What’s Really Open in Europe for Americans Now?

So, where in the world are people still living normal lives? I’ve heard Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, and of course the poster child- Sweden.

Sweden sounds like a beautiful country. I was there once when I was in high school. We stopped at Visby for a couple of days. I don’t remember a whole lot except that the weather was gorgeous and it was very green. I’d like to go back for a visit some time and see more of the country.

Croatia looks beautiful from what I’ve seen of it online. I used to work with a couple of guys from there. They both made it sound very nice.

Serbia? I don’t know anything about it except that it had a war going on for a while. I should probably be ashamed for my ignorance. I would love to go there and learn more about it. Any Serbians here, please feel free to inform me. 🙂

I’ve been to Turkey a couple of times. I really loved it. I love history and I enjoyed spending time in the many museums and some of the ruins around the country. The coastline is gorgeous and I bet there must be some good places to SCUBA dive. I could definitely see myself spending some time there.

Is anybody on here familiar with any of these countries? I’m especially curious right now about how different places are dealing with the covid-19 virus. How close to normal (the old normal, not the ‘new normal’) are they?

I think I will spend some time researching how many countries Americans are allowed to travel to and how much time we’re allowed to spend there. I hate to spend so much time, money and effort to go someplace and then get chased out after a short time due to visa issues. I think we were allowed only 3 months in European Schengen zone (before covid) and not allowed at all in a lot of places at this point.

Sad. Really, really sad.

Who Knows

I’m asking everyone her, who knows of a place- anywhere in the world- that has not gone bonkers over the novel coronavirus? Does anybody have any suggestions where a person can go to live like normal? NOT the “new normal”, which is anything BUT normal! I want to go back to actually LIVING my life, not getting used to giving up everything that makes life actually worth living.

I want to be able to talk to people- up close, not from 6 feet away- to see their facial expressions and smiles. I want to be able to give and receive a hug or a handshake without people looking at me like I’m going to somehow murder them. I want to be able to enjoy traveling again, in comfort (or at least what passed for comfort in those tiny airline seats). I want to be able to visit a new place without having to plan every minute in advance since everything is so confounding with all the ridiculous covid rules. I want to see busy city streets full of people living their normal lives and lined with thriving small businesses of all sorts- open to everyone without restriction.

I can’t stand to see what’s going on around the world and especially in America. Once the “home of the brave and land of the free”. Sadly, the insane over reaction to this virus has completely demolished any real freedoms Americans had left.

When “our leaders” can put all of under house arrest. When they can arbitrarily decide who can and can’t go to work, who’s allowed go shopping (and what we can or can’t buy), who’s allowed to keep their business going, …

They have taken it on themselves to decide who can and can’t actually LIVE in this ‘brave new world’ they’ve shoved down our throats. I shouldn’t say it like that, since it seems so very few object to this new medical tyranny.

Most of the people I see when I go out anywhere seem to be completely OK with the ‘mandates’ coming down from above. No matter how stupid, senseless and ridiculous they are!

For example, the mask mandates… there is not one single scientifically rigorous study anywhere that shows that masks help prevent the spread of the flu (or covid). There are a whole lot of them that do show that masks are actually harmful! Yet, our leaders still insist we wear them and most people are happy to comply. WHY?

I want to know WHY we have all thrown out our common sense and submitted to these draconian measures for THIS particular disease? The experts, even the ones at the CDC and the WHO have admitted that masks are NOT the way to go! They have admitted that these mandates (masks, social distancing, lockdowns) are all MUCH MORE HARMFUL than the virus itself.

Why does no one care about all the other reasons people die every year? All the deaths from car accidents, plane crashes, cancer, obesity, tuberculosis, malaria, and all the other diseases have somehow lose all importance and we ONLY care about covid- WHY?

I admit, I am a conspiracy theorist. but when there is no apparent reason for something then I start looking for something that may be hidden a little bit. In this instance, it is blaringly obvious to me that all this is about nothing but CONTROL. PERIOD!

Why this disease and why now? Simple, because it is only now that “they” are able to exert so much control over us all. With the rise of the “surveillance state“, digital currency (or even credit cards), and social capital like in China, they have the technology in place to track, trace and eventually take complete control of EVERY aspect of our lives.

You think not? Read George Orwell’s “1984“, “Animal Farm”, and Huxley’s “Brave New World” think about it a while and then tell me they’re not being used as a road map for ‘our leaders’ to follow.

What’s Happening

So, I was able to find another job after only 2 months at home this time. This company called me out of the blue late Friday afternoon and asked if I could join the ship by Monday. Luckily, I have been keeping my sea bags packed and only had a couple of things I needed to take care of before I could leave.

I flew to New Orleans Monday evening, spent the night in a hotel and had my covid test the next morning before heading to the ship in Morgan City. It’s an old Tidewater OSV. This company bought it cheap and somehow managed to find work for it.

There are hundreds of these vessels laid up all over Louisiana. If I had a steady paycheck or a decent amount of money in the bank, I would be looking to buy one myself. Of course, I would first need to find a job for the boat and I’ve never been much of a salesman. Too bad, now is a time of fantastic opportunities if you have any way to hold on until things get better.

Boats, real estate, etc. I think any hard assets would be worth investing in right now. I’m very tempted to take what little savings I do have left and put it into real estate. Either another small rental locally or something overseas in a place I’d like to spend some time.

That’s a major issue. I can’t decide where to go. I’ve already been trying to move out of the US for a long time. I hate watching what’s happening here. I realize there’s really nothing I can do to change things. I LOVE what this country stands for and I believe in our founding principles 100%. I just can’t stand to see all that just thrown in the garbage. It’s extremely frustrating, depressing and makes me miserable if I think too much about it. I try to ignore it most of the time, but like when I have to fly and the TSA forces the loss of my freedom right up into my face, I just can’t ignore it any more and the whole flight is ruined.

I’m not a big Trump fan, but I have to admit he did do some good things for this country. I was hoping he would win the election (if Jo Jorgensen lost). Bidens plans will just flush us down the toilet even faster. I’d like to see some REAL FREEDOM in the USA, or anywhere in the world for that matter!

My best hope at this point is the Seastead ship. The “Santochi”. I’ve already emailed to ask for a job on there. I don’t see them looking for mariners (they must already have some), but I do see them looking for painters, plumbers, carpenters, etc. If I had any of those skills, I would definitely apply!

The prices for ‘apartments’ onboard seems pretty reasonable, even considering that they’re all up for bid so might come in quite a bit more than their starting price. The real issue is the monthly cost on top of the purchase price. You have to pay a fee, similar to a condo fee for maintenance (fuel, water, electric, etc) and that will add up quickly. Too expensive for me to afford, although IF it was actually going to be run as a libertarian community I would sacrifice a LOT in order to be part of it.

As I said, I would love to see at least ONE place somewhere in the world where people could live with some real, actual freedom. The USA used to offer that. Sadly, that is no longer the case. It hasn’t for a long time now. It’s just getting to be more and more obvious.

The covid panic has brought it all out into the open. We have become a corporatocracy- 100%! We have no real freedom any more. Our state governors have declared that none of us has any right to work, to travel, to shop for food or anything else, to go to church or to gather for any reason. They have made themselves the supreme arbiters of our lives. WHO gave them that power??? I most certainly did NOT! NONE of us did! They STOLE that power and they have NO legitimate authority!

President Trump did the right thing constitutionally by ‘allowing’ the state governors to decide how to handle it, but if I were him (especially knowing everyone hated him already), I would’ve declared that the USA was going to handle the “pandemic” in accordance with our foundational principles. That we would not shut down ANYTHING. That if anyone felt concerned about their ability to deal with a virus that had only a 0.0003% fatality rate and almost no one realized they had until they had a swab stuck up their nose almost to their brain and then replicated dozens of times in order to gather enough of the virus to show up on the (60%+ WRONG) test, they’d be welcome to stay home and quarantine themselves. Everyone else was going to go on LIVING their lives!

Any ship, airline, bus or business of any sort doing business in the USA in any fashion would be 100% immune from any legal action relating to covid-19. People could choose to do business or not according to their own risk tolerance but they would NOT be able to push off the responsibility for their choices onto anyone else!

Americans would uphold their traditions of the home of the brave and the land of the free and NOT the country full of paranoid whiny babies who can’t take any personal responsibility and run home terrified to mommy government over the slightest risk.

The world has gone completely nuts over this covid virus. It deserves it’s name covid-1984! The governments and media of the world are complicit in the worst crimes against humanity by their decisions to TERRORIZE everyone over this disease.

What I don’t understand is why have so many otherwise intelligent people fallen so completely for the SCAM? Why do we pay even one bit of attention to our leaders when they insist that we can’t let even one person die (from covid- when milliions die every day from all sorts of other things)? It’s so OBVIOUSLY NOT ABOUT OUR HEALTH OR SAFETY!

And yes, even tho some people have died from covid, it is still a scam! There is NO reason at all to shut down the world over this particular disease. Ebola-with a 80%+ fatality rate, people melting down into a bloody mess- yes- THAT would be a justifiable reason to shut down the world. THIS disease is NOT!

Catching Up

So, to catch up a little bit since I took that long break from writing anything on here, I’ll tell a little bit about what’s been going on in my world. 

My last post before the break, I was just leaving for the Seven Pacific. I flew out to Moble, AL to join the ship, everything was still pretty normal. As the days passed by, the panic grew around the coronavirus spreading worldwide. 

Seven Pacific

The TV in the mess hall was continually reporting every death and the resulting fear-induced over reactions. Lockdowns and government tyranny spreading almost everywhere. I remember hearing of Chinese government agents welding shut the doors of their people (tho who knows how much to believe of any news out of China). 

I have always been skeptical of anything coming out of the TV and almost never take the news at face value. The constant terrorism set off alarm bells for me almost from day one. Nothing made sense. If this virus has been floating around the world since October (when it was first reported in China), then it should have already spread around the world by April. 

I had been traveling a lot since October. I was in Chile, traveling by bus, taxi and plane, before and after my cruise to Antarctica (with quite a few Chinese tourists onboard). I had spent a few days wandering around Santiago, mingling with the huge crowds of protestors (notice how all those protests- Chile- Hong Kong- Paris- etc- ALL just suddenly stopped without even a whimper out of all those millions of rightly angry protesters). I had spent a couple of days at the casinos in Lake Charles. I had spent over a month on board two different vessels, each with over 100 crew from all over the world. Yet, neither I, nor anyone on board had any kind of symptoms. 

Many of the crew were listening to the constant listing of deaths around the world and were becoming very concerned about their friends and families at home. Then came the lockdowns and travel restrictions. I was lucky to be able to get off the ship and go home. That was only because I was onboard as an extra hand and didn’t require a relief. I actually had a relief try to meet me on the ship. He flew to the states from Cyprus (which still allowed travel). He spent days flying half way across the world, only to be turned away at the heliport in Houma, LA and had to fly all the way back home! Then, to top it off, he had to go into quarantine when he got back over there!

None of the Filipinos were allowed to travel. Most of them on ships around the world still aren’t allowed to go home or return to work if they’re at home. Most of them have already been working 6 months and now are over by 6 months or more. How in the world can anyone justify keeping seafarers locked up onboard for so long? 

Whatever, right? We all just need to get over it. Amazing, but that’s what so many people keep on telling us. Like it’s no big deal to be kept from seeing your friends and family for many months more than you had agreed to. Or that you must sacrifice everything you’ve worked for your entire life to help other people deal with their fears.

Anyway, I was very lucky to be able to get home, only a little over a week late. I can always use the money and all the things I wanted to do had already been shut down/canceled anyway. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those poor Filipinos in the crew were still stuck onboard. The company didn’t seem very concerned about making crew change. Why would they be? It had to be saving them a fortune in air fares.

I had a good hitch on that ship. It was a beautiful vessel, with a good crew and an interesting job. We did a lot of underwater installation work that hitch. Laying down pipelines and jumpers. That sort of thing. I was home by the end of March. It was so weird, flying home with only 5 people on the plane- 3 of them from my ship. The airports at both ends were totally deserted. I felt like I was somewhere in the Twilight Zone.

I still feel like that. Or really, more like George Orwell’s 1984.

 

Bluff Cove Lagoon

The muted wintry landscape sped by, shaded a weird blue hue by the vans tinted windows carrying us across the island to Bluff Cove. The browns of the tall withered grasses and deep greens of the heather lying close to the ground were broken up by weird rivers of broken rocks. This “stone run” landscape is unique to the Falkland Islands, caused by the erosion, thawing and freezing of the last ice age.

the landscape was so blue looking through the windows
this is more like it really looked

Bluff Cove Lagoon lies on the opposite side of the island from Stanley, about a half hour drive. Final approach to the farm passes over low rolling hills on a rutted dirt track to a wide spot where we traded in our vans for a fleet of 4 x 4’s (jeeps).

Speeding along in our jeeps, bouncing across sheep-shorn green grass and grinding through deep muddy ruts, we’re dropped off with a short speech at the rookeries near the beach. A flock of about 1000 gentoo penguins along with another 20 pairs of the kings we’d come to see were nesting there. Squeaking and preening, poaching rocks and tending eggs, they paid us no mind as we stood at the marked boundary and hustled for photos.

Along the edge of the lagoon, another 10-15 kings and their chicks- looking like fluffy brown puff balls- huddled in the steady cold wind. They paid no attention to us, but threatened the occasional goose that wandered to close to their chicks with their long sharp beaks.

It was wonderful to get so close to these wild birds. We were told not to approach closer than 5 m, but the birds apparently never got the memo. 🙂

It was a beautiful sunny day, but the wind was strong and it got so it was hard to hold my camera steady. With hundreds of penguin photos, I was ready for a hot drink. Picking my way through the fields littered with pellets of goose poop, I stopped at the top of the rise to take in the gorgeous seascape before me.

impossible to avoid the poop

The ocean was a dark teal color, with breakers shining electric blue as they rolled onto the blindingly white beach, the wind blowing streamers of spray and sand upon the few brave birds searching for food along the shore.

The Sea Cabbage Cafe beckoned with the smell of hot chocolate and baked goodies in the air. The small kitchen bustled with friendly chefs, all ready to suggest their favorites among the many options to choose from: lemon drizzle cake, Hattie’s famous carrot cake, scones with local diddle-dee jam and farm fresh cream, chocolate chip, peanut butter and coconut lace cookies, chocolate cake and even gluten free varieties. Yum!

Maybe I should’ve spent less time with my cameras and more with the cookies? I didn’t even have a chance to check out the gift shop before it was time to head back to the vans. Next time, for sure. 🙂

Stanley

The capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley is a small town of only about 2500 pop (2016 census). I wondered how isolated and deprived the local people might feel, or if they missed much the ‘advantages’ of the big cities of the rest of the world. I wonder if they get sick of all the tourists tromping through their town when the cruise ships come in?

I think I wouldn’t mind living somewhere like Stanley. It has all I need- boats to work with, friendly people to talk to, museum, shops, restaurants, hospital, pubs, and beautiful scenery to walk around in.

they even have a distillery...
and a brewery

Sadly, I didn’t get much of a chance to hang out and BS with the locals or sample the local delicacies. We were only there for the day and there was so much I wanted to do.

After stopping in to check out the local Seaman’s Center, I followed the paved footpath along the harbor front from the ship into town. There were informational signs along the way to describe the sights and the different birds to see along the way.

I detoured across the road to take a look at the cemetery. A large monument- the Cross of Sacrifice- tops the central stairway flanked with poppy- painted stones in remembrance of those killed in war.

The gates were closed, so I just peeked over the fence and continued walking along the harbor front, appreciating the history lessons I was getting from the signs along the way.

I noticed a couple of sailboats at the boat yard as I approached downtown. I was expecting more traffic, this being pretty much the only port for thousands of miles. But I guess maybe that’s why there wasn’t more?

There used to be a lot more. I really wanted to see the old sailing ships. Stanley Harbor is littered with the wrecks of about 20 ships- 100 more scattered around the Falklands. I had already passed by the wreck of the Afterglow- a 1920’s patrol boat- next to an old chimney used to burn the bones in ‘Hutchies’ slaughterhouse. All that’s left of the Afterglow is the boiler.

wreck of the Afterglow
remains of Hutchies slaughterhouse

Downtown Stanley looked like a what I imagine a small British town from the 1950’s would look like. A two-lane main street with shops, cafes, and government offices clustered in the center. The famous whalebone arch and cathedral are right across the street from the Post Office with the red phone booths outside. The streets are lined with neat little houses and well tended gardens. A couple blocks from the Post Office brings you to the Falkland Islands Museum.

looking past the whalebone arch to the names of ships that have protected the islands
interior of the ‘Southernmost church in the world’

Continue past the museum to find ‘Victory Green’ with a few old cannons and the mizzen mast of the SS Great Britain. The famous six master of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was launched in Bristol (UK) in 1843. She was the longest (322′) and most advanced passenger ship in the world from 1845-1854. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic in 1845 (in 14 days). She had a troubled lifetime, including being sold for salvage once and being sunk for 33 years in Stanley. Eventually, she was raised, restored and is now a museum ship back in Bristol.

For such a small and out of the way town, they do have a lot of war memorials, and they’re all well tended to. The 1982 Liberation Memorial is just past the museum, and after another couple of war memorials (Royal Marines, Battle of the Falklands, and 1914 Sea Battle of the Falklands), you’ll finally find the wreck of the Jhelum.

1982 Liberation Memorial

She was an East Indiaman, built in 1849 in Liverpool. Abandoned in 1870 after suffering much damage in a storm and just barely able to limp into Stanley. I was a little disappointed. There really wasn’t much left of the Jhelum. The weather had turned nasty again, with high winds and cold, so I decided to head back to explore the museum.

wreck of the Jhelum

It was full of all sorts of interesting items explaining Stanley and the Falkland Islands. History, battles, biology, botany, Antarctica, and stories of day to day living were on display. I was especially fascinated by the artifacts of nautical history upstairs (of course). They had photos, paintings and pieces of the ships that called on their port during the heyday of the great sailing ships.

They had ships wheels, and ships bells, figureheads and furniture, chart tables, samples of salvaged cargos (ink), silverware, and so many more interesting items.

ink bottles salvaged from the John R Kelly

I would’ve loved to stay longer, but signed up for the tour over to see the king penguins on the other side of the island, so had to get going. Maybe one day I can return to spend more time.

Stanley- Arrival

We had smooth sailing all the way up from Elephant Island to Stanley, where the weather abruptly turned overcast, cold and windy. If it had been like that on our crossing, I think we would’ve had a pretty nasty ride. Almost 1,100 miles of heavy weather might not have been too much fun. 😉

We took on a pilot on arrival. I was out watching, it looked like we drug up quite a bit of mud coming in. Of course I wasn’t really paying attention to any charts or navigation since I was on vacation, but I still take an interest in that sort of thing.

Stanley Pilot Boat

It was windy as hell. Probably blowing about 35 kts. The pilot boat did a great job coming alongside to give us the pilot. It looked like a straight shot to the dock, but like I said I wasn’t paying any attention to charts, tides, rocks, bottom conditions, etc. That’s what pilots get the big bucks for. They know all the details for their port by heart.

one of the many shipwrecks around Stanley Harbor

Personally, I never really wanted to be a pilot, tho so many captains do. It’s the top job for a ships master. I just figure I would be bored to death. Just in and out the same port every day. Like a bus driver, just with a different bus to drive every time. I guess if I was going to be a pilot, Stanley looks like a good place to be one (so does Freeport, where I live- easy).

It took a couple of hours to get alongside the dock, once we we were all fast we were free to go. It was nice to be able to walk off the ship for a change.

There was a nice little seamans center right at the end of the dock. I stopped in to say hello. I always appreciate the people who do so much to help the worlds seafarers fell welcome in their ports. It’s not very often we can get ashore any more, and very hard to get out of the port area, so I really do like to see places like this.

Drake Shake?

Nope. Drake Lake again. We had beautiful sunny skies and calm seas all the way from Elephant Island to the Falkland Islands. A journey of almost 1,100 miles. I love spending time at sea!

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We spent the day relaxing onboard, we had our choice of lectures, science lab, knot tying class, puzzles in the lounge, sauna, pool or hot tub on the back deck.

I went to the class on knot tying. I was surprised how many people were interested. There was quite a crowd. It was pretty basic (for me). We practiced tying square knots, granny knots, clove hitches, half hitches, running hitches, bowlines, and figure 8 knots. I wound up helping the 2 instructors. 🙂

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We had an interesting lecture on the geology of the Falkland Islands, to prepare us for arrival. It was pretty interesting and people had lots of questions.

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Of course, there’s always good food to look forward to. I had the veggie option for dinner, since I really didn’t like the other 2 choices (we could pick red deer loin, sea bass or veggie patties).

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Japanese beef tataki with spinach, sesame seeds and secret sauce
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Grilled veggie patties, sweet potato fries, spring onion and tzatziki

After dinner, I met up with friends in the lounge to continue working on the ships jigsaw puzzles. Lots of people were hanging out, reading, relaxing over drinks, watching the ocean pass by.

As the sun set, we all headed out to get some photos. This was really the first time for a nice sunset. Til tonight, it was either overcast or too late at night. I miss seeing the sky clear and bright to see the starts at night. I really miss that about sailing.

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Point Wild

This morning we arrived at Elephant Island and Point Wild.

This is where Ernest Shackleton left for his amazing 800 mile journey across the furious fifties in a small boat to reach South Georgia Island seeking help to rescue his crew. What a desolate place. Can you imagine being trapped here for months? Just you and your crew, nothing to eat but penguins and seals (if you could catch them).

approaching Port Wild, Elephant Island

We’d been learning more about Antarctica every day of the cruise so far. The ship was equipped with a science lab with microscopes where we could examine plants, minerals, plankton, etc. Our expedition team fed our interest in Shackleton and the other explorers (Roald Amundsen, Fritjof Nansen, Scott, etc) with films and lectures. There were plenty of books in the library as well.

We nosed our way into the small bay, up against the Endurance Glacier, with ice all around us. This was our last stop in Antarctica (technically only Orne Harbor was really part of the continent). We didn’t attempt to land.

Endurance Glacier

We could see a colony of chinstrap penguins and a monument to Piloto Pardo, the Chilean Navy Captain who managed to rescue the 22 men Shackleton had to leave behind there. His story and his tug Yelcho should be better known.

Chinstrap penguins

I find all that history fascinating and admire the abilities of those guys back in the days of exploration. The determination, stamina, courage, skills to do the things they did. Not just Shackleton, not just the Arctic or Antarctic explorers, but all of them: Columbus, Magellan, Cook, etc.

I think there’s something in human nature that needs that kind of wilderness- that frontier- that kind of challenge to look forward to. We need that kind of ‘escape valve’. It seems we’ve rid that from the world. I feel it myself. A loss of possibility. All we have left is space. I think it’ll be even more of a challenge, but will we find the capability to explore it like we did the earth?

Neptune’s Bellows

We left Cuverville Island last night after everyone got a chance to go ashore and have a quick zodiac cruise among the icebergs. My group (the giant petrels) was one of the last, the sun was starting to go down so it was getting cold and the light really sucked for getting photos (besides zipping around on the zodiacs too fast to get a decent shot).

Southern Giant Petrel

We made an early arrival at Deception Island to pierce the narrow entrance through Neptune’s Bellows. I watched from my room since I wasn’t dressed to go out yet.

It looked like another dreary day. Overcast and cold, but at least not too windy. As we made our way into the volcanic caldera enroute to our landing site at Telefon Bay, we passed an old whaling station on our starboard side. I would’ve loved to go exploring there, but all these landings in Antarctica are very strictly controlled.

I really hate being restricted like that, even tho I can certainly understand it in a place like Antarctica. It’s still relatively free of the effects of mankind and I can see why so many people would like to keep it in the (almost) pristine state it’s in today. I agree, I do think the world needs to keep at least some true wilderness. I guess I’m a hypocrite since I really would love to see all of those places myself someday too.

On arrival at Telefon Bay, we waited our turn for the zodiacs to come for our group. Landing on the beach was very smooth this time. The bottom was mostly gravel rather than the usual rock and ice. Sit on the side of the zodiac and hop off. Easy. 🙂

Some people were really getting into the spirit of things, and jumped in for a Polar Plunge. I have to admit, I was too chicken to do it myself. I think I’ve watched those hypothermia videos too many times at work to take a chance of giving myself a heart attack like that. I put my hands in the water, just to see, it was freezing! (Not literally, but cooooold!).

Not far from our landing site, our guides had cordoned off a section of beach. There was a seal sleeping on the beach! I still can’t tell the difference between a crab eater seal, weddel seal and leopard seal. I think this one was a crab eater. This one was the only seal I saw ‘close up’ in the entire trip (still had to stay about 20′ away, but got a few decent photos at least). There were a couple of gentoo penguins further down the beach too, but all in all, this place was pretty desolate.

Deception Island is volcanic. Once you pass through the narrow channel of Neptune’s Bellows (only about 750′ wide), you’re floating around inside the caldera- on top of the volcano.

It is still active, you can see some of the steam coming out of the ground around the island . The last ‘major eruption’ was only in 1970. From the beach, it was a steep hike up to roam around the edge of the caldera. I was glad for the use of the hiking poles to help keep my balance.

Landing at Telefon Bay

The scenery was beautiful in a very stark way. All black volcanic gravelly rock and white snow, with a few small ponds full of colorful algae or bacteria. I tried to walk over to one interesting depression, where the snow was melted, but our guides called me back to their marked pathway (too bad).

Supposedly there are lots of seals, penguins and other wildlife around this island but I didn’t see any. Just the one seal, all alone on the beach and the 2 penguins nearby.

As we were leaving, we passed the Argentine base and then outbound through Neptune’s Bellows again. The weather brightened up late afternoon and really made the scenery sparkle.

On departure, we were met by a whale mother and calf (I’m not sure what kind). And flocks of penguins porposing through the water nearby. This was the first time I got to see whales fairly close to the ship (tho they were still at least 100 yards off). I got a couple of photos and some video, but wasn’t able to get anything decent. They were all too far off and moving too fast for a good shot. Can anybody tell what kind they are from my photos?

According to our onboard expert, you can send in photos and then identify the whale from an online database.

All in all, another fantastic day on the MS Roald Amundsen. I was a little sad that today was our last landing in Antarctica, but had to get over it and go enjoy another delicious dinner. At least I had another few days of great food to look forward to- and we still had to see the Falklands. 🙂

Yum! I sure do miss their food. 😉

Cuverville Island

After a great time with the scientists at Vernadsky Station, we cruised on to Cuverville Island. Here was finally the Antarctica I’ve been expecting.

On arrival, the weather was awful. The wind was howling, the snow was blowing, it was overcast and cold!

But, we finally saw the penguin colonies like I was expecting to see all along.

Lucky for us, the changeable Antarctic weather improved. The sun came out, the wind and snow died down and it turned into a beautiful day to enjoy the antics of the penguins.

I wonder why they work so hard to get so high up. They seem to like sliding back down. 🙂

I’m not sure why, but I always thought of Antarctica as full of wildlife. Empty landscape, with no signs of humanity, but full of birds, seals, whales and dolphins. We’ve seen plenty of penguins so far (almost all gentoos- chinstraps only at our first Antarctic stop on Half Moon Island). Even there, I was expecting to see many more birds than we saw.

I spotted a couple of seals from my window as we were passing through the Lemaire Channel. I saw them resting on an iceberg, they paid us no attention. We weren’t very close to them, so why waste energy to get away from us?

Same story with the whales. I thought there would be tons of whales around (pun intended). 😉

The krill seemed to be there in abundance. Our plankton sample was almost green with the amount of plankton in the water. Humpbacks, blue whales and others eat krill. I would’ve thought there would be more than a couple around. I never saw any whales near our ship, only their spouts far off in the distance.

Whales spouting next to an iceberg

Maybe it wasn’t the season for them yet.

B & W Challenge: Cold

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Here’s my entry for Cee’s B&W Photo Challenge: Hot or Cold Things. I was very lucky this year to have gone on a trip to Antarctica. I’ve been dreaming of a trip like this for decades. Had a fantastic cruise on the MS Roald Amundsen with Hurtigruten cruises. Here are a few photos. It was definitely COLD! 😉

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Glacier at Orne Harbor
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Penguin colony- Cuverville Island, Antarctica
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We were very lucky with the weather so far. It was very changeable, but most of the time so far was pretty nice. Sunny without much wind. This was our first real meeting with “authentic Antarctic weather” according to our captain.

The weather eventually got better and it was more enjoyable to hang around and watch these funny little guys. More on that later…

 

Vernadsky Station

After our amazing ice walk experience, we continued on to the Ukranian Vernadsky Research Station located at Marina Point on Galindez Island of Argentine Islands. Until as recently as 1996, it belonged to the UK and was called Faraday Station.

The weather was still gorgeous, with the sun shining bright over the sparkling ice. Huge icebergs lined the mountainous shoreline, slowly floating towards the open sea.The penguins met our zodiacs as we passed through the narrow channel that led through to the bay. We watched with joy as they leaped out of the water next to the foot long icicles along the shoreline and struggled with their funny waddling gait further onto the land.

our zodiacs brought us through this narrow channel to the base
check out those icicles, the penguins have to deal with them every time they want to eat!

It was nice of the scientists to invite us to visit them, we were their first ship of the season. They must’ve been looking forward to the distraction since I didn’t see any science going on. 😉

They sent their biologist out to meet us and give us a tour. She was happy to explain their lifestyle and answer our questions (even tho I was at the back end of our group so couldn’t hear much of what she said).

our guide Oksana

As we made our way up to the station, the snow reached over our heads along the wooden pathways. The buildings stood out in colorful contrast against the stark white of the snow surrounding them.

There were plenty of birds around: penguins, petrels and gulls. Like the Galapagos, they weren’t at all bothered by us. We were told before we had to stay at least a few feet away from them, but the birds didn’t follow the rules and sometimes came quite close. I noticed some of them were already banded (like this sheathbill in the photo).

As we removed our muck boots inside the crowded entry, we got a look at some of the photos of previous visitors: scientists and explorers from all over the world (and lots of photos of their ‘Antarctic league’ soccer teams). This photographic exhibit continued along the passageways. We saw various offices, labs, and storage for their skis, snowshoes and other equipment for the cold.

Old photo lining the passageway showing the Belgian expedition of 1897-99

Eventually we arrived at the galley and recreation room. They were set up for us to buy stamps, envelopes and post cards. Lots of business going on there. I bought a couple of cards to send home (I still haven’t received that one yet, tho I did get back the one from Stanley last week).

Further on, they had a bar where you could have a drink, play pool or darts and relax. They even had a souvenir shop where they sold t-shirts, patches, shot glasses, tiny little penguins and assorted other tchotchkes. 🙂

They also sold their own home made vodka which was actually pretty good. I bet even better after a long winters ‘day’ (when the sun never comes up).

After sending off my post cards and a warming shot of vodka, it was time to start heading back to the ship. I wondered how hard it would be to get a job like that. You might think it would be easy, I mean how many people really want to spend months or years away from friends and family to work in all that ice cold and darkness. But apparently, it’s pretty hard to get. Our guide told us she was one of the first women allowed, they only started allowing women a couple of years ago.

Seems to me, it would be similar to shipboard life. The isolation, the weather, the long periods away from home. I have actually tried to get a job on some of the supply ships that go to Antarctica. To this day, I’ve never heard back. Now, there are new requirements for “polar experience” so looks like another catch-22 as far as getting work goes. Can’t be considered because you don’t have the experience, but can’t get the experience without being hired first. 😦

First Time Ever

When I woke up, the sun was shining. Everything looked fresh and new, the stark contrast of white against blue was strikingly beautiful. The world was a blank slate, empty of all but water, ice and snow.

The weather had changed completely from yesterday. We had passed through Lemaire Channel and found ourselves surrounded by the ice. Our captain decided to drive the ship up into the ice to give us a truly unique experience.

We crowded the decks to watch as the ship slowly ground its way through the flat sheets of ice. When we slowed to a stop, we waited anxiously to see if our expedition crew would find the ice thick enough for it to be safe for us to hop off and explore.

they look so tiny!

expedition crew testing the thickness of the ice

Yes! It was. We watched each group head down the gangway to stumble around on the fresh packed snow, staying within the area marked off with the usual orange cones. My group- the Giant Petrels- was not one of the first. The snow was already pretty torn up by the time I was able to exit the ship.

It was so empty, so quiet. Nothing to see, for miles around, but us and the ice and snow- with far off mountains hemming us in. I did see the tracks of a couple of penguins, but there were only 2. I kept wondering where was all the wildlife I’ve been expecting to see. So far, I’ve only seen a couple of seals (far away), and some gentoo penguins.

It was hard to walk around, with the snow melting into slush and so the ‘ground’ was very uneven. Everyone was wandering around, taking selfies in the snow with the Roald Amundsen in the background.

Today we made history! This was the first time in the history of Hurtigruten that a ship drove into the ice and we got to take a walk on the sea ice! So exciting. 🙂

Orne Harbor to Lemaire Channel

After a beautiful day at Orne Harbor, we woke up to a more ‘typical’ day for Antarctica. So far, we’d been lucky finding nice weather most of the time. It changed quickly tho. We picked up our hearty campers who’d spent the night ashore, then headed on to our next planned stop at Neko Harbor (Andvord Bay).

Campers got to spend the night at Orne Harbor
we can just barely see the campers from the ship (far right in the photo)
The end of the red line is Orne Harbor. Around the corner to the South is Neko Harbor at the bottom of Andvord Bay. At the bottom left corner is Port Lockroy.

On arrival, we were met with high winds, rough seas, snow and freezing cold. There was a lot of ice in the water and it kept moving around. The zodiacs would have a hard time shuttling us back and forth to shore. After checking it out, the captain decided that the weather was not going to allow us to go ashore as planned.

too much ice for the zodiacs!

Expedition cruising, even more than normal cruising, is dependent on weather and other local conditions. You need to be flexible. It’s best to have the attitude of looking forward to whatever the day may bring and forget about being upset about what you might’ve missed.

We sailed on towards Damoy Point and Port Lockroy where we were scheduled to go ashore to the historic site run by the British. It has a museum and the only post office on the continent of Antarctica.

you can just barely see Port Lockroy middle left of the photo, we could just barely see their people waving with the binoculars
seals on the ice, taken from my cabin- I’m not sure if they’re weddel or crabeater seals

Sadly, the weather was still too bad for us to go ashore. I would’ve liked to send some postcards home with an Antarctica stamp. We did drive by and we all waved at each other. Brave people, to stand around outside in that kind of weather to wave at our ship.

On we went, to cruise through the Lemaire Channel. The weather was still pretty nasty for a little while. Howling winds, snow and cold! It felt like about 20 below, but I don’t think it was actually below 0 F. It was the wind that really made it feel cold.

The scenery was spectacular. We made our way through the channel filled with pancake ice, the sharp tips of the mountains peaking out of their coats of snow, glaciers calving off large chunks of ice into the passage alongside our ship.

The passage narrowed as the day went on. The wind died down, the snow stopped and the sun came out. I sat in the lounge with it’s wrap around floor to ceiling windows and just watched the world go by. Towards sunset (around 9 pm- it didn’t get dark until about 11), we passed through the narrows- only 1600 meters wide. The sound of the ice scraping along the hull of the ship was loud enough to be heard everywhere onboard.

In my room, I fell asleep to the low pitched background sound of the sea slushing along the side of the ship and occasional bang of a berg as we came out the South end of the Lemaire Channel to find our next adventure in the morning.

the mark on the Google map shows Lemaire Channel

 

 

Orne Harbor

From Half Moon Island, we sailed on to Orne Harbor for promised spectacular views from atop the ridge. 

The expedition crew set out on arrival and surveyed a safe pathway that zig-zagged its way up the steep slope for us to follow. The kayaks were brought out for those who had opted for that activity.

The weather was very changeable. In the morning, it was overcast and gloomy, with a thick layer of fog. By the time my group- the giant petrels- got to go ashore after lunch the sun was shining and the winds were calm.

I made it only to the first stage. Sadly, I did not get all the way up to the top of the mountain. I was really struggling, slipping and sliding around in the snow. Due to my ongoing work situation (not having any), I have to be super-careful not to do anything where I might hurt myself. I could just see myself tumbling down the mountain, rolling like a tumbleweed all the way down to the sea and then having a heart attack in the freezing cold water. 😦

After making that decision, I made my way back to the landing site and watched the zodiacs come and go. The scenery was so beautiful. I didn’t need to go anywhere else to see even more of it.

I sat in the snow and watched the penguins and the people come and go. Absorbing the sunlight and the immensity of the atmosphere, I was so grateful of the fact that I was able to even just sit there- in Antarctica!

penguins
more penguins

I even managed to get a decent shot of a couple of penguins in the water. They’re so fast when they’re swimming!

Gentoo penguins in the water

I’m glad I made it as far as I did. Turns out, this would be our only landing on Antarctica. All the rest of our stops were on nearby islands. I was a little disappointed to learn that, but I have to admit the places we did go were pretty much just as wonderful. What difference does a name make? I’m not sure, but I am still glad I get to say I got to go to Antarctica and not just close to it.

Spigot Peak as viewed from MS Roald Amundsen

Half Moon Island

Our first landing in Antarctica! We’re all so excited. We pulled into the bay early this morning at Half Moon Island. Technically, we’re not landing in Antarctica- we’re still only in the South Shetland Islands. 

Close enough for government work.

We’ve already collected our Hurtigruten jackets, group patches (petrels, seals, penguins & albatrosses) and muck boots. As groups were announced on the PA, we assembled in the “black box” (tender pit) to be shuttled ashore in the RIBs.

Our key cards securely inserted into our jacket arm pouches, we’re all scanned as we leave the ship. We’re helped into the tenders and slide along the sides to fill the boat. Then we’re off, the cold wind biting at any inch of skin left uncovered.

We had a couple of hours to wander around. The expedition crew had arrived first and marked off a trail for us with cones and flags. We were not allowed to approach the rookeries, or wander too far afield. Not that it would be easy to loose us with those red jackets against the white snow, ‘but just to be safe’.

our first close up penguins!
Chinstrap penguins

Returning to the ship, boots washed (for bio-security) and scanned back in, it was time for a nice buffett lunch and relaxing in the Explorer lounge with a cup of hot tea before trying my hand at a watercoloring workshop.

As the afternoon passed on, the Roald Amundsen sailed on to our next stop and I enjoyed watching the scenery from the Explorer lounge while working on a jigsaw puzzle with some new friends. The sun came out as I was leaving Half Moon Island and it turned into a beautiful afternoon.

We passed more icebergs, and islands with glaciers. The scenery was captivating, but soon to get even better.

PS- all that red goop in the photos is penguin poop- just in case you’re curious 😉 

Drake Shake or Drake Lake for the MS Roald Amundsen?

Anticipation was high, people were concerned. We were crossing the Drake Passage- the area where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet- between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands. It’s notorious for bad weather. 

Winds and currents circle the entire globe, swells have thousands of miles of open ocean to build so they can grow to enormous heights. The Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties refer to these latitudes. Dozens of ships have been lost in the area. How would we fare onboard the MS Roald Amundsen?

Turns out we had nothing to worry about. We enjoyed crossing the Drake Lake. The winds were only about 20-25 knots and the seas 2-3 meters. It was lovely for this area and the season. I was actually hoping to see something of the famous nasty weather, but a few people were complaining of mal de mer so I guess we were lucky. I wouldn’t want to spend a couple of days with a shipload of seasick passengers.

view from my cabin

The ship’s crew had plenty of things prepared to keep us occupied for the time we would be at sea with no landings to look forward to. They always had interesting lectures and workshops for us to choose from. There was a nice stock of games and puzzles to play with. Or you could always choose to visit the sauna, the spa, the pool and jacuzzi, or chill out in a comfortable chair with a drink while watching the scenery pass by.

Some of the members of the expedition team were also scientists and encouraged us to participate in their studies. There was one that collected information about the clouds and weather, to compare with what was picked up by the satellites (observer.globe.gov). Another was gathering data on the birds we saw (www.ebird.org). 

They had presentations in the ships science center where we could look through the microscopes (one was projected onto a large screen) to see the details of different kinds of ice, plants, krill, feathers, etc.

Krill

I enjoyed a couple of arts & crafts workshops. Watercolor painting one day and clay modeling another time.

My emperor penguin model

I joined a rotating group of ladies working on jigsaw puzzles in the Explorer lounge on the 10th deck where we always had a wonderful view out the starboard side. We had snacks and piano music there in the afternoons.

Our crossing was altogether uneventful. We had a couple of relaxing days to look forward to arriving in Antarctica and our first landing at Half Moon Island. 

Cape Horn

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After cruising the Beagle Channel, our ship the MS Roald Amundsen arrived at Cape Horn the morning of November 14. We were all excited to experience our first ride to shore in the ships RIBS (rigid inflatable boats).

The morning was cool and windy, overcast with a light rain. I had on long underwear under my jeans and the windbreaker jacket the ship supplied. I wore my old Helly Hanson overalls I kept from when I used to work in Alaska. They went on over the muck boots the ship supplied. I kept my good camera in my waterproof backpack and my lifejacket on for the ride ashore.

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It took longer to dress than it did to zip over to the beach. The expedition team had gone over first to check it out and make the landing easier for us on the rocky shoreline. They set out some rubber mats and pallets for us to walk on. Then we had to climb up a tall stairway to the top of the hill- about 200 ft straight up. There was a track for a rail car to go up, only used for supplies (too bad). It was a long climb up those stairs and even tho I took my time on the way up, I was sweating by the time I reached the top.

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The landscape was totally different at the top of the stairs. Rolling hills covered with long grass, small bushes and lichen covered rocks. There were wooden walkways from the funicular landing to the lighthouse and over to the albatross monument.

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With the wet weather, the boards were slick and I wasn’t comfortable in the boots yet, so I took my time to walk to the lighthouse and the rustic little chapel next to it.

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The keeper, Chilean Navy officer A. Otaiza, invited us in to meet his wife and daughter. They lived there all alone for a couple of years. Their only contact was with their supply ships (due every 2 months) and the few cruise ships that stopped by.

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We could buy post cards and stamps to send home (which I did). They also had a few other souvenirs like t-shirts and small penguin statuettes. The view from the light house was spectacular. You could see about 360 degrees.

The climb down the stair was so much easier! It was still slippery and it was best to pass at a landing, but it went much faster going down.

While we were up top, another ship joined us in the bay. It was not a DP vessel like ours (I heard it drop it’s anchor). I would think DP would be a big advantage for traveling in this part of the world. For one thing, it doesn’t tear up the bottom of the ocean like anchoring does.

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As the afternoon wore on, the sun came out. It turned into a gorgeous day. We got underway late in the afternoon and watched Cape Horn fade behind us as we looked forward to experiencing the Drake Passage and Antarctica.

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Cruising the Beagle Channel

We left Punta Arenasa little late due to delays bunkering with the ongoing Chilean protests. After only 3 hours sleep the night before, I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open long enough to observe our departure. I was assured there would still be plenty to see throughout the next day so I hit the sack by 10 pm. 

View from my stateroom

I woke up to beautiful views of the Chilean Fjords passing by my windows. Green hills and sheer rocky mountains capped by deep piles of ice and snow kept my attention all day. The weather was beautiful. Cool, but sunny and calm- it was perfect for hanging out by the pool with a cup of hot chocolate.

View from the pool deck
Nice view from the jacuzzi too

As we made our way South down the Beagle Channel, the captain announced important sights to be sure we knew what we were looking at. We passed a couple of whales that day, but all I could see was their spout. They were too far away for me to see anything else. Not much traffic in the area. I only saw one other cruise ship- and one brave little sailor.

We passed valleys filled with glaciers and mountains covered with snow and ice from top to bottom. Announcements were made for passing Garibaldi Glacier, Pia Glacier, and Glacier Alley. The scenery was just spectacular.

glacier
Ushuaia Argentina on our port side

We passed Ushuaia Argentina around 6 pm- dinner time. I was assigned the first seating 1800-2000. Tonight was assigned seating (I have table 6) and a set menu , with appetizer, soup, choice of 3 entrees and choice of desserts.

As I watched the scenery scroll by through the large windows surrounding the dining room I had a delicious dinner of vegetarian options (since I didn’t like the other choices of fish or lamb). Tonights appetizer was a chorizo and pork terrine, main of red beets bourguignon and dessert of pineapple mousse. Yum.

After attending the preview of the next days events in the auditorium and the Captains welcome in the Explorer Lounge where he introduced the crew, I headed to bed. Strange to go to bed when it’s still bright daylight outside but it’s not getting dark until almost 11 pm.

Expedition team leader Stefan introduces his team

The ship continued on to Puerto Williams where we had to stop for customs and immigration. All of that was taken care of by the ships crew. Next stop would be Cape Horn. Then continuing on across ‘Drake Lake’ to Antarctica.