Lauca National Park
August 3, 2010, 5:33 pm
Filed under: chile, environment, nature, south america, travel, video

Lauca National Park

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

What Lauca National Park lacked in oxygen it made up for in wildlife.

The first llama I saw in South America looked dejected despite its bright little hat and Aymaran drapery. It reminded me of a sad clown. It was being led around by an old man selling photos with it, in Parque Quinta Normal in Santiago. My sympathy for this undignified creature made me all the more eager to see proud llamas in their natural environment.

In Lauca wildlife clearly have an edge. While our lungs struggled to extract oxygen from the thin climate, baby vicuñas galloped comically alongside their more gracious parents.

Vizcacha among the rocks groomed nonchalantly as we took photos, pulling their bunny-like ears over their eyes.

Alpacas and llamas intermingled amicably in the bofedales, as the highland swamps are called. They nibbled at tender vegetation emerging from the shallow water, distancing themselves if we got too close, but otherwise unperterbed.

There were some exceptions, such as a llama which spends most of its time with the Carabineros, the police, who have a strong presence near the borders of Bolivia and Peru.

Her name is Loli. You can meet her in this video.


Arriba! (up!)
May 23, 2010, 3:50 am
Filed under: chile, environment, mountains, nature, south america, travel, video, water

On our first weekend in South America we departed Santiago to head into the foothills (footmountains?) of the Andes. It was a stunningly clear blue-sky day, as if the continent had washed its natural wonders in preparation for our visit.

This might horrify some readers who enjoy building a romantic picture of my travels in your mind, but rather than give you a detailed account of the day in writing I’m going to share a couple of videos.

I ate some fresh ginger before we departed upwards; my remedy of choice for motion sickness. Why pay money for a dried, powdered form of something you can get fresher and more potent from the market?

I find it easier going upwards than downwards for some reason, but for me the killer is going side to side.

Thankfully perhaps, my friend Emma who preserved some of my ABC broadcasts in Port Lincoln didn’t preserve the one in which I did a live cross from a tuna boat. It was all I could manage not to throw up on the microphone.

Either thanks to the ginger or the lack of sideways motion, or both, I was fine on the bus ride into the Andes. So fine in fact that I filmed some of it. Thanks to Sony’s image stabilisation technology it doesn’t actually look as horrific as it was, so if you’re game you can watch here:

Once we arrived Tim and I departed the group for a bit of a hike in the fresh morning air. It was such a relief to get some fresh air after a week in smoggy Santiago. Pine-scented air accompanied by the sound of cascading water was even better.

We had a fantastic lunch with some Chilean red wine organised by Expats in Chile, who even managed to cater for the vegan despite no prior notice. Then we ventured off again, the two of us, up a different trail.

The trails were divided by a river, so you needed to choose early on which side of the river you wanted to spend your trekking time. We tried both sides, but after starting our afternoon trek on the opposite side to the morning we realised the trail was now entirely in shadows.

The Andes looming over us meant that although it was 3 in the afternoon our walk of choice would have no more sunshine. So we decided to turn back and return to the river crossing, where we could opt instead to trek on a higher path that caught the afternoon sun.

On our way back we came across a smaller point in the river were a group of Chileans were crossing with children:

It was an impressive operation, but one I wasn’t game to try.

South Americans give brazen Aussies a run for their money.

World Environment Day inspiration
June 6, 2007, 3:09 pm
Filed under: australia, climate change, england, environment, events, science, travel

I deliberately have separate professional and travel/personal sites, because I like to keep things separate. But they’re merging! I want to talk about something that will also appear on my professional site in a few days.

Last night I went to London for an event by Advance, who have been promoting themselves around Cambridge through the Cambridge University Australia and New Zealand Society.

I dragged Ian along, because I thought he would also be interested to hear Tim Flannery talk about climate change, and associated things. It was fantastic. Ian was equally as satisfied.

I got to interview Tim before his talk, outside the Great Hall at King’s College, London. We sat on a bench. He was jetlagged, but very amiable and inspiring still. The interview didn’t take long – we were done well before he had to go on stage. We got chatting about how Adelaide is going, how great the Central Market is, what we were both doing in London (he was there to launch his books in paperback in the UK). Talking about what I was doing there led to me telling Tim about my various career options and what I might be doing next year, and he gave me some great advice.

Like me, Tim did a degree in humanities (English in his case) before moving into science. That’s good to hear. Realising that great people like him have the same humble beginnings as me was very motivational. Getting career advice from someone so successful who started out in a similar way is invaluable.

I feel very privileged to have properly met our 2007 Australian of the Year, I think he well deserves the honour. Thanks Tim.

Why big cities need to worry about epidemics (and other security threats)
April 8, 2007, 4:32 pm
Filed under: australia, england, environment, events, science, security, travel

I’m flying again this month. A lot. My carbon footprint will go from a size 5 cycling around Cambridge to a size 12 flying between three continents (plus several domestic legs in Australia).

I’m not a fan of flying anymore. No inflight entertainment system or free beverages will cajole me. But I’m Australian, I live in the UK, taking three weeks off work is a stretch – how else am I supposed to visit home? I wish someone would hurry up and invent a teleporter. I don’t think having my atoms torn apart then reassembled would be that much worse than how I feel after a long distance flight, and it would save time.

My main problem is disease. Nearly every time I take an international flight I get a respiratory infection. There are many obvious reasons for this, from the horrible recirculated cabin air to the variety of people from all over breathing into this air. Yuck. That combined with jet lag is a recipe for sickness. I cope with it better than I used to due to wonderful ‘frequent flyer’ nasal sprays – but who wants the person sitting uncomfortably close to you on a plane snorting tea tree oil? It’s gross. I don’t want to inflict that on fellow passengers.

But I will, because now I have another reason to be apprehensive. I was reading in last week’s New Scientist about XDR-TB, an extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis creeping around the world. In South Africa it’s almost certainly fatal. There’s a strain in Italy impervious to all known medicines. A few cases have now been reported in London. It’s an airborne disease, and New Scientist says “it is possible that simply sharing a long-haul flight may be enough” to catch it.

Governments should be putting as much money into avoiding biological threats as they are terrorism. I’m all for added security measures to prevent terrorism (well, most of them), but disease kills a lot more people! And it’s more preventable! Why haven’t we eliminated TB, let alone polio? It’s disgraceful.

In this century I think all weapons development should be stopped and money should be put into environmental security measures. What are we going to do, nuke the country that incubates the next pandemic? I don’t think so. That said, people with XDR-TB are being forcibly quarantined to prevent it spreading. At least with terrorism you have to do something bad to get detained (once again, mostly). If you innocently catch a disease while travelling you can get locked up indefinitely, without the political outrage associated with being in the position of David Hicks. Plus you have to deal with an agonising illness eating away at your lungs. It’s brutally unfair for victims.

These kind of worries are why it’s nice to live in places like Adelaide, Calgary or Cambridge, rather than Sydney, Toronto or London. Yes, Sydney’s been unscathed so far. Australia is a pretty remote island after all. Toronto or London are both tarred in my eyes due to security risks.

A few years ago I was due to move to Toronto, I had a partial scholarship to go to Ryerson University to pursue my broadcast journalism studies. Then SARS happened. I was meant to leave around the height of the epidemic, I decided to put off my exchange for another semester, to be on the safe side. There were other factors involved, but that was a big one. I got a full scholarship to Calgary the following semester, and I went having never heard of the city before – but it was fantastic, fuelled my love of snow sports and interest in development issues, so I’ve never looked back.

In 2005 I went to a conference in Scotland, flying via London. This was roughly two weeks after the first London bombings… I never considered cancelling my trip (would I have if London had been riddled with disease instead?) as lightning doesn’t strike twice, as the saying goes. I was wrong, kind of – I flew in just after the disrupted bomb attacks in which an innocent Brazilian guy was killed by police. The city’s public transport was shut down so I got a bus to Cambridge, deciding I shouldn’t tempt fate and hang around the capital.

It never occurred to me I’d be living in Cambridge a couple of years later – but here I am. Now London still spooks me a bit. I go there every couple of weeks. Whenever there’s a major delay on the tube and people are crammed in without explanation, I wonder, has something happened again?

I know it’s not that likely though. I know it’s much more likely I’ll get sick with the amount I travel. The funny thing is I don’t worry about getting sick in places like Vietnam or Samoa so much – I take some precautions, use mosquito nets where possible. What worries me more are these potential pandemics in population centres. I wonder how many other people have avoided huge cities for the same reasons? I wonder how many other young professional couples with high earning potential are shunning international hubs in favour of regional capitals?

Why city high-flyers rap
December 5, 2006, 2:06 pm
Filed under: england, environment, media, news, science

times.jpgThe Times newspaper’s most prominent environmental story today is called “Why rap has become the music of choice for city high-flyers”.

The third sentence is “the study of great tits reveals that not only are they more raucous than their country cousins but will experiment with new sounds and arrangements.”

The story is about how bird calls differ in country and urban areas… of course.

I used to denigrate the the Adelaide Advertiser for its sexing up of science for publication.

But I take it back. Stories in the UK are much worse. I haven’t even read a copy of the Sun yet, Murdoch’s infamous London tabloid.