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In the little bit of research I did before landing in Buenos Aires to decide what we should do, one recommendation I consistently ran across was a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento a short ferry ride away in Uruguay. (Well, "short" depends on which ferry you take.) So after a couple days in the hustle and bustle of busy Buenos Aires, we took the early morning fast ferry from Puerto Madero to spend a very laid-back, relaxing day strolling the streets of Colonia del Sacramento. We didn't have a map to tell us where to go to see the old colonial town center, so we just kind of wandered around a bit, but it was not difficult to stumble upon.
On our wandered-way winging it to the town center, we strolled down lovely tree-lined cobblestone streets in a kind of tree tunnel.
I had read somewhere that green Austral parrots made some of these trees their home. I wondered if they would be easy to spot up in the green trees. But there was no doubt when we came upon them because of the racket they made with their voices! No, unfortunately, they're weren't speaking Spanish, like you might expect a parrot in Uruguay would be, they were speaking Portuguese. The town was, after all, established by the Portuguese in 1680 as a defensive outpost. I know very little of this language, so the only thing I could really understand from them was "bom dia" ("good day"). hahaha. Kidding, of course. Nah, just a lot of bird language. I didn't get pictures of them but I was excited to find them. (I did manage a couple shots later in Argentina, in Patagonia.)
Eventually we saw signs on the road pointing us toward the historical central town square. Following those, along the way we walked through some interesting abandoned buildings. I like it when people take decay and turn it into an artistic canvas. Very common to see these days in my urban travels, and I approve of the evolution of graffiti.
Of course evolution is a slow process ... The vines and bushes may get the last word on this building.
A street in transition ... further down on the left you can see it kind of alternates being traditional slogan-ist graffiti and colorful contributions.
The historic colonial center is quite small, arranged outside a military fort around a central town square. There are a surprising number of houses (eight) that have been turned into little museums around this square, portraying the history of the area and the daily lives of early inhabitants with various artifacts on display. A visitor can buy a reasonably priced all-inclusive ticket to see all the ones that might be open that day. At the ruins of the old city fort, we climbed up a modern lighthouse for a nice view.
A meandering walk through the streets is at least as entertaining as a careful tour of a museum. The old city center seems to have decided that antique cars will be the signature "statues" along their cobblestone streets. I don't know the history behind this, when or why people started putting antique cars out and either spiffing them up to run or re-purposing them into planters. But it's a unique feature that draws the tourists' attention.
As we had left the dawn of winter in Colorado to come to South America, the profusion of brightly colored flowering bougainvillea trees was a delight that I particularly basked in.
This spectacular beauty below was in the yard of a house that doubled as an art gallery. Can you spot the kitty on the tree roots near the back? (try opening pic in a new tab). The gallery appropriately had kitties lounging on the furniture. I think they belong in a gallery as much as they do in a bookshop.
There are numerous cafes around the town square in which to enjoy a pleasant lunch and beer or the highly-caffeinated national drink, yerba maté. Erik was keen to try the traditional method of drinking it because he drinks maté chai and tea at home all the time, but in leafless mixes (like the chai or berry-flavored drinks, etc.) We stepped into a cute little tea shop and sat on the back patio, where, similar to the antique cars on the streets, they had re-purposed old kitchen appliances into planters and surfaces for flower pots.
This is the traditional set-up for yerba maté tea -- a cup, which is typically made from a type of gourd or other natural material, full of loose tea leaves, which comes with a thermos of hot water and a long, metal kind of straw with a strainer in it to suck the water from the leaf-laden cup. And by laden, I mean literally full of leaves. You can only pour a little water in at a time because of the density of leaves, hence the thermos to keep the water hot. You let the water settle a bit down through the leaves and then stick the straw in and suck up yerba-infused water, and then pour in more. It is not something you can slam ... rather, a slow and ritualistic process. We saw people walking along the streets with this whole little kit in their hands, drinking as they walked. And every single souvenir shop in the city sells these kits, and the gourds are usually engraved with various designs.
But we capped off our pleasant day in this town with a stop at a pub closer to the ferry terminal to kill time with some beer until our scheduled departure. We sat at a table on the sidewalk and made friends with the urban domestics. Erik made a particularly close pal with this sweet little dog.
So, I would echo the sentiments that I read and pass on the recommendation to take a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento if you have the time while visiting Buenos Aires. There is a lot to do in Buenos Aires, but it makes for a pleasant interlude in city life and bustle.
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As I was putting together my previous post on ice in the Southern Ocean, I realized that half of my favorite photos depicting interesting icebergs and noteworthy landscapes came from this one zodiac cruise in Cierva Cove. So I decided to dedicate a full post just to this one experience. I don't really have much text to go with it, not a whole lot to say that isn't self-explanatory, or a pointless list of adjectives that add little-to-nothing to the photo. Therefore, pretty much just sit back and enjoy the virtual ride ... I present Cierva Cove.
This was a place with whom my wide-angle lens made particularly good friends. Yet again we had glassy mirror waters and beautiful weather for this expedition. I'm so in love with the dynamic nature of the scenery in terms of color and "mood" -- look one direction and the skies are blue, reflecting on the mirror waters; look the opposite and it's a dark cloud-covered sky whose waters are subsequently that beautiful gray and even black that compliments the ice so splendidly. I have to say, the black waters were my favorite. While the photo just above is one of my very favorites from the trip, I think this photo below is pretty cool because it shows simultaneously both the bright blue water underneath the blue sky on the right and the dark water underneath the clouds on the left, as well as the beautiful aqua color that icebergs usually have just beneath the water's surface. Actually, the more I write about it, the more I like it. Add the snow-covered peaks and you've got pretty much the iconic colors of Antarctica. (missing just the yellow glow as I described in Wilhelmina Bay)
A member of the crew told us that the Norwegian polar explorer, Captain Fridtjof Nansen, could navigate through an ice field by studying the clouds because they reflect the surface below them differently depending on whether they are over open water or over snow and ice. As an explorer in the era of the "Golden Age of Discovery" in the late 19th century, there of course were no GPS or radar instruments to help him. Men admirably navigated the globe using the tools provided by nature herself.
Cruising around through the ice fields, whether the water be blue or black, often evoked a sense of adventure such as the early explorers must have felt when everything was a vast mystery, so uncharted, and their vessels were so vulnerable to the forces of ice and weather. Little corridors and alleys like these always made me smile with the excitement of wondering what lay on the other side of the corridor.
Although the black waters were my favorite, the blue waters, especially when cradling the reflection of a white landscape, were stunning. Especially on the mirror-smooth surface.
This one is a little difficult to parse at first; I like the scene for its chaotic composition of color and shape, the glassy reflections broken by the bits of ice in the water.
In spite of the dazzling glassy reflections, the fields of ice in the black water, and all the magical formations, probably my two favorite photos are the two below because I really like the icicles hanging down like a little forest of crystals. (and upside down forest, I guess)
Entering the slush zone!
The different textures of the individual icebergs were perpetually fascinating. And I love that deep, vibrant blue found specially in glacial snow.
And finally we head back to the Sea Spirit, where a hot towel and cup of hot tea awaits us as we re-board the ship, my eyes still wide with residual wonder.
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Although it's a true statement, it kind of cracks me up. The first sentence in the Eyewitness travel guide for Buenos Aires about the Recoleta Cemetery begins: "One of the world's great necropolises ..." I just have never really thought of a necropolis as something that would be put on a Top 10 type list of the "world's greatest," even though I love cemeteries, and I have my own favorites. And now Recoleta has vaulted into my undisputed "Number One" slot.
This is a monster article, I'll just confess up front. I cringed while I excluded a lot of photos of mausoleums I liked, and yet, this article contains more photos than any other I've posted in the entire history of my blog. There is so much history and information that could be shared about the cemetery and the people entombed therein, about the structures themselves, etc. I will try to leave most of that to the whim of your own curiosity ... you can look up more information on any of these things on your own if you're interested via the almighty Google. Though I'll try to be slender in text, as I slimmed down the number of candidate photos, you're still left with a rather portly post all the way around. I love photographing doors and locks, so this was a paradise for indulging that love. I can only offer my sympathy for how long it might take you to scroll through, but I hope earnestly that you will take that time, because I really want to share all these photos with you, my dear reader. :)
We visited the cemetery twice in the one-week span of our visit to Buenos Aires, and after spending several hours each time, we still have not seen the whole cemetery. That might make sense for a place like Highgate in London, which spreads out across 37 acres. But Recoleta is a tightly-packed condensed cemetery in the middle of the city, covering an area of only 14 acres, but with a capacity twice the size of the number of graves in Highgate. How do they pack in so many bodies?
The "city streets" are lined with above-ground mausoleums shoulder to shoulder, just like the streets of any traditional European city are lined with houses shoulder to shoulder. Many of the mausoleums look just like little houses, with doors and windows. Inside, there can be up to three levels underground to hold caskets that fit into slots on each floor. There can be as many as 30 coffins in a single mausoleum. There are very simple, small ones, and huge ostentatious ones that looks like miniature Greek temples or castles; some made out of stones or bricks, and some out of shiny marble. There are statues of stone and bronze. The interiors of large or wealthy family mausoleums have large sitting rooms with offering tables, stained-glass windows, flower vases, statues, etc., like a mini chapel.
Ahead lies the vault of a wealthy Argentinian family, Dorrego Ortiz Basualdo, designed by a famous dude in the style of a French chapel. It's considered by some to be one of the highlights of the cemetery, and has even been pronounced "the greatest" (or "grandest") in the cemetery. I don't think it's the largest, but perhaps the most elegant.
Mausoleums and statues represent a vast spectrum of styles, tastes, traditionalism, and modernism. It's a wonderful feature of the place, that here is absolutely no homogenizing of styles, each family has its unique expression in their eternal resting place.
I often felt like I was in a fake city such as you'd be walking through in an amusement park or in a movie set. There are even "street signs" to point to some of the most famous mausoleums. And just like you would read on a webpage or book page about the highlights of a city, you'll find lists about Recoleta titled, "outstanding mausoleums," "greatest mausoleums," "top ten features," "famous tombs," etc. Within the cemetery, there are directions to the most famous sights. The street sign below, for example, is pointing toward the mausoleum and obelisk erected for the 7th president of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. The following pics are more examples of how it looks to me like a quaint European city, just kind of miniature scale. Notice the modern high-rise in the background ... so you see you the cemetery is literally smack-dab in the middle of the (living) city.
Several presidents lie commemorated here as well as the overwhelmingly beloved "Evita," wife to President Juan Perón from 1946 until her death at the very unfortunate age of 33 in 1952, and who the popular musical, "Evita," is about. She was proclaimed the spiritual leader the nation shortly before her death. But such a saintly titled belies her controversial role. Recoleta was not actually her first resting place, but her remains were eventually moved to her family's mausoleum and now it is perpetually adorned with flowers from admirers. Many visitors to the cemetery beeline straight to her tomb as the only thing they really want to see. It's a very humble mausoleum, walking past it you would never suspect what a famous figure lay resting inside. Many, many famous politicians, military men, writers, scientists, musicians, etc., rest here in coffins inside a mausoleum.
I like it that there are both heroes and villains to modern-day Argentina resting here. Below is the tomb of General Juan Lavalle, who spent a brief and rather ignominious period as governor of Buenos Aires province in 1829. He executed the reigning governor to obtain his post. Later on (after his governorship) he planned a military attack against Buenos Aires with the French until they retracted their support and made peace with the Federalists instead. As a Unitarian, the Federalists were Lavalle's arch enemy. I hate quoting Wikipedia, but this is kind of interesting regarding his death north of Buenos Aires: "Afraid that his body would be desecrated by the Federales, his followers fled to Bolivia carrying Lavalle's decomposing remains with them. Hurrying over the Humahuaca pass, they finally decided to strip the skeleton by boiling it and, after burying the flesh in an unmarked grave, carry the bones, which are today buried at the Recoleta Cemetery."
The green pillar belongs to one of Argentina's national heroes, Admiral William Brown, the founder of the Argentine Navy. He was actually born in Ireland and grew up in Philadelphia and had quite the action-packed and interesting life. He immigrated to Argentina after being held prisoner of the French in the Napoleonic Wars and retired from maritime life. Then re-entered, endured a series of wars and created the navy in Argentina (also being its first admiral). But, what caught my photographic interest was not the national hero's monument, but the humble stone mausoleum beside it. It belongs to a war veteran as well, General Tomas Guido, who served in the war of independence from Spain. I read that Brown's monument was built partially from the metal of melted down cannons from ships Brown once commanded, and that Guido's stone tomb was built by the hand of his son.
So I'm bouncing around kind of haphazardly here in organizing (? ummm perhaps not a relevant term) or at least in presenting the photos. Here are a bunch that I like specifically for their doors. Some of them could certainly be mistaken for the doors to a house if you didn't know they belonged instead to a mausoleum.
I like the next photo (which is simply a zoom in on the one above) for the reflection. It's a little chaotic to figure out. I like the Celtic crosses at the top of the mausoleums poking into the blue sky. There are two reflections of me, one on each side of the doors. The second photo I took as a conscious selfie.
Are you curious yet about what the inside of these house-like mausoleums looks like? The photo below captures only the ground level and the first below-ground level, but there are stairs leading down to two more levels further down. Each level has several layers of shelves/niches for coffins. Some of the mausoleums were run down and decaying, no longer kept up by family (who may be all dead or moved away by now) nor by the cemetery itself, whose resources help maintain some of the mausoleums ... and the insides could be just as ruined as the outside, with coffins sliding out of their niches. We saw one coffin where the lid had slid partially open and we could see the human bones inside it!!
Many of the interiors were gorgeous. I especially liked the ones with stained-glass windows. All the photos I took of the interiors were shot through the locked gates protecting open-air mausoleums (no solid doors) or through the bars of glass-less windows in doors. But a lot of the mausoleums you could not see inside at all or else only through glass. Here are some of the stained glass interiors I liked.
And here are some examples of statues and carvings and offering tables inside. Some of the items are so beautiful and elaborate, I'm glad this is a tourist destination so they can be seen by a lot of people.
I like this one, which seems somehow particularly creepy with its door ajar as if to say, "Welcome ..." in a James Earl Jones-type voice. "Won't you come inside." And then of course it's all over: the door slams shut behind you, the coffin lids open and the bones rise up to strangle you. Though, it is Buenos Aires ... I suppose they could simply offer you a glass of malbec.
I like the following two for how they depict layers of construction and decay. Notice the small cross still in tact in the middle of the first wall?
I like the plaque below to commemorate the "artista de la guitarra." Such a more musical title for a "guitarist." Many mausoleums have multiple plaques on the outside walls to commemorate the individual inhabitants of the coffins inside.
I think Recoleta would be one of the best places on earth to have a scavenger hunt! Confined in a relatively small space, yet countless details to which clues could point -- in the plaques, in the doors, in the statues. I wonder how many statues there are in the cemetery, if you were to go count them!
I like the skyline in this photo below. This is what you see everywhere when you look up in the cemetery -- crosses, angels, men and women, temple tops, minarets and other fanciful adornments. So an important note if you visit the cemetery, always look up! (In addition to every other direction, of course.)
But stone is not the only statue material. I would venture to guess it might be the most common, but there are loads and loads of bronze sculptures and statues as well.
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak is not a famous person, but her tomb is one of the most popular in the cemetery. Outside of the mausoleum, she's represented in a life-size bronze statue wearing her wedding dress. After her dog followed her in death, a statue of him was added beneath her hand. That's what I read, anyway. But it's curious that her statue was made with one hand outstretched into the air like that. I think it would have looked a little strange with nothing under it, so maybe the sculptor had planned for the dog from the beginning.
I like the clash of simple and opulent, functional and ostentatious. One of the things that makes Recoleta so interesting is a lack of codes -- no right or wrong design. Even though it's like a city, there are no neighborhood code-enforcement officers monitoring it to restrict creativity to a homogeneous row of buildings.
I like pretty much every facet you could think to mention about the cemetery. I like every style of mausoleum and tomb, including the simple, the decaying, the shiny and new, the grand and the elaborate. I like the free-standing ones in the middle of the city streets, often at a crossroads, like little castles or temples. This one is like a miniature European cathedral.
If I were to have sought out a particular tomb, it would have been that of one of my all-time favorite writers, Jorge Borges (I didn't find it). He is one of the most celebrated authors in the world, and surely the most famous Argentinian author. But he was vehemently opposed to the presidential Peróns, and the nationally beloved Evita. From him: "Perón was a humbug, and he knew it, and everybody knew it. But Perón could be very cruel. I mean, he had people tortured, killed. And his wife was a common prostitute."
Of course I couldn't leave without some photos of the locks and keyholes. Many keyholes had small dried flowers stuck into them.
A feature that often lent some artistry to locks, keyholes, statues, window corners, etc., was the cobwebs. Weird as it sounds, the cobwebs seems particularly nicely designed, geometrical, symmetrical, and artistically placed as if someone conscientiously added them with a brush ... not a paintbrush but a cobweb brush.
And finally, what would a photo essay from a cemetery be without the obligatory cemetery cat? Seems cemeteries are always a peaceful haven for the strays.
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While the majority of solid objects visible in Antarctica are various forms of white -- snow and ice -- it can be quite striking when the underlying rocks poke out, often in jagged peaks or rocky towers. Sometimes it seems like the land was built from bits and pieces ... as if giants piled a bunch of rocks on top of each other in some kind of game or children's toys, like Jenga or Leggos. I'm sure erosion must be a pretty fierce power here with the weight and movement of all that snow.
I've already mentioned several times the spectacular weather we had on this cruise. It's made clear when you sign up that landings or zodiac outings cannot be guaranteed to happen each day; it is all weather-dependent. And also the ship's course may change from day to day, even hour to hour, if weather or ice conditions change, making an originally intended destination inaccessible or perhaps making a different one a particularly good prospect. On our last full day of the expedition part of the cruise (before heading back toward the South Shetland Islands and into the Drake Passage), we had an extra special treat in getting three expedition activities! That evening, a spot that supposedly is not often accessible was open and so the captain took us there -- dinner was delayed so that we could have an evening zodiac cruise around a place called Spert Island. This was a treat indeed. Not only for the extra activity, but it was an interesting place and very different from anything else we'd seen. Here, sharp spikes of rock poked up out of the ocean.
The water was this incredible green color that I've never seen before. It depended on which direction the sun was relative to the photo and on the exposure length of the photo as to how well the green color came out on "film." So some of these pics the water is black, but the true representation of it is the pics where it is the astounding green color.
A very cool feature of the area was a series of arches and narrow passages through the rocks. It really felt like we were on an adventure such as one that might take place in a fantasy movie, braving the ancient lands of a lost or magical civilization, with mystery lurking around each corner.
The late-day sun and the low cloud ceiling made for some lovely colors in the sky. At 8:00 p.m., it was still quite a ways until sunset, which happened somewhere around 11:00 p.m. (though it stayed light well after that) but the sky had what I typically think of as sunset colors.
I love books about Antarctic explorers (though I've by no means read an authoritative number, just a few, but I've found them all riveting, and intend to read more in the genre). Hmmm .... perhaps here is my opportunity to plug my all-time favorite book, "Shackleton's Forgotten Men" by Lennard Bickel. Many people know the story of Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated attempt at crossing the Antarctic continent and how he and his men ended up estranged from their ship and survived a harrowing sea crossing in a measly life boat to Elephant Island and South Georgia. An exceptional feat (though more due to his ship's incredibly capable captain who was a deft navigator with a knack for dead-reckoning, than to Shackleton himself). But most people do not know of the party who landed on the other side of the continent tasked with laying food caches for the Shackleton party so they didn't have to carry their whole expedition's worth of food with them. Like Shackleton's ship, theirs was damaged in the sea ice and they were marooned on the continent, most of their own supplies were lost and yet they carried out their duty to lay the caches while they themselves nearly starved. Three members of their team died in the endeavor. If you ever wonder what the human body might be capable of, these men will show you the remarkable strength and endurance it can have. And in the end, the men carried out this feat in vain, for Shackleton never showed up. They are the epitome of the unsung hero. If you ever are to receive a birthday or Christmas gift from me, you can probably formulate a good hypothesis that it will be either "Shackleton's Forgotten Men" or my other favorite book, "Babylon's Ark." haha.
Anyway, in reading these various polar exploration books, I had always tried to imagine the landscape as described (as there are few photos from these early 20th-century expeditions). And while I have a more vivid visual imagination than most, I still had a hard time picturing a ship among icebergs, vast crevasses on glaciers, a ship being crushed by ice, etc. (While on the Sea Spirit, they showed a very good documentary about Shackleton's "adventure" which had quite a number of photographs and even film footage ... you know, moving pictures! I was pretty enthralled with the video footage.) While I was riveted by the anxiety and apprehension that the explorers felt while navigating the polar waters in their wooden ships, I just found it difficult to find a mental image that I had any confidence in. So part of my excitement in making it to Antarctica was finally understanding the landscape and icescape. The best illustration of it, and the best part of the Spert Island zodiac cruise, was when our boat driver asked if we wanted to try to find our way through a jumble of icebergs as a shortcut back to the ship. If we could not find passage, we'd have to back out and go all the way around the way we had come and be even later for dinner. He presented us these options (try the channel or head back now) as if there might be anyone who would be upset over being late for dinner when we had the opportunity to explore a passage through icebergs in Antarctica! Bah! I can't imagine. (I was especially keen since we turned back from a similar opportunity while kayaking at Cuverville Island -- and had to settle for just watching a whale swim by, poor us, haha).
So ahead of us lay a jumble of icebergs and we moved ahead slowly through them. I imagined a wooden ship, creaking in the waters, the crew looking ahead anxiously, wondering if they would find passage or be turned back.
All around us was ice and uncertainty. Then suddenly we emerged from the ice forest and there was completely open water ahead with the Sea Spirit at the far end. I just felt for a moment the exhilaration those old-time crews must have felt when they saw open waters, having successfully made it through unknown passages. How they must have cheered at the sight. We saw a pair of giant petrels in the water picking at what looked like a dead fish. We'd seen the southern giant petrels on land earlier and were told it was a pretty neat sighting (I guess not super common). So here they were again!
Some of the other icebergs we saw during the zodiac cruise at Spert Island ... hard to tire of photographing and feeling in awe of them. Not the best photo quality, sorry.
So it was of course important to me that I step foot on land during this cruise to be able to properly claim my badge of having been ON all seven continents. At Orne Harbor we were told this was our opportunity, and Erik and I skipped the kayaking to get on the continent. Hurray! My one and only lifelong goal definitively accomplished.
Zoomed in to the snow-covered peaks surrounding Orne Harbor.
To get back down the hill to where the zodiacs waited to shuttle us back to the ship, we were allowed to slide down on our coats like a sledding run. Our friends from across the hall (with whom Erik polar plunged) were at the top with us and neither he nor Erik could get themselves to slide down the trough that other people had made. Erik kept getting stuck at the hips and decided he was too wide to plow through the trough that way. So, he cleverly turned himself around and slid down on his back head-first like a speeding bullet. This was so funny -- I can't really explain how hilarious it looked -- our friends and I laughed so hard. It was one of the more entertaining moments of the trip.
We're pretty bad about taking photos of ourselves together on trips, but wanted to make sure we caught some on this momentous trip to a location which we will surely never have the opportunity to visit again! I posted this first pic on Facebook and received some amusing comments about my lens somewhat dwarfing me. haha. It doesn't really look like it, but Erik must standing on a slope because I'm really not *that* much shorter than him!
But I think below is my favorite of Team Johnson. This is where passengers who signed up to camp out on land one night dug their pits into the snow and slept in mummy-tight bivvy sacks. How do I know how tight they were? We had originally signed up for this activity. I had figured we should do everything that was offered. I had no illusions that it would be comfortable ... I figured it wouldn't be a particularly pleasurable experience, just a once-in-a-lifetime experience to sleep outside in Antarctica. But several things made us change our minds and back out. One was learning we had to dig our own sleeping pits, and my hands were already so taxed by kayaking and holding my big camera lens all the time; the other was the claustrophobia that overtook us after we were given our gear and counseled to try it out in our room so we were familiar with the process of getting in and out of them. After realizing what an ordeal it was to get in and out (and I would surely have to get up to pee in their provided bucket), we returned the camping gear and just climbed the hill during the day, and slept soundly and cozily at night. The common report from those who slept out was that they "slept" out ... most of the people we talked to were either cold or uncomfortable and were mostly awake, though I don't think anyone said they regretted it. And we didn't regret backing out.
Now, if we had this kind of blubber to insulate us, we would have been just as cozy sleeping outside as our bony little bodies were inside!
One of the funniest things about being around the elephant seals in particular was the sounds they made. A couple times I didn't even realize there were any nearby because they blend in with the rocks and my focus was on the penguins. How did I realize they were there? I didn't spot them with my eyes. I heard them with my ears! They make all these noises that sound like a chorus of farting. It sounds like The Bog of Eternal Stench if you happen to know the movie, "Labyrinth." To be honest, I'm not entirely sure where all the noises came from and if they were all from the same place -- their throats or the other end of their bodies! This is a young male elephant seal with something to say.
It's amazing how all the seals can make lying on a pile of rocks look so cozy. They just nestle right in and look so content.
I loved scenes where penguins were walking by the seals so nonchalantly. But if you've been following my blog for long, you probably already know that I have a particular fondness for animal-scapes that have multiple species in them. This first pic below makes me think of the Seven Dwarfs heading off to work at the mines, industrious little critters that the penguins are, while the seals are just basking in the sun in unabashed laziness.
Many times the seals we encountered had open wounds and red-streaked fur.
And one day we saw how they got them. These were a group of young elephant seals fighting on the shore at Penguin Island.
Have you ever seen a seal flipper curled like this? Up in Iceland we saw some whose flippers were kind of like this -- like crude, floppy hands. But this pic almost disturbs me with how creepy the flipper looks! Seems like some weird Gothic, vampiric creature.
But back to the main theme of this post ... the land forms. The penguin's point of view.
Often, the clouds enhanced or even made the landscape. For example, this little island that looks like just a pile of rocks in the ocean is only of interest because of the clouds. The next pic down, I like how the dark umbrella of cloud rises up almost looking like smoke.
A random selection of shots taken from the ship. You start to get a feel for the general character of the landscape, which was pretty consistent along our journey (save Spert Island).
The snow often turned that lovely golden color that often comes with the lowering late-day sun.
And so I wish you goodnight, dear readers. A shot from the ship with the moon in the far corner. This is actually taken with my 70-200 lens, when you might be tempted to think I took it with the wide angle. Don't dream about seals with freaky flippers! (but do dream about magical green waters and snow-capped peaks ... :)
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When I stopped making posts in real-time (or near real-time) while traveling and backed off this blog a bit to write only upon inspiration and free time, I started organizing posts by more broad topics rather than chronologically. And so it is with Antarctica ... penguins, kayaking, now a focus on ice. I will win no awards for logical and well-ordered photo essays! But here is a collection with a theme of ice. Obviously, this is the primary defining feature that makes traveling the seas around Antarctica so special, magical and other-worldly. So allow me to begin with what is probably my number-one favorite photo from the trip. To me, it represents in a majestic fashion the things I came to Antarctica to see -- the variety of icebergs and penguins. (and blue is my favorite color ... maybe that adds to the appeal) Can you see the penguins on the smaller iceberg in the middle of the photo? They help provide the sense of scale. Big scale. If you were ever to view one of my photos larger (right-click), this is the one to view.
Now to anyone else, this next pic will seem like a really lame photo, but it was the first major iceberg we saw from the ship, which the expedition leader announced we were coming toward so we could rush on deck to see it. So, for me, having seen nothing else like it in my life to date, it was exciting and worth documenting. It's kind of surreal to come across these huge blocks of ice, big as an apartment building, just floating serenely, quietly through the ocean. It's mind-boggling to realize that only a small fraction of the iceberg's total volume is visible above the water. Why is that? Because of the different densities of freshwater ice (originating from snow) and seawater.
So there are many types of icebergs. I have used to date, and will continue to use, the term generically for any ice formation sticking up out of the water, for ease of the lay person's reading, because I think most of us non-polar-scientists and non-climatologists don't care about the distinction and find the unfamiliar terms merely distracting. But for the record, if you're interested, I present to you the technicalities of what to call floating ice on water. This is copied from the NOAA website:
"To be classified as an iceberg, the height of the ice must be greater than 16 feet above sea level and the thickness must be 98-164 feet and the ice must cover an area of at least 5,382 square feet. There are smaller pieces of ice known as “bergy bits” and “growlers.” Bergy bits and growlers can originate from glaciers or shelf ice, and may also be the result of a large iceberg that has broken up. A bergy bit is a medium to large fragment of ice. Its height is generally greater than three feet but less than 16 feet above sea level and its area is normally about 1,076-3,229 square feet. Growlers are smaller fragments of ice and are roughly the size of a truck or grand piano. They extend less than three feet above the sea surface and occupy an area of about 215 square feet."
The colossal tabular icebergs are particularly useful to scientists, for they can date the age of the iceberg much like you can a tree using the tree rings, by counting the striations in the exposed cliffs of the iceberg which has detached from a glacier; each winter a new layer of snow is added and you can see a faint line between each near year's snow, falling after the previous one has melted and compacted. You can see not only age, but also the general climatic conditions of each year based on the height and chemical composition of its layer.
I've seen small glaciers calve before, and of course members of our kayaking club experienced one first hand. Can you even imagine a chunk like the ones above separating from its mother and floating off? Here's a bit of snow in Wilhelmina Bay that looks ready for launch.
Check out the face of this glacier, the topography and colors. If you ever thought snow was just white ... you have been corrected. On the far left you can see some of those striations like tree rings I mentioned above.
One of the loveliest places we visited to see smaller icebergs -- the bergy bits and growlers -- was Wilhelmina Bay via zodiac cruise. For these "cruises" (two to three hours in length), smaller rubber zodiacs were deployed from the ship with 10 passengers in each. For the most part they all traveled around the site of interest to basically all the same places, but often different drivers (one of the expedition crew) would explore different little nooks and crannies of a bay. If one boat saw something of particular interest, they'd radio in to the other ones to come over and see. It seemed like we were always in a zodiac doing the radioing rather than responding to somebody else.
Our tour around Wilhelmina Bay particularly emphasized the peculiar lighting and coloring that often beset the Antarctic landscape. I didn't keep an actual journal or diary on the trip (though in retrospect I wish I would have), but I did write down some occasional notes that I wanted to be sure to remember. I didn't know how well my photos would evoke reality, so I wrote down for myself so I would be sure to remember of Wilhelmina Bay, "... the mountains in the back illuminated yellow from a seemingly unidentified source as if they are creating their own light, that they glow from within themselves; they’re glowing [really from the sun, of course] under the low ceiling of gray clouds, then the dark peaks thrusting up out of the glow, and the slate gray water, then a neon-blue iceberg in the slate gray water in front of the glowing golden mountains. Once again the water like glass so still and smooth." I took two cameras on the zodiac, my wide-angle with a warming filter and my 70-200 with no filter. These first pics below came from the wide-angle with the filter, which really brings out the mystical dark nature of the water, which was something that particularly stood out to me while there, and the moody feeling of the place. The first one isn't a very exciting photo but it depicts the "infinity pool" feeling of the bay, like the horizon there on the right is the literal edge of the world.
The rest of the photos I'm sharing from Wilhelmina were taken with the 70-200 with no filter. But these first two illustrate, I think, the layers of colors that I described in text in my notes, with the yellow, blue and gray.
Some various icebergs with interesting topography in them and icicles.
A lone penguin at the edge of the sea ice extending out from the land in Wilhelmina Bay. I think he is saying to himself Bug Bunny's famous line, "I knew I should have made a left turn at Albuquerque."
We also had some visitors right next to our zodiac! These seals surfaced very suddenly right next to us; it was kind of a miracle I got my camera up quickly enough to get a photo in.
I also wanted to remember the funny behavior of the seals and wrote in my notes for that day, "Three seals right next to the zodiac, one hopped onto the ice sheet and inched his way back, the way seals do, awkwardly flopping across the land. Then he rolled around on his back as if he had an itch he was trying to scratch on the ground, squirming and wiggling. Then he would stop that and do a very slow log roll. Then squirm again, then log roll, over and over several times."Seals were a fairly common sight on both ice and land. I'd only ever seen wild seals on the pier at San Francisco, so this was quite exciting to me. I especially loved them on the ice. For, like the penguins, this to me is their iconic and unique habitat. Here are a few more we spotted on the ice or in the water on other days.
The most prized sighting in terms of seals was the leopard seal. This was one of the things that if a zodiac saw it would radio into the other ones to come over and check it out. They're not too common to see, unlike the common crabeater seals and weddells. If I remember correctly, we saw three.
Show us those pearly whites! Er, those kind of yellow, vicious-looking things. Wouldn't want to get my hand caught in there!
A few more icebergs from other random locations during our Antarctic journey that I think are pretty cool:
Here's another shot that illustrates that interesting lighting I like with darker colors in the background and lighter-colored ice in the front on the gray water.
I'll close out this look at icebergs and some of the life found thereon with my faves ... those silly little penguins on a chunk of floating ice like a couple of bowling pins ready to knock down. I'm looking down on them from the ship's deck. You can see how the ice of the icebergs is extending down into the water in the light blue and aqua coloring of the water. I like this pic also for the contrast of the vibrant blue and the crisp bright white. Obviously on a gloriously sunny day!
More ice to come .....