Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Prime Meridian is Also Wrong!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Further to my equatorial adventures I can confirm that they’ve also gotten it wrong in Greenwich. 00° W is not actually on the line in the Royal Observatory; it’s about 120m out.


Luckily, the real meridian is in the park rather than behind the observatory’s entry fee, right next to the hot dog van. So you can all enjoy longitude 00°00′00” at no cost!

(00°00′00” For real:)

Turns out it’s actually the GPS system that is wrong. Wikipedia explains that the first GPS systems extrapolated from their origin in the US midwest, and the accuracy was such that by the time you’d rounded the planet to Greenwich, you were a few hundred feet out. Pity, but I guess they’ll need to relocate the Royal Observatory because those satellites won’t change their tune in a hurry.

It’s also amusing that when many countries were arguing over who should own the one true prime meridian, England won and France abstained from the vote ;-)

Stuck in Cartagena

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009


I’m not what prompted us to spend a week in Cartagena – I
suppose in part it was a recovery from the boat experience, and our
first hotel with air conditioning in quite some time. The heat was
intense, but we slept well and caught up on a lot of missed rest in
Panama & on the boat.

(mud volcano!)

It was almost a relief when we decided to depart and booked a
flight straight to Armenia via Bogota which, while we would almost
certainly miss out on visiting the high altitude capital city, meant
we cut out at least 30 hours of bus riding and headed straight for
our first break from the tropics in a couple of months. Given our
Southern trajectory, it made sense.



Friday, July 10th, 2009

You’ll have to forgive me this bit of ranting, but…

eyes & allergies

Most of you would know that in Melbourne I suffer quite substantially from allergies, largely owing to the ever present pollen floating around.

For me one of the delights of travel is that pretty much nowhere else in the world are my allergies so acute as Melbourne. In fact, just about everywhere else, they disappear entirely.

Seriously, as soon as I step on a plane, be it to Luzern or Los Angeles, they’re gone. And I’m happy.

Until Salento, Colombia. Here they are at least as bad as – if not worse than – in Melbourne. The irony that the density of coffee plantations might be responsible is almost too much to bear.

Every other stop on this trip has seen me varying between absolutely no allergies at all (predominantly), to slight afflictions (NYC being a surprising example). Nothing came close to my Melbourne baseline until this town.

Otherwise the place is lovely – the cool alpine weather is a refreshing change from tropical heat, and we’ve found coffee on par with Melbourne. But…

I’m over it – the sneezing and red eyes. We’re leaving on Saturday. End of rant.

Flux: Panama City

Friday, June 26th, 2009

As surely as we keep counting down degrees of latitude, do our daily experiences continue changing. Panama city is a jarring conclusion to our Central American traversal.


Given it’s position on the isthmus of the northern and southern American continents and also of the oceans Pacific and Atlantic, this seems entirely appropriate.

In fact it’s a point of intense fascination for me – going even beyond my regular interest in the arbitrary political boundaries that define borders between countries.


Carve a channel down the middle of the nation – in arguably the most ambitious, massive scale engineering project ever undertaken – connect two oceans to forever revolutionize global trade, and you’ve got a place with a thoroughly unique perspective on the world.


After the day’s heat passed yesterday afternoon we explored the old city in detail, enjoying the aspect cast by modern sky scrapers crowding the far edge of the bay, and the container ships slowly entering and departing the Pacific Ocean.


I was struck with the thought that in amongst this Spanish colonial quarter where – the impending tourist boom notwithstanding – a watchful eye has been cast over silent ships that for 95 years have facilitated the fusion of people, culture and produce throughout the world. All squeezed through a channel just 32 metres wide.

The Miraflores locks provided the full canal experience earlier that day, and for me was certainly a highlight of the trip so far.


Elsewhere in the city we’ve been re-acquainted with American style customer service, and some rather excellent food, albeit at almost-USA prices.

We even made up for the last couple of months absence of red meat (and red wine) with an Argentine feast, so enormous that it left my stomach feeling a little worse for wear the next day.

Our trip for some Panama City style casino action also had us ahead of the house on departure.


A few essential items have been purchased – the shopping here is “good” in the American sense, but didn’t live up to expectations in terms of either price or variety.

We’ve traded our Central America Lonely Planet guide for the South America one, and have booked onto the crazy Austrian captain Fritz’s 50ft catamaran for the 5 day trip to Cartagena, Colombia departing Sunday June 28th. Sea-sickness pills at the ready. Speared lobster is anticipated.

So don’t be alarmed by a short period of silence whilst we’re on the high seas ;-)


Terremotos & Tales from the Islands

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

What a great sounding word, “terremoto” – it means earthquake and we had one. A big one, magnitude 7.1.


At the time (2am) we were staying some 200km+ away in Livingston, Guatemala, and the two storey wooden structure we were sleeping in swayed in a reasonably terrifying manner. A few mild aftershocks meant we ceartainly didn’t get any more sleep from then until our 5am wakeup to continue onto Honduras and the Bay Islands.

That was a hellish day actually – primarily because of the lack of information available in the afternath of the quake. In hindsight I find it fascinating just how much misinformation people are prepared to create and spread when they’re excited about something.

We heard wild tales of collapsed bridges, canceled ferry services, devastated towns, cities, islands, and that the epicentre of the quake was in fact our intended destination; the island of Utila.

In some respects these turned out to be semi-accurate. There was indeed a collapsed bridge, although the other, primary bridge next to it was intact. We were held at the Honduran border for over an hour while they “inspected the next bridge”; i.e. waited for a bribe to get things moving again.

The epicentre was in fact quite close to Utila; around 50km off the coast. But Utila looks completely undamaged – I cannot find any trace of it at all.


Needless to say, despite all protestations to the contrary, the ferry was running as scheduled and in spite of all the delays from bad roads and bueracracy we arrived in time to catch it and arrived on the tropical paradise of Utila around 13 hours after we left that morning. Like I said; killer day.

After checking into a place with aircon and a pool, we’re in much better shape this morning. This place is wealthy, touristy and comparatively expensive, but the availability of comfort and drinkable coffee has proved too tempting to resist. We will stay a few days at least, and as the group reconvenes will look at getting some time on the private island.

Finca El Paraiso


One other highlight from Guatemala was the hot spring waterfall, Finca El Paraiso. After an hour of hellish, hot cramped-ness on the chicken bus we arrived and bathed in the scalding waters from the waterfall which emptied into a (comparatively) cool river. Definitely an amazing and unique experience.

A truly beautiful setting, we managed to enter what we call the “spa zone”, which is where after an hour or so, you come to the conclusion that you need never leave, such is the level of comfort and relaxation.

We did spend a few hours there, and would certainly have stayed another six had we not needed to relive the chicken bus nightmare (this time with heavy duty roadworks, sorry, road creation) to get back to Rio Dulce that evening. The juxtaposition of paraiso and the chicken bus probably contributes to the vividness of the memory.