the captain said this has worked for centuries and continues.
The guide crew is in a constant friendly smile. There are 16 of them 13 paid, and three volunteers and very knowledgeable.(three unpaid are the lead scientist, photographer and MD) Brent from San Diego has doctorate in marine biology and lead scientist. (Born in Fairbanks and used to work in Barrow in 1978 when Geoff and I were there working with bowhead whales). Annette with doctorate in biology from Germany, focusing on habitat of southern humpback whales, the medical doc is from New Zealand, Phil from Catalina island in California is kayak guide, Kevin from England is bird guide, Lyn’s specialty is penguins and is from Australia, Shayne is the photographer and her classes have been full of a massive amount of information. The lectures go on. This mornings lecture was Southern Hemisphere marine mammals, and Penguins. This afternoon, bird identification of the Falklands, followed by the first of two lectures on Shackleton expedition, after which is followed by an on deck class of bird sighting, then a BBC movie on springtime in the arctic and Antarctic regions. (No landings as travelling between Falkland Islands and South Georgia, a two day journey, currently 300 miles southeast of the falklands)
Food is good with varying hours usually each meal an hour long. All 128 passengers fit in dining room and breakfast and lunch are buffet style with dinner being served. Usually 3-4 courses. Trying to limit myself.
First day out on crossing to Falklands we had classes on dressing for Antarctic, getting into and out of the zodiacs, boot fitting (they provide the muck boots) and general introductions to life aboard ship. Quite fascinating.
Arrived west point island in the falklands and our first landing. Made the landing and appeared to be a nice hike of about 2 kilometer up a bit of hill across some flatlands and to the headland.
Oh my gosh, on arrival in a bit of a valley was black browed albatross soaring about and then you saw it was a nesting area. And interspersed amongst the albatross were the rock hopper penguins. Zounds!
Windy as the albatross require winds to take off. Amazing birds with their 2 meter plus wing span.
Incredibly delightful just watching the albatross skim just feet above your head. The penguins just doing their penguin cuteness (standing there, occasionally preening, or yelling at their neighbor.
Back to the ship and on to Saunders island with a beach landing. Nothing serious but the staff is incredibly protective. Walked over the little spit, beside the gentoo rookery with maybe 100-200 birds standing on a tiny nest on a very slight upraised area. Hike to a beautiful white sand beach about a mile long covered with numerous penguins with small surf coming in. Had been warned to watch out for leopard seals hunting penguins coming in. And some skinny king penguins standing there with fluffy fat chicks of same size.
Off to the south end of beach where rockhopper penguins are attempting to climb hill to nests above. Hopping from ledge and rock and rock to ledge. Definitely more graceful in water. At one point maybe 100 came in at same time and we could watch them in the water. Swimming fast leaping out very graceful, then they get on land. One did not make leap of about a foot (30 cm) and fell about a meter (they are about 45 cm high) but just shook himself and proceeded to find another route.
Then walked the beach watching the birds sort of work their way to nesting area stopping to preen, return for a swim in the water. Incredibly cute.
Back to ship and penguins swimming along side porpoising through the water. And we are moving along pushed by a 50 hp motor. Everyone excited about seeing penguins.
During the night ship drove around north end of islands arriving Stanley about 7:30. Beautiful harbor where we tied up to dock. Buses to drive us to gypsy cove for bird watching or photography or to tumbledown mountain hiking. Jeanne and I chose the hike. Had a great guide who showed flowers and Falkland war history. This time the story was from British side as opposed to the story told in Argentina. As far as they are concerned Argentina is very bad, a very different from viewpoint of the Argentinians. One of the last battles was at tumbledown overlooking Stanley. Interesting walking about areas which were major battles and a war zone. Numerous minefields left and one must know where you are walking. Human species are amazing in their ability to try and destroy themselves.
Back to the bus where we returned to ship for lunch, then walked back into town. Obviously the weather is usually a fright here with wind. A beautiful day for us warm(15C, 60F), and not much wind but it obviously blows here judging by plants, and buildings.
Now enroute to South Georgia island. 900 miles from falklands to South Georgia. A gale behind us which we are just ahead of and seas relatively calm. Every once in a while we push or hit a wave and Jeanne and I think “earthquake” then realize we are on a boat. Just rocking but not bad, just make sure you can grab something to hold on and valuables (cameras, binoculars) are on the floor.
Wow yesterday on our second day of driving to South Georgia island was great. Crossed the Antarctic convergence and water temperature dropped from 8 to 2 Celsius. Big ice berg appeared (as in much larger than the ship) 1000 kilometers from falklands we circled the shag rocks a point of land sticking up then another 250 kilometer and this morning we arrive at northwest end of South Georgia. Cloudy and snowing but through the fog one can see the mountains. We are driving back and forth in front of right whale bay currently. Excited again to go ashore and see one of largest king penguin rookeries with fur seals, and elephant seals. Weather now at 6:30 outside bay the wind is 15-30 knots the temperature is 2 c and a slight snow. Nice
Well the scout party went to check landing at right whale beach despite winds 25-30 gusting 40. Cutoff for them is 40 knots. But alas the fur seals have taken over beach and totally unable to land anywhere, so we all went for a 1 hour zodiac cruise. Would have been 1 1/2 hours but winds increased to gusting at 60 knots (about 75 mph and 110 kph). Everyone totally bundled as temp still about 2 degrees C just above freezing. A bit chilly. Rain gear a requirement and the nice parka given us is very good. I took a good splash upon returning and came in dripping. Yahoo life is great!
The beach was spectacular. Second largest breeding colony of king penguins and they covered a huge area, but the fur seals dominated. They are not necessarily mean but defend their territory vigorously. Herded the penguins around keeping them from water, chased other males away and we have been warned they will charge us, hence no landing. I do not want a fight with a fur seal. And the behomoths of the elephant seals are totally slackards. Huge lumps of blubber just laying about pretending to be a rock, although at nearly 6 meters are in length and 4-5 tons it is not recommended to mistake it for a rock. Everyone agrees they resemble Jabba the hut in Star Wars. The king penguins are as cute as the rockhoppers and gentoos but bigger (up to 95 cm, 3 feet in height.)
Ice bergs about and big ones plus several growlers about. Currently repositioning to afternoon operations in bay of isles. Will see what weather and animals bring us. This morning catabatic winds were totally unpredictable and again offshore about 5 kilometers. Cruising along just looking at steep cliffs and glaciers. Beautiful
What an afternoon. Sailed to a bay but catabatic winds at 60 knots and could not get an anchor down. Tried another nearby bay in bay of islands and when tucked in behind an island the winds suddenly died, but shortly before dropping anchor the winds picked up again and we had to depart. Back across to a place called rosita bay and found calm. Kayakers went out but for the rest of us landing on beach was again impossible due to fur seals. But all got to do a zodiac cruise which brought us right to beach but could not get out nor did we want to face those 200 kg masses of fury. One was dead and being picked apart by albatross, one was very bloody with gashes and tears over shoulders and rump, but still guarding his 5 females and pups. Amazing creatures and a bit smelly. The elephant seals just lie around belching and farting. We are assured it is not belching and farting but their vocalizations, but sure sounds like belching and farting.
Back for a very nice sauna, dinner and BBC documentary of frozen planet the summer.
Grytvikin 1 December 2016
What a place: steeped in history. Zodiac in to the cemetery and a toast of whiskey to Earnest Shackleton and a walk into whaling station guided by the watchful and careful guides who are quick to point out our errors, in not seeing a slumbering brown pile which we have seen can erupt into massive fury and return to slumber in a few seconds. The whaling station is steeped in history and fascinating to walk through. (amazing to think of the whales that went through there, up to 40000 a year decimating the populations. In 20 minutes an entire fin wheel could be taken apart into tiny pieces scattered about the station rendered into food, fertilizer, creams and cosmetics.
Return ship for lunch and opted out of hiking to take the photography class with Shayne in the whaling station. She is amazing with her knowledge of cameras and photography. Learned (well she taught) bringing out the colors by using landscape instead of portrait mode and changing the white balance. Numerous points one such was, think about taking only one picture to sum up the entire whaling station. I took about 150.
But to think of the history and what had gone on there, Blaine the musician guide did a concert in the church and one could sit where the men of years past sat contemplating who knows what. But I realized I had not seen the museum and hence skipped the concert running through the museum which one could spend an entire afternoon at. Viewing exhibits of whaling, shackleton, falklands war, and general history of the area. Then to the art area which was a replica of the James Caird. Amazingly small. Shackleton crossed 800 miles of southern ocean to reach South Georgia island in that boat performing what has become known as one of the greatest rescues in history. His trip took 3 years with 24 men without a single loss of life. For those who have not read about shackleton and his amazing story and rescue it is a classic of one of the greatest rescues and expeditions to occur in the Antarctic heroic age of 1895. – 1920.
Back on board and we are headed back to attempt anther beach landing at salisbury plain where king penguin rookery is and Jeanne and I are going on a zodiac cruise. Then beach.
Friday 2 December 2016
Return to plains but although the water somewhat calm the fur seals were not and the beach masters were in charge. No landing but did have a leopard seal playing about boat in kelp. Yahoo. Magnificent if not ominous looking. One of the two animals I really wanted to see. The other is a blue whale but that is very rare.
Afternoon to a smaller colony of king penguins and able to somewhat precariously work our way through a few fur seals hiking up to a colony of several thousand . Wow impressive and the sun was out whereas in morning snowing and raining. Temperature is just above freezing.
Then a good zodiac Cruise about ice berg probably 40-50 meters tall, in three spires.
And just back from seeing the southern cross, not for first time but still good to check in. Always nice to see old friends.
3 December South Georgia island
Jogged back and forth last night until breakfast time then into stromness harbor to see another whaling station, hike and explore the area where Shackleton finished his over mountain portion of his epic story. Alas the place was covered in fur seals and totally unable to land hence decided to move to our afternoon destination of Hercules harbor. Alas again fur seals and fur seals again and wind blowing about 35 knots. So decided to move southward on island to see if there might be a bay which would offer protection and be interesting. Tried another bay finally ending up at gold harbor which was delightful. Alex the head guide said he had been there before but always blocked by fur seals but this time it was quiet, no fur seals to be seen, although numerous elephant seals, and a huge king penguin colony, and a massive hanging glacier at one end with an overpouring glacier at the other end of glacier. Beautiful although a bit of drizzle nearly snowing.
Offered a zodiac cruise but wanted to walk, then discovered we were last into zodiac again. Somehow our luck has been that way. But crew quickly loaded everyone and we were on shore. Amongst the penguins, and a large volume of elephant seal noises. Crossed the beach and into the tussock grass and mud and a gentoo penguin colony. 2 new chicks were noted beneath one bird. Then on through the mud and slime to another area overlooking the beach and stream where penguins were standing to cool off. We had to be very careful as there were fur seals about although young and not overly territorial, but camouflaged into the grass and mud. One does not want to surprise one and get in a fight or get bit. Everyone realizes an injury is serious stuff. We have one broken arm already and she must wait until we return to Ushuaia in two weeks. A life threatening injury would mean the boat turns around and we all go back to Ushuaia. The closest airport is 1200 miles away in the falklands and none here. Helicopters cannot get this far. We are on our own.
Jeanne and I sat for an hour and half just watching the birds and seals. Finally said we wanted the zodiac cruise and started back knee deep in mud. Great cruise South Georgia shags, penguins in and out of surf, elephant seals , then below the glacier. Incredible country.
Then back to the expedition (that is the name of our boat), another incredible meal movie and now heading toward Antarctica. An occasional wave and a bit of rocking about, although nothing bad as yet. Went up top and was actually surprised how quiet it is.
And the ship is dark except running lights as past 4 nights all windows covered to prevent bird strikes.
4 December enroute South Georgia to Antarctic peninsula
A bit rough last evening as we rounded cape disappointment but smoothed out and just cruising the smooth southern ocean today. Just saw some blue whales and fin whales. A rare sighting, the population is down to 3-4% of its pre hunting days.
Lectures this morn on seals of Antarctica and arctic. Scott gave a lecture on race to South Pole between scot and Amundsen. Great history.
This afternoon biosecurity again to check any dirt. Invasive species are becoming a problem hence a good wash of all external gear, and as yesterday we were wading in the mud, hence before arrival we must vacuum all pockets and Velcro, plus wash boots and any mud on backpack, pants, and boots.
5 December 2016
Each day gets better. This is like the 12th day in a row which is better than the previous. Awoke early about 5 looked out and there was a huge glacier descending down the mountain. Had to go out on back deck which had a small layering of snow, which was very slippery in my crock shoes. We moved along between big tabular ice bergs, arriving and anchoring at shingle cove on coronation island in the south orkneys. Apparently very rare to land here because of ice and wind. Due to flat seas yesterday we were able to go faster allowing more time, plus wind low and bergy bits were few allowing a landing.
Boarded zodiacs and cruised along the ice edge. Always a treat to just cruise along noting the incredible shapes the ice gets in and how deep in goes in that blue green color. Magnificent and I never tire of it. And here the glaciers were piling down the mountains above. I suspect there has never been a climbing trip here and multiple first ascents available although an incredibly remote and difficult place to get to. As noted earlier for almost all the crew, this was first time here. It was the first time for the boat in 5 years.
But onward everyone reveling in this journey. Geoff describes the area as Alaska on steroids. Me, I am running out of amazing words to describe what I’ve it.
But now back at sea heading to elephant island where Shackleton men spent 4 months awaiting a rescue. Gentle rolling and a few bergies out there.
The lectures continue about Antarctic explorers and the southern continent. One thing that has struck me is how Amundsen seemed to learn that locals have knowledge of how to live and work in the particular environment. When he came to the south he had already been to the arctic and discovered how the eskimos lived. Scott was English and since they ruled the world they felt they knew it all already. Stiff upper lip and all that. Amundsen used dogs and skis to reach the South Pole whereas Scott used ponies and man hauling. Scott did not return. Again on this trip I am seeing the history of man in subtle ways. I am better than you and I am willing to die to prove it.
Welcome to Antarctica 6 December 2016
What a day. Started when I awoke and went up for coffee. All were excited about the ice last night and how we were stopped. I had slept through the crashing bashing and rolling. But at 5:30 we were moving along, arriving elephant island about noon, where Shackleton’s men stayed for 4 months which is a bit of miracle as very little there. Glaciers on both side so area to go is less than 100 meters. Apparently only plants there are two species of lichen. There was a chinstrap penguin colony on rock above the beach, but wind blowing at 35 knots hence no landing or zodiac. Lots of fin whales about.
And chilly. Top decks were closed due to falling ice from superstructure, but sun came out in afternoon which was delightful. Then on to south end of elephant island where crew managed to get ramps and boats over port side. But rough, I told a fellow passenger I gave our chances at 20% of getting off boat. Well we did it totally bundled up.
A rough ride in zodiacs then through a passageway with I figure 8 foot waves crashing on rocks on both sides of us, then around a corner and into a tiny bay also with big waves. We were told the penguins above us on cliffs were macaroni penguins. Ok I will believe them as they were black and white, but I couldn’t hold the binoculars still to see. But definitely penguins hanging onto an exposed cliff side in the 35 knot winds.
Returned watching the zodiac behind us rise completely out of water, only the motor remaining unseen. Quite fun. Returned with everyone smiling. As Alex said welcome to Antarctica.
8 December 2016 just off coast of northern Antarctic peninsula
And onward passing Livingston island and its grand glaciers toward half moon bay and a chinstrap penguin colony. Those birds definitely deserve the cuteness award. On a scale of 10 they rank 10 and the closest thing even close would be a 4. Waddling along or dropping to their belly and to tobaganing along pushing with feet and rowing with flippers. Walked over a small pass having to give way to uphill penguin traffic. They get it in their mind where they want to go and if you are in way they just mill about until you move 2 feet off to the side they then proceed.
And the sun was out and a brilliant day. Walked the beach, just looking at waves, penguins, rocks, skuas, and Antarctic terms. Then returned for boat ride back to ship and time to take a zodiac cruise. Out into the bay and watched a humpback whale moving slowly about. Managed a good picture of diving with fin up.
Back to ship for lunch and motor onward to deception island whalers bay of Neptune caldera which is a volcanic caldera, last eruption being in 1969. The story goes this is the place in Jules vernes novel “20,000 leagues under the sea” where captain nemo had his base. In the novel he had to go through an underwater channel, in reality for us a delightful narrow entrance and quiet inside. Jeanne and I had signed up for the “long” hike up to the nipple on ridge line overlooking bay and outward back to Livingston island views to Antarctic peninsula. 3 kilometer rising to maybe 250 meters above sea level, but the views fantastic. Unfortunately as I walked the last bit up the rock to summit of the “nipple” I was yelled at to come down and unless I had a mountaineering certification I could show now, I was not allowed to go the last 3 meters to top. Alas. Hence we got back in line and marched onward up the ridge to avoid the snow fields and went down a gravel ridge.
Back to beach where steam rising from the heated waters of the volcanic caldera and those that wanted to could swim. I had thought temperatures would be freezing but had to balance out Arctic Ocean swim with southern ocean swim. Turns out temps were guessed at 4-5 degrees( maybe low 40s F). And most of us went in a couple of times, laying in the warm sand after. Returned with bragging rights.
Currently 7 am and cruising along Antarctic peninsula in Wilhimina bay in glorious sunshine and only 10-15 knot wind, temperature is 2 degrees c. Apparently bay we wanted earlier this morning was too ice choked, hence are looking for something different. But looks to be a great day. The mountains and glaciers here in Wilhelmina bay are absolutely stunning. Only in the Ruth gorge in Alaska have I seen such amazing views.
8 december 2016
Wilhelmina bay fabulous! Stuck the nose of ship into ice about 50 meters and we were off for a grand walk on the shore fast ice. Wedded, crabeater, and a leopard seal basking in the sunshine. Occasionally a penguin would march by, but most were standing on the ice bergs floating about. Would have been an absolutely fantastic ski across the flat pan.
Then back to ship with superb zodiac tour about the icebergs.
Today I opted to not carry camera pack and just put extra lens in pocket. Alas when I stepped aboard my leg hit pocket and knocked the 70-300 mm lens out and into the ocean it went, as I was right between zodiac and boarding platform. Three of us saw it and reached, but it was floating similar to a rock. Alas no more telephoto lens.
On to Orne bay and the actual mainland of Antarctica, which explains why it is so difficult to get to. Surrounded by by glaciers and ice falls going directly into the sea. They had a spot just wide enough to get the zodiac in and one could scramble up onto snow and zig zag a hill to a small pass overlooking the Gerlache straight which has a lot of ice. Another cruise ship heading north in it.
Guy gave us a super cruise back next to glaciers on way back to ship driving through the brash ice and up to glaciers. Incredible the amount of snow there is. I suspect the summit up on the snowfield feeding the glaciers it is hundreds of feet thick.
There were set of ski turns coming down and I thought wow some other cruise let someone ski. Looked like a nice ski 15 turns on a gentle slope, beautiful spring corn snow. We moved a few miles for anchorage as it was camping night. It was there I saw more ski tracks and a sailboat. Hence no cruise skis.
Last night was camping night for those opting for the one night event out on ice. We chose not to go as $400 for a night in tent on ice. But a first experience for many. I was surprise when watching the campers load in zodiacs there were two people with skis, but turns out they were not allowed to put them on, just stand there for a picture.
Guess we have been on here for a while little complaints sneaking in. Someone got splashed on zodiac and someone on landing stepped in over Their boot top on landing, requiring a quicker trip back to ship. The staff still is amazing trying to balance all our interests and needs, but as time goes on we seem to get a bit pickier.
And while I am moaning and groaning will note I have managed to obtain a cold. Lungs congested again and nose now giving me lots of exercise. 3 days now and each day I awake after a fitful night thinking it is better only to discover worse. But cannot give up any activity as only here once.
9 December 2016
Worked our way south into increasing ice, finally having to stop at 64 degrees 54 minutes when entire channel blocked. Spent an hour then started trip north, stopping at an island rarely visited due to usual bad weather. Useful island named from the whalers who came in here from the top could watch whales entering the Gerlache straight.
A nice hike to near top with lots of chinstrap and gentoo penguins plus the skuas cruising around.
A delightful zodiac cruise after admiring the infinite forms and shapes of ice bergs. Stunning.
And the cold (cough, fever, runny nose) continues: arggghhh
10 December 2016
Awoke again for 4th day in row thinking wow I think this illnes is getting better. But today seemed more hopeful. Did not start popping pills until at least up for 1/2 hour, then only thinking it just just preventative for later on hike ashore. As I right this it is noon and still very very much under the weather but surviving better.
Another great trip ashore and this time got to actually get to summit: no animals blocking way and guides said ok! Danco island in orne bay where we were a few days ago. Gentoo penguins marching up and down on their melted out highways. Penguins are so incredibly cut one can hardly stand it.
A zodiac ride back to ship to look up close at glacier coming off mainland but interrupted by a sleeping leopard seal on ice flow. Got with 5 meters and he could not have cared less. Mostly just sleeping , once raising his head but quickly returning to some sort of seal dreams I suppose.
Afternoon motored to the Malachi on islands for our final zodiac cruise, and it was a tremendous ending. Basically islands several meters across to I suppose a few kilometers, but all covered in glacier flowing to the water edge. My guess is a hundred meters plus in thickness but spectacular walls as the snow reaches the edge. Huge crevasses seen from below some would be completely unseen from the upper surface. Motored around for over an hour just sight seeing. They found a tiny inlet surrounded by glacier at the head of which was some fast ice (sea ice frozen and connected to land hence fastened ) of which there were 20 plus Weddell seals and one crab eater seal. Delightful viewing. Then return to the ship and begin our return trip north.
Was thinking if someone said let’s go for an open boat ride in prince William sound with the temperature right at freezing, wind blowing 15-20 knots I would say you are crazy. Here nearly everyone jumped at the chance. There is no such thing as bad weather just bad gear.
On another note Geoff noted it is only the three Alaskans who have no accent on this boat. I mentioned this to someone and they say d it is because we learned at the Sarah Pallin school of linguistics. Ok, I now have a major accent.
On the sickness front am down to only replaced handerkerchief once every 3 hours whereas it was every hour. Progress
and half way across drake passage and quiet. A bit of rolling but not bad
Made it across the supposedly roughest waters in the world and it was quiet. Apparently normally everything is on floor as nothing will stay up including people. Hmmm great trip.
And thus it ends. Back in Ushuaia. The above is sort of the daily log I tried to keep, but it comes not even close to representing the trip. The photos are mine except the above by Shayne the trip photographer and those where camera given to someone else photo me. The internet onboard was dialup speed and I felt the photos did more justice.
If you wish to know the Divine, feel the wind on your face and the warm sun on your hand. Buddha
Well it has been an interesting week. Arrived at airport here in Ushuaia about 7 pm last Thursday (today is Wednesday), I believe more dead than alive. We were to say the least, exhausted. Concerned about our airbnb as unable to contact them due to no phone, wifi, etc., but on arrival the owner was out front and gave us hugs on arrival. Her brother said lets go get a SIM card and we hopped in car to drive several places to obtain a SIM card so I could have phone access and such, when no wifi available. Finally got it although a few days later when I got around to putting it in phone turns out did not work. Only 50 pesos though about $3.00 so not worrying. Seems card had been cut wrong.
As we arrived late and had planned on thursday arranging trips about Tierra Del Fuego and up to Punta Arenas, Chile we found a room for another night. The airbnb was booked but found a hotel nearby although only room was a triple for $130. OK for one night.
Went out to eat at first restaurant we found which by now was 9 pm and mostly empty, with a couple of tables busy. By the time we finished at 10:30 every table full. I forgot they eat late here. Most restaurants do not even open until 8 pm. But excellent food. Then we slept, oh sweet sleep.
In the morning we walked to new hotel 6 blocks away and apparently a double room was always available just not via booking.com, hence we would get a reimbursement. And off to make arrangements for the next 5 days. Information booths, tour companies, bus companies, etc. More difficult than anticipated. Had tried to do on line from home, but proved difficult without any answers. Ferry boat ride between Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams (near here) was something we really wanted, as it was 35 hours on inside passage as a local ferry. Tourists ferries were too long and expensive. But the schedule was exact opposite of what we could do. Then we heard there is strike at Chilean border which no-one seemed to have much information on, except borders blocked most of time except maybe 10 minutes an hour or two or three. The bus ride from here to Punta Arenas is 12 hours thus it did not seem inviting having just finished a horrendous travel experience. Flying an option but over a thousand dollars for us. Also could go to Rio Gallegos in Chile which was far cheaper and easier to get to but would mean hours there and an overnight and everyone said a boring town. Seems traveling about Tierra Del Fuego was not going to happen. We would stay in Ushuaia and see what it has to offer. 5 days now and 3 on return.
At hotel we walked up to the lounge area on third floor and as we passed second floor there was a Deborah Green, who I had gone to nursing school with me in 1982. I had seen her a few times since but not much. Jeanne came up the stairs and recognized her as she had worked with her in hospital years before, but took a bit to recognize as way out of context. Small world! They are leaving for Antarctica on a different cruise, but we made arrangements to have dinner. They were going hiking and we were trying to find out options for next days.
Another great dinner again beginning at 9 pm, and we four decided to rent a car the next day to explore tierra el Fuego national park, which was one of the reasons I had wanted to spend time here. Two years ago I rode through the park on bicycle and it looked great for further explorations.
Oh boy the next day we rented a car. A superb day but the renting of car was the adventure. The rental company a block from hotel and they did not speak English and rental agreement was in spanish. Although paying in cash the deposit was on a credit card. Many have told us the credit card charge here is 10% so often cheaper to use cash. But the deposit required a call to credit card company and that was an adventure. The rental guy was getting very frustrated with the incomprehensible questions from the credit card company. They needed to verify it was me, thus by the end we had a slip of paper on desk with passwords, social security #, mothers maiden name, etc. All the things you never give out. We watched that paper closely. Was a problem as the bank said social # was wrong because it should only be four numbers. Finally realized they only wanted the last four digits. Anyway when we finished the paper was fully shredded placed in my pocket and I considered swallowing it. Again we laughed. It took over two hours to get the paperwork and simpler than the paperwork at home.
Finally finished and we drove the 30 kilometers to the end of the road.
End of the road, the other end is either Homer Spit or Deadhorse or maybe Inuvik
Finally after when we reached the end of road, parked, explored, and on return to car none of us could figure out how to put the car in reverse. 20 minutes later and almost getting out and pushing it back, Deborah discovers you lift up on the handle. More laughter.
The park was great with lots of new birds and photograph potential. Striated caracara, rufous collared sparrow, upland goose, rufous goose, kelp geese, flightless steamer ducks, and once we looked up and not at the ground found a bunch of parrots which I figured were Austral parakeets. Had not expected to see parrots here. Amazing wildlife. A superb hike to the coast amongst the beech trees.
Returned to Ushuaia and wanted to avoid driving San Martin street due to busy, but ended up on it not once, but twice when roads we turned on dead ended forcing us to navigate San Martin, finally climbing back to the rental place where the fellow had driven from home to meet us. Very nice. Quite an adventure and it worked out well.
Sunday was pleasant without wind and we suddenly decided to do a Beagle channel tour, to view cormorants, fur seals, light houses, petrels, terns, and another continuous onslaught of critters sights and sounds.
Did some walks about town visiting the monument to immigrants covering a big section of hillside and memorial to those who died in the falklands war (Malvinas)
Today a bus tour about town and found out about the native inhabitants. When Fitzroy and Darwin came here in early 1800’s they asked what the Indians called themselves. They said “tualkin”. For 50 years that is what people called them until someone translated that to mean “I do not understand”. As of 2010 only one native remained, the rest had died off from diseases and such they had no immunity to.
And thus tomorrow we board the ship to travel to falklands, South Georgia island, and Antarctic peninsula. Jeanne, Geoff and myself are very excited. 23 days aboard ship with excursions ashore. New sights.
Thus I will leave it at this. Apparently wifi is available but limited and I am not planning on connecting thus if no word here it means I am successful in disconnecting. This afternoon has reinforced my desire to disconnect. As this $230 per night hotel has wifi which marginally works slowly. The hotel earlier at $60 night worked good, and some what consistent. This writing has taken 6 hours of fits and starts and frustration.
Against I apologize for the lack of coherency or length but am frustrated with the technology.
To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, sometimes we must be willing to get rid of the trip we’ve planned so as to have the trip that is waiting for us.
And so as you may have detected I was quite disappointed in leaving the trip. I was depressed at my body failing, depressed at my thoughts. I was making up excuses blaming lots of things, feeling I had been abandoned not only by me but others, of which none was true and I knew it, but being human was trying to place blame anywhere but me. The above quote came from a dear friend who wrote me and it made me realize we do not always know our path, but it is our path and the choices we make determine future paths. Not much reason to get upset over the natural flow of things.
Anyway I had a good time while the group was gone, and I was alone, and as noted usually I like being alone, but this time I was not prepared for it.
Jeanne had wanted me to come home as obviously the trip was over for me. But I felt I had come all this way there was something here. When Rien came in after injuring his shoulder he left soon as he wanted to get his shoulder checked at home in the Netherlands. He had good reason to get home. I felt good having once descended I was fine.
And I am so happy I stayed. Not only did I get a good trip bicycling up to Tatopani and return, but when the group returned the day after I returned, they immediately came to my room and checked on me. It was like I had never left the trip despite having skipped 16 of 24 days. We shared stories and compared notes. I felt a part. It felt good. Up until then I had been unable to listen to stories of the Mustang area, or even read their Facebook accounts, it hurt too much. But when they returned I wanted all their stories.
Turns out their stories included my episode at altitude, and having listened to them I realize I could not have gone on. It was a horrible decision but the right one to depart and descend. I was sick. Apparently not only could I not breath although my oxygen saturation was normal for that altitude(84%), but I could not walk a straight line heel to toe.
For a different viewpoint read Buck’s blog Buck’s blog not only is he a very good writer but his perspective is different which is often good. The one entitled high country riding is his version of my demise.
But a great dinner together and then people depart. The trip is over and a memory.
I was unable to get reservation for flights out until Friday night when setting up this trip, so have hung out in pokhara, as it is more pleasant than Kathmandu. Michelle, Chad, James, and Paul left Monday morning leaving Buck, Bridget and myself. Buck and Bridget left this morning Wednesday for a 8 day trek to Annapurna base camp.
Tuesday Bridget, buck and I did a great trek up to world heritage site of world peace Buddhist stupa,which was great and impressive. Glad we had seen Junga the night before, as he said we could take a boat across lake and trek rather than taxi in car around and up (Junga was our bike guide on the trip) we left about 8:30 am but still sweat rolled off us as we ascended through the jungle. It seems there are no flat trails here.
Talking with Jeanne today. (Wednesday) we were reviewing my schedule and realized I leave Thursday nite not Friday nite. Am very glad I do not schedule tight connections as I would have shown up Friday night at Kathmandu airport and discovered my flight left the night before.
Met a fellow Anchorage traveller this am, got a haircut, tried to find glaucoma medicines at pharamcies here but that seems a first world medicine and no one had any medicines for it here. Alas. I must go back and pay first world prices.
And so it has again been a grand adventure. The future has moved into the present and the present has moved into the past. It is a constant ongoing process, never ending.
Interesting couple of days. Mentally and physically. Hopefully I have not bitten off more than I can chew. My permit goes as far as Jomsom at the upper end of road on this side of Annapurna circuit. Jeanne and I trekked in from Pokhara in 1992 in just over a week, hitchhiking the road out of Pokhara with construction trucks. But only rode maybe 10-15 kilometers. Now there is a road, all the way to Jomsom, but before Tatopani it winds to the west and away from main trekking routes which are more direct. The road connects with trekking routes at Tatopani and both road and trail then wind up through the Kali Gandaki (one of the deepest canyons in world if you consider on one side is Annapurna I and the other is Daulagiri, two of the 14 8000 meter peaks. We are at about 1000 meters here) ok I am impressed.
Left Pokhara ready to get out of town and face the world again. And it was incredible. Between keeping an eye on traffic, Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre were out in their glory. Rising nearly 6000 meters above town. (20000 feet)
The town became less dense, then more rice fields, then what one would call country, as the road slowly rises at a 3-4 % grade. Then the hill began about 10 k out of town switchbacking at a doable 6-8% grade. I was back on bike, traffic was not bad and it was nice. Got to what I thought was top and stopped for break. Proprietor of store invited me in back and showed me view looking back down valley to Phewa lake and Pokhara. The lake still exists!
And a very pleasant fellow also at break stop asking this and that in reasonable English. Said he was Tibetan. When my break was done he wanted to show me some of the jewelry he had made. Have not seen any hawkers of wares as in past visits. Without being forcefull he pulled out pieces telling me about each one. Some were real turquoise from Tibet others plastic he pointed out. Had well over a hundred pieces just thrown in a bag. Ok I confess I bought one!
Then back in bike, But after only a kilometer road again went up, rising another 250 meters totaling thus far at 950 meters of climbing (3100 feet) in 20 kilometer (12 miles).
Stopped at top for lunch. Dahl baht again. (Rice and lentils, and eaten at 90% of Nepali meals.). Very pleasant people particularly one who was asking in reasonable English where I was from and pleasantries. Engaging several other people in restaurant in conversation. Turns out she is Tibetan but was born here in Nepal. Her mother came here in 1962. She has a small business selling jewelry she has made. After I finish eating she would like to show me some, and she wanders off. I finished eating and she returned and directed me to table out front where she had a bag which she began pulling out necklaces, beads, charms, and I could not tell little difference from the stuff seen a few kilometers badck. I began my departure but she said I should buy something as that is how she lives. I just left without buying anything but lunch.
Then the descent back and forth and the road surface is more torn up. Got to bottom then some small up and down but getting quite hot now. And the road began to climb again, nothing serious but the heat in the high 80s (high 20s C) with high humidity was killing me. Even though only about 2 pm I began looking for a place to stay. The road here though is not part of tourist route other than buses and taxis coming back from trekking and only driving through. Basically I was alone amongst thousands around me who had their own lives to lead. Passed one hotel but did not look promising. Onward and upward finally reaching Kusma some 62 kilometers from pokhara.
Found only one hotel in the somewhat large town (guessing 10000 people) and pulled in. Several women and girls sitting around lobby and had to wake up fellow sleeping on couch. Yes they had room (building was 6 stories tall) he called his son from somewhere and he appeared to take me to second floor (third by U.S. counting) it was fine although a bit dirty. I have my sleeping sheet. And a overhead fan. I laid down and let the fan blow with the window open as sweat continued to roil off me. I do not do humidity
Finally figured I best walk about town. Not a single westerner to seen which is interesting having been several weeks in the thick of tourism.
Back for dinner about 6 but told to come back promptly at 7 for dinner. No worries back at 7 enjoy a beer but by 8 still no food and no one in kitchen. I seem the only person in hotel other than family. About 8 the fellow comes over and asked if I would like dinner tonight? Yes please and his son and another go into kitchen and begin serving up food. Dahl baht.
Morning and breakfast at 7. I ask for black coffee and get a pot of milk coffee. He says will be 15-20 minutes before cook arrives. About 7:50 his son arrives and goes into kitchen. 8:15 he comes out and asks what I would like. I order scrambled eggs and toast. About 9 a plate of eggs wrapped around the bread arrives. I ask for a receipt for hotel bill and that took another 45 minutes as he itemized each meal, beer etc so much for leaving early and avoiding the heat.
Descent to 800 meters elevation (200 lower than Pokhara) and entered the Kali Gandaki river drainage). The road continues to deteriorate. Thought Tatopani would be too far today but Beni only 20 kilometers. It is a holiday of some sort and every store was closed and the few hotels also boarded up. And people out walking in their finest outfits. The normal red tika worn by women was a full on red rice pasted all over forehead of everyone, men and women, and all had some grass sticking out of hair. I felt like it was Christmas holidays back in states except without commercial aspects. Later I learned the holiday is 5 days long and this is day 3. A Hindu holiday as this is Hindu country.
Some kids enamored with my bike said Tatopani would be a easy 3 hours for me. Guide map says it is a 5 hour walk and I thought hmmm maybe I could do that. Another 25 kilometers and only 11 in the morning. But the heat was kicking in. I stopped to eat and was feeling a bit down so thought maybe I am tougher than I thought and ordered a soda instead of mineral water with the Dahl baht.
Generally I am tough but not tough enough for a soda. It did me in and I was miserable, having to exit the road once to evacuate the system. Something I have not had to do once on this trip. Felt better but heat and humidity back. (This is jungle after all)
The road is now a mud fest. With puddles the entire width. I rode one puddle and was hub deep. Waterfalls flowing. Had to help push one car which was stuck in mud. Decided I would not make Tatopani, and kept looking at map for potential villages with hotel. One looked promising but on arrival only one house and a boarded up hotel. Guess it will be Tatopani in 8 kilometers. A major creek crossing, fast current and looked two feet deep. Looked dangerous by foot, and no way to ride a hike through that current, even by vehicle it looked precarious. Found some logs a hundred yards upstream which allowed a rather wet dicey crossing. Figured I would make Tatopani as only 8 kilometers away.
Then a village of Tiplyang appeared although first two hotels were boarded up. Decided ok I can do this but as walking up hill out of town the Namaste guest house appears. I just go in and here I am.
Laid in bed for an hour thinking of altitude sickness and if you cannot recover in 10 minutes something is wrong. Here it is the heat and humidity getting me. I was on the bed for over an hour, finally forcing myself up to walk through town. That took 5 minutes of which 2 was watching a volleyball game. Back to hotel and invited to watch dinner preparations. It appeared I was the only guest and definitely only westerner.
Wow despite the language gap, I got a lesson in cooking. Had bananas as appetizers with a bread I equated to eskimo doughnuts. Hearty! And good!
Grind the garlic and I believe it is cardamom on rock. Then grind garlic, peanuts, salt and a few peppers. Peel potatoes and stir fry with fresh cut onions. Oh my gosh it was amazing. Definitely not the fastidiousness of western cooking, then time to eat. The lentils and rice appear from pressure cookers and enjoy. Another meal of Dahl baht. Everyone is different, and I refer to the Dahl baht.
Ok morning and on to Tatopani. Maya here tells me it is expensive. Here in Tiplyang I have found the Nepal I remember. No menus, smokey kitchens, simplicity beyond simplicity.
But pondering return. The group comes into Tatopani Saturday eve and then jeep to Pokhara. The idea of a jeep ride out of here does not entice me. Think I will ride out at least until road is better, but then things get very crowded. Maybe ride all the way back but then some climbs. Decisions decisions.
And the adventure continues. Now Friday day 3 at Tatopani. Jomsom is 56 kilometers, which is as far as my permit goes, but not feeling the need. Just enjoying the time although might be a bit easier if I had a set schedule. I keep thinking of Paul’s statement: it had been shown one loses IQ points on vacation.
Yesterday went for a nice trek up the canyon wall. Map said a good viewpoint of Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, and Annapurna South. Hotel owner said could not see Dhaulagiri but nice views and a good waterfall. Did not matter as clouds encased the high mountains anyway. I did try taking butterfly pictures with the iPhone. Not very successful. That is price of going minimalist, I cannot carry bigger camera.
Awoke this morning and magnificent view of Nilgiri from lying in bed. Maybe not a good day to return to Pokhara. Can ride to Beni in morning and catch a bus from there. Thus I find myself sitting beside road listening to roar of river, motorbikes, jeeps, cars, buses, and trucks go by.
The road continues with technical mountain biking, finding a route through rocks, puddles, creeks, and traffic. Traffic definitely adds a dimension to route finding.
As I ride I have come to appreciate the horns. Nice to know something is near and do not swerve. Funny as in the states horn is not nice, as obnoxious, and one knows they are there, but here cannot always here as so much else going on. Also back home one gets the feeling when someone honks they are saying get out of my way. Not so here, but to let you know they are there. Each has an equal right.
Pushed upward until my demons were saying why are you doing this? I was pondering why is it I am always the slow one (ok I am alone so who is slow). Why do I do these trips, what is the point? And the questions go on. Self doubts!
Then finally turned around having climbed about 500 meters in 9 kilometer, after seeing the narrow portion of Kali Gandaki gorge. 4 kilometer to Ghana and I could get a stamp on my permit. Whooppee skippee! I turned around then on way down at a narrow section of road police had come out to direct traffic. There was definite congestion where a stream was running down the road and vehicles were having a hard time climbing. Was talking with some Israeli trekkers on bus from Jomsom, who as I was cleared to ride through they said. “Keep living my dream”. Words again can mean a lot. Suddenly I felt better.
And I made it through the very rocky section, sliding and dropping off rocks as it was a major stream flowing down the 15% slope. And about a hundred people filming it as buses disgorged passengers to await their buses turn to climb or descend.
Talked with a couple from India who are taking a three week vacation to motorcycle this route to Muktinath at the edge of Mustang area. They said it far rougher than they expected. I am amazed at abilities of the motorcycle riders. And that does not mention the passenger of which there is almost always one.
Apparently since the road went on this has become a motorcycle vacation destination. And they stop me to say they are amazed at what I am doing. There is always somebody tougher out there.
Descent from Tatopani to Beni was great but muddy. Left same time as jeep with trekkers from Victoria, Canada. We arrived Beni same time but I had stopped and taken a lot of pictures. Arrived Pokhara covered in mud.
And made me feel good when this morning as I left Trekkers hotel, the owner and daughter came out to say goodbye. And stopped by Nepali guest house in Tiplyang and Maya thanked me for stopping by and telling stories of time in Tatopani.
Thus I think I must post this. Internet is acting weird. One time says ready next it discombobulated Sorry if not finished. But will have to correct after. Writing on an iPhone is a pain.
Ok pokhara. Another tourist town but I have become part of hotel here. Eat breakfast lunch dinner here they know what I want and is pleasant. Have just been chilling out. Did ride up to world heritage site yesterday eve but only the parking lot. Did not walk last hundred or so meters to the world peace stupa. Just a nice bike ride. Hoping for the great views of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range but very cloudy and of course hazy. Maybe on return. Has been wonderful to just do nothing, just relax. Been thinking if this article written in 2011 about Nepal tourism. Bad things about Nepal tourism. It is true and this is a developing nation undergoing major upheaval. The government changes every 9 months and never can be established to actually see things through. But as in most places the people are separate from the government and only suffer the consequences. ( How many people actually got to decide whether Clinton or Trump would run for president of the U. S.?) We all eke out a living doing the best we can given our circumstances.
Yesterday planned on riding to stupa but was told I needed a blood pressure for doctor who signed my insurance form that I had altitude sickness. (I never saw the doc, the hotel just took form to hospital and it was filled out. Should have done it in Manang at Himalayan rescue clinic as would have only cost $45, but who pays that much for a doctor visit? Cost 10000 rupees for doc here in Pokhara, about a hundred dollars). But was told to rest after breakfast as relaxation needed for BP. Ok time went by and time for lunch but needed to rest again and hotel would take me. They wanted to know why I had not ridden to stupa. About 2 the proprietor of hotel said he had neck pain and would have to wait a bit longer. About 3:30 he said time to go but we were taking the moped. What happened to the relaxation? He put on his helmet and off we went I thought to hospital for BP. (Passengers do not wear helmets). We drove maybe a kilometer to a pharmacy where blood pressure taken. I could have walked there in 15 minutes. The hotel said they would notify the doctor my BP was normal. Cost 100 rupees as apparently normal to pay for a blood pressure. Different worlds. After I went for bike ride and felt great.
Now awaiting permit for Annapurna circuit as coming down from manang closed out my Annapurna and mustang permits which cost about $575. Hence the insurance. This is a solo unguided permit and I will be self supported. Glad I brought a little bit of packs to carry stuff. It will be a minimalist trip though.
And so it goes. I figure I will post this as have Internet now and probably none ( or at least half decent) until I return in a week. Packed up, amazing how little one really needs, but we shall see in a week. I realize I may not have needed the trekking permit because trekking does not start until tatopani, 75 kilometers up the road. Used to be one started in pokhara.
The road has made a difference the locals can easier move about now but the trekkers do not like it. Ruins the “pristine” trekking Nepal was famous for. Alas progress comes at a price. They are trying to build trekking trails apart from the road, but amenities are now available.
Prices are similar to western prices for commodities. Not once have I seen or heard any bargaining, although I did hear one lady get mad when she found a north face jacket for more money than in the states. Hotels are still somewhat cheap. I am paying $20 for this place which is nice. In the mountains I paid $2.00. But one is expected to eat at hotel which is where the money is made meals are $7 to $10. Beer is about $5 a bottle but 500 ml. bottles.
If you do not follow your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable
Anthony Hopkins in “The Worlds Fastest Indian”
With some regret we left Manang, but again it was best with gear and a porter. Manang has a lot of day hikes and would be funne to explore, but then I would feel more guilty about not going over the pass.
Rakees although his English was near non existent was very good at figuring out what was needed, almost too good. I am not used to that kind of service. And it was a lot easier to let him make arrangements.
We arrived at the requisite 7 am and of course stood around for quite some time, I not know what was going on. One jeep left 2 drove up from somewhere. One western couple walked in got in a jeep and with only 3 other people they took off. Finally we loaded bike with careful supervision and other gear. Then 10 of us boarded. Because I paid more or I was a westerner or whatevet I was given the privileged left front seat. And only 3 of us up front. Next to me sat a Nepali who also had altitude sickness while up at 4900 meters. I understand it was a very arduous 13 hour descent with him. But feeling good now. Turns out the girl of the couple whom I saw later also had altitude sickness, the day I did.
There were 4 in back seat and 3 standing in back, including Rakees. I would have paid for him up front but had no idea how the disbursement went. There is definitely a local price on everything. Ok by me as they make next to nothing.
Off we went bouncing immediately and soon came to next village where we brought full complement of people to 14. A lady with her 1 year, and one other guy. She got privileged seat sitting in the back. After a few hours she and babe were moved up to left rear seat.
10 hours with everyone speaking Nepali gives one time to ponder. It did not take long for my mind to go numb though, unfortunately my body did not follow and it became bruised on the left side from hitting the door and frame so many times. To say it was a rough 4 wheel drive road is an understatement. Probably one of the roughest roads I have ever been on, much of requiring 4 wheel low and all requiring 4 wheel drive.
And so for 85 kilometers in 10 hours, with a lunch break at the waterfall, near where we started bicycling a while back
And I had been told there was a wave of trekkers beginning. It was true peak season is yet a couple weeks away. I am told at peak a thousand people a day cross the pass.
We are at sunset and started pouring rain. It took 4 hotels before we found one with two rooms. Rakees nearly collapsed when he jumped down from jeep. It was downhill and he gladly accepted offer to coast the bicycle down. I carried my bag. Whooppee!
A very quick meal and I was asleep.
Next morn at 06:30 up and at em. Pouring rain! I did not know it could rain so hard. 8 am and we were on mini bus (a Toyota van) to pokhara. A much more sedate drive than bus from Kathmandu to besishahar. Horn only went off about every 10 seconds and did not have the turbo boost of the bus. (Both engine and horn). Arrived to busy pokhara about 12:30 so noisy could not get phone call through to hotel and ended up taking a cab. Rakees was to leave next day but bus to Kathmandu in an hour so took same cab back and a long bus ride to Kathmandu. I never did know if he has another job.
After eating a great meal of Dahl baht I collapsed in room.
Awake and did a bit of walk about town. Cannot see lake as all built up along waterfront (without any view) pokhara although nicer than katnandu has become another city. Lots of adventures and things to buy jungle tours, trekking, zip lines, rafting, bungee jumping, hang gliding, home stays, dvenryres af nauseum. I just want to ride my bicycle.
But started insurance claim. How do you explain you have no receipt for the jeep ride yesterday because they had no paper. Today the hotel drove to a copy store to print out an email I had sent that needed printing.
But am glad I got a Nepal SIM card for phone as the 11 minute call to insurance company cost 23 cents. But the physician and hospital charged $100 to sign form saying I had altitude sickness. Should have donated the $45 to Himalayan rescue association in manang. I did not because wasn’t sick as I had recovered then, and why would you pay $45 for a doctor signature. (Because the insurance company says you will). Combination of third world and first world problems.
Oh I forgot and will add after published. This morning hot up for breakie and there sat Rien. He arrived late last night after a horrendous 13 hour bus ride from Jonson. In descending from the pass he hit a rock and front tire popped off and uncontrolled. He went over handlebars and did something to shoulder. Went to Jomsom for x-rays but did not show anything. But he is also off ride. Going home as unlike me can’t ride or carry anything. Bummer. But was good to see even if he did only get one more day than me.
Ok arose yesterday morn packed and ready, but a bit of a headache. Weird as rest day yesterday and this headache was a bit different but whatever. Took a diamox for potential altitude sickness although feeling no ill effects. Off we went through the alleys and narrow paths between buildings and began climbing. Up up and up. Rose 300 meters (about a thousand feet) in 5 kilometers: in other words we all pushed a lot. I did practice carrying bike which I had porters build me a special head strap for the bike.
Then got to ride intermittantly, but I began to slow and my demons began to emerge in my thoughts. Why am I doing this? What the heck is the use of this. I mentioned the thoughts to Bridget who I was walking with and she agreed. We said we felt we just wanted to get this trip over and two weeks later begin planning something more horrendous. Paul though said it has been proven that when one goes on vacation one loses several IQ points. Oh the human mind.
But I began to slow and cough more. I had been coughing at night, blaming it on riding in Kathmandu pollution. (Horrible and dumb to not wear a mask) at least it was green and not red. But it worsened and I was slowing more. Once Junga came back and offered to push my bike. Normally I would resent that, but I gladly accepted. Then I pushed over some very rideable fun single track. Then climbed and slowly 7.5 hours after leaving and 15 kilometers came near Thorong Phedi one of the highest camps before the pass. Paul came down and pushed my bike. I was done in but then we all were. I went inside building and all our group face down on table.
I rested a bit, helped the porters put up tents climbed in and laid out futzing with gear. After about 45 min call came for soup ready and I began to climb out of tent trying to put on shoes which were proving troublesome. I had one on and Buck came over saying he had a doc with him to just check on me. I sat there and gave my story he said normally one should be breathing more normal after 10 minutes rest. I was as exhausted as just after the ride and breathing at 36 per minute. He said my lips were a bit blue. I finally got my other shoe on and he had me walk heel toe straight line which I definitely had trouble with. He recommended I go down
I sort of expected this because I felt miserable, but the words kicked me. Buck asked Kami about delays and he said not really possible. Sometimes I hate commercial trips, no room for change. The decision was mine: I asked about in the morning as 4:15 and dark at 6:30. Doc said decision mine but that would be bad as altitude sickness can progress rapidly especially at night. Basically I could die overnight.
I asked for help from the group and again words even the simplest and not profound words sometimes have the most meaning. Michelle said “I would rather have you alive than dead”
I thought ok then said oh this will be a great downhill ride. Immediately the doc, Buck, and Kami said absolutly not. A porter would push my bike carry my duffle bag and his stuff, and probably be out of a job when we got down.
Thus I threw gear together as now 4:15 and time to go. I felt lousy mentally and physically. Tears were held back amongst many of us. My planned Nepal trip was over.
Only maybe 50 meters done and Michelle yelled down something and all I could do was barely raise my trekking pole in acknowledgement. I was exhausted and starting a 15 kilometer trek which I had just come up. 2 hours til dark.
But amazing every step down felt better. Headache had worsened during the day and still very painful and continuing to hack up a lung, but every meter down felt good. By 7 pm we had made about 9 k and was very dark. Passed s hotel still open and I decided best to stop. We got some rooms and I felt a bit better. I was still coughing but much less, and headache diminished.
Morning came and began the steep descent into Manang and I felt good but tired. Gangapurna rises above us 3000 meters above with its magnificent hanging glaciers, ridges, icefalls with Annapurna 4 just to the north. Guess I won’t see Annapurna 1 this trip.
trek outThen as we descended going below 4000 meters I realized I was feeling a lot better, but legs were quite sore. Also the morning rush of trekkers was coming up; questioning why I was going backward. ( the circuit is usually done in a counterclockwise direction). I began to now realize I was on a new trip. It is over two weeks before flight home. Why rush home just because I have no plan here.
Rakees ( my porter) speaks only a few words of English so was difficult to figure out anything. But we managed. I was thinking riding back to besishahar where we started, but had a big bag, porter and exhausted legs to deal with. A couple from Norway suggested a jeep out (there is a road now, which we rode in) duh but I had ridden 15 kilometers at the start in jeep and it was wild, and took 4 hours. This is over 85 kilometers and well I will just say scary.
Rakees immediately went to find jeep on arrival, but not available. Whew. I was already beat and might like a rest day. He found one available for tomorrow at 7 am. Will take all day and be prepared to bounce, sway, and get thrown around in an overcrowded vehicle he motioned. Sign me up.
Apparently in peak season in about 3 weeks a thousand people a day cross Thorong la and 1 a day will develop altitude sickness.
Went to Himalayan rescue clinic just to check in. Talked with them and numerous others and one generally never sleeps more the 500 meters higher than night before. We had been doing a thousand.
Turns out the doc yesterday was just a trekker (but also a doc) but when I told story they verified good decisions. I attended the altitude lecture given by the docs at Himalayan rescue center. Great lecture and again learned a lot. They said would probably be ok to hang around here and hike and enjoy Manang but going lower would also be a good decision. These mountains have been around for 500 million years and will probably be around for quite a while. I can return.