"Callie on Tour"

As most of you know, travelling is my favourite hobby. This blog will tell you about my exciting travels: great experiences, impressions and adventures that came across my travels. True memories - Enjoy :-) For fotos please go to www.privatepro.ch/callie

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Antarctica 18.11. - 09.12.06

Posted at 07:54, 16 November 2006 in South America

18. - 19.11.06 Ushuaia

Ushuaia is called "The end of the World" - and yes, it is the most southern city of its size in the world. We arrived in the light of the setting sun, which gave a beautiful light on the snow-capped mountains. And it was a fun thing to have the sun until 11.30 pm at night - in Quito the sun set around 6 pm.

Priska and I enjoyed walking up and down the main street St. Martin (the one and only souvenir shopping street). Ushuaia is embedded between mountains and the Beagle Channel, and we were lucky to not only have rain, but also sunshine - very rare in Ushuaia we have been told...


The 19th then Priska went on a tour to the Tierra del Fuego Nationalpark, and I went on a trekking tour to Laguna Esmeralda, a glacier lake shimmering green. Was a nice easy hike.

But we were getting nervous and excited, as FINALLY at 4 pm our dream came true: we boarded our ship, the Akademika Sergej Vavilov. I was very positively surprised at the size of our cabin - great ship, I liked it from the first minute. And we were lucky again, the ship was not fully booked, so only around 70 passengers. After the mandatory life-vest-drill the ship left Ushuaia, and while we had dinner, the ship sailed through the Beagle Channel in a beautiful sunset. What a great start!


20.11.06 on sea

The day was splendid: no clouds in the sky, dark blue ocean, dolphins swimming along with the ship... We got familiar with the ships gangways, received the nice red Wetskins (waterproof clothing) and Wellington boots. We had different briefings on how to get into a Zodiac and how to behave on shore etc. Also, 10 of us met with Don (Master of Kayaks :-), got our briefing and again had to try on the special clothing - puh, not really my piece of cake to put on that drysuite!

And the first passengers got seasick! Well, I did not dare to tell anyone - but the ship was hardly moving, honestly! No comparison to the up-and-down with the little Galapagos boat!!!


21. - 22.11.06 Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are also called the Galapagos Islands of the South. After breakfast we started the first excursion. All dressed in the sexy red Wetskins we boarded the Zodiacs and landed on Westpoint Island, a privately owned island (now why would one want to live here!!???) A short walk took us to a large Rockhopper Penguin Colony, nesting with lots of Black Browed Albatross (4m wing-span!). What a start into my beloved penguin-world! We were able to get so close, I could have touched them :-) And the Rockhoppers with their yellow "hair" look so funny, I loved to watch them. They sat on their egg, and ui - big noise if another one penguin came to close...

In the afternoon we then went on shore on another privatly owned island: Carcass Island. Here we found a beautiful white sandy beach, where Magellanic Penguins strolled around, together with lots of Upland Geese. And in the far we recognized the first Gentoo Penguins. The islands here have no snow anymore, and the birds and penguins nest in the Tussock Gras, so we had to be very careful not to step on them!

Next day - again beautiful weather - we reached Falkland's capital: Stanley Harbour. The colourful houses in the sunlight, what a special sight :-) Priska and I strolled around, visited the museum very shortly (no, I am still not a fan of museums...) and just enjoyed the colours of this precious little city. To us of course this place was not as important as for the Brits on board... They were in awe of all the traces of the Argentina/UK war which finished in 1982.

Back on the ship our "ceremony" was to sit up in the bar, enjoy the view from there - and I once in a while enjoyed the Happy Hour Drink :-)


23. - 24.11.06 on sea

The Peregrine crew kept us busy with all kinds of presentations (mainly about Shackleton, Amundsen, Foto Workshops, Painting Workshops and also Pre-Information on the places we were to visit). I did not attend all of it, only some... I preferred to sit out on deck, enjoy the ocean, getting to know the people on board - and also learn about all those Antarctic birds flying around the ship.

The ship was bouncing a little stronger now, as we left the warmer waters and entered the Antarctic Sea.


And then it happened :-) - the very first iceberg came in sight! Ok, now that I have seen so many I know that that one was not really impressive... but hey, it was the first iceberg....


Due to the good weather conditions, we later were also able to spot the Shag Rocks, a small rock formation in the middle of nowwhere, the rocks merging out of the water to ca. 70m high. Quite special!


25. - 27.11.06 South Georgia

What a sight in the morning: snow-capped mountains raising directly from the ocean up to 3'000 m! Impressive and beautiful. Unfortunately the wind was to strong for our first kayaking excursion  - so I joined the group and we went on a Zodiac tour in Elsehul. And here I saw them for the very first time: the beautiful King Penguins. What a gorgeous animal! But we saw lots more, Gentoo Penguins with their red beek, and the huge, massive Elephant Seal - wow, I wonder how much that weights!

We then went back on board and sailed along South Georgia's coast - amazing, all those mountains and the HUGE glaciers coming from the top down into the ocean. And again, we were so lucky, we could see most of the high peaks (the expedition leader said, in his 14 years with this job he had never seen that...).


But then - my absolut overwhelming moment - the 2nd largest colony of King Penguins on Salisbury Plains. WOW... hardly no words for what we were able to see there: over 250'000 penguins, lots of so called "Wollies" (baby Kings in their brown fluffy feathers). Already when arriving on shore with the Zodiac we had penguins porpoising along - how graceful, great! And then - as told by the naturalists on board - we slowly walked amongst the animals, sat down or even layed down (yes... into the penguin shi.. - but hey, they told us to do so... and it is their wetskins, right ;-)

And so I got an everlasting memory of just sitting there, watching those incredible beautiful animals do what they do: stand around :-) No, they were calling for their babies (quite noisy place there...); feeding them; celebrating little mating ceremonies and hitting "intruders" with the little wings etc. And... if you ever saw how penguins walk... then you know what I mean when I say they are sooooooooooooooooooooooooo funny! Awesome afternoon!!!

Back on the ship everyone had to "digest" what we were able to see - such an experience is rare in life, and it still felt like being in a dream...


The next day at 4am, Shackleton Fans got up to do the last part of the famous "Shackleton Walk" (when Shackleton crossed the island to search for help). I also got up, as after all the food on the ship I felt like I could need some excercise. But then I looked out the window, it was totally overcast and the ship had 5cm of snow. So I went back to bed :-)

After picking-up the walkers in Stromness, the ship during breakfast sailed to Grytviken, an old whaling station. And now it was time for our very first Kayaking-tour. While all the others were on land, we paddled along the shore and looked at all the rusty remains from those previous whaling years: around 175'000 whales were killed in South Georgia from 1905 - 1965. The place emanated a weird, ghost-like feeling to me... I did not like it to much. But of course it is important history.

After paddling we also went on land, visited Shackleton's grave and had a closer look at all the old buildings and "things" the whalers used, incl. the old whaling ships that still sit there.

In the evening we enjoyed an Antarctic BBQ - yes, dining outside on the deck :-) The scenery was beautiful, the mountains reflecting in the calm ocean, we had fun (and you know that Spare Ribs always make me happy...!)


The third day we again had to rise early - but I had no problem doing so, knowing that we will visit the largest King Penguin colony: St. Andrews Bay. Beautiful weather gave a really tacky background to the incredible wildlife scene, so we had dark blue ocean, white snow-capped mountains, black rocky beach - and on top of it the King penguins. What a sight - I think I will never forget this. Salisbury Plains was incredible already... so how should I describe this now??? Well, believe me... it was even better!

Also the baby elephant seals with their huge round eyes I found cute - if they only would not burb so rudely ;-)

And to all friends from the Galapagos-trip: if you thought we took a lot of pictures in Galapagos.... well, here we took 10 times as many pictures!!!!!!!! I have a foto of almost every King penguin in South Georgia ;-)


As we were so lucky with the weather (and so were able to land on all the spots planned), the expedition leader decided not to go to another King colony in Gold Harbour, but instead go to Coopers Bay to look for Maccaroni Penguins. Fine for me :-) While sailing there, the wind picked up, and so kayaking was no option. But I loved the afternoon - for the first time we had snow and wind: real Antarctic weather ;-) And yes, we found some Maccaroni penguins sitting on the rocks, their yellow feathers on the head blowing in the wind...

I also liked the landscape very much - special rock formations, kelp plants moving back-and-forth with the waves, looking like a pot of snakes...


That evening I already had to burn my fotos on a CD... all my fotosticks were full!


28. - 29.11.06 on sea

After those days full of excitement, it felt good to just relax and let everything "settle" in my mind. I also slept in, and enjoyed afternoon-snoozing :-) But I also loved to sit in the bar and watch the ocean, especially on the first day, as huge icebergs passed by. Apparently the South Orkney Islands still had lots of ice (that is why we did not go there), and those icebergs we now saw. And when I say huge, I mean huge: the captain showed it to me on the radar: 2 miles long!!!

On one passing iceberg we just happen to look, when the side part and later the whole arch fell apart and into the ocean. Wow, very impressive!

One day we saw about 20 whale blows in the far distance! Even though some whales came closer to the ship, all we mostly saw were their backs and the fin... But "seeing" a blue whale is quite a thing, hey?!


30.11.06 Elephant Island

Another quiet morning with presentations and time for me to catch up on my diary or just sit and read.

In the afternoon then the impressive mountains of Elephant and Clarence Island came in sight. Shackleton landed on Elephant Island at Whalers Point, so another "big step" in history for the Brits... However, due to the strong swell (7m we were told), it was not possible to get into the Zodiacs, so the ship sailed along the shore and we all were out on deck or in the bar enjoying a wonderful scenic "drive".


Now I know, for us Swiss snow-capped mountains should not be anything special... but yes, the scenery here was different, steep mountains straight out of the ocean - and all those glaciers, really different - well, I mean here is the Antarctica, right!


01.12.06 Aitcho and Halfmoon Islands

Yeah - another Kayaking was on. This time the weather was overcast, and so it was very special to paddle through mystic waters :-) Again, the vulcanic formed islands impressed me, and I had fun paddling around the steep pilar-like rockformations. The first sight of a large leopard seal made that kayaking excursion exciting. We kayaked around the island, and it was fun to see the others walking on the island - like little red penguins :-)

To round-off the Antarctic experience, some of us kayakers decided to jump into the Antarctic Ocean! Wow, even with the drysuite the cold water got to us, especially on head and hands.... What a nice moment to jump into the hot shower afterwards!


The weather was good to us later again, and when reaching Halfmoon Island, everything was just perfect! I decided to do the walk up to a little hill, and we were rewarded with an incredible beautiful 360 degree view: from the massive glacier of Livingston Island to Greenwich Island. And all the time we heard the cracking noise of the ice on its way down into the ocean.

Of course there were penguins again - Chinstraps this time. Oh, sooooooo cute! Now the King might be the most beautiful one, but the Chinstrap for sure has to be the most cute one :-) Those penguins really seem to have different characters... It was great fun again to watch them struggle up the hills on their little feet or slide down on their bellies. And as usual, they did not bother that we were around, and that is such a great thing to experience!

Some Gentoo penguins were also on the island - and: the very first Adelie Penguins. Those are "just" black with a white eye.


This gorgeous afternoon was rounded-up by a quite warm evening, where we all stood on deck enjoying the Happy Hour drink. The almost full moon was already high up in the sky, while the sunset put the white mountains into an orange/pink light. Very special indeed!


02.12.06 Deception Island

This island is a sunken vulcanic crater (only dormant by the way!), and the island has a very narrow entrance, so looks like a ring from the air. Even thou there was a rather high swell, we were able to land at Point Wild, where the largest colony of Chinstrap Penguins is. 200'000 little black-and-white fellows nesting in the white snowy hills or jumping in and out the water at the black beach - beautiful scenery. The funniest thing however was the "Penguin Highway"! Dirty penguins walked towards the ocean, and clean penguins walked up to their nest to take over - and those dear animals climb climb climb, incredible!

Again we hiked around that place and took everything in. In the end it started to snow, which just fitted perfectly into the black-and-white world, I loved it :-)


Unfortunately, thick fog blocked our view when we then entered the narrow passage into the crater of Deception Island. But after lunch, just on time for the excursion, the sun came out again and we had the opportunity to visit Whaler's Point, again an old whalers place. Rusty buildings, remains of the wooden boats, houses and barrels, whale bones etc - a creepy place!!! I was very glad to quick leave and return to the ship. Such Ghosttowns just give me goosebumps!

Some of the people took a bath in a hole that was dug into the sand at the beach. The vulcanic thermal hot waters then filled the hole and so they had their own hot springs.


03.12.06 Wilhelmina Bay and Danco Island

The exciting excursions went on - and today was my very best Kayaking experience: we paddled through the ice in the water!!! Wow, this was so special, little icebergs all around, and the water was so clear, you could really make out the size of the iceberg under water - in beautiful light blue. And even the porpoising penguins we were able to make out under water - GREAT. At one point, a Chinstrap penguin jumpt out of the water onto a big iceberg, but due to the high snow it slid back into the water... that was so funny to see :-)

We did not get very far paddeling this morning, but seeing the snow freeze immediately in the water, forming a litte iceshelf, was very special. And when we then kayaked through this thin ice, we left a little corridor in the ice - I was impressed, also by the scatching noise when the ice touched the Kayak!


Over lunch the ship then sailed along the Gerlache Strait to Danco Island, and there again I decided to do the Kayaking (it was always a difficult decision: Zodiac or land excursion with the group - or kayaking). This time we paddled along the huge glacier wall of Danco Island and some impressive icebergs. I felt sooooooo small in my kayak :-)

The red penguins (=the other people) walked along the beach and followed a group of Gentoo penguins. We kayakers paddled through the ice just close to the shore - just when a huge leopard seal showed up. It was chasing penguins, so was rather aggressive. Immediately, Don, the kayak guide made us come together (to pretend to be a big iceberg ;-), so the seal just swam around and checked us out. It was quite funny, as the other guide on land communicated with Don: "Kayakers, mhhh, crispy on the outside - chewy on the inside..."

We watched the seal for a while, then split up to return to the ship. BUT, just in that moment when I was on my own again, that aggressive seal decided to give me nice little push - WOW, I almost had a heart-attack and was afraid I would fall over!!! I love the wildlife, but I do not intend to swim with an aggressive leopard seal... Oh, and thanks to that push I hit a little iceberg - much to the amusement of the group on shore... they just laughed... :-(


Well, after such an exciting day I really needed the Happy Hour drink!


04.12.06 Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour(=Antarctic Mainland)

Overnight, the ship hang-out in the Gerlache Strait, as it was to dangerous to anker somewhere here. Icebergs could hit the ship! But we still had very quiet nights, no bouncing...


This morning Cuverville Island was waiting for us, and as there were to many waves for kayaking, I joined the Zodiac tour - and it was superb: lots of icebergs, glaciers breaking off into the ocean and leaving lots of ice in the water. With Zodiacs we were able to get closer to the large icebergs than with the kayaks (security reasons, Zodiacs can leave faster...). So I really enjoyed this magic world of blue and white ice. Fascinating, all the different shapes in all sizes: arches and holes, flat ones, striped ones, crooked ones... I could have zodiaced for hours :-)

But it rained (yes... it also rains in the Antarctic!), so we were wet and some people got cold very fast.


And the afternoon then brought another special excitement: we were to land on the continent... wow :-) For me actually my last continent, as with all my travels I have visited every continent now.

First however we kayakers enjoyed another magic paddle in a shelterd bay, with impressive glaciers coming down into the ocean from the large mountains. The sun then decided to push through, and the water was like a mirror - beautiful, really! Once in a while we heard the cracking of a falling glacier part, but it was seldom that we could see it.

After the paddeling then was the special moment: set foot on the continent! We walked around for a little bit, but in the kayaking outfits walking was not to easy... But we really appreciated that also the kayakers were given the time to go on land here.


The evening program then was very funny tonight: Questions some passengers have asked the guides, such as: "Is this here the same moon as in Texas?" / "Does the Russian crew also sleep on board of the ship?" / "Does the ship produce its own energy?" / "Where do penguins go when it rains?" etc. - really funny...


05.12.06 Lemaire Channel / Petermann and Pleneau Islands

Even though the last days were starting to get us tired, we got up at 6am to see the ship sail through the famous Lemaire Channel (but it was overcast... so not very impressive).


Then we were to see the Adelie Penguin colony on Petermann Island - the last kind of penguins we had not seen to much up to now. And again it was great to watch them... oh, I think I never get tired of those funny, cute little animals :-) They walked amongst us, slid on their belly, rushed to their nests to take over the breeding, jumpt in-and-out of the water - just lovely!

Also the Antarctic Blue Eyed Shag was nesting there, and seeing that big bird land was quite a sight!


Some American scientists are at moment here to do research on the penguins and the ice. They live in small yellow tents - brrr, that would not be my kind of job :-)


And then it was time for the very last excursion, and I choose this to be kayaking. The scenery had changed, pillar-like rocks changed to round-shaped pebbles. Again we had very calm waters and enjoyed paddeling around Pleneau Island. But then - allright: the bay was still covered with sea-ice, so we had to turn around. But that was great to see: up to now we saw icebergs from glaciers, but this here was frozen ocean water.

We had fun (as always when kayaking with that great group!) and paddled our kayaks on top of the ice, looking like stranded whales :-)


On the way back the last clouds disappeared and made way for us to see the beautiful, very high peaks on the islands, impressive. And just as we were to head back to the ship we spotted a leopard seal lying on an iceshelf. Carefully we approached it, and this time it was sleepy and did not bother.

Again we kayakers then took a short swim in the antarctic waters, before we headed back to the warm shower.


The ship sailed back through the Lemaire Channel - this time in sunlight - and we now were on deck, impressed by the cliffs to our left and right. Via the Neumayer Channel we then sailed into the Drake's Passage and started the way "home" to Ushuaia.


So with this the exciting times of excursions found its end (sniff). But hey - I was so fortunate, I got to see EVERYTHING I had ever dreamt of!!!


06. - 07.12.06 on sea (Drake's Passage)

The Drake's Passage can be hell. But the 1st day on sea it was referred to as the Drake Lake :-) Nevertheless, the slight bouncing got some people seasick - and as the 2nd day the ocean was a little wilder (which I just loved!!!), even crew-members were seasick. But it was fun to see the ship bounce up and down...

Most people of the group were recovering from the strenous excursion days = sleeping! I also enjoyed to rest and let all the impressions "digest" :-)


08. - 09.12.06 Ushuaia

At 8am in the morning the end of this trip had come, and so we all did the good-bye's and people left into all directions of the world. Even though I loved this voyage, I was glad to get off the ship by now.

Priska left the same afternoon, but another Swiss and I stayed together in Ushuaia, doing nothing really but stroll along the St. Martins Street. Up to now, the whole Christmas Thing had not come to us yet - but being back into "civilization" now put us straight into the Christmas decorations all over...


And on the 9th of December then I flew off to Santiago de Chile - back north into the warm weather :-)


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