Penguins and Polar Bears

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I don't know how many of you have been eagerly sitting down for the evening to watch the BBC's Frozen Planet lately, but I have been watching with great interest. Most of us can only dream of seeing polar bears, penguins, wolves and other animals in their natural Arctic and Antarctic habitats; but whilst Sir David Attenborough is still doing what he does best, there's no need to break the bank with a flight to that icy wilderness. Instead, we can be treated to awe inspiring footage and documentary from the comfort of our sofas.

Polar Bears in San Diego
Now it may not have been in arctic conditions, but I had the pleasure of seeing polar bears on a visit to San Diego Zoo in California back in 2008. It astounded me that despite the sheer size and weight of a polar bear - typically the head and body measures between 7.25 to 8ft (2.2 to 2.5m) and they weigh in between 900 to 1,600 lbs (410 to 720kg), the polar bears moved so effortlessly through the water in their enclosure. I was surprised to hear on the Frozen Planet that they can swim up to 50 miles per day through the Arctic waters. Due to the effects of global warming polar bears are forced to swim greater distances to reach land, which usually results in the unfortunate loss of their cubs. Earlier this year, the longest polar bear swim was recorded at 426 miles straight (687 kilometres). Click here to read the full story.

Jackass Penguins in Betty's Bay, South Africa
Whilst the Antarctic is home to Emperor and Adélie penguins amongst others, if you want to get up close and personal with penguins without having to get the thermals out, head to Betty's Bay in South Africa. Located at Stony Point on the garden route, Betty's Bay is home to the Jackass penguin (also known as the African penguin). African penguins are found in coastal areas from Namibia to South Africa. They are called Jackass penguins because they make a sound that is very similar to a donkey's bray.

The colony is located on the mainland and can be easily seen from the viewing platform. I was lucky enough to get very close to the penguins and filmed a short video clip of them getting blown about by the wind!

Click the video below to see Mummy penguin & baby penguin!

A breathtaking view of Betty's Bay, South Africa

Top 10 Feats of Engineering

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From the Great Wall of China to the Pyramids of Egypt, Lonely Planet has compiled a list of what it thinks are the Top 10 Works of Engineering Genius. It's great to see that the UK have made the cut with the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland! Take a look at the link for further information on each of these feats of engineering...

  1. Great Pyramid of Khufu, Giza, Egypt

  2. Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey
  3. Indian Railways

  4. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

  5. Great Wall of China

  6. Millau Viaduct, France

  7. Lalibela, Ethiopia

  8. Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

  9. Yaxchilán, Yucatán, Mexico

  10. Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates

Autumn in the Lakes

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tarn Hows
"nowhere else have I seen wood and water, hill and valley, greensward and purple heather, rugged crag and velvet slope, grey rock and bright blossoming shrubs brought under the eye at once in such magnificent contrast" - Alexander Craig Gibson (The Old Man; or Ravings and Ramblings around Conistone, 1849).

When you think of all the colours of Autumn you think of reds, oranges, golds, yellows and browns. Walking along the path around Tarn Hows in the South Lakes you can see all these colours and many more. The Autumn reflections of the conifers creep across the water and cause you to take a double glance at which is tree and which is reflection. Between the seventh and ninth centuries when the Viking settlers arrived from Scandinavia, they left their mark on the Lakes through their language. The word 'Tarn' comes from the Norse word 'tjorn', which means 'teardrop'. 'Hows' comes from the Norse word, 'haugr', which means 'hill'. So Tarn Hows is 'a small lake set amongst the rolling hills'. In 1929 Beatrix Potter bought 4000 acres of land which included Tarn Hows, before leaving it to the National Trust which has preserved the area for us and future generations to see.

A bit of info...
It is easy to walk around the tarn as there is a relatively flat 1.5 mile circular path, making it accessible for wheelchairs, buggies and young and old! Although 600ft up in the hills, it is easy to reach the top by car via a narrow B-road. Then all you have to do is park up and off you go! Click here for a map of the area.

Don't miss...
Tarn Hows is located close to the tiny village of Hawkshead. You could easily spend the afternoon wandering around the lovely gift shops, taking a stroll up to the 17th Century Church of St Michael and All Angels which overlooks the village; before relaxing in one of the charming tearooms for a cream tea (one of my favourite things to do!) If that's not enough, visit the Old Grammar School where its most famous student, William Wordsworth once studied or take a trip to the Beatrix Potter Gallery. Just down the road in Near Sawrey you will find Hill Top Farm, home of Beatrix Potter - one of the Lake District's greatest admirers.
View from St Michael and All Angels Church, Hawkshead
St Michael and All Angels Church, Hawkshead
Hawkshead houses
Autumn Leaves
View from Sawrey House (next to Hill Top Farm)
The view from Sawrey House (next to Hill Top Farm)
Hill Top Farm (home of Beatrix Potter)
And finally, this blog wouldn't be complete without a hello from
Peter Rabbit and friends at Hill Top Farm!

Turtles and trees in Costa Rica

Monday, November 14, 2011

Raleigh Expedition - Costa Rica
I have adapted this post from an e-mail I wrote to friends and family whilst on my environmental phase in July 2011. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience!

Working in La Cangreja ('the crab') National Park was a real treat. Looking up through the sky high trees in the rainforest was really something. They looked as if they were touching the clouds as the rays of sunshine crept through. It was so quiet and as it isn't a tourist hotspot since it is quite out of the way, it was lovely wandering through with no one in sight. The rangers worked closely with us to clear the trails running through the Park and ensure that they don't get waterlogged. It was hard work digging trenches and I'm pretty sure I never want to see a rake again but it was all really worthwhile. Originally the plan had been to build a wheelchair accessible path through the Park but unfortunately the planning permission fell through at the last minute so we had to adjust our project. This is very common over here, things change from one day to the next...even more so in Nicaragua. You just have to go with it! I spent my spare time getting stung on my back by a scorpion in the middle of the night and not being able to find it- only to wake up again when I felt something crawling on my arm; and waking up in the middle of the night swaying backwards and forwards as a little earthquake decided to strike. Apparently Costa Rica gets so many earthquakes but most of them are so small that no one ever feels them....well, I did! We were lucky to get some fresh fruit and vegetables from the rangers in the jungle so we had a few really scrummy dinners. I've never eaten so much watermelon in my life! On our last evening they cooked us dinner and we ate it at the ranger station whilst watching the stars.

Arriving at Playa Hermosa ('beautiful beach') was spectacular. It really was paradise and for a second I forgot we were here to work rather than go on holiday! The black sand and driftwood made the beach look so rugged and wild. I really loved it, it was so different to other places I've been. During the day we helped out with the upkeep of the area for the rangers and during the night we went on patrols in search of turtle eggs and poachers. I was lucky enough to see 6 Oliver Ridley turtles during my time at the beach. I'm thinking of taking up midwifery after I delivered over 90 eggs for one turtle! I held out my hands and as she lay the eggs they dropped into my hands. It really was the most incredible experience being so close to nature. We were also lucky enough to release three baby turtles into the ocean. They were so tiny and very cute! The rangers were keen to teach us how to spot turtle tracks and the differences between the different species of turtles. The last time a leather back turtle was seen there was in 1999. It is endangered and the numbers have been falling for a long time. On one of the night patrols at about 2am we came across a stranded dolphin on the beach. It was injured so there was little we could do but we poured water on it and tried to make it a little more comfortable by getting it to drink some water. Watching nature take its course was very upsetting and I had no idea that dolphins cry! We carried it into the ocean
with the ranger but I'm not sure it was the best idea because it tried to come back in. We built a jungle camp at the beach and slept in 'basher beds' which are beds made of bamboo tripods and fabric. They are the most comfortable thing in the world, that is when they don't leak in torrential rain. One night I came back after a patrol at about 3am to find my sleeping bag swimming in a puddle of water. As you can imagine that night wasn't up there with some of the best sleeps I've had!
A note about deforestation
60% of deforestation in Costa Rica is due to cattle farming. The Western world's obsession with beef and the likes of McDonald's and Burger King are key players in this. I recently found out that McDonald's has attempted to negotiate a deal with the Co-operative in Achuapa in Nicaragua I previously wrote about. It wants to purchase its sesame seeds from the Co-operative to use on its burger buns. It is likely to be very controversial considering the environmental damage it is causing.

Our ingenious way of knowing who's in the loo!

Watching the sun set on Playa Hermosa

Community living in Nicaragua

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Raleigh Expedition - Nicaragua
I have adapted this post from an e-mail I wrote to friends and family whilst on my community phase in Nicaragua in July 2011. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience!

I spent the first phase of my Raleigh expedition living and working in the remote community of Quebrada Honda, Nicaragua. We were 2.5 hours away by foot from the nearest town, Achuapa. I lived in a small house made of mud, wood and corrugated iron. It was very basic but I loved it. We had no electricity so we ate with a bit of candlelight or our trusty headtorches. It was hard to adjust at first but I soon got used to it. I lived with another venturer and our lovely family. Our new Mum, Jesenia, her husband and their two small boys, Ever and Harvin. They gave up their beds for us (they wouldn't have it any other way), looked after us and fed us lovely meals three times a day......granted it was rice, beans and tortilla three times a day which got ever so slightly dull after 19 days! The family would walk the very hilly 30min walk everyday to our project site, where we worked, to bring us our lunch. We left for work at 6.30am and worked until the afternoon when our work was normally halted by a terrential downpour complete with the loudest thunder I´ve ever heard and fork lightening! Twice we got caught in it and I had to ring out my socks and put my boots by the stove to dry them out! Our group, Alpha 7, got on really well and worked hard to build a water filtration system, dig trenches, lay water pipes and build a water tank. The aim of the project was to provide clean water to all 12 houses in the community. The families had to walk to a well which for some was quite a trek. One woman was 6 months pregnant having to do the walk so this project helped people like her so much. It was bloody hard work and I now have guns and buns of steel!
On a rare day off we walked to Achuapa to visit a cooperative to find out about a trade partnership it has with the Body Shop. Local farmers in the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Co-operative produce sesame seeds which
the Co-operative sells to a company called Etica. Etica then sells the oil from the seeds to the Body Shop (L'oreal) who use it in their face creams etc. So next time you buy something like that in the Body Shop, know that it is directly benefiting the families of Achuapa, Nicaragua!

In the afternoons we would go to the local school and teach English classes. I really enjoyed this and it reminded me how much I loved teaching in Argentina. Nica kids are very cute and the people are so very humble. Whilst it was hard to see how little they had - the children in my house had no toys at all, I didn´t feel too sad as it is all that they know and they are such happy people. I didn't miss TV, electricity, hairdryer, washing machine, microwave or cooker at all! It is a very different way of life and I hope I can remind myself of that when I'm home and overly worrying about material things! At the end of the project we had a party with the local community and I had to do a speech with a microphone to my family. They did one in response and our Mum told us she sees us just like her daughters. It was very moving to be welcomed into not only their family but also the community with open arms.

Visit Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign to find out more about the sesame oil agreement between the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Co-operative in Achuapa and the Body Shop:

Working hard digging trenches

The kitchen in our home in Quebrada Honda

My favourite little girl (she lived at the house on our work-site)

My Mum, Jesenia on the right and my Grandma on the left

Playing amongst the branches their Daddy just chopped down next to our house

Cleaning the sesame seeds at the Cooperative

Family fun