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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Facts and legends about topaz

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel Prize winning poet, wrote in his poem “Las Piedras del Cielo” , about his love of gems and minerals:
"Cuando se toca el topacio, el topacio te toca."

or, when you touch the topaz, the topaz touches you

A large topaz crystal is a wonderful thing to touch and handle, and look through. My pet coffee table crystal from Brazil measures 6 x 11 cm across the base and 8 cm high, bounded top and bottom by perfect basal cleavage planes. It is super transparent and colorless, heavy, and feels cold to touch and lick. What else can we learn from it?
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Facts about emeralds

Why are natural emeralds so rare in occurrence compared to beryl and aquamarine, which are the same mineral but a different color?

Why are beryls and aquamarines found in pegmatite deposits but rarely so are emeralds? If you are a prospector of gemstones and of emeralds you should know the reason before venturing forth.

To understand the occurrence of emerald and beryl in general you have to study the chemical composition of the mineral beryl and what causes the color. Beryl is a beryllium aluminum silicate which if it had no coloring impurities would naturally be colorless, and many are, such as the colorless gem beryl called “goshenite”. These crystals may have lots of alkali ions and water molecule impurities but these don’t cause any color.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Some great ferry boat trips in Chile"

One of the many exciting travel experiences in Chile's southern region is the frequent voyage by ship, or "transbordador", as they are called locally, or car ferry elsewhere in the world.

.....At Puerto Montt you can have your first experience of voyaging on a transbordador. The choice is considerable for distance traveled and size of ship. One needs only to front up at the bus terminal on the waterfront and buy a bus ticket to the town of Castro on the adjacent island of Chiloe, or Isla Grande de Chiloe, a 3 hour journey. Nobody tells you that the bus goes on a car ferry for half an hour, crossing the often stormy Canal de Chacao. Go to sleep on the bus and you miss the experience.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to travel safely in South Africa

......You need at least a month in South Africa to see the major tourist sights and absorb the culture and cuisine. As a bare minimum you must visit Cape Town, then traverse the southern Garden Route to Port Elizabeth, thence head north again, by devious means, to Durban, the major sea port on the Indian Ocean. Time permitting you can venture into the Drakensberg Mountains and perhaps visit Lesotho, or head north to traverse Swaziland and visit various game parks, such as Kruger National Park. Invariably you end up back at Joburg where you catch your plane back home, or elsewhere. It is all very straight forward.

How to do it? I have always gone the "backpacker route" which provides a pretty safe and inexpensive means of travel and accommodation. Every city or town has a plethora of backpacker hostels which have tourist travel down to a fine art. They are listed in the many South African travel guide books published today. Check them out and decide where you want to stay in Joburg on arrival.

Many hostels in Joburg are (or were) luxury mansions complete with beautiful gardens and a swimming pool, now converted to hostels safely protected by high walls and razor-wire, with instant communication to the local security company in case of armed holdup... you get used to this security after awhile. Feel lucky if you are not there if an incident happens.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Otavalo Craft Market, Ecuador

....... A tiny Indian woman shuffled at a snail’s pace along the pavement to the next door with a big milk can on her bent back. The householder offered a kitchen saucepan to receive the day’s milk supply. A few coins change hands.

I watched from across the cobblestone street while having breakfast at a restaurant in downtown Otavalo. Here old people work to survive. Women are beasts of burden, often carrying heavy loads on their backs or balanced on their heads. The division of labor among the Indian community puzzled me.

The women are artistic and creative. They spin and weave at home during the week, look after the children and may run a market stall at weekends. The man’s role is not immediately obvious, but it seems he tills the land, harvests the crops and takes them to market, and does laboring jobs and house construction.

Otavalo is an Indian town of 25,000 inhabitants. It lies on the Andean altiplano at 2800 meters altitude and 95 kms north of the capital, Quito. Its Poncho Plaza is said to be the largest and best handicraft market in South America.
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Foto: Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mexico City

...... The natural starting point to explore Mexico City is the Zócalo. Formerly this was the center of the lakeside Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which was a thriving metropolis with a population estimated at 200,000 when discovered and later destroyed by Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, in 1520 AD. He rebuilt the city as the Spanish capital of the New World.

Much of the paving stone in the Zócalo is derived from destroyed Aztec buildings. The foundations of the Great Pyramid are preserved in the block adjacent to the Cathedral. On site is the superb Museo del Templo Mayor which records the development of human habitation here.

Next door is the National Palace, now home of the Mexican President, the Federal Treasury and National Archives. It was built by Cortés on the site of the palace of Emperor Montezuma II. The main attraction for tourists today is the display of dramatic murals by Diego Rivera, that adorn the walls of the balconies overlooking the central courtyard.
Foto: National Museum of Anthropology
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Visit to the Angel Falls, Venezuela

Gran Sabana Interlude

...... Canoe access to the Angel Falls is restricted to the rainy season, June to November, and here it was the end of November. Thanks to El Niño, the rains had continued and the river was negotiable, but only just. Alternatively, weather permitting and with absence of cloud, you can fly by the Falls, but blink and you’ve missed them.

The Rio Carrao was up to 200 meters wide and led straight to Auyan Tepuy. We donned lifejackets and huddled under canvas drapes to shelter from the spray. Several scary rapids were negotiated. Towards dusk we pulled into the bank at Camp Orquidea - a jungle camp beneath towering rocky bluffs. This camp is used by other tour groups and is the site of the base camp used by the 1949 National Geographic expedition that first reached the Falls by land to measure their height.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Float trip in Los Llanos, Venezuela

Off the beaten track in Venezuela

...... By afternoon we had arrived at our destination. This was the start of our float trip on an obscure tributary of the Orinoco ..... the Rio Masparro.

We slid the cumbersome inflatable boats down the bank into the muddy waters. Our guide seemed all confident about this float trip through Los Llanos. Before us were central grassy plains of Venezuela with its maze of tributaries feeding into the mighty Orinoco, the third largest river in South America.

Roads are few. The rivers are navigable by motorized dugout canoes used by local Indians who live in grass huts along the riverbanks.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Christmas in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca Interlude

It was Christmas Eve. Chrissy, my travel companion, and I headed for the zocalo, or central plaza of the town to watch the celebrations..

By 10 pm we were engulfed in a sea of happy families filling all available space behind the roped off streets of the procession route. Each church (and there seems to be one every few city blocks) had its elaborate nativity float beautifully decorated, crowded with gorgeous ladies and school children dressed up in their finery, as angels (or fairies?) waving a wand at the spectators. Infant Jesus was the centerpiece resting in a fancy cradle.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Glitzy Rio de Janeiro

Fotos: Ipanema Beach, Copacabana sidewalk, Corcovado
Large: Copacabana Beach

In January 1502 a Portuguese explorer Gasper de Lemos sighted the magnificent granite domes and white sandy beaches of Guanabara Bay. He mistook the inlet for a river mouth, which he named Rio de Janeiro.

The settlement here has since blossomed into the world's most spectacular city with, in the metro area, 11.7 million people, know as Cariocas. Rio squeezes itself between the mountains and sea. Fantastic surf beaches alternate with rocky headlands and towering granite knobs resulting in many barrios, or mini-cities with exotic names .... Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema. Flying into Rio reveals a beautiful sight. It is an unforgettable experience for tourists as this marvelous city becomes a reality.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Brighton by the Sea, South Australia

Everyone has to live somewhere and have a home base. From here you can fly off to explore the world. My base is Adelaide (population ca 1.1 million), the capital city of South Australia, which is the State "down south and in the middle" of Australia.

The first colonists arrived from England in 1836 and established themselves at Holdfast Bay which is now a council district located in the southern part of the city. English place names abound. Adjacent to the suburb of Brighton is Hove, just like in Sussex, England. Brighton is one of the many Adelaide suburbs that front on to 30 km long sandy beach on the eastern shore of the Gulf St Vincent.

Visitors to Adelaide can reach these southern beaches by public transport combined with a little hiking. The Metro Noarlunga Line can get you to Brighton and Seacliff stations from whence you head (west) on foot towards the sea a few hundred meters distant. At Seacliff you will find an excellent watering hole in the form of the Seacliff Beach Hotel and at Brighton there is the Esplanade Hotel, both good for lunch or dinner. Brighton's Jetty Road is always a hive of activity with early morning breakfasters through until the late evening diners. Dispersed among the eateries are interesting craft, boutiques and book shops. The Brighton Jetty is always a fascinating spot to sniff the cool sea breeze and watch the locals trying to catch a fish or squid.

It takes only about half an hour's walk, or paddle, to go from Seacliff to Brighton, or viceversa, along the sandy beach. Beach debris is always fascinating and so too are the antics of peoples' dogs that frolic in the waves, chase sticks and sea gulls and dig holes in the loose sand.

We Adelaideans are very lucky to have such wonderful clean, safe beaches right at our doorstep. It sure is a nice place to return to after travelling the world.
(Foto is of Brighton Jetty)
Check Blog Archive RHS for articles about South Australia

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguacu Falls .... the Niagara of Brazil

Claimed to be the largest waterfall in the world, Foz do Iguacu (igh-wha-soo) is the next best tourist attraction in Brazil, after Rio de Janeiro. The falls are found on a tributary of the mighty Parana River close to where the three countries Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet up. The falls are shared between Brazil and Argentina.

The Iguacu River plunges over a 70 meter basalt precipice in a series of waterfalls stretching along 2500 meters. This is twice as wide as Niagara and some 20 meters higher.
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Belize - A Harzardous Heaven

Belize itself can be a heaven on Earth. The country possesses some of the world's last tracts of native rain forest which teams with orchids, parrots, toucans and exotic animals. The extensive barrier reef of coral islands is a Caribbean paradise now developed for the sun and sea loving European tourist.
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Friday, January 15, 2010

Other gem materials and minerals of Mexico

Much fine lapidary work is done with obsidian. At Teotihuacan archeological site near Mexico City there is an obsidian workshop where for the benefit of tourists the Indians fashion traditional arrow and spear heads for sale. However, some obsidian has a beautiful flow structure which is emphasized when polished into spheres and other ornaments. The varieties known as Sheen Obsidian (yellow sheen), Rainbow Obsidian (rainbow sheen) and Snowflake Obsidian are particularly striking..
The largest Mexican deposits of obsidian are near Guadalajara and have been mined for thousands of years. A recent visit to the obsidian mines and a workshop is described by John Pint, "Obsidian in Mexico", click here.

The silver mining regions that I visited north of Mexico City (Pachuca and Guanajuato to Zacatecas) are a source of many mineral specimens of interest to the collector. The gangue minerals include quartz crystals often with an amethystine base, calcite as platy rosettes (calcita en hojas) and as spiky "dog tooth spar" and massive fluorite. Silver minerals include native silver, argentite, ruby silver, and the common sulfide minerals chalcopyrite, pyrite and galena are plentiful. I was tempted to buy some colorless topaz crystals and rare danburite crystals up to 5 cm size.

Gemstones of Mexico and Guatemala

Mexico is famous for is "Fire Opal", which is a type of opal rarely found in Australia. It is defined as a transp[arent to translucent stone with an orange to red body color which may or may not show a play of color....

Mexican and Guatemalan jade is the variety jadeite, which is the pyroxene of ideal composition NaAlSi2O6. It was extensively used in Pre-Hispanic times by the Indians for carving into works of art e.g., figurines, beads, pendants and mosaic masks, which were owned by priests and royalty.....

Amber is the fossilized resin originating from pine trees. It is found as transparent lumps, of yellow to red color, in Tertiary Age sediments of shallow water origin.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Monarch butterfly sanctuary, Mexico

Monarchs of the Mountains

Does the idea of climbing to 3500 meters altitude to visit a butterfly sanctuary seem bizarre? To me it did. My previous butterfly experience was limited to the back garden when declaring war on the Cabbage White.

.....The Monarch butterflies migrate from North America travelling over
4000 kms south to find a haven in the mountains of Mexico. They arrive at the sanctuaries by the millions at the end of October and leave in the middle of April.
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Puerto Natales in Fiordland Chile

Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia is the starting off point to see the finest mountain and lake scenery in South America.

Torres del Paine National Park is one of the "in places" to go to in South America, rivaling Machu Picchu as a "must see" destination. While Torres del Paine is the big local attraction, there is plenty else to do and see around Puerto Natales. The Milodon Cave is superb as is the boat cruise up the adjacent fiord to view the glaciers... and close by over the Argentine border is the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Guide to the ancient Mayan city of Copan, Honduras

Copan is the southernmost of the ancient cities of the vast Mayan civilization that flourished in the Classic Period of 300 to 900 AD. Today, national boundaries put it in northern Honduras, some 12 kms from the border with Guatemala. It is a wonderful UNESCO World Heritage Site.

...... The Kings of Copan make the House of Windsor seem very boring and commonplace - what exotic names they have! King Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw was founder of the city, followed later by .....
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Silver Cities of Mexico

The old Spanish colonial cities of Taxco, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas are located not too far away from Mexico City. These are the "silver cities" of Mexico. They are beautifully preserved like they were in colonial times, but now they thrive on tourism.

The great wealth produced by silver mining during colonial times of the 16th to 18th centuries financed lavish mansions for the "silver barons", ornate cathedrals, theaters, and impressive government palaces that made New Spain truly a rival of the mother country.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Forgotten Uruguay

Nestling between the giants of Brazil and Argentina lies little Uruguay, once a political buffer state that today seems neglected by mainstream tourism.

The countryside is an extension of the Argentine pampas and is dotted with cattle and sheep. Montevideo, the main port and capital has a population of about 1.4 million, which is the home for about 40% of the total population of 3.4 million. It is a long established welfare state and has a high level of Government employment.
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Nicaragua Adventure and Overview

Nicaragua .... How to get there and get about?

Managua, the capital city (population ca. 1.1 million) has an International airport that caters for Central American flights, together with daily flights to Miami and Houston. The Tica Bus Service has daily air-conditioned buses traversing Central America from Chiapas, Mexico though to Panama and vice versa.

.....The volcanoes play an important role in the economy, scenery and tourism of Nicaragua.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Guide to the Atacama Desert, Chile

.....How big is it?

As an "eco-region" it takes in most of northern Chile from the Peru border at Arica down south to about Copiapo, or a coastal strip of about 1000 kms. This is the really dry part where yearly rainfall recorded can be 1 mm or less! To the east the desert extends to the less arid central Andean plateau at 4000 meters in altitude. All told, the Atacama desert covers over 180,000 sq. kms consisting of barren sand, volcanic rock and salt pans.
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Chile's Southern Lakes Crossing

Which is the most beautiful lake in Chile?

Of the dozen or so major lakes in Chile's "Southern Lakes District" travelers invariably score Lago Todos Los Santos as tops.

It differs from the others by being hidden deep within the mountains. It is surrounded by much virgin forest, in contrast to the other lakes in the Andean foothills which have farms and villages scattered around their shores.
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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Torres del Paine National Park - Chile

Chile is a land of spectacular mountains and volcanoes.
Its backbone of the Andean Cordillera extends over 4000 kilometers north to south forming a natural boundary with neigboring Argentina.
Some of the best mountain scenery in all South America is found in the Torres del Paine National Park located about 350 kms north of Punta Arenas, the capital of ...
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Visiting Chile's lake district

The Chilean Lake District has about ten major lakes located between the foothills of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean coast. They are of glacial origin and were covered in snow and ice for most of the last Ice Age going back some 100,000 years ago. Nowadays the permanent snow is confined to the high Andes .....
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McLaren Vale almond industry, South Australia

McLaren Vale some 30 kilometres south of Adelaide city, capital of South Australia, is noted for its fine wines, particularly Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. It is also a haven of almond groves. In the spring time the valley is a mass of almond blossom with rows and rows of almond trees next to the vineyards.
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McLaren Vale wineries, South Australia

McLaren Vale region wineries tour, South Australia

Foto: Vintage truck once used to harvest grapes at Serafino Wines

This wine tour group included a visit to Olive Groves Winery, Lloyd Brothers, Penny's Hill Winery, Trafford Hill Vineyard and the Carrickalinga Creek Winery.
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Kangaroo Island Wineries, South Australia

Kangaroo Island is one of the newest of the wine regions of Australia, it being declared so in 2001...

Kangaroo Island is located along the southern coast of South Australia at latitude 36 degrees south. It is elongated east-west, a low lying plateau 145 kms long and about 55 kms at its widest point. The southern coast receives the full force of weather from the Southern Ocean and has many magnificent surf beaches with white calcareous sands.
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