Sunday, December 30, 2012

#889 Cape Horn, Chile

Did you know that Cape of Horn is on an island, not actually on the continent of South America? The islands of the steep mist-covered cliffs that mark the southern-most land of the area are part of the Cape Horn National Park (Parque Nacional Cabo de Hornos) at 56 degrees south, and are about as remote, even within Chile, as you can get anywhere in the world and still be a short sail away from civilization. Actually, I just discovered that the Diego Ramirez Islands are further south, but are already in the Drake Passage so not as famous! Infamous because of the rough waters, icebergs, strong winds and currents of the nearby Drake Passage, it is something ships dreaded for centuries. It was only with the opening of the Panama Canal (#920) that the passage around South America was no longer necessary, although many ships used the straights of Magellan rather than go around the tip of Tierra del Fuego anyway, because it was so difficult.

It was named after Hoorn in the Netherlands and translates to the Cape of Ovens. The Chilean navy maintains a station on island including a lighthouse.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

#890 Ushuaia, Argentina

Few places in the world can claim superlatives, but many like to do it. Ushuaia's claim to fame is that it is the world's southern-most city, and there are no disputes: it's too cold here to deny it! The end of the world, and yet the gateway to the beautiful Tierra del Fuego National Park and a hot cruise ship destination for both around South America cruises and for thsoe departing for Antartica.

Originally settled as a penal colony and by British missionaries, but now it is one of the best paid cities in Argentina. Sitting in front of the Martial mountains with both winter and summer sports, it is a spectacular location.

Friday, December 28, 2012

#891 Nakchivan, Azerbaijan

Nakchivan is an isolated province of Azerbaijan, but central to its heart and heritage. The president Aliyev's homeland, it is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by the disuputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh, currently independent/controlled by Armenia. Historically connected to the silk road and ancient Central Asian Islamic heritage, it is full of beautiful cities with typical mosques, narrow cobbled streets and mud-brick architecture. Driving as far east as is possible, right on the borders with Armenia and Iran is a town called Ordubad, which used to be an important post on the traveller´s network of towns, but now is the end of the line, slowly decaying and falling into disrepair. It has many old mosques and a fascinating covered bridge.

Nearby is an old stone bridge at Culfa, signs of the ancient travel routes that went past here.

Yusif Ibn Khaysif Mausoleum in Nakchivan city.
Nakchivan city, however, has one of the most impressive monuments of the whole area, the Momine Khatum Mausoleum built in the 1100s by Jahan Pahlavan (an Atabeg) in memory of his wife. It is beautifully  decagonal with Kufic writing and beautiful turquoise geometrical tiles. Other more humble mausoleums are hidden down back streets, no less ornate but smaller and quietly mourning. I was most impressed by the ruins of the mud brick city on the edge of town, reminicent of Turkmenistan´s Merv (#999). Such a fortification must have been impressive but is now just piles of mud!
The small town of Karabaglar also hosts an amazing mausoleum, this time with petal-like protrusions. It´s accompanying minarets offer excellent views of the countryside.

Road to Shakhbaz in Nagorno-Karabakh, now a closed border.
Historical, majestic, mountainous, beautiful, but very under-visited.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

#892 Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

Called Deception Island by the whalers that had their base there because they said you could see it from the outside, and not know there was a massive hole and bay on the inside. They also called it deceptive because even when you in there was a bay, you'd think it would be sheltered but the wind rustling through meant that it wasn't actually as warm and safe as it appeared. The opening ¨Nelson´s Bellows¨ is around 200m wide with a large rock in the middle just below the surface, making it a dangerous entrance (the wrecks on the beach are testament to this!), and it is an active volcano, with its 1967 eruption covering much of a British base still there. A tractor was buried in the sand, the graves are well-buried, and the remains of the whaling colony and later settlements were covered with lahar. Argentina and Chile maintain a presence here, as do the penguins.

While you a no longer allowed to dig yourself a hole in the warm sulfur filtered beaches, you can still take a polar plunge there and feel moderately warmer than you might elsewhere! Chinstrap and gentoo penguins may stop on the beach while you look at the remains of the whale bones, wooden oil barrels, and metal bone boilers, and a run down barracks. The airplane hanger remains (it was the location of the first flight in Antartica), though you'll be hard pressed to find the runway, roughly sketched out on a rise as it was. Fascinating stories, and an amazing place!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

#893 Edinburgh, Scotland

With its famous castle overshadowing the city, giving magnificent views over the Firth of Fourth, Edinburgh is a charming place! The high street runs along the edge of the park with the castle sitting above. Historically it was important, not only as the capital and home of the Scottish parliament, but before that as an Enlightenment center and a hillfort for the kingdom of Gododden.