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Archive for November, 2005

Are we alone ?

The search begins…

Are we alone?

Are we Alone ?

or centuries, human beings have pondered this question. Medieval scholars speculated that other worlds must exist and that some would harbor other forms of life. In our time, advances in science and technology have brought us to the threshold of finding an answer to this timeless question. The recent discovery of numerous planets around stars other than the Sun confirms that our solar system is not unique. Indeed, these “extrasolar planets” appear to be common in our galactic neighborhood. The extrasolar planets we have discovered thus far are giants, like Jupiter and Saturn. They are unlikely to support life as we know it. But some of these planetary systems might also contain smaller, terrestrial planets like Mars and Earth. Over the next 15 years, NASA is embarking on a bold series of missions to find and characterize new worlds. These will be the most sensitive instruments ever built, capable of reaching beyond the bounds of our own solar system.

o, the Keck Interferometer will combine the light of the world’s largest optical telescopes, extending our vision to new distances. Using a technique known as interferometry, the Keck will study dust clouds around stars where planets may be forming. It may also provide the first direct images of giant planets outside our solar system. SIM PlanetQuest, scheduled to launch in 2011, will measure the distances and positions of stars with unprecedented accuracy. SIM’s precision will allow us to detect evidence of planets just slightly larger than Earth. Finally, the Terrestrial Planet Finder will build upon the legacy of all that have gone before it. With an imaging power 100 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope, Terrestrial Planet Finder will send back the first photographs of nearby planetary systems. We will analyze the atmospheres of these distant worlds, looking for carbon dioxide, water and ozone. The substantial presence of all three gasses would suggest that life is present.

Such a discovery would at last provide convincing evidence that we are not alone.

We will have found another Earth.

Watch NASA’S video of the search of extra terrestial planets….

Fried Eggs with Chopsticks

Fried Eggs with Chopsticks

uthor Polly Evans entertains readers with a humorous look at Chinese culture in her recently released third book, Fried Eggs with Chopsticks (Around China by Any Means Possible). The book chronicles her adventures as she attempts to explore China by only using public transportation to get around. Some reviews find it favorable, calling the book a witty, lighthearted read. This Taipei Times review is not as positive, but leaves it up to readers to decide if Evans’ humor matches their own. I think it’s worth a try — start with this excerpt and see what you think. Or try one of her first two books, about pedaling through Spain or motorbiking around New Zealand. Her yet-to-be released fourth book will be about riding horses in Argentina. She’s also preparing to head to the Yukon in Canada next year, I wonder what interesting mode of transport she’ll use for the journey. We’ll have to wait for the book to find out. Some reviews :

‘Vastly entertaining’ Woman and Home

‘Unlike that terrifying breed of die-hard travel writers, Evans is one of us…Makes for a refreshing read’ Sunday Times Travel

‘Funny and astute, this is an engrossing portrayal of one of the world’s most fascinating countries’ Wanderlust

‘Highly readable…Fried Eggs with Chopsticks is gutsy, funny and rarely self-indulgent’ South China Morning Post

‘Offering a fresh take on travel writing [Fried Eggs with Chopsticks is] honest and a lot of fun’ Trip

‘A charming, insightful and humorous view of life on the roads and rails in the PRC’ That’s Shanghai

‘An entertaining story’ Manchester Evening News

‘A gem of a book’ AND Magazine

Realm of the Incas

Realm of the Incas

uring my trip to South America (july-august 2004) I bought this wonderful book ‘Realm of the Incas’ in a small bookshop in Cuzco, called ‘Libreria Liberty’. It’s a book with lots of pictures and it describes several regions in Peru and also tells you about its people. It is the Quecha and Aymara Indians, the creoles of Spanish descent, and the mestizos proud enough to combine the best of both races, that give Peru its individuality. Max Milligans pictures of Andean Indians also show how they have evolved to live at high altitude. Their handsome coppery skins and the children’s apple-red cheeks are signs of this adaptation, just as their physiognomy belies their race’s origins in the high plateaus of central Asia.

eside pictures of Peru’s inhabitants, the book shows for example the wonders of Cuzco, one of the worlds most beautiful cities, and of the nearby Sacred Valley, the favourite retreat of the Inca rulers. The line of Inca ruins goes from Pisaq to Ollantaytambo and on to the incomparable Machu Picchu. This holy ‘lost city’was in a sense a pilgrimage goal for the Incas, jus as it is now for hikers along the Inca Trail, and for every visitor to Peru. No one is disappointed by Machu Picchu. I wasn’t either, it made a great impression on me; I will never forget my visit to Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

ealm of the Incas is a celebration of the extraordinary diversity at the heart of Tihuantinsuyo, or ‘Land of the Four Quarters,’ as the Inca Empire was known before its conquest in 1533. Max Milligan’s book charts a journey of breathtaking beauty, from the sacred snows of the Andes down into the virgin Amazon rainforest, encompassing the most richly biodiverse area on the planet. At the centre of the region stands Cuzco, meaning literally ‘The Navel’ to its founders, and today acknowledged as the archaeological capital of South America and a World Heritage Site. Within a single day’s drive to Cuzco are eight distinct climates and habitats; and the myths, beliefs and customs of the inhabitants of these areas are equality diverse. In the highlands, remote communities still farm llamas and alpacas in medieval style, while the islanders of Lake Titicaca use solar panels to generate their electricity. Beyond the gaze of eco-tourists, deep in protected reserves, the rainforests of Madre de Dios support tribes of native Indians pursuing a stone-age existence.

ax Milligan has left virtually no stone unturned in his explorations; whether recording the icy source of the Amazon, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Fitzcarraldo’s trade routes or the cactus forests of Apurimac, his passion and determination to do his subject justice shine through. With its magical photography and lively text, endorsed in the foreword by John Hemming (whose own definitive work The Conquest of the Incas was described in The Times as ‘superbly vivid history distinguished by formidable scholarship’), Realm of the Incas is, quite simply, the culmination of Max Milligan’s fifteen-year love affair with Peru’s fabled Inca Region.

ealm of the Incas is an important and unique contribution to South American Studies; a beautifully photographed journey from the sacred snows of the Andes to the pristine reserves of the Amazon rainforest. This is a region that is still home to the indigenous peoples of the continent, that encompasses eight distinctive climates and habitats, and that includes both major Inca ruins and impressive Spanish Colonial architecture. In short, an area that captures the unique natural and cultural wonders of the continent.

ax Milligan, the author and photographer, has been a guide, photographer, and documentary filmmaker in this part of South America for the last fifteen years. This book is the result of those years of travel, work, study and deep immersion into the life of the native peoples of the area. Noted historian John Hemming sets the scene with a substantial introduction that puts the book into a deeper historical and cultural context.

Realm of the Incas.
by Max Milligan (2001)
ISBN: 0789306492

To get a small impression of the content of the book, look at the pictures below:

Cloud Forest - Macchu Picchu
Inca Altar, Sacred Valley
Inca Roca - Palace Wall Cuzco
Old man in Peru

Potosi – Bolivia

Potosi - Bolivia

otosí is a city, the capital of the department of Potosí in Bolivia. It is at an altitude of 3967 meters and has about 115,000 inhabitants. It is claimed to be the highest city in the world. It lies beneath the Cerro Rico (“Rich mountain”), a mountain of silver ore, which has always dominated the city. Potosí with Cerro Rico founded 1545 as a mining town, it soon acquired fabulous wealth. In Spanish there is still a saying vale un Potosí meaning “being worth a fortune” and, for Europeans, “Peru” was a mythical land of riches. It is here that most of the Spanish silver came from and Indian labour, forced by Francisco de Toledo through the mita institution, came to die by the thousands. After 1800 the silver mines became depleted, making tin the main product. This eventually led to a slow economic decline. During the War of Independence (1809-1825, see History of Bolivia) Potosi was frequently passed from the control of Royalist and Patriot forces. Major blunders by the First Argentine Auxiliary Army (under the command of Castelli) led to an increased sense that independence was needed and fostered resentment towards Argentina. During that occupation there was anarchy and martial excess, and Potosi became unfriendly to the point where it could not be defended. When the second auxiliary army arrived it was received well, and the commander, Belgrano did much to heal the past wounds inflicted by the tyrannical minded Castelli. When that army was forced to retreat, Belgrano took the calculated decision to blow up the Casa de Moneda. Since the locals refused to evacuate this explosion would have resulted in many casualties, but by then the fuse was already lit. Disaster was averted not by Argentina who at that time were fleeing, but by locals who put the fuse out. In one stroke the good feelings Belgrano delicately built were destroyed. Two more expeditions from Argentina would seize Potosi. Zacatecas, Zacatecas, in Mexico was the other big silver mine of the Spanish Empire.


Coca Leaves

Selling Coca Leaves

n Potosí miners use coca leaves for almost everything. To tolerate the adverse conditions, the miners constantly chew on coca leaves. The leaves dull the senses and help the miners to work with little oxygen or food. Most miners keep a wad of coca leaves in their mouths while working. Most also have chronically bloody gums, likely as a result. Coca (Erythroxylum coca), often spelled koka in Quechua and Aymara, is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to northwestern South America. Under the older Cronquist system of classifying flowering plants, this was placed in an order Linales; more modern systems place it in the order Malpighiales. The plant resembles a blackthorn bush, and grows to a height of 2-3 m. The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, more or less tapering at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines once on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf. The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks; the corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels united to form a three-chambered ovary. The flowers are mature into red berries. The leaves are sometimes eaten by the moth Eloria noyesi. When we were in Potosí our guide explained us everything about the importance of coca leaves. Have a look at the video made from this explanation about coca leaves.

Play the video of the Coca leaves explanation : Coca leaves explanation

Cerro Rico

Mine worker at Cerro Rico

our hundred years after Bolivia’s silver mines financed the Spanish Empire, director Charles Vaughan meets the miners who still risk their lives scraping a living from the mountain’s exhausted and toxic seams. Called Cerro Rico (rich mountain), this barren conical hill is 4824 metres above sea level and the world’s highest city, that of Potosi, sits at its base at 4090 metres altitude. It is estimated that 70,000 metric tons of silver were produced over a 400 year period. In fact it’s the site of what was the largest silver mine in the world during the 17th Century. Long ago the silver of Cerro Rico ceased to supply the wealth of the Spanish Empire. But it still yields some sort of living for the thousands of Bolivians who work there. Cerro Rico is one of the world’s finest examples of economic geology, as well as a testament to the harsh working conditions that Bolivians deal with on a daily basis. The guide gave us a complete explanation of dynamite, so watch the video to listen and see it with your own eyes.

Play the video of the dynamite explanation : Silver mines Potosi Bolivia Dynamite explanation

The silver mines

Silver mines Potosi - Bolivia

e were given the opportunity to tour the Cerro Rico mine through Baobab travel. This tour was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness first hand a working mine, whose operations consist mainly of manpower, for there are few machines doing the dirty work. The temperatures are extreme, the walls are muddy and slippery, and tunnel floors are flooded. The ceiling is just a few feet above the floor at many points, and the only way through is on your belly. Men and boys pull carts full of rocks, shovel rocks into sacks which are heaved up several levels for removal, all by hand. The miners constantly chew coca leaves, helping them stand the overwhelming heat and prevent them from being hungry. Typically, “tourist” activities are designed so anyone could tag along, but the Cerro Rico mine tour is definitely an exception. Upon first entry into the mine you feel a cool draft, but within 50 meters of the entrance the heat begins to rise, and within minutes you are sweating profusely. The mines has been mined for nearly 500 years. Indeed, so rich did Cerro Rico prove to be that the Spanish colonists dreamt of building a bridge of solid silver all the way from Potosí to Madrid. Far-fetched perhaps, but by the early 17th century it was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world and, at a tremendous human cost, supplied the Spanish Crown with untold riches.To feel a bit of our experience watch the video made of the mines.

Play the video of the Silver Mines in Potosi – Bolivia : Silver mines Potosi Bolivia

Also have a look on my Latin Amerika pictures page over here and over here.

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  • "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It's the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead."
    ~ Albert Einstein (1930)."
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