Tag Archives: kayaking

Shot of the Week

Junks in Halong Bay, Vietnam, by Olivia for TKGO

This shot comes by way of my sister, who returned just days ago from a two-week trip through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. One of the most stunning vistas, she said, came from this viewpoint over Halong Bay, Vietnam, about two hours from Hanoi. Junks haul tourists on two-day cruises through the towering islands, where monkeys swing on branches hundreds of feet overhead and rivers have carved caves perfect for kayaking excursions.

Tara and Olivia for TKGO

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Antarctica: The Ice

The thing that makes Antarctica so different from a trip to Alaska, or even the Arctic, is the feeling that what you’re looking at will never be seen by anyone in the same way after the moment passes. The ship’s angle changes, the light comes from a different direction, the iceberg moves.

The ice changes hourly — and you are the only human being who will see it exactly as it stands before you. In that sense, Antarctica is the perfect mental vacation. Every moment is private; you are isolated even from others on the ship through your individual thoughts and perception.

But enough with the existential.

Survival tip: When kayaking among icebergs, beware those that are more likely to turn over. If you see a berg with a scalloped surface, stay at least five feet away. Those shallow grooves are made by lapping waves when the ice is underwater. When they appear above the surface, it means the iceberg has recently turned over and is more likely to do so again, taking you and the kayak with it.

 

This bird is asking for it. Bergs with scalloped surfaces like this one are more likely to overturn.

 

The Antarctic has far more icebergs than the Arctic — and much larger ones. Whatever you see above the water is only between 1/10th and 1/8th the total mass of the berg, and what’s below isn’t necessarily directly under it. And there isn’t always a warning sign, but when there is, it’s mind-blowingly cool. When the skies are gray and overcast, Antarctic glacial ice glows a fluorescent blue, like a black light, which can warn you if smaller bergs extend far to the side.

 

The blue glow has something to do with the reflection of the sky on the water on the ice on your retina. Complicated enough?

 

An iceberg’s life is as predictable as a human life, but instead of a hospital in which to give birth, a glacier calves (a chunk falls off) when temperatures warm up in the spring and summer, giving birth to a brand new iceberg. The berg’s ice slowly compresses over thousands of years, and it deteriorates under strong waves and/or melts as currents carry it to warmer temperatures.

 

Glacier meets the ocean: where calving happens and where icebergs are born

 

The best part of an iceberg? They might as well be fugitives, as they are destined to be nameless and constantly change shape. Like cloud classification, there’s plenty of room for debate in naming icebergs. There are two types: tabular and non-tabular. Tabular bergs are flat on top, like a plateau, and often keep the layer of snow that covered the original glacier when it calved. Eventually, tabular bergs become non-tabular after the snow has compressed into ice or the berg rolls over, allowing waves and currents to change its shape. Of the non-tabular bergs, different shapes are called anything from “wedges” to “dry docks,” but many could be classified just as well under two terms as none. (Most of the time, my gran and I left the specifics to researchers and named the icebergs ourselves. …But our names were a bit more like pet names.)

 

Researchers might say "dry dock" or "pinnacle." Gran and I say "swim-up bar."

 

Despite being surrounded by ice, summer temperatures hung around 30 degrees Fahrenheit during our December 2006 trip. This does not mean we wore normal clothing. Before Wellington boots were paraded in NYC store windows, I owned a pair two sizes too big in order to fit three layers of ski socks inside. (People who make frequent trips count Wellies as the best waterproof brand available.) While you sit in your comfy chair scrolling through photos, you can at least be happy you didn’t have to pile this on every morning and take it all off each night:

 

Two people, one day's worth of clothing. All photos by Tara for TKGO.

 

Of course, I’m still trying to find excuses to live on an Antarctic ice breaker during the four months of every year they go back and forth to research stations… so you know getting dressed is not that bad.

Next up? More on the researchers who really do get to stay four months of every year, and plenty of photos of Antarctic wildlife (yes, that means penguins, whales, skuas, seals and neon-pink aquatic life). Stay tuned!

Tara for TKGO

In Defense of Cruises

A friend of ours is currently on a cruise from Southern California to Mexico. When I found out, I was a little surprised. She’s well-traveled and culturally-adventurous, and cruises don’t generally attract those interested in exploring the ins and outs of a city like a local, which I know she enjoys doing. I think she was surprised to find herself on one too, judging from her text message that contained the phrase, “…Forgot how ridiculous cruises are.”

For a span of time, my family was all about cruises. While I was in middle school, we boarded three different cruise lines to three different places. The first one was like our test-run. It was a short Carnival cruise that touched on the Caribbean and part of Mexico. Our second one came a few years later to Alaska on Celebrity Cruises and the third (and at this point, final one) was an all-out Caribbean tour thanks to Royal Caribbean Cruises.

In my pre-teenage and early teenage days I considered cruises were the ultimate form of family vacation and travel. I roamed the ship with my new-found best vacation friends Now, though, I’m a little ashamed to admit to serious travelers that I’ve been on so many. Why? Many consider the stereotypical cruise-goer a close relative to (if not the same as) the socks and sandals clad, overweight, Hawaiian-shirted tourist. Our cruises invariably boasted 24-hour buffets. One ship even had an ice rink and a Johnny Rockets. Thousands of people unloaded almost daily into small ports where all the souvenir shirts read some variation of “Yah, mon.” When you look at the profile of a typical cruise and cruise ship, it’s just plain hokey.

But at the time, it worked. My sister was still little, I was itching (more like fighting) for an ounce of vacation freedom and my parents were looking for some relaxation. A cruise was everyone’s happy compromise for a one-size-fits-all form of vacation. And to be honest, in retrospect, we did some pretty cool stuff. We snorkeled with sea turtles in Barbados, fed and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands (pre-Steven Irwin incident, RIP). We went rafting on a glacial river and kayaking in an ocean inlet in Alaska. And to this day, I recall the sights from the dock of our cruise ship bound for Alaska as some of the most stunning I’ve ever witnessed. In fact, I’d recommend that cruise to anyone and everyone interested in seeing more of Alaska than Sarah Palin on TV. (It’s really a lush, beautiful place. Warm in the summer, too.)

I’ve thought back on past trips and re-assessed my family’s temporary cruise obsession. It’s made me realize, even more than before, travel really is what you make it.

 

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska (as seen from the cruise ship deck)

 

 

Snorkeling in Barbados (L: My younger sister, R: Me)

 

(I apologize for the quality of the photos; they come the pre-digital camera era. Hard to imagine…)

Karina for TKGO