School girl in Panajachel, Guatemala, selling fabrics. She says "Why don't you buy my stuff?" I gave her a little Australian flag.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


Author:  Allan Taylor     This article was first added 19 years ago to the Travel site "BootsnAll"; now I have added it to my Travel Blog "Rolling Stone" 4th July 2018 as it has important political significance to Australia.

Burning Away Misfortunes…..Ecuador
By Allan Taylor
New Year’s Eve is always a night for celebration. In most countries people celebrate the coming of the New Year.  Ecuador is unique by having a ceremony to say goodbye to the Old Year.  All throughout the country on the 31st of December, young people and old go to extraordinary efforts to maintain one of the magical traditions of Ecuador.

Symbolism is rife. The Old Year, or “Ano Viejo” is represented by various creations. A model house is made of branches and burnt to ashes. Life-size dummies, akin to our Guy Fawkes, made of sawdust and dressed in old clothes, are sold in the streets. Ornate masks are sold for adornment of the dummies.

The idea is to represent some happening, activity, or person, that has resulted in a negative impact on the community, or your well-being. Often this is a politician, judge, army leader etc, whose actions you disapprove of. The appropriate mask is worn by the dummy. A controversial political happening may be the subject of a very elaborate construction, which is put to the torch at midnight. What a great idea for Australia!

The creativity of the people is encouraged by having a competition for the best effort. In Cuenca, where I was, the Amistad Club and Azuy Union of Journalists organise such competition. You have to register your creation and explain what or who it represents and detail why public notice should be focused thereon. A jury of Club members commences its tour of exhibits at 4pm and deliberates over events. Prizes are given. What a rich feed stock for newspapers the next day!

The final day of the Old Year is lots of fun. Young people dress up as widows, witches and skeletons, etc, symbolic of the Old Year. They stop cars in the street and beg for a donation, which I suspect goes to buy fireworks. I approached a group of kids in fancy dress on a Cuenca street and admired their dummy.

“This is the President of Ecuador” they inform me proudly. “Can I take a photo of him?” I ask, slipping a few thousand sucres into an outstretched hand.

I admired a fancy procession of floats with pretty girls on horseback, that stopped briefly at a church for a blessing. Towards dusk, the centre of town around San Francisco Church and the market is blocked off to vehicular traffic. From the balcony of my room in Hotel Milan, I watched in amazement as people stacked wood for bonfires in the middle of the street. The quantity of rockets and bangers available was enough to start a revolution. I pondered over events, safe in my hotel eyrie, camera at the ready, fortified with rum and Coke, watching all these preparations for who knows what?

Periodically I ventured down to street level for an empanada, and to see what was going on. Close to midnight the groups in the plaza below lit their bonfires. Sparks were flying from a particularly big construction one block away. I watched them beat the dummies with sticks and then hurl them onto the bonfire. There was great cheering and revelry as the dummies burst into flames and sky rockets soared into the night.

The outcome of the burning is that it releases a great euphoria. Misfortunes and bad memories of the past year are burned away. There is a purification of one’s thoughts. The path ahead is made clear for new hope and happiness. In this moment, resolutions for the New Year are made. The old year has gone. There is hugging and kissing and tears. The celebration of the Old Year in Ecuador is a wonderful tradition and truly a magical event not to be missed.
Regards from Allano

Handling the dummies for sale.

Friday, June 8, 2018


If you are young and fit and want to climb a volcano, then go to Guatemala, its got dozens of them, mostly in the height range of 3500 to 4000 metres., so you'll get a good view from the top. Also, Guatemala is a great country to travel in once you get used to and learn to enjoy the Indian culture and cuisine.  Some backpackers seem to have moved in for good at villages around Lago Atitlan, located in the Western Highlands, which is a popular tourist region.

Plate Tectonics in action
Guatemala lies on the Pacific  "Rim of Fire"  which is important in explaining the concentration of volcanoes around the rim of the Pacific Ocean.  The geological theory of "Plate Tectonics" was founded as recently as 1960, and explains how mountains are built and volcanoes are born.  The continents are considered to be rigid plates (the SIAL, or a silicious scum) which move around by plastic flow on top of the earth's mantle, which has a denser composition (the SIMA).  Movement rate is about 10 cm per year, so in a million years a continent could move a 100 kms. 

Along the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean, following Central and South America, there is an elongated 'Subduction Zone" whereby the continental crust of Central and South America is thrust over the Oceanic crust, causing earthquakes and melting of the newly buried material. This magma is squeezed upwards and forms volcanoes at the surface, maybe one volcano every 50 kms along the mountain chain of the Andes and in Central America.

Wikipedia lists 29 volcanoes for Guatemala all lying in the SW Highland region close to the Pacific Ocean and having elevations of 1200 to 4200 metres.  Two are recorded as being active, Pacaya and Fuego, the later's eruptions causing much damage and casualties at present (May 2018). The Pacaya volcano (2552 metres)  is a favorite one for backpackers to climb via organized tours from the tourist city of Antigua (the old capital). I tried this out but was defeated by gale force winds on nearing the summit.  It was impossible to stand up.  The only way up was to crawl on the steep ash slope.  Not we retreated down to shelter in the forest, and so back down the track to the parking lot where our bus awaited.

The volcanoes make for lovely photographic backgrounds to the tourist regions centered by the towns
Lago Atitlan, with Volcanoes Toliman 3158 m, and  Atitlan 3537 m,
 in the background.
Antigua, and Panajachel on Lago Atitlan. Some volcanoes often give a puff of smoke, just to remind us that the fires below are still smoldering.  Antigua, population now about 30,000, the original capital of Guatemala, was founded by the Spaniards in 1542.  It was so continuously devastated by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that the capital was moved in 1775 to what was considered to be a "safer" region"  called "Guatemala City" having now about 2 million inhabitants.

Antigua remains a beautiful tourist town whose skyline is dominated by a trio of volcanoes having sinister reputations.....they appear on the city's coat of arms.  Volcan Agua lies to the SE, Fuego is SW, and Acatenango is to the west, all about 3700 metres high.  Volcan Agua is about a 5 hour climb to the top.  Fuego is out of bounds as it is erupting at present.

Lago Atitlan is a caldera lake of volcanic origin.  It measures about 10 km across and 25 km wide.  It was formed about 1.8 million years ago when a super-duper volcanic explosion took place that blasted a hole in the region, which subsequently filled up with water. It is estimated that about 300 cubic kms of material, mainly tephra, was ejected and covered the region as far away as Florida and Ecuador.  At a later date new volcanoes sprouted up around the rim of the caldera which are the ones we see today.  The super eruption that formed the crater lake is known as the Los Chocoyas eruption, being named after a bird that makes its nest in the soft ash.

Lago Atitlan is a major tourist attraction of the Western Highlands.  The small villages found around the lake shore are accessed by boat from Panajachel, the main town on its shore.   The village of San Pedro, across the lake at the foot of Volcan San Pedro, is a very popular place for tourists and backpackers, for experiencing the local cuisine and also for attending Spanish language schools.  Growing and processing coffee is a local industry.  The lake was stocked with black bass in 1958.  I did see one caught  from the shore, of about 3 lbs, on a spinner.  I had no luck.  Lago Atitlan is a place where you could happily disappear for ever.   Many backpackers are doing just that.
Regards from Allano

Yes, I'll buy that.

No thanks, I don't want to buy a chook.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


Rocks have lots to tell us if you speak their language.  You have to be a geologist to have a rapport with rocks, minerals, and gemstones.  Fossil shells are fairly common place and make for interesting initial collections for hikers exploring the outdoors.    But a fossil beach?  I have found some amazing ones in my travels.

A fossil beach denotes shallow water, such as found in a sea water estuarine system.  A current or tidal flow may create ripple marks over extensive areas of flat beach.  These ripple marks can be preserved when covered over by later deposits of sand and mud.  This can happen with terrestial flooding from rivers, or from regional subsidence.  It happens frequently.   The amber deposits of Guatemala are found in such sedimentary rocks of estuarine origin.

Jo standing by a fossil beach in the Adelaide Hills
But what about close to home where I live?  In the Adelaide Hills, between the suburbs of Belair and Mitcham there is a quartzite quarry with a wonderful exposure of ripple marks. It's on the steeply dipping side of the quarry wall of fine sandstone of the Kanmantoo basement rocks, and is about 400 millions old.

It is a nice afternoon scramble down hill northwards down the gully and so to Mitcham metro station.  Take the train both ways. Enjoy the city views, take a lunch. Watch out for the local wild life, the koalas, the foxes, and on hot days beware of brown snakes slinking around in the shrubbery.

The most spectacular fossil beach I have encountered is rather difficult to get to.  It forms the exposed crest of the Spero Range inland from Bathurst Harbour in South West Tasmania. It is composed of flat lying glaringly white quartzites of Pre-Cambrian Age, and looks like a ripple marked sandy beach formed just yesterday.  It invites you to strip off and dive into the water, but the tide went out maybe 800 million years ago (see Tasmanian Mines Dept Ref. below).

Dinosaur footprints in Bolivia…..being inspected by  Philippa Haselgrove,  from Adelaide.  (click to enlarge image)

Sometimes creatures have walked along these ancient beaches and have left their footprints.   Not human beings of course, for it was before their time.   Go back a 100 million years or so and you may encounter evidence of dinosaurs out for a stroll along the beach, leaving footprints of Mum or Dad and the youngsters in the sand, and the dragging furrow of their long tail.   A good example of this is in Bolivia, at a cement works quarry near Sucre. Take at taxi out to see the sights.  The steeply dipping mudstone of the quarry wall  is covered in dinosaur footprints, both large and small, made by Tyrrannosaurus rex , having feet up to 80 cm across,  and of a smaller iguanodon.    

So the rocks do speak to us and have a lot to say about how they were formed.  You may find rocks with fossil shells on the Adelaide beaches and elsewhere, which make nice ornamental pieces for display at home.  They will remind you that all the present political skulduggery is just a flash in geological time, so don't worry too much about it.    Regards from Allano.

An Adelaide sandy beach at dinosaurs here.
SW Tasmanian geology and Spero Range ripplemarks.

Old  quarry in Adelaide Hills showing ripple marks.

Foto opposite: Having a picnic with Joanna, Christobel and dog Jarrah in the old quarry showing ripple marks on the sloping walls.   The track down from the road above is rather steep so be careful.  The area is well signposted giving the history of the workings.  It's a nice outing on a summer's day.

Regards from Allano

PS: I have found some more dinosaur footprints.   These ones are preserved for tourists to look at near Mendoza in Argentina.   (Click to enlarge images)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Southern Lakes Crossing - Chile to Argentina

The southern lakes crossing takes you from Chile to Argentina, or vice versa, through the Andean mountain chain at one of its most spectacular scenic regions. The route taken by bus and catamaran cruiser on the lakes is a great tourist attraction that takes a day in summer or two days in a snowy winter, but there is an optional stay-over at the Peulla or Natura Hotels at the head of the lake. The trip is between Puerto Varas, near the sea coast of Chile, inland to cross the Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche (Bariloche for short) which is the tourist center for the Argentine Lake District. The total distance is roughly 180 kms, and the road goes through the forested mountain pass of Perez Rozales at an altitude of 1022 meters, which is close by to snowy Cerro Tronador reaching 3460 meters.

The start on the Chilean side with the catamaran waiting at the jetty at Petrohue on Lago Todos Los Santos.

The eroded volcanic cone of Puntiagudo (2190 meters) on the skyline in Chile.

The details of the trip, schedules and prices are given by the operators Cruce de Lagos.
The traveller to this part of Chile may have reason to cross the Andes to Argentina in other regions which are listed in my Bootsnall travel article Southern Lakes Crossing

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

Tierra del Fuego is the big island located at the very southernmost tip of South America. The Beagle Channel provides a safe southern route lengthwise from east to west, allowing ships to bypass the treacherous Cape Horn further to the south. This narrow channel through the mountains is named after Captain Robert Fitzroy's ship the "Beagle", used during a British surveying voyage of 1834. On board was Charles Darwin the ship's naturalist and recorder of the expedition. His account is now a classic book and collector's item, the "Voyage of the Beagle" , which was a precursor of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The Beagle Channel has spectacular mountain scenery with many glacier-filled fiords joining up with the channel. The best way to see everything is to take the weekly cruise ship "Terra Australis" (ca 120 passengers) from the Chilean port of Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. The cruise goes easterly along the Beagle Channel to as far as Puerto Williams, which is a Chilean naval base on island of Navarino. Next port of call is to the northern shore and the Argentine port of Ushuaia, which is an important tourist and industrial town on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. At Ushuaia the cruise ship drops off and takes on passengers and goes westward back along the channel to Punta Arenas, taking 6 days in all. When I did the cruise I left the ship at Ushuaia to explore that part of Tierra del Fuego for 10 days, then returned overland by bus to Punta Arenas

Docking at Ushuaia early in the morning. Snow still on the hills early November.

Old Chilean gun emplacement near Puerto Williams, one time guarding the Beagle Channel from intruders.

Allano views the Beagle Channel from the top of Cerro Bandera at Puerto Williams.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A visit to Volcan Masaya in Nicaragua

Volcan Masaya is an active volcano close to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. It is part of Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya with over 20 kms of hiking trails. However, you don't have to climb to the top because a road goes to the summit giving a view from the crater lip. Half way there is an excellent museum which explains all about the park and the volcanism of the region.
(Click on fotos to enlarge)

The Spaniards regarded this volcano as the Gates of Hell. Masaya last erupted in 1772. The highest point of the crater lip, with a large cross on top, is at 632 meters. There is a hiking trail to the top now closed for it being too dangerous. Parrots (chocoyos) nest in tunnels made in the soft volcanic ash of the crater walls.

Lunch time sitting at the Plaza Central in Granada city, Nicaragua.

The horse drawn cabs are for hire. It's nice to take one for a trip to the lake shore a few kms away.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Isla Grande de Chiloe .... a glimpse at historic Chile

Isla Grande de Chiloe, or Chiloe for short, is a favorite Chilean island of mine, for to disappear in for a week or more, to eat at seafood restaurants and drink vino, and just enjoy myself for awhile at little cost. The island measures some 180 km long and 50 kms wide and is only a short ferry trip from Puerto Montt, the capital of the Chilean Lake District.

Fuerte San Antonio guards the town of Ancud (pop 25,000) a northern fishing port and Chiloe's largest town. The fortress was built by the Spanish and was their last Chilean outpost, until their final defeat in 1826. Other major towns are Castro (central) and Quellon the southern fishing and ferry port, all located on the relatively sheltered eastern side of the island.

(click on fotos to enlarge)
Churches on the island are of distinctive design and built of wood with wood shingle cladding. Likewise houses are wooden with shingles and a corrugated iron roof.

Market day at Dalcahue, a small fishing village near Castro.

The main commercial activities of the island are fishing, salmon farming, tourism and transport. At Ancud you must visit the fishing fleet when it's in port and look in at the fish processing plant adjacent to the wharf. Salmon and shellfish farming is done in the sheltered shallow inlets of the east coast out from Castro. The island of Chiloe is used as a convenient transport route to the fiordland part of Chile because the mainland route is too mountainous. Buses and trucks go from Puerto Montt to Ancud, thence south thru Castro to the ferry terminal at Quellon. The ferries (transbordadores) go south to Puerto Chacabuco to service the Aisen Region including Coihaique. The ferry also goes eastward to the main land to the port of Chaiten, which was wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 2008.