Category Archives: Environment

Have You Heard of Gran Gimnesia?

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The beauty of the Balearic Islands is that it is an archipelago. There are so many islands, and each one is so very different from the next one.

 

I haven’t counted them all yet, but there are at least a hundred islands and islets in all. There are the four principle ones that are of any considerable size and these are inhabited: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The islets surrounding the four big isles are protected and mainly uninhabited; one of them (Cabrera, the biggest of the little ones) is declared as a Spanish National Park. Cabrera itself is again surrounded by several other islets.

 

Of course, it was not always that way. Some 100,000 years ago, perhaps 200,000 years, one presumes that all these islands were connected into two large land masses, one, combining Menorca, Mallorca and Cabrera and spanning some 8,000 square kilometres, resulting in an island called Gran Balear, or Gran Gimnesia. The other island was Gran Pitiusa, combining Ibiza and Formentera. Both islands were separated by a marine canal of a span of 70 to 80 kilometres. We can’t go back in time, but we now have the means to travel across water.

 

Today, it is Cabrera where I suggest you go to one day, if you have not already been. The Parque Nacional del Archipiélago de Cabrera used to be under military rule for defense purposes for the last sixty years, but a few years ago, was returned  to the auspices of the Civil authorities. Cabrera is now uninhibited, save for a small contingent of keepers of no more than ten or twenty souls. Nature is amazingly well preserved on the islands that form the archipelago of Cabrera, for the simple reason that the long time tutelage of the Ministry of Defense has prevented tourism from coming and spoiling it.

 

Cabrera is now home to a great number of animals, ranging from eagles to falcons, cuckoos to owls, swans to seagulls. Over 120 species in all, just birds. Birds migrate from as far as Madagascar, India, the Red Sea, and Africa. Apart from birds, there are untold numbers of maritime animals from turtles to seals, dolfins to morrenas, whales to tuna. On land you find hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits and lizards. Of the podarcis lilfordi you will find 80 % of what is left in the whole world, here in Cabrera. That’s a large size lizard (see photo below).

 

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You can go to Cabrera by private boat. Only 50 boats are allowed on any one day. You have to make reservations well in advance. Or else you can make a boat trip from Colònia de Sant Jordi, near Santanyi. Trips leave daily at 09h30 and return at 16h30. Fares are 35 € for adults, or 18 € for children up to 10 years old. You have to bring your own food, as there are no facilities on the island such as bars or chiringuitos, thank God. Or you can book your comida from the ferry boat people at 10 € per person, which is likely to be paella and a soft drink. The boat trip stops at the Blue Grotto, called Sa Cova Blava, on the way back. Don’t forget your camera. Telephone 971.649.034 for a reservation.

 

Have fun chasing those speedy lizards, but don’t touch them. No, they are not poisonous, but they are very fragile. To save their skin, they surrender their extreme body parts rather than being caught. And you would not want a lizard to have its tail amputated, do you?

 

And let me offer my thanks to the G. O. B. More about them, soon. And more about the other Nature Reserve close to Mallorcan shores, Sa Dragonera, also soon, in a blog near you.

 

Between Sun and Moon

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Nearly everybody heads to the Mediterranean for the sun. The sun, the sea and the Sangria. Or do they all, really? Well, not quite, I think.

 

Take the Mallorcans, for instance. You will find, if you talk to the locals, that they do not take to the sun all that much. Mallorcan villages always look as if deserted. All shut, especially in the summer. The windows are protected to leave the sun out, and the heat with it, by way of shuttered blinds called Persianas. What a clever invention.

 

Locals have a lot of respect for the sun. If you examine traditional architecture in the Mallorcan countryside you will notice that most old farm houses have surprisingly few windows of a surprisingly small size. Modern farmhouse conversions, done by well-off Northern European finca owners, can’t seem to get enough windows, all of them as large as possible. What do the locals know, that we don’t? Or better: what did the Mallorcan farmers know, in times gone by?

 

Talking of farmers: they respected the sun, possibly feared its unforgiving force, but they did not live, nor farm, nor grow by the sun’s schedule. Quite the opposite. Mallorcan farmers observed the Lunar calendar, and still do, when it comes to pruning their fruit trees, grafting plums onto almond tree branches, planting new trees, sowing their crop, harvesting their wine, mating their sows or sheep. I would say that the Mallorcan farmer’s life is governed by the moon much more than by the sun. I dare even claim that Mallorca as a whole seems perhaps to be dominated much more by the moon than the sun, and has always been. Why that should be, one cannot fathom. But that this is so, you will find lots of evidence for. Take agriculture as just one example.

Take Ramon Llull as another point in case, the famous and important 13th century mystic. Ramon Llull wrote some 265 books, one of which is Lluna Negra (Black Moon). Ramon Llull was seemingly more drawn to the moon and the stars that are so prominent in Mallorca, where he was born, than the sun. He did not write about the sun, to my knowledge. Llull’s work is clearly orthodox and anything but magical. But in the 15th century, the historical evidence makes it clear that Llull’s work was lumped by some into the category of Magic.

Or take Cresques Abrahams, a prominent 15th century cartographer of which Mallorca has bred so many. The moon was important in the prediction of tides and in seafaring in general and the knowledge of its phases could often decide about life or death. Lunar phases and stars were likely to have been important in the Mediterranean from the early 14th century on, when navigation and seafaring became all important. That is suggested by sea-navigating maps. The season between the rising of the Pleiades (shooting stars) in the spring (bringing rain) and their setting in the fall was considered favourable for sailing (for shooting stars: you can watch lots of them over the next few days).

 

Is all that too long ago for you to matter? Then take someone nearer to our day and age. Robert Graves, poet and writer, 1895-1985, for instance. Reliable sources suggest that Robert Graves claimed repeatedly that he was fascinated by Mallorca for the moon rather than the sun. You might remember that he lived for most of his adult life and up to his death on this Balearic Island. “The Muse, or Moon Goddess, inspires poetry of a magical quality”, as Graves would put it. You can find evidence of that in many of his poems as well as in his book Between Moon and Moon: Selected Correspondence (1984). A book that sadly is out of print, or so I am told.

 

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Be that as it may, just look at the sky next time the moon is out in Mallorca, or better even, the Full Moon. In three weeks time, for instance, on 28th August. You will not have seen such a moon anywhere, or hardly anywhere. Not in Barcelona. Not on the Côte d’Azur. Not in Greece.

 

It’s all very interesting, I think.

 

Donkeys 1, Bulls 0

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The advertising hoardings of black bulls in Spain have added to the Spanish landscape since the Fifties, when bulls first appeared in large, cut-out silhouettes advertising the famous Spanish Brandy, Veterano.

The Osborne spirits company erected large images of bulls starting in 1956, in black with the maker’s name, as advertising boards on sites near to major roads throughout Spain. The bull is, by some, regarded as a semi-official national symbol of Spain.

The bull can been seen looming on the hillside all over Spain. When Spain outlawed billboards on national roads in the early 1990’s, the bulls had to be taken down. Many Spaniards protested, as they had become endeared to the lone bull.

The original bull was smaller and of a slightly different design. It got bigger as publicity was prohibited within 150 meters of a main road. The bulls now have a height of 14 m. There are said to be around 70 of these giant bulls placed throughout the country. You might have seen one or two, yourself.

 

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But what is common practice in Spain, is not necessarily welcome in Catalunya.

 

The day before yesterday, the last of the Osborne bull signs anywhere in Catalunya, one on a hilltop near El Bruc, in the vicinity of Barcelona, was pulled down by a small group of young and angry Cataláns who consider the bull’s image a Spanish symbol that is not welcome in their nation within a nation.

 

Catalunya has their own national animal in response to the Osborne bull. A donkey.

 

Driving through Catalunya, the Comunitat Valenciana or even the Illes Balears, you will often find yourself behind a car which has a small, white sticker with a black donkey on it. You will be following a Catalán driver who wants to express a desire to see Catalunya independent from Spain.

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For now, it seems as if the donkey has defeated the bull. In Catalunya, anyway.

 

Up in Flames

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Whilst Britain is suffering from the worst flooding catastrophe in 200 years, the Spanish Canary Islands are tormented by some devastating forest fires. More than 13,000 people had to be evacuated from homes and holiday resorts.

Firefighters are struggling to extinguish fires on three Canary islands, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Gomera. High winds from Africa of 70 kms per hour have helped the fires spread with unusual haste.

On Tenerife, 15,000 hectares of forest on the western part of the island have burned since Monday. Tenerife authorities said they were fighting fires on four fronts, only one of which was under control.

On Gran Canaria island, a four-day-old fire has charred 20,000 hectares of woodland in the south-west of the island, in a fire that may have been laid by an arsonist. How insane! One arrest has been made already, a local forest ranger. Spanish army personnel, along with eight firefighting helicopters and a small airplane, are trying to smother the blaze.

On La Gomera, 100 hectares of forest near the Garajonay National Park have been affected by the second fire in five days.

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There are seven main islands in the Canary Island archipelago, located off the north-west coast of Africa.

Spain’s Head of Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is expected to visit the Canary Islands later today for a first hand impression.

Greetings From the Rainforest

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We have news from our daughter Kilina, who is spending a summer volunteering in Ecuador. After one month of working in Hacienda El Porvenir, at the foot of Cotopaxi volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and a number of hikes and horse riding expeditions, she has now gone off on a four day excursion to the Amazon rainforest, still in Ecuador.

 

She had to go back down to the capital, Quito, from where a small group of about 15 IASTE students from all over the world set off to Reserva Cuyabeno, close to Ecuador’s borders with Colombia.

 

Upon being met by their guide they were transported by motorized canoe to the camp, the Cuyabeno River Lodge, in Amazon National Park.

During their explorations they will be able to observe the exotic flora and faunæ (monkeys, river dolphins, etc.) peculiar to this unique environment. Apparently there are 15 species of monkey and well over 500 types of birds in this area. With luck they might even spot a giant anaconda on the Hormiga River, a tributary river of the Laguna Grande.

 

On a hike through the primary rainforest, guides will introduce them to various medicinal plants. They will also have the opportunity to observe monkeys and parrots, among others, and they might even possibly spot a jaguar. They will also run across various animal tracks (tapir, armadillo, paca, puma, etc.).

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The group is expected back in Quito on Monday morning. From there, it will be back to Cotopaxi for Kilina for another month of slave work (sorry, volunteer work).

 

What fun.

 

We sometimes forget what a lovely planet this still is, despite it all.

Thank you, Universe.

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I was on my way, driving, this morning when I was saw the most beautiful cloud formation that I had seen all year.

 

I am not an expert in cloudeology, or Nephology in meteorology terms, but I am sure that what I saw belongs to the Cumulus category of clouds as commonly seen in the Mediterranean region. But not very often seen as such a splendid specimen. Of course, by the time I could stop the car to take a photo, the magic of the moment had already gone. My cloud had already transformed its majestic appearance from a gleaming white mountain peak to a merely lush, albeit snow white candy floss. 

Still, it had been a sight that made me happy all day long.

Thank you, Universe. Nature can be such an uplifting phenomenon. 

UNESCO Declares Spain’s Teide a World Heritage site

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The UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has just declared Spain’s Teide National Park a World Heritage site.

The 31st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is currently meeting in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. The meetings, which run until 2 July, consider new site nominations, sites in danger, site management and protection. The committee will also draw up lists for possible future World Heritage sites.

The Teide National Park, on the Canarian island of Tenerife, covers 18,990 hectares and features Spain’s tallest volcano, 3,718 metres high and 7,500 metres above the ocean floor. The UNESCO committee said that Teide’s surrounding atmosphere, which casts the volcanic backdrop of clouds in different textures and tones, was very useful for understanding the geological processes that underpin the evolution of oceanic islands.

Spain already has the good fortune of having had its National Parks Doñana (in Andalucía) and Garajonay (on the Canarian island of La Gomera) previously declared as World Heritage sites.

Spain has quite a number of National Parks, most prominent of which are the Picos de Europa, the Sierra Nevada and, nearer to Mallorca, where I am based, the Archipelago de Cabrera. I’ve had the good fortune of having visited some Spanish National Parks in the past, such as the Teide, the Canarian island of La Gomera and the Doñana Park, and of course the Cabrera islands one. The then snowcapped Picos de Europa I could only admire from a distance when I recently walked my ‘Camino’ to Santiago de Compostela. I would recommend a closer visit to any of Spain’s natural treasures to anyone. Spain is such a beautiful place and not just at its coastline and beaches.

As far as the UNESCO is concerned, perhaps somebody should tell the UNESCO people that sooner or later, the whole of Spain ought to be considered a World Heritage site, as should indeed the whole of New Zealand. 

Come to think of it, the whole planet Earth might have to be declared as ‘World Heritage site in danger’ in the not too distant future.

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The map shows Spain’s National Parks, four on the Canary islands, one on the Balearic islands, and eight on the Spanish mainland. There is one more, on the lesser well known Atlantic islands of Galicia. Autumn would be a good time to visit any of these National Parks.

Summer Solstice 2007

 

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Today is the first day of summer. That makes it the longest day of the year, that makes it the shortest night of the year. One could also say that from now on we are heading towards winter. Phew!

It’s been rather hot here. Make that 27º C in Mallorca, 22º C in Madrid, 27º C in Sevilla, 30º C in Malaga and 28º C in Tenerife. People are beginning to talk of a short, but hot Summer in Spain this year.

We do not want to bore you with more bad news about the effects of Global Warming. After all, Herr Über-Bush is not much worried about that, so why should we? But the fact is that the climate pattern over the last ten or twenty years in Spain has shown to be one of shorter but hotter summer spells.

Recent weather patterns point to climate change already having an impact in Spain and the country is likely to become hotter and more arid, Spanish weather expert Angel Rivera from the National Meteorological Institute (INM) in Madrid said recently. “What we are seeing is an accumulation of records” says Señor Rivera, who has been forecasting Spanish weather patterns for the last 30 years.

Spain logged the driest year since records began, in 2005. The hottest May temperatures ever were recorded last year and Spain has now had a series of winters that are milder than usual. Last year also set a new record for average summer temperatures, although the peaks fell short of 2003.

“This accumulation of evidence, with high temperatures, intense drought and heavy rain, taken together is worrying and could be in line with climate change” Rivera told Reuters in an interview.

Spain is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea and by its proximity to Africa and therefore is heating up slightly faster than much of the rest of Europe. That means Spain’s dry regions will become drier and more arid and water will become scarcer, both because it rains less and because more of the rainfall evaporates. Climate models tend to point to world temperatures rising 2 or 3 degrees Celsius on average over the next 40 or 50 years.

That does not sound too bad perhaps, but Rivera says that in Spain, where weather patterns are already extreme, summer peaks could rise by proportionally more. In cities like Madrid or Sevilla, where temperatures already hit 45º C at least briefly most summers, life is likely to become considerably more uncomfortable.

In Spain it looks as if heat waves in summer will become more frequent and more intense. In winter there will be fewer days below zero and rain will become erratic, with more Mediterranean storms and less of the persistent Atlantic front type rain that is vital for replenishing reservoirs and aquifers, Angel Rivera said.

“If the climate models prove correct, as now looks likely to be the case, the situation in a few decades could be truly worrying. Unfortunately what looks likely is that Spain will become increasingly drier and more arid because of the uneven distribution of the rainfall” Rivera said.

Climate change has happened before in the history of the Earth, but always over hundreds or thousands of years, he noted. This time, with greenhouse gas emissions from industrial nations burning fossil fuels the main culprit, the same changes are happening in just a few decades.

“It’s not easy for species to adapt that fast” Rivera said.

Well, we better sit tight. A good start would be to switch down that air conditioning unit or even switch it off. Have you ever thought about that?

Let’s all make a change.

And for those that have been reading my recent entry on Alaska (22 May), you might be interested to know that in Alaska today it will be daytime all day long, like 24 hours, and today it will be the night where there is no night in Alaska. None whatsoever. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

In the Catalonian part of Spain, including the Balearic Isles, the longest day of the year will be celebrated with a display of ‘Correfoc’. ‘Diablos’ play with fire and with the people. These devils are not the incarnation of evil; they are sprightly and festive, dancing to the sound of the tambourine and the traditional pipe, while they set off their fireworks.

Some ‘Correfocs’ are simple parades including fireworks and effigies of the devil. In Mallorca, it is common for a crowd to line a street, and participants run through a tunnel of fireworks. In Barcelona, ‘Correfocs’ are run at the local fiesta ‘La Mercé’ in September. It is a spectacular event, thrilling but not without certain risks. Do not take children of too young an age.

Ecuador is Waiting

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Our daughter, Kilina is about to embark on another journey of a lifetime. This time next week she will be on an Iberia plane from Madrid to Quito, Ecuador, where she will spend three months over the Summer, working as a volunteer at the National Park of the splendid Cotopaxi volcano at an altitude of 4,400 m. The invitation is courtesy of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Kilina’s employer will be Tierra del Volcán.

Here is some information from their website: “Tierra del Volcán functions in one of the most beautiful and privileged places in Ecuador, Cotopaxi, considered the highest active volcano in the world. Tierra del Volcán has three haciendas available in the foothills of different volcanoes that surround majestic Cotopaxi, each with its own magic, ecosystem and distinctive climate. With us you will be lodged in fascinating hacienda houses and experience the adrenaline rush of living an adventure with experts who will share unforgettable moments with you. A broad range of activities are available: Horseback riding, mountain biking, trekking, hiking, mountain climbing, rappelling, bird watching, camping, cultural experiences, and more.”

We expect Kilina to start a new blog on her latest journey soon, telling us in detail about her South American adventure. Here is a link to her new blog.

 

By the way, a bank note like the one shown below of 10,000 Sucres won’t be enough to pay for Kilina’s bus fare from the airport to downtown Quito. 10,000 Sucres is the equivalent of approx. 0,40 USD. Imagine you wanted to buy a bus. That might set you back by 2,505,017,200 Sucres. Not many people have a pocket calculator big enough to convert that into Pounds or Euros. Okay, not many people actually want to buy a bus, either. At least not in Ecuador.

 

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P. S. After Kilina having arrived in Quito, it transpires – according to her – that Ecuador has given up its currency, the Sucres, and is using the US American greenbacks only. The transition between currencies obviously has been a difficult time for everybody and your average Quito person. The cost of living has apparently gone up phenomenally. I imagine that this is even more of a problem in the less affluent provinces. That makes buying your average bus even more expensive.

 

In Ecuador, that is.

 

Four Months of Alaska

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Our eldest daughter, Kilina, spent four months at UAF University of Alaska, Fairbanks (USA), from August to December of last year, participating in an exchange programme between universities. Check out her Alaskan blog here in case you should be interested. She became a bit of a Nanook whilst in Fairbanks. Kilina is now back at University of Sussex, Brighton (UK) where she has just finished her third year (out of four) as a Human Science student. Well done, Beans.

Fairbanks is just 300 kms south of the Arctic Circle, part of the Alaska Range at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies are part of the Western Cordillera, one of the largest mountain belts on earth. They stretch over 6,000 kms from Alaska along the western side of North America right through to Mexico. The mountains are relatively young, having been formed mostly in the last 15 million years, by an oceanic part of a tectonic plate converging with a continent. There is still volcanic activity (Cascade Range) within in the Western Cordillera, which gives an indication of the ‘young age’ of the range. The highest peaks within the Rockies are those of Mount McKinley in Alaska with 6,194 m. The Alaskans are very proud of their Mount McKinley. 

Kilina admired Mount McKinley from a safe distance (see photo above). Of course, Mount McKinley is White Man’s name for the big rock. Locally this mountain is known as Denali by the indigenous population, which means ‘the high one’ in the Athabaskan language. That’s a bit like Ayers Rock in Australia, called Uluru by the Australian Aboriginals. Perhaps it would be a sign of respect if we would use the locals’ name for things or rocks or places rather than the explorers’ or the colonialists’ names.

It seems that Global Warming has reached Alaska already. Whereas most years, temperatures in Alaskan Winters reach up to minus 50º C, Kilina only had to suffer up to minus 30º C. The Alaskans, Inuit, including the Iniupiat, known to us lesser mortals simply as Eskimos, complain that it is way too warm for the fish that they live off; whales do not come to this part of the world any longer at the habitual time, and everyone is worried about the livelihoods of the Indigenous population. Also, like its vast Arctic home, the polar bear is under unprecedented threat. Both are disappearing with alarming speed. Polar bears are at risk of becoming extinct due to the Bering Sea not freezing over enough any longer and subsequently the bears losing their hunting grounds. Thinning ice and longer summers are destroying the bears’ habitat, and as the ice floes shrink, the desperate animals are driven by starvation into human settlements, only to be shot. Stranded polar bears are drowning in large numbers as they try to swim hundreds of miles to find increasingly scarce ice floes. Local hunters find their corpses floating on seas once coated in a thick skin of ice. In 1981, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group agreed that the world population of polar bears was between 20,000 and 40,000. As of 1988 the most accepted estimate for the Alaska populations was 3,000 to 5,000. Now we are in 2007. Any guesses, anybody?

Perhaps somebody could tell Mrs. Bush to tell her husband?