Tag Archives: expedition

A Pitcairn Island Christmas (2012)

Delectable Bounty Take Aways

Pitcairn is legendary in history for being the refuge sought by mutineers from the HMS Bounty. It is equally known in the present day as the home of men who drink whisky from a hollow sperm whale tooth worn on a cord hung around the neck.

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Pitcairn on the horizon (photo credit: Ingrid Visser)

The island is dramatic on approach with huge towering peaks jutting out at odd angles and massive, steep cliffs dropping to the breaking surf and rocks below.  The hillsides are green and lush and tall coconut palms break out of the canopy and fringe the shoreline.  There is one very small access point in a place called Bounty Bay. 

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Entry to Pitcairn Island by Zodiac (photo credit: Ingrid Visser)

We had to surf in on the back of big waves with our Zodiacs to enter the Bay. Passing the end of the pier, the driver had to then hug the concrete seawall to the left inside the very tiny bay to keep from being washed up onto the shallow rocks to the right. 

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Entry to Pitcairn Island by Zodiac (photo credit: Ingrid Visser)

In 1790, a little less than half the crew of the ship set adrift the Captain and those loyal to him in a small tender and sailed the Bounty to Tahiti and then on to Pitcairn. They searched for Pitcairn because it was known to be virtually inaccessible to ships of any size and they thought they could be safe and hidden from the rest of the world there. The punishment for mutiny could be a life in prison, or even death, so staying concealed was critical for the rebellious crew members. The plan essentially worked and nine mutineers, six Polynesian men, twelve Polynesian women and one baby settled on the island.

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“Welcome to Pitcairn Island” in Bounty Bay with local longboats

At time of writing, their descendants – officially 49 people – are residents of Pitcairn. Two people are not originally from the island – the police officer and the priest. There are a handful of others working here at the moment, mostly from New Zealand, the country with the closest ties to Pitcairn. One islander told me she had just wrapped Christmas presents for 55 people, so that was her population count for the year. With everyone off the ship – guests and crew – we more than tripled the head count on the island. 

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Pitcairn family on the favorite island mode of transport

Did I mention the ship visited Pitcairn Island on Christmas Day?

The whole island agreed to work on Christmas Day to take us on tours, sell crafts, and drive 4-wheel ATVs as “taxis” around the island for us. Instead of enjoying their holiday on December 25th, the islanders opted to celebrate Christmas on December 26th, so we felt very honored to be accommodated in such a way.

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St. Paul’s Pool, Pitcairn Island

I spent the morning walking to a spot called St. Paul’s Pool to check out a hike we wanted to take guests on in the afternoon.  The walk was steep and hot.  The red dirt road and punishing humidity took their toll and I found myself feeling light headed towards the top. 

We took a break for water and food near the highest point of the island, and the views were stunning looking out over the violet Pacific Ocean and the tumbling green peaks of the island.  The pool is down at sea level and a natural vertical rock wall separates this calm swimming hole from the violent waves of the ocean. 

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The view from high vantage on Pitcairn Island

I dove into the cool blue water just about as fast as I could after that grinding hike.  Every now and then a wave would break up and over the rock wall and flood the pool with a mini-tsunami.  Small reef fish, shrimp and crabs clung to the sides of the pool and rocked around with the breaking waves.

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Brave hikers peeking from the rock wall
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Vertical rock wall high above the swimming hole

Back in the Adamstown square I had a chance to talk with some of the islanders who had set up their tables of crafts and t-shirts for us. Everyone I met was very friendly and excited to have us on their island.

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A Christmas Market – Pitcairn Island Style

It has been a long time since another ship like ours made landing there – perhaps as much as a year ago. One woman I talked to said six ships are scheduled to visit in 2013, so they are looking forward to a little more business and contact with the outside world.

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Handmade Pitcairn crafts for sale – baskets
Handmade Pitcairn crafts for sale – sharks carved from local woods

We gave the islanders a big box of our used paperback novels from the ship so they could have new reading material. It must be a challenge to keep yourself entertained out there without access to the latest movie or even a bookstore.

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Next generation of islanders

Some local kids showed me around a little bit before I had to head back to the ship.  They pointed out the graveyard and back down at sea level, one of the longboats that the islanders use to come in and out of Bounty Bay.  I think the whole population could probably fit in that one giant longboat.

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Pitcairn Islander taking time out to show us around Adamstown, Pitcairn Island (photo credit: Ingrid Visser)
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Pitcairn’s interior is lush and green or alternatively bare with scorched red earth.
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Grave of John Adams, the last surviving mutineer of the Bounty. He settled on Pitcairn Island one year after the mutiny in January 1790.
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Here be mutineers...

The kids also had an old bathtub embedded in the concrete seawall around Bounty Bay that they could swim in.  Every time a really big wave broke over the seawall, the tub would be flooded and anyone in it was rolled around in the big round basin laughing and floating like a rubber ducky in the tub.

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Pandas trees spanning the Pitcairn forest and creating shady groves.

From my perspective today at the end of this decade, looking back on Christmas Day on Pitcairn Island near the decade’s beginning, I find myself a bit melancholy for those times. My days were often spent on a small ship in a vast sea searching for specks of islands to appear on the horizon. The friendships formed amongst expedition guides is one of family grown through necessity and chance encounter. We relied on each other in work and play.

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The original HMS Bounty anchor

The bonds formed by sailors are deep and rekindle in my memory each time I reflect on a voyage. I wonder how those mutineers — fellow seafarers — felt striking out on their own to settle a new land and begin life anew. How is it to foster a life entirely of your own making?

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Christmas Day clouds shrouding Pitcairn as the ship departs.

I wish for you all the happiest of holidays and renewed commitment to shaping the best life you can for yourself and those around you in the new decade.

Here’s to the Twenty20s my friends!

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Delectable Bounty Take Aways

Antarctic Inspirations

Breakdown the word ‘inspiration.’

I’ve come to understand in the early days of 2018, that this capacious word embodies the simple act of inhaling, the source of creativity, and ultimately guidance from a divine power.

In the literal sense ‘inspiration’ means to breathe in – an inspiration and an expiration occurring in each cycle of breath. In the modern figurative sense it refers to someone or something that inspires us. But Merriam Webster says, “before inspiration was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning…referring to a divine influence upon a person, from a divine entity….” This is the original meaning of the word from the early 14th century.

The word ‘inspiration’ strikes me as significant.

Its definitions ricochet from my right brain to my left and back again leaving me wondering how a word that I’ve been offhandedly tossing around all these years could hold such gravitas.

One solid year of dedicated meditation since my dad was diagnosed with incurable cancer has imbedded in me a profound respect for the simple necessity of inspirations and the rhythm of breathing.

My analytical, science-attuned left-brain understands ‘inspiration’ and breath as a life force. In particular, the need to uptake air, to draw in a cocktail of chemicals including oxygen that literally feeds our bodies and sustains life.

And the cleanest air on earth to imbibe? I’ve just returned from the Circumpolar Current-insulated continent that is Antarctica. Surely that southern air is the most nourishing I’ve been lucky enough to sample thus far. Its purity is unmistakable and it’s salty, chilled aftertaste smacks of vitality.

Turn to the artistic right-brain and ‘inspiration’ becomes something that cultivates our creative spirit. The ice, mountain peaks, profusion of wildlife, kindred spirit of fellow travelers, and encounters with ghosts of intrepid heroic explorers who long ago dressed in scratchy wool and frozen leather to trek the length and breath of Terra Australis – those too are ‘inspirations.’

In the Lemaire Channel with fellow traveler and dear friend Di Patterson. It was a joy to voyage together again!

The features of Antarctica are at once legendary and legends of geography, geology, biology and history that viscerally inspire me to keep reading and learning and teaching. It becomes obvious at the bottom of the world that there is always more to know and share.

Breaking ground with the Silversea Expeditions Training Academy.

I want to dole out the best bits of knowledge like bait on so many hooks, string them into a lifetime of study and exploration, and keep my audiences hooked as I reel in the line. 

Tiny penguins in the foreground are engulfed by their ‘berg in the distance.

I am also inspired to write, to paint, to create, and sing the praises of one of the most threatened places on the planet. The beauty I have been lucky enough to see over the last nine weeks is ephemeral, and changing in front of my generation’s eyes.

Deviations in climate, like trusses, now build a long tunnel with the clear light of finality shinning at the far end.

People and penguins in red, black and white stretch along the beach.

Finally, together let’s ponder the oldest meaning of the word ‘inspiration’ and come to understand independently how critically important it is to respect our differences in comprehension of the third and distinctly godly definition of the word.

For the divine definition of inspiration:

How does one discover and know divine influence?

Where does each person’s divine entity reside?

How profoundly does the divine influence each of us?

What form does your divinity take?

Are the steep, jagged, black, snow blasted slopes of Antarctic shores and the steel-blues of continental icebergs celestial enough for this brand of inspiration?

For me they are.

 

Sending everyone much love and hopes for an inspirational 2018.

Arctic Preparations

How do you get from Muck boots to cute party shoes in as few steps as possible?  As I’m packing for my next voyage consisting of nine weeks around the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland, I reckon these six pairs of shoes, should do me for just about every occasion I’ll encounter. From hiking in the hills, to wrestling with Zodiacs in the surf, and from enjoying fine meals in the dining room, to working them off in the gym; I’m set to go.

How do you get from Muck Boots to party shoes?

How do you get from Muck Boots to party shoes?

So, as you slide your bare, tanned feet into those perfectly broken in flip-flops this summer, please think of me putting on my second pair of long underwear, my woolen socks and my insulated ‘Arctic Sport’ Muck boots.

Fully geared up in my foul-weather gear, I’ll be daily hoping to spot polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, narwhals, seals, orca, seabirds or whales of all varieties. My quarry will be found mostly in the sea ice surrounding parts of the Arctic Circle, or clinging to cliffs and coastal slopes along the land-sea interface. Here’s a little sampling of the summer’s game plan.

Photo by Pamela Le Noury

An Arctic Bearded Seal — Photo by Pamela Le Noury

And in the last few days of preparation, between family time, surf sessions, long runs and walks with the dog, I was researching one of the small Greenlandic towns I’ll be visiting in August and was surprised (in a sick, stomach-churning sort of way) to read that the average high temperature in August is just a hair above freezing.

Ah hell, bring it on. I’m prepared, ready to see some amazing wildlife, and my feet will be both warm and fashionable this summer…although…they will definitely never be both at the same time!

Alaska – North to the Future!

I usually write my travel posts when I’m still away on a journey, while my senses are overflowing with stimuli and my mind is oddly out of joint thanks to the distance – both physical and psychic – between my destination and the familiar territory of home.   But while I was away most recently, I kept chewing on the sum total of “ALASKA” and trying to decide how to boil down this epic landscape punctuated with glaciers and rough wilderness experience into a single bit of contemplative writing. It’s not an easy task.

Near Geographic Harbor

Our ship at anchor near Geographic Harbor on a spectacular day.

Holgate Glacier in the sunshine

Holgate Glacier in the sunshine

I could begin by describing some of the native people encountered at a small settlement named, Wales – the westernmost settlement on mainland Alaska with a population of less than 150 individuals.

The main landing beach for the community of Wales, Alaska.  Population ~145

The main landing beach for the community of Wales, Alaska. Population ~145

Thanks to a last minute change of plan, the ship found herself heading into Alaska with 80 guests and another 10-15 staff and crew wanting to come ashore. The day before our landing I used the satellite phone on the ship and literally called the general store to find out if there was anyone in the community who could help us arrange some kind of welcome and/or activities for the guests.

This hand-written sign was posted in the community store letting everyone know we were arriving the next day.

This hand-written sign was posted in the community store letting everyone know we were arriving the next day.

The people of Wales exhibited generosity and their accommodation of us was astounding. We didn’t arrive until close to 10 am, but the whole community was out on the beach waiting for us from 8:30 am onwards.

Local guides for our visitors to Wales, Alaska

Local guides waiting on the beach for our visit to Wales, Alaska

The local dance group rallied to give us a performance using traditional drums and a few items of clothing handed down from previous generations like reindeer boots and wolf skin gloves. It was a wonderful welcome to an isolated homestead on the fringes of Alaska’s great wilderness.

The leader of the Wales dance troupe shows me the reindeer skin boots he inherited from his dad (who is Vice-Mayor and Post Master for the community).

The leader of the Wales dance troupe shows me the reindeer skin boots he inherited from his dad (who is Vice-Mayor and Post Master for the community).

It also occurred to me to write about the bears. This summer of 2014, will always be the “Summer of the Bear” to me; whether in reference to the great Russian bear lifting it’s might head and growling after a long political hibernation, or in regards to the scores of bears we saw from Zodiacs (and landside) in Far Eastern Russia and Alaska.

Seeing a female with three new cubs is a treat.  They can have up to four in a litter, but it's way more common to see one or two at a time.

Seeing a female with three new cubs is a treat. They can have up to four in a litter, but it’s way more common to see one or two at a time.

A bear down near the water's edge scavenging on a falling tide.

A bear down near the water’s edge scavenging on a falling tide.

I hate to say it, but the bears I saw looked hungry – eating grass like grazing cows, tearing at pieces of kelp, mashing colonies of barnacles with their paws and lapping up the salty gruel right off the intertidal rocks, gnawing on whale vertebrae like a dog with a mighty bone. Locals say the salmon run was poor last summer and late this summer – not much to go on without real data, but I’d be interested know if it’s true.

This young bear was showing ribs and tearing at kelp -- not much of a menu item...

This young bear was showing ribs and tearing at kelp — not much of a menu item…

Bears exhibit such personalities and such a range of emotions that watching their wordless interactions, it is perfectly clear what dynamics they are encountering, exchanging, absorbing and reacting to amongst the individual animals. I enjoyed watching them in moments of careful concern between relatives, as well as in flashes of aggression and competition for food. The safety of a Zodiac bobbing just offshore is the perfect place to watch these ursid goliath brown bears.

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One grumpy old bear charges another younger one in a dispute over a carcass washed up on the beach in Geographic Harbor.

Finally, I wanted to paint a picture of the awe-inspiring landscapes of the volcanic Aleutian Islands, shrouded in fog and the indelible scent of thousands of breeding auklets creating a tangerine flavored haze around the islands. Yes, the air smelled like orange blossoms when enough of these birds were around – and I promise this is real!

An Auklet haze fills the air with the ribbons of black seabirds and the smell of tangerines in the air.

An Auklet haze fills the air with the ribbons of black seabirds and the smell of tangerines in the air.

Not to neglect the backdrops of places like St. Paul, St. Matthew and Hall Islands in the Pribilof Islands – these are mysterious, private places that share just a taste of their spectacular wildlife in the form of Northern Fur Seals, mosaics of brilliant wildflowers and bog plants, and thousands upon thousands of sea birds on steep, cliff coasts.

St. Matthew, Pribilof Islands

St. Matthew Island’s bird cliffs, Pribilof Islands

Hall Island, Pribilof Islands

Hall Island, Pribilof Islands

A highlight wildlife encounter for me was a split second when two of our Zodiacs drifted near a huge flock of frenzied gulls and kittiwakes feeding on a dense bait ball of pinky-finger sized minnows. I was listening to the splashing of birds and fish near the surface and the squawking of the kittiwakes announcing their presence with that piercing shriek of “Kitti-wake!” when the entire school of fish ever-so-slyly slipped under our boats to find life-sustaining shelter from the barrage of beaks above. It was brilliant to see all those tiny fish outsmart the seabirds, if only for a moment until our wakes left them behind and out in the open and vulnerable again.

A feeding frenzy of seabirds over a bait ball.

A feeding frenzy of seabirds over a bait ball.

There is so much more I could say about Alaska, but that will have to do for now. It’s more than a single state belonging to the United States of America, it’s a mind-set, a tapestry of mountains, rivers, plains, and home to some of the most outlandish riches in terms of wildlife that a person can imagine. Viva the 49th State of the Union.

Chiswell Islands, one of my favorite Zodiac cruises of the season.

Chiswell Islands, one of my favorite Zodiac cruises of the season.

Unga Village in the Aleutians -- the remains of a gold mining community overgrown with fireweed.

Unga Village in the Aleutians — the remains of a gold mining community overgrown with fireweed.