Thursday, January 31, 2008

MentalPictures: Infinite sky, BONES, gluttony, and HIGH SPEED KARAOKE

Well, I don´t have ACTUAL pictures to share, but instead... I´ll try to paint a mental picture or two.

1) The infinite sky of patagonia. I took several pictures of Patagonia while traveling across it in bus. It was a 42-hour ride from El Calafate to Mendoza (the Wine Region). I had plenty of time to stare out the windows :)

In Patagonia, the sky is a beautiful cerulean blue. The scrubby brush in the foreground is a light sagey brown, going on for many, MANY km until dramatic hills rise up out in the distance. In this photo, there are many distinct clouds in the sky, all over, but for some reason (temperature inversion?) the clouds only descend to a certain altitude. It is a plane below which there are no clouds at all. Between the clouds one can see the blue sky. This gives an effect which is quite incredible: the layered clouds in the sky make it look as though it goes on forever. Stunning.

(if a picture is worth a thousand words, I still have a long way to go!)

2) While in Valparaiso (Chile), my companion Nike and I went to a graveyard on a hill. There are many old tombs in this graveyard, and one of them was particularly old and looked as though it hadn´t been maintained in decades. It also had a gate on the front that wasn´t locked. We could see from the outside that there was a hole in the back of the tomb (presumably where a coffin would be put), and it APPEARED that there was a tattered old black plastic bag inside.

We opened the gate to the vault (The dead don´t get visitors very often, I´m sure they didn´t mind!) and stepped gingerly inside. The floor was an old plywood plank which creaked in pain once we set foot on it. We stayed inside only long enough to take a photo. The hole in question was about 2 meters away, and I used my zoom. The old tattered black bag WAS IN FACT full of bones.

3) The Buffet
While in Mendoza, my travel companion Daizo and I found a wonderful buffet. When we got there, a number of people were having their photos taken at their tables, so this buffet was a special buffet--one where people go for special occasions.

There was a parilla (tons of meat!) section, there was a seafood section, there was a pizza section, there was pasta, salads, fruits, desserts piled high. In actuality, this buffet put the cruise to SHAME. (Sorry Marco Polo!). There was a dessert kiosk where they´d whip up crepes and another where they´d whip up omeletes.

The desserts had been paid special attention, and each slice of cheesecake had its own decorations and fruit. There was flan, there was pudding, there was ice cream of every imaginable flavor. It would have lit up the eyes of any Roman who walked in that door.

In case I look like I put on weight in any of my photos, I will blame this buffet! (gluttons that we are--we ate there TWICE!)

4) High speed Karaoke
On the trip from El Calafate to Mendoza, our bus attendant was a friendly and cool guy named Sebastian. To make his announcements, he would plug the microphone into the roof of the bus, stand in front, and speak. Of course my spanish is very poor, and I understood little of what he said, BUT at first, it LOOKED like he was setting up for karaoke.

So I asked him if the microphone was for karaoke, and he offered the microphone to me at which point I of course chickened out and said, "broma, broma, chistoso!" (joke, joke, funny!). After he was done making his announcements, I had him bring the microphone over and stick it in my face. The photo I took has him looking suave, holding the mic in front of my face while I look horrified.

Monday, January 28, 2008

This is where a post with pictures would be...

Hi all,

It´s Sunday so I like to have something posted for the coming week. I have had an internet café semi-disaster. I don´t know how it happened, but the memory chip I was using but a few hours ago to take pictures of some cool buildings has gone kaput.

I don´t know if it´s permanently kaput or temporarily kaput, BUT I can´t get the images off the card right now. SO it looks like I´ve lost about 2 weeks worth of photos: Part of Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate, Patagonia, Mendoza (wine region), crossing the Andes, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and of course Santiago, which seems to have beautiful art noveaux buildings oozing out its pores.

SO for right now, I´m going to look back over the photos of Antarctica and sigh... And keep my fingers crossed that at some point I´ll be able to recover the photos.

In any case, I hope

Monday, January 21, 2008

The White Continent

Sunset in Antarctica

Antarctica is stunningly gorgeous. I found myself taking the same photo over and over again as the light changed slightly or the water began to still just a bit. It seems like words are insufficient to describe all the beauty that Antarctica contains.

Antarctica is forbidding, dangerous, and it is really, really cold. These waters can easily be fatal to a human being. Yet this is the preferred territory of so many creatures.
I had no idea there was so much wildlife living in Antarctica! Even though the weather was SUPER cold for me, these animals are well adapted to live here comfortably. I really like the weather in Southern California--coastal Southern California to be specific. So, even as I stood on the bow of the ship freezing myself silly (because it is SO GORGEOUS and I didn´t want to miss anything), the animals of the continent live in comfort on the snows, the ice, with the wind blowing a gale, and windows blowing in storms. I realized that this, Antarctica, IS their Southern California.

Before the photos begin: some backstory...

I traveled south in Argentina until I finally arrived at Ushuaia, "The City At The End Of The World", the furthest south city in South America, and the furthest south city in the world. It is a frequent stop for many cruise ships headed to Antarctica from Buenos Aires, and a frequent port of embarcation for others. It was here that I decided to set myself down, start asking around, and get myself to Antarctica.

I had heard that the best way to get on a cruise was to start asking the travel agents in town. What I found is that the cruises available were FAR outside my budget. So I kept searching.

I decided to turn to my old friend (the Internet :)) to do some more research. I found a "cheap" cruise on a HUGE cruise ship by Princess called the Star Princess. The far was "reasonable", but: it departed from Buenos Aires, it was 16 days, it was 2500 people, and it never allowed disembarkation onto the continent.

I searched some more and found Orient Lines, and their single ship, the Marco Polo. This was to be their final season, and although it was a bit more expensive, the size of the ship was limited to 500 passengers, it departed from Ushuaia, would spend 7 days at sea, allowed disembarcation four times onto the continent, and generally seemed like my cup of tea.

I was staying in the Los Lupinos youth hostel in Ushuaia at the time I was doing this research. Each day I would ask around town, then hit the internet cafe, do some research, and finally return home. While I was sitting in the kitchen of the hostel, I was approached by Daizo and asked what I knew about Antarctic cruises. I told him what I´d found out. After a short conversation, we both had similar goals and both wanted to share a room. Awesome! We´d both save because we´d split the cost of a room.

So we booked the cruise. It departed the 5th of January. We had to book by the 3rd, so we rushed down to the internet cafe and bought our tickets. There was no time to send us tickets, so the pier would hold our information for us. We were so excited!!

General Itinerary:
Day 1: Depart through the Beagle Channel to the open water of the Atlantic
Day 2: Cross into the consistently roughest area sea known to man, the Drake Passage
Day 3: Cruise Deception Island and Cuverville Islands

Day 4: Port Lockroy (Jougla Point)
Day 5: Paradise Harbour (Chilean base at Waterboat Point)
Day 6:
Half-Moon Island, then head to Drake Passage
Day 7: Cross Drake passage to Cape Horn. Then through the Beagle Channel
Day 8: Day in port

The rest is a buncha photos from the experience.

Daizo and I heading out of Ushuaia on the way to Antarctica

Beautiful colors of the cliffs. The green is lichen as is the red. Deception Island, Antarctica

Heading into the caldera at Deception Island, Antarctica

Me (Marco Polo, Antarctica)

During the cruise, for the first time in a LONG time, I was able to play the piano. This is the picture of the theater aboard the ship. I snuck in and journaled and played the piano with Antarctic views out all the windows. It was amazingly fantastic! Waterboat Point, Antarctica

View of the side of the Marco Polo. When I first saw it, I was actually quite worried: you can actually see the ribs of the boat through the outer hull. Near the water on the back of the boat is the "iceberg guard" to keep any floating ice out of the propeller.

Stunning sky on the deck of the ship (Antarctica)

Before I left Phoenix, I had this idea in my head that I wanted to be Naked in Antarctica. And here I am.

In Paradise Harbor, the winds were calm, and at one point stopped. The water turned glassy. Paradise Harbor, Antarctica

The scenery was endlessly stunning. I can´t imagine a more picturesque place (Paradise Harbor, Antarctica)

Every evening before dinner was served, this guy would rev up the xylophone and practice the little dinner ditty... The Pavlovian "let´s get HUNGRY" song. I caught him here giving the announcement into the microphone which is out of view behind the plant. "For those with the early seating at 6:30, dinner is now served in the Seven Seas dining room.... Bon Appetit!" Marco Polo, Antarctica

Whale bones at Port Lockroy, Antarctica

We had unusually nice weather for our cruise. Here you can see a man on top filming. Just inside the glass is the gymnasium (where I used the cardio machines to counteract the buffet). The stern of the ship contains a pool, and the curved railings curve around it, 2 levels below. Paradise Harbor, Antarctica

Reflection in the window (Paradise Harbor, Antarctica)

Chilean base on Waterboat Point, (Paradise Harbour) Antarctica

We were NOT the only ones there in Antarctica! You can see the Chilean Base on the left-hand side, and beyond that in the center of the photo is a SAILBOAT! In the distance is yet another stunning visage: snowy mountains and beautiful sky (Waterboat Point, Antarctica)

Nesting Gentoo penguins (Waterboat Point, Antarctica)

This photo is a zoom-in of the above. The penguin on the left (with wings spread) was SUCH a character. He would slowly lean over toward the nesting penguin (the one he´s facing) who would start squawking once he got too close. He did this repeatedly, each time withdrawing when the nester got cranky. Finally, he went in quickly and stole a small pebble in his beak. Of course, the nesting penguin was testy, but as soon as the theif backed off, all was well again. Then the thief penguin headed back to his own nest to deposit the booty. This is typical penguin behavior, and we saw it a lot. Very funny to witness. There are about 15 billion rocks near the seashore, but they all want what their neighbor has. Human nature exhibited by penguins! Waterboat Point, Antarctica

Waterboat Point, Paradise Harbour, Antarctica

The nearest penguin is laying on the nest. The white all over is penguin poo. It´s funny to watch them poo. They stand up, wiggle their tail, and then this STREAM of white/pinkish stuff comes streaming out. The stuff SHOOTS away from the nest so that the youngens won´t get splattered. HOWEVER, there are a LOT of penguins with lots of OTHER penguins´poo all over them. The penguins nest in colonies... I guess it´s the cost of "safety in numbers" (Port Lockroy, Antarctica)

Interesting photo: In the top, you can see a penguin pelt. If you enlarge the photo, you will see that the underside actually looks woven, like carpet. Next is an egg. This one was opened by the Skuas (the scavengers of the Antarctic) and eaten. On the bottom is something that looks like a flower. It is actually a penguin stomach lining. The penguins eat Krill, and they´re really high in calcium (I think), and the penguins can´t process it. So their adaptation is to vomit up their stomach lining from time to time. Essentially internal molting! Amazing! (Port Lockroy, Antarctica)

At times, we were surrounded by some large icebergs (Paradise Harbor, Antarctica)

The Marco Polo against the backdrop of snow-covered mountain and pristine blue sky at Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Penguins are so cute! Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Penguins at Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Anyone who has been aboard a cruise ship knows that they have activities constantly. On this occasion, my friend & roommate Daizo got chosen to play Jeopardy. My friend Judy and I "translated" for him from time to time, and he actually did quite well. He did great when it came to country capitals of S America! (Marco Polo, Antarctica)

In the lower-right corner of this photo (enlarge by clicking on it!) is a whale tail! Paradise Harbor, Antarctica

Just another Antarctic Sunset!

And they last a LONG time! Because we were so far south, the sun only dipped behind the horizon for about 3 hours a day. This cruise is the first time i have ever experienced a sunset BEFORE a sunrise in a day! One day the sun set at 12:45am, and came back up at 4:38am! The skies were never dark, so I was never able to see stars, BUT the skies were this gorgeous for HOURS at a time! (Lemeire Channel, Antarctica)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ushuaia, Argentina--Next stop: Antarctica!

Midnight in Ushuaia, Argentina

Walking down the dock to meet a sailing boat (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Ushuaia, Argentina is known as the "City at the end of the world". It is the world´s southernmost city. It is very touristy, with a delightful main street with tons of shops. Still, it is possible to eat and sleep economically. I´m currently staying at the Los Lupinos hostel (well named--the Lupines are in full bloom this time of year!--they are beautiful and smell nice too!)

The weather here is SO COLD! I was not expecting it to be this cold and windy. I don´t even have a jacket! BUT I did bring plenty of shirts to layer, and that´s exactly what I´ve been doing.

New Year´s Eve was interesting. At midnight, we made a toast, AND THE SKY STILL WASN´T DARK!!! Although the sun sets around 11pm, it doesn´t really get DARK until about 11:45, and then the sky isn´t dark for another half hour.

This means that whenever I eat dinner--even when I eat very late--which is common, it´s during full sunlight. It´s disorienting!

Ushuaia serves as the jumping-off point for the next point in my journey: my Antarctic Cruise!!! I booked a cruise, and I´ll be departing on the Marco Polo by Orient Lines on the 5th of January. I will return on the 13th of January.

I have had to buy some extra clothes, and am renting boots, waterproof pants, and a big jacket. The cruise lines provides a big parka, so I should hopefully be well equipped. I´m hoping for "good weather" while in the Antarctic... Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Until I return, this will be my last post for a while, so I hope you enjoy!

Looking up at the city and the mountains behind (Ushuaia, Argentina)

The view out my hostel window at Los Lupinos (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Cool bank building (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Lupines in full bloom. Lupines are all over the place here! (Ushuaia, Argentina)

I loved this craggy stump I encountered on the hike (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Vista encountered on the hike (Ushuaia, Argentina)

People have a hard time following instructions here, too (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Cool sidewalk art (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Beautiful berries growing in a crack in a rock (Ushuaia, Argentina)

These golfball sized fungus were all over the place. The trees where they grow seem to have large "knuckle" looking joints wherever the fungus grows. Saw these while on a hike. (Ushuaia, Argentina)

On the hike, found this very pretty little waterfall (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Let´s hope this doesn´t happen on the way to or from Antarctica! (Ushuaia, Argentina)

The entire town of Ushuaia is on a hill, so all the streets are like this, and the yellow flowering bushes are everywhere. It reminds me of Forsythia in Flagstaff (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Dramatic skies are just as common as the freezing breeze. (Ushuaia, Argentina)

Lots of the cars here are old. The occupants of this vehicle were delighted that I was taking their picture and were waving. (Ushuaia, Argentina)