Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Las Lajas Cathedral: at the end of the world

Las Lajas Cathedral, built in 1916, is located in remote southwest Colombia, deep down in a gorge of the Guaitara River (close to Columbia’s border with Ecuador) .

This must be one the most fairy tale beautiful pilgrimage sites in the world. A scene of magic splendor, the cathedral clings precariously to the side of a sheer cliff, above a swiftly running river in a mountain gorge.

Lingering mists hide the church in the rain season. In concert with the rumbling of flowing waters church bells echo across the mountain valleys.

Las Lajas was named after a type of flat sedimentary rock called Laja which is similar to the floor tiles found in the Andes Mountains.

Friday, 26 June 2009

How Raven Created the World

The Raven and the Whale

an Inuit (Eskimo) story
Retold by Laura Simms

In the very beginning of time, Raven made the world.
Raven was both a god and a bird with a man inside. After Raven created everything, he decided to remain on the earth. He loved the people and the animals and he was curious about them all. Even though he had made the world, he did not know everything there was to know.

Raven liked to paddle his kayak out into the sea. One day he saw a large whale.
He said, "I wonder what it looks like inside the belly of a whale."

Raven waited until the whale yawned. When its mouth was wide open, he rowed right in. He tied his kayak to one of the whale's teeth and started walking deeper inside the whale's body. The mouth of the whale closed behind him and it grew dark. Raven heard a sound like a drum or distant thunder. He walked until he came to the belly of the whale. The white bones of the whale's ribs rose up around him like ivory pillars.

In the center of the whale's belly, Raven saw a beautiful girl dancing. She had strings attached to her feet and hands stretching to the heart of the whale. Raven thought, "She is so beautiful. I would like to take her out of this whale and marry her."

So he said to her, "I am Raven. I made the world. Will you come with me into the world and be my wife?"

The maiden replied, "Raven, I cannot leave the whale. I am the heart and the soul of the whale. But if you want to stay here and keep me company, that would make me happy."

Raven threw back his beak, revealing his human face. He tossed back his wings and sat with his hands on his knees. He watched the girl as she danced.

When she danced quickly the whale soared through the water. When she danced slowly the whale floated calmly. Soon, the girl danced so slowly that she stopped moving and her eyes closed. Raven felt a cool wind from the world blow through the spout of the whale. He thought again of taking the girl with him into the world. He felt human desire. And, he forgot what she said.

Raven pulled his beak back down over his face and covered his arms with his wings. He grabbed the girl. He heard the strings snap as he flew with her out of the whale up into the sky.

As he flew, Raven heard the whale thrashing below in the ocean. He watched the whale's body as it was tossed by the waves onto the shore. The whale was dead and the girl in his arms grew smaller and smaller and disappeared.

Raven realized that everything that is alive has a heart and a soul and everything in the world is born and dies. He was overcome with great sorrow. He was so sad that he landed on the sand beside the body of the whale. For weeks he cried and cried. Then Raven began to dance. He danced for weeks. Then Raven began to sing. He sang for weeks and weeks until his heart was soothed. Then he flew back up into the sky.

He promised the humans and the animals that he would always return to this world as long as we cared for one another and understood that everything in this world lives and dies, and everyone human and animal has a heart and a soul. Raven's tears were the first tears. His dance and his song of grief and healing were the first song and the first dance.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

1 000 !

Ultima Thule has just reached the 1000 visitors mark. I know it is nothing in the universe of blogs, but this is a young blog with an attitude, so I feel grateful to you all dear visitors, please keep coming and feel at ease to post comments...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Saint John´s night

In my town, Porto, this is the most festive night of the year. Many thousands come out to celebrate Summer in the streets, with bonfires and fireworks all around.
Some say it's a rare example of a peaceful mob gathering without violence to exchange regards, vows, wishes and teasers...St. John also protects young lovers, so many summer love promises are to be said tonight...

It may have been so in times passed, now we will just try to forget the crisis and the growing crime. Eat and drink to better times coming...

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Eternity - is Those

As if the Sea should part

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea -
And that - a further - and the Three
But a presumption be -

Of Periods of Seas -
Unvisited of Shores -
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be -
Eternity - is Those -

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ittoqqortoormiit, 70°29′ N 21°58′ W

Ittoqqortoormiit ! The name alone is already a promise of a distant quest. The Danes called it Scoresbysund, same as the magnificent fjord where the town is located. (I posted about that in Ultima Thule, here). The inuit name Ittoqqortoormiit means "Place with Big House".

One of the youngest and most remote towns in Greenland, it was founded in 1925 by some 70 Inuit settlers at the request of the arctic explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen.
With just 550 citizens, surrounded by glaciers and sea ice, it is only accesible by helicopter (once a week) or by boat a few months a year.
A truly Thule of the East, facing Iceland and the Jan Mayen island.


Sports Hall

Inuit child with sled

Ittoqqortoormiit is the most northerly permanent settlement in East Greenland. The region is known for its wildlife which includes polar bears, muskoxen, arctic foxes, seals, walruses, narwhals, shrimp and halibut. That provides hunting and fishing , the main activity for the local community.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Polar bears at Point Barrow, Alaska

Point Barrow is the remote northernmost point of Alaska, a desert region (no rain, no land, no trees) facing the Arctic Ocean. Archaeological evidence dates human habitation by Inupiaq Eskimos in the area from about 500 AD. Its Inupiaq name is Ukpeagvik, meaning “Place Where Owls Are Hunted.”

Snow Owl

Local fauna also includes polar bears, which can be observed in large groups.

The following slide presentation from Slideshare is a collection of bear photos with some extra information about the area.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Bouvetøya: the most remote island on earth

Bouvet Island (Bouvetøya ), an uninhabited and small Norwegian island in the South Atlantic Ocean, is the most remote spot on earth. The nearest land is over 1600 km away to the south, which itself has no fixed population, and is inhabited only with a small Nordic crew to run the all-year research station.

Bouvetøya lies some 1600 km south west of the Cape of Good Hope, on the southern extremity of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, at 54°26'S 3°24'E. Bouvet island is volcanic, the center of the island containing the ice-filled crater of an inactive volcano. Most of Bouvetøya is blanketed in a thick ice cap of at least 100 m in thickness , and 93% of its 49 km² area are covered by glaciers which block the south and east coasts.

It has no ports or harbours, only offshore anchorages, and is therefore difficult to approach. Wave action has created a very steep coast. Cliffs as high as 500 m surround the island. Small beaches composed of black volcanic sand or shingle are found on the eastern side of the island. The easiest way to access it is with a helicopter from a ship. So you see, the ideal hiding place ...

A temporary five-man station was established in 1978, but was destroyed by strong winds. Only an automatic weather station continues to operate, now and then visited by a maintenance crew.

Penguins and seals have breeding colonies on Bouvet beaches. Large seabird colonies also frequent the island.

NASA astronaut Charles "Chuck" Brady visited the island in 2000. The best photos of the expedition are here.

Other links:

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Global Seed Vault : well worth its cost

Situated on a remote island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, the Global Seed Vault sits at the end of a 120-meter tunnel cut into rock with a natural temperature of -6°C, into Arctic permafrost.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will protect unique varieties of food staples such as eggplant, lettuce, barley, potato, maize, rice, wheat, cowpea and sorghum.

It is able to withstand wars, pestilence and attack by missiles, not to mention rising tides and other by-products of global warming.

Every nation has been invited by the Norwegian government (who financed the project) to place its seeds in this vault. It's the last line of defence against extinction for all the crops we have, and the most long-lasting, most futuristic and most positive contribution to humanity being made by the international community today.

Each country's seeds will be stored inside heat-sealed, four-ply aluminium envelopes originally designed for use by the military, placed inside sealed boxes, stored on metal shelving and secured inside an air-locked chamber. Each packet will hold one representative crop sample, and about 500 seeds depending on their size. They will remain the property of the country that donated them.

1 - Entrance
2 - steel reinforced tunnel
3 - offices
4 - grain vaults

Steel-reinforced doors, multiple-locked chambers and a video-monitoring system supervised from Sweden – plus, presumably, the polar bears – will further protect the vault. Even in the event of equipment failure, the mountain’s permafrost will ensure temperatures inside the vault never rise above -3.5C – perfectly adequate for seed conservation for some years.

Other crops are on the danger list as being susceptible to disease. 'The ones that have the biggest challenges are bananas, wheat and potatoes. Potatoes are perennially on the list.'

Saturday, 6 June 2009

An arctic volcano in a remote island:
- The Beerenberg, in Jan Mayen

An active volcano, Beerenberg (2277 m), dominates the volcanic island of Jan Mayen. It is the northernmost active volcano on land in the world.

Jan Mayen is a small (380 Km2) barren island with some moss and grass situated at 71°N , 8°30'W, in the north atlantic ocean, 950km west of Norway, 600 km north of Iceland. It is the most remote place of the northern hemisphere, well north of the Arctic Circle. The upper part of mount Beerenberg is covered by an ice cap, which sends glacial tongues in all directions. The lower landscape is dominated by black lava stone and green moss. The island is a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Glacier falling from the crater into the sea.

Jan Mayen became Norwegian in 1922. Only since 1921 has it become inhabitated - a total crew of 18 runs the navigation station, the meteorological station and maintains the infrastructure - buildings, airstrip, power station. The island and the stations are under the rule of Norway.

The main crater - you can see the start of the falling glacier.

Beerenberg has erupted six times between 1732 and 1985. All of these eruptions produced lava flows and scoria cones. The most recent eruptions were in 1970 (the strongest), 1973 and 1985.

The 1970 eruption was the only one witnessed in modern times. It was large, erupting at least 0.5 km³ of basalt from a 6 km long fissure that ran from sea-level to an elevation of 1000 m. There were at least five active craters.

Total evacuation in the event of future eruptions is a real problem, because the island is commonly ice-bound, preventing easy evacuation by ship, and frequent storms and fog obviate evacuation by aircraft at any given time. There are no ports or harbors, only offshore anchorages and a 1.5 km landing strip of gravel for crew transport planes, usually one of the Royal Norwegian Air force's C130 Hercules planes. The planes also bring supply and mail, but there are only 8 flights each year.

Olonkinbyen (Olonkin City ) is the permanent settlement that houses the staff that operates the weather and radio stations. Besides full-equiped offices and labs, it has an unexpected comfort, with several relaxing rooms - library, bar, media room, gym and sauna, large living and dining rooms, decorated corridors, a museum and a swimming pool !

Though unhabitated until the XXth century, and than no candidate to Ultima Thule in classic terms, it's a quest-destination and a place of mistery and isolation; could have been Thule...


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The arctic Tern - the ultimate Thulean bird

"An animal to represent the planet", an excellent candidate as symbolic animal of the world, the arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) really travels and lives a lot.

Arctic terns migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year, in a 19 000 Km journey each way! This is the longest regular migration by any known animal.

As they enjoy two summers per year, they are believed to spend more time in the sunshine than any other animal. Their feeding and nesting grounds as well as their migratory paths keep them far enough away from people. Arctic Terns usually migrate far offshore. Consequently, they are rarely seen from land outside the breeding season.

It wouldn’t be difficult to create a global myth around such a rarely seen animal.

Arctic terns are long-lived birds, with many reaching twenty years of age; some may reach thirty !

Arctic Terns are medium-sized birds. They are mainly grey and white plumaged, with a dark red beak, legs and feet, white forehead, a black nape and crown (streaked white), and white cheeks.

The arctic stern has a bad temper: it is one of the most aggressive birds, fiercely defensive of its nest and young. It will attack even humans and large predators, usually striking the top or back of the head.

One example of this bird's remarkable long-distance flying abilities involves an arctic tern ringed on the Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK in summer 1982, which reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982, a sea journey of over 22 000 km in just three months from fledging.

Migration route of the arctic stern