Friday, 3 February 2012

South Georgia's on my mind...

Where else can you see reindeer and King Penguins?
I mentioned in my last post about meeting up with a taxidermist who had created a remarkable exhibit of an albatross for the South Georgia museum. Small world.....

I was lucky enough to visit remote South Georgia (about 1,000 miles south-east of the Falklands) last year on a cruise. It is a remarkable place, not least for being associated with the dramatic rescue, in 1916, of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Endurance expedition, when the ship was crushed by ice. Five years after those events, he returned to Antarctica, stopping at South Georgia to re-supply, but died suddenly of a heart attack. His ship sailed on without him, and his body was taken back to Montevideo for onward transport to the UK, but his wife sent a telegram that he should be buried in South Georgia – the place he loved.
Shackleton's grave
It is also 'home' to some scientists of the British Antarctic Survey (more details at above site), as the waters around Sth Georgia have remarkable life – both with an abundance and variety found in very few places. This sea-life supports millions of penguins, albatrosses and seals which breed on the island, and it featured on the BBC series “Frozen Planet”.
King Penguin rookery
Last summer, a newcomer (I'll call her Anita, as that's her name) to our Nordic Walking group in Bushy Park, London, appeared, and as I tried to help her feel relaxed as she picked up the technique, I asked where she had been on holiday recently.

“Oh”, she replied, “you won't have heard of it.... a tiny island called South Georgia”.

I was happy to tell her that not only had I heard of it, but, I too had just come back from it! To say she was surprised is an understatement.

It seems we were there about a week apart, despite only a handful of boats going there each year.

Anita was primarily visiting her daughter who was managing the boats on behalf of the scientists. Her daughter kept fascinating blog about her routine, which I followed with interest. How often do you get to hear what it's like to live on a isolated, inhospitable island in the South Atlantic?

I emailed Ashley a couple of times, asking how life was on the island, and exchanging news and views about “Frozen Planet” (the base there had a DVD of the series provided by the producers, and watched each episode as it was transmitted in the UK!).

To cut a long ramble short – I thought at one point I might bump into Ashley either in South Georgia or else on the Falklands, but she had to leave in January to climb, Aconcagua, at 22841 feet / 6962 m, the highest peak in South America, as you do.

But, before leaving South Georgia, she had found an old pair of snowshoes, and emailed me to ask if I was interested in having them? They might come in handy, I thought, so “yes, please”. But how would she get them to me?

No problem – they would be left with a friend, Leigh Anne, in Stanley.

It was only when I arrived here and remembered that I didn't have her surname that I realised it might be trickier that I first thought to track her down. But the other day, I was browsing in an art gallery-cum-camping store – The Pink Shop – when I glanced at some stunning paintings of penguins. And the artist's name was Leigh Anne!

So, from meeting Nordic Walkers, I have learned about life on the real Frozen Planet set; and had introductions to some talented and interesting people!  The kindness of strangers...

Happy recipient of snowshoes...

South Georgia landscapes

South Georgia residents
Oh, and Prince William has arrived here. It may be on the news......


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