Alberta Seith Photography: Blog en-us (C) Alberta Seith Photography (Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:37:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:37:00 GMT Alberta Seith Photography: Blog 120 120 Bangkok-The Venice of Asia After arriving late, our first exposure to Bangkok is intoxicatingly fragrant jasmine flowers in our hotel room.  These are used as offerings for the monks...and they made the room smell great the whole time we were in Bangkok. Jasmine Flowers-BangkokJasmine Flowers-BangkokJasmine flowers were a gift from the hotel. They are sold on the street as a gift to the Buddhist priests

Tired, we have dinner at the hotel beside the Chao Phraya River.  This is a bustling big city—high rises, big businesses everywhere.  And the river is alive and lighted at night with small klong boats, water taxis, long boats for touring, noisy party boats and three-ship barges with huts at the back where the workers live—some with families and small children. 

Morning welcomes us with a grand sunrise over the city in a light mist. Bangkok SunriseBangkok SunriseA hazy Bangkok sunrise overlooking the Chao Phraaya River from the Peninsula Hotel balcony

Followed by a riverside breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast on the river at the PeninsulaBreakfast on the river at the Peninsula

We begin our day of playing tourist with our guide leading us to the standard tourist spots, beginning with the Maeklong Train Station Market.  Although people here also seem to shop daily, this seems much different than the outdoor markets we saw in Hong Kong and Myanmar.  Plus there’s a fun story.  Seems a scheduled train runs through this area twice a day.  Not a problem, except the vendors set up ON and BETWEEN the tracks.  So just before each train, the market is a flurry of activity as vendors move their goods back from the tracks. Walking down the Train Tracks at Maeklong Railway MarketWalking down the Train Tracks at Maeklong Railway MarketTrains come down these tracks twice a day and run through the middle of the Maeklong Railway Market. After a whistle blows, the vendors rush to pull their wares from the tracks before the train comes through at 15 mph.

Most of the foods are in nice plastic bags and the vendors use scales to weigh purchases, just like home—big difference. Vendors at Maeklong Railway MarketVendors at Maeklong Railway MarketThis is definitely a different version of an outdoor market . Vendors have scales and all produce is in plastic bags.

And there are stalls with little baskets of tuna—a common lunch here. Tuna Baskets at Maeklong Railway MarketTuna Baskets at Maeklong Railway MarketTuna sold in individual baskets all over Bangkok are also on the tracks in the Maeklong Train Station Market

We head down the street to the Umbrella Market where vendors are cooking up a quail eggs--sunny side up-- hot off the grill. BangkokBangkokCooking quail eggs at the Umbrella Market--neart the Maeklong Train Station Market.

And baby crabs. Thais "pop the top" and dump them on to their rice.

Umbrella MarketUmbrella MarketThe vendor lifts the shell off the tiny crabsto show us how Thais open the cram then dump it on top of rice.

They are also selling coconut sugar...we're gonna' learn about that on the next stop, the coconut sugar plantation. Coconut Sugar at the Umbrella MarketCoconut Sugar at the Umbrella MarketBrown coconut sugar--we'll learn more about this later.

We travel sixty-five miles from the city to a coconut sugar plantation.... Coconut Sugar PlantationCoconut Sugar PlantationFar from the city, the coconut plantation is vibrant and etched with small canals topped with bright green algae.

At the plantation we try out the "ladder" they use to climb the coconut palms to collect the blossom nectar. Cocanut Sugar Plantation LadderCocanut Sugar Plantation LadderUnique bamboo ladder used to get the coconut flower nectar

They hang a bucket under blossoms overnight--much like collecting maple syrup sap.

Collecting Palm Nectar at the Coconut Sugar PlantationCollecting Palm Nectar at the Coconut Sugar PlantationCollecting the nectar that drops from palm blossoms overnight--a bit like collecting maple syrup.

Then boil the nectar and stir it to cool it smoothly.  Penuche anyone?  Smelled really good!

Boiling coconut sugar at the Coconut Sugar PlantationBoiling coconut sugar at the Coconut Sugar PlantationAfter it begins to cool the hot coconut sugar looks more like the coconut sugar we saw in the market

For a finish, we play with their pet python--really big and well fed--very gentle.   Boa at the Sugar PlantationBoa at the Sugar PlantationDuring our tour of the sugar plantation we were able to hold their resident huge boa.

From the plantation, we get in a klong boat to the Damnoensaduak Floating Market, the last remaining Bangkok floating market simulating how goods were sold many years ago.  We travel down a large canal connecting the Mae Klong River with the Tachine River.  Everything is accessed by klong (canal) boat here.  For generations, this has been their regular mode transportation. Old Couple on a Bankok KlongOld Couple on a Bankok KlongAn old couple travel on the klong by the Damnoensaduak Floating Market outside Bangkok

Because they live along the klongs, houses are built right on the water.  Many old Thai houses have their front door down on a klong--the "road" in front of the home.  The canals flood periodically, so houses sit high on posts, well above the high water line.  Potted plants are placed between the two levels making even plain houses quite lovely.

Thai House on a KlongThai House on a KlongMany old Thai houses had their front door on a klong--the "road" in front of the home. The canals flood periodically, so houses sit on posts, well above the high water line. Potted plants are placed between the two levels making even plain houses quite lovely.

Some houses are beautiful with their pots bursting with flowering bougainvilleas.  Thai House with Masses of Bougainvillea on a KlongThai House with Masses of Bougainvillea on a KlongThai seem to "ground" their houses with masses of potted plants, like these cascading bougainvilleas.

We snack on spring rolls a young woman cooks on her boat for us. Spring Rolls on the Way to the Floating MarketSpring Rolls on the Way to the Floating MarketNong Ning Frid Chicken- great vegetable spring rolls at the Floating Market The remaining Floating Market outside Bangkok

Vendors in the market cooking--and sell--all manner of things from their boats. Vendor Cooking in Boat at the Floating MarketVendor Cooking in Boat at the Floating MarketFood vendor at the Damnoensaduak Floating Market outside Bangkok

The market itself has many stalls beside the klongs.  Boat drivers stop where ever you want so you can bargain with the vendors. Damnoensaduak Floating MarketDamnoensaduak Floating MarketKong boats travel though the remaining Floating Market outside Bangkok

Leaving, we notice many "spirit houses" in the yards.  These are blessed by the monks and placed in the NE corner of the property to bring good fortune to the home. Thai Spirit Houses near the Floating MarketThai Spirit Houses near the Floating MarketSprit houses are blessed by the monks and placed in the NE corner of a property when a house is built. This house is asking for good luck many times over..

We spend the afternoon at the Grand Palace--the old home of the king--now a ceremonial site. The Grand Palace-BangkokThe Grand Palace-BangkokOn the banks of the Chao Phraya, this was the home of Siam (Thai) kings since 1782. No just ceremonial, it also includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)

The fanciful Hermit Medicine Man sits before a lavish wat. He is said to be the father of Thai Herbal Medicine. The Hermit Doctor, The Grand Palace-BangkokThe Hermit Doctor, The Grand Palace-BangkokThe Hermit Doctor statue cinside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. He is said to be the father of Thai herbal medicine.

The buildings are amazing--like all Thai Wats (temples) they are extremely ornate and covered in gold leaf. The Grand Palace Wat Phra Kaew-BangkokThe Grand Palace Wat Phra Kaew-BangkokThe multi-tiered orange roofs, with the ornate finials, suggesting the serpentine nāga. The Wat Phra Kaew is the location of the original Emerald Buddha.

None more special than Wat Phra Kaew, located inside the palace walls.  This is the home of the Emerald Buddha.  Turns out this smallish statue of jade actually has a checkered past.  (We'll get an earful on our next stop in Laos.) The Emerald Buddha, The Grand Palace-BangkokThe Emerald Buddha, The Grand Palace-BangkokThe Emerald Buddha. A 3 foot jade Buddha Laos got from Sri Lanka and was a most sacred Laotian shrine for hundreds of hers. Thailand took from Laos of "safe keeping" during WW II but never returned it--the source of much animosity between the two countries even today.

Guards--really big guards--watch over buildings throughout the Grand Palace... The Grand Palace GuardsThe Grand Palace GuardsGiant guards stand outside the one of the Grand Palace Buildings

Guards of all stripes...

Guards at The Grand Palace- BangkokGuards at The Grand Palace- BangkokAll sorts of guards adorn buildings at The Grand Palace in Bangkok

The central garden filled with ancient bonsai is magnificent. Central Garden at The Grand Palace- BangkokCentral Garden at The Grand Palace- BangkokThe Grand Palace is no longer a home to the King of Thailand. Now ceremonial, the central garden is filled with some ancient bonsai and some newer topiary trees.

Night time brings a full moon.  From our balcony overlooking the Chao Phraya,  the view is magnificent! Bangkok by MoonlightBangkok by MoonlightOverlooking the Chao Phraaya River, we get a spectacular view of Bangkok by moonlight from our Peninsula Hotel balcony.

Our last day, we take a long boat onto Chao Phraya River--a bit more choppy than the market klongs, but a great ride.

Long Boats down the Chao Phraya RiverLong Boats down the Chao Phraya RiverPassing Wats, Long Boats decked out with flowers on their bows, fly up and down the Chao Phraya River--a main lane of transportation.

Taking a tuktuk--a motorcycle with passenger seating in back--we get a great feel for the city. TukTuk to the HotelTukTuk to the HotelWe continue our love affair with tuktuks. They are an inexpensive transport, but more importantly, they give us a chance to really see the city.

Our final stop is the Wat Pho and the 46 M gold-leaf reclining buddha.  Just HUGE. The Reclining Buddha-BangkokThe Reclining Buddha-BangkokNear the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok's Wat Pho is over 45 feet high and over 129 feet long.

Susan and I hop on the water taxi and take the Thai Skytrain to the Jim Thompson home.  This is the Thai-style home of an American OSS officer who made his home in Thailand after WWII and founded a famous Thai silk manufacturing empire--and then disappeared in Indonesia.  We watch a woman in traditional dress demonstrate boiling silk cocoons to gather the silk.   Boiling Silk Cocoons-Jim Thompson HouseBoiling Silk Cocoons-Jim Thompson HouseDemonstration of boiling silk worm cocoons to make silk during a tour of the Jim Thompson Residence.

Tomorrow we head for Laos, stopping in Vientiane then Luang Prabang.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Bangkok Bangkok by Moonlight Chao Phraaya River Chinese porcelain roof decoration Damnoensaduak Floating Market Emerald Buddha Father of Thai Herbal Medicine Flowers" Grand Palace Grand Palace Topiary Garden Hermit Doctor Jasmine Jim Thompson's House Long Boats on the Chao Phraaya River Maeklong Railway Market Maeklong Railway Market train tracks Peninsula Hotel Bangkok Reclining Buddha Southeast Asia Thai good luck house Thai houses on klongs Thai spirit houses Thai temple Thailand The Grand Palace Umbrella Market Wat Pho Wat Phra Kaew ancient bonsai trees boa constrictor boiling coconut sugar boiling silk worm cocoons bougainvillea coconut sugar coconut sugar plantation coconut sugar plantation ladder cooking on klong boat gathering coconut palm nectar guard statues guards klong klong boat klong boat spring roll vendor making silk outdoor market sunrise tuna baskets wat wat roof nāga finials Tue, 04 Mar 2014 17:50:59 GMT
Surprising, Amazing, Mystical Bagan Leaving Yangon, we head northwest to Bagan in the center of Myanmar.  Bagan is not the bustling city we found in Yangon--this is an ancient land of over 10,000 temples.  Actually there are approximately 1000 stupas (structures usually containing a Buddhist relic) , 10,000 temples (structures that can be entered to pray) and 3,000 monasteries--and we'll see many of them by car, horse cart, bike and by even air (when we are lucky enough to hit one day of clear dawn weather for a balloon ride).  The first temple we come upon sits overgrown, among ladies harvesting sesame plants. Ancient Temple among Sesame PlantsAncient Temple among Sesame PlantsOur first stop was an ancient, overgrown temple in a field with women harvesting sesame plants.

On the way to our hotel we are introduced to real-life Bagan--as a farmer plows a field with an ox, all framed against an ancient pagoda. Spectacular! Plowing a Field in BaganPlowing a Field in BaganAgainst a backdrop of 10th century temples, a farmer pows a field, Bagan-style, while his father looks on.

Across the road we see our first "gas station" aka plastic bottles filled with petrol.  Where the main mode of transportation is the motor bike, that's all they need in most areas.   Gas Station in BagonGas Station in BagonA gas station outside Bagan consists of old drink bottles filled with gas. Since the country depends on motor bikes, these small fuel stations dot the cities and countryside.

And the motor bikes haul an amazing amount of goods.  Motor Bike in BaganMotor Bike in BaganMotor bikes are the main for of transportation and haul most of their goods.

Not all the pagodas are the old sandstone.  Some, like the huge Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda, are covered in gold-leaf.  I actually prefer the sandstone ones in the countryside... Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda-BaganShwe Zi Gon Pagoda-BaganShwe Zi Gon Pagoda is from the 1100's. It is a circular gold-leaf stupa surrounded by shrines.

Three huge bells hang at the back of the temple grounds.  Following our guide's suggestion, we strike the bells three times using a small log, chanting, "Badu, Badu, Badu."  The bells have a strong sound that reverberates through the body.  Very cool.

Next we travel to the brilliant sights at the open-air market.   There are brightly colored fruits and vegetables...

Bagon Outdoor MarketBagon Outdoor MarketColors explode at the Bagan market

A woman butcher sits barefoot among the meat she is selling... Barefoot Butcher in Bagan MarketBarefoot Butcher in Bagan MarketWoman sits barefoot among meat in her butchery stall at the Bagan market

A man mixes tea leaves that will be used to make the traditional green tea salad...

Green Tea Leaves- Bagan MarketGreen Tea Leaves- Bagan MarketMan preparing green tea leaves for the green tea salad

Along with other interesting-and aromatic-items like this HUGE bucket of fermented fish paste.  It smelled pretty much like you think it might....

Fish Paste in the Bagan MarketFish Paste in the Bagan MarketThis huge bucket of fermented fish paste smelled about like you would imagine...

Artfully displayed Betel leaves are sold here.  They are commonly chewed by manual workers--they are folded around a dab of caustic calcium hydroxide and some tobacco, then sold as a folded packet.  It's a  stimulant and helps overcome thirst for those who must work hard all day.  Other minor side effects are it turns teeth a disgusting brown and causes serious kidney problems leading to death.   Betel Leaves in a Bagon MarketBetel Leaves in a Bagon MarketBetel leaves are often chewed by manual workers--mixed with the caustic calcium hydroxide and some tobacco, it is a stimulant and helps overcome thirst. It also turns teeth a disgusting brown and caused serious health problems leading to death.

Leaving the city we travel to the banks of the Irrawaddy River for a traditional lunch at the Sunset Garden restaurant.  We'll actually get on the river tomorrow! Sunset Garden Restaurant on the Irrawaddy River-BaganSunset Garden Restaurant on the Irrawaddy River-BaganOur first meal in Bagan was at the Sunset Garden--magnificent view of the Irrawadddy with the pots echoing the path of the river.

Then we're off to more huge pagodas and buddhas that I can count.  This plaster and brick Ananda Phaya Pagoda is magnificent. BagonBagonAnanda Phaya Pagoda-Bagan

And inside are huge Buddhas including this one that looks solemn when you stand directly underneath it... Solemn Buddha Pose at Ananda Phaya Pagoda -BaganSolemn Buddha Pose at Ananda Phaya Pagoda -BaganThis Buddha has a solemn look when you are right beneath it

The same Buddha has a big grin as you walk away.  Quite amazing. Smiling Buddha Pose at Ananda Phaya Pagoda -BaganSmiling Buddha Pose at Ananda Phaya Pagoda -BaganThe Buddha changes from a solemn pose to a smiling face as you walkaway from the statue

Throughout Bagan, the people crossing our paths are excited to meet us--we are very comfortable here.  And the people seem to dote on their children.  This boy was the child of the lady who rents bikes across from our hotel.  Oh yea--this child even has an electronic tablet.  The 21st century joins temples from the 9th century. Child in BaganChild in BaganThe people of Myanmar seem to dote on their children. This was the child of the lady who rented bikes in Began. Oh yea--this child even has an electronic tablet. The 21st century joins temples from the 9th century.

We see no scroungy dogs or cats, no mistreated horses or ox here.  These oxen and carts are decorated to carry the young monks--and tourists.  These were on their way to a full moon sunset at a nearby temple. Bullock Carts Decorated for Festival- BaganBullock Carts Decorated for Festival- BaganBullock Carts Decorated for Festivals- Bagan

Climbing steps to watch a sunset can be interesting.  The steps are old and crumbling.  But even a greater challenge is, because they are hand made, they are different heights, some almost up to my knees.  Out of respect, visitors take off shoes and wear pants or skirt below the knee--and no tank tops here! Climbing Bagan Temple Steps at SunsetClimbing Bagan Temple Steps at SunsetClimbing steep and crumbling ancient temple steps can be a challenge. Luckily, the hand rails are well anchored because we use them to haul ourselves to the top and steady ourselves on the way down.

The view from the top is worth the climb--truly breathtaking.   Climbing a Bagan Temple at SunsetClimbing a Bagan Temple at SunsetPeople climb temples at sunset. As the sun goes down, the Bagan Plain, dotted with temples, can be a mystical experience.

It looks like a movie set.  The greens almost fluoresce and there are hundreds of pagodas in all directions. The Irrawaddy River is at the horizon. Sunset over the Bagan Plain from the Top of a TempleSunset over the Bagan Plain from the Top of a TempleLooking toward the Irrawaddy from the top of a temple is mesmerizing as the sun sets.

Back down on mortal earth, some Kayan weavers from the Mandalay region are in the courtyard.  They come for tourists, like us.  Tracing their history to the Mongols in 700 AD, these elders still have the brass neck rings they have worn since childhood.  They have difficulty removing them--they have few working neck muscles.   Kayan Weavers with Neck RingsKayan Weavers with Neck RingsAfter climbing a temple at sunset, we return to mortal earth. Some Kayan weavers from the north have come for the tourists. Tracing their history to Mongolia in the 700 AD, these elders still have the brass wire neck rings they have worn since childhood. They have difficulty removing them--they have few working neck muscles.

The next morning we set out to explore more of the area and begin at the Old Bagan Gate. Horse Cart at the Ancient Bagan GateHorse Cart at the Ancient Bagan GateA horse cart at the ancient Bagon Gate

We meet a family from Mandalay visiting our first temple. Their busy little boy stopped, just for a second, to pose for a quite picture. Boy at Sulamani Pagoda-BaganBoy at Sulamani Pagoda-BaganA child, visiting the Sulamani Pagoda with his family, briefly poses before tearing off-all boy.

Traveling on, we pass young boys in their initial monk-training.  Boys, and some girls, go through 3-6 week monk inductions when school is not in session.  They may choose to become monks in their late teens and can choose to go back to their regular life at any time, with no stigma.   Young Monks Walk near the Sulamani PagodaYoung Monks Walk near the Sulamani PagodaYoung monks walk among the Bagan temples

The close of this day is amazing.  We take to a sampan on the Irrawaddy at sunset. Sunset on the Irrawaddy River- BaganSunset on the Irrawaddy River- BaganWe had a magical sunset on Irrawaddy as we rode to our sandbar dinner

And have a traditional dinner on a sandbar--this spot is under water during the rainy season.  All quite magical. Sand Bar Dinner on the Irrawaddy RiverSand Bar Dinner on the Irrawaddy RiverWe had a private dinner served on a sandbar ij the middle of the Irrawaddy River.

Morning comes very early--we're up at 0430 today for a dawn balloon ride over Bagan.  We are very lucky.  The trip was filled yesterday and our last two days it rained in the morning, canceling the sunrise lift-offs.  Can't imagine having missed this spectacular adventure! Balloons over a Bagan TemplesBalloons over a Bagan TemplesDawn hot air balloon ride over a Bagan temples

Looking toward the Irrawaddy, we get a true birds-eye view.  Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe it. Balloons over the Irrawaddy-BaganBalloons over the Irrawaddy-BaganAs dawn breaks, we capture balloons over the Irrawaddy and the magnificent temples on the Bagan Plain.

After lunch, we take horse carts to a festival celebrating then end of the rainy season, Bagan Festival

Then off to a quiet pagoda to watch the sunset. Carriage Ride among the TemplesCarriage Ride among the TemplesCarriage ride, Festival of Lights Parade, Pagoda at dusk

At the top, bathed in the evening sun, we see a beehive that looks like chainmaille. Bees in a Sunset PagodaBees in a Sunset PagodaWe find a chain of bees hanging from the top of a temple during a sunset carriage ride.

Even the ride back to the hotel at dusk was pretty spectacular.

Sunset carriage ride-Bagan PlainSunset carriage ride-Bagan PlainSunset carriage ride sunset pagoda, sunrise bike ride pagoda

The sunset filters against a full moon in magical pink-fingered rays. Sunset Moon over Bagan PagodasSunset Moon over Bagan PagodasThe carriage ride ended with the moon rising over a lighted pagodas amid sunset striations.

Our last day in Bagan, the town prepares for the Festival of Light celebration.  Young monks hop off their bus to participate.  The town revs up for a party.  We'll even have fireworks with our dinner.... Young Monks in BeganYoung Monks in BeganOur last day in Bagan, the town prepares for the Festival of Light celebration. Young monks hop off their bus to participate. The town revs up for a party. We'll even have fireworks with our dinner....

And we begin biking Bagan before breakfast to beat the heat. Biking BaganBiking BaganOne morning we rent bicycles and ride to explore deserted temples

We make it to the top of our last pagoda. Early Morning on Top of a Bagan PagodaEarly Morning on Top of a Bagan PagodaIn the morning light as we look to the Irrawaddy, the fields take on a fluorescent glow from the top of a pagoda.

Another careful  "trip" down

We used the hand rails to climb up--and down--the steep, uneven, crumbling stairs leading to the top of a temple in Bagan

We visit a seamstress who altered some clothes for us using an old treadle machine.

Before we left for Bangkok, in the rain.... Rain in BaganRain in BaganOur last morning it rained in Bagan--flooding many roads.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Ananda Phaya Pagoda Badu, Badu, Badu Bagan Bagan Gate Bagan Plain Betel leaves Bullock Carts Burma Gupyaukgyi Pagoda Irrawaddy River Kayan neck rings Kayan weavers, Myanmar Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda Sulamani Pagoda Sunset Garden Restaurant Therabar Gate Hotel Watchful-Smiling Buddha balloons over bagan barefoot butcher biking carriage ride dinner on an Irrawaddy sandbar fish paste gas station gasoline horse cart hot air balloon land of ten thousand temples moon motor bike outdoor market overloaded motor bike ox ox cart oxen pagodas plowing a field ringing temple bells sesame plants shrines stupa sunset temple Wed, 19 Feb 2014 22:38:19 GMT
Ancient Burma-First Stop Yangon, Myanmar From Hong Kong, we fly to Yangon, Myanmar, via a short stop in Bangkok--we'll go back to Bangkok later.

Yangon is the old Rangoon of the colonial British Burma days and has just opened to American tourists--a beautiful place.  We stayed at the old British Governor's Residence Hotel--still very colonial, tucked back in the embassy section of the city.   It had been the capital of the country.  In 2005 the capital was moved to Naypyidaw, new city still under construction, many miles away because the government determined the Yangon infrastructure "beyond repair."  (Not a very popular decision.) The Governor's Residence, YangonThe Governor's Residence, YangonHome of the British Governor during colonial rule

Full of beautiful tropical flowers.  Yellow amaryllis blossoms jumpEd out at us. Amaryllis at the British Governor's ResidenceAmaryllis at the British Governor's ResidenceHome of the British Governor during colonial rule We had our first look at a hanging lobster claw, Flowering Hanging Lobster ClawFlowering Hanging Lobster ClawFlowering Hanging Lobster Claw (Heliconia rostrata) at the British Governor's Residence

And a blossoming cast-iron plant.  I must have killed a hundred of these things--I had no idea they could be so beautiful if they had more love.

Blossoming Cast-Iron Plant- British Governor's ResidenceBlossoming Cast-Iron Plant- British Governor's ResidenceA blossoming cast-iron plant in the British Governor's Residence gardens A woman played a traditional Burmese instrument at breakfast each morning.  The ancient Burmese arched harp- saung gauk-is the national musical instrument. Playing a Burmese Arched HarpPlaying a Burmese Arched HarpA woman played the Burmese arched harp- saung gauk- the national musical instrument of Burma at breakfast each morning at the British Governor's Palace.

First stop was the Sule Pagoda where we saw a procession of monks in their deep red robes walking in front of examples of colonial architecture. Budhist Monk Procession -Sule PagodaBudhist Monk Procession -Sule PagodaMonks in dark red robes walk to prayer in front of the golden Sule Pagoda

In the heart of the city, the pagoda--all gold leaf--is over 2500 years old. Sule Pagoda- YangonSule Pagoda- YangonThe Sule Pagoda- in the center of downtown Yangon

As we enter the pagoda, we are stooped by a woman with a basket of wren-like birds.  We pay to free wrens --a good deed in front of the Sule Pagoda.  Not sure of the karma in store the for people who captured these little guys. Freeing Birds as a Good DeedFreeing Birds as a Good DeedWe pay to free wrens --a good deed in front of the Sule Pagoda. Not sure of the karma in store the for people who capture these little guys.

Inside we take off our shoes and walk the parameter of the pagoda and see a woman visiting the stupa marking the day of the week she was born.   Worshiping at a Stupa at the Sule PagodaWorshiping at a Stupa at the Sule PagodaA woman anoints the Buddha in a stupa that marks her day of birth at Yangon's Sule Pagoda.

Eight stupas (small buildings that only hold an image) surround the main pagoda (a building large enough to enter)--the day week you are born is very important here.  Wednesday, for some reason, is divided into two stupas....  There is a simple temple etiquette--remove shoes, wear modest shirts, no camisoles, and skirts or pants must be below the knee. Sule Pagoda- YangonSule Pagoda- YangonThe temples at the Sule Pagoda

And we get a close-up of a woman with thanaka cosmetic face paint.  Most women wear this paste, made from a bark, to protect their skin.   Woman with thanaka cosmetic face paintS-Sule PagodaWoman with thanaka cosmetic face paintS-Sule PagodaA woman at the Sule Pagoda wears thanaka, a traditional cosmetic face paint used to protect the skin.

From there we go to Bogyoke (General) Aung San or Scott’s Market with all sorts of wonderful things. This is a huge bazaar with art, fabric, antiques, jewelry and handicrafts.  Built in 1926, it was re-named after the general who led the fight for Burmese independence from British rule.  He was also the father of Aung San Suu Kyi.

This was where we bought our traditional Burmese Longyis--a long skirt tucked at the waist.  More on that later....  Men also wear longyis but just tie them in front.  Much cooler than pants, we can see why they are so popular.  (Young people often copy the western dress and wear Jeans when they go out.)  Our guide wears a longyi as we walk through the market. LongyiLongyiOur guide wearing a longyi as we walk through the market

A man sharpens knives on the sidewalk. Knife Sharpener- YangonKnife Sharpener- YangonA man sets up his knife-sharpening business on the sidewalk in Yangon

One vendor sells traditional colorful Burmese jelled sweets Burmese Sweets at Bogyoke Aung San MarketBurmese Sweets at Bogyoke Aung San MarketTraditional colorful Myanmar jelled sweets at a vendor outside Scott's Market. The massive bazaar was built in 1926 and was renamed Bogyoke (General) Aung San Market after the famous general (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) who led Burma from British rule.

And these circular baskets are filled with fried crickets... Fried Crickets in the MarketFried Crickets in the MarketBaskets of fried crickets and fruit at Bogyoke Aung San Market

There's fresh produce and meats--everyone buys their food for the day.  Most have refrigerators, they just prefer fresh food straight from the farmers.  The women wear thanakha paste to protect their faces from the sun.  (They all have beautiful skin so it seems to work.) Outdoor Market VendorsOutdoor Market VendorsFresh meat in the market where everyone shops for food daily because there is little refrigeration.

After lunch we have a traditional green tea salad.  This is a traditional Mynanmar dessert and welcoming food for guests.  It's made of pickled green tea and sesame oil, with crisp fried garlic, peppers and peanuts, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, and preserved shredded ginger. It's quit good.  We are beginning to see the traditional desserts are not be the "sweets" we are used to.  Much more healthy desserts, often not very sugary. Green Tea SaladGreen Tea SaladTraditional Mynanmar dessert and welcoming food for guests. Pickled tea is served with sesame oil, crisp fried garlic, peppers and peanuts, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimp, and preserved shredded ginger.

After lunch we walk down an alley off Maha Bandoola Street in Chinatown,  where we watch young men in hiked up longyis and shorts play the traditional Myanmar sport of Chinlon.  Also known as cane ball, it is played with a woven rattan ball and combines sport and dance in a team sport without competition.  There are no opposing teams.  The focus is not on winning or loosing, but on how beautifully one plays the game. Men Playing Chinlon-YangonYoung men in hiked up longyis and shorts play the traditional Myanmar sport of Chinlon. Also known as cane ball, it is played with a woven rattan ball and combines sport and dance in a team sport without competition. There are no opposing teams. The focus is not on winning or loosing, but on how beautifully one plays the game.

We are just in time for the Chinatown celebration to the Fat Buddha--the whole country is preparing for a big Festival of Lights on the 19th.  This celebrates the first full moon after the summer monsoons.   Celebration of the Fat Buddha in Yangon's ChinatownCelebration of the Fat Buddha in Yangon's ChinatownA children's parade is part of the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown,

A mother encourages her baby to tell us "Nee hao," Chinese for "Hello.  We came at a great time! Nee HaoNee HaoLittle one in Chinatown during celebration for the Fat Buddha. The mother was telling the boy to say "nee hao" (Chinese for hello) to greet us.

As we walk, we notice car steering wheels are still on the "passenger" side--a remnant of colonial Burma.  They used to drive on the left, like the UK.  After independence they began driving on the right...but continue to use cars with the steering wheel in the old position.   Yangon Cars with Steering Wheel on the RightYangon Cars with Steering Wheel on the RightThe cars in Myanmar are interesting--they remain with the steering wheel on the right side as they are in countries that drive on the left. One problem--after British independence they began driving on the right. They just never changed the cars!

Next we ride a bicycle-pedicab called a trishaw through the traffic on the way to the Strand Hotel.  What a kick!   Trishaw ride through Downtown YangonTrishaw ride through Downtown YangonWe rode the bicycle-propelled trishaw--the pedicab of Yangon--through afternoon traffic to the Stand Hotel.

Afternoon tea at the historic Strand Hotel was a nice cool break... Tea at the Strand HotelTea at the Strand HotelWe have afternoon tea at the famous Strand hotel before heading to the Schwedagon Pagoda.

As we headed to the Shwedagon Pagoda.   The Shwedegon PagodaThe Shwedegon PagodaRainbow over Shwedegon Pagoda in Yangon

This is the most sacred spot in the country, containing relic hairs of Buddha.  The gilded pagoda and stupa is 2600 years old and dominates the skyline of the city.  It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined as well.  The tree at the entrance is said to be from the tree under which Buddha received his enlightenment.

Shwedagon PagodaShwedagon PagodaShwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

The pagoda is magnificent at night. Moon over the Shwedagon PagodaMoon over the Shwedagon PagodaMoon peaked through at the Shwedagon Pagoda

We see our first female monks here.  They have shaved heads and look much like their male counterparts, except for their pink robes. Female Monks Pray at SchwedagonFemale Monks Pray at SchwedagonOur see our first female monks are at Shwedegon Pagoda. They have shaved heads and look much like their male counterparts, except for their pink robes.

The next day we rode the Yangon River ferry to the city of Dalla on the other side of the Yangon River because we asked to go to an orphanage.   Yangon River FerryYangon River FerryRiding the ferry to Dala across the Yangon River

And take another trishaw ride to one of the few orphanages in the country.   Trishaws to the Dala OrphanageTrishaws to the Dala OrphanageWe rode trishaws from the ferry to the orphanage

We asked to see a facility that really took care of the children.  We learned that many orphanages in SE Asia set themselves up as tourist attractions.  The children are put on the street when they reach their teens--and nothing good can come of that.  Unfortunately, this one has grown to 350 children.  Monks care for small children through high school.  The girls live with families because it is a male monastery.  The monks often get them into trades and watch over them until they marry.  We brought candy for the children but we left currency with the monks.   Dala OrphanageDala OrphanageWe brought candy for the children at the orphanage but we left currency with the monks who run the palace. They allow children to stay through high school--girls must go to family homes after elementary school because it is a monastery. Then monks keep teack of the children and assist them until they become adults.

On the way back to the ferry we stop at a candle "factory."  Everything is by hand. They're very busy filling orders preparing for the upcoming Festival of Lights. Dala Candle FactoryDala Candle FactoryWomen make candles by hand at the Dala candle factory. They are preparing for the upcoming Festival of Lights.

On the ferry back to Yangon, we are treated to a beautiful sunset over the Yangon River. Sunset on the Yangon RiverSunset on the Yangon RiverReturning on the ferry to Yangon, we are treated to a beautiful sunset over the Yangon River

Tomorrow we head north to the city of Began--a place beyond description!  Wait until you see the pictures.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Amaryllis Aung Blossoming Cast-Iron Plant Blossoming Heliconia rostrata Bogyoke British Governor's Residence Burma Candle Chinatown Dala Dala Ferry Dala Orphanage Factory" Fat Buddha celebration Longyi Maha Bandoola Street Market" Myanmar Myanmar car with steering wheel in passenger position Nee hao Pagoda Rangoon San Shwedagon Pagoda Strand Hotel Tea Sule Sule Pagoda Yangon Yangon River Yangon knife-sharpener baskets of fried crickets blossoming hanging lobster claw children cosmetic face paint female monks flowers freeing birds green tea salad making bamboo shoots monks moon over pagodas outdoor markets rainbow stupa temples thanaka traditional Burmese sweets trishaw trishaw ride Sun, 02 Feb 2014 01:07:05 GMT
Asia Unplugged-First stop Hong Kong We're off on a six week Southeast Asia adventure and our first stop is Hong Kong.  We are traveling with our good travel buddies, John and Susan, on a trip almost a year and a half in the planning.  Hong Kong is a  great introduction to the excitement and Asian culture ahead.  We wonder if the city will be changed much from our last visit years ago at the time China took over.  During that visit the locals seemed quite concerned their city would be changed....
Today we stay at the Peninsula Hotel overlooking Victoria Harbour.  And, as much as we can tell from a visitor's vantage point, they city remains the robust, exciting Hong Kong we remember.   Hong Kong's Peninsula HotelHong Kong's Peninsula HotelThe Peninsula Hotel, in Hong Kong, overlooks the famous Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.
If anything, it seems to have become more energized.  The hotel itself is lovely. Entry Level Peninsula HotelEntry Level Peninsula HotelFirst floor of the Peninsula Hotel, in Hong Kong, overlooking the famous Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.
But the mezzanine shops are over the top--store windows gushing fabulous jewels, more furs and designer clothes than you can shake a stick at.  Really fun to window shop.  And this is just in the hotel!  A small sampling of the local merchants.  We're told the extremely wealthy Chinese from the mainland regularly hop over to Hong Kong and really enjoy their shopping.  Yea, I guess.
From our room in Kowloon section we overlook Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. Victoria Harbour from Peninsula HotelVictoria Harbour from Peninsula HotelThe Peninsula Hotel, in Hong Kong, overlooking the famous Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.
Our first excursion is hitting most of the tourist must-do's:
We take the 27 degree (steeeep) Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.  This is one of the oldest (1888) and most famous funicular railways in the weld.  The view of the city from Lion's View Point is spectacular. View from Victoria PeakView from Victoria PeakVictoria Peak on Hong Kong Island overlooks the famous Victoria Harbour and Kowloon.
We drive to Aberdeen Village, near Repulse Bay, to check out the shops at the the Stanley Waterfront Mart. Vendors sell Chinese art, silk, laquerware and various trinkets. Then we ride a sampan in Stanley Harbour to view the fishing junks Stanley Harbor JunksStanley Harbor JunksBoats and floating business barges in Stanley Harbour, near Repulse Bay in Hong Kong
and the huge, elaborate moored restaurant. Stanley Harbor CasinoStanley Harbor CasinoBoats and floating business barges in Stanley Harbour, near Repulse Bay in Hong Kong
On the way back to the hotel we pass a beautiful old cemetery stretching up the hillside. Cemetery near Stanley HarbourCemetery near Stanley HarbourLeaving the peninsula of Hong kong Island, we pass a large cemetery nestled in the hills
We walk through the Tai Po Market market filled with foods and goods.  The butcher loved being in the picture... Tai Po Market butcherTai Po Market butcherOne of the butchers in the Tai Po Market looks out from behind the hanging meat.,
Stalls are packed with just abut every thing you can imagine.
Tai Po MarketTai Po MarketThe open-air Tai Po Market with many stalls of food and goods.
The fruits and vegetables were bright and shiny.
Hong KongHong Kong
Wr came across our first dragon fruit (bottom right) at the market--we'll see these throughout the rest of our trip.  Sliced, they are a white or pink fruit with tiny black seeds.  A favorite here but there wasn't much taste. Dragon Fruit in Tai Po MarketDragon Fruit in Tai Po MarketDragon fruit, apples, Asian pears with lemons, and peaches at the outdoor market.
Walking through several temples, Man Mo Temple is in an urban neighborhood.  Filed with smoke from incense, it was built a century ago.  The temple is dedicated to Man, the God of Literature and Mo the God of Martial Arts. Man Mo Temple GardenMan Mo Temple GardenThe Man Mo Temple is in an urban neighborhood.
Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall and the walled villages of Lo Wai passing through the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail, the homeland of the Tang Clan showcasing the deepest of Chinese religious life. Members of the Tang clan have owned this area for years and continue to build houses for the new birth members of the family. Tang Chung Ling Ancestral HallTang Chung Ling Ancestral HallTang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall in
Followed by the Tai Fu tai, an opulent stately home that was built in 1865 by a scholar of the gentry class. Tai Fu TaiTai Fu TaiAn ancient home built in 1865 by a scholar of the gentry class.
From our car we can see...CHINA!  (You can see the high-sides in China's the perpetual smog.)  Who knew! China- in the distanceChina- in the distanceTang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall view of China- skyscrapers from the city of Shenzhen a few miles away
We had to drive closer...and on the way we got a look at farming, Hong Kong style.  (We may not want to know what made the soil look so rich.) Gardening around Hong KongGardening around Hong KongAway from the city we see gardening tyne Hong Kong way, aka manual. But the earth does look incredibly rich. (We may not want to know what makes it so dark.)
We went to Lok Ma Cha Garden.  This park overlooks a flood plain with people living in tine houses on the Hong Kong side.  Across the fence is Shenzhen, China. This is a major city in the south of Southern China's Guangdong Province, and it sits immediately north of Hong Kong. The area became China's first—and one of the most successful—Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
Because it is southern mainland China's major financial center, Shenzhen is home to the famous Shenzhen Stock Exchange as well as the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies. Shenzhen is also one of the busiest container ports in China.  All overlooking these people in their tiny homes. Lok Ma Cha Garden overlooking houses  and Shenzhen, ChinaLok Ma Cha Garden overlooking houses and Shenzhen, ChinaThe Lok Ma Cha Gardens overlook a small area of land that butts up to mainland China and the city of Shenzhen. This is a major city in the south of Southern China's Guangdong Province, situated immediately north of Hong Kong. The area became China's first—and one of the most successful—Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
Because it is southern mainland China's major financial center, Shenzhen is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as well as the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies. Shenzhen is also one of the busiest container ports in China
Back at the hotel we are treated to a once a week light symphony--just fun. Laser Light Symphony over Victoria HarbourLaser Light Symphony over Victoria HarbourOnce a week, Hong Kong gives visitors a real show--the Laser Light Symphony. This is the view from the Peninsula Hotel.
Then we walked to dinner and spent the evening walking the streets of Kowloon.  Walking down Nathan Street...  Nathan Street, Hong Kong at NightNathan Street, Hong Kong at NightWalking down Nathan Street in Hong Kong at night, the lights and energy are palpable.
We walked through the Temple Street Night Market Temple Street Night Market-Hong KongTemple Street Night Market-Hong KongTemple Street Night Market-Hong Kong
And past some interesting restaurant windows.... Ducks in Hong Kong Restaurant Window at NightDucks in Hong Kong Restaurant Window at NightA window full of ducks-Hong Kong at night
Of course we took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island.  A huge upscale mall is a few steps away--with one of the biggest Apple stores we've ever seen! Star Ferry across Victoria HarbourStar Ferry across Victoria HarbourWe took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour
The city was beautiful at dawn as we prepared to leave--getting in to the more unusual parts of our trip.  Next we're off Myanmar-Burma.  Our first stop will be in Yangon--aka Rangoon a while ago. Just before Dawn over Hong Kong's Victoria HarbourJust before Dawn over Hong Kong's Victoria HarbourHong Kong at dawn from the Peninsula
(Alberta Seith Photography) China Hong Kong Hong Kong Island Hong Kong at night Kowloon Kowloon, Peninsula Hotel Man Mo Temple Nathan Street Southeast Asia Stanley Harbour Stanley Waterfront Mart Star Ferry Tai Fu Tai Tai Po Market Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall Temple Street night market Victoria Harbor cemetery on Hong Kong Island peninsula dragon fruit outdoor market walking around Kowloon Fri, 31 Jan 2014 20:58:40 GMT
Day 26-28- Estancia El Umbu de Areco-Argentina Pampas On the final leg of our trip we spend three days at Estancia El Umbu de Areco in the Argentine pampas.  This is a colonial-style mansion and working ranch dating back to the 1800's.  With only 9 rooms, it is now a secluded tourist destination to ride and enjoy rural Argentina.   Estancia El Umbu de ArecoEstancia El Umbu de ArecoEstancia El Umbu de Areco in Argentina

Eva Boelcke's family has owned the Estancia since 1934.  She often stays at her house in town by comes to the Estancia several times a week.  It's easy to know when she is here…she arrives with her car loaded with the stray dogs she has adopted into her "city" family.  She brought about six the days we saw her.

Eva Boelcke and her family have owned the the Estancia since 1934.Eva Boelcke and her family have owned the the Estancia since 1934.Eva Boelcke's family has owned the Estancia since 1934. She often stays at her house in town by comes to the Estancia several times a week. It's easy to know when she is here…she arrives with her car loaded with the stray dogs she has adopted into her "city" family. She brought about six the days we saw her.

We are seated immediately beneath the ancient Umbu tree and served empanadas and wine.  This tree dates from 1806.  Umbus are native to the pampas and have a large umbrella shape.  Gauchos could see them in the distance and would seek them out as shelter from the sun and rain. Umbu tree at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoUmbu tree at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThis Umbu tree dates from 1806.

Within an hour we are on horseback. First Trail Ride, Estancia El Umbu de ArecoFirst Trail Ride, Estancia El Umbu de ArecoEstancia in Argentina

Led by the 66 year old Oscar Periera, who comes from a San Antonio de Areco's legendary gaucho family, we ride into  the pampas. Oscar leading ride at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar leading ride at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar leading ride into the pampas at Estancia in Argentina

We arrive back at the Estancia in time for lunch.  This is a hearty meal of all-you-can eat and drink of their own grilled beef and sheep, vegetables and their own house wine.  They have their own organic garden and the meat is cooked slowly in an open fire pit.  The aroma at lunchtime is WOW. Grilling the meat at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoGrilling the meat at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThis is how they slow cooked the meat for the meals. There was usually beef and lamb at each meal.

The first day we ate in the indoor lunch area.  After lunch we have a great surprise--Oscar joins us with his guitar. Oscar Eduardo Periera, gaucho at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar Eduardo Periera, gaucho at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar serenades us during lunch at the Estancia in Argentina

He serendades us.  

We ride several times each day.  Just head for the stables--very unstructured.  Riding on the land is magical. Riding at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoRiding at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoRiding on the pampas at Estancia in Argentina

And we see some interesting birds...the burrowing owls sometimes line up on the fence posts.

Burrowing owl at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoBurrowing owl at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoBurrowing owl at Estancia in Argentina

And the fields are often filled with Campo Flickers that take flight as we approach. Campo Flickers on the pampas at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoCampo Flickers on the pampas at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoLarge groups of Campo Flickers were on the pampas around the Estancia in Argentina

We also meet the flickers' near-relatives, the golden breasted woodpeckers. Golden Breasted woodpeckers at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoGolden Breasted woodpeckers at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoWe saw a whole flock of Golden Breasted woodpeckers on a morning ride at the Estancia in Argentina

Touring the old Estancia is fun...this old well was probably the water source for main house in the 1800's.  On all well at the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOn all well at the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThis old well was once a major water source for the house in the 1800's at the Estancia in Argentina

The old "parlor" is now a sitting/game room for guests.

Sitting room in the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoSitting room in the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoEstancia in Argentina

One day we had lunch on the outside veranda.

Lunch on the veranda, Estancia El Umbu de ArecoLunch on the veranda, Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThe porch was a lovely lunch spot at the Estancia in Argentina

We also had lunch under the trees.  (Fortunately, dinner was a bit lighter or we would have left much heavier!) Our final outdoor lunch at the EstanciaOur final outdoor lunch at the EstanciaOur final lunch is under the trees. We found many tourists come here for their midday meal and we can see why. Not only is the food superb, their local wine is lovely, we have a Gaucho serenade and gaucho-horse performance. Pretty tough to beat.

We found the estancia is a lunchtime tourist destination, so they make the midday meal quite a show.  Oscar always sings.

Oscar outside at lunch at the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar outside at lunch at the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoOscar serenading at the Estancia in Argentina

And everyday the gauchos perform with their horses.  These men spend their lives in the saddle.  They can pick out horses with specific compliant natures and train them to do amazing things.  

Gaucho show at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoGaucho show at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoGaucho and horse perform at linch -Estancia in Argentina

Gaucho-horse performance at the EstanciaGaucho-horse performance at the EstanciaGaucho serenade and gaucho-horse performance at lunch at the Estancia in Argentina

Our last night we are treated to a full moon... Moon over the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoMoon over the Estancia El Umbu de ArecoA full moon at the Estancia in Argentina

And a hard-to-see Southern Cross--the upside down kite just above the tree. The Southern Cross at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThe Southern Cross at Estancia El Umbu de ArecoThe Southern Cross (Looking like an upside down kite) over a tree at the Estancia in Argentina Tomorrow we head back to the US and try to absorb all we've seen and done as we re-enter our everyday lives.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Estancia El Umbu de Areco Eva Boelcke Oscar Eduardo Periera Umbu tree burrowing owl, campo estancia flicker" gaucho horse show gauchos golden breasted woodpecker horses open pit barbeque pampas riding Wed, 09 Oct 2013 18:13:00 GMT
Day 23-25 Buenos Aries We love Chile and Argentina.  Great food.  Anything you need you can find in the stores.  Basically, if I can drink the water and eat the fruits and vegetables, I'm in.  But here we also find history going back MANY hundreds of years.  (Check out La Recoleta at the end.)

In Buenos Aries we stay at a great B+B, Abode Buenos Aries.  David and Zoe are ex-pats who really enjoy hosting visitors.  They are in a wonderful tree-lined neighborhood- Palermo SoHo--within walking distance of great restaurants, shopping and bus lines.  They even sometimes have a bus pass available. Canopied streets, Buenos AriesCanopied streets, Buenos AriesBuenos Aries

Dave arranged for for a real Argentine barbecue- Parilla pronounced pah-RE-jah.  This included barbecued cheeses, sirloin, fillets, pork and blood sausage and sweet breads, all traditional foods and all cooked by Dave on the rooftop.  Abode Dinner and TangoAbode Dinner and TangoDavid cooking Parilla at Tango and Dinner night at Abode B+B in Buenos Aries

To top it off, we even had tango lessons.

Wine flowed, we learned a tiny bit about the tango... Abode Dinner and TangoAbode Dinner and TangoTango and dinner at Abode B+B in Buenos ASries

And ate some great food.  We had dinner with others at the B+B, some friends of theirs and some friends from our Antarctica trip.  An amazing evening! Abode Dinner and TangoAbode Dinner and TangoTango and dinner at Abode B+B in Buenos ASries

Zoe also helped us figure out what to see in BA and how to get to get there in the limited time we had.  Our first stop was by bus to Caminito.  Touristy, but fun. Caminito, Buenos AriesCaminito, Buenos AriesBuenos Aries

Where we watched some more tango demos.

The buildings are all multi-colored, a remnant of an era when sailors brought home left over paint form the ships.    

Havana Caminito Corner, Buenos AriesHavana Caminito Corner, Buenos AriesBuenos Aries

Colorful frescos and sculptures are everywhere.

Frescos in CamientoFrescos in CamientoFrescos in Camiento, Buenos Aries

We took off by bus and were entranced by the colors all over the city.   This fruit market was one of many buildings decorated with murals. Fruit Market, Buenos AriesFruit Market, Buenos AriesEven a simple fruit market id decorated with a Mural in Buenos Aries

Next we headed for the Pink Palace--The Casa Rosada--that sits at the eastern end of the Plaza de Mayo .  The official residence of the President of Argentina, is located in Olivos, Buenos Aires Province.  This is the balcony made famous by Evita. La Casa Rosada, Buenos AriesLa Casa Rosada, Buenos AriesThe Casa Rosada sits at the eastern end of the Plaza de Mayo . The official residence of the President of Argentina, which is located in Olivos, Buenos Aires Province

Across the plaza, the Cabildo is a beautiful old building that hosts the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution. National Museum of the Cabildo, Buenos AriesNational Museum of the Cabildo, Buenos AriesThe Cabildo hosts the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution in Buenos Aries

The monument to Christopher Columbus, Buenos Aries is behind the Casa Rosada. Monument to Christopher Columbus, Buenos AriesMonument to Christopher Columbus, Buenos AriesMonument to Christopher Columbus, behind the Casa Rosada, Buenos Aries

Walking around the downtown we come to the Obelisco de Buenos Aires. The obelisk was built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first founding of the city. It is located in the center of the Plaza de la República (Republic Square), the spot where the Argentine flag was flown for the first time in Buenos Aires.

Obelisco de Buenos AiresObelisco de Buenos AiresThe obelisk was built in May 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first founding of the city. It is located in the center of the Plaza de la República (Republic Square), the spot where the Argentine flag was flown for the first time in Buenos Aires.

We did mention there are many lovely old buildings here.  Nestled right up to modern architecture. Buenos AriesBuenos AriesMixes the old and the new

This is a bustling, modern city. 

Large Metro C5ity-Buenos AriesLarge Metro C5ity-Buenos AriesBuenos Aries

With interesting distractions... Street Murals Buenos AriesStreet Murals Buenos AriesColorful murals create attractive street art in Buenos Aries

Building art,Buenos AriesBuilding art,Buenos Ariesbuilding art, Buenos Aries

Day 2 we head to El Rosedal, the Rose Garden--again by bus.  A beautiful park. Buenos AriesBuenos AriesBuenos Aries

With roses and many other kinds of beautiful flowers.

Buenos AriesBuenos AriesBuenos Aries

Buenos AriesBuenos AriesBuenos Aries

We pass through the Patio Andaluz and we leave, walking to the Japanese Garden.

Patio Andaluz, Buenos AriesPatio Andaluz, Buenos AriesPatio Andaluz at El Rosedal in Buenos Aries

We have lunch with the koi at the Japanese Garden, built in 1967. Jardin Japones, Buenos AriesJardin Japones, Buenos AriesThe Japanese Garden in Buenos Aries

Buenos AriesBuenos AriesThe Japanese Garden in Buenos Aries

Next we head to the giant mechanical flower--Floralis Generica-- in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aries. This symbol for the city is located in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.  The flower no longer opens at dawn and closes at dusk--guess cut backs are everywhere.  It is still beautiful. Floralis Generica in the Recoleta district of Buenos AriesFloralis Generica in the Recoleta district of Buenos AriesThe mechanical flower of Buenos Aries in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. The flower no longer opens at dawn and closes at dusk--cut backs are everywhere. It is still beautiful.

And walking back to the bus we had one final surprise--a Palo Borracho tree in bloom.  This beautiful tree coms with an amazing folk tale...

Long ago, when gods lived on earth, the dark spirits (Aña) killed the Guarani people.
  A beautiful young woman named Araverá "Sparkle in the sky", the daughter of chief "White Condor" married the hummingbird god, Colibrí,  and hoped her baby was a son, who would become a Shaman, capable of destroying all of the evil spirits.
 Hearing of her plans, the Añas plotted to kill her by mounting fire-breathing horses.  Araverá escaped on a flying chair to the ultimate ends of the universe. 
The Añas looked in the depths of the waters, under the earth, and higher than the stars.  When her tiny chair finally couldn't support the weight of her and her growing baby anymore, she descended to earth and hid inside a Toborochi (Palo Borrachoi).  The Añas never found them.  Araverá bore her son in the tree. The boy grew and took revenge upon the evil of the Añas while his mother remained in the trunk, as she does to this day. Sometimes, when she does go outside, she becomes the tree's beautiful flower, so that the hummingbirds can come and enjoy her nectar.

Our final stop is the famous La Recoleta Cemetery.  The Church of Our Lady of Pilar sits at the entrance. Church of Our Lady of Pilar, Buenos AriesChurch of Our Lady of Pilar, Buenos AriesOutside La Recoleta Cemetery, Church of Our Lady of Pilar, Buenos Aries

We arrive at the cemetery just as the skies open.   Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesRecoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesRecoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aries, burial site of Eva Peron

This is actually a good omen.  We begin to walk around as soon as the rain slows and we have the whole place to ourselves for almost 20 minutes. La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesLa Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesRecoleta Cemetery after the rain , Buenos Aries

Many of the vaults are as big as a small house.  This is the final resting place for Justa Lima de Atucha and wife. Large Atucha vault at Buenos AriesLarge Atucha vault at Buenos AriesSome vaults are as big as houses like this for Justa Lima de Atucha and wife, zat La Recoleta, Buenos Aries

Even the small vaults are elaborately ornate. Buenos AriesBuenos AriesBuenos Aries

La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesLa Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesBuenos Aries

And we get some interesting reflections in the glass.

Reflections at La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesReflections at La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AriesVaults with glass windows give interesting reflections at La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aries

Here we see another stained glass window plus our reflection as we walk by.

Reflections at La Recoleta, Buenos AriesReflections at La Recoleta, Buenos AriesReflections of another stained glass window plus us walking by, Buenos Aries

The BBC named La Recoleta one of the world's best cemeteries.  In 2013, CNN listed it among the 10 most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos AriesRecoleta Cemetery in Buenos AriesOrnate vaults in Recoleta Buenos Aries

The Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) is the burial site of Eva Peron.  It also contains graves of presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy and a granddaughter of Napoleon.   This is the Duarte family vault. Evita's Family Vault, Buenos AriesEvita's Family Vault, Buenos AriesThe Duarte family vault in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aries. A plaque for Evita Peron is in the bottom right corner.

With Evita's plaque in the bottom right corner.

Evita's Plaque on the Duarte VaultEvita's Plaque on the Duarte VaultThe plaque commemorating Evita on the family vault.-Recoleta Cemeteary, Buenos Aries

This was a wonderful visit.

Buenos AriesBuenos AriesBuenos Aries

Back at Abode, Zoe gives me some ideas about where to pick up a few gifts--her favorite stores just a few blocks from the B+B.

Tomorrow we head to the Estancia for gauchos and horseback riding!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Abode Buenos Aries Argentina Buenos Aries Cabildo Caminito Casa Rosada Cementerio de la Recoleta Church of Our Lady of Pilar Duarte family vault El Rosedal Evita Peron's vault Floralis Generica Jardin Japones Obelisco de Buenos Aires Palermo SoHo Palo Borracho tree in bloom Patio Andaluz Recoleta Cemetery Recoleta refelctions The Japanese Garden The Rose Garden building murals mechanical flower parilla tango Sun, 06 Oct 2013 03:20:21 GMT
Day 22- Sailing down the Beagle Channel Today we head back to the harbor and board our Rumbo Sur catamaran for our trip down the Beagle Channel to Estancia Harberton.  The Estancia has existed since 1886 and is a part of the long missionary history of the area.

The flowers in Ushuaia are amazing. UshuaiaUshuaiaPoppy long the street in Ushuaia, Argentina,

The lupin are set off by the bright blue sky as we wait for our morning ride.  Normally Ushuaia is windy, cold and rainy.  We have hit it on two warm, bright sunny days.  Very lucky.

  UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

As the catamaran leaves the harbor, we see wildlife throughout the bay.  Like these Upland Geese on an island we pass.  UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Nesting Rock Cormorants... Rock Cormorants, UshuaiaRock Cormorants, UshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Part of a very large colony... UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

And then there's the iconic Ushuaia lighthouse. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Down the Beagle, we pass the Chilean Puerto Williams.  Much smaller than Ushuaia, this also is recognized by some as the most southern city in the world.  It is an important base for the Chilean navy, with a tower at the right.  That is the undisputed location of the southern most bar in the world.  The green building on the left is the local church.

Puerto Williams, Tierra del FuegoPuerto Williams, Tierra del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Next we stop at Isla Martillo, a large Megellanic Penguin Colony in the Beagle. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

This is how most visitors see the penguin colonies down here.  We feel very fortunate to have had a very different experience.

UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

The Megellanic penguins still put on a show, even if they do have to dodge big boats on their beach. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

We finally arrive at Estancia Harberton.  It's lovely now, but it is hard to believe a missionary raised a family way out here in the late 1800's.   UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

It caters to tourists now. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Both by water and by land.  You can rent a room, camp or have a meal here. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

And it is the home of Museo Acatushun, a renown research facility for marine life and birds found in the area.  The director, Rae Natalie Prosser Goodall began the collections and studies in 1976 by claiming dead specimens on the beaches.  She would bring them home and boil them to clean the bones.  Her house was known for its horrible smells back then. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

It is now a first class facility, with great exhibits inside and out. Museo Acatushun, Ushuaia5Museo Acatushun, Ushuaia5Ushuaia, Argentina, National Park,

We drive back to Ushuaia though the foothills of the Andes. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

We stop by a gentle waterfall, complete with rainbow.

UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

And get another, unobstructed, view of Mt. Olivia from the back side. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Back in Ushuaia, we wander down town for dinner with the church bells ringing. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Our last find in Ushuaia is a troll garden at our B+B.  Now we know why we have had such a magical trip.  These little guys have been a good omen for us from Iceland to Switzerland--in fact on almost all our trips.  We just have to keep watch for them. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

We'll begin our trip home tomorrow.  We have two more legs...a stop in Buenos Aries, then out to a gaucho ranch in Patagonia. 


(Alberta Seith Photography) Beagle Channel Estancia Harberton Megellanic penguins Museo Acatushun Puerto Williams Upland Geese Ushuaia Ushuaia lighthouse birds flowers rock cormorants waterfall Fri, 04 Oct 2013 21:13:26 GMT
Days 20-21 The Drake Passage and Ushuaia We all gathered for one final Cheeseman-UT Jackson School of Geoscience-Ioffe Akademik group shot before we hit the Drake.   Antarctica Group ShotAntarctica Group Shot

We have had exceptional weather--for Antarctica.  However, the Drake is known for stormy weather,  We are ready for a few rough hours on the way back.  Our first encounter is not with weather but whales.  We are joined by several fin whales in the passage.  They were right beside the ship. Fin Whales swim with the ship in the Drake PassageFin Whales swim with the ship in the Drake PassageDrake Passage with fin whales

We did have several rock-and-roll hours,  but nothing exceptional.  (Apparently we were just ahead of a large storm.  A cruise ship behind us was hit by a rogue wave and it broke the wheel house window.  Guess we were lucky. ) High seas in the Drake PassageHigh seas in the Drake PassageDrake Passage with fin whales

We pass to the east of Cape Horn, engulfed in fog. Cape Horn in Fog from the DrakeCape Horn in Fog from the DrakeCape Horn in the mist from the Drake

We were barely able to see this iconic southernmost headland to Chile's Tierra del Fuego archipelago.  Cape HornCape HornCape Horn in the mist from the Drake

After Cape Horn, we pass into the Beagle Channel and the next morning arrive in Argentina's Ushuaia-a bustling small city with a big impact.  It is called the southernmost city in the world.   UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Located on a slice of land claimed by Argentina on the east side of the Tierra del Fuego, it began as an Argentine prison settlement.  Why you may ask?  Argentina and Chile have a long history of boundary disputes.  Putting a prison at Ushuaia gave Argentina a way to raise the Argentine population and increase its stronghold in the area.  We say goodbye to our Canadian ship operators and our Russian crew.  Victor was the sailor who ran the gangway to the zodiacs.  The gangway was a long ladder from the deck down to the sea with a platform at water level.   This was the man who stood in the rain and icy winds, grabbed and secured each of the tiny rubber boats as they bounced to the ship in rough seas and gave us a strong arm to help us into the boats and then back on the ship.  He was made of iron and very patient UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Many of our group our continuing on with a Cheeseman Patagonia tour of Tierra del Fuego.  We do say good bye to Tim and Pauline Carr, our Shackleton experts who sailed their 28 foot ship from England to Grytvetkin and made it their home for all those years.  UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

We have our first look at Monte Olivia, the mountain that is the the emblem of the city. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

After dropping our things, we set off for a quick tour the area by car.  The city has a definite European tang in the housing areas. UshuaiaUshuaiaUshuaia, Argentina, National Park,

Our first stop?  Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, of course.   Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

Located at the southern tip of the Andes, long board walks over wetlands lead to amazing remote areas.   Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

We walk down some interesting paths. Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

To the water's edge.  The Beagle Channel--named after Darwin's ship--is in the distance. Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

I loved this moss covered rock with its deep folds. Moss covered metamorphic rock with deep folds, Parque Nacional del FuegoMoss covered metamorphic rock with deep folds, Parque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

And I have no idea what this thing was under the water.  Even the fish seem to be checking it out. Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

Just a beautiful place. Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

Next we visit La Roca, or Lago Acigami.  An park area that reminds us of a mountain fiord. Lago AcigamiLago AcigamiUshuaia, Argentina, La Roca, Lago Acigami

We leave for a grilled bar-b-que lunch, Argentine style.  Plates of ribs, steal, pork and blood sausages, vegetables--and it just keeps coming.  Very good.  Heading back to Ushuaia, we pass many trees with Chinese Lanterns.  (A pla like mintstletoe that forms balls hanging from the trees)

Parque Nacional del FuegoParque Nacional del FuegoUshuaia, Argentina, Parque Nacional del Fuego national park

We stop at Bahia Ensenada, on the Beagle Channel.

Bahia EnsenadaBahia EnsenadaBahia Ensenada on the Beagle Channel outside Ushuaia, Argentina, in the Tierra del Fuego

It has a "post office" of sorts, the Unidad Postal Fin del Mundo

Bahia EnsenadaBahia EnsenadaPost Office at Bahia Ensenada on the Beagle Channel outside Ushuaia, Argentina, Tierra del Fuego

I have no idea the story behind this, that was tacked to the wall inside...Nine dollar bill?  Really? Bahia EnsenadaBahia EnsenadaBahia Ensenada on the Beagle Channel outside Ushuaia, Argentina, in the Tierra del Fuego

Retuning to Ushuaia, we walked around town a bit.  Very busy with many tourists, backpackers, etc.   UshuaiaUshuaiaTraffic in Ushuaia, Argentina

We end our day back at our B+B, Patagonia Jarke.  Tomorrow we head out on a catamaran tour down the Beagle Channel.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Cape Horn Drake Passage Ushuaia Fri, 04 Oct 2013 16:00:02 GMT
Day 19-Hannah Point on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands Leaving Neko Harbour after our late night zodiac adventure, we head back toward the Shetland Islands en route to Ushuaia and the southern tip of South America.  In the morning we will visit one final spot overflowing with Southern Ocean wildlife, Hannah Point on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands.

The island is a microcosm of the life--and death--we have witnessed along the way.  Gentoo parents and chicks. Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

A gentoo chick that looked just like a fat little  "beany baby" Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

(Gentoo) Penguins on their rock nests each placed almost perfectly at about two-foot diameters from each other. Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

Macaroni penguin with chick along side Chinstrap penguins and their chicks.

Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

A skua on it's nest

Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

The cacophony of an active penguin colony calling for mates

A gentoo mother successfully protecting her chicks from an encroaching elephant seal that outweighs her many many times 

Chinstaps performing their mating ritual

A Southern Black-backed Gull and chick

Southern Black-backed Gull and chick at Hannah PointSouthern Black-backed Gull and chick at Hannah PointSouthern Black-backed Gull and chick at last landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

Two skuas fighting over the remains of a penguin chick one just stole from a nest

Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

And a final sunset as we leave 62 degrees south and head north to South America

Hannah PointHannah PointLast landing in Antarctica at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Penguins Southern Black-backed Gull Southern Black-backed Gull chick chinstraps elephant seals gentoos macaroni penguins nesting skuas penguin chicks penguin colony sounds penguins mating skuas fighting over dead penguin chick sunset Fri, 04 Oct 2013 03:32:41 GMT
Day 18-Lemaire Channel, Port Lockroy and Neko Harbour It's hard to imagine, but every day is a new adventure with new wonders.  We begin early (something new and different) to enjoy a cruise through the Lemaire Channel.  This is sometimes called Kodak Alley because the steep granite cliffs meet the protected, still waters, often filled with ice bergs. Lemaire ChannelLemaire ChannelCruising through Lemaire Channel to Port Lockroy

Our geologists point out the volcanic folds in the granite mountains we pass. Lemaire ChannelLemaire ChannelCruising through Lemaire Channel to Port Lockroy

It is lovely with the sun rising behind the mountains. Lemaire ChannelLemaire ChannelCruising through Lemaire Channel to Port Lockroy

From the Lemaire, we travel to a charming, but isolated, little base at Port Lockroy.  This was a British station at Jougla Point during W W II.  It was built in 1944 as part of a secret "Operation Tabarin" mission to report on German activity.  This was a disinformation action to establish a British foothold in the area and possibly source information actually obtained from the cracking of the Enigma machine.   Port Lockroy by seaPort Lockroy by seaPort Lockroy

You might notice the tell-tale pink patches all over the surrounding rocks. They are clustered around Bransfield House. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

A large colony of Gentoos call this spot home, nesting around, beside and under the buildings. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

 If they left the doors open, these guys would probably nest in doors, too! Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

A chance for some great close-ups. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

This is now a museum managed by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, a UK charity.  I can't imagine how hard the living was in this little wood shelter during the 40's. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

All the comforts of home--not. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

They have some of the old electronics on display. Post LockroyPost Lockroy(British) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Gentoo Penguins and chicks,

We also move to the other side of the area-Jougla Point--where more gentoos hang out.

Climbing the rock at Jougla PointClimbing the rock at Jougla PointJougla Point at Port Lockroy

A large collection of whale bones is also laid out here. Climbing the rock at Jougla PointClimbing the rock at Jougla PointJougla Point at Port Lockroy

A gentoo serenades us, penguin-style.

Back on the ship, we have an outdoor lunch on the deck as we watch Port Lockroy fade away. Lunch at Port LockroyLunch at Port LockroyPort Lockroy

After lunch we traveled up the Neumayer Channel, crossing the Gerlache Straight, and into Andvord Bay to Neko Harbour.  Named after a factory whaling ship from the 1920's, we are now hoping to see whales here.  We're taking another evening zodiac cruise after dinner.  From our small rubber boat, we can appreciate the immense play area Antarctic whales and seals inhabit. Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

Our first sighting is a giant leopard seal stretched out on the ice.  Our ship makes a nice backdrop. Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

Did I mention their vicious reputation?  And their razor-sharp canine teeth?  Not sure if he was yawning or just showing us he could make our lives miserable if he wanted to.... Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

As we ride around the bay we suddenly spot another pair of humpbacks.  One is definitely smaller--maybe a calf. Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

The large one is as interested in us as we are in her.  She moves near the zodiac. Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

Make that REAL near.  She moves right along side us.  This isn't a great shot, but there was no time to change lenses.  We could have leaned over and touched her if we weren't so surprised. Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

This was not a scary experience.  It's obvious the whales know exactly where we are and they silently and smoothly moved around us.  Then, whoosh!  She proceeded to cover us with whale spry.  (It has a definite fishy odor...and we loved it!) Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

The two whales joined up again and shot away, hardly rippling the water.

Neko BayNeko BayNeko Harbor cruising with zodiacs, leopard seal and humpbacks

The end of another boring day at the bottom of the world....

(Alberta Seith Photography) :"Gentoo Bransfield House Gentoo chicks Jougla Point Lemaire Channel Neko Harbour Port Lockroy Port Lockroy Museum humpback whale blow humpback whales leopard seal penguins" Thu, 03 Oct 2013 20:50:57 GMT
Day 17- Cuverville Island, the Gerlache Straight and Port Charcot We start our day at the Gentoo penguin colony on Cuverville Island, about 123 miles from Deception. From the boat the landing is splotched with pink--telltale penguin signs, the result of eating all those pink krill. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

And as we land, I find the rocks underwater beautiful.  Obviously, not a whole lot of geology has rubbed off on me--but I do love rocks.  And I find looking at them through the water prism irresistible.  I actually think these may top the underwater rocks I found at Glacier National Park.   Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

The gentoo colony is full of activity.  These are beautiful birds with the bright orange mouths.  Some are just enjoying the area and eating snow.

The males are busy constantly adding rocks to their mate's nest.  I don't think anyone knows what makes a rock desirable.  Some are tiny.

Some are quite large. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

Scientists did a study painting rocks at one nest in a colony.  In just a few days the marked rocks were totally dispersed among many nests.  Seems penguins not only "find" great rocks to bring their mate, they also covet and steal rocks from other nests.  Go figure.  The bottom line is their are penguins on nests everywhere.  Some roosting on eggs... Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

And some penguins are feeding their baby chicks.

The chicks never seemed filled up.  With two babies, Gentoo need mothers and fathers to satiate the little rascals. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

When the Gentoos call out, they stretch their necks and we see the orange color goes all the way down their gullet. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

And, of course, I'm taken with their unique feet.

Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

They follow very specific trails up and down the hills--penguin paths.  We have to be careful not to block or get in their way.  Again, they are marked with pink from the krill.

Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

And we have a wonderful full moon that shows up in the clouds as we tour the area by zodiac. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

The ice in the surrounding waters is beautiful.  (We expect to see even more spectacular sights on our midnight zodiac tour tonight.) Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

And we have our first leopard seal encounter. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

These are bold, powerful predators extraordinaire.  Only the elephant seal is larger and only the orca is more dangerous.  They have powerful canine teeth and feed mostly on penguins and other seals but they have attacked and killed divers.  This guy swam with us for over a half hour and kept coming up to the zodiac, checking us out. Cuuverville IslandCuuverville IslandCuuverville Island nesting Gentoo colony and leopard seals from the zodiac. Beautiful Ice bergs to boot.

Moving on, we head off to Port Charcot on Booth Island, the western edge of the Lemaire Channel.  We cruise though Gerlache Straight on the way and look for whales. Whales in the Gerlache StraitWhales in the Gerlache StraitThree humpbacks encounter pack of around 9 orcas--no attacks. The orcas may have been training for future encounters.

We find a mother humpback and her calf.   Whales in the Gerlache StraitWhales in the Gerlache StraitThree humpbacks encounter pack of around 9 orcas--no attacks. The orcas may have been training for future encounters.

But that's  not all-we watch as they are harassed by a pack of orcas.  Best guess from our guides is the orcas were teaching their young how to hunt or maybe just practicing pack tactics.   Whales in the Gerlache StraitWhales in the Gerlache StraitThree humpbacks encounter pack of around 9 orcas--no attacks. The orcas may have been training for future encounters.

It probably didn't end well for the humpback calf. Whales in the Gerlache StraitWhales in the Gerlache StraitThree humpbacks encounter pack of around 9 orcas--no attacks. The orcas may have been training for future encounters.

We move on to Booth Island, which forms the western edge of the Lemaire Channel.  We arrive as the sun is going down. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

Hiking on shore, we get our first look at the massive bergs... Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

As we walk to the top edge of the island. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the Lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the Lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

And look over the massive ice bergs in the setting sun. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

Taking to the zodiacs, we begin our late night tour.   We find a leopard seal stretched our on the ice as we start out. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

It's amazing how much light there is at 10:30 at night.  Our ship, Ioffe Akademik,  is framed by an iceberg. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

The zodiacs against the bergs help show how massive these hunks of ice really are. Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

Night hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelNight hike and cruise at Port Charcot on the western edge of the lemaire ChannelHiking among the penguins on Booth Island--at 9PM--and cruising among a huge iceberg bone yard at 11 PM

Cocoa and brandy await us when we get back to the ship.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Cuverville Island Gentoo penguins Gerlache Straight humpback whales ice bergs", "Port Charcot", "Booth Island", whales, penguins, "penguin chicks", Antarctica leopard seals orcas sunset zodiacs Thu, 03 Oct 2013 11:25:02 GMT
Day 16 Deception Island-an Active Volcano Caldera Today we head to Deception Island.  This is an amazing place, a caldera--a "bowl" of collapsed land after a volcanic  eruption.  In fact, this is one of the few active volcanos in Antarctica.  We're going to Pendulum Cove first, then to Whaler's Bay where we hear we'll have an "opportunity" for a BRIEF dip in Antarctic waters.  How warm is that bay supposed to be???? Sailing through Neptune's BellowsSailing through Neptune's BellowsNeptune's Bellows, entrance to active Antarctica volcano caldera in NE corner Port Foster, Deception Island

We move through the narrow caldera entrance, Neptune's Bellows.  This brings the ship extremely close to the walls as we enter. Sailing through Neptune's BellowsSailing through Neptune's BellowsNeptune's Bellows, entrance to active Antarctica volcano caldera in NE corner Port Foster, Deception Island

We begin on the volcanic black rock beach at Pendulum Cove.          Pendulum Cove LandingPendulum Cove LandingLanding on the lava sands of an active Antarctica volcano caldera. Pendulum Cove was the site of a Chilean base destroyed by volcanic activity in the '60's, the warm sands allow sparse plant growth.

The volcano destroyed the station here several years ago.  Only twisted metal and some wood pieces remain. Pendulum Cove LandingPendulum Cove LandingLanding on the lava sands of an active Antarctica volcano caldera. Pendulum Cove was the site of a Chilean base destroyed by volcanic activity in the '60's, the warm sands allow sparse plant growth.

Our geologists, always exploring, hike up the caldera's Mt. Pound Ridge for a closer look at the rocks. Pendulum Cove LandingPendulum Cove LandingLanding on the lava sands of an active Antarctica volcano caldera. Pendulum Cove was the site of a Chilean base destroyed by volcanic activity in the '60's, the warm sands allow sparse plant growth.

Much of the area is off limits.  The scientists are trying to protect the plant life re-establishing itself here.  It is a surprise to see patches of green on this dark monochromatic landscape. Pendulum Cove LandingPendulum Cove LandingLanding on the lava sands of an active Antarctica volcano caldera. Pendulum Cove was the site of a Chilean base destroyed by volcanic activity in the '60's, the warm sands allow sparse plant growth.

We leave the beach after signing the visitor's book. Pendulum Cove LandingPendulum Cove LandingLanding on the lava sands of an active Antarctica volcano caldera. Pendulum Cove was the site of a Chilean base destroyed by volcanic activity in the '60's, the warm sands allow sparse plant growth.

This afternoon we  move to the southeast corner of Port Foster (still in the caldera) to an area known as Whaler's Bay where we find some Chinstraps, probably from the island's Baily Head colony. Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandWhaler's Bay at Deception IslandAfter exploring the remains of the British Antarctic Survey Station destroyed by volcanic activity in 1969, we walked the beach where the thermal-warmed water made sheets of mist in the freezing air. We walked to Neptune's window then took a dip in the Deception caldera--freezing!

We find whaling remnants here. Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandWhaler's Bay at Deception IslandAfter exploring the remains of the British Antarctic Survey Station destroyed by volcanic activity in 1969, we walked the beach where the thermal-warmed water made sheets of mist in the freezing air. We walked to Neptune's window then took a dip in the Deception caldera--freezing!

And the geothermal fog adds an erie atmosphere.   Dip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandFog in Whaler's Bay

The fog has a sulphur smell, much like the geothermal fields we saw in Iceland.  I'm amazed we find penguins on the warm sand.   We watched penguins resting on their heels to lift their feet off the ground to cool off in the Falklands.  Here they don't seem to avoid the heat.

These buildings are the remnants of the British Antarctic Survey survey site that was lost to volcanic activity in the 60's. Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandWhaler's Bay at Deception IslandAfter exploring the remains of the British Antarctic Survey Station destroyed by volcanic activity in 1969, we walked the beach where the thermal-warmed water made sheets of mist in the freezing air. We walked to Neptune's window then took a dip in the Deception caldera--freezing!

And we get ready to take a dip in the Port Foster waters.   Dip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay

This may seem pretty dumb but it has a long history.  Before everyone was concerned about conservation, trip operators used to bring shovels and dig a trough so guests could swim in the "thermal" waters, so the ocean was cold, but not down-right freezing!  Needless to say, those days are gone.

At the time it was fun. But verrry cold. Dip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay

As we get dressed all we can talk about is getting back to ship and warming up in the hot tub.   Dip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay at Deception IslandDip in Whaler's Bay

Tomorrow we head 123 miles to Cuverville Island and some truly fantastic Antarctica sites.  Giant icebergs at midnight?  You bet!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Antarctica British Antarctic Survey site Chinstraps Deception Island Mt. Pound Neptune's Bellows Pendulum Cove Port Foster Whaler's Bay caldera geothermal fog penguins swimming in Port Foster Wed, 02 Oct 2013 03:43:41 GMT
Day 15 - King George Island and Antarctica Landfall at Esperanza Today we hit heavy fog at sea as we head for continental Antarctica.  Oh, yea, there are many ice bergs floating around.  Even with all the modern sonar doo-dads, it's slow going. Fog and seas delay mainland landingFog and seas delay mainland landingHeavy fog, se ice and a major storm delay our landing in Antarctica as we head back to So Sandwich Island


Initially we land in the South Sandwich Islands at King George Island, 75 miles off Antarctica.  After a long history of countries claiming the island, there are now "research stations" from multiple nations including Argentina.  Under an international treaty, no country can lay claim to land, mineral  or fishing rights to Antarctica.  This is constantly under dispute and the treaty itself is up for review in a few years...

We land in Admiralty Bay and watch Chinstraps rock-hopping.  Amazing to watch them balance as they jump over the rocks along the shore.

An Adelie, with its unique white-ringed eye, hops into the water right in front of us. King George Island LandingKing George Island LandingChinstraps at King George Island

We find some krill, the pink crustaceans that are the base of the food chain in the area.  We placed them on some kelp for sizing.  Krill is the reason the area around penguin colonies has a pink color.  Don't eat pink snow! King George Island LandingKing George Island LandingChinstraps at King George Island

Moving toward the mainland, we must pass very close to ice bergs. Icebergs and Packed IceIcebergs and Packed IcePassing Icebergs and packed ice as we head to our first landing on continental Antarctica at Brown Bluff. We felt an iceberg hit last night as we traveled!

And we search the ice flows for a stray Emperor Penguin.  They live much further south, but occasionally visitors get lucky.  This is a blow-up of a tiny portion of a picture.  Unfortunately, this was probably a King Penguin--too small for an Emperor.

Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

Then we get our first view of Argentina's Esperanza Station and the magnificent mountains that form its backdrop. Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

We finally hit my seventh continent--Antarctica.   Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

Fun stop--this is Adelie land.  The colony is huge. Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

Beautiful birds.  They look like they have blue eyes with the white ring around their pupils.

Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

And these penguins are true clowns.  First they slide up hill.

Then down the hill.

Then they just march in all different directions.

We saw many cute fuzzy gray chicks, as well. Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

Some with their moms getting fed. Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

I think these were my favorite penguins. Esperanza StationEsperanza StationArriving in Antarctica at Argentina's Esperanza Station, with 140,000 Adelie Penguins

 Here's a map of our Antarctic travels. Antarctica Landing sitesAntarctica Landing sitesMap of Antarctica landing sites

From here we head to a swim (really) at Deception Island!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Adelie Penguin chicks Adelie Penguins Adelie penguins sliding Admiralty Bay Antarctica Esperanza Research Station Hope Bay King George Island Krill South Sandwich Islands Fri, 27 Sep 2013 00:51:33 GMT
Day 14--Point Lookout, Elephant Island We pass snow-covered Elephant Island on the way to our Point Lookout landing.  Elephant Island lies just below 60 degrees south.  Per an old sailor's adage: Below 50 degrees south there is no law. Below 60 degrees south there is no God.  
We shall see... Point LookoutPoint LookoutElephant Island from the ship
The area is alive with different kinds of penguins. These chinstraps show how hard they work to walk all over their land bases.   Point LookoutPoint LookoutNesting Chinstraps, jumping down the the craggy rocks at Point Look Out
It's amazing to see how high up the mountains they climb to find the 'perfect" nesting spot. Point LookoutPoint LookoutEven small colonies consist of many birds. The whole hillside is covered at Point Lookout
Some chinstrap pairs seem to snuggle... Point LookoutPoint LookoutChinstraps in mating ritual, Elephant Island, Point Lookout
This one poses for a real close-up.
Point LookoutPoint LookoutA chinstrap poses for a closeup on the rocks at Point Look Out
I loved the way the different penguins feet are so unique.  These chinstrap tootsies are digging into the ice as the bird perches on a very uneven patch. Point LookoutPoint LookoutA Chinstrap perches on the ice at Lookout Point. Their feet and long nails allow them to hop gracefully over the ice and rocks.
Macaroni penguins join the penguin party... Point LookoutPoint LookoutA Macaroni Penguin finds its way to Point Lookout
Along with Gentoos feeding their chicks... Point LookoutPoint LookoutGentoos feed chicks by regurgitating food it ate at sea. The chick often puts its whole much inside the mother's so no food is lost.
And a lone Adelie penguin clambers over the rocks.
Point LookoutPoint LookoutA rare few Adelie penguins made it to Elephant Island.
The rights for nesting spots can become quite heated. Point LookoutPoint LookoutNesting Chinstraps, Nesting Gentoos, Adelie, fur seals and elephant seals all reside on the slopes of the craggy rocks at Point Lookout The males build the nests and the females critique them before deciding if they will lay their egg there. Penguins often steal rocks from each other's nests. Guess some rocks are more desirable than others.
We find one chinstrap repositioning on her nest.  We get a glimpse of her two eggs.  She will be a busy mother. The rocks can't make a very comfortable nest, but the eggs stay dry and protected here.  
Point LookoutPoint LookoutChinstrap protecting the egg at Point Lookout
We watch as one chinstrap baby stretches its wings--already beginning to build its swimming muscles.
Meanwhile, the geologists trek the site searching for special amphibolite schists--we just enjoy the scenery. Point LookoutPoint LookoutGeologists investigating a craggy outcropping, Point Lookout on Elephant Island, Antarctica
Some rocks even catch my eye... story the molten granite making these folds could tell. Point LookoutPoint LookoutRock showing flowing rock layers at Point Lookout Leaving Elephant Island, a pink sunset glow hits the tops of the distant mountains.  Peaceful. Sun sets over Elephant IslandSun sets over Elephant IslandSunset over Elephant Island
Tomorrow we head to King George Island in the South Sandwich Islands before finally making landfall on Antarctica.
(Alberta Seith Photography) Adélie Penguin Elephant Island Point Lookout adelie penguins chinstrap penguins gentoo penguins macaroni penguins penguin chicks penguins Thu, 26 Sep 2013 03:39:54 GMT
Days 11-13 To Elephant Island, Point Wild Heading to Elephant Island, we cross 60, south on Day 11 and officially enter Antarctica.  We hit some rough seas on the way. It could be much worse, but it's still exciting.  We are fortunate so far--this is the first day we've had people stay in their rooms.  Our cabin is on the top deck, but we're fine.  The best part is we have a direct route to the bridge (we just have to cross a slippery passage open to the sea).  But what views we get of the breaking seas over the bow.  to Elephant Island

The storm also brings a fantastic sunset. Sunset on the way to Elephant Islandto Elephant Island We finally arrive at Elephant Island on a foggy morning.  We are still off the coast of continental Antarctica and still back-tracing Shackleton's path.    Following the loss of their ship, the Endurance, in Weddell Sea ice, Point Wild was the desolate refuge of Ernest Shackleton and his 26-man crew in 1916.  It is 780 miles from our last landfall on South Georgia Island.

Foggy arrival at Elephant IslandZodiac extravaganza- First day in Antactica

Point Wild is a harsh spit of land on the north coast of Elephant Island.  Here Shackleton's men, lead by Frank Wild, camped, marooned for 4 months with few supplies and little shelter, waiting for "the Boss's" return to rescue them.
There is statue in a small flat area of the shore--the only clue that man has ever touched this place.  It is a memorial to the captain of the Chilean ship, Yelcho, who rescued the 22 men Shackleton had to leave behind.  The ship finally arrived in August, 1916. Point Wild Chilean statue of captain who rescued ShackletonElephant Island

Chinstrap penguins seem to be the lone land inhabitants of this forsaken place.   Chinstrap penguins at Point Wild.Zodiac extravaganza- off Point Wild on First day in Antactica When we tour the area by zodiac, the penguins race beside us in the water.  We get a first-hand view of what terrific swimmers these birds are.  

Then a curious mother and baby humpback come very near our boats.   Mother and baby humpback at Point WildZodiac extravaganza- First day in Antactica

Repeat, the whales come VERY near....  They didn't even ripple the water as they dived under our little rubber zodiacs.  What a great experience.   Humpbacks surface right next to our boatsZodiac extravaganza- First day in Antactica

We get several great tail shots as they dive near us. Humpback tail against Point WildZodiac extravaganza- First day in Antactica

And the chinstraps and whales seem to perform a choreographed dance for us. Chinstrap and humpback swimming off Point Wild.  Zodiac extravaganza- First day in Antactica

Point Wild has a rocky coast so we can't land in these seas.  Instead, we get up-close-and-personal with a huge iceberg. Ice bergs at Point WildWildlife at Elephant Island

This one reminds me a a Georgia O'Keeffe... Maybe a Georgia OWildlife at Elephant Island

We leave this area at sunset, traveling to Point Lookout.  We'll land on Elephant Island tomorrow. Elephant Island st sunsetAntarctic Sunset on Elephant Island


(Alberta Seith Photography) 60 degrees, south Antarctica high seas Antarctica sunset Antarctica waters Elephant Island Port Wild chinstrap penguin humpback whales ice berg penguin sunset whales Mon, 09 Sep 2013 03:41:59 GMT
Day 10- St. Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour We take the zodiacs in to our landing at St. Andrews Bay.  We're excited to be here--it's the largest King Penguin colony on South Georgia.  That means over 150 million birds are here to reproduce, tend chicks, and support their Oakum Boys (the fluffy brown bowling pins we see all over the colony) until they can go to sea themselves.  

King Penguin colony- St. Andrews Bay, South GeorgiaSt Andrews Bay The beach is alive.  Flying birds, fur seals, elephant seals, reindeer and over masses of King Penguins create one of the most dense concentrations of biomass on the planet.  We are awed by the spectacle.St Andrews Bay-largest concentration of biomass on the planet!@St Andrews Bay

This old fur seal has obviously weathered his share of trouble--an Orca attack may have left these vicious scars on his chest.

Scarred fur seal on St Andrews baeachSt Andrews Bay

Elephant seals play a teeter-totter game on the beach.  We've seen this behavior often and it doesn't seem to be overly aggressive.

Going into the penguin colony we get a get shot on King Penguins reflected in a glacial stream.King Penguins "reflect" in a glacial stream on the St Andrews Bay beachSt Andrews Bay

And at the shoreline, billions of penguin feathers curl into geometric curly-cuesPenguin feathers cover the St Andrews shorelineSt Andrews Bay Penguin Feathers

The birds are beautiful in there austere simplicity.  Their bodies almost look like they are covered in midieval chain mail armor.King Penguin backed by his flock, St Andrews BaySt Andrews Bay

At the top of the hill we have an honest Nat Geo view--this same location was on the cover of one of their Nat Geo Travel magazines.Overlooking 150 million King Penguins at St. Andrews Bay on South GeorgiaSt Andrews Bay

One of the Oakum Boys stops to "chat" with usPauline Carr talks to an Oakum BoySt Andrews Bay And one seems to be telling its parents it's STILL hungry.Oakum Boy telling parents itSt Andrews Bay

While other King Penguin vocalize in a courtship display against a spectacular glacier backdrop.

The animals mass here to molt and mate.Preparing to mateSt Andrews Bay

And we saw some performing their ritualsPenguin MatingSt Andrews Bay

And then there is the famous egg passing.  We witness one event.  It sometimes takes a long time to change incubating feet..  Maybe because the parents are inexperienced, or maybe because after standing tending the egg for long periods during the 55 day incubation cycle, the current "incubator" wants to make sure of the other parent's skill. No rushing to change feet protecting the egg.St Andrews Bay

Even though they must be starved, they take their time passing the egg.Lining up fro the egg pass.St Andrews Bay

This is the most dangerous time during the incubation.  And there's no end to the other penguins who add their two cents!Always a nosy neighbor...St Andrews Bay

Once the transfer is successful, the first penguin can go to sea to feed.  Then they spend the next almost two years raising the chick before it starts anew.Completed egg transferSt Andrews Bay

Back to the ship we move to Gold Harbour.  The riches here are the gold color of the cliffs in the sunset.  Our treasure is the animals...elephant seals again socializing.Gold Harbour Elephant Seals harmonizingGold Harbour

Their flippers are quite amazing.Manni-peddi anyone?  Elephant seal flippersSt Andrews Bay

Compared to fur seal flippers.Fur seal flippersGold Harbour

And King Penguin feet.  These almost look prehistoric.King Penguin feetKing Penguin Feet

One elephant seal just chills as we move on.Sleeping Ellie at Gold HarbourGold Harbour

We get a good look at the Sooty Albatross here.  One flies overhead as it heads for the nest in the cliffs high above the beach.Sooty Albatross flying over Gold HarbourGold Harbour

Our last view is two elephant seals in water in their iconic nose-to-nose arch

Like old men singing at the bar, elephant seals love to get together and belt one out.Gold Harbour

Leaving the east end of South Georgia, we head south.  Tomorrow we will cross 60 degrees south, into the political Antarctic region.  More lectures from our great resident experts for the next two days as we head for Elephant Island.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Gold Harbour King Penguins King Penguins mating King Penguins mating ritual King Penguins pass an egg Oakum Boys Sooty Albatross South Georgia Island St Andrews Bay elephant seals fur seals penguin feathers seal flippers Tue, 03 Sep 2013 20:17:40 GMT
Day 9- Godthal Harbour and Grytviken, South Georgia Island We start our day at Godthul, named for a Norwegian word for "good harbor."  This was a busy whaling station and whale bones remain scattered all over.  This little fur seal is using an old bone for a pillow.Seal pup resting on old whale boneGodthul Harbour baby fur seal resting on whale bone

These barrels are remnants of the whale oil processing station.  Closed down for many years, this is where thousands of whales were brought to have blubber stripped and the oil processed. Remains of whale oil processing at Godthul HarbourGodthul Harbour

Whale carcasses once filled the harbor and lined the beach.  This is now home to a rebounded fur seal colony. Seal on Godthul beachGodthul Harbour

Fur seals flank King Penguins amid old whale bones on the Godthul beach.

Fur seals flank King Penguins amid old whale bones at Godthul, the old Norwegian Whaling Station.  Seals and penguins at Godthul Harbour

Gentoo penguins waddle to the shore and swim off in their constant search for krill.

Back on the ship, we pass more fields of tabular ice bergs on the way to our next landing.Tabular ice neat GrytvikenCumberland Bay

As we arrive at Cumberland Bay and King Edward Point BAS (British Antarctic Survey station), we get our first glimpse of Grytviken.Grytviken from the deck of our shipGrytviken Whaling Station This is the location of Shackleton's grave.ShackletonErnest Shackelton's Grave

And, we arrive on a special day--the 91st anniversary of Shackleton's self-rescue.  Pauline Carr, one of our expert educators, gets scotch for our toast to the "Boss"on the 91st anniversary of his death.  Pauline, and her husband Tim, sailed a 28 foot sailboat from England to Grytviken and lived here, mostly by themselves, for 14 years. Hearty souls.Toasting the "Boss"Toasting Shackleton

Making our way across the harbor, we walk around many elephant seals snuffing and snorting as they nestle into the folds in the land.Elephant seals are scattered all over the Grytviken shorelineGrytviken

The Petrel, a rusty old whaling ship, sits in the Grytviken harbor as a sobering monument to the carnage that occurred here.The Petrel, an old whaling ship in GrytvikenGrytviken

The chains seem to symbolize the hard living that was Grytviken.Chains at GrytvikenGrytviken

And above the town sits the chapel, an example of the beauty of South Georgia.Grytviken chapelThe Grytviken Church

A full visit as we head back to the ship.Grytviken chapelThe Grytviken Church

Tomorrow we head to St. Andrews Bay--this should be one of the high points of the trip.  A massive king penguin colony at the point where three glaciers terminate.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Godthul Harbour Grytviken South Georgia Island Toasting at Shackleton's grave Whale Processing Station fur seals king penguins penguins seals whale bones Sun, 01 Sep 2013 19:03:03 GMT
Day 8- Fortuna Bay: Baby Fur Seals, Reindeer and King Penguins, Oh My! Our next stop was a landing (of course, bright and early) at Fortuna Bay.  This was Shackleton's final landing but not the end of his self-rescue.  Knowing they did not have the strength to sail to the other side of the island, Shackleton and his two exhausted men hiked into the unknown.  Over the mountainous spine of the island, they made their way to the Stromness whaling station, their final destination after loosing the Endurance.  

We found the beach filled with life.  Many adorable baby fur seals clustered together.

Fortuna Bay

Pups noisily wait for their mothers to return with food.

Are you my mommy?  Fur seal pups are shunned by other adult fur seals when looking for their mothers on the Fortuna Bay beach.

Fur seal pup trying to find its motherFortuna Bay

We see one happy reunion on the Fortuna Bay beach.  The mother seal is obviously content as her fur pup nurses after her log absence searching for food.  Now both have full bellies and she will protect him--for a while, anyhow.   Fur seal pups left alone while the mothers go to sea to feed often cluster together for safety—and maybe companionship.  Many “bleat” frantically as they patrol the beach looking for their mothers.  Without their mothers, they are targets for predators.Nursing fur seal pupFortuna Bay

King penguins and fur seals coexist on the shores of Fortuna Bay.  Here, against a beautiful iceberg background, one seal appears to be lecturing a group of inattentive penguins.  Fur seal "lecturing" to King PenguinsFortuna Bay

Many flying birds inhabit Fortuna Bay on South Georgia Island.  The vast number of untended baby seals make the beach easy pickin’s for these predators.  Here a South Polar Skua is about to take flight searching for food.  They often feed on other bird eggs but do scavenge and sometimes take young seals.Skua about to take off searching for foodScua at Fortuna Bay

Napkin please.  A Giant Southern Petrel with a bloody beak is gorging on a freshly killed seal pup.  Life in the wild is not for the squeamish.  In these tough latitudes, only the strongest--and luckiest--survive.  Each native animal serves a function in this fragile ecosystem. The petrel is a top predator and scavenger in the Southern Ocean.  It is a tube-nosed bird and excretes extra salt from its body through these protrusions at the top of their beak.  Petrel with dead seal pupFortuna Bay

Walking up from the beach we find reindeer.  Whalers brought these animals to South Georgia for food many years ago.  The whalers are gone (mostly) but the reindeer proliferate causing untold environmental damage trampling bird eggs and disrupting the tundra.  These look scruffy because in January they are in the middle of their “summer” molt.Reindeer on South Georgia IslandFortuna Bay

Over the ridge from our landing spot we reach a large colony of king penguins, including some brown bowling pins.  They are called Oakum Boys and are the juvenile penguins covered with thick brown feathers.  Named after the brown oakum residue in the bottom of the old ships, they must loose all their “baby” feathers—a tough process —before they can go to sea to feed themselves.  The brown feathers won’t insulate them in the water. So until then, mom and dad must continue to catch and bring food to their babies that may be as big as they are. Oakum Boy and mom at King Penguin colonyFortuna Bay

The king penguins are especially spectacular when they group.King Penguins mass at Fortuna Bay, South Georgia IslandFortuna Bay

They’re pretty special in small groups, too.  Here a parent is looking at a BIG Oakum Boy “teenager” as if to say, “You can’t be hungry again!”King Penguin and her BIG babyFortuna Bay

The Oakum Boy feathers are fluffy to keep the chick warm on land.Oakum Boy, King Penguin youthFortuna Bay

As they molt, we can see there really is a king penguin under all the feathers.Oakum Boy moltingFortuna Bay

The Oakum Boys must develop their swimming muscles long before they hit the water.  They flap their arms madly and whistle while they stretch and work out.

The colonies are not a quiet place.  There is an ongoing cacophony of chirps, whistles, screeches.  Three king penguins walk in lock-step through the colony past a molting Oakum Boy.  Really quite wonderful.

The color pattern on the adults is a geometric delight.Close up of King Penguin neckFortuna Bay


These are amazing creatures.  We had one king penguin talk to us--well, maybe...Talking King PenguinFortuna Bay

Heading back to our zodiacs taking us back to the ship, we hike up to a waterfall from the melting Konig Glacier….Waterfall at Fortuna BayFortuna Bay

The geologists in our group stop to look at (you guessed it!) rock formations.Fortuna Bay rock formationsFortuna Bay

Back on board, we head from Fortuna Bay, where Shackleton’s party landed, to Stromness across the island.  This is the site where Shackleton's group finally reached safety--and where they set off to successfully rescue the rest of the Endurance crew left on Elephant Island.  On the way we see beautiful examples of the flat tabular ice.Tabular ice near the Stromness whaling station, South Georgia IslandStromness Harbour

We pass Stromness, Stromness whaling stationStromness Harbour

Then head out to sea to our next landfall tomorrow--at Godthul, an old Norwegian whaling station.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Fortuna Bay Konig Glacier South Georgia Island Stromness birds fur seal pup fur seals nursing fur seal penguins petral reindeer skua waterfall Thu, 29 Aug 2013 18:02:37 GMT
Day 7- Drygalsky Fjord and Cooper Bay We awake this morning passing through the forbidding cliffs of Dryglasky Fjord.  These basalt lava formations formed on the sea floor during the Cretaceous period, oh about 150 million years ago.  Quite a vista for an 0630 wake-up.Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island

This begins the unique part of our trip--a high geologic focus.  We learn this area the island is made of material from the original Gondwana continental plate margin, while the rest of South Georgia is sandstone and shale that eroded off the South American and African plate margins.  These settled on the sea floor before they were uplifted and folded during the the mountain building of the Andes.

Our zodiacs land at Larsen Harbour for more wildlife and wild country.  Bonner Beach, Larsen Habour on South Georgia Island

Fur seals are all along the beach.  This baby is very curious about our visit and mom soundly herds the baby away from us.Mother and baby fur seal

The mothers, baby and older male fur seals are fairly docile.  Adolescent males, on the other hand, can be a real challenge.  No, make that threat.    We sometimes must make noise and charge toward them to make them back off.  The big danger is getting bitten.  Their mouths are full of bacteria, so a serious infection would follow.  Not a good thing at the bottom of the world.  These young males actually draw blood during their sparring.Sparring fur seals

Walking along the bay, we find a tiny sea jelly, a conidiophore, near the shore.Jellyfish-Conidiophore-in Waters of Larsen's Harbour, South Georgia Island

The geologists in our group are looking for specific rock formations--specifically ophiolites which represent oceanic crust that had been emplaced on land.  Ophiolites have played a central role in plate tectonic theory.  Here we see pressure dikes along with ophiolite throughout  Bonner Beach.

Ophiolite in Larsen Habour, South Georgia Island

Our landing ends with a hike up the south ridge.

Larsen Habour

Back to our ship, we head to Cooper Bay.  On the way we encounter a humpback whale who seems as interested in us as we are in her.

Cooper Bay Humpback Whale Checks Out the Ship off South Georgia Island

She flips and rolls on her back, waving her fins.Humpback Whale Showing Off near Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island

And, of course, she dives a few times so we can get the iconic tail shots.  How'd she know?Humpback Whale Diving near Cooper Bay

Our second landing today is at Albatross Cove in Cooper Bay.  Here we find baby fur seals everywhere.  They often hover together for safety while they wait for their mothers to return from the sea with food.Fur Seal Pups on the Beach at Cooper Bay, South Georgia Island

Fur seals and elephant seals seem to coexist well. Here they appear to be harmonizing--or maybe they're just telling us to get off their beach!

Elephant and Fur Seals Serenade Us on our Cooper Bay Landing at Albatross Cove

Walking up the hill from the beach we find a large colony of Macaroni penguins.  Wonder how they got their name?  The yellow feathers on their head are the key--they were named from a line in the song Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Remember "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni"?  So now it makes sense.  Well, kind of....Macaroni Penguin Showing How He Got His Name in Cooper Bay, South Georgia

The nesting colony is a raucous seen.  Birds everywhere are doing a wonderful mating song and dance extravaganza.

Macaroni mating dance


And some of the pairs are preening.

Preening Macaroni penguins


Fur seals are nestled in the grass right beside the penguin paths as we work our way down the steep hill from the Macaroni colony.  These are not the aggressive adolescents, but we still have to be careful to not surprise them and to give them plenty of space because we just never know how they'll react.Fur Seals dot the Hillside at the Macaroni Penguin Nesting Area-Cooper Bay South Georgia

In the grass and rocks at the beach we see nesting Giant Southern Petrels.  If these birds look menacing, it’s because they are.  They are one of the most aggressive, opportunistic predators around.  They congregate with penguins and fur seals because they prey upon untended babies. 

Petrels Nest at Cooper Bay

Walking along the beach, we get another show as the orange-beaked Gentoo penguins waddle around the fur and elephant seals on their way to an from the ocean.

Gentoo Penguins in Cooper Bay

Then they treat us to an up close March of the Penguins.Walk of the penguins

Tomorrow we head to Fortuna Bay--more great wildlife and our next penguin: a massive King Penguin colony.

(Alberta Seith Photography) , "Gentoo penguins", "Macaroni penguins", Petrels, "South Georgia Island", birds, "elephant seal", "fur seal", "humpback whale, ", penguins, seals, wildlife Albatross Cove Cooper Bay Mon, 05 Aug 2013 02:15:33 GMT
Days 6 -Arrival at South Georgia-Haakon Bay Crossing the Scotia Sea, we have two days of lectures from some of our expert geologists--Ian Dalziel, Rob Dunbar, and best of all, Richard Alley.  Alley's name may be familiar--he wrote the book, "Earth: the Operator's Manual" and hosted the PBS program of the same name.  This was a fascinating way to spend our travel days at sea.

Finally, we make it to South Georgia Island, a land mass almost 100 miles long and chock full of a staggering concentration of animal life.South Georgia IslandSouth Georgia Island

Our first landfall is Peggotty Bluff in Haakon Bay.  Besides the animals, this is a key location of Ernest Shackleton's Endurance voyage and self-rescue.  We discussed the epic trip in depth while at sea.  It is an amazing story.  

Here's a brief run-down of this awe-inspiring trip, in case you're not familiar with the details...  Shackleton and his 28-man crew left South Georgia on the Endurance for the Trans-Antarctica expedition in December, 1914 to traverse Antarctica via the South Pole.  The ship became trapped in packed ice in the Weddell Sea and was crushed by the pressure in November 1915 forcing the men on to the floating ice.  Fourteen months after they set sail, they launched three 20-foot lifeboats from the ice to head for solid ground at Elephant Island.  They made landfall on the deserted island the 497th day of their disastrous expedition.  The island was outside shipping lanes and any hope of rescue.  So Shackleton left most of his crew and took 5 men in one boat to head for the whaling station on South Georgia using only a sextant and a chronometer.  They were dependent on sightings of the sun which sometimes couldn't be seen for a week.  After 15 days of rough seas and tortuous conditions, they made it to the unoccupied side of South Georgia. There, Shackleton and two of his men made the grueling hike across the mountainous spine of the island, finally reaching help at the whaling station 36 hours later.  After three failed rescue attempts, Shackleton was able to get to the other 22 men he had left on Elephant Island four and a half months earlier.  The end of a failed voyage but a miraculous self-recue of every Endurance crewman, 21 months later in August 1916.

King Haakon Bay is where Shackleton and his men first made landfall after their epic voyage from Elephant Island.King Haakon BayLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

A fur seal introduces us to the fantastic world in store for us here.Fur sealLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

Elephant seals lounge all over the shore.Elephant sealLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

We hike up to Peggoty Bluff and find the nesting South Georgia ShagsSouth Georgia ShagSouth Georgia Shag Nesting at Peggoty Bluff, King Haakan Bay, South Georgia Island

While a Giant Petrel soars in the air currents off the bluff.  These are top predators and this one is probably looking for an untended chick.Giant PetrelPetrel at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

Along the beach we see many fur seal pups.  Fur seal pupLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

They must wait, unprotected, while their mothers leave to find krill.  This pup is searching a stream for some mollusks while he waits.

The adolescent fur seals can have a bit of a attitude.  This one is having words with a sibling while an adult looks on.

Adolescent fur sealLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

These two fur seals strike a pose on the rocks along the shoreFur sealsLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

While an elephant seal plays mermaid in the water.Elephant sealLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

And we see our second kind of penguin--the orange-beaked gentoo--on the shoreGentoo penguinsLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island

And leaping into the water.Gentoo into the surfLanding at Peggoty Bluff, South Georgia Island


(Alberta Seith Photography) Gentoo penguin Giant petrel King Haaku Bay Peggoty Bluff Shakleton's Endurance voyage South Georgia shag elephant seal fur seal fur seal pup penguin Mon, 01 Jul 2013 06:08:17 GMT
Day 3- Off to the Falkland Islands and Sea Lion Island Today we really begin our adventure flying into Mt. Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands.  We are on a military base so we can't take any pictures.  This was the site of the 1982 war when Argentina invaded the islands Britain had claimed since the 1800's.  

These islands have been claimed by the French, British, Spaniards and Argentines at various points.  Rights to the Islas Malvinas remains a contentious issue for Argentina--hence the strong British military presence and security.

We arrive in a cold rain.  Foggy car windows mar the view as we drive into Port Stanley.  We pass one house sporting a giant-sized protest against whaling.Whale bone exhibit on Falkland Island, Seal Island

Stanley was the closest port of refuge, providing water, repairs, and provisions to ships sailing around Cape Horn, especially during the gold rush of the 1800s. The construction of the Panama Canal along with steam replacing sails ended this shipping boom.


We pass fields of sheep. Some fields are still marked because they contain land mines.  Our local driver is a real character.  He was here during the war and said he knew right away it wouldn't be much of a fight. Thousands of Argentines landed on the island but the commanders never had them did a latrine.  When the war ended three months later, most of their island went back to normal.  But he said they had the best crops ever because their soil was so well-fertilized.  And now they bring in men from Zimbabwe to clear land mines one section at a time.  When  they have cleared a field, the men hold a football game to show the locals the area is now safe.


In true European tradition, we stop at one house that has dedicated itself to trolls...Man, there always seems to be at least one crazy troll house when there's European influence!  But I don't think we ever saw this many trolls in one place, even in Iceland, Troll Headquarters!Falkland Island, Seal Island The rain and cold put a damper on any sightseeing in the little town.  The Anglican Church was a bright spot against a dreary sky.Port Stanley Anglican ChurchAnglican Church, Falkland Island

After loading our bags on the 383 foot converted Russian ice breaker, we left the Falklands for our first night in our new home on the Southern Ocean.IoffeLuggage

Tomorrow, we will have our first landing on the Falklands' Sea Lion Island.

Our first night aboard the re-fitted ice breaker Akademik Ioffe is busy--meeting the other 95 of our new, closest friends in our group, going through lifeboat drills and enjoying great food served by our Russian crew.  Our interface is the Canadian OneOcean staff who manage the ship, and of course our Cheeseman Ecology Safari guides.  (Cheesemans also led our East African trip.)   

In the morning, we arrive on Sea Lion Island by zodiac.  All our landings will be wet landings from here on out.  That means we wear high boots to step into the surf each time we get in or out of the small boats.  We land at Cow Point with tussock grass in front and our ship behind.Sea Lion IslandZodiac Landing, Sea Lion Island

It's still cold and rainy as we walk along the beach.  The island has wildfolwers, like the Patagonian Hawkweed.Patagonian Hawkweed-Sea Lion Island

We come across Striated Caracara birds who are obviously unhappy we are in there territory.CaracaraCaracara Bird at Cow Point, Sea Lion Island-Falklands

Then we see why--they have a nest with three chicks.caracara chicksSea Lion Island

One comes up to me when I sit down with a snack bar.  These are seriously aggressive scavengers.  Members of the falcon family, they have beaks and feet meant for action.  He is a bold little devil and keep coming closer and closer, trying to get some of the food.  He finally starts pecking at my shoe.  He has a dour expression--looks like he's about to pounce.  I'm outta' here! caracarta close upSea Lion Island

Along the beach we have our first elephant seal encounter.  These are three-ton gentle giants.  They certainly deserve our respect but they remind me of John Belushi in Animal House, slovenly but not mean.  These two are raising a ruckus as they spar on the beach.  They snort, belch, growl, burrp and fart (sorry, but a dainty term just doesn't fit these guys).  They are funny and we will see many more as we head to South Georgia Island.elephant sealsElephant Seals Sparring

Megellanic peguins scamper between the rocks as they waddle from the ocean.Magellanic Penguins Magellanic Penguins on Sea Lion Island

Walking up from the beach we pass the "Lodge".  This is a 20 person hotel in an amazing place.Sea Lion LodgeStation on Sea Lion Island

And come across some ducks walk lockstep across the heath.Pin-tail ducksSea Lion Island

And an Upland Goose with her chicksUpland Goose and chicksUpland Goose with chicks, Sea Lion Island

A Magellanic Snipe watches us carefully as we walk past.Magellanic SnipeSea Lion Island

Best of all, we can hide to watch a mother Magellanic penguin in a burrow with her chick.  Burrows are all over the island.  We actually have to be careful where we walk.  The island is mostly peat.  We have  a non-smoking trip, but our guides told us if the ground ever caught on fire it could burn for years.Magellanic penguin and chickMagellanic Penguin and chick

The earth is so dark, it is a beautiful background for the red grass on the island.

Red grass at Sea Lion IslandRed grass and black peat

At the end of ht da, we stop to check out the sea lions on the rocks below the southwestern cliffs.

Sea lion watchingSea Lion Island

Tomorrow we start our resident expert lecture series as we cross to South Georgia Island.  This will include Tim and Pauline Carr, who traveled to the island from England on a 24 foot old-time sail boat.  Then lived at Grytviken--by themselves--for 5 years.  And many established geologists as well as Richard Alley of Penn State who authored the book aand series "Earth: The Operator's Manual (your planet is due for an oil change)", featured on PBS.  He specialty is the earth's cryosphere and global climate change--glaciology and what's happening to the planet.  How perfect.

Should be a real education!

Back on board, we celebrate a casual New Years Eve at 52 degrees south.NY EveHappy New Year

Next stop--Peggoty Bluff in King Haakon Bay, South Georgia Island

(Alberta Seith Photography) Falkland Islands Magellanic Snipe Magellanic penguin and chick in burrow Megellanic penguin Mt. Pleasant Airport Patagonian Hawkweed Port Stanley Sea Lion Island Sea Lion Island Lodge Stanley Anglican Church Striated Caracara birds caracara chicks elephant seal pin-tail ducks red grass", "southwest cliffs", upland goose upland goose chicks Sat, 29 Jun 2013 00:12:33 GMT
Day 2- TOURING CHILE'S COUNTRYSIDE Today we meet the first part of our tour group as we head toward Chile's Pacific coast.  We knew this expedition included scientists, but we had no idea how how unique this trip would be.  Now we are getting the full sense of what that means.  Almost all the people in our group are geologists and their families from the Jackson School of Geosciences, UT Austin.  As we travel from the Falklands on board our ship for three weeks to Antarctica some of these world renown scientists will present lectures and discussions during our days at sea.  Wow!  

For now, we get to know the group during our day trip.  We pass the Cordillera de la Costa.  Not far to the northwest of Santiago, the lower mountain elevations are covered with brilliant green bands outlining the contours of the slopes.  This is the wine country of the Chilean Costal Range and vineyards cover the landscape.Vineyards of Cordillera de la Costa, the Chilean Costal rangeVineyards Cover the Cordillera de la Costa, Northwest of Santiago, Chile

Our first stop is La Campana National Park.  Charles Darwin spent time here during his 1834 voyage of the HMS Beagle.  The hedgehog or Easter lily cactus, is tree-like and covers huge swarths of the area.  Giant hummingbirds fly through the trees, but they are too fast for a photo--or at least my photo.Easter Lily Cactus, La Campana National ParkThe Easter Lily Cactus in La Campana National Park, near Santiago, Chili

We next stop at Parque Ecológico La Isla Concón on Chile's Pacific Coast.  This is a bird paradise.  Riders on the beach spook the birds and we have a massive lift-off of Inca Terns and Kelp Gulls.Lift off at Parque Ecologico La IslaRiders Amid a Lift-Off of Kelp Gulls and Inca Terns at Parque Ecológico La Isla Concón, Chile's Pacific Coast

The waters are filled with Chilean pelicans, some gracefully landChilean pelicans at Parque Ecologico La Isla ConconParque Ecologico La Isla Concon near Santiago, Chili, Chilean pelicans

Others bob in a chorus line.

Yellow-billed pintail ducks march across the beach.

At last we arrive at the Humboldt Penguin Sanctuary on the beautiful Pacific coast near Valparaiso.  Humboldt Penguin SanctuaryParks and Wildlife near Santiago coast, Chili A Kelp Gull strikes a regal pose on the shore rocks.Kelp GullCoastal Park near Santiago, Chili

And finally--our first penguins of the trip, the Humboldt Penguins.  Named for the cold-water current where it swims, it is now an endangered species.  Another case of habitat destruction.  It nests on rocks and these birds have a perfect spot about 100 yards from shore.Humboldt penguinsHumboldt Penguins near Santiago, Chili

We spent time watching the waves crash over this tide pool.  Taking in the colors and the power of the ocean were a great way to end the day.

Tomorrow--we fly to the Falklands!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Chile's Pacific coast Chilean pelicans, Cordillera de la Costa Easter lily cactus Humboldt Penguin Sanctuary Humboldt Penguins Kelp Gull La Campana National Park Parque Ecológico La Isla Concón Santiago Yellow-billed pintail ducks vineyards Sat, 29 Jun 2013 00:11:19 GMT
Day 1 SANTIAGO 12-28 This starts my posting of the trip to Antarctica.  Little did I know reaching my seventh continent would be almost anti-climatic.  The islands of the South Atlantic are packed with animals and of course, birds.  Five kinds of penguins in huge—read that HUGE—colonies.  Plus sea lions elephant seals, leopard seals, reindeer (honestly!) many other birds, whales and the scenery.  Gorgeous.  Being next to 100 ft icebergs in a little zodiac at midnight.  Not the least of the experience was following Shackleton’s Endurance voyage and their awe-inspiring self-rescue.  More to come on all of that, with some pictures of amazing things.

To set the stage, we left the States late December, 2012 and began our trip touring the Santiago area before flying to the Falklands and boarding our ship into the South Atlantic. 

Immediately upon landing in Santiago, we are struck by a countryside that resembles southern New Mexico, it has a definite desert feel.  There's lots of open land with mountain vistas all around.  To be more precise, these aren't just mountains, these are the Andes!  And in every direction! 

We hop a taxi into downtown Santiago.  There is a glorious mix of architecture with modern multi-story glass buildings juxtaposed beside ancient history, with some buildings dating back to the conquistadores.  Touring Downtown Santiago

Our first stop touring downtown is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at the Plaza de Armas.  It sits amid brilliant glass skyscrapers.  The ornate 12th century building (1075-1122) is the reputed burial-place of Saint James the Creater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ.  

Santiago CathedralThe Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at the Plaza de Armas in Santiago Sits Amid Brilliant Glass Skyscrapers

The church is on one side of the Plaza de Armes.  This is a gathering place for police in cars and on horses, with locals and tourists everywhere.  The Chile mine disaster and the successful rescue effort still is a source of national pride.  In Santiago's downtown, a woman is 'chatting" with Chilean miner "street art statue" during one of his position changes.

In the Plaza, this old man was thrilled to pose for a picture.  He looks great against an iconic Chilean Palm. His beard looks like Spanish Moss.Old Man in the Plaza de Armas Park, Downtown Santiago, Chili

The plaza is filled with flower carts massed with colorful blossoms--this is their summer.  And we see more Chilean Palm Trees.  They look a bit like a baobab trunk with a swelled middle reaching to an elongated skinny neck, topped off by date-palm like palm fronds.  Some are over 80 feet and are thought to be the same variety as the extinct trees of Easter Island.  Colorful flower carts framed by Chilean Palm Trees and evergreens dot the Plaza de Armas in downtown Santiago

Old and young play chess in th park at Plaza de Armas.  They all use game clocks--they're very serious about their play.

Chess in the Park at Plaza de Armas, in Downtown Santiago, Chili

This is a modern first-world country.  We can eat the food, drink the water, and find anything we need in the stores.Touring Downtown Santiago

We head for Cerro Santa Lucia, a park built on what is left of a 15 million year old volcano.  The Circular Garden is lovely with its ornate gardens and walkwaysTouring Downtown Santiago It has the oddest tree...with strange branches filled with sharply pointed leaves, each culminating at a rosette end.  I can't tell if it's an evergreen or succulent.Touring Downtown Santiago

Climbing the mount we get a truly spectacular view of the city.  We are looking over the Provedencia area of Santiago with the Andes ringing the city in the distance.Touring Downtown Santiago

To the left we have a view of the other high point in the city, Cerro San Cristobal, topped with the statue of the Virgin Mary.  Not as well known, this is similar to the Christ statue in Rio De Janeiro.  A cable car runs up the side of the mount. 

Touring Downtown Santiago

Near the top of Cerro Santa Lucia is the Jardin Darwin, with a small chapel...

Touring Downtown Santiago

and a plaque dedicated to Charles Darwin's visit in 1835.

Touring Downtown Santiago

At the top of the gardens is a stature commemorating the native indigenous Indians originally used to mine copper.  Framed by the skyscrapers, it underscores the transition this country has undergone.Touring Downtown Santiago

Walking around the city we found we HAD to use crosswalks (my bad--not my usual mode, but there are no options here).  And we watch the signals carefully-no jay-walking here. Cars, busses and taxis jam the streets and traffic lights provide the only reprieve.  Beyond the hubbub, this city has a definite European feel.Touring Downtown Santiago On the way back to our taxi pick up, we stop in the Basilica de la Merced, another beautiful old church.
Touring Downtown Santiago And pass the bright pink Museo La Merced.  A beautiful old building with a skyscraper in the background.  We want to come back here when we have more time.  The Easter Island exhibit in the museum is a top destination.  We just have flat run out of time!Touring Downtown Santiago Tomorrow we'll begin our actual expedition, meeting part of our group.  We begin with a guided tour including several stops as we head for the coast to find our first type of penguin--the Humbolt penguin.  More on this unique trip's group make-up and itinerary tomorrow.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Cerro San Cristobal Cerro Santa Lucia Chilean Palm Chili Jardin Circular Jardin Darwin Plaza de Armas Santiago Virgin Mary statue downtown Santiago Tue, 25 Jun 2013 02:49:46 GMT
ANTARCTICA 2013 Coming soon...Five different kinds of penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, humpback whales, fin whales, orcas beating up whales.  The list goes on and on.

Next posts are coming soon with my latest trip to Antarctica by way of Santiago, the Falklands, South Georgia and Elephant Islands before stepping foot on the seventh continent!  We traveled on a small icebreaker with world-class UT geologists.  Anyone want to know about blueschiat? 

The trip ends with a grand tour of Buenos Aries and several days on an old estancia in the Argentine pampas.  The wildlife and scenery are spectacular!  Probably the highest density of biomass I'll ever see again.

In the meantime, check out the photo galleries of the trip I'll be adding from all the stops along the way.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Argrentina pampas Buenos Aries Elephant Island South Georgia Island antarctica blog estancia santiago travel Thu, 02 May 2013 12:35:00 GMT
Day 26 LEAVING MOUNTAIN LODGE; LEAVING KENYA Bittersweet day—our last safari day in Africa.  We are lucky to see Mt. Kenya at dawn.  As the sun rises, the clouds quickly roll in, obliterating the view.


We take a walking tour in the forest around the lodge.  We see colobus, waterbuck, and one huge chui print.  H’mmmm.  Leopards nearby? Makes a good tourist story, anyway.


We pass many of the Maasai- Urtica massaica- nettle plant the nettle plant that (I can personally attest) cause significant pain if you rub against it.  (Bottom line: Bewre of wearing sandals in the grass!  The good news-- it only lasts a few hours.)



Walking in the forest, we stop for mid-morning tea.  This was pretty cool.  We each have a seat and a small stump-table and enjoy hot tea and cookies in the wild.


Back at the lodge, one group shot before we leave.


We make it back to big-city Nairobi,


And have time for a brief stop at the Nairobi Museum.


Where we see part of the Richard Leakey human fossil collection.


Tomorrow we head for home—the end of a wonderful month long journey.

Check back for my next posting of our January trip: traveling to Santiago, the Falklands, scientific cruising with geologist/ecologists to St. George Island and Elephant Island (beaucoup animals and the Shackelton adventure), Antarctica, Cape Horn, Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aries, and ending at an estancia in the Argentinian pampas.  Wheee!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 14 Apr 2013 11:48:00 GMT
Day 25 SAMBURU to KENYA HIGHLAND’S MOUNTAIN LODGE We have one last morning game drive leaving Samburu. 

We watch a matriarch herd of elephants watch over an unhappy baby. 

First the little one gave huge shrieks and all the females rushed over to it.  Then the baby played with another young one and they appeared to squabble.  Again all the older elephants rushed in to separate them. 


Fun to watch as the baby nurses and peace is restored.


A Somali twiga triumvirate munch leaves as we leave the park.


We’re heading south through Isiolo into the Kenya Highlands, along the edge of Mount Kenya.  We pass the equator again at Nanyuki. 


At Mountain Lodge, in Mount Kenya Park, we immediately see wildlife.  A large group of black and white colobus monkeys are high in the trees. 


This is a unique monkey.  It has beautiful fur with a huge long tail and it has no thumb—only a stump.  The colobus is herbivorous, with a diet of fruit and flowers, leaves and twigs—this is a perfect protected arboreal habitat. And loss of habitat is endangering survival of this species.


We take advantage of the knowledge of our guide/Ornithologist, Titus Imboma, the whole trip.  He is from the Bird Department at the University of Nairobi, and he takes us on a tour around the lodge.  He actually calls the birds in…


The Baglafecht Weaver in a coffee bush,


The White-Eyed Slatey Flycatcher,


The elusive Bronze Sunbird hiding among the leaves,


Then coming in for a landing.


Back at the lodge we go to the viewing deck.  Sitting on stilts above the forest canopy, the lodge is reminiscent of the times William Holden and Earnest Hemmingway hunted in Africa.  The deck--and bar-- looks like it could have been a hunting blind looking over a water hole. 

This one is strictly for photographers!  At the watering hole we see a warthog with a growing problem—its tusks are way too curly and will eventually cause him big complications.


We also see a buffalo, being cleaned by oxpeckers, nursing her calf.


We also watch colobus in the trees.


And we have a great view of the water hole from our rooms.


At night the water hole is beautiful.  We hope to see something tonight.


And we watch as a Greater-spotted Genet feeds at the station that lured a chui (aka  leopard) for up-close viewing a few days earlier.


We'll get up early tomorrow (surprise) to try to catch a view of Mount Kenya before the clouds roll in.  No chui tonight.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 14 Apr 2013 10:53:00 GMT
Day 24 SAMBURU VILLAGE VISIT and BUFFALO SPRINGS We have a full day scheduled!  We are going to visit a native Samburu manyatta..  We have been waiting to do this since we arrived.  The Samburu are distant relatives of the Maasai.   They live similar lives but are not the same cultures.

On the way to the village we pass Samburu herding their camels.


Oh the faces when we get to the village! 






We are welcomed by men and women in ceremonial dress, singing traditional songs.


The young men immediately leave to graze the goats.


The women continue to sing.  They have many layers of bead collars, a sign of prosperity.  They tell us they must buy the beads from Europe, so they are an expensive investment.


The young children also welcome us with songs.



And they love to see the photos we take.


Some of the village elders also pose for us.


This is the oldest woman in the village.  She is the revered village midwife (age unknown).


The huts form a circle with acacia thorn bush around the outside perimeter for protection from wild animals.  In the center of the village is another circle of thorn bush.  This is where they keep their animals protected at night. 


They show us how they build their huts,


And allow us to go inside.  They live a Spartan existence.


They demonstrate how they start a fire.



Plus we have an opportunity to buy some of their crafts.


We say goodbye to the Samburu women,



And our guide, before leaving for Buffalo Springs.



The Buffalo Springs National Reserve is just on the other side of the river. 


And right after we arrive we see our big prize—the endangered Grévy's zebras.  These look different from their more common cousins, the plains, or Burchell’s zebra. The Grévy's are bigger, with a longer face and, most obviously, their stripes do not extend under their abdomen.  Scientists now believe zebras are white animals with black stripes—and the stripe exists on its skin as well as its hair. 


Two adolescent stallions show us zebra boys will be boys.


This is the only area where we will see the Beisa Oryx.  As a special treat, they have two beautiful calves with them.


The Black-capped Social Weavers also are only found in Kenya’s Northern Territory.  The trees in this area are loaded with them.  We catch one in ‘Builder Bob” mode.


For protection, they build their nests with two entrances.  Some pairs watch us from both their first and second story vantage points.


The red hornbills dot this baked riverine woodland. 

The Uaso Nyiro River is the true source of the diversity in the area.  It is dry, but not a desert.  We head back to Samburu.


On the other side of the river we see our first Somali Ostrich.  The male, when courting, displays a bright blue head and neck.


We even get to see a male and female fluff their feathers as their do their mating dance.


Heading back to lunch—more to come—we see a brilliant yellow hornbill.


Lunch is a special treat at Larsen's Camp.  The tables are under trees beside the river.  (The Samburu warrior is there to fend of the cheeky monkeys.)


We have a visit from a flock of Vulturine Guinea-fowl.  These guys are FAB-u-lous, Simply FAB-u-lous!



And a vervet monkey stops close by, in case any food drops.  The locals call them the blue ball monkeys.  Duh!


Our afternoon drive starts in the woodland savanna where we find small cubs beside the road.  We’ve noticed, African babies tend to stay put when mom gives an order.  Natural selection.  Those that don't usually don't make it.


Along the road, we see the matriarch pride on a hunt.  The lead female, two adolescents and another adult female.  Suddenly the older female takes off into the brush.  The other adult female remains behind and appears to be training the adolescents.  They are waiting for orders.

The three continue to wander down the road, watching in the direction the lead disappeared.


Suddenly they stop.  The lead lion breaks through some brush to rejoin them.  All this without a sound we could hear.  The prey must have moved off.  They appear to have been in contant communication during the whole hunt.


Moving out to the higher woodlands, we see two klipspringers.  They are small and wiry, almost like mountain goats.


And our big find—an elusive Greater Kudu.  Their horns are magnificent, curly and huge.  We get a quick look as he hides behind a commiphora tree.


When he moves into the brush, we can see a little bit more of the animal.  With bands of color, he reminds me of a re-paint, where someone smears a paintbrush trying out new shades.


Tomorrow we'll leave Samburu and head to the Mount Kenya area--our last safari stop!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Sat, 13 Apr 2013 17:55:00 GMT
Day 23 SAMBURU NATIONAL RESERVE We wake to a beautiful sunrise over the Ewaso Ng’iro river flowing outside our canvas room at Larson’s Tented Camp.  


If you look carefuly, you can see the vervet monkey outside the door. The staff bring us coffee and a biscuit each morning before breakfast.  These clever little devils will rush in to look for food, if given a chance.  And they will charge the tray if you turn your back when you bring it outside.  (And we always take itrays back to the front desk--we aren't about to leave crumbs in our tent.  I think these guys would find some way to get in.)  We keep any snack bars or gum in locked suitcases.  Not only must we keep our tent zippers closed at all times, we have to lock them with a pin or the monkeys will just unzip and make themselves at home.  Cheeky little @#$@$!


Samburu is an interesting area.  It is where George and Joy Adamson raised Elsa the Lioness of  “Born Free.”  It is also where a lioness unsuccessfully attempted to adopt—rather than eat—several oryx calves (she wasn't a good oryx mom and they didn't make it.)

We start our first drive at dawn—the sun rising over the Doum palms is spectacular. 

I'm told ths is the only species of multi-branched palm.  It's been around for a while...3,000 year old Doun palm fruit was found in King Tut’s tomb. 


We immediately come upon our third type of giraffe—the Somali reticulated giraffe. 

This species has a defined square pattern, none of the rosette splotches we saw in the Maasai giraffe and no white legs like the Rothchild's.


Three lioness walk down the road, right beside our car.


Soooo close!


Driving a bit further, we meet a large matriarch herd of elephants, with babies from several generations. 


And we spot a March Eagle is in a tree picking on the remains of a dik dik leg (the tiny antelope).  We don't know if the eagle caught the dik dik,


But it now must fend off two fan-tailed crows who decide they want to try to get in on the feast.


A beautiful red-beaked hornbill lands on a nearby tree at the road.


Then we see it’s mate throwing a worm into the air to catch and eat it—much like we might throw popcorn to catch in our mouths.


In an open field we find a herd of oryx.


And one even sticks out his tongue to give us a raspberry!


At dusk, we find several genenuk.


These long-necked antelope typically browse on their hind feet , eating the top leaves and shoots of prickly bushes and acacias.


The young bucks seem to  love to spar at the end of the day.


And we end the day with a colorful sunset among the doun palms.


Tomorrow we begin our day at a Samburu village.  These are  semi-nomadic people who are related to the Masai.  They herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and sometimes camels.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Fri, 12 Apr 2013 01:13:00 GMT
Day 22 LAKE NAKURU to SAMBURU The Sarova Lion Hill Lodge is lovely and we have visitors at breakfast…African Speke’s Weavers.

They have made nests outside the main hall at Lion Hill, so we get to enjoy their antics before our game drive. 


Lake Nakuru National Park is small and quite unique.  It is a refuge right beside the city of Nakuru--like having a huge natural zoo at your back door.  Almost all species of African animals live here except the elephant.  Because it is next to the city, there is no way to contain the huge elephants.  They pretty much go whereever they want, so they would endanger the people in town.  We plan a full morning before we must head off to our next lodge.  We start in the yellow acacia forest and find our olive baboon friends, again. 


Then a real treat—a beautiful Long-crested Eagle.  It’s early morning so it is watching for prey, usually a rodent.


We move toward Lake Nakuru—bird central-- and find an old tree “decorated” with yellow-billed storks.


Near the lake, Sacred Ibis crown the yellow acacias,


And a Sacred Ibis lift-off from the lake.  This is a grand sight.


Then  we see a Hammerkrop wading at the shore. It is named because the feathers on the back of it head resemble a hammer.  


Flamingos reflect across the lake as they take flight.  


Nakuru is an alkaline lake and is one of the prime viewing areas for lesser and greater flamingos. Flamingos are attracted here becuase the soda lake produces the Spiruina algae. This food source also produces the pink of their plumage.   When they dry their feathers we can appreciate the spectacular display.


Beside the flamingos, we have a mélange of other water birds—Maribou stork, Great Cormorants, Egyptian Geese, heron and gray-headed gulls in flight and on the ground. 


This is a birder’s paradise.  There are large numbers of pelicans.


And they put on a synchronized swimming show



As they nosh along the shore—it is still breakfast time, after all.



The African spoonbill (no queston how he got his name) uses his adapted bill to sieve food from the mud.


A yellow-billed duck (again, naming follows form) swims by us.


And an Egyptian Goose also looks for food in the shallows.


The lake is a focus of life at Nakuru.  Zebra cross our road in an area that may soon be cut off as the water rises. 


Finally, we see our first Rothchild’s Giraffe walking near the water …times three!  Note the white legs.  This is one of the most endangered giraffe species and Lake Nakuru is one of the few places we find some of only a few hundred still in the wild. 


Once again, a plug for scheduling extra time in Nairobi: beside the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, try to visit the Giraffe Manor, a Rothchild Giraffe sanctuary, if you can.  Giraffe can stick their head in your window while you sip morning coffee.  Again we didn’t leave enough time to schedule a night.  Unfortunately, we got this information from others who had made the stop.  We now know you also can go for a day trip!

As we head back to the woodlands we find another Rothchild Giraffe herd with a young calf.


And an olive baboon is beside the road nursing a tiny baby.


A bit farther, a white rhino is grazing in the grass.  He walks right beside our car, totally ignoring us. 


We need to head back to our cabin at the lodge before lunch.   


I found this pink trumpet vine by the pool.


We're heading off to our next lodge at Larsen’s Tented Camp, in eastern Kenya, near the Somali border.  Nakuru gives us a final gift…a black rhino stands on the edge of the riverine woodland as we leave.  We would have stayed here another day!


As we head to our next location in eastern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, we pass more local shops, like this butchery with meat hanging in the window.  Oh, yummm.



Continuing through the Riff Valley, we see a geyser in Kenya's geothermal fields.  Although Kenya has for long depended on hydropower for electricity needs, it also is investing in alternative native sources of energy, such as geothermal and wind.


Then a quick stop at Thomson's Falls, a 243 ft scenic waterfall on the Ewaso Ng'iro river.


We cross the equator.


Then enjoy a beautiful sunset…on the road.


This should have been a good thing.  However, it get’s a bit uncomfortable (read menacing) here.  Obviously we are behind schedule and traveling after dark.  It seems the eastern part of Kenya has become a haven for Somali immigrants.  These people are predominantly Muslim, have caused some problems for Kenya, and are forming their own poor isolated enclaves.  So Kenya has brought in armed troops all over the area, placed spiked barriers on the roads and military check points.  We were supposed to be within the Samburu National Reserve by sundown.  Arriving after dark, the border guards in the town of Archers’s Post Gate don’t want to let us through.  We wait for about 30 minutes while the issue is sorted out.  Our guides tell us not to stare at people in the village—who are not smiling as they stare at us-- and definitely NO cameras, no pictures.  Young boys throw rocks at one car in our group and break a window.  Money is exchanged and we pass through.  Whew!  We arrive at a lovely tented camp... another world.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Thu, 11 Apr 2013 22:09:00 GMT
Day 21 MARA TO LAKE NAKURU GAME RESERVE We take our last tour of the Mara as we head off to another part of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru Nation Park.  What a great surprise!  We find a cheetah with four cubs. 


What beautiful animals.  The babies have shaggy-haired backs so they can hide in the long grass while the mother hunts.


And this mother has her work cut out for her.  She will have difficulty feeding four cubs and keeping them safe.  


Right now she is still nursing so she must be very concerned feeding herself.  

We watch the mother stalk and run at a Thompson’s gazelle.  She didn’t make the kill this time.


We have one last surprise—we finally see a black rhino. 

We now have our Big Five!  This term refers to the five African animals big game hunters of old determined were the most dangerous—the most dangerous when cornered during a huntThe elephant, leopard, lion, Cape buffalo, and the rhino.  Most are now only hunted by camera…most.  We learn Nakuru is a protected reserve where black and white rhinos are secured because these endangered animals are still poached in some parts for their horns, if the opportunity presents.


Our Twiga is on the road again as we leave, a final goodbye.


 We roll past more elephants on the way out of the Mara Conservation Area.

These famous Olaloololo Escarpment is a beautiful back drop for the iconic Balanites trees.  This escarpment is the western border of the Mara and the Great Rift Valley. The trees are found throughout Africa and into the Middle East.  It has been called the desert date and the soap berry tree.




Out on the road, we are back to isolated African settlements. 


Some of these areas even use euphorbia as fence posts—much like ranches in the American Southwest that use the long ocotillo cactus branches for fencing.  Once in the ground euphorbia can take root and become living enclosures.


We pass a few shops on the road—full of colorful African memorabilia, like the Maasai blankets, 


 And yes, tchotchkes too, like this rack of "hunting shields."



We enter Nakuru Park just after a rain—and a wide rainbow stretches across the sky!  More good luck?  This is a unique place.  Very small and right beside the city of Nakuru.  They don't have elephants here because it would not be possible to contain them and they would endanger the town.


An impala family greets us. 


Along with olive baboons cleaning each other.


Out on the open plains of Nakuru we see our first White Rhino. 


Their name is said to be a mistranslation of the Dutch and later Afrikaans word “wijd” which means wide,  a description of the shape of its mouth.  The white rhino has a wide, square mouth built to graze. 


It is also the most social of the rhinos.  Don’t read that as friendly, but it is often seen in groups and isn’t as skittish as the critically endangered black rhino (that has a narrow mouth and hooked lip). The black rhino is a browser, the hooked lip used to strip leaves from branches.  It is found at Nakuru--but we'll have much less chance of seeing one here since it typically hides in the woodlands.  The white rhino is native to southern Africa and Nakuu is one of the locations where it has been introduced to help stabilize the species.


We work our way around the lake shore and see large flocks of Lesser Flamingos.  The Lesser Flamingo, smaller than the Greater Flamingo, feeds primarily on Spirlina algea growing in very alkaline lakes, like Nakuru. 


At dusk we head back to Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge where we have a special treat after dinner…native dancers.


Tomorrow we’ll explore more of Lake Nakuru and hopefully find our third type of giraffe, the majestic Rothchild’s Giraffe.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 09 Apr 2013 19:51:00 GMT
Day 20 LAST DAY ON THE MARA RIVER First thing this morning we head back to the hyena cubs.  They are still in the red oat grass but we now see they have a social structure—the babies have a “nanny.” 


The matriarch has a tracking collar (hyenas packs are always lead by a female, and females are bigger than males). The rangers only tag the lead female hyena as they gather data so they can manage the area.


We see the nanny carry one of the babies in her mourh—a bit of discipline for this youngster who has been acting up.  These are lucky babies.  Born to the matriarch they have high status in the pack.  Babies born to other females will have a very tough life.


Suddenly we hear a starling noise coming at us—a crazy hot air balloon is almost landing on top of us—and the hyenas are agitated.


The balloon moves over us and they resume normal life.  


Moving back to the Mara we see two female lions—are these the ones we saw during our night drive?  If so they were much more ominous in the dark!  Or I should say they are deceptively benign resting in the grass.  Lions follow the herd...they follow the food.


Back at the river we continue to see crossings.


The wildebeest make quite a sight leaping off the rocks into the river. 



We feel very lucky to have seen so many huge crossings.  Really a remarkable spectacle.  We even see a Topi swim across.  Who knew?


Heading back to camp, we drive by the wetlands one final time.  

We find a batchelor herd of young Topis.  We stop to enjoy the boys sparring.



A mother Topi and calf look on.


Out of the wetlands, we meet a large giraffe family



And watch while one drinks.  They are in such a vulnerable position when they go for water. Quite an amazing pose.


Tomorrow, we'll do a quick drive before heading to the next game reserve at Lake Nakuru National Park.  This is one of the smaller parks in Africa but it's a real gem.  More on this tomorrow!





(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 07 Apr 2013 18:10:00 GMT
Day 19 DAY TWO at the MARA RIVER We go back to the riverbank and see the zebra stallion did not make it.  When we arrive, hyenas, secondary predators. are there. 


Shortly, Rupple’s Griffin Vultures move in and actually chase the hyenas off the carcass.  


One gives us the Darth Vade stance.


They are a moving clean-up machine.  Although not pretty, these birds are extremely important the well-being of the African wild.


The Maribou storks squabble as they join in.


Back to the river, today we see the massive herds cross.  Wildebeest mass,


Then swim across.


It’s not pretty on the other side as they desperately climb over each other trying to find a way up the bank.



Zebras mass and cross.


We see the hippos are still in the water.


In the panic to get to the other side, not all animals make it out of the water. 


And the vultures wait.


At the top of the cliff a mother zebra calls out for her baby.


Finally the little one makes it to the top.


Driving by the zebra carcass at mid-day only bones remain.  The circle of life can be quick.


Back to the lodge, we pass our Twiga “gatekeeper.”  The big giraffe is usually on the hill when we leave or return. 


He is a great example of the hard callouses males develop on their heads for fighting. 


After lunch, we start down to the river and meet the three twiga brothers! He's brought his friends.


Back to river, more huge crossings.


As we move off, we find beautiful male waterbuck in the marsh.


And a twiga family amble by as the sun lowers.


As we head back to camp—a real find.  Hyena mother and tiny babies.

This is a rare sighting!   And we have one more day here!


We end the day with another lovely sunset...




(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 03 Apr 2013 20:22:16 GMT
Day 18 THE MARA RIVER in the MARA TRIANGLE In the early morning we head for the Mara Serena Safari Lodge on the banks of the Mara River.  We are at the Tanzanian border so we are hoping to see herds crossing.  We’ll be at this lodge for three glorious days so we will be able to go on drives and come back to rest, as we choose.

We pass T/K Rock, marking the Tanzania/Kenya border on the plains.



As we enter the Mara Triangle, we enter the part of the Maasi Mara reserve, regulated by the Trans-Mara District. The district has only one local authority, Trans Mara County Council.  As we enter the Trans-Mara area, a Mwanza Flat Headed Agama greets us.  This beautiful lizard is probably the dominant male.



Along the way, we see the ferocity of vultures in action. 


Here they posture and fight for prime positions on a Cape Buffalo carcass.   They puff themselves up and walk like Dart Vader to secure the best position.


We immediately head for the river and find a croc waiting on the shore.


We are lucky to see a zebra crossing.  Yea!  


Although not a huge number of zebras cross, it is eventful.  The stallion leads his herd across.  But there is a hippo under the water in his path.  All we see are huge splashes mid-stream and his difficult water exit,


When the stallion gets to the top of the bank he just stands still, while all the other animals are in a constatnt state of motion.  Odd.  On closer look we can see why.


The hippo has gored his belly and he is in serious trouble. That's an example of why hippos are considered the most dangerous animal in Africa.  We'd thought we might see crock attacks, but not this.  He rolls in the dirt--maybe trying to get away from the pain?


It doesn't look good for him.  We head back to the lodge for our night drive.  We'll check on him tomorrow.

After dinner, we head off in open trucks.  Our drivers have huge spotlight for our late night game drive.  We see some small hares, then suddenly...two female lionesses.  This is just below our fensed camp!


One of the ladies gives us a grand show.  "Roar" does not adequately express the noise she makes.  We can feel the power of her vocalization as it sends shock waves through us!  To me, it was louder than being beside a BIG motorcycle gunning the engine.  And here we sit in this open car.  Amazing experience.

They seem fairly oblivious to us and our lights--except for the roaring.  Was she letting us know we were not welcome?  Or just announcing this is their territory?  



On the way back to the lodge we see hippos on land for their nightly foraging.  Just as long as we're not between them and the river!


Fantastic night!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:52:00 GMT
Day 17 OUR SECOND DAY in the MAASAI MARA Day two and the Mara is good to us again.  We are surrounded!  We got wildebeest to the left, zebra to the right, and we're the only car around.  Whee!  (Jimmy Buffett can borrow that if he'd like....)



I do love the zebra.  This nursing mother and young colt could have a difficult time when they get to the river. 


Next we come across a matriarch herd of elephants.  Since their gestation period is 22 months, this mother has three young ones from atleast the last 6 years.  They develop such close bonds and only the males tend to leave the groups as they mature.  Often several females will stay together.  They take turns caring for the young ones.

Researchers believe elephants grieve a loss and will even “pay their respects” when returning to a place where one died.  Babies are particularly affected when they loose their mother.  Although most countries are working to reduce poaching, habitat loss also is reducing their numbers.  


If you ever travel to this area, try to save a day or two in Nairobi to travel to the Elephant Orphanage.  We didn't scedule enough slack time, but other members of our party said it is truly a life-changing experience.  (Guess we'll just have to come back.)

Day closes with another spectacular African sunset--this one on the open Mara plains.


Back at the lodge, Maasai tribal dancers perform before dinner.

 These are men, chanting with their traditional jumping.



Tomorrow we're headed for a camp on the Mara River!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 03 Apr 2013 14:05:10 GMT
Day 16 The MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE We leave Arusha with our Rhino Safari Kenya game drivers, heading out to the southeast Mara.  We’re hoping to see herds of Wildebeests and Burchell’s Zebras.  If we’re lucky we’ll even see some of the famed crossings of the crocodile-infested Mara River along the way.

Out on the Mara we first see some gentle Twiga brothers—Swahili for giraffe.


They begin play-fighting.  Their “necking” goes on for quite a while...


Swinging heads and bumping shoulders.  They are acting like adolescent boys.

Suddenly a mature male appears and it seems both youngsters are put on notice. 


As he walks over to them, the adolescents lower their heads and act “contrite”...behavior much like that of a scolded dog…until he finally walks off.   Then it all begins again.  Adult giraffe use their heads like mallets, swinging their neck to explode their head on a competitor.  The one on the right is practicing his moves as he harasses his brother.  Ah, children!


Continuing into the Mara, we are seeing huge herds of zebra and wildebeest moving across the savanna.  A very good sign a river crossing may be in the cards.  


There are many predators and prey on the Mara now.  This tree, filled with White-backed Vultures, is testament to the constant cycle of life and death here.   They mass, waiting for their next opportunity.


As a quiet  prelude to the mayhem to come, a giraffe calmly chews an acacia branch. 


Rupple’s Griffon Vultures also mass in tree tops.




As we wait, hot air balloons materialize over the horizon and move toward us.  A full compliment of early morning sights and sounds.


We pass cheetahs waiting in the shade


And find three lions stalking a mixed herd of wildebeest and zebra.


Suddenly, on the back side of the brush, we hear an animal’s heart-wrenching bleat and a lion’s roar.   Rushing around the thicket, we find a magnificent male lion and his zebra kill. 


We are first on the site but other cars soon arrive.  The lion is very near the road and he is not happy to have people nearby.  He proceeds to drag the kill across the road, between the cars, to the protection of the bush.


This is hard work even for the massive lion. 


In his hurry, the zebra entrails fall out,  Leaving a feast for the waiting vultures.  Something for everyone.



We pass a large herd of elan as we head back to camp.


Our tented lodge is at the Sarova Mara Game Camp.

These are "tents" because they have canvas sides.  They have a full roof, wood floor, large bed, furniture and a complete bath.  (Picture "Out of Africa." )  Plus we again have safe, excellent food where we can eat salads, vegetables, and order drinks with ice. This is luxurious camping!


We will stay here another day and see what the Mara offers us tomorrow.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 02 Apr 2013 11:11:46 GMT
Day 15 TANZANIA TO KENYA We leave Tanzania today to contnue our safari in Kenya.  We have a beautiful drive through wetlands as we leave Tarangire.  Male and female Saddlebill storks search for food a marsh. (The male has the yellow on his beak.)



We spook a herd of reed impala as we left.


On our exit from the park we stopped to watch a fish eagle devour his fresh catch from the stream below.


While a young elephant is busy harassing a flock of Maribou stork resting near the water.  Young adolescents!


Baobabs line a dusty ride out of Tarangire. 


We drive through busy, colorful Arusha.

Then load a small bus—with AC—to go to the Kenya border crossing. Along the way we get a great view of Killy, complete with a halo of clouds.


What a jumble at the border—cars, trucks, tourists, natives, all vying for a place in line.  And women jam all our windows, trying to sell cheap native crafts.  No real queue line...our large group takes a bit of time to make it through even though we already have our visas.


We arrive at our Nairobi hotel in the evening and scrambled for a quick dinner.  The Mayfair is lovely but we have no time to enjoy it.  We are continuing on the Kenya-half of our safari as a back-to-back trip with Tanzania.  Our group will meet a few new people for an early morning breakfast start, beore beginning our Kenya adventure into the Maasai Mara.  Luckily, we'll slow the pace in Kenya.





(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 02 Apr 2013 09:50:00 GMT
Day 14 TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK WILD DOGS Leaving SOPA Lodge at daybreak our guides go the last known location of the latest wild dog sightings.  WOW!  We immediately see the pack on the hillside.

They walk down to cross the road.   


One even lays down between the cars—maybe an expression of dominance? 


They continue to hang out and watch us for several hours.  It’s amazing how they can blend into the hillside, almost ghost-like.


Even big elephants tend not to turn their back on these guys.


Another lilac breasted roller perches on an old tree as we pass.  These are beautiful birds with their 7 colors.  The state bird of Swaziland, I think they are my favorite.  Plus, they tend to pose for us. OK.  They’re just hunting, but it works for a great picture!


A zebra crosses our path in front of a giant termite mound.

Here the red dirt makes the mounds really beautiful.  Some are thousands of years old and they are hard as rock.  The spring rains tend to wash some of the external dirt off.  This is a signal for the outside termites to swarm.  They take off in search of new places to start colonies.   In Zimbabwe we saw this event and the camp hosts came to sweep up the termites who fell at the night lights.  The locals picked off their wings, fried them and said their were delicious.  (We weren’t as adventurous then so we were perfectly happy when they didn’t offer any.  We now have awakened a bit of the Anthony Bourdain in us so we wish we could say, "Yup, they really did taste nutty.")


A mother and baby Maasai giraffe wander not too far from the dog pack.  Even though everything must eat, we hope they are aware.


We find a black-faced grouse family,


As we drive under a water python curled in an acacia tree.  We pass underneath the big snake and he didn’t flex a muscle.  Huge, fellow.  And how many have we missed?


As we pass through the woodlands our car is engulfed by tsetse flies.  These are nasty biting flies that feed on vertebrate blood.  That would be bad enough but they are also vectors for human sleeping sickness.  Our guides warned us they were in the park and we should not wear the Maasai colors—red or blue.  These colors seem to particularly attract them.  Anyhow, we were able to corral and kill the ones in the car.  One met his end on a window and made a good picture….


As we leave the woodlands we see a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl.  Pink eye lids!  This is the largest African owl and the third heaviest owl in the world.  It has a wingspan of almost five feet.  This is an apex avian predator and hunts mostly in the evening.


We end the day with what else- a baobab at sunset.  Beautiful.




(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 02 Apr 2013 09:09:00 GMT
Day 12- MORNING in the CRATER, THEN OFF to TARANGIRE Immediately after we hit the crater floor we find the “Lion King” resting in the grass.


Around the corner we see why he’s taking a siesta.  During the night the pride made a zebra kill.  The females and playful cubs are still milling around, all with BIG full tummies.


And now the second tier scavengers arrive.  A white-necked raven is on the kill.


While hyenas wait in th weeds, biding their time until the lions move off.


We drive a bit farther and have an amazing treat—watching a cheetah emerge from the grass.


 Take off on a high-speed chase,



And take down a Tommy (Thompson’s gazelle).



She drags it away to protect her prey.


Then she must gobble what she can as fast as she can.  Cheetahs are (70 mph) fast but are not top predators.  Lions, leopards and even hyenas can take the prey they have worked so hard to get.  This can make raising a family very difficult when mom has 4-5 mouths to feed.


Back on the plain, we come across more herds.  They migrate to the water in the daytime then reverse the route at night.  


A line of wildebeest head for the main herd.


Catching the sun behind them, their mane positively glows.


The zebras also migrate to water.  But these stopped for a “dust bath.” They roll around with all four feet in the air.  The dirt helps keep them free of insects.


At the end of the morning we head toward the wetlands and the birds.  

 The little bee eater is beautiful.


 We see trees decorated with hanging baskets—African Christmas Trees.  These are weaver nests.


At the lake, we see the Rufous-tailed weaver pausing for a quick photo.


And several little birds invade our car looking for goodies—they’re on the floor, the seats, the roof. 



We pass a flock of crested cranes in the field. 


And an Auger Buzzard (red-tailed hawk) by the side of the road as we leave.


We exit the crater and head for the Sopa Lodge at Tarangire National Park.  This should be an awesome place.  Known for its elephants, it is also a chance to see the African Wild Dogs/Painted Wolves.  We’ll cross our fingers.

Our first stop is Mto Wa Mbu Kijiji - Swahili for Mosquito Creek.  As the name implies, mosquitos—and malaria—have reeked havoc here.  The Tanzania government brought in mosquito nets and the problem is now in hand.  The women walking to the shops are colorful.


Their banking is unique.


Roadside stands are full of life




And color.


Plus we are in town on the day of the monthly Maasai Open-Air Market.  Our guide quickly drove us through this event, but we needed to stay “in the shadows.”


Leaving Mosquito Village, we passed more adolescent Maasai warriors in paint. 


And a man transporting firewood on his bike.  Bicycles are used to transport huge quantities of goods.  This was a fairly small load.


At last we reach Tarangire and take a quick drive at dusk, passing Marabou Stork with their “air bags.”  In adults, this reddish "balloon" hangs on the throat. It's an air sack used for buoyancy during flight and an extension of it's digestion system.  They are sometimes called “Undertaker Birds” because of their somber demeanor.


We pass more African Christmas Trees, full of weaver nests hanging like decorations.


And a waterbuck shows us the tell-take “toilet seat” markings on her backside.


We also pass a herd of impala with a nursing calf.



We are able to see the interactions of an elephant group.  First the group goes after a young male and forces him to leave—obviously an interloper.


Then another young male came up to the group.;  This one was welcomes with obvious joy--probably a recent member of he group.


This young male went on to “formally” greet the matriarch.  

The baobabs are beautiful in Tarangire. 



Their shape make a sunset even more spectacular.


The sunset stretches brilliantly over the plains.  


Tomorrow we’ll set out early in search of the elusive wild dogs!



(Alberta Seith Photography) Sat, 30 Mar 2013 03:43:00 GMT
Day 11- NGORONGORO CRATER At last we are at Ngorongoro Crater. Not that we haven’t seen some amazing things along the way, but this is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Center.  The crater is a giant caldera resulting from the collapse of an approximately 15,000 foot volcano two-three million years ago.

It is considered a “natural enclosure,” 100 square miles with almost all the African species interacting in one place. It should be amazing.    

We start off at 6 AM with a wonderful sunrise over the crater.


As we descend 2000 feet to the floor, morning rays break through the clouds again creating “god light.”


And the clouds form a fluffy marshmellow mass spilling over the edge of the crater.


On the floor of the crater a Maasai herds his goats. Under new laws they can once again graze their animals in the crater, but must remove them at the end of each day.


We immediately find one of the famed black-maned lions.  

On the plain, a female and male ferociously stalk a young wildebeest.  The jackly tags along, hoping for some scraps while an adult wildebeest looks on.




Later, these apex predators remind us they still have some traits that remind us of a household kitty.  Well, maybe just a little.



We also see a hyena family with babies.


And the hyena mother, bringing the remains of the young wildebeest for her young.  More of the circle of life on the plains.


We enjoy more zebra geometrics in the grassland.


Times five!


Driving through the woodlands we stop to admire the beautiful yellow-barked acacias up close and personal.





 And we see birds galore…

A woodland kingfisher,


We finally catch a female and male ostrich performing their courtship dancing-and mating,




A guinea fowl with its fluorescent blue markings,


A kori bustard, puffed in display,



Along with the center of his attention,



And the magnificent crested crane.


We end the day with a wildebeest herd--even in the crater they migrate.  Just not as far as the ones on the Mara.


Ngorongoro has lived up to its reputation.  We're coming back to the crater tomorrow--can't wait to see what this magical place will share with us then! 

(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 20 Mar 2013 21:43:21 GMT
Day 10 SAROI in the SERENGETI to the NGORONGORO CRATER A bright ball of light greets us in the morning.


Breakfast is a spectacular view of the Serengeti below.


They only put place settings on one side of the table for a reason.  What a view.


Driving through the Serengeti, we come across two amorous Maasai ostrich.  Sally Rand would have done well to study the female's moves…almost a contortionist, she slings her great feathered wings around and dips her neck so she practically turns herself inside out. 

The male, with a bright pink neck, goes through complimentary gyrations.  When they move off, we move on.


Our next stop is to examine a unique tree in this area—the whistling thorn acacia.  (Be sure you clearly say all three words.)  This is a specific acacia species that protects itself with three-inch thorns. 


However, this must not have provided enough safety, because it made another adaptation.  It has other thorns that form a bulbous swelling at the branch.  The trick is cocktail ants make these swollen thorns their home by burrowing holes to the inside.  (So when the wind blows, the trees whistle.) 

The cool thing is the ants provide the tree a second layer of defense.  If there is the slightest movement, like an animal eating the leaves (or us shaking the tree to see the little critters), the ants swarm stinging the intruder with formic acid.  Animals learn this is a tree to avoid.


As we leave the Mara we look back and see how the area got its name…this is the Maasai’s ancestral home and when they looked over the plains they called the area “Mara.”  In their language this means spotted.  This is a fitting description of the collective composition of trees, scrub, savanna, and animals we see when we take a wide view of the landscape.


Back in the wide-branched trees, we catch a glimpse of another leopard keeping watch in the crook of a tree.  He’s not close to the road, but we can see this one's eyes.


We reach another beautiful kopje where we’ll have lunch. 

This is Ngong Rock.  At the top of the kopje is the special rock. The rock is made of completely different material from the others in the area.  Standing beside it we have a wide-open view of the Mara.  

Is it a meteorite?  The Maasai have used it as a musical instrument for generations.  When we hit it with a stone, it sounds hollow and the indentations give off a metallic tone, like a gong.  The Maasai made the indentations by making music over the centuries. 

On a rock wall at the back of the kopje we also find Maasai pictographs.  Some are hundreds of years old,


but others are obviously quite new.


Leaving Ngong Rock, we have a really dusty drive out of the Mara.

We stop at at Naabi Hill and walk to the top of the kopje at the edge of the Serengeti.  A sign explains the Maasai called the great plain the siringet and the name of the park was born.    We can see the dust as cars head out on the road to the edge of the park.


On the way to the Serengeti Sopa Lodge we pass another Maasai manyatta. 

The Maasai have moved from their warrior ways to Nomadic cattle herders.  They believe their rain god, “Enkai,” made them sole owners of cattle.  Cattle are their form of currency and are vital to their lives, providing wealth, milk and blood for nourishment, dung to build their houses.  They are also a part of their spiritual rituals.


At Sopa Lodge we're spending the night on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater.  This evening we are treated to Maasai dancing.  The women wear their traditional beaded collars and move so the collars dance around their necks. 

The men perform their traditional jumping, each trying to outdo the other.


Tomorrow, we’ll spend the day on the crater floor!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 18 Mar 2013 22:00:00 GMT
Day 9 The SERONERA AREA of SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK Sawa Sawa  (Let’s go!) A tiny bit of Swahili….we begin with another ho-hum African sunrise.


Leaving Lobo at daybreak, we pass more kopjes.  The wind and rain has weathered this one leaving a hanging rock perched on top.  An African Hoodoo—of sorts.


And the wildlife just keeps on coming.  We see a regal Egyptian Goose in a tree.  Not birders, we are learning more about our feathered friends.  At least this one we’ve met before…we saw it soaring over the Taj Mahal this spring.


We stop again at the hippo pool by the Seronera River on the way back.  


Ugh! That water is filthy!  As I mentioned before, they stay in the water most of the day, usually coming out only in the evening. 


We hear an unusual bird as we drive.  Our guide explains this is the African Hoopoe bird.  And in a few minutes we hear another answer back from a nearby acacia tree.  A monogamous bird, the pair treat us to a delightful serenade.


Under a clear blue sky, a lone elephant wakes up by using an isolated acacia tree to scratch its backside.  This is so Africa.


A pack of banded mongoose pose for us in the brush.  These are carnivores, eating mostly birds, snakes and rats.  They will eat the deadly mambas and spitting cobras.  Working together to protect the group, they develop a close relationship.  The troop eventually decided all the attention—and camera clicking-- was too much and they moved away.


Into the Seronera Valley we stopped at a way station and had a chance for hands-on with Cape Buffalo skulls.  Big respect for how massive those animals are.  The horns are really heavy.  There is also a collection of Hippo and giraffe skulls.

Back on the savanna we find another herd of elephants, with a nursing calf. 

This is older than the ones we saw at Ndutu.  Our guides tell us the baby is usually over a year old if they are too big to walk under the mother.


Elephants have such strong relationships.  Groups of mothers often have several years of children with them.  Only older adolescent males head off on their own. Majestic creatures. 


Lunch at another kopje gives us a few surprises.  First we find ant lion larvae traps in the sand.  Adults are sometimes called “doodlebugs” because they leave winding trails in the sand when looking for a place to build its trap—it looks like someone doodled on the ground.


The larvae have strong jaws and dig traps, like this one.  Larvae attack its prey when it falls into the funnel-shaped hollow culminating at the trap.  We can't get this one to pop its head out.


Right after we leave our lunch we spot lions in the tall grass. There are so many of us and we're not quiet, but sheesh.  They were right there!

Moving on we are still in an area with water.  We find another herd of hippo in wetlands.  One is crying—well, maybe just shedding salt.




And some are covered with yellow-billed oxpeckers.  The little birds eat ticks on the hippo’s skin.  The hippo is a moving buffet.


A bit farther we find an interesting slice of life—an gazelle carcass in a tree about 30 feet above ground.  How did our guide ever find this?  Proof there are active leopards in this area. 


These cats are incredibly strong and carry their kill high up in a tree so they are not bothered by others trying to poach.  No hyenas, other cats or even vultures can drop in to claim a share.   Here's a close-up.  

These big trees with wide horizontal branches are prime leopard territory.  Wish we could find one watching us!


An African Marsh Harrier takes off from a nearby tree.  You can see the talons and beautiful wing feathers that make this a top bird of prey.  It lives in wetlands  and mostly feeds on mice, frogs, etc.  Mature adults have yellow eyes.  The brown eyes mark this one as a juvenile.


As we leave the area a family of elephants wander through the wetlands.


Then we take a break—a flat tire.  A rare occurrence, but it does happen.  Our guides would do Indy proud.  They change tires and fix all manner of problems on the fly.  Traveling in a group, we often have another car nearby, and another person to lend a hand.  This stop was only about 15 minutes.


We’re passing through maasai territory and we come upon more adolescents in the middle of their coming-of-age ceremony.  Since they must live on their own for several months, they agree to pose with us for a small fee.  Good will all around.


We arrive at Saroi Serengeti Lodge just in time to clean up before dinner—this is a “tented” camp but not like one you might expect.  The walls are canvas, but we have a fantastic indoor bath.

Never the less, we take advantage of the outdoor shower, overlooking the Serengeti.


Although we use them, I think the mosquito nets on the bed are mostly for the charming effect.


Tomorrow we'll have breakfast overlooking the Serengeti before we head to Ngorongoro Crater!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 18 Mar 2013 13:40:00 GMT
Day 8 MIGRATION IN THE MAASAI MARA We day-trip from Lobo heading to the Mara River.  The day starts with another spectacular sunrise.  We call rays of sun filtering through clouds "god-light."  A good description this morning.  


Leaving at dawn, again, we head down the mountain and catch an amazing sight on a hilltop that is right out of The Lion King.  A male and female lion are silhouetted in the morning light.  It just keeps getting better!


Heading into the plains, we come across a male Maasai ostrich with a bright pink neck.We know it is a male because he has black feathers.  The females are brown because they sit on the nest in the day and brown feathers blend into the grass.  The male will sit the nest at night so his black feathers help him hide in the dark.  The pink neck is significant…it shows he is courting a female.  

In a tree we find our first Rupple’s Griffon Vulture with a (large) chick.  These are magnificent creatures and we’ll see a lot more of them in the next few weeks.


On the way to the Mara River, we hit huge migrating herds of wildebeest.


Driving along the trail--since we're not in Ndutu anymore, we must stay on the roads--we are in the middle of the herd!


We follow the wildebeest to the tributaries of the river.


But there is no crossing while we watch.  On the bank we can see some huge crocodiles.   This may be the reason the wildebeest aren’t moving into the river.  A little later we'll see this is a smart move.  The crossings can be extremely dangerous.


We are a long way from Lobo so we must head back without seeing a crossing.  Regretfully, we leave.  But Africa doesn't let us down.  We find two young cubs playing on a fallen tree on the way back. 



What a joy. 

We make it back to Lobo after sunset.  Another long day.  At daybreak, we'll head for the Seronera River area of the Serengeti National Park.  The schedule is hectic right now but we can't believe what we're seeing.



(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 18 Mar 2013 04:50:00 GMT
Day 7 SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, KOPJES AND CHEETAH BABIES As we say good bye to Ndutu we realize these days been jam packed!  We’ll miss this place.


Along with the amazing animals we've seen on the game drives, we have the Fisher’s Lovebirds that filled the waterhole outside the lodge's dining area.


Our our own private chameleon living in the euphorbia at the main entrance,


And leaf bats kind enought to hide under a roof eve each day so we can watch them sleep.....


We are leaving the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and moving to the Serengeti National Park—the original Big Sky country and a whole lot of open range.  


We head to our next camp at Lobo Wildlife Lodge, near the Maasai Mara in northern Tanzania.  This is near the Kenya border. We hope to catch up with the migration there.  

Dotting the open plains, we come upon kopjes (coppies).  These are ancient lumps of volcanic rock—granite or another outcroppings substantially harder than the rocks around it—pushed up from the earth's core millions of years ago.  As the land eroded, they became exposed and began to split and erode to form beautiful “stacks” of rock in the middle of the open range.  Their name is derived from the Dutch word for “little head.”


We circle a beautiful kopje and find a mother with two baby cheetahs barely visible in the grass.


Cheetah cubs are gorgeous!


A bit farther we find a lovely lioness in the grassland as she stalks a herd of Cape Buffalo.  By herself, this will not be easy pickings.


As we enter an area with some streams, we find two lion cubss perched in a tree.  One posed and one slept, oblivious to us.


In the same area, one of our guides spots a tell-tale sign in a tree: a sleeping leopard.  They are almost impossible to see.  He saw the long straight tail hanging down as it slept.  Pretty cool!



All this before our lunch on the road.


Toward the end of the day we take a short detour to a hippo pool with 50-60 hippos.  One male submerges a female during mating.  (Most activities take place in the water.  Although they can run very fast, they are a semi-aquatic animal.  Their closest living relatives are cetaceans--whales and porpoises.)  



However, another male decides to object and a fight erupts. 

Their mouths, and teeth, are huge.  Hippos are known as the most dangerous animal in Africa and we can see why.  One big fellow backed away and the ruckus ended quickly.


We arrive at Lobo very late in the afternoon. What a place. 

Built into one of the most beautiful kopjes in the Serengeti, it was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright to merge with the surroundings.  The setting is magnificent.  

They had all sorts of interesting artifacts.  I had some fun with a giraffe skull in the bar.


Hydax are all over the rocks.  These are small, shy herbivores.  They are not rodents. They are closely related to elephants.  These are the same creatures we called dassies in South Africa.


Tomorrow we hope to find the herds of wildebeest and zebra migrating across the Serengeti.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 17 Mar 2013 20:19:00 GMT
Day 6--WOW! A GIRAFFE KILL AT NDUTU Our second day at Ndutu we have another magnificent African sunrise. 

We heard lion roars around camp all night long.  Some seemed just beyond the lighted area outside our huts!  As we begin our daybreak drive, we see why.  A large pride on males, females and cubs has taken down a young giraffe. 

For an animal this size, our guides say a male leaps on its back and is able to bring its neck down.  Then the pride takes over.


We watch the animal interactions at the kill site and get some group portraits. 


It's a big prde.  We count 3 males, four females and five or six cubs.  And the males definitely are in charge.


The cubs are allowed to feed last and they are a grubby mess.


Moving on, we finally find a bat-eared fox posing out in the open.


And an “African cocktail,” a name we use when mixed species gather together.  Here an elephant herd wanders through Grant’s gazelle and a Coke’s Hartebeast.


If I was painting a geometric, I couldn’t come up with anything better than a zebra.



On the savanna we find a warthog family at breakfast.


Several hyena are stalking leftovers at the Cape Buffalo kill.  They must wait until the lions cler the area.


The ubiquitous—and beautiful—superb starling lights on an acacia bush.  How’d they get so lucky to get the pretty one while ours is such a drab black?


A Tawny Eagle leaves a tree and flies overhead as we head back to the lodge.


In another clearing we stop to watch a herd of elephants strip bark from trees to eat.  Elephants can do a good bit of damage as they move across an area decimating trees.


In another tree we find a wild bees’ nest. 


We aren’t walking in the area, but tribesmen on foot sometimes come upon a honey-guide bird.  This bird will sing to lead walkers to a hive.  As a reward, the tribesmen leave the bird a honeycomb.  Tribesmen get a sweet treat and the bird gets a reward he couldn’t obtain without help.  This developed from man watching the long-standing practice of the bird leading the honey badger to bee nests.  The bird cannot access the honey by itseld and the badger has trouble finding nests.  The bird can eat its fill once the badger is done.  A great example of a modern-day symbiotic relationship called mutualism.


We pass by a group of banded mongoose looking over the plains at dusk as we end our last full day at Ndutu.  


Ndutu has certainly lived up to its reputation.  I can't get any better than this.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Thu, 14 Mar 2013 16:19:00 GMT
DAY 5 -NDUTU DELIVERS: CHEETAHS, A BUFFALO KILL & MORE At Ndutu, we head out on our game drives each day at dawn to catch the early animals.  This area is unique for game drives because our guides are allowed to drive off road so we can go whereever the action is.  This makes Ndutu a favorite safari site.  And the sunrise doesn't let us down, either. 


We are in luck!  We immediately find two cheetah brothers in the savanna.


They are magnificent creatures.


And it’s amazing how they can disappear into the grass.


After our cheetah adventure, our five safari cars get together for breakfast on the plains, with “Uji” , Swahili for hot cereal. This is a finger millett-honey-nut hot cereal brought with coffee, tea, breads, etc.   Very good and fun out in the open.


Continuing on, we pass a Maasai giraffe stretching out, eating leaves on a tree. There are three types of giraffe and we'll get to see them all.  The Maasai has irregular splotches, looking somewhat like rosettes.


We see some amazing birds in the tall grass:

Kori Bustards amid impala.  This may be the heaviest bird capable of flight.  They usually feed on insects, lizards and snakes.


A giant Secretary bird is a unique shape with an eagle-like body on crane-like legs.  It spends much of its time walking in the grasslands hunting insects, small mammals, lizards and snakes.


A Lilac-breasted roller is perched on a post.  This is a vibrant bird, said to have over 20 colors on its body.  They typically sit on a tall stick or dead tree, looking for insects or other small prey on the ground.  


In a tree, we see a beautiful black-chested snake eagle, also watching for breakfast.


We find a beautiful augur buzzard,


And one of the must vital birds on the plains, the vulture.  This Nubian vulture isn't pretty but it serves an important function.  Like all vultures, It cleans the carrion.  It's nature's housekeeper. Vulture's have heads without feathers so they don't contaminate themselves when eating the rotting meat.  


After breakfast each safari truck takes off in different directions.  We come across an old Cape Buffalo resting in the shade under a tree.  He is alone, which probably means he was expelled from the herd because he was too old.


A little farther we find a maternal lion pride.  At least 5 mature adults, several younger females and 5 cubs- 20 in all.


When we first found them they were relaxing in the grass, grooming each other.  Suddenly the lead female went into a “point” position and our driver said she mauy be getting a scent from the direction of the buffalo.


The lead lion stands and snarls and looks in the direction of the buffalo.


This is amazing.  She is assembling the troops!  The other adults get up, face the same direction and begin licking their chops.


The matriarch begins leading the pride across the plane.  We follow, off to the side.


The lioness takes a hunting pose as she continues forward.


As she begins her run in the buffalo stands.  The lead lioness attacks, grabbing the buffalo’s back.


She leaps on his back and is joined by the others.


The lions have him trapped.


The pride continues to chew and bite the buffalo while one lion goes nose to nose with him.  Its amost like she is checking if he is going to fight or give up.


This is not a quick process.  The lions continue to fight the buffalo but must stay clear of his horns.


After almost two hours, one lion finally is able to grab a shoulder and bring the buffalo down on his side.



Once prone, an adult covers his nose with its mouth.  Thank heavens it is finally over.


They make quick work of the carcass.  By the end of the day this was all that was left.


This was very hard to watch.  The lions and their cubs were hungry.  The old buffalo had been forced out of his herd so his days were numbered.  However, the kill was difficult to witness.  More because it was not quick and over.  The buffalo would not give up so he was attacked for about two hours before he finally gave up and they could kill him.  Life--and death--in the wild.  

The kill also draws other animals who benefit from the lion's efforts. Jackyls hide in the savanna until they can sneak in when the lions leave.


On the way back to the lodge we came across another pride with male and female lions not too far from the kill.  They obviously had no idea of the feast they missed just over the hill.


As we end our day, we end on a more gentle note.  We crossed paths with an elephant herd with a nursing calf about a year old.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 13 Mar 2013 20:44:00 GMT
Days 4 The OLDUPAI DIG and NDUTU on the SERENGETI Leaving Lake Manyara, we take time for one last view of the lake with a huge candelabra cactus—really the succulent Euphorbia—as we head northwest for our next destination at the Ndutu Safari Lodge. 


Along the way we see a klipspringer, like a mountain goat, in the rocks


and a golden dwarf mongoose hiding among the brush.


On the plains, we see beautiful silver-cheeked hornbills.


The female (on the left) has red around her eyes.  They feed on fruits, insects, small birds, rodents and small reptiles. 

Passing through Magatu, there are colorful kanga shops.  Some were decorated with Obama’s picture.These are the colorful cloth wraps worn over clothes.


And we find the Hillary Clinton Shop.


Stopping for a quick view on the Ngorongoro Crater Rim, 2,000 feet below, we see the wind whipping up salt by a lake.  We’ll spend more time here on the way back.


In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we pass a Maasai Manyatta, a village of grass and stick huts ringed with sticks and thorn bush to keep out wild animals.


Next to the village, we see women and children from the village drying clothes in the grass with the odd juxtaposition of a modern heavy-duty road roller machinery nearby.


A bit farther we see some tribesmen in their red kangas herding their goats.  The Maasai are a complicated people.


On the way to the Ndutu Safari Lodge, we take a looong and very bumpy road (aka an African massage) to the  paleoanthropological site in Oldupai.  The Oldupai Gorge Archeology Site, in the eastern Serengeti of Tanzania, is where archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey found the earliest human remains and first evidence of hominis' use of stone tools.  This was important information furthering understanding of human evolution.  This is a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.  Discoveries here support the concept that Africa is probably the “Cradle of Mankind.”  The remains of the earliest humans, from over 1.6 million years ago, were found in this gorge.

We look over the monolith in the heart of the gorge


As we listen to a lecture.  Then we move to the dig site before heading off.


As we arrive in Ndudu we are treated to a gorgeous sunset



Followed by a full moon.  Beautiful. 



During dinner at the lodge we have visitors—genet “cats” come each evening and perch on the rafters.  They are most closely related to the mongoose.


During the night we hear hunting lions roaring all around us.  We’ll explore this amazing place for the next two days.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 12 Mar 2013 18:28:00 GMT
Africa Day 3-TANZANIA AT LAKE MANYARA We've been away from home for six days.  This is our third day in Africa and we finally START OUR SAFARI!

At daybreak—everything seems to happen at dawn and dusk on safaris because animals are most active when its cool--we leave the lodge for Lake Manyara National Park.   The iconic baobab trees dot the hills as we descend to the unique habitats at the alkaline lake.  This one is estimated to be 1000 years old.

At the lake er are not disappointed- there are animals galore!  Large nesting yellow-billed storks fill the trees as we enter the park.


We find a gray-headed kingfisher sitting among the large thorns of an acacia tree.


At the lake a hippo is joined by white necked cormorants and


Storks lift-off over pelicans.


We find an African Lapwing (Crowned Plover) in the field.


Baboons cover the trees.  The intense red color denotes this female is in oesterus.

A few minutes later she mates with the pack lead.




Here a mother carries her baby.


While a huge male relaxes.


As we leave at dusk we come upon a beautiful Hydatid Ibis


And a dik dik, one of the smallest antelope


In the brush we see a Sykes Blue Monkey--it reallty does have a blue sheen to its coat.


As we leave the park, we have a final treat.  Two juvenile elephants sparring, literally kicking up a dust storm.


Quite a first day on safari!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 12 Mar 2013 13:32:00 GMT
Beginning our East African Safari-TANZANIA After 18 months of planning we finally begin our African Safari in July-August of 2012.  

We fly in to Nairobi International Airport and immediately connect with our Kenya safari guides from Rhino Safaris who take us to the Ole-Sereni Hotel.  It borders the National Game Park and its name comes from the Maasai 'place of tranquility.”  The hotel is beautiful and gives us a great introduction to the continent.  The building was the old American Embassy before it was moved for improved security.


The next morning we go to the nearby smaller Wilson Airport for a light airplane trip to Tanzania.  Some of the signs let us know we're not in Kansas anymore...


We board a 20 passenger plane 


And fly past a cloud-crowned Mount Kilimanjaro


As we head to the Killy International Airport outside Arusha, Tanzania.



Our first night in Tanzania is at Serena Mountain Village Lodge.  Individual huts surround a great old house with the dining area. 

We are in the middle of coffee plantations and have our first wildlife encounter as we watch vervet monkeys steal limes from the tree outside our window. 




The lodge is decorated with Bouganvilla of all colors, along with other beautiful flowering plants like the Traveller’s Palm.


At night, Mt Meru is impressive in the distance.


In the morning we meet the rest of our group, fill our photo bean bags with rice and begin our safari with Cheeseman Ecology Safari’s.  Doug and Gail have led trips to Africa over 30 times and know this area like their hometown.  They have chosen first class lodges where we can eat all the foods, including fresh vegatables, and bottled water flows freely.  They also know most of our Tanzanian Wildersun Safari Guides for over 20 years.  We are in for a real treat. We ride in specialy-designed Toyota pop-tops with a guide and four passengers.  

On the road, colors are everywhere…from fruit and vegetable stands



To city streets


To impromptu roadside markets


Coffee and banana plantations


And the Maasai.  These proud people herd cattle and carry the traditional spears used to ward off lions.  They dress in red and bright blue and we are told the lions know these colors… and stay away.


Every few years, young Maasai warriors go through the circumcision ceremony at puberty.  We are here during one of those times! 

Young men wear black and paint white patterns on their faces for 3-4 months while they exist on their own—without families—to heal and become a man. 

(While young women are no longer supposed to go through this process, we are told it is still common.)


We arrive at our first safari stop, Lake Manyara, at the base of the escarpment that is part of the great East African Rift Valley.  The Rift Valley is a massive fault line between continental plates.  The rift appears to be a developing divergent tectonic plate boundary of East Africa.  This rift plate was considered part of the Great Rift Valley that extends north to Asia Minor around the Dead Sea.  The Rift Valley is the home of some of the most exciting wild animal viewing on the planet!  We can't wait.


We spend the night at Manyara Serena Lodge and are greeted by fruit bats sleeping under the eves of some of the bungalows.  


(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 12 Mar 2013 11:46:00 GMT
DAY 2- EXPLORING THE MOSEL VALLEY & BERNKASTLE The  vineyard Gästehaus is perfect with large comfy rooms and a complimentary European buffet.  After a leisurely breakfast outside on the terrace overlooking the Mosel, we take a walk toward town.  Along the river, bicycles are everywhere.  This would be a great place to come just to ride. We have seen bike paths all along our trip.  As an added advantage, some people are riding electric bikes that offer a small assist if your path includes some of the steep inclines around is Germany, after all.  



It's going to be another 90 degree day, so back to our B+B, walking past the vinyards.  We"re off to Bernkastle by car to check out the town and the ancient castle icon on the hill.


The town is beautiful...again flowers everywhere with buildings dating back to the 1600's around an old Marketplatz.  


This appears to be a real tourist mecca with the town split into twin villages on both sides of the river.  And we find flower-filled parks everywhere.

Sightseeing we find the fountain in front of the town hall.  During the September wine festival, the St. Michael's Fountain flows with wine.  How perfect!  


By chance, ever watchful shoppers, Susan and I notice a jewelry store in the Marketplatz advertising Troll Beads.   We can't resist.

Turns out Troll Beads are a brand made in Europe and are much like the Pandora bracelet beads we see at home.  Instead of their one bead with a troll, we chose a bead with grapes...really more fitting for this trip.


Driving up to the castle, we hike to a terrific view of the river, as well.




We get a bite at the castle and take in the view above the river before heading back.  

Back at S.A. Prüm, it's time for an afternoon tour of the wine cellar and a private wine tasting.  

Saskia Pruem, a third generation vintner from the family, explains the unique conditions that make Mosel Reisling special.  They have many vineyards in the surrounding area and fill over 140,000 bottles each year.

It may not be proper wine etiquette, but YUM!  Some are shipped to the US, but not all of our favorites.  We like the dry (trocken) Riesling. Unfortunately, most distributors ask for the sweeter wines so it may be a challenge to find our favorites in the States.


Ms. Pruem takes us on a tour of the wine cellar. Although they use modern technology to monitor the fermentation...


Some parts of the cellar show its true age.

This group does not miss a meal when we travel, but we love local input. Following our host's suggestion, we headback to town.


To Culinarius, a little outside restaurant, favored by the locals.  It is outstanding food in a little corner of a back street.  We probably walked right past it yesterday!


A perfect end to a really fun day.  Tomorrow we leave for the ancient Roman ruins at Trier before heading for Belgium.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 11 Mar 2013 13:31:00 GMT
EAST AFRICAN SAFARI--beginning in Germany Day 1. Off to Frankfort

We left on our trip to Africa last summr with a slight diversion to Europe, resetting oue clocks in Germany before Nairobi and the main safari portion of our trip.  We landed in Frankfort with our best-est travel buds, Susan and John Clarke, heading out for another amazing expedition.  We've traveled some fantastic places with these folks...Beijing and a cruise down the Yangtze, riding horseback in the northwest wilds of Mongolia, bicycle trek/tenting through Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, skiing folowing snowmobiling to three corners of Yellowstone,  trips to the Galapagos, horseback riding Peru's Inca Trail to Machu  Picchu.  Last year we drove Iceland's ring road to include the obscure West Fjords.

 Needless to say, these are good friends.

Our trip began with a wonderful surprise.  We knew we were flying on a 747--yippee--but it turned out we were on a 747 8i, on the second half of it's maiden flight.  Our crew were on top of the world...they had special training and were very proud of themselves and Lufthansa's new baby.  Their enthusiasm was infectious...and we didn't need much encouragement to join in their mood.


After arriving in Frankfort, we rented a car and took off for the Rhine Valley. John and Susan had lived in the area for several years and they were our guides...and interpreters for this part of the trip.  We hit Germany in a sunny, hot (90  degree) spell with bright blue skies.  Quite unexpected. With a bit of a haze at a distance, the Rhine River and the towns were beautiful, full of flowers and picturesque buildings.

And there were castles all along the way.  The Rhine provided the major access to the area, both for commerce and invaders.  The castles safeguarded the land.  


We stopped to play tourist in Bacharach.  An ancient town with brilliant flower gardens all along the street and flower boxes on every window.  And we get our first German fass beer--on tap.  It hit the spot after our long trip.


We walked up to the castle above town, stopping on the way at the ruins of a 13 th century Gothic church, Wernerkapelle.


The Bury Stahleck castle, now a tourist stop, gave us a beautiful view of the river and the surrounding vineyards.  The Rhine is a powerful, swift-flowing river filled with barges carrying goods in both directions.


And I've forgotten to mention the vineyards...they literally are everywhere on mostly the south side of every hill along the river.   Their rows mark the contours of the hillsides creating fantastic geometric patterns of green.


About 50 miles from Frankfort, we stop for lunch along the Rhine at Hotel Keutmann by the mighty Lorelei Rock.  This is a slab of slate towering 145  yards  above the river with a long, sordid history.   The place the Rhine squeezes to its most narrow and deepest point, the waters at the turn have many treacherous reefs and rapids.   Legend has it a a siren named Lorelei bewitched sailors causing them to look  up at the rock then crash their boats, sinking their ships.  We saw a long parade of barges go past, including some double-barges.  We spent our whole lunch watching them navigate the tight turn--and kept out of the path of oncoming traffic. 


The outdoor restaurant at the hotel also was interesting too-- not big on catering to tourists.  I ordered what I thought was a grilled bratwurst and got two gigantic boiled Oscar Meyers and some potato salad.  Ugh.  Lesson sure to check in with John and Susan on future choices.

Moving on, we crossed into the Mosel River Valley.  Mosel is a lazy river banked by miles of vineyards as far as the eye can see.   And the towns along the river are real eye candy.  

Old European styling with huge flower gardens along the road and almost ever building is flanked with overflowing with multi-colored flower boxes. Statues are in the parks.

And of course, the occasional troll or two in gardens or windows.  must be a long-standing European THING(?).  This carries on the tradition we saw so deeply imbedded in the Icelandic culture at Europe's most western edge and again in isolated homes in our recent trip to Switzerland.


We are now in primo Riesling wine country and we marvel at the shear number of grape vines on the surrounding hills.  They form endless vertical rows straight up the sides of the mountains.  Don' t grapes need a good bit of attention, pruning and picking?  A small army must descend on the area to take care of all this!   We fully intend to check it out thoroughly!


To that end, we checked into rooms at the  S.A. Prüm Winery and Gästehaus, our home for the next two days.  


On the river terrace, we watch boats and barges silently float by.


We head to river city of Bernkastle for dinner (in case you didn't notice, all life centers on the river).



Our meal at the Terrasse Restaurant was fantastic, accompanied by wonderful fass beer (on tap) and wine...local Reisling, of course.  Walking out at dusk, we see Bern Kastle, standing tall over the town.  

We plan to head up the mountain tomorrow.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 10 Mar 2013 16:12:00 GMT
Day 11 THE TAJ – last but certainly not least! Morning came early (again 0500) but we were excited.  We know we were lucky to see the tigers.  But this is the “sure thing” that’s the anchor of the trip. 

We must stop several blocks from the Taj and transfer into the three-wheel motorbike vehicles.  The Indians are trying to reduce pollution around the Taj…it was turning the extremely hard marble yellow.  Busses and camel carts also fill the parking lot.


Our first sight is a beautiful pink building—not unlike the Taj but we thought it was white.  Well, this is only the outer gate.  They sure didn’t skimp on effort. 



Walking on to the main ground, the Taj Mahal really was breath taking. 



The white marble mausoleum, our last World Heritage Site, was relatively cool and there were no crowds at this hour.  Time for more Kodak Moments.


Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire in the 16-17th centuries.  Emperor Shah Jahan built this as a memorial to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.  One of the seven wonders of the modern world, it is an example of Islamic architecture—everything is symmetrical and precise.  What is on the left is on the right.  Her tomb in in the center of the building with a carved marble window facing Mecca and overlooking the Riverv Yamuna.  


Unlike most other buildings, this was carved out of white marble, unique to India. 


It is so hard (more on the carving later) it is virtually impenetrable—close to the hardness of a diamond.


The marble of the Taj has the unique ability to glow differently depending of the light.  In the morning—part of the reason we came so early—it is bathed in a pink glow.  Midday, the white hot sun envelopes the structure.  We will come back in the evening to catch the warm gold glow from the setting sun.


A bit of history...The Taj mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.  It took 22 years to build—12 of those were spent on the inlay of the ornate semi-precious jewel decoration, including orange carnelian, multi-colored agates and chalcedonies, blue lapis lazuli, bloodstone, garnet and jasper.  The carnelian has the unique ability to glow when light travels through it.


The Taj was built with the four minarets at the corners leaning slightly outward.  They were designed this way for safety.  In case of ground tremor, they would collapse away from the building.  


The minaret was striking, silhouetted by the rising sun. 



The Taj was built in “perfect” symmetry and some thought of it as an affront to the gods because of its perfection. 



When the emperor’s son deposed his father, the son had the old man imprisoned in the nearby Red Fort.  From the back of the Taj, you can see the Red Fort and the city in the diistance.


When the old emperor died, the son placed his tomb off to the side of his wife in the Taj.  This made a notable break in the symmetry of the tomb and was said to appease the gods.

 A view of the entrance from the Taj steps.


Visitors relaxed on the grounds.


As we left, this billboard gave us a laugh.




After breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to tour the Red Fort. 



Another World Heritage Site, the Red Fort was originally a Hindu fort. It is an example of Mughal architecture. The entrance was large enough to admit riders on elephants.


The fortress was protected by a drawbridge and two moats, one was a jungle moat with lions and tigers and the other contained crocodiles.  They were effective barriers against invasion.


Amazing architecture.






The fort was the site of a battle during the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company's rule in India.


We also visited some local artisans practicing ancient art forms.


Our first stop was a factory with craftsmen creating intricate silk embroidery using ancient patterns.







Next we visited a fascinating factory creating semi-precious stone marble inlays using the same hard marble and designs we had seen at the Taj.  We saw the men create the tiny pieces of flower designs with ancient grinding wheels—smaller replicas of the huge designs we had seen that morning.






The pieces were then moved to a man who carved the shapes out of the diamond-hard marble with a hand-held spike.  How did they do this to the huge inlays all over the Taj?



After gluing each piece in place, using a secret process, the full surface is evened out with sandstone.  These pieces are as large as dining tables and as small as figurines.  And most amazing, the guide took a small marble table and hit it on a piece of wood hard enough to shatter most slabs of stone.  The piece remained in tact, underscoring why the Taj remains in its original glory after all these years.

On the way back to the hotel, we saw bamboo scaffolding at a building site...just like we saw in China. The country is a real mix of the old and new.


 That evening we went back to the Taj to see it in the evening glow.  We passed a neighborhood with the Taj in the background.



The sun hit it from the opposite side and some of the tiles actually glistened in the gentle evening light.



The entrance was jammed looking from the Taj steps.

And there were some interesting faces in the crowd.



And one last sunset photo op for us.



The moon was rising as we left the park.






Day 12-   The next day we drove back to Delhi and stayed in a day room at the fantastic Trident Hotel.  A gorgeous place and a perfect site for our 11 PM airport pick up—apparently most flights east leave Delhi in the wee hours of the morning. 

Leaving at 1 AM we hit Frankfort for an 8-hour layover.  Another day room at the attached Sheraton hotel made the flight home easy.  After the daily 4:30 AM tour wake ups and the intense Indian heat, we were beat.  The final trip back to the US left us exhausted but pleased.  India and the Taj were amazing and we SAW TIGERS!

Join us later this summer as we report back from Kenya and Tanzania, following the Great Nigration.



(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:24:00 GMT
Day 10 OFF TO AGRA AND THE TAJ MAHAL We left Des Villas Lodge at 5 AM for the three-hour train ride to Agra. 


Families lived in this station, also.  We saw a man washing his son in the water fawcet on the platform.




We boarded a more typical commuter train—large, individual seats, two facing forward, two back.  Very pleasant with more great sights out our window.  After 130 ° F heat for 4 days, we were fried, and happy to “chill” in the AC and watch India fly by.  We get off in Bharatpur, the closest stop to Agra.

KK, our local guide, met us with porters for our luggage. (How did our suitcases get so heavy? Answer—somefun finds.  And why did we pack all that stuff we never used?  Answer—we try to get better but just never learn!)


We make a way stop at the Laxmi Vilas Heritage Hotel, a magnificent place in the Taj Mahal motif.  It was also completely empty.  (This is not tourist season).



KK stops to give us a brief tour at another UNESCO World Heritage Site-- Fatehpur Sikri, City of Victory.   This was the capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th century.


I loved the intricate hand-carved red sandstone architecture.



And the Hall of Private Audience of the Emperor Akbar.



Groups of children, dressed up in their finest for vacation, crowd us begging to take our pictures.  We took theirs, too.



Back in the van, we head to our next stop at the Gateway Hotel.   Namaste. 



A great place and we have the afternoon off!   It’s still very hot here so no one is interested in the hand-manicured (men clipping grass with scissors) pool area.  We sleep until dinner. 

Tomorrow will be another 0500 morning, to beat the heat and crowds plus get the sunrise glow at the Taj Mahal. 

(Alberta Seith Photography) Mon, 16 Jul 2012 11:22:00 GMT
Day 9. OUR LAST DAY IN RANTHAMBHORE Following the same morning schedule, our group heads for the ancient fort overlooking the entire part.  Many of the fortress ruins are centuries old. We walk up the hill to the old palace and shrines to tour the ruins in the (relative) cool of e morning.  

At the top of the steps we come to a Hindu god.  Pilgrims have placed food in his mouth--part of the Wednesday activities.



Entering the palace…more steps.


 At the top we finally reach the entry gate.


Inside, the ancient buildings, some dating to 1000 AD, are remarkable.  The fort overlooks the whole park with a beautiful lake immediately before it.



We went out on a rubble ledge to get a view “outside” the fortress.


All the stone for the fort was quarried at the site.  This left a lake in the middle of the palace grounds.



We could still find markings from the stone cutters.



Walking around the lake we had a better view of the Pillar Shrine.




The back of the palace also had fantastic buildings.  Our guide told us th decorated frangipani tree was a more recent addition.


Leaving, we met visitors coming and going.  Many stopped and were delighted to have us take their pictures.   



After lunch (and our middy siesta) we headed out for our last game drive.  We won’t be sorry to leave the heat, but we will miss this place.  The tigers are majestic and on the brink of extinction.  There are only 40 in this park and only around 1500 total left in the wild.  As the story of Broken Tail showed, more habitat needs to be reserved and education stepped up to assure our kids will be able to see tigers--and all the other big cats--in the wild.


Swinging back by the lake, we find samba cooling off in the water in front of  great backdrop, munching on water plants.


We can see the fort from below.  A flock of birds, possibly rose-ring parakeets, fly over.  A sweet good bye.


A brilliant beautiful pink building sits below the fort.  Our guide tells us visiting dignitaries sometimes stay here.  He mentions Clinton, but who knows.


Still hoping to see one last tiger we spend a few hours in the sun.  UGH.  I think I'm going to melt.  High on a hill, we stumble across a euphorbia bush in bloom.  This ornamental "cactus" is actually a succulent that grows all over the park.  We're told blossoms are rare.


An Indian mongoose skitters across the rocks on our way down.


Heading back, we stop at a quiet lake, a peaceful last memory.


We go through the fortress "tiger-gate" one last time.




Back at the Des Villas lodge we pack and meet for a final dinner.





Our guides have been terrific.  We met several other couples at the lodge who came on their own and hired random drivers and guides.  They had yet to see a tiger.  We feel very fortunate.



Tomorrow we leave for Agra and the TAJ MAHAL.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Sun, 15 Jul 2012 17:30:00 GMT
Day 8 FACES OF RANTHAMBHORE- People, places and things Today, as we set out to the higher area of the park, our big treat is the people.  On Wednesdays, Pilgrims from all over the area come to the park to visit old shrines.  Many villages had to move from the park over the last few years to give the tigers a protected area.  Many walk the long road into the park most Wednesdays--women in their finest dress, men and children, to worship at their old family temples.  Others cram into covered jeep-like cars.  Often the jeeps carry 15 people!  Others ride motorcycles...some with children on the handlebars and two more people behind the driver’s seat. And these roads are no easy ride--they are full of potholes.  The government has found if the roads aren't kept up, traffic slows and the animals are more protected than using speed humps.  So…between the animals and the road, driving becomes an adventure.

The Ranthambhore Park gate was a mass of brilliant color on this religious day.




Driving down the road we captured some wonderful faces of India.  




Women carrying food and pots for the day's meals...




And some were just as interested getting our picture, too.


And we loved the children—


While the adults enjoyed having  their pictures taken, the babies almost always seemed scared as their parents pushed them toward the camera.




Because we had such great luck finding tigers previously, others in our group went to the prime tiger regions today.  So we concentrated on people watching.

I'd love to know the stories these people hold....




Inside the park we saw more Ranthambhore sights.

Like the Ghost Tree.  The Kullu gum tree is a stark, white tree totally devoid of leaves when Ranthambhore is dry.  As you can imagine, this is most of the year.  So how does it make food without leaves?  Researchers finally determined this unique tree has chlorophyll in its bark, allowing it to make food—to survive—even when it has no leaves.


The banyan tree, puts out air roots and can grow into mega-trees, so big they can cover both sides of a road.  One tree can look like a whole 'grove." 

We also saw how a tree will grow a maze of roots down a rock cliff to support itself on the barren rock above.  Supreme adaptation.

We had a great view of the fort at the top of the park.  This belonged to the Maharajas of Jaipur and the park was his personal hunting ground until Indian Independence.  We hope to tour this area tomorrow.




And we saw more animals.

A 6-point Spotted Deer buck.


The horse-like Neelgai Antelope, aka the Indian Blue Bull


And more langurs.


After our game drive, our guide took us to a NGO, Dastkar Ranthambhore, where women learn to make and sell local crafts.  We watched the women sewing.



They are keeping old-fashioned block printing alive.  Our guide explained the owner runs the only store in Ranthambhore where all the  profits go back to the women. 




No cuts for tour guides, etc.  This was a great gift shop--and to be honest, not everything we bought was for someone else.

Heading back for lunch, camel carts joined us on the road back to the lodge. 


We loved the juxtaposition of the cart and motorcycle...the evolving rural India.


After lunch it's tiger hunting again.  Our guide, Salim, knows this park like the back of his hand.  His father actually was in charge of the drivers years ago.  He continues the tradition as president of the local tour guides.  We head to an area where two 18 mo. old males joined their mother on her kill yesterday. Today, we find one male in the brush.  He's hot so he finally walks toward the waterhole near the road and-- you guessed it--backs in to get a drink.

The road by watering hole provides a small viewing area, and all the cars and trucks jostling for position bothers the tiger.

It's just not quiet.  




He gets up and urinates in the pool before moving back into the brush.

(Salim explains this is a safety mechanism.  Urine dissipates in the water, keeping young tigers safe from adult males who might try to find and kill them.)  And what to our wondering eyes should appear?  His brother is also waaay back in the brush.  Two (large) tiger cubs. These look huge to us, but in the Tiger-world, they are still babes.  The noisy viewers have obviously intruded on these tigers, so we leave hoping others will give them some quiet, too.


We head to the huge lake area now dominated by Mach Li's (the oldest tiger in the park) daughter.  The daughter challenged her mother when she came of age and Mach Li had to leave.  It's cooler here, and there's an amazing variety of wildlife.  Samba deer wade in the Padem Talao (lake) before the Raj Bagh ruins.


Crocodiles bask on the shore and cruise the lake.  


We see squadrons of fruit bats, some carrying babies, do touch-and-goes in the water before perching on a nearby flame tree.  






Egrets, and a flock of rose-ringed parakeets land in front of the Jogl Mahal ruin.





A mother Ticknee watches over her baby at the shore.  


We relax with a golden sunset over the lake and enjoy the sounds and sights.  If you could record this, it would be more peaceful than a rippling brookll!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Sat, 14 Jul 2012 22:51:00 GMT
Day 7 TIGERS, ELEPHANTS, and MACH LI, OH MY! It is a bit cooler in the morning.  The best reason to start out at 5:45.  We've been assigned to Section 2 today.  As we start into Ranthambhore, the langur monkeys cover the road and, with an air of contempt, barely move their long rope tails as we drive by.


In the cool morning, we finally see a male peacock in a dancing display for the rather drab females.  Their sharp cries resonate throughout the park and sound like a hurt baby.


We are told they shed and regrow their tail feathers each year; the weight of these feathers makes flight difficult and and makes them an easier dinner target.



But they do fly, making it up to the trees and spectacular high perches.



All the animals like the cool mornings.  We came across these spotted deer feeding by the side of the road.


Every day we pass through an ancient gate entwined in an huge old banyan tree.  This is a beautiful scene.  But even more fun, our guide, Salim, has seen tigers looking out from the top.  We've named this Tiger Gate--optomistic wishful thinking.  I'll write more on the tigers Brokentail and Mach Li later.




We check in at the foot of the cliff where a temple and the old fort is perched.  Beautiful view.  


In the morning they throw seed for the birds.  The large Alexandrine rose-ringed parakeets pack the place. 



We drive to a large lake toward the back of the park.  Our Nat Hab photo expert and our tracker-guide immediately find wet tiger prints crossing the road.  


We must have just missed the cat.  The car leaps forward as our driver takes off in hot pursuit.  Our guide smells a kill nearby--these guys are amazing.  A good sign, we're off on a roller coaster ride...park roads can be a bit rough.  We suddenly hear a tiger growl on the dirt road ahead.  A beautiful female begins walking toward us.  


When I read accounts of tiger encounters on-line, I thought this kind of close-up meeting might be a frightening.  I didn't give it much thought then because I never imagined I would be so fortunate.  When it happened to us we didn't feel the least bit threatened.  Let me start by saying we were quiet and respectful of the tiger's space and our guides knew the animals--"Warning: Don't try this at home."  But it was obvious the tiger was queen of her domain and she paid little attention to us as she ambled along.  We were the proverbial fly on the wall.


We backed up as she got about 30 feet away and continue backing to give her space.  She finally tired of us and began walking through the brush. Even though they are bright orange, she practically disappeared. 


We turned to follow.  



She led us to a large pool where ahe backed in from the edge, placing her tummy just below the water.  Our guide explains this is the way animals help digestion in this hot area.  She has just filled her stomach from the fresh kill and now she must cool the meat in her gut before it putrefies at 130 °, making her sick.  




Our guide now recognizes the tiger...he thinks she had a litter about a month ago. The babies probably are just now opening their eyes and are still wobbly.  She won't bring them out for another two months.  


We sit mesmerized about 20 feet away.  We are perfectly comfortable watching this close—there is so much game, the tigers aren’t hungry, and we respect their space.  Plus, no one is dumb enough to get out of their cars.





We watch her for two hours.  





Word gets out and other park visitors come but all the animals here seem very used to the cars. It's as if we have been transported into a NatGeo movie. She looks up occasionally, but is totally unconcerned by the parade of vehicles and the continuous clicking of cameras. 


As she sleeps, we see the white spots behind  her ears.  Our guide tell us they use these to  "tiger-talk" and as a marker when following each other--guess camaflage works for them, too.



Back at the lodge, we have a treat after eating.  We give Pawan, the resident 70-year-old female Indian elephant, a bath.  


She was a wedding give to the lodge owner's wife 30 years ago and has lived at the back of the lodge with the same mahout  all this time.  She is on her last set of teeth, with only one molar remaining.  They are feeding her soft food to help put off the inevitable.  When elephants loose their last tooth, they can no longer digest their food.  We place bread in her mouth and can feel her tongue as she gums it.


They treasure her and will help make her end easier than it would be in the wild.

After a lunch siesta—the heat saps us and no animals are out mid-day—we again head out at 3:30.  Now the temperature is serious stuff.  Some in our group have seen sloth bears...some have not yet seen a tiger. 

This afternoon our driver blasts through the park to an area where a big male Bengal Tiger is known to rest midday in a high cave.  We get there with minimal stops and only our guide can see him on the ledge-just barely- waiting out the heat.  


So we take off on a side adventure where the monkeys are going nuts- our guide thinks there's a leopard in the area- but we see nothing.  We head back to the tiger, just as he starts moving.  





We watch him come down from his cliff, walk about 10 feet from the car, look at us, where mark his territory in obvious distain,



He turns and snarls at us--not happy being followed.


Then walks into the brush toward a pond.  We drive around and wait, and wait, and wait.  Great birds, a mongoose, etc., but no tiger.  He decides to sit in the brush and wait us out.  I swear these guys have watches.  




A peacock shows off, reflecting in the water .



We're supposed to be out of the park by 7, but our driver hangs in for a bit.



 At 7:05 the big guy saunters down to the water, backs in (as they all do) then relaxes, finally cooling off.  

We charge back to the gate and then, thanks to our guides, jam on the breaks. There, 20 feet from the road, out in the open, is Mach li, the oldest tiger in the park.  


She gets up and saunters toward the nearby watering hole.  Right behind the car, she turns full face and shows her teeth, then she backs into the pond and gets a drink as we take off.  


The great guides know where critters hang out and ours found this owl as we exited the park at dusk.



Back at the lodge we learn Mach li is the mother of the tiger we watched all morning - AND she was the mother of Broken Tail, a young tiger made famous in a Nat Geo production.  Our lead guide, Salim Ali, was the local guide who got producers interested in the story and is featured in the movie. This was what we watched on TV over a year ago, our inspiration to visit the tigers of Ranthambhore.  We had no idea we'd get to know Salim as well!  Our group sat under the stars and watched the movie again that night.   (It’s wonderful. You can rent it on Netflix or buy it on Amazon) 

Wow! We're spoiled now! This was one magical day!


(Alberta Seith Photography) Thu, 12 Jul 2012 06:20:00 GMT
Day 6 LOOKING FOR TIGERS; Finding a Leopard! Today we have an early start to get to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve by train.  The  plan is to arrive in time for an afternoon game drive.  We begin at O-Dark-Thirty (0500 actually) to catch our train.  The Delhi station is very sad.  Families live here--it is under cover--looking for handouts to survive.

The little ones sent to beg broke our hearts.




We 're in the first class pullman "sleeping" compartments, with AC.



 It 's quite fun, but we're sure not in Kansas anymore.  Our section has an upper and lower pull-down bed on each side.  Our group put our suitcases in the top bunk and used the bottom as a seat.



An Indian family already was fully ensconced  on one side.   The grandmother was sleeping under a sheet on the bottom bed (I just couldn't take her picture) and the father meditated (for almost an hour) on the top bunk.  "OhhMmmm, why won't these people stop jabbering."  That's just a joke.  They were very nice to the cazy tourists.


We made friends (a bit) with the grandmother, mother and daughter.  This was a slow process during our 5-hour trip.  We shared some candy from our box lunch with the young girl, and we all waved and took pictures when we left. 



The trip itself was fascinating.  General passenger areas were stuffed.  



And trains stopped at stations for 5 minutes.  You had to have all your things ready at the door so you could jump off with your luggage before it left.  This was obviously a bigger deal for us.   Indians traveled much lighter.

The countryside became more hilly and much more reminded us of New Mexico.   And each stop gave a new close up on some villages.  They seemed a step up from the shanties in the city.  



There were families with houses between the tracks.  



Some even had running water and they went on with their morning washing as we passed.


 A meager existence to say the least.  Harsha, our Indian Nat Hab guide explained those in the lowest caste remain there their whole lives.  Even if they are lucky enough to get a scholarship and an education, they only have a chance to make more money.  They will always remain in their caste.  There is no upward mobility.  Later, we learned more about this from our guide in Agra.

Heading south, the women's clothes became brighter as the countryside became drier.  Women wore more rich reds, pinks, oranges, and blues.  


We got off QUICKLY and drove 20 minutes to our lodge, the Des Villas, just outside the game park gates.

After a quick lunch (including onions, said to stave off the heat) and some organization, we headed out for 4 hours in the park hunting for tigers.  Mad dogs and Englishman....It is a whopping 130°.  Oh, and did I mention our game cars have no tops?  Lots of sun block, hats and long-sleeve shirts.  And water.



The park is divided into 5 quadrants with limited access to each, so wildlife isn't overwhelmed.  Rangers are everywhere, protecting the animals. This was a fortress for centuries, most recently the Maharishi of Jaipur, and some of the walls remain. 


The land became an animal sanctuary in 1959 and Indira Ghandi made it a protected tiger reserve in 1991.  

The park is full of wildlife. These sambar, in the deer family, cool off by a river while the cormorant fishes.


 Indian peafowl are everywhere.   Hopefully we'll get close to a male "dancing" at some point.


And langur monkeys, many carrying babies, are all over.  They have tails that must be over 3 feet long.


This is a dry deciduous forest and it is parched right now.  Most water comes during the summer monsoons that deluge--and close--the park from July-September. 

 Now watering holes are packed with game--a tiger buffet.


Salim, our head Ranthambhore guide explained this is why we're here now in the intense heat--so we have a better chance of sighting the elusive tigers as they are drawn to the pools. 



As it turns our, Salim was involved in a project that first sparked our interest in coming here.   More on that later.    


We saw huge numbers of small Spotted Deer like this one in the green euphorbia.

And the larger Sambar deer, some looking for tender new leaves.


Stork and egrets waded in the water.


We'll have to keep watching for the large horse-like Neel gha antelope that also is native to the area.  

It was blast-furnace hot.  Our game cars carried two guests, a driver, a tracker and a local guide.  Nat Hab set this up well.  Some other groups had one driver and eight guests jammed in.   Other tours ran open trucks seating with at least 20.   And our park guides were fantastic.

We spent over three hours searching for a tiger that had been seen with a fresh kill in area 5-- our assigned area.  Apparently it had eaten  its fill and decided to rest in the shade.  No tiger today.  But while we were waiting we did see a rare stork-billed kingfisher make a catch and then proceed to beat the fish on a tree.




At sunset, as the park started to cool and we headed out the gate, we were treated to a leopard encounter.  


The light wasn't great, but you could see its Paul Newman ice-blue eyes as it stayed at a watering hole for several minutes before heading off.

 That was AMAZING!  We have now seen the Big Five!


Tomorrow we start before 6 to hunt for tigers.  There are only 40 in the park and dawn and dusk are the best times to find them, because they too rest in the heat.

(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 11 Jul 2012 21:02:00 GMT
Day 5. TOURING DELHI Namaste. 

We begin our introduction to India and use this as we greet and part with Indians we meet.  This is the traditional salutation, a slight bow with hands together, fingers up.

Today begin our city tour early--It's hot, around 110 ° F.  We didn’t see a thermometer and agreed sometimes it's just better not knowing.  Our guide, Seema, is a college professor with a real love of the history of the area.  Her enthusiasm is infectious.   

Indian auto-rickshaws, the Tuk-tuk are everywhere.


Our first stop is the Qutb Complex of Monuments, a UNESCO  world heritage site.




With the tallest minaret in India.  It was constructed with red sandstone and marble. 



The Qutab Minar, with a 73M tower, was built in 1193.    It was the site of a large Hindu shrine which was torn down so the stone could be used to make the first Moslem mosque in India.


The detail in the carving of this huge monolith was amazing. 


All the way to the top.


The comple was a popular site where visitors also can enjoy the gardens and the Mughal Quwwat-ul-Islam-Mosque, or the Great Mosque of Delhi.


The mosque was built with intricately carved columns. 


Some women in bright garb highlighted the Qutb Mosque Arch Ruin.


Nearby, the incomplete Alai Minar was planned to be twice as large as Qutab Minar.  Work was abandoned after the death of the sultan.


We took advantage of the photo ops at Alauddin Khilji's tomb.



The gardens were spectacular, with the Gulmohur (Red Flame) trees,



 And the Amaitas (Yellow Bliss) trees.


Some of the children at the site had their faces painted with kohl (lead sulfide) to keep them from being cursed by the evil eye...shades of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.


Along with our UNESCO sites, we saw some of the abject poverty during our sightseeing.  People living in tent cities.


And women begging by having their children “perform” by the roadside. 


We visited the Tomb of Humayun next.  and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Built for Mughal Emperor Humayun, this was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent.  It inspired several major architectural innovations and was the prototype for the Taj Mahal.  The sandstone and white marble introduced Central Asian and Persian styles of Islamic architecture.


A snake charmer, complete with cobra in a basket, charms us as he sits outside the Bu-Halma Garden.



The garden was filled with the brilliant Golden Bliss trees.

Heading back to the hotel, we passes the India Gate in heart of Delhi. 

This was inspired by the Arc de Triophr in Paris.  Originally known as the All India War Memorial, it is a prominent landmark in Delhi and commemorates the 90,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who lost their lives while fighting for the Indian Empire or more correctly the British Raj in World War I and the Thrid Anglo-Afghan War.   


From there we took a quick look at the modern government complex before heading back to the air conditioned hotel.  



That afternoon, I took a tuk-tuk by myself to a local craft market--it was the weekend so the usual haunts weren't opened.  OK, but not great.  Oh ell, I had to try. 

We had dinner at the hotel with our Natural Habitat guide.  He gave us the low down on what to expect tomorrow as we travel to the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. 

We have another amazing day in store!

(Alberta Seith Photography) Wed, 11 Jul 2012 00:04:00 GMT
Day 4- NEW DELHI, INDIA We lost more hours traveling east and, after an easy trip, landed in Delhi wide-awake at 1:00 AM their time.  Our Natural Habitat driver met us at the airport and we had a quick trip to the Taj Mahal Hotel (no traffic jams at this hour but there were still plenty of cars).




Not much sightseeing in the dark and tomorrow will be an early start as we tour Delhi in 43 degree C heat.  Our driver said it's not too bad now--it's a dry heat.  (We've heard THAT before!  It's still way too hot.) It was pretty warm as we left the airport tonight!   Delhi was built under British colonialism and has all the round-abouts and 4-lane streets with overhanging tree canopies.  In this elegant embassy area, passing two camels being ridden down the street seems out of place.  Our driver thinks they probably were hired for a wedding.  

The Taj Mahal Hotel is lovely.

However, all cars are stopped at the gate where the engine is opened and the under carriage is checked.  Our luggage goes through a scanner much like the airport and we walk through metal detectors to enter.  All this is a response to the terrorist bombings at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.  


We make it to bed by 3 AM.  

 At 7:30--after a short night-- we take in a morning view of the city from our balcony.


At 8: 45, our group of six load our mini-bus and set off  with our guide in weekend Delhi traffic.



(Alberta Seith Photography) Tue, 10 Jul 2012 21:42:00 GMT
ONE DAY IN ZURICH Day 3. To Zurich 

As we had our last breakfast in Lucerne on the patio overlooking the river, the church bells again gave us a serenade and the wrens again came to visit for breadcrumbs we left at our feet.   

Walking to the train station, we again caught an immediate train into Zurich.  Known for its watch making, this place sure seems to keep reliable schedules.  Another easy trip between cities.  

 We settled in at our hotel, Swissôtel, immediately across from the train station. This is much different than our Lucerne hotel.  A modern high rise with a Starbucks in the lobby...where we used the Internet.  We rode the 24 hour ticket goes everywhere but no one ever seemed to check...for 5 minutes back into the main Zurich station to begin our walking tour of Old Town Zurich.



As we walked out of the station, the fountain was a great "Welcome to Zurich."


Following the tour map we began walking down Bahnhofstrasse, through the main shopping district.  They had every upscale shop imaginable, from Cartier and Bally to Benetton and a million H+Ms. Cute restaurants with sidewalk tables everywhere. Cable cars ran the length of this area, so although it's a no-car zone, you still need care when crossing...those babies move out!

We turned off Bahnhofstrasse,

We took a detoru through a small Swiss park.  Stopping at a modern, public WC, the stainless steel inside also included a needle disposal.  Reflective of the Swiss drug policy, they do not support distribution, but they don't punish the user.  


Then we headed toward the Limmat River, that runs through town to Lake Zurich.    A beautiful area, even the chimneys had picturesque roofs.


After asking a few shopkeepers we finally found a nondescript (read alley) turn that led us down the side of the river, through beautiful, tiny shops with clothes and fantastic home items. How do trucks deliver here?  And do their customers really keep coming back?  It was a Great walk!  


Some shops on the river had frescos that were works of art.


We finally arrived at out first destination, St Peter's Kirche (Church), and the site of the biggest clock face in Europe.



We continued walking along the river and next came to the large Fraumunster Kirche.  The building was beautiful and we saw a bride and groom leave serenaded by an Alpenhorn.  


The amazing part was inside the church with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.   No photos allowed so we bought the official memory-postcard.


 A quick stroll took us to Lake Zurich complete with tour boats, many sail boats and ducks and swans galore.  


 This is the location of the Quaibruke bridge over the Limmet.  There has been a river crossing here since the 1300s.  


On the other side of the bridge we had a great view of the Zurich Opera House.


 Heading back toward th train station, we walked the river on the other side and stopped at Wasserkirche.  Now known for contemporary art exhibits, we found a beautiful statue standing watch outside.  


 A bit off the road, we saw a beautiful twin-steepled church looking out over the city.


 This was Grossmunster Church and the best view of the city...but you had to work for it.  This church also had beautiful stained glass windows.




We climbed a NARROW well-worn stone staircase up 88 steps then arrived at wooden stairs continuing up another 120.  


Well worth the climb, this led us to 4 open platforms to view the city in all directions.  Fantastic.



This also gave us a great view if the red spire at the back of the church.




Tired and hungry, we headed back to the train station, past brilliant flower stalls,


After q quick ride back to our hotel, we had dinner in a nearby outside cafe before calling it quits.

Tomorrow we start the main part of our adventure...INDIA and the BENGAL TIGERS.


(Alberta Seith Photography) Thu, 05 Jul 2012 22:05:00 GMT
INDIA VIA SWITZERLAND--Lucerne's Mount Pilatus Day 2. To Mount Pilatus 

We took off on the golden circle tour from Lucerne up and down Mount Pilatus, then back to Lucerne.  It was terrific. 

We began with a 90-minute cruise down Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad.  We had a perfect view of Church of St. Leodegar.




While the mountains were still covered in clouds, the area by the water cleared and the trip was relaxing as we made several brief stops--no one gets off.




We landed in the town of Alpnachstad.


Where we began our trek into the Alps to Mount Pilates via the world's steepest cogwheel railway, up 7,000 feet.




At one point the sign said we were in a 48% grade!  


The top was spectacular.  


No clouds and great walks up both sides of the mountain crest.  The area has an interesting history.  During the Middle Ages, the area was said to be infested with well-meaning dragons and spirits.  (Perhaps a troll legend as in Iceland?)  Legend also says the restless ghost of Pontius Pilot found its final resting place in the former Lake Pilate.


Walking up one side, we had a great view of the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm.


It was like being at the top of the world.  

We hiked around more of the mountain trails.




While we had a bite at the hotel restaurant we kept hearing music.  Our waitress said they often have people wandering with their Alpenhorns.  It didn't take more than a minute before we found a wonderful old man who showed us his comes apart in 3 places...and he played a small song.  WOW!


After lunch at Hotel Pilatus-Kulm, we jumped on the gondola to head down the other side of the mountain.  


We transfered to the cable car and rode down to the last mountainn stop.

From there, we walked for about an hour, down a path under the cable cars, through alpine forests.





And so many cows--all with sweet-sounding cow bells.



Suspicions confirmed--we really did find a troll gadren at a house on the trail!



And it appears it really, really gets cold up here....


We reached "civilization" in the town of Kriens.  I loved their fire hydrants.


And they had the most brillant red rhododendrons.

From Kriens we caught the bus back to the main train station in Lucerne.




Before dinner, I walked around Lucerne and  found another fresco-covered building.