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Patagonia Part II: Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas

November 28, 2013

It was a beautiful two hour drive through the countryside from Torres del Paine to the nearest town, Puerto Natales. We passed more guanaco, thousands of sheep, cowboys on horseback with dogs herding cattle down the slope, windswept plains, glacial lakes, and jagged mountains. Soon the landscape graded into rolling grassy hills with scattered farmsteads every few miles. We reached Puerto Natales, which is a tiny town sprawled along the Chilean fjords. There were rusty ships in the pass, broken down piers here and there, and large, graceful swans, white with a black head and neck, with little grey signets paddling along behind. The fjords are framed by the tall, snowy mountains, an ever present backdrop in this region.

Soon I was dropped off at the EcoCamp office, where Fernanda was there to assist me with whatever I needed. Since I abandoned all my plans and am in a town I know nothing about, I asked her to just book me at a nice hotel. When I got there, it was the strangest thing. The hotel was made out of concrete and was cut into the slope above the fjord, and covered in grass, like a military bunker. I checked...

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Tags: patagonia, travel, trekking


Posted at: 07:02 AM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Patagonia Part I: El Calafate and Torres del Paine

November 26, 2013

I arrived in El Calafate, Argentina still dizzy from seasick patch withdrawl. I canceled my trek to the Perito Merino glacier and eventually was able to take a short walk outside my hotel, which sits on an open marsh with an ice blue lake behind it, and high, snow-covered mountains in the distance. The next day I was picked up for my private transfer into Chile. My driver Juan picked up some bread from the bakery for the border police, and we drove for hours into the icy, windy altiplano and down into the wide open steppe. We passed thousands and thousands of sheep plodding along over the brown, windswept plain. We had no trouble at the border because of our gift of bread, and once inside Chile I was handed off to a new driver who spoke no English. From there, it was a scenic 1 ½ hours to Torres del Paine National Park, passing fluffy rheas (like a small ostrich), huge herds of guanaco (something like a llama) even on the road, and an occasional condor gliding overhead like an ominous giant watching over us from the clouds.  We passed trickling rivers and choppy lakes, and soon...

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Tags: patagonia, travel, trekking


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Antarctic Expedition Days 9-12

November 21, 2013

We are at sea again, crossing the Drake Passage back to Ushuaia. Since I have nothing exciting to report, I’ll tell you about life on board the Plancius. She is a Dutch research vessel that has been outfitted for passengers. There are 109 of us, plus deckhands, cooks, housekeepers, and expedition leaders with various specialties. The captain is a big Russian and the main expedition leader is Scottish. English is the language spoken on board, although it’s a very diverse group, from all over the world, and many people don’t speak it well. My roommate is Tatjiana from Switzerland and we have been getting along nicely. Surprisingly, there are no children on board; most people are in their 30s and 40s or older, and there are quite a few solo travelers like me.

The expedition I’m on is called Basecamp Plancius, because the ship anchors at various places and is used as a basecamp from which you can depart for activities on/near shore, like mountaineering, kayaking, photo workshops, etc. The ship is very basic, so there are no luxuries, like a gym or spa. My room is tiny, with two narrow beds, a small desk, a closet, and a tiny...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, voyage


Posted at: 06:58 AM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Antarctic Expedition Day 8

November 19, 2013

We made our last landings in the South Shetlands, at Half Moon Island and Aitcho Island. Half Moon is a rocky, narrow crescent covered in soft snow, so we had to use snowshoes to walk around. The island is the home of chinstrap penguins, who waddle or slide to the shore to pick up a pebble and then bring it back up the slope to place it at the feet of a prospective mate. Two large weddel seals were lounging on the beach as well.

 After the snowshoe hike, it was my turn to kayak. I made the mistake of admitting that I have a lot of kayaking experience, so I was put in a group of expert kayakers, set to go out in the roughest conditions. We had to make an unscheduled landing on the beach, and my feet immediately got wet between my dry suit and booties, and they were freezing the entire time. Our group consisted of three single kayaks and three double, with our guide Pete in the lead, and two zodiacs following behind in case we run into trouble. I was in a single kayak and got myself out past the shorebreak pretty easily, but...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, voyage


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Antarctic Expedition Day 7

November 18, 2013

The winds picked up to 37 knots this morning, so we headed back north in search of a safe anchorage. In the early evening we made an unscheduled stop at Deception Island, one of the only places in the world where you can sail into an active volcano. The island is shaped like a donut, with a narrow passage, called Neptune’s Bellows, used to enter the interior. Within the island we are protected from the 15 meter swells outside, but it is still windy and snowing.

 Inside the island, the sea ice had built up to form a sheet over the ocean, and groups of crabeater seals could be seen frolicking at the edge  and diving beneath it. Our icebreaker ship was able to push through and lodge itself within the ice, and we got a big surprise when they let us disembark to walk on the sheet of sea ice. It was a pure white magical landscape, with some dark mountains looming in the distance, barely visible through the snow storm.  I didn’t stay out too long, as the ice could crack at any moment, and I am now safely back on board the ship. We will...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, voyage


Posted at: 01:04 PM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Antarctic Expedition Day 6

November 17, 2013

So…today was an interesting day. In the morning we went ashore at Cuverville Island, which is full of penguins and surrounded by icebergs of all shapes and sizes. I went off alone and sat still by a penguin colony and some of them came up close to check me out. On the way back to the ship, we had a zodiac tour around the icebergs, which were absolutely breathtaking, in all shades of blue and turquoise. We moved to Danco Island in the afternoon and I went for another walk on shore. Here we could watch a “penguin highway,” a path that all the Gentoo take from the beach to go high up on the snow covered slope above. There were weddell seals lying around on the ice or swimming near the rocky beach.

 

But the interesting thing is that about 30 passengers decided to do the polar plunge, and jump into the freezing ocean. And about half of them did it buck naked. I did not partake in this madness, but had a grand time watching the spectacle from the beach. I’m back on the ship now and we are moving to another location because the ice is...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, voyage


Posted at: 01:02 PM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Antarctic Expedition Day 5

November 16, 2013

The weather turned bad again, but we did make our anchorage at Paradise Harbor (which is not really a harbor) so we could go ashore. On the way, a pod of orcas (killer whales) was spotted off the port bow, so we took some time to watch them. There were at least 5 of them, maybe more, and they came so close to the boat that we could hear them breathing each time they surfaced.

It was my turn to go mountaineering this morning so I got my harness and ice axe then set off on the zodiac to a steep little mountain covered in ice. We all tied up to one another and headed up in the falling snow.  About half way up it was determined that the conditions were too dangerous and we could not continue safely. Instead, we did an exercise simulating various scenarios of falling and sliding down the mountain- with all gear, with ice axe only, and with nothing at all. It was incredible to slide down the steep slope and be able to stop myself, even at high speed. While we were up there it continued to snow, and we heard the thunderous...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, travel


Posted at: 03:10 AM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Antarctic Expedition Days 1-4, November 2013

November 15, 2013

I’ve been on the ship for four days now and am finally settling in. Crossing the Drake Passage was rough, the ship rocking back and forth violently all day and all night.  Meal times were the worst, as plates and cups and utensils would continually slide away if not held down. The seasick patch worked pretty well for me, although I did stay in bed as long as possible and not eat much. This morning things finally quieted down as we made our way through a beautiful channel full of sparkling icebergs and majestic glaciers on both sides. Here and there we would see crabeater seals lounging on an iceberg, penguins shooting up out of the sea like torpedoes, or huge whales surfacing right next to the ship.

Upon reaching Port Lockroy, a research station composed of a few small structures, we laid anchor and boarded zodiacs to go ashore. Gentoo penguins were everywhere, waddling around, sliding on the ice, or screaming their mating calls. I sat quietly on a rock and watched them go about their business like I wasn’t there. After that I stopped at the research station, which has a little store and place to mail...

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Tags: antarctica, expedition, travel


Posted at: 03:07 AM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Sunset on the Serengeti

November 4, 2011

I’ve lost track of what day it is, but about three days ago we took a small propeller plane from Arusha to the heart of the Serengeti for an African safari. We made stops in four tiny dirt airstrips with no airport; the jeeps just pull right up to the airstrip and you get in and out. The flight was spectacular, with views of the great migration – thousands of zebra and wildebeest running through the vast open plains. We went straight into our safari as soon as we got off the plane – comfortable in our huge Land Cruiser with an open roof so we can stand. Driving through the Serengeti, we saw a myriad of different birds, some tiny and bright as jewels, glittering in the scorching sun; others huge and ominous, lurking in the tall grass. We reach a small lake with about 20 hippos frolicking in the murky water, wriggling their ears and snorting. A wide variety of antelope are grazing nearby – the impala are my favorite; sleek, beautiful animals with long, straight horns. As we drive on, we find a pride of lions lounging in the shade. The male is upside down on his...

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Tags: africa, safari, serengeti, travel


Posted at: 05:24 PM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

Kilimanjaro: Days 4-6

October 30, 2011

Oct 28 – Day 4

 

Last night our lead guide Ema gave us the option to summit in five days instead of six. I am tired of being cold and sleeping on the ground, so I’m all for getting out of here a day early. But this would mean a double hike today, with a stop for lunch where we would normally camp, then continuing on to our highest camp and waking up at 11PM to begin the summit attempt. So this morning we set out to climb the Barranco Wall, which was my favorite part of the trip so far. It was a near-vertical scramble the whole way up, over loose rock.  I was amazed at how the porters could do it with their heavy loads. At lunch I started feeling really nauseous and had diarrhea. I didn’t eat much and felt weak during our afternoon hike, which was uphill over rocky terrain through mist and rain. We are now at Barafu Camp, perched precariously on an exposed ridge at 15,200 ft. It is the coldest, most desolate camp yet, and I start to question why I ever wanted to do this. My body is completely physically exhausted;...

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Posted at: 05:23 PM | 0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink

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