Articles tagged with "beach"
I had wanted to go to Hawaii for years and years. It’s a common place for astronomers to go to, as it’s got one of the world’s best locations for observatories on top of Mauna Kea, but I’d never had a chance to go there. This year the opportunity finally came, when the IAU General Assembly was held there. Thousands of astronomers converged on Honolulu and spent a week sharing their research. I didn’t see much of the city – my time was taken up by preparing my own talks, giving my talks, and listening to other people’s talks. But I stayed in a hostel right by the beach so I went there a few times.
I spent a week in Coffs Harbour for a conference. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the place, as there was not a lot of free time and the venue was way out of town anyway. But we were close to the beach so I went there most days.
Finally it was time for my world cup adventure to end. After a couple more days chilling out on Morro, enjoying relaxing on the beach and in the bars, I got a boat to Atracadouro, bus to Mar Grande and then one final ferry across the bay. I got a flight from Salvador to São Paulo, and from there back to the cold winter in Santiago. As we landed back in Chile, the fans on board gave another “Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!”. Chile had beaten Australia, and then beaten Spain to send the champions out and book their own place in the knockout stages, but for us fans, the world cup was over.
São Miguel do Gostoso is not far south of the equator, and when the night sky was clear I could see a lot of stars that I don’t see from Chile. It seemed strange to me to see the Plough to the north, familiar from my native mid-northern latitudes, and at the same time in the same sky see the Southern Cross to the south.
Ever since I moved to Chile I’d been planning to go to Brazil for the world cup in 2014. To see a world cup game was a lifelong dream. Ticket sale was via a lottery, and I entered the draw requesting the maximum seven tickets. There was a pretty good chance of getting none, but I got three, for games in Natal, Belo Horizonte and Salvador. I’d planned my request badly, though, and there was no way I’d be able to get from Natal to Belo Horizonte for the second game, so I just went to Natal and Salvador.
I flew from Santiago to São Paulo. As the plane touched down, all the Chileans on board gave a huge cheer and a good loud “Chi-chi-chi! Le-le-le!” In the arrivals hall, a flight from Bogota had just landed, and Colombian and Chilean flags and colours were everywhere. I flew on to Natal, and then made my way to São Miguel do Gostoso, an hour or so north; all the accommodation in Natal had been booked up.
I’d left behind cold wintery weather in Santiago, but here I was not far from the equator and it was incredibly hot. I spent a couple of days chilling out in the tropical heat on the beach.
We wanted to see some penguins while we were in Patagonia, but we were there at a bad time of year. All of the magellanic penguins come here for the summer, and it was just barely out of winter now. No trips were going to Isla Magdalena, the largest penguin colony in the area, but we found a trip going to Seno Otway and went there to see if we could see some.
It was a wild and windy day at Seno Otway. We walked out to the beach where the penguins come in and go out to sea, and we found just a handful of penguins there. 5 or 6 of them were testing the waters, bracing themselves for a day out in the ocean. We watched them for a while and then wandered inland to their colony. Again, just a handful of penguins were here, scattered across the grass. They reminded me of people who arrive at Glastonbury three days before the festival starts, nicking all the best camping spots. But I also thought that these were the coolest penguins. While thousands of their comrades were still lazing about on Uruguayan beaches, these ones were the hard core, the pioneers. No easy life in the sun for them. Patagonia had called them, and they had come.
We walked back to the beach. The penguins had gone out for the day and it was empty. We headed back to Punta Arenas.
The beach which had been empty during the day took on a whole different character as night fell. Thousands of gentoo penguins came in from the sea and gathered there before heading inland to their colony. All across the bay, penguins were leaping as they came in, bursting from the waves in huge groups and running up onto the sand. A full moon rose just as the sun set.
On a little map of Bleaker Island that I had, a line between the beach and the penguin colony was marked as the “gentoo highway”, which I thought sounded pretty funny. But actually it was a pretty accurate name – at rush hour on the gentoo highway there was a huge column of penguins all heading inland, waddling up the hill.
I drove back to Stanley, and caught a flight to Bleaker Island. It was just me on the plane, so I sat in the front and chatted to the pilot as we flew south. A ship had run aground just outside Stanley harbour just as we took off.
There were two people on Bleaker while I was there – one permanent resident, and me. On a hot, sunny and calm day, I wandered all around the island. In absolute peace I found my way to its beach, empty in the midday sun. The sea was turquoise, the sun beat down, and Bleaker felt more like a tropical island than a windswept South Atlantic one.
I’ve never been anywhere like Saunders Island. I spent three days there, in a hut at the other end of the island from its 7 inhabitants. I was in complete isolation, with just a radio to contact the settlement if necessary. Just me and the penguins and the karakara and the dolphins and the wind and the rain.
There was a huge colony of gentoo penguins and a small bunch of king penguins. Each morning I’d walk down to the beach and watch them heading out to sea, and each evening I’d go down again and watch them coming in. Penguins coming in from the sea is something extraordinary. From a long way out they were leaping from the water. I’m not sure if they do it just for fun or to see better where the land is, but it looks like fun. Then as they got near, huge groups would surf down the insides of the waves, then make a sharp turn and leap out of the water onto the beach. Always it looked like there were just a handful about to emerge and then suddenly there would be 20 or 25 penguins bursting out of the wave, shaking themselves down and waddling off towards the colony.
I’d have happily stayed for weeks but I had a flight back to Stanley to catch. So after three days I radioed the settlement, arranged for them to come and pick me up, and headed back to Stanley. It seemed like some kind of metropolis after Saunders.
I cycled to Brighton. I left really early and it took me about six hours to get there from Highgate. It was further than I’d thought – nearly 80 miles by the time I got to the beach. It was by far the furthest I’d cycled in a day. I felt great when I arrived, but when I got back to London I was feeling the miles. I had another three miles to cycle from Kings Cross back up the hill to Highgate, and for once, I really did not enjoy the climb.