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A magical penguin moment

My magical penguin moment on the sea ice

I was out on the sea ice yesterday, enjoying an incredibly warm morning, taking in the sun. I dozed off for a while. I was woken up by mother calling me… “Ryan…. Ryan…!” When I opened my eyes, she told me to look around. Several penguins were within feet of me, looking at me curiously. I had lain so still that they felt comfortable enough to approach. This is what experienced Antarctica travelers call a magical penguin moment… AWESOME. :)

Day 3: Landfall Antarctica: Lots of Ice and Penguins

On Day 3 of our trip, we approached the Aitcho Islands archipelago, which is located in the northern part of the English Strait near the South Shetlands. We landed on Barrientos Island for our first visit with penguins! Here are 20 photos that capture the major highlights of the day.

1. First sight of the Antarctic Peninsula which is actually a series of islands that jut up and outwards from the continent itself as if aimed at South America. The area at which we arrived is known as the South Shetland Islands and is a popular stop for Antarctica tourists traveling from South America.
2. My mother Maureen and I sitting on the Bridge of the ship and enjoying the sunny weather. The Bridge is where the Captain and his Officers navigate the ship. On this journey, the Bridge has been open 24/7 to all passengers who would like to learn more about the ship.


3. A pair of Kelp Gulls in flight over the Bridge. The Kelp Gull is the only seagull found in Antarctica.
4. Fellow expedition members on Barrientos Island visiting the penguin colonies.
5. Arriving at Barrientos Island on an inflatable boat known as a Zodiac. The boats have about six different inflatable components, so that if one or two (or even three) are punctured, the boat will still float and function.
6. Mating season has is just finishing up. Here, two Gentoo penguins are in their nests, sitting on top of their eggs to keep them warm from the still relatively cold Antarctic summer.
7. Our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, anchored off of Barrientos Island. Fellow expedition members are walking around seeing their first penguins of the trip. That is a Gentoo colony in the foreground.
8. Two Chinstrap penguins ambling around. The one on the left has red stains on its belly. It looks like blood but in fact its guano (penguin shit) which it picked up from surfing the snow. (I also picked some up on my snow trousers as I was lying on the ground taking photos.) The colour of their droppings depends on what they have been eating. Since this guano is red, we know that these penguins have been eating krill. Penguins also eat shrimp (in which case their guano would be white/yellowish).
9. A Chinstrap penguin intent on the road ahead.
10. Two Gentoo penguins tending to their eggs. The ground around them has a reddish tone because it is covered in guano. It is unusual to have two penguin species co-habitating in an area as they were on Barrientos Island. Gentoos have a less aggressive nature than the Chinstraps, a very different call and the Chinstraps have the distinctive black line on their face.
11. A popular pastime among penguins is stealing stones from other penguins to fortify their nests. Here, the challenger on the left creates a distraction in order to allow his co-conspirator to steal one. Smart!
12. A Gentoo ambling along in a familiar pose: wings spread back, head forward.
13. A Gentoo penguin earning an honest living from the rocks on the beach.
14. Two Chinstraps fresh from a swim in the ocean.
15. A Chinstrap scratching its head. The underside of its wings is a reddish colour – penguins apparently have a mechanism that allows them to cool off in hot weather by sending increased blood to their wings where they can air out (sort of like our sweating).
16. A Chinstrap having fun in the water!
17. A Gentoo taking a nap, cooling off by exposing as much of his body to the snow as possible.
18. A penguin egg that was stolen and eaten by a Chilean skua (a type of bird).
19. The first iceberg sighted during the trip. A prize was offered to the first passenger who saw one. The winner was a 10-year old boy who was given a free t-shirt. :)
20. View of the bow of the ship heading out of Lindblad Cove through a field of berger-bits and growlers (icebergs smaller than 25m and icebergs smaller than 5m, respectively).

The power of the cold and the wind

Holding on to the railing of the National Geographic Explorer, as gale-force winds whip against my body, in Lindblad Cove (Antarctica)

Last night, we cruised into Lindblad Cove, an inlet about 5km across which is named for a Swedish adventurer Lars-Erik Lindblad in honour of all that he did to promote awareness and conservation of Antarctica. Its about 10pm in this photo and still fairly light out. I could barely withstand the gale-force winds, among the strongest winds I have ever felt in my life. In front of is a massive glacier which is (slowly) sliding into the Southern Ocean and has a mountain on either side of it. As we watched, a huge section of the glacier calved off and slipped into the ocean in front of us, generating huge waves and creating new icebergs. The cold, the wind, the sheer power of it all is absolutely terrifying and thrilling at the same time. This is Antarctica!

Happy Garifuna Settlement Day!

Celebrating Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize City, 2002

Today is Garifuna Settlement Day which marks the arrival of the first Garifuna people off the coast of Belize in 1832. Ancestors of the Garifuna were originally slaves of the British in the Caribbean islands before settling along the Caribbean coast of Central America. In 2002 I visited Belize City and Dangriga and celebrated the 170th anniversary with the locals. Read more from my time in Belize from one of my blog postings back in 2002.

I went to Ethiopia (for two hours)

About a month ago I booked a ticket to Nairobi with Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. But when I saw the late arrival time in Nairobi (1:30am), I saw an opportunity to stay overnight in Addis to visit a local friend and see how the city had changed since my previous visits in 2008 and 2009. An added bonus was the chance to meet, interview and photograph a local company selling water filters (I am always eager to network!).

Being aware of visa requirements is always prudent and before booking my ticket, I checked to see if rules had changed. They had not: Canadians can still get a tourist visa on arrival for 20 bucks, said various websites including that of the consular services section of the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Just to be safe, I double-checked a trusted source of travel advice (lonely planet’s thorn tree forum) and also asked a couple of friends who had travelled there recently. After all this, I felt quite confident I would have no problems.

Well, on arriving at the airport tonight, I lined up for a visa and waited 45 minutes after which I was told by immigration authorities that because my stay was for less than 24 hours, I was eligible only for a transit visa. Such visas are organized by the airline and I was told to sort it out with them. The catch: the visa costs 70 dollars and requires a stay at a pre-determined hotel. And, since there were open seats on a connecting flight to Nairobi leaving within two hours (the same flight I had originally opted out of), there was no good reason why I should declare myself to be “in transit”, thus they doubted I would even be eligible for a transit visa. I tried to reason with the officials – and of course this went nowhere fast. Feeling the resistance, I decided to give in to the flow, and rebook my flight to head to Nairobi. Sometimes things are just not meant to be! And as soon as I did so, things started to work and my mood brightened. A pretty woman at the counter let me use her mobile phone to cancel my appointments and hotel booking and she managed to get my baggage moved on to the new flight ( and she spoke French!). Ethiopian’s inflight magazine, Selamta, was chock-full of inspiring travel reads. And my taxi driver at the Nairobi airport barely haggled with me over the price to my accommodation. :)

The upshot? If you are going to make a short visit to Addis, ie less than 24 hours, you might want to get yourself the tourist visa ahead of time. Or be prepared to wait in a very very long line for a transit visa at the airport.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always visit one of the half dozen or so bars in the terminal concourse and get yourself a local beer while you wait for your next flight. :p

St George’s Beer in Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Two examples of African ingenuity

The first is this makeshift sprinkler being used on the lawn of a hotel in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. I have seen this elsewhere in the city but never anywhere else on the continent or the world for that matter. A great idea! Have you seen it? :)

Watering the grass in Lilongwe, Malawi

The second is this electricity-free refrigerator invented by a Nigerian fellow who turned it into a successful business and apparently now sells 30,000 of them a year for a little more than 1 USD a piece. As described on GIZMODO.COM: “Conventional refrigeration does an incredible job keeping food fresh. But that technology hasn’t helped desert dwellers without steady electricity. A more recent development in refrigeration—the Zeer pot-in-pot refrigerator—only requires water, sand, and a hot, dry climate to preserve produce through evaporative cooling. Here’s how to make the simple gadget.” Follow the link to learn how to make your own.

The Zeer pot-in-pot cooler
(Image source: AIDG / flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aidg/533787809/)

Happy faces in rural Kenya

I put this image together after a conversation with a friend who runs a school in a Nairobi slum. She told me that she recently spoke with one of the parents of her schoolchildren who was telling her a story about a reporter who interviewed her about what it’s like to be poor. The woman recounted how the reporter assumed that because she was poor, she was unhappy with her life. But in fact, the woman said she was happy – her kids were in school, she can pay her rent, she can buy enough food so that they do not starve, and she has a job and works six days a week. But the reporter kept questioning her and she started to think she was crazy to think this way.

It seems to me that too often we who work in the so-called “international development” industry begin our work with the assumption that those who are poorer than we are aspire to be like us, to consume like us, and to live like us. We impose our Western values on them in return for aid, and stipulate that they adapt their economies and societies so that they can become “successful” like us. But success for us may not mean the same to them. We need to rethink and reframe the conversation we are having on global development. This image is intended to provoke some thought around this.

There is a quote attributed to Lila Watson, an Australian Aboriginal:

“If you’re coming to help me, you’re wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”