Happy New Year Everyone! I just came back from a brief European adventure and I thought I’d share my exciting experience there to you all. My first post of the year, so I hope you will all enjoy it! Greeting The New Year In The Romantic City of Prague Prague – a city known for [...]
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World’s Whitest Beach? If you thought you saw the whitest sand in the world somewhere in the Caribbean, Asia or the Pacific, perhaps you ought to read this. It’s not quite in any of the tropical paradise that most people would associate a nice white sand beach to. I never thought that a world record [...]
All In A Small Island There are only very few places in the world where you get nice beaches, lush rainforests, exquisite waterfalls and a variety of hot and cold springs all in one island. Camiguin is one of them. Many people from outside the Philippines may not know where this island is, especially since [...]
The Mighty Yangtze
The Yangtze River – most possibly the most well-known river in China. Throughout the history of the Chinese civilisation, the Yangtze River played a very important role in the lives of the Chinese people. There was a popular saying back in the days, that whoever gets to control the Yangtze River gets to control China. Such is its might and power that many Chinese painters from several hundred BC were painting the landscapes and scenery along the river itself.
Being one of the famous rivers in China, the tourists from all over China and the rest of the world have been curious to see the grandeur that has been described in ancient literature as well as early 20th century photographs of the majestic scenery of the river. I too was drawn by the images and words of people who have travelled to the region in the past, and hence I decided to take that cruise along the Yangtze river from the mega-city of Chongqing, downstream towards the Three Gorge Dam to the small town of Yichang.
I, like many other travellers, expected to see some lush green mountains, limestone cliffs and more of the natural scenery that most people usually see when they browse through the websites on Yangtze river cruise. I was so looking forward to taking spectacular photos of the rural Chinese landscape that appears in many ancient Chinese paintings. I expected the river to be clean, with not much rubbish and to be well preserved, since it is one of China’s greatest assets.
The Reality Is…
…And as much as I’d like to give a great feedback on a particular tourist destination, the Yangtze River is quite polluted and there are hardly any pristine sceneries to be found along the way. There is only one or two small section of the Yangtze that offers you the rural scenery that you see in the tourist brochures and . The rest have been filled up with high-rise buildings and new towns and developments to cope with the ever-growing demand and wealth that China has been experiencing in the last 20 years.
Also, since the Three Gorges Dam has been built and went in operation, the water levels have risen significantly and have displaced a lot of the people living on its banks. The settlements along the riverbank have to be moved higher, hence all the new high-rise developments in a number of spots along the way. The rising of the water level has actually submerged a good number of ancient historical buildings and old carvings, and thus added to the disappointment in my visit to the area.
However, in saying that, I can say that going through the Three Gorges itself (which is one of the few remaining pristine areas along the river) and the ancient temples along the way are still nice. The best part for me was seeing the massive Three Gorges Dam and passing through the locks to get downstream to Yichang. It’s definitely one of the most amazing piece of man-made engineering I have seen so far.
The cruise itself all depends on the boat that you get on, so it will be a mixed bag of reviews for the different cruise line companies. The one I got on was the Century Diamond and I can recommend this particular cruise line. The staff are all friendly and the service is good comparative to the service you get in the rest of China.
For the cost and the time you spend on the boat, I would say that the Yangtze river is not as attractive as it used to be, due to the rapid commercialisation and growth of China and that region. If you have a limited time in China, I wouldn’t recommend this to be at the top of your list. Sure, there are nice spots, but not nearly as nice as other attractions in China.
The Breathtaking Patagonia
Patagonia is a region in the southern part of South America that is split between Chile and Argentina. It’s known for its spectacular landscapes comprising of snow-capped mountains, crystal-blue lakes, semi-arid plains and valleys. It’s a trekker’s paradise, with lots of walking tracks around the various national parks in the region, the most famous one being the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.
I visited Patagonia in January 2012, but was not fortunate enough to see Torres del Paine National Park. At that time, there was a bush fire that broke out in Torres del Paine and all tourists have been evacuated to El Calafate in Argentina, which was the nearest town from where the bush fires happened. El Calafate went from a small quiet tourist town into a busy mildly chaotic town where backpackers and trekkers from Torres del Paine were scrambling to find accommodations or the next bus to go to El Chalten. Well, anyway, it probably wasn’t meant to be for me at that time.
My trip to El Calafate was timed after my cruise to Antarctica. I wasn’t sure if it was the best decision to visit this region after having seen such magnificent scenery of massive glaciers and snow-capped mountains in Antarctica, but that was the only time we could spare from my month-long holiday in South America.
One thing that seriously drew me to visit El Calafate was the enormous and magnificent Perito Moreno Glacier. I’ve seen several pictures of it from friends who have visited Argentina, but initially I didn’t know where exactly it was. Only after some research did I realise it was near El Calafate and it is very accessible to the public! Anyway, there’s more to El Calafate than that and the small town. I have listed the 5 things that I love about El Calafate:
1.) Perito Moreno Glacier (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)
No visit to El Calafate and the Argentinean Patagonia is complete without seeing this magnificent piece of ice. It is one of only a handful of glaciers in the world that is advancing, and the unique thing about this glacier is that it is 32 kms long and has a face that is advancing so close to land. Visitors can choose to walk on the glacier itself (via guided tours) or to view the glacier from the lookout point (Pasarela) and marvel at its size and grandeur. There is also an option to take a boat cruise close to the face of the glacier and see it carve as it advances closer to land. No words can do justice to describe this great spectacle of Mother Nature, but perhaps the photos can:
2.) Cerro Fitz Roy and El Chalten
El Chalten is a town 70 kms north of El Calafate and is a trekker’s paradise. There are a few walking tracks to some beautiful glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks, with Cerro Fitz Roy (Mount Fitz Roy) being the highlight of the area. This is what many would claim to be the “Torres del Paine” of Argentina, and the peaks of Fitz Roy does look very similar to Torres del Paine. It would be worth staying overnight in El Chalten and do a long hike to Laguna de los Tres, as it is a 7-hour hike each way and it is the closest point to view the peaks of Fitz Roy. I only went on a day trip, so I only had time to do the walk to Laguna Torre, which was a 3-hour walk each way. The walk to Laguna Torre goes through this beautiful valley and at some stage, it follows the river. The lake is the end point, and you get a view of Cerro Torre.
If you want to learn about how glaciers are formed and the nature of the Patagonian region, the Glaciarium is a great place to visit and check out! It is 18km from the centre of El Calafate, and shuttle vans run from the centre of town to the Glaciarium. There are audio-visual presentations, dioramas, and great exhibits about the natural surroundings of Patagonia and how it all evolved. Outside the Glaciarium, there is an amazing view of Lago Argentina (Lake Argentina), a beautiful turquoise-blue lake, and the vast expanse of the Patagonian plains.
4.) A walk along the shores of Lake Argentina
Lake Argentina is Argentina’s largest lake, and one of South America’s biggest. It has a beautiful turquoise colour that comes from the fact that it is formed by melting glaciers. A good variety of bird species get attracted to its shores, the most famous one being the pink flamingos.
5.) Zipline at Cerro Frias
Take a 4WD up Cerro Frias and make your way down the mountain via South America’s longest zipline! Cerro Frias is a privately-owned estancia (estate) that has opened its doors to tourists for horseback riding, 4WD and its famous zipline. You can choose to take the horse up the hill or the 4WD and then zipline down the hill. Once you reach the top of the hill, you will be able to see the peaks of Torres del Paine in Chile from a distance, as it is only a few kilometres from the border with Chile. The zipline is exhilarating, and offers great views of the valleys, mountains and plains of Patagonia. I certainly enjoyed it and totally recommend to anyone who want more adrenalin-pumping fun!
An Island In the Middle of Nowhere
Mention Easter Island to an avid traveller, historian or archaeologist, and the first thing that comes to mind is the image of those mysterious stone statues called moais that surround the island for over a thousand years. Many historians have wondered how these peculiar statues have come to being, and how the local tribes have managed to carve and bring down those heavy figures from the top of an extinct volcano and transport them throughout the entire island. Moreover, the island is thousands of miles away from the nearest land mass, and with such a distance, scientist have often wondered how ancient Polynesians have migrated to this island and lived with its seamingly limited resources. So many mysteries, so many theories, yet still unsolved until today.
Where Is Easter Island?
It’s been a childhood dream of mine to see the mysterious stone statues of Easter Island. I’ve read and seen photos of these strange statues and I’ve always thought that it would be such a dream to be able to visit them. And lo and behold, fast-track 25 years later and I had the great opportunity to visit this mystical island paradise.
The island was named after the feast day when it was first discovered by Europeans, Easter. Easter Island (Isla de Pascua in Spanish, Rapa Nui in the native language) is a special territory of Chile, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is located 3,510km from mainland Chile, 2000 km from the tiny island of Pitcairn, and around 4,000 km from Tahiti (to its west). It’s considered to be the most remote inhabited island in the world (inhabited by non-incestuous people, that is – Pitcairn Island can be the most remote, but everyone there is related).
Though it is a small island, Easter Island has enough attractions to see for a couple of days at least. Most people tend to stay between 3 to 5 days and enjoy the island’s rich archaeological sites, as well as its unique Polynesian culture and laid-back lifestyle.
What To See On Easter Island
Here are some of the things you have to check out while on Easter Island
1.) Moai Statues
This is the most obvious attraction, and the main reason most people from all over the world have for coming to Easter Island. The mystery of the Moai has become one of those legendary wonders of the world, at par with the mysteries of the Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt. There are several sites to view the moai. Some of the moais have been re-erected on to their ahu (altar), while some have been left in its original state, as found by the European explorers when they first arrived, or as it was when the 1960 tsunami hit Easter Island and toppled some of the moais.
Here are some of the sites to view the moais:
- Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki is the biggest set of standing moais on the island. It was re-erected by the Japanese in 1960s using cranes, and in return, to thank the Japanese, the island lent them a moai for the World Expo 1970 in Japan.
- Ahu Akivi
Another great site for viewing moais that have been re-erected. This ahu is slightly different from the others in that this is erected inland (unlike the others that are along the coastline) and the moai statues are looking out to sea, instead of looking inland like the other ahu’s.
- Ahu Nau Nau
This ahu is one of the 2 ahus that you can find on Anakena Beach.
- Ahu Akahanga
This site is where you will find fallen moais and remnants of an ancient Rapa Nui village, just as how it was when the early European explorers discovered the island. It is a fascinating place in that you will see how the people who carved the moais used to live.
2.) Beach and Volcano Crater
- Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach is the biggest beach on the island, and the most swimmable. It has white sand, crystal clear waters and palm trees that were introduced into the island from Tahiti.
- Rano Raraku
Rano Raraku is an extinct volcano from where most of the moais on Easter Island have been carved from. It is declared a national park in itself, and there is a trail where people can walk up the volcano to view all the remaining moais that were left unfinished by the Rapa Nui people. Some of the moais were only half carved and some have been left facing down.The place looks like how the early European explorers found the moais on Easter Island, abandoned and lying face down.
- Rano Kau (volcanic crater)
This extinct volcano has a viewable crater with a lake in it, and around the area was where the strange “birdman” cult started and thrived on the island. The cult was known to worship a “birdman” who was chosen from childhood and the chosen one is pretty much kept in captivity. The selection process of the birdman is a cruel one. A few boys are challenged to race over rough seas and swim to the nearby steep rock formation where a certain type of bird lays its nest at the very top of this high steep rock. The boy who manages to climb the steep rock successfully and bring back the egg of this bird intact back to the volcano and offer to the “Birdman” becomes the next birdman.
Other Things To Experience On Easter Island
Ahu Te Pito Kura
Though it is called an Ahu, it doesn’t necessarily have any moais on it. Ahu means “sacred place”. This site is unique in that it contains a round stone. This mystical stone is believed to possess healing powers and energy(mana). The Rapa Nui people call this the “Navel of Mother Earth”. If you put a compass over it, it will not be able to detect north from south and would spin around like crazy. People who believe in energies and healing power of stones can touch their forehands and face down on it to receive mana from it.
Love it or loathe it, cultural shows are a good way of understanding and learning more about how the traditional people of a country live, their food and their customs. For some places more than others, the local culture may be on the verge of decline and death, and the only way they are preserved is through cultural shows. Such is the case in Easter Island. The Rapa Nui people (as the natives of Easter Island are called) have nearly been completely decimated by starvation and famine before the early European explorers found the island, and thus, their unique culture have nearly vanished. You will be able to experience the dance, myth, customs and food when you go to a dinner and show.
There are a few options on the island in terms of dinner and show packages but the one that I particularly liked is called Te Ra’ai. This show offers a traditional Rapa Nui dinner, cooked in underground earth ovens, and prepared with a traditional Rapa Nui ceremony of blessing the food. The dinner is followed by a very traditional Rapa Nui dance performance. The other shows actually have a mix of other Polynesian dances, but this one is purely Rapa Nui.
Of course, you can’t visit a place without trying the local cuisine! Easter Island unfortunately isn’t abundant in natural resources or fresh produce from the land but being surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean, it is very abundant with fish. The most common fish you can get there is tuna, and the tuna there is so fresh! I highly recommend trying the ceviche, which is a typical Chilean dish of marinated raw fish with tomato, onions and spices. The best ceviche I’ve had so far (comparing this to the ones from mainland South America) was from Easter Island! It is a must-try!
Easter Island, being in the middle of the Pacific, can offer spectacular sunsets. You don’t have to go far to see them from Hanga Roa town (the main town of the island). There are a few moais near the coastline of Hanga Roa, and you can take great photos of the sunset with the moais.
How to get to Easter Island
The easiest way to reach Easter Island is to take the once-or-twice-daily LAN Airlines flight from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island (Hanga Roa airport – IPC). The flight takes roughly 6 hours. There are also flights from Papeete, Tahiti to Easter Island on LAN Airlines, but they are very infrequent (once a week only, also around 6 hours). As of writing, LAN Airlines have started a twice-weekly service from Lima, Peru to Easter Island (Hanga Roa airport – IPC) and flight also takes around 6 hours.
Where To Stay
The main (and only) town on Easter Island is called Hanga Roa, and is where you will find all accommodations. Booking accommodations on the island can be expensive, and it is more often cheaper to get a package that includes the tour of the island. I stayed at Hotel Chez Joseph, which is near the town’s church and school.
Easter Island is definitely one island worth visiting despite the distance. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post from Fabulous Journeys!
Goodbye Amazing Antarctica (for now.. Maybe I will be back)
This is the final instalment of my Antarctica Diaries. I hope you have enjoyed reading the other entries on my experience in the White Continent. Antarctica is a truly magical place, barely touched by humans, and exuding in raw beauty and pristine wonder. If you have not read my other entries about Antarctica, here they are:
If you’ve been inspired by my experience in Antarctica, you must really get yourself over there! These companies are what I’d recommend you consider when booking your journey to Antarctica:
Day 8 – Deception Island and Half Moon Island
In the morning, our ship negotiated the narrow passage on Deception Island called Neptune’s Bellows. Deception Island is a volcanic island, and the Neptune’s Bellows was formed from the breaking of the volcano crater, which then let the sea water into the crater and formed a bay. There is one bay that people could swim in Deception Island, as the volcanic ash warms up the water to 30 degrees when washed away from land into the sea by the tide. Unfortunately for us, the wind went up to 25 knots and it was deemed dangerous for the zodiacs to go into the water, so we only had a glimpse of the bay and the U-shaped island.
Our ship then changed course and took us to Half Moon Island in the South Shetland Islands. It was our last zodiac landing for the entire trip, and quite a nostalgic moment for me. Last time to see those cute penguins, the chilled out seals, and the amazing scenery.. Half Moon Island was very beautiful! There was a Chinstrap penguin colony, a few Weddell seals, and some Arctic Terns. At one end of the island is the Argentine military base and research station, which opens only in the summer but has not opened this season yet while we were there. I really enjoyed the scenery though, with mountains and glaciers around the other side of the island. The place was absolutely serene, and I was savouring the last moments in one of earth’s last frontiers.
In the evening, our ship started sailing for the Drake’s Passage, as there was a forecasted storm that was crossing the Drake and we wanted to avoid of minimise the time getting past the storm. They showed David Attenborough’s Frozen Planet in the multimedia room on the ship.
Day 9 – Drake’s Passage
It’s a rough day out in the sea. There are 4m swells and the boat is really rocking! Some of the guys have started a competition for who can survive the Drake’s Passage without any seasickness tablets and without throwing up. I joined the competition, and so far so good (this is at 1:50pm).
There was a lecture in the morning about Antarctic Seals. It was interesting to learn about the different characteristics and behaviours of each type of seals, and where you can find them. Shame that this happened after the trip, but I guess going on land earlier is much better than having this lecture when we arrived in the South Shetlands (this was the schedule back then).
The Drake Passage became rougher and rougher.. The 4-meter waves became 10 meter waves, and it was seriously difficult to walk on the ship! Eating was already a challenge in itself, as the food would sometimes slide off the plate due to the sharp angle that the ship tilts while navigating through the massive waves! Many people have started throwing up and giving up on the challenge, but I managed to stand strong, and had completely no medication during that period. Admittedly, I was seriously uncomfortable, and I have never experienced such rough seas in my life! We got lucky on our way to Antarctica, but it was not the case on our way back. Welcome to the real Drake Passage (as the captain told us)!
Day 10 – Drake’s Passage – Cape Horn/Beagle Channel
Our final day at the rough Drake Passage, and I managed to hold up without throwing up! During breakfast, the whole ship was rocking too much that I had so much difficulty getting my breakfast from the buffet table! I so admire the waitresses Veronica and Tamara for their superb balancing skills and ended up getting the breakfast for me and took it to my table! And while eating, my breakfast even slid off my plate with the incessant rocking of the ship!
The crew decided to postpone the lecture til the late afternoon when the sea was much calmer, so that people can attend. I went to the bridge and saw more waves crashing into the ship. When we reached Cape Horn, the sea was so much calmer, but with the tough conditions earlier, the kitchen crew were only able to make sandwiches for lunch. At that point, I was ready to celebrate my victory of not having taken medication and not having thrown up during the rough Drake Passage crossing! J
In the afternoon, we had a brief debrief, and then a presentation of videos that the crew and Levend (one of the passengers – the cool Turkish guy who has a travel agency and travels around the world extensively) have prepared for us.. All in the DVD! J
Then, it was time for our final dinner at the ship, and then an after party with the crew in the bottom part of the ship! So much latin music dancing, and some of the crew were just amazing at dancing!
Day 11 – Final day
Final breakfast on the ship, and it was time to say goodbye to the crew and to the new found friends on the ship. It’s been a fantastic journey, a trip of a lifetime, and very fortunate to be in the company of wonderful crew and wonderful passengers! This is absolutely one trip that I will never, ever forget!
I hope you have enjoyed my Antarctic diaries series, and I hope I have inspired you to visit Antarctica and marvel at the jaw-dropping scenery and very cool wildlife.
To more Fabulous Journeys ahead!
The Antarctica Journey Continues
This is the fourth instalment to my Antarctica Diaries series, where I’m sharing the accounts of my recent trip to Antarctica onboard the M/V Ushuaia. In case you haven’t seen my previous post, check out the links below for my first 3 posts of the diaries:
Day 7 – Boxing Day – Hydrurga Rocks and Trinity Island
Breakfast was early again today, and our first trip on the zodiac was to Hydrurga Rocks. We were told that Hydrurga Rocks isn’t really on most Antarctic maps, and hence, not many ships would go and do a zodiac landing there, so we’re so fortunate to be able to visit it. On this place, we found more Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin colonies, and some Weddell seals lying in the snow. There were a good number of Weddell seals around, so it must be a popular place for them to hang around.
The best part was seeing 2 Adelie penguins that went astray and stayed on the island for a while! It was the first time I saw Adelie penguins on the trip, as we were not able to reach their colonies on Petermann Island just past the Lemaire Channel. I got excited that I finally got to see this specie of penguin, which is becoming rare to find on the top part of the Peninsula!
In the afternoon, we went to Mikkelsen Harbour to an island called Trinity Island with an abandoned Argentinean emergency shed, with a Gentoo penguin colony underneath and more Gentoo colonies. There was an abandoned whaling boat and whale remains around on one side of the island, and a few Weddell seals were hanging out by the beach. There was a lone chinstrap penguin by the beach. There is a small hill where a Gentoo colony can be found, and offers a good view of the harbour and its surrounds.
In the evening, during dinner, we set sail for the Neumeyer Channel, where the sea started to become rough, and I didn’t get as much sleep. Though it wasn’t as bad as what we were gonna experience next!
Watch this space for the fifth instalment of my adventures in Antarctica!
White Christmas in Antarctica!
Having lived in the Southern Hemisphere for the past 10 years made me miss the typical “White Christmas” that I grew up to imagining as a child. I grew up in the Philippines, and though it doesn’t snow there, I grew up thinking of Xmas from all the Xmas songs and Hollywood movies I saw as a child, where it’s the typical Northern Hemisphere Christmas. I have spent 3 other real white Christmases before in Europe, but nothing can beat Christmas in Antarctica!
Christmas day was obviously spent with the penguins and more spectacular views of the white continent. Following on my posts about South Shetlands and Paradise Bay, here’s a continuation of my journal during my trip to Antarctica:
Day 6 –Xmas Day! - Neko Harbour and Orne Harbour Zodiac cruise
Neko Harbour and Orne Harbour Zodiac cruise – we had an early start to the morning, and our ship went to Neko Harbour in the morning. Neko Harbour was the second and our final landing on the Antarctic continent (the rest were on islands off the continent). The landing site was quite unique in that it was close to one of the glacier terminals. We were advised that as we land on the shore, that we immediately go up to the higher part of the island and not hang around the beach area. This was because when the glacier calves, it causes a mini-tsunami which could potentially sweep us into the water.
On the landing at Neko Harbour, there were a few Gentoo penguin colonies around the lower part of the land. We went up the hill to see the majestic view of the harbour itself. We hanged around for a while at the top, just watching the glacier directly opposite us calve every now and then, and just enjoying the magnificent view.. We also saw some skuas hovering around and fighting with each other. Some Gentoo penguins were nesting in the snow, which was another unusual thing for them to do, and doesn’t give their chicks much of a chance at survival. Our biologist guide told us that these could be first-time parents, and they probably are still learning the ropes on how to breed and hatch a chick. On our way back on the zodiac, the crew mentioned that there were minke whales swimming around the ship, and our zodiac happens to be there when the whales were swimming! We had an up close view of the minke whales swimming around and underneath our zodiac boats! It was such a surreal experience! I’ve never gone that close to a whale before! And I was lucky enough to be one of the last 2 zodiacs that were in the water that time (the other passengers have gone up to the ship already).
In the afternoon, we were split up into 2 groups to cruise around the Orne Harbour. I was on the second group, and unfortunately, that was when the weather turned for the worse. It snowed and was a bit uncomfortable. I was sitting at the very front of the zodiac, and I ended up being the “snow breaker” for the people on my side of the zodiac! It was quite painful in the eye, I have to say! But, on the other hand, we did have a white Christmas after all! There were some amazing icebergs and glaciers around the area! We got to see a Weddell seal on an iceberg, as well as some chinstrap penguins, Antarctic cormorants, Antarctic terns and the common seagull.
In the evening, just after we all finished with our main course, the expedition leader called out saying there are a couple of humpback whales swimming near the ship. There was a mad rush to see the whales that everyone didn’t eat the dessert anymore! The whales were just magnificent to look at! And it all suddenly cleared up and the sunset was amazing! Well, not quite sunset as there was light at 12 midnight still!
More info to come!
Finally Landing on the Antarctic Continent!
Continuing from my previous post on Antarctica, where we made our journey from Ushuaia, crossed the Drake Passage and then made our first landing. The first landing on our journey was on the South Shetland islands, which are considered sub-Antarctic islands. In theory, we haven’t really set foot on the Antarctic continent itself at that point yet.
Here’s the next couple of days’ events that happened during our journey in Antarctica:
Day 4 – Cuverville Island and Paradise Bay
Our boat cruised overnight along the Gerlache strait and docked near Cuverville island, where after breakfast, we boarded the zodiacs again and landed on Cuverville Island itself. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we all dressed up warm. In fact, we prepared for the cold too much that most of us felt hot when we got to the island! When we landed, our guides told us to either choose between staying just on the shore area, or hike up this hill, which is supposedly medium in difficulty level. Most of us passengers then decided to hike up this hill, which ended up feeling like a steep hill for me! The top of the hill is supposed to have amazing views of the bay and the other side of the island. And it was! But man was the climb tough for me, as the path was very narrow, slippery and steep! There was a Gentoo penguin colony halfway up the hill. It was a difficult climb for me and I somehow had to hold the expedition biologist Julieta’s hand to get down the hill!!
When we got back to the ship, I was feeling so hot from the thick clothing (and also my fear of heights/vertigo setting in made me sweat profusely) that I just dressed up in t-shirt and hawaiian shorts. I went to the dining hall for lunch just wearing this outfit, and nearly every passenger was just staring at me! I had no idea why they were looking at me strangely until one of the guys pointed to my hawaiian shorts! Wearing hawaiian shorts in Antarctica! Now that’s really odd! Everyone had a laugh!
In the afternoon, our ship cruised along and reached the area of Paradise Bay. We went on a zodiac cruise first around Paradise Bay, and saw some crabeater seals, and Weddell seals. There were also penguins on some of the seal colonies. We also saw some Cormorants nesting on the side of a cliff. After the zodiac cruise, we went to the old abandoned Argentine station called Brown Station, and this was our very first time to set foot on the Antarctic continent! It was one of the very few places in the continent where you can make a landing from sea straight to land without having to use an ice axe! We then climbed up this hill and saw an amazing view of the harbour. Truly a paradise! On our way down, we slid down the hill on our bums, which was really great fun!
In the evening, we had a parillada (Argentinean BBQ) snack and dinner. We had chori-pan for snack (yum!) and asado for dinner. It’s one of the best dinners so far on this trip!
Day 5 – Xmas eve – Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy, Danco Island
Our ship attempted to go into the Lemaire Channel, which is a very narrow passage between towering peaks and glaciers. This passage was only discovered less than 100 years ago, as it was very narrow, and few ships can get through it. We were told that this passage was blocked with lots of ice in the last couple of days, and some cruise ships who had been in the area the day before were not able to get through due to so much pack ice. But still, our captain wanted to give it a go. We were all looking forward to this, as we would be able to see the only Adelie penguin colony that is still accessible on Antarctic cruises, plus the spectacular scenery of going through the Lemaire Channel. Unfortunately for us, it was still blocked with so much ice, so we had to do Plan B.
Plan B was to visit to Port Lockroy and Wiencke Island. It was snowing, and weather was not that great. Wiencke Island was our first stop, with more Gentoos penguin colonies, and remains/bones of a whale being left on the island. First time I saw a penguin’s egg still being incubated by the mother penguin, and I also saw some broken eggs that the Antarctic skuas managed to steal and eat from the mother penguins. Next we moved over to Port Lockroy, just on the other side. Port Lockroy is a British-run museum and semi-research station, and had a gift shop and post office in it. It was our only chance to buy a souvenir that is really from Antarctica and send our postcards from the frozen continent!
In the afternoon, we went to Danco island, and hiked up to a small hill which had a Gentoo penguin colony. There were penguins along the beach as well, and it was very funny to see them walk along and swim into the water. I learned a new term – raft of penguins – which means a group of penguins swimming together! Then we went on a brief zodiac cruise through the icebergs floating around.
In the evening, we had the traditional Xmas eve dinner in the ship with duck as the main meal. Afterwards, the party started in the bar! We had some music, dancing, people playing with the balloon decorations, someone creating a snowman on the deck, and the funny part – a group of guys taking their shirts off outside in the snow at the front of the ship! Crazy lads! Someone made a snowman on deck, as we had enough snow on board to make one! X’mas eve is traditionally when most Argentineans and South Americans celebrate X’mas, and since most of the crew were Argentineans, we did it their way. It was a shock to most Westerners who are used to celebrating on the 25th (Xmas day itself)!
Til the next part of Antarctica Diaries – hope you have enjoyed it so far! Please leave some comments if you wish
Happy New Year! Back From Antarctica!
I know January is already about over, but I have just returned from an amazing trip to Antarctica and South America. Antarctica was just an amazing place! Totally wild, totally pristine, and totally magical! It’s the earth’s last frontier in every sense of the word! No one lives in Antarctica, no country owns it, and the continent was not properly explored until only 100 years ago, when nearly all the world was already discovered. Its harsh climate and the very rough high seas and oceans surrounding it have isolated it from human civilisation, and thus preserving all the wildlife in its purest state.
I would like to share with you some of my diary entries about my trip to Antarctica. While each crossing/sailing is always different (due to the unpredictable and very fickle weather), I still hope that this gives you an insight as to what I went through during the 11 days out in the open sea and in Antarctica.
How I went to Antarctica
I was scouting around for great deals to Antarctica, and found really good specials with G Adventures to start with. I heard of a lot of fantastic things about them. I looked at the dates they were sailing and availability, but unfortunately for me, there was no availability. After much searching, I found a voyage with Antarpply, which worked pretty well for me. I’m glad I did, coz the crew were great, and the ship was just the right size, with only 84 passengers on board and is within the limits of the international law on landings in Antarctica. (NOTE: there is an international law that restricts the maximum number of people per landing in Antarctica to 100 people, so 84 passengers, plus around 12 crew of zodiac drivers and guides is just within the limits, and you don’t need to take turns or be in batches when doing landings!).
Most cruise ships to Antarctica depart from Ushuaia in Argentina, though there are some that leave from Punta Arenas in Chile, and also some very few expeditions start from Australia and New Zealand (though they can be longer, as they’re further from Antarctica itself). In my case, I booked a flight to Ushuaia from Sydney, Australia via Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital.
Day 1 – Boarding the ship
We boarded the ship M/V Ushuaia from the port of Ushuaia, Argentina at 4pm, meet and greet the staff of M/V Ushuaia over champagne and some snacks. Safety briefing and emergency drills were conducted. This was interesting, as we were all told to wear all our cold and wet weather gear, plus the life jacket that goes around the neck and feels very uncomfortable! Lucky this was only in case of emergencies! After the drill, dinner was served, and we all had a chance to meet the people on the boat, who we will be spending the next 11 days with. There were only 84 passengers, so you pretty much will get to know everyone at the end of the trip. At this stage, our ship was still navigating through the Beagle Channel, and will only start crossing the Drake Passage by midnight. Everyone on the ship was gearing up for what is known to be a notorious part of the journey to Antarctica.
Day 2 – Drake’s Passage Day 1
First day in the infamous Drake’s Passage. The sea is remarkably calm, which is unusual for this body of water. Our captain told us that we are very lucky to witness the rare occasion where we have calm seas and sunny days here at the Drake Passage. I was fine the whole time, but my friend Don was totally not feeling well. During the day, there were lectures on board, from the biology of Antarctic sea birds, to penguins and the different types of penguins, to the geography of Antarctica. After the lectures, since the weather was great, the biologists on board would organise bird watching sessions at the very top deck and point out the different types of birds that somehow trailed our ship.
There were Antarctic birds flying behind our boat, particularly the giant petrels, Cape or Pintado petrel, Snow petrel, Albatross, and so much more!
Day 3 – Drake’s Passage and South Shetlands
Second day in the Drake’s Passage and the sea was starting to be rougher. However, we were getting closer to the South Shetland Islands. Our boat managed to travel at a good speed and we arrived at the South Shetlands earlier than expected. We had the afternoon to cruise around the South Shetlands and made our very first zodiac landing on the island of Barrientos, in the Aitcho group of islands. The island had Gentoo and Chinstrap penguin colonies and an elephant seal colony on the other side. Our first encounter of land in 2 days of sailing! And our first encounter with penguins in this trip! There were a good number of Gentoo Penguin colonies and they were just so curious of our presence on the island! If you stand still for a while, the penguins will actually come and approach you! Here are some shots of penguins on the island:
Til the next post…
FINALLY, I’M GOING!
It’s been a while since I posted an entry on my blog. I have been busy planning for other areas of my life, but more importantly, for a big trip that is happening in a week’s time: I’M FINALLY GOING TO SEE ANTARCTICA!
Fabulous Journeys will bring you to the Frozen Continent next year, and I will showcase all the fantastic scenery and snaps from one of earth’s last frontiers! I’m so excited to have found a special deal for the trip and also a good slot for my next adventure!
Antarctica has been a dream destination of mine since I was a kid (though not many people know about this!) and to have that ability to see it now is just so amazingly fantastic! I have been wanting to go to the point that I even joined a competition to blog about it (unfortunately, I didn’t win). I know some of my friends think I’m nuts, but I think a lot of people can only dream of reaching this remote part of our planet.
Wishing you all a fantastic Xmas, and a Fabulous New Year ahead!
Czech Republic’s Next Tourist Hot Spot
Mention Czech Republic and the one and only thing that most people have in mind is Prague. Prague is indeed a very beautiful and romantic city, but there is more to see in the Czech Republic than just Prague. Several medieval towns dot the entire country, and if you search well enough, you’ll be amazed by all the quaint-looking towns and villages that is steeped in history. One place that many people have now discovered is the small town in southern Bohemia called Cesky Krumlov.
What is in Cesky Krumlov?
Cesky Krumlov is a good 3 hour drive south of Prague. This tiny town situated on the banks of the Vltava River, and is one of the most important cultural and art centres in the Czech Republic. The Cesky Krumlov Castle nestles atop a rocky hill, and stands majestically overlooking the entire town. The town can trace its roots back to the construction of the castle in the 13th Century. The buildings around the town have been built between the 14th and 17th century, and have since been restored and preserved. The whole of Cesky Krumlov has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, an honour which it truly deserves.
Wandering around Cesky Krumlov really takes you back to the medieval times, with its cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways, those quaint shop windows and the typical town square that forms part of any medival town. I visited the town in winter, and as many people would agree, it is the best time to see this town. The snow-covered rooftops of the houses, the castle, and the river banks look very picturesque. The best part of visiting during winter is that the town has less tourists, and you can feel that real laid-back atmosphere that the town is normally, sans the tourists.
There isn’t much in the way of must-see attractions in the town, apart from the imposing Cesky Krumlov Castle, which offers a spectacular view of the town and its surroundings. There are some museums around, and definitely those quaint shops are worth visiting, but just having a stroll around its cobblestoned streets and admiring the architecture that the ancient buildings have to offer is worth the visit to this bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov.
How To Get There
Shuttle buses run everyday between Prague and Cesky Krumlov, and from Vienna or Linz in Austria. Companies like Shuttle Lobo or Private Prague Guide offer these shuttle buses which doesn’t cost a lot more than the train, and is more convenient. The train station in Cesky Krumlov is a bit further from the Old Town itself, and hence, doesn’t provide quite the same convenience to tourists.
If you’re coming from a country other than Austria, Germany or Czech Republic, the easiest way is to arrive in Prague, as this is the nearest city with a major international airport. Check out some great deals to Prague or Vienna on Expedia or Zuji, two of the best travel websites around who offer great deals quite regularly.