Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#825 Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

You may have seen photos of people walking on an active volcano, with fiery lava flows and people posing with big grins. If it's relatively recent, then this is probably Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala, because a 2006 eruption formed lava rivers down the slopes. It's most recent big action was in 2010 when the eruption rained ash down on nearby cities. It's a popular day hike from both Guatemala City and Antigua, but sadly, when I went, it was fiery no more, but the residue from the lava was amazing. There was even a spot where you could go underground and feel the heat of an exposed vent. 
Part of the Central American Volcanic Arc which runs along the Pacific Rim, it is a very busy volcano -- 23 eruptions since the Spanish conquest, and 1100 years ago a landslide spewed such a large amount of silt as to reach the Pacific -- the current cone grew from that crater. The volcanic ash and pumice that covers the volcano today is very hard to walk on!!
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacaya

Sunday, May 26, 2013

#826 Umm Al-Aish Satellite Dish, Kuwait

One place that I heard about when I was in Kuwait was the burned out satellite dish that remained in the desert of Kuwait after the war. The website 'Kuwait Invasion: The Evidence' has collected images of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the destruction they rendered -- this is one example of that destruction.

The Umm Al-Aish area was used for telecommunications, including telephone and wireless for ships, planes, especially the military. Unfortunately, I never saw it for myself and now it's too late. In 2009 the Kuwaiti government dismantled the two satellite dishes to sell for scrap metal, which is too bad as it was popular to visit and an important monument to their struggle against their neighbor.

Source: http://www.evidence.org.kw/photos.php?page=4001_Umm-Al-Aish-Satellite-Dish

Saturday, May 25, 2013

#827 Islas Uros, Lake Titicaca, Peru

In the Southern Peruvian and Northern Bolivian altiplano (Andean plateau) is one of the highest lakes on earth, which according to Andean belief, gave birth to the sun, father (Manco Capac), and mother (Mama Ocllo) of all Incas: Lake Titicaca. Relics of monuments from the Incas remain, as well as from the pre-Incan Pukara, Tiwanaki and Collas, such as the dwarfed burial towers and conical stone penises.
View of Lake Titicaca and Puno.

The main Peruvian town connecting Lake Titicaca to the world is Puno, a bit of a scrappy town with a sleazy feeling. However, the reason visitors come here is to visit the amazing islands in the lake. In particular, the famous Islas Uros, which are constructed from floating totora reeds, are only 5km from Puno.

The Uros people collect these reeds from the shallow areas of the lake and use them to eat, make their homes, boats, and other crafts. They began this lifestyle centuries ago to avoid aggressive tribes like the Collas and the Incas, and now they have intermarried with the Aymara tribe to the point where pure-blooded Uros do not really exist.

Ingenious reuse of plastic bottles to make seats/benches.

Monday, May 20, 2013

#828 Moeraki Boulders, Otago, New Zealand

One memorable family trip location was to see the Moeraki Boulders in Otago, New Zealand. These are marvelous geological formations called concretions, a type of sedimentary rock that builds up over time before the final hardening of the rock occurs. They have many cracks leading to a hollow core and can be as big as 3 meters in diameter! I remember my dad making my brother a kelp ball, the first time I could imagine that something like seaweed could bounce!


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moeraki_Boulders

Sunday, May 19, 2013

#829 El Fossil, Villa de Leyva, Colombia

If you'd asked me if I wanted to go and see some dinosaur bones, I wouldn't have been unexcited, but I wouldn't be sure to go out of my way to get there. Seeing the enormous and very well preserved 'El Fosil' 15 minutes driving or an hour walking out of Villa de Leyva (#986) was enough to make me change my mind. It has an almost complete 110-million-year-old kronosaurus, the most complete one in the world of this prehistoric marine reptile. Without a tail it is 7m, but with the tail it would have been around 12m. It was discovered by local farmers in 1977, and the government wanted to move it, but the locals protested, and it has become their special treasure. 
In the same museum they also have another very complete skeleton of another marine dinosaur, and many dinosaur bones from the pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, and ichthiosaurs, as well as many other fossils common to the area.
Source: www.museoelfosil.com
Lonely Planet Colombia 6th Edition 2012

#830 Ayuthaya, Thailand

The royal capital of Siam (Thailand) from 1350 to 1767 (after which it moved to Bangkok), Ayuthaya was established as an island trading port because it was encircled with rivers leading to the gulf (the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak and Lopburi). Visited by all the European and Asian powers of the time, including the Dutch, Portuguese, French, English, Chinese and Japanese, merchants helped increase the city's population to a million in the 17th century, making it one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in Asia. It was so powerful that despite their efforts, Europeans were never able to colonize the kingdom of Siam perhaps because of its Sanskrit name Ayodhya meaning 'undefeatable'. Yet, it was a fellow Asian power, the Bago based kingdom of Burma which sacked Ayuthaya in 1767 astride their battle-trained elephants, and despite being a Buddhist power, they desecrated the temples and other royal edifices and took many slaves back to the Burmese court. 
Walking around the grounds now, it is common to come across beheaded Buddhas, conquered as if they, too, were one of the enemy assailants. In fact, it is rare to see a Buddha that is unscarred. 
The complex is separated into two districts, those on the island (including the central city) and those off the island. On the island is the former biggest temple in Thailand, the 14th century Wat Phra Si Sanphet, used as the royal temple-palace, with at 16m standing gold buddha (gold melted down by the conquerers, of course), replaced next door with a huge bronze buddha in the 1950s.

Don't miss the Wat Phra Mahatha with its buddha head engulfed by tree roots. Off the island is the Wat Phanan Choeng, older than Ayuthaya as a capital and probably Khmer in origin, it has a 19m sitting buddha which is still draped in saffron cloth by Buddhist pilgrims. An interesting story in the sacking of Ayuthaya surrounds the bridge to Wat Na Phra Mehn, which is surprisingly undestroyed. This is because Burmese King Along Phaya chose this temple to be fired upon by canon, but the cannon exploded and injured him, thus ending the sacking (which followed two years of war and persistent attacks from the Burmese).
Source: Lonely Planet Bangkok 6th Edition
Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring 12th Edition