WorldBookProject – Eritrea, Turks and Caicos, South Georgia and Uganda

Here come four very different additions to WorldBookProject. Many thanks to Ilana Benady who suggested more Caribbean writers.

119 Eritrea: Helen Berhane with Emma Newrick – Song of the Nightingale: One woman’s dramatic story of faith and persecution in Eritrea

This book is a short and deeply disturbing autobiography. It mainly deals with the author’s horrific experiences in an Eritrean prison. It was impressive how her religion helped her through those times, but I also have to say that such fanaticism (in this case some kind of Christian belief) makes me rather uncomfortable. I have very little patience for proselytising, and this book had way too much for my taste.

120 South Georgia & Sandwich Islands: Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition 1991 – Royal Anglian South Georgia Expedition

When some grown-up boys are going on an adventure … and end up in snow caves and on rations – this could also have been the title of the expedition. Having been to South Georgia myself, I mightily enjoyed reading this report, especially the part of the canoeing team. My respect to the expedition member who was on quarter rations and refused to eat freshly slaughtered penguin. Hero material!

121 Turks and Caicos:  Amelia Smithers – The Turks and Caicos Islands: lands of discovery

It was really tricky to find something other than a map or a government report for this British overseas territory, even within the extensive collections of the Bodleian libraries. So I opted for this kind of guidebook, but I couldn’t find any information about the author (and that’s quite a feat these days). The book was from the early 1990s, and it was brilliant to read about movements to protect the environment of the islands, in particular from too much tourism.

122 Uganda: Doreen Baingana – Tropical Fish

I found this collection of coming-of-age stories totally gripping. The questions it raised about identity and how it is sometimes forced upon us by our environment really struck a chord. I also liked the change of perspective between the three sisters the stories were about. Highly recommended!


Dinosaur of the week: King Penguin

king-penguinToday is Penguin Awareness Day. So, I proudly present an Aptenodytes patagonicus. This one was wandering around South Georgia with lots of fur seals for company, plus tens of thousands of his/her own kind in the rookery. If you want to do something good for penguins you can go to and count them. It’s easy and fun!

Penguin, Porcupine and the Plight of Immigrants

All three of the following books and their authors were completely new to me, and I’ve added all three writers to my ‘they need exploring’ list.

38 Congo: Alain Mabanckou – Memoirs of a Porcupine (translated by Helen Stevenson)

First of all, I was surprised to learn that there are two Congos on this planet. This book represents the Republic of the Congo. Something I truly enjoyed was that the story of the human beast was narrated by a porcupine … the details and background of which you really should explore yourself! The author also took a rather unconventional approach to sentence structure and punctuation which added to the quirkiness and delight.

39 Ethiopia: Dinaw Mengestu – The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Amazingly well narrated by Dion Graham, this story was full of tender moments without being tacky. It was also filled with moments of despair which were turned into humour by the three immigrant friends – how else can you avoid not giving into it? By making a guessing game out of dictatorship. The exploration of the question of identity and in what way it is connected to a country has come up time and again in this reading project (and I assume this isn’t going to change). I liked the way it was addressed by the author in this work.

40 Ukraine: Andrey Kurkov – Death and the Penguin (translated by George Bird)

Not Misha, but his cousins.

Not Misha, but his cousins.

I came across this novel via the BBC World Book Club. Having been to Antarctica and, as regular followers of my blog know, being a big fan of penguins, I just had to read it. Misha the Penguin, a King Penguin, to be precise, isn’t the main character, but my favourite. I thoroughly suffered with him in his wish for Antarctic ice and penguin company. And yes, the story around the obituaries and the Ukranian mafia is equally wonderfully weird.


St Andrews Bay

glacierThe King Penguin colony in front of the Ross Glacier is also connected to the Zooniverse project and to

The number of inhabitants is in the region of several hundred thousand, depending on time of the year. It was stunning to see even from the ship. The tiny Snowy Sheathbills were getting almost no attention.snowy sheathbill

At the landing site, female Elephant Seals defied all rules of keeping a distance, and the Kings were not any better. landing siteI think they liked using the path the humans had created. Elephant sealsBut we really did keep away from the Elephant Seal bulls. Luckily, they were in much better mood than the Fur Seal bulls. If they were around, we had a system of one taking pictures and the other one guarding and, if necessary shooing the teenage bulls away. I got quite good at that! You just make yourself big, and then let out an almighty ‘HAAA’ coming from deep down in your guts. It’s a bit like Tai Chi.

Along the way we saw several reindeer skeletons. The animals had been introduced by humans, and now they are being culled ( reindeer

The Skuas have to hunt for themselves. They are rather good at that. Skua feeding

The way to the colony was scored with two rivers. The penguins were decidely better in crossing them than the humans, but we made it. riverriver 2

Finally, the joy of not a flock, but a carpet of penguins.colony KingsI found it overwhelming. I was, after all I had seen so far, still unprepared for this. I can deal much better with smaller numbers. But for the penguins and all the scavengers like the Snowy Sheathbills a healthy big colony is what we should wish for and help to protect!

So we said good-bye to South Georgia and started sailing past the South Orkneys to the South Shetland Islands, just off the Antarctic Peninsula.


Our third day at South Georgia started with a lecture about rats and how to kill them. More information can be obtained here: Shackleton graveBeing the capital of South Georgia, Grytviken’s deceased inhabitants include Shackleton, whale boneswhales and the equipment to kill them with. whaling ship

Very much alive are the scientists from the BAS ( modern stationin their research station. small Elephant sealsThe Elephant Seals, watched by Scottish tourist, are only sleeping. viewThe view over the bay is really spectacular, and I also managed to get my first picture of a Snow Petrel.Snowy Petrel



Stromness is known because of its connection to Ernest Shackleton and his hike ( That is why the little waterfall at the end of a small valley behind the landing site was a popular destination, particularly for the Brits amongst the passengers.Shackelton waterfall To us it did not matter that much, so we rather enjoyed the lifting clouds and the scenery.Lake Fram in StromnessThe local wildlife consisted mainly of a big Fur Seal colony which had made its home, oh irony, in a former whaling station. Fur Seals in stationI find it vindicating to see how the animals are thriving – there also used be sealing, and Fur Seals came close to extinction. Fur Seal and relicsHowever, one reason for the seals growing in number is lack of competition for food from whales.

‘Intensive commercial hunting of whales removed hundreds of thousands of whales in 60 years and reduced the Southern Ocean stock, once the largest in the world, to less than 10 % of their original numbers and some species to less than 1%.’ (copied from I find the word ‘removed’ a spectacular euphemism for ‘murdered’.

Visitors must keep a distance of 200m from the station because of debris and asbestos.Stromness station

Other species which are living around this area are Elephant Seals, Elephant seal snotSkuas and King Penguins.Skuamoulting Kings

Fortuna Bay

Here is a map (courtesy of Hurtigruten) to put our South Georgia landings in context. Fortuna Bay greeted us with rain and low-hanging clouds, but since we were well-equipped for this kind of weather, off we

There were Fur Seals again! By now, a lot of people had developed a somewhat not-so-friendly view of the young males, but the pups made up for this. Fur Seal pupIt has to be said, however, that less than half of them make it to adulthood. Fur Seal pup dead

The Elephant Seal females were moulting and happy to be left alone. Elephant Seal moultingIt was quite rare to see them active, especially with the males mostly off to feed in the ocean. active Elephant Seals

The highlight of course was the local King Penguin colony, which accidentally is also home to a few Gentoos. The Kings can grow up to one meter in height. King and GentooKings walkingThere was a lot of coming and going, quite a bit of preening, Kings preeningKing feedingmoulting and the occasional feeding. The juvenile fluffballs can’t swim yet and thus can’t catch their own food. They need to moult and grow their adult plumage first.Kings and humans The penguins don’t seem to mind the humans, and people were paying attention to keep their distance and give the birds right of way. If you have enough patience and don’t mind waiting in the rain, the curious ones will come and inspect you. Scot and King

Salisbury Plain

Before the passengers could go on shore, the Expedition Team prepared the landing site. At Salisbury Plain that included spotting the bit of the beach that was not entirely occupied by Fur Seals.choosing landing site Boat groups of passengers took turns in who was allowed to go first, and as a result I was the first of only a few lucky ones to make it. The landing had to be aborted and turned into a drive-by on the polarcircle boats because of the swell. FramAnyway, there I was, being utterly happy. Coming to this place had been a secret hope (the surprise came on the evening before the landing) because this colony is part of a project hosted by the Zooniverse,

This meant I had seen pictures similar to mine below before, but was still gobsmacked by the reality. King colonyIn the project, members of the public, called Citizen Scientists, help to identify juvenile and adult penguins from different colonies. Give it a try! Or go to for more information.

Although the King Penguins are the main attraction, given the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of them not difficult, there was a lot more going on.Giant Petrel hunting Giant Petrels were always around. We had to be very careful around young male adult Fur Seals, but the Elephant Seals were much more pleasant.Elephant Seal The penguins and the seals seem to exist following a ‘live and let live’ idea. King walkingKing juvenileThe colony is just one of several on the island, and the peculiar breeding cycle of the Kings gave us a chance to see chicks in all their brown fluffiness, moulting adults and courting adults.

Penguin communication involves a lot of body language. Kings communicatingThey also spend a surprising amount of time on their bellies or standing on their heels.King swimming King baskingOn a sunny day at Salisbury Plain, life is definitely good.

First Impressions of South Georgia

We woke up on Dec 7 to this view from our porthole. South Georgia 1Rain, fog, swell. Breakfast time. And because the weather on South Georgia changes faster than you can say ‘fur seal’, after breakfast we enjoyed this: South Georgia 2

It became clear that both beach and sea were teeming with wildlife.South Georgia 4South Georgia 3 We spotted Fur Seals in the water and a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross kept on flying by. Fur SealLight-mantled Sooty Albatross

Best of all, however, were the King Penguins. At a rough estimate, 200 000 King Penguins.Kings Then we went ashore … next post.

Shag Rocks & an Iceberg

On the afternoon of Dec 4 we started sailing towards South Georgia, which we would reach eventually on Dec 7. In between, we crossed from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Antarctic (Southern) Ocean, or Scotia Sea as this part of it is called. The two oceans are connected or separated, that depends on your point of view, by the Antarctic Convergence (wikipedia article).
The first South Georgian outpost we made out in the fog on the afternoon of Dec 6 was Shag Rocks. shag rocksThey are aptly named after their inhabitants.
Yes, it’s the dots on the rocks – mainly shags and albatrosses. shag rocks detail
Shortly afterwards, we knew for sure we’d come south when we met our first iceberg, just a small one. You can see an albatross flyingiceberg and albatross just left of the middle if you zoom into the photo. I was, still am, captivated by ice. iceberg and petrelsThere is so much to discover in the whiteness, like the two Cape Petrels or the dark layer (maybe volcanic ash) in the ice. Beautiful frozen water. iceart