YOGA RETREAT BALI

January 15 to 21, 2020

Come join me for an unforgettable experience in the ocean paradise of Seminyak, a more secluded and idyllic part of Bali. Avoid the crowds as we do 3 hours of yoga daily, at our amazing villa just minutes away from the beach. Upon request we can take our mats and towels and do yoga at the beach as the waves lull us into a relaxing Savasana at the end. After we get our sweat on – we can even take a dip in the water.

$990 per person for 6 nights

(Rate is double occupancy. Single occupancy $1290)

Inclusions: healthy breakfast, 6 nights accomodation in a private villa, airport pick up and drop off. Three hours of yoga everyday.

Optional activities and excursions can be arranged.

Sampling of prior events by Nabeel: Yogamatique Buenos Aires, Ushuaia Argentina, San Andres Colombia, Drake Passage Antarctica, Angkor Wat Cambodia

Don’t wait to book. Limited spots available! Beginners and all levels accommodated. Non-yogi companions will have other activities available. US citizens and citizens of many countries do not require a visa.

Luxury villa with pool with room access and lounge chairs and large living areas and bar area for evening drinks and socializing.

How to Book?

Receive booking instructions by emailing using the email below:

Email: nabeel@travelswithnabeel.com

More info can also be found at:

Website: www.travelswithnabeel.com

Instagram: @yogawithnabeel

See you in 2020 for an adventure of a lifetime!

Yoga Retreat

The Tea Gardens of Bangladesh

Colors of Bangladesh (credit: Nabeel Atique)

Dates: December 28th, 2019 to January 3rd, 2020 (6 nights lodging)

Amtali Nature Reserve – your home in Srimangal! (credit: Amtali Nature Resort)

Cost: $1500 per person (double occupancy) (no single supplement)

Inclusions:

Lodging at Amtali Nature Resort, Srimangal (6 nights)

2 hours of Yoga everyday (for accompanying non-yogis $150 off the rate)

All meals

Transport from Dhaka to Srimangal (180 km)

Hiking at Lowachara National Park

Hiking and boat ride at Madhobpur Lake

Tea Garden Tour and Tea Tasting (including 7 layered tea)

Visit a local waterfall and indigenous village

CONTACT: nabeel@travelswithnabeel.com to book or for more information

Nabeel Atique has been doing yoga since 1997. He is a 500 hour ERYT (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher). Both his 200 hour and 300 hour trainings have been through YogaWorks. He is also trained to teach Yin Yoga. He has taught yoga in the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Bangladesh and Antarctica. He teaches with special emphasis on injury prevention and rejuvenation. His classes are fun and his expertise ranges from Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Flow to a more grounded Yin Yoga practice. He also teaches Gentle and Beginner Yoga.

Local Music and Tea Gardens (credit: Amtali Nature Resort)

Nabeel speaks 6 languages. He was born in Bangladesh and is fluent in Bengali. He has been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last several years. This yoga retreat will be led 100% by him and will not be outsourced. Come discover the magic of yoga and the magic of Bangladesh with Nabeel.

Clockwise from top: Greece, Vatican, Cambodia and Argentina

About Amtali Nature Resort: Amtali is located just on the outskirts of Srimangal in the Sylhet district of Bangladesh. It is in a Tea Plantation and also in a forested region inhabited by plenty of local wildlife.

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is a short 2 hour flight from Bangkok. Other convenient connections can be made via Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and London.

United States citizens and citizens of several countries can get a visa on arrival taking any tedious paperwork out of the way.

Clockwise from top: France, Antarctica, Patagonia, Drake Passage, Bangladesh

You can book this exclusive trip by contacting us through the “Contact” tab at the top or by emailing nabeel@travelswithnabeel.com

The Sweet Beginning – Paros, Greece

First Hike, Paros

I am in Greece. Specifically I am on a Greek Island called Paros. At this moment in time I am the envy of many! I do consider myself very fortunate to be here. I really did not do much research regarding the place. Reason being, I am here for a 300 hour yoga teacher training. So my main priority is the training. It’s nice that it’s here on a Greek isle. But I also chose this particular training because it is led by David Kim. David is an incredible yoga teacher. I took a one week Yin Yoga course with him two years ago in Santa Monica. I drove all the way down from Fremont, in Northern California to do this. And boy was I pleased. Yogaworks where David teaches is a company that holds true to a gold standard. I have yet to find a Yogaworks teacher I really dislike. In fact I know that if I step into a random Yogaworks class I will learn a lot, benefit from the class and somehow feel better than when I walked in.

David Kim’s Yin Yoga TT Graduates in 2017, Santa Monica

Things look great, don’t they? Well, I have news for you. For every story, there is a back story.

I attempted to take the 300 hour training in Los Angeles while I was still living in Santa Clarita in 2014. About 2 weeks into the training I was struck with a debilitating back injury. I had to withdraw from the training. These trainings are 6 months long and I wouldn’t last a week more, let alone the duration of the training. It was quite depressing. However, there is always a silver lining if you look for it. That winter, the winter of 2014 I had hit rock bottom. My back had not improved after 7 months of physical therapy and my dentist had pulled out a wisdom tooth (unnecessarily) and left me with dry socket. The pain was unbearable. I had an open wound that would not clot inside my mouth – in my jaw.

Tranquility in Paros

These dark days in December made me stop, pause and analyze my life. I had to halt everything. And that gave me clarity. I thought “I have to move back to the SF Bay Area”. I longed to be back in Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows, Lake Tahoe. I missed the variety of foods to be had and the languages one hears just crossing the street. Northern California and Southern California are worlds apart. I am grateful for my time in Southern California. It gave me my first full time faculty position at Antelope Valley College and I was introduced to the wonderful world of road biking in the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys and I formed some incredible friendships – gifts I would not trade for anything. But it was definitely time to go home – home for me in the United States was Nor Cal – where I felt it from the heart. I got a job at fabulous Ohlone College and I am please to say that I just received tenure there this May.

Beach at OkreBlue Resort, Paros

So back to the topic of the 300 hour training. In 2017 I went down to Santa Monica and did that Yin training with David Kim. I also took a few yoga classes at Yogaworks and I met Mia Togo for the first time in one of her classes on Main Street, Santa Monica. Wow. I loved her style and her playfulness. I asked her if there was a way for me to do the 300 hour training with her, while still in Nor Cal, even though she was down in LA. We explored options and unfortunately it seemed too complicated to split up the modules. Alas it was not meant to be.

Fast forward to 2019 … I am on a leave from work to deal with consequences of my mother’s passing two years ago. Managing property half way across the world and the emotional toll was just too much. Well, as luck would have it David Kim, along with Anna Zorzou is offering the 300 hour teacher training (in intensive format) during the month of October in Paros, Greece. And guess who is a guest lecturer? Yup. Mia Togo! If ever the stars were aligned! Dreams do come true.

Greece is geographically on the way to Bangladesh. After this 300 hour training I will head to Bangladesh to take care of the final affairs of my mother’s estate.

Boat Pose πŸ™‚

There is no real moral of a story here.

But if there is anything to take away from it – never give up hope. Good things do happen. It may not seem that way many times, but the struggle to hold on is worth it. Reach out to your friends, family, loved ones. And share your thoughts. You will find the right people to get you through…and then like magic when you least expect dreams do materialize…

Today I start day one of my 300 hour teacher training.

With love and gratitude.

Nabeel

Paros, Greece

5th, October, 2019

Yoga, Friends and Solace in Rome

I lived in Rome from 1980 to 1984. Those were the golden years of my childhood. My first crush. My first real bicycle, Italian at that. My first time playing soccer for the school team. Learning Italian for the first time. I can go on and on …

Vatican City

Piazza Navona

My father was sent to Rome by Bangladesh Airlines to open the first offices of the airline. He single-handedly navigated this new land without speaking a word of Italian and successfully brought the first flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines home to Rome. I am amazed at what my father achieved in his short life of 49 years. Wow. I am sure I have impacted many people with my positions – as an engineer in Silicon Valley, as a math professor at a community college and as a yoga teacher. But the uniqueness and complexities of what my dad was able to achieve blows my mind to this day. I only knew him for 18 years. He passed away a few months before my 19th birthday. But those 18 years were worth a lifetime.

There is a little place where, tucked away, I keep these memories of my father. Now, I have added new memories to this special place, for my mother has passed as well. We are supposed to be tough in this world. Endure things. Act a certain way. Show no signs of weakness. But truth be told, it’s all nonsense. Live your life, feel what you feel. Acknowledge it and share it with people you love. Be real.

The loss of my mother was devastating. She was both a father and mother for the last 30 years. She was the ultimate sacrificer. She didn’t get remarried for the sake of her children. She did not want to make us feel an ounce less loved. Looking back I wish she would have gotten remarried. But you know what? She had to be happy making her decisions, the way she wanted. Ever since my nieces were born my mother was in heaven. She loved those two girls like nothing else. Uncle Nabeel would have to compete for her love. Not really. She had that amazing capacity of loving everyone. Although that never stopped me from teasing her that she loved her grandchildren the most! πŸ™‚

I hadn’t been to Rome in 35 years. I was going to Rome. This was all very sudden. I am taking some time off to heal after my mom’s passing and headed to Bangladesh soon to deal with logistics of property management as well – half way around the world. This feat has taken its toll and worn me down. But now I had this great opportunity to stop in Rome and to take a walk down that special road – memory lane – and relive my golden years with my parents and sister.

Marco & I

It’s not that easy as it sounds though. I was a bit nervous about the emotions that would surface? How would I feel? Would I feel any better? Or may be worse?

They were not necessarily ALL good, the things that happened in Rome. I crashed a car when I was 12. Yes I was 12. It’s a long story – but in short the Hassan family came to visit the Atique family. The adults decided to go to Lake Bracciano using our car. Mr. Hassan decided to leave the keys to their car with his 16 year old Ehsan (bad move number 1). What did Ehsan do with those keys? He decided to let 12 year old Nabeel drive their Toyota Corolla (bad move number 2). And like most 12 year olds who don’t know how to drive – I crashed it!

Luckily we were OK and there was no bodily harm. The car was totaled. I crashed it into a pillar a few hundred meters down the road. I was wrought with fear – my whole 12 year old world crashing down on me. As luck would have it, I managed to crash it on the one property in the neighborhood that was run-down and the owners very Godfather-ish. We didn’t get any horse’s heads under our beds, but they tried to extort money out of my dad (unreasonable amounts). Funnily enough the house is still there and it is still the most run-down house along the road. I guess crime doesn’t pay after all πŸ™‚

Fast forward to September 29th, 2019. I had just spent an amazing September 28th in Rome with Marco, my bro from Argentina who is half Italian. We had just met 9 months ago in Buenos Aires. He is childhood friends with Leo one of my other brothers in Buenos Aires. I would do anything for these kids – they are like my family. And Marco did EVERYTHING for me.

He was at the Termini Train Station to receive me.

Pizza Time!

We had real Italian pizza right away and I had the fullest day on the 28th. In a nutshell, I saw the Vatican, St. Peter’s, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi fountain and more…

Reciting at the Vatican

But in the evening is where Marco shone bright. Marco took me to dinner at Ditta Trinchetti – the Pasta was killing me with every bite. I tried his lamb dish and was like WHY??? I wanted it all πŸ™‚ The pana cotta was to die for.

Panna cotta anyone?

And the staff – Francesca and the crew were the nicest you can imagine. That added to our experience.

Ditta Trinchetti Crew making our tummies and souls feel the love

Next we went to Meccanismo a bar not too far … and we had a few beers … and we even made it out clubbing. After some heavy taxi/uber drama I hit my pillow at 6am (do not count on getting a taxi in Rome – you have been warned!).

September 29th, 2019. It’s the day of the big reunion. I am going to meet my past. Besides meeting Marco, this is WHY I am here in Rome. I am going to go to my childhood home, Via Giulio Galli 99, out in the countryside on the outskirts of Rome. My perspectives as a child were … that of a child. I envisioned a place super far away and difficult to get to. Marco and I got over our respective hangovers, met at 1 pm and were at Giustiniana by train in 30 minutes! I don’t think this particular train stop existed back then.

From the train station it was a short 20 minute walk to my home. Down busy Via Cassia for a bit and then a windy walk through the country road of Via Giulio Galli.

We were hungry and walked into a restaurant by the train station. I was surprisingly relaxed and did not feel the urge to rush to this grand reunion with my past. The courtyard at this restaurant was magical. The sky was blue with patches of white clouds dancing and the wind ever so lightly grazing my face. An Italian family with kids was having lunch too – and their kids were running around exploring the garden – in true Italian lassez-faire style. I was already transported 35 years into my past.

Marco could have been an observer in all of this. Heck, he wasn’t even born in 1984 when I left Rome. But no…Marco’s heart was with his brother. I felt the excitement, the anticipation, the curiosity in him. Sometimes I have to remind myself how blessed I am. God has given me some of the best friends anyone could ask for.

Marco and I walked down via Cassia – I remember riding my bike down this road all the way to my school one day, down this busy road. I was a crazy cyclist from the start – may be this Italian influence explains a lot of my antics on two wheels! My dad got me an adult size bicycle when I was 11. My parents had no idea what I did with that machine – I would roam all over the countryside. I would even chase beautiful girls on vespas – knowing that as a 12 year old on a bike, it was utterly futile. But the chase is always fun … πŸ™‚

We are fast approaching my house. We pass a building. It’s a bit run down and looks familiar. Wait! It’s that house! Where I crashed the Hassan’s car. Not much has changed.

This is where I crashed the car when I was 12

There is that breeze again as I approach our building. We were on the 3rd floor apartment. I am amazed that the whole building looks exactly the same. The same blue paint. The moment was magical. I could literally feel my parents and had visions of them. They were there. My mom in the kitchen whipping up delicacies. My dad giving her a kiss, right before heading to work. I, scooping and devouring this new manna called Nutella. I even remembered my grandmother visiting us when I was 12.

Marco and I closed our eyes for about a minute. No yoga-posing here. This was real. This was meditative. We both felt the energy. I was fulfilled.

There came a sense of closure with this visit. I felt happy. Happy for the life I have lived. The circle of life is such – there will always be the inevitable. Death is a reality. But to be reminded of how good life has been to me and how much love I got from my parents was pivotal. And what a moment in time I am living – the love of my friends – back home in the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Paris, Milan, Como, Rome – has been nothing but extraordinary. Wow. I am blessed and lucky to have you all in my life.

Paula and Sofi in Cali; Stefano and Silvia in Milan

I found a new tribe in Colombia as well – Paula and Sofi, you have a special place in my heart. My dear friends Stefano and Silvia in Milan, I also met in Colombia two years ago!

And I would be amiss to not give a huge shout out to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let’s see how this magical web works.

Miguel in London, Bastien in Paris, Mathew in Normandy, in Milan, Clelia in Como, and Marco in Rome – I met ALL of these rockstar friends in Buenos Aires.

The journey is not over … it never is … life is fluid, malleable, full of surprises … but I say … hold on to your memories … those will never change and are the only things that are permanent … a beautiful thing …

I spent that evening full of joy – Marco and I strolled the streets of Rome and I marveled at the beauty of the world and humanity. So much so that I chose to look at things upside down – the same beauty, but with a different perspective. Life is often what you make of it, but more often how you choose to view it.

Peace and Love,

Nabeel Atique

Athens, Greece

October 3rd, 2019

London Calling

The National Gallery

September 16-19th , 2019

I used to visit Europe at least once every two years. My love of Latin America, specifically Buenos Aires kept me from going to Europe for the last 5 years.

But with the many changes occurring in my life, it was inevitable that I would once again be visiting the continent where I grew up. London would be my first port of call in Europe.

I grew up in London, having lived there from the ages of 3 to 10. London was not the city that it is today. It was quite a “dark” city the way I remember it. The dreary weather definitely did not help. I lived in a majority Turkish and Greek Cypriot neighborhood, a lot of London being quite segregated back then.

The London of today is quite the opposite. It’s a vibrant city and quite a melting pot of cultures. Chicken Tikka Masala is a national dish. Wow. If there ever was a breakthrough …

My cousin Rolly Bhaia picked me up from Gatwick Airport. I hadn’t seem him in 10 years! In fact I had never met his wife Parvin Bhabi and their daughter, my little niece Nipun. When I arrived at their home – I was greeted with every rich Bengali delicacy under the Sun.

How did Parvin know that the way to my heart was through food? She had been speaking to my cousins in Bangladesh who filled her in about the foods that make me tick. Nipun, too, was the sweetest little person and I was glad I finally got to meet all of them after such a long time!

Bengali Food Heaven, Bhabi, Nipun, Rolly Bhaia and Me

London will always be a special place for me. Even when we left London for Rome when I was 10, we would still go back every year. We had a house there. It was 32 Salisbury Road in Harringay, near the Manor House tube station. I next visited Bablu Bhaia. (Bhaia is a term Bengali’s used to call an older brother, cousin or family friend).

Bablu Bhaia used to stay with us in our house in London way back when. At the time, he was studying to be a chartered accountant.

Bablu Bhaia

After all those years, now he has a successful real estate company. I stayed with him in North London for a night and he graciously took me to my old home on Salisbury Road.

32 Salisbury Road

It was a real walk down memory lane as we also visited my elementary school South Harringay Junior School. These visits had special meaning to me. Having lost my father 30 years ago, and my mother 2 years ago, it was time to reflect about the past.

Losing people you love is a difficult thing. All we have left are the memories. It’s important to make an effort to keep those memories alive.

South Harringay Junior School

My next stop was to meet my dear friend Miguel from Argentina. Miguel runs an incredible language meet up in Buenos Aires called Mundo Lingo. The London branch of Mundo Lingo needed a little bit of sprucing up and they invited Miguel over for a bit of revitalizing. Miguel graciously hosted me for my stay in central London. We drank mate together (that’s an Argentine drink made with herbs) at his place – a little slice of Buenos Aires heaven in Londres πŸ™‚

Drinking Mate with Miguel in London

That evening we went to Mundo Lingo London and it did not disappoint – it was awesome to see the world come together in all it’s diversity.

Mundo Lingo London

These types of grassroots events give me hope for the future – there is no denying that we live in a world full of turmoil. Anything we do to bring people together can be impactful.

I even found a couple of Bengali speakers. Well the event was located in Brick Lane – so that was not really a surprise.

However, I was surprised at how gentrified the neighborhood had become. We were at 93 Feet East – an awesome venue.

Miguel hard at work distributing flags
Late night snacks in Bayswater

Miguel was hard at work distributing the flags in the form of stickers that represented the languages that the guests spoke.

I accompanied Miguel as he wrapped up the event into the wee hours of the night and we had the requisite late night kebabs, a bit of a London tradition.

I was even able to catch up with Louise from my Antarctica adventures in January. Despite her busy schedule she stopped in for 15 minutes to visit me at Mundo Lingo. It was great to see you Louise! Thanks so much πŸ™‚

With Louise from my Antarctica trip

The next morning I met up with Mehak. Mehak and I had met in Southern California during a yoga teacher training course that I had signed up for under the guidance of our common teacher Ashley Rideaux at YogaWorks in Santa Clarita. That teacher training course exceeded my expectations in both quality and in preparing me to be a competent yoga teacher. But the most unexpected outcome was the sense of family that I and my 12 others classmates developed over the 6 months of our training.

With Mehak at Buckingham Palace and the National Gallery

Mehak and I had that bond – we were from the same Yoga Family. I hadn’t seen her in several years, but we picked up where we had left off without skipping a beat. Who better than Mehak to accompany me as I revisited the tourist sites my last day in London. I had a wonderful time. Thank you Mehak!

United We Stand (As a Tree)
Trafalgar Square

It was so great visiting popular sights such as Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square and just reminiscing about the times that I visited with my parents. Now that they are not around, it was definitely bittersweet. But having Mehak from my Yoga Family with me made everything pretty awesome!

Picadilly Circus
Buckingham Palace

As I boarded my flight to Paris later that evening, I reflected on how full my four days in London had been, and how much love I had received from folks. Ranging from family members such as Rolly Bhaia, family friends such as Bablu Bhaia, family bound by yoga such as Mehak and new friends made on the icy continent of Antarctica .

The gift of family and friends is a blessing. Be sure to acknowledge all that you have and be grateful for any amount of love given to you…and pay it forward…love others in return.

Nabeel Atique

Paris

September 23rd, 2019

There Are Mountains in California?

This has been a long term project of mine for several years. Ever since one of my Swiss friends who I had first met at a homestay in Buenos Aires had reacted “there are mountains in California!?” when I had told her I loved where I lived because of the mountain biking, snowboarding and the cycling opportunities that abound.

Angeles Crest Highway, headed towards Dawson Saddle, California
It’s an unusual day – it usually doesn’t snow here
Jeff and I were the only cyclists on the road
It was cool and also testament to the fact that maybe we needed our heads examined πŸ™‚

Let’s face it, the United States’ reputation is greatly at risk. As a global leader, as a model for other nations, and as a model of social justice for its own.

It was sad to hear from a new European acquaintance a few years ago a comment such as “The United States is the last country I would ever visit”.

Hannah, Guillermo and Jeff cranking it up Soledad Canyon Road

The United States is an incredible country. Some things it does get right and to degrade the entire nation with falsehoods is not right. For example, I came to this country as an immigrant from Bangladesh with very little resources. With hard work and dedication I was able to complete my degrees in Electrical Engineering financed mainly by scholarships, grants and research assistantships. Excuse the clichΓ© but this is “the land of opportunity”.

Vasquez Canyon State Park
Home of Star Trek filmings starring William Shatner among other Hollywood Blockbusters

I always liked sports and athletics as a child. I played soccer for my school teams wherever I lived. I grew up in London and Rome so my love of soccer was inevitable. And in Mumbai I got into track and field mainly because my best friend at the time Mahesh Pai, was India’s fastest 100m sprinter for his age group.

Gliding down Mulholland Road in Los Angeles
Shhh!! Don’t tell mom – I’m going about 70 km/hr

In the United States, as an engineering student all this was about to change. At the engineering student orientation at the University of Texas at Austin we were told “you can party in Sixth Street or you can get an engineering degree, but you can’t do both”.

So I decided to get an engineering degree, or two.

Riding up Mount Diablo, California

Many years later with the opportunities that this country had provided me, and after having landed a job in a fortune 100 Silicon Valley company, and then having moved on to a job as a community college instructor….. wait for it……I can safely say that there are mountains in California.

Half Dome

One of my favorite places on earth is Yosemite National Park – with towering walls of granite, lined with trees like velvet and waterfalls to rival anywhere else in terms of beauty. The aroma of pine trees and pine cones and the crisp clean air rejuvenate me every time I am there. I am not particularly religious, but I still call Yosemite God’s Cathedral. No matter what you believe in – Yosemite will remind you that there is a higher power out there, who had sculpted this beauty in our planet.

Redwood National Forest

A drive up to the Redwood National Forest is also awe inspiring. Some of the most lush landscape and towering trees left me smiling. It rained on me on my hike, but the canopy protected me from getting soaked and I relished the little bit of dampness created.

I sensed that everything was alive. That is the best way to describe California. A state that is alive – full of life really. From the mountains to the ocean – I love this amazing state.
In closing I tell my Swiss friend – yeah we got mountains – but guess what – we got a whole lot more!

Mission Peak, Fremont California, so lucky to call it my backyard!

Another Fabulous Mission Peak Sunset
Mission Peak

And off course how can I not mention San Francisco itself – the ultimate hilly city. You can forget a gym membership – you will get your workout just simply walking around The City!

The Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge and an unforgettable sunset in San Francisco

Whenever I am blue, whenever I am happy, whenever I feel like a little bit of meditation on two wheels or a simple hike – the mountain beckons. The mountain cures all. The mountain reminds me I am alive and that I yearn for more…

Riding up Palomares Road, Fremont, California

La Pajara

La Pajara, A poem by Nabeel Atique

Illustrations by Ana Sofia Tovar

Angie is La Pajara. La Pajara who brightens my day.

Angie flew into my life from nowhere.

Here first words to me were “Estas solita?” (All by your lonesome?)

When she’s close I cannot but admire her beauty. Her voice, the way she looks at me.

Angie calls me “Mi Nabeel” (My Nabeel). No one calls me that. It warms my heart. When I don’t hear it, I crave it.

But Angie is La Pajara. In a fleeting swoop she is gone. Where is La Pajara? Who’s day is she brightening. Who’s heart is fluttering?

I lie in wait, waiting for La Pajara, waiting to hear the words “Mi Nabeel” … Will this little Pajara return, or will she fly away …

Antarctica – the Human Connection

PROLOGUE

January 1-3, 2019 Ushuaia, Argentina

It’s December 24th, 2018. I am wandering through the streets of Ushuaia, desperately trying to find a passage to Antarctica. This was not the original plan. “Tierra del Fuego” (the Land of Fire) has inspired me. I want to know what lies beyond … beyond these frigid waters … all the way to the ends of the World.

I had heard that it’s possible to get deeply discounted last minute deals to Antarctica. I had traveled to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires, with no concrete plans. I left it up to destiny. It was high season, everything was booked. Destiny said NO. I was not going to Antarctica in 2018. I left empty-handed and flew back to Buenos Aires on Christmas day December 25th, 2018. A couple of days later I got a call from Fede at Wayfinder Adventures.

There was a berth available in a 3 person cabin on a ship leaving for Antarctica on January 3rd, 2019. And it was 30% off.

Destiny said YES. I was going to Antarctica, not in 2018 but three days into 2019.

This meant I had to invest in another plane ticket to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires. I decided to travel on January 1st – what better way to start the new year than to travel to the southernmost city in the world? Ushuaia itself is a fascinating place. You can see penguins here, even without sailing to Antarctic waters – they’re called Magellan penguins.

Magellan Penguins, Ushuaia

And the town has the Martian Glacier looming right above it, giving it a mysterious feel.

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the World. The Martian Glacier in the background.

The second day of 2019 I sailed through Beagle Channel, teeming with wildlife and in the evening I hiked all the way to Lago Esmeralda, a beautiful lake with emerald-colored water.

After a couple of days of hiking and exploring Ushuaia, January 3rd was upon me and I was going to Antarctica. Wow. Was this really happening? The excitement was building.

Fede, at Wayfinders Adventures is not only an agent selling trips, but he also happens to be a guide for Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. And he too was embarking on a trip to Antarctica on a different ship and had just arrived in Ushuaia the morning of January 3rd. Fede actually saw me off to my ship the MS Expedition. Now that is service!

With Fede the co-owner of Wayfinders, the best agency to use for Antarctica

When I signed up for this trip I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no life-long dream of going to Antarctica. I knew very little about the ominous Drake Passage. I didn’t do a lot of research on the kind of ship that would be best. But I lucked out. The MS Expedition was a mid-size ship – the perfect kind. Not a 500 person mammoth cruise liner where only 100 people at a time get to land on the continent, thus not experiencing all landing sites (it is a rule imposed on passenger ships to Antarctica).

Our ship, The MS Expedition has a maximum capacity of 134. So the number of clients (if you subtract the crew and staff) was well under a 100 people. Meaning that everyone would be able to land at every site. We enjoyed 6 landings over the next several days. In fact we landed every day we were near land and sometimes more than once a day.

It was about three in the afternoon and we were checked in and shown to our rooms. As can be expected our living quarters were tiny. I noticed a backpack on one of the lower beds. The other lower bed, a bunkbed was free. I snagged it. The third arrival would be on the upper bed. I wondered “Who are these two traveling companions of mine?”.

Cabin 209. Safety Briefing.

After dropping my bag to claim my bunk, I went for a walk around the ship. When back at the cabin, I met Bastien, from France, the occupier of the other lower bed. A few minutes later in comes Marvin, a desi like me, the occupier of the top bunk above me. He announces “Hey, I’m Marvin from New York.” I was thinking, this is going to be interesting. Two desis representing both coasts of the US and a Frenchman! (Desi is a term used for a person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi decent)

209 our cabin number – forever etched in history
Marvin, Bastien and Nabeel

Spending 11 days at sea confined to a little cabin for privacy (or lack thereof) can go many different ways. Luckily Marvin, Bastien and I formed a sort of organic friendship. When we conversed, we were raw, we spoke the truth. We philosophized about life, relationships, love, religion, family and friendships. It was quite unexpected and perhaps catalyzed by the unearthly and spectacular surroundings we were in. We actually spent most of the zodiac rides and landings separated from each other. I am hard pressed to find a single photo of us together with our feet planted in Antarctica.

We were in the “zone”. We would see, hear, feel, and smell (think Penguin Poop!) Antarctica through our own lenses and filters.

Bastien, Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Back on the ship too, young Marvin would be circling around the ship, sometimes with his notepad, writing down quotable quotes or lessons learned from others. Bastien and I too, would frequently switch tables at meal times, getting to know others from the ship.

And then there were those moments – be it back in the cabin, on deck quietly waiting for a humpback to breach, or in the bar over a cold one – we would have those deep conversations.

We have become unlikely brothers. As we navigate this trip called life, just as in Antarctica , we go about having our experiences, but we always check back in with each other and in those darkest of moments and those fleeting highs – we share. We speak the truth.

Grateful to have you in my corner “209ers”. This one’s for you.

Brothers in Arms

As it turns out the guiding crew of our ship, the MS Expedition, belonged to an outfit called G Adventures and to their credit, they performed many scientific readings and monitored birdlife and environmental conditions on a regular basis. And we were lucky because on our last day in Antarctic waters we were able to ride zodiacs around Spert Island – a first for the crew of G Adventures.

Exploring Spert Island in the Palmer Achipelago, by Zodiac

Our ship was not an ice-breaker, but our captain boldy took us as close to the Antarctic circle as possible through the Lemaire Channel. I cannot describe that day accurately. No description will do justice. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Navigating through a sea littered with moderately sized ice-floats and icebergs. Seeing a great number of leopard seals lounging on the floats. And being surrounded by Antarctic terrain with peaks all around, caked in ice. I was thinking to myself. Wow. A mountaineer’s paradise. If only the approach didn’t cost close to 5 figures (in dollars). To add to this, there was a low-lying mist, creating an eerie feel. One that captivates and keeps you searching …

This was to be my Antarctica. Antarctica through my lens. Sometimes misty, sometimes clear. But without fail always awe-inspiring. Welcome to my Antarctica. The journey begins below.

The Lemaire Channel – close to the Antarctic Circle

Day 1

January 3rd, 2019 Drake Passage bound for Antarctica

We lifted anchor and with engines humming, the MS Expedition sailed away from Ushuaia and navigated the Beagle Channel into the sunset, headed towards the icy continent. After a spectacular 5-star meal while gazing out into the Beagle Channel, we explored the decks of the ship. It was very exciting to be on a ship like this one. The MS “Expedition”. What a name – evoking adventure, risk and discovery.

G Adventures Flag – yeah they’re pirate style badass

Day 2

January 4th, 2019 Drake Passage bound for Antarctica

That first full day on the MS Expedition was a day of discovery. I spent as much time as I could on deck. The number of bird species we saw that very first day was incredible.

Southern Giant Petrel and Black Browed Albatross, Drake Passage

The Drake Passage was quiet. I had actually taken dramamine (for sea sickness) because of all the warnings and it was a complete waste. The seas were calm and I just felt sleepy all the time. I think I slept through Matt’s “Citizen Science” talk (no offense Matt) and was generally very sleepy. Would the Drake be so kind on the way back? We shall see πŸ™‚

Screenshot of our location, Drake Passage.

As far as expedition days go – today was pretty chill. We got fed more 5-star meals from our mainly Filipino catering crew. And in the evening we had our pick of brews from the ends of the world!

Jay was as reliable a bartender as you well ever get

DAY 3

January 5th, 2019 Antarctica (Half Moon Island)

Today was a big day – “Land Ahoy!”. We had our first sighting of the continent. Today we were arriving in the vicinity of the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. We were not supposed to land today, but our kick ass Captain Juraj Zekan from Croatia got us there ahead of schedule. So we were to have an unscheduled bonus landing at Half Moon Island. There were a few shelters marked as Argentine territory with their flag. It was the Argentine naval station Camara.

First landing in Antarctica. It’s snowing. All smiles. Top right: Argentine Camara Naval Base.

For our very first landing and in true Antarctic spirit it was snowing lightly, as we were welcomed right away by a colony of chinstrap penguins.

Chinstrap Penguin Colony, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

We had a nice hike around the island during which we visited a couple of chinstrap penguin colonies. They are distinguishable by the black strap all the way across the chin.

Chinstrap Penguin, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

It was the first time taking the zodiacs and the ride to and from the ship was exciting.

A snowy first zodiac ride and first landing, Half Moon Island, Antarctica

Back at the ship that evening we celebrated an incredible first day on the continent having landed on the Antarctic peninsula. And we were treated to one of the most incredible midnight sunsets ever!

Midnight sunset over Antarctica, Day 3 on the MS Expedition

Day 4

January 6th, 2019 Antarctica (Neko Harbor and Danko Island)

We had not one, but two landings today. In the morning we explored Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay. In Neko Harbor we were greeted by Gentoo Penguins this time with their orange beaks.

Penguin Highways. Birds had gotten to these penguin eggs.

Neko Harbour had some impressive glaciers with so may crevasses.

Glacier, Neko Harbor
Ferrying expedition members by zodiac

After returning back to the ship we were off again to explore Danco Island.

Yes! I am in a T-shirt in Antarctica.

The ice sculptures all around were magnificent in beauty and scale.

You could not but think that some of these were sculpted by humans. For example the tunnel below looks so symmetric and manmade, but it is a natural formation.

Tunnel in the ice – not manmade

And this one below resembles a space ship.

It was a warm day (the high today was 13Β°C) and I had to strip most of my layers and I stripped down to a T-shirt in Antarctica. Far out! We enjoyed a nice hike up to the top of Danco Island.

Hiking to the top of Danco Island
The only tree around for thousands of miles πŸ™‚

There were gentoo penguin colonies scattered all around. Gentoos lack that stripe along the chin that chinstraps have, but they have a notable orange beak.

The guides on the ship were mainly north americans, but there were two South Americans Marcelo and Iggy (Ignacio) from Argentina.

With new friends Marcelo and Iggy

We saw other wildlife besides the gentoo penguins. There were a few Weddell Seals and Cormorants hanging around.

Cormorants and lazy Weddell Seals

Day 5

January 7th, 2019 Antarctica (Lemaire Channel and Port Charcot)

Today was a mystical day. Today the MS Expedition approached the narrow straits of the Lemaire Channel. Ice ridden waters. Seals everywhere. Sometimes I didn’t know where to look. At the ice all around the ship or the towering peaks, covered in mounds of ice and snow. And with a low lying mist, the whole scene was just magical.

Lemaire Channel, ice all around.

We were really close to the Antarctic Circle (66Β° 33′), but we had to turn around because the ice was getting too thick and it wasn’t worth the risk.

At 65Β° south we were just shy of 66Β°, the Antarctic Circle

That day on the Lemaire was my best day in Antarctica. We had’t even landed yet. We were on the ship, but charging slowly through the ice and taking in the beauty and size of everything around was something special. This day made me realize how vast the planet was and how we as humans are a small cog in the system. Unearthly. Yeah. You could say so.