Monday, February 25, 2008

It's a small world, after all!

Well, lots of interesting doings here in Temple this weekend. It started routine enough, with a few projects, a bit of hiking and some sports on the radio and TV. (Those Aggies seem determined to sink a promising season!)

Then, at about 9:00pm Saturday night, there was a knock on my door. Despite the fact that I've been staying here off and on for about 10 years, this is the first time I've had anyone knock on my door. The place is pretty remote and well hidden in the middle of my 200 acres.

I opened the door to two policemen, who were staring at the still glowing remains of my camp fire. They introduced themselves and asked if I owned that car parked in the field( I park in the field nearby, since the terrain at the cabin is too rough for parking a sedan). "Yes, why?". Their reply, "Why does it have no tags on it?". "Well, I just bought it and it has dealer tags in the window..."

"Oh. Can they see proof that I own it?" After I produced the keys and some paperwork and pointed out the dealers tags, I think they were starting to question why they were asking these questions. Turns out, someone had been riding a 4 wheeler and reported a suspicious "Cadillac" parked in the field. "Uh, its a Ford, but I guess it is different from the Chevrolet I normally park there." At first I was a bit miffed that someone, who obviously was trespassing by 4-wheeling on my property, had called the police. But, after a while, I decided it was good to have neighbors who were interested enough to report suspicious activity.

Then, on Sunday morning, I visited Canyon Creek Church of Christ. A young lady named Gloria came forward to be baptized into Christ. As I'm watching, I felt a tap on my shoulders and looked around to see old friends, Tom and Noni Matthews, from Houston. Turns out, Gloria was their granddaughter.

Afterward, I was invited to lunch at the home of the Huddlestons, the third time someone from the congregation has invited me for a meal. They have a beautiful home on a limestone bluff overlooking Belton Lake. Then, one of the guests, 80+ year old Mr Vaughan, who owns property adjoining mine and knows both the former owner and the current farmer who works the place, allowed as how he remembers the first time I visited the congregation with my son, Jon, who was looking for a friend from work camp that he knew attended there. What, that must have been 6-7 years ago???!!!. Sure enough, when I checked with Jon, the friend was Emily Matthews, presumably the sister of Gloria.

Ok, now you can join me in singing, "It's a small world, after all..."

No pictures, this time. I've got to start carrying my camera absolutely everywhere.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cavalier on Steroids-Congressional Hearing Rumored

Some of the rumors are true... the faithful old Cavalier sustained an injury.

I never would have done it just to make her bigger and stronger, but with the auto doctor saying this injury could be career ending, it looks like she may have resorted to steroids. Here she is today...make your own judgement.

Now, the rumor is that I may have to testify before congress. After all, this is my second brush with steroids. You may remember the Personal Finance Guru story in March 2007 (see My Blogs on right) claiming that I had used steroids on dollar cost averaging. But, I want to make it clear that I didn't do it to cheat. I was just trying to keep them doing their job.

Now, I just need to get together with some of my friends in the oil business and get the price of gas dropped a couple of dollars a gallon. What? Now my lawyers are whispering in my ear that maybe I should avoid that subject...never mind, guys!!

Well, if there is nothing else, I need to make a call to Bear Creek Auto Undertakers to see if they can dispose of the evidence. What? I should avoid that subject as well? Anyway, if there are no more questions I'll just be going about my regular business.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Punta Arenas and Montevideo
Our final two ports: Punta Arenas, Chile and Montevideo, Uruguay. By this time we are getting a bit weary and things are beginning to all look alike. So this will be the last report from our Antarctic/South American trip. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, now.
More penguins at a nature preserve near Punta Arenas. This is a breeding area, and you can see them teaching the chicks to swim. You also can see the chicks are losing their baby fuzz. These penguins are called jack-ass penguins, and they bay exactly like a donkey. You can see one baying in the third picture.

View of the ship and Punta Arenas from a square above the city.

Our final penguin

The flag of Chile. Looks a lot like Texas

Lots of monuments, whose signficance I can't remember, or more likely never understood.

Whew! Great trip, but I'm ready to move on. If I'm tired of writing about it, I'm sure everyone is tired of reading about it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel

Our second port was Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. The Beagle Channel, which we took both to and from Ushuaia across southern South America, was in itself a beautiful and interesting voyage. It is named after the ship that Darwin took through Patagonia in this channel on his "Voyage of Discovery", the HMS Beagle. Ushuaia is also the termination of the Pan American Highway, the longest highway in the world. In fact, this picture, which I took from just off the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia reminded me that I could have backpacked down here instead of cruised.
Jon was already busy doing public relations for his new company, Shell Oil.
One of the highlights of Ushuaia was a catamaran excursion down the Beagle Channel, where we were able to see seals and sea lions for the first time. The black and white birds, which you may mistake for penguins are actually cormorants. And look closely at those rocks. Many of them are actually seals.
Ushuaia was another pleasant, quaint and colorful port city, surrounded by beautiful mountains. Jon and I spent considerable time wondering about how the airplanes dropped in through the valleys to land. They just seemed to appear on final approach, well below the mountain tops.
Even this industrial suburb had quite a view.
This sign summed it up, "Ushuaia, end of the world, beginning of everything."
As I mentioned, the channel itself kept us spellbound for many hours, both from the catamaran and from the ship. It was lined with mountains and glaciers dropping right to the edge of the water. One, with a torrent of water running from the bottom as it melted was particularly dramatic.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Stanley, Falkland Islands

Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, was the first stop on our cruise. Most people don't even know where the islands are, and I don't know how many will remember it, but Great Britain and Argentina fought a war over these islands back in the 80's. I have some personal memories of the event. I was in Trinidad at the time and had booked a cruise. However, the British government had conscripted a cruise ship from the same line to deliver troops to the Falklands war effort, resulting in my ship running a different itinerary. The first I heard of it was when the Captain made his announcement that we were sailing for....Caracas, Venezuela???? Oh, and incidently, my luggage didn't make the ship. Ah, yes, quite a memorable trip. Anyway, here is the monument commemorating the British "rescue".

The joke back then was that the islands had more sheep than people. It is still true today, with about 3.8 million sheep and 300,000 people. I don't know if they were worth fighting for, but it looks like they make nice lawn mowers.

Here's a comforting thought. Apparently there are still lots of uncleared minefields.

Jon polishes his social skills on the first penguin of the trip.

Stanley is a graveyard of ships as a result of either war, or ships that weren't quite seaworthy enough to round the Horn. This one was a casualty of bad weather as they passed the cape. It limped into Stanley, but was too badly damaged to repair. It was moored here for several years before it broke free in a storm and washed aground in the harbor.
When I saw this monument, again thanking the Brits who rescued them, I assumed it too was from the '80s. Turns out these islands have been rescued more than once. This time was in 1914, and the invaders who had to be evicted were the Germans.
Whaling is a big part of the history of the Falklands, Here is a sculpture made from whale jaw bones.

Government House. Our invitations must have got lost in the mail. The wouldn't let us in, even though I figured this just meant Argentines. We did get a good view of the gardens, though.

Finally, our first real penguins. Somehow I thought they hatched their eggs balanced on their feet. Turns out that, at least Magellanic penguins, make nests burrowed in the earth, well back from the beach.

Port Stanley, a bright, quaint, pleasant little place. At least on January 12th, 2008.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rounding Cape Horn, Making new Friends

On Day 10, we rounded the Horn. I actually thought Cape Horn was a part of the South American Continent. Turns out, it is really just the southernmost in a group of islands at the tip. So, we actually sailed 360 degrees around the island that forms Cape Horn. We sailed east of the Horn (first of the pictures, where we saw the Chilean Flag and the famous Albatross sculpture), then around back into the Pacific (second picture) and finally back south of the point, blowing our horn as we passed the traditional cape. Cape Horn, of course, is known for its bad weather, so stories abound of waves breaking over the bow. The captain mused about how the last time he was here the seas were about 30'. They joked that, this time, they are calling it Lake Horn. We had beautiful, calm weather.

At this point we had spent 9 days at sea, with less than 11 hours in port. So, of course, between the scenery we were enjoying the boat, the shows, the food, the Karoake, the making of friends. Jon was doing his best Mark Clancy impersonation. Here he is with Brazilian and Mexican beauties Clara, Rocio and Rocio. I finally found Claire in a picture. Lisa, Nina, Betty, Joy and Barbara cleverly avoided the camera. I'm sure a few more avoided imprinting their names in my brain. We generally had dinner with a new group of 4-8 people each night, and an interesting bunch they were.

But, what can 9 days at sea do for a crusty old timer? I will, of course, exclude those whose main purpose was to make their husbands jealous enough to travel with them next time. Don't worry, ladies, your photos and names are safe with me. Feel free to throw around the names and photos as suits your purpose. I do admit to renewing my acquaintance with Benjamin Graham, Tom Clancy and John Grisham. But I could find only one intimate photo I could show.

Ok, Ok, I'll admit the photographer coaxed us into this position. I used my sole picture of my dance partner a couple of posts back. Seriously, though, I am proud to have met Claire and her mother, Barbara. They are two of the most interesting people I've ever met. How they had time for a mere trip to Antarctica between hiking/backpacking Yosemite, Glacier, the Great Wall and Everest, and visits to more countries than I can name, attending Stanford and Oxford, not to mention writing best selling books, Financial Consulting, Managing Non-Profits in Kenya, running marathons and putting together award winning websites, I'll never know. I've added a link to Claire's blog, Tripping on Words, where you can access associated Hope Runs and Tumaini Kids. If you would like to meet them, I'd recommend a visit to the website, and perhaps even a contribution.

But, enough of sailing the high seas. My next posts will get into the ports we visited.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Antarctica By Boat
Four days after leaving Buenos Aires, we passed through the Antarctic Convergence Zone. South from this point, the sea temperature falls rapidly as the continuous melting of ice from the Antarctic Continent cools the water. We had arrived in Antarctica. I'll admit I was a bit disappointed that I was not able to actually set foot on Antarctica. I'll also apologize upfront for the endless pictures of icebergs and windswept mountains. I just couldn't stop taking pictures, and once I saw them I couldn't stop picking ones I had to show you. You'll be comforted to know I'm showing only about 10% of those I took. And maybe it can be justified by the stark beauty, or by the knowledge that Jon and I are two of only 300,000 people on the planet to have seen Antarctica.
Trips to Antarctica are always subject to weather, and generally speaking we had the best. Experts on board indicated that our weather was better than 95% of passengers get. We had fog a few times on the trip, but it was almost always limited to times when there was nothing to see. For most of the scenic areas, we had clear and calm conditions. We did bypass Esperanza Station, and back out of an entrance into Antarctic Sound, otherwise known as Iceberg Alley. We apparently had Force 8 winds and heavier than usual ice flows which forced a detour. I missed all that, since it occurred between 1:00 and 8:00am and I slept through it.

There were, of course, a few things to see, besides icebergs and mountains. For instance, in Admiralty Bay we saw Artowski, a Polish research station. A scientist came out by Zodiac and gave a brief talk about their work.

Penguins, of course, are the highlight of Antarctica and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere, the only place on the planet where they exist naturally. Here is a view of the colony studied by Artowski, where several hundred thousand penguins live. You can just make them out at the bottom left and right, the top, and marching single file up and down the mountain.

Whales are another highlight. Sightings were numerous, but most were similar to the first picture below...just a spec and a wisp of warm breath as they surfaced and spouted near the horizon. We were fortunate, though, to have 3 Orcas swim for several minutes alongside, less than 50 feet off the starboard side. The second photo was the best we could get, since they are much harder to catch on the surface than you would think. Besides, there was a near riot on deck as we fought for position.

Sometimes penguins showed up in the oddest places. In the first picture below, a few dozen lazily floated by on an iceberg staring at us as intently as we stared at them. In the second picture, I caught several penguins just before they slipped single file over the side of the iceberg into the water.

We were there too, of course.

Ok, time for icebergs and mountains. I'll let them speak for themselves.

Oh, and the sunsets. Our southern most point was about latitude 64 degrees, 57.7 minutes. Our permit was limited to travel north of 65 degrees. This photo of a sunset was probably taken about 1:00am, and lasted probably an hour, just beating the sunrise. At this latitude we had 24 hours of daylight.

There you have it...Antarctica in 30 photos or less. Despite the fact that this is the most photos I've put in a blog, I see in looking back that I've failed miserably in communicating the nature of the continent. Maybe you'll be number 300,001 to see it. If so, I'd like to see your story.