Thursday, January 15, 2009

no hablo espanol ~ counterfeit what?

It started as a simple desire to get ice cream and gum while we waited for an antique store across the street to open (which it never did). We paid for the items (or attempted to) with a 10,000 chilean pesos bill ($20 canadian). The lady at the till examined the bill for some time and then disappeared into the back. She came back finally with a second person and both excitedly tried to explain something to us. We thought the bill was too big so we showed her we only had the 10,000 peso bills (damn bank machines). Then she held up the bill we gave her to the light to show that there is no hologram and once we looked at it, it was an obvious fake. like photocopied with the silver security strands glued on. ~ sigh~ so then she gave it back and we paid with another bill. And I put it in my pocket, not sure what to do with it. She waved her finger in a "No" motion (as in do not use it) and made the international gesture for handcuffs. We are lucky that she could tell we were hapless gringos totally like fish out of water and we just left the store.

Jason wanted to keep the bill as a souvenir but I thought explaining that to the guy with the rubber gloves at the airport did not seem like a good idea. So the bill has been ripped up.

Other than that adventure, Santiago, Chile is a great. Nice metropolitan city. We can't get a whole lot done as I start melting by 2pm. We did see a Frida Kahlo and Deigo Rivera exhibition, the museum of fashion, and antique store, the vegetarian restaurant (only one in santiago - thank god i found tofu i was dying on the boat with out it), and the pool. 

On that note..... I am off to the pool.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Stanley, Falkland Islands

We landed this morning in the port of Stanley (pop. 2115 people), Falkland Islands. We took a short bus tour (with a funny local guide) through the town to see such curiosities as the peat moss farm (used as fuel), the museum, areas fenced off due to land mines (from the 1982 war), assorted wild birds and so on. Then we walked up and down the 2 main streets looking in shops and trying to find some vegetarian food. Lunch was just so so, but we did luck out and get some snacks at the grocery store. I did see a one footed water bird that was doing quite well; I wonder what is his story? Lots of cats around as well but I am pretty sure there is no connection to ol’ one foot, as the bird is pretty large.

The Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory in which the local government takes care of internal affairs and Britain takes care of external issues and defense. They have their own currency which is equal to the British pound. We learned about the 1982 Falklands War and visited a memorial to the fallen British soldiers. Essentially Argentina forces invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands on April 12, 1982 until they were overcome by British forces on June 14, 1982. Over 250 British soldiers, and an estimate of over 600 Argentina soldiers died.  Argentina was claiming ownership of the islands while Britain has maintained administration of the Falklands since 1833. Prior to this, it is reported that English navigator John Davis first sighted the islands and in 1690 British Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing. There were no Indigenous peoples in the Falklands, when the British landed.

Then we had the bright idea to walk back to the port to get on the ship. You know when movies show those mirages in the desert where the water just seems right in front of you but you never seem to get there? It seemed like the boat was so close but we walked for quite a while in the rain. About 3/4 of the way back a local gentleman took pity on us and offered us a ride. He said he could tell we were from out of town. Like the hitchhiking incident in Thailand, I figured the walk back was more of a risk that accepting the ride. :) He was a lovely fellow and dropped us right at our boat.

Tomorrow we will start to explore some of the further out areas and see the local wildlife such as Rockhopper Penguins.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reflections on the world we share

Yesterday morning Jason, and other guests & guides, completed the last 3 miles of the arduous 30 mile hike that Shackleton and 2 of men had to make after landing in Fortuna Bay. The details of the trek and survival story are in a previous blog posting. They ended in Stromness, a now abandoned whaling station. I decided against the hike as I thought my bruised backside would not do so well. 

Yesterday afternoon, we took the zodiacs from the boat to land at Grytviken, the site of Captain Larson’s whaling station. The station is of course abandoned but a large amount of buildings, machinery and vats that used to hold whale oil, remain on the site. There is also a museum & gift shop, British Antarctic Survey research station, and the grave of Ernest Shackelton who had died from a heart attack. Grytviken has up to 20 staff in the summer, with the museum staff, and it drops to about 8 people in the winter, primarily scientists. Some of the scientists came on board to present on their work and life in Grytviken. One of the most important things highlighted is the importance of Krill, a small shrimp like animal, that basically support the entire animal web in the Antarctic area. Several animals such as penguins, seals, whales etc depend directly on eating the krill. Other whales and leopard seals depend on eating animals that eat the krill.

I encourage those who eat fish to ensure they are eating fish caught in sustainable manners. For instance, in South Georgia there are several things in place to reduce the thousands of Albatross Birds that used to be drowned in the area due to long line fishing (as they dove to catch the bait and were pulled to their deaths). The initiatives include faster sinking hooks, bird deterrent devices, night fishing etc. You can go to to view which fish species are less likely to be overfished, poorly managed, and have a lower by catch (the animals that are killed ‘by accident’ when fishing), less pollution etc. You can also purchase fish that have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

It is imperative that we all realize the impact of pollution, discarded plastic, fishing etc has on our delicate ecosystem. Things that happen down here impact us on the other hemisphere and vice versa. Many of the whale species are still in low numbers from being hunted to the brink of extinction. There is a swirling plastic mass (the size of Texas!!), called The Plastic Vortex or Garbage Patch, in the ocean of all of the bags and plastic refuse that have collected here from dumps etc. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable as they view the plastic bags as jelly fish and then eat them and die. One small thing that anyone can do is to use reusable cloth bags, & generally reduce, re-use and recycle. You can also save money and reduce pollution by converting to CFL bulbs which use far less energy. 

"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves." — Chief Seattle

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gold Harbor & Ocean Harbor

I have been taking advil and using an ice pack so my backside is starting to feel better. It is the worse and largest bruise I have ever had. Quite the souvenir! I stayed in for the morning as I wanted to rest. Jason went out for the 5am zodiac trip to land in Gold Harbor. He said it was similar to yesterday with King Penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, skua birds and so on. One of the fur seals got annoyed and ran up and bit through the protective pants of one of the naturalists. He was fine though and the seal did not reach skin.

This afternoon I felt better to I brave another zodiac trip into Ocean Harbor. It is an abandoned whaling station and the wreck of the Bayard, an iron hulled sailing boat, has remained since 1911. We went ashore and took a mapped out route to avoid the cantankerous fur seals. The harbor has a small flat area of land and then it is surrounded by mountains on one side and a steep moss and grass covered hill on the other. As we were enjoying the view a herd of reindeer stampeded through. They are not native to the area and were introduced in 1911 for sport and for meat. It is quite the sight to see reindeer gallop through a gathering of fur seals! 

The area had quite a few fur seals and elephant seals. I like the elephant seals the best. They look like huge blubber slugs and are believed to be the deepest diving animals. It is hard to believe as they move slowly on land. They have a better disposition than the cranky fur seals. They also making this really loud burping sound which is apparently their bark. But I tell you it sounds like a huge beer belch fest. I swear they let out huge farts too but apparently that is just their snorting. They are so offensive that they are cute. The fur seal pups are really cute as well. Fur seals were thought to be extinct, due to hunting, but started reappearing in the 1950’s. by 1825 about 1.2 million fur seals had been killed for pelts.

The whaling station has been torn down with a few remnants remaining including a brick shed and some pieces of metal machines. There are quite a few whale bones strewn about. Whales were hunted for their blubber (oil for things like margarine, lanterns etc), meat, and so on. It was an somber sight to see the bleached whale bones next to the graves of whalers who had died. Whales are now protected in the South Georgian waters but are hunted in other areas on a small scale. Back in the day, 175,250 whales were killed and processed in the whaling stations of South Georgia.

I thought I’d also mention that the tabular ice bergs (or table top icebergs as they are also known), that posted photos of, are around 100-150 feet tall (above the water!). The portion below the water is another 700-800 feet! These icebergs are breath taking and hard to capture in the photos as there is little to offer scale.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Antarctic Tumble

I had my first mishap today when I took a tumble in the zodiac boat in rough waters. The zodiacs pull up beside the  lower side of the large boat to a door opening (on the side of the hull) where you embark or disembark the zodiac. The ocean was rough today with waves and swells. The zodiac was bobbing up and down more than 6 feet! All of a sudden as I was stepping up on the pontoon edge to get onto the large boat I went down hard. Thankfully I fell back into the zodiac and not into the ocean. However, I of course hit the corner of the wooden storage chest in the zodiac and now sport a large bruise and scrape on my backside. But all is well, except for perhaps again my pride. I was approached by another guest who, of course, had been taking pictures of the zodiac disembark from the boat deck above and caught the action as he was in rapid picture mode. So tomorrow I should be able to see the 10 action shots and rate my dismount. I think it is a clear 9.5.

Prior to the little tumble, I was exploring St Andrew’s Bay, on South Georgia Island, this afternoon which is home to the largest King Penguin colony in the area. There were also hundreds of assorted seals, mostly fur seals with some elephant seals mixed in. One teenage fur seal charged us but we successfully evaded. The seals are adorable. The King Penguins currently have chicks who are nearly as big as they are but covered in “grizzly bear brown” down feathers. In the morning we took a zodiac tour of Cooper Bay to observe the Macaroni Penguins and assorted seals as it was too dangerous to land. National Geographic/Lidbald Expeditions area really excellent at ensuring guests are well informed and that we all adhere to respecting the wildlife. Honestly, none of the critters seem bothered by us and they are to always be given the right of way. We ensure that we do not get too close, nor interfere. 

We will spend another 3 days in South Georgia and will then head to the Falklands.