Tag Archives: Landscape

Camino Finisterre Day 9: Muxía to Quintáns – Normal service resumed

Friday `10 May 2024 – So, the burning question was: would I feel I could cope with a 10km walk?

Actually, I did.

Our hotel room was very warm, so we didn’t have a particularly comfortable night. Despite that, however, the auguries were good that I was recovering from my digestive meltdown: I was hungry! Breakfast was at 8am, also the time we like to make our bags available for collection, and so we headed down for a leisurely, and in my case, quite sizeable breakfast.

The lack of a way to cool the room was the only significant detraction from my view that this has been the best hotel so far, particularly for being well-organised. The breakfast room was no exception, nicely laid out in a way that allowed for a decent buffet whilst still feeling spacious for those at the tables.

A couple of noteworthy points: firstly, there is a rather shocking picture on the far wall.

It depicts the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Boat, the one at the headland that we saw yesterday, in the 2013 lightning-strike fire that destroyed it.  It’s been rebuilt remarkably well, as we saw yesterday.

Secondly, the background music took a trend that we’d previously noted to an extreme.  The trend is to play cover versions of well-known pop songs, usually in a totally inappropriate style, often sung in English by someone who clearly doesn’t understand the words. We’ve heard a bossa nova version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, for example. But the hotel absolutely took the biscuit today by playing a smooth, salon-jazz version of Pink Floyd’s Time. It was so incongruous that it took me ages to work out why I vaguely recognised the words but couldn’t place the piece.

For walking, the forecast was great – sunny and about 19°C – so I decided to undertake the walk and we thought that we could have a lesisurely departure, since the distance was short, there was little point in arriving early and we wouldn’t have to worry about overheating.  So I used the time before our departure to sort out my walking poles, since the profile of the day’s walk was somewhat up-and-down.

It’s not too extreme – the ascents are only 100m or so – but the slope is 1 in 10, I was recovering and out of practice at hills; so sticks were the order of the day, for me at least.  I checked mine over to make sure that the little plastic pots, the “ferrules”, that cover the spikes at the bottom of the poles, were still in place.  I’d once carelessly lost one on some ascent or other, and Jane (who, of course, had organised some spares) was grudging in her willingness to hand out replacements.  So I took care today to ensure that I wouldn’t upset the Ferrule Godmother. [One?? Hah! Several!! – Ed]

And so we set off.  It was almost immediately clear that the extra layers we’d donned were going to be unnecessary; there was a cool breeze, but hot sunshine as we bade goodbye to Muxía

and started the first climb.

It led past the Capela de San Roque de Moraime

which didn’t look interesting enough to detain us, and on, through some interesting-looking pines

and past a Fonte which looked like it was also once a lavadoiro,

into a village, Moraime, where we’d notionally planned to have our first coffee stop.  Sadly, La Taberna was Spanish Open, so we didn’t get our coffee. But we did get a chance to look around the monastery there,

which is from the 12th Century and which is a very fine place to pop into. It has an impressive entrance portico

and a splendid interior.

A very significant item of interest there is the frieze which runs all the way along the north wall and which is in remarkably good nick.  Here is a stitch of three photos covering it; it’s not perfect but I hope it gives you an idea.

and here is the official explanation – it represents the seven deadly sins,

from left to right: pride, greed, anger, lust (my personal favourite, ever since Raquel Welch), gluttony, envy and sloth, with death awaiting them on the right.

Our next port of call was Os Muiños, which thinks enough of itself to have erected a Town Name

and which is appealing enough

but, most importantly, had a café which was Open Open, and which served us coffee, juice and beer, all of which were very welcome.

We carried on, along a path with some nice views

which led into woodland, through which we could have seen a beach if it weren’t for the trees in the way.

At about the point where we could see clear across the bay to Camariñas,

and I was busy taking photos of a nice flower arrangement,

we noticed a line of something in the water.

It seemed to stretch a long way,

almost across to where we could just make out the Muxía lighthouse, and we wondered if it was some kind of fish farming frame.  Nothing shows on the satellite picture of Google Earth, but on the other hand the town from which it stretches, Merexo, is home to Stolt Sea Farm, an industrial-scale purveyor of turbot.  Maybe the two are connected?

The countryside around there is very attractive, particularly on a sunny day

and, as we passed the scene above, we wondered if we could catch sight of the bonkersly-large horreo de San Martin that we’d seen on our day trip last Autumn. In the distance, we could see something that might be it.


Yes, that thing.

It’s clearly a big horreo, but we couldn’t see it clearly enough to count the legs. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t the one we were looking for, but read on anyway.

The village of San Martiño is home to a substantial church, the Iglesia de San Martiño de Ozón.

As with many of the churches we’ve seen, it has a cemetery around it, and I went to have a look whilst Jane panted quietly in the shade for a bit.

It’s an impressive sight, with quite a contrast between the older memorial markers,

which are decoratively weathered, and the more modern ones

which are identical, but look less interesting because they haven’t weathered at all.

The rest of San Martiño has some very attractive little corners

and the utterly huge 16th-century horreo de San Martiño de Ozon. I posted a photo or two of it last Autumn, but it’s impressive enough to be worth showing again.

It is one of the largest in Galicia, running to 27m in length and having no fewer than 22 pairs of legs. Its large size is because it belonged to the clergy, which imposed a tithe of the crops of the farmers of the parish -10% of the total harvest – and thus they needed a large place to store it all. Apparently, it now “stores” volunteers working in the community. It’s a great photographic subject.

We were by this stage quite close to our destination, the village of Quintáns. The final surprise the walk had for us was this snack vending machine, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

I think it’s linked to a nearby albergue. Anyway, this brought us to our pension for the night,

the Plaza, which, despite our arriving at about 2pm, wasn’t going to offer food until 8pm.  Still, it has a bar, and where there’s a bar there’s gin and maybe some crisps or something. The view from our room is rather nice

and we’re hoping for a comfortable night before heading on tomorrow. The forecast is for cooler, cloudier weather, but no rain; hopefully an ideal day for covering the 13 or so kilometres to Dumbria, our next port of call.


Good Fortuna

Wednesday 6 March 2024 – The journey out round and in again was unremarkable in terms of pitching and rolling en route. What was remarkable was the continued calmness and stillness in the waters of the bays we’ve visited.  We parked in Fortuna Bay within reach of two separate expeditions: Anchorage Bay, offering a hike to a land-terminating glacier; and Whistle Cove, whence a one-mile walk takes one to a colony of king penguins. “What? I thought. “More ‘king penguins? Can there be much added value in that?” Misguidedly thought, as it turns out.

The two landing sites had significantly different distances for the Zodiacs to cover – Anchorage Bay was close by, Whistle Cove a longer ride.  We were headed for the former, and there was a bit of a wait for the next bus to take us along; it looked like the steward helping us on to the Zodiac had to flag down a passing taxi.

We arrived to a desultory reception committee from the local wildlife.

There were a few fur seals on the beach, but the life there was mainly penguins, mostly king penguins, which are very handsome creatures.

They quite often stand in groups of three, something we noted a lot during the course of the day. From their behaviours (I have video, of course), we guess that the third in a group seems often to be a gooseberry, trying to muscle in on the action.

As well as these little groupings, some penguins seemed very curious as to what had just arrived.

The glacier appears to be relatively close.

This is a false perspective; when you breast the rise above, you are faced with a veritable Serengeti of mainly fur seals.

They are all young, some very young, and not particularly habituated to human contact – we were indeed fortunate to be able to land here today; not many people get that privilege, apparently.  The team had mapped out a route for us with red poles, taking the path of least disturbance to the wildlife, but still one would quite often get rushed by a pup; if very young, one could simply ignore it, but some of the larger ones required you to face it off by clapping and raising your arms to make you appear bigger and less rewarding as a target.  There was also the occasional penguin, and sometimes the seal pups would try to play with them, in which case they often got short shrift and sharp beaks.

Once across the Serengeti, onto an expanse of rocky terminal moraine, there was no wildlife, but some great landscapery.

As we found at Shingle Cove (goodness me, less than a week ago!), there were some very varied colours among the stones.

We returned to the beach and wandered along it for a while.  There was a lot of wildlife activity – young fur seals frolicking in the surf, and penguins coming and going; all excellent video content – but little of new interest to talk about in these pages.

Particularly in the overall context of the day; the afternoon was exceedingly – and for me, surprisingly – content-rich, even though it really only involved king penguins.

After lunch, then, we took the longer Zodiac ride to Whistle Cove. From the landing area, it’s about a mile, mainly over grass, to the king penguin colony, and you pass some nice landscape.

You can see the colony from a distance

and, at “only” 7,000 breeding pairs, it’s not as large as the one we saw at St. Andrews Bay.  But there, we weren’t allowed to land; here, we could get really very close, and could get some sense of how densely packed the colony is.

King penguins are, we’re told, so named because when they were discovered they were the largest penguins yet seen.  This gave a tiny problem when an even larger species was discovered; that species, though, spends its time in more central, less accessible parts of Antarctica, and so are very rarely seen by punters like us from Hondius. However, they’re larger than king penguins, which is why they’re called emperor penguins.  Emperors, apparently, trump royalty. Really?

Having been told we had over two and a half hours at Whistle Cove, I had been expecting to get rather bored; after all, seen one king penguin, seen ‘em all, yes?


Being so close to the sight, smell and extraordinary sound of the colony was a completely different experience from viewing them from a Zodiac. It was rewarding to start watching for behaviour patterns and other characteristics, rather than just getting nice photos of penguins.  Those were, of course, easy,

(another group of three, see?) but there was a lot else going on. Jane, particularly, was good at spotting points of interest within the colony and alerting me to them so I could take a look and some photos.

We had to be very careful, for example, because some of the penguins were incubating eggs.

These two were particularly charming; they each have an egg in their special brood pouch and balanced on their feet as they sit on their heels – and they’re fast asleep as they incubate the precious egg.

Further round the colony, we could see some chicks, which have such different plumage that at first they were thought to be a different species.  Some are nearly as large as their parents

but the younger ones are smaller and engagingly dumpy.

Jane even spotted an egg; it was such a warm day that the parent will actually release the egg from its pouch to stop it overheating.  It takes patience to wait and spot, but eventually I managed to get a shot of one, too,

as well as catching the parent checking the egg and coaxing it back into the pouch.

Jane also alerted me to some chick feeding activity.  A chick will pester a parent for food,

and eventually will get it, from the store that the parent has managed to accumulate in a special pouch in its craw.

The chick may take more than a year to fledge so king penguins mostly breed biennially. As a result there are incubating eggs alongside newly-hatched and last year’s chicks side by side in a continuously occupied colony. However young need to be fat enough by April to survive the winter when food is very scarce; not all those emerging from the eggs we saw will have time to reach that point.

We also spotted an adult in the late stages of moulting.

Re-growing your entire set of feathers is a very energy-hungry process, so moulting penguins will stay as immobile as possible while the process completes – until moulting has finished, they are not waterproof and so cannot enter the sea to get food.

Nature being what it is, not everything is fine and wonderful.

This is a skua, feeding upon the corpse of a penguin, whilst others wander around, seemingly unaffected by the scene.

Just beside the penguin colony was a group of another local bird, the South Georgia pintail,

with its distinctive yellow bill.

And Jane caught a picture of a South Georgia pipit, which one could just hear singing above the racket of the penguins.

Finally, on the way back to the landing area after an absorbing couple of hours, we saw another leucistic fur seal, obviously very sleepy but equally in need of a good scratch.

So ended an excellent day’s expeditioning – tiring, but rewarding.  We’ve been astonishingly lucky with the weather, which has enabled great progress, granting us four days on South Georgia and still allowing an extra day “in the back pocket” for expeditions in the Falkland Islands, our next port of call.  The weather can be capricious and so that extra day might come in handy in case it’s difficult to get off the ship after we arrive.

Which is in two and a half days.  There will be no scenery now until Saturday, when I believe we’ll be putting into Stanley, all other things being equal.  So, there are two “sea days”, at least one of which will allow some rest and recuperation (and laundry!) after several days of relentless expeditioning.  There may be some wildlife visible from the ship – who knows? We can be sure there will be interesting lectures to educate us more about the area, its geography, oceanography and wildlife, so we still have a great deal to look forward to, even without leaving the ship.



A Foyn Day

Saturday 24 February 2024 – We were still at Plan C1, which involved us eventually having a go at crossing the Antarctic Circle (which, as any fule kno, runs at 66° 33’ South)  – not for any particularly good reason, simply to be able to say One Has Done It.  However, we were still some two degrees north of this point, which meant we had in the order of 120 nautical miles (as the albatross flies) to cover – thus probably a great deal more due to having to weave through channels and around icebergs.  The distance we had to cover meant that the skipper had to put the hammer down and so we vibrated our way southwards during last night.  The calm conditions that had so favoured us gave way to some pretty substantial winds – I heard 60 knots mentioned, and I certainly heard it whistling around the superstructure at times during the night – and the motion of the ship gave away that we were ploughing through some not insubstantial waves.

However, things appeared to have calmed down as we got up; we had arrived at Foyne Harbour.

However, when I went out on deck to get some more photos of the undoubtedly dramatic scenery

I was practically blown off the boat by the wind.  Since the plan for the morning was a Zodiac cruise, I was a bit worried that the wind would make this an unrewarding experience.  Luckily, by the time we set off, the wind had dropped to almost nothing, and the temperature was around freezing point – once again, we’d been astonishingly lucky with the weather.

Our host on the Zodiac was Saskia, a Dutch lady, who did an outstanding job of taking us around the available sights, giving us supplementary information about them and ensuring that everyone got the photos they wanted.  This expedition was our first chance to get up close to some of the fantastic Antarctic landscape, and wherever we looked there were memorable scenes.  Here are just a couple – I would like to put a bigger selection up on Flickr, but the restricted nature of our internet access on board makes this too expensive a proposition for a cheapskate like me.



As well as the landscape, we had a cloudscape, too, with several lenticular (lens-shaped) cloud formations to be seen, as shown above.

The green and red colours in the photo above are algae, which form within the snow and eventually leak out, going from green to red as they age.

The colours and shapes were fantastic.

There was plenty of wildlife to be seen, too:

An Antarctic shag;

more fur seals;

the occasional chinstrap penguin;

And (considerable excitement all round) some humpback whales.

People do get awfully excited about whale sightings, cooing ecstatically as the things surface, breathe and dive. Maybe I’m blasé, but it’s a sight I have seen so often now – and so dramatically in New England recently – that I’m happy to let them whale away the time without feeling the need to chase after more opportunities to watch them. Hopefully the magic will return when we see whales of non-humpback variety; we’ll see.

The other main objective of the Zodiac cruise was to visit the wreck of a ship called the Governorer, a boat which has an interesting, if rather undistinguished, story behind it.

It was a whaler, an early factory ship operating in 1915 (around the same time as the ill-fated Shackleton expedition to cross the continent). In those days, the whales, once caught and killed, were processed on board the ships, with the carcases often hauled alongside. At the end of its season the ship was loaded with barrels and barrels of whale oil and the crew, having had a fine haul of blubber, had a party to celebrate.  Unfortunately, during the festivities, someone knocked over a lamp onto decks still covered in whale oil and the ship caught fire.  In order to save people’s lives, the captain drove the ship aground and the crew were able to make land and were eventually all rescued.

The hulk languishes there to this day, as a home to nesting Antarctic terns.

It’s actually a very big ship; the vast majority of it is underwater, which is why it doesn’t look too imposing in the photographs.

Water for the whalers was stored in water boats on the rocks.

And that was it for the morning.  We headed back to the Hondius for some lunch, and the skipper spent the next couple of hours taking us to the next destination of the day – Orne Bay – where the plan was a split expedition, with a landing and another Zodiac cruise.

Arrival there is quite dramatic.

The peak is Spigot Peak, and it towers over the straits.

Our Orange group were, once again, landing first and cruising second. The objective, once having landed, was actually to work one’s way a little distance up the flanks of Mount Spigot, to view a colony of chinstrap penguins. And “up” was the operative word, here.

There was a zigzag path through the snow and it was necessary to toil up it.  I was very glad to have brought my walking poles with me, as these made the ascent much less like hard work.

At the top, the views were pretty good

and the penguins very engagingly penguinish.  One thing that stood out was a “penguin highway”, a route on the far side of this slope, which the penguins trudged up from the sea to get to their rookery. Why such a slog? Because they need bare rock for nesting, and the wind tends to whip the snow first off the tops of hills. So they climb.

I have some nice video of them wandering about, but, again, I’m too tight to buy the internet bandwidth for uploading chunks of video, so you’ll have to make do with photos.

Having toiled up the side of the hill, we then had to toil down it, which was actually harder work and more trying than the ascent, as it was icy and slippery. I never normally feel the need for poles to help me downhill, but once again I was truly glad that I had mine with me.

The Zodiac cruise which followed the landing took us around the bay and into the next one, and our guide, Elizabeth, once again talked us through some of the key points about the conditions and the glaciers that made it such a spectacular landscape.

The ice in the foreground is called “brash ice”, which is formed as calving glaciers disintegrate. It can block the bay and make landings impossible, so yet again we were lucky with the weather and the conditions.

Above you can see a glacier which is in the early stages of calving – there are “steps” appearing in the otherwise flat surface, which indicate some slippage is happening; this will lead to a chunk falling off the end as the glacier calves. This was in contrast to the glacier at the head of the bay where Hondius was parked

which displays a much more crumbled surface, indicating a greater tendency to calve.

There was some wildlife to be seen on our Zodiac cruise, too.  We came across some Weddell seals

and some gentoo penguins,

before we headed back to Hondius, just as the weather was beginning to turn.

An interesting day, then, involving enough hard work to justify the g&t we treated ourselves to before dinner.

The relative lateness of the afternoon’s excursions meant that Pippa’s regular evening recap was a brief 15 minutes before we trooped off to dinner. But it was a very interesting 15 minutes as she explained the plan – and particularly the variable nature of the plan – to us.

Our luck with the weather so far meant that we had a reasonable shot at crossing the Antarctic Circle. However, Pippa emphasised the expeditionary nature of the plan, which basically came down to the fact that we were in the territory of making it up as we went along. If the weather continued favourable, it might be possible, she explained, to thread our way along the Grandidier Channel, the only charted channel that took us southwards.  But this channel was narrow, and it was entirely possible that a large lump of ice might stand in our way, in which case we’d have to try again sometime later. This is sort of the route we would have to take, with a pause en route (the upper star) for a Zodiac cruise, and then proceeding to Crystal Sound, just north of the Circle, before the actual crossing bit.

It was impossible to know what was achievable, pretty much until we tried it. But, should we succeed, there would be some kind of celebration organised to recognise that we’d actually crossed the Circle.

Intriguing, eh?

Let’s see if the gods are still on our side as the trip progresses…