Sea days

Greenland sunset

This morning we were supposed to do a landing to see more walrus, but when we get to Poolepynten where they normally gather, they are simply not home. Rather than hanging around we decide to set course for our afternoon’s excursion and have more time there. It also gives everyone a chance to catch up on diaries and spend some time reading or simply relaxing.

In the early afternoon we reach Alkhornet for the excursion. The kayakers go out in our boats first, with the plan being to land our kayaks on the beach below Alkhornet and from there walk up to see the reindeer. The rest of the guests go straight by zodiac and will get to spend more time with the reindeer, with some becoming the object of curiosity for some young reindeer, who venture up very close to them (I’m looking at you, Tracy!).

Velvety reindeer grazing at Alkhornet

Today I have opted for a single kayak, but the conditions were not very conducive for it. Here in the mouth of Isfjorden, the waves are a bit choppy and are joined by a substantial swell, which makes me feel a bit vulnerable in the slightly less stable kayak, compared to the double kayaks. Valerie, our guide, asks me how I’m going and I tell her I’m living on the edge. But I stay upright and eventually settle in. But with the wind and wave conditions it is a lot harder work to keep up with the double kayaks and I lag behind the group as we cross the fjord and am the last one to beach the kayak.


We walk uphill in our dry suits and neoprene booties on the spongy mosses that line the hills here. We go past the Sysselmannen’s hut, which is now no longer inhabited – the official tourism season having ended already. And before too long we see the reindeer peacefully grazing on the slopes under Alkhornet, a 427m mountain that looms like Mordor above us. On the cloudy day the effect is particularly atmospheric, coupled with the cries of Arctic terns and other seabirds that nest and breed on its steep faces.

We couldn’t have timed our exit from the water better, as within 20 minutes of beaching our kayaks the wind is picking up to 25 knots and the weather deteriorates rapidly. We beat a retreat to the ship in a choppy zodiac ride. Once everyone is back on board John informs us that the decision has been made to leave Svalbard early and sail for Greenland. The intention is to keep the stormy winds to our back and set a course straight across to Greenland until we hit the ice pack and then head south with the Greenland current in our back until we reach Scoresby Sund.

Fulmar at sea

And so commence our sea days. It doesn’t take long for the seas to grow heavy and most people head to their cabins, pop some seasickness medication and go to sleep. I’m in dreamland before I know it and stay there for as long as I can. The next morning the ship is doing the ‘potato chip’, or like a corkscrew, if you will, and the best position is to stay horizontal. I skip breakfast and lunch, but I manage to get upright for dinner. By then the seas have calmed a bit from the Beaufort 6/7 they were, but the ship is still moving a lot. Another Phenergan after dinner and dreamland beckons again.

On the second sea day the seas have calmed down substantially, so much so that I’m up for a shower and for breakfast. Today I can read, catch up on downloading photos and listen to talks given by the expedition team, although I still struggle with the sleep-inducing effects of Phenergan. It is interesting to see how our group of 75 passengers is starting to form small sub-groups. Where in the first few days everyone socialises with everyone, gradually you see small clusters forming, like cells splitting off from a major organism. It’s a logical development as it is impossible to socialise with everyone and people inevitably are drawn to like-minded souls.

Sighting of the Greenland East Coast

On the third sea day the weather is finally clearing and the fog that has surrounded the ship for the last two days is lifting and we are seeing the coast of Greenland. Everyone is up and about again and peering through binoculars at the coast, marvelling at the sea ice around us and looking for polar bears and whales. It is a magnificent sight this coast, sheer cliffs alternate with glaciers and ice caps and are framed by a dark blue sea. We are due to reach Scoresby Sund tonight at around dinner time. After three days at sea I can’t wait for some new action and more opportunities for photography.

Broken ice pack near Scoresby Sund

As we cruise close to Scoresby Sund we encounter a lot of drift ice, small and larger pieces that have broken off a larger ice sheet in the last 24 hours. Just as we have sat down to dinner and put our main course orders in the announcement comes through that a polar bear has been spotted about a mile ahead of the ship on an ice  floe. I don’t hesitate for one moment and I dash from the dining room to grab my camera and warm coat and rush upstairs to the panorama deck.

After some time trying to spot the bear, I see him on one of the larger pieces of ice, asleep. As the ship very quietly slides closer, he suddenly becomes aware the ship bearing down on him. He glares at us before getting up fully and he starts running away, jumping from floe to floe in an effort to create distance between himself and the ship as fast as possible. Through my lens I can see he is a big bear with a beautiful thick and clean coat and well rounded in all corners. This bear has had sufficient food this summer and looks very well. When he finally feels he has put enough distance between us and himself he sits down on his hindquarters and stares at us.

Polar bear wakes up

Defiant polar bear

After the excitement and around 200 photos later, I return to the dining room to see if there is still dinner and to our delight service continues and they plate up our main courses. After dinner I head back to the panorama deck to catch the sunset, as we are now back in latitudes where the sun sets at least for a few hours. The colours are spectacular with the water turning pink, while the icebergs keep a beautiful turquoise colour that slowly fades to pale blue.  I can’t stop taking photographs.

Sunset on Scoresby Sund

But the night is still not over and it is time for our quiz night and our team consists of Barb and Sandy, Amar, Tracy, John, and yours truly and much to our surprise we win the quiz night, which then descends into one big dance party (at least for a few of us!).

Sunset on Scoresby Sund

Escape to Ilha Grande

The skies have finally opened properly and rain is thundering down on São Paulo, flooding its streets, soaking its inhabitants, who are all trying to get away from it, travelling to spend Christmas with family. It takes a good 50 minutes to travel the 8kms that lie between my home and the bus station. Once there, I have enough time to collect my ticket and make my way to the bay from which the bus will depart. It leaves right on time, heading out in the continuing torrential rain and joining the slow exodus on the highway. It takes a long time to get to the first stop at São Jose dos Campos, but after that the travel eases and the bus runs through the night, occasionally stopping for the driver to have a break and letting out an increasingly sleepy looking group of passengers.
I wake just before we arrive at Angra dos Reis and after collecting my bag I find a taxi to take me to the cais from where the boats depart. There is still time for a coffee at the paderia suggested by the taxi driver and while the coffee is awful, the brioche is fantastic. Soon I’m on the first boat, a speedy vessel that deposits me on Ilha Grande in 30 minutes. The island is hidden in cloud, only slightly lighter in texture than on the mainland. Looks like the first day will be a rainy day. I arrive ridiculous early, but the room is ready about an hour after my arrival and I enjoy a bit of a rest in a hammock first before going for a stroll through the village of Abraão, towards the Black beach and back via the aqueduct. It rains steadily, but not too heavy and it is warm enough that I don’t really need the umbrella, except that my camera isn’t too fond of water. Most of the day I spend reading, sleeping and resting; I have underestimated how tiring the trip here has been and how tired I was to begin with.
The next day it is still overcast, so perfect weather for a walk to Dois Rios, a small village on the other side of the island where previously the prison was located. The prison saw many serious criminals incarcerated, as well as political prisoners during the time that the armed forces were in power in Brazil. Although the prison itself has been demolished, parts of it still exist and have been turned into a small museum. The track meanders up the hill gradually and in the warm and humid conditions I am soon dripping with sweat. Near the top I get a great view over Abraão before heading over the hump and start descending on the other side. There is no one around, except for the howler monkeys who screech far off in the forest. It is an eerie sound, and while slightly threatening, it’s too far off and howler monkeys are not the aggressive kind of monkey anyway. Along the track I see many different birds, big lizards, the black and white tegus, but they are always too fast for my camera, diving back into the brush when they see me coming. Big bright blue butterflies dance around the path.
Once I get to Dois Rios I have a look at the remains of the prison and its little museum, before heading to the beach for a refreshing dip in the waves. After that I have a bit of lunch at the Barzinho (the little bar) before heading up the hill again. On the way up I stop at the Soldier’s Pool, a shaded waterhole and have another dip, this one substantially more refreshing than the beach, the water being nice and cool. From there a shortcut trail leads up the hill, which I follow, through thickets of bamboo, until it rejoins the main path again. The wind has picked up and increases as I ascend to the ridge. Just over the ridge as I start to go down again I notice that a large tree has crashed down and is now blocking the path. A little scramble later I’ve negotiated the obstacle, but more trees are creaking around me and partially collapsing in the wind, so I put the engine into fifth gear to get through this area as fast as possible. A little less than an hour later I am back in the village, where I first report the fallen tree to the police, as no one is able to get through to the other side now. After a good shower and a rest in the hammock, it is time for an early dinner and bed.
The next day is Xmas morning, which dawns sunny and bright,  and with sore calf muscles I join the festivities at breakfast. Rennie, the manager/owner of Aratinga Inn, has created a fantastic atmosphere over breakfast, rushing about with champagne for her guests and soon the Christmas gifts are being handed out and opened by everyone. After the leisurely breakfast it is time to get my beach things together and make my way down to the quays to get on a boat that will take me and many, many other people to Pouso beach, from where a 20 minutes bush track leads to Lopes Mendes beach, which is truly one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, which is saying something. Soft white sand, a pounding blue surf and an endless expanse of beach. Most people stick to the area where the track leads onto the beach, but I walk on to about mid-way on the beach and spread out my sarong there in the shade of a tree and go for a dip in the waves. Despite being in the shade and with sunscreen lathered on, I still manage to get a bit burned. Why is it that there is always some part of the body that gets missed with the sunscreen, never mind how much attention you pay to the application of it?! After a few hours I retrace my steps to the other beach and wait for the 17h30 boat back to Abraão.
Friday morning dawns sunny again and I decide to walk up to the Cachoeira da Feiticeira (the Witch’s Waterfall), which is bewitchingly refreshing when I finally get there after a long slog uphill in increasingly hot and humid conditions. After visiting the waterfall, I head down to Feiticeira beach, miss the turn off to a quieter beach next to it and end up spending a few hours on a small beach, enjoying cold coconut water and açai for lunch, before catching a taxi boat back to Abraão. Dinner is at Dom Mario’s where I eat a fabulous steak and make a new canine friend, who is patiently sitting by my side in the hope that some part of the steak or of the bacon in the rosti makes its way to him. Unfortunately for him, no such luck!
Saturday is my last day on Ilha Grande and this morning the heat is so oppressive that the merest movement results in sweat running down. Together with other guests Alex and Adam the decision is made to take a taxi boat to a small beach near Abraão, called Abraãozinho, where we find a good spot in the shade to stay cool. We have a great day, chatting away over a variety of beer, mojitos and caipiroskas while eating fish and chips and doing as little as possible. Eventually it is time to make our way back to the pousada, so I can get ready to get on the boat and depart the island. Initially scheduled to take the night bus again, the large and very international family who have been staying at Aratinga for these days as well will not hear of me waiting so long for the bus and invite me to join them in their transport back to São Paulo, particularly as we discover that we live only a few blocks apart. It is wonderfully generous of them and I’m thrilled to accept the offer. On the way back we stop at Paraty for a great dinner and arrive at 3am in the morning back in a quiet big city, where I even get dropped off in front of my door.

Sweltering sunset

1401_Brazil_SP-1121-2While there is no walking at the moment until my knee repairs itself with the help of physio and glucosamine, I just wanted to post this photograph I took on Friday night from my balcony in Sao Paulo; it was such an amazing sunset.

And if it looks like the city is boiling, it is! Unrelenting high temperatures have been the feature for the last two weeks and no afternoon rainstorm to provide relief. Rain is predicted for Tuesday and every person living in this city is looking forward to that.