Most people have heard of lemon verbena – and I have 3 small plants in wicking boxes that I’ve had for at least 10 years – but personally, I’m a big fan of lime verbena, the lesser-known sibling. It’s a darker tasting tea than the lemony version. It’s hard to track down lime verbena plants.
I had one for a couple of years in a big concrete pot and when we moved to The Best House in Melbourne I put it out in the back yard, forgot to keep checking on it and it died. I was so mad at myself!
It took about 5 years before I finally found an online nursery selling them and I bought a couple just before the pandemic. One turned up its toes, but I stuck the survivor into the ground beside the asparagus and it’s flourished ever since.
Today was the day when I grabbed the secateurs, marched out and gave it a haircut. I have to dry the leaves in the dining room because the laundry is too full of other things. But that’s ok. The room smells like a beautiful hand lotion.
I don’t know why more people don’t grow their own herbal teas. They smell so good when you harvest the leaves, you get organic, free drinks all year round and you can use the leaves either fresh or dried. For taking up such a small space in the garden, they really pack a punch when it comes to giving good value.
Here are the last of the tomatoes and squash. I ripped the squash plants out and fertilised and mulched the beds they were in, and used this, with a few more home-grown tomatoes, to make the tastiest vegetarian pasta sauce for last night’s dinner. It was just Ryan28 and me, and we woofed it down.
And look at this fine sinkful of home-grown, free spuds!
I planted a few Aldi seed potatoes when the wicking beds first went in, just to condition the soil. Five years later, they keep popping up. Every so often I dig for the big ones and leave the littlies in the soil. After all this time, I think that they’re classified as free food.
As I always say, free is my favourite flavour.
This may surprise none of you, but working really cuts into your days.
(I’ve worked 36/50 workdays… on the homeward stretch now.)
I took the dogs out for a walk today. They haven’t been out for ages. When we had the elderly dogs here, they’d get very distressed if I took mine out, so in the end, it was kinder just to have all of them stay at home. Then, all this week I’ve been absolutely dead tired when I got home.
You should’ve seen Scout’s face light up when I said the ‘W’ word!
We wandered around the neighbourhood, meeting another sausage dog along the way. Hank is a long-haired dachshund and the little girl walking him was enchanted to meet Scout.
I ordered my mother of the Groom dress at the beginning of January from an online shop in China. Enough time so that, if it didn’t arrive, I could still have time to get something else. Well, four weeks before the wedding, I decided that it was time for plan B. Mum said that she saw a shop in Southland with clothes that were “very Frogdancer”, so I nipped in, walked straight to it, tried on an outfit, paid for it and left. In and out in 10 minutes! Just the way I like to do clothes shopping!
This s the photo I sent the bride. She was getting nervous that I was still dressless. Just for fun, I took the dress and jacket to work the next day to show the girls. If I’m going into work anyway, why not?
After 7 weeks, my elderly dog visitors have gone back home. Yesterday I spent 7 hours in total, driving them to Mooroopna and back and it was lovely to see how pleased they were to see my friend again. She was delighted to have them back, so it was a bit of a love fest.
Ryan28 said that Scout cried for four hours after we left. She’s a loyal little soul and she clearly thought that Elizabeth and Silver were part of her pack.
I am lucky enough to still have two days of the weekend, as it’s Labour Day tomorrow in Victoria. I came home yesterday to a sparkling clean house – Ryan28 swung into gear after I left and swept away all traces of the dogs. He worked like a champion. The floors were vacuumed and mopped, the leather couches were scrubbed and all of the couch quilts were freshly washed and dried. He even did some dusting while he was at it!
I’m glad I was able to help my friend, but I’m equally glad that I’m back to living with my house-trained, quiet and chilled little pack.
I read an eclectic mix of blogs, ranging from Financial Independence blogs to patchwork, gardening and frugality ones. One blog I follow is written by a farmer in South Australia, who writes one post a week about how she spent her week. She’s built up quite an online community that spans the world. She writes about family, food, making the most of what we have and making things stretch further… pretty universal concerns.
Lately, she’s been writing about food shortages, and people from all over the world have been commenting about how prices and scarcities have been affecting their corners of the world. Her latest blog post, written by a woman in the UK, is pretty sobering stuff.
I was seriously considering just putting my veggie garden to sleep for the winter, like I did last year, but instead, I’ll be dragging my mini greenhouse from the shed and planting some seeds. Can’t hurt and it might help. Plus I have heaps of seeds and they’re not doing anyone any good by staying in their packets.
Basically, the things that are happening over there will probably come to pass here as well. Maybe not to the same degree, but it will happen. In fact, it IS happening – anyone else notice how food prices have gone up? Last Aldi shop I did, I got the last dozen eggs – and I was shopping in the middle of the day, not at the end!
Last year I bought some butternut pumpkin seedlings from Bunnings and planted them randomly in the orchard. They’ve produced at least 7 pumpkins that I can see, and I’ll soon be harvesting them. It’s so nice to see that the Great Pumpkin Curse has finally been lifted!
I’ll save seed from these, but I don’t know if they’ll work. I try to buy Diggers seedlings at Bunnings but this year I couldn’t find any.
Deana’s roses are going nuts at the moment. I’m glad I went out and took this photo because otherwise I wouldn’t have known that the poor thing is covered with aphids.
It won’t be for long!
Today is the day that I prune my lime verbena to dry the leaves for tea. I have 3 lemon verbena plants in wicking boxes but I think I’ll plant them out here – they’ll grow better and most people prefer the lemon verbena tea to the lime. It’s nice to have home-grown things to give away.
And finally, you can even grow food in small pots. These jalapeno plants are dotted around the place, all in little pots. I’m collecting what will amount to around 6 months worth of chillies, all from little pots that you wouldn’t think would be worth the effort.
It seems that my little guests will be staying a while longer. Can you see the tongues hanging to the side? It makes them look really derpy.
I was all set to drop them off to their Mum’s place yesterday, but on Friday she had a fall and needed help to get back up. Clearly, much as she wants to see them again, it’s not the place for them right now. The last thing she needs is to trip over one of them and ruin her brand new knee.
So instead of filling my Saturday with 7 hours driving, I chipped away at a great book I’m reading. Strong Money Australia is a book written by the guy who writes the blog of the same name. He became very disillusioned with the rat race early on in his life and harnessed the power of investing to retire at 28 years old. I discovered his blog a few years ago when I found out about FI/RE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) and was trying to work out how to invest. I found his blog incredibly helpful. I’m enjoying his book – I highly recommend buying a copy if you want Aussie-based content about finances.
Today will be a day of bread making, ironing clothes for work, harvesting more Purple King beans and cucumbers from the garden and basically just pottering around. I fell down the rabbit hole of playing spider solitaire on the laptop yesterday – it’s amazing how the time just goes…
THIS ISA DUPLICATE POST FROM THE OTHER BLOG. It’s just that I thought that there are people here who have been following along with me for years who might like to see what those four little boys are looking like today.
I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life and I’ve never been to Eastland. I’d heard of it, of course… a mythical shopping centre nestled somewhere far, far away. Then David29 fell in love with a girl who lives near it and it became his default shopping centre. So yesterday, all of his groomsmen and his Mum made the trek over there to buy the suits for the wedding.
I’ve had a break from the Little Adventures***, so this is a way of dipping my toe back in the water. First I was working, and then I was travelling. Now I’m working again – but only for 23 more workdays. Then the Little Adventures will be back, baby!!!
This post is not so much about going to a new place. This is a post about celebrating an event that’s new to me. It’s not every day that a Mum gets invited to their son’s wedding-suit-shopping day.
And here’s the son. This was a big job that has finally been ticked off his list. He discovered pretty quickly that trying to get people together for one simple shopping trip is pretty much like trying to herd cats. His best mate Dan was travelling in South-East Asia and only arrived back 2 days ago, while Evan26 is leaving tomorrow for Adelaide, where he’ll be performing his new show for the Fringe Festival there.
Sunday HAD to be the day.
This is Dan and his girlfriend. He and David29 have been mates since year 8 at school. These two are staying with me for a few days until their Air B&B is ready in Melbourne. It’s been so lovely catching up with Dan. He went to live in the US for a few years so now that he’s studying in Melbourne, it’s lovely to see him again.
Evan26 and Ryan28. It’s not often that I get to have the whole ‘set’ of sons with me in the one place, but Sunday was one of those times.
Tom31 and Evan26 (again.) These were all taken in the food court after the shopping was done. The boys looked dapper in their black suits and I think they’re all going to scrub up well on the day.
The night before, David29 and Izzy came over for dinner to meet Alena, Dan’s girlfriend.
We all ate together, then I retreated to the couch to play games on my laptop while they sat around the table playing a silly board game. It made me so happy to hear the laughter and talking that was going on between the four of them.
The words on David29’s hoodie say it all, I think. This is a friendship that has (and will) pass the test of time.
***I began Little Adventures when I retired. The idea is that I go somewhere new or do something new to me every month. After all, when I’m not working I definitely have the time!
When you have a veggie garden, there’s always a glut. Every year it seems to b different. The best years are when we’re drowning in tomatoes and zucchini. I freeze little bags of chopped servings for bolognaise sauce that in a good year, we eat from all year round. But El Nina summers don’t seem to like tomatoes and this year, for the first time ever, we have only grown ONE zucchini.
But the basil? Plentiful. So lush that I’m trying out something for the first time – chopping and freezing it in ice cube trays topped with water. I figure that I can drop a cube into pasta sauces and save on using the bought dried basil. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
We’re knee-deep in beans, which seems to be the norm around here. I’ve decided to alternate years between Lazy Housewife and Purple King beans. I have saved seeds of both, so doing this will stop the seeds from getting too old. We’re eating the young beans and I’m chopping the bigger, tougher beans into small pieces and freezing them, to be used in soups and stews later on. This saves me from using frozen peas for some greenery.
I’ve also harvested heaps of waratah greens and silver beet, chopped them up in the thermomix with water, and froze them. I did this last year when we had an abundance of parsley. I put a cube into soups, stews and pasta sauces as a ‘green goodness’ cube for some extra nutrition.
Can’t hurt and it might help, hey?
For the second year in a row, cucumbers are growing like mad. We’re eating a tonne of salads this summer, so this has really come in handy. Being so fresh, they last for ages in the crisper.
This year, I’ll be back from my trip just when it’s warm enough to start planting. This year, I was away just when the young plants needed nurturing, and Ryan28 was a bit stingy about watering them. I’m hoping that next summer will give us a more productive garden.
It’s now day 12 out of 50 of the days I’m working this term. I’ve put these pictures of my upcoming trip to England and Ireland all over my desk in the staff room to help keep my spirits up when I get glum about my lost freedom. It’s starting to happen and the pictures have definitely helped. It’s good to keep in mind that there’s a selfish purpose to doing this. Last year it was all about helping the boys – this year it’s about ME.
I still have Jenny’s elderly dogs here. It’s been 3 weeks now and they’re slowly settling in. I could do without getting woken at 4:30 Am most mornings with Elizabeth waking up and (presumably) looking for her Mum and yipping. Silver still can’t be trusted to keep his leg down in the house, so we’ve closed off every part of the house from the lounge/dining room, so we can keep a close eye on him.
Having said all of that, they’re very sweet-natured little things and have settled in remarkably well, especially considering that moving here was a total disruption of everything they’ve ever known. Jenny rang me last week and is progressing well with rehab for her new knee. I’m assuming another week or two and I’ll be dropping them back to be reunited with their mum.
I’m sitting in front of a year 8 English class doing their grammar work for the week, so I have a little window of opportunity to catch up with you. I always make the first lesson of every week a grammar lesson, so it’s easy for the kids (and me!) to remember which book to bring to class.
The room that I’m sitting in is a ‘modern’ room in a modern building. It only has walls on 3 sides, so that my class is lucky enough to hear noise from the similarly built classroom next door. Why on earth any architect worth their salt would think that this is a practical thing to have in a school of nearly 1,000 kids is beyond me. I’m teaching 4 periods today and all of them are in this room. Lucky me.
I shouldn’t whinge too hard, though. The guy who I’m replacing is a student manager so he has a 5 period time allowance to do that, which means that instead of teaching 5 classes – with all of the marking – I only have 4. I’ll be getting extras every week to make up the difference but after a year of teaching CRT, that’s just fine with me.
My classes are all really nice kids. A small part of me was hoping that they’d be awful so that I’d never do this again, but this way is vastly better for my happiness. I’ve covered my desk with photos of England and Ireland so that when I start getting sad at my lost freedom, I’ll be able to look at the photos and remind myself of the reward awaiting me at the other end of this.
My garden is starting to produce many, many purple king beans. I was leaning over the garden bed to harvest them and my nose was buried into a basil plant growing in the same bed. Basil is one of my favourite scents in the world. Talk about an unexpected treat!
It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I drove 3 and a half hours to Mooroopna and picked up Jenny’s dogs. They had a difficult first few days, being utterly traumatised and bewildered as to why they’d been uprooted from their home, but they’ve settled in quite nicely now. I’ve discovered that they don’t like to get their feet wet when it rains, and as a result we are now closing the hallway door leading to the back of the house. It does my head in when adult dogs wee inside. Thank god for hardwood floors!
I’ve been heavily introverting since I got back from Antarctica. Apart from Christmas Day at my sister’s, I’ve pretty much seen no one and done nothing. Well, I did refresh my hanging baskets with yellow petunias, as you can see.
It’s been lovely.
But now that the year is moving on, I’m starting to get back into the mode of Getting Things Done, and one of those jobs is organising my next overseas holiday. Not half an hour after I pressed ‘publish’ on the last Antarctica post, I started looking at various travel destinations that occurred to me. I have only one more continent to get, (North America) and I wondered if I should just go to Canada to knock it off the list, but 2023 is my 60th birthday year. I wanted to go to someplace special…
I never thought it would take 8 years for me to get back to the UK after my wonderful holiday there in 2015, yet this is where we find ourselves. What if I went back to England – I haven’t even seen Henry VIII’s grave, for goodness sake – and maybe do a comprehensive tour of either Scotland or Ireland?
6 days later, the bare bones of my birthday trip have taken shape. It’s very exciting.
People who “went” with me in 2015 (and by that I mean those of you who read my blog posts about the trip … 1 July to early September 2015) … would remember when I stayed with the lovely Deana. We saw Canterbury Cathedral, Hever Castle (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn) and the absolutely fantastic Jane Austen museum, which is the house she lived in and wrote 5 of her novels in. We had a wonderful time – and we’re going to have a wonderful time again! I don’t know yet what we’ll be doing, but she has some ideas.
When I arrive I’ll be staying with Corinna for a few days in central London. Yes, Corinna from Antarctica! She wanted me to have a weekend as part of my time with her so we can do a couple of day trips, so I think I’ll be standing on Henry VIII’s grave with a friend. This makes me happy. We’re going to have such a good time.
People who “went” with me to North Korea… (and by that I mean those of you who read my blog post about that trip in 2018 April – September ) will definitely remember my dear friend James from Ireland. I’ll be staying with him for a couple of days before I go on a 14-day tour of Ireland. Imagine the fun we’ll have? It’s going to be great.
This tour of Ireland is COMPREHENSIVE. I was looking at smaller ones but really – if I’m going to be there I might as well take the chance to see every square inch of the place. Have a look at the itinerary. I think that by the time it’s finished, I’ll feel like I know Ireland very well.
I’ll have to do some reading about Irish history. If you know any good books – both fiction or non fiction, please pop them in the comments. I’m all over English history but my Irish history knowledge is a bit scrappy.
Then after my time in Ireland is up, I’ll be flying back to England to meet Scott. He was the architect of my incredible 9 week holiday to the UK and Europe in 2015 and was my good friend for many years at work. We’re going to do a jaunt around Essex for a few days.
Corinna was funny a couple of nights ago when I told her where Scott and I were going.
When I told Scott the next morning what she’d said about Essex, he was like, “Ok, Corinna. It’s on!” Then, at about 1 AM my time, my phone started pinging with message alerts like it was a fireworks display at new years. Next morning, there were 11 messages, waiting from Scott, mainly links to historic places we are going to see.
It’s going to be epic. The Tudors hung out quite a bit in Essex. I’m going to be in my element.
I’m going to be booking my flights in the next couple of days, but it looks like my 60th birthday will be spent up in the sky. I really like the idea of that.
So my Friday was spent Whatapping everyone, sorting out who I was going to see and when and how. How did people ever coordinate things across the globe before the internet?
I’m trying to get things locked in before term 1 starts and I’M locked in… in classrooms. When I’m feeling sad about my loss of freedom, I can think of this trip and know that this is why I’m doing it. I’m working full-time for term 1 and that will pay for this trip.
In other news, my plum trees have borne fruit for the first time since I planted them 2 years ago. One tree, the Santa Maria, gave me 2 plums. This of course means that they’re worth $30 each. The Satsuma tree has been far more generous. This morning I went and picked over 60 plums, so each plum has cost me less than a dollar each. What a bargain! They weren’t quite ripe but I could see that the lorikeets were eying them off. The plums will finish ripening inside.
In a few days I’m going to take a road trip to Mooroopna, near Shepparton, to pick up Poppy and Jeff’s mother, Elizabeth, and her companion, a 12-year-old boy called Silver. Their owner and I have been friends for nearly 40 years, ever since I bought my very first Cavalier, Sarah, through her. Jenny’s going into hospital for an operation and of course, she was worried about her dogs. Elizabeth and Silver are going to have a few days break at The Best House in Melbourne.
I wonder how Jeffrey will feel about another rooster in the hen house???
From the moment the taxi pulled up at the hotel to take me to Ushuaia airport, my luck ran out. I was running low on Argentine pesos, so I asked the receptionist to confirm that a taxi would take a card instead of cash. I already tried Uber, but none were available.
I got to the airport, then had an argument with the taxi driver when he wouldn’t accept my card, OR all my Argentine plus Chilean pesos for the fare. There was a lot of “I don’t speak Spanish; this is all the money I have” and lots of Argentinian head shaking and muttering.
Finally, he relented and took the two types of pesos – I grossly overpaid him but I didn’t care – and I grabbed my suitcases and went into the terminal. It didn’t matter that I had no cash for Chile – in a few hours’ time I was going to be in and out of Santiago airport in an hour. I’d filled my (once pee bottle, now water) bottle with water before I left the hotel and eaten a hearty breakfast, so I could exist on plane food until New Zealand.
I strolled in, walked past a café and there, with his side to me, was SamFrank. Ugh. After the taxi driver thing, I was in no mood for more bullshit, so I turned my head and pretended to be very interested in a shop as I walked around the corner and found a seat. There was NO WAY he didn’t see me, but he clearly didn’t want to talk to me either. Phew!
I whatsapped the group. “SamFrank is here at the airport. We both pretended not to see each other.”
Corinna messaged back: “He’s probably right behind you.”
Turns out Ming was on Corinna’s flight into Buenos Aires, both in the same row. Ming was still in her yellow jacket. It was nearly 30C.
Everything on my itinerary was going to plan. I was in and out of Buenos Aires airport like a dream. It was when I hit Santiago that it all went to shit.
f I’d just had carry-on luggage, everything would have been fine. But my plane landed at the same time as around 47 other planes and I had to queue for over an hour to get my suitcase. When I got to the check-in counter to get to Aukland, they wouldn’t let me board, even though I was there an hour and a half earlier than the plane was scheduled to leave.
It was one in the morning. I was ropeable. They put me on a flight that was leaving 24 hours later. They told me I had to go to Air Argentina to get them to book a hotel room, because my previous flight was late. (It wasn’t late, so I knew they wouldn’t help. It was all the fault of the airport itself.)
It was the middle of the night. My eyes welled with tears… and then I remembered my Australian travel agent’s stuff-up.
In a previous version of this trip, I was supposed to stay in Santiago for another night and day. That had changed. But she forgot to cancel the booking at the Pullman.
Fortunate Frogdancer made a brief comeback, right in the nick of time. WHO JUST HAPPENS TO HAVE A ROOM BOOKED IN A CITY WHERE THEY’RE UNEXPECTEDLY DETAINED?????
Me, that’s who. My tears dried instantly. I walked downstairs, haggled with a driver who would accept a card payment, and then I was whisked to a luxurious bed for the night. Check-out was at midday, too, which was a bonus.
Next morning I had a huge breakfast, then secreted three bread rolls in my pockets. I was going to get to the airport (after I had a nap in my room until midday) and I was going to do a Tom Hanks in the terminal. Goddammit – I wasn’t going to miss that plane again!
I had 3 bread rolls, 2 packets of peanuts from previous flights, 3 packets of chocolates from the ship’s welcome gift, and my huge wee bottle was full of water. I had my iPad with plenty of books. All of this was more than enough to sustain me while I waited 12 hours for the plane!
By 2 PM I had my precious boarding pass. I found a seat, put my suitcases in front of me, pulled out my iPad and began to read. Two and a half books later, my flight was called. I made it up to the boarding gate… where my flight was delayed for 3 hours.
I got to Aukland with 40 minutes to board. When our carry-ons were being checked, mine was pulled out.
“Stand over there, I’ll check it shortly,” the guy said.
Five looong minutes later, he pulls out my tube of sunscreen. “Oh, it’s 100g. It looked bigger on the x-ray,” he said.
I make it onto the plane and fly to beautiful Melbourne. I also picked up a mighty fine deal on the duty-free as I went through. 2L of gin for $60. Not bad.
At the airport, I sat myself down on the Skybus and asked if it went to Frankston. No. I had to get off at Southern Cross station and get a train home. Damn, that’s a shame. But it was ok; this was my plan B. I had my Myki with me just in case this happened.
When I got to Southern Cross, I couldn’t see a Frankston line train scheduled on any platform. Weird, but oh well. I’ll just take a train to Richmond and swap from there. No problem. I love dragging these cases around.
Richmond. Every other train line in Melbourne was running through, but not Frankston. FINE. I’ll just take a Dandenong line train to Caulfield nd jump onto the Frankston line there. Sheesh!
To pass the time, I sent penguin videos to people, letting them know I was back.
I roll into Caulfield station. I hear a garbled announcement, “Buses garble arble Mordialloc.” Bloody hell, was I ever going to get back home?
They were doing works on the Frankston line. Buses instead of trains between Caulfield and Mordialloc. Lovely! I needed an automobile to make up the whole ‘Planes, Trains’ set. I wheeled my suitcases to the back of the bus and sat there as we made the long trip down Nepean Highway to Mordy station.
Then, after a long wait, I rode the train to my station. I wheeled my suitcases the short way back to my gate. I was home – only 27 hours late.
I clicked the gate latch. Poppy and Scout went NUTS. Ryan27 let them out and the three of us had a rapturous reunion at the front gate.
I went inside. Tom30 had come over to see me and he was sitting on the couch with Jeff sleeping on his lap. I let Jeff smell my hand. Three deep breaths, then he sat up, blinking and looking around. Then he saw me. Another rapturous reunion.
The boys said they were pleased to see me, too, though they didn’t follow me around like the dogs did, not letting me out of their sight for days.
This, my first trip overseas in 4 years, has tested me physically and mentally. This is the first time since the kids were small that I’ve travelled by myself, without a friend waiting for me at the other end.
I don’t speak or read Spanish, and both Chile and Argentina are Spanish-speaking nations. I knew I’d be fine on the cruise, as English is the language used there, but getting there and back had its challenges that I had to solve by myself or with new friends or kind strangers.
How fortunate I was to meet such lovely people in my YPT travel group. I was the oldest person in our little group by far, yet they embraced me into their lives and we experienced this whole amazing thing together.
I was definitely not expecting this. When I saw, from our Facebook group, that everyone was in their 20’s and 30’s, I downloaded 22 books so that I’d have something to occupy myself with when we were onboard.
Turns out I didn’t need them. I’m only up to book 7. We had wonderful conversations, in-jokes and so much fun. These travellers are definitely able to look past the exterior of someone and deal happily with the person within. That’s pretty special, I think.
Everyone who knows me is aware that I don’t have a love for exercise. To me, going for a walk only makes sense if you have a definite purpose in mind, while as for going to a gym? Forget it.
There was only one walk that I didn’t do on the landings, and that was on the first day when I was still paranoid about my level of fitness. After that, I did everything that was put in front of me and I’m proud – and slightly surprised – that I accomplished every single one.
Of course, the Polar Plunge is the pinnacle of this. Even disgustingly healthy people opted out of that one!
A trip to Antarctica was always going to be special. It’s such a wild, desolate and relatively untouched part of the world. But when I add these other, far more intangible things, this is a trip that is vastly different from anything I’ve done before.
This is the reason why I focused so hard on retirement. There are so many amazing places to see and different things to do. I want to be able to see and do as many as I can before my time runs out.
I hope you enjoyed seeing Antarctica through my eyes. Let’s hope it won’t be another 4 years before the next trip!
To end this series about Antarctica, please enjoy this fun video that Charlie from America made about our trip. Everything in here (except the orcas) I saw as well, but he’s much better at putting everything together.
The crew arranged all sorts of mini-lectures to help fill the next two days. An astonishing number of them are birders, so we heard all about what that entails. As you can see, sometimes they went into a little too much detail, as this action-shot of Liga shows.
We also had a lecture about the environmental impact of our trip, which was surprisingly interesting, along with the technology the Hondius has to help mitigate any damage we might cause.
Now that we were firmly in the Drake Passage, whale sightings were getting more common. Up until now, the only whale sightings I’d seen were of blows, fins and flukes from miles away, which make for some very unimpressive photos.
Imagine how fantastic it was when the announcement went out:
“ A pod of at least twenty humpback whales are around the ship, primarily on the starboard side. We’re slowing the ship down to make the most of this opportunity.“
Talk about being galvanised into activity!
I had my phone with me, but no coat, so I ran to get a spot at the lounge windows.
The whales were so close. They were feeding, so they were surfacing and diving, but only in shallow dives so they were repeatedly coming up to the surface.
I had my phone positioned just below my eyes and I was pressing the photo button every time I saw something… which meant that I had a LOT of photos to go through after this was over. It was the only way I could think of getting a balance between actually experiencing it all with my eyes as well as trying to get a record of it.
The whales stayed near us for around 20 minutes, I guess, which was ample time to get that “whale watching “ box well and truly ticked off.
Afterwards, Eneko came by as we were all talking and he showed me some videos that he took of the whales from the deck outside. They were fantastic- so much better than my crappy photos.
We spent the rest of the day in the lounge, where I may or may not have taken a nap. People were flicking through their photos to choose which ones they were going to submit for the photo competition, sometimes asking for opinions from others.
It was a funny day. I think we were all coming down from the high that was Antarctica.
Eneko was persuaded by Corrina and Liga to play a game of poker with them, to teach them how to play better. Poor guy, he was really reluctant to do it, because he’s used to playing 10 games at a time behind his computer screen. I got the distinct impression that face-to-face poker games don’t have much appeal for him.
They were sitting near me and I tuned out as I was reading a novel, but I surfaced at one point to hear him, looking at Corrina’s cards, saying, “No, no, you shouldn’t play this hand of cards,” and Corrina, totally bewildered, saying, “But why not??”
He was trying to explain and I could see his brain trying desperately to translate from Spanish to English something that, to him seemed so obvious, but to the girls was a mystery. It must have been a long night for poor Eneko!
All of us had bought seasickness patches the night before, but I think we could probably have done without them. The Drake Lake was living up to its name as we glided on through.
Only one full day to go…
DRAKE LAKE DAY 2:
This is where Frogdancer Jones gets a prize in the photo competition that she didn’t even enter. Even I’m astonished at the amount of good luck that this trip has let me experience.
The Drake Passage was even calmer today than it was yesterday, which seemed a little unbelievable, but there it was. The morning was spent packing our bags, giving back our muck boots and generally coming back down to earth.
Corrina set up a WhatsApp group so we could share photos. We’ve been talking on it ever since. 🙂
After lunch we were all called to the lounge and Ross went through the photo competition entries. There were 126 spread out over the 3 categories and everyone had one vote in each category.
Earlier in the day, we made Michael, a guy we’d met on the cruise, submit a photo of polar bears he took in the Arctic a couple of years before, in the “Fun” section. It got a huge laugh, but sadly, didn’t make the final cut.
At around 5PM we all got a hell of a surprise. There, ahead of the ship, were lights. We were already approaching Ushuaia… 12 hours ahead of schedule. That shows just how flat the Drake Passage was over our two days.
Over our last dinner, the boys and I sat near SamFrank. Someone asked him what he did for a living, (he was back to being a colonel again) and then I asked him what he did for fun when he wasn’t working.
“Oh, I teach ballroom dancing. I do a lot of dancing. I also play the guitar – I play a lot of guitar so that I can train my fingers to have lots of sex with my wife.”
I glanced across at Baptiste to see if he was hearing this. His eyes danced back at me. We were both hanging off every word.
“I’m also learning to play the harmonica. I also like to throw dinner parties. Or just any kind of dinner party… I like it when people dress up. I think people behave differently when they are elegantly dressed. Before I met my wife, I always organised every detail.it used to take me the whole day to set the table, decide who was sitting next to who, and to cook the food. Once, a man turned up in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. I made him go home and change.”
After the conversation moved on, I asked the guys to give me a playlist of the band that they both like – a German band called Rammstein. Morgan’s seen them play 47 times. It’s great music to listen to if you want to concentrate on something that you’re doing, because I can’t understand a word of the lyrics. I’m listening to them now as I type – a lovely song called ‘Pussy.’ It’s nice to see that German headbangers are fond of cats.
After dinner, we all gathered in the lounge for the photo competition. Morgan had 2 shots in the final and Eneko had one. Not bad representation for our little group!
After the prizes were awarded, Emma, the ship’s doctor, beckoned me over.
“I accidentally submitted a photo in the Wildlife folder instead of the guides’ folder and it won the competition. I don’t feel right about accepting the prize, so I thought you should have it.”
She handed me a penguin soft toy. Maybe I was being rewarded for my bravery during the blood nose episode on Petermann Island?
Liga bought a bottle of Prosecco and shared it with our group as we all toasted our friendship. I really hope we run into each other again.
There was a bit more talk about Eneko’s nicknames for us. He let slip a day or two ago that his nickname for Liga was ‘The Black Panther’, which really suits her. He said that he had a nickname for both Corinna and me, but he was too scared to tell us. Corinna, who was absolutely dying to know what hers could be, finally got a promise from him that he’d tell her on the last day. That would be tomorrow…
I set off to bed at midnight, but a couple of hours after that, some of the crew came up and took some people out into Ushuaia to the Irish pub. Corinna didn’t get back until 4 AM. That 7:30 AM wake-up call must’ve been hard…
I took this photo on the last night because I couldn’t believe that Ming was STILL wearing her polar layers 24/7, even when we were back in port. When was she going to shed the yellow gortex?
A DAY IN USHUAIA DURING THE WORLD CUP SEMI-FINALS:
The mood was subdued at breakfast. No one wanted to leave.
Baptiste said at breakfast, looking sadly out of the window, “I just want to wreck the boat. Demolish it. If I can’t go back, then no one else should!” Trust me, it sounds better when it’s said in a mournful French accent.
As soon as we were off the ship and on the dock, the sky turned grey and the wind picked up. It was a bit creepy, as if our good luck with the weather only worked if we were on the ship.
Corrina asked Eniko for her nickname.
“No, not yet,” he said, gesturing back towards the sea. “There’s nowhere for me to run away here.”
“Oh my God, what IS it?” she shrieked. “It can’t be that bad, surely?”
Little did she know, but Eneko told the boys and me the nickname over breakfast. It was the ‘British Bear’, like Winnie the Pooh. I was ‘ The Australian Penguin.’ Now that I come to think about it, Eneko was always there when I’d fall down, get up and cheerfully waddle off again, so fair enough.
When we wheeled our luggage to the street, Eniko finally told Corrina her name. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention Winnie the Pooh and instead said it was like a grizzly bear. She was half laughing, half confused. I don’t blame her!
Today was the day when I realised truly how beautiful these people are. Some of them were due to leave Ushuaia that day, while some were like me and staying an extra night. They all decided to walk with me back to my hotel.
Corrina took my carry-on bag and Morgan took my suitcase. We trundled through the streets of Ushuaia, passing a very hungover Garret and Timo, who were part of the late-night Irish pub visit with Corinna. I was chatting to Garret outside a shop and I mentioned that I could still feel the ground moving under my feet as if I was still on the ship. “Really?’ he said. “I thought it was just my hangover.
Then we split up. Morgan and Baptiste decided to go to the nearby national park and do a 10 km hike. Liga wanted to climb a mountain track, while Eneko wanted to go to his B and B.
Corrina and I stayed in the hotel foyer, using the wifi to contact friends and family.
Scott from the UK let me know that after I’d left Australia, a woman was killed in a freak accident when crossing the Drake Passage. It wasn’t the Drake Lake, clearly. A freak wave hit the side of the ship and broke a window.
“I quickly googled the name of the ship but I knew it wouldn’t be you. You’re Fortunate Frogdancer!”
When the boys were about to return, we went to a restaurant and grabbed lunch. The four of us ordered, then sat on the wifi. On a whim, I decided to check my emails.
This was my first indication that the luck of Fortunate Frogdancer was starting to sputter and conk out.
There were 2 emails from my travel agent. The first one said that I was leaving Ushuaia THAT DAY. What?!?
I fished out my printed itinerary. I leave tomorrow, according to this. So which one was correct? We tried calling the 24-hour help number ( not helpful… it was all recorded messages) and we tried checking in. Nothing was definite.
Then Morgan remembered that there was a shop on the waterfront for Argentinian Airlines and offered to take me there to sort it out. We said goodbye to Corrina and after the boys collected their bags, we walked to the shop.
I was feeling bad. This was their last couple of hours here, where they could be doing anywho there than chasing up my flight. We took our place in the queue and waited. After a while, I said to them, “Look, why don’t you go and find something more fun to do? I can see it through from here.”
Morgan looked seriously at me.
“ You are not my responsibility as tour leader anymore. That finished at the docks. This is a matter of friendship. “Baptiste nodded.
Omg. Could they be any more wonderful? Morgan and Baptiste are just the best people in the world.
A couple of minutes later everything was sorted out. My printed itinerary was correct, and as a bonus, the nice man behind the counter also allocated me aisle seats for my first two flights.
After a coffee in a café, it was time for them to leave for the airport. They headed for the taxi rank and I headed back to my hotel.
That afternoon, Argentina was due to play in the World Cup semifinal against Croatia. Garret, Timo and a few other people decided that we should all meet at The Hard Rock Cafe to watch the game. I’d counted my Argentinian pesos and discovered I was running really low, so I decided I wasn’t going to go. I lay down on the bed with a book…
… and woke to a message on WhatsApp asking where I was. I replied that I was running out od cash. No World Cup shenanigans for me!
Timo replied, “We have enough pesos between us to buy you a drink. Get yourself down here!”
As I walked out of my room, I saw the first Argentinian goal on the tv in the dining room. When I was halfway to the Hard Rock Café, I heard screaming from all over the place, so I ducked into a café to watch the replay of the second goal.
Bythe time I reached the group, I was really hoping that they’d kick a third. I wanted to see the crowd’s reaction.
Afterwards, we stayed back for another drink and just as that finished, I turned and looked out the window. The street was jam-packed full of people. I raced to the door.
All the way up the main street of Ushuaia, people were walking, cheering and singing. It was wall to wall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier crowd.
As you can see IN THE VIDEO ON THE OTHER BLOG, the whole town was out. You can hear me at some stage saying to someone, “It’s bloody beautiful!”
After the people came the cars. I think everyone who lives in Ushuaia was there, celebrating that their team was now in the final. I said goodbye to everyone and made my way back home.
As I ate the leftover of the massive half a tart that I ordered for lunch ( frugality for the win) I could still hear the celebrations. They went on for hours. Clearly, this is a country that loves soccer. There was lots of noise for a while, but it was happy noise. It made me smile.
(Only one more post to go. The trip isn’t over just yet…)
Straight after breakfast this morning, we were called into the lounge for a briefing. There were two women from Port Lockroy.
This port used to be a whaling station back in the day and there are still chains near the entry, along with whale bones left lying in the water. The port is open for 6 months and every year over 4,000 people apply for the 4 available positions. This year 4 women are there, performing a mix of scientific, postal and public relations jobs.
Every day they are visited by 2 cruise ships, so their only quiet times are early in the mornings and after dinner, where they sit and stamp that day’s amount of the 70,000 postcards that they receive over the course of the season.
I only sent two. Didn’t want to overwork them. I would’ve sent one to James from Ireland, seeing as we sent each other postcards from Pyongyang, but I didn’t have his address.
This time, instead of being split into two groups, we passengers were split into three. Over the course of the morning, we’d have a landing neat gentoo penguins, a zodiac cruise around the bay for around 45 minutes, and a trip to the actual base at Port Lockroy. Which order anyone got to do all of this was completely luck of the draw.
Naturally, this worked in my favour. Again.
In the early parts of the morning, the guides were very conscious of time. I jumped on a zodiac which happened to be doing the landing on Jougla Island first. When we made our way up the dug-out snow staircase, Rose grabbed me, made me sit on a barrel and she put my snowshoes on. They were hustling people along – no mucking around!
I didn’t realise it at the time, but they had to ensure that all of us had seen Port Lockroy and wee all back on the ship before the next cruise arrived.
You can see in the photo how the landing teams put everything on a tarp, which is sterilised after we get back on board. They are really very worried about avian flu coming down here from the northern hemisphere. It could decimate the bird populations here.
Then we were off, trudging our way along the path laid out by the red poles the guides had planted earlier.
It was a cracking morning. The sun was so bright that I had to keep reminding myself to wear my sunglasses. I didn’t want to experience snow blindness like Baptiste did a couple of days ago.
It wasn’t a particularly long walk, just across a flat patch and then up a small hill where there were a couple of penguin colonies, along with a wonderful view of the bay. I took it slowly though, conscious that this was my last day.
The Gentoos were making the “hee-haw” sound that had already become so familiar. The air was cool and the sky was brilliantly blue. The penguins, the sound of snowshoes on snow and the murmuring of people talking were the only sounds I could hear.
I stayed up here for what seemed like ages. It was unutterably beautiful. The penguins were busily doing their own thing, with the occasional bird swooping around.
At one point, down the hill near a penguin colony, a stupid group of Vietnamese people strayed off the path, just to get a photo opportunity holding up their flag.The guides were quickly onto it.
“It’s not the flag I object to,” said one of the guides when I mentioned it later. “It’s the crevasses that are in the area.”
With conditions so perfect, I guess it’s hard for some people to keep in mind that we’re not in a tame place. But seriously, if you want to come to one of the most untouched and isolated places on Earth, do your research! Stepping into a crevasse could kill you.
After a while, I snowshoed my way back down the hill and got into a zodiac. Turned out, this one was on a cruise. Our last one…
We were lucky enough to see two seals out sunning themselves.
I was sitting in the front of the zodiac again, and I was so glad the sea was calm. I could have my iPhone out all the time without being concerned about waves splashing.
We passed by colonies of Antarctic/Blue-Eyed Shags building their nests from seaweed. Every year they come back to the same place and build on top of the nest they had before. Right in the middle, you can see one nest getting precariously tall.
None of us wanted the cruise to end. We went further afar, looking at the amazingly sculpted icebergs and gazing at the glaciers spilling into the bay.
Eventually the call came for our group to go to the steps carved into the snow to reach the base at Port Lockroy.
I didn’t know if then, but this was to be extra special, especially for those of us who were in the last zodiacs to arrive.
Port Lockroy is home to thriving colonies of Gentoo penguins, who make robust use of the buildings on the base. This means that when the people who live on the base each October arrive, the penguins are already well established.
They live under the old post office, all around the storage shed and there’s even a colony that has parked itself directly under the flag pole.
This means that for the first time on this trip, the 5 metre rule couldn’t be adhered to. I took THIS VIDEO as I was queuing up to go into the post office. I couldn’t believe how close the penguins were coming to us.
The penguins were SO CLOSE!
When we first arrived, I was charmed to see the penguins nesting under the old building, but I was more focused on getting inside and looking around.
The museum is set up as if it was the 1950’s.
It was very utilitarian.
There was a stamp that we could get for our passports with ‘ Port Lockroy’ on it. I’d already got the ‘Ushuaia’ and ‘Antarctica’ stamps from the tourist office in Ushuaia, which may or may not make some countries immigration people not like me, so I thought I may as well get the whole set while I was at it.
I had a quick look at the museum, but it was outside where the real magic lay.
Remember how I said that the guides were really conscious of time with this landing?
Now that we were on the last round, that urgency melted away. We were there for well over an hour and a half.
They were totally focused on building their nests, with many birds waddling along clutching a pebble with their beaks.
They were all around us, walking, ( and tripping and falling), while we were marvelling at our incredible luck to be here at this place and time. What an absolutely precious hour and a half that was.
As the guides with the other groups dropped their zodiac groups back on the ship, they’d come across to the base.
Every time someone asked if it was time to go back to the zodiacs, they’d say, “There’s no rush…”
Liga and I looked at each other. We didn’t need to be told twice!
I took more videos here than I did on the rest of the trip combined. By now, the sound of the Gentoos was utterly familiar, as well as their waddling gait and optimism in the face of everything.
But this was the last time I’ll be here with them. I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Just before we finally left, a bird stole an egg. I was at the wrong angle to take a shot of the actual theft, but as we were walking back to the zodiacs I snapped THIS SHOT.
The sheathbills sneak in, peck a hole in the egg and come back later to eat the insides. If you zoom in you can see the hole in the egg. It’s sad. The penguins only lay two eggs.
But of course, the skuas and sheath bills also have families to raise. Plus the egg would taste a lot better than the sheathbills’ normal food – penguin poo.
As we were enjoying lunch that was definitely tastier than penguin poo or penguin eggs, the ship began to move out of the bay. We were on our way home. Two days at sea, crossing the Drake Passage, and then we’d be back at Ushuaia.
At the briefing that night before dinner, Pippa asked if we wanted to get the weather forecast for the Drake. Would it be a shake or a lake?
She put up a picture of the weather chart.
“Of course, seeing as it’s you guys, the weather forecast for our entire crossing is blue,” she said, and started to laugh as we all cheered.
She pointed to the lower left-hand corner of the chart.
“You can see here that there’s a purple monster blizzard heading this way, but this will affect the group that’s coming after you. Your group has been truly blessed with unprecedented good weather.”
She went on to say, “The one landing we had where it was grey and snowing, I had a few of you asking if it was safe to go out.” She laughed. “ It was safe. That’s considered great weather for landings in Antarctica.
“ The last group we had was a 21-day cruise including the Falkland and South Georgia Islands. The weather was so bad that they only had ONE landing for the entire trip. You guys have been incredibly lucky.”
Wow. I already knew from Morgan that the trip I was originally meant to go on last year had pretty bad weather, but this was on another plane of terrible. I sat there thanking all of the gods that my tour company picked this out of all possible weeks to go.
Ross, the guide from Cornwall, then announced the photo competition. There were 3 categories: Landscape, Wildlife and Fun. People had a few hours to enter, then the whole ship would vote, with the 3 favourites from each category ending up in the finals to be announced on the last night of the cruise.
There was no way I was entering. I was actually pretty pleased with how well my iPhone 6 performed, but it’s no match for the latest iPhones and wildly expensive cameras and lenses that lots of people were using. I was definitely sitting this one out.
We stayed up late in the lounge, talking, reading and the card players doing their thing. SamFrank joined us as we were talking to an American guy who was in the military. He, (SamFrank), mentioned that he was a colonel in the special forces.
From memory, SamFrank is a captain, a colonel and a general in the FBI and Special Forces who is also a dance instructor, presumably in his spare time.