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THE WILDERNESS BEYOND – TORRES DEL PAINE & NORTHERN PATAGONIA

February 13, 2019 4:35 pm

On Monday morning, January 21st, after a wonderful buffet breakfast, we left Puerto Natales on our bus to continue our trip north to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.  In 2-hours, we reach a small town at a crossroads called Cerro dos Castillo’s.  This little town has a nice cafeteria and store, and sits right at the border with Argentina, but today, we are continuing north in Chile.  After a quick bathroom break and a bit of souvenir shopping, we continue our trip north. The countryside is dry and wind-swept, consisting only of dry, small grasses and small hardy bushes.  Here, the principal industry is ranching with lamb for wool and food, and cattle.  Sheep herds are plentiful in the countryside, as is beef, but everything else that the people here need – fruit, vegetables, medicine, etc. must be brought in via ships and ferries that make their way up the fiords from the north.  These same ships then take the beef, lamb and wool from the processing plants back to the coast to be shipped around South America and the world.  We pass a small village near the “Waters of Last Hope” Fiord where our local guide, Kris, lives with her boyfriend and dog in a very modest house with no running water, and with propane to cook, wood to heat and rationed electricity. She moved here because she enjoys the outdoors, and the government paid her to build a house as part of a program to get people to move to this sparsely populated area.  Her 1-acre property cost $10,000 USD 8-years ago, but now is worth nearly 8-times that because of a huge land-grab being driven by tourism. The “Waters of Last Hope” Fiord was named so because it was “the last hope” (unsuccessfully) during the area’s early exploration to find another waterway across Patagonia. Today, the town is growing, and things are changing rapidly.  Before this past year, the nearest hospital was in Punta Arenas – over 3-hours away by car!  This drove the locals to cross the border and use the Argentinean hospital instead – less than 1-hour away!  Today, they have a new hospital in Puerto Natales which is much closer.

 

Hotel in Puerto Natales

 

Map of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile

Since the primary industry of the area is ranching (and now, tourism), the region is dominated by very large Estancias (ranches) raising either sheep, or Hereford or Angus cattle – no milk cows. Small ranches are ~8000-10,000 acres, and large ranches can be over 200,000 acres. The sheep are Corridales from the Falkland Islands, and are of Scottish origin. Alpaca were once tried to be raised in the area, but those efforts were unsuccessful.  The region also hosts a large number of rhea’s (smaller ostrich-like flightless birds), guanaco’s (a llama-like animal), and herds of wild horses and wild pigs that still roam the countryside.  Watching over all of these animals are a significant number of pumas roaming the range, and, in the higher altitudes, a large number of condors that soar overhead watching and waiting for an easy meal.

Julie on Hike in Torres del Paine National Park

We finally arrive at the Lake Sarmiento Entrance to the Torres del Paine Park, where we check in and pay our park fees, and immediately begin our first hike.  We hike ~4-miles from the ranger’s station, up a hill to a number of lookout views of the Paine Massif and of the “Towers”, and to the lookout at Laguna Amarga, passing along the way various guanaco’s who paid little attention to us, However, we were warned not to get too close, as they spit much like their distant-relatives – the camel.  All along the hike, we faced 35 mph headwinds and occasional rain, but the brief periods of sunshine and the views made the hike so worthwhile.  After our hike, we took a short drive to Nordenskjold Lookout where we ate lunch in the bus while facing growing winds outdoors, before exiting to take in the view.  Then, we traveled north to Salto Grande Lookout to look at one of the more famous waterfalls in the park.  Once arriving, we took a short, 15-minute walk into 60-65 mph wind gusts that made any walking difficult, but finally made it to the small boardwalk for pictures and the view.  Finally, we traveled south a bit to Pehoe Lookout to look over Lake Pehoe. By now, the winds had abated, somewhat, and from here we had a good view of the local hostel which was located on an island in the lake accessible by pedestrian bridge only. Some of the area had been devastated by forest fires – nearly all of them started by man – and there were large areas with whitened, lifeless tree trunks and only small shrubs. In response, all along the lake, over 200,000 beech trees were planted two years ago and hopefully they will form the basis of a future forest. We then traveled to our hotel, the Rio Serrano – one of the few hotels within the park – where the rooms and the lobby were lined with glass allowing an overlook of the nearby plain and “the Three Horns”and “Towers”  Mountains that rose into the clouds not far away. After checking in, we take a swim and sauna in the spectacular indoor pool, before meeting as a group for a buffet dinner.

Young Guanaco watching us

 

Resting in front of the Paine Massif

 

View of the Paine Massif

 

Pehoe Rivers in Torres del Paine National Park

 

Waterfall at Salto Grande Lookout

 

The Towers and Horns of the Paine Massif

 

View from the Rio Sorrento Hotel

 

Impressive View of the Towers

The next morning, we are greeted with a beautiful rainbow at breakfast before we set off to hike to a view of Grey Glacier.  The park’s glaciers are in significant retreat, and Grey Glacier is disappearing at a rate of 56’ per year for the last 70 years!  Grey Glacier and Grey River were named for an early Swedish explorer that spend time describing the area.  We drove to the southern end of the Glacier’s lake where we began our hike through arctic forests, across the Grey River on a rope bridge, and then 1-mile across the glacier’s 400-year-old terminal moraine which stretches to an island lookout point.  After climbing up a rocky trail to the island’s viewpoint, one could watch the icebergs float by and catch a glimpse of the mile-long dual faces of the Grey Glacier.  Although our hike began in the rain, and we crossed the moraine in gusting winds, when we arrived at the lookout the skies cleared, and we were greeted with gracious sunshine.  Because of the weather, we encountered no one else on our journey there, but passed a huge number of tourists beginning their hike on our way back.

View of Grey Glacier from Ancient Terminal Moraine

 

Icebergs from Grey Glacier

 

Crossing the Mile-long Terminal Moraine

We arrive back at the hotel in time for lunch, and then it was time to go horseback riding.  Only 8 of decided to participate, and we met our guides at the stables, got introduced to our horses, and began our ride.  Unfortunately, about 40 minutes into our ride across the plains and into the woods, the winds again picked up significantly, and we needed to head back.  If the winds get too high, it can spook the horses, and can make sitting up on horseback unstable.  Since we returned early, we decided to take a traditional “tea time”.  Apparently, a very independent woman, Lady Florence Dixie, came to the area and began the tourism industry back in 1879.  She was an accomplished hunter and developed a number of recipes for the widely available rhea of the time. While in the area and guiding others, she instituted tea time and it has remained a local area tradition ever since.  Lady Florence Dixie eventually returned to England and while there wrote a hugely popular book called, “Across Patagonia“, that documents many of the details of living in the wilderness at that time. That night we have a dinner of fish with mushroom stuffing.

Horseback Riding in Torres del Paine Park

On Wednesday morning, we meet to quickly review our time from Puenta Arenas through Torres del Paine before returning to our bus to leave Chile.  From here, we take the 2-hour bus ride back to the Cerro dos Castillo’s crossroads for the border crossing to Argentina.  Along the way we pass Torres Lake, an area that looks green and lush with beech and cypress trees and populated with private estancias raising beef cattle.  We arrive at the crossing at ~11:30am, in time for lunch taken upstairs above the gift shop.  After lunch, we walked to the Chilean Border Crossing for passport control before reboarding the bus, crossing the border fence at the top of the hill, and then stopping at the Argentinean Passport Control & Customs Office on the other side.  Here, we switch from a Chilean bus and driver to an Argentinean bus and driver and continued our journey.  In Argentina, out in these desolate and open spaces, the side of the road will occasionally have red-decorated “shrines” dedicated to Gaucho Antonio Gil.  Legend has it that if you stop at one of these shrines and leave something of high importance to you there, and fulfill a promise to Gaucho Antonio, that good “karma” will watch over you.  This is very popular with many of the long-distance truck drivers in Argentina, and so we stopped and left various items, including a can of beer over the ground in front of the shrine.  Apparently, our sacrifice worked, because we were immediately greeted with a Southern Crested Caracara falcon and had a smooth journey the rest of the way to El Calafate.

Entrance to Cerro dos Castillo Ranch

 

Gaucho Antonio Gil Shrine

 

At the Border with Chile and Argentina

We arrived in El Calafate around 6:00pm and checked into our hotel, the Kosten Aike, which was located only 4 blocks from the local bay, and only 2 blocks from the town’s Main Street.  After an early dinner of Trout with Vegetables or Lamb Stew, we explored Main Street and the shops and brewhouses located there.

Thursday morning, we began our adventures driving along the bay-front, stopping to take pictures of the pink flamingoes and black- and white-headed swans that clustered in the area.  The bay is a part of Lake Argentino, (first described & extensively explored by Fransisco Murino) a lake formed by the glacier waters coming from an enormous ice cap (the second largest continental ice field in the world – after Antarctica) and the heart of Los Glaciares National Park (over 50 glaciers). Unlike most glacier fields which typically form at altitudes above about 8200’, most of the glaciers of Los Glaciares form at around 5000’.  Fransisco Murino was the country’s first recognized naturalist who was instrumental in preserving the local environment and is widely regarded as Argentina’s “Teddy Roosevelt”.

Lake Argentino

 

Flamingos at Lake Argentino at El Calafate

As we leave the town and lake behind, the air chills and dries, and the landscape is again brown, short grasses, and the vistas are endless.  Local ridges are stained from the residence of numerous condors, and sheep, rheas and guanacos populate the landscape, along with skunks, moles and armadillos. This area is shielded from most rainfall by the Andes Mountain Range, and only receives 15” of precipitation per year. The only trees here are poplars that have planted by local ranchers as wind blocks, as they do well near water and creeks.  With 100 miles to go, we can already see the higher reaches of the famous Perito Moreno Glacier which dominates this area and forms the basis for most of the town and region’s tourism. Along the way, we spotted eagles and condors overhead, but then we come upon a dozen condors on the ground feasting on a deceased lamb.  Condors can live over 30 years old, and they raise their young in the nest for 2-3 years before they fledge and go on their own.

Condors Feasting on a Lamb

Soon we enter Los Glaciares National Park which was created in 1937 and is the second largest National Park in Argentina. Here is located Perito Moreno Glacier, towering over 200 feet above the Lake Argentino, and moving at 3-6 feet/day towards and into the lake. The glacier has been stably doing this since recorded times in the 1800’s, but no one knows if it is getting thinner, thicker and remaining stable upslope.  The glacier’s face comes very close to a point of land that the park has used to install an extensive network of catwalk loops that are clearly labeled by color and that circle back and forth in front of the falling and extensive ice face, allowing one to view all aspects on the glacier.  In fact, every few years, the glacier moves far enough to join the point of land, blocking the water flow from upstream into Lake Argentino.  This causes the dammed water upstream to rise over 50’ higher before the dam breaks and a balance in restored. After exploring all the walkways, we grab a quick hot chocolate at the gift shop before returning to town for shopping and dinner on our own.  We decided to “bar hop” and started at a local brewery pub listening to a hand-drummer before moving on to a lamb burger pub and finishing with nightcaps and then returning to the hotel.

Perito Moreno Glacier in the Distance

 

Perito Moreno Glacier at the Upstream End

 

Perito Moreno Glacier

 

Perito Moreno Glacier at Lake Argentino

On Friday morning (January 25th) we arose early and went for a long, early morning walk along the bay front looking at the flamingoes and swans before returning for showers, breakfast, and a final meeting to share our favorite highlights of the trip.  Then, it was off to the airport for the flight back to Buenos Aires.  The El Calafate airport is new (2005) and has significantly raised the tourism of the region.  We board for our trip east, but our adventures were not over, yet!  During the flight, one passenger had a medical emergency which required intervention and monitoring and medical evacuation upon our arrival.  Luckily, she recovered fine, and the trip ended on a “high note”!

THE WILDERNESS BEYOND – TIERRA DEL FUEGO & THE CHILEAN FJORDS

February 7, 2019 9:28 pm

January 2019

The southern tip of South America has long been shared between Argentina and Chile. The continent was originally divvied up between Spain and Portugal based upon an agreement along a particular longitudinal line that divided the North Atlantic. Unfortunately for Portugal, the line only happens to have cut through the eastern tip of Brazil, leaving the rest of the continent to be claimed by Spain. The south eastern part of the continent is dominated by a huge island named Tierra del Fuego – “Land of Fire”! The story goes that it was named such by Magellan as they searched for a way past the continent for a route to the Spice Islands of Asia.  Tierra del Fuego was populated at the time by the Yamana people – a group of tribes that spent most of their time naked in their canoes searching for food.  They would carry fire with them, and the observance of their fires in the dark gave rise to the island’s name.

Map of Fjord Route

We flew south from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Ushuaia, Argentina – the southern most city in the world – located on the Beagle Channel – a more southern passage around South America than the famous, more northern, Straits of Magellan discovered earlier. After arriving at the airport, we walked briefly around town and got a local beer call a “Beagle”.  The “Beagle” was the name of the ship that Charles Darwin was on with Captain Fitz Roy, when he visited the area in the 1800’s. The city’s name “Ushuaia” is Yamana for “Bay facing the sunset”, and the town sits nestled on the southern shore of the Tierra del Fuego island, just east of the dividing border with Chile, and on the channel that serves as the southern border with Chile. These borders were historically disputed between the two countries until the Pope intervened and set the agreed upon borders of today.

Ushuaia Town Welcoming Sign

The town originally served as a Spanish penal colony founded in 1902. Then President Peron closed the prison in 1942, and the old prison now serves as a set of museums. In those days, the prisoners survived on sparse ship deliveries, and whatever fish and sea lions that they could catch, and many of them stayed when the prison was closed.  In this area south of the east-west Darwin Mountain Range, the winds are very strong and out of the west making all aspects of life difficult. Before the new airport was completed in modern times, airplanes would get pushed off into the channel from the old north-south runway.

After World War II, the town was a key base for the Argentine Navy.  The Military Dictatorship in the 1980’s was struggling with a great deal of protests and unhappiness of the Argentine people, and in 1982 demanded that Great Britain cede the Falkland Islands to Argentina. Although long-claimed by Argentina as “The Malvinas”, the British had colonized the Falkland Islands and had supported them continuously. The British refusal resulted in Argentina declaring war on Britain in April 1982.

To better understand this bit of their history, we sat down in the afternoon with “Daniel”, an Argentinian Navy veteran of that war. Daniel was a young 19-year-old gunnery crew from Buenos Aires assigned to the “Hildago”, a former WWII & Korea USA “730” Destroyer. Argentina had purchased the old ship in 1970, but it was originally commissioned in 1940. Daniel’s ship left Port Arenas on March 30, 1982 with no knowledge of what their mission was, and immediately headed to the Malvinas in a support role for troops that were sent ashore there.  Only once underway were they told that Argentina was taking the Malvinas back from the British. The young sailors were shocked and surprised, but they were proud and excited. As a support vessel, they backed up the ships that had arrived to take the Island’s port where there were ~300 civilians living.  The first death came soon thereafter – an Argentinean Commander.  However, they took the port and had expectations of success and a quick victory when no more troops or ships arrived.

Daniel – Argentinean Veteran of Faukland War

Soon thereafter, the British announced a 200 mile “exclusion zone” around the islands and backed it up with the British Navy.  On April 11th, the Hildago had a mission to the south to protect communications’ lines and support another Destroyer in a planned Argentinean attack on the British.  The Argentineans moved inside the exclusion zone for the attack, but, at this time, the South Atlantic was very rough, and the Argentinean Navy lacked the technology to coordinate an attack in such bad weather, and the attack was cancelled. While coming back to position outside the exclusion zone on May 2nd at 4pm just before dark, the “Submarine Attack Alarm” went off and the crew scrambled to their positions.  Daniel worked in the forward “Combat Tower” as part of the artillery.  He was heading to the restroom when the alarm sounded, and as he ran for cover, he could hear the torpedoes bypass their ship.  Instead, their sister-ship was hit!  They began anti-submarine maneuvers throwing depth-charges overboard, but the seas were over 25’ high and they did not have the technology necessary to be effective.  Their sister ship began to sink with all 700 crew aboard, but the Hildago was ordered to leave the exclusion area immediately. After 10pm, they returned to the area to look for survivors. On the next day they found their first raft of survivors, terribly hurt and burned with petrol and with body parts missing.  It took them many hours to rescue all the survivors, working against the clock in terrible weather.  In the end, they rescued 277 survivors, but their ship was only a crew of 300 and their ship was overcrowded to the extreme with 577 now aboard.  Those aboard gave the injured everything they had – food, beds, clothes, medicines – whatever it took – still today those involved remember how awful and bad it was.  When the ship returned to Ushuaia, they began to receive news via the local radio stations saying that Argentina was winning the war, which those aboard knew wasn’t true.

Daniel’s family had no knowledge of either himself or his 17-year-old brother who was also at sea in the Navy. The lack of information and the lies that the dictatorship was telling made it a very difficult time in the country. The rendition and the end of the war was on June 14th, and when they returned to their home port, there was no one their to greet them or welcome them home. The most difficult moment of all was when he finally got to see his father whom he hardly recognized. His father has lost a great deal of weight and had aged considerable in such a short time with worry and grief over the unknown fate of his two sons. When Daniel returned to his old neighborhood in Buenos Aires, neighbors would come up to touch and hug him.  Daniel remained on the Hildago until 1983 and retired from the Navy in 1984.  He moved to Ushuaia and works with the many local veterans that retired there. Last year 120 veterans died from cancer, heart attacks, and suicide.  He received medals for Combat, the Presidential Medal, and the Province’s Remembrance 35th Anniversary Award.  His final comment was:” We went as hero’s but came home through the back door“

After such an emotional engagement, we stayed for a group dinner at “La Cantina de Freddy”.  There we had crab soup followed by whole king crab with butter, rice and french fries. Dessert was a bonbon with Patagonia Calafate berry ice cream – an amazing meal!

King Crab Dinner in Ushuaia

Wednesday morning, we walked to the nearby former Ushuaia Prison, which houses 4 interesting museums in the radial arms of the former jail-block’s: the Argentina in Antarctica Museum, the Military Prison Museum, the Ushuaia Jail Museum, and the Naval Models Hall. After the tour, we walked down the town’s main street, San Martin Street, for some shopping, (they have a Hard Rock Café)!

For lunch, we visited a local couple, (Gaby & Gustavo), who are raising their two daughters, (Lara – 7 and Sol – 12), in a nice home up on the side of the hill overlooking the town. We explored their home and learned about their lives here in Ushuaia. There were both in the travel agency business and enjoy meeting travelers from around the world.  For lunch we had lentil stew and spinach cheese biscuits with milk cake and meringue, and brownies with caramel and chocolate for dessert.  After lunch, we had a lively discussion about the building of their house, family, education, and the custom of mata – a tea-like herb that is mixed with hot water and sipped through a filtering straw.  It is the most common form of greeting and social interaction among Argentineans.

After lunch, we visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park which makes up much of the island.  It was created by Francisco Murano and was the first national park in Argentina created in 1960.  Today, one of the park’s glaciers is named after him. Argentina and Chile share the 3rd longest border in the world and the island is shared between them. The road, Route 3, is part of the Pan-American Highway stretching over 28,500 miles from Alaska through Buenos Aires to its ending in the park.  After walking to “The end of the Road” we visited Ensenada Bay Post Office and received passport stamps marking the occasion.  We then hiked through a series of trails that took us through forest of beech trees, gave us great views of the east-west Darwin Mountains, and the Andes in the distance, and took us through sub-arctic meadows. The beech trees here are not true beech trees, and as called “false beech trees”.  The can grow to 100’ high and can live up to 500 years.  There are three types, including one that stays evergreen throughout the winter. We then took a hike along Lake Acigami, (Lake Roca) where we were in sight of the border with Chile. We then made a brief visit to Lapana Bay, a “false” lake that is actually part of the Beagle Channel.  We then returned to Ushuaia to board our ship, the Stella Australis – our home for the next 5 days.

The ship had large guest rooms with good size private bathrooms. There was an open, outdoor viewing deck on the sixth level, and a large comfortable indoor lounge (Darwin Lounge) with open bar and an outdoor stern viewing deck on the fifth level.  The fourth level housed the Bridge and had a smaller lounge (Sky Lounge) with staterooms, as did the third level (Yamana Lounge).  The second level included the Reception Desk, Gift Shop and more staterooms, and the 1st level were crew quarters and the kitchen and dining room.  There were many screens around the ship with activities listed, as well as a GPS tracking of our route.  Meals were at 8am, 1pm and 8pm. All excursions would depend upon weather, wind and waves, but, in general, there were two planned every day!  We left port and made our way south into Chile and out of the Beagle Channel, heading for the famous outpost, and our first tentative excursion in the morning – Cape Horne!

These islands became a National Park in Chile in 1945 and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2018.  Cape Horne is the most southern inhabited place in the world (other than Antarctica), and the lighthouse there is manned by a Chilean Service man with his wife and children.  Cape Horne is still 593 miles from the Antarctic peninsula and is renowned for the more than 800 documented shipwrecks that have occurred there, and the over 10,000 sailors who have died trying to round its point.  The seas and weather here are highly variable, and our likelihood of being able to make a landing tomorrow is only 50-50%.

On Thursday morning we are lucky and the seas (4-8 ft) and wind (20-35 knots) are manageable, although it is cold and raining and sleeting. Before breakfast, the crew lowers the six 10-man zodiacs that are carried on the top deck, verify the safety of the landing, and begin taking ashore 10 at a time.  We are in the last group of 30 planned to disembark, and while we are waiting, the wind picks up and the seas grow.  The Captain begins to get worried, and although he allows us to travel to shore, he cuts short the visit of the passengers already on shore so that he can begin to bring them back to the ship. We make it to shore for a strenuous 120-step climb up the hillside to the Cape Horne monument to the lives lost there, braving winds in excess of 40 miles-per-hour, protected in our layers of waterproof gear.  After making it to the top, we do not have time to visit the lighthouse or the chapel, or visit the family living there before we begin our descent back to the boats to return to the ship.  The weather continues to degrade, and we finally arrive at the ship in time for the Captain to lift anchor and head back north for the safety of the islands and to reenter the Beagle Channel.

The Landing at Cape Horne

 

The Albatross Monument at Cape Horne

 

View of the Lighthouse at Cape Horne

After breakfast, we took in a film on Shackleton’s ill-fated journey to Antarctica and the South Georgia Islands which covered over 400 days of starvation, heroics, lost at sea, and frozen in ice – but with no casualties! A true miracle!  After lunch, and in better weather in the Beagle Channel, we again boarded the zodiacs, and headed to shore in Wulaia Bay – the site of an historical house from the 1930’s that served as an old radio station of the Chilean Navy, and that was put here to support their claim to the area.

Inside the historical house was a big barrel that visitors could deposit post into, and from which travels could take post out under the condition that they would see that it was delivered. This was the typical postal system for many years for the sailors that passed through this region and were away from home for years. Beyond the house was a series of optional hikes, and we took on the “Demanding” one that entailed climbing the local hillside through beech forest and over rumbling streams to an 800’ high lookout with a view over the Bay.  The 16 of us trekked for over an hour, up to a spectacular location where we sat silently for minutes enjoying the view and the sounds of nature. Along the way, our guide, Luciano, related the story of a Yamana local boy named “Jimmy Button” by Darwin, and taken by him to England to be “civilized”.  For 2-years, Jimmy was the hit of London, learning English and aristocratic customs, wearing fine clothes and even meeting the Queen of England.  When Darwin then brought Jimmy back to Wulaia as his emissary to convert the natives, the Yamana, to Christianity, Jimmy disappeared for some time, but when Jimmy finally reappear, naked, with his mother and tribe-folk, he told Darwin that he would always be the son of his mother, and he would always remain Yamana.  Jimmy left behind his fine clothes, his “civilized” customs and left with his people to never be seen again

View of the ship and Wulaia Bay from the Viewpoint

Today, the island has issues with mink, beaver and rats, all introduced by European settlers and trappers into the area for which no natural predator exists. The beavers were brought from Canada to start a fur industry, but with no predators and a different climate, their coats changed making their pelts worthless. After making the equally difficult climb down and returning to the dock to board our zodiacs, we were greeted with hot chocolate with a shot of whiskey. Then it was back to the ship for showers, a dinner of beef tips or spaghetti, and a movie called “Living on the Edge” about life of the penguins and seals in the area.

The Ice Fields of The Darwin Range

On Friday, we were well into the Darwin Mountain Range, and are greeted at every turn with soaring mountains, glistening icefields, and glacier-filled valleys. After breakfast, the ship set anchor, and we boarded our zodiacs to go ashore and explore the Pia Glacier.  This glacier is a tidewater glacier that, along with many of its neighbors feed an enormous number of icebergs floating around the ship and among the zodiacs.  The calving takes place on this glacier every 10-15 minutes, with a multitude of loud cracks and pops in between.  Our zodiac maneuvers through the ice floes before landing us on a large rock positioned on the side of the glacier-carved fiord, just a few hundred yards away from the glacier’s blue-ice face.  From here, we spend some time watching and observing as ice chunks drop off into the sea with a thunderous boom. The Pia Glacier if slowly receding, but not at a steady rate, as it is highly dependent of the amount of snow in the icefield feeding it that falls on a yearly basis.  Many glaciers in the Darwin Range are, in fact, growing, or are stable.  To the one side of the Pia Glacier is the Sinos Glacier – a hanging valley glacier that does no longer reach the sea, and which consists today of a massive ice sheet covered with rocks and dirt, obscuring the view of the ice below it.  After a bit, we climb a few hundred feet up to a better viewpoint where we can observe the glacier.  For the first time of the day, the sun came out making the ice sparkle.  We finally left to re-board our zodiacs, enjoying our customary hot chocolate with whisky at the shore first.

The Pia Glacier from the Zodiac

 

Climbing the Shore near Pia Glacier

 

Climbing to Viewpoint with Sinos Glacier in the Background

 

View of the face of the Pia Glacier

After raising anchor, we began a journey to our next fiord.  During lunch, the number and size of the icebergs grew tremendously, and the Captain announced that we would not be able to maneuver any closer to our destination, the Garibaldi Glacier, and he set anchor.  Although this would mean that we would not have enough time to take everyone to shore, we would still be allowed to board the zodiacs for a boat-ride to the fiord and to approach the face of the glacier.  The Garibaldi Glacier has receded almost ½ mile from its terminal moraine, which makes a natural levy at the exit to the fiord.  However, there is enough room for the zodiacs to enter the fiord, and to avoid the rocks and the kelp beds that flourish in the perfect mixture of water from the sea and melt from the glacier.  The glacier has been stable for the last 75 years, but no one knows exactly why.  After enjoying the view at the face of this tidewater glacier, we began our trip back and ran across two large pods of sea lions on the rocks on the shore.  Each pod had a dominant male and a hareem of females, many of which had either just given birth, or who were in the process.  The birthing activity and the tiny black pups attracted the interest of a flock of predator birds that circled low overhead.  After getting as close as we dared for pictures, we returned to the ship for drinks, dinner, and a movie, “Fire & Ice”.

The Stella Australis Ship while heading to Garibaldi Glacier

 

The Garibaldi Glacier

 

The Sea Lion Colony with their Newborn Pups

By Saturday morning, we had traversed the Cockburn Channel and entered De Agostini fiord and the De Agostine National Park. After breakfast, we set anchor ourside the Condor Gracier terminal morraine and prepared to board the zodiacs. In the early 1900’s, the Condor glacier extended to front of the bay and was stable but beginning about 70 years ago it began to melt rapidly and recede, and did not reform, as many of the other glaciers did. A huge waterfall pours from underneath the glacier as the water carves its rivers underneath the ice.  It is still not understood why some glaciers in this region are growing, some are stable, and others are receding, such as the Condor Glacier.  On the return to the ship, we saw several cormorants as well as some small kelp geese. 

Riding the Zodiac in front of the Condor Glacier

 

The Condor Glacier

After lunch, we moved briefly to the entrance of the Aguila Glacier and assembled or small group oshore for a hike along the beach created from an ancient terminal morraine.  The morraine formed a high arc nearly a mile long and 100-200 yards wide, but it was densely populated with trees, bushes, flowers and berries such that we needed to hike around the terminus end of it and back around the inside of the arc to a protected bay fed by the Aguila Glacier Although the Aguila Glacier appeared to terminate into the bay, it was actually sitting on a bed of rock and had been stable for as long as anyone has recorded it.  We hiked up to near the glacier’s face and observed the rocks and cavern along the edge of it  After taking a small “nature walk” through the dense nearby forest, we hiked back the way we came for our “post-hike-treat”, and our trip back to the ship.

The Aguila Glacier

Saturday night, the ship would exit the Island Channel’s and enter into the Pacific Ocean, before entering the Straits of Magellan at it western end. The Straits of Magellan is 310 nautical miles long and was the primary route for the transport of goods and people to a growing California and USA West Coast until the Panama Canal opened in 1914.  Early Sunday morning, we will pass Cape Forward – the southern-most point along the Straits of Magellan route. Then we will head north within the Straits until we reach our final destination port – Punta Arenas. We feel the rolling of the ship in the night and we arise early to see the sights, but we are disappointed to find the we are setting anchor just off the port.  During the night we lost one of the ship’s two engines, and the ship can travel no further.  We had hoped to get a chance to visit nearby Magdalena Island – home to over 60,000 penguins.  However, it was not to be, and when repairmen were unsuccessful, we were forced to wait for tugs to come and push us in to the wharf.  While waiting, we were fortunate to spot a number of whales spouting in the area, which kept us entertained until we finally departed the ship at noon.  By the way, the problem was so serious that the next two trips on the ship had to be cancelled.

As an aside, Magdalena Island is a Chilean National Park where penguin colonies can be observed close-up. There is a coastal path to the lighthouse (~850 meters hike) where the Magellanic specied of the 17 different species of penguin can be found.  They are not too tall (50-70 centimeters) and can live up to 20 years.  They typically weigh 3.5-5.5 kg and are heavy and dense.  Their chick is grey and fluffy and does not develop it characteristic marking until it is past 3 years and becomes a full adult.  Penguins spend 80% of their time in the water, and the 20% of the time on land is for molting, birthing and caring for the chick.   They waterproof their feathers with an oil they secrete and must be ever vigilant onshore for bird that will attack their eggs and chicks, and in the water where seals and whale seek them for food.  Fishermen used to use them for king crab bait in the crab traps, but that practice is now illegal. The breeding males arrive on the island early in September and begin to make their nest in preparation for the arrival of their partner (penguins mate for life). When the female arrives, she adds twigs, etc. and the couple engage in beak kisses and vocalizations (raising their head in the air and making sounds like a donkey).  They then mate, the female lays her eggs, and incubation takes 35-40 days, (both male and female care for chicks) Penguins eat just fish and squid and they molt once a year where they over feed, come to land and molt, and don’t return to the water till their new coat is ready.

The 500th Anniversary Sign at Puenta Arenas

After we leave the ship, we enter Customs, and then explore the town on Puenta Arenas.  This Port was founded in 1520 on a strategic point (Puenta) of land along the Magellan Strait,  Today, this southern Patagonia city houses 120,000 people of the 160,000 in the whole region., and is really the only large city in Patagonia. The City Square houses statues of statues of Magellan and Mermaids holding the coat of arms of Chile and Spain surrounded by natives.  The area has a long history of influences from the British explorers and their navy and today still observe tea time.  The main meals here are still lamb and potatoes and the town was beginning to make preparations for celebrating its 500 Birthday next year.  However, we had a long bus ride ahead of us as we were traveling north in Chile to the Torres del Paine National Park – over a day’s travel away.  Next stop – Puerto Natales!

We arrive in Puerto Natales by late afternoon.  Puerto Natales is also on the Magellan Strait, but is a small town of only 21,000 people.  It is a popular town for hikers and campers to kick off their exploration of Patagonia.  We check into our waterside hotel, and head off to shop the Herman Eberhard Street crafts, shops and restaurants.  This town has made all plastic bags illegal because of the strong and constant winds that make them such a nuisance.   That night, we dined on salad, salmon and dessert before calling it a night, and getting ready to set off by bus again in the morning for our all-day bus ride to Torres del Paine National Park.

PATAGONIA – THE WILDERNESS BEYOND – EASTER ISLAND

February 1, 2019 11:20 pm

Tuesday, January 9th, 2019, and today we paused our exploration of Santiago, Chili to head to one of the furthest outposts of mankind – Easter Island!  Easter Island is the most isolated, inhabited place in the world – many thousands of miles from any other inhabited place, and a long 5 ½ hour plane ride from Santiago. European’s named the island because it was discovered on Easter Sunday.

Easter Island, (“Isla de Pascua” in Spanish), or Rapa Nui as it is known by the native Polynesian ancestors of its first inhabitants is also known as “the naval of the world” harkening back to local beliefs that all spirits’ power originated there.  The island is formed from 3 ancient volcanos, (Rano Kau, Poike, and Maunga Terevaka) forming the apexes of a triangle, with the southwestern one providing the peninsula for the airport and the island’s only town – Hariga Roa. The airport is quite modern, and the runway is the longest in the southern hemisphere, as it was built by NASA as an alternative landing site for the US Space Shuttle. Our “hotel” is a lovely but quaint “mom and pop” establishment with beautiful gardens of fruit trees and flowers, located in town just up the beach from the island’s principal harbor, beach and port.  From here one could watch the bevy of local surfers, eat at a range of the town’s restaurants, or observe the Oceana Cruise ship “Marina” (1275 passenger & 800 crew) sitting in the harbor. For our stay, we had a local Rapa Nui descendent, Noi, who would serve as our guide, and who, along with our trip leader, Meche, and our dedicated driver, Jose, would be sure we got to see and understand the island’s history and sights.

Map of Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui was likely settled in the 13th or 14th century by Polynesians sailing from Tahiti. They brought with them all that they thought that they would need, but the island offered no mammals, sparse fishing, little fresh water and a lack of resources with which they could build boats to ever leave  In spite of the hardships, the original few hundred Rapa Nui grew into a civilization numbering over 10,000, before civil unrest, starvation and fighting shrunk their numbers considerably.  When Europeans landed there in the 1600’s, the introduction of disease and foreign species reduced the Rapa Nui to only a few hundred from which their descendants today are derived.

Soon after we check-in, we set out into town to visit a local grocery/bakery, where we stock-up on water & wine, and get to sample the largest empanadas we have ever seen, (~10 inches long filled with creamy cheese and tuna). Then we headed north to Ahu Akivi – the only group of Moai not along the coast and whose platform was erected during the 14th century facing the water.  These seven Moai statues were toppled around the 15th century but were restored to upright status in 1961.  They are set to align with the winter solstice.

The Moai at Abu Akvi

The Rapa Nui society was initially ruled through lineage to one of the 12 “clans” that had divided the island, and a single king.  The King was thought to be Godlike, and the Moai were erected by families as a way of collecting the power of their souls – their “manna”.  The Moai were only represented from pelvis to head with no limbs and sculpted androgynously.  There are 1045 known Moai’s worldwide, however, only 1020 are still on the island and many of these are still in the in the local quarry at various stages of completion. Once their sculpting is complete, the Moai were then moved to the sites where they will stand. Today, there are still 400 statues at the quarry. Important members of the “clan” are buried in the platforms surrounding the Moai, so all platforms are sacred. The eyes of the Moai are open mean the manna is alive in the Moai. Nearly all Moai face inland from the shores, facing the people. These Moai at Ahu Akivi are rare as they are facing ocean. The eyes of the Moai were painted or decorated with shells or coral, as the Rapa Nui believed that if there were no eye socket, then the Moai had no manna. The first restoration of Moai took place on the island in 1951. During the fall of the Rapa Nui civilization, the Moai were all pulled down with their faces facing down to destroy the manna of the rulers, so many Moai were re-raised in recent times, although many remain damaged from their fall.  In addition, many of the later Moai that were erected were fitted with “top knots”, or “tocow”, on their heads.  These were circular crowns carved from a specific reddish pumice stone that is lighter in weight so that it could be raised to the top of the Moai.  It would take 8 months to 2 years to carve a Moai, but no one is sure how they were moved to their platforms.

Rainbow over the town of Hariga Roa

After visiting Ahu Akivi, we were supposed to travel to Puna Pau – the quarry where the top-knots were carved.  Unfortunately, the quarry and the road were closed for maintenance. Therefore, we traveled to Aruenga – a private property with a single Moa located on it. It also faces east aligned with the summer solstice, but this Moai actually has 4 hands engraved upon the stone – the only one on island like this and one of the few on lands not specifically controlled by the military during the times when the island was ruled by the Chilean Navy.

We then returned to our hotel for a quick freshen-up, and a brief 10-15-minute walk to a waterfront restaurant for dinner on the outdoor second floor balcony overlooking the oceanfront. Dinner was a salad followed by a tuna fillet with smashed sweet potatoes and strawberry passion fruit ice cream. As the sun set on the horizon, we watched the sailboats at anchor and the long boats, kayaks and surfers enjoy the last light.

The next morning, we traveled east to the coastal area of Vaihu, where a typical “family center” of life of the Rapa Nui has been recreated.  All structures are made of stone stacked up in creative ways.  We were surprised to see long stone piles resembling upside down boats that serve as chicken houses known as “hare moai”.  Our guide, Noi, removed a stone from the wall, and out came a steady stream of adult and baby chicks.

Chicken emerging from their hare moai at Vaihu

The rocks are also used to make circular gardens whose tall walls protect plants from animals and winds and yet keep moisture inside.  Grasses were used to make similar boat-shaped houses, “hare vaka “, including a stone porch for more wealthy. The houses were only used for sleeping, as everything else was done outside. Each family group would have 4-5 houses at their center.

Next, we continued east down the coast to Akahanga where we encounter a series of Moai facing inland, but still toppled and with their topknots removed. With the eyes facing the ground, the belief is that the manna is gone. Here we found at least 27 Moai in three platforms of 9 each and with a crematory on the point of land located behind one.  These crematories are still used and revered, and we were careful to respect the area.  Above the Moai was a large cave believed to have been used by workers and serving as the source of stones used in the “Ahu” (platform) construction below.

We then continued our journey east to the famous quarry of Rano Raraku, where ~400 Moai remain in various stages of sculpting and movement. All Moai are carved at top of mountain while still attached to the earth along their back. The Moai is then cut out at last and gently moved down hill into a staging hole where it was slid into an upright position and sculpting was completed.  Moai’s left in this position have had their holes filled over the years, but 33 years ago one was dug out and exposed and demonstrated that it now extends 75 feet underground.  After walking around the quarry and looking at the many Moai abandoned there, we came upon the most unusual Moai on the island, a sculpted man with a goatee in a kneeling position.

The Moai at the Rano Raraku quarry

 

Unfinished Moai still at Rano Raraku with over half underground

Next, we continued our travels east along the coast to one of the more famous settings at Tongariki.  This large platform located on the southeastern coast was the setting for 17 Moai by the quarry’s owners, demonstrating their great wealth and strong manna.  In 1960, an offshore Chilean earthquake generated a tsunami which came ashore and toppled and scattered the Moai over a large area.  After this, one Moai was taken on world tour to raise funds to restore them, and today, 15 Moai stand back at the site, (2 Moai were too damaged to re-raise them, and they still sit in the field nearby. Originally, all these Moai had topknots, but today, only a single Moai could be restored with this component.

The large platform at Tonganki

 

The Moai at Tonganki

From here, we drove north across the island to the northeast shore to Anakena, the site of a platform with restored Moai, and the islands only swimming, white and pink sand beach.  Here we changed into our bathing suits and swam between the black lava rocks in the gentle surf of the Pacific and sunned ourselves on the beach.  In ancient times, an offshore carbonate reef provided the materials for the sandy beach here.  After a refreshing break, we returned to the hotel for dinner on our own.

The beach at Anakena

For dinner, we strolled south along the waterfront of the surfing bay and checked the menus at several places before settling on Haku Hanu.  Here we sat on the patio watching the surfers and enjoying our Pisco Sour and jumbo shrimp meal. After dinner, we walked to a small restaurant behind the town’s soccer field to meet up with our fellow travelers and enjoyed another round of Pisco Sours.  On our way back to the hotel, we passed the local gym where, hearing music, we stopped in to see the local townsfolk practicing native dances in preparation for the local festival next month. It was very interesting as there were over 100 women there dancing along with a few men. January and February are the summer months in Rapa Nui, and the schools are out of session, and the island’s festivals are in full swing. We then strolled along the main commercial street looking for souvenirs before returning to the hotel and calling it a day.

We started Thursday with breakfast before driving south to Vaiatare and up to the top of the Rano Kao volcano crater’s rim. In the later stages of the Rapa Nui civilization, this site known as Orongo, was sacred, and was where the King lived and where sweet potatoes were first grown. In ancient times, Manutara migratory birds would come to the offshore islands during September and the Rapa Nui families would send a representative to compete in the Bird Man Competition to decide the next year’s King and ruler. The Bird Man Competition consisted on being the first man to bring an unbroken egg from the Manutara bird’s nest, which entailed climbing down the rocky cliffs, swimming the frigid, dangerous Pacific waters to the offshore island, scaling the cliff faces to get to a nest and returning with the egg intact being the first of the year. The last of these competitions took place in 1886, but no birds come there any longer.

Remnant Birdman Houses at Orongo

 

Offshore Islands where Bird Man competitors would seek the first egg

In the early years, Peru took thousands of Islanders as slaves and Jesuits brought European diseases leaving less than 200 native survivors. Today there are around 4000 natives recognized as descendants. 54 of the local houses used by the competitors are still there, although many drawings and petrographs had been stolen by foreigners. This spot is the coldest and windiest place on island, so people lived elsewhere most of the rest of year. The Rano Kau crater is protected and only native Rapa Nui people are allowed to hike into it for spiritual reasons. The crater contains plants not found elsewhere in the world, although the water in it is only 8-10 meters deep.  For the ancient Rapa Nui, this was one of the few sources of fresh water on the island.

On the other side of the volcano, we visited the Vinapu site where there were two platforms: Vinapu and Taheda.  The platform at Vinapu was constructed with a different style using large rectangular blocks mixed with large squares, carved to fit together perfectly and without small stones – more like Inca culture used. These platforms were constructed at the beginning of Modern Era late in the Rapa Nui civilization. The second platform was destroyed when European explorers went looking for gold, noting the similarities to Inca architecture. At Taheda, an unusual Moai was found consisting of a female with breasts and arms and 2 heads. This Moai was recorded by earlier sketches but is missing its heads today.

We then traveled back to the north side of town where we visited the Island’s Museum that told the story of an early German explorer who took many pictures of the island and later published a book on Rapa Nui when he returned to Germany. This Museum’s exhibition told the story of the native people and the Moai and is free to all.

Below the Museum towards the coast, we walked to lunch with a local Rapa Nuian (Uri) who can trace her ancestry back to the original Rapa Nui founders. She still lives on her family land where she inherited her house, and now works on solving the issue of trash and recycling, since the island has grown population-wise. Her family served us a lunch of rum guava aperitif with an empanada starter followed by tuna ceviche w/ rice and salad.  She served a Chilean wine “Akenna”. The salad was grown in the Music School’s organic garden. The Music School was built out of recycled plastics and aluminum.  She let us ask questions and then she asked us questions. The meal was outside in a tent with every table set with a vase of flowers. Her property encompasses the land all the way to the ocean, including her family’s Moai with brings manna to her family.  From here, we walked back to our hotel for a “free” afternoon. 

Uri’s family Moai – Tahai

In the afternoon, Rocky and three others decided to arrange a trip to explore one of the island’s lava tubes.  Lava tubes are horizontal caves formed when molten lava flows over the ground and the top solidifies in the air creating a tube that the hotter molten rock keeps flowing inside of. Once the molten rock all runs out, a long tubular cavern with a thin roof is left.  The Rapa Nui would use these caves as a source of fresh water, a safe place to defend themselves, and as natural protection from wind and weather.  We hired our driver, Jose, to take us to the Ana Te Pahu lava tube.  It is located inside the National Park, and about a mile hike from the Park’s entrance.  We enter through a hole in the lava tube’s roof where a collapse has occurred and are greeted by a multitude of banana trees and tropical plants that thrive in the sunlight with access to water and protected from the surface wind.  After exploring a short dead-end direction, we begin the 1/3-mile hike within the tube, climbing over small roof collapses, circumnavigating pools of water, and avoiding knocking our heads on the low-hanging rocks that occasionally greet us in the darkness of the cave.  We meet a British group who are also exploring the lava tube and assist them until they exit through a large “window” in the tube’s roof.  We explore on until we can go no further, and back-track to exit at the British route to arrive on the surface in a mist of light rain.  We begin our trek back to Jose excited by a unique adventure that was well worth our time.

The Ana Te Pahu Lava Tube

That evening, we return to our luncheon site for sunset viewing over the Moai at Tahai Beach – 3 platforms all connected by a single rock berm.  Here, one of the Moai still has its eyes in place – eyes that are made from white coral) and has its red top-knot. This site also houses some original Rapa Nui rock houses, and many people are out on the hillside doing the same. Here, our guides treated us to a beautiful sunset celebration complete with champagne and nibbles, while meeting some local children and dogs, and watching a new bride who was having her wedding photos shot.

Local Canoes entering the water at Tahai Beach

 

Sunset of our last night in Rapa Nui

The next morning, Saturday, we were up very early to travel back to Tongariki to see the sunrise over the ocean behind the 14 Moai statues. The gates open at 6:00am, as a small crowd gathers to look at the beautiful stars.  However, as the sun rose, the clouds came blocking the orange and pink colors of the sunrise making it less spectacular than we had hoped. From here, we traveled back to hotel for breakfast, showers and a final packing. Once ready, we had time for a leisurely walk around town, stopping on the waterfront for coffee and to watch youngsters taking surfing lessons. As it was Saturday morning, the town was sleepy, and few people were out before 9:00am. Before departing, we stopped in the post office to get our passports stamped for Easter Island, and then traveled to the airport for our trip back to Santiago, Chile.  What a great adventure!

Greenland – The Island of Snow & Ice

September 25, 2018 2:34 pm

August-September 2018

Greenland – The Island of Ice & Snow

We had already had a visit to Iceland planned, so it only made sense to take an extension and use the opportunity to visit Greenland.  Greenland only has a population of ~57,000 with most of them living in a few towns on the southern east coast.  We, however, are going to visit the southern west coast where small, isolated towns are populated by Inuit residents, many of them living similar lives as their ancestors.

The Southeastern Coast of Greenland

The nine of us flew a 2-hour “domestic” international flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to the airport at Kulusuk island housing the community of the same name – Kulusuk, Greenland.  Our plane was a rather new 60-seat plane that had quite a diverse collection of people on-board, including a number of hikers and kayakers. Once we collected our luggage, we caught a local van for the 1-mile trip to the Kulusuk Hotel, a small, rustic building located between the airport and the Kulusuk Community. The community of Kulusuk was the last native settlement in Greenland discovered by the Western World around 1900.  At that time, the community was around 400 people – today the population has dropped to 200 people.  After checking in, we took a hike down to the pier and tanks located nearby on the island’s bay.  From here, we walked further out onto the peninsula looking at the local flowers and marveling at the parade of icebergs floating through the straights.  After returning to the hotel for a buffet lunch, we gathered in the van and took a drive 1000 feet up the coastal mountains to a abandoned USA radar station – “Difour”.  It was originally built in 1956 as part of NORAD’s 10 radar stations that ran from Alaska to Greenland to provide early warning for any missile attacks coming over the North Pole.  When US personnel were stationed here, they were not allowed to leave the base and visit town or mix with the local villagers. The facility was removed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  From the top of the cleared military base location, we had a spectacular 360-degree view of the mountains on one side, and the north Atlantic on the other, with its huge icebergs moving along the coast.  After our drive, it was back to the hotel for a brisk 30-minute walk down to the community of Kulusuk.  The town has a grocery, post office, school, church (Lutheran), museum and a boat dock and small harbor. This town can only be accessed by air or by boat, but boats can only travel here between June through September, as the polar ice-pack make access impossible.  Since snow in this area can easily reach 5-meters in height, these towns must have a high degree of self-sufficiency during their brutal winters with only a small amount of emergency supplies available by air for two-thirds of the year.  In town, we explored the local grocery and church before walking back to the hotel to unpack and get ready for dinner.  After dinner, a local Inuit Dancer came to perform a “Drum Dance”.  The “Drum Dance” was a local tradition which is slowly disappearing, but she performed a haunting sing-song chant with a rhythmic drum-beat while dressed entirely in beaded seal-skin, from boots to headdress.

View from our Peninsula Walk in Kulusuk

 

Coastal View from Former US Radar Base

 

Icebergs Floating Past the Island

 

The Community of Kulusuk

 

That night saw a weather-front move-in, bringing rain, 50-60 mph wind-gusts and 40-degree temperatures, which cancelled our planned helicopter flight to the village of Tallisaq.  Although only 25 kilometers away, Tallisaq is on a different island, and transport in this region is weather dependent, and relies on regular helicopter flights as the local form of “bus” transportation.  The weather confined us to the hotel for movies, reading and games of cards until late in the afternoon, when it let up enough for a brief stroll outside.  The storm brought fresh snow to the mountain-sides and moved a new series of icebergs into the waters around our island.  After dinner, our Danish van driver recounted his recent 20-month retirement “trip-around-the-world” with power-point slides and personal stories.  He would be leaving the island with us and returning home to Denmark, as the end of Greenland’s visiting season was quickly arriving and winter would be here soon.

Helicopter “Bus” to Tallisaq

The next morning brought good weather, and after breakfast, we made the short journey back to the Kulusuk Airport for our Greenland Air helicopter flight to Tallisaq.  Our helicopter was a 9-passenger version which completed the 9-minute flight quickly but gave us spectacular views of the waterways and landscapes around us.  Upon arrival, the hotel van transported us up the side of a hill to our lodging, a hotel owed by the same brothers with whom we stayed in Kulusuk.  Here, we dropped our luggage, and shuttled to the beginning of a trailhead to hike into the Valley of Flowers.  The hike starts past a few village dog kennels, which are often at the edge of villages.  These sled dogs are not pets, and they are kept chained outside and fed a diet of raw meat 3 times a week.  These towns and villages each have assigned quotas for native hunting for polar bears and narwhales, (seals are unlimited).  Once past the kennels, we explored the village’s cemetery – an organized collection of graves, each with an identical unmarked white cross.  The Inuit believe that names should not be on the graves, and they should be “freed” to be used by the living.  Past the cemetery, the trail undulated up and down past ponds and lakes and hillsides of colorful flowers, before we arrived at a waterfall, and began the journey back.  At the hotel, we had a buffet lunch before leaving for a walking tour of town.  The church here is hexagonal with a picturesque landscape of the area painted on the ceiling. Tallisaq has ~1000 residents and is the 6th largest village in Greenland, and the largest on the East Coast. In fact, all East Greenland is home to only 3000 residents.  In Greenland, no one can own land, and one must get a permit from the government to build, and there is quite a bit of government-supplied housing available at ~3000 Kr/month.  The economy of Greenland is fully supported by Denmark, even though Greenland has some autonomy in the operation of its affairs. In fact, there is no army in Greenland, and the police force is completely provided by Denmark. In Tallisaq, the homes have running water and flush toilets, where nearly none of the surrounding settlements do.  Like Kulusuk, there is no access to the town by sea from October through June.  When the first ship arrives in summer, the town fires its 3 cannons, and the town gathers at the dock to unload long-awaited supplies. The cannons fire again on the town’s biggest holiday – the Summer Solstice on June 22nd, and a final time when the last ship of the season departs in October.  Hunting and fishing are critical to their surviving the harsh winter.  This year, Tallisaq had a 30 polar bear limit, which was already filled.  Tradition has it that the person who sights a polar bear, the person who kills it, and the person who touches it first are all entitled to share its meat.  It is illegal to pay to hunt in Greenland.  Here, the traditional drum dance and the local shaman have both disappeared.  School here is only grades 1-9, with 10th grade optional and necessary for University entry in Western Greenland.  Those not going to University, go to “Nuk”, or local trade school, and in either case, all schooling and teachers in the country are paid by the Danish Government.  While in town, we visited a local craftsman shop where narwhale tusks were being carved, went to the town’s post office, and visited an old turf-house which was made to house ~25 people through the winter.  Next, we walked to the harbor where we boarded a local ship.  We had to navigate our way out since the previous week’s storms had grounded an iceberg right at the harbor’s entrance.  Once on the open water, we toured the fiord where we saw numerous icebergs.  Upon returning, we traveled back to the hotel for dinner, and watched a 1938 B&W movie filled in the town with locals playing all the roles.  The film was a drama, but it depicts well the customs and people of the time, and many of the town’s residents today are related to those in the film.

Town and New Pitch at Tallisaq

 

Iceberg blocking Tallisaq Harbor

 

Anonymous Graves on the Countryside

 

Huskies for Dog Sleds and Winter Transport

 

Codfish Drying

 

Julie on Iceberg Cruise

The next morning ended our trip here, and we helicoptered back to the airport in Kulusuk.  Here we had a long layover and great weather, and so we took the opportunity to take one final walk for 2.5 hours out to the end of the island’s peninsula before returning to our former hotel for lunch and goodbyes.  We then departed Greenland and arrived back in Reykjavik at 7pm, had a group dinner and revisited our adventures with all our new friends.  The next morning, it was on to the International Airport and everyone’s trip home.

Sisters

Iceland – Part 4: Selfoss & Iceland’s “Golden Circle”

2:09 pm

August 2018

Selfoss & Iceland’s “Golden Circle”

On Sunday morning, we departed from the northern town of Akureyri with a 35-minute Icelandic Air domestic flight back to Reykjavik.  From here, we met back up with our bus driver, Guestor, and headed east to the “Golden Circle”. First, we visited Thingvellir National Park to take a walk into the famous rift valley between the tectonic plates of North-America and Euro-Asia. The two plates area about 7 km apart today, and still moving at over 1 inch per year, creating the space for Lake Pingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake. The area also served as the historic meeting place of Icelandic Elders from 980 until 1262, when all the local tribes and families would be represented annually for law setting and dispute resolution.  Followed this visit, we traveled to Geysir, the area from which all geysers get their name, and watched as Iceland’s most active hot spring geyser, Strokkur, erupts 60 ft. into the sky about every 5-7 minutes.  While there, we ate lunch, and then climbed the local hill to get a great view of the surrounding Haukadalur valley.  From here, we traveled a short distance to Gullfoss (“Golden”) Waterfall – a waterfall with 3-tiers of rushing white-water into a 100 foot deep crevasse.   Then, it was on to a small waterfall at Mane, (the Faxi Waterfall), before heading into the town of Selfoss, the largest town in southern Iceland, (7000 people), other that Reykjavik.  The town is located on the Olfusa River and was the home and final resting place of the famous Chess-Master, Bobby Fisher.  Here, we checked into our hotel on the river, and enjoyed a restful happy hour and extensive buffet dinner. 

Flight across Iceland

 

Rift Valey at Thingvellir

 

Strokkur Geyser

 

Gullfoss – The Golden Waterfall

 

Gullfoss; water tiers

Selfoss Hotel on the Olfusa River

The next morning, we traveled along Iceland’s south coast – a lowland area of large 10,000-acre farms leading up to numerous volcanic slopes.  Our first stop of the day was at Seljalandsfoss – a large waterfall that one can walk underneath via the cavern that extends behind the falls.  After visiting the smaller Skogar waterfall, we headed to the south coast to the Dyrholaey peninsula at Reynisfjara where steep cliffs are bound by black sand beaches, and the small, soil ledges are great locations for the Puffin nests that are located in holes into the ground. Here we saw hundreds of orange-beaked Puffins coming and going, which was unusual this late in the year, as they typically spend all of their time at sea except for when their nesting.  From here, we went to the most southern village of Vik (~200 people) where the tourists outnumbered the locals, and had a lunch of arctic char, veggies and spice cake at “The Volcano Hotel”.  After lunch, we gathered for a Super-Jeep tour across a “moon-like” volcanic landscape past the Mydrals jokull up to the Kötlu jokull glacier in the Katla volcano.  Here we hiked onto the face of the glacier recognizing the layers of ash and summer dirt layered with the winters’ snow.  After our super-jeep tour, we returned to Vik for a bit of quick shopping before heading to the Skogafoss (“jewel of the family”) waterfall.  Skogafoss is a 197’ high and is the largest waterfall in Iceland with a drop into a canyon of 25 meters wide.  As we walked by on the trail, we were drenched by the micro-climate spray that hovers continuously beside it.  From here, we traveled back to Selfoss to our hotel for dinner where we tested our first taste on Icelandic “pylsa” – a hotdog with all the fixings, including a few that that would surprise most Americans!

The Waterfall at Seljalandsfoss

 

Black Sand Beaches at Reynisfjara

 

Puffin on the Dyrholaey Peninsula

 

The Kötlu jokull glacier

The next morning, we departed from Selfoss and drove to the hot spring town of Hveragerdi to the Almar Bakery where we enjoyed chocolate cake while admiring it bakery’s building which is split in two, built over an active fault that last moved in 2010.  We then traveled along the Reykjanes peninsula to Strandatkirkja to visit a small, local church located on a sparsely populated coast.  Here we saw more puffins and a lone seal playing in the surf.  From here, we moved onto Grindavik, one of the wealthier municipalities due to their successfully fisheries and high allowed quota.  In Grindavik, we met with the local First Responders, part of a national all-volunteer force.  Iceland has no army or navy, so the Coast Guard and First Responder Force are responsible for all rescues.  After learning the history of their historic rescues, we dressed in jumpsuits and helmets up for a drive on 4×4 ATVs around the peninsula’s coast, observing a series of shipwrecks that still litter the coast. When we returned, we had a short picnic of Icelandic flatbread, smoked lamb and cheese, with an orange-shanty drink. After lunch, we began our trip to the Blue Lagoon, with a stop at an US B-24 Memorial from WWII – a story of triumph and tragedy.  Finally, we reached the Blue Lagoon, a commercialized natural hot spring with its milky blue color.  It holds 1.9 million gallons of water which is renewed every 40 hours and includes steam rooms, saunas and silica masks. After spending the afternoon there relaxing, we headed back to our starting point at the Hilton Reykjavik hotel, where we had our “farewell dinner” and prepared to travel to Greenland the next day.

4×4 Ride in Grindavik

 

Our Traveling Group in Iceland

 

Julie entering The Blue Lagoon

 

The Blue Lagood Hot Spring Pools

 

Our Last View of Reykjavik

Iceland – Part 3: On to the Northern Coast of Iceland

1:40 pm

August 2018

On to the Northern Coast of Iceland

Today, we departure from Stykkisholmur and traveled to Eriksstader where we visited a replica of the Viking farm of Eric the Red – father of Leif Erikson.  Here we entered a functional, replica sod-house that was about 8’ x 14’ which would house up to 14 people during the cold Icelandic winter months. The local curator, Siggi, gave us insights into the life in the era of the Vikings and the life of Eric the Red.  Next, after a short drive past the local sheep farms, we came to the horse farm, Gauksmyri, where we enjoyed a lunch buffet including horse meat! After lunch, the owners put on a horse show demonstrating the 5 gaits of Icelandic horses – walk, trot, tolt, gallop and flying. The Icelandic horses are smaller than many other horse breeds, but it is the only one that instinctively has a tolt gait, and the Gauksmyri farm has 1200 horses.  No other breed of horse is allowed in Iceland! From here, we rejoined the N1-Ring Road and traveled to Akureyri, stopping along the way to visit the Kolugljufur canyon – a beautiful incised waterfall that is a bit “off the beaten path” and discouraged from the trip due to the risk of falling-in.  Next, we followed the shore of the Eyjafjordur fjord before we arrived in Akureyri, Iceland’s 2nd largest city, (pop. 19,000), located only ~60 miles from the Arctic Circle.  Akureyri was the home town of our tour guide, Heiddis’, and after a short drive about town, we arrived at the hotel just in time for happy hour and a dinner of salmon and lamb steak.

Traditional Sod House at Eriksstader

 

The Gauksmyri Icelandic Horse Farm

 

Waterfall at Kolugljufur Canyon

 

Welcome to Akureyri

The next morning began with a short drive to Godafoss – “Waterfall of the Gods” where we explored the local trails surrounding it.  From here, we traveled past Lake Myvatn to visit a local gentleman who bakes bread in the ground from the thermal steam escaping the natural vents. After tasting the brown-bread (with a little butter), we traveled a short way over the Namafjall mountain into an active geothermal area located in the ancient crater of the Krafla Volcano, where the 60 MW Krafla Geothermal Power Plant was located. The original pilot part of the Plant (7 MW) was built in the 1970’s, and after demonstrating success, was expanded and replicated in a number of locations in Iceland.  After a brief tour of the Plant, we traveled down to the Namaskard Thermal Field where we observed blowing fumaroles and boiling mud pots.  From here, we traveled a short distance to take a close look at the 2000-year-old lava formations at Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles), formed from the dome collapse of a large, hollow, lava-tube. Then we drove back to the edge of Kake Myvatn (“Lake of Midges”) where we ate lunch at a local hotel and took a walk on Skutustadagigar, the best-known cluster of pseudo craters in Iceland, (while fighting-off the incredible number of flying midges surrounding the area.)  Lake Myvatn legend has it that this was where the last heathen chieftain, Borgeir, threw the symbols of the heathen gods into the waters in the year of 1000 when Icelanders converted to Christianity.  From here, we returned to Akureyri a bit early for a walk through the town’s Botanical Gardens and a round of drinks at the hotel bar, before preparing for our “Home Dinner” visit.

Brown Bread Baked in Thermal Steam Vent

 

Godafoss – The Waterfall of the Gods – or Little Niagra

 

The Krafla Geothermal Power Plant

 

The Namaskard Thermal Field

 

Pseudo-craters at Lake Myvatn

For dinner, we headed to Johan and Gudrun’s home, where they and their two daughters hosted us for a home-cooked meal of orange trout almandine, potatoes and salad, with home-baked bread, tea and chocolates. While there, we all had a lively discussion about where each of us were from, world issues, life-philosophies and a number of other far-reaching topics, before we said our “goodbyes” and returned to our hotel.

The morning we drove 45-minutes back out to the northern-tip of the peninsula along the Eyjafjordur fiord to the port town of Dalvik to take a whale-watching trip.  To prepare for the chilly boat trip, all 40 of us put on arctic jumpsuits before heading onto an open-air restored fishing vessel for the 40-minute trip north towards the open sea.  The weather was beautiful with clear, crisp skies, and we often spotted whales “spouting” in the distance.  However, after a frustrating series of failed chased, the humpback whale finally surfaced and cruised beside us before we began our trip back. On the return trip, we stopped to fish a local 60-ft deep bank, and after a couple of “small” catches, one of our group caught a 15-pound cod – large for this vessel – which we prepared with the others for a fish-fry back onshore.  We then walked down the street to a little Café, “Gisle, Eirikur & Helgi”, for lunch.  For a fixed price, we received all-you-can-eat fish soup, salad, bread and tea.  The good weather enticed us to enjoy lunch outside before we made the trip back to Akureyri.  In Akureyri, we took advantage of the free afternoon and good weather to shop and walk through the town, enjoying the music, classic cars, and vendors that lined the streets for the weekend’s local festival.  On our walk, we stopped at a few art galleries, and met a visiting artist, Salman Ezzammoury, and talked with him about his art while enjoying a glass of wine.  That night, we packed and readied ourselves to tomorrow’s flight back to Rejkjavik.

Boarding the Whale-Watching Boat at Dalvik

 

Humpback Whale Cruising beside us

 

Humpback Whale Diving for Food

 

Rainbow on Akureyri during Town Festival

Iceland – Part 2: Visit west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Town of Stykkisholmur

September 24, 2018 9:47 pm

August 2018

Visit west to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Town of Stykkisholmur

This day, after our breakfast buffet, we drove west out of the city of Reykjavik through the sparely settled countryside. The Icelanders have lots of sheep, and lots of smaller Icelandic horses (NOT ponies)! The average farm size in Iceland is ~2600 acres, and the dominant crop is grain and hay for the animals in the winter, followed by root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, and beets). Most of their other vegetable are actually grown in geothermal heated greenhouses.  The average family has ~1.9 children, and after the country’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, it has grown to be one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.  The coast is a series of deep fiords, making road travel difficult.  However, the country does have a well maintained “Ring Road” that circumnavigates the country. Along the way, we traveled a 2-mile tunnel under one of these fiords to travel alongside the Borgarfjordur fjord, named for the stories of the large whale that lived in the fiord who was known for sinking ships and terrorizing early settlers.  We also used the occasion to learn a little Icelandic, such as Godan daginn (good day). Finally, we arrived at the workshop of Gudrun – a University Professor and wool dyer that only uses traditional historic materials. We watched as she dyed her Icelandic wool with local herbs and plants. After looking at a small local hydroelectric plant nearby, we traveled to visit to the Settlement Center of Borgarfjord and toured an exhibit that described the turbulent period of the Vikings. After lunch there, we walked to the local monument and took pictures, before re-boarding the bus and traveling to the holy mountain, Helgafell, where we climbed to the top, picked crowberries, faced east and made our wishes. From here, we traveled to our hotel in harbor city of Stykkisholmur (pronounced “Sticky – sholmer).  This town is the largest on the peninsula, and after checking-in, we walked through the town to identify landmarks, stores and restaurants. and then dined on a lamb-starter, lightly salted cod (bacalá) and ice-cream for dinner.  After dinner, the extra light allowed us to walk back to the town’s harbor where we climbed to the lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the setting sun, before returning to the hotel for a night’s sleep.

Gudrun Demonstrating the Dying of Wool

 

Monument at Settlement Center of Borgarfjord

 

Overview of the Town of Stykkisholmur

 

Facing East from the Holy Mountain of Helgafell

 

The Harbor & Lighthouse at Stykkisholmur

 

The Church at Sunset in Stykkisholmur

 

Sunset from the Lighthouse at Stykkisholmur

The next morning, we ate an early breakfast, and boarded the bus for a trip around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, home of Snaefellsjokull glacier from where the adventure of Jules Vernes’ “Journey to the Center of the Earth” was inspired. From there, we stopped for a visit on the coast at Ytri-Tunga, where we observed both Harbor and Grey Seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  After a quick coffee stop, we went to the town on Arnarstapi to hike along the coastal cliffs of the peninsula observing the blowholes and lava basalt pillars and the numerous Kittiwake seabirds nesting there.  Then, it was on to Hellnar for lunch at the smallest, quaint seaside café in the region – “Kaffihus Hellnum Fjoruhusid”.  Lunch was a shrimp & fish soup with delicious homemade bread and Skyr yogurt cream for dessert. We then continued our journey around the peninsula, stopping at various places to take pictures and enjoy the views, including the sighting of a 50-60 ft whale making his way west along the coast. At Malarrif, we climbed up a local lighthouse that happened to be open with a local artist’ – Jonina Gudnadottir – display inside and took in the spectacular views of the Snaefellsjokull glacier the top.  The Lighthouse was built in 1917 and was 24 meters high with 100 steps up to the light.  Scattered around the lighthouse’s base were a plethora of whale bones gathered from the local area, reminding us of the life led by the locals.  From here, we visited an ancient volcano crater that was capable of being driven into, and which is typical of the landscape that would surround us the rest of the day.  From Malarrif, we traveled to a local ice cream shop, then into the Bjarnahofn area where we visited the Bjarnarfoss waterfall, before traveling further to visit the home and shop of the local harvester of Greenland shark and their Shark Museum.  The Greenland sharks are a protected species but are sometimes caught as a by-product of cod fishing, and when available, are brought here for processing and utilization. These sharks have inedible flesh due to the high concentrations of urea, so it is hung-up and dried for 3 months that allows the meat to become edible and is considered a national delicacy.  We tasted the dried shark meat – “hakarl”, which carries a very strong taste, and is best enjoyed with a shot of schnapps!  After this, we traveled back to our hotel, and headed into town on a “free night” for dinner.  Dinner was at Restaurant Narfeyrarstofa where we had salads and scallops, followed by a shortened round of golf play at the course behind the hotel, and packing for the next day.

Grey Seal on the Rocks at Ytri-Tunga

 

Coastal Cliffs at Arnarstapi

 

Coastal View at Hellnar

 

The Lighthouse at Malarrif

 

Drying Shark Meat at Bjarnahofn

 

Playing a Hole of Golf behind the Hotel

The next morning, we were packed and ready to depart from Stykkisholmur and continue our journey northeast towards the Arctic Circle.

Approaching the Arctic Circle – Iceland – Part 1: Reykjavik

September 23, 2018 6:59 pm

Part 1: Approaching the Arctic Circle

August 2018

A summary of our 2018 Visit to England, Iceland and Greenland

Two of the places that we’ve never been are Iceland and Greenland.  Anyone that we’ve talked with whose been to Iceland has had nothing but very nice memories of soaring landscapes, sea mammals and northern lights. We figured that if we were going to Iceland, that we might as well check out Greenland, and also use the occasion to visit good friends in England.

A Visit to Reykjavik, Iceland

After our visit with them, we took a 4-hour direct flight from Heathrow, London to Reykjavik, Iceland, and were met at the airport by our taxi driver who took us the 45-minute drive to our hotel located on the outskirts of town.  Here, we met our tour guide, Heiddis (pronounced Hath-deese), a middle-aged single mom of one teenage son, who has been working in the tourism industry for a long time.  After checking-in, we took a private walk to the shore located a few blocks away.  The name of the city “Reykjavik” means “Bay of Smoke” and describes the city’s location and weather perfectly.  The day was cloudy and drizzling, but the cool air felt crisp and refreshing.  After returning to the hotel, Heiddis took our group into downtown via the city bus, for an orientation walk through town.  After a wander past the popular “Penis Museum”, we walked to Langordatur – Iceland’s first indoor swimming pool built in 1937.  From there, it was on to the impressive largest church in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja, then to the Parliament building, and the City Hall by the Pond of Reykjavik. After a quick bakery stop, we walked on to a monument to Iceland’s first settler before bussing back to the hotel for “Happy Hour” and our Welcome Orientation and a dinner of Arctic Char.

View over Reykjavik

 

Largest Church in Iceland, Hallgrimskirkja

 

The Rainbow Road in Reykjavik

Monday morning started with the hotel’s breakfast buffet before we city-bussed back into town to the Ocean Cluster House located in the city’s old harbor area, for an interesting presentation with Villi about the fishing industry in Iceland. While waiting to meet with him, we were lucky enough to meet with a local fisherman who was unloading his weekend’s catch of monkfish, cobia and cod.  Villi spoke of improved sustainability and utilization of their fishing industry’s cod catch, and we observed a range of products, such as design lamps and leather jackets, not to mention getting a chance to taste dried fish, cod liver oil, pensyme and canned cod liver.  While there, we had a lively discussion about Iceland’s whaling industry.  After this, we visited the National Museum to learn about the history of Iceland from 850 AD to the present.  This was followed by a lunch of fish & chips, and then a small group of us went by bus to the Perlan Museum for “The Wonders of Iceland” display. The museum had a number of interactive displays that highlighted the forces of nature (volcanos, earthquakes and geothermal energy) and included a walk through a full-size, real ice cave and a life-scale seabird cliffside.  From there, we caught the bus back to the Harpa (Reykjavik’s Concert Hall), whose glass wall is made from a series of concentric hexagons, representing the basalt columns that characterize the island.  From here, it was back to the hotel for a Happy Hour social, dinner and packing for tomorrow’s journey west.

Unloading Fish in Harbor

 

Julie in the Ice Cave

 

Seabirds on the Cliffside in The Perlan

 

Artistic Window Architecture of the Harpa Concert Hall

Approaching the Arctic Circle – England

6:42 pm

August 2018

A summary of our 2018 Visit to England, Iceland and Greenland

Two of the places that we’ve never been are Iceland and Greenland.  Anyone that we’ve talked with whose been to Iceland has had nothing but very nice memories of soaring landscapes, sea mammals and northern lights. We figured that if we were going to Iceland, that we might as well check out Greenland, and also use the occasion to visit good friends in England.

Visit to England

Our trip started with a flight from Washington Dulles Airport to London Heathrow via British Airways.  We were met at the airport by our friend, Guy, whom we had met and spent a good deal of time with when we lived in Nigeria.  After a brutal commute from London Heathrow to South Essex to the southeast of London, we finally arrived at Guy and Sue’s home – an old Oast nestled into the rolling fields of the countryside.  Their Oast consists of twin 3-story cylinders that were historically used to dry hops to make beer.  The hops were grown locally, dried in the Oasts, and then bundled and baled in the attached “barn”, (which now serves as a 2-story attachment.)  The collection has been renovated to include ~5 bedrooms, 3-baths, a kitchen, living room, den and laundry room. When we arrived, they were just seeing off previous guests and family who had attended a weekend birthday gathering.  Here we also met Guy and Sue’s first grandson, (only 3-months old), and his parents.  It was exciting to see our friends’ daughters all grown up and starting families of their own, as we had known them when they were children. For lunch we went to a little restaurant called “The Vineyard” where all the ingredients are sourced locally.  Here we ate pork terrine, a Pimm’s cup, and fish wraps.  That afternoon, we sat in the garden drinking wine and chatting about what’s happened in the 3 years since we were last together.

The Oast

Tuesday morning, Rocky and Julie got an early start on the 1-hour train ride from the town of Stonegate to London where we walked across London Bridge to The Tower of London.  At the Tower, we took the tour with a Beefeater guide learning about the 900 years of history of The Tower complex.  We skipped the Crown Jewels tour because of long lines, but we visited the museum looking at centuries of armor and weapons.   After visiting The Tower, we walked to Katherine’s Wharf to meet Guy and Sue for drinks and lunch at “The Dicken’s Inn”, after which we made a long walk along the river past The Tower, through the Cheap Side, through the Financial District and past the Bank of England to St. Paul’s Cathedral where Diane and Charles were married.  From there, we walked over the Millennial Bridge (the wiggly-wobbly bridge, as it is locally known), to the other side of the Thames, where we stopped for tea and coffee before heading past Shakespeare’s Globe to Borough’s Market – a series of shops selling cheese, fish, spices, teas, oil, vinegar, etc.  Here, we stopped for drinks and dinner at Q-Fish – a restaurant near where “Bridget Jones” movies were filmed, after which we walked back to London Bridge Station to take the train back to Stonegate, where their daughter picked us up and brought us home to the Oast.

Tower Bridge

 

Inside the Tower of London

 

Our Beefeater Guide

The next morning, we awoke to a country breakfast, and spent the morning helping pack away the kitchen in readiness for an upcoming kitchen remodel.  After lunch, we went for a walk along the area’s country lanes to a pub called “The Bull”, a favorite of ours from last time we visited. Here we enjoyed the beautiful afternoon before heading back to the Oast for dinner and a quiet evening.

The next morning was Julie’s birthday, and after seeing deer in the garden, we enjoyed breakfast before Julie and Sue set off to visit Sue’s elderly relatives, and to run errands.  Meanwhile, Rocky and Guy nearly finished packing the kitchen, before it was time for a late lunch, followed by an afternoon of birthday bubbly.  For dinner, we dressed up and went out to eat at “Thackerays”.  This restaurant was located in a lovely old building build in 1640 and was renown for its world-class chef and tasting menu.  For her birthday, Julie had duck with foie gras, cod with ratatouille cannelloni, and white chocolate souffle with raspberry sorbet. Rocky had a crab tartlet, halibut and cheesecake.  All finished with chocolate birthday cake!  A fantastic meal polished off at home with a nightcap and a good night’s rest.

Thackeray’s for Dinner

The next day, we drove to Bexley to visit Guy’s mother who had recently bought a new house.  After tea and pleasantries, we drove to the O2 where we boarded the Thames Clipper, (a boat bus), for a trip into London by boat past Greenwich, Masthouse, the Canary Wharf, and the Tower of London to The Embankment, where we disembarked and found a local pub, “The Coal Hole” for sandwiches. After lunch, we walked to St. James Palace and took a 45-minute tour of Clarence House – the official London residence of Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla.  The grounds boasted a beautiful front garden, a portico and a portico that was being renovated.  After the tour, we walked through St. James Park, stopping to visit “The Kingsman” clothing store (yes – the one in the movie).  From there, we went to “Berry Brothers and Rudd” (Britain’s oldest wine & spirits store) operating for over 3 centuries!  Their cellars stretch over 2-acres underground where they house the world’s best selection of “investment” wines. From there, we walked to Horseguard Square where the mounted Cavalry is housed, and then to Westminster Pier where we boarded a Clipper ship back to the O2. We spent the evening with nibbles watching “The Blues Brothers” movie before calling the day’s end.

The O2 Concert Stadium

 

The Millenium Bridge & The Shard

 

Berry Brothers & Rudd Cellars

 

The Eye

On Saturday, we drove to the town of Windsor to see the town and tour the castle while Guy and Sue visited their daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  Since we had pre-bought tickets, we avoided the long lines and walked in just in time to be the last to tour St. George’s Chapel, followed by wandering the terraces and grounds, and touring the State Apartments, (including the Drawing Room, the Waterloo Room, the King’s Chamber, and the Queen’s Chamber.  We then walked part of “The Long Walk” – a 2 miles straight path leading to the Castle’s Gates, before meeting Guy and Sue for drinks, and then having dinner at “The Giggling Squid” restaurant.  We then met up with their kids and grandkids picnicking locally.  That was our occasion to say our goodbyes, before being dropped off at the Heathrow Airport Hilton for our flight to Iceland the next morning.

Windsor Castle

 

The Cavalry Stables & Parade Ground

 

Windsor’s Long Walk

 

The 30th Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure – GOBA

July 2, 2018 2:37 pm

June 2018

The 2018 Father’s Day Weekend brought the running of the 30th Anniversary of the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, and our brother-in-law’s 30th participation in it.  A.J. is one of only a couple of dozen people who have ridden every running of this event, and this year we were lucky enough to be able to join him in this celebration.  The 2018 GOBA began and ended at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, north of Columbus, Ohio, and circles Columbus counterclockwise for a week of bicycling and camping.

A.J. & Pam’s Farm House in Dayton, Ohio

On Sunday, June 17th, we rose early at Pam and A.J. house in Dayton, and arrived at the Fairgrounds at 6:45AM, where we registered, loaded our luggage into the Luggage Travel Vans, and parked our cars.  By 7:20AM, we were cycling on the road through pastoral settings past large farms and fields of corn and soybeans.  Today’s terrain was reasonably flat with only 250ft of elevation change.  The Breakfast stop was at the 13-mile mark, where locals sold PB&J sandwiches, fruit and breakfast burritos.  Lunch was provided by Subway at the 31-mile mark, but 1-mile before then, A.J. suffered a catastrophic tire blow-out requiring a temporary tire patch and new tube.  With appreciated, friendly help from recreational cyclists from the Trek Bike Shop in Dublin, Ohio, we limped into the lunch stop where A.J. had new tires and tubes installed.  After repairs, we resumed our ride to the afternoon water stop at the 40-mile mark.  However, this stop was not set-up, and by now, the temperature had reached a humid 92 degrees F, and many participants were stopping to rest and struggling with the heat.  Luckily, 2 young ladies from Phat Daddy’s Pizza were at the 45-mile mark giving away much-appreciated bottled water.  After 57 miles, we arrived at the London, Ohio Fairgrounds where we located our luggage, set up our tents and were off to the well-needed shower trucks.  After showers, we all walked the one mile into downtown looking for a cold beer.  However, today being Sunday, we could only find one local bar, “Jim’s”, where the beer was cold, and we were the only customers that were not local.  After getting refreshed, we walked to Phat’s Pizza to “thank” them and to enjoy a gyro pizza snack.  We returned to the Fairgrounds for a spirited came of cards and a quiet afternoon.  That evening, we enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches from the “Buckeye BBQ Truck” before settling in for an early night’s sleep.

Famous Mill Creek Covered Bridge outside of Columbus, Ohio

On Monday morning, we awoke ~6:15AM and set off on our bikes to the nearby town of South Charleston, 13 miles away along the paved National Bike Rail Path.  In town, we located a small Coffee Shop called “All in Flavor Café & Sweets Shop” where we enjoyed breakfast burritos, bagels and coffee.  From there, we rode leisurely back to the Fairgrounds for showers, and then shuttled back into London to visit the public Library – one of the nearly 2500 Carnegie Libraries originally built in 1905 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  Although added-on-to in 1989, the original plasterwork, molding and tall ceilings remain.  Here we caught up on world news, charged our cell phones and relaxed in air-conditioning.  Afterwards, we returned to the camp at the Fairgrounds for a round of cards, before shuttling to a Mexican Restaurant for chili rellenos, fajitas and quesadillas.   After dinner, we returned to camp to relax and settle-in for the night.

Breakfast at All in Flavor in South Charleston, Ohio

Rocky putting up the tent at the Campsite

GOBA-town at the London, Ohio Fairgrounds

Tuesday morning, we were up at 5:00AM to pack, take down our tent, and load up our luggage into the luggage vans.  We were on our bikes by 6:00AM for the day’s 54-mile ride south on the west side of Columbus.  The route included passing through Madison Lake State Park, and into Deer Creek State Park where a massive dam creates a beautiful lake surrounded by wildflowers, a marina, beach and lodge.  Today’s ride was hot again, and water stops were welcomed along our way to the town Circleville.  A.J. and Rocky made the complete ride in 3 ½ hours with all stops and average a surprising 18 mph!  At Circleville, we stayed on the school grounds where all three schools (Elementary, Middle, and High School), are located.  Here, we initially set up our tents, but on hearing of the strong likelihood of evening storms, we took advantage of the opportunity to stay in the gymnasium for the night.  Therefore, after repacking our tents, we set up our bedrolls indoors before we traveled into town for huge, late lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings followed by a visit to the Circleville Library, where a series of special programs for GOBA riders was made available.  They provided drinks, snacks, popcorn, games, puzzles, movies and charging stations in an amazing show of hospitality and graciousness.  After enjoying ourselves for a couple of hours, we headed back to the camp where we strolled about before settling in for the night.

Deer Creek State Park looking over the Route

The next morning, the gym lights went on at 5:00AM, and we were up, packed and ready to get the day started.  After dropping our bags at the luggage vans and grabbing a quick cup of coffee, we set off in the beginning light only to be met with a thick fog that soaked our clothes and covered our bikes and glasses. Today’s 53-mile route travels up and down in hilly countryside, challenging our climbing ability, and reaching downhill speeds approaching 40 mph!  Our breakfast stop was in 16 miles, at a local Methodist Church.  However, they had only just found out about hosting it, and were scrambling to meet the hungry and thirsty hoard of riders.  Lunch stop was another 12 miles away at a local family’s produce farm where the whole family was on-hand to help and to sell fruit, sandwiches, snacks and drinks.  After lunch, the fog cleared, and we made our way into the city of Lancaster where the route went through the center of town into the front gates of the Lancaster Fairgrounds.  Here, Rocky and A.J. set up the tents and everyone took a well-deserved shower before heading across the street to a local pub that had opened the day Prohibition ended.  Here we had some cold drinks and snacks before catching the shuttle back to downtown, which was in full celebration.  Lancaster had arranged a city celebration for the cyclists including a city-center stage and band, stilt-walkers, cotton candy, etc.  From here we went to the library to catch up on the news of the day, and to charge our electronics, until they closed at 5:00PM.  After they closed, we went to the town square to enjoy the festivities and play a few hands of cards, until A.J. had to attend his “Golden GOBA Dinner” – honoring those who had ridden so many years.  During A.J.’s dinner, the rest of us headed to O’Houl’s – an authentic English Pub where we had fish & chips, mushy peas and nachos.  During dinner, a huge rainstorm hit, but it had subsided by the time we met to walk back to camp.  That night, the rains came and went, but we were cozy in our tents and sleeping bags.

A J and Rocky ready to set off on their bikes

Thursday morning was overcast but dry and was the day of the Summer Solstice!  We “slept in” until 6:15AM, when we got up and decided to ride the 15-miles from Lancaster to Pleasantville for breakfast.  The ride was beautiful and cool – passing 3 old covered bridges and a few gentle hills.  Unfortunately, the restaurant that we were looking for wasn’t in Pleasantville but was another 5-miles down the road in the town of New Salem.  After some confusing directions from locals, we finally found “The Old Town Diner” – a quaint “one woman” establishment that was the favorite hangout of the locals.  The owner was a pleasant woman who greeted, served, cooked, bussed and washed dishes, all the while cheerful and attentive to a not-full coffee cup or water glass.  The food was excellent, and we conversed with the local customers before setting off for the return bike trip back to camp. 

At breakfast at the Old Town Diner in New Salem, Ohio

Old Covered Bridge in Lancaster, Ohio

At camp, we showered and then looked at the impending weather forecast.  That evening and the entire next day called for torrential thunderstorms, and so we made the decision to “bail”!  We called for an Uber to take the girls the 60 miles back to the cars in Delaware, and meanwhile Rocky and A.J. packed up the gear and the tents, and moved everything, including the bikes, under cover in the “Goat Building”.  Since it would take the girls 2 ½ hours to get to the cars and return to Lancaster with them, Rocky and A.J. revisited the local bar to replenish their fluids while waiting.  The girls arrived with the vehicles ~ 2:40pm, and after loading gear and bikes into the vehicles, we made the 1 ½ drive back to the farmhouse in Dayton. Another GOBA – albeit shortened – under our belts!

Our adventure group cycling 2018 GOBA