The ones that got away

I get nervous before I go on photography trips. Part of that is just worrying about travel arrangements, visas and packing everything I need, but another part of it is worrying that I won't get the shots I want. Here are a few examples of 'the ones that got away'.

Taj Mahal

Before I went to the Taj Mahal, I was determined to get the classic 'Lady Diana' shot of the building from the end of the reflecting pools. That was the whole point of the trip, and I was really worried about it. I couldn't face the idea of screwing up what would probably be my only opportunity to visit the world's most famous building.

When I arrived in India on a G Adventures trip in November 2013, we went to the Taj Mahal early one morning, around 0530. We had to queue for a while and then go through security. At that point, I was about to rush off and take the shot I'd been dreaming about, but our tour leader then introduced us all to a local guide who was about to give us a 15-minute lecture about the building. What a nightmare! I knew that the whole place would be crawling with tourists if I didn't go and take the shot immediately, but it seemed a bit rude just to rush off without hearing the talk. In the end, I was too British about the whole thing and missed the shot of a lifetime. Too bad. On the plus side, I ended up with this image of the Taj Mahal.

'There once lived an exotic princess in a fairy tale castle...'

It's the very opposite of the 'Lady Diana' shot. One is all symmetry and clarity, the other is misty and mysterious. The higgledy-piggledy minarets and the blue haze make the building seem more like a fairy tale castle. I do like this shot, but I still regret being too polite to get the one I wanted...!

Jumping impala

Not quite sharp enough...

This would've been a great shot. It could've been a great shot. It should've been a great shot. But it wasn't. Why? Motion blur. If you look closely, you can see that the whole body is slightly out of focus, and that was simply because I didn't think to change my shutter speed. I was parked in a jeep in Botswana when a herd of impala came chasing across the road. They were galloping fast, but there were five or six of them, so I did have time to focus on each of them, one by one, as they crossed the road in turn. Unfortunately, I was using my default camera settings that were designed to capture animals that were standing still. I was using an 80-400mm lens, so I had my camera on 1/320 and f/8 with auto ISO. That would normally have worked, but not for a jumping impala! What I really needed was a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second. I just didn't think...

Caracal

This is what it looks like on Wikipedia.

A few years ago, I went to a talk given by Paul Goldstein somewhere in London, and one of the slides he showed was a picture of a caracal. I'd never seen one at the time, but Paul was very proud of his shot, which showed a caracal from the side running through long grass. The image stayed in my mind, and I was very excited when I went to Tanzania in January 2018 and actually saw one for myself! It was quite a way away, but I had my 800mm lens with me, and I was just about to take a shot when the driver told me to wait. He was going to drive around and get closer. Well, funnily enough, the caracal disappeared, and I never got the shot I wanted...

Polar bear

The best of a bad bunch

In June 2014, I went on an Exodus trip with Paul Goldstein to Spitsbergen to see the polar bear. It was a last-minute booking, so I got a good deal on the price, and I was lucky enough to share a cabin with a nice French chap called Eric, but the real prize was getting some good shots of a polar bear. We had 13 or so sightings, but, sadly, they were all too far away for my 500mm lens. That was in the days before I got into the habit of renting the Nikon 800mm monster, and I really wish I'd had it then. Amongst other sightings, a mother and her two cubs put on a great show for us on the ice, but, when I got back to my cabin to review my shots, I found they were all too soft and too distant. Ah, well, at least I have an excuse to go again now...

The kill

I've been to Africa several times now, visiting Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Botswana, but I've never seen a kill. I've seen the chase, and I've seen the predator eating its prey, but I've never seen the crucial moment of the kill. Now, I know some people would be a little squeamish about seeing one animal kill another, but I don't think I'd feel that way. To me, it's the ultimate expression of 'the survival of the fittest', and I'd love to see a lion, leopard or cheetah kill something on the great plains of Africa.

I have many stories of 'the one that got away'. There was the time when I climbed Mount Kenya and arrived back at the camp, only to find that everyone that morning had spent an hour watching a pride of lions kill a wildebeest 50 yards away from the gate of the national park! Or there was the time on the same trip when I booked the wrong flight home and had the chance to spend an extra day on my very own personal game drive. We saw a cheetah 'timing' (or hunting) an impala, and it was the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in Africa - but no kill. In Antarctica, I watched from a Zodiac as a leopard seal ripped apart a penguin, but I didn't quite see the initial attack. In the Brazilian Pantanal, I was watching a jaguar on the river bank from a small boat when the call came over the radio that lunch was ready. No sooner had we met up with the other boat than we had another call, this time to say that the very same jaguar had just killed a caiman! We rushed back and watched as the young jaguar made a mess of the whole thing. To begin with, he had hold of his prey by the throat rather than the back of the neck. This is fine if you're a lion, but jaguars prefer to kill caiman (or small crocodiles) by nipping them on the back of the neck. This jaguar was in a bit of a bind: he didn't want to kill the caiman the 'wrong' way, but he couldn't change his grip in case it got away. He spent 10 minutes humming and hawing before finally killing the caiman, but that was only the start of his problems. His next job was to find a safe place to store his prey, but the banks of the river were 8-10ft high and very steep, so he spent another 25 minutes trying to find a way up into the undergrowth, desperately trying to drag the 10ft crocodile with him. By this stage, around 20 boats had gathered to see the jaguar, and, when he eventually managed to scramble up the bank with his kill, everybody gave him a big round of applause!

I'd rather have seen the kill than stopped for lunch!

 

Conclusion

All this goes to show exactly how close I've come to the elusive kill, but no luck so far. However, I'm off to the Masai Mara in a couple of weeks, so maybe, just maybe I'll be able to bring back the shot I've been dying to get...

The Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica

How to waste a lot of money on birds...

How juvenile

How juvenile

I put on a photography exhibition last year, and I had 15 shots I took in Kenya, Spitsbergen and India. I’d gone to Kenya to see the Big Five, to Spitsbergen to see the polar bears and to India to see the tigers, and I had plenty of good pictures, but they didn’t have any of those animals in them! It was a bit like that on my Antarctic trip. The one photograph on my shot list that I didn’t want to miss was of thousands of king penguins on Salisbury Plain in South Georgia. However, we were weathered out and then didn’t get there until the light was fading fast, so I didn’t get the shot. However, I did end up with five shots I was very happy with and nearly 400 that I can sell.

When people ask me how I got a particular shot or what my settings were, I usually make the old photographer’s joke: “It's f/11 and be there…!” Just ‘being there’ is a big part of wildlife photography, and the Antarctic is certainly the place to be for seals, birds and penguins. Lots of penguins!

Day 1

The trip was a cruise on the Sea Explorer 1 laid on by Polar Latitudes, and I booked it through Audley Travel. The itinerary started in Ushuaia, at the foot of Argentina, where we spent one night in a hotel and woke up to the most glorious sunrise. What a great way to start the day! 

"Now that was a pretty good day..."

"Now that was a pretty good day..."

The itinerary lasted from 31 January to 18 February 2016 and took in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula. I had booked it only a few weeks earlier, and I was lucky enough to have the very last cabin all to myself. (History does not record how many people turned down the chance to be my roommate!) I was told it was going to be a ‘luxury’ cruise, and the quality of accommodation, food and service was certainly excellent throughout. There was one particular duck salad that melted in the mouth! Our regular routine involved an early morning wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Hayley, then a buffet breakfast in the dining room on Deck 2, followed by a Zodiac cruise or ‘wet landing’ in the morning, a buffet lunch, another excursion and then a recap and briefing in the main lounge before dinner in the evening. However, that was only on days when we were within sight of land. On the other days, we had to make do with lectures from the expedition team. They were all very knowledgeable, but there were only so many times I wanted to hear about Shackleton’s adventures or learn about Antarctic rock formations! After a safety briefing and lifeboat drill, our first port of call was the Falklands - two days’ sail away! When the ‘detailed itinerary’ for the trip just says ‘a day at sea’, you know you not going to take too many pictures. I had to make do with trying to perfect the ‘slow pan’, taking hundreds of shots of the albatrosses and petrels following the ship with very little to show for it…

Day 2

A day at sea…!

Day 3

When we finally arrived in West Falkland, it was a gorgeous sunny day with no wind. A promising start, but I had first night nerves. I always feel nervous about taking pictures for the first time in a new place. It was the same before going to the Taj Mahal - it was the trip of a lifetime, and I didn't want to screw it up!

For our first Zodiac landing, we were split up into different groups named after penguins: blue, king, gentoo and macaroni. I put my name down for ‘king’ to join up with Phil and Judy, a nice couple I’d briefly met at the airport and then chatted to over various meals. Phil had a similar background to me and wanted to learn about photography, so I was happy to chat away about that. He was also a Watford fan, but the less said about that the better…!

We had a great morning on Saunders Island (apart from one of the staff being a little bit too officious), and we saw two penguin rookeries and an albatross nesting site on a rather steep slope leading to a cliff. One of the naturalists ‘Snowy’ took me down, but I had to crawl back on my hands and knees - it was a bit scary! The highlight was seeing a couple of king penguins looking after their chicks. Once we were all back, we had a buffet lunch, and I quickly went back to my cabin to import my photos. That was my regular routine after that. I always try to keep up-to-date when it comes to rating and editing the pictures I take, and there was usually plenty of time in the early hours before breakfast.

After lunch, we landed on West Point Island, where we saw a spectacular colony of black-browed albatrosses and their chicks interspersed with rockhopper penguins. All the birds were so close. At one point, the ‘voyage photographer’ Adam tapped me on the shoulder and I turned round to find an albatross perched less than a foot away! 

After the usual recap, I had dinner and then drinks with Phil and Judy and showed them a slideshow of my favourite photos and some I’d taken in the Galapagos. 

Day 4

I went to bed with the cruel sea outside my window; I woke up with two red telephone boxes instead! As someone once almost said, "Stanley, I presume…”

We went on a worthless expedition to Gypsy Bay, where the wind was blowing at 50 knots and we weren't even allowed on to the beach because of possible mines left by the Argies! I did see two Magellanic penguins in a burrow, but I went back to the ship as quickly as I could. I wanted to walk around Stanley, see the governor’s mansion and maybe have a pint in The Globe, but the weather was so miserable I worked on my photos instead. 

I was only interrupted when someone started cleaning my window from the outside...!

I had lunch on board - along with the only other 14 sensible people! - and then 'grazed' al afternoon. Food and drink is far too easy to get hold of when you have nothing else to do...

After the usual briefing (when Hayley confirmed that there would be a photography competition), I had dinner with Phil and Judy, a talkative and well travelled American called Tracy and an English teacher. Phil educated Tracy on our political system before the teacher and I almost got into an argument about the role of government. That's why you should never discuss politics at the dinner table!

Day 5

I had set my alarm for 0530, but even that was too late to capture any colour in the sky before dawn, so I worked on my photos - knocking out a couple that didn't quite make the grade - and read The Numbers Game, a book about sporting analytics. I then went to the 'Club' on Deck 4 for an early breakfast and then a Lord of the Rings-style 'second breakfast' of yoghurt and a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel in the dining room straight afterwards!

Hayley did her usual wake-up call at 0630 and announced that we had done 150 nautical miles overnight, with 1.5-2.5m swells and a 20kt following wind - perfect conditions, especially as it was a 'tropical' 14° outside!

We were being followed by another cruise ship, the Academic Joffe, and seeing it astern reminded me of the film of Patrick O'Brian's Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. 

We were going to be at sea for the following two days, so they scheduled several lectures to entertain us: a guide to knowing your camera by Adam; a talk about why Antarctica is so cold, dark and windy by Jim; an analysis of Southern Ocean population dynamics by Elke; and a comic talk about sailors' superstitions by Rickard.

I had drinks and dinner with Phil and Judy again at the Club and then in the restaurant. It was mostly memorable for the rather large swell that resulted in the ship rolling so violently that the starboard portholes on deck two were underwater and had to be closed after the meal. I then looked through a few slow pan shots if taken earlier. It's always a hit and miss affair - I once took 1,504 slow pan shots in the Arctic and kept only four! - and this time I even accidentally deleted the only half-decent one!

We all had to put the clocks forward that night prior to landing on South Georgia. 

Day 6

I think the weather forecast must have been wrong. That was definitely more than 2.5m of swell! Try 10m! Sleeping is very difficult when you don't know if the ship is going to right itself every time it rolls? I had an early breakfast and went on deck to try and take some slow pan shots of the birds, but I only lasted two minutes as the deck was rolling so much! They closed Deck 3 while I was out there...

I had breakfast with Phil and Judy then sat with them at Snowy's talk on the birds of South Georgia and Pablo's talk on a whaler's story. 

After lunch, I lent Phil my Mac to work on his photos, and then we all had to watch a briefing video on South Georgia and go through 'biosecurity', which meant getting all our outer layers checked for organic matter and vacuumed by the staff. 

After the usual recap and briefing, I had dinner and then went up to Phil and Judy's room for a glass of wine once the staff had retired. 

Day 7

As I feared, our landing at Salisbury Plain was called off in 50-knot winds. We tried to go to another landing place, but we eventually had to settle for a talk by Jim on weather forecasting. Too bad. It was supposed to be the highlight of the entire trip, and I didn’t know if we’d have a chance to go back.

After lunch, Hayley announced the Prion Island trip was going ahead as planned. We saw lots of cute fur seals and a few wandering albatrosses, the bird with the largest wingspan in the world at 3.6m. 

We then had an early dinner so that we could squeeze in a late visit to Salisbury Plain. It was great to be able to go, but our group was drawn last, so the light was fading by the time we got there. There were tons of fur seals and king penguins, but it was too dark to take many good photos. Disappointing. 

I worked on the day's photos back in my room, closing the curtains to prevent any bird strikes....!

Day 8

Hayley started off with a very downbeat message this morning. We were supposed to be having a wet landing in Fortuna Bay, but the wind was 50kts, gusting up to 70kts, so that wasn’t possible. Instead, we had a talk from Peter on Sir Ernest Shackleton, although even he didn't know how the party on the James Caird had ended up on the wrong side of South Georgia and why they hadn't just sailed round to the other side! We then saw a film called South with Shackleton. Elke told us over the PA that we'd passed a minke whale and then a humpback, but I couldn't see them. I know about minke whales, but ‘Elke whales’ are the ones too far away to photograph…

I lent Phil my laptop, so I just read Britain Today - a digest of UK news available on board - and The Numbers Game on my iPhone. 

Later on, we went for an impromptu Zodiac cruise for a couple of hours. We saw a glacier, a fur seal, a few elephant seals on the beach and a few snow petrels. Otherwise, it was just a sunny cruise on a nice calm bit of water. 

Day 9

After breakfast, we had a wet landing in St Andrew's Bay, which has the largest concentration of king penguins in the world. Unfortunately, we landed in the wrong spot, so I couldn't get a picture of the 150,000 pairs in the main rookery. Grrr...

"What's this? Am I supposed to stand on it or step over it?"

"What's this? Am I supposed to stand on it or step over it?"

After a quick lunch on my own, I joined the photographers on a trip to Grytviken led by Adam, the Voyage Photographer. We made a toast to Shackleton at his graveside and threw the dregs of our Jameson's whiskey over it, after Peter had given a kind of toast. He also told the story of a rather flamboyant Spanish woman who had read the inscription out loud to the group but had mistaken ‘explorer’ for 'exploded’: "So that's how he died, then..."

I then set out to take pictures. Unfortunately, Adam's pace was rather slow, so I broke off to look at an old boat, which turned out to be guarded by some very territorial fur seals! There were a couple of old whalers at the whaling station, plus all the old equipment, so I broke out my 18-35mm lens and went to town. It was a gorgeous day, clear and calm, and the late afternoon sunlight was fantastic. 

I took the last Zodiac back to the boat and then had a barbecue with the usual crew on Deck 5. Our ship entertainer Randy started to play some toe-curlingly bad covers, so I made my excuses and escaped to work on my photos. 

Day 10

After a quick breakfast with the gang, I returned to finish rating my photos. I did it just in time for the first outing to Gold Harbour. There were lots of penguins and elephant and fur seals - so many, in fact, that we couldn't really move around much. The penguins were particularly curious, as usual, and they would walk up to within a couple of feet of me as I was taking pictures. 

After a quick lunch on my own, our Cooper Bay landing was cancelled due to high winds (37-40kts), but we went to the beautiful Drygalski Fjord instead and some people had a Zodiac cruise. I bowed out, as there wasn't much chance of wildlife, but Tracy and Phil showed me their pictures of a leopard seal! Not good...

After I'd been through a few of Tracy's photos, we all had dinner together and then a few glasses of wine in Phil and Judy's cabin. 

Day 11

I woke early to work on my photos, had a quick breakfast and then carried on. I took a break to hear Jim talk about ice as if it were a rock - bizarrely! - and then went back to my laptop, skipping the chance of a tour of the bridge. I then went to Snowy's talk on penguins before having lunch. I calledPhil, but he had food poisoning or something. 

The ship doctor’s daughter Livia played some songs on the guitar at around 1430, and I lent my laptop to Phil and Tracy. 

It was an unusually amusing recap and briefing. Rickard told us about the lives of the whalers, who spent most of their lives at sea away from their wives and families. One captain of a whaler worked for 37 years and only spent 4 years 8 months under his own roof. The only means of communication was letters, but the post system was very unreliable. He told the story of a couple from Nantucket called Anna and Lucas through their letters to each other:

Anna: Dear Lucas, where did you put the axe?

Lucas (14 months later): Dear Anna, why do you need the axe?

Anna (6 months later): Dear Lucas, I've found the axe. Where's the hammer?

I had dinner with the usual crew and then put the clocks back an hour. 

Day 12

I woke up at 0130 with the ship pitching violently. Some of the waves were apparently 10 metres! It's all very well to smile as you look out and see the bow wave, but this was very disturbing!

I was coming down with a cold, and I'd used up all my Sudafed, so I asked Dr Tom for some drugs. 

Phil and Judy finally brought down my laptop, and we had lunch together. Afterwards, I went up to their room. We had a pub quiz using an iPhone app, and then Tracy came in, and we chose Phil's photo competition entries. We then went down to see Jim's talk on Antarctic geoscience - until I fell asleep and had to go to my cabin!

Daniel then went through the difference between swell (waves caused by distant winds), seas (waves caused by local wind) and fetch (the uninterrupted length of sea where the waves develop), Peter talked about Elephant Island and Elke about phytoplankton. Hmm…

Day 13

I had a decent night's sleep for a change, due to the calmer conditions. I added vignettes to most of my wildlife shots and then had breakfast. I took a risk then by cleaning my D810 sensor with a wipe I'd already used, but it seemed to work. On the one hand, don't want to scratch it; on the other, I don't want to have to clone out a sensor spot on every single shot I take!

We had another biosecurity check and then had a very successful Zodiac cruise. We went to Point Wild on Elephant Island, where the Shackleton party had camped for four months, and saw a leopard seal catch and eat a penguin! It also spent a few minutes coming very close to our boat, and it was amazing to see it at such close quarters. On our way back, we saw a glacier calve with one of our Zodiacs in the foreground. Too bad I was on the wrong side of the boat to get the shot…!

After a quick lunch with Tracy, I managed to screw up by leaving marks on the mirror while ‘cleaning’ the inside my camera with a brush not designed for the job. That'll teach me for leaving my dust blower behind!

I worked on my photos then read my book for a while before the usual recap and briefing, then dinner with the gang. Disturbingly, my cabin door was open when I came back. I must've tried to slam it, I suppose. I was a bit worried, but my cameras and all my equipment were still there, so that was a relief. 

Day 14

Seven out of seven! After breakfast, I set foot onAntarctica for the very first time, completing my set of continents. Hurrah! All the staff were having a go at me for getting too close to the adélie penguins, and one of the guests was even a bit snotty with me when I accidentally walked in front of her while she was taking a picture. I had a chat with Phil and Judy, and that made me feel better again...!

I somehow lost my lens hood on my wide-angle lens, but it turned up at reception under Lost Property. Phew...!

I worked on today's photos until lunchtime, when I ate with Tracy and a nice American couple called David and Mardi. 

Our afternoon excursion was cancelled at the last minute due to all the brash ice surrounding the ship, so Tracy forced me to look at a ‘cute’ penguin book called Antarctic Antics, by Judy Sierra:

"To keep myself up off the ice, 

I find my father's feet are nice. 

I snuggle in his belly fluff,

And that's how I stay warm enough."

I had dinner with the usual crew, and then we had a staff quiz. We were given a list of crazy facts about all 14 of them, and we had to guess who had done what. I retired early…

Day 15

Phil and Judy filled me in over breakfast, which was chiefly remarkable for the customer service. I ordered French toast and fruit sauce, but my waiter knows I always make myself a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. As there was no smoked salmon on the table, he brought me a plate with a bagel, smoked salmon, cream cheese and even half a lemon - as they usually only have thin slices at the buffet. Very impressive! I spoke to Adam in the corridor about doing a talk together on photography. He liked the idea of choosing five of each other's pictures and taking about them, so we'll get half an hour to do that on the voyage home to Ushuaia. 

We had a wet landing in Neko Harbour this morning. I walked straight past all the penguins and up to a rocky bluff with a view of a glacier. It looked like it would calve at any moment, but it never did. However, I got a few shots of Phil and other hikers on the ridge line. 

I was on the first Zodiac back, so I had a hot chocolate and imported my photos. 

We had a barbecue again on Deck 5 for lunch, and I sat with Phil and Judy again. Afterwards, I worked in my photos and read my Spenser novel until we hit an iceberg. Fortunately, it was only a small one...!

We were having the world's most boring Zodiac ride in the afternoon when an enormous chunk of ice calves from one of the glaciers. Too bad it looked nowhere near as spectacular as a photograph. 

I had dinner with my friends and then spent an hour whale watching with Phil. We did actually see a few flukes, but they were a long way away. 

I ended up in the bar, where I talked to Tracy about her career crisis until she changed the subject and tried to set me up with one of the Dutch girls!

Day 16

Hayley woke us up at 0609 today for an early Zodiac ride to Cierva Cove. I had the choice of 90 minutes, 45 minutes or a cup of coffee in the Club. Phil was keen to see whales, but I didn't think that was likely. However, it was our last cruise, so I decided to do the long one with him and Judy. We didn't see any whales, funnily enough, but I did get a good shot of a penguin jumping into the water. I know I'm lazy about getting out there sometimes, so I think I made the right decision in the end. 

After lunch with the gang, we were supposed to have a wet landing, but it was cancelled due to the swell, so we all had a team photo on Deck 5 instead. When all the Dutch group knelt down in the front row, someone said: "Finally, we've got them on their knees!" 

As we started our crossing of the Drake Passage (or Cape Horn to you and me), the four of us went up to Phil and Judy's room to pick my competition entries. I only got one of my original choices! Phil and I went down to upload them and look at the other entries, but there was nothing there, so we went to the Club and had a gin and tonic with some of the black ice Heather had found this afternoon. It’s spent 30,000 years at the bottom of a glacier, so it’s had all the air squeezed out of it, which makes it incredibly clear. It also lasts a long time, so I time it with astopwatch: after 36 minutes, it was still going strong! 

After dinner with the usual crew, Adam gave a funny bar talk about his career highlights and sang a humorous song about how to 'woo a lady'. I gave him my pictures for our talk, but he didn't have anything for me, and our talk wasn't on the schedule for tomorrow, so I went to bed...

Day 17

This was supposed to be the morning when we all had a lie in, but I woke up at 0530 as usual. After tossing and turning in bed and then doing the crossword for a bit, I went to the 'early bird' breakfast in the Club, where I had a nice chat with Sally. We then had proper breakfast together in the dining room with her husband Giuseppe, who kindly allowed me to call him Pepe!

I didn't fancy listening to Peter or Pablo talk, so I sat amidships to avoid the swell and read my Spenser novel. Adam gave me 15 of his photos, but Tracy was still using my laptop, so I couldn’t choose the best ones yet. 

After lunch with the gang, I spoke to Adam, and we arranged our talk for 1430. It went pretty well, and it was nice to be able to show off my work - even though everyone seems to have a different idea of what my best pictures are!

I showed Henry and his wife a slideshow after the talk and then had a chat with Phil before the usual recap. These things are getting pretty dull and incomprehensible, so I just read my book and listened with half an ear. 

We had dinner with a British couple, and then I went to my cabin to copy Phil and Tracy's pictures on to a memory stick. 

Day 18

I thought it was going to be a long night going across a bumpy Drake Passage, but I finally managed to get to sleep and woke up at 0700. I had breakfast with the gang, and then Hayley announced we were passing Cape Horn, so we took a look. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it was nice to tick the box. Phil later told me I’d been looking at the ‘wrong’ Cape Horn, but it all looks the same…!

After lunch with the gang, where we were joined by Gayle and her husband, there was an announcement of whales and then even orcas on the starboard beam. (They were a long way away and probably sei whales.)

We went up to Phil and Judy's room to drink wine, and we even saw a few dolphins. The recap was led by Hayley, who revealed that we'd driven 3,536Nm on our trip, drunk 491 cans of beer, 739 bottles of wine, 10 bottles of gin and 9 of whisky. 

In the photo competition, I won a Helly Hansen beanie for the best landscape shot of an iceberg at sunrise! I made the top five in every category apart from 'funny and creative', and Phil made three. We then went up to the bar for a gin and tonic, although there was no more black ice. Shame…

I met Irina on the way to dinner, so I bought a bottle of Dom Perignon for our table. There was a receiving line consisting of all the staff, so it took a while to sit down. Phil and Judy and Tracy were at our table, and we were fortunately joined by Giuseppe and Sally. After dinner, we all trooped into the lounge to watch Adam's video of the whole trip. It was pretty good and made me think I should learn how to do something similar for my friends back home. I asked him which software he'd used and then completely forgot what he'd told me! Something Pro...

Day 19

We were all woken by Hayley on the PA at 0630 in time for breakfast at 0700. I ate with Phil, Judy and Tracy, and then we were called for our busto the airport. Tracy was on the next bus, so we said a quick goodbye. We might be having dinner tonight in Buenos Aires. Phil and Judy were on the early flight, so we said goodbye at the gate. 

When I arrived at the Hotel Pulitzer - the same place as if stayed last month - I went through my email backlog and then went out to dinner at Don Julio's. I didn't hear from Tracy, so I had to eat alone, but I didn't mind that. I had a chorizo, melted provolone and sun-dried tomato starter followed by the fillet steak with grilled vegetables and something called a suspiro porteño, which was a mish-mash of dulce de leche cream, brownie and coconut and hazel meringue. The butter was a little hard, they didn't immediately give me a clean plate for my starter, there was no sauce with the steak and the double espresso was dreadful, but the main problem with eating outside on a balmy night was the cyclists cutting right through the restaurant! By the way, BA is a small town. I know this because one of the guys at the next door table was the same guy I'd sat next to on the plane!

Day 20

I did some electronic chores, published a couple of blog posts on Iguazu and Buenos Aires, upload my favourite shots to my website. The weather had changed overnight from blue skies and boiling sunshine to thunder, lightning and rain! I took a taxi and met Tracy for lunch at a place called Halina Café in Palermo. I had to get some cash out on the way, having so sensibly got rid of my last pesos at the restaurant last night, and I left my card in the machine! And I was doing so well…Anyway, we had a nice lunch, swapping stories about the cruise and Tracy’s current digs, and then we shared a cab back to the hotel. Tracy went off to get her phone fixed, and I packed for the flight home. My car picked me up at 1430 and took me to the airport, where I caught my flight to London via São Paulo - or San Pablo if ever you find yourself in an Argentine airport searching desperately for your flight! 

My Antarctic expedition was over, and I enjoyed it. I was lucky with the weather, the people I met and the chance to get up close and personal with a leopard seal! The staff were knowledgeable, the food and accommodation were perfectly good, and, most importantly, I managed to take a few good pictures! It’s an expensive voyage, and the only reason I was able to afford it was that a property deal fell through and the money for the deposit was burning a hole in my pocket (!), but that’s the very definition of the trip of a lifetime, isn’t it? It’s a journey we take only once, and probably against our better judgment, but I’d much rather regret the things I’ve done than the things I haven’t...

 

Wildlife sightings

Mammals   
Antarctic Fur Seal, Arctocephalus gazella
Antarctic Minke Whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis
Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Commerson's Dolphin, Cephalorhynchus commersonii
Crabeater Seal, Lobodon carcinophaga
Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Hourglass Dolphin, Lagenorrhynchus cruciger
Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx
Peale's Dolphin, Lagenorrhynchus australis
Sei Whale, Balaenoptera borealis
South American Fur Seal, Arctocephalus australis
South American Sea Lion, Otaria flavescens
Southern Elephant Seal, Mirounga leonina
Southern Right Whale, Eubalaena australis
Weddell Seal, Leptonychotes weddellii

Birds 
Adelie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae
Antarctic Petrel, Thalassoica antarctica
Antarctic Prion, Pachyptila desolata
Antarctic Shag, Phalacrocroax bransfieldensis
Antarctic Tern, Sterna vittata
Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisea
Atlantic Petrel, Pterodroma incerta
Black-bellied Storm-petrel, Fregetta tropica
Black-browed Albatross, Thalassarche melanophris
Black-chinned Siskin, Carduelis barbata
Black-throated Finch, Melanodera melanodera
Blackish Cinclodes, Cinclodes antarcticus
Blackish Oystercatcher, Haematopus ater
Blue Petrel, Halobaena caerulea
Brown Skua, Catharacta lonnbergi
Cape Petrel, Daption capense
Chilean Skua, Catharacta chilensis
Chinstrap Penguin, Pygoscelis antarctica
Common Diving-petrel, Pelecanoides urinatrix
Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides
Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Muscisaxicola maclovianus
Dolphin Gull, Larus scoresbii
Falkland Pipit, Anthus correndera
Falkland Skua, Catharacta antarctica
Falkland Steamer Duck, Tachyeres brachypterus
Falkland Thrush, Turdus falcklandii
Gentoo Penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Grey-headed Albatross, Thalassarche chrysostoma
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
Imperial Shag, Phalacrocorax atriceps
Kelp Goose, Chloephaga hybrida
Kelp Gull, Larus dominicanus
King Penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Phoebetria palpebrata
Long-tailed Meadowlark, Sturnella loyca
Macaroni Penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus
Magellanic Oystercatcher, Haematopus leucopodus
Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus
Magellanic Snipe, Gallinago paraguaiae
Northern Giant Petrel, Macronectes halli
Rock Shag, Phalacrocorax magellanicus
Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysochrome
Royal Albatross, Diomedea epomorphora
Ruddy-headed Goose, Chloephaga rubidiceps
Slender-billed Prion, Pachyptila belcheri
Snow Petrel, Pagodroma nivea
Snowy Sheathbill, Chionis alba
Soft-plumaged Petrel, Pterodroma mollis
Sooty Shearwater, Puffinis griseus
South American Tern, Sterna hirundinacea
South Georgia Pintail, Anas georgica
South Georgia Pipit, Anthus antarcticus
South Georgia Shag, Phalacrocorax georgianus
South Georgian Diving-petrel, Pelecanoides georgicus
South Polar Skua, Catharacta maccormicki
Southern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialoides
Southern Giant Petrel, Macronectes giganteus
Striated Caracara, Phalcoboenus australis
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
Upland Goose, Chloephaga picta
Wandering Albatross, Diomedea exulans
White-chinned Petrel, Procellaria aequinoctialis
White-rumped Sandpiper, Calidris fuscicollis
Wilson's Storm-petrel, Oceanites oceanicus
Yellow-billed Teal, Anas flavirostris

Iguazu or Iguassu or Iguazú...?

When you have a waterfall that borders three countries, it's not surprising they can't even agree on how to spell it. Just remember that the stress is on the final syllable...

Rainbow nations

Visiting Iguazu was a very late addition to my Grand Tour. I was supposed to be making two trips, one to the Galápagos Islands and the other to Antarctica, but a travel agent suggested I link everything together, so that's what I did. My final itinerary was therefore London - Miami - Quito - Galápagos - Quito - Lima - Buenos Aires - Ushuaia - Falklands - South Georgia - Antarctica - Ushuaia - Buenos Aires - São Paulo - London. Phew...!

Iguazu is the first airport I've ever landed at without knowing which country I was in! Iguazu Falls are in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, andeach country has built a separate airport on its own side of the border. Welcome to South America...

My guide Felix picked me up from the airport and took me to the San Martin hotel, explaining how I could get to the falls along the way. 

Room service was limited to four sandwiches I could get in London, so I had dinner in the restaurant, hoping to taste one of the famous Argentine steaks that are supposed to be so tender. It would make a nice change after a week of buffets in the Galapagos! I ordered the filet mignon in puff pastry and a glass of cab sav, but the steak was disappointing. Maybe it was from Brazil rather than Argentina - after all, the hotel was at least a couple of hundred yards from the border! It became slightly less disappointing when I looked up the exchange rate and found that, even though I'd chosen the most expensive thing on the menu, it still cost less than a tenner!

The next day, I woke up early (as I always do), had breakfast and walked up the road to see the dawn sky, which was spectacular. Felix and the hotel disagreed on the park opening times, but there was no sign...obviously!

My plan was to take a helicopter ride over the falls,  then walk round and perhaps take the boat ride or go to the bird sanctuary in the afternoon, but the it was quite cloudy, so I took the shuttle bus to the falls instead. They say 'Argentina puts on the show and Brazil enjoys the view', and it was certainly exhilarating to walk down and see the falls for the very first time. After that, it was just a case of trying to take the best possible pictures I could. It was quite quiet early on, so I took my time. The only problem was my equipment. I was trying to slow down my shutter speed to make the water smooth and creamy, but I'd stupidly left my Big Stopper neutral density filter at home, and my polarising filter wasn't dark enough - even before it got soaked by the spray! I was so focused on the Galapagos and the Antarctic that I just hadn't thought about what I'd need at Iguazu. Too bad...

Anyway, I finished the prescribed route and - despite an annoying park ranger trying to move me on as it got busier - I managed to take a few good shots. 

Robert De Niro bungee-jumped off this one in The Mission...

Light and shade, yin and yang...

By this time, the sun was shining, so I took the shuttle bus back to the entrance and went to the helicopter booking office. I arrived just as a tour bus spilled out seven tourists, and I was just too late to get in before the tour guide. However, they needed a singleton to fill the very next chopper, so I didn't have to wait more than five minutes. It was $100 for a nine-minute flight over the falls. We didn't get very low, and it was so short I almost decided to go up again straight away, but it wasn't a bad place to take my very first trip in a helicopter! A staff member had told me I wasn't allowed to take pictures out of the window, but the pilot was on the other side of the cockpit, and he didn't say anything when I opened the window and started shooting. What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over. I was slightly disappointed in my photos, but I guess that's what you have to put up with when you have no communication with the pilot or control over the flight path. 

Afterwards, I was given the usual sales spiel to try and persuade me to buy a commemorative DVD. Normally, I'd have walked straight past, but I know some of my friends want to see pictures of me, so I shelled out the extra $100 and bought a copy. It was only when I watched it later that I realised the video only covered the passengers getting into the helicopter - there was no footage from over the falls at all! Hey ho...

It was now one o'clock, and I abandoned the plan to take the boat ride. I wasn't sure if get the chance to take many pictures with so much spray at the foot of the falls, and I didn't rate my chances of getting any decent shots with my waterproof camera, so I went across the road to a bird park I'd seen on the way in. It was quite a big place, and it took a good few hours to go round. They had the usual cages, of course, which are tricky for a photographer, but the wire mesh was wide enough for me to take pictures with my lens right up against it, and there were even a few walk-through aviaries, which were just perfect. The birds were very tame, and they were almost as happy to pose for me as the marine iguanas and sea lions in the Galapagos. I particularly liked this shot of a Chilean flamingo:

"Is it 'cos I is pink...?"

"Is it 'cos I is pink...?"

I did get attacked a couple of times by a couple of rather territorial parrots and toucans, but it was a small price to pay for such a collection of exotic birds and butterflies. The highlight was the butterfly house, where I spent a good couple of hours trying to capture hummingbirds in flight. Apart from dragonflies, they must be the hardest things to take a picture of, as they're constantly moving about. You hardly have time for the autofocus to work before the bird has zipped off somewhere else and disappeared from the viewfinder. I did manage one shot of a black jacobin hummingbird, but the beautiful iridescent green one was beyond me - except when it was perched in a tree, which is not the same at all!

It was thirsty work in the heat, so I stopped at the café half-way through for a fruit juice to quench my thirst. That was where I noticed a few amusing 'Branglish' signs, such as the one that said 'You're half way trough'! Many a true word is spoken in jest...

At around five, the sun went in and the light was too dim to use low enough ISO settings, so I walked back to the hotel and ordered a beer at the bar. Nothing like a pint of Skol and room service after a hard day's shooting!

The next day, I woke up early to work on my pictures and then went to the aviary again. I only had a couple of hours, so I rushed round in an effort to spend a bit more time with the hummingbirds. They were still too jumpy for me, so I walked back to my hotel and packed my bags. 

Felix was due to arrive at 11 o'clock to take me to the Argentine side of the falls. Sure enough, he arrived outside on time and took me to the border. He then asked for my passport and disappeared into the office for a couple of minutes to sort out my passage across the border from Brazil. All I had to do was wait in the car! It was the easiest border crossing I've ever had. We did the same on the Argentine side just down the road, and then it was only a few minutes to the national park. 

The actual falls are mostly on the Argentine side of the border, which means you rarely see the foot of any of the cataracts. However, it also means that you're a lot closer, so, when you do get to a point that has a full view of one of the waterfalls, you get a much better viewpoint. Felix was a very patient guide, and he'd been to the falls so many times that he just waited for me at the exit to each viewing platform. To be honest, it doesn't take long to take pictures of a waterfall when you've been advised that it's such a long hike that you can't take your tripod (!), so I thought we were making good time. Felix even asked if I wanted a snack and a drink at one of the cafés. While I ordered a chicken sandwich and sat down at one of the tables, he left me to go and get 'some beans'. Unfortunately, he took so long that I started to get worried. I had a flight to catch, so I checked my watch. Oh, my God! It was only 90 minutes before my flight, and we still had to walk back to the car and drive to the airport! I thought guides were supposed to manage that kind of thing. I sent him a text and tried to call him, but his phone didn't work in Argentina! When he finally came back, I asked him what time we needed to get to the airport. "Two hours before." What?! We were in trouble. All I can think is that he must have got his time zones confused when we crossed the border, although he wouldn't admit it - and he obviously refused to apologise... The speed bumps on the main road to the airport didn't help, and nor did the fact that the airline's system went down, which meant that they had to do everything manually! Fortunately, the flight was delayed by 50 minutes, so I was safe. I chatted to a couple of other passengers in the check-in queue, as the scheduled flight time ticked past, and all I could say was: welcome to South America!