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Papua New Guinea 375-001, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

I recently conducted an interview with Anne Gordon, a well known Canadian travel writer. Anne had just recently returned from Papua New Guinea and in particular, a trip up the Sepik River where she visited local tribes and learned something of the Malagan culture).

See the Papua New Guinea documentary interview with Anne Gordon here

As a travel writer Anne speaks about the benefits of belonging to NATJA and other travel organizations, the benefits such as sponsored trips and the professional development opportunities that are open for travel writing.

As Anne said, “New Guinea is undoubtedly the most exotic and fascinating place she has ever been, there are over 900 tribes scattered throughout the island and an an ecosystem that spreads both above and beneath the surface”. Many of New Guinea’s tribes maintain customs and cultures that hold a special fascination for us in the west. Head hunting and cannibalism still exist in isolated pockets and have been practised quite commonly within the last 100 years.

Anne Gordon’s interview centres around the Sepik River and the carver’s of the Malagan culture, in particular the master carvers of New Ireland, she shows many incredible pictures of the tribes in that area and the tribal culture of New Guinea.

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snogof, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

This past weekend Jeff and I visited a spot in the forest where we had found a tunnel this past summer. We had been trying to dig into the tunnel but the bugs were terrible. Now that the ground is heavily laden with snow there is no such problem – now its the cold. Anyway, after about 4 hours of digging and levering frozen boulders we managed to create a hole large enough to look well into our suspected cave and what we saw within was an elliptical shaped tunnel that was plugged by boulders. A small waterfall dropped from the roof of the tunnel and beyond, a chamber in marble.

See video for Snowgof – breathing tunnel here.

We are yet to access the chamber, but with great difficulty Jeff photographed a small segment of the chamber. In his picture you can see a wall of pure white marble and you can hear the water falling within.

Near the entrance the roof is encrusted with frost thus indicating airflow from deeper in the earth. In fact it was the smear of frost on the wall outside the cave that first got us digging there in earnest. Based on its proximity to the edge of a steep slope and no apparent resurgence at its bottom I am left to conclude that the water flowing into the cave must be dropping down deep quite quickly. I suspect that it goes down a shaft such as you see in Twin Trickles Cave.

Spring will reveal what lies beyond.

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IMGP7322, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Jeff and I made a recent reconnaissance in the Wasteland Waterway Cave system as we suspected that with the filling of the Blue Barrel sink, the cave passages had been blocked and so the deeper reaches of the cave system would now be sealed forever. But nature is more persistent than that and the sink had cleared itself out from beneath. On the surface there is a slight indent, but below the tunnel is perfectly clear.

see the video of Cave exploration in Canada – Wasteland Waterway here.

I suppose this now brings to light the question as to when we are going to push the tunnel to its very furthest endpoint. We strongly suspect that beyond the ‘gulch’ and the aerofoil the tunnels get bigger again. You ask what is stopping us? It’s a long cold crawl and a tight squeeze at the end of that which makes me somewhat leery.

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Dubai2, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Dubai …. Where do I start? It’s not a place that I would typically choose to visit, firstly because of the money involved and secondly, I tend toward natural settings and shopping and touring in the UAE is anything but that.

As one of the stewardesses said on the emirates flight over “You’re living in a bubble”. Emirates is undoubtedly a top-of-the-line airways, no slouches hired for their crew. Mum said that it was how stewardesses used to look, very glamorous, bone thin and fashionable in an eastern kind of way.

The airport in Dubai is unbelievable, a combination between casino and palace, chrome and marble everywhere, but surprisingly, the toilets in the departure lounge were of the squat variety, with place to hang your dish-dash and hose to flush everything clean.

It seems that Dubai is the crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe. In the above picture I capture the image of a plane load of Pilgrims on their way to Mecca. There seems to be a kind of civilization here where money, arts and the finest of everything intermixes, all under the umbrella of social modesty and unbridled opulence. Needless to say Kim Kardashian’s visit to the Atlantis was a controversial one in a country where there are such rigid moral codes, but as would appear, money bends anything. I toured the aquarium under the Atlantis and took some amazing video there.

See this video on touring Dubai at night, visiting the Burj al Arab and the Burj Khalifa.

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sushi 101, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Jeff has spent several years in Japan and is what you might conservatively call a foodie – so who better to teach us about Sushi. I personally have long favoured a place called Hockey Sushi in Guelph, first visited with Maggie her boss and his family about a year ago, but Jeff suggested that we needed to try Kisara, a small restaurant on the corner of Wellington and Gordon. Admittedly we had tried to visit several times before, but the restaurant has been open intermittently. I remember this spot was once occupied by an establishment called The Red Papaya, but there were some less than stellar goings on and the restaurant closed.

See the video on sushi 101 (Guelph) – a lesson in sushi here.

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Yesterday was living proof (thankfully), that caving is more about the brain than the body. Branko, Ricci, Jeff and I explored an Ontario cave that has long attracted a certain kind of interested adventurer, but has kept something of its true extent hidden to all but the most dedicated explorer.

Branko – a large man (well over 6 foot with a sturdy frame) squeezed through a tortourous gap that he called ‘the jaw’ to access thus-far remote and difficult terrain.

See video of Branko going beyond the Jaws of Death getting stuck underground, here.

In returning back from his incredible exploration Branko become momentarily stuck underground in a situation that an ordinary person would have found appalling. Again – mind over body, where most would have been contemplating a gloomy future of hypothermia and eventual death beneath a cold, grey bed of rock, Branko found it within himself to think logically and calmly, resting and practising relaxing techniques to ensure that panic did not swell his muscles. As Branko said, “This is between me and the rock”. And in the end Branko seems to have negotiated his way beyond the impasse and returned to the surface unscathed.

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What is adventure travel in Ontario is for cavers a regular Sunday afternoon. Rob, Jeff, Jeff and I revisited this marble cave to hopefully explore other, thus far un-visited passages.

see video on Adventure travel in Ontario – Exploring marble caves, here

At this time we have discovered several other likely cave leads in the area, in particular, a sinking stream (thanks Steve M.) with massive potential for tunnels, but unfortunately it will take some land-owner permission and then a concerted effort by a team with capabilities of heavy rock removal.

Within our already visited cave we explored out into the darker nooks that I had missed last visit. We found several going passages. This particular spot as seen above – with the wad of flowstone marks the entrance to a tube that we are yet to explore. Getting to this spot is somewhat disarming as you wade through about 18 inches of water and 2-3 feet of soupy mud. Every step causes the water around you to literally boil with escaping methane. You can feel sticks and branches down beneath the mud and in their decomposition they are releasing gas. I am wondering what effect open flame might have on the journey across the expanse that leads to this spot.

Anyway – distant as this location is from my home in Guelph, it seems to be rife with caving possibilities so the focus for our caving exploits seems to be increasingly concentrated in this area. There are many karst features in the limestone right at the edge of the shield – in part due to the rocks natural suitability and in part due to the acid water running off the shield.

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The Niagara Gorge is rich in history. From the disasterous assault by American militia on Queenston Heights to the geological record in the Gorge’s rock there is no shortage of things to see and learn about.

Of particular interest to me was the story of the short and disastrous life of the Niagara Gorge Railway. It runs along the bottom of the American side, just above the river. It is said that the construction was the most costly stretch of railway ever to be blasted. And not only was the line costly in money, but there was a heavy price in human life as well.

See the documentary video on the Niagara Gorge Railway and the wrecked train that we found while hiking along the Niagara River.

Amongst the more memorable disasters for the Niagara Gorge Railway were the sewage pipe explosion beneath the tracks, where passengers were showered in raw sewage, and there was also the huge landslide that killed 9 people. As mentioned in a coment about a recent accident in the gorge, NenaSan says, “The Gorge is a beautiful but unpredictable place that needs to be both feared and respected”. true enough, several helipads are marked out beside Devil’s Whirlpool for the recovery of injured hikers and the all to frequent bodies that are fished from the river.

Pictured above is the boiler of an old train that we found while hiking in the Niagara Glen. It lies beside the Niagara River just across from the spot where the landslide wiped the Niagara Gorge Railway from existence – oddly, I suspect it might not have been the train that was used on that line.

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A visit to Sian Ka’an is one of the oddest experiences that I’ve ever had. Who’d think that a day in the swamp is a day well spent? And yet the haze, the turquoise water and holes from which the lake bubbled were intriguing.

The Mayan ruin of Muyil is one of many Mayan treasures crumbling in the forest and sinking into this oddly scenic place. There is a very unique feeling to the landscape – nothing like the sterile desolation that the well traveled tourist ruins at Tulum have become. And in amongst the grass and crocodiles there is a rusting narrow gauge railway. There is also a channel that connects the lake in the middle of the swamp out to the Caribbean Sea, and a current of incredible strength flowing down this channel which was dug by slave long dead and sacrificed.

In the accompanying video on the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, we wandered amongst the pyramids and climbed to the top of one such crumbling edifice that Manuel called the castle. It was over fractured blocks that I clawed my way up to a platform way above the canopy. One misplaced handhold would have sent me bouncing back down the pyramid – a fall that I’d not survive.

I assume it was an alter that I found myself leaning on and behind me a grotto from whence I gazed across the swamp to a structure known as the Customs building. In the shadow I noticed a kneeling figure up against the wall, just a faint outline where the light caught the edges of raised plaster. It seems that the fresco must be decaying in the humidity, and the building is supposedly slowly settling into mud.

Check out this video on the Sian Ka’an –  Mexican documentary, Exploring the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

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Turtles in Tulum – Mexico, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

It was a quiet shuffling in the sand and a strange mewling sound that announced the arrival of the drunk policeman. I think he had come looking for a lost cat, but when he saw that Maggie had cigarettes, he made it plain that he’d like one. It did not seem sensible to argue as he had an UZI. When he wandered off, making cat sounds and looking under bushes in the darkness, we finished dinner, blew a little time in town and then returned to the beach in search of turtles.

It was an incredibly stormy night, with warm wet winds moaning off the Caribbean – a beautiful setting that took me back in time. I waited in expectation to see a huge black hump rising from the surf – it was not long before I saw exactly that.

See video of turtles in Tulum – Mexico here.

That night I stumbled across  several sets of tracks and one monstrous turtle as big as my coffee table crawling through the sand. It was something that I’d never imagined would be exciting, but until you see these creatures you have no idea how incredible they are. It’s like you are face to face with a million years ago, and yet they are so gentle.

The above photo is of two gents who took me out onto the Tulum Reef the next day – again to see if I could see more turtles lying in wait for nightfall. Unfortunately, I later learned that the biggest turtles lie out much further than where I was.

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