On Location: Circumnavigating South Georgia

November 7, 2011

"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of the wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of the ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of these three most elemental voices, that of the ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied."

~ Henry Beston

 

I know not when Beston wrote this, nor do I know anything of his legacy; however, I admire his appreciation of the sounds of nature. A man who recognizes the significance of the voices of the wild and describes them as "awesome," is a man after my own heart. As I write this entry with no access to Google, I am certain that Mr. Beston had never experienced the sounds of a king penguin colony or a beach adorned with thousands of breeding and birthing southern elephant seals ... for had he witnessed this marvel of nature, he surely would have written that the most awesome sound is that of the cacophony of bull elephant seals, overflowing with testosterone, bellowing amidst a harem of females giving birth, juxtaposed with the pulsating sounds of the Southern Ocean breaking on a pebbled sub-Antarctic shore. If I could speak with Henry Beston today, I would argue that this is indeed the most awesome, beautiful, and varied sound in nature. 

The circumnavigation of South Georgia Island is complete, our fourth in the two decades since Zegrahm Expeditions was formed. The expedition is not over, but South Georgia lays in our wake. The Sea Spirt is headed WNW returning to the Falklands for another few days of adventure. The other night we enjoyed a celebration onboard in a turbulent sea, with much to celebrate: the circumnavigation, Halloween, and 21 years of adventure travel, not to mention the joy of sharing this expedition with three of my best friends: Shirley Metz, Peter Harrison, and Mike Messick.     

To share such an amazing place as South Georgia with exuberant travelers aboard a comfortable ship, and to walk in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton, is to experience life to its fullest. There is no way to put into words the nature of this experience, nor adequately describe the feeling shared by all onboard. Perhaps the closest term is that used by Henry Beston ... these days have been among the "most awesome" that anyone can imagine.

Bound for the Falkland Islands.

Fair Winds.

 
 
 

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Incomparable Mali

November 3, 2011

Being from South Africa, I never dreamed I would come to another part of the continent and be so blown away.  Within five minutes of landing, every one of my senses was hit, and for the next four days we journeyed through incredible markets and villages, having one of the most diverse cultural experiences ever.  

Visiting the Tuareg in their natural desert environment, sitting in a caravan tent eating a traditional mishui lamb lunch, and finally making it to infamous Timbuktu was just the start of our adventure in Mali.  Getting to see the largest mud mosque in the world, together with the huge Monday Market that surrounds the structure, made the town of Djenné another highlight.  Our visit to Dogon Country revealed the amazing architecture that blends into these towering rocky cliffs, similar to the Grand Canyon, with villages nestled at the base that run for over 200 miles. Once we were in the remote Dogon villages among the unique slender thatched mud huts, we experienced a culture that is hard to imagine, defined by diviners reading fox tracks and incredibly skilled dancers with an amazing variety of masks.

It’s been a truly remarkable experience, completely safe, and not to be missed. I hope you join us on our next trip to Mali, an extension of our Senegal to Spain expedition departing in April, 2012.

 
 
 

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Crossing the South Scotia Sea

October 31, 2011

The open ocean transit across the Scotia Sea from the Falklands is 700 nautical miles; as we crossed the waters, the Sea Spirit was escorted by hundreds of seabirds, including albatross, petrels, and prions among others. Our first two days at South Georgia have been blessed with great weather and abundant wildlife. The first landing at Elsehul was surreal—elephant seals with their new born pups; gentoo penguins that had just begun to nest; and light mantled sooty albatross were showing off their aerial courtship. At Prion Island we observed an adult male wandering albatross feeding its chick, and everyone had the chance to see one of the few land birds known to the island—the South Georgia Pipit.

This morning the ship was at anchor in Fortuna Bay; after a savory barbeque lunch on deck, some of us followed the footsteps of Shackleton, where in 1916 he completed the last leg of his harrowing travels over the island. The sky is blue and the glacier at the head of the embayment glistens in the morning sun. Tens of thousands of king penguins nest here and the cacophony of mating dances is awe inspiring.

The energy level onboard is high, the spirit of adventure and camaraderie exciting. A celebration of 21 years since the origin of Zegrahm Expeditions.

 
 
 

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Crossing the South Scotia Sea

October 30, 2011 | Tags: South Scotia Sea

The open ocean transit across the Scotia Sea from the Falklands is 700 nautical miles; as we crossed the waters, the Sea Spirit was escorted by hundreds of seabirds, including albatross, petrels, and prions among others. Our first two days at South Georgia have been blessed with great weather and abundant wildlife. The first landing at Elsehul was surreal—elephant seals with their new born pups; gentoo penguins that had just begun to nest; and light mantled sooty albatross were showing off their aerial courtship. At Prion Island we observed an adult male wandering albatross feeding its chick, and everyone had the chance to see one of the few land birds known to the island—the South Georgia Pipit.

This morning the ship was at anchor in Fortuna Bay; after a savory barbeque lunch on deck, some of us followed the footsteps of Shackleton, where in 1916 he completed the last leg of his harrowing travels over the island. The sky is blue and the glacier at the head of the embayment glistens in the morning sun. Tens of thousands of king penguins nest here and the cacophony of mating dances is awe inspiring.

The energy level onboard is high, the spirit of adventure and camaraderie exciting. A celebration of 21 years since the origin of Zegrahm Expeditions.

Zambia Highlights

October 25, 2011

Our land program, Zambia: Africa's Best Kept Secret, recently came to an end, and we were lucky enough to receive some phenomenal pictures of the safari. A first for many of our travelers, they had incredible up-close views of lions and much more. Below are pictures and an excerpt from the journal of Lex Hes, our guide and one of Africa's premiere naturalist.

The trip got off to an exciting, if somewhat unusual, start when we discovered that the lions had booked out rooms 4, 5, and 6 at Shumba Camp, meaning that some of us had to share a room! Their presence ensured that we had great lion viewing at Busanga almost every day. It was an absolute highlight, seeing the lioness carry her three cubs on the first afternoon; it’s not often that one gets to see this kind of thing as it only ever takes place in the first month of a cub's life, and usually under cover of darkness. That the lioness also decided to show off by walking in front of camp during the heat of the day and chase puku right in front of us, was a great sight.

Another VERY exciting time was spent on the mighty Lufupa River, getting us up-close and very personal to many hippos. At one point I counted about 60 hippos within extremely close proximity to the boat as we drank our morning coffee.

Apart from the big animals, we had a wonderful vista of the plains from a hot air balloon where we saw herds of puku and red lechwe, as well as a variety of waterbirds including yellow-billed storks, the Goliath heron, ibises, and plovers. The magnificent crowned cranes were seen everywhere, as well as many wattled cranes and the pretty rosy-breasted longclaw.

It was at the Kalamu Camp in South Luangwa National Park that we saw the greatest diversity of mammal species of the trip—a total of 26 species, including special sightings of Sharpe’s grysbok; plenty of bushbuck including the beautifully-marked rams; Thornicroft’s giraffe, unique to the Luangwa Valley; the yellow baboon, a new species of baboon for many of us; the tiny four-toed elephant shrew; and two magnificent porcupines on one of the night drives.

The death of a hippo in the Luangwa River produced one of the great spectacles of the trip with over a hundred Nile crocodiles hanging around in the vicinity of the carcass. And of course there were hippos everywhere, walking on the sandbanks resting in the water, basking in the sun, and standing in the bush.

But the highlight, and very likely dinner-time conversation for some time to come, has to be the walking safaris where both groups encountered lions on foot and were subjected to some aggression from the large male. It has to be one of the most humbling experiences to be threatened by a lion like that! Our walking group also found a leopard after following up on the alarm call of a monkey. The walking trips in these great wilderness areas added a whole new perspective to our safaris.

In  Lower Zambezi National Park we had a variety of activities—cruises up and down the river looking for birds, hippos, crocs, and elephants; fishing trips in search of the impressive tiger fish; game drives with great viewing of lions and elephants, as well as nocturnal mammals including civets, genets, thick-tailed bushbaby, and white-tailed mongoose; and wonderful guided walks.

We ended our safari with a final night viewing, and again in the early morning, of a female leopard and her cub on a kill. What a great way to end a phenomenal journey.

Interested in seeing this incredible wildlife firsthand? Join our 2012 safari, Zambia: Africa’s Best Kept Secret.

 
 
 

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