Category Archives: Uncategorized

Santiago Lava Fields and Bartolome Island

Location: Sulivan Bay between Santiago and Bartolome Islands, Galapagos

This morning the ship dropped anchor in Sulivan Bay, located between Santiago and Bartolome Islands. This was the day which we were most excited for when planning the trip. This location mixed recent lava flows, volcanic formations, with an active penguin colony. We were worried that we may not have had enough time to fit everything we wanted to do into such a short day.

We had an option for two tours in the morning. We could either go for a long 2 mile hike over the lava fields on Santiago Island, or do a shorter lava field hike. We choose the longer option. We’ve been to a lot of lava fields during our travels together: Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and even Iceland. But this lava field was probably the best we’d ever witnessed to see pahoehoe lava formations.

Lava fields in Santiago Island, Galapagos
Pahoehoe lava with layers of lava beneath.
Us standing on the Santiago lava field, with Bartolome in the background
Us at the edge of the pahoehoe flow next to the socoria cinder cones.

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife in the lava fields. There were some annoying tiny yellow flies (who didn’t bite), and the painted locust who was attracted to Ryan’s shirt.

A painted locust landed on Ryan

There wasn’t a marked trail on the lava fields and one had to be careful where they stepped. Cracks and crevices were plentiful, exposing lava layers that the geologists love to study.

Never step off the trail! (even if it doesn’t exist)

We were both very surprised to discover hornitos, something that we hadn’t heard of before today. Hornitos are small holes where lava emerges out of lava tubes and bubbles to the surface. They can grow quite large, but the ones here weren’t particularly tall. They were pretty iridescent owing to the volcanic glass that formed around the edges.

hornito

We had a few hours in between the morning and afternoon tours. The ship didn’t even change location. So instead of us going to the wildlife, the wildlife came to us. All around us, we would see manta rays doing flips out of the water. The mantas engage in this behavior to dislodge fish, attract mates, or for fun.

A manta ray flipping out of the water

A turtle came to the edge of the ship.

A sea lion took a nap on one of the pangas.

Look at the last panga on the left side to see a napping sea lion.

And an egret landed on the aft dining section of the ship.

Egret

Their were several options for tours in the afternoon in Bartolome. Everyone could do a deep water snorkel. Then separately people could climb to the top of bartolome, or go for a panga ride to see wildlife. We choose the snorkel and hike.

Bartolome is a volcanic island that formed about 700,000 years ago. Probably from a single eruption. The island may be best known as one of the filming locations from the movie “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”.

Our first excursion of the afternoon was to go for a deep water snorkel off the coast of Bartolome near pinnacle rock. This was the tour that Ryan was most excited for. When we approached the dive site, we could see a penguin about 30 feet north of the panga making noises. It was like it was beckoning us to come play with him. But our guide told us that we had to swim south. We figured that if we saw one penguin, we’d surely see more that wanted to play.

We didn’t. As it turns out most of the penguins live on the other side of the island, but they occasionally come over to look for food. Not so much today, but at least we got to swim with penguins yesterday.

In fact, we didn’t see much beyond lots of fish on this snorkel. It was a little disappointing compared with our previous swims. But you can’t control wildlife, and we were probably very lucky that last couple days so it sort of all balances out. On the plus side, we saw a LOT of fish, and the water was probably 10 degrees warmer than yesterday.

Two schools of fish collide
Ryan snorkeling
Starfish were very common

Our last tour of day was the long walk to the top of Bartolome. We had to take 380 steps to the top of island (374 feet) with a trail of about 0.8 miles long. The entire trail was on a wooden boardwalk. The panoramic view from the top is said to be one of the best and most iconic in the islands.

The hike took about two hours. We made frequent stops so that the naturalists could explain the geology and vulcanology of the island. We got to see lots of craters and cones from diversion eruptions, lava tubes, and volcanic bombs.

A lone green plant and flowers on the side of Bartolome

Here’s our view from the top. It really did offer a great view of the nearby pinnacle rock, and most of the surrounding Galapagos islands. The only downside was that the tour was near the end of the day, so the lighting wasn’t very great to get a shot of pinnacle rock.

A view from the top of Bartolome
A submerged caldera from Bartolome

Tomorrow we go back to Santa Cruz island to visit Bachas Beach, where we might get to see flamingos for our last beach snorkel. In the afternoon we visit North Seymour Island for our last snorkel of the trip, and visit a frigate bird colony.

Total pennipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Types of lava formations: 3 (pahoehoe, aa, hornito)
Totel penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 3
Total equator crossings: 0
Total islands visted: 2
total watercraft: 5
Total Steps: IDK, fitbit died. But based on other passengers fitbits, over 10,000 plus a lot of swimming.

Advertisements

The Penguins of the Elizabeth Bay Mangroves

Location: Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Today we are splitting our posting of the days events into two seperate posts, because its a logical seperator due to being in different locations and because we have so many picutres to share.

This morning we dropped anchor near Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island. The location is on the western end of the archapeligo and experiences some of the coldest waters. This makes it ideal for penguins and other wildlife that prefers colder water. Frequent readers will know that we love penguins, and the timing of this trip in Septemeber was to maximaize our chances to see the endemic Galapagos penguins at their most active time.

We weren’t disappointed.

There was only one excursion option this morning, a panga ride to see the mangroves of the bay. We had a choice between 8 AM or 10 AM ride. We’ve beaten the sun every day, so we choose the earlier ride. Plus wildlife tend to be more active in the mornings and evenings.

The panga departed from the ship and we made our way into the bay. As we approached the coastline our naturalist started looking for signs of penguins. Ryan was the first to spot one in the waters.

First sighting of a Galapagos Penguin

And then we never stopped seeing them! Even the naturalists were impressed by how many penguins we could see and how active they were. Normally they may only see a handful. We saw dozens!

Galapagos penguin eating a fish

Penguins chest bumping
A penguin falling off a rock after a chest bump
Ryan’s in his happy place
Both Galapagos penguins and Rachel exhibiting their respective natural behaviors

After looking at penguins in the open bay and near the mouth of the mangroves we ventured further into the protected waters. There we saw rays and turtles.

On our way back to the ship we stopped at a few rocky islands to see the nesting sites for the flightless cormorants. This nesting site was also joined by a couple resting sea lions.

flightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant nesting site.
flightless cormorant about to jump down a step
flightless cormorant midjumo
“Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

This afternoon the ship will move north up the coast to Tagus Cove. We will go on a deep water snorkel to try to swim with the penguins. Then we’ll split up and go on different excursions, each with varying length panga rides and hikes.

Boarding the Xpedition and Daphne Major

Location: Santa Cruz, Baltra, and Daphne Major, Galapagos

We woke up early this morning. Not because we had too, but because we got to bed early last night, we’re still on east coast time, and a loud rooster was not far from the hotel. We spent some time packing up, and playing on the internet then headed down to have breakfast in the courtyard. It was a yummy and generous sized breakfast for two people. It didn’t take long for the birds to realize that we were eating and soon Tippy Headrin (Ryan) was surrounded by a couple dozen finches and other birds eager to eat any loose crumbs that fell off his plate when he was looking the other way. Like all other animals here, the small birds have no natural fear of humans, and would only fly away if we made any sudden moves in their directions.

After breakfast we left the hotel and made our way from Puerto Ayora to Baltra airport. We did the same journey as yesterday but in reverse. It took about 70 minutes to get to the airport. Along the way, Ryan spotted two Galapagos tortoises, but we were travelling too fast to get any pictures.

We arrived at the airport and met with the Celebrity Cruises representative. We were the first people to arrive for the cruise. He showed us to the Celebrity VIP lounge were was had access to food and drinks. Over the course of the next hour and a half, other passengers would trickle in from incoming flights. We were notified that the ship was ready for us and that we could board the ship. So the 16 early arrivals (most other passengers took the pre-cruise Quito add-on) made our way to a shuttle that took us to the port on the north side of the island.

We boarded the first zodiac (panga) to leave the port and made our way to the Xpedition. The panga ride took about 5 minutes to get to the ship. We were the first ones to board the ship (and thinking of Leigh’s life goal the whole time).

We got a quick cruise briefing and our room keys. And just like any other first day on a ship: we dropped our stuff off in the room, got lunch, and decided to explore the ship.

Exploring the ship took less than 5 minutes. It’s just not that big. It has a lounge, hot tub, a few decks chairs. The lounge is used for nearly all briefings, and its the only place on the ship with wifi (although we still could get a wifi signal nearby).

Most of the rest of the day consisted of getting us educated for the rest of the week. Our first briefing was the mandatory safety briefing and muster drill.  This coincidentally happened at the same time as the fourth quarter of the NYG-Eagles games. We’ve heard this briefing before (in the event of a water landing…) but it had a few twists from the normal cruise safety briefings. Ryan paid close attention… to the gamecast on his phone.  And he in no way was loud, made a scene, or drew attention to himself when the eagles won with a 61 yd field goal. FLY EAGLES FLY!

Next the ship raised anchor and made its way to Daphne Major and nearby volcanic island. This small island juts out of the sea with no obvious way to make landings. So the ship sailed around it. The island is most famous for the recent(ish) work of two researchers who have been returning to this island twice a year to survey the various finch species. Through their research they were able to show adaptation and evolution in action through the natural generation of a new finch species. This scenic cruising lasted less than an hour.  We got some good pictures of the island with its geological layers.

Daphne Major
Geologic layers showing different types of eruptions on Daphne Major

Meanwhile various frigate bids began flying in our wake, providing great photo opportunities.

Frigate bird flying in our wake

Along the way, we passed by some rocks sticking out of the water. It was populated by lots of seabirds and sea lions.

birds and sea lions resting on the rocks.

Later in the evening we had a briefing on how to snorkel and what excursion options were available to us tomorrow.

Tomorrow we will visit Rabida Island. In the morning we will go for a long hike and snorkel near Port Egas. In the afternoon we’ll go for a panga ride in Elizabeth Bay followed by more snorkeling.

Total watercraft: 3

Total steps: 6,175

The internet is faster and more reliable than we were expecting. It looks like we’ll be able to update the blog every night, but we may be a little limited in the amounts of wildlife photos we can upload. 

Also… Rachel was watching the Redskins gamecast while we were writing this… HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!

Riding Along the Oregon Trail

Location: Jackson, Wyoming -> Vernal, Utah

Click for a higher resolution image of today’s travel

Today was a travel day meant to transition from the mountain climate portion of the trip  to the desert climate.  And some of this journey took place on the Oregon National Historic Trail.

We didn’t beat our alarms for the first day of this trip, and actually hit the snooze bar a few times. So we got a later start than expected. We weren’t on a tight schedule so it didn’t really matter.

We left our comfortable hotel and made our way to Fossil Butte National Monument. It rained during most of this trip, so we didn’t get many good pictures of the landscape along the way.

The world’s largest elkhorn arch.

Along the way we shortly dipped in Idaho one last time, and then joined up with the modern Oregon historic trail.

We made it to Fossil Butte without any issues. The website for this park hasn’t been updated in a while so we came in with pretty low expectations. But the site museum and surrounding area has been updated recently so we were pleasantly surprised with what we found. On the road leading up to the visitor center were sign posts showing the evolution of life and geology on earth since its creation. The signage was proportionally spaced along with the respective passage of time. Rachel had flashbacks from her college classes and gave Ryan plenty of geology lessons for the day.

Inside the visitor center we were treated with well-preserved fossils of fish, plants, and other animals that had been preserved in a massive lake that once occupied the area about 50 million years ago. It was all presented very elegantly in a tight museum.

From there we got back on the road, again following the Oregon historic trail. Our next destination was Fort Bridger Historic State Park.

Along the way, we joined another wagon train to avoid some rough trails.

We did not die of dysentery along the way.  Somewhere along the trail, “Ryan has exhaustion”, and we lost two oxen while trying to cross the river.

Look at this awesome photo Ryan took of Fort Bridger today!
And this is the photo Rachel took.

The historic location has gone through a lot of changes since it was just an out of the way trading post along the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. Today it’s a museum. We spent about an hour here.

We got back on the road and made our way south towards Vernal, Utah. Along the way we passed through the scenic Ashley National Forest and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We pulled along the side of the road to get some great scenic shots of the landscape.

Flaming Gorge

Along the road, the forest service set up short informational signs that explained the geologic history and formation of the varied terrain along the road and through the road cuts.

Scenery on the drive.

In the late afternoon we arrived at the hotel. Ryan took a nap and Rachel worked on editing some eclipse photos.

Tomorrow we will start the day by visiting Dinosaur National Monument, a midday stop at Colorado National Monument, and looking at dinosaur footprints north of Moab, Utah.

Total steps: 6,960

Total miles driven: 323

Total national park passport stamps: 10

 

Spelunking Playa Del Carmen

Location: Cozumel, Mexico

Today was our second and last day in Cozumel. We booked an excursion that would take us to a nearby limestone cave on the mainland. We had to wake up pretty early this morning to take the tour, like earlier-than-the-oceanview-cafe-is-open early. Not because our excursion was particularly long, but because the Chichen Itza tour needed to leave really early, and they wanted all of the mainland tours to take and return on the same ferry.

So we left the sip at 7:00 and took the ferry across the channel to Playa del Carmen. Last year the voyage was pretty rough and lots of people got sea sick. We were extra prepared this time and wore seabands, took bonine beforehand and sat in the back of the boat. It wasn’t needed because the waters were pretty calm.

Next we met the pier guide and boarded a van to take us to “Rio Secreto” (or Secret River) site. From there we got into our swimwear (we had an option for wet suits), showered, put on life vests, hard-hats with lights, and equipped a walking stick. Then we took a short hike through the jungle to get to the cave. They claimed that we were entering the Mayan underworld, so a Mayan priest said a prayer and shook incense before us prior to going down the chasm.

This one cave is one of the largest in world, coming in about 27 miles long. There is another cave nearby which is nearly as large, if the two were discovered to be connected, then it would be the largest in the world.

We spent about 2 hours in the cave network. The only lights were from our hard-hats lights, guides flashlight, and the flash of the photographer’s camera. It could get very dark in there. We traveled about half a mile during that time and went between 20-60 feet deep. We had to navigate and climb over and between stalactites and stalagmites. And for prolonged periods we had to wade through waist-deep water. The water was comfortably cool/warm, about 75F. The path through our section of the cave, nicknamed “Happy” was generally clear. Our trek through the lava tube in Iceland was more challenging. At times our guide stopped to briefly talk about the formation of the chamber and some of the geology of the cave. Rachel occasionally added to the conversation with her geology background. During this time the group photographer would sneakily preposition himself to get pictures of us going through the cave.

You might be wondering at this point ‘Where are Rachel’s photographs?’ Well there aren’t any. We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras on this tour. We did have an option to buy photos of our tour at the end, but they weren’t the most flattering. Plus, when Ryan heard the price he asked “US Dollars or Pesos?!”. …So this post will be a little devoid of original photos. But you can see a few examples on the company’s website.

Toward the end of our journey through the cave we had to forgo hiking and actually swim through the underground river to progress through network. We were very adept at the swim, especially compared with the rest of the group.

Eventually our journey through the underground river came to an end and we made our way back to the surface. We dropped off our gear at the station then went to food-hut for lunch. An authentic Mexican buffet lunch was provided. We heeded the warming about the very hot and spicy sauces and had a mild lunch. Others in the group ignored those warnings to their own dismay.

Following lunch we were driven back to Playa del Carmen. We had about two hours here of free time before we could catch the water taxi back to Cozumel. We couldn’t leave any earlier, and we had to wait for the Chichen Itza tour to return so that all of the mainland tours could arrive at the ship at the same time.

wp-1481175087038.jpg

We spent some of this time at the beach. And even took a short break for ice cream before taking the water taxi back to the ship.

wp-1481175101562.jpg

Tonight’s entertainment was David Guidice, who performed a Billy Joel tribute on piano. Always fun.

Tonight was also lobster night. We each had two lobster tails.

Tomorrow is a day at sea and our last full day of the cruise. We don’t plan to be very active, just more of the usual. If we don’t post tomorrow, we’ll post the following day.

Free purell squirts: 3

Total steps: 10,090

Total distanced caved: ~ half a mile underground, but a quarter mile through the jungle

 

The Atlantic Locks of the Panama Canal

Location: Colon, Panama

05-coltopan

Last night we posted the blog and tried to go to bed early for our early morning excursion to transit the Panama Canal. But things didn’t quite go as expected. Soon after uploading last night’s post we got notification that the ferry that is used for the excursion to transit the canal was down for repairs, and that our excursion was cancelled. Because it was so last minute, we were only given three options as a replacement:

  1. Going to a shopping mall in Panama City
  2. Visiting Portobelo, Panama which according to the tour description “is severely affected by poverty, the facilities are substandard”
  3. Visiting the Gatun and Agua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal

Regardless of disappointment we booked the locks tour late last night. Our tour would limit us to one ocean, one continent, and no water transportation.

This morning Ryan was in a mood. But we still got breakfast and boarded a tour bus that first drove to Gatun locks area. Along the way we learned that there are no traffic laws in the Colon Province (this is actually true), and that most of the countries economy comes from the Colon province, but all of that money gets reinvested into the Pacific coast side of the country. And it really showed while driving through Colon.

We started our tour of the locks at the new (one year old) Agua Clara locks visitor center. These are the newest locks of the canal and are about 60% bigger, but use 60% less fresh water than the previous locks.

Agua Clara Locks
Agua Clara Locks

But because they are so much bigger they are also slower. We were at the visitor center for about 1.5 hours and only managed to see one larger super-carrier make it though 1 of the 3 locks.

wc031103_edited

wc031122_edited

wc031141_edited

After that we went to the older Gatun locks.  We were there for about 45 minutes and saw a couple ships pass through the locks.

Driving over the Agua Clara Locks. That is the same container ship from the previous pictures.
Driving over the Agua Clara Locks. That is the same container ship from the previous pictures.

wc031217_edited

wc031273_edited

Ryan, Rachel, Becky, and Leigh
Ryan, Rachel, Becky, and Leigh

We also got to see the use of the mule trains which help move the ships through the locks.

wc031261_edited

And play engineer on a model mule near the entrance.

wc031300_edited

Overall it was a pretty neat tour. It’s still upsetting that we couldn’t transit the canal on this trip as planned. But we suppose it prevents us from doing it twice if/when we come back again to do a proper cruise ship canal transit.

We made it back to the ship in time for lunch. One “advantage” to having out tour cancelled and rebooking a different one was that we could take advantage of the “in-port” prices for a massage. A relaxing massage ensued later that afternoon.

In the evening we saw the production show Elysium. It was entertaining as always.

Today also marked the southern most part of the trip at (9.3 N).

Tomorrow we make port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, where we’ll go on a tour of the rain forest.

Total Oceans: 1 (North Atlantic)

Total Continents: 2 (South America – on foot, and North America by sight)

Free purell squirts: 6

Total steps: 8,779

gopr4984_edited

Seward’s Ice Box

Location: Seward, Alaska

It wasn’t acutely cold in Seward today. We just couldn’t think up an appropriately witty title for today’s post.

Today was the last of our early morning wake ups for the trip. Ryan got up very early to return the rental car and take the hotel shuttle back, while Rachel stayed back to finish up packing. By 8:40 we were on a shuttle on our way to Seward to board a cruise ship.

We had a couple stops along the way. Our first stop was Beluga Point. We had a few minutes here to stretch our legs and look for the white beluga whales. We didn’t see any here.

W5270419_edited
Beluga Point

But we did see a pair a half hour later down the road. We were going to fast and weren’t in a position to pull over so we couldn’t get any pictures.

The next stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This facility takes in injured and orphaned wild animals and attempts to heal them back to health. Those that can be reintroduced to the wild, are sent out. Those that can’t be released, find a comfortable and spacious enclosure view-able to tourists. We saw grizzly bears, elk, bison, moose, fox, lynx, and many more.

W5270444_edited
Grizzly Bear
Lynx
Lynx
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

We arrived in Seward for the second time in two days. We had several hours before we had to board the Radiance of the Seas, so we dropped off our bags with the porters and took the Seward Shuttle to the Alaska Sealife Center.

The Sealife Center is essentially an aquarium featuring local aquatic species. It’s a large modern building that stands out from the rest of the town. Among the highlights are a large aviary with numerous puffins, gulls, ducks, and mulls that can fly around with visitors.

W5270479_edited

W5270504_edited

It also had habitats for seals and sea lions.

W5270529_edited
A playful seal

After our visit to the Sealife Center we took the shuttle back to the cruise terminal. This was probably the easiest time we ever had boarding a cruise ship. It didn’t even feel like we were starting a new phase of the trip, so much as going on the next tour. We think this had to do with the Radiance being a smaller cruise ship and the abnormally long time the reduced number of passengers had to go through the boarding process.

We spent the rest of the day going through our first day cruise routine. We unpacked, explored the ship, hit the hot tub, did the muster drill, and had a frosty fruity beverage as we watched the world sail away.

After diner, because it was still light out, we got a few more pictures of the nearby fjords as we sailed southeast.

W5280552_edited

Tomorrow is an “at sea” day were we have a scenic cruise of the Hubbard Glacier.

Today’s weather: High 63, Low 52, Sunny

Sunrise: 4:52am, Sunset 10:58pm

Total complimentary purrell squirts: 0, they give us disinfectant wipes

Total complimentary disinfectant wipes: 3

Total steps: 11,508

 

Labadee, Haiti

Location: Labadee, Haiti

Today we made port in Labadee, Haiti, a private peninsula on the northern side of the island of Hispaniola leased by Royal Caribbean. It is pretty well cordoned off from the rest of the country, so we’re hesitant to say that we got the true Haitian experience.

Royal Caribbean has also developed the area significantly since the last time Rachel was here. There are permanent structures, water and land activities such as ziplines and roller coasters. However those activities required a special fee, so we made it a beach day. But we were still very impressed with the little company village that was set up. Rachel took lots of pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1568.

One of the first things we did was walked across the peninsula to the artisans market where locals had stalls set up to sell various wares. The usual haggling rules applied, but the stall owners made a point of not pressuring the customers. We bought a wood carving and a couple magnets.

We walked back across the village to get a beach bar-b-que buffet lunch, then spent a few hours relaxing on the beach. Rachel read her kindle, Ryan listened to his ipod, we both worked on our tans.

Ryan enjoying the beach.
Ryan enjoying the beach.

Eventually we made our back to the ship, were we went to the solarium and continued the relaxation in the pool.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1570.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1571.

In the evening as the ship sailed away from Haiti we were treated to a breathtaking sunset. Ryan went to the gym and Rachel went to the casino.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The evening entertainment was the illusionist Drew Thomas. He performed the usual magic tricks you would expect on a cruise ship, along with some new twists. His show was also integrated with performances by the ships singers and dancers which made things more entertaining. We enjoyed the show quite a bit.

Tomorrow we make port in Falmouth, Jamaica. We don’t have any excursions planned so it will be a free day.

Total steps: 11,920

Total complimentary purell squirts: 9

St. John

Location: US Virgin Islands

This was probably the most busy day of our vacation.  We woke up early to have breakfast in the diamond lounge with Rachel’s parents. Then we went down to the future cruise sales desk to arrange for our next vacations. Leigh and Becky booked their long awaited transatlantic cruise. We also booked our 2016 mega-trip, but we’ll leave that for a future post. 🙂

Afterwards we went up to the sundeck to try the Flow Rider, but it was closed while we were in port at St. Thomas. So instead we played a few holes of mini-golf and played some casual ping-pong.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1149.

After lunch, the young group got off the ship and walked around the pier to observe the iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks; and to take some selfies with the Oasis behind us. Soon after that it was time to leave for our excursion to Trunk Bay on St. John.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harry, Abby, Rachel and Ryan
Harry, Abby, Rachel and Ryan

We boarded the Island Girl and took a 30 min boat ride to get to the other island. The seas were a little rough but we got to see a halo rainbow. Along the way our boat guide gave us some background on the history and geology of the US territory. Once we got to St. John we got off the boat and boarded a taxi truck which took us in deeper into the National Park, eventually getting to Trunk Bay.

Ready to go to the beach!
Ready to go to the beach!

Trunk Bay is an absolutely beautiful beach. The sand is full, fine, soft and clean. The bay features a coral reef with decent visibility. The reef has a path which snorkelers can follow and read signs teaching them about this environment. Most of us went out into the bay and followed the sign buoys. All the while we got to see many kinds of reef fishes and corals. Towards the end of the beach trip though, we all congregated in the shallow area to relax. Ryan and Andy spent time observing a small and well camouflaged crab.

Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay
Ready to snorkel!
Ready to snorkel!

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1157. DCIM101GOPROGOPR1184. DCIM101GOPROGOPR1205. DCIM101GOPROGOPR1210.

Eventually we had to leave the beach paradise and made our way back to St. Thomas and onto the ship. Before dinner most of us saw “Oasis of Dreams” the diving and water show. The performers were a mix of acrobats and divers, and together they put on an incredible show!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the late evening, we went out to the sun deck to try to see the Venus-Jupiter conjunction. Sadly it was too cloudy and rainy to be able to see it. We’ll have to try again in a few years when it happens again.

Tomorrow we make port in Sint Marteen/St. Martin.

Total Steps: 12,403

Rachel and Ryan
Rachel and Ryan
Jo Ann and Harvey
Jo Ann and Harvey
Abby and Harry
Abby and Harry
The 'Boys' - Andy, Harvey and Harry
The ‘Boys’ – Andy, Harvey and Harry

Beneath the Surface in Iceland

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Today was extreme geology fun day. Our tour today first took us to Leiðarendi cave in a lava field south of town. We donned caving helmets and strapped on LED helmet lights and made our way across the lava field to the cave entrance. The entrance itself was a small hidden hole in the ground. A fresh rope double staked into the ground provided the only support down the steep icy path to the depths within the cave.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0255.

The hardest part of the cave was in the first 20 meters or so. It was still cold toward the front and the icy deposits were all over the cave floor. In the summer this would not be a issue, but today it was a very slippery and scraping against the tough walls was a guarantee. Travel deeper into cave was not much easier, ice was replaced with uneven rock piles and stacked boulders which all required careful maneuvering to pass. But the effort was well worth it, we got to see many aspects of this lava tube including a variety of colors, stalactites and stalagmites, and sparkling bacterial colonies. Toward the back of the cave, there were even remains of a 800+ year old lamb. Archaeologists date it back to one of the earliest settlers on the island. It appeared that this goat was trying to escape a volcanic eruption which occurred at the time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
stalagmite

 

Getting out of the cave was nearly as much fun, but strangely easier than we dreaded.

Our next stop took us north of Reykjavik and back to þingvellir park. We were going below the surface again today, but not underground. Instead we were going snorkeling in the silfra fissure. Slifra is one of the rifts between the North American and Eurasian plates. It is connected to the lake and it therefore flooded. The source of water from the lake is from a nearby glacier. But to reach the lake the water must first spend 20-30 years being filter through lava rock. The results is crystal clear water. Visibility is over 160 m!

Yes it is still essentially winter in Iceland, yes it was snowing, and yes it was really cold. But the water was only 2 C, not freezing. But yeah, still really cold. So to help, over our normal clothes we wore these teddy-bear suits, essentially a down full body suit. It was very comfortable! So comfortable and warm in fact, that the dive instructor later told us the he frequently has to stop people from stealing them. On top of the warm body suit we had to wear a tight dry suit, which kept the water from leaking through. A rubber choke collar completes the set. A lot of air naturally got trapped inside and provides ample buoyancy while snorkling. We were also given special padded thick latex gloves and head gear to make us marginally less frozen in those areas. It took about an hour for everyone to get their gear on properly.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0270.

We had a 5 minute walk to the Silfra Fissure which feeds into the lake, crossing a street. It´s pretty comical to see people in snorkel and scuba gear crossing the road in Iceland. After reaching the lake, we donned our masks, snorkel, and flippers and walked into the water.

We are ready!
We are ready!

It was still cold. Especially in the unprotected area of our lower face.

But the view was magnificent! Perfectly clear water. We could see the two continental plates within arms reach on either side. Crustal rock, pulled apart from by plate tectonics littered the lake bed. We had a gentle swim through Silfra, aided in part by the glacial water current which feeds the lake. It was a scenic, awe inspiring, and cold 20 minutes before we made it to the lake proper. The fissure was at times over 25 m deep. We could easily see the bottom. Toward the end of the fissure we could see an island on the lake over 160 m away. The water was so clear that is appeared to be only a very short distance away.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0274.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0290.

At some point during the snorkel it started snowing.

Instead of venturing further into the lake, we were directed to a nearby lagoon. Our guide called it the true blue lagoon. A gentle jab at the popular tourist trap near the airport. We spent some time exploring this shallow blue area before getting out to go back to the hotel. It was a cold, snowy walk back from the lake to the van to get changed. It took about 20 min for everyone to strip off the swim gear.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0306.

An amusing scuba crossing sign.
An amusing scuba crossing sign.

The ride back to the hotel was uneventful. But we did have a short stop to sample dried cod, and Icelandic staple.

Speaking of which, we had dinner again tonight at the hotel restaurant, Satt. We came back to have the baby-back ribs because, they were some of the best ribs we ever had!

After dinner we went out to watch the northern lights.This time we went with a different company, Gateway to Iceland, which used a van instead of a large bus. Tonight we ventured to a dark corner in the southwest section of the country, not far from the international airport. There weren´t many clouds in the sky, and it was pretty dark. Our guide pulled over in a nice secluded spots in farm country. We quickly got off the bus and set up our first camera. We pointed it at a patch of sky slightly brighter than the rest. We learned a lot from our experience on Saturday. Meanwhile the driver started to gather the other passengers around. He explained that it can take a while to find the lights even on the best of nights, and that paitence is a necessaity. He began to explain that sometimes cameras can see the lights before humans when…

Rachel´s first photo returned. We spotted the aurora within a minute. Ryan shouted, “we found the lights. it´s over there” and pointed in the direction of the aurora. And that´s pretty much how the rest of the night went. We spotted the aurora and helped out a few others with their camera work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was one really good aurora tonight. We saw it do its dance in the sky, and at times could see both the greens and reds with the naked eye. The camera however spotted other colors, such as blue, purple, and pink.  Unfortunately the best photos were taken using a camera with the SD card, so we can´t upload those photos today. We hope to show those pictures and others later this week after we return home and can properly process them.

During the tour, the driver moved the van twice more to get a better view in the sky. A great improvement over last night.

Tomorrow, we sadly have to fly home. We plan to be Icelandic and lounge around in a hot tub in the morning, then fly home in the afternoon.

Total steps: 12,593

Total continental plates steped upon: 2 (North American and Eurasian)

Total northern light colors seen: 5 (green, red, pink, purple, blue)

kp=2.7

p.s. The hotel (Icelandair Natura) helped us secure a refund for the Northern Lights tour from the previous night.