Chubby Brit on a mission to see the world! 7th continent achieved: 16/11/2019 A mix of travel journals and photos - most trips are locked, follow me to unlock.
  • Day21

    And finally...

    November 30, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 1 °C

    My plane touches down 15 minutes behind schedule, and I’m certainly glad to get out and stretch my legs. That was a long flight. And yesterday’s luggage incident has continued to have knock on effects, as many passengers have chosen to come straight back on this flight, which means the flight was overbooked and lots of people ended up being being downgraded, to much anger and vitriol at the check-in desk. I must admit, I didn’t know they could do that. Thankfully I wasn’t one of them, but Dinah, one of the ladies who was on the cruise with me and who is in her eighties, was downgraded to economy from premium, which she’d specifically booked for the extra leg room, as she suffers from joint pain. I went down and offered to swap seats with her during the flight, but she wouldn’t have it. Suffice it to say, we’re all glad to be back on terra firma.

    I’m being driven back from the airport, which is a lovely treat, as I didn’t manage to sleep at all on the plane, so the prospect of a 3-4 hour drive would not be at all welcome. The quiet time gives me chance to reflect on the last three weeks. It has been a truly wonderful experience and a unique privilege, getting to visit Antarctica. Before I left, I remember reading a quotation from someone saying that if you can describe Antarctica, then you’ve probably never been there. I understand that 100%. It is indescribable in its entirety - the best I can attempt is to try to illustrate small pieces of it. Thankfully photos help, but again, they don’t really capture the scale of it: the ubiquity of the ice and snow.

    The months of planning for this trip were fraught with problems: from issues with medical forms, mutterings of a possible BA strike in November, the outbreak of civil unrest in Chile and of course, my parents’ last minute cancellation... if I were a superstitious person, I might be inclined to think that Antarctica is not keen to give up its treasures without you having earned them. But, once we we arrived, it treated us remarkably well. The weather was glorious, and even on the few occasions when it wasn’t, it provided us with new and exciting opportunities. Notwithstanding my lousy sea-legs, the Drake Passage was incredibly kind to us in both directions - even more so when I compare it to the horrific waves on some of the YouTube videos I foolishly watched before setting out. And I found myself in better company than I could’ve hoped for, which was truly wonderful given that my trip suddenly became a solo adventure. To my fellow ‘explorers’: Sarah, Dinah, Anne, John, Wendy, Jennifer, Barry, Roger and Leslie - and especially to Rick, who made sure I never had to eat alone and who kept me company on all the expeditons - I’d like to say a massive thank you, and I hope our travels continue to take us to new and exciting places. And to those who have been reading along, thank you so much for your support. Until the next time, I’ll leave you with one final Antarctic sunset.

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    Rosalind Scott

    I loved this so much! Thank you so much for writing it - you really are a fabulous writer. I can't wait to hear even more about it on Saturday!! XX

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  • Day20

    Heading home

    November 29, 2019 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    My car picks me up at 12:20 today and brings me straight to the airport. Along the way, I have a nice chat with the driver - which goes rather well, given he doesn’t speak English and I’m not aware I speak much Spanish. He explains to me that the airport is 3 years into a 4-year expansion programme, which explains the building work all around the terminals. The elephant in the room is also addressed as he brings up the ongoing protests and asks if they had affected my trip. I tell him honestly not really, as I’ve only spent a few days in Chile during the past three weeks, but people in his position must be very sensitive to the effects that the ongoing protests are having on tourism. He tells me many tourists from the USA have stopped coming to Chile entirely.

    As we head out of the city, evidence of Chile’s wealth disparity (a major focus of the protests) is quite apparent - as I leave the bright and shiny financial district, past high-rise residential buildings in securely-gated communities, turning onto the well-maintained highway, lined in places with spring flowers, you only need to look a little beyond the crash barriers to see vast swathes of single-storey tin-roofed shacks and roughly constructed homes. Then again, Chile is hardly unique in that regard. Maybe the news has just made me more aware of it now.

    At the terminal, I say goodbye to my driver and head into the rugby scrum that is Santiago Airport. I must say, I feel I’ve seen all I would ever wish to see of this place over the past few weeks. Chilean immigration provides an annoying choke-point in the airport’s fast-track security process - beyond the glass in front of me I see two empty security stations, because border control only have one desk open, so the line for fast-track is 50 people deep. That rather negates the point, somewhat.

    A quick call from home establishes that that my sister-in-law has not gone into labour yet, and I let them know that I’ve made it to the airport in one piece, so all that remains is for me to sit back with a coffee and wait for my 14-and-a-bit-hour non-stop flight to London to begin boarding.
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  • Day19

    Last night in Santiago

    November 28, 2019 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Well, it seems the rumours were true. This morning, a van containing dozens of people’s luggage destined for the same cruise as I’ve just completed was hijacked at gun-point on its way to Santiago airport. The van is gone, along with everyone’s belongings. My hotel lobby is full of distraught people whose holiday of a lifetime is now over before it has even begun. You can’t go to Antarctica with no luggage, it’s just not an option. Nor is it an option to go buy more winter clothes at the mall - it’s spring here in Santiago now. What an awful thing to happen. And I can’t stop thinking that could so easily have been our group. It doesn’t bear thinking about, and I’m so sad for those people downstairs who are now trying to book flights home. I know how I would feel. Santiago, along with most of Chile, is in the grip of some very bad times. On delivery to our hotel, our guide insists that we don’t stray far from the immediate vicinity this evening, and certainly to go nowhere near the downtown area of the city. So, apologies if my pictures look pretty much the same as last time, but unfortunately Santiago is not the place for tourism at the moment. I don’t know whether this incident has anything to do with the protests, or if - as seems the case in other parts of the world - social unrest just becomes a carte blanche for lawlessness, but if organised gangs are now targeting the very tourism on which many areas financially depend, then it’s hard to remain hopeful that things are going to be resolved quickly.

    I have a private transfer booked tomorrow at 12:30 to get me back to the airport, after which I shall feel a little more at ease. But for now, it’s room service and a film in bed.
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  • Day19

    Return to Punta Arenas

    November 28, 2019 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 4 °C

    We docked up in Punta Arenas at 06:30 this morning. When we left two weeks ago, parts of the city were on fire, casualties of the ongoing protests in Chile. I’ve not heard too much on the news about the situation while we’ve been in Antarctica - most of the coverage had been focusing on Colombia, parts of which have also exploded into civil unrest - so I’m wondering what we’ll find now.

    We have to vacate our cabins by 08:00, but our transfer to the airport for the domestic flight up to Santiago isn’t until 10:00, so there’s going to be a certain degree of waiting around this morning. I wander around the restaurant saying goodbye to some of the staff. To kill some time, I then head up to the lounge on deck 10, where I presumed I could get a coffee, but my dreams are dashed - they’re not providing any this morning. There’s a few bleary-eyed people up here who were also clearly expecting a coffee fix. Oh well. At least the view is good from up here. Last time we were in Punta Arenas, the weather was fairly grim, and the smoke from the fires didn’t help visibility any - today the weather is much better, and it’s quite a nice view from the top of the ship. From here, I can see the ski resort in the distance, where we did our Andean hike during our South American cruise last year. Not sure I’d manage that now, with my knee being as it is. Definitely need to work on a fitness programme when I get back. Better get Christmas out of the way first, though...

    Arrival at the airport is relatively smooth, but once through security we start chatting with some of the Australian passengers who disembarked the ship earlier (and who have still not taken off) and they fill us in on the gossip - rumours are abounding that a luggage van, carrying many of the suitcases of the next lot of passengers who are coming to join the cruise today, has been hijacked on its way to the airport in Santiago. Correspondingly, the planes coming down here - which are the ones that will be taking us back to Santiago - have been delayed. I’m not sure how much of it is true, but I can’t imagine a worse start to a holiday for someone heading to the Antarctic than to have your gear stolen en route. Not sure what the solution could be to that.

    So our flights are delayed, not sure yet by how much, but I’m not planning to do much in Santiago tonight anyway (it sounds like the place is increasingly unsafe), so as long as I get there before midnight, then it’s all good with me.
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  • Day18

    At sea

    November 27, 2019, South Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    We’re halfway across the ocean heading back to Punta Arenas now. Today is the day for packing and querying items on our bills. I’ve already been to the reception desk because my 20-minute bus transfer to the hotel in Santiago has been billed at €230. At that price, I’d better be carried there on a sedan chair by four strapping latino men.

    There are a few lectures on today, but nothing much that takes my fancy, so I guess I’m gonna have a sleepy day in and around my cabin. Thankfully, the ocean doesn’t seem too rough - it’s a nightmare trying to pack whilst feeling ill. A little thought will have to go into the packing though, as they want to collect the cases tonight at 22:00, but we’re not getting off the boat until 10:00 tomorrow, and from there we’re getting straight on a plane.

    I’ve been having a mini identity crisis on this boat. My cabin steward has taken to calling me James, and while that is technically one of my names, it’s not one I’ve ever really used. But, for whatever reason, I haven’t felt the need to correct him, so I’ve been Dr James for the past few weeks, which I actually kinda like. To add to the confusion, there’s another couple onboard who have confidently decided that my name is Graham, and it’s now far too late to point out their error. So I’m now responding to three different names and it’s quite fun.

    This afternoon has generated a small surprise - at 13:45 I get a phone call to my cabin informing me that my tour of the engine department will be starting in 10 minutes down on deck 3. This is news to me, as I certainly haven’t requested one, and there’s nothing on the programme, but I’m hardly pressed for time, so off I go.

    Downstairs, there’s a group of about 20 of us waiting for the tour. Anthony, an Australian guy I’ve been chatting with, is there and he says that, because they can’t have the whole boat traipsing through the engine department, they’ve selected a few cabins at random for the tour. So I guess that explains it. After a few minutes, the chief engineer appears and leads us down into the engine control room on deck 2. Much like the bridge, but far less spacious, this room is a computer nerve centre. All of the engineering systems are controlled from here, from propulsion to sewage. Large screens are continually rotating CCTV images from inside the generator and engine rooms. Now, I’m certainly no engineer, so I don’t honestly catch so much of what he was saying - I’m sure my dad would’ve got much more out of this - suffice it to say that it’s a complicated set of systems that require constant attention. That said, on an ultra modern ship like this, only a handful of crew members are required to monitor the system, rather than 10-15 that would be required on older ships of this size. Throughout our visit, alarms on the centre console are beeping, which the chief engineer and his staff attend to whilst barely skipping a beat in their descriptions of the systems. He explains that the alarms go off when certain values are reached, and many of signals are just alerts rather than warnings, but it does give you an impression of the complexity of moving this huge vessel through the ocean - something I’ve been barely appreciating from the comfort of my cabin.

    The afternoon drifts lazily by, punctuated by occasional announcements of changes to the schedule (even beyond the Antarctic, it seems the schedule on this ship is fairly flexible). At 16:30 I head up to the hot tub - which is now quite deserted - and have one final dip, followed by a last go in the sauna. That’s probably the bit of the boat I shall miss the most. The sweaty little broom cupboard at my local gym just doesn’t come close to this.

    At 17:30, I make my way up to deck 10 for the captain’s farewell drinks. It seems a large crew rotation is taking place when we get back to Punta Arenas, as several of the staff have said they’re heading home when we get off. My cabin steward is one of them, he’s now got two months off to go back to the Philippines to visit his wife and his seven (!) children, the youngest of whom he has not actually met yet - his wife gave birth two months ago while he was still at sea.

    Up at the captain’s farewell drinks, representatives from the whole ship’s company are there to toast the end of the voyage. We learn that our trip will have covered nearly 2,800 nautical miles by the time we dock in Punta Arenas, across temperatures ranging from -15° to +14°C. It’s been a journey of a few firsts: we were the first ship to visit the Vernadsky base this season, and we performed the first ice landing in the company’s history. It transpires that our captain, Torry Sakkariassen, is actually Hurtigruten’s fleet captain (the captain of captains, in effect), so we’ve been in very capable hands throughout this trip, and he is delighted at how well everything has gone.

    With the reception over, it’s time for one last buffet dinner, and then back to the cabin to finish my packing.
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  • Day17

    West Point

    November 26, 2019 in Falkland Islands ⋅ ☁️ 8 °C

    Today we are landing on West Point, which will be our final port of call for this expedition cruise. We overnighted in the bay outside Carcass Island, and early this morning made the short journey over to our present position. Landings are beginning at 09:00, so it’s time for a quick breakfast.

    My first surprise of the day comes before I’ve even left the breakfast table. I’m quietly sat here minding my own sausages when a lady comes over and introduces herself with the words “this is going to sound a bit weird”. This lady, who I’ve never clapped eyes on before, then proceeds to name both my brother and sister-in-law, and knows that they’re soon to have a baby. Yes madam, this is indeed sounding weird. It turns out that this lady, Yvonne, has a daughter named Hannah, who is in the same antenatal classes as my sister-in-law, and is due to give birth on the same day. Apparently Hannah had put two and two together on hearing stereo tales of Antarctic visits from her mum and from Anneliese and deduced that we must be on the same boat. As if the world could be any smaller!

    My group is landing at 09:40, so I spend a good few minutes trying to decide what footwear to choose. Yesterday, I was glad to be rid of the huge clunky rubber boots - at least I was, until the water soaked through my walking shoes. Today the weather looks equally foreboding, and our landing site is “a little walk” from the stuff we’ve actually come to see, over a “slight rise” (aka a long way up a bloody big hill - never trust an expedition director’s assessment of gradient or distance, I’ve learned that much at least on this trip!) I opt for the shoes again, reasoning that the added weight of the rubber boots (which clock in at about a stone each) won’t help me get up that hill.

    Just getting to shore is proving difficult this morning. Although the sea isn’t especially rough, there is one hell of a swell, meaning that entry onto the zodiacs is challenging - the sides of the little boats are either a foot above the launch platform or two feet below it, or most likely at some point in between. You have to time it right, and I watch with concern as several people get it slightly wrong. Of course, as I’m waiting on the platform for the next boat to pull in, a big swell pushes up from beneath the platform and ejects a large jet of icy water up through the grating. And guess where that cold water went? Having just performed an involuntary Marilyn Monroe involving both trouser legs, I finally make my soggy way onto the zodiac for the short trip across the bay.

    Landing is mercifully much easier than boarding, and we are briefed by the excursion director, who is now standing in front of his lie. He concedes that this bit is a little steep, but then it’s a gentle downwards slope afterwards to the albatross nesting site. There is a Land Rover available for people with mobility issues to take them to the site, he tells us, but they don’t have much capacity, so if we can walk, then we should. Knowing that there’s are a few people onboard with walking frames etc, I don’t feel my potentially-arthritic (though probably psychosomatic) bad knee really qualifies me for a ride, so I grab two hiking poles and stride off up the hill. When faced with physical exertion, I have a tendency to go off rapidly in the hope that it’s all over before my body realises what’s happening. However, in this case I’ve yet again been sold a pup, as the there are several more climbs to be made before I even begin to notice that we’re rounding the top of the hill. Sweaty and agitated, I press on.

    At a point where it flattens out, we notice a large bird on the grass in front of us. It seems very unconcerned by our presence, so we advance a little. This is a Striated Caracara (thank you, Google). Known around these parts as the Johnny Rook, this is a large member of the falcon family, which preys on small penguins and lambs. Although today it seems mostly interested in an orange flag that’s attached to a fence post. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this close to such a large bird in the wild - it’s amazing to watch. It’s not alone either, as across the field there are several more perched on fences, watching this strange procession of fluorescent-hooded, red jacketed figures with walking sticks.

    After a ‘short walk’ of several kilometres, we arrive at the cliff face. Here, there’s a circular path that takes us within spitting distance of the nesting albatrosses. This doesn’t bother them, we’ve been told, and there’s a line of dense tall grass which provides a curtain for us to approach from behind. As Rick and I are waiting for our turn to follow the trail, we notice Anne getting out of the Land Rover. Anne is one of the people I mentioned who walks with a frame, and she’s struggling a little with just a stick on this uneven ground, so we go to help her. She really wants to go see the albatrosses, but like most of this trip, it’s really not geared up for people with mobility issues. The guide says she will just have to watch from the top, but that doesn’t seem awfully fair to us, so we decide to help her ourselves. So with one of us supporting each of her arms, moving very slowly, and going totally the wrong way around the circuit, we help her down to where the albatrosses are. The expedition leader isn’t thrilled and tells us so, as we’re now holding the whole queue up, but I’m certainly not about to stop - we’re not doing anything dangerous, and Anne wants to see the albatrosses, the same as everyone else. We finally make it to the viewing spot, and it is amazing - we’re just feet from these giants, and the rockhopper penguins that nest amongst them are cute as hell. But the best thing of all is the look of enjoyment on Anne’s face. The return journey is equally slow, but everyone is patient and supportive. The expedition leader comes over and apologises for being short with us, which I’m glad to hear - if the company is happy to take her money, then she should get the same opportunities as the rest of us.

    Back at the top, I was about to queue up for the Land Rover to take me back, having complained the whole way here about how difficult the walk was. But helping Anne just now, who was clearly struggling but super determined, has made me feel frankly ashamed at how much I whinge about physical activity. So, instead, I walk the however-many-kilometres back to the boat dock, where a restorative cup of tea has now been thoroughly earned. Another amazing day of truly memorable experiences.

    Tonight, we begin our journey back to the mainland, crossing this time through the northern entrance to the Magellan Strait. We will disembark in Punta Arenas on Thursday.
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    Rosalind Scott

    Bits of this blog are making me quite emotional! So lovely of you to help that woman.

  • Day16

    Carcass Island

    November 25, 2019 in Falkland Islands ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    Dear god, the sea was an angry mare last night. Our smooth crossings of the Drake Passage clearly must be paid for, somehow. I nearly rolled right out of my bed, twice. Breakfast was a correspondently subdued affair this morning, with many of my fellow passengers looking rather green around the gills. Miraculously, I’m not one of them. Somehow my body seems to have developed this innate talent for getting seasick even when sitting in wet grass, but yet is able to weather an actual storm with surprising resolve. Explain that, medical science!

    Today, we are in the West Falklands, and in a deviation to our published schedule, we will be landing on Carcass Island (named for the navy warship), rather than on New Island. Apparently this is another fortuitous turn of events, because the landing directly after New Island was then to be West Point, and allegedly the two are pretty much identical in terms of scenery, so this way we get to see something different. Carcass Island is located in the north, and is the largest of the West Point island group. The island is owned by the McGill family, who have run it as a sheep farm for over a hundred years. Carcass is unusual among the Falklands, as it is one of the few to be free from introduced predators like rats and cats, so it is a bird-life paradise. It’s also one of the few islands where we might see the tiny Cobb’s wren. I’ve broken out the binoculars and am now in full-on geeky ornithologist mode. Bring on the birds!

    The day’s first excitement is prompted by an announcement over the PA system informing us that there’s a pod of dolphins outside the ship, playing in the wake of the zodiacs, so we dash to the windows and peer down. Indeed, there are 4 or 5 of these beauties jumping out of the water and chasing the zodiacs as they begin shuttling people over to the island. The next announcement is to tell us that it’s wet, windy and choppy out there, and as such, the boat ride is likely to result in an icy dousing, so it’s quickly back to the cabin to dig out the waterproof over-trousers. By the time we get to the launch platform, we can see they weren’t kidding - the rain is horizontal and the zodiacs are soaked, which then leads to a dramatic slip into the boat by an elderly American lady as we are boarding our transfer. Thankfully, despite initial impressions, she’s not badly hurt, so off we go.

    The weather on Carcass Island is decidedly Scottish - an impression that is enhanced by the thick yellow gorse bushes lining the bay into which we are sailing. This could honestly be somewhere the Hebrides. Once ashore, we’re told that Leopard Beach, the glorious white-sand cove with its resident Magellanic Penguins that we’ve come to see, is actually a 5-mile round hike from this point. I’m not super impressed - if I wanted a muddy hike in a gale I could’ve got one much closer to home. Anyway, hiking pole at the ready, off I set, figuring that I can always turn back when I’ve had enough.

    That point comes roughly one mile into the trek, after the peaty track has rendered my inadequate footwear utterly waterlogged and the driving rain has completely washed any fun from the whole endeavour. At this stage, I don’t think I’m so desperate to see more penguins that this is worth it. Rick is striding off into the distance, so I’ll nab a few of his pictures when he gets back.

    Turning round and heading back turns out to be a much more pleasant experience, as the driving rain that was in my face is now at my back, so I can finally wipe my glasses and see where I’m going. There’s quite a lot of bird-life here too that I’d been missing - beside the path as I retreat is a family of upland geese, with three little goslings nibbling on the wet grass. Falklands thrushes are also plentiful, as are Magellanic oystercatchers. Unfortunately I don’t get to see the fabled Cobb’s wren, but conditions were far from ideal. Back at Port Patterson - the island’s only settlement - the owners have invited us in for tea and cakes (yes, all 380 of us!) Presumably they must be getting paid for this, as the cakes are being replenished faster than they can be eaten.

    Once we’ve all had our fill, it’s back over to the boat launch for the return trip across the bay. This time, our passage is flanked on either side by the dolphins, who are keeping pace with the zodiac through the water. It’s an amazing sight! So amazing, in fact, that by the time we reach the ship, I’m so preoccupied taking pictures that I end up being knocked off my seat when the inflatable wall of the zodiac comes into contact with the ship’s landing platform. Lying on my back in a wet dinghy, with concerned faces peering over me, I take stock for a second to see if anything is damaged (aside from my dignity, which is always the first thing to go). My back hurts a little, but I don’t think I’ve done it any more damage than was already there, so they help me up and back onto the ship, whereby some obliging member of staff takes it upon themselves to hose down my non-waterproof, nearly-dried shoes with icy water. Thanks a million, madam.

    Finally onboard and dried off, I take my place on the promenade deck with many others and watch what is frankly the highlight of the day - the dolphins. There are now 12 of them (these are Commerson’s dolphins), racing each zodiac boat in turn and jumping out of the water. From above, their white and black colouration makes them quite easy to see as they move under the water. They’re absolutely wonderful to watch.

    Tonight we’ll be staying in the vicinity, as tomorrow’s landing is on West Point, just 6 miles away. Hopefully the sea will give us a calmer night - half of the boat is still walking around like zombies from lack of sleep caused by yesterday’s rough passage.
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    Rosalind Scott

    Bird nerd. Those might be the most beautiful dolphins I've ever seen! I hope your back turns out to be OK. X

  • Day15


    November 24, 2019 in Falkland Islands ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    As we sail towards the Falkland Islands this morning, the wind is gusting strongly, and sea spray is giving my cabin window a regular dousing. Nevertheless, the boat seems fairly solid in the water, and my expected feelings of queasiness haven’t materialised. We are due to be arriving around 09:30, and in contrast to the last time I was here on MV Aurora, we shall actually be docking at Stanley. Last time, this was one of the few ports where we had to go ashore using the tender boats, but for this cruise it’s entirely the opposite - this is the first time we will have docked since leaving Punta Arenas 12 days ago. As I’ve been here relatively recently, and as the only excursion that I would have been interested in doing is the exact same one I did last time, I’ve chosen to forego the organised activities today, and to have a lazy morning on the ship instead. I will go ashore in the afternoon, but for now, I’m content to have the run of a pretty empty boat. A solo sauna session is followed by a lone soak in the hot tub, after which I throw on a few layers and sit up on the deserted open deck with a steaming mug of coffee and go through some of my previous journal entries (my proofreader head is ashamed and appalled at some of the typos I’ve discovered looking back - I appeal for clemency based on the fact that I’m typing all of this on an iPhone, and I have fat fingers!)

    After an early lunch onboard, I gather my things and prepare to go ashore. The ship, although much smaller than Aurora, is still too big to dock anywhere near the town centre, so there is a courtesy bus running every 15 minutes for those of us who wish to make our own plans today. Rick has taken advantage of our unchaperoned day to the full, and has already set off for a long run around some of his old haunts - having served for the RAF in the Falklands 36 years ago, he’s keen to see how much things have changed. I have no such aspirations of extreme physical exertion, and I suspect not too much has changed since I was here in January of last year, so I take my place on the bus for the 8 minute ride into Stanley.

    It’s a fairly overcast day, and the wind is howling, but there’s a peaceful air to the place at the moment. Last time I was here, the town was crawling with the other 1,500 guests from Aurora: this time, we are much fewer in number, and most people seem to be on organised tours, so I get to experience a much sleepier Stanley than I was expecting. I make my way up to Victory Green, and plonk myself down on a park bench looking out over the bay and take stock.

    Stanley seems like a strange place. Last time I was here, I remember thinking it seems like an imagined version of a British seaside village from decades ago, except with more albatrosses. The place is still undeniably British in character - union flags are flying everywhere, along side the flag of the islands, which itself contains a union flag in its top left corner. There are certainly more red phone boxes here than I’ve seen back home in a long while. And the weather certainly has a UK seaside flavour to it - during the course of my 2-hour amble up and down the main promenade, it seems to cycle through spring, summer and autumn, twice. It could easily be some costal town in Scotland. It does seem utterly absurd to think that this place is actually just 450 miles from the coast of South America. I guess that’s probably Argentina’s point...

    Today, I get to take my time strolling around, unlike my last visit, which was a rather rushed affair. I meander my way down the main street, which runs parallel to the seafront, nipping into little gift shops as I go. I add a few souvenir pins to my collection, receiving a Falklands £5 note in my change, which I’ve never seen before, but which I promptly spend to get myself a hot drink in one of the little coffee shops. Afterwards, I walk down to the dockyards museum - I’m usually deathly allergic to museums, but everyone has been raving on about this one. It still doesn’t exactly blow my skirt up, but it’s not dreadful, and it’s something to do on a Sunday afternoon, I suppose.

    My walk takes me down to the Falklands Liberation Monument, which sits alongside a small bust of Margaret Thatcher. I’d been down to see this last time I was here, but it’s at least a landmark I remember. I spend a few minutes reading the names inscribed on the cenotaph - which I find I’m much more inclined to do now, since my own foray into genealogy, where I discovered that my great uncle was killed at sea during the Second World War - and then I begin a slow walk back towards the shuttle bus, stopping occasionally to appreciate the beautiful flowers in many of the seafront gardens.

    It’s time to get back on the ship and warm up. Tonight, we’ll be leaving Stanley in the early evening and making our way round to the West Island, where I believe the plan is more coastline landings with the zodiac boats. That is, we might, provided this damn wind dies down a little...

    Addendum: I’ve just finished writing this entry, and have walked up to the gift shop onboard to purchase my ration of Kettle Chips for the evening, when I make a horrifying discovery. Because we’re in port, the gift shop is shut, and won’t be opening again until tomorrow. It’s now 16:30. The supermarket in Stanley closes at 17:00 The next hopper bus doesn’t leave for 15 minutes, and it’s an 8 minute drive from the port. Only a desperate addict would even consider making the dash.

    Dammit. Hold my coffee...
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  • Day14

    At sea

    November 23, 2019, South Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ☁️ 6 °C

    It’s a lazy day at sea today, as we make our way northwards up to the Falkland Islands. The Drake Passage is remarkably calm at the moment (touch wood!), so rather than being bunkered down in my cabin as expected, I’m able to get up and wander around. Today, with not much else to do, the central focus is the science deck, with an assortment of lectures and activities going on throughout the late morning and afternoon. At 10:30, I make my way up to attend a discussion on glaciers and ice formation, but it seems everyone else has had the same idea - it’s standing room only in the science centre, and it’s very hard to hear Katya, one of the ship’s geology experts, as she describes the difference between sea ice and terrestrial ice, and explains why ice can appear different colours (it’s generally because of the varying quantity of air bubbles trapped within them). The microscopes have been set up with various ice samples that we collected during the last zodiac boat tour, and thankfully one of them is connected to the large video wall, so we don’t have to wait our turn to peer through the eyepieces. As the talk draws to a close, I move over to the library section and settle down with a book on whales, as I’m determined to identify the one that I saw briefly yesterday evening. The blow pattern and dorsal fin shape leads me to deduce that it was an Antarctic minke whale. A humpback whale has sadly remained elusive to me on this trip, although I have seen them before in Alaska, but I’m certainly not complaining.

    As we head into the afternoon, I think a relaxation session in the sauna and a dip in the hot tub may be on the cards. It’s 6°C outside now - it’s practically summer!
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  • Day13

    Bridge Tour

    November 22, 2019, South Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ☁️ 1 °C

    There may not be too much to look at out of the windows at the moment, but there’s still a little excitement in the air this afternoon, as we’ve been invited on a tour of the ship’s bridge. Normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t hold too much interest for me, but with this being a brand new and supposedly super-high-tech ship, I’m actually eager to go take a look.

    At 14:15, I assemble with my group on the 9th deck (noting how few of them I actually recognise devoid of their polar gear, hats and visors!) and we’re led through some secure doors by the expedition team to the front of the ship.

    The bridge is huge. I presumed with 30 of us traipsing in there it would be standing room only. But no, we could’ve easily got another 30 in there. We’re introduced to the captain, who we’ve seen wandering around at lunch before (one of the benefits of this being a relatively small ship) and are introduced to his bridge staff. The first surprise is that it looks more like a well-lit IT control centre than the steering department of a boat - everything is controlled by touchscreens. It’s full-on Starship Enterprise up here - there is no wheel with which to steer, nor are there apparently any rudders. Manoeuvring is achieved through the 360° rotating propellor and the forward bow thrusters. At the back of the room, there’s a giant iPad-looking thing mounted into a desk, which is evidently the navigation screen, showing where we are heading, with all the pertinent details for safe passage (wind speed, tides, weather, water depth etc). Of all the equipment in here, that is the thing we’re told not to accidentally lean on! The bridge extends beyond the width of the main body of the ship on both sides, and on each extremity there is a steering console. One of the bridge staff tells us that the ship can be controlled from either of these stations, but that the left side is primarily used when docking, and the right side is used when the boat tenders are running. Glass flooring here clearly helps with manoeuvring, although it does little for my vertigo, I must say!

    As they’re trying to let everyone see the bridge today, our visit is brief yet very informative - I manage to ask the captain a question that has been on my mind for days (concerning the depth of the channel below the ice when we did the ice walk - it turns out that the seabed was a terrifying 230 metres below us, so I’ll go back and edit that entry now!) As we file out of the bridge, I notice that the secure area also contains the cabins for the bridge staff, so they’re always on hand. It must be a hell of a responsibility piloting a vessel of this size!
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