Life is good

Certainly all this travel is the sign of a wonderful life of privilege, for which I am mightily grateful.

Nonetheless, the greatest privilege of them all is having friends, and it is there that I am truly blessed.

Monday night, I had dinner with Micky and Linda.  Yes, they followed me all the way here just to have a meal at the O’Connell Street Bistro.


Gail and I have traveled the world with these two, not mention the dozens of regionals and nationals Mike and I competed in.  Last year we surprised them in Tel Aviv.  I can’t get away from the guy.

Okay, in truth they were here to board a cruise ship for a trip to Australia and Bali, the timing was just Mike’s usual good luck.

David flew home Monday morning, and I’m encamped in a slum of a dump of a hovel they laughingly call a hotel.  I’m saving all my bad words about them for the Trip Advisor review.

Mike had a list of five great Auckland restaurants he got from a friend of his, and I chose this one.  We had a table outdoor, along a walking road (with a few taxis cheating)  The weather was balmy and delightful, the early evening just right for dining al fresco. 

Although the menu had quite a variety of dishes, with beef, lamb, chicken, fish and rabbit choices, all three of us ended up with the identical dinner.

We began with the amuse bouche.  A small piece of Tandoori chicken served on a yogurt raita.  It was delicate and perfectly designed.  The service included a tiny fork and spoon to match the serving plate.


Nest was the gazpacho, which promised considerably more than it delivered. The presentation was lovely, with first a dish of the solid elements:

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There’s melon, pepper, jicama, tomato, cheese and a few unidentifiable things there.

The server then poured the soup over the fixings:


Things now went downhill–there was damned little soup in the bowl.  I told the waitress, and that seemed to amuse her.  I convinced her I wasn’t kidding.  They brought out a little more soup for us, but the portion was still insufficient, especially for a dish that cost NZ$24, or sixteeen bucks US.  The waiter came out and explained that the chef want the cheese to be the hero of the dish, which is an odd choice for a soup.


This is the tiny amount of soup even after they added to the serving.

And then the soup wasn’t all that good, anyway.  The texture of the raw vegetables was antithetical to the dish, and the chef’s attempt to model molecular gastronomy with “olive oil caviar”, tiny balls of microencapsulated olive oil, was a failure.

All was forgiven when the main dish arrived.  You come to New Zealand, you gotta order the lamb.  My first meal here was dreadful chops in a cafe, this meal had the finest lamb chops I’ve ever enjoyed.


Heaven on a plate

There were two perfectly roasted chops, a piece of braised lamb, some “Parisian” Gnocchi, minced peas with mint and feta and a crispy thing.  I wasn’t crazy about the crispy thing.

The minced peas and feta will be finding a way to my kitchen soon.  I grew up on canned peas, and still like them, but this is an entirely new world.

This dish is the work of an artist.  Everything was cooked perfectly, everything went together. It was a masterpiece.

I thought I should have dessert since the soup didn’t excite me.  Skipping the fancy words in the menu, I had salted caramel pudding with ice cream and butterscotch sprinkles.

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It was sweet, and salty, and smooth, and crunchy.  The ice cream was aaaaaallllllmost melted.  The plate was clean when I was done.

The bill for all this was about the same as it would be in San Francisco. The soup was expensive, the lamb was more reasonable.  You can’t get a glass of ice tea in this country. The service is included, so what you see on the menu is what it costs, no tip.

Micky and Linda are off to Bali, I’m on a plane home tomorrow.  Next adventure on Friday.  Life is good.


Friday night in Wellington

A few blocks from our hotel is Cuba Street, a walking street with bars and restaurants very close to the University of Wellington, so it is full of young people celebrating the end of the week.

We strolled down to dinner, enjoying the energy and the crowds.


Just one of the many establishments where people enjoy eating and drinking al fresco.

There were street performers, who clearly had a schedule for the best spot.  We watched this juggler/performer/comic for a while, but he took too long in the setup.

Eventually, we settled on Scopa, an Italian restaurant for dinner. It was very modern, open to the street on one side and full of young people, mainly women.  I have no idea why.

The service, like everything in this country, was friendly and efficient.  I had to drink Diet Coke because there doesn’t seem to be any iced tea here.

Starting out, I had a caprese salad.  This one was excellent, with a broad selection of heirloom tomatoes and leaves of fresh basil.


David and I both chose the spaghetti, with roasted broccoli and a pesto of fresh peas.  It was bright and fresh, the pasta cooked perfectly.


We were seated in the front of the store; I was facing the street.  Looking out, I was stunned to see this phenomenal vehicle waiting at the light.


That’s a left hand drive 59 Ford Galaxy with every possible bit of chrome and a full Continental kit on the rear.


The license plate says HLYWD

I know the year because there came around again 10 minutes later and I went out to talk to the four very friendly women in the car. They were just cruising the main on Friday night, like we did in Walnut Creek when I was a teenager.

Dinner over, I set out on a mission.  I want to be better at taking pictures of strangers on the street, and resolved not to go back to the hotel without getting a few.

First, I found an oddity–most street performers are male, and very few play the sax.  This woman defied the probability:


I’ve certainly seen women walking late in the evening holding their shoes, but always it’s because their high heels are not comfortable.  This is the first time I ever saw a woman stop and take off her flip flops to walk on a very dirty city street in her bare feet:


The earrings this woman was wearing caught my eye first, but she turns out to be some kind of performer who was out drumming up an audience for a show tomorrow night.  Between all the noise and her accent I didn’t quite understand the details, but I got the shot anyway.


Mission accomplished, David and I piled into a taxi, headed up the hill to the hotel and now I’m done posting.  Good night.

Here I am in NZ

That’s pronounced “En-Zed”. It’s what all the cool guys, and cool guy wanna-be’s like me, say.

I flew from SFO to LAX, waited an hour and got on the flight to Auckland.  It’s a looooong flight.  Watched a movie (Snatched, with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn) that Gail would never go with me to see.  Slept.  Ate.  Eventually landed.

David was here to meet me.  We had a reservation at Hertz, but they managed to lose it.  Beth the Travel Goddess got us another one.  It’s nice to be able to call home quickly and cheaply and have Beth there ready to fix any and all problems.

I’m letting David do all the driving.  He lived in England for 6 months and is accustomed to it.  So far he’s been perfect, and I get to look out the window, look up things on Google and navigate.

First stop was breakfast.  We both wanted the Joe’s Diner sort of experience–we know what McDonalds is like.  Boy, did we find it.


This is not a low fat institution

I could not pass up lamb chops and eggs, it seemed so quintessentially Kiwi. There soon appeared the highest fat meal I’ve had in 2018.


Heart attack on a plate

Just what you would expect from Joe’s Diner.  Two random pieces of lamb, more gristle and fat than meat, eggs cooked in fat, fries.  Some kind of sweet sauce on the meat.  It should have a nitroglycerin pill on the side. I survived, but I won’t do that again.

We had a delightful chat with the man at the next table, who seemed like a regular.


I love to talk to people in places like this.  The may not be founts of erudition, but they’re interesting as heck.  It was important to him that we were Americans, not Canadian.  Don’t know why.

We have 4 days together.  Looking at the map, we decided to take 2 days to drive to Wellington down the West side of the island, and 2 days to drive back up on the East side.  Destination the first day: New Plymouth.

This place is beautiful.  Much like California, if we had 10 times the rain and 1/10th the people.  Everything is green, the rolling hills are covered in trees.   We kept seeing cattle, and I was becoming concerned because we hadn’t seen any of the vaunted sheep NZ is famous for.  Then we saw these guys, and I made David stop so I could take a picture.


Kind of scraggly looking, but I guess they were shorn at the beginning of summer, in December.  Sheep just roam here, over the hills and through the wood, not in tight flocks.

Since I had the camera out, I took a photo of David, so you should know who I’m travelling with.  He’s 15 years, 7 months and 13 days younger than I am, and I raised him from a pup.


The art of naming waterfalls isn’t very advanced: it seems like half of them are named Bridal Veil, and indeed we saw a sign for such and turned off the road to find it.

A 10 minute walk from the trailhead, we found a not very auspicious waterfall, but are required by the tourist code to take photos:

The forest surrounding the area was lush and full of trees I don’t recognize, not that I’m all that big on recognizing plants:


This area is much like a rain forest, and I saw a plant that might have been more interesting than the falls.


We had wandered out to the ocean, to a tourist town named Raglan.  Very big on surfing, it seemed a lot like Santa Cruz.

Stopping in a local bakery for a snack, I noticed this man sitting across from us.  He had been in line ahead of me and we chatted–seems like a pretty normal, decent kind of fellow.


The quality of tattoos is much better here, probably the Maori influence

Because I always want to get my full share of veggies, I had the carrot cake.  It turns out that this is very popular here, and every bakery has their own version of it.


The bottle of “blue” is milk.   They have many flavors of milk here.  Banana, berry, chocolate, and this one:


I didn’t have the nerve to try it, but I think it’s milk and honey.

Arriving at a hotel I found online while we were driving, I just collapsed and slept 11 hours.  Now I’m adjusted to the time (it’s only a 3 hour time difference, and a day ahead,  the easy way to express that this place is 21 hours ahead of California)

Friday we drove down to Wellington, enjoying the hills, trees, cattle, sheep and seashore.  We got to talking to some guys in yet another bakery (and another, smaller, slice of carrot cake) and learned that there is a large lumber industry here, centered on Monterey Pine, which was imported from California 150 years ago.  There is a ton of corn growing, and it is mostly feed corn for the cattle.

Now we’re in a hotel in Wellington, getting ready to go out to dinner. More tomorrow.


Simple minded doofus

That’s me.

I’m just hanging out in the admirals club at SFO waiting for my flight to Los Angeles then a flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

I was supposed to be doing this yesterday. I carefully packed everything, checked that I had my passport, ran my errands, went to Berkeley, did my job, motored over to San Francisco. Everything was going; fine traffic was light I was there early. Dropped my car off at the long-term parking and went up to the American Airlines counter.

Being a wiseguy, I said “I hope I don’t have my wife’s passport” as I walked up to the agent. That was sadly prophetic, because that is precisely what I did have.

Yes, I had managed to look at both passports in our office and take the wrong one.

There was no recovery. I could not fly without my passport, I could not get my passport in time. I drove home sad and dejected. Claudia was glad to see me.

At least I was able to reschedule for today. So now I sit here, patiently waiting for a plane I should have been on 24 hours ago. My trip is foreshortened. My brother had to find something to fill his day in Auckland today. I’m grumpy with nobody to blame but myself.

Continuing my simple mindedness, I checked in this afternoon, got my ticket, cleared security and was walking along when I heard my name being paged.

I had left my travel documents folder back at the counter–my passport was in my pocket. I had to go back out, get the folder, clear security again (thank heavens for pre-check). Before I finally landed my butt in the Admirals Club to wait. At least I was two hours early so there was no time stress.

So far, i’m not having any fun. I’m looking at 14 or 18 hours of travel in front of me that doesn’t look like fun either. Finally I’ll get to Auckland, catch up with David, get in a rental car and we’ll go explore. That part should be great. Hang on.

Finally Antarctica

My next adventure starts Monday, so it’s time I got the rest of the Antarctica photos up and the stories told.

Antarctic iceberg

Little red dots of people on a big slab of ice

Not everything went according to plan.  There was one day we couldn’t get into the shore area due to ice, so the ever resourceful captain tied the ship up to a massive piece of flat ice floating in the area and people got off and played in the snow.

The crew set up a champagne bar, there were Zodiac rides around the sea and some people just made a snowman.

When our time was up, the crew cleared every trace of our visit away, including leveling Frosty.  These people are serious about no impact tourism.

We had a small party in our room.  Gail, Kate and Colleen all had purchased the identical shirt from the ship’s boutique.

Antarctic iceberg

Trio Australis

Then there was another landing, and more penguins.  The ship looked magnificent in the brash.

Antarctic iceberg

Le Soleal in her element

This was a colony of Adelie penguins, slightly smaller and darker than the Gentu. The colony was quite large, and the chicks were a week or two older.  This group reminded me of photos of wet and muddy soldiers in WWII


I haven’t shot black and white film since college, but it sure looks like it from the photos I got here–the only color is a slight blue in their eyes.

Where there is life, there is death.  This is gull picking at the remains of a baby chick.

And the bones of penguin that didn’t make it.


Who says penguins can’t fly?


He’s just jumping off a floe, of course.  Joining the hundreds of others marching from their nests to the the water.  The rookery is up from the beach, and there is a constant stream of birds making the walk to go get some food and take a dip.  They choose a spot to enter the water where it is too shallow for larger predators to be waiting.

I have to get all artsy sometimes, here is my impressionistic shot of the endless march.


Kate was always busy shooting, too.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Getting close to the subject.

The wildlife is more than just penguins, there are other birds that prey on the penguin chicks.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

I don’t know what kind of bird this is, but his tail feathers remind me of a turkey.

And there are just limitless opportunities to take pictures.  I couldn’t stop.


Sometimes a chick just needs mom.

The process of building a nest never ends.  This guy was very industrious, taking stones from an empty nest and moving them to his own.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Work, work, work.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Just hanging out.

We went to another landing, this one with the only plant life to be found. There is moss, and there is a small amount of grass that we avoided stepping on.  There are no trees, no shrubs, no bushes.  There is one kind of wingless fly, that eats the moss.  If the fly had wings it would get blown away, so evolution took them away.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

A bit of hardy grass.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

The grass with a sleeping seal.

Seals.  We saw a bunch of them, sleeping off their huge lunches in the warm Antarctic summer sun. When the ocean is 28°, because salt lowers the freezing point, then a 40° day on the beach is marvelous.

The elephant seals are immense–the males look like they’re over a ton, with baleful eyes and a large probocis the causes their name.  The females are smaller, without the nose, but still large.  They all sleep in a pile on the beach.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

I don’t think you want to mess with this guy.

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal on the beach in Browns Bay, Antarctica

Elephant seal conversation

And then we were done.  Sun setting slowly in the west and all the other clichés.  We loaded up the Zodiacs and set sail for Ushuaia.

Crossing Drakes Passage this time was more of an adventure.  We had calm seas on the southbound trip, but went home through seas with a 9-10 meter swell.  The crew thoughtfully placed barf bags in the railing of all the passageways and on the elevators.  The upper deck buffet was closed, and all the tables and chairs roped together.  Almost everyone had a scopolomine patch behind their ear to avoid the dreaded mal de mer. I can’t say it bothered me, I thought it was just an E ticket at Disneyland.

Arriving back on land, we had the absurd experience of getting on a tour bus to travel 400 yards and park, then we walked around “downtown” Ushuaia for an hour.  I saw travel agencies that specialize in last minute Antarctica cruises–if one of the many ships has an unsold cabin they’re willing to make a deal.  For someone flexible on time, this would be a great way to save a bunch of money.

Then came the long trip from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires to DFW to SFO to home. The dog seem happy to see us.

I’m off to New Zealand for a week of sightseeing with my brother tomorrow, which is why I had to get off my tuchus and get this posted.  Stay tuned, more adventure to come.

Not so boring in Orinda

Restaurants come, and restaurants go.  Barbacoa in Orinda’s Theater Square went the way of all flesh, and now there is The Fourth Bore Taproom and Grill.  They’ve redone the interior, and added a large and attractive firepit in the outdoor eating area.

I think my friend Randy Corr needs to go here and give me his opinion, because the specialty here is beer.  Lots and lots of beer, all specialty, different and interesting.  Since I don’t drink the stuff, I don’t have much opinion about the quality of the selection, but there sure are a lot of them on tap.

We ate outside, so we could bring the dog.  We always eat outside these days  It was a trifle cool, but they claimed to be out of propane for their heaters.  Maybe so, maybe they just didn’t want to turn them on in the daytime.  In either case, it’s tacky to have heaters but not be willing/able to use them for your customers.


Grilled line caught cod sandwich

Is is wrong if an eatery gives you too much to eat?  Gail and I both had this sandwich, and it’s really too much food.  It would be so much better on a couple of slices of toasted sourdough instead of that big bun.  There were more chips (house made, it would appear) than a person could possibly consume.  I had the fries, and the portion was absurd.

There was half an avocado on each, sliced as though it was designed to be fanned out across the sandwich but not actually fanned, just one huge chunk in the middle of the bun.  I’m not sure why it was my responsibility to get my hands all covered with some kind of sauce while performing the necessary construction on my meal. I never have to re-make my Big Mac or Whopper.

So how was the meal?  Meh. The cod was pretty bland, the bread overpowering, the fries needed to be cooked in hotter oil and salted more aggressively.

Service was decent.  My iced tea came with the lime I asked for, which is often a surprise.  The kitchen gave us both chips, although I ordered fries–but then the waiter quickly brought me a humongous plate of them.  Neither of us got tartar sauce with our meal, but the waiter quickly corrected that as well.

I wasn’t very impressed or excited by The Fourth Bore, but I imagine 3 or 4 glasses of exotic beer would have improved my attitude. A few beers would improve my attitude all the time.


Antarctic Landscapes


Here’s the truth–when you’ve seen the first 10,000 penguins, you’ve seen them all.

But Antarctica is a lot more than birds that fly underwater.  The scenery is mind boggling.  We’ve had the good fortune to travel quite a bit, and there is simply nothing like this place anywhere else.

The mountains here are the tail end of the Andes, often thrusting straight up from the sea floor and covered in eons of snow that is slowly moving forward, breaking off and making ice bergs.

One morning we got dressed and piled into the Zodiacs just to ride around–no landing, no penguins, just icebergs and scenery.


There is lots of scenery.


There is drama in the lighting in every direction.


A mini-Matterhorn rising from the ocean.


And some wildlife–the is a leopard seal.

More of the magnificent ice bergs, and a chance for me to get creative with the processing.  Take the time to click on the smaller images and look at them full size, they deserve to be seen big.

You might be wondering about the Zodiacs–where do they go when the ship is moving.  It turns out there’s a fascinating ballet performed 4 time a day as they are launched and recovered each time the passengers go ashore.  The boats are stored on the top deck of the ship, raised and lowered by crane as the ship is steaming ahead. The drivers jump off into the ship as they pass the 2nd deck.

The small bits of ice floating in the water are known as “brash”.  They are immaterial to the ship, but the Zodiacs have to pay attention.  Here is a flotilla of the small boats, with all their passengers in bright red company-issued parkas, maneuvering through as they go wandering about.


This piece of ice could be thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of years old.  It contains air bubbles that were formed as snow flakes and tiny air spaces were compressed over the centuries, and now scientists are able to test that tiny time capsule to see how the concentrations of CO2 have changed over time.


Another seal, and a hint as to the origins of mermaid myths—if you had been on a tiny ship with only men for 14 months or so, this could look quite a bit like a woman lying on her side.


This is a real woman, Elsa, one of our expedition guides.  Very beautiful, very French, and she knows just everything about the seals and the ice, the birds and the rocks and the climate.


The wildlife doesn’t much care if it’s land or berg.  Here some gulls have taken up residence atop a large berg, and one is swooping out to go look for lunch.


Guides in yellow parkas, guests in red.  Motoring through a gap between the rocks, heading towards a large iceberg with a center gap.  This is the reason for going here–you can see penguins in zoos, but there is no scenery like this anywhere else.

PORTLOCKROY-270And here’s that berg, the stone is behind it, not embedded.

PORTLOCKROY-332There are grottoes and caverns along the sea.



This is just a small outcropping, yet it dwarfs the Zodiac.  Kind of what I have been thinking about the entire trip.  This place makes you feel insignificant.  The rookeries with hundreds of thousands of birds, who will walk right up to you and not notice you at all.  The unyielding cold. The massive glaciers, with millions of years of snowfall slowly moving towards the eternal sea. The unending winds and tides shaping the rocks, bouncing even the largest ships like they were toys in the bathtub.  All conspire to make you realize that man doesn’t really matter much.


Everybody Cheats



We’d all like to think of ourselves as honest, pure and upright.  In reality, not so much.

In this new play at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, everyone is flawed, just like real life.  On a simple stage designed like a swimming stadium, complete with water-filled pool, the story plays out in a brilliant new drama.

Ray (Max Carpenter) is an Olympic hopeful swimmer, though he is as dumb as a bag of hammers.  Peter (Gabriel Marin), his brother, is a very fast talking attorney hoping to represent Ray on his rise to swimming superstar.  He is talking very very fast today, because an ice chest full of performance enhancing drugs was found in the refrigerator.

Coach (Michael Asberry) need to keep his star on his team. He talks a good game about the rules, but when push comes to shove………………

And Lydia,(Rosie Hallett), Ray’s ex-girlfriend, is willing to bend the rules for a friend, and maybe help herself a bit, too.

All of this plays out in one 80 minute, uninterrupted act now playing at the Lesher Center.   Written by Lucas Hnath, Red Speedo is a new play, premiering here.  The director is Markus Potter, imported from New York for the occasion.

Everyone breaks the rules.  Everyone can justify their own behavior.  And each person’s weakness causes problems for the others, resulting in a vicious circle of crisis.

The acting here is wonderful.  Gabriel Mann, as Peter, has enormously long speeches full of his desperation, deception, lies, justifications and scheming that will leave you stunned.  Max Carpenter as Ray has the perfect smooth swimmers body clad only in his red Speedo, exhibiting perfect comic timing while seemingly stupid as a box of rocks.

Lydia wants to run away from her problems. Coach will do what it takes in the crunch.  These people are all us, trying to get through life, bending, breaking and crushing the rules when they think they have to. Sometimes they cheat because they think (possibly correctly) that everyone else is cheating and they have to level the field.  Nobody is perfect, nobody can resist taking an edge when the chips are down.

There is a lot to think about in this play, crammed into a brief, amusing, entertaining package.  Sort of like a red speedo.





Again with the penguins


The essence of an Antarctic cruise–Fancy ship, penguins, ice floes and mountains.

There’s a timeless quality to this kind of trip.  You take the Zodiac ashore and see something, then go somewhere else that looks just the same and do it all over again.  That isn’t bad, you just fall into a rhythm of dressing for the shore, going ashore, looking at little black and white birds that can’t fly, coming back to the ship, getting out of your shore clothes, then doing it all over again.  And loving the entire process.


Our ship dwarfed by a bay, where ice calving off the glacier sounds like thunder.

There are small differences.  We saw three kinds of penguin.


This is a chinstrap penguin, for obvious reasons.

Gentu penguin on the Antarctic Peninsula

Here we have a gentu, about the same size but a little less black.


Adelie penguins are a little smaller, more jet black and formal looking.

And that’s the biology lesson for today.  The Emperor penguins are much larger and more dramatic looking, but they live somewhere else and we didn’t get to see them.

It’s summer, so that’s when babies are born and raised.  Each pair of birds mates for life and raises two chicks, if the food supplies are sufficient.  These chicks were about 3 weeks old,

We were never onshore without our guides, who knew simply everything about the  birds, seals, whales, plants, geology, geography and everything else you can imagine.  They could answer any question I could come up with.


Some photos just present themselves.  This one barely looks real, like it had been set up in a studio in the 50’s when color film was new.


Then we sailed to Port Lockroy, a British outpost with a working post office.  People lined up to buy overpriced post cards printed in China and mail them to family who wouldn’t get them for 2 or 3 months.   The place was staffed with idealistic young people who were living on a tiny rock 10,000 miles from their home so they could sell souvenirsportlockroy-33

Port Lockroy dates from the time before people agreed that nobody would own the continent, and the UK though it would be wise to have a presence just in case ownership was an issue.  It’s marvelously well preserved, and a fascinating look back in time.


Not quite gourmet 

The men who lived there drew some of their favorite women to keep them company.

Of course, there were penguins.

There has been some kind of settlement here since whaling days, and there are still chains and cables left from that time.



I’m not done  yet, but I’m tired and you’re bored.  More to come.

Home again, home again

I’ve been dithering for days about how to write about our trip.  How many of my hundreds of photos do you really want to see?  Can I remember all, or any, of the names of the places we were can I remember?  Caught in a loop on indecisions, I’ve done nothing.  That can’t continue: I have loyal readers who want pictures of penguins.  So I’m just going to start.

After Buenos Aires, we flew to Ushuaia, billed as the southernmost city in the world.  I’m pretty sure they define city as anyplace exactly as big as Ushuaia or larger: there are certainly settlements, villages, towns and communities to the south, even with airports and commercial air service.  Nonetheless, Ushuaia continues to proclaim itself the one.

The air terminal in Ushuaia looks like nothing so much as a giant ski lodge, all stone walls and steep pitched steel roof.  Considering the frigid weather, I guess that makes sense.

Because we landed about noon and weren’t to be allowed on the ship until 4, they loaded us on buses and sent us out to the national park.  The far south of Argentina is beautiful, mostly unspoiled and overrun with beavers as the result of a failed attempt to start a fur trade.


The Malvinas are Argentine.

History is a living thing here.  The Malvinas are what Argentina calls the Falkland Islands, which they still claim.


Eva Peron still remembered fondly: Salvador Allende still despised.

I saw this poster in a tiny post office billed as “The End of the World” where you could buy and send postcards and get your passport stamped for $3.

We had lunch in the park, drove around the stunning landscape, and finally made our way to the ship.

Our cruise was on Le Soleál, a 175 passenger ship of the Ponant cruise line, based in France.  Everything on the ship was French.  The staff spoke English, mostly. The food was French, with a marvelous cheese board at every meal.  The expedition guides were French, which occasionally led to communications difficulties, but nothing we couldn’t overcome.

The cruise was put together by a travel company who chartered the entire ship and then sold it through association groups. We went with the Commonwealth Club, and the otherers wer from the Harvard Alumni, the Yale Alumni, Duke Alumni, Bryn Mawr Alumni and more.  This was an educated crowd.

Sailing out of Ushuaia, we were treated to sunset.

Crossing Drakes Passage to Antarctica takes a day and a half, which we spend doing clerical duties like getting fitted for our parkas and boots, learning the rules of going ashore and talking about being seasick, which nobody was because the passage was calm as a lake–for a rare and pleasant easy crossing.  The meals were good and the excitement was building for our first onshore excursion, at Deception Island.


Passing through dark and foreboding Neptunes Bellows to Deception Island

An extinct volcano, with the caldera open to the sea through a narrow passage to form a large protected bay formerly used by whaling companies, Deception Island is a common stopping point for expedition cruises like ours.

The time arrived and we loaded onto Zodiac boats for the short hop to shore.  The crew loaded us carefully both on and off–there was even a man in a wet suit prepared to go into the freezing water and snatch up anyone who slipped and fell.


Kate prepared for our first trip onshore.

And there we were!!! On land, surrounded by zillions of penguins, all just alike.

The expedition guide were ashore, of course.  Here Fabrice reached into the water to find a krill, the small shrimp-like creature that penguins, seal and whales all feast on.

First day on shore, first seal sighting.


He’s just laying on the ice, digesting his lunch.  There are no land based predators, so he’s totally unconcerned with the people crowding around taking his photo–and the guides make sure we don’t get too close.

One of the great things about a cruise is the chance to meet other people with similar interests.   This is the group leader from the Commonwealth Cruise, Colleen Wilcox.  I suspect you’ll be seeing more of her, we all fell in love.


That’s enough for the first installment.  More to come.