Dinner last night

April 29, 2022 • 3:45 pm

As I am the lecturer for the University of Chicago group on this trip, my duties including hosting two tables on two nights that include all the alumni. Last night was my second night.

The invitation sent to the alumni, front:

Back. Is this a misspelling or some kind of pun?

La carte:

Sopa de pedre, or Portuguese stone soup: “Kidney beans, garlic, onions, pork belly, black sausage and potato. It was good—and hearty:

Mixed grill: “Pork tenderloin, chicken sate, lamb chop, sausage, herb butter, garlic, Pont Neuf potatoes, braised roots celery.” It was, well, mixed. The star was the lamb chop.

Dessert: “Arroz Doce: Portuguese rice pudding”. Judging from this example, the Portuguese like their rice pudding very dry.

More from Madeira

April 29, 2022 • 10:00 am

Here are more photos from my half day in Madeira.  This included a visit to the local market and the Palheiro Gardens, acquired by the Blandy (wine) family in 1865.

A wine shop selling Madeira. I missed the Madeira tasting in the afternoon, but they tried only two small tastes (of Blandy’s, I recall):

The market, fish section. Identify the fish. The long eel-like one is a local favorite:

What is this evil-looking fish?

Fruit and veg. Identify the fruit:

Closeup of the purple fruit:

The flower sellers dress in traditional women’s costume for Madeira:

Both the Canaries and Madeira seem big on potatoes, and I love them. The market in Funchal had many types of potatoes. What are these gnarly tubers?

Spuds galore!

I think these are small red peppers:

Sugar cane, grown locally and used in drinks, as I noted yesterday:

Several varieties of bananas and plantains were on sale:

. . . and many spices:

On to the Botanical Gardens up on the hill. I tried to photograph plants that I was told were endemic, but I can’t be sure of these, and some of them aren’t endemic. Identify, please.

Endemic flower, or so I was told:

Non-endemic tree. The picture below it shows the leaves (needles), which I’m sure some reader can identify:

The Blandy mansion, where the descendants still live. It’s smack in the middle of the botanical gardens, which they own, I think, but hard to photograph because of the trees around it:

Tiny pebbles are laid down by hand in patterns to make a sidewalk. This hand-work is found in many streets in Funchal:

Two species of endemic flowers, or so I was told. I’ve forgotten their names, and I’m not so sure our guide knew the meaning of “endemic” when I told her to please point out to me the endemic plants. These don’t show up, either, when I do a Google image search for “endemic plants Madeira”:

Th-th=that’s all, folks!

Madeira and its doors

April 28, 2022 • 10:00 am

We will have two posts on Madeira based on our one-day visit. This one gives a brief overview and then shows the artistic doors of the island’s capital city.

We have landed in Funchal on the southern part of the island of Madeira, which itself is Portuguese. (With a population of about 100,000,, a cute town, a market, and access to a lovely botanical garden, Funchal is the island’s largest city and its biggest tourist destination.)

Click on photos to enlarge them.

The cruise tracker shows us here:

A larger perspective:

Through my cabin window: another gorgeous day:

Here’s Funchal from the Botanical Gardens about 500 m up the mountain (more on the plants in the next post). The Gardens also houses the still-occupied mansion of the Blandy family, which got rich making Madeira wine  (If you’ve drunk Madeira, you’ve undoubtedly had their wine.)

See our ship way below? (Go to next photo)

Our ship (arrow) which is dwarfed by a regular cruise ship:

We were told that when the city was seedier and a haven for sailors, prostitutes, and other such trade, the city fathers decided to encourage people to paint their stores and houses as a way of restoring respectability. Funchal is now plenty respectable and prosperous, and the doors are lovely. Here are a few:

A restaurant with a well fed customer. Can you spot the cat?

Also on a restaurant: a traditional drink for returning sailors made with rum, honey, and sugar. We were told it was served warm, so it would be a hot toddy.

A Berber, presumably from Morocco:

Cats are in many of the door paintings:

A DUCK STORE! I would have gone in, but we were on a tour:

The Duck Store had two duck doors:

A salacious mail slot:

A bookshop with book-y doors:

Can you spot the cat?

These are my two favorites. There were many more doors, but no time to photograph them!

I almost forgot dinner last night. Le menu:

I didn’t feel like eating baby cow, and I’m not much of a piscivore, so I did what one reader suggested the other day: ordered the sirloin steak, which is always available. First, though, a spinach salad:

Sirloin steak ordered rare but cooked medium rare, or even a tad more. It was okay but next time I’m going to order it “mooing”. It’s hard to cook such a thin steak rare on the inside and cooked on the outside.

Sticky date pudding with spun sugar ornamentation. As usual, this was the best course:

I have landed again!

April 24, 2022 • 1:21 pm

It was a long day sightseeing in Tenerife, and I have many pictures from today, much less the pictures from the Botanical Garden yesterday. But I’m exhausted and we have just boarded after crossing the island to the port city of Santa Cruz (indicated in red):

My cabin. A lovely old-style one with a sea view.

Le bain. No bidet, but all requisites for la toilette.

Now I will show you my lunch (I can’t remember the name. It was in a fancy restaurant outside of Puerto de la Cruz. I can’t remember the name, but the lunch card looks as if was on the ship (it wasn’t). The restaurant was in an antique mansion and I’ll put up more later

The appetizer was okay, but the “seasonal fruits” were not a good idea.

Main course: Very good. Salmorejo sauce apears to be an Andalusian tomato-based sauce, but with many variations (here’s a simple version).

Dessert. It was good; there are not a million possible variations of a brownie and vanilla ice cream, and all of them were good. The one was, too.

With the meal we had a Spanish white (a verdejo), and a temperanillo, one of the grapes of Rioja.


The Last Supper

April 4, 2022 • 10:00 am

I show below the final dinner on the MS Roald Amundsen on Saturday evening. It was the final meal before a hurried breakfast the next day. expected a fancier feed than usual.  It was a bit fancy, though I missed my burgers and milkshake in “The People’s Restaurant,” the Fredheim.

I hied myself to the Aune restaurant a bit after six, when it would be less crowded and one could see the sunset. Here’s a panorama, although there’s a smaller dining space (with equally good views) to the left:

And the courses, described (and spelled) as on the menu:

“Potato waffel, lemon cream, semi dried tomato and crispy onion.”

It sounds like a weird mixture, and it was (they didn’t mention the asparagus). A dry “waffel” didn’t meld well with an only slightly cooked onion and the “lemon cream.”

The waiter asked me what I thought of it, and I said, “It wasn’t very good.” So he brought me a half-bowl of another appetizer on tap: also a mixture of strange things.

“Apple, parsnip & potato soup, diced green apple, goat cheese, walnuts.” This dish was okay, even though unusual. I couldn’t detect the walnuts.

The main course, one that’s often offered on “special nights.”

“Beef Wellington, asparagus, mushroom, onions, mashed sweet potato and madeira sauce.”

This was pretty decent, but the pastry had gotten soggy and there really wasn’t any need for all those mushrooms around the beef. The beef was cooked properly—medium rare—but didn’t taste very beefy.

Finally, dessert: “Omelette Norvégienne”, which the waiter called “Baked Alaska”. It wasn’t really a baked Alaska for the meringue was cold, though the ice cream was. It was still good and the mango sauce was a definite plus. As usual, desserts in the Aune are the best courses.

And so back to Chicago after a decent breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn.

Soon I’ll be kicked out of my room and will have to cool my heels for several house in the “crew room” downstairs until I head over to the airport (a 10-15 minute walk) to catch an 8:30 flight to Houston.

In the meantime I’m anxiously awaiting an email with the results of my mandatory PCR test for covid, which I took at 9:30 this morning. A negative result is required to board the plane to the US, and the test must be taken no more than 24 hours before the first flight on the way home.

If things go awry—and one can’t be assured that they won’t—I won’t be allowed on the plane. I’m sure I don’t have covid, but not so sure that the testing company (two people with swabs, test tubes, and ice buckets) will get the results to me in time. They said they would, but hey. . . .

Wish me luck!

Chile: Days 32 and 33

April 2, 2022 • 2:15 pm

And so our trip comes to an end: a month of sailing and many glories seen, many penguins photographed, many icebergs floating by.

For over two days we’ve been sailing almost due north toward Valparaiso, and we arrive at about 6 a.m. tomorrow.  At about noon I’ll disembark (i.e., “leave”). The next night, assuming I’ll pass my second PCR test for covid in 2.5 days, I’ll fly back home for a several-week respite before the next trip.

There’s really nothing much to tell about the last few days. We’ve had lectures to watch, though none of them have been recorded, meals on tap, recaps of the trip, which just make me nostalgic and the sea all around. A whale was reported off the starboard bow this morning, but when I got up on deck there was a big crowd with binoculars but of course the whale was gone.

All I can proffer as my final post is a map and the one meal I’ve eaten (in the Aune) since my last report. Food first, with the menu descriptions:

The daily bread basket in the Aune. I’m reduced to posting pictures of rolls!

“Chicken liver pate, grilled rustic bread and cornichon.”

This is why I ate in the Aune yesterday: to try this dish: “Reindeer roasted root vegetable and wine sauce.”

The meat was very lean, as you can see, and very tender, but lacked flavor. But at least I got to try reindeer.

As Ishiguro would call this, “The remains of the plate.” It reminded me of an abstract painting.

Chocolate soufflé. As usual, dessert was the best dish of the meal, served piping hot with a poached strawberry:

The Expedition Team kept a running map of our journey (this is the second one; the route was different on my first). We started in Punta Arenas, took the Beagle channel to the South Atlantic, and then headed to the South Shetlands. We wound around the Antarctic Peninsula for a few days, and then headed north, passing Cape Horn. After tooling around the fjords for a couple of more days, we exited to the Pacific. Now it’s full steam ahead for Valparaiso, where the ship will refuel and head north to Alaska and then through the Northwest Passage back to Norway. But that last trip will, I think, be without passengers.

Here’s an enlargement; the Team conveniently numbered the high spots. For me? It’s hard to match the beauty of the Lemaire Channel, and of course any place with penguins is a high spot. I still say that if you can get.yourself down here once in your life, do so. I’ve never seen anything like it. And don’t forget Torres del Paine National Park as a side trip. I did that in 2019, and it’s stunning.

My favorite picture from the trip (click to enlarge the next two):

And second favorite picture. Sense any theme?

Natural selection is cleverer than you are

April 1, 2022 • 1:07 pm

The title of this very short post is widely known in our trade as “Orgel’s Second Rule” after evolutionist Leslie Orgel. Of course the Rule doesn’t mean that natural selection is conscious or has a pre-planned goal or outcome: simply that sometimes natural selection can achieve a result so wild and unexpected that it looks as if there was a clever mind behind it. (I say this so that the ID types won’t attribute to me a “mind” behind evolution.)

I lectured about this during this trip when explaining how, in Antarctic “icefish”, the gene making the enzyme trypsinogen—produced by the pancreas to help digest food in the intestine—became duplicated over evolutionary time, and thereafter one duplicate became rearranged by natural selection so it produced a bizarre glycoprotein having a small amino-acid sequence repeated many times over. That sequence allows the new protein (the old one’s still there) to glom onto the small particles that would enable ice to form and grow in the body. It is an anti-freeze protein that, produced in large quantities, reduces the freezing point of the fish’s blood below the -1.9° C of Antarctic waters. Therefore the fish’s cells don’t freeze and it can survive in water that would kill most other fish.

We know the evolutionary source of this antifreeze protein because it bears, at the beginning and end, the “start” and “stop” bits of the DNA that makes trypsinogen. Those “vestigial sequences” are evidence of evolution—of the ancestry of the antifreeze protein.

But I’ve digressed. I wanted to talk about something I just realized. I took my daily half-hour constitutional on the top deck (daily when the weather’s good, that is), and came back thirsty. It was gloriously warm and sunny outside, and I grabbed my aluminum water bottle from the cabin fridge. (We all get these bottles to save plastic, as Hurtigruten is green.)

I don’t like “hydrating”, but this time I needed to. And this time, because I had a thought, I timed how long it took me to take the several deep swallows needed to slake my thirst. It was about five seconds.

Now over those five seconds, my body didn’t have time to absorb and use the water that it needed. The thirst, of course, is a signal that your body needs water. But what struck me is this: I drank sufficient water for my body’s needs before those needs had even begun to be satisfied!

In other words, not only is thirst a way of telling you need water (and hunger for food and so on), but the slaking of thirst is a way of telling you when you’ve had enough water. It’s as if by simply ingesting a medicine you need, you’re cured before the medicine even does its thing. Or it’s as if you have an infection, and the infection starts to go away five seconds after you swallow your antibiotic. Or it’s as if your headache went away the minute you swallowed your aspirin.

Of course, we didn’t evolve to take antibiotics, but we did evolve to drink water when needed. And natural selection has been clever enough to find a way to tell us that we’ve drunk enough before that water has entered our system.

Presumably the “that’s enough” reflex evolved because you don’t want to drink too much water. You could get bloated, or perhaps a predator is lurking nearby to snatch you as you guzzle from the water hole. I don’t know how it happened, but it did happen.

Maybe this seems tedious and obvious to you, but it still amazes me. What mechanism operates in your throat and stomach to let you know that you can stop drinking?

UPDATE: Well of course biologists have thought about this problem before; I certainly didn’t think I was the first. And, sure enough, in the first comment below Cyrus Martin, senior editor of Current Biology, steered me to a paper in his journal that dealth with the issue, “Thirst,” by David Leib et al.

Here’s the most relevant part, but the article has lots of information about the generators of thirst and the physiological distress it signals:

 Drinking quenches thirst in anticipation of water absorption

There is a delay of tens of minutes between the ingestion of water and its full absorption into the bloodstream. However, drinking can quench thirst within seconds, long before the ingested water has had time to alter the blood volume or osmolality. Thus, thirst is not quenched by the reverse of the process that generates it; instead, the brain terminates thirst by using sensory cues from the oropharynx to track ongoing water consumption and then estimate how this water intake will alter fluid balance in the future, after the water has been absorbed. These anticipatory signals are transmitted from the oral cavity to the SFO [JAC: the “subfornical organ” i the brain that detects changes in blood osmolarity and partly generates the “thirst signal”] where they inhibit the same thirst neurons that respond to change in the blood volume and osmolality. This circuit organization allows SFO thirst neurons to make a comparison between the physiological need for water, which they measure directly by monitoring the blood, and the amount of water that has recently been consumed, which they measure by tracking oropharyngeal signals of fluid intake. SFO thirst neurons compare these two values to decide when drinking should be terminated. It is likely that a similar integration occurs within other structures of the lamina terminalis that control drinking behavior and hormone release.

That IS clever, isn’t it? But wait—there’s more:

The specific oropharyngeal mechanisms that are used to track water consumption are not well defined. One signal appears to be temperature, because cold liquids inhibit SFO thirst neurons more efficiently than warm liquids, and oral cooling alone can reduce both thirst and the activity of these SFO cells. One explanation for this temperature-dependence is that water ingestion tends to cool the oropharynx, and as a result animals may learn to associate changes in oral temperature with the post-ingestive effects of water consumption. In addition to temperature, other somatosensory signals that report on the sensation of water in the oral cavity are likely to be important. There is also evidence that signals from further down the gastrointestinal tract, such as stretch receptors and osmosensors in the stomach, may play a role in thirst satiation. In none of these cases, however, is the identity of the relevant sensory neurons and the neural pathway by which they transmit information to the lamina terminalis clear.

I was just wondering last night why cold water is so much more desirable when you’re thirsty, and why people don’t just guzzle lukewarm water when they’re thirsty. This temperature-dependence, as it says above, may be a phenomenon involved with learning the relationship between temperature of water and how well your body is satisfied with the water. But, as usual, we don’t know the full answer.

I was just wondering last night why cold water is so much more desirable when you’re thirsty, and why people don’t just guzzle lukewarm water. This temperature-dependence, as it says above, may be a phenomenon involved with learning the relationship between temperature of water and how well your body is satisfied with the water. But, as usual, we don’t know the full answer.

Antarctica (Patagonia): Days 30 and 31

March 31, 2022 • 12:30 pm

We’re out of the land of ice and penguins, and into the land of fishing boats, small villages, and sleepy dogs.  In other words, we land in Valparaiso in three days and then, the next evening (if all goes well and I don’t have Covid), I fly home.

But the last two days have been pretty swell anyway. We made only one landing, this morning, but the channels we went through, mostly between the mainland and islands off the mainland, were lovely.

In one of them lay the isolated hamlet of Villa Puerto Edén, population listed as about 176. Two notable facts from our crew and Wikipedia: it’s said to be the most isolated village in Chile except for Easter Island, and it’s where the last Kawéshkar people, once nomads and now residents of this lovely and remote place. The only way to get there is by boat.

(Be sure to click on the photos to enlarge them.)

We stopped here two years ago, and they disgorged loads of people from the ship into the town, which you can circumambulate in about 10 minutes. I felt bad because, aside from the ladies selling their wares at the landing site, we didn’t see a single inhabitant; it was clear that they all went inside. I felt like a gawker visiting a display, and was glad that we didn’t disturb the locals this time.

Wikipedia has a note about the climate:

Villa Puerto Edén has an extremely wet subpolar oceanic climate (Köppen Cfc) and is widely reputed to be the place in the world with the highest frequency of rainfall,[2] though according to Guinness World Records the highest frequency of rain in a year occurred at Bahia Felix, a little further south, with only eighteen rainless days in the whole of 1916.

The weather is mercurial here, and it can be overcast one minute and fully sunny ten minutes later. We had some glorious sun sailing along the coast:

Traversing smooth water:

We saw some fishing boats, although they seem to be connected to a long string of cages. As far as I can gather, these cages are where they put the caught fish, so they’re a kind of “fish farm.” Perhaps readers can give more details about these operations:

Each boat is connected to a very long string of submerged cages.

And glory be: we sailed through the Darwin Channel, described by Wikipedia this way:

The Darwin Channel forms a westward continuation of the Aisén Fjord and links it to the Pacific Ocean at Isquiliac Island. It is located in the coast of Chile at approximately 45.4° south latitude. This is one of the main channels situated between the islands of the Chonos Archipelago. Darwin Channel opens in the northern part of Darwin Bay and is considered the best of those which lead to Moraleda Channel, its navigation is free of dangers.

Here’s a panorama, though it’s much like many of the channels we’ve seen.

And here are a large and a small map of the channel. I’m not sure if Darwin actually went through here, but I fortuitously had my Darwin tee shirt on while sailing through:

Fishing operations became more numerous over the day:

And then it was bedtime (dinner at bottom). When we woke up, houses along the bank and fishing boats were quite common, for we were approaching the large town of Castro.

We dropped anchor (yes, that’s what the captain said; we never used our anchor in Antarctica) in Castro’s harbor. On one side it looks like this, with fish farms and smoke (are they smoking the fish?)

And on the other side was the town of Castro. It’s actually a city on Chiloé Island, with a population of about 42,000, and is the capital of Chile’s Chiloé Province.  It’s also, according to Wikipedia, the third oldest city that has existed continuously in the country, as it was founded in 1576.

It has a lovely situation, and I took the big tender (lifeboat) in with a lot of other people who wanted to walk on their own and stay off the big buses. I had a lovely 1.5 hour walk, which was good exercise as a lot of the town is hilly.

The tender, which can harbor a lot of people as a lifeboat.

And the port. You can see one structure in the background that resembles the palafitos, (traditional wooden houses on stilts for which Castro is famous, but the best view of them is obtained from the water and they’re so close together I couldn’t see many stilts.

Here are some of the stilt houses from a picture on Castro’s Wikipedia page:

A church on the town square, which reminded me of the square of Punta Arenas, where I stayed one night in 2019. I love the use of wood instead of stone.

Like the stilt houses above, many of the homes and shops of Castro are painted in bright colors.

You wouldn’t think that purple and green would harmonize, but I like this combination:

There were plenty of d*gs in town, nearly all of them sleeping. They looked to be in pretty good condition.

Look at this big boy! I don’t know what breed it is but surely a reader will know. It looked like a lion dog!

A lovely face!

Continuing on, I saw a car with a trailer, and sitting in the trailer was a sleeping CAT. I believe this is the first felid I’ve seen on this trip, so I took three pictures of it.

A calico! I did a bad thing because it woke up when I took its picture, and as we all know, it’s a sin to disturb a sleeping cat. (Look up the story of Muhammad and his cat Muezza.)

The cat, too, was in good condition. I’m sorry I woke you up, kitty.

There was a lot of street food in Castro, and I didn’t have any Chilean pesos! I had figured I’d get some from an ATM, but every ATM in town had a huge line of people in front of it. Otherwise I could have sampled one of these empanadas. This place was doing a land-office business.

The prices were low. One chilean peso is worth only one-eight of a cent, so 1800 pesos is about $2.30 U.S. (There are about 785 pesos to the dollar.)

Food trucks aren’t only in America. One street was lined with them, and they were well patronized

Freshly fried churros–my favorite! Alas, I had not a peso to spend. Six for about $2.50

I saw this statue of what looked like a Chilean laborer by the harbor. The plaque at its base translates like this: “Work completed in 2019, being Mayor Don Juan Eduardo Vera Sanhueza, the ‘Sculpture Marino Chilote’ was built by mandate of the Honorable Municipal Council.”

I’d guess this is a generic Chilean seaman. Nice statue!

Empanadas and churros weren’t on tap for me today, but here’s last night’s dinner: pork and shrimp dumplings followed by a round of chicken tortillas, washed down with a blueberry milkshake.


I swear this will be the last picture of a milkshake I foist on you. But it may also be the last picture of this trip, for now we steam north without stops.


Antarctica (Patagonia): Days 28-29

March 30, 2022 • 12:30 pm

This post extends through lunchtime yesterday: March 29.  There were two Big Activities to see and do on days 28 and 29: our second passage through the White Narrows, headed back east, and then, on Tuesday, a closeup view of the largest glacier in South America.

As usual, click the photos once or twice to enlarge them.

We left Puerto Natales in the late morning of the 28th and headed west through the fjords and mountains back toward the  “White Narrows“. I’ve previously posted about our west-to-east transit through this most treacherous of passages, but I’ve since learned a bit more and was better prepared to take pictures.

The approach to the Narrows from either direction is lovely, with snow-capped mountains on either side.

The White Narrows is a gap in the channel between the mainland and a small island, with shallow waters below. The minimum width of the Narrows is 80 meters (260 feet), while the beam, or width, of the Roald Amundsen is 24 meters (79 feet). That means that if we went straight through the middle, we’d have a gap of 28 meters (91 feet) on each side. 

But we don’t go through the middle, as the south side of the narrows is shallower than the north side. That means we thread the needle by going closer to the north than the south side. It looks and feels as if you could reach out and touch the trees on the mainland to the north.

Below is the gap through which we’ll pass (photo taken from the east side). The arrow shows the infamous narrows:

This site provided a cool picture of another ship making the transit; I believe this was taken with a drone. Note that the ship is staying closer to the north than to the south side of the Narrows.

Photo: Ross Vernon McDonald

You can traverse the narrows only during “slack water”: that period between low and high tide when there is very little current—a short period that occurs only four times a day. This is the time when the current through the Narrows is around 1 knot or less (about 1.2 mph). If it’s higher, it can make the ship harder to steer, as well as causing eddies that can throw off the navigation.

The only way to measure the current through the narrows, and determine an auspicious time for passage, is to send out a Zodiac with the proper instruments. That small inflatable ship, carrying a Chilean pilot, a navigator, and other bigwigs from the ship, goes into the gap about an hour before the ship does. The people on the Zodiac, I’m told, are constantly communicating with the bridge of the ship, giving information about currents, wind, and so on. Sometimes they stay in one spot and sometimes the Zodiac moves back and forth across the narrows testing the water flow.

Here’s what you see from the ship. Since you never know when the time is right, if you want to experience the passage you must go on deck roughly when the small ship enters the narrows, and wait for about an hour.

See the tiny Zodiac in the photo below?

Closer up (more zoom on my lens):

Finally, without fanfare, the bridge and narrows-watchers decide that the time is right for the ship to go through, the ship starts moving, and we approach the opening slowly and carefully:

Almost there. . .

And the passage through. This is the south side, where we’re farther from land.

And the closer north side, where people are amazed that they’re so close to land. It’s sure less than 90 feet to the rocks!

I was told by the Expedition Leader, who’s in charge of determining our itinerary, that he was on the bridge during the transit as the ship was steered MANUALLY through the gap. GPSs won’t do here because the currents and eddies change rapidly. The leader said that the captain loudly told all the interlopers on the bridge to remain absolutely quiet, as he had to concentrate on steering the ship.  There’s also a Chilean pilot on the bridge, who doesn’t steer the ship but is there to give advice.

And we’re through! Another great feat of navigation.  The sheep has to steer left immediately after going through to stay in the middle of the passage.

After the transit, the exploration Zodiac returns to the ship, which is stopped to disgorge the measurement team and then hoist the boat into the bay.

I was also told twice that when Chilean pilots come aboard—several times during this trip—they don’t stop the ship because it’s expensive to stop it and start it again. Instead, both the small pilot’s boat and our big ship assume similar speeds, the Admunsen opens its door, a platform or a ladder comes out, and the pilot has to JUMP from one ship to the other on the fly.  This is, I’m told, nerve-wracking.

Above and below: the intrepid Measurement Team returns to the ship. As you see, four people are needed to man the Zodiac, make measurements, and advise the ship’s captain.

Right on the other side of the Narrows, the lovely scenery resumes.

Watching the transit works up one’s appetite. It was dinnertime (I eat at 6 pm, which is early).

I alternate between beer and wine at dinner (no booze at lunch though some people toss it down then). I like the wine because you can see the scenery outside the dining room reflected in the glass:

A man needs a hearty “Steakhouse Burger” after that nail-biting passage. I hadn’t had a burger in several days, and so why not?

And a chocolate shake for dessert.

We spent the rest of the day wending our way through the channel, and since the ship’s streaming video is down, I had no idea where we were headed the next day. At 8:15 each night they used to stream the next days itinerary over the cabin t.v. Now you have to go to the auditorium to hear it, but I didn’t want to be in a big crowd, covid-free though we seem to be.

I opened up my cabin window to see the scene below; we were in front of a huge glacier and my balcony was facing it directly.

It turned out to be the face of South America’s largest glacier, the Brüggen Glacier, indicated in the map below. Wikipedia gives ancillary information:

Brüggen Glacier, also known as Pío XI Glacier, is in southern Chile and is the largest western outflow from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Now about 66 km (41 mi) in length, it is the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica. Unlike most glaciers worldwide, it advanced significantly from 1945 to 1976, Brüggen surged 5 km (3.1 mi) across the Eyre Fjord, reaching the western shore by 1962 and cutting off Lake Greve from the sea. The glacier continued advancing both northward and southward in the fjord to near its present position before stabilizing. The growth covers a distance of more than 10 km (6.2 mi) north to south, adding nearly 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi) of ice. The glacier is named after the German geologist Juan Brüggen Messtorff.

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s second largest contiguous field, is the remnant of the ice field that covered much more of this area during the last big glacial period, about 40,000 years ago

It got sunny later in the day, and here you see a panorama of the glacier’s face (in the middle) and the surrounding area.

A morning selfie from my balcony. What a view I had!

The expedition leader and ship’s captain decided that it was sufficiently calm for us to go out in Zodiacs, though I didn’t expect that. I quickly threw on my warm clothes and was in the second boat to to out. The remarkable calmness of the water and relative quiescence of the glacier enabled us to travel very close to the face. (You never go right up to the face lest a deadly “calving event” occur.)

We were out early as the sun rose:

And we traveled in the Zodiac along the face for 45 minutes. Unlike Antarctica, it was relatively warm and I didn’t need gloves. There are no icebergs in this channel as the warmer waters melt the falling ice quickly.

It’s a moraine-ish glacier, with lots of dirt mixed in with the ice. That makes the waters in this fjord very silty, sometimes clogging up the water intakes of the Zodiacs.

You can see how close they let us get to the glacier:

As the tides go in and out, part of the glacier often overhangs the water:


Another view of the ice hanging over water:

The Amundsen lay in the distance. Perhaps I should have taken a later Zodiac when the sun came out, but I was eager and in fact had no idea whether there would be sun.

The Mother Ship waiting to receive its Zodiacs:

And the mountains around us:

I decided to have a “proper” lunch at the Aune restaurant because I had a tiny breakfast so I could rush to the Zodiac launch. Before lunch, though, I visited one of the things that they do for passengers: give them clay to make penguins and paint to paint their models. Then they fire the penguins and put them on display. Here’s the display from this trip’s workshop.

As you see, the quality varies. Two parents and their chick are on the left:

I don’t know who made this messed-up penguin head, but I give it the First Prize:

In the cabinet are penguin models from earlier trips:

Lunch yesterday in the Aune, just to show you the nature of the food. I translated the menu from German (the ship’s app with English menus was down)

Soup:  Traditional Ukrainian borscht (beet soup) with lamb and sour cream (I didn’t detect any sour ceam):

Main:  Beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes, sour cream, pickled vegetables, and beets

Dessert: Financier (a french cake), cream, and berry compote. As usual, dessert in the Aune is the best course .

And an after-lunch view of the fjord.  I have a few photos from later in the day, but I’ll combine them with photos of whatever happens in the next day or two. I asked our ornithologist what the rarest bird he’d seen was, and he said that he saw a local hummingbird fly by the ship (he was able to identify it, but I forgot the ID). Since we’re not often on land that has vegetation, there’s not much chance to see land birds.

Antarctica: Days 26-27

March 28, 2022 • 2:11 pm

I’ll write this quickly as I just lectured and want to post this before it’s too late in the day.  This may be the last batch of photos I send from my trip. It’s sad, but I got to where I wanted to go!

Don’t forget to enlarge the photos by clicking on them once or twice with a pause

Two days ago, leaving the end of the Beagle channel and heading north, there was a mountain with a long tongue of glacier:

And then we traversed the “White Narrows“, a famous approach to the city of Puerto Natales where a large ship can barely squeeze between the islands. The width is said to be 260 feet  (80 meters) au minimum, and the squeezing through must be done at the narrow window of “slack water”: the period befween the tide’s coming in and going out. I just learned why this is, but we’ve just come through the other way, so I’ll explain it in my next post.

We had to send out a Zodiac ahead of the ship while someone in the Narrows measured the current. Just at the time of slackwater, a signal was sent to the ship and we quickly steamed through.

Here’s the passage; it’s actually between the mainland and the island you can see to the center left. I’ve put an arrow in the second picture to show you where the ship must go through. It’s a formidable feat of navigation.

There’s a narrow passage round the island where the arrow is. That’s the White Narrows.

Here’s the current-measuring Zodiac returning to our ship.

Approaching the Narrows. Everyone was on the top deck for the transit. Look at that squeeze!

This is how close we got to the mainland during the transit:

. . . and how close to the island on the starboard side:

We made it! You can see the boat’s wake curving around from the left as the Zodiac returns to the ship.

A rainbow appeared when we were through as if to smile on our success.

About two hours later we docked at the large-ish town of Puerto Natales. It’s the center of tourism for much of Patagonia, especially those who want to hike or visit the fantastic Torres del Paine National Park. Because of the pandemic and fall-off of tourism, this town suffered economically during the last two years, and many stores are closed.

Docking here was complicated. Because there’s no wharf long enough to tether the ship, there are mini-wharves made of cement (three are shown) to which the Amundsen was tethered as well. There were also two behind the boat

A panorama of the city and its dock, taken while docking. Do enlarge this photo; I quite like it!

Birds in the harbor! These are black-necked swans (Cygnus melancoryphus), the largest waterfowl in South America, weighing in at a hefty 3.5-6.7 kg, or 7.7-14.8 pounds.

Here’s the swan’s range:

And some beautiful Patagonian crested ducks(Lophonetta specularioides specularioides); many were tooling around in the harbor. They have beautiful red eyes with black pupils. It’s found only in southern South America, where it prefers quiet waters: bays, wetlands, and coastal areas:

It eats aquatic invertebrates, crustaceans, molluscs, and algae, and appears to dabble for them the way our mallards do.

A shiny black beak sets off the devilish-red eyes:

I couldn’t see the crests very easily, but here’s one with a bit of the crests showing. I’m not sure whether they can erect them.

We had a three-hour free bus tour of Puerto Natales and its environs in lieu of the expensive Torres del Paine excusion, which costs 300 Euros. (I did that two years ago; see my report here.) The big sight of the day was the Milodon cave, a cave where many fossils have been found, including that of Mylodon darwinii, a giant ground sloth that gives the cave its name. And the sloth’s name comes from Darwin himself, who discovered the type specimen on the pampas (only one species of Milodon is recognized.

These were some of the largest land mammals who ever lived; some of their relatives, in the genus Megatherium, were the size of small elephants.  Wikipedia notes what’s below, and mark that they mention the cave (my emphasis):

Mylodon is a genus of extinct ground sloth belonging to the family Mylodontidae, known from the region of Patagonia in Chile and Argentina in southern South America. With a total length of 3 to 4 m, it is one of the best-known and largest representatives of the group. The oldest finds probably date to the Lower Pleistocene. Most of the fossil remains, however, date from the Upper Pleistocene period. One of the most important sites of this phase is the Cueva del Milodón in southern Chile. Shortly after, about 10,200 BP,[1] Mylodon became extinct. At this point in time, it coexisted with the first human colonists in America. However, there is little evidence that it was hunted by humans.

In the cave they found samples of the dung, skin, and toenails, which I’ve put below from the Wikipedia article. The freshness of the skin led some to believe that Mylosona were still around 200 years ago, but the samples are dated to 10,000 years ago; they were preserved in the cave because it was dry and protected.

Richard Owen recognized the lower jaw found by Darwin as that of a sloth, and the geographic affinity of modern sloths, all of which are Central or South American, with the giant sloths, all from South America, led Darwin in part to his theory of evolution.

Here’s the entrance to the cave, which is large and high, but not that deep. Two people on the right show the scale:

We were told that they’re still excavating for fossils here, but we didn’t see any activity.

Looking back to the entrance from within the cave.

Some fellow passengers for scale. We were told that there were no plants inside until the pandemic drove tourists away, and the dripping water inside the cave lured in animals, whose dung helped plants grow.

I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken near a life-sized Mylodon statue.  It’s amazing that these animals lived only 10,000 years ago, and coexisted with humans.

Time for food. I’m eating very little breakfast and no lunch, so I get hungry at dinner and often eat a lot. That’s probably counterproductive, but what the hell. Here’s the local Patagonian barley wine.

A small steak, veggies, and fries.

Steamed dumplings with chicken:

I drank all the barley wine, so they gave me an IPA yesterday. It was okay, but readers here know that I’m not a big IPA fan because the flavor is too dominated by hops.

Quesadillas, which are quite good (these are shots from different meals, by the way.) You can have them with either chicken, pork, or couscous filling (the latter is just weird), and they have melted cheese and avocado as well.

What they call “sticks”, which are kebabs; you can get them with chicken or pork and a variety of sauces. These are lamb kebabs with chili sauce and satay sauce:

And my dessert last night: Norwegian pancakes (svellen) with homemade blueberry compote and meringue.