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Cruise Day 8 - 1 polar bear, glacier, bearded seal, puffins

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

I struggled to get to sleep after going to bed last night, knowing that I might only get a couple of hours sleep before getting up again. At 01:30 I hear talking outside the cabin, and fifteen minutes later Vide pops his head around our bedroom door and tells us to get ready for the Zodiacs, as there is a bear out there.

Bear No. 16 at Likodden


As they start to load the camera bags into the zodiacs, I hear some serious swearing in Norwegian and see Svein looking forlornly into the abyss between the Zodiac and the Origo. In the process of handing stuff down from the deck higher up, he somehow manages to drop the ship's radio into the water. Oh, dear. At least it wasn't someone's camera equipment.


This is a very clean bear, and initially, she is sleeping. As usual, we hang around to see what she might do, and we are rewarded with a little morning bear yoga. She is very cute and is definitely worth getting out of bed in the middle of the night for.


On the way back to the ship, we somehow end up discussing the penises of various animals with the other passengers in the zodiac, with me explaining how the female hyena has a penis (in one of the presentations I do to camera clubs, I have a section on this subject)! We have found the level of humour with some of the other passengers, creating a lot of hilarity.

The crew has kindly left out some crispbread and butter for us on our return.

We go back to bed at 04:10, so we should manage to get some 2.5-3 hours kip before it is time to get up for breakfast. There is a lot of knocking and banging from the engine tonight (this morning)... ka-chunk-a ka-chunk-a ka chunk-a. I struggle to sleep, I think I am overtired.

We get up in time for breakfast, then go back to bed for a few hours to catch up on sleep. When we later emerge for lunch, my body clock is totally confused, I don't know whether it is morning, afternoon, or middle of the night. At lunch, we continue the penis conversation over sausages and mash (see the connection?). Jackie asks if she can see my aforementioned presentation of hyena sexual organs, which I just happened to have on my laptop. As you do.

Pregnant female hyena with a penis - totally irrelevant to the trip, of course, but just in case you are interested

Zodiac drive in the Lilliehöök Glacier bay


After lunch, we head out in the rubber boats, but first, we have to overcome a small problem: one of the Zodiacs won't start. Mikel and Victor pull leavers, turn switches, change the battery, and look at it from every angle wanting it to magically work. It doesn't. Eventually, they decide to change the engines over with the one on the spare boat, a bright orange one that is kept on the top deck, away from the other two daily zodiacs.

The two main zodiacs are kept in on a deck by themselves

The spare, however, is on the upper deck

Not wishing to risk losing an engine into the abyss of the Arctic waters while swapping them over from one zodiac to the other, the crew lowers the spare onto the water. As the two main inflatables are already next to the steps leading down from the ship's deck, the spare comes down further to the rear of the ship. This means, however, that there are no steps down to access the zodiac, so Johannes climbs over the railings and scales the side of the ship to get into the inflatable boat, all while wearing Crocs. The spare boat and the one with the broken engine then get hoisted up to make the switch on the zodiac deck, which takes all but a few minutes, and soon we are on our way.

The glaciers create a 180° sheltered bay, full of growlers of every size.



The experience is like nothing I have ever encountered before. Vide switches off the engine on the zodiac, and the silence of the frozen landscape is only broken by the tinkling of the bubbles trapped in the ice as they are released from their 2000-year-old captivity.



Then the thunder-like sound of the calving – sometimes internally within the glacier, but a couple that we do see on the leading edge of the glacier. I am not quick enough to photograph either of them, unfortunately. Vide calls it Viking farts. We spend an hour or so driving through the brash, crashing into the small – and sometimes large – pieces of glacier ice broken away from its parent.


The main glacier is nearly 11 km long and up to 30 metres high. The bluest parts are the freshly exposed areas where there has been a recent calving.



This place is totally magical, what an honour to be able to experience this.


Vide gets a call from Mikel that there is a seal close to the boat, so we decide to head back. What we don't realise, is that Mikel has taken the spare boat out to test the engine after repairing it, so when he is referring to 'boat', he doesn't mean Origo. He is sitting with a few of the other crew near an ice floe complete with a bearded seal sitting on top.


We circumnavigate the seal to get some pictures from his best side and notice that he is injured on his chest (plus some older scars on the back of his head), probably from a polar bear or maybe a Greenland shark.


We return to the ship for lunch... or is it dinner? No, it is afternoon tea. The 24-hour daylight is really confusing me, especially as we went out in the middle of the night and then went back to bed after breakfast.

This last Zodiac cruise has really buggered up my back, and I struggle to lift my leg over the threshold into the ship, Gunnar literally has to physically lift my foot for me. Every time I lift my leg, it sends a shooting pain down my back, and my kneecap feels like it is bouncing around inside my leg.

Kongsfjorden Bird Cliff


Thankfully we are not going out in the Zodiacs for this one, as photography is in fact much better from the ship. As we approach the area, the cliffs tower above the boat, and it looks like we are heading straight for them. The sheer cliff face has a number of little ledges that are home to guillemots and a few puffins. It is nice to see, but being in a great deal of pain, I fail to get more than mildly excited about it.



Our evening meal is delayed by half an hour tonight, in order to accommodate the puffins. We were later than planned to leave the glaciers because we saw the seal, which then, of course, had a knock-on effect on the timings. We start with a tasty fish paté with prawns in a dill mayo, and the main course is chicken in a curry sauce with rice (which makes a pleasant change from boiled potatoes), accompanied by a very nice bottle of Chablis. Dessert is yet again Ellen's famous chocolate orange balls. Not that I am complaining - they're delicious.


From here we have a three-hour cruise to a fjord where we will be landing on the beach to look for foxes. I have already decided that I won't be going; partly because as I am still in a lot of pain, I really don't want to do any serious hiking, nor do I not fancy hanging around for several hours waiting for Mr. Fox to make an appearance; and partly because I don't have rubber boots for the wet landing. Seeing the weather when we arrive, it definitely confirms that decision for me: grey, dark and rain. Jeanette has also made up her mind not to go, and we are looking forward to having the ship to ourselves for a few hours. David has gone back to bed for a nap, and I tell Vide not to wake him as I know he wasn't that keen on the idea either.

The crew has lowered the zodiacs, and one by one the other photographers arrive in the saloon, all dressed up for the outside world, hanging around awaiting instructions. After some discussions, the decision is made that we will skip this stop. Apparently, the foxes can be very hard to find, and with less-than-ideal photographic conditions, it doesn't seem worth the effort. It doesn't appear to be an unpopular decision, and soon the passengers are back into indoor clothes and raiding the fridge for beers. Having been warned that it could be rough seas for the next few hours, David and I go to bed while we can still walk in a straight line. We are both feeling a little under the weather with sore throats, so bed seems to be the best place for us.

Thank you so much to Arctic Wildlife Tours for this amazing adventure - truly a trip of a lifetime.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:52 Archived in Svalbard Tagged zodiac cruise glaciers back seal norway fox bear polar svalbard pain bubbling silence crocs painful knee spitsbergen painful_knee isbjørn origo ms_origo spitzbergen wildlife_cruise arctic_wildlife_tours artcic_wildlife bear_yoga hyena_penis lilliehook lilliehøøk engine_problem glacier_ice bearded_seal painful_back Comments (6)

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)

Cristalino - birds and butterflies

Our last full day in the Amazon

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

Another early start today, up at 05:00, breakfast at 06:00, and leave at 06:30.

There is a mist hanging over the river this morning, creating an ethereal scene.


Black Fronted Nunbird

Long Nosed Bats
They are so incredibly well camouflaged, as they try their best to hide from the Bat Falcon.




Striated Heron

Greater Ani

White Tipped Dove

Saffron Playboy Butterfly

Rufescent Tiger Heron

Plumbeous Kite

Capped Heron

I love the way the pattern creates a false set of eyes on his rear end, and that he looks like a series of glass beads joined together.


White Throated Toucan

We return to the same area we visited yesterday, as the moving water often attracts birds.


Red Throated Piping Guan


White Banded Swallows




Bearded Turtle

We are not the only ones from the lodge out and about on the water today.

Bird Watchers

A boat waiting for the trekkers to return

White Winged Swallow
I am still chasing these little birds around trying to catch one flying – I have some success, but still not completely happy.




Scarlet Macaws

Red Throated Piping Guan

Ruddy Ground Dove

From the rapids we enter an area where the water is completely still, creating perfect reflections.



Amazon Kingfisher

Snowy Egret

Olive Oropendula

Cristalino Lodge
The usual taxi (luggage truck) is waiting for me at the top of the steps to take me to the room when we get back from our morning's boat safari.


On our way to the lodge when we arrived on the very first day, I saw a number of butterflies on a rock near the lodge, and I asked Gui if we could go back and take a closer look. They are more active in the middle of the day, so we go out at 11:45 to see if they are there.


There are literally thousands of them, and they rarely stay still for more than a second, flittering about left to right, right to left.




It is like being in the middle of a living, breathing, confetti shower.



I spend over an hour photographing these mesmerising butterflies, with lots of exclamations of “wow” and “isn't this amazing”. The experience is like nothing we have ever known before.

We have a photobomber

Not one, not two, but three photobombers




My taxi takes me directly to the restaurant this lunchtime, via the staff quarters (the truck can't drive the pedestrian path as there are too many tree roots along the way).

I try and remember what I ordered last night (you pre-order the food for the next meal at the previous one). I photographed the items on the menu, but the starter bears little resemblance to what I receive. Whatever it is, it is very enjoyable.


The main course is a Micaela-style tenderloin stew with parsnip chips and country-style corn meal.


Dessert is something called Cupuaçu, a traditional dish of fruit pudding with crunchy Brazil nuts


I spend some time trying some gentle exercises for my knee, as it is feeling very much better today. The rest of the afternoon is spent chilling in the room with the fan on before confidently walking the ¼ mile path through the jungle to reach the restaurant for dinner, without the use of my knee braces.

Everything seems a bit of a shambles this evening, and while the service is friendly and helpful, it is a little hit and miss and at times rather slow.

After sitting down at our usual table, we ask the waitress for a jug of water. When after a while it has not arrived, we ask another of the waiting staff. Some time later, the maître d' comes over and asks if everything is OK. We mention the missing water, and he goes off to chase it. Soon after someone arrives with two jugs, immediately followed by two other people carrying three jugs between them. We now have five jugs of water, although they do take four of them away, thankfully, otherwise, I'd be up every half an hour throughout the night.

Courgette hash with poached egg

Cristalino steak - so tender and tasty

Coconut pudding - delicious!

So much for the confidence earlier – walking back to the room, my knee is suffering big time. Full of disappointment and frustration, I take some painkillers before bed.

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


Posted by Grete Howard 21:43 Archived in Brazil Tagged reflections wildlife river bird safari brazil lunch mist birding brasil amazon toucan south_america bats butterflies heron egret dove rapids guan ani boat_trip centipede boat_safari undiscovered_destinations swallow early_morning_mist wildlife_photography river_safari painful_knee cristalino sunbittern nunbird cristalino_lodge bird-watching centiped oropendula painkillers Comments (0)

Iguaçu - helicopter, glass lift and boat trip

Another busy day

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

We are joined by the usual crew this morning at breakfast.

David and his favourite member of staff: Melissa

Plush Crested Jay

Toco Toucan

Planalto Hermit

Saffron Finch

A hungry Coati

Helicopter Flight
As soon as we meet up with our guide Carini, we head straight to the heliport, just outside the park gates.



We have booked a private sightseeing flight over the falls, which means that there is only us and the pilot on board, and I can move around much more freely in the back seat.


We can see the mist rising from the falls long before we see the falls themselves.



Here you can clearly see the amazing position of our hotel


Devil's Throat


In the pictures below, you can see just how near we were to the edge of the falls yesterday!




The pilot takes a couple of loops around the falls to give us both some great views, but the ten minutes is soon up and we are back at base again.


I have hardly had time to breathe on the flight, I have been so busy taking photos, with two cameras, out of the windows on both sides. I would love to go around again without the cameras and just enjoy the scenery. I get out of the helicopter absolutely buzzing with the excitement and adrenalin of it all. Wow! What an experience that was!

Carini suggests we go on an optional excursion this morning, to see something different while we are here: Itaipu Dam. I remember it being pointed out to us when we were here last in 1990, but these days they offer guided tours of the hydroelectric plant, something David thought might be interesting.

We drive through the town of Iguaçu, very much a tourist place, with lots of hotels of every size and budget, and many restaurants. It looks like a laid-back and interesting place, but I would still rather stay inside the national park in the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas.

We get to the power station, where we find the gates locked shut. A security guard explains that they have recently started closing it to tourists on a Tuesday, something Carini was not aware of. Oh well.

Instead, we head for a large tourist restaurant at the head of the falls, driving past our hotel to the end of the road. This was definitely not here when we last visited!

In addition to the restaurant, there is a visitors centre and a large souvenir store, where David finds a pair of nice thin trousers, ideal for the jungle.

The restaurant is huge, with seating inside and out. We pay a fixed price on entry and find ourselves a table outside overlooking the river with the top of the falls in the distance.




The food is an all-you-can-eat buffet and is quite pleasant, nothing more, nothing less.

Glass Lift
I remember walking down to this from the hotel when we last came and being amazed by the proximity to the falls and the little swallows nesting behind the falls, flying in and out of the spray.

From the road, there are stairs and a ramp leading down to the upper platform, from which you take a glass lift down to the lower viewing area. We walk straight into the lift, with no queue.




There are further walkways to take, in order to get nearer the falls. Both David and I decline the offer.


Selfies are the bane of a photographer's life! While having the odd picture of myself or me and David while we travel is nice, I cannot see the desire to be in every single photo I take! It just seems so narcissistic to me. “Look at me! Look at me!” Can people no longer just purely enjoy the surroundings, or it is just for likes on Instagram?


Mind you, it is infinitely better than before the selfie invention, when one person would stand near the edge and their companion on the other side of the path to take their photo so that no one could get past.

And here is our selfie!


There is a long line of people waiting for the lift to go back up again, but Carini has a word with the operator, and not only do we jump the queue, we actually get a private lift to ourselves (the service lift).

Macuco Boat Trip
I am constantly impressed with the way Brazilians accommodate less able people. The transfer truck that takes us from the entrance to the funicular, is easily adapted to take a girl in a wheelchair and me on a ramp, while still being able to seat a number of able-bodied passengers. I have never felt that I am a nuisance, every single adaptation and modification has been carried out without hesitation and with a smile.


The truck takes us to the top of a funicular, where there are lockers and changing rooms. There is a choice of “wet” or “dry” boats, and we decide to go for the dry boat so that I can take photos. At the last minute, however, we change our minds, leave everything except the waterproof cameras in the lockers, and go to get wet!


Getting into the boat is down some very steep steps, from where you step across into the boat. I manage with a bit of help, and the staff effortlessly carry the paralysed girl and place her in a seat. There is no turning back now!



The boat is extremely powerful and weaves from side to side, leaning right over to add to the adventure, negotiating the rapids with ease. It reminds me very much of the jetboat on the Shotover River in New Zealand.



We stop to view the falls from a distance, and this is the point at which the “dry” boat would turn around. As a result of all the mist, the view is not great, so I am glad I didn't risk my cameras, as even the “dry” boat would have got us wet from the spray.



From here it is full steam straight into the falls!

How can I describe it? It starts off as a gentle shower and you brace yourself for the downpour. It doesn't come. Just as you think that “this is actually quite bland, it hits you. Quite literally! Imagine a huge barrel full of icy-cold water dumped over your head without warning... that is what it feels like. To say it's a shock is an understatement!

David looks shell-shocked!

Then they do it again. And a third time. By this time we are both shivering, and the wind as we speed back to the jetty does not help.

For sure it was an adventure, and I am glad I did it – would I do it again? Not on your Nelly!

At the jetty, I struggle to get out of the boat, as I haven't got the strength in my knees to step up onto the seat. It hurts like hell when I try. Panic and distress set in. Eventually, I manage to manoeuvre myself so that my bum is leaning on the back of the seat, and with David's help manage to lift one leg up, and then the other. By the time I have climbed the steep steps back up to the platform, my legs are shaking, and I haven't even got the strength in my knees to walk. I drag my feet on the floor, shuffling along like a zombie.


Carini is worried about me, and as soon as we get back to the hotel, she asks for a wheelchair for me, as well as some ice to be delivered to the room. As he is pushing me up the incline in the hotel corridor, the porter comments “leg day yesterday, arm day today, no need for gym”.

On Carini's suggestion, we order room service for our dinner this evening. This hotel can manage to make a salad and sandwich look like a five-star meal!

The waiter arrives with a large tray complete with condiments as well as a small bunch of flowers.


My chicken Caesar salad

David's tuna sandwiches

Some fresh fruit to share for dessert

I see housekeeping has been having fun with my glasses again while we have been out, creating a little pouch for them from a face cloth. How sweet.


Tonight we need to pack, as we are moving on to pastures new tomorrow. Why is there so much less room in my bag now than there was when I left home, even though I haven't bought anything?

Goodnight from Iguaçu for the last time. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 16:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls breakfast brazil lunch mist brasil jay jetty jetboat shock pain coati iguacu devils_throat pilot wheelchair iguassu hermit finch boat_trip hummingbird selfies itaipu hydroelectric helcipter helicopter_flight heliport glass_lift macuco macuco_boat_safari painful_knee room_service Comments (2)

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