Sunday 28 November 2010

Is that Venus??

In this photo, taken on the 2nd January this year, of the moon over the ocean at Woolgoolga (about 6 hours up north from Sydney on the east coast of Australia), I've circled two objects in the sky, to the right of the moon and down a bit:

In my Children's Handbook of Astrology, I read that stars in the sky can appear either blue or red depending on the speed or distance or something of their travel in space (sorry that's a bit vague, it was a long time ago). If you click on the image, you might be able to see that the object on the left is slightly red and the one on the right slightly blue. I zoomed in on the object on the right (to about 600%), but it didn't look like a star. Is it a marble? Is it a bouncy ball? Or could it be Venus?:

In which case, could the reddish object on the left be an overexposed image of Mars?

Next week: Is that Uranus?

Wednesday 10 November 2010

California to Guatemala - with photos

It is almost exactly a year since came out to with us in Thailand, one of the big highlights of the trip. It has also been a year since my last birthday-on-the-road. We have missed two Big Chills, two skiing holidays and the birth of several babies. says she’s forgotten what I look like (!). It has also been nearly a year since my last post. My apologies. Normal service has been resumed as soon as possible. These are some of the photos along the journey as detailed in 's lovely map.

For travellers, we haven’t actually done much travelling. Ever since the home leg of our round-the-world ticket expired in January, we have been peculiarly stationary travellers. When we arrived at ’s in California on January 31st this year, they told us we could stay until March 18th. Perhaps they didn't expect us to take them up on it. We spent 6 weeks and in utter luxury. Thanks, Jan & Ania, you guys are the best!

We then turned up at 's, friends of my Dad, a little bit further down the West in San Luis Obispo, with whom we didn't even mention how long we'd be staying until our fifth day there. We had a brilliant week and as well as having an intense crash course from Vicente in Latin American music, specialising in Brazilian. Thanks so much to Vicente, Miriam, Debbie and for welcoming and looking after us so well.

Weeks, if not months, later than we originally expected, we eventually ended up in Mexico City on 25th March. Standing at the immigration desk filling in the form, we considered how long we'd be in Mexico. "What do you think, a week?" asked Alex. We decided to put down two weeks, just in case. But after seeing
and , it seemed churlish not to stay a while.

Five months later and we had full time , a cheap and welcoming place to and lots of really good . We love Mexico City and everyone we met there for letting us just rock up, make it up as we went along and establish a very happy life. It was, quite simply, the very best part of the trip.

And then, on 18th August, came to visit bearing a bottle of champagne, whisky, gin and Bailey's, suntan lotion, five books, mosquito repellent, an external hard drive, flash drive, lots of jewellery, a bottle of Issey Mayake (which has replaced deodorant excellently), lots of copies of The Independent and one of Private Eye, chocolates, bombay mix, multipacks of Crunchie bars and Kit Kats and a packet of macadamia nuts and cranberries. They spoiled us rotten for 12 days, heading out with us, for the first time into Mexico beyond the city limits.

We soaked up the in Puebla, checked out some of the 365 in Cholula and learnt about the ancient at Yagul, Monte Alban and Mitla in Oaxaca. After what seemed like 5 minutes, my parents had to leave. We were really, really sorry to see them go. All alone again. Time to hit the .

We managed to keep up the pace for a while; a rare one night in San Jose in a wooden cabin with a fireplace overlooking the . We'd have had another night if it hadn't been so shockingly cold and wet. Then just two nights watching the in Zipolite. But when we saw the more inviting and less murderous at Mazunte, our flying pace ground to a standstill. We spent 10 days and, at which point our visa suddenly expired. 6 months in had just gone by. A long two weeks.

The expiry date was the day before Mexico's celebration of 100 years since the revolution and 200 years since Mexican Independence. We couldn't stay in the country for five and a half months longer than expected only to leave the day before their biggest national celebration in modern history, which cost us a rather expensive trip over the border to to extend our stay.

Actually, I'd rather have been in my new home city for the event, but Mexico is unfeasibly large, and if you ask any Mexican where their favourite part of the country is, you'll hear either Oaxaca or Chiapas first. We were right next to Chiapas and made it to San Cristobal de las Casas for the and all the .

I could have wandered the and for weeks, but 15 minutes after we had arrived at our new hotel, friends we'd met in Zipolite, who were traveling Latin America in an enormous house-sized truck, walked past our door and after a few moments of blank expressions and wondering how they knew us, we all laughed and by the end of the night we had become hitchhikers. (By the next morning, we had been evicted by the landlady for making too much noise.)

They whisked us off in their big, white tank, a new way to travel for us. The freedom of a big, white tank. We could stop for lunch whenever we wanted and suddenly decide to check out the and incredible at Tonina.

The other thing a big, white tank can do is
and while looking for things in Tumbala. I can't even remember what we were looking for, all I remember is the ! You can't do that in a bus.

So far, we'd seen in the desert, on top of hills, and now we were going to see the and in the at Palenque. And howler monkeys. You don't seem them, but you hear them. They sound as big as an but they're only the size of a , apparently.

We left the hills behind us and drove flat and straight with the same view of bush on either side of the road in the baking heat for about four hours until we reached Campeche. Campeche has prettily coloured and a on top of a hill, but despite being right on the , there isn't much actual . So, feeling the irresistable pull of a proper , we parted ways with our traveling buddies Jack and Millie (thank you, guys!) and made for Tulum which has with a included in the ticket! To stay by the is horrifyingly expensive so we stayed in town, which was fine, except that the pharmacy opposite was competing with the bar next door to play the loudest music, the orange streetlight lit up our net curtain like a projection screen every night and we were absolutely miles from the frigging beach.

So, we tried again at Mahahual. At last. A whole week of nothing but and . We became keyholders at Otto's internet place (for half an hour), got offered a job at Jaime's Nohoch Kay restaurant (and several discounts on his unbelievable shrimp and octopus in garlic and white wine tacos - OMG) and fell asleep in Fernando's bar hammock (a bar hammock!) at his delicious 100% Agave restaurant. Needless to say, we were stuck.

One morning, when we headed for breakfast, Alex looked out at sea and said, "Is that a cloud?" It wasn't. It was a massive great . Overnight, our sleepy, private little hangout had transformed into a host to cruise ships, including the biggest passenger ship in the world. Even construction sites had tables out selling . The other notable thing about Mahahual is that the sun rises over the sea (not that I ever saw that) and over the mangroves (wiped out by Hurrican Dean). That's a full 180 degree coverage!

We made up for drifted time by leaving Mexico, whizzing through Belize and arriving in Guatemala in the same day. The most obvious thing to do in Guatemala must be to see the at Tikal where you can walk through to see and even ! The obvious place to stay when visiting Tikal is Flores, magically located in a . After a fews days enjoying and , we headed to Lake Atitlan, via Antigua, beautiful in a San Cristobal kind of way with it's and (although San Cristobal didn't have any ). We stayed long enough to the volcano Pacaya, where you can! While Alex was , there was a disconcerting boom in the ! Yes, an ! Alex missed it completely.

We sped on like a slow moving hurricane to San Pedro, Lake Atitlan. We have now been recuperating from our punishing schedule here for three weeks. We have attended three pub quizes and three of Smokin Joe's Sunday barbecues. We have also and , which was absolutely exhausting. But, most importantly, I have spent days on end back in the with satellite TV on, editing more than 5,000 .

Frankly, I'm exhausted. You know what I could do with?