Sunday, January 29, 2012

Happiness is...coming home!

It’s hard to believe it’s all over. Tomorrow I’ll be back at work and the past month will begin to move into the hazy realm of memory. Boy is it hard to let go. My reality isn’t an overly difficult or miserable one but in comparison to the events of the last little while it definitely seems dull and prosaic. I suppose that’s both the glory and problem with vacations; you get to step out of routine for a while, and while it enriches who you are it also feeds the need to see more, do more outside the scope of your limited existence.  I don’t know that I’ve gone anywhere that has made me feel I can truly cross an item from my bucket list, usually it gives me a collection of new things to add thanks to conversations with others that I’ve met or things I fall in love with that I need to do again or explore deeper. It’s just as addictive as any drug.

But I do also find many more things at home to be grateful for.  As interesting and exciting as it is to travel and explore and experience new things there really is no place like home. I’m so blessed to live in a free and mostly stable country, to have a job and a roof over my head. And I’m thankful for the familiar; knowing what to expect and how to respond, not having to be continually aware and on guard.  (Travel may be stimulating but it’s also exhausting!)

Here are a couple of happiness lists I composed along the way. First the traveling version:

  • Seeing a place very few people have seen
  • Meeting new people
  • Finding your sea legs
  • Eating 2 appetizers and 3 desserts with your dinner if you feel like it
  • Feeling like it!
  • The blue of glacial ice
  • Watching penguins porpoise on the swell or waddle across barren ice
  • Glimpsing a whale fluke on the distant sea
  • Concerts and live entertainment nightly
  • Being so overwhelmed with beauty only tears can tell the story
  • Watching albatross wheeling and coasting in the breeze
  • Feeling a sense of wonder that fills your entire soul
  • Watching a speck in the distance reveal itself as you journey towards it
  • Napping any time you want
  • Learning about new places, people, and things
  • Sleeping on a boat
  • Having someone make your bed in the morning and turn down the bed and leave chocolates on your pillow at night
  • Millions of photo ops every single day
  • Having to use Jr. High Spanish and sign language to communicate…and getting your point across!

The returning home version:
Flying into SLC
  • The first glimpse of home after a long voyage
  • Flushable toilet paper
  • Drinkable water
  • Not having to live out of a suitcase (having more than 4 outfits to choose from!)
  • NOT having to wait in airport lines or sit on a bus or plane for hours on end
  • Not having to share a room
  • Sleeping in my own bed
  • Being able to understand the announcements over the PA system and read the headlines in the newspapers
  • Having a conversation with someone who has known you longer than a few days
  • Having amazing experiences and photos to scrapbook (enough to last me for years!)
  • Figuring out the next great adventure

Even if you never leave home the future is the greatest unknown and adventure and we each get to face it in our own way. Let’s make it good, shall we?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 5)

It’s been nearly a week since the last entry, let’s see if I can get you all caught up. 

Our final port day on the ship (Sunday, January 22) took us to Montevideo, Uruguay. We took a bus tour around the city which was probably the most beautiful we’ve seen so far.  All of them have had pockets of neighborhoods filled with parks and monuments and architecture that would have fit in comfortably in Europe but nowhere more so than here. We drove down tree-lined streets from square to square, past miles of beach and coastline. It had its share of graffiti-marred walls and run-down hovels but they seemed fewer and farther between than in the other cities we’ve visited. We stopped to admire the LDS temple and become captivated by the small green parrots perched on every other tree branch before reluctantly heading back to the ship.  That night was our final dinner, our final show, our final starlit sail at sea. I spent a good portion of the evening though stuck in my cabin trying to repack my suitcase which seemed to have shrunk during the voyage! But I did get in one last on-deck sunset, one last visit to hear the string quartet and my favorite jazz trio and one last (double) helping of dessert before heading off to bed.

Monday morning saw us meeting as a group in one of the showrooms waiting for them to begin the disembarkation process. The port of Buenos Aires was in chaos with 4 ships all arriving at the same time and since our travel group had nearly 200 people we simply added to the confusion.  Several hours later we were finally on busses and driving around the city which had the vibe of energy and excitement you’ll find in any large city. (I’ll tell you more about it in a bit.)

After our brief tour we made our way to the airport for a short flight to Iguazu where we got on more buses and drove through the sub-tropical rainforest area where the falls are located.  We stopped at an overlook where 2 rivers and 3 countries converge.  Standing on one bank (we were on the Argentina side) you can look across the y-shaped river to see Brazil on one side and Paraguay on the other. They’d had an extremely dry summer…until we got there; we got the joy of driving and standing in the first deluge since November! It came down in buckets causing the roads to flood in just minutes and making everything humid and soggy but just added to the adventure.

That evening we checked into our fancy-schmancy hotel and ate dinner (a fabulously-flavored Argentinian beef hamburger) in the lobby. The facilities were 5 star but the service left a lot to be desired. We waited over an hour for our food, another 45 minutes to get our check after we’d requested it and then another half an hour to get the credit card slips to sign after that. That pretty much ate up our evening and didn’t leave us time for anything else but getting to bed.

Tuesday (January 24) we got up early and loaded back on the busses for a short drive to Iguazu National Park. The rainforest area was obviously quite lush and green, especially after the previous days’ storm. There were birds and butterflies everywhere providing spots of turquoise, scarlet, gold and flame against the endless green. Even the river was green! The sky was overcast and gray and opened up to shower us with another downpour about an hour into our visit.  It made picture taking very difficult but by the end of the day we all decided the rain was preferable to the 100+ degrees we could have had. It kept things relatively cool and pleasant and kept the bugs at bay even if we were soaked to the skin the entire time.
We spent most of the day walking on metal walkways right on top of the rivers over to cliff edges and lookouts to see the miles of waterfalls. Even if it hadn’t been raining the mist from the falls would have kept us quite wet.  They were really incredible. Everywhere you looked there was another one, each one more spectacular than the last.

After the first 2 or 3 overlooks we were all feeling a bit drenched.  We gathered in a small pavilion to eat lunch and try to dry out a bit (nothing like a soggy sandwich and smooshed granola bars!) before venturing out again. By this time the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle but we all had our hair and clothes plastered against our skin and every sort of sklurping sound was made by our soaked shoes. But we’d come to see the falls and so set off on the next part of the adventure.  We loaded up into open-topped trucks to drive through the jungle to a lower section of the river where we then loaded into boats for an up-close-and-personal view of the falls from beneath.

Zooming along the bottom of the canyons past birds of all shapes, sizes and colors, around rocky ledges and past fall after fall was quite a different perspective than what we’d seen from above and across the canyons earlier in the day.  But the best was yet to come.  Our driver took us to a small horseshoe-shaped area with falls on all sides of us.  You could hardly see for the spray and mist that was coming from all around, but that wasn’t enough. We drove closer and closer until we were actually under the falls.  It was like being on the jungle ride at Disneyland except that the water didn’t stop when we got to it. Imagine a 75 foot high shower with the power of a fire hose pointed at the top of your head and you’ve just about got it. I’m pretty sure I swallowed enough water to give me a host of diseases to last a lifetime but it was amazing. And once wasn’t enough.  After we’d backed up a bit and gotten re-oriented again we convinced our driver to take us under once more. And then a third time. Man, I thought I’d been wet before. I had no idea. It was exhilarating and thrilling and extremely fun!

I was sitting next to one of the tour guides and he mentioned that perhaps that was what it was like for Shackleton and his men (and any other of the early sailors and explorers) on the open sea; the boat rocking like mad, waves and water crashing over the sides, especially during a storm, being soaked to the skin and disoriented as to any directions.  Of course we were only a few minutes’ drive from our fancy hotel and dry clothes, the water was nearly bathtub warm not frigid and our experience lasted about 10 minutes not 7 days, but still there were similarities.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for those men and their stories. What incredible survivors.

After hopping off the boat we had to trek our way up rock steps to the top of the canyon again and then back along dirt trails to the park entrance. It had stopped raining by then so I was able to get a few more photos (though my fingers were pruney and the rest of me was so wet I had nowhere to dry my hands before extracting the camera from the ziplock bag it had been ensconced in most of the day…I was sure I would ruin the thing!) And then it was back to our busses and the hotel. I peeled off my wet things and got right into a swimsuit to finish the pruning process in the three massive heated pools and hot tub while my roommate availed herself of the shower and bathroom facilities.  When I finally felt I was dry enough I put the raincoat back on and joined a couple friends to take a cab into town for dinner. We thought we were going to a bbq place to try some of the local chorizo (Argentine grilled beef) but things got a bit lost in translation and we ended up in a regular restaurant.  We were a bit disappointed  at first but the food was fantastic so it all worked out even if we did have a few close calls with the power going out (did I mention it was raining?!) and some uncertainties with ordering in a foreign language. It was a great meal to end a great day.

Wednesday morning we had a fabulous breakfast (I’m not usually a breakfast person but for some reason my body adjusts when I’m on vacation, I’m going to miss the massive buffet breakfasts every day!) before loading back on the busses to get to the airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires. There is something to be said for American efficiencies.  We are definitely not perfect but at least when something is a regulation it stays consistent and there is order and organization for the most part. I’m amazed that entire civilizations don’t collapse with the amount of inconsistencies and incompetency there is everywhere else. We had a couple that left early in morning to get a flight back in order to get to a hospital for possible food poisoning. Well, the airline put them on the first flight of the day but didn’t have any record of them actually being on the flight.  So, when the second flight came up (which half our group was supposed to be on, my half was booked on the 3rd flight which the couple was originally scheduled to be on) no one could find this couple.  The airline, concerned that she wouldn’t get to the hospital in time held the flight for over 3 hours (tell me how much sense that makes) so they could locate them. Meanwhile they’d made it to Buenos Aires, the hospital and finally to the hotel where our tour guides finally located them before the airlines decided to get things rolling again.  We spent the entire day at the airport and made it to Buenos Aires in time to check-in and get changed before we had to leave for our evening show.  It was a bit of a disappointing day as we had all hoped to get to a bbq place for dinner that night (no, I never did get the bbq.) L

We attended a fabulous tango show based on the life of Evita that night.  Using video, photos and radio broadcasts there was a running history on a large screen next to the stage. And then on stage they had people acting out her story. There were a few singers that acted as narrators but mostly it wordless with the dancers doing all the work. They used the tango as the base dance but it was interesting to see how much they could vary it. Usually you think of it being a very sexual, sensual dance but they did some that were playful, sad, militant and violent. It was awesome watching their skill, feet and legs flying and twirling in all directions. I want to know how many times people get kicked before they perfect it!

Thursday morning I was up early re-packing yet again for the final trip home. I enjoyed yet another gigantic breakfast buffet and then made my way out into the city by about 8 to walk around and take some photos before we had to load up on the busses again. As I mentioned before, it has a vibrant energy like any big city, people always on the go in a hurry to be important places and do important things.  I shared my walk with many a business person and passed many a homeless person, the ugly juxtapositions of any large metropolitan area. I marveled at the varying styles of architecture, the vast size and the hustle and bustle.  I spent a few minutes in a beautiful Catholic church, basking in the silence and solitude before heading back out into the crush and chaos of morning rush hour.  I walked past the giant obelisk, fountains and monuments galore, a spectacular theatre, and did some shopping in the pedestrian district on Florida Street before heading back to the Marriott on the edge of San Martin Plaza to meet up with the rest of the group.
Again we were herded onto busses for the last leg of our adventure. We visited May Square (each S American city has a main town square with the three most important buildings; the bank, the church, and the town hall) where the Pink House is located (the former Presidential Palace) and protests take place on a continual basis, including one that day consisting of a group of angry drummers and swat team standing by. In their last revolution in the 80s more than 300,000 people went missing and there’s a monument built to them there as well.

We visited several of the local neighborhoods (like the Burroughs in NYC) including Puerto Madero which was originally a port city but has since been refurbished into a high-end residential area. Palermo is the 2nd most expensive neighborhood, full of huge houses that now function as embassies. La Boca, specifically the area of Caminito, is like its own little world.  The buildings are all painted bright, multi-colors and are currently stuffed to the gills with shops, restaurants, art galleries, bars and the like.  Our next stop was the cemetery in Recoleta where Evita’s grave is located.  It reminded me so much of the cemeteries in New Orleans, mazes of thousands of above-ground crypts and mausoleums in various states of disrepair. I found myself in an alleyway on the opposite side of our group wandering in the quiet wondering about the lives of the people interred in these tombs.  Some of them had glass doors so you could look in and see the caskets, many of which were covered in thick cobwebs or crumbling and decaying.  It would be a spectacularly creepy place at night, or heck, even in the daylight if you were all by yourself!

Our final stop was at the temple which is under renovation and then it was back to the airport. 

In my next life I’m going to be a super inventor who figures out the trick for teleporting.  The worst part of traveling is the actual traveling, getting from place to place. Hours and hours spent waiting in line or waiting for vehicles or just sitting doing nothing in those vehicles, think of all the things we could be doing instead! And then there’s the lack of sleep and jet lag issues. Between the various time changes and travel time and what not it feels like we’ve been going for days but total time is probably less than 24 hours (it’s too much for me to actually figure out at this point, sorry!)  We left Buenos Aires Thursday evening, flew through to Lima and then on to Los Angeles finally arriving in Salt Lake Friday afternoon. I have no idea what time my body thinks it is but it’s definitely time for sleep!

Iguazu Falls

The Pink House-Buenos Aires

La Boca neighborhood-Buenos Aires

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 4)

Wow. Just when I think things can’t get any better this trip surpasses my expectations. Just the other day I saw one of the top ten most incredible sights of my life. Let me tell you about it.

On Wednesday the 18th we made a short stop in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands. All of our tours so far have been handled by the tour company I booked with so I haven’t had to make any choices or even read to see what the choices were, but they gave us the day free in Port Stanley and recommended we just explore the charming little British town there while docked and I had intended to do just that. But two of the ladies I sit with at dinner had mentioned they were going to book another penguin excursion so I decided I’d look into it. It was rather expensive but sounded pretty good and I figured I came all this way to see the penguins so I might as well go all the way and see more. But when I went to book things I was told the tour was all sold out. A bit disappointed but also slightly relieved at not having to pay so much more I booked a different tour that cost about ½ and put myself on the very long waiting list, not thinking anything would come of it. But the day before we made it to port I found out they’d opened up more spaces so I was all set to go.

That morning we tendered over to the dock and got loaded up into Land Rovers to make the 2 ½ hour journey overland to the North Eastern edge of the island where the penguin colony was. The landscape was rather barren but beautiful; desolate, covered in a thick carpet of gorse and scrub broken up by occasional rivers of rock or fresh water springs. We could see the ocean in the distance as we bounced up and down hills and through the boggy terrain, giving any off-road experience in Moab a run for its money. The air was warm and carried a rich smell that reminded me of desert sage, not that the scents themselves were similar but they both pervaded the air and made me feel home and part of nature somehow. It was lovely.

Eventually we passed through some private sheep grazing land and over a rise leading to the seaside. And there were the penguins! There were three types nesting there; Kings, Gentoos, and Magellanic. They mostly kept themselves separate in three distinct areas but every once in a while you’d see a straggler trying to make friends with another group and it was all open and wild. There were wooden posts and white rocks marking the penguins’ exclusive territory but there were no fences or paths and man and penguin mingled freely.

The Magellanic are burrowers and they made their home just at the top of the beach anchored and sheltered by some of the plants growing on the edge of the sand. The Gentoos were the smallest of the three and had space farther away from the water on a lower stretch of land. The Kings are the 2nd largest of all the penguins, very similar in look to the Emperors and had usurped the grassy area at the top of the hill. And then there was the beach. If there hadn’t been penguins frolicking on it I would have sworn we’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in the Caribbean. The water was a tropical turquoise and the sand was nearly as white as the Antarctic snow. Sprinkle a few penguins on top and you have a surreally picturesque experience. Put me standing a foot and a half away from said penguins and you’ll see why I was in ecstasies.

I spent two hours wandering about in a state of awe and giddy abandon taking thousands of pictures and wishing I could spend at least a day there watching the birds waddle about, trumpet and call to each other, feed their chicks, sit on their eggs (though I think they were just going through the motions at this point, it was a bit late in the season to still be brooding), and swim in the clear blue waters. When I reluctantly climbed back into the Land Rover for the ride back I was more than grateful that things had serendipitously worked out so that I could be there and thinking that I would easily have paid double for the experience. It will be one of my most cherished memories.

Thursday was a sea day spent doing laundry, taking in a few more of the informative lectures from Mike Wilcox as well as those presented on ship, listening to/watching some of the first rate entertainment on board, eating way too much food, and visiting with some incredible people.

Yesterday marked the one-week-to-go date L on the itinerary. We docked in Puerto Madryn, Argentina where we had yet another great penguin experience. Again we took a 2+ hour bus ride out past the city and down to the coast to the Punta Tombo National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary where we were able to witness hundreds of thousands of Magellanic penguins dotting the hillsides as far as the eye could see. The scenery here was very desert-like with very little plant life even on the coast; the grayish brown sand and the gray scrub brush making a perfect camouflage for the fluffy grayish brown chicks and their protective parents. Here the draw wasn’t so much the birds (dare I say I am becoming immune to the charms and novelties of penguins in the wild?) as the vastness of their numbers. When I get home and have more internet I’ll post a few pictures so you can see what I mean, so incredible.

Back on the ship that afternoon I took a short nap, watched Evita in preparation for our stop in Buenos Aires, listened to the string quartet perform before dinner, ate and ate and ate, watched a fabulous encore performance by the violinist Michael Bacala, and then ate more at the midnight dessert buffet before rolling myself to bed. Have I mentioned how hard it’s going to be to head back to reality after all of this?

Today is a sea day and we’re beginning to make preparations for disembarkation in a few days. I should be doing some packing and re-organizing the mess that is all of my stuff at the moment but I wanted to get one more post in before leaving ship. Tomorrow we’ll be docked in Montevideo, Uruguay and then Monday morning we finish our cruise in Buenos Aires. Our tour continues with a few days in Iguazu Falls and then one more day in Buenos Aires before heading back to the states Friday morning. I don’t know that I’ll have access to the internet again once I leave ship so this will probably be it until I get home. Thanks for anyone who’s stuck with these long and mostly pictureless posts, I promise you’ll be inundated with photos when I return. But hopefully you’ve had just a taste of the marvelous wonders hidden at the end of the world and maybe, just maybe I’ve inspired some of you to try to make this trip yourselves. I promise you won’t regret it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 3)

Just a heads up…loading those photos for the last post took over 45 minutes, so I’m afraid you’ll only be getting one this time.  I promise I’ll get you more when I get home.

Awesome, amazing, breathtaking, spectacular, beautiful, incredible…the list goes on and on, I’ve used them all and none of them do justice to the majesty and wonder of the sights I’ve seen these last few days.
Friday was gray and gloomy but the waters were calm, the worst of the storm to the north of us. I spent a good portion of the day visiting the on-ship auditorium to listen to various lectures on the region of Patagonia, Cape Horn and the 1911-12 season’s race to the Pole.

We passed Deception and Half Moon Islands and while they were amazing they were mostly shrouded in mist. I took about 50 pictures but it’s hard to gather how forbidding they seemed in real life. I think I mentioned before, but it’s almost as if someone has filled a mountain range with water nearly to the top so that only the very top peaks are left showing. There is relatively little shoreline on any of the islands, sometimes there is a sharp cliff or glacial shearing but more often the slope just simply leads into the water; rocky, snow covered, even the more northern islands that had some vegetation, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

We did begin to see some scattered glaciers on the islands and random ice bergs in the impossibly blue water and the frigid wind promised us more to come. I’ll wax poetic about them a bit later.

We also had more and more animal sightings. Every now and then you’d see a speck of black on the ice and just know that if you were a bit closer you’d be able to tell that it was a penguin. And then there were the penguins in the water.  I don’t know how it was that in all my years of teaching about penguins in school and falling in love with their charming little black-tie waddling selves that I missed the fact that as they swim they leap in and out of the water like dolphins, but I did. And they do.  It’s called porpoising and it’s really is almost identical to the way a dolphin swims. They bullet through the water like torpedoes but every now and then they’ll leapfrog out once or twice or a dozen times before shooting off underneath the waves again. It is fascinating and entertaining to watch. And impossible to take pictures of. I did take some video though so we’ll see if I can figure out how to load it on here (or find a video on Youtube for you all.)

Saturday we started our day bright and early with a 6 am stop in a small cove near Enterprise Island. The water was practically mirror smooth and the sun made itself known in peeks and patches which made for some better photos (but the best were yet to come!) I finally tore myself away after nearly 3 hours on deck and grabbed a bit of food to prepare for our journey through Neumayer Channel, with another 2 hours or so out on deck soaking in all the breathtaking scenery; more snow crusted peaks and blue glacial bits than I knew what to do with.

The ship made a stop at the Palmer Research Station where we picked up a few of the personnel there.  They gave a brief presentation about their respective jobs and life at the station and conducted some Q&A. There was even a first grade teacher there who spent time each day skyping in with schools in her district and conducting lessons on penguins, ecology, and more. It almost made me want to go back to teaching. What an awesome job!

Sunday (January 15) we were blessed with the most beautiful day yet. I believe God smiled down on us as we gloried in His creations that Sabbath. The sky was a desert blue, the waters were calm, and the sun was a ball of hot ice in the heavens as we sailed among glaciers in the aptly named Paradise Bay. I don’t know that there are very many things I’ve seen that are as striking as what I saw that day. (*See the photo below for proof!) I was in and out all day putting on and removing layers of clothing, thawing out and rubbing feeling back into my fingers in order to press the button on my camera and heading back out again, for while the sun was shining we were hovering near the Antarctic Circle and the wind was truly Polar.
That afternoon we sailed past Cuverville Island, home to one of the largest Gentoo penguin colonies in the world.  The beaches were covered with thousands of them, reddish brown specks (thanks in part to the red guano beneath their feet…we could smell it from half a mile away!) of nearly fledged chicks and adults ready to make their way back to the sea after the breeding season. It’s always a treat to see animals in the wild, but to witness something so vast leaves you with a different sort of sense of awe. We have such a responsibility to share the world with these creatures and protect them in their helplessness or risk not having scenes like that to see any more.

Monday was our final day in the Antarctic and it was just as beautiful as Sunday had been. The Antarctic Sound treated us to a sea filled with glaciers as far as the eye could see in one direction while a look in the other direction showed us the continent itself. We sailed past the town of Esperanza (one of the larger research stations) and into Hope Bay with its Adelie penguin colony; tens of thousands on the cliff sides, hundreds feeding and porpoising in the waters, dozens and dozens on the bergs and floes nearby.  At one place they were so thick in the water you could see a thick dark band continuously swarming over the surface like ants and not for the first time I cursed my puny little camera. (I may have to sell my remaining kidney for a good one when I get home!)

By afternoon the clouds had rolled back in and the wind was doing its worst as we made our way to Elephant Island.  We traced the route of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men coming around the southern end toward Valentine Cove where they wintered waiting for rescue. Theirs is a heart-wrenching story of courage and survival that brings me to tears nearly every time I think about it. We were nearly frozen, sailing into the wind as the clouds blew in covering the island from view. It was the height of summer, we were well-fed and well-rested, dressed in thick clothes and inches away from warmth and shelter. They approached the island in 3 small boats after a week on open seas in the middle of winter. They’d spent the previous 500+ days stranded on the pack ice that eventually claimed their ship, The Endurance, forcing them to drag their boats over ice to water. After landing, Shackleton and 5 other men set off on foot to cross the mountainous terrain to the other side of the island where they found whaling ships to finally, after 3 attempts, rescue the rest of the men.  Four months they waited there under two of the overturned boats before Shackleton returned. And not one man was lost.  

I read up a little on some of the great explorers before coming here but seeing the land for myself has given me a new appreciation for what they did and the kinds of men they were.  Amundsom, Scott, and Shackleton have quickly moved up my list of heroes to meet on the other side of the veil.

Today has been a sea day, finally making our way through the dreaded Drake Passage but we’ve had smooth sailing the whole way. I’ve had plenty of time to lose myself in the account of Scott’s tragic expedition in Race to the Pole by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and stare aimlessly out the ship’s windows at the blue expanse of ocean stretching out in all directions pondering my own expedition and life in general. And the only conclusions I’ve been able to reach is that life is an adventure whether you sail the oceans, explore new worlds, or never leave the city where you were born. We all have our successes and our tragedies. Some of us will come out viewed as heroes, others as spectacular failures and the majority of us will be mostly unknown. But we all have the right and the freedom to choose, if not the circumstances of our lives, our responses to those circumstances. And therein is the secret, the power; to choose well, face whatever we are given with courage and dignity and keep pushing onward until our journey is through.

But my journey’s not through just yet! Tomorrow we are off to the Falkland Islands and then it’s back to South America; eleven more days to go. I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 2)

Buenos Dias!

Since last we met I’ve seen both penguins and glaciers, everything I paid my money for so I suppose the trip is pretty much complete…and yet we’ve only just begun!

Tuesday we sailed through Canal Sarmiento and Torres del Paine National Park (all still in Chile) which are waterways between the many small islands and fjords just off the main coast. I haven’t seen a detailed enough map but I would venture to say that there are thousands of islands sprinkled throughout the sea here. The weather was typical of the area at this time of year; highly changeable. In the space of a few minutes you could see a blue sky become covered with gray clouds, get rained on and then watch the sun come out again. In fact, while we were eating dinner we had windows on 3 sides of us; out the starboard window the sky was blue, out the port window the sky was gray and out the stern window it was raining…all at the same time! But the weather was much calmer than what we’d experienced the night before.

The fjords and islands (when you could see them through the mist) were amazing though. It was as if someone had lopped the tops off the mountains in Ogden/Weber canyon (they’ve always seemed a bit rounder and smoother to me than the Cottonwoods) and plopped them into the ocean. Lush green hillsides are sprinkled with rocky crags and beribboned with lacy white waterfalls. Don’t you worry, I have pictures! But the photos don’t begin to do justice to the scope or the colors; every shade of green and blue imaginable is blended together to create new hues and tints splashed with shadow and light as the sun hides or deigns to show itself.

Early afternoon we meandered up through Amalia Bay to the Skua Glacier and got our first taste of what was to come. Bits of glacial ice bobbed cheerily in the water like shards of broken clouds shaped like horses, dragons, fish, beckoning us onward. The glacier itself is approximately 73 square miles flowing from the mountainside into the ocean but retreating rapidly, no thanks to global warming. The deep, unearthly blue color is a result of the ice being so compacted that the oxygen is squeezed out, changing its reflective nature. It’s a magnificent sight.

Wednesday we docked in Punta Arenas after sailing through the Strait of Magellan. Our first stop (once we got on the oh so lovely tour buses) was the Otway Sound Penguin Preserve. The terrain is a bit different than one expects with penguins, sea grass and gorse bushes growing along the hill sides with a slightly rocky area leading to a narrow strip of beach. It was really beautiful and reminded me of a bit of Great Britain. The penguins themselves (Magellanic Penguins) build burrows in the dirt where they lay their eggs and shelter during breeding season. The chicks are currently about 2 months old, still sporting a bit of their brown downy feathers not yet appropriate for swimming and relying on mom and dad to hunt for them. We walked along boardwalks watching the little birds waddle up and down the hills, through the grasses and in and out of their burrows. Some put on some displays with squawking and wing flapping but most just quietly kept to their business. I could have stayed there all day. It was magical!

Afterwards we drove an hour and a half or so back to the port and town of Punta Arenas viewing Andean condors, Patagonian geese, ibis, rhea and alpaca wandering the countryside along the way.

This morning (Thursday, January 12) should have seen us in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. But last night we got word that a major storm system was in our path and we had to divert in order to avoid 50 foot waves and hurricane force winds. So, we ditched Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and the Drake Passage and are on our way to Antarctica 2 days early. I’m a bit disappointed, though I’m glad we’ll not have to skip the Antarctica portion, as I had planned to send home a slew of postcards from Ushuaia and make the historic journey around the Horn. So sorry to those of you who will now not be getting postcards. I’ve had a devil of a time finding souvenirs for people and that had seemed like the perfect solution. Oh well!

Earlier today the Captain gave us a brief lecture on the change in itinerary. Rather than rounding the Horn and then back tracking to the west through the Drake Passage to get to Antarctica we are cutting straight down through the Passage (approx. 500 miles across) to beat the worst of the storm and will be arriving in the area a day and a half early. We’ll have a bit of extra time in the Antarctic Sea and will still cross the Passage and round the Horn, just not within sight of land. So, it will be a bit of an adventure and make for some good stories but not as much as if we’d have to travel through the eye of the storm! (Last December the ship got caught in a storm in the Passage coming from East to West, the opposite of our itinerary, and they had to cut their trip early. Several passengers were injured, everyone had to be confined to their beds for safety, and when they reached dock the front of the ship had to be cut away to be repaired costing in excess of $3 million.) He was quick to point out for anyone who is superstitious, that we would have been crossing through the worst of it on Friday the 13th!

Those of you who are following the itinerary, we should be back on track by the 18th, landing in the Falkland Islands. I figured I’d take advantage of todays’ unscheduled day at sea to post this as I intend to be busy taking photos of icebergs for the next few days. I’ll catch you on the other side of the Horn!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happiness is...the adventure of a lifetime (part 1)

Sorry, about the weird formatting. These refused to load at the end! I'll fix them all when I get home and add links to important things as well...but here's the beginning at least!
Valpariaso, Chile

Pechuae Falls

The Darwin Channel
Hello from South America! I’d hoped to give you a great play by play of my journey but the internet connection is horribly slow on ship and horribly expensive. So, hopefully I’ll still get a photo or two to accompany the posts but you may have to wait until I get back. We’ll see how things go this first time around.

I did want to give you some brief notes on what I’ve been up to so far though. First and foremost I’ve been trying to catch up on my sleep. A couple of days of long travel sans bed (I have never been able to sleep on planes) and multiple time zones and crazy schedules have taken their toll. So, hopefully all of this is coherent! Thursday, though, was our first tour day after meeting up with the tour group. We spent part of the morning on the bus driving through Santiago, Chile seeing the sights there; we rode a funicular to a spectacular overlook, visited the Presidential Palace and Constitution Square and the beautiful cathedral of our Lady of Calaman. (*Disclaimer: hopefully everything is spelled and labeled right. I tried to read signs as often as possible but sometimes I’m going solely on the pronunciations of our tour guides and my Spanish is uber rusty!) Finally we checked into our hotel and went to bed early to prepare for our early morning departure the next day.

Friday we ventured to the coast to the charming city of Valparaiso. It crawls up the hillsides filling every available inch of space and following zero building codes, buildings up and on top of each other and around each other in various precarious positions similar to, though not as picturesque as, many of the coastlines in Greece. (A scary place to be during one of the many earthquakes that occur in the region!) Nearby is the resort town of Vina del Mar where we spent some time walking up and down the boardwalk and eating some delicious ice cream before being ushered back to Valparaiso to board the ship. Our evening was spent eating (I’ve vowed not to step foot on any of the ship’s elevators in order to keep myself from gaining a million pounds!), and enjoying the first of many shows before hitting the sack for some much needed sleep!

Saturday we spent the day at sea doing some more eating (of course), listening to a fascinating lecture about Sir Francis Drake by our guest speaker, S. Michael Wilcox, eating some more, watching the sea float by, reading, napping, eating, being entertained by our personal Elvis impersonator, eating and hmmm, eating! (I’m trying not to get used to the glories of eating two or more desserts with every meal, but it’s not working very well.)

Sunday we docked early in the morning and took tender boats over to Puerto Montt, Chile just in time for the rain shower. We drove along the Pan American Highway through the Lakes Region past the Osorno Volcano (which we couldn’t see through all the clouds) stopping at Petrohue Waterfalls. The falls themselves aren’t overly spectacular, only about a 10 foot drop or so but the water contains silica which forms crystals that reflect the light in such a way that they are a gorgeous Caribbean turquoise. We didn’t have much time to enjoy them, however, as we were too busy being blown away and drenched-and trying to protect the cameras from the onslaught, sorry about the pictures. Not the best of weather. Our next stop at the small Bavarian flavored village of Frutillar was better though and we wandered around some lovely gardens eating apfel strudel while admiring the vast shores of Lake Llanquihue and basking in the sun peeking out from behind the clouds.

This morning (Monday) we sailed through the Darwin Channel accompanied by high winds and waves, low clouds and scattered rain. I was doing laps around the promenade deck and could pick up a pretty decent pace until rounding the one end and walking straight into the wind. It whistled and howled like a banshee and made it almost impossible to walk, I think I burned more calories in that 50 meter stretch than the whole rest of the lap combined (especially when you consider that on the next turn you were traveling with the wind and being pushed along at practically a run.) At the moment the swells are vigorous but the skies are mostly clear. Let’s hope that keeps up because if the glaciers are covered in clouds I’ll most definitely cry.

Okay, that’s all you get for now. If all goes well you’ll have a few pictures here of some of the things I’ve mentioned above. If there are no pictures you’ll know the internet was being fussy and you’ll just have to wait until later. The next installment should include some info on the glaciers, Cape Horn and the Strait of Magellan. Until then…

Presidential Palace in Santiago

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happiness is...reaching a milestone.

Happy Blogiversary to Me!

This has been a year of change and adventure, of food and friends, music and movies and breakthroughs. Today is the true beginning of a new year (holidays don’t count in my world), my one year blogiversary (133 posts and counting!), and my birthday (I’m not saying which one.)

With a new year come new challenges and opportunities, new adventures and change. I have a few big projects in the works that I’m not quite ready to make public yet as well as all of the things I mentioned in my year in review post earlier, enough to keep me busy for quite some time.

I leave tomorrow on my trip to South America and Antarctica and am both thrilled and terrified. (Click here to see a rough outline of my itinerary.) It will be the first time I’ve gone anywhere truly by myself. I’ve flown alone and even taken weekend roadtrips a couple of hours from home but nothing to this extent. I’ll be with a tour group of course, and I have an unknown entity in my roommate whom I’ve never met before (here’s hoping we get along!) but for all intents and purposes I’ll be on my own. And I’m a bit nervous. But I’m so excited not only at the prospect of travel and I’ll that I’ll be able to see and do, but also of having some unstructured time to myself. I have a lot of things to think about (see unmentioned projects above) and a lot of work I’m hoping to get done on my books. I also intend to take about 15 million pictures of all of my adventures and see what I can figure out on some of photo editing tools.

And then there are the onboard gym facilities. My goal is to take advantage of the yoga classes and start up some running so that I can work my way up to a 5K later this spring.

I’m also taking just this one physical book (and my brother’s Nook, there’s no way I could be gone a whole month and only read one book!) This was a Christmas present and is supposed to be a fantastic resource by David A. Bednar. I’m going to use it to kick-off my scripture study goal. Each month I’m going to tackle a different subject for an in-depth study and instead of just taking random notes I’ll pretend I’m giving a talk on the subject and record what I learn accordingly. That way I’ll not only have to read and study but organize my thoughts, personalize it all while looking for connections and applications. I’m hoping it helps me to get more out of my studies this year.

I may or may not have regular access to the internet so I’m hoping to keep you all informed of my travels and adventures along the way but I can’t promise anything. So, in case it doesn’t happen until I get home, here’s a little video to keep you company.

I'm pretty sure this is what it's going to be like :)

Happy Birthday to me! (And Happy New Year to all of you!)