Wednesday 23 October 2019

Our global adventures

Monica Brosnan from Ballyboughal travelled the world with her late husband Bill and has put pen to paper to describe their adventures together

Monica Brosnan and her beloved late husband, Bill on their trip to Anarctica
Monica Brosnan and her beloved late husband, Bill on their trip to Anarctica
Monica and Bill and their fellow adventurers on The Zodiac

My late husband Bill and me had enjoyed 5 long long cruises to far flung areas of the world. While surfing the internet and much reading, we first chose the Alaskan Coast towards the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea which seemed tempting, resulting in an avalanche of ideas.

Even the famous explorer Roald Amundsen  took three years to explore these snowy islands. My poor blighted mind could only grasp at words such as 'permafrost' and 'aurora borealis' and the thought of midnight sun was hard to grasp in reality. Would we meet Inuits? Would us trespassers begin to haunt them in the future? Indeed, anxious to meet these natives and having the fortune to speak with one who told me intruders are not tolerated after October of each year. Inuit greetings are only by touching nose to nose.

In 1867 the Russians sold Alaska to the USA for $7,200.000, very soon afterwards it literally became a gold mine. We retraced the steps of the Klondike gold stampeders and much, much more.

Other six week long cruises we took included New Zealand and Australia. India and tours there including in Mumbai,followed by a month cruising on the Indian Ocean often stepping off at some of its 1,200 islands. Then reaching Egypt and sailing down along the East African coast to Durban. Walking around Zulu Land followed by a dream come through - a Safari and all that it entails. 

Continuing to the the Cape of Port Elizabeth followed by a week in superb South Africa.

We spent a further week sailing along the West coast of Africa, en route visiting Nabibia country, Cape Verde Island and into Morocco and home via Lisbon

Our shortest sea voyage was Athens and around the Greek Islands.

Back up north once more via the Norweigen Fjords, Lapland ,Tallin and Northern Russia, we spent two weeks cruising through the Arctic Ice in a specially designed ship with an arrowed front to cut the ice 50-plus feet deep. 

The crew and us tourists enjoyed crossing the Arctic Circle at midnight in complete day light followed by a jolly party of dancing and joviality.

Disembarking on small islands one of which we saw some polar bears, wee were protected by some armed ships crew who joined us. 

Bill and I took a flight in a very small plane over the north Pole to view the awesome scenery below. This trip alone would require writing an entire book on the experiences we had there. Not content with visiting one of the poles, we set our sights on Antarctica. 

Setting out to reach Antarctica we travelled via Dublin, London,Madrid and on to Buenos Aires, the largest cosmopolitan capital city in Latin America. 

Its main centre 'Plaza de Mayo' is lined with stately century-old homes, and there is the Malba Museum displaying Latin America's Art which is a fascinating mixture due to immigration of Art Deco, Neo-Gothic and French Bourbon styles to the area.

The Grand Opera House with 2.500 seats is also located in this unique square. The spoken language is Spanish and the city is the birth place of our present Pope Francis.

The Iguazu Falls which are one of the world's 'Wonder's Of Nature' are among the largest on earth lying north of Buenos Aires in Argentina. 

We also visited the tomb of Evita wife of a former President and of 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' fame. Once more we boarded a plane on a four hour flight bound for Uschuaia a city existing on the end of the world at the southern most tip of Argentina. 

The large region on the lower end of Argentina and Chile is Patagonia divided by the Andes with coasts on three oceans and divided by the Andes.

We boarded the ship 'The Marco Polo' at Ushuaia, Cape Horn to follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin to cross The Drake Passage, the most treacherous crossing on earth where two seas meet - the South Pacific and Atlantic. It is always under the influence of Polar depressions.

We had already done our home work through a friend of the Shackleton family who had advised us how to cope. 

We sailed past the Falklands towards South Georgia and down towards the Weddell Sea (named after an explorer). We spent some hours lying in bed during the worst of the choppy seas with waves up to 0 and 80 feet and returned to deck feeling as seasoned sailors. Those who choose to go to Antarctica fall into two groups - scientists or tourists.

Who owns Anarctica? No one. Many tried to claim it. In 1959 twelve countries had signed a Treaty to control this coldest,driest, inhospitable land on earth. Scientific Research Stations in various areas were arranged using Biologists,Oceanographers, Physists Astronomers and others. When we reached Deception Island we bathed in one of the '10 Best Natural Springs In the World' which is unimaginable in the world's coldest continent. 

Who are the native sons of Antarctica? There are none. Antarctica was there long before gumans circa 35.million years ago. It was only around 1820 when navigation became sophisticated to allow anyone set foot on Antarctica and even today, eight months annually it is completely uninhabited.

We joined twelve others to move off our ship on to zodiac, a small rubber inflatable boat. We landed on Elephant Island having waded in wellingtons through ice cod water up to our knee. 

Our guide told us about a tourist who was followed by an elephant seal which followed this person who had to hide in a hut on land until the seal went away. These seals are up to 20 tonnes plus in weight, using flippers to go on land and we were close to thousands of them hovering .

Peter Hillary, is the son of the famous Mount Everest Hillary who conquered the great mountain and the former lectured us on 'Ttwo Generations of Adventure'. Peter had climbed the highest mountain in Antarctica called Mount Erebus. He was invited to the famous Ed. Sullivan show in New York and Sullivan asked: ' I understand you discovered a new passage to the North Pole? Peter replied: 'That is correct.' Ed responded wittily: 'But what was wrong with the old one?'

Penguins are my special fascination, I have a toy one presented to me  while on our cruise ship by dear Bill.  During our time with them they were hatching, we were informed that they eat krill,and other fish.

They use their flippers to jump abot 12 to 15 feet from the water up on to the snow. They huddle together in large numbers, the birds on the inside move to the outside and visa versa at intervals.

Apparently some populations have dwindled and others increased. One Scientific expert who spends time in Antarctica annually knows the exact number of penguins there and puts it at 50.000 plus Ernest Shackleton one hundred years ago went to Antarctica sailing from Buenos Aires and hoping to conquer this cold continent but trekking in the opposite direction to Roald Amundsen who had already conquered it.

Shackelton sailed to The Antarctic Circle, got shipwrecked when the ice crushed his ship, 'The Endurance' named after Shackletons family crest .

The ice surrounded the ship in menacing floes which then came together exerting pressure on the ship which was crushed.Later Shackleton and a few of his men set sail for Elephant Is. and eventually arrived to South Geogia and saved some of his crew. 

We returned back to Uschuaia and at one stage our ship had to be re versed as the captain tried to pilot through two  huge blocks of ice. The sun sometimes came out colouring the mountains of snow a magnificent shade of crystal mauve/blue/green. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue day and night.

Fingal Independent