The Final Field Trip

Last week marked the end of my final field trip with my university.  Like all field trips, it was as usual, enormous fun, with a lot of hard work thrown in.  Typically, we were working between 09:00-18:00 every day, with a one hour talk at 19:30, but in true student fashion, we partied at night too.

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We were staying in a small town called Carboneras about an hour or two south of Murcia, to the east of Almería, right on the coast of the Mediterranean.  The weather all week was in the mid 20s and sunny, which was a huge change to the normal conditions in Britain! Unfortunately my very pale complexion took a bit of a beating from the sun, but I tried to cover myself completely everyday, so only the side of my face and my hands got burned.  Yes that’s right, you can have sunburned hands…

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Anyway, the geology was great, and there was a huge variety, with everything from metamorphic petrology (which was my favourite), to palæontology.

Oooo!  Pretty!  Metamorphic petrology in action.  This is a crystal of kyanite.

Oooo! Pretty! Metamorphic petrology in action. This is a crystal of kyanite.

On the met pet front, in addition to the kyanite we found (see photo above), on the last day, we went to visit an unusual volcano.  Due to some peculiarities about its formation, it erupted a large number of garnet crystals, which were now just lying around on the inside of the crater.  (I’m a massive garnet fan, especially as my master’s research project was all about garnet).

Garnets just lying around

Garnets just lying around

Something cool that was pointed out to us was that a lot of the third Indiana Jones film was filmed around where we were, such as this beach scene to name but one.

On the final night, our lecturers took us out to a local restaurant for a traditional paella.  It was amazing!!  Pretty much every type of seafood you could possibly imagine was thrown in, along with various meats like chicken/rabbit/etc.

Paella!

Paella!

Overall, it was a lovely way to finish my university geological field career.  It’s been pretty good for field trips (this was the ninth one), and they’ll be sorely missed after I graduate.

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Special Edition: My Top 6 Travel Destinations

Not had a Special Edition for a while (or any posts for that matter).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit various places in my time, and obviously, I really want to keep adding to the list (my travel bucket list is the current place to see where I’d most like to go next).  However, which places have been my favourite so far?  Time for a Buzzfeed style list I reckon.

So the top 6 (originally 5, but I felt like putting one more in) are in no particular order:

6. Vermont, United States

The beautiful state of Vermont is in the top corner of the USA, in a region known as New England.  The scenery is absolutely stunning, with mountains, forests, lakes and all sorts of wildlife (including bears).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of times, as my family has some good friends who live there (one of whom has graduated from university and is now living in China.  You can read her excellent blog about it all here).  There’s no shortage of outdoorsy things to do, such as kayaking, or snow sports in the winter.  Not only is it the place for maple syrup, but also it’s the home of Ben and Jerry (of ice cream fame).

5. Little Langdale, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Ah the eternally delightful Lake District.  Home of Beatrix Potter, and the rainiest part of England (the  town of Buttermere – which was sunny when I visited, much to my surprise).  Full of stunning mountains, small villages, and of course lakes, the Lake District is not to be missed.  However, in my opinion, the hamlet of Little Langdale (it’s so small that the term “village” is a bit optimistic) is beautiful.  Not only does it have the famous Slater Bridge (a photo I took in 2008), as well as views of Wetherlam, Little Langdale Tarn, and abandoned quarries, it is also home to a most excellent pub (The Three Shires Inn).

4. Andorra La Vella, Andorra

Andorra is a tiny landlocked country in the heart of the Pyrénées. Consisting of only a couple of small valleys, it’s not especially well known.  However, it’s a hub for financial services, and is very wealthy. Skiing is hugely popular in the winter, whilst in the summer, the spectacular scenery will enchant you.  The food has a strong Catalan influence (which also happens to be the official language).  If you’re ever in the area, it is a country that is definitely worth visiting.

3. Château De Peyrepertuse, Duilhac-Sous-Peyrepertuse, Languedoc Rousillon, France

This ancient castle, built by the Cathars a while back (it was first mentioned in 806), towers over the surrounding countryside in the foothills of the Pyrénées.  An absolutely amazing place, and not one for those of you who are scared of heights (it is perched half a mile (800m) above the adjacent village, and surrounded by almost vertical cliff faces).

2. Hong Kong SAR, China

Hong Kong is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, and British until 1997, giving rise to curious differences with the Chinese Mainland (such as driving on the left and red post boxes).  They say New York never sleeps, but Hong Kong is a level above that.  At all hours of the day and night, the bright lights and masses of people going about their daily lives make this city hugely exciting.  Gazing over the skyline from the peak of Hong Kong island towards Kowloon after sunset is an incredible sight.

1. Easter Island, Chile

Let’s be honest, this post couldn’t have omitted Easter Island.  I don’t really need to say especially much about it, just click here to see my series of blog posts I wrote during my visit to this magical place.

Special Edition: Easter Island – The Summary (or The Boring One About Logistics)

Summary of the posts:

1 – Arriving on Easter Island

Sites visited: Hanga Roa

2 – Exploring the South West

Sites visited: Ana Kai Tangata, Rano Kao, Orongo, Vai Atare, Vinapu

3 – A Tour of the North and East

Sites visited: Anakena, Papa Vaka, Tongariki, Rano Raraku, Huri A Urenga

4 – The West Coast and Interior

Sites visited: Tahai, Hanga Kio’e, Ana Te Pora, Ana Kakenga, Puna Pau, Akivi, Ana Te Pahu

5 – A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside

Sites visited: Hanga Roa Museum, Poike, Vai A Heva

Having detailed my activities for each day on this marvellous island, I feel that it’d be appropriate to summarise the more tedious side of things (like logistics), in case anyone reading this fancies planning a holiday there (which you definitely definitely need to do)! (In case you were wondering why there’s no post for Day 6, it’s because it consisted of me waking up, packing, and going to the airport, which isn’t really that exciting)!

First of all, flights.  These are available from Lan Chile from Santiago Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez” (SCL) to Easter Island Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Mataveri” (IPC).  Price is about £500-£600 ish (and you get loads of air miles from BA too).

Accommodation is pretty handy.  I stayed at Residencial Vaianny, and got a private double room with private bathroom for about £20/night.

The hostel put me in touch with Christophe the excellent tour guide. I’ve already linked to his website, but for the sake of completeness, the link is here.  A private tour will cost between around £30 and £45, (half day and full day respectively per person).  However, when a car costs about £30 to hire for the whole day (excluding petrol), a tour guide is infinitely more economical (as not only is all the transport included, but the knowledge of the sites is too).  If you do book a tour with Christophe and have places that you’d especially like to see, then that’s no problem (it’s a private tour, you can see what you like)!

The guide book I got while I was there, but books in Chile are expensive.  Buy it from Amazon before you go, it’s cheaper.  If you aren’t doing a tour, then it’s well worth getting, as personally I found it more informative than the official leaflets.  Also, it tells you about various places before, so you can decide which ones you’d like to visit (handy for when organising tours).

There is a lot of choice of places to eat, but food is expensive when compared to the mainland (or much more similar to London prices). A main course will probably set you back about £10 (so buying cheap food from the supermarket helps save money – I lived off a 500g bag of crisps for two days, not healthy, but very good value!).

Finally, you have to pay for an entry ticket to the Easter Island National Park to visit Orongo or Rano Raraku.  This can be done upon arrival at the airport.  A ticket (for non-Chilean nationals) costs about £40.

Anyway, sadly this posts concludes my series about my holiday to Easter Island, but if you have any further questions, feel free to ask me through the Suggestions Box page.

 

Special Edition: A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside (Day 5)

The final full day dawned, which was a shame.  There were still lots of sites I wanted to visit, but I’d run out of time.  On the upside, it gives me the perfect excuse to return some day!

Anyway, HC and I decided to spend the morning visiting the museum, and shopping for souvenirs, as that was a rather important thing neither of us had done.  The first point was the museum, which was fascinating.  It had several very interesting artifacts on display, including weapons and stoneworking tools, but those that were most interesting were the (copies) of rongorongo tablets, and an original moai eye.  People have spent their whole careers studying rongorongo, but the salient facts are that it is an undeciphered script, found only on 26 tablets (which were found on the island).  Nobody knows what it means.

An original moai eye

An original moai eye

We went to the artisanal market, and I ended up buying a small model moai.  I couldn’t not really, and I knew that if I didn’t, I’d definitely regret it!  For those of you who will inevitably wonder if I named him, the answer is yes.  I christened him Tim.

After the shopping, and a brief lunch, Christophe appeared once more, and drove us both (as HC accepted my offer of joining me on another trip) to the North Eastern end of the island, the Poike peninsula.  It is inaccessible to vehicles, and so you have to walk (or ride) to explore the area.  As a result, it’s seldom visited.

There are various archæological sites on the peninsula, some of which are completely unique.  One on the itinerary today was one such unique one. It is called Vai A Heva, and is a statue that has a large mouth in which to collect water, carved into the side of the mountain.

Vai A Heva

Vai A Heva

A little farther up the mountain was a very tiny cave (you essentially had to curl into a ball to get inside), but inside the cave was another petroglyph of Make Make.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

We continued walking, and reached the summit.  At this point, we were very lucky with the weather, and the sun came out, to give the most amazing view.  Looking west, you could see most of the island, and from one coast to the other.  It was awe inspiring.

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

With the view having been seen, it was time to head down the mountain, and return to the hostel.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent holiday.

Special Edition: The West Coast and Interior (Day 4)

After having such an insightful tour with Christophe the day before, and having a great desire to see as many archæological sites as possible while on the island, I’d emailed him to arrange two half day tours.  One was to several sites to the west and centre of the island, while the other (which is going to be the subject of Day 5’s instalment) was for a hike around the Poike peninsula (the peninsula in the photo from the plane in the post entitled “Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)”).

Anyway, before the half day tour (which started at 3 in the afternoon), I went for a walk with some of the people from the hostel. One of them only came as far as the first site of the day, called Tahai. There were several platforms here, one of which has a moai with modern eyes installed (after archæologists discovered fragments of an original eye on Anakena beach).

The moai with eyes at Tahai

The moai with eyes at Tahai

An interesting aside is that I was talking to Christophe (my guide from yesterday) about this, and he said he spoke to the archæologist who discovered it – a native Easter Islander.  Apparently the archæologist didn’t realise what it was, but showed it to his grandfather, who promptly told him that it was a moai eye (as he remembered the time when lots of them had eyes).

Tahai

Tahai

At this point, one of the hostel people left, and it was just me and the other (HC) who continued onwards.  A little farther down the coast was Hanga Kio’e.  Here stood a solitary moai, which, according to the book, was one of the final platforms and moai to be built.

We continued onwards, hoping to reach Te Peu, but without any success (as we were fighting a losing battle against time – we had to be back at the hostel by 3 to have the tour).  I’d invited HC to join me on it, as she wanted to see one of the sights that it involved anyway.

Turning back (probably only 10 minutes from Te Peu with the benefit of hindsight), we stopped off at a cave called Ana Te Pora, which was interesting, and had a stone bed in it.

The next cave along (back in the direction of Hanga Roa), was called Ana Kakenga, which had two large openings facing the ocean which was beautiful.  However, the entrance to the cave is very small and narrow (with a low ceiling), and also pitch black (and therefore not suitable for those with claustrophobia).

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Looking out of Ana Kakenga at the Pacific Ocean, and some rocky islets

Upon returning to Hanga Roa, and having a quick lunch, HC and I got ready for our afternoon tour.  Sure enough, at 3 o’clock, Christophe appeared, and we went off to the first site.

The site in question is called Puna Pau, and is the quarry where the topknots (Pukao) were made.  These topknots are the red “hat like” objects on top of some of the moai.  You can see one clear example in the first image in this post.  There are three different designs of these, which either represent a feathered headdress, tied up long hair, or a bandana like thing.  Those you see upon the moai are just balancing, they are not cemented or attached in any way.  Overall, only about 100 were ever made (including those abandoned in the quarry).

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

Abandoned Pukao at Puna Pau

The next place to visit was Akivi, which is an inland platform consisting of seven moai.  This platform is unique in being the only one where the moai face out to sea, rather than inland.

Akivi

Akivi

The final stop for the day was a cave called Ana Te Pahu, which, like all the caves I visited, are former lava tubes.  Inside was an interesting petroglyph to Make Make, who was the god related to the birdman cult.  Also in the cave were several ferns which were endemic to Easter Island (and only to Easter Island), which was pretty interesting.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

With the tour over, we were dropped back in the hostel, where we relaxed.  HC and I went for a walk along the shore in Hanga Roa just as the sun was setting.  This gave the perfect opportunity for a sun-setting-behind-a-moai photo, which was too good to miss!

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After wandering around for a while, we decided to get some supper at a French restaurant, whose proprietor was described to us in a way that made him sound like Basil Fawlty (a character from Fawlty Towers – which, for the benefit of my foreign friends, is probably the most famous British comedy programme on television that has ever been made) – although we never met said proprietor, so sadly couldn’t confirm personally alas!

Anyway, we ordered a massive paella to share, which was full of delicious seafood (lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, prawns, various types of fish, etc.).  It was very big, and very filling, and very nice! Feeling delightfully full, we called it a night, and headed back to the hostel to sleep.

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!

It was ridiculously big, but so nice!

Special Edition: A Tour of the North and East (Day 3)

Apologies for the delay in getting this instalment out, I’ve been pretty busy this week, visiting London, moving back to university, researching graduate jobs, and sorting out my research project for my master’s degree! Unfortunately I left my travel journal at home, so I’m doing this completely from memory, but as there are lots of details, I might miss a couple of things out (although obviously, I’ll try not to)!

Anyway, my third day on Easter Island consisted of a private tour with a guide (named Christophe) who’d lived there for six years (who originally came from Brittany).  If you happen to be visiting Easter Island at some point, and want a guide who is extremely knowledgeable, then you can find his page here.  One great thing about Christophe’s tours is that he only takes small groups (of 1-3 people), and avoids the sites when the larger groups and tour buses visit them.  You only get to see four or five sites on a full day tour, but you’ll learn more history and folklore than you can shake a stick at. I really recommend hiring him, and he’s a great bloke too!

He collected me from my hostel, and our first stop was at the beach of Anakena, one of two beaches on the island.  It was spectacular, with several moai on a platform, framed by golden sand and palm trees.

Anakena beach

Anakena beach

Also on the beach was a moai that really reminded me of one of my favourite poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ozymandias (full text available here).

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Real life Ozymandias?

The second site we visited was called Papa Vaka, which is a site full of petroglyphs, including the largest on the island (12 metres long depicting a canoe – visible in the following image by the two parallel lines in the rock).

The petroglyphs at Papa Vaka

The petroglyphs at Papa Vaka

The hole full of water that you can see towards the bottom of the image was used in the past as a rudimentary mirror for looking at the stars.

After this great second site, we headed on over to the next location, Tongariki.  Nothing really prepares you for the scene in front of you at Tongariki.  It’s a massive platform consisting of 15 moai all facing inland, and it’s truly breathtaking.  For me, it’s definitely one of the “must see” places on Easter Island.

Tongariki

Tongariki

The third site of the day was the quarry of Rana Raraku, which is where the moai were all carved.  About 900 moai exist in total, of which about 400 of them are in various stages of construction in the quarry.  Everywhere you look there are moai, and it’s fascinating. Nobody is sure how they were made or transported, but however they did it, it must have been a huge effort!

Moai at Rano Raraku

Moai at Rano Raraku

Like with Orongo, you are only allowed to visit Rano Raraku once per visit to the island, so it’s extremely important not to waste the opportunity.  I spent around 90 minutes at each site, which seemed enough (and significantly more than the “suggested” amount on the boards :D)!

Rano Raraku was the final stop scheduled for the day, but we stopped off for one more on the way back to Hanga Roa.  This site is called Huri A Urenga, and is home to a special moai.  Typically, the platforms they are standing on are very wide and narrow, and the moai faces perpendicularly out from it.  However, at Huri A Urenga, the moai faces towards the corner, and the platform is more of a square shape.  The reason for the moai facing a different direction to usual is due to the fact that it actually faces the direction of the winter solstice.

The moai at Huri A Urenga

The moai at Huri A Urenga

Christophe drove me back to the hostel after this, where I spent the evening relaxing and talking to some of the others who were staying there.

Special Edition: Exploring the South West (Day 2)

I enjoyed a rather nice lie in, before heading out at 10:30 with my new book to explore the South West part of the island.  Caves, craters, villages of religious cults, and abandoned platforms of moai were on the agenda today.

I started off by walking along the coast, past the airport to a cave (called Ana Kai Tangata) where there were cave paintings.  The sea was pretty violent, with massive waves crashing against the coast.  It was pretty spectacular.

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After a brief stop, I went on and climbed up the extinct volcano (Rano Kao) that forms this corner of the island.  Upon reaching the crater, I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights.  It was huge, about a kilometre in diameter, with huge pools of water and reeds inside.

The crater at Rano Kao

The crater at Rano Kao

Walking round the crater to the coast took a while, but I eventually reached the entrance to the village of Orongo.  This is where the cult of the birdman was celebrated.  Numerous stone houses were perched right on the top of the cliff, sandwiched between the vertical drops into the crater, or the Pacific Ocean.

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The houses at Orongo

Numerous petroglyphs were dotted around the site too, each with special significance (relating to the birdman competition, and the god it honoured).

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Petroglyphs

After spending an hour and a half at the site, I went out and walked round to the other side of the crater (to a place called Vai Atare).  It took several hours to get there, but I was greeted by an amazing view, putting the precarious position of Orongo in context.

Putting Orongo's position between the crater and the ocean into perspective

Putting Orongo’s position between the crater and the ocean into perspective

I headed back, intending to take a path shown on my map to the next place I wanted to visit, but unfortunately I couldn’t find it.  This meant that I had a six mile walk ahead, with a four mile walk after back to the hostel.  Very fortunately, two miles in, a very nice man (who turned out to be the director of the island’s hospital) stopped and asked if I wanted a lift.  I gratefully accepted his kind offer, as it cut an hour of walking off (and, having already walked about 15 miles that day already, I was a bit tired).

I arrived at the ruined platform of Vinapu where there are several toppled moai, along with some good examples of good masonry. After a good 30 minutes looking around the site, I walked back to the hostel.  A very long and tiring day, but a very good start to the holiday!

Special Edition: Arriving on Easter Island (Day 1)

After an early 5am start to pack and get to Santiago airport, I was on the LAN Chile flight to Easter Island.  Five hours of flying above the blue of the Pacific, with no land in sight, until suddenly, a peninsula came into view.

My first glimpse of Easter Island

My first glimpse of Easter Island

We landed, got through the airport, and I was met by the staff from the hostel, who gave me a flower garland before driving me to the hostel itself.  I dumped my stuff, and went for an explore of the town on the island – Hanga Roa.  There’s not a lot to the town, with it consisting of only about four roads, but there were lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés.  However, that was not was I was first looking for.  Top priority for me was to visit the post office to get a souvenir stamp in my passport.  Owing to the fact that Easter Island is a special territory of Chile, my domestic flight meant that I hadn’t had to go through any immigration procedures, and so the only proper way was to get a special stamp from the post office.  Having come all this way, I couldn’t not!  I went on to browse some shops, and elected to buy a guide book to the island – Amazon link here (written by the Honorary British Consul to the island, and former Cantab – we seem to get everywhere!).

At the end of the road lay the coast, and, with it being Easter Island and all that, there were a couple of moai standing there.

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

The two moai on the coast in Hanga Roa

They are curious statues, and about 1,000 exist in total.  Their size varies enormously (between one and 20 metres – although the average is usually about six or so), and almost all of them face inland (towards where villages once stood in the past).  So many questions remain about them, yet there are no answers.  I appreciated the moai for a while, and gazed out towards the west over the sea.  The next nearest piece of land was 1,200 miles away or so – the Pitcairn Islands (British Overseas Territory), population 50.  I was so very far away from anywhere, but with only four whole days, I had a lot to explore!

A Big Challenge

Those of you who know me, as well as those of you who have bothered to read the About Me page will notice that I like books.  Indeed, my post entitled Groundhog Day mentions my ordering a book about Cambridge University Library.  Anyway, with that thought in mind, and by looking through my travel bucket list, I realised that although the country of Bhutan fascinates me, and in spite of my trawling wikipedia relentlessly for Bhutanese topics, I still know very little about this most enigmatic and isolated of countries.

You can imagine my delight when I came across a book (published 2008) that reviews said was very comprehensive, and full of information about this country.  Not only that, but it was written by a former Bhutanese diplomat, and so ought to be pretty accurate (and is endorsed by the Queen Mother of Bhutan).  Should be a decent read then, but where to buy it?

It was at this point that it got a bit tricky, because it seems like you can’t buy it.  “I shall find it in the UL!”, I thought.  They don’t have it either.  The same story applies to the British Library (which boasts 150,000,000 items in its collection).  I even bit the bullet and checked the Bodleian Library (but luckily it’s not there either).

After an exhaustive search (Blackwells, Waterstones, various Hay-on-Wye establishments, etc.), I elected to hunt down the publisher.  However, they don’t have a website.

My next desperate attempt was to have a look on WorldCat, which is a catalogue of the collections of libraries from all over the world.  The three nearest (and only) public libraries that have a copy of this book are in New York, Washington D.C., and Singapore.  However, they all have it down as reference only.

After a lot of digging around, (and I mean a LOT), finally I tracked down one new copy for sale.  There is only one on the whole internet it seems.  A shop in the US is selling it.  So, there are two options.  Either, pay lots more money than I’d normally be willing to for a book, or write to the publisher in Thimphu by post (as there’s no website/email address, or even a fax) to see if they’d sell me one?  Hmmm, I’ll need to have a think about it.

High As A Kite

Firstly, the title here is not a reference to the apparent psychological state of a shady and rather unsavoury bloke in the loos of the bar JD and I went to on Friday night (although admittedly, it could well be).  It is instead referring to my high altitude medical test that I had this morning.

“What did it involve?” I hear you cry.  Well, surprisingly, it didn’t actually involve any running on a treadmill, or breathing air with less oxygen.  Therefore, quite how I was actually tested for altitude remains something of a mystery to me.  I had an ECG done, an X-Ray, blood tests, and a brief test of my eyesight, but nothing that seemed obviously useful with respect to altitude.  The only part of the experience that was relevant was a piece of paper with advice for dealing with altitude written on it.

Anyway, that was how I spent this morning, before heading back to the mine with my boss, to arrive just in time for lunch.  This is the final shift here before my little excursion to live in the Atacama Desert, and I’ve got a few things planned (like visiting the actual mine part of the mine – i.e. where they extract the ore, rather than just the bits around it).  This shift only lasts ten days, as Thursday week is a national holiday (so I’m finishing on Wednesday week instead).