Columbian Mangroves In A Dugout Canoe

I’ve just got back from an amazing trip to South America. Thanks to a wonderful collection of local guides, all our plans went without a hitch (with the exception of Rich’s camera getting stolen just five days in, but we won’t dwell on that). Yet sometimes it’s the unplanned things that really make a day. So it was for us in Cartagena de Indias, Columbia.

When we contacted Martin of Cartagena Tour Guide, we naturally asked to see Cartagena’s historic old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the colossal fortress of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (blogs to follow). But a bit of local knowledge goes a long way, and Martin suggested we start our day in a way we’d never have considered on our own: a ride through a mangrove swamp in a traditional dugout canoe.

To the east of Cartagena is a lagoon and mangrove swamp called Ciénaga de la Virgen. It’s connected to the Caribbean Sea by a narrow opening named La Boquilla. The area around La Boquilla is what’s known as a Palanque, a settlement first founded by slaves who escaped from Cartagena during colonial times.

The road to La Boquilla was out, so we had to approach along the beach. Once there, our guide for the day, José, introduced us to Elias, our ‘captain’ for the morning.

View back along the beach towards Cartagena from La Boquilla

View back along the beach towards Cartagena from La Boquilla

Our brightly-painted canoe really was carved from a single trunk, with a little bit of wood added around the rim for extra depth. Elias propelled it through the shallow waters of the lagoon using a long pole, which reminded me of punting in Cambridge, England.

Elias and our trusty vessel

Elias and our trusty vessel

La Boquilla

La Boquilla

Local houses fringe the lagoon in places

Local houses fringe the lagoon in places

We crossed a stretch of open water at La Boquilla and entered a wide waterway that lazily wound its way between banks dense with mangrove trees.

Steaming morning for a gentle canoe ride

Steaming morning for a gentle canoe ride

The prow of our fine ship

The prow of our fine ship

All sorts of exotic birds lines the trees and waterways (which made Rich miss his real camera all the more)

All sorts of exotic birds lined the trees and waterways
(which made Rich miss his real camera all the more)

Before long, Elias turned the canoe straight at one of the banks. At first I though he had spotted something and was approaching to give us a closer look. Then I realised he was actually taking into a much narrower channel, hemmed in tightly by mangrove roots.

Entering the mangrove labyrinth

Entering the mangrove labyrinth

A termite nest in the trees

A termite nest in the trees

Thanks to Elias's skillful handling, we barely bumped a root

Thanks to Elias’s skillful handling, we barely bumped a root

After a while, the snake-like channel opened up into another part of the lagoon. There we were lucky enough to see local fishermen casting nets in the traditional manner from their own canoe.

Re-entering the lagoon

Re-entering the lagoon

A pair of fishermen in another dugout

A pair of fishermen in another dugout

Thrilled to have seen this!

Thrilled to have seen this!

Our watery journey through the mangrove trees really was a special experience. And all the more so because we hadn’t really known what to expect. A big ‘thank you’ to Martin, José and Elias!

Me with Sue, José and Elias... I think we're being tailed!

Me with Sue, José and Elias… I think we’re being tailed!

This post was inspired by the photo themes Motion from Jen of the Daily Post) and Trees from Ailsa (of Where’s My Backpack?).

A pair of mangrove guardians

A pair of mangrove guardians

If you’re the sort of person who’d enjoy drifting through the mangroves of Columbia in a dugout canoe, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Mount St. Helens With Her Head In The Clouds

In 1980, Washington State’s Mount St. Helens erupted onto the World stage. After three months of grumbling, on May 18th she literally blew her top, in a cataclysmic explosion that sadly killed 57 people, flattened thousands of acres of mature forest and replaced the top 1300 feet of her summit with a crater 2000 feet deep.

Like so many others, a young Rich was completely taken aback by this dramatic reminder of nature’s awe-inspiring power. Right then and there he promised himself he’d one day travel to Mount St. Helens and witness the devastation for himself.

That dream final came true 33 years later.

Sort of.

As we drove up Spirit Lake Highway in May 2013, it was obvious the weather was not going to be kind. The closer we got to the mountain, the closer we also got to the base of the brooding clouds overhead. It became a question of which we’d reach first.

Mount St. Helens is up there somewhere

Mount St. Helens is up there somewhere

Finally, we arrived the visitor centre at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which overlooks the remnants of the volcano. From there we had the most amazing view of…

A big grey blur!

IMG_4013Occasionally, the wind would shift and we’d get the briefest glimpse of the crater and the new dome growing within it.

IMG_4021But just as quickly, the clouds would fall back into place, obscuring all but the very bottom of the mountain.

Is there a hint of blue in there?

Is there a hint of blue in there?

...No, probably not!

…No, probably not!

Just to prove I was there!

Just to prove I was there!

That’s not to say our visit was a waste of time. Far from it. On the way up to (and down from) the Observatory, we did indeed witness the devastation caused by the famous eruption over three decades ago. Not to mention loads of evidence of how nature has begun healing itself in the intervening years.

Rain on Coldwater Lake

Rain on Coldwater Lake

Trees felled by the blast

Trees felled by the blast

IMG_4030

Tree trucks mixed in with the debris from the explosion, surrounded by new growth

Tree trunks mixed in with the debris from the explosion, surrounded by new growth

IMG_4032But sadly that picture-postcard panorama of Mount St. Helens’ now lop-sided peak will have to wait for another day.

One final look back towards Mount St. Helens -  Better luck next time!

One final look back towards Mount St. Helens –
Better luck next time!

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Clouds.

Whether or not you remember the events of May 18th, 1980, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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A Closer Look At Chicago’s Tribune Tower

The Tribune Tower was constructed between 1923 and 1925, following a competition run in the Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper to design the ‘most beautiful and eye-catching building in the world.’ That might be overstating it a bit, but there’s no denying it certainly is an impressive and appealing structure.

scan0001The neo-Gothic skyscraper is 462 feet tall and forms part of the Windy City’s Michigan–Wacker Historic District. However, you have to get close-up to see its most unusual feature.

At the instruction of the Chicago Tribune’s then owner and publisher, Robert R. McCormick, in the years leading up to the construction of the Tribune Tower, correspondents of the newspaper began collecting rocks from famous buildings and natural locations around the World.

At the last count, the total number of places represented was 149. For a time there were 150, but a piece of Moon rock on loan from NASA was removed from a window case in 2011 and has yet to be replaced.

Here are a couple of rocks that caught Rich’s eye (no prizes for guessing why).

IMG_2689IMG_2688All but one of the current specimens are incorporated into the outer wall of the lowermost storeys of the building. The exception is a small piece of stone from the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, which is located inside the lobby.

The most recent addition to the collection (as far as I can tell) isn’t a rock at all, but a piece of ironwork from one of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre.

IMG_2691This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Close Up.

While you’re wondering about the other places represented in the walls of Chicago’s Tribune Tower, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Byodo-In Temple, Oahu

Standing before the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple on the Windward coast of Oahu, Hawaii, it’s hard to believe you’re looking at a half-sized replica.

IMG_8802The original shrine, located in Uji, Japan, was constructed in 1053 and unsurprisingly is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (which I’d love to visit, by the way).

IMG_8816The Hawaiian version was built in 1968. It’s actually a non-practicing temple, which forms part of the non-denominational Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kahaluu.

The Golden Buddha at Byodo-In is 9 feet high

The Golden Buddha at Byodo-In is 9 feet high

Sue ringing the three-ton bell, which is meant to assure long life and the blessings of the Buddha - fingers crossed

Sue ringing the three-ton bell, which is meant to assure long life and the blessings of the Buddha – fingers crossed

The temple's Japanese Rock (Zen) Garden

The temple’s Japanese Rock (Zen) Garden

Hidden from the road by a rise in the ground, the Byodo-In Temple on Oahu occupies a dramatic position at the base of the towering cliffs of the Ko’olau Mountains, which are themselves a U.S. National Natural Landmark.

IMG_8826IMG_8819Replica or not, it truly is an impressive and peaceful location.

IMG_8813IMG_8807This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Churches (any religious building).

IMG_8825While you’re wishing for a peaceful afternoon in Hawaii, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Into The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, Budapest

Long before the city of Budapest was unified in 1873, the twin towns of Buda and Pest faced each other across the Danube. And long before King Béla IV built his castle on Buda Hill in the 13th Century, prehistoric people lived in the caves beneath.

And when I say long before, I mean looooong before. As in around half a million years before!

Buda Castle from across the Danube in Pest

Buda Castle from across the Danube in Pest

Over the centuries following the construction of Buda Castle, the natural cave system was enlarged by artificial tunnels and cellars to form a network extending several miles. These underground rooms and passages have been put to all sorts of uses, both ordinary and sinister. They’ve provided shelter and springs, been storage and wine cellars, and of course, torture chambers and dungeons. In medieval times, they were used to hide riches from the eyes of tax collectors and during World War II they housed a military hospital.

The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, part natural, part artificial

The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, part natural, part artificial

There are at least three ways of exploring the cave system beneath Buda Castle: the Castle Cave, the Hospital In The Rock, and the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. I visited the latter, a 1200-yard-long section of caves and tunnels accessible from the within the castle itself. If you’re interested in visiting yourself, the address of the main entrance is Úri utca 9.

There is apparently some controversy concerning the running of this attraction, which I’m not going to get into. Suffice to say that, although at least one website claims the Labyrinth was closed to the public in 2011, visitors can nonetheless still tour its passages.

One of the many wells built over springs within the cave system

One of the many wells built over springs within the cave system

Included in the entry are a number of exhibitions, including some architectural relics, a feature on spectacular caves from around the world, mannequins in period costume, and a black and white movie. (Don’t ask me!)

Who goes there?!

Who goes there?!

Nice masonry!

Nice masonry!

Subterranean, black & white movie theatre?

Subterranean, black & white movie theatre?

However, the star of the show is without doubt the Labyrinth itself. Spooky doesn’t even begin to cover it. Especially the bit where you can walk through a stretch in the pitch black, guided only by a rope.

Not sure I want to go in there...

Not sure I want to go in there…

The flash reveals there's nothing to be scared of... hopefully

The flash reveals there’s nothing to be scared of… hopefully

Unsurprisingly, this subterranean world has more than its fair share of myths, legends and horror stories. These include women bricked up in walls during the 16th Century when one of the Turkish rulers bored of them (apparently several female skeletons from this period have been found within the walls or thrown into wells). Then there’s the ghost of the Black Count, who is claimed to have terrorised the living during the 19th Century.

A vaulted part of the system

A vaulted part of the system

IMG_0873The Labyrinth’s most infamous occupant is said to be Vlad III of Wallachia, aka Vlad Tepes, allegedly imprisoned there during the 15th Century. The English translation of Vlad Tepes is Vlad the Impaler… Yes, the Vald the Impaler, believed by many to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

IMG_0862There’s no doubt that Vlad Tepes was a real person, who was indeed imprisoned on King Matthias’s orders in the mid 1400s. That said, I’ve read conflicting accounts on whether or not he spent any of this time confined within the caves beneath Buda Castle. But why let that spoil a good story, right?

IMG_0877Especially when you can fill a whole section of underground passages with creepy lighting…

IMG_0878Eerie fog…

IMG_0889IMG_0884Scary music…

IMG_0886Torture devices…

IMG_0892IMG_0894And Dracula’s grave!

IMG_0881

On a more serious theme, UNESCO placed Budapest’s Castle District (including the Labyrinths beneath) and Danube Embankment on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1987.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Buda Castle District and the Danube Embankment

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Buda Castle District and the Danube Embankment

This post was inspired by this week’s Cee’s Which Way Challenge.

Whether or not you like creepy subterranean adventures, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Colourful, Creepy Monotones

Over the last year or so, I’ve got into the habit of trying to build my midweek post around Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which comes out every Tuesday. This week it’s Colourful Monotones.

I racked my brain for ages, trying to come up with a post related to my travels, which would also fit with Cee’s theme. Eventually, I gave up and decided to go for my usual Plan B: postponing my midweek blog until Wednesday and pairing it with Cee’s weekly Which Way Challenge.

I settled on a subject, dug out the photos, and by absolute coincidence discovered these among them:

Creepy tunnels, but where could they be?

Creepy tunnels, but where could they be?

These guys know, but they're not telling

These guys know, but they’re not telling

I think you’ll agree they fit perfectly with Colourful Monotone! But does anyone recognise where they were taken?

Well, it’d be rude to spoil the surprise at this point, wouldn’t it? Not when I already have my Which Way post for tomorrow more-or-less planned out. So, come back then and all will be revealed!

Whether you recognise this location, or are still puzzling over it, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, Washington

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park and Wanapum Recreational Area are located in central region of Washington State, beside the Wanapum Lake reservoir on the Columbia River.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is located atop the basalt cliff that line Wanapum Lake reservoir

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is located atop the basalt cliffs that line Wanapum Lake reservoir

The native Wanapum people carved over 300 petroglyphs into the basalt cliffs along this part of the Columbia River. About 60 were saved and relocated to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest interpretive centre when Wanapum Lake reservoir was constructed.

The native Wanapum people carved over 300 petroglyphs into the basalt cliffs along this part of the Columbia River. About 60 were saved and relocated to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest interpretive centre when Wanapum Lake reservoir was constructed.

Petrified wood was first discovered at what is now Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in the 1930s. Specimens representing a remarkable number of different tree species (over 50) have been identified, but the park gets its name from the extremely rare occurrence of fossilised Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba).

They may look like ordinary rocks, but they're actually fossil trees

They may look like ordinary rocks, but they’re actually fossil trees

IMG_8059The trees preserved in the park lived during the Miocene geological period, about 15.5 million years ago. Although this part of Washington State is today a scrub-covered desert, during the Miocene it was a lush, damp forest.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is today arid scrubland

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is today arid scrubland

The square frames beside the path indicate the presence of fossilised logs

The square frames beside the path indicate the presence of fossilised logs

Rich has found another one!

Rich has found another one!

Volcanic eruptions first buried this area of forest in ash, and then flows of basalt, protecting the tree remains during the petrification process. These protective layers were removed during a series of catastrophic floods at the end of the last ice age, between about 15,000 and 13,000 years ago.

IMG_8056Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park was officially designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965.

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Weathered Wood.

Didn't notice this sign until after we'd been wandering around the desert!

Didn’t notice this sign until after we’d been wandering around the desert!

While you’re marvelling about rocks that used to be trees, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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