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Puffins in Iceland

After arriving in Paris at the end of then P to P, Julie and I rested in Paris and the UK before flying to Iceland last Saturday for a quick Puffin trip.

We visited Iceland late August, September last year but missed seeing the Puffins.

Atlantic Puffins only come to land from June to mid August to breed and a large percentage nest in Iceland, with the biggest concentration breeding on a group of islands to the south of Iceland called the Westman Islands. 20% of the worlds 8 to 10 million Atlantic puffins are breeding here on the Westman Islands.

Sunday’s weather heading down to catch the ferry to the Westman Island was overcast with the odd bits of mist but not enough to really wet us. Straight off the ferry we dropped our bags in the guesthouse before heading down to the southern part of the island in search of Puffins.

We found our first Puffins in no time at all then spent the next couple hours slowly walking around the headland taking photos and watching these cute little birds going about the job of collecting food and feeding their chicks which are in burrows about 3 feet deep all over the headlands wherever the soil and rock gives easy digging.

Monday weather was a different thing all together with showers rolling through all morning as I walked and climbed in the cloud around the highest hills to the west of town.

That afternoon we braved the elements to take a Circle Cruise around the Island with Viking tours. The weather cleared up to just overcast and almost no wind for this spectacular cruise. We saw even more puffins both on the cliffs and floating on the surface while resting between diving trips for Sand Eels. Our trip also took us into 4 huge sea caves that the large boat we were on not only fitted inside of but was able to turnaround as well. One cave had a roof covered with electrifyingly vivid iridescent green algae.

Tuesday we woke to the most glorious day for Iceland with high clouds and brilliant sunshine and a maximum of 18o C – and 19.1 is the record high here. Julie and I have spent in total about 25 days in Iceland and it’s the first day that we have ever seen with such brilliant weather. At lunchtime the locals were commenting on the heat and how uncomfortable it was.

We headed down to the southern headland early and the morning is a very busy time in a Puffins life with the whole place a hive of activity with everyone either going or coming from a fishing trip. Watching Puffins fly and going about their chores is fun on its own, because they spend 10 months of the year at sea their land skills aren’t the best – with some take-off’s and landings being very ungracious at times with regular crash landings. I even saw 2 trip over each other trying to take off and both rolling down the hill a metre before getting organised and flying out to sea.

During this walk around the cliff tops we were lucky enough to see some Fin whales cruising past.

We finished Tuesday off with a soak in the geo-thermal baths at Laugarvatn on the trip back to the airport. We both fly to the UK on Wednesday with Julie continuing on to home and I’m staying in the UK for a week or so to get Penny ready for our next trip to the Amazon later this year in October.

Cuba an Adventure without Penny Part 1;

Day 1.

This is the first blog I’ve ever done that hasn’t involved travelling with Penny to somewhere in the world.

After we got Penny safely loaded in the container and on her way to Beijing I had a 3-day work commitment in Atlanta Georgia USA. As I was going to go all that way, suffering jetlag and bad sleep while my body clock turned upside down, I decides to stay a bit longer and visit Cuba which has been on my Bucket list for a few years and I hadn’t found a spot to fit it in.

After travelling all day from Atlanta to Dallas then Mexico City for a long wait before onto Havana I arrived last night late to a very crowded airport as 3 large planes had all just landed ahead of us from Europe.

The airport is fairly unorganised and chaotic for luggage to say the least with a shortage of signage. Eventually I was through customs and collected my luggage to find the diver for the airport transfer. I arrived at the Hotel 2.5 hour after landing so all was good.

The hotel wasn’t quite like the photos on the Internet that I looked at when booking 2 months ago. The structure was the same but I think the photos had been from when it opened back in the 60’s some time and that was the last refurb. However it’s clean and somewhere to sleep so all is good.

Breakfast this morning was an experience in that I think the kitchen is short of china and cutlery as you had to wait for plates, cups, and spoons all the time and when there arrived it’s only 3 or 4 at a time and hot straight for the washing.

After breakfast I started to walk around Havana looking at what was happening.

The architecture is fascinating in that the whole city is from the early Spanish era with very very few new or modern building anywhere. All the building have a very high commercial first floor with residential space above that.

Havana has a vast amount of empty derelict shops and the few shops that are open seem to have limited stock with queues to shop.

The Internet is far different to any thing else I’ve experienced in my travel. It is all from hotspots, which are few and far between but very easy to recognise. You will be walking along and come across a mass of people all on Phones. Your internet time is purchased in the form on a login and password card at the rate of 2 to 5 Euro’s per hour from either the hotel or someone on the street at the hot spots.

Once logged on I discovered that not a lot of thing work in Cuba. I cant access Gmail on my phone you are a Commercial client, Other things that have become the cheap from of talking to Home are also not available. Face time doesn’t work as the speeds are a bit slow, maybe I try early in the morning before people wake.

The rest of the Day was spent on the open top Big Red Bus in Havana.

One of the stops I made was at the Aquarium which as at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Atlanta Aquarium with Whale Sharks and Mantra Rays that I visited last weekend. The Havana Aquarium is old and needed freshening up but all the tanks and the fish were very clean and healthy.

I have yet to find food that is worth writing about other then it fills a hole and keeps the energy going. I will continue to search for a nice meal.

All in all Day 1 was a great experience and I’m really glad I came to Havana.


Day 2.

I spent the whole day in Old Havana,. I was very different in this area as it’s where the tourists are concentrated so it’s a bustling area with shops selling Cuban trinkets and many restaurants. Unlike the places I had eaten the previous day with very little choice, today was great food with Cuban service. You might not always get what you ordered first time but in the end it all works out with very nice food.

The classic Cars are all over the place in Cuba. The cars are in varying states of repair from no windows and lights to fully restored. The old bangers work the local trade and the good ones hire to Tourists and wont stop of pick up locals. Most of the classics are late 40’s and 50’s from before the Embargo started.

These cars have all been refitted with Russian Diesel engine and Gearbox’s for the sack of spare parts. The few Modal A. Fords have all been fitted with 4 cylinder petrol Lada engines and gearbox’s.

The next big influx of cars and probably in the greatest number on the road is Russian LADA’s from the 60’s to 80’s.

The rental cars fleets are dominated by mainly Chinese Cars with a few Japanese and Korean cars.


2 Tough Days Driving

It’s been a few days since you have heard from me. It’s a combination of tiredness and a small car repair job.

We will start with the car repair first, 2 days ago as we where driving the 180ks down to Gelephu on the Indian border late in the day after stopping for a photo I pushed the starter button only to engulfed in silence instead of the all to familiar engine rumble. A quick check at the roadside indicated the alternator had most likely failed. We run started down the hill and finished the day on the charge left in the battery to get us to the Hotel. On arrival we did a through check and yes the death of the alternator was upon us. We new we could continue for a few days by not stopping the engine and charging the battery from another car when needed. Frank gave a transfusion that night to get us going for the run up to Trongsa.

I was offered spare alternator’s from a couple of friends if I required.

On arrival in Trongsa I asked Paddy if he had a spare, which he did and was willing to share with a fellow traveller in need. It was different to the one we had, but in a couple of hours Charlie, Richard and I had it fitted into Penny just in time for evening dinner, we only needed to finalise the wiring before breakfast today. After the wiring was all finished we had a good steady stream of electrons flowing to the battery for prage and later use.

Now to the last three days driving, upon leaving Punakha the rally split into the long drive group with 180ks to drive and the short drive group traveling just 60ks for the day on a different route.

Driving in Bhutan is so totally different to any other trip I’ve ever travelled. Since entering Bhutan we are averaging about 30kph. The slow speed is a combination of narrow roads, very close sharp corners, meeting other traffic, road works, and negotiating your way around the numerous landslips. We arrived in Gelephu, which is a town down on the lowlands of Bhutan about 1k from the Indian border after 6 ½ hours. Gelephu is a Bhutanese town with a very Indian feel as it is so close to India and on the lowland and very much remote from the mountain villages that are the main Bhutanese life style.

As we followed the rafting river from the day before we passed two large Hydro Power station projects along with the Dams and tunnels required to get it all working.

Upon leaving Gelephu the following morning we immediately started to climb and it was back into anther day of hills and corners with scenery that was indescribable again. The day was spent climbing in and out of immense river valley’s doted with little villages where if was just flat enough to farm and live. The roads we could see on the mountainside to some of these villages were toonarrow and steep for any large vehicles to travel.

During the day we passed construction work for more Power Stations for electricity, which is the main export of Bhutan to feed the growing demand by India. Along with the power stations you need to put in the transmission lines which are traversing some of the most rugged country you can imagine. All the construction for this is being done by hand including all the steel for some tower sites being carried in by hand then built. All the cable is hauled through the jungle and winched into place by hand.

Summing up the these 2 days driving down to Gelephu and back I would have to say are the toughest and most amazing drives I have done. It was only 200ks each way but never before have I been on a road where the whole time you are steering either direction constantly. We only got into 3rd gear for about 5% of the time and never ever used 4th. I have been on rough roads where we used 1st and 2nd most of the day but mostly straightish roads so less tiring.

This days driving took us along some of the narrowest road with drops of the side that high, you’d have time to phone your kids to say goodbye on the way down. The drop was always on Julie’s side of the car and regularly when she glanced over the edge she’d gasp with surprise. Every time you drove past a fresh landslip area you hope you got through before the next one.

Todays drive to Bumthang started through lots of road works that reduced after going over the pass at 3400 metres this valley is not as steep sided and has a lot more faming with the main crop being buckwheat.

It is also a very big weaving area. Driving along we noticed 2 women setting up the new warps for the loom so we went in and watched them. There bought out some items to show us, which ended with Julie and I buying a new rug for Alistair to use as his picnic blanket since his last one became a diff rebuild blanket.

We stopped at several weaving shops before arriving in town for lunch prior to looking around the town. The main place we visited was the Tamshing Goemba Monastery dating back to 1501.

The afternoon was finished of working on our blogs beside the fireplace in our room.