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Cruise Day 6 - 1 bear, then mama & cub + male

View In the Realm of the Ice Bear - Svalbard 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The ship is still in the same place this morning with the engine off. We learn that this is not due to any mechanical problems, but rather that the captain decided to hang around to see what the polar bear is doing, and the noises we heard last night were just routine maintenance. The bear, however, remains uncooperative, and at 06:30 we start up and move off, in search of what else nature can offer us.

I spend the morning on the top deck enjoying the sunshine and the scenery: ice as far as the eye can see. Beyond that, some several thousands of miles away is Alaska. There are a few birds, and in the distance, a bearded seal basks on the ice. I spend some time photographing the textures on the ice.




Having a bit of fun with ICM (intentional Camera Movement)

As you can see from the flag, there is no wind this morning


Mikel, the chief officer, in the hot tub

A lone seal on a distant ice floe


Bear No. 11


After lunch of leftovers from yesterday, David retires to the cabin for a siesta, and just five minutes later news comes that Freya, Origo's sister ship, has a bear close by and has invited us over. There is a lot of friendly rivalry between our guides, Vide and Svein, and the guide on Freya, Jens, who is a good friend of theirs. Twenty minutes later we pull up alongside the other ship and spot our pixel bear (Vide's name for a bear that has been seen but is so far away that he is not worth wasting many pixels on.

MS Freya, Origo's sister ship

Some nice reflections

There is a bear in this photo, trust me!


We can tell from the way the passengers on this ship do not even seem to have their cameras out, that there is not much going on.



We stay and wait. And wait. He shifts around a bit, then goes back to sleep, And repeat. Some time later he gets up, has a poop, and goes back to bed. More shifting, rolling, sniffing. I set up the tripod with Bertha (my 600mm lens) and a 1.4 ext ready for any action. Eventually, the bear gets up and starts walking around for some considerable time, giving us a lot of opportunities for photography.









The captain manages to maneuvre the ship closer to the bear, giving us better conditions for photography.







"Does my bum look big in this?"

Dinner and bears 12 and 13

The starter this evening is a very nice broccoli soup with bacon. I share a table with Svein and Jeanette, facing the back door. Gustav nips in and out of the door getting drinks for the passengers – and after the fourth time, his face pops around the door with a perplexed look on his face, and he struggles to get his words out to the point of stammering: 'Sorry to interrupt, but, but, but.... there are two bears chasing the ship...'.


Absolute chaos ensues, with sixteen people jumping up, grabbing their camera gear and coats, and heading outside. Sure enough, there is a mama and her cub running, right towards us, jumping, swimming, standing up, splashing in the water, turning to look behind them, appearing to be very scared.







Then we see him: the large male bear from earlier. He is chasing them. Oh my goodness!



Their pitiful cries really tear at our heartstrings, and the whole experience is so surreal that I hold my breath, not believing that this is really playing out in front of us.




It almost seems like the bears – the cub in particular – are looking at us to save them, the way he stares at the ship and cries. My heart cannot take any more, it is such an emotional experience.


Suddenly the male bear pops his head up from behind a mound of snow, quite close to the mother and cub. Once again I hold my breath, as they spot him and literally run for their lives!



Not every jump goes to plan, and Baby misses his landing, making an impressive bellyflop




The shape of the bear's back in this photo reminds me very much of a hyena

Run guys, run. Run like you've never run before!










We all let out a collective sigh when they manage to increase the distance between them and the male; and eventually, the big bad male bear gives up.




He hangs around near MS Freya, whose passengers are still photographing the mama and cub.




This is the time for us to return to our dinner, especially as a burnt smell emits from the kitchen. Thankfully is is just an empty pan, not our food. We get cod in a prawn sauce. With boiled potatoes, of course (a Scandivanian obsession).


Jeanette and Svein have both left the table by the time Ellen's famous chocolate orange balls arrive, leaving all the more for me and David, who has now joined me. The next table left some balls, too, and when Ellen is clearing the tab later, she brings them over. This evening has been death by polar bears and chocolate. We go to bed very satiated.

This has got to have been the most exciting day on a most exciting trip. Thank you very much to Arctic Wildlife Tours for arranging this amazing adventure and making a long-time dream of mine come true.


Posted by Grete Howard 11:13 Archived in Svalbard Tagged birds wildlife flag seal arctic polar_bear hot_tub kittiwake ms_origo ice_floes arctic_wildlife arctic_wildlife_tours pack_ice ms_freya wildlife_tours icm intentional_camera_movement running_bear Comments (7)

Cruise Day 5 - engine trouble, hot tub, polar bear, BBQ

View In the Realm of the Ice Bear - Svalbard 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

At 04:30, the change of engine sound stirs me out of my slumber, and the sudden sound of an alarm finishes the rude awakening. I try to remember what we were told at the initial briefing about the number of times the bell rings means. Wasn't five bells the warning call that we have to evacuate? I open the porthole hatch and look out. We are still moving. Surely if we were to abandon ship, it would stop first. I listen out for urgent human calls but hear only muffled voices, too quiet to be able to establish what they are saying. A few minutes later the bell goes again, but this time it rings three times. I surmise that it is the engineer's alarm, and go back to bed but still keep an ear out for any calls.

Two hours later the alarm goes off again with three rings, followed by a single call a few minutes later. This time I all but ignore it, and fall into a deep sleep. It doesn't seem like I have been asleep for more than a few minutes when my alarm clock goes off at 07:00. I feel groggy and a little nauseous. David feels the same and goes up on deck to get some fresh air while I get dressed.

Engine Trouble

David ascertains from the captain and engineer that cooling fluid was leaking into one of the cylinders, and the centrifuge that separates water from the oil was giving off white smoke which set off the alarm earlier. Three out of the four non-return valves are working fine, but they are unsure which one isn't. We are now heading for somewhere safe to anchor so that they can fix the problem.

We head for a calm fjord called Beverley Sound, for Origo to throw anchor. There is not a great deal to see outside, so it is time for me to catch up on blog writing.

After a couple of hours Viktor, the ship's engineer, comes along to give us the thumbs up, having replaced a part, and tells us that "it's now working but no guarantees". Apparently, he has replaced this once before, fairly recently, so if it goes again, he is threatening to sue the company.

He gives anyone interested a guided tour of the engine room, also known as The Dungeon.

The 'Dungeon' sign on the door to the engine room

Hot tub party

For the rest of the morning, we sit on the top deck, watching the ice floes, mountains, gulls, skuas, clouds, Ellen and Gustav (the kitchen/serving staff) knitting, and the hot-tubbers. Most people were not aware that there is a hot tub onboard, as it doesn't mention it in the information from AWT, but some, like me, had done a little research about the ship before we came. Both David and I chose not to bring bathing costumes, however, as we don't feel the need to go in – I am happy just to watch (and photograph) Jackie, Karen, and Ian (and later Sabrina) soak in 40 °C while watching the Arctic scenery. They certainly enjoy it though.


Despite there being a mere 2 °C outside, it feels lovely and warm up there – at least the side that faces the sun. I start by taking my gloves off, then a short while later the hat comes off, followed by the thick coat. Even then I am feeling the heat, and I end up sunning myself in a short-sleeved top. As soon as we get out from the shelter of the fjord, it doesn't feel quite so cosy anymore. On comes the fleece, followed by the reverse order of the undressing until I am back to where I started – looking like a polar explorer. Oh, wait... I guess I am a polar explorer right now.


We return to the warmth of the mess for lunch and a bit of downtime, before returning to the top deck for more photos of ice floes and birds. Again we zigzag through the ice, avoiding as many of the frozen pieces as we can; leaving behind a clear path of our journey. The displaced ice floes slowly return to take up their old place in the pattern of nature, albeit that some of them are now broken in two or more, with the ship creating an obvious straight cut in the floes it collides with, as it just crashes through the ice with the same ease as crumbling a lump of Cheddar cheese. I love watching the power of the old girl.

The sun glistening on the water

Bird chaos


Northern Fulmar

Kittiwake with fish


Glaucous Gulls

Kittiwake seemingly flying upside down

Kittiwake with fish

Bear No. 10

After some time I start to feel the cold, and the lack of sleep from last night, so we retire to the cabin for a little nap. The next thing I know is an urgent knock on the door: "Polar Bear", prepare for the zodiacs".


It was a new record for me today: from sleep to Zodiac in five minutes. I am really getting into the swing of climbing down that ladder and into the boat now. We quickly fill up the zodiacs and head off towards where the bear was last seen. By this time the bear has dived into the water, and we initially see him swimming along for quite a long distance.



Enthusiastic photographers on board

We stay just 15 to 20 minutes with this bear, as it is obvious he is not interested. Again Origo has followed us to make it easier to go back on the ship; and on the way we rescue a large orange object left floating in the sea. Not sure what it is, or where it came from, but it shouldn't be here, that's for sure.


MS Origo

The other photographers photographing us photographing them

Gustav makes us another couple of versions of Rum Sour as we sit and look at photos before dinner.


Tonight Ulf has prepared a BBQ on the top deck, with some deliciously spicy sausages, lamb chops, and chicken, plus pasta, potatoes, and salads. Gustav and Ellen have set up a small bar and serve a complimentary fruit punch too.

Ulf cooking sausages

Vide and José

Johannes, the captain, and Viktor, the ship's engineer

The bar

Even while eating sausages Svein is on the lookout for wildlife

Complimentary fruit punch

Jeanette and David looking for bears

The food so far on this cruise has been really good, and the BBQ is no exception


For dessert, there is rhubarb crumble. Yum!


Such an amazing experience to enjoy grilled food, a nice drink, and this scenery with new-found friends.



Bear Alert

We return to the saloon to warm up, and just as we are all getting cosy and thinking of going to bed, we get another bear alert. We all pile on the bow deck, but as it is the same disinterested bear as before, we decide not to pursue it.

This time we really do go to bed. We have been warned of some turbulence in the night as we hit various ice floes along the way, so I want to make sure I am in a horizontal position before that happens. When the ship stops a couple of hours later, the engineer alarm sounds, and the engine switches off, we fear the worst – what has broken now? We hear lots of knocking and banging in the night, but no more alarms.

Thank you to Arctic Wildlife Tours for this incredible adventure.


Posted by Grete Howard 16:15 Archived in Svalbard Tagged birds wildlife zodiac ice cruise bbq icebergs gulls arctic sunbathing polar_bear sausages fulmar hot_tub kittiwake origo adventure_cruise ms_origo ice_floes arctic_wildlife arctic_wildlife_tours arctic_safari engine_trouble beverly_sound the_dungeon hot_tub_party pack_ice photographic_safari rhubarb_crumble rum_sour Comments (11)

San Pedro de Atacama - Geysers el Tatio - ER

Not at all what I planned!

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake with a start at 03:40 from my phone ringing. When I pick it up, there is no-one there. Grrr. Struggling to go back to sleep, I might as well get up, as we have a 05:00 pick-up for today's excursion.

Geyser el Tatio

I sleep most of the way here, and feel totally out of it when we arrive at the geysers. It is still dark, anyway, so nothing to photograph. David goes off with Ariane, our local Chilean guide, while I stay in the car with Gaston, who will be with us now for the rest of the trip through Chile and Argentina. I wait for some more light before grabbing a few shots through the open window, as that is all I have the energy for. To say I feel rough is an understatement.


A few of David's photos:





Eventually, I brave the world outside the car with my camera, but at 4,320 metres above sea level, the altitude, combined with the lack of oxygen (around 30% less than at sea level), my chest infection, and the cold breeze, means I only venture a few metres before getting back inside the warm vehicle. The thermometer in the car tells me it is -7 °C, but it feels way colder out there.


The field holds over 500 geo-thermals, although only 80 or so are active geysers, some of which can reach heights greater than 10 m.


The geysers perform at their best at these temperatures early in the morning before the sun warms up, and the fumaroles reach a high of 85 °C (which is the boiling point at this altitude).


This is the third-largest geyser field in the world (after Yellowstone and Dolina Geizerov) and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. It is also the highest (in altitude). It is certainly enormous, and when David and Ariane return, Gaston does a drive-by of some of the main performers for me to photograph them from the comfort of the car.




The inactive volcano of the same name


Gaston and Ariana have brought a picnic breakfast for us, with everything we might need.


David makes a cairn from the ever-present rocks.


Vado Putana

On the way back to San Pedro de Atacama, we stop at a nature reserve with some stunning views and a few interesting birds and animals.




Andean Goose

Crested Ducks

Giant Coot

Giant Coot with babies

Nest building

Darwen's Rhea



Wild Donkeys

I have been feeling progressively more and more ill as the morning has gone on, and both Gaston and Ariane are very concerned about me. I find myself gasping for breath between bouts of coughing. I suggest that I go to a pharmacy to get some more antibiotics, maybe something stronger than Amoxycillin, such as Clarithromycin, which has helped me in the past when I had pneumonia. Ariane, however, insists that I should be seen by a doctor, so we head back into town.

The road leading to San Pedro de Atacama offers some impressive scenery.


A vicuña crosses the road


Machuca Church in the small settlement of the same name

After dropping Ariane off, Gaston takes me to the local clinic, which is through a small doorway in a mud wall, into a courtyard where we are issued with face masks before we are allowed to continue. This does not help my ability to breathe, of course.

Gaston checks me in, explains what is wrong with me, and the nursing staff take my vital stats. They are, as expected, very low.


We are told there will be a two-hour wait to be seen by the doctor, so we take a seat in the tired-looking waiting room which has two comfortable chairs that have seen better days, and a couple of long backless wooden benches.


After just a few minutes I am taken into the emergency room and seen by a doctor. He doesn't speak a word of English (none of the staff do), and my Spanish is only marginally better, so I am very grateful that Gaston is here to translate. The doctor shakes my hand, looks me in the eyes and tells me (via Gaston) “You have pretty eyes”. Not exactly what I was expecting him to say, but at my age I take any compliment I can get.

After going through a range of questions, the doctor agrees with me that it is unlikely to be altitude sickness (the cough started before we left the (relative) lowlands), but is most likely to be bronchitis. He instructs the nurses to hook me up with intravenous cortisone, followed by a saline solution; and attach me to an oxygen tank, which is alternated with a nebuliser.


La Casona Restaurant

Once I am settled into one of the two beds in the emergency room, Gaston goes back to the car (David has been babysitting the luggage, as I left all my camera gear in the car when I went to the clinic, and I really didn't want it left on display in an empty vehicle!) They take our stuff to the hotel and go for some lunch. David very kindly takes a couple of pictures of the restaurant for me, but forgets to photograph the food.



I am still in the emergency room, of course, where I suddenly hear screaming and wailing, and the entire clinic goes into overdrive, with everyone dropping whatever they happen to be doing. A young lifeless baby is rushed into the next bed, and the staff all crowd around the mother and baby. For what seems like an eternity, there is a frantic hush of medics running around, attaching all sorts of machinery to the hapless baby, while the mother is beside herself, crying “Mia!” “Mia!” praying and sobbing.

I feel like I have been unwittingly sucked into this awful drama, and daren't as much as breathe, as I listen out for signs that the baby is being successfully resuscitated. Eventually, painful, desperate whimpers emit from baby Mia, followed by howls of agony. This turns into gasping sobs, and eventually more restful weeping. By this time I am a blubbering wreck, and I can't even imagine what Mia's poor mother is going through. Once the baby is sleeping reasonably calmly, the clinic once again returns to normality.

After six hours in the clinic, I see a specialist, who thankfully speaks some English. He gives me breathing exercises (which I already knew about through my dad's COPD), and asks numerous questions. I am finally allowed to leave the clinic, with strict instructions to return tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the insurance company phones David (having been instructed by Jim from Undiscovered Destinations), who in turn instructs an Assistance Company. The latter has also been in contact with the clinic and been provided with details of my illness and treatment, and have liaised with their own doctor to agree on a course of action for me. I am told I am not fit enough to fly commercially at the moment, and that I should avoid going to higher altitudes if at all possible. I am not allowed to leave San Pedro de Atacama until I have been discharged by the clinic here, so Gaston arranges for us to stay another night at the Terrantai Lodge. I am very impressed how so many organisations are talking to each other (the insurance company, Undiscovered Destinations, Socompa (the local agent), Gaston, the hotel and the clinic), which means that all the necessary adjustments happen as if by magic.

Gaston takes me back to the hotel and I settle into a much more comfortable (and private) bed, while he takes David to a pharmacy to collect all the medicines prescribed to me.


I immediately start the course of antibiotics, steroids, and cetirizine, gulp down some cough medicine, and use the inhaler as suggested.

By this stage I am feeling really quite hungry, not having eaten anything since the picnic at 8 o'clock this morning. Unfortunately, the hotel does not serve food in the evenings, and as I really am not up to going anywhere for dinner this evening, David goes into town to get a takeaway pizza. The staff at Terrantai kindly let us eat it in the reception area (which doubled as the breakfast restaurant), and even provide plates, cutlery, and complimentary drinking water.


That's me done for the day, and what an adventurous day it has been. It's when an incident like this happens that I am grateful for the incredible service that Undiscovered Destinations and their ground handlers provide. Had we travelled independently, this would most likely have turned into a nightmare experience, especially as neither of us don't speak Spanish. As it now stands, it is a mere bump in the road on this amazing journey, with everyone else sorting out any necessary logistics. This is why I keep booking our trips through Undiscovered Destinations.


Posted by Grete Howard 09:58 Archived in Chile Tagged birds church chile vicuna geothermal picnic pizza cairns geysers donkeys atacama south_america ostrich er hospital doctor san_pedro_de_atacama altitude wetlands coot viscacha pharmacy goose nurses machuca steroids antibiotics medicines mud_pools rhea geysers_el_tatio undiscovered_destinations cortisone picnic_breakfast face_mask take_away high_altitude clinci bubbling_mud vado_putana insurance_company emergency_room a&e accident_and_emergency vital_stats las_casona assistance_company socompa certrizine cough_medicine inhaler Comments (2)

Cuemes - Kawsay Wasi - Lagoons - Desierto Siloli

A day full of lagoons

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I did not have a good night at all, with many strange and unpleasant dreams, waking up coughing every half an hour or so, and at one stage I even woke up with what I can only describe as an 'altitude burn' on my shins. I don't even know if there is such a thing! David doesn't feel much better, having been violently sick in the night. What a pair we are this morning.

Sunrise over Cuemes from our bedroom window

At breakfast, Juan gives us a QR code leading to an online form we need to complete for entry into Chile tomorrow. We then set off on the next part of the journey.

Traffic jam Bolivian style


Quinoa has been grown in Bolivia for around 7,000 years. Initially, it was used purely as livestock fodder, it was only around 3500 years ago it became a grain for human consumption.


The quinoa plant is altitude hardy, and can be grown up to 4,000 metres above sea level, as well as tolerating a wide temperature range from -4 °C to +35 °C, as is often found in a single day here in the Andes.


Once the plants have almost dried out, they are cut and placed in the ground. Traditionally, the farm workers would use their feet in the threshing process, but these days some farmers will cover the seed heads with plastic, and drive their tractors over them to separate seed heads from the husks.



Kawsay Wasi


When we arrive at this place, there is no-one in sight. Juan and Roger somehow manage to get the gate unlocked, and we're in.


A worker arrives a short time later, and Juan goes off to pay for our tickets.


Cumilopuntia Bolivano
This densely-armed cactus, which is endemic to high altitudes in Bolivia, has beautiful yellow flowers. What we see today, however, is the ensuing fruits.



Much as the cactus with its fruits is fascinating, we are not here to see the flora, but the remains of the Lipez people who lived here from around 1200 to 1450 AD. The Lords of Lipes de San Juan rarely built funerary towers as their contemporaries did; they utilised the local formations of coral rocks by turning them into tombs.


The coral's natural beehive-like structures were further enhanced by making larger holes to fit the bodies of the deceased.


They were firm believers in life after death, which explains why their corpses were buried in foetal positions.


Each of the dead would be buried with articles necessary to carry them into the afterlife.


Chiguana Salt Flat

Another day, another salt flat crossing.



The salt flat is surrounded by numerous inactive volcanos, and a straight train track across it from Uyuni to the Chilean border.

The not-so-level crossing

An empty train coming from Chile


Coral fossils from when this was the bottom of the sea


Darwen's Rhea, also known as Andean Ostrich, while the locals called this animal a 'suri'

Spectacular rock formations

Ollagüe Volcano

Known as The Smoky Mountain, this is the only active volcano in Bolivia. The western rim of the summit crater features a vigorous smoke plume that is visible from afar.




We later cross one of the lava flows created during the eruption some 11,000 years ago.



As we continue our journey, ever further south, the air becomes drier; something that is quite evident in my sinuses: I feel like I am eating and breathing dust. Thankfully there are no other vehicles around as we make full use of the four-wheel drive capabilities of this vehicle as we travel on some adventurous gravel tracks.


After a while, we join a wide and reasonably smooth highway – this is the main route for trucks carrying minerals from St Christofer Mine (hence the width and quality).


Cañapa Lagoon


By a beautiful blue lagoon, covered with white patches of ice and borax, we stop to stretch our legs, take some photos and fly the drone.



We see James' Flamingos, Andean Avocet, and a couple of vicuñas on the lakeside.




Hedionda Lagoon

We stop by this lake for a picnic, in a specially constructed semi-circular comedor where you can 'rent' the tables for your picnic, re-heat your packed lunch, and buy some drinks.


It seems surreal to be sitting here, eating hot food in a very remote area where human habitation is negligible. I love the idea, and the modern toilets are very welcome.


Huge panoramic windows look out over the lagoon with its myriad of flamingos and other birds.


Many of the flamingos are more white than pink, due to lack of pigmentation algae in the lake.




Puna Plover

The name of the lagoon is Spanish for "stinking lake", the result of a high sulphur content which gives it a yellow tinge.


Honda Lagoon

The name means 'deep lagoon' in Spanish.





Andean Avocet


After a very late lunch (it's 3pm by the time we leave), we carry on our journey across the Altiplano. Meaning 'high plain' in Spanish, this is the most extensive high plateau on earth outside Tibet.



There is very little vegetation here, but we see a couple of animals on the way.

Viscacha – similar to a chinchilla, this small rodent (about the size of a rabbit), is endemic to South America.

Andean Fox

Siloli Desert

The road takes us ever higher, as we reach an altitude of 4,600 metres above sea level.


The desert is beautiful in the evening light, surrounded by even higher peaks, its surface barren apart from a few tufts of Festuca ortoflora grass.




Hotel Tayka el Desierto

Miles from the nearest civilisation, stands a simple, rustic hotel, surrounded by nothing but stunning desert scenery.


The Tayka desert hotel is the world’s highest hotel (there is a guest house higher near Everest Base Camp), as well as one of the most remote hotels we've ever stayed in.


With the basic construction and its remote location, it takes me by great surprise to find a posh restaurant, with white linen tablecloths, starched cloth napkins, uniformed waiting staff, and panoramic windows overlooking the desert. Or the darkness, as tonight. It must be stunning during daylight hours. The hotel is full this evening (unlike last night's hotel where we were the only guests staying)


Starter: quinoa soup with doughy freshly cooked bread. This is certainly the best quinoa soup so far (and there have been many).


Main course: beef in a blue cheese sauce. The meat is deliciously tender, and I would love to know what treatment they have given the pasta, as it is really flavoursome.


Dessert: chocolate torte with maracuya


Milky Way

With light pollution being totally non-existent, the stars look amazing from here. Roger drives us a short distance from the hotel, to avoid any light spillage from the building.


Armed with a tripod, a remote release, and a stool to plonk my bottom on, I set up ready to photograph the Milky Way.


At -12 °C, and feeling very out of breath as a result of the altitude and a chest infection, I give up after half an hour and go back to the warm, cosy bedroom.

The rooms are basic but adequate, with private facilities and comfortable beds. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity until 22:00, when the lights go out. After that, it is mighty dark, with no light source for hundreds of miles. Darker than I have ever known before. I wake at 01:30 and find the total darkness very unsettling. I can't even make out the outline of my hand when it is mere centimetres from my eyes. I feel strangely spooked by the absolute blackness. Carefully fumbling around where I think the bedside table is, I manage to locate my phone and provide some very welcome light. As I get up to use the loo, I can hear my heart beating. Boom, boom, boom, like someone hammering in my head. Not sure whether it is the altitude, my chest infection, or the unease I feel because of the darkness. Probably a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, I struggle to go back to sleep again.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for this amazing private tour of some of the most stunning scenery on earth.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:11 Archived in Bolivia Tagged birds desert landscape volcano cactus train scenery tombs sunrise chile necropolis lagoon railway lava picnic bolivia salt burial fox coral rock_formations south_america flamingo graves altiplano altitude avocet funeral quinoa viscacha marmot lagoons astro astronomy sulphur bird_watching sulfur cough milky_way vicuñas salt_flat drone lípez undiscovered_destinations train_track plover astro_photography picnic_lunch barren nightmares skeletons volcanic_eruption fumaroles high_altitude chest_infection drone_photography cuemes tayka kawsay_wasi corpses dead_bodies burial_mounds coral_fossils cumilopuntia cactus_fruit lipes the_lords_of_lipes funerary_urns coral_rocks life_after_death chiguana ollague ollague_volcano the_smoky_mountain smoke_plume lava_flow st_cristofer_mine canapa cañapa_lagoon borax hedionda_lagoon honda_lagoon stinking_lake chinchilla siloli siloli_desert high_altitude_desert festuca hotel_tayka_el_desierto worlds_highest_hotel total_darkness Comments (5)

Potosí - Porca Canyon - Andean Wetlands - Uyuni

Celebrating our 46th Wedding Anniversary

View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.



I wake up grumpy after a bad, bad night with what feels like a ping-pong ball bouncing around in my head, lots of coughing, a blocked nose, and a doze of diarrhea to boot!

Plaza de Armas

This morning's walking tour of Potosí is taken by car, mostly around the 10th November Square (also known as Plaza de Armas)





Porca Canyon

The road is winding and the views are spectacular. We stop at the Mirador (viewpoint), where Juan describes the various plants we see. He is incredibly knowledgeable!


The river is dried up to a mere trickle


This plant, which is endemic to South America, is often used in traditional medicine, for ailments such as bone fractures and bruises as well as toothache.


The dead plant can be used as a fire starter – the thin air at this altitude can make it difficult to light a fire.


These small tufts of Festuca grass are popular foods for the llamas.



Andean Wetlands

I never expected to hear these two words together – to me, the Andes are synonymous with high-altitude mountains, not wetlands. These marshes surrounded by dry hills are fed from underground springs and are favoured by livestock and wild birds alike.




Who knew llamas came in so many different colours and patterns?


Glossy Ibis

Puna Teal

Yellow Billed Ducks

Andrean Goose

Puna Miner

Andean Flamingo

I am a happy twitcher today, as apart from the ducks and ibis, these are all lifers (translation for those of you who are not into birding-lingo: I am a happy bird-watcher, as these are birds that I have not seen before).

Cactus Valley





As well as some impressive cacti, these hillsides are also home to the beautiful tree known as the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia).


The different colours of the rock and soil are down to oxidation – the green from tin and the red is caused by iron.




As we approach Uyuni, Miguel stops the minibus so that we can take some photos of the town and appreciate just how flat it is compared with the area we have come through from Potosí.


Uyuni is surrounded by massive salt flats, with the Tunupa Volcano in the misty distance.



Hotel Casa de Sal

This hotel fits nicely into the category of Unusual Hotels We Have Stayed In: the walls and furniture of the hotel are built of salt. Yes, salt. Blocks are cut from the salt flats, to create 'bricks'. The walls, beds, and even most of the furniture are made from salt.



From the reception, we enter a huge atrium, a bright and airy common area, with comfortable seats and loungers. It does, however, remind me of another unusual hotel we stayed in last year: Bodmin Jail Hotel, a former penitentiary that has been turned into luxury accommodation.


The salt bricks have a lifespan of only 10-15 years, as rain causes them to disintegrate so they must be replaced regularly. I am also guessing the salt speeds up the corrosion of wires and other metal objects around the building.



The lines in the blocks represent the rainy seasons during the creation of the salt flats, as well as sediments in the salt,


During check-in, we are offered a cup of coca tea, and while we are finishing the brew, the receptionist takes all our bags down to our room.


Our bedroom is the nearest to the reception and features three large beds and a seating area, with lots of room for luggage. This is a huge change from the quaint colonial hotels we stayed in for the last couple of nights. I love the fact that it is so bright – all too often hotel bedrooms are dark and gloomy, making it difficult to do things like sorting through luggage or putting on make-up.




Love the cool basins in the bathroom

Everything looks quite luxurious until I look up at the celling, which looks totally unfinished.


Restaurant Boca Grande

After dropping our bags in the room and freshening up a little, we grab a taxi and head to a restaurant in town for lunch. We don't want too much to eat as we are splashing out on a fancy meal tonight, so we just order a sanguish de carne chorrilana. Very similar to a burger, the roll comes with sliced meat, onion, and peppers in a sauce. It is just the right size for what I want and very tasty.


We return to the hotel to chill out for the rest of the afternoon, before going out for our anniversary dinner. Later, as we are waiting for our taxi in the hotel reception area, a group of Eastern Europeans arrive, with some standing outside smoking, and the others blocking up the open doorway. Not only does it mean that they are letting the cold air in (it is around 9 °C this evening), their second-hand smoke is playing havoc with my chest infection. After a few minutes of feeling that I can't breathe, I have to ask them to go either outside or inside and close the door. They all go outside, then a few minutes later come back in as a group. Despite huge signs in reception and the rooms, they are carrying wine bottles and ask the receptionist for six plastic glasses (not very eco-friendly). So not only are they inconsiderate to other guests, they are disrespectful to the hotel rules, and reckless to the environment. How to create a bad impression in just a few minutes!



Hotspot, The New Religion

I spent a long time online before we left home to try and find a special restaurant in which to celebrate our anniversary this evening. It seems Uyuni is not overflowing with gourmet restaurants, but when I came across reviews for this oddly named place, I was immediately smitten.

The entrance is totally unremarkable: no huge advertising boards, no menu outside, no windows with pretty lights and views of diners enjoying themselves inside; just a plain door in a mud brick wall on a dusty side street with nothing much around. Steep stairs lead to a funky dining room with quirky artwork and a friendly welcome.




Even the toilets are skilfully decorated. Ladies on the left, gents on the right (yes, I did go into the gents!)


Once inside the dining area, we are transported to a different world, one in which we are about to go on a gastronomic journey through Bolivia. The dark lighting and eclectic décor, with its red, white, and black theme, does remind me a little of a rather seedy club I occasionally visited in my wild days some 40 years ago.



The waiter patiently explains everything to us in great detail - and perfect English - while I make copious notes. The service is friendly, attentive, and unpretentious: the cutlery is delivered in a pile on the table, and for each course, he recommends which utensil we should use. The focus here is very much on the food and the taste experience, rather than the impersonal scraping and bowing to pompous diners you often find in upmarket restaurants. I like it.


There is no choice of food, just a set menu (with the usual questions about any dietary requirements, of course). With no preconceived notions of what to expect, each dish is a revelation, an elaborate work of art, and a complete culinary experience, with elements from each region of Bolivia.


First Course - Highlander Salad
All the ingredients for this dish are found in the Andes, and include fried broccoli, cheese, avocado, beetroot crisps, papalisa potatoes, and cucumber, with a sauce made from sesame, pineapple, and cumin. It is suggested we eat this using the smaller spoon and start from the centre to the outside. I love the fact that we are informed about which way to eat it to get the best out of the flavour and texture combinations.


The initial bite reveals a hint of acidity, followed almost immediately by something sweet. To me, the texture of the food is at least as important as the flavour, and this dish does not disappoint, with the fired broccoli providing a delightful crunch, the cheese is slightly salty, the centre is sweet, with the broccoli providing the prominent taste.

Second Course – Carrot Flowers
This dish represents the flowers of the cactus found here in the Andes. The rolls of carrots are filled with creamy peas, quinoa, maracuya (a type of passion fruit), curds of coriander, and topped with pineapple chutney.


It is recommended that we eat each carrot flower in a single bite with the smaller of the forks. The combination of the crispy texture of the carrots, and the juice sweet taste of the pineapple and maracuya balances the smokey flavour of the sauce beautifully. I really enjoy this dish, and write “Oo la la” in my notebook.

Third Course – Vegan Ceviche
I am not about to let my confusion about how a 'vegan ceviche' might work prejudice my exploration of the intriguing bowl of as-of-yet-unidentified ingredients.


The dish contains dried and reconstituted broad beans, onions, oca (a tuber similar to a potato, which has been grown in the Andes for hundreds of years), sweet potato smashed with orange zest, papaya, and dehydrated tomatoes.

A jug of mint sauce, made from two different species of mint, as well as a local aromatic herb, and tumbo juice (known as banana passion fruit in English)

With this, we are told to start from the centre of the bowl, using the big spoon.

One word: Wow! The flavour is acidic and sweet at the same time, the crunchy texture of the beans is similar to that of cornflakes, and the mint veritably explodes with taste in my mouth.

Fourth Course – Pork Belly
Apparently, this dish is known as Electric Impulse. I can't quite work out why. The pork is cooked for two hours at a low temperature and served with a sauce made from a local variety of plantains. The plate is also home to ½ caramelised oca (a potato-like tuber), which amuses me – it looks somewhat lost on the plate – it's the only vegetable accompaniment to the pork.


When the pork is brought out, it has a glass covering it, which the waiter removes to reveal culinary smoke escaping.

The pork is meltingly tender and the skin is delightfully crunchy and flavourful.

We do get some bread rolls, however, which are steamed and then finished in oil to create that golden colour and a lovely soft centre with a deliciously crisp exterior.


A small bowl of pineapple chutney also arrives.


Fifth Course – Dessert
Having earlier mentioned that we are celebrating our anniversary this evening, we are presented with a candle on the dessert plate, and the words “Happy 46” on it. How thoughtful.

The daring dessert consists of three different tiny mouthfuls, each different, and creating a mixture of flavours and textures.


On the left is a strawberry cube, made from milk treated in three different ways, and served with cinnamon biscuits.

At the back is an apple stuffed with the fruit from the local pitahaya cactus (similar to a dragon fruit) and cream cheese.

On the right-hand side is maracuya (local passion fruit) ice cream

We finish with a cocktail (well, it is our anniversary!) called Smoked Coffee Margarita. It consists of coffee, passion fruit juice, coffee liqueur, Triple Sec, and tequila, with the rim covered in coffee salt.


The drink is an assault on the senses, with its unusual smokey taste, hidden sweetness, and powerful taste of coffee, with the unusual combination of the salty rim adding to the adventurous mix of flavours. It carries quite a kick!

Everything we have been served this evening has been scrumptious, elaborate satisfying, and exotic, with a kaleidoscope of flavours - a real foodgasm! The service has been impeccable and the company delightful. This place is a real gem, and not at all what you'd expect to find down a deserted dirt-road in a small wild-west-like town like Uyuni, which has a delightful hippy vibe and is full of backpackers and adventure tourists.

After a memorable anniversary, we make our way down the deserted side street until we reach a junction to try and grab a taxi for the journey back to the hotel. I have read that sleeping in a salt room is beneficial to respiratory health, as inhaling salt particles may reduce inflammation and mucus in the lungs, to help improve respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies, and bronchitis. I can but hope.

Goodnight from Uyuni, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 17:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged birds cactus sheep anniversary prison celebrations llama ducks salt potosí south_america flamingo burgers ceviche salt_flats mint ibis uyuni cacti jail artwork cocktail goose tunupa coca_tea bird_watching funky plaza_de_armas salt_hotel teal undiscovered_destinations oca miner twitcher boca_grande pork_belly maracuya papalisa happy_anniversary 10th_november_square porca_canyon parastrephia festuca_grass andean_wetlands underground_spring oxidation cactual_valley sacred_flower_of_the_andes cantua_buxifolia tunupa_volcano casa_de_sal salt_bricks bodmin_jail_hotel the_hotspot_the_new_religion foodgasm vegan_ceviche tumbo_juice flavour_explosion ptahaya_cactus Comments (4)

Itatiaia - birding around the lodge

Such colourful birds!

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I did not have a good sleep last night, the bed is hard and much more narrow than we are used to. So far all the hotels have had king or even super-king sized beds, this is just a standard double. I could not find a position that was comfortable, and I had some pretty awful dreams. One good thing, though, is it was actually quite cool in the night. We are right up in the hills here, so the average daytime temperature is very comfortable, an absolute delight after the Amazon heat!

We meet Ricardo for some early morning birding by the swimming pool, which is one level up from the restaurant and has good views over the surrounding trees and bushes where the birds congregate at first light.


Velvety Black Tyrant

White Eyed Parakeets

Saffron Finch

Piazuru Pigeons

Maroon Bellied Parakeets
I watch the parakeets as they flit from tree to tree, grabbing a bite to eat on the way.


I love the human-like way they hold their food - I have never seen that before




Red Breasted Toucan

Rufous Collared Sparrow

Dusky Legged Guan

Rufous Bellied Thrush

We break briefly for breakfast, before continuing to look for birds. Ricardo is passionate about what he does, and it rubs off on me.

Brown Capuchin monkeys on the balcony while we are having breakfast

Mr & Mrs Chestnut Bellied Euphonia



Saffron Finch

Female Blue Dacnis

Male Blue Dacnis

Plain Parakeet

Golden Chevroned Tanager

Green Headed Tanager

Black Googled Tanager

Golden Winged Cacique

Brazilian Ruby

We drive down to an abandoned hotel, which is obviously one of “the” places to go bird watching, as we see three other birding groups here. Most people trek into the forest, whereas we just stay in and around the car park as my knee is not up to any serious walking, and see absolutely nothing.


When we get back to the lodge, Ricardo dismantles part of the hummingbird feeder, wipes the flower with antiseptic gel, dips it in sugar water, and suggests I hold it in my mouth.

It doesn't take long before the first visitor arrives. Wow! It is totally mind-blowing to feel her little wings on my chin.


Red Rumped Cacique

Ruby Crowned Tanager

Brazilian Tanager

Velvety Black Tyrant

Olive Green Tanager

Saffron Finch

As usual, the lunch consists of a buffet. We are joined by Ricardo, who asks for a link to my website. He spends some time looking through my wildlife photos on there and exclaims: “You're good!”, “You're one of the best I've ever seen!” I float on a little cloud for the rest of the day after that compliment!

After lunch, I go back to the hummingbird feeders and try and get some better pictures.

Brazilian Ruby

Planalto Hermit

Brazilian Ruby

Some interesting effects using a flash with a slow shutter speed

Violet Capped Woodnymph

David gets fed up and goes back to the room to chill on the balcony, while I continue taking photos of the birds around the feeders.

Female Black Goggled Tanager

Saffron Finch

Screaming Cowbird

Double Collared Seedeater

Not only do they feed the birds, but the squirrels are well looked after too

After a while, I go to join David and spot a few birds from our own balcony as well.


Red Breasted Toucan

Scaled Woodcreeper

Magpie Tanager

Saffron Toucanet

White Spotted Woodpecker

David takes the chilling to the extreme!

Great use of an upcycled pandemic mask!

I decide to go to bed for a siesta instead, as I am feeling quite cold.

As we did yesterday, we go up to the restaurant before dinner to use the internet. The same group of American birders are there again tonight, with the guide going through, bird by bird, what they saw today. The same woman is making inane comments and correcting the guide's English, to the point he snaps at her: “You do realise English is my second language don't you”, and with a groan adds: “it's only the second day, this is going to be a very long week!” I feel his pain.

Back in the room, we grab the spare blanket for the bed, as we both felt cold last night.

Goodnight from Itatiaia, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 21:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife monkey pigeons guide hammock brazil lunch forest balcony birding brasil toucan website squirrel sparrow tanager woodpecker blanket guan hermit capuchin americans siesta finch adventure_travel hummingbirds pandemic bird_watching snoring knee ruby itatiaia undiscovered_destinations thrush snooze face_mask parakeets wild_birds painful_knee tyrant cacique euphonia dacnis bad_knee knee_pain hummingbird_feeder woodnymph cowbird woodcreeper toucanet eye_mask feeling_cold Comments (0)

Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The room finally cooled enough for me to put the covers on at 01:00. The alarm is set for 05:00, but I am awake from 03:00 anyway.

Boat Safari
Like Araras, the activities here at Cristalino revolve mostly around trekking, but because of my bad knee, Gui has arranged boat safaris instead.

It is still dark when we go out at 07:00, so not good for photography.

Amazon Kingfisher

The sun soon comes up, though, giving me more light to work with.

Red Throated Piping Guan

Green Kingfisher

Great Black Hawk

The guests that are staying here at Cristalino Lodge are mostly a combination of families looking for adventure, and avid bird watchers. Not sure where we fit into that.


Long Nosed Bats
With clever camouflage, these bats attach themselves to the bark of a tree, hiding from the Bat Falcon.


This caiman is also very well camouflaged amongst the logs and rocks in the river.



White Winged Swallow
I spend ages trying to make this little chap fly, but he is not very cooperative, and when he finally does take off, I am not ready with my camera.


I follow him to his next perch.


After hanging around for ages, I yet again miss him taking off. I give up for now.

Until I see a couple of a rock, that is!


Green Ibis

White Banded Swallow

Swallow Winged Puffbird

We are now at the beginning of the dry season here in the Southern Amazon, so the level of the river is slowly going down. You can see just how much lower the water is already.


These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.


It certainly makes for challenging navigation and heightens my admiration for our skilled captain.

Blue and Yellow Macaws

Rufescent Tiger Heron

Spectacled Caiman


Scarlet Macaws

Capped Heron

Plumbeous Kite

We spend most of our time motoring gently along the shady side of the river. David and I agree how incredibly privileged we are to be here, doing this.

Amazon Taricaya Turtle

Green Ibis

A dragonfly lands on the boat, and I try – not altogether successfully – to capture it before it flies off.


Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.


It looks like this one is in the throes of passion.


Where the water level has gone down, and rocks have become exposed, a number of rapids have developed.



Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

The moving water attracts birds and is fun to navigate – for us. Again I admire the captain and his experience and knowledge as he steers us safely up the river.

Capped Heron



Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Back to Cristalino Lodge
We return to the lodge mid-morning, where Gui has arranged for me to have a ride back to the room in the electric luggage buggy in order to save my knee. I sit on the flatbed at the back, while David joins the driver in the front.



We chill in the room and later on the patio before lunch

An unusual rocking chair

This oppressive 38 °C heat is making me feel lethargic, and I struggle to muster up the energy to walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Cristalino Cream of Tartar: with tomatoes, red onions and green herbal oil, plantains, Dijon mustard, capers, and ginger. Served with banana chips.

Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

Regional spaghetti dish with cured beef, tomatoes, and orange sauce

Very nice

Banana Crumble
Yum! Must try this at home!

We opt out of taking an excursion this afternoon due to the heat, my knee, and David's sore throat; instead, we snooze for the afternoon before I drag myself to dinner. It doesn't feel any cooler after the sun has gone down. This heat is really getting to me.

We start with a drink, while we wait for the food to arrive.

Passion Fruit Caipirinha

David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

Cristalino salad: seasonal leaves, pickled red onion with mustard seeds, cherry tomato confit, cucumbers, pickled palm heart, olives, red cabbage, served with savoury granola. The dish is overly salty (which is saying something as I love a bit of food with my salt), the crunchy topping is nice though

Savoury Granola

Tucupi risotto and smoked catfish: rice, tucupi (cassava broth), jambu (paracress), Grana Padano cheese, and catfish smoked in cashew and blackberry leaves.

Brazil nut mousse - I am not at all keen on this dish

And so to bed. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife kite hammock dinner safari hawk brazil lunch birding luxury amazon bats turtle caiman heron anhinga ibis rapids guan kingfisher macaw dragonfly bird_watching otter boat_safari dry_season undiscovered_destinations swallow wildlife_photography river_safari puffbird cristalino sunbittern water_level Comments (5)

Araras Day Three - Bridge 3, swimming pool, anteaters

A great finish to our stay in Araras

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another early start this morning: up at 04:15 for a 05:00 safari.

We stop at the statue of São Francisco, the protector of ecology, to photograph the sunrise, before continuing to Ponte 3, our favourite bridge (I never thought I'd end up with a favourite bridge on the Transpantaneira).


Bridge # 3
There are way more birds flying this morning than yesterday, and in greater quantities.


Most birds roost near water at night, as the sun heats the water during the day, which helps keep the birds warm during the night. In the morning they fly off in search of food.


It is mesmerising to watch.


Flash Gun
After the problems I had with low light necessitating high ISO (= noisy/grainy images) yesterday, I brought my Speedlight with me this morning, plus my Better Beamer.

Ringed Kingfisher

The Better Beamer is basically a fresnel lens on a frame. Its main purpose is to extend the range of the flash, although it will also reduce the possibility of the lens hood casting a shadow.

Green Kingfisher


I am impressed that it seems to work all the way across the other side of the pond!


As well as into the sky above.

Large Billed Tern

Black Vulture

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

Orange Winged Parrots

After a while, I abandon the flash.


Wood Stork


Black Skimmers
I love watching the way these birds fish by skimming the water with their beaks open. The lower mandible is larger than the top one, allowing them to more easily hook up some breakfast.


This one's got a fish!


Large Billed Terns having a bit of a domestic

Yellow Billed Cardinal with a colouration issue

This is what he is supposed to look like:


Southern Caracara

Black Capped Night Heron

Maguari Stork

Peach Fronted Parakeet

Unicoloured Blackbird

Striated Heron

Great Egret

Reluctantly we move on from the pond at Bridge # 3, and slowly make our way back towards the lodge.

Maguari Stork

Savanna Hawk

Southern Lapwing coming in to land

Black Stilt

Wood Stork

Wattled Jacana

Monk Parakeets

Roseate Spoonbill

Rufous Cachalote

Bared Faced Ibis

We see a Southern Caracara have a wrestling match with a stick.



Guira Cuckoo

Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture

Black Vulture

Snail Kite

By the time we get back to the hotel, we are too late for the breakfast buffet, but the lodge has laid our usual table in the shade of a tree on the patio, and they bring us a number of different dishes.

It seems the chachalaca have got to the butter, however, before we can.


Caught red-handed - or is that red-beaked - with a large knob of butter in his mouth.


I bet the butter does melt in his mouth, though!

This is the most we've eaten for any breakfast so far. Disclaimer: we didn't eat everything served! We do feel obliged to eat more than we normally do, however, as they've brought us all this food.


Chill time
Mid-afternoon we spend some time in the pool cooling down. We are the only ones around, so have the pool to ourselves. I guess everyone else has gone out for a strenuous walk or horse-riding.



This is not a sign you really want to see right next to the pool



Afternoon safari
At 16:00 we set off for our very last safari in the Pantanal, as tomorrow we are moving on to pastures new.

The first thing we spot is another armadillo.



He is a long way away, there is lots of dust in the air, and I am shooting into the sun, so unfortunately I don't get any good pictures of the agouti.


A Crab-Eating Fox rushes past us.


Blue Crowned Parakeets



Yellow Collared Macaws



Collared Anteaters
Leaving the best until last, Roberto slams on the brakes and reverses the car back a few yards before jumping out with his binoculars. Soon he beckons us over: he has seen an anteater in a tree.




Not just one, but there is another one in a nearby tree, which is quite surprising, as they are normally solitary creatures.


Once the sun's gone down, leaving the anteaters in very low light, we reluctantly return to the lodge for a shower, dinner and packing before bed.

Goodnight and goodbye from Araras. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 19:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife breakfast kite safari parrots pool hawk brazil birding brasil ducks fox swimming_pool south_america caiman swimmingpool heron egret stilt stork vulture ibis armadillo cardinal caracara blackbird kingfisher pantanal butter cuckoo bird_watching transpantaneira anteater jacana undiscovered_destinations tern lapwing parakeets bird_photography wild_birds flying_birds speedlight flash_gun skimmer araras sao_francisco bridge_three roosting_birds better_beamer cachalote chachalaca butter_wouldn't_melt_in_his_mou chill_time agouti Comments (0)

Araras Day One - walking tour and Jeep safari

A bird-watcher's paradise

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another slightly later start this morning: up at 05:30, breakfast at 06:30, leave at 07:00 for a wee walk around the hotel grounds to check out what's about.

Red Breasted Cardinal

Little Woodpecker, hiding

Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

One in, one out!

Wattled Jacana


We see Mr & Mrs Hornero, and this is their somewhat unusual nest.


Greater Kiskadee

Ringed Kingfisher

Chopi Blackbirds

The grounds are surrounded by ponds covered in vegetation, amongst which caimans hide, waiting for an unsuspecting breakfast.



We hear several loud grunts and look around expecting to see wild boar or something similar. “It's the mating call of the caiman” explains Roberto.

Monk Parakeets

Black Collared Hawk
The hawk has caught something, although at first, I cannot make out what it is.


On closer inspection, I can see it's a fish, and he is having quite the feast!



Cattle Tyrant - it is the first time we have seen that red crest on the top of its head

Yellow Rumped Cacique

Rufous Bellied Thrush

Rufous Cachalote. That is one very ambitious nest builder!

Boat Billed Heron

She is feeding her young

Black Vulture

Thrush Like Wren

The property owns a lot of land surrounding the lodge, and several boardwalks lead out across the marshland into the jungle beyond. There is also an observation tower, but neither of us feels up to climbing it.

On one of the boardwalks, we see a couple of spoonbills. I suggest Roberto walks onto the bridge so that I can catch the moment they fly away.


Unfortunately, they both fly in the opposite direction from what I wanted them to do.



A caiman looks as if he is heading to the swimming pool.


Another is making a beeline for David.


This one makes me laugh - I don't think the camouflage is working!


They are awfully close to the hotel in my opinion.


Roberto assures me that no attacks on guests have been recorded. “They are more afraid of you than you are of them”


Amazon Kingfisher

Savanna Hawk

Purple Gallinule, hiding

Black Capped Donacobius

Plumbeous Ibis

South American Ground Lizard

This place really is a birdwatcher's paradise. On a three-hour walk, during which we strayed no more than a few hundred metres from the lodgings, we have seen 34 different bird species, 22 of which are new to us on this trip.

Very satisfied, we return to the room for a few hours in the air conditioning before lunch. David is feeling only slightly better from his throat infection, and I still have the runs, so it is nice to chill for a bit.

We make sure we go down to the restaurant as soon as the food is ready when they ring the bell at 11:30. I dislike buffets, and I dislike buffets that have been left out for an hour or two even more.

Chicken stew, rice, and beans

Caramelised payaya - very nice!

We have it on good authority that the large tree in the courtyard of the lodge attracts macaws most afternoons, so after a post-lunch siesta, I wander out there to see if I can spot any.

Hyacinth Macaw


This is the largest parrot in the world, and I hear them before I see them. They are loud, very active, and quite humorous to watch.


They are not so easy to photograph, however, and for the best part of an hour, they play hide and seek with me.


I swear they are laughing at me.


Mind you, chasing them around the tree with a walking stick in one hand and a chair in the other must have looked quite amusing. My balance is pretty awful (David would say I am 'unstable'), hence the chair for when I want to look straight upwards holding a long lens up to my face.


Jeep Safari
Here at Araras, a number of activities are included in the package, such as trekking, climbing the observation tower, horseriding and canoeing. Obviously, I am unable to partake in any of those, so Roberto is taking us out on a Jeep Safari this afternoon.


The safari vehicles are converted pick-ups, where the tiered seating on the back can be removed if the Jeep is needed for something else, like transporting luggage.


David sits on the back, while I sit inside the back seat – I choose the back rather than the front, as I then have unobstructed views out both sides.


Ringed Kingfisher

Whistling Heron

Thrush-Like Wren

Purpleish Jay

Black Collared Hawk

Southern Lapwing

Orange Backed Troupial

Great Black Hawk

Green Ibis Eating a Frog

Grey Necked Wood-Rail


Marsh Deer


Before dinner, a group of guests have gathered around the camp fire, singing songs and playing the guitar.


After the meal, David and I wander down to the boardwalk for some light painting.



I also try my hand at some more astrophotography. I do think that I need heaps more practice!


Goodnight from Araras, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 22:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife safari hawk brazil lunch lizard birding brasil deer jay caiman woodpecker heron stork vulture ibis cardinal spoonbill blackbird kingfisher macaw pantanal astro bird_watching eco_lodge camp_fire milky_way jacana undiscovered_destinations lapwing astro_photography light_painting thrush after_dark wildlife_photography parakeets kiskadee araras jeep_safari hornero pousada_araras_eco_lodge tyrant cacique chachalote troupial wood_rail marsh_deer wild-birds wren galinule caramelised_papaya rice_and_beans Comments (2)

Porto Jofre Afternoon Safari Day Two

A delightful surprise

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After lunch, I take a quick walk around the hotel grounds to see what birds are around, then retire to the air-conditioned room for a much-welcome snooze.

Southern Caracara

Cattle Tyrant

I am so tempted not to go this afternoon, as I feel completely knocked out, but I don't want to miss anything, so I join David for anotehr safari.

The Boat
While there is plenty of space to spread out my gear (I carry two cameras, one with the 100-400mm plus a 1.4 extender, and the other with either the 24-105mm or a fish eye), legroom is at a premium as a result of the raised shelf at the bow of the boat. I can, of course, stretch out by placing my leg on this higher 'platform', but by doing so, my back ends up hurting. Every day I have been eating painkillers as if they are sweets in order to enjoy the boat trips.


Dinio, our trusty captain

I am so glad I did come out this afternoon as we are just motoring along at some speed when the captain stops the boat and quietly shouts: “Jaguar!” Roberto doesn't believe him at first but then spots the cat in amongst the tall grass.


Walking along the riverbank, he meanders in and out of the tall grass, emerging out into the open at regular intervals.



Initially, there is only us here, but after Dinio radioes the other boat captains, other photographers turn up.


Depending on where they were when they received the message, quite a few miss the sighting; or they just see his head sticking up from above the long grass.


Just like he appeared out of nowhere, 14 minutes later he is gone into the undergrowth.

We go off to see what else nature has to offer us today.


Peach Fronted Parakeets

Great Egret

Cocoi Heron

Black Vulture feasting on a capybara carcass

Lesser Kiskadee

Neotropic Cormorant
Watching a cormorant attempting to take off from the river, I am fascinated by the number of flaps and how long a runway he needs.






Finally airborne!


Large Billed Tern

Caracara with an interesting growth on its chest

Giant River Otters
We come across a couple of otters, fishing.




While we are watching the otters, drifting slowly along the river, a couple of little fish jump in the boat. To get away from the otters, maybe?

Ruddy Pigeon

As we make our way back to the lodge, I amuse myself by trying to be creative using a slow shutter speed on a moving boat.



David, meanwhile, is not feeling at all well.


It gets surprisingly cold in the boat when it is moving at speed. In the heat of the day it gives a welcome relief, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night it is good to have some extra layers.


Tonight is our last night here at Porto Jofre. We celebrate by having an early night (as we have done every day so far on this trip). David's throat feels raw, and he spends most of the night coughing.


Goodnight from Porto Jofre, and thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 21:55 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds boat wildlife safari brazil birding brasil pigeon speedboat heron egret vulture parakeet caracara jaguar cormorant pantanal bird_watching otter cough boat_safari porto_jofre undiscovered_destinations coughing tern wildlife_photography bird_photography wild_birds slow_shutter_speed kiskadee sore_throat giant_river_otter tyreant speeding_boat throat_infection Comments (4)

Iguaçu - day trip to Argentina

A new day, a new country, a new viewpoint

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning at breakfast, we pick up an extra cookie, which we break up on our table hoping to attract some of the colourful birds. You could say “that's the way the cookie crumbles”. We don't have to wait long before the first visitor arrives.

Saffron Finch

Plush Crested Jay

We deliberately sit at the table nearest the one that staff use as a bird feeding station, despite the seats being outside the covered roof, thus damp from the spray of the falls overnight.


Melissa comes along, puts some crumbs in her hand, and a jay almost immediately lands and stuffs its face while perched on her fingers. Apparently, only one bird will eat from the hands, and they have affectionately named it Philhelmina.


David tries to do the same, holding his arm out at a right angle for so long it begins to hurt, but he only gets one very quick grab-and-go visit.



While we wait for Carini to pick us up for today's excursion, we do some more bird watching out the front of the hotel.

Black-fronted piping guan, colloquially known as Jungle Turkey. I can see why.

Southern Lapwing

Scaly headed parrot

We make a quick stop at another viewing platform on the Brazilian side of the falls before continuing.



Unlike yesterday, which had a reasonably thick cloud cover all, day, today the sun is shining; creating beautiful rainbows over the falls.


Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, the park is closed for cleaning every Monday, so the only people we see today are those who are staying in the Belmond Hotel.


From the viewing platform, we continue out of the park and the short distance to the Argentine border. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, and while Brazil has the best views for that very reason, there are some interesting boardwalks on the Argentine side, including one that goes right up to the edge of the most impressive of all the falls, The Devil's Throat.

But first, we have to get into the country.


Getting out of Brazil is reasonably quick, but the official at the Argentine immigration claims that we should have filled in and printed out an online application before we arrived. Carini is confused about this, as she came through here last week with British tourists and was not asked for this paper then. “They can be so bureaucratic,” she says. We are sent to a 'special immigration office', but to get there we have to make a U-turn and join the original queue again. Carini is having none of that and opens up a new line by moving some bollards.


Carini is gone for ages, and we can see the official typing away on his keyboard, completing the online forms for us, and we are each issued with a number, which we then take back to the original immigration booth for them to access our online form.


The official studies us intently (David and I have been in the car all this time, letting Carini sort out all the paperwork – that is one of the many reasons we like to have a guide!), before declaring that David's date of birth has been typed in wrong. Sigh.

Being sent back to the 'special immigration office', Carini is at her wit's end, and states that she is prepared to use tears to get what she wants. David and I both burst into song: “Don't cry for me Argentina...”

After one hour and lots of frustration, we are finally in!

The last time we came to the Argentine side of the falls, some 32 years ago, we parked up at the then Sheraton Hotel (now the Grand Meliá) and walked down from there. These days it is very commercialised, very modern, very well organised.

The entrance is huge and the distances great, so Carini arranges a buggy to take me to the train station. Despite there being plenty of room in the buggy, Carini, as a local guide, is not allowed to travel with us, but has to walk.


Train tickets are timed, and at the station, there is a large waiting area with a souvenir shop and cafeteria.


The announcer is a perfect character for the job, and obviously very funny, as he creates a lot of laughter. It's a shame I can't understand what he is saying. He comes over to me and explains that despite having tickets for the following train, he will not only get me on the next one, but ushers me onto the platform to ensure I get to board first!



At least Carini is allowed to travel with us on the train!


The train makes one stop at the start of the falls, before continuing to the end station and the trail leading to The Devil's Throat.


On the map below, you can see the route from the car park, through the Visitors Centre and Entrance, then the train track down to the station at the end.


Last time we only walked the yellow trail along the top of the different cataracts nearest the hotel, so this is an all-new experience for us.


David and I make a slow start on the boardwalk, while Carini goes off to get a wheelchair for me.


The trail is around a mile in each direction, so theoretically I should be able to do it under my own steam. I don't want to completely ruin my already painful knee at this early stage of the trip, however, so the wheelchair is very welcome when it arrives.



Along the way, we cross little islands while turtles and birds rest on rocks jutting out of the river.



Arriving at the end of the boardwalk, there are many people and a kind of one-way roundabout system to relieve congestion. It works very well.



From a distance, the cascade looks impressive, but that is nothing to how overwhelming the view is once you are literally on the precipice of the falls.


Devil's Throat
The horse-shoe-shaped cataract gets its name from an old legend in which an indigenous chief's daughter, named Naipi, was considered so beautiful that she was able to stop the waters of the Iguaçu River. Learning that her father had offered her to the god M'Boy, she escapes across the river in a canoe with her young warrior lover called Tarobá. M'boy was furious, and in retaliation, opened up a huge chasm in the river, turned Naipi into a rock, and Tarobá into a palm tree at the edge of a nearby abyss. It is said that M'boy stands at this spot to guard over the two young lovers to this day.


Devils Throat is made up of 14 separate powerful waterfalls and at 82 metres, has the highest drop of any of the cataracts in the entire waterfall system; and is also the most photographed.


The sheer power of the water tumbling over the edge of the river is mind-blowing, and the spray gets everywhere, as you can see from the video below.

I am forever cleaning my lens!


The image below, taken from a helicopter, shows just how close to the edge of the waterfall that viewing platform is!


The whole experience is totally breathtaking, and I am so mesmerised by the fast-moving water that I don't want to leave!



The time has come to return to Brazil, however, and we head back to the train station, where there are as many coati as there are passengers.



I rename the station Coati Central.


One of them manages to get into the pushchair storage area of the train, making a passenger in our compartment completely freak out.

The same lovely buggy driver takes us back to the entrance area where we grab a quick burger before returning to the border.

Getting out of Argentina is way easier than getting in! The officials on the Brazilian side want to see our Covid Vaccination certificates – we do have hard copies but didn't think to take them with us today. Doh! We can show digital versions on our phones though, which is good enough for the officers. While David goes with Carini to the office, I stay in the car. They come back for me to find my document on my phone, but by the time they get back to the office with my phone, the screen has blanked and the image 'disappeared'. Thankfully David is able to find it again after some searching.

Insect bites
Both David and I seem to have suffered quite a few insect bites since we've been here at Iguaçu.


With David, it is his legs that have been attacked, for me, it is my arms.


The Belmond Tower
I politely decline when David suggests he wants to climb the tower at the hotel, which offers great views over the grounds and the falls beyond. I give him my camera with a fish-eye lens attached and send him on his way.


David gets creative while photographing the staircase, and I apply a creative edit



As we are getting ready for dinner, we notice that there is a beautiful sunset this evening.


Forgetting that Brazilians eat their evening meal much later than we do in the UK, we arrive at the restaurant at 19:00, only to be told that the à la carte dinner is not served until 19:30. We are offered some nachos while we wait.


Tonight's waitress Ana, is delightful, and we have many laughs. She later comes back to apologise for a joke she told about 'musical condoms', which she feared may have been inappropriate. She obviously does not know our sense of humour.


We order a small pepperoni pizza each, which, when it comes, really is small.


At least it means that we have room for dessert.

David's lemon pie

My meringue with berries - I love the design of the plate!

Ana persuades us to try a glass of dessert wine – she suggests two different ones, so we try one each and swap.


With coffee and liqueurs to follow (Baileys and Cointreau), we are not surprised when the bill for the evening comes to around £200.


Goodnight from Iguaçu and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds sunset tower waterfall dinner rainbow argentina brazil birding pizza iguazu jay south_america cascade helicopter turtle dessert bureaucracy anhinga boardwalk coati immigration iguacu devils_throat wheelchair guan finch spray baileys devil's_throat cataracts fish_eye undiscovered_destinations nachos belmond lapwing insect_bites belmond_hotel_das_cataratas feeding_the-birds lemon_pie meringue cointreau ecological_train torn_ligament lens_cleaning fish_eye_lens dessert_wine Comments (2)

Iguaçu - Parque das Aves, and the falls from the hotel

A taste of things to come

View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep, we wander down to the pool area for breakfast in Restaurant Ipé. The pool looks quite inviting, as the pool boy removes the POOL CLOSED sign, turns all the mattresses down, opens up the parasols, and turns on a coule of fountains.



At the restaurant, Melissa (the maître d' from yesterday lunchtime) greets us: “Good morning Mrs Howard, did you sleep well?”

The buffet is massive, with 20 different breads, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, and a counter where chefs to cook items to your liking.


At Melissa's suggestion, we order a tapioca pancake – a first for us. It is quite pleasant, and nowhere near as dry as it looks.


We are joined outside on the terrace by some gorgeous colourful birds.


Green Headed Tanager

Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

Plush Crested Jay

Greater Kiskadee

Parque das Aves
This bird park came recommended, not just by Trip Advisor writers, but also the hotel staff. Set within the 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest, the park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) from all over South America. The privately owned park focuses on reversing the conservation crisis that these birds and the Atlantic Rainforest are experiencing.

Our first impression is not the best: being Sunday, the entrance is heaving with groups and families on a day out. It seems they have lost our reservation, so we face a long wait just to get in.


To be fair, as a result of the sprawling grounds, it does not feel all that crowded once we get inside.


Some of the birds are within reasonably-sized cages, but there are also some enormous walk-through aviaries where the birds fly freely all around you.

Scarlet Ibis

King Vulture

Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

Black Fronted Piping Guan

Buff Necked Ibis

This area used to hold flamingos until a couple of months ago when a jaguar managed to get into the enclosure. I remember reading about it in the news at the time.


As well as birds, the park is home to reptiles, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.

Black Bellied Sliders

Broad Snouted Caiman

At the halfway mark is a nice little café where we sit down to rest my weary knee. David has been carrying a foldable stool for me, although there have been plenty of benches around too. While we are drinking our cool orange juices, David notices that his shoes are coming apart.


The large enclosure housing parrots and macaws, is definitely my favourite part of the park. I desperately try – totally unsuccessfully – to capture these brightly coloured birds in flight as they whizz past me with their wings-tips almost touching my face.


Red and Green Macaw

Chestnut Fronted Macaw

Jandaya Parakeet

Blue and Yellow Macaw

Blue Winged Macaw

An unidentified bird in the park

By the time we reach the exit, David is completely sole-less on one foot, so we stop in the gift shop at the national park entrance. Carini arranges a Personal Shopper for him, and he comes out, not only with a new pair of walking shoes but also with a long-sleeved top for the jungle.


David wearing his new shoes and carrying his heavy (?) shopping bags.

New shoes

Getting ready to keep the insects at bay in the jungle with a long-sleeved top

We head back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. We don't want a proper meal as such, just a little snack, so we order from the pool menu: fried potatoes with a tasty dip and Brazilian pastels (savoury pastry squares) to share.

Notice how my bag has yet again got its own chair?

The potatoes and dip are so good we order another portion.


Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving on the hill behind the patio: coatis. Lots of them running down towards the pool.


They seem to be attracted by a particular bush, or rather the yellow fruits dropped on the ground underneath the bush.



Its flexible, pointed, pig-like snout, used for sniffing out food under leaf litter and in crevices, has earned it the nickname “hog-nosed raccoon.”


Meanwhile, up by our table, hummingbirds flit in and out of the climbing flower, so fast, and severely backlit, that I really struggle to be able to capture them with my camera. With a fair amount of help from Photoshop and Topaz later, I manage a semi-decent picture of the Panalto Hermit.


We take a bag of ice back to the room with us for my poorly knee.


Unfortunately, it doesn't remain on my knee for very long, after a few minutes, an ice cube landslide occurs, and they all end up on the floor.


Iguaçu Falls
After resting my knee for a while, we wander down to the falls. That's the beauty of staying in the Belmond Hotel, you can visit the falls any time of day or night. When we arrived back from the bird park earlier, there were dozens of people at the viewing platform, now there are only a handful. I find a lonely abandoned chair and sit myself down, put up my tripod, and spend the next couple of hours photographing and watching this magnificent spectacle.


Iguaçu Falls (spelled Iguazu in Spanish) is a series of 275 cataracts on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and together they become the biggest waterfall in the world. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are from Brazil.




On both sides of the border, a number of different walkways lead out to vantage points where you can get incredibly close to the cascades (often getting very wet in the process)!




Queueing up for selfies

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing these falls: "Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet."


Photographs cannot do this natural wonder justice, in fact, not even a video can convey that feeling of power and magnitude!

By the time the light fades and I decide I have enough photos of the waterfalls to last me a lifetime – or at least until tomorrow – there is only me left at the falls. I go back to the room for a shower and get changed for dinner.

I start with a Caipirinha, naturally, when in Brazil and all that! We order a bread basket while we wait. The selection of five different types of bread comes with a trio of dips: spiced butter, whipped cream cheese, and a red wine reduction. It is so good!


The waiter then brings some thin flatbread with garlic and Parmesan cheese.


For mains we both choose filet mignon on a bed of Gorgonzola ravioli. The waiter asks if we want side vegetables, but having gorged ourselves on bread, we decide not to. Just as well, as the portion is enormous: one fillet would have been plenty. I struggle to finish it, but it is so superb that I battle on until the end.


David still has room for dessert, whereas I settle for another drink instead.

Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

When we return to the room, housekeeping has yet again been in for turndown service, and in addition to a chocolate on the pillow, they have given each of the items I left on the little table each own face cloth to rest on. How sweet.


Goodnight from Iguaçu. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls birds wildlife shopping ice breakfast dinner parrots argentina lunch birding brasil iguazu jay south_america caiman tanager ibis coati iguacu iguassu finch bird_watching hummingbird macaws parque_das_aves bird_park undiscovered_destinations parakeets tapioca_pancake kiskadee sliders broken_shoes new_shoes elanor_roosevelt filet_mignon turnback_servce Comments (6)

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