broken walls and narratives

A not so revolutionary blog about feminism, socialism, activism, travel, nature, life, etc.

Archive for the category “travel”

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas


 

H. Bradford

 

7/8/2019


May and June 2019 marked the 100 anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.   While I certainly know little about the history of the U.S.’s northerly neighbor, I do know that the strike was the largest in Canadian history and included over 30,000 workers and sympathetic strikes in as many as 30 other Canadian cities.  The strike began on May 1 and May 2nd, when the Metal Trades Council and Building Trades Council were unable to secure a contract after three months of negotiations.  The 12,000 members of the Labor Council voted on June 13th to strike in support of the Metal and Building trades and for collective bargaining rights in general, with only 645 members voting against this.  12,000 non-union workers also joined the May 15th strike, which shut down the city and put its functions under worker control for 42 days.   Although the strike failed, it was a monumental exercise of worker power, the specter of which won some later labor reforms.  Throughout May and June of this year, but also through the rest of the year, there are special events and exhibits to mark the centennial of the strike.   Since I live in Duluth/Superior, which is under seven hours to drive to Winnipeg, I decided to visit for the anniversary of the strike.   The road trip included my mother, so out of fairness to her, the whole trip did not focus on labor history.  However, I did take in a few strike history related tourist attractions.

 


 

Strike! The Walking Tour:


Between May 1 and August 31, visitors to Winnipeg can join strike themed walking tours in the Exchange District.   These tours are either one or one and a half hours.  I opted for the one hour tour, which of course, is less in depth but probably more suitable for my mother (who opted not to go along at the last minute).   The one hour tour only costs $8 CAN and in my case, ended up being a private tour as no one else had signed up.  The tour is packed with information, so it may be useful to bring a notebook.  The tour is run through the Exchange District BIZ, a non-profit tax funded entity centered around development and tourism.  Despite this orientation, the walking tour was sympathetic to the strike and generally anti-capitalist themed.  The tour begins with an overview of the social conditions leading up to the strike, such as the concentration of wealth and power among Winnipeg’s elite, post- World War I economic problems, and the union movement and strike that had occurred the year prior to the 1919 strike.   For instance, between 1913 and 1919, the cost of living had increased 75%.  The cost of living was about $1500 per year for a family, whereas annual income was around $900.   Increasingly, workers sought to organize against the conditions in which they could barely live and were buoyed by the Russian revolution as well as strikes in Vancouver and Seattle.  Highlights of the tour include the former location of Victoria Park, where workers gathered to learn information about the strike, held rallies and events,  and labor church services on Sundays.  The park is long gone as the city turned it into a water heating station in 1922, though there is a plaque on the nearby condo.  Another highlight was Hell’s Alley, which is located between Market Avenue and James Avenue.  This is where special police and Mounted Police rounded up protestors on Bloody Saturday, cornering them to beat them up and arrest them.  Over ninety people were arrested and hundreds injured.   This violence and repression successfully crushed the strike, which ended June 26th. The walking tour finished up by the new Bloody Saturday monument in front of City Hall, where police fired on the crowd and killed two people after the strikers nearly toppled a street car.  The Exchange District is steeped in strike history and this is a great way to get an overview of the events, people, and context of the strike.

Historic Walking Tours

Image may contain: outdoor

 


 

Strike 1919: Divided City- Manitoba Museum:


Between March 22, 2019 and January 05, 2020, visitors to the Manitoba Museum can enjoy their strike exhibition entitled “Strike 1919: Divided City.”  As the name suggests, the exhibition seeks to highlight the perspectives of various segments of society during the strike, ranging from strikers, business people, or ordinary people not involved in the strike.  The exhibition is expansive, with many ways to interact with the information including short films, character dramatizations, personal accounts, artifacts, and recreated scenes.   Honestly, the museum itself is so large that a person could spend all day visiting, as it features indigenous Canadian history, natural history, a planetarium, Animals Inside Out, and much more.  With that said, this is a great place to delve deeper into the history.  While there is far too much to mention, I will draw attention to a few artifacts.  The museum has a small collection of police weapons and offers a little history about the special police.  Basically, the police of Winnipeg were sympathetic to the strike.  For instance, all but 16 of the 240 member police force were fired for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge and rejecting unionism.  Because the police were on the side of the strikers (something which socialists generally don’t view as a common role for police) the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand (a pro-business, anti-strike organization) had to recruit a special police force to do their bidding.  They were not well trained or disciplined, often motivated by anti-communist and anti-immigrant sentiment, and they were crudely armed with wooden clubs and uniformed with white armbands.   Other artifacts of interest are signs which read, “Permitted by Authority of the Strike Committee.”   These signs were posted in the windows of businesses which were allowed to function during the strike by the authority of the Strike Committee.  This attests to the power of the strike, as police, fire fighting, milk and bread delivery, the city’s water, etc. were among the many services operating under the auspices of strikers.  Strikers truly controlled the entire city as mail service, telegraphs, and streets cars were stopped.  It is believed that 1/6 of the city’s population participated.   Other signs eluded to “One Big Union” which was a conceptional and organizational demand of some workers who wanted to join a broad, revolutionary labor union that crossed industries and regions.   The Manitoba Museum has a lot to offer, but is a little expensive.  Basic Adult Admission is $19.50 for one area, but is as much as $32.70 if a person wants to visit the Planetarium and Science Gallery.  The basic admission was more than enough for me.

Home

No photo description available.

 


 

Canadian Museum for Human Rights:


I was skeptical that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights would be worth visiting.  I thought that it would be a shrine to UN Peacekeeping.  It isn’t that I don’t want humans to live the best and fullest lives possible, but the narrative of human rights is often tied to a softer side of imperialism which is enacted through international organizations, charity, microloans, pacifism, multilateral militarism, and Keynesian capitalism.  The museum was nothing like that, or at least not abhorrently so.   Related to the Winnipeg General Strike, there was an entire floor dedicated to the struggle for human rights in Canada.  Various struggles were highlighted in open cubbies, where visitors could gain a brief overview of the struggles of an oppressed group.   These struggles included the fight for women’s rights, LGBT rights, First Nation rights, disability rights, the plight of escaped slaves from the United States, Japanese internment, immigrant rights, the rights of religious minorities and war resistors, and finally, the strike.  There wasn’t anything in the strike section that I hadn’t learned on the walk or at the Manitoba Museum, but the museum puts this struggle in context of many struggles in Canadian history.  This is definitely worth visiting and a way to learn about injustices in Canadian history.  Many people in the United States idealize Canada as the place to escape to in the face of reactionary power in the U.S.   However, this floor should demonstrate that the United States and Canada are both founded on shameful histories of oppression and genocide and the social conditions of both are a function of the struggle of the oppressed.  Like the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a bit expensive.  But, the admission includes eight floors of information about the struggles of people all over the world.  It also features a special exhibition on Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa.  The view from the top of the museum is fantastic.  It is important to note that the museum takes a smorgasbord approach to human rights, so it has been critiqued for not adequately addressing the plight of Native American people in Canada and from using water (in the reflection pool) drawn from a reservoir which has not provided drinkable water to the local Native American population for several years.  The building is fabulously constructed, but at a high cost when 75% of First Nation children in Manitoba live in poverty and there is a large indigenous homeless population in Winnipeg.  I spent two hours at the museum and was very rushed, so a visit should probably take three to four hours.  A one day ticket costs $21 CAN.

https://humanrights.ca/

Image may contain: cloud, sky and outdoor


 

Bloody Saturday Monument:


The Bloody Saturday Monument was part of the walking tour, but is worth visiting on its own.  The monument was unveiled on June 21, which is the day that I visited the sculpture.  The unveiling ceremony included fireworks and speech by Mayor Brian Bowman, though I was tired from the long day and did not attend this event.  The statue is a large street car tipped at a 20 degree angle and located at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue.  It is a few feet away from where the original street car was tipped over by strikers on June 21, 1919, which set in motion the police violence against the crowd.  20,000 marches had gathered at that spot to protest the arrest of strike leaders.  When I visited the second time, there were two wreaths placed at the monument in memory of the two men shot and killed by the police.   During the strike, street cars were not operating as these workers were among the first to join the strike on May 15th.  All street cars were out of operation by the first hour of the strike.   As a crowd of marchers gathered on June 21, two street cars operated by strikebreakers approached the crowd, who saw this as an attempt to break the strike.  They attacked street car 596, knocking it off its wire, smashing windows, and setting it on fire after failing to tip it entirely.  It was set on fire by a female striker.  Because the incident unleashed police violence, the street car became symbolic of the strike.  Eventually that particular street car was repaired and returned to service, but the strike was forcefully ended and many workers were fired and arrested.   Another street car operating at the time, 356, can be seen at the Winnipeg Railway Museum during Doors Open Winnipeg.   The monument itself was created by Noam Gonick and Bernie Miller (who died in 2017).


For more information: http://heritagewinnipeg.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-streetcar-and-strike-reflection-on.html Image may contain: sky and outdoor


Other ideas:


These are just a few ideas of how tourists can learn more about the Winnipeg General Strike.   The Dalnavert Museum is also featuring a strike exhibit called “Strike 1919: Our Cause in Just.”  This will be running between May 1 and Sept 29 and features artifacts from Sir Hugh John Macdonald, who owned the Dalnavert House and served as Police Magistrate during the strike.   In May, the museum featured several lectures.  I did not visit this particular museum, but the admission is $6.    The labor temples associated with the strike are mostly gone, with the exception of the Ukrainian Labor Temple, which is located at 591 Pritchard Ave.   This would also be a great place to visit for those thirsty for more history.  For more information on various plaques and historical buildings, there is a list in this article:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/1919-winnipeg-general-strike-monuments-1.5128440


There are some events which commemorated the strike, such as a run of Strike! The Musical, but there are no more performances this summer.  There are also a series of strike theme cemetery tours offered at Brookside cemetery.  Group tours can be arranged with Paul Moist if there is a group of ten or more.  Otherwise, there is a scheduled tour on August 10.  Once again, I did not attend a cemetery tour, but this seems like a great way to learn more about the strike, especially the individuals involved.  For more information about this and other strike related events, here is a brochure:  http://mayworks.org/wp-content/MayWorks_Program_2019.pdf

This brochure from Manitoba Unions also contains some events and tours:

http://mfl.ca/sites/default/files/Historical%20tours%20pampletFINAL.pdf?823

Dalnavert Museum:

http://www.friendsofdalnavert.ca/

No photo description available.


 

Conclusion:


It was great to visit Winnipeg during the 100 anniversary of the strike.  While my entire visit was not dedicated to partaking in strike history,  I was able to learn a bit more about Canadian labor history.  This is a great time to visit.  Hopefully this guide can direct others towards some neat tourist attractions and that others see a few of the things that I didn’t, such as the Ukrainian Labor temple and Dalnavert Museum.  Labor history usually isn’t central to the tourism of most people, but certainly important in informing us about what has happened in the past and opening up our imaginations to what might be possible in the future.   The strike is a lesson in solidarity, but also in the power of workers to take control of their lives and city.  100 years later, general strike seems like an impossible hope with too many barriers and too much to lose, but many of the workers were not even a part of a union and women didn’t even have the right to vote.  Meals and strike funds had to be raised/made on their own.  We are always faced with daunting challenges, but together we can rise above them.

Image may contain: 3 people, beard


		
Advertisements

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

H. Bradford

6.4.19


Visit Oslo offers a nifty pass that offers free access to over thirty museums or attractions, free use of public transportation, as well as discounts on restaurants, tours, and some other selected activities.  The pass costs about $51 or 445 Norwegian Krone. Considering that the Viking Ship museum costs about $11 and a visit to the Norsk Folkemuseum costs about $18, it is a great deal for anyone who plans on visiting a couple museums and using public transport to get to them.  I purchased a 24 Hour Oslo Pass and was determined to make the most of it.  Here is how I fared…


Obtaining the Pass:


I pre-ordered my pass online, but still had to pick it up at the Oslo Visitor Center, where the pass is validated.  The Oslo Visitor Center is located at the Oslo Central Station.  Thus, my first act of the day was paying a visit to the Oslo Visitor Center to pick up my pass.  The office has a variety of brochures and helpful staff.  During my visit, the office opened at 9am.  This means that the earliest that you can begin to use the pass (obtained at this location) is after 9am.   If a person wants to avoid the need to physically visit the Oslo Visitor Center, the pass can be purchased via the Oslo Pass app.  In any event, visiting the Oslo Central Station wasn’t inconvenient, as many buses leave that area and most museums don’t open until after 9am.  Validating it any sooner would not make sense.

Oslo Pass

Image from Visit Oslo https://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass/


Taking Public Transport:


Since there are many museums clustered on the Bygdoy Peninsula, this was my first destination.  To get there, I took Bus Number 30.  Use of buses is included in the Oslo Pass, so this saved $4, which is the cost of a single bus ticket (for one hour use with transfer).  The driver did not ask for my Oslo Pass, but this can be used as a ticket if there is a ticket check.  The trip to the first museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula took about 20 minutes (though a ferry can also be taken to Bygdoy Penninsula).  My first destination was the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is the first museum on the bus route and conveniently has a bus stop right outside the museum.

Cost: $4

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Norsk Folkemuseum:


The Norsk Folkemuseum opens at 10am during the summer months into early fall.  By the time I arrived there, the museum was just opening. As I mentioned, the museum costs about $18.  I wish the museum opened earlier, since it is an expansive complex of Norwegian buildings. Upon arrival, visitors can present their Oslo Pass at the ticket office, then begin exploring.  The first assembly of buildings feature indoor museums with various exhibits on Norwegian culture. A person could spend an entire day at just this museum. However, because I had an ambitious agenda I didn’t linger at any one exhibit.  A person can take their time absorbing various elements of Norwegian culture, such as arts, crafts, and costumes. I found the exhibit on Sami culture to be the most engaging and one to spend more time with.


As interesting as the indoor museums were, the real attraction are the 150+ buildings that constitute the open air museum.  The museum is believed to be one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in the world. The most impressive structure is the ornate Gol Stav Church, which was built in 1200 and moved to the sight when it faced demolition in the 1800s.  Another point of interest was large assembly of various farm buildings, complete with livestock, vegetables, and costumed farmer reenactors. There are homes or building representing various regions of Norway and a stand out was the sod roofed buildings from Fjordane.  More modern buildings can also be found in the “New Town” area of the open air museum.


Cost: $18

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor

Viking Ship Museum:


The Viking Ship Museum is a quick 400 m walk from the Norsk Folkemuseum.  Since this museum opens at 9 am during the summer, a person who already has their Oslo pass might choose to visit this one first.  Without the pass, the admission is $11.40. The museum is very popular and there were several buses there when I arrived. It also has tighter security, so visitors must check their bags before they enter.  The museum is impressive, but smaller, so it is reasonable that it could be visited in far less time than the enormous Norsk Folkemuseum. The main attraction are several preserved Viking ships and associated artifacts.  The main attraction is the Oseburg ship, which was constructed around 820 CE and used as a burial for two important women. The burial also consisted of a sleigh, animals, tools, a cart, and other items. This ship is the centerpiece of the museum, but other ships and artifacts are contained in the wings.  The Gokstad ship was built around 890 CE and served as the burial for an unknown man of importance who was buried with an assembly of animals that included two peacocks. The museum also includes the less reconstructed Tune ship. Viewing the ships and the various artifacts in the museum is interesting. The fact that the ships were so well preserved and that they could be rebuilt is also pretty amazing.

Cost: $11

No photo description available.


Kon-tiki Museum:


It is a little less than a mile walk from the Viking Ship Museum to the Kon-tiki Museum.  A person could also continue onward via bus 30 for a five minute bus ride. I chose to walk.  As for the Kon-tiki museum, I wouldn’t say that it is a must see museum, but it went along with a general museum theme of learning about Norwegian ships.  The museum contains the Kon-Tiki balsa raft that Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia. It also contains the Ra II, which was a papyrus boat that was sailed from Morocco to Barbados.  The museum documents his life, the various expeditions he took part in, other participants in the expeditions, sea life, and elements of the cultures Heyerdahl interacted with. The museum is a little unusual in that some of Heyerdahl’s ideas were far fetched if not pseudoscientific.  But, his expeditions at least opened the door to what is possible when it comes to long distance cultural exchanges between people who were otherwise believed to be isolated from each other. He also helped to popularize experimental archaeology and this could benefit some indigenous people if they have control/agency regarding the experiments.  For instance, while visiting Hawaii a few years ago, I learned at the Polynesian Cultural Center that there are efforts to construct traditional ships and test out historical voyages across the Pacific. This could benefit indigenous people by preserving or rebuilding historical knowledge. Without the Oslo pass, admission would be $14.

Cost: $14

Image may contain: outdoor


Fram Museum:


Right next door to the Kon-tiki Museum is the Fram Museum.  Following the theme of the other two museums I had visited, this museum contains a ship.  In this instance, the ship was the polar exploring ship known as the Fram. The Fram was used to explore both the Arctic and the Antarctic in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The massive ship looks sturdy and shiny enough to be made of metal, but is actually made of wood. This in itself is pretty impressive, as it was the only wooden ship to travel as far north and south as it did.  Visitors can view the ship from several levels and board the ship for further exploration. The museum itself offers a great deal of fascinating information about polar exploration. I knew nothing about the Fram before entering the museum, but was enthralled by the artifacts and stories of the sometimes doomed and often life and death struggles of exploration.  The Fram was the ship that brought Roald Amundsen on his successful expedition to the South Pole. This museum is definitely worth visiting if polar exploration floats your boat.

Cost $14  (Or about $11 if purchased with Kon-tiki ticket.)


Image may contain: basketball court

Ferry:


There are other attractions on the Bygdoy Peninsula, including the nearby Maritime Museum (near the Fram Museum and Kontiki Museums), Oscarhall, Holocaust Center, and Huk and Paradisbukta beaches.  So, a person could reasonably spend the day at Bygdoy.  The Holocaust Center and Oscarhall cost about $7 each. Instead of remain on Bydgoy, I relaxed, ate a snack, and watched some birds from a bench before heading back on a ferry.  The ferry returns Bydgoy visitors to Pier 3 at City Hall. It is covered by the Oslo pass, but without the pass, a one way journey would cost about $7.

Cost: $7


Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


Historical Museum:


Although I had already visited four museums, I pushed onward to another museum.  I walked from Pier 3 to the Historical Museum, which is about a half mile walk. A person could take a bus, but it was easier just to walk.  The museum is open from 10 am to 5pm during the summer and costs just over $11. However, admission to the Historical Museum is included in the price of the Viking Ship Museum, so, the Oslo pass really doesn’t save a person money if they are already planning on visiting both museums.  By this point in the day, I was a little exhausted by my marathon of museum visits. Still, there were some interesting and enjoyable things at this museum. Highlights of this museum include a Medieval gallery, Viking artefacts, Egyptian mummies, and a collection of gold coins. I don’t think this museum is a “must see” museum in the way that the Viking Ship Museum, Fram museum, or Norsk Folkemuseum are.  The museum was a bit forgettable because it contained items one would expect in a history museum. If a person has a strong interest in Medieval doors and chairs, it may be worth a visit.


No Savings

No photo description available.


Oslo Reptile Park:


The grand finale of my museum marathon was going to be Oslo Reptile Park.  Oslo Reptile Park is located about .3 miles from the Historical Museum, which made it an easy destination.  The Oslo Reptile Park is open until 6pm, which also made it a good final destination as other museums closed at 5pm.  Admission to the Oslo Reptile Park is a whopping $17, so this definitely added value to the Oslo pass. Unfortunately, it was not as grand as I hoped.  It was tucked away in what looked like an apartment complex and contained about 100 animals. Despite the name “Reptile Park” many of the animals were actually insects or amphibians.  The Reptile Park includes two small floors of animals enclosed in glass. Of course, there are a variety of snakes to look at and perhaps the most chilling exhibit is a lonely Black Widow spider.  Visitors have the opportunity to watch the feeding of some animals or hold a snake (at least when I visited a staff allowed people to touch a snake. I don’t remember the species). It is a modest attraction and not worth $17.  But, with the Oslo Pass, there is little to lose in visiting. It is a nice change from the heavier, more historical information that my brain had been digesting all day, so, it provided a welcome splash of variety to my day. I imagine that keeping all those animals alive and well is costly, so the admissions price is probably necessary.  I finished up my visit here before 6 pm closing time.

Cost: $17

No photo description available.


Frogner Park:


With the museums closed, I was determined to do at least one final activity for the day.  I decided to head to Frogner Park, which contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Visiting Frogner Park is free.  However, it is over a mile and a half away from Reptile Park. Because I had been on my feet all day, I opted to take a tram to Frogner Park.  The tram took about 20 minutes and like the bus, would have cost about $4 for a one way trip with transfer. The park itself was very unique and relaxing.  The park is full of Vigeland’s bulky, bronze statues of naked bodies. Muscular men and thick women line the long pathway to the Monolith, a tower of 120 naked bodies carved into granite.  Gustav Vigeland was sympathetic to Nazis and their occupation of Norway. I didn’t know his political orientation when I visited the park, but the sculptures certainly idealized an ideal type of body (robust) and conveyed traditions of family and solidarity.  The park features a pond with birds and an assortment of gardens to enjoy as well. After spending some time at the park, I used the Oslo pass to return to my hostel and called it a day! It was a long day indeed!


$8 (Transport-both ways)

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor


Total Savings:


Regular admission to all of the museums would have been $74.   Additionally, $19 was spent on transportation. Since most people would buy a 24-hour day pass for transportation, I will count this at $12, which is the cost of a day pass.  The cost of the museum admission plus the day pass for transport would be $86. So, the Oslo pass saved me about $35. I tried pretty hard to squeeze as much value as I could out of the pass and was pretty exhausted by the end of the day.  I didn’t even eat lunch during my museum marathon! I felt accomplished and satisfied. I didn’t race through each museum, but I definitely pushed myself. I don’t think I could have fit any other museums or sights into my day. There is a limit to how much value one can extract from the Oslo Pass, as museums are mostly open between 9am and 6pm.   Therefore, although it is a 24 hour pass, there is a nine hour window to utilize the pass due to open and closing times and logistically I would have found it quite difficult to visit more than six museums. Some museums can be visited in about an hour (such as Reptile Park and the Viking Ship Museum). Others, such as the Norsk Folkemuseum, take over two hours.  By the end of the day I regret that I did not purchase a 48 hr pass. This costs 665 NOK or $76. For $25 more than the 24 hr pass, the two day pass is a pretty good deal and it would have been easier to spread out the museums and add a few more sights over the span of an extra day. Other sights that I would have visited include the Labor Museum and the Munch Museum.  Both of these were out of the way so they did not fit into my schedule. If a person really wants to visit a lot of museums, the 48 hour pass seems to be the way to go!


Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of the Self

Anxious Adventuring_

Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of Self

H. Bradford

5/31/19


There is really no reason to be anxious about visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.  After all, it is supposed to be relaxing. Still, I had some misgivings about it.  For the most part, this stemmed from my concept of self. I have never been to spa before.  Spas seem like one of those things for “other” people. When I say “other” people, I mean, well-kept, normal, better off, thin, Instagram ready people.  I see myself as abnormal, weird looking, not thin, and not well-off. Spas seem indulgent and feminine, not that that femininity or indulgence is wrong. I worried that perhaps there would be social norms or expectations that I would not meet.  Secondly, it is spendy. The most basic “Comfort” package costs around $94. This includes a silica mud mask, free drink, entrance, and locker/towel use. I worried that maybe choosing the “cheapo” package was a stigmatized choice or worse, there would be hidden costs.  Like many things that I feel uncertainty over, it turned out to be a good experience and insightful about how a person constructs their “self” while traveling.


My day started with a very early flight from Oslo to Reykjavik, so I arrived in Iceland feeling exhausted but also thankful that visiting the Blue Lagoon was the first and main activity of my day.  I had pre-booked my visit to the Blue Lagoon and the booking included an airport transfer to the Blue Lagoon and then another to the Reykjavik. Because the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik airport and Reykjavik, it seems that many people either visit the Blue Lagoon while entering or leaving Iceland.  This low-key activity gave me something to do when I otherwise might not have been up for much more. There was a bit of confusion over which of the many buses outside of the airport was my transfer as well as some waiting outside in the windy cold that served as a welcome to the country. But, once I figured out the appropriate bus (different tour operators use different busing companies) I was on my way across the black lava fields to my destination.  Blue Lagoon is located about 20 minutes away from the airport. Once there, I joined the throngs of fellow tourists exiting their respective buses and lined up to check my luggage. If I remember rightly, it was about $5 to rent a locker for my luggage.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor


After dropping my luggage off, I entered the main complex of the Blue Lagoon, where I again l joined a que.  This time, the line was for my entry wristband. The wristband serves as a key to a smaller locker (for purses or personal items), for entry and access to the amenities that come with the package that a person has purchased, and to pay for items (since it is connected to a person’s credit card).  While I stored my suitcase at the baggage check point for a fee, smaller items can be stored for free in the locker room. The locker was large enough for a backpack of items such as dry clothes, purse with wallet, cosmetics, personal towel, etc. The locker room is divided by gender, but trans or non-binary individuals who wish for private space for changing can ask for this upon request.  In the locker room itself there are shower stalls with curtains and walls, so it is private enough that a person does not need to get naked with others if they are uncomfortable with that prospect. Other reports mention that there is a staff who monitors the showers to make sure that everyone is clean when they enter the Blue Lagoon. However, I did not notice any staff tasked with this duty. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


With changing complete, I headed off to the geothermal pool area.  Before entering the pool, one must leave their sandals or shoes behind, as well as deposit their towel (which is included with the fee) on a hook.  The thermal pool was expansive enough that even though it was busy, visitors were spread out. The demographics of the visitors seemed to be a mixture of older people and young people, with no children present at that time even though children over two years of age and older are allowed with a parent or guardian.  The tourists skewed towards white, young, and female at the time of my visit, but there was a number of older men and young men in mixed gender groups. According to research regarding spa tourism, women make up the majority of spa visitors. In a survey of spa goers at a resort in Crete, Greece, a convenience sample of spa users in a spa lobby consisted of 67% women and the most common age category of respondents was 45 to 54 to years old.  Most respondents, or 47%, had completed a Bachelor’s degree. The most common income category at 39% was 30,000 to 50,000 euros per year, followed by 28% making above 50,000 euros yearly income (Trihas and Konstantarou, 2016). While it is hard to generalize from a single study, it seems that spas would attract at least middle income individuals due to the fact that it is discretionary spending that lower income individuals may not be able to afford.  In the United States, 78% of spa visitors are women and the average age is 45. Kelly and Smith (2016) review research which suggests that this may be because women are tasked with more care work which lends itself to wanting to relax and because they feel more pressure to be healthy and attractive. They also suggest that this age is part of the U-bend, wherein individuals are believed to be less happy in their 40s and 50s (Kelly and Smith, 2016). Personally, I would hypothesize that women likely have more disposable income in their 40s, as this is when income peaks for women (Elkins, 2018).  This might lend itself to more spending on health and leisure. This age group may enjoy more capacity for leisure and health, as children may be older or grown. My perception was that the tourists at the Blue Lagoon skewed towards under age 40 at the time of my visit. While this is younger than the average spa visitor elsewhere, this may be in part because Iceland attracts younger tourists. The average age of a North American tourist to Iceland is 39.1 years old. The average age of an Asian tourist to Iceland is 34.6 years old and from Eastern Europe it is 31.7 years old. In a survey conducted by the Iceland Tourist Board, only 1 in 10 respondents were over the age of 55.  Most respondents were between the age of 24 and 34, followed by 35 to 54 (Oladottir, 2018). The demographics of my visit may also be unique to that moment in time.

Image may contain: one or more people, swimming, outdoor and water


In Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study of a Crete spa, most visitors were there for relaxation, followed by physical health and beauty.  This is consistent with other literature they reviewed wherein tourists were often motivated by relaxation and relief. Other important factors in the literature review include novelty and self-exploration.  The self is a complicated concept. Some travel research has posited that travel helps one find their self, but the self is not a fixed thing that one finds. Rather, it is is something constructed through the process of travel.  One way of visioning the “self” was put forth by Sirgy and Su s as self-image (how one sees their self), ideal self (how one would like to see themself), social self (how a person believes others perceive their self), and ideal social self (how others would like to be seen).  Ideal self and social self pattern consumption decisions (Kelly and Smith, 2016). As for myself, my visit to the Blue Lagoon was motivated by curiosity, fear of missing out, and relaxation. On one hand, since I had never visited a spa before, I was curious what that experience would be like.  Additionally, the Blue Lagoon is often framed as a “must see” tourist attraction in Iceland. I felt that if I did not visit it, I may miss out on an important experience. Because I am always uncertain when I will visit a country again, I am influenced by travel books, blogs, or travel websites which list “must see” locations.  Finally, I figured it would be a relaxing experience, even if the experience was not familiar and included some stresses of fitting in or uncertain norms. The Blue Lagoon is more than a geothermal spa, it is an attraction in its own right, and I assume that there are others there who are also unfamiliar with spas but who chose it as a destination because of its reputation as an important tourist attraction.  My hypothesis contrasts with Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study which found that 35% of the spa visitors in Crete had visited a spa at least ten times. While I cannot test these predictions without doing actual research, this might be an area for someone else to explore. Image may contain: one or more people, sky, mountain, ocean, cloud, outdoor, nature and water


While visiting, I didn’t feel particularly out of place, as people seemed too involved in their social groups or relaxation to pay much attention to others.  Nor did I feel stigmatized for choosing the cheaper option. The electronic bracelets are color coded depending upon the package that one chooses. However, most people had the same blue wristband that I had, meaning that most people were not spending hundreds of dollars on their experience.  Like me, many were probably content to just be there. The lagoon itself was amazing. The air was very chilly, as it was a late September day. However, the water was 100 degrees F and perfect. I sat there, soaking up the beautiful, milky blue water. I tried out the silica mud mask, which I felt was completely adequate for my visit.  If a person wants to spend more money, they can try out other masks. Additional masks can be obtained at a mask station. The Blue Lagoon is a mixture of sea water and ground water. The water is heavy with silica, which forms a white mud on the bottom of the pool, from which the mask is derived. Blue green algae are also found in the water.  The water can actually turn from blue-white to green in the summer due to algae growth and visitors can pay extra for an algae mask. Aside from algae and silica, the water has 2.5% salinity (Haraldson, 2014). In contrast, the average salinity of ocean water is 3.5%.


Like many people at the Lagoon, I took selfies.  Taking selfies to document the experience seemed like an important ritual for the younger, female visitors.  Like others, I tried to capture myself with a mask on my face, as this represented to me both the novelty of trying something new and the constructed luxury of existing in that space.  Warren and Batarags (2018) pointed out that many of the photos of the Blue Lagoon are curated to cut out certain elements of the visit.  For instance, most people do not photograph the nearby power station, local highway, or the buildings that surround the lagoon.  This gives a false impression that the lagoon is located in the middle of nature. It is true that I did not photograph those elements of the experience either. I suppose I have internalized the norms of what sort of photos one should take of the Blue Lagoon. But, honestly, I did not find it to be a jarring environment spoiled by buildings.  The buildings are dark colored and modern looking and seem to blend well with the natural landscape.  Cutting out buildings and highways constructs the scene of the selfie.  Goffman noted that individuals present a sense of self to generate a desired impression.  Taking selfies entails creating content for an imagined audience, editing and framing this content in order to highlight positive ideas one has about themselves.  In one study, 45% of UK, U.S., and Chinese students surveyed felt that looking good in a selfie was important.  For some sefie takers, impression management might be accomplished through filters or lighting  (Nguyen and Barbour, 2017).   In the case of the Blue Lagoon, it is accomplished through what is in the view of the camera and what is not.  Including buildings, the highway, or power plant creates a stage wherein the self is situated in more mundane environs.  The impression that is consciously or subconsciously constructed through selfies is that the location is natural and relaxing and more individual and exclusive than it may actually be. Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Aside from taking selfies, I took time to enjoy a drink from the poolside drink station.  Since my band included a free drink, I tried out a strawberry skyr smoothie. I will say that drinking a thick yogurt drink in 100 degree water isn’t actually that refreshing.  The beverage was a bit too heavy for the heat. Technically, skyr is consumed like yogurt, but is actually a soft sour cheese. So, imagine choking down a thick, sour cheese drink while sweating in a steaming pool.  Well, I wanted an “Icelandic” experience. Still, I felt fabulous drinking yogurt and saturating myself with the hot silica infused water. One benefit of the cheap package is that, like all of the packages, visitors are allowed to stay as long as they like.  So, I stayed a few hours. I left the water a few times to drink water from a nearby fountain. At least the water was free!

Image may contain: drink


As popular and luxuriant as Blue Lagoon is, it isn’t actually a naturally occuring hot spring.  Rather, Blue Lagoon is actually formed by the wastewater from the nearby Svartsengi power plant.  Svartsengi, which means black meadow, is located in a lava field that is thought to have been formed by volcanic eruptions that occured in 1226 on the Reykjanes peninsula (Bilba, 2013).  The black landscape, which is speckled with green patches of moss, creates an otherworldly backdrop for the vibrant lagoon. The power plant is visible from the Blue Lagoon and is itself a wonder, as it uses steam and salt water to create energy that provides electricity and hot water to thousands of homes in Iceland.  The steam is accessed by drilling 1800 M beneath the earth, where the water is 465 degrees F because it is warmed by magma from the spreading of the Eurasian and American plates. Steam is converted to hot air and salt and water are filtered from the steam (Bilba, 2013). It was the first geothermal power plant in the world to produce both heat and electricity.  It was constructed during the 1970s as a state and municipally funded project to serve the region’s energy needs as well as provide electricity and hot water to Keflavik airport (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The Blue Lagoon was meant to be a waste lagoon for water discharged from the plant, but the lava field proved impermeable to the water due to sedimentation, resulting in the formation of an expansive pool.  Because of this blocked drainage, new holes must be regularly bored into the lava field to alleviate some water build up (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The geothermal plant is not open to the public, but according to Tripadvisor, a person might be able to arrange a private tour by contacting the plant. Thus, the Blue Lagoon does not necessary have to be viewed as luxurious, feminine, or middle class. It could be framed as an industrial wonder fit for working class people of all genders. Image result for blue lagoon power plant image of Svartsengi Power Plant from: https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/


The Blue Lagoon began to take off in the 1980s, when psoriasis patients began bathing in the water as an experimental cure (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).   The Iceland Psoriasis Society built the first rudimentary shelters along the lagoon and in 1987 the first public bathing facility opened. Blue Lagoon Ltd was established in 1992 and took over the facilities in 1994.  Scientific studies conducted between 1992-1996 provided the data necessary for Icelandic Health Authorities to declare it an official psoriasis treatment facility (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).  The water is believed to relieve symptoms of eczema, arthritis, and sciatica and Iceland’s social security system covers visits to Blue Lagoon for medical treatment (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Thus, before it was a tourist attraction, it was used for medical purposes. In 1999, construction upgraded the lagoon so that it is now regularly fed water and features amenities such as a cafe and restaurant (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Today, the geothermal brine is replaced every 40 hours (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010) and the facility, which was updated in 2007, features massages, sauna, a shop, private retreat spa,  hotels, and clinic. In 2017, 1.3 million tourists visited the Blue Lagoon. Aside from tourism, Blue lagoon algae are harvested for a variety of purposes ranging from fish food to cosmetics.  Silica and salts are also harvested from the water for cosmetic purposes (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).   Up to 4,000 people visit the Blue Lagoon each day, but when I visited in September, it seemed far less busy.


The Blue Lagoon is disparaged for being a tourist trap and over priced.  Both of these things are true. 31% of visitors to Iceland pay a visit to the Blue Lagoon, but 59% of visitors travel to Gulfoss/Geysir and 50% visit Thingvellir national park.  EVERYTHING in Iceland feels like a tourist trap, in that, well, most tourists travel there to partake in several popular activities and the country attracts millions of tourists.  If a person wants to avoid tourist traps, they might instead travel to Chad. So, to some degree, most people will likely visit something popular while visiting Iceland. Popular things are often denigrated as inauthentic or pedestrian.  Travel advice often hinges upon finding the unique, quaint, out of the way, and authentic. The Blue Lagoon is authentically the Blue Lagoon in the same way Disneyland is authentically Disneyland. It is an experience and one that constructs itself as healthy and indulgent, but in reality is a popularized pool of industrial wastewater.  Yet, to critique it for being popular and inauthentic is an exercise of cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital is the tastes, knowledge, practices, and skills which are given value by elites. These things are transmitted through socialization by elite peers, family, or education systems. Tastes in food, music, clothing, hobbies, etc.represent cultural capital and are a source of status.  Everyone is socialized with certain skills, knowledge, or dispositions known as habitus. Habitus patterns a person’s relationship to cultural capital (Holt, 1998). For instance, a person who is not very knowledgeable about Italian food might visit Olive Garden and feel that it is an authentic Italian experience. The tastes of this individual might be denigrated as low class, ordinary, or uneducated because of their preference for a mass chain restaurant over a locally owned Italian restaurant or a trip to Italy itself.  Only a person with access to certain skills, networks, or knowledge would be able to discern what is deemed authentic by cultural elites. Of course, having economic capital is necessary for accessing so called authentic experiences. Returning to the Blue Lagoon, I had misgivings about visiting since I was not socialized to visit a spa. It was not part of my upbringing or education and represents a sort of cultural capital that I lack. At the same time, because the Blue Lagoon is so popular, it lacks the authentic veneer of more obscure geothermal spas in Iceland, the ones which locals ACTUALLY visit and the ones which are ACTUALLY naturally occurring.  It straddles the elitism of being expensive and the “low” culture of mass tourism. But, because it can be both elite (with hotel stays costing over $1000) and popular (visited by millions), it appeals to a wide audience who can customize their experience based upon their sense of self, economic capital, and cultural capital. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and water


With that said, I would say that my visit to the Blue Lagoon was relaxing and interesting.  It challenged my sense of self (viewing myself as not a spa person) and took me out of my comfort zone (as someone who has not visited a spa).  I can appreciate the sense of self-care or pampering that comes with a visit and have since visited other geothermal spas. To increase my sense of being a “spa person” I have tried to reframe these experiences as interesting geological or industrial phenomena.  This creates the potential for them to be more gender neutral or at least less associated with beauty and wellness. I lack the cultural capital, or for that matter, gender capital, to fully enjoy or embrace the experience. Without overthinking it, it was relaxing to submerge in the warm water and novel to be in such a unique place.  I would recommend it to visitors of Iceland and also recommend paying attention to the demographics and behaviors of fellow visitors!

Image may contain: sky, ocean, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Sources:

Biba, E. (2017, November 14). Tour One of Iceland’s Incredible Geothermal Plants. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g1337/tour-one-of-icelands-incredible-geothermal-plants/?slide=4

 

Blue Lagoon – The History. (2019, April 26). Retrieved from https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/

 

Elkins, K. (2018, November 02). Here’s the age at which you’ll earn the most in your career. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/02/the-age-at-which-youll-earn-the-most-money-in-your-career.html

 

Gudmundsóttir, M., Brynjólfsdóttir, A., & Albertsson, A. (2010, April). The history of the blue lagoon in Svartsengi. In Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress.

 

Holt, D. B. (1998). Does cultural capital structure American consumption?. Journal of consumer research, 25(1), 1-25.

Haraldsson, I. G. (2014). Geothermal baths, swimming pools and spas: examples from Ecuador and Iceland.

Kelly, C., & Smith, M. K. (2016). Journeys of the self: the need to retreat.

Nguyen, L., & Barbour, K. (2017). Selfies as expressively authentic identity performance.

Oladottir, O. (2018). Tourism in Iceland (pp. 1-28, Rep.). Icelandic Tourist Board. https://www.ferdamalastofa.is/static/files/ferdamalastofa/talnaefni/tourism-in-iceland-2018_2.pdf

Warren, K., & Batarags, L. (2018, October 02). Disappointing photos show what Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon looks like in real life. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/blue-lagoon-photos-iceland-reality-vs-expectation-2018-9#-think-again-the-blue-lagoon-is-located-right-off-a-highway-8

 

Trihas, N., & Konstantarou, A. (2016). Spa-goers’ Characteristics, Motivations, Preferences and Perceptions: Evidence from Elounda, Crete. Almatourism-Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 7(14), 106-127.

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

balkan

Anxious Adventuring: Balkan Dogs

H. Bradford

5/23/19


While many places in the world have stray dog populations, it seems that Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia had more stray dogs that other places that I have visited.  These stray dogs, with tags in their ears, would laze about in the shade of statues or sniff the pavement in search of scraps. While there were many of them, nothing about them seemed threatening or worth noting.  I didn’t bother taking any photos of them, as I didn’t think that they would play any role in my travel memories. I regret this, as I wish I had photo evidence of the mangy mayhem I experienced. They were simply canine background characters in my adventures.  Even after a few guides warned me about them, I didn’t really think much about the warning. I thought that the guides were being overprotective or over concerned. I was wrong. This guy is finishing up an ice cream cone someone bought him

A dog eating an ice cream cone in Skopje: Image from: http://www.presentlynavigatinglife.com/skopje


My first warning about the Skopje dogs came from the leader of a walking tour.  As the group of walkers wandered around the statues of Macedonia Square, she casually cautioned that several people had been attacked by dogs in Skopje.  At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned since the dogs seemed mostly disinterested in people. They meandered around the statues, minding their own business for the most part.  However, the threat is real.  While I don’t know the full extent of this problem, I did find a reference to a 67 year old man who was attacked by a dog in December, 2018 while walking in a park.  A 55 year old woman was attacked in October, 2018 while walking downtown.  Earlier in the year, a 17 year old girl had drowned in the Vardar River in the city of Gostivar while trying to escape a pack of dogs (A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje, 2018).  In the town of Kicevo, about 112 KM from Skopje in western Macedonia, a four year old boy was killed by stray dogs in 2017.  His death unleashed a wave of vigilante poisonings of stray dogs, which prompted concerned animal rights activists to protest (Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia, 2017).  In 2018, over 1,000 bite incidents were reported in Skopje alone (Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack, 2018). While I could not find more recent data, the 2014 stray dog population of Skopje was estimated to be between 2000- 2400 animals. The 2014 population was down 25% from 2010, which may be due to efforts to euthanize or spay/neuter animals (Terzievski, 2014).


A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje

Image from: https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje/


My second warning regarding Macedonian dogs occurred on the way to Lake Ohrid at a stop at the sunken Church of Saint Nikolas.  The church was partially submerged in Lake Mavrovo and was abandoned to the lake after the construction of the Radika Dam in 1953.   This time, a guide warned of a dangerous dog that lived along the shore.   A muscular, black Rottweiler snoozed in some soft grass, but hardly looked like a threat.  I remained skeptical that the dogs were the problem that the guides were making them out to be.   It seemed like the sort of things that tourists were warned against by guides who were trying to show concern and be good hosts.  Later, I asked another guide why exactly there were so many stray dogs.  That particular guide was a dog enthusiast who owned several pets and who had once entered his pet dogs in shows.  He was happy to speak about the topic, and blamed the dog problem on irresponsible owners who released their pets to the street once they could no longer care for them.  This story matches the narrative of a Veterinary blog which also blames the problem on pet owners, but also that pet owners do not know proper pet care before buying a pet. The blog also blames the government, which does not enforce laws which fine pet owners for abandoning their pets and that Skopje only has one animal shelter.  Vardarishte, the only shelter in the capital, is a kill shelter that euthanizes the animals if they are not adopted in two weeks. Conditions in the shelter are poor, with 5-6 dogs kenneled together in unhygienic conditions.   The shelter also tags, vaccinates, and neuters animals for release.  Animal rights activists have organized against the conditions of Vardarishte and for control of their own animal shelter (The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia, 2018).  In April 2019, the shelter closed for 30 days after failing an inspection.  The shelter put a moratorium on capturing stray dogs while they were closed, taking in only dogs that had bitten someone (Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days, 2019).  It should be noted that North Macedonia is not a wealthy country, so dealing with the stray dog problem may be beyond the budget priorities of the government.  Appropriate pet care may also be challenged by an unemployment rate of about 18-20% in late 2018 and the average monthly salary in 2017 was under $450.


Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/


Despite the warnings about dogs, I really didn’t think much of them until the morning that I left Skopje.  I didn’t want to spend money on an expensive taxi to the airport and instead decided to take the airport bus.  However, my hostel was about 2 KM from the nearest airport bus stop. I didn’t think that walking a little over a mile before 6am was too big of a hassle, especially if it saved me over $20.  So, I set out with my bags into the early morning, determined to save some money and take a few photos of Macedonia Square. All was well until I arrived in the square, where dogs were still quietly snoozing.  It was a lovely morning and all very enjoyable until the sound of my small rolling suitcase awoke the dogs from their sleep. As I moved along, I was suddenly followed by an amassing pack of hungry dogs. The pitiful animals that had moved about the statues and tourists by day, now suddenly seemed far more menacing.  More joined them. They snapped and growled at each other. One nipped at my hand. The parade of dogs behind me and beside me might have been comical, except that I was alone and they were markedly unfriendly. I wanted to take a few final photos, but instead, I kept my face ahead, focused on the path along the Vardar river.  I passed by shops and cafes, where more dogs awoke from their slumber on the sidewalk. I moved head, dogs all around me. I ignored them, keeping a brisk and determined pace, but not daring to look at them lest they attack. In my head, I wondered what I would do if they attacked. A shaggy golden retriever looking dog seemed to be the head of the pack.  That was the one that snapped at my hand and growled the most at the others. I thought that if one dog made any sort of attack, they might start fighting each other in the chaos or commotion. I thought about kicking them or if I could swing my suitcase at them if they attacked. I hoped that maybe another human would appear and draw some of the dogs away.  But, no one else materialized and all of the shops were closed.


In the end, I arrived at the bus stop.  I loathed the idea of waiting there with a pack of dogs, but once I arrived at the bus stop, the dogs actually dispersed.  There was enough trash in the weeds and adjacent parking lot that the dogs could scout out their breakfast. I was no longer of any concern to them.   The whole thing seems rather unbelievable. It seems bizarre. But, in the moment it was very real and scary. I really thought that I was going to be attacked by dogs and that I might have to fight them.  It also changed how I felt about dogs. While those dogs had likely been pets at one time, in that moment, they acted like wild animals. They were not friendly pets or “dogs” in the way that I had always imagined and thought of dogs.  In the absence of human companionship and regular food, they behaved like unfamiliar predators. So, the gauntlet of dogs remains a scary memory, but in the end, nothing bad happened. An important lesson is that I should not have been as skeptical about the threat of dogs.  Thankfully, I wasn’t attacked, though in retrospect, I am not sure if I would have changed anything other than to try to be more prepared.


To avoid incidents with dogs, the CDC recommends never running from dogs, staying calm, avoiding loud noises, avoiding directly facing the dog, keeping a purse or bag between yourself and the animal, and curling up into a ball while protecting your ears and neck with your hands if attacked (Preventing dog attacks, n.d).  Other tips include avoiding eye contact with the dog, standing still in the face of unfamiliar dogs, telling the dog to go away in a commanding voice, and giving the animal a jacket or shirt to chew on if they attack (Cicetti, 2010).  In the United States, 60% of people attacked by dogs are children, followed by elderly people.  Each year, 800,000 people seek medical care from dog bites, so the threat of dogs is not simply a Macedonian problem (Cicetti, 2010). A 52 year old woman from Dallas was mauled to death by dogs and suffered over 100 bites.  There are 8700 stray dogs in South Dallas, which is more than four times the estimate for Skopje.  Rabies vaccinations are recommended for tourists to Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Turkey. Rabies is almost 100% fatal in humans (Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites, 2017).  However, the vaccine is expensive. I had asked for a rabies vaccination, but was told that it was over $3000 and that it was better for me to simply avoid animals. Getting a rabies vaccine is certainly a good preventative measure, if a person has the money for it! Though, the largest carrier of rabies in the Balkans are foxes, so the threat of rabid dogs may not be that high, especially since many stray dogs are vaccinated and tagged.  Tourists could avoid problems by getting vaccinated, listening to the advice of guides, not walking alone (as I had), spending more money on a taxi rather than walking at strange hours, and following some of the advice offered by the CDC.  I was fortunate that nothing bad happened, but I think it is something that tourists should take seriously.

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia

From: https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/


 

Sources:

A man and a woman attacked by wild dogs in Skopje. (2018, December 24). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/a-man-and-a-woman-attacked-by-wild-dogs-in-skopje

Cicetti, F. (2010, August 30). How to Avoid Being Attacked By a Dog. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/8525-avoid-attacked-dog.html

Hundreds of protesters gathered to fight a spate of mysterious stray dog poisonings in Macedonia. (2017, April 10). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/stray-dog-posionings-macedonia-protest-skopje-animal-welfare-radmila-pesheva-anima-mundi-a7676236.html

Macedonia pledges action after girl drowns fleeing dog pack. (2018, November 06). Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/766046e998f34c59bb583798fc04d8e1

Main Skopje animal shelter closed for 30 days: Stray dogs will be left on the streets until they attack somebody. (2019, April 06). Retrieved from https://english.republika.mk/news/macedonia/main-skopje-animal-shelter-closed-for-30-days-stray-dogs-will-be-left-on-the-streets-until-they-attack-somebody/

Preventing Dog Bites | Features | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/index.html

Problems Posed By Stray Dogs or Street Dogs Include Attacks and Bites. (2017, June 19). Retrieved from https://dogbitesohio.com/problems-posed-by-stray-dogs/

Terzievski, D. (2014, June). PDF. Bucharest: OIE Platform for Animal Welfare In Europe.

https://oldrpawe.oie.int/fileadmin/doc/eng/SDB_1/Country_Report_-_FYR_of_Macedonia.pdf

The stray dogs in Skopje, Macedonia. (2018, November 12). Retrieved from https://iloveveterinary.com/blog/the-stray-dogs-in-skopje-macedonia/

Birds of Copan

Birds of Copan 1

 Birds of Copan

H. Bradford

5/22/19


This past winter, I was able to travel to Central America.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Copan ruins in Honduras.  Before I continue, it is important to note that Honduras has been experiencing political violence and repression since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.  The United States has supported the coup in a number of ways, such as normalizing relationships with and recognizing the subsequent government. The United States has continued to provide military aid to the Honduran government, despite state violence of activists fighting for environmental, indigenous, and human rights.  The following is about birds, which seems pretty trivial and privileged. For more information about the political situation, I found that “The Long Honduran Night Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup,” by Dana Frank was useful in providing an overview of the U.S. role in destabilizing the country.  I feel that I can’t talk about the fun topic of birds without at least acknowledging the more serious social context, which I was sheltered from as a leisure seeking tourist.  The only indication that anything was amiss was a power outage that locals at Copan blamed on the government as a way to thwart New Year’s eve celebrations and the large number of armed police/military/guards.


While I could have traveled to Honduras for more noble reasons, such as with a Witness for Peace delegation, I was there as a tourist.  As a tourist, I visited the Copan Ruins. The Copan Ruins are located near the border with Guatemala and it represents the southernmost city of the Mayan civilization.  Mayan “civilization” itself sounds rather racist, as Mayans are still alive, have (what wasn’t destroyed or repressed) cultural continuity with pre-Columbian Mayans, and certainly accomplishing important things.  I suppose when this word is used is it to describe Mayans before the arrival of Spanish and before the abandonment of cities and monument construction at the end of the Classical period. Copan was a powerful Mayan city state located in the Copan River valley of Honduras.  People in area had been constructing stone structures since 9th century BC, but the dynastic history of Copan begins in 426 AD and ended between 800 and 850 AD. At its peak, over 20,000 people lived in the city. It is a World Heritage Site and an impressive complex of what seems like an endless array of ruins and stelae.  The site includes a ball court, Acropolis, stairways, residences, stelae, temples, tombs, altars, and other ruins. There is a lot of history to absorb and it is a lot to explore the entire complex. As fascinating as the ruins are, they are surrounded by forests which burgeon with birds! My attention was divided between history and ecology.  In the end, my love of birds probably won and that was what I absorbed most from the experience. Yet, these things aren’t entirely at odds, since many of the birds had a place in Mayan culture. Birds are history as much as the monuments! Here is an overview of some of the birds that I saw and how they might relate to Mayan or regional culture.


 

1. Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao):

50244704_10156993541888659_4093791483121893376_o

A Macaw at Copan, H. Bradford 2019


A large number of Scarlet Macaws can be found at the Copan ruins.  I spotted over twenty while meandering around the ruins. They seemed most plentiful on the main trail from the visitor’s center.  The red parrots are hard to miss, as they are large, loud, and bright. The large number of Scarlet Macaws has to do with the nearby Macaw Mountain, which rehabilitates, breeds, and releases Macaws.  Other birds are also kept at Macaw Mountain, often as permanent residents because of injuries or health conditions the birds sustained while kept as pets. There are feeding stations along the trail to the ruins (Whitely, 2015).  They are the national bird of Honduras. Scarlet Macaws were culturally important to the Mayans, who, like the Aztecs, believed they symbolized the sun. Mesoamericans also traded the birds, which have been found in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  The bird remains found in Chaco Canyon date back from 900 AD from captive stock of parrots (Greshko, 2018). Macaws may have had ancient population decline due to this trade. Scarlet macaws are native to tropical lowlands where Mayan civilization was most concentrated and they require pristine conditions to survive, as they nest in tree trunks.  Macaws are sensitive to deforestation, poaching, pet trade and are rare in the Yucatan peninsula. Today, they are more commonly found further south in Central America such as in Costa Rica (Stuart, 2015). Thus, the trade in parrots is why the macaws are found at Copan today, as the modern pet trade resulted in the need to rehabilitate the birds and eventually reintroduce them to the area.


Beyond trading them, they appear in Mayan stories.  Popol Vul, the ancient Mayan creation story, features a deity called Seven Macaw, which is a bird creature with some characteristics of macaws, but also characteristics of a snake eating hawk (Hellmuth, 2015).  In Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins, the central characters of the story, use a blow gun against Seven Macaw, which is perched atop a nance tree, which is a a type of tropical fruit (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  In the Popol Vul, Seven Macaw describes himself as such:


    “I am great. I dwell above the heads of the people […] I am their sun. I

am also their light […] My eyes sparkle with glittering blue/green

jewels. My teeth as well are jade stones, as brilliant as the face of the

sky. This, my beak, shines brightly […] My throne is gold and silver.

When I go forth from my throne, I brighten the face of the earth.

Thus Seven Macaw puffed himself up in the days and months before

the faces of the sun, moon, and stars could truly be seen. He desired

only greatness and transcendence before the light of the sun and

moon were revealed in their clarity.”

(Helmke and Jesper, 2015: 28)


Copan ruins are the only place to see a specific depiction of a macaw (as the deity itself is not necessary a macaw) as this deity.  There is a depiction of a scene wherein one of the twin’s arms in the beak of Seven Macaw (Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls, 2014).  This depiction is located as an architectural decoration near the ballcourt. However, I did not know to look for this scene. Here is a replica of that artwork: Image result for A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014 A replica of a ballcourt decoration at Copan representing Seven Macaw, (Museum of Mayan Sculpture, Copan, Honduras).  Photo by Mark Cartwright, 2014


Seven Macaw is one of four Mayan “Great Bird” deities, which represent the moon, sun, stars, and darkness.  Popul Vuh discusses the death and defeat of the bird, which was a prerequisite for pacifying the world to allow for the creation of humanity.  To defeat the bird, the Twins tricked it after hitting it with the blowgun. They told the bird that they were bringing a healer, but instead removed its teeth and eyes, which served as the source of its power (Helmke and Jesper, 2015).  Aside from the depiction of Seven Macaw, Copan ruins feature a macaw head ball court marker. Elsewhere, macaws, or at least stylized macaw like birds, are depicted on bowls, other ball game hachas. From the 2nd century onward, Mayans regularly featured Macaws in their art (Hellmuth, 2015).  In the Late Classic Mayan period, macaws are the most commonly depicted land bird (Stuart, 2015).

Image may contain: plant, tree and outdoor
Photo from the ball court, H. Bradford 2019

Image may contain: outdoor

H. Bradford, 2019

2.) Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma):

 

Image may contain: plant, bird, tree, outdoor and nature

Montezuma Oropendola, H. Bradford 2019


This large bird with an unwieldy name ranges from southern Mexico to Panama, occurring mostly along the Carribean side of Central America.  It is an Icterid, or member of the Icteridae family, which consists of new world blackbirds, new world orioles, bobolinks, meadowlarks, cowbirds, and grackles.  Although it is in the blackbird family, it really doesn’t look like a blackbird, as it is larger, with a large red and black bill, chestnut, black, and yellow plumage, and bare skin by its eye.  Montezuma Oropendola is considered common, is omnivorous, and can be found in evergreen lowlands, forest edges, plantations, and disturbed forests (Sample and Kannan, 2016). I spotted at least two of them near the park entrance at Copan ruins.  The name of the bird translates from Spanish to “Golden pendulum” perhaps because of its yellow tail and and the tree limb swinging mating dance of males (Fendt, 2016). Males weave drooping nests that hang low from trees. The only reference I could find regarding this bird and the Mayans is that Mayan art at Peten depicts the nests of Montezuma Oropendola (Oropendola, Montezuma, 2017).


3. Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis):

Image may contain: bird and outdoor

H. Bradford, 2019

Image may contain: plant, flower, bird, tree, outdoor and nature

H. Bradford, 2019


There are several species of orioles which can be found around the Copan ruins.  According to e-bird, these species include Altamira, Streak-backed, Yellow backed, Bar winged oriole, Spot-breasted, Baltimore, and Orchard orioles.  The pictured orioles are Altamira Orioles (I believe) since they don’t have streaked backs, spots on their breasts, don’t have a black head like a Baltimore oriole, nor are they as dark as Orchard orioles.  Alamira Orioles are found in Central America and range as far north as southern Texas. Like the Montezuma Oropendola, it constructs a long woven nest, which in its case, can reach almost 26 inches in length.  The Altamira Oriole was once called the Lichtenstein’s Oriole and Black throated Oriole. It is also the largest New World Oriole (Altamira Oriole Identification, 2017).  Yuyum is the lowland Mayan word for oriole and the Bonampak mural depicts a royal figure whose name translates to “Yellow Oriole” or Aj K’an Yuyum,  Yellow backed orioles are depicted in the Murals of San Bartolo (Stuart, 2014)


Seeing as there are seven species of orioles in the area and that each are some combination of orange and black, I would advise any newer or intermediate birder like myself to study orioles before visiting.  I struggled a bit and probably saw other species, but was too slow to identify or photograph them.


 

4. Motmots (Momotidae):

Image may contain: bird and plant

Out of Focus Turquoise-browed Motmot, H. Bradford, 2019


One of the most exciting birds that I saw was the Turquoise-browed Motmot.  It was a book that I saw in my bird book, so it had captured my imagination before the trip.  To suddenly see one and immediately recognize it was amazing! Turquoise-browed Motmots range from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.  They can adapt to a number of habitats, but prefer tropical evergreen and tropical deciduous forests. Since it perches on fence posts and wires, it is not too hard to find, and during my trip I saw them several times.  Interestingly, the tail feathers are not genetically slender, but get worn down exposing the feather shaft. Turquoise-browed Motmots nest in underground burrows (Streiter, n.d.). Both male and females have long tails, but they use them differently.  Both sexes wag their tails to indicate to predators that they have spotted the threat, but males use their tails for sexual displays as well. It is also the national bird of El Salvador and Nicaragua (Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa).n.d.)

Image may contain: tree, plant, bird, outdoor and nature
Hidden and shady view of Lesson’s Motmot


To make matters more confusing, there is actually another species of Motmot that can be found at Copan.  Lesson’s Motmot is also found in the area. I spotted one through some dense foliage, so I was unable to get a decent photo.  However, the two species are very similar in their plumage as both have bright turquoise brows, green coloration on their bodies, black masks, and racket tails.  Despite the poor photo of Lesson’s Motmot, the main difference that I could see between the two is that Lesson’s Motmot does not have the long, featherless shaft that the Turquoise-browed Motmot possess.  The featherless area is much shorter. Lesson’s Motmot is also chunkier and longer than the Turquoise-browed Motmot. Both birds were spotted on a trail that cut to the left before the main complex of ruins.  One source said that motmots can be found by cenotes, or underground pools. According to Mayan stories, the Motmot was the most beautiful bird, but lost its feathers after a hurricane and went to the cenotes to hide (Robinson, 2013).


5. Toucans (Ramphastidae):

Image may contain: bird, plant, tree and outdoor

Keel-billed Toucan, H. Bradford 2019


I didn’t actually see these birds at Copan, but nearby at Maccaw Mountain.  There are feeding stations for wild birds near the entrance of the rehabilitation center and various wild birds around the parking lot, even though the sanctuary itself features aviaries of mostly rescued animals.  The two species of toucans that I saw in this area were a Keel-Billed Toucan and Collared Aracari. E-bird lists these as the only two species of toucans found in the area. The Keel-billed Toucan is identifiable by its colorful green, red, yellow, and turquoise beak, which is why it is sometimes called the Rainbow billed Toucan.  They have no known affinity for colorful cereal and instead prefer a diet of fruit and nuts. They are considered common and their populations are listed as Least Concern, though climate change is pushing their range to higher elevations They range from southern Mexico to Northern Colombia, in humid lowland forest canopies (Jones and Griffiths, 2011). Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, bird, outdoor and nature

Collared Aracari, H. Bradford 2019


The Collared Aracari is smaller than other toucans in its range and is the northernmost Aracari species.  It is black, with yellow underparts, and a reddish color collar. It looks similar to other species of Aracari, but none fall within most of its range.  It does overlap with the Fiery Billed Aracari in Panama and Costa Rica. It is primarily a frugavore, but does eat insects, eggs, nestlings, and small vertebrates.  It is considered a species of Least Concern, but as a cavity nester it is sensitive to deforestation (Green and Cannan, 2017).


Northern Lacandon Mayan men would give yellow breast feathers from toucans to their wives as a gift.  Women tied the feathers into their hair to symbolize marriage. Toucan breast feathers are also featured in the garb of warriors on the Bonampak mural in Chiapas (Nations, 2006).  Otherwise, I could not find other references to the importance of toucans to the Mayans. While I don’t have any other Mayan stories, I do have a modern tale of greed. MIA, a California based non-profit concerned with Mayan archaeology and education, was asked to change their logo from a toucan because Kellogg’s believed it was too close to Toucan Sam (Hsu, 2011).  Kellogg’s also took issue with the use of Mayan imagery due to similar settings that Toucan Sam appeared in. The non-profit found that the only thing Kellogg’s had connected to Mayan culture was an online game where in Toucan Sam encounters a racialized villain character representing a Mayan (Cushing, 2011). A negative publicity campaign against Kellogg’s resulted in the company paying $100,000 to MAI, removing the online game, and featuring MAI’s website on cereal boxes (Patterson, 2011).   The offending logo can be found below:

Image result for MIA toucan logo kellogg's Clearly this logo is too similar to Toucan Sam…


6. White-throated Magpie-jay (Calocitta formosa)

Image may contain: bird, sky, tree and outdoor

White-throated Magpie-jays, H. Bradford 2019


I spotted several White-throated Magpie-jays along a trail that leads to the Copan Ruins.  They can be found at the forest edges, ranches, and outskirts of towns among the dry tropical forests of the Central Mexico to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, which is exactly the sort of environment I spotted them in (outside of town, by a pasture for cows).  Due to deforestation, their range is expanding southward in Costa Rica, thus they are a bird that actually benefits from human activity and are considered a species of Least Concern. White-throated Magpie-jays feed on both insects (but also eggs and small vertebrates) and fruits, switching their diet depending on if it is the dry or wet season.  They are social birds and unique because they form groups organized with a dominant female, her mate, and several female offspring. The adult female offspring assist with feeding the dominant female and her younger offspring. Male birds move between groups, unless the dominant female is nesting. Male magpie jays produce up to sixty vocalizations, which are used to communicate predator threats or the presence of low threat birds.  These alarm calls may be used by males to attract the attention of females, which otherwise might not have much use for them (White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa, n.d.) Image may contain: tree, sky, bird, plant, outdoor and nature In general, Magpie-Jays are a genus called Calocitta, which include White Throated Magpie Jays and Black-throated Magpie-jays.  The two birds can hybridize and both are known for their long tail length. Jays, or for that matter magpies which they are named after, are corvids or members of the crow family.  Members of the crow family are among the smartest birds in the world and some species are known to use tools, play tricks, hold funerals, and teach each other information. Experiments with Eurasian scrub jays conducted by Dr. Nicky Clayton of Cambridge University, using worms and beetles suggest that the birds may be able to consider the preferences of their mate when choosing whether to eat worm or beetle.  Her experiments with Western scrub jays demonstrated that the birds were able to remember where and when they had cached food. If a perishable food item such as wax worms had been cached several days prior (and was no longer palatable), the birds went for previously cached peanuts instead. This is despite the fact that the birds prefer waxworms. The jays were also found to be able to plan ahead by caching pine nuts in a room where they regularly found breakfast, so that they would find more food each morning (Balter, 2016).  While many corvids cache food, White-throated magpie jays are unusual in that they do not engage in notable caching activity. Corvids are believed to have descended from a moderate caching ancestor. New world jays themselves evolved from a caching corvid. Loss of the ability to cache occurred at least twice independently in corvid evolution as maintaining this ability has a high metabolic cost and requires an enlarged hippocampus (de Kort and Clayton, 2006). Because White-throated magpie-jays do not cache, I will assume they do not have quite the memory capabilities of other jays.  Still, they are pretty unique birds in that they have female dominated social groups AND they are unique non-caching jays.


I could not find any references to the significance of jays to the Mayans, but other Native American cultures have presented Blue jays as trickster, thief, or bully characters.  Cree people envisioned gray jays as benign trickers and its nickname Whisky Jack, may have come from the Algonquin word “Wisakedjak.” In Algonquin stories, Wisakedjak actually describes a trickster crane that let loose a terrible flood (Chadd and Taylor, 2016).


 

7. Clay Colored Thrush (Turdus grayi):


Image may contain: bird, plant and sky

I saw quite a few of these drab, unassuming birds hidden amongst the forests that shroud the Copan ruins.  Yet, oddly enough it is the national bird of Costa Rica. This seems odd considering there are so many colorful, charismatic birds in Central America.  It was designated the National Bird of Costa Rica in 1977 because of its song and association with the greening of the season (so perhaps end of dry season?).  It is known as Yigüirro in Costa Rica. It eats snails, worms, and insects. It was once named Gray Thrush after a British ornithologist and was also known as the Clay Colored Robin.  It is not shy around humans and can live in urban settings. Perhaps because it is common, has a pretty song, and often around humans, in Costa Rican culture it appears in poems, stories, and songs (Javi, 2014).  I am not sure what the Mayans thought of this bird, but it is neat that such an ordinary bird has national importance.


 

8. Turkey (Meleagris):


Image may contain: bird and outdoor


I saw a turkey at the Copan ruins and wondered what it was doing there.  I know that turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, so I wondered if it was a wild turkey or a domesticated turkey.  In this case, it was a domesticated turkey. Turkey bones have been found at Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala dating from between 300 BC and 100 AD.  The species of turkey found at the site actually originated in Mexico, where all domestic turkeys are from. So, it means that Mayans imported turkeys from outside of their homelands to be kept or raised (University of Florida, 2012).  Originally, turkeys were domesticated for their feathers, which were used in ceremonies, robes, and blankets. In Mexico, they were domesticated in 800 BC and in Southwest United States this occurred in 200 BC. (Viegas, 2010) Both Anasazi and Aztecs domesticated turkeys.  Anasazi domesticated turkeys from Rio Grand and Eastern subspecies and the Aztecs from a vanished southern Mexican subspecies. The Anasazi domestic turkey has disappeared from history (Smith, 2017). All modern domesticated turkeys are from Aztec domesticated turkeys (Viegas, 2010) While a person can’t include domesticated turkeys on their birding list, they are still beautiful birds with a lot of Mesoamerican history.


Conclusion:


There were many other birds that I saw at Copan as well, including summer tanagers, golden fronted woodpeckers, rufous naped wren, black vultures, and more! So, this overview is not comprehensive of the birds that I saw.  It also doesn’t include many other birds that were important to the Mayans. For instance, water birds were actually surprisingly prominent in Mayan art. Over 52% of natural bird species depicted in Mayan art are water birds such as herons, egrets, and cormorants.  Of these depictions, 83% are from the Late Classic period, which was associated with drought (Stuart, 2015). The Copan ruins are near the Copan River, so it is possible that a person could see some water birds if they were near the river. Another bird that was important to the Mayans are Resplendent Quetzals.   Resplendent Quetzals can be found at elevations between 1000 to 3300 m and prefer evergreen cloud forests with plentiful fruit trees, where they forage from the canopy. They are considered Near Threatened, since they are sensitive to deforestation and climate change. Copan situated in a valley at 700 m above sea level, so, the elevation is not suitable for Quetzals.  According to E-bird, there have been some Resplendent Quetzal sightings at Finca El Cisne and the aptly named Montana El Quetzal, which are not far from Copan, but even these sightings are infrequent. Both Mayans and Aztecs revered the bird as a figure representing goodness and light, and as a deity of air. Its name comes from Nahuatl and the Mayan word for the bird is Kuk.  Quetzal feathers were reserved for royalty and priests and more valuable than gold or jade. The birds were captured, their feathers plucked, and then released, as it was believed that the birds would die in captivity. Aztecs associated the bird with Quetzalcoatl. Today, the bird is featured on Guatemala’s coat of arms, flag, and currency (which is called quetzal). Although they are not at Copan, I figured it was worth a mention due to their cultural importance.  With that said, the Copan ruins are a great place to enjoy nature. Since nature is as much a part of the history of the Mayans as the Copan ruins, a person shouldn’t feel guilty if they find themselves admiring the plants, birds, or butterflies instead of the city of stone. These things are all connected.

Image may contain: tree and outdoor

Sources:

Altamira Oriole Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Altamira_Oriole/id

Balter, M. (2016, July 22). Meet the Bird Brainiacs: Eurasian Jay. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2016/meet-bird-brainiacs-eurasian-jay

Chadd, R. W., & Taylor, M. (2016). Birds: Myth, lore & legend. London, UK: Bloomsbury Natural History, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Cushing, T. (2011, September 8). Kellogg’s Stakes Claim To Toucans, Mayan Imagery; Issues Cease-and-Desist To Guatemalan Non-Profit. Retrieved from https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110907/15550615845/kelloggs-stakes-claim-to-toucans-mayan-imagery-issues-cease-and-desist-to-guatemalan-non-profit.shtml

de Kort, S. R., & Clayton, N. S. (2006). An evolutionary perspective on caching by corvids. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 273(1585), 417–423. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3350

Fendt, L. (2016, March 01). 6 Costa Rican animal names decoded. Retrieved from https://www.caminotravel.com/6-costa-rican-animal-names-decoded/

Green, C. and R. Kannan (2017). Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.colara1.01

Greshko, M. (2018, August 13). Early Native Americans Imported Exotic Parrots, DNA Reveals. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/08/news-ancient-dna-chaco-canyon-pueblo-macaws-archaeology/

Hellmuth, N. (2015, September 06). Macaws and Parrots in 3rd-9th Century Mayan Art. Retrieved from http://www.revuemag.com/2011/04/macaws-and-parrots-in-3rd-9th-century-mayan-art/

Helmke, C., & Nielsen, J. (2015). The Defeat of the Great Bird in Myth and Royal Pageantry: A Mesoamerican Myth in a Comparative Perspective. Comparative Mythology, 1, 23-60.

Hsu, T. (2011). Mayan group’s logo too much like Toucan Sam, Kellogg’s squawks. Retrieved from https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/08/kellogg-asks-mayan-group-to-remove-toucan-from-logo.html

Iconography, characteristics of painted macaws on Early Classic, Tzakol, basal flange bowls. (2014, October). Retrieved from http://www.maya-archaeology.org/neotropical-Mayan-ethnozoology-sacred-utilitarian-animals-reptiles-fish-birds-insects-iconography-epigraphy-faunal-remains/Mayan-iconography-scarlet-macaws-Tzakol-Early-Classic-bird-images.php

Javi. (2014, January 23). History of the national bird: Clay-colored thrush (Yigüirro). Retrieved from https://www.govisitcostarica.com/blog/post/history-of-the-national-bird-clay-colored-thrush.aspx

Jones, R. and C. S. Griffiths (2011). Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.kebtou1.01

Nations, J. D. (2006). “Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities”.

Oropendula, Montezuma. (2017, February). Retrieved from https://www.maya-ethnozoology.org/images-birds-species-bird-watchers-guatemala-mexico-belize-honduras/montezuma-oropendola-psarocolius-wagleri-bird-nests-peten-izabal-guatemala.php

Patterson, R. (2011, November 18). Kellogg Reaches Settlement in ‘Toucan’ Trademark Dispute – Few Feathers Ruffled. Retrieved from http://www.ipbrief.net/2011/11/17/kellogg-reaches-settlement-in-toucan-trademark-dispute-–-few-feathers-ruffled/

Robinson, J. K. (2013, July 23). Land of the Maya the way it was then. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Land-of-the-Maya-the-way-it-was-then-4003689.php

Sample, R. and R. Kannan (2016). Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.monoro1.01

Smith, J. (2017, November 17). Tracing the Wild Origins of the Domestic Turkey. Retrieved from https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/11/20/tracing-the-wild-origins-of-the-domestic-turkey/

Streiter, A. (n.d.). Turquoise-browed Motmot, Costa Rica. Retrieved from https://www.anywhere.com/flora-fauna/bird/turquoise-browed-motmot

Stuart, P. (2015). Birds and environmental change in the Maya area (Unpublished master’s thesis). A Division III examination in the School of Natural Science, Hampshire College, May 2015. Chairpersons, Alan Goodman and Brian Schultz.

Stuart, D. (2014, April 20). A Glyph for Yuyum, “Oriole,” in a Name at Bonampak. Retrieved from https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/a-glyph-for-yuyum-oriole-in-a-name-at-bonampak/

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/2168-Eumomota-superciliosa

University of Florida. “Earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120809090706.htm>.

Viegas, J. (2010, February 01). Native Americans tamed turkeys in 800 B.C. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/35186605/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/native-americans-tamed-turkeys-bc/#.XOPizqR7mUk

White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/wtmjay1

Whitely, D. (2015, March 07). How the scarlet macaw returned to Copán, Honduras. Retrieved from http://www.grumpytraveller.com/2015/03/07/how-the-scarlet-macaw-returned-to-copan-honduras/

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Anna Volcano

santaana

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Ana Volcano

H. Bradford

2/10/19

Each time that I travel, I try to reflect upon something that made me feel uneasy or anxious.  I want to push back against the notion that travelers must be brave, adventurous, independent, or fearless.  It is okay to be wary or worried.   In this story, I will discuss my concern that I might not be fit enough to hike up a volcano.


Living in the not-so-geologically active Midwest of the United States, I find volcanoes to be novel.  Perhaps if I lived near them and experienced their destruction first hand, they would not be quite as quaint.  Because of this fascination, the Santa Ana Volcano or Ilamapetec Volcano in El Salvador was a must see destination.  Firstly, the summit of the volcano features a bright turquoise crater lake.  Secondly, it is the highest volcano in El Salvador.  Thirdly, it had a major eruption in 2005, wherein thousands of people had to be evacuated and chunks of rock the size of cars were launched into the air.  In short, it is a tall, active, attractive volcano.  I knew I wanted to go, but I also worried that maybe the hike would be too strenuous.  Here is how it went…


I had some anxiety before leaving on my trip that maybe I would struggle with the two volcano hikes I had signed myself up for.  After hiking up Pacaya volcano in Guatemala on almost no sleep, I felt more confident that Santa Ana volcano would be a much easier ordeal.  After all, at the very least I would have sleep!  When the time finally came, I figured it would be a struggle, but not impossible.  Despite my earlier volcano hike, I was concerned because I knew that the Santa Ana hike was longer.  It seemed that one to two hours up was the average time quoted by some blogs or tours (though one blogger said it took her 45 minutes).  Two hours of slogging up a rocky hill didn’t exactly seem easy.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, grass, tree, outdoor and nature


While a person can probably arrange to hike up the volcano for under $20 by taking public transportation and paying the park fee on their own, I went on a day tour for around $100 (if I remember rightly).  I didn’t feel inclined to take public transportation for lack of time and confidence.  This worked out fine, as we had an opportunity to stop at the Peace and Reconciliation Plaza along the way.  The plaza features a giant sculpture of a blue haired woman, who represents the people of El Salvador.  In front of this figure is a female guerilla and a male soldier, both of whom are releasing a flock of doves.  I thought it was a unique assortment of statues since the FMLN was represented by a woman.   Women made up about 30% of the FMLN in the 1980s, though often in supportive roles such as nursing, radio operating, and cooking (Luciak, 2001).   The monument itself was created to commemorate the 1992 Peace Accords between the government and the FMLN.  Those who signed the accords are featured on a plaque.  The plaza also features a mural which highlights Salvadorean history.  The Chapultepec Peace Accord resulted in the disarmament of the FMLN, the legalization of the FLMN, dismantling national security forces and intelligence forces, police reforms, intelligence, a cease fire, a UN Truth Commission to uncover atrocities of the war, amnesty for those who committed the atrocities, credit to ex-guerillas for land purchases, etc. (Negroponte, 2012).  As I visited the monument, I was struck by the thought that it would be difficult live with the knowledge of all of the horrors that had happened in the war, but also know that the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, cloud and outdoor


We also made a stop at Coatepeque lake, which means hill of snakes.  The lake is popular among the wealthy, so it appears that it still attracts snakes (no offense to snakes).  The lake was formed between 72,000 and 50,000 years ago, when group of stratovolcanoes east of Santa Ana collapsed after erupting, causing the lake to form in the caldera over time (Coatepeque Caldera, 2013).  After a short stop at the lake, we continued on a bit further to Santa Ana volcano.  Santa Ana volcano is one of three volcanoes located in Volcanoes National Park.  Idalco and Cerro Verde are the other two volcanoes located in the park.  Among them, Santa Ana is the tallest at 7,812 feet (2,381 meters) above sea level (Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador, 2005) and most recently active.  Cerro Verde has not erupted for 25,000 years (I have seen it referred to as a volcano and as a satelitic cone, or cone like structure of volcanic material) and Idalco was once continually active for 196 years, earning it the name, Lighthouse of the Pacific.  Idalco last erupted in 1966 and is iconic enough that it was featured on the 10 colon bill, though this currency was replaced in 2001 by the U.S. dollar.   All three of the volcanoes can be hiked, though I have read that Idalco is more challenging than Santa Ana.  These volcanoes are part of the Central American volcanic chain that is formed by the collision of the Cocos and Caribbean plates (Hernandez et. al, 2007).

Image may contain: sky, tree, mountain, plant, ocean, outdoor, nature and water


The hike itself began with a walk along a trail from the parking area to the ranger station.  This initial walk took approximately fifteen minutes through a wooded area along a trail with a very gradual incline.   The walk ended at the ranger station, where there is a final opportunity to use an outhouse or buy water or snacks.  Dozens of hikers in colorful hiking apparel waited for the tour to begin by the station.  The hikers leave in groups which are escorted by a police officer.  I am uncertain how many groups leave a day, but the officer who escorted our group had already made at least one trip and it was only 9:30 am.  The crowd was mostly young and eager, though there were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  Seeing the diversity in ages and sizes made me less concerned about how strenuous the hike would be, as it seemed like something that a wide array of people partake in.  The majority of hikers were Spanish speaking, so I wondered if they were local or at least regional travelers.  Once the hike began, some young, energetic hikers bolted ahead, walking quickly or jogging to stay ahead of the crowd.  I was determined to go slowly and conserve energy, even if I was at the back of the crowd.

Image may contain: 1 person, tree, sky and outdoor


The first part of the hike was not so bad.  The incline is not terribly steep and at times, there are flat areas.  The first portion of the hike was shaded by trees and bushes.   After a while, the crowd thins out as people hike at different paces.  I plodded along, slowly and steadily.  The initial part of the hike was definitely much easier than the Pacaya hike, which seemed relentlessly steep.  Though, both hikes benefited from shady vegetation coverings which offered protection from the sun and heat.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, grass, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature


While the first half to 3/4 of the hike is mild to moderate in intensity, the last portion is a challenge.  In the final section of the hike, the vegetation gives way to a rocky, sun baked, sulfur scented landscape.  The only redeeming quality of this portion of the hike was that due to the elevation and desolation, there was a cooling breeze.  The rocks can be loose and crumbly and the ascent feels steep.  I had to count in my head to keep going, telling myself I would take 50 more steps then pause for a break or 25 more steps then pause for water.  The summit seemed impossibly far, even if it wasn’t really that far at all.  But slowly and surely, I made it to the top, which felt pretty great!  Since mine was only the second group to leave, it wasn’t too crowded.  Once at the top, I took some photos of the turquoise crater lake.   The crater lake’s average surface temperature in 2005 was 18-20 C or 64-68 F, though because of the steam and bubbling gas it appears to be much hotter when viewed from above.  The maximum temperature measured by scientists prior to the eruption in 2005 was 136 degrees F, which indicates that there is a great amount of variation in temperature depending upon where volcanic gas enters the lake (Hernandez et al).   More recent measurements from 2017 show that the heat of the crater lake has increased to 120-140 degrees F (Graniya, 2018), but this is still below the boiling point of water (210 F) at sea level.  I only mention this because I had the impression that the lake was boiling, though, certainly a person wouldn’t want to fall into it (for the rocky, steep fall and potential for pockets of very hot water).  Aside from being hot, the lake is acidic, with a Ph range of .7 to 2.0 of acid-sulfate-chloride (Colvin et. al, 2013).  For context, stomach acid has a Ph of about 1.  I am uncertain what process creates the bright turquoise color in the Santa Ana crater lake.  In Indonesia, the turquoise color of a crater lake was attributed to dissolved iron and floating sulfur colloids, but since I know nothing about chemistry I can only guess that this is the same for Santa Ana.  I didn’t spend that much time at the top, but that was a matter of personal choice.  I spent long enough to enjoy the view of the nearby volcanoes, crater lake, and Flower Route.  I also marveled at the fact that someone managed to cart pop-sickles to the summit to sell to tourists.  I wanted to make sure I beat the crowd down the volcano, so that I wouldn’t be rushed or crowded.   As I was heading down, I encountered another group climbing up.  So, I think there were about three groups of hikers that morning.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

 

Image may contain: outdoor and nature


The hike down the volcano was physically much easier, but required more balance as there were many loose rocks.  I almost lost my balance a few times as I slid on rocks.  It was also made more challenging by the number of tourists trying to navigate either up or down the sometimes narrow, rocky path.  I was happy when I reached the ranger station.  Back near the parking area, I saw a few interesting species of birds.  One was a Bushy crested jay.  In Spanish, it was commonly called a Chara, which I think generically means jay (my bird guidebook did not have local names for birds, which would have been a useful feature).  I also saw some coffee plants.  These little things were a pleasant reward for making it up and down the volcano.

Image may contain: bird, plant and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, nature, outdoor and food


In conclusion, I managed the hike well enough.  I was sore and worn out at the end.  The hike up took under two hours and perhaps about an hour and a half down.  I paused for more photos on the way down.  Overall, the Pacaya hike was probably a little bit easier, but only because it was shorter.  So, endurance wise Santa Ana was harder, but cardio wise, Pacaya was harder.  It is hard to compare the two because they were both pretty different.  Santa Ana was a better hike because I actually was able to hike to the top.  However, Pacaya does offer the opportunity to roast marshmallows on a fumerole.  Both were good in their own ways.  And I think anyone with reasonable health can probably complete both (they are challenging, but popular enough that people of all sizes and abilities hike them).  For instance, if a person can spend an entire day hiking without problem (no elevation or hills), they can probably hike up the volcanoes, albeit with effort and mild exhaustion.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, standing, mountain, outdoor and nature

Coatepeque Caldera. (2013). Retrieved from https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=343041

Hernández, P. A., Pérez, N. M., Varekamp, J. C., Henriquez, B., Hernández, A., Barrancos, J., … & Melián, G. (2007). Crater lake temperature changes of the 2005 eruption of Santa Ana volcano, El Salvador, Central America. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 164(12), 2507-2522.

Luciak, I. A. (2001). After the Revolution: Gender and democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Negroponte D.V. (2012) Implementation of the Chapultepec Peace Accords: The Achievements. In: Seeking Peace in El Salvador. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador. (2005). Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5907/santa-ana-volcano-el-salvador

 

 

Should Travelers Take State Department Advice? The Politics of Travel Warnings

statedept

Should Travelers Take State Department Advice?

The Politics of Travel Warnings

H. Bradford

1.30.19


First of all, I will admit that I have been writing about travel more often lately.  It is an easy topic to write about so I am being a bit lazy as a writer  (by contrast it took me over two weeks to write my November post about the history of World War I.)  With that said,  a travel topic that I have been thinking about lately is the politics of State Department travel advice.   Before heading to El Salvador, I checked the State Department’s website for travel warnings.   El Salvador is listed as “orange” on the State Department’s Travel Advisory Map.  Orange means that a traveler should “reconsider travel.”  This warning level is on account of violent crime and gang activity.  The warning is far from reassuring for a traveler, but, what exactly does the color coded system mean?  Further, the State Department is far from a neutral entity doling out useful travel advice.  It is one of the main instruments of U.S. imperialism.  With that said, I will explore this topic so that travelers can approach the State Department with skepticism.


Decoding the State Department’s Color Code:

The State Department divides the world into color coded warning levels.  There are seven warning levels: Red (Do Not Travel), Orange Striped (Reconsider travel-Contains areas with higher security risk), Orange (Reconsider travel), yellow striped (Exercise caution-areas with higher security risk), yellow (Exercise caution), colorless stripe (Exercise Normal Precautions – Contains Areas with Higher Security Risk), and colorless (Exercise Normal Precautions).  Thus, the State Department has developed a system of risk measurement based upon a nominal scale of colors and associated risks- with red being the highest risk and white being the least highest risk.  Because they are nominal, they don’t have any quantitative value.  For instance, very cold could appear on a nominal scale of weather.  But, what does very cold mean?  To someone from a tropical region, this could be 50 degree Fahrenheit.  To another individual, this could be -40 degrees Fahrenheit.  “Exercise Caution-Higher Security Risk” has about as much meaning as “very cold.”  Within this system, Orange is different from Striped Orange or Red, but precise difference is unknown.  Of course, risk is not easily measured and like “very cold” it depends upon who you are and your position in the world.  The map would look different for a rich, white, heterosexual male American than a poor, Black, lesbian, Muslim American.  A person’s risk in the world is impacted by access to resources that allow for safety.

Image result for state department travel warning map


The scale, while not particularly nuanced or scientific in its approach, creates a mental schema of how safe or unsafe the world is.  This schema is not entirely baseless.  After all, there is indeed crime and violence in El Salvador.  However, the color codes speak more about the relationship to the U.S. government and the rest of the world than travel risks.  For instance, Russia is categorized as yellow striped, on account of the risk of terrorism, harassment, and arbitrary enforcement of the laws.   Police harassment and arbitrary enforcement of the law is not a uniquely Russian phenomenon and while there may be some cultural and political norms regarding policing, police interactions are shaped by race, class, gender, nationality, religion, and basically, one’s relationship to state power.  Are Russian police fundamentally different from Bulgarian, Serbian, Romanian, Belarusian, Macedonian, or Georgian police?  None of these other countries bear warnings or warning levels as high as Russia’s (Albania and Georgia are colorless striped or two tiers safer and the other countries are not colored.)  Is Albanian really two tiers safer than Russia?  Russia’s safety level is also on account of instances of terrorism, but there are other countries with higher instances of terrorism with lower safety risks (such as Greece).  Granted, in 2017 there were 61 deaths in Russia on account of terrorism (according to Wikipedia).  Thailand is ranked two tiers lower in risk, but 72 people were killed in incidents of terrorism in 2017.  It seems to me that some of the ranking has more to do with countries that the United States does not get along with than actual risk. Image result for state department russia travel warning


Consider code red, or the highest level of risk.  There are few countries that are deemed entirely unfit for travel.  One is Yemen.  This makes sense.  The country is being blockaded, starved, and bombed by Saudi Arabia.  North Korea, on the other hand, is actually a very safe place to travel in terms of low crime, social stability, and lack of terrorism (but extremely unsafe for those entering illegally or with intent to challenge government authority).  Travel to North Korea resulted in the horrific and mysterious death of an American tourist, which is something which should not be minimized.  But, this death is deeply political and certainly given more media attention than horrific, mysterious, but less political deaths of tourists in countries friendlier to the United States.  For instance, in December, Carla Stefaniak was murdered in Costa Rica.  Her partially naked body was found near her AirBnB with a stab wound to the neck.  This death is horrific (though less mysterious since the murderer was found.)  Yet, Costa Rica is not pegged as an unsafe place to travel (striped and not colored).  Sexual violence against women does not spark the same fear and outrage as the state sponsored murder of a white male college student.  Sexual violence is commonplace and women are often blamed for their victimization.  The violence of a tyrannical state must be framed as exotic and uniquely cruel in order to justify U.S. imperialism, even if our own prison system routinely denies medical care to prisoners, as Otto Warmbier was denied adequate care during his North Korean imprisonment. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2661478/  ).  This isn’t meant to defend North Korea, but simply to point out that tourists die in less politicized contexts without much alarm.  Saudi Arabia dismembered a journalist in a Turkish consulate and that country ranks as dangerous as Russia to travel to.   This garnered a great deal of media attention, but did not translate to warnings about Saudi Arabia.  So again, travel advisories are a reflection of the international relations of the United States.


Returning to El Salvador, the country is ranked as orange, which offers that one should reconsider travel.  Other “orange” countries include Chad, Nigeria, and Mauritania.  It seems there quite a qualitative difference between El Salvador and say…Chad.  Chad doesn’t have much for tourist infrastructure/industry, so a tourist is probably going to have a harder time insulating themselves from threats through the buffer of tourism.  For instance, Chad was visited by about 115,000 tourists in 2015, whereas El Salvador was visited by over 1.4 million tourists that same year.  Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world, is engaged in a fight against Boko Haram, is viewed by the international community as having a corrupt and authoritarian government, and also experiences violent rebellion in the north of the country.  I would think that there is a difference in travel to El Salvador than travel to Chad, even if El Salvador has high levels of crime.   Interestingly, the British government ranks Chad as a high travel threat and advises against all travel to the north of the country and border regions with only essential travel to the rest of the country.  In contrast, the British government deems El Salvador incident free for most travelers who exercise caution.  I am uncertain why the State Department would lump Chad and El Salvador together in the same category of danger unless this designation helps to support U.S. immigration policy, which seeks to portray Central American migrants as dangerous criminals and because Chad is such a non-entity to U.S. interests and travel that it doesn’t warrant a higher warning level. Image result for chad travel warning

British travel advisory map for Chad


We Make the World Unsafe:


Another flaw of the U.S. State Department’s color code system is that it doesn’t describe why countries are coded as they are.   For instance, in North and South America there are only two countries which are designated “striped orange” or the second highest level of threat.  These two countries are Venezuela and Honduras.  The State Department warns that in Venezuela there is the arbitrary arrest and detainment of American citizens.  The warning says citizens plural, which implies it may be a common occurrence.  In truth, an American citizen and former Mormon missionary named Josh Holt was arrested and spent two years in prison because it was believed by the Venezuelan government that he was stockpiling weapons and working for the CIA.  Weapons and incriminating documents were found at his residence in Venezuela, but his mother claimed these were planted.   It is difficult to know if this is a case of a framed innocent man or someone with terrorist intent.   However, what is known is that the travel dangers in Venezuela do not exist in a vacuum and some of the conditions are created and exacerbated by U.S. foreign policy.   For instance, the State Department warns travelers about the poor health infrastructure of Venezuela.   This fails to mention that U.S. economic sanctions against Venezuela designed to force regime change by economically punishing the population into revolt and the economy into collapse.  These sanctions have prohibited debt restructuring, borrowing from financial institutions, and the convertibility of Venezuelan currency.  These tactics have made it harder to control hyperinflation and balance trade, which have contributed to murderous shortages of food and medicine.  Yes, Venezuela may not be the safest place to travel to, but it would be much safer if the United States had not actively sought to overthrow the government and punish the population. Image result for state department russia travel warning


The other high risk level country is Honduras.   The United States supported the 2009 coup in the country.  By recognizing the Lobo (temporarily Micheletti) government and refusing to acknowledge the coup, aid to Honduras could continue as normal, including military aid that has been used to murder dissenters.  Another consequence of our policy is that the tens of thousands of Hondurans who have fled the country are not recognized as political asylum seekers (to do so would be an admission that the U.S. supported government is indeed violently repressive).  The State Department offers that Honduras is unsafe due to crime.  Crime is an enormous topic that I have neither the time nor knowledge to address properly, but the crime in Central America is also a function of U.S. foreign policy.   Murders increased in Honduras after the 2009 coup.  The state has been behind some of these murders and state violence has empowered criminals, because violent crimes go unpunished or investigated.  In any event, the orange striped color code bestowed upon Venezuela and Honduras is interesting since both countries have experienced U.S. supported coups and both have been destabilized by U.S. foreign policy.  Thus, where a country falls in the color code system is often a result of U.S. meddling in that country.  It is little wonder that most of the “red” or do not travel to countries are countries the United States is or has recently been at war with or invaded, such as Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.


 

Alternatives:


If one accepts the premise that going to the State Department for travel advice is about as reliable as going to your fascist grandpa for dating advice, then what is the alternative?  (Note: my grandpas were cool and not fascists).   The main entity that issues travel warnings are various government institutions.  Every government has its own foreign policy interests and relationships and therefore biases in issuing warnings.  But, even if there was a progressive institution for the issuance of travel warnings, travel safety is not something which is easily measured.  For example, suppose there was a GDP type formula for travel danger.  Perhaps it would look like Natural Disasters + Crime + Terrorism + Disease+ Animal Attacks +Industrial Disasters = Risk.  Of course, there are other variables which could be included.  However, some variables may be weighted more heavily than others due to the severity of their impact and commonality.  An island that is literally nothing but an erupting volcano may not rank as high if it does not have crime, animal attacks, or terrorism.  The variable of  industrial disaster might be weighted more heavily depending upon the type of disaster.  For instance, a reactor leaking radioactive material is of greater concern than a factory full of vats leaking molasses.  There are probably some smart statistical and scientific people who could develop such a formula, but it seems that the variables are so expansive and subjective that this would not be easy.  An easy measure would be the number of tourist deaths or injuries per the total tourist population.  This would be useful information, but tourists may travel to “safe” destinations such as Iceland, but engage in dangerous behaviors (such as jumping into geysers or chartering private flights over erupting volcanoes).  Finally, as I mentioned before, safety differs depending upon one’s access to resources.  I have traveled to countries that rank pretty high on the State Department’s risk list, however, as a tourist, I am sheltered from some dangers.  For instance, when I hiked up a volcano in El Salvador, the tourists were escorted by a police officer.  The police officer is a state provided measure to ensure that tourists continue to visit the country and the volcano because they were not robbed or assaulted along the way.   Governments often want tourism because it generates economic activity, so measures are taken to make sure that tourists are safe (sometimes at the expense of local populations if this includes dislocating homeless populations, bans on begging, busking, or loitering, increased policing, development that dislocates people or drives up housing prices, etc.)  Aside from the protections enjoyed by tourists as a group, the relative safety of each individual tourist varies depending upon their class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, ability, age, etc.  Perhaps an alternative to the State Department map would be a map of how unsafe you are depending upon different variables.  For instance, a traveler who is LGBTQ might find that many countries are unsafe due to restrictive laws and punishing social norms.

 

On the other side of the equation, travel warnings or safety advisories are pretty one sided.  It assumes that the victim is the tourist and that the danger in embedded in the destination.  It would be interesting to see a reverse map depicting areas that tourists make unsafe.   This sort of map would advise locals to avoid certain bars or neighborhoods that are frequented by tourists, lest they be physically assaulted by drunk tourists or sexually assaulted by entitled foreigners.  Tourists are not hapless victims of a dangerous world.  Tourists can create danger by vandalizing historic sites, defying local laws or customs, damaging environments, creating pollution,  abusing service industry staff, sexually exploiting minors, reckless behavior, etc.   In this case, Mali and Chad are comparatively safe….from tourists!


There probably is no answer of how safety can be measured.  It is a political question.  The question itself comes from a place of privilege.  There is no shame in wanting to be safe, but the ability to go somewhere else and even ponder safety comes from a place of relative privilege to most of the world.  At the same time, some places certainly are less safe on account of such things as war, disease, famine, or natural disasters.  Using government warning systems to gain some sense of safety isn’t useless since it can create a starting point for further investigation.  Ultimately, I don’t have an answer of how to gauge safety.  Usually, I ask myself if people like me travel to the destination without incident?  And, if there are incidents, what are they are how often do they happen?  What kinds of measures can be taken to avoid unsafe situations?  In the case of El Salvador, travel warnings did cause me some concern.   Even online forums were divided between it’s awesome and safe to some sentiments of absolutely don’t go!  So, when I was there alone for a few days, I didn’t venture out after dark and booked day trips in advance of my travel so that I could sight see in what I felt was a safe way.   I also stayed at a nicer hotel than would be typical if my travels (I usually am fine with hostels).   I felt extremely safe.  In this case, I was probably overly cautious.  If something terrible happens to me at some future date, I suppose I will be blamed for ignoring State Department advice.  At the end of the day, like anything else in the world, the best approach is probably seeking out a variety of sources to determine the safety of a destination.   Yes, this is pretty generic advice, but the main point that I wanted to convey is that the State Department is not the end all and be all of advice- in fact, its advice is shaded by U.S. relationships to the world and it is a significant reason why some countries are unsafe to begin with.


 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

hiking pacaya volcano

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

H. Bradford

1.17.19

I recently went on a short trip to Central America.  With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country.  I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano.  After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant).  Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking.  Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people.  The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people.  The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing.  Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016).  Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand.  My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike.  And, I did!  But not for the reasons that I thought!  This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City.  My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country.   The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100.  There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience.   In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival.  This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances.  For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift).  I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday.  Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport.  This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays.  It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours.  It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am.  It was not going to be a fun hike.  I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.


I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano.   There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano.  I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead.  Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano.  The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks.  A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center.  In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives.  After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016).   I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead.  Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano.  Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano!   Hiking was rough.  I felt dizzy with tiredness.  I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort.  I was slow.  The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended.  There were no flat areas.  Just…up, up, up, up.  The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest.  I wanted to cry I was so exhausted.  By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs).  The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike.  I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl.  With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up.  All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way.  No, no.  I’m okay.  I don’t need a horse.  I really don’t need a horse.  No, I’ll make it.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this.  I checked my watch along the way.  I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours.   At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close.  I heard two thunderous booms.  The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area.  It was hard all of the way.  I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion.  But, I made it!  I made it!

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, cloud, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, mountain, outdoor and nature

 


The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes.  The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below.  Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater.  This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark.  The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level.  It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope.  According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile.  It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep.  In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field.  This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more.  I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava.  I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was.  The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows.  This was a big attraction for me.  I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar.   There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks.  I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better.  The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust.  My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater.   The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates. Image may contain: one or more people, child, outdoor and nature Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature


Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs.  At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite.  Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort.   I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke.  After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools.  There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat.  The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita.  I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water.  This was far nicer.  The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools.  I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water.  It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful.  While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun.   The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well.  For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma.  Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983).  I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.

Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and water

 


When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours.  My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little.  I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days.  This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life.  While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep.  NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep!  I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own.  At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being.  Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs.  I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!


Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers.  One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather.  I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it.  Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel.  I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time.  Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time.  Vacation time is precious.  The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else.   My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike.  As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana.  The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field.  So….I scorched myself.  Also, the air is heavy with particulates.  So much so that my lungs felt heavy.  Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas.  Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill.  I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike.  One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity).  A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up.   My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded.  It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging.  A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars.  I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike).  Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke).   In the end, it was worthwhile.  It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano.  I think you can handle this.”


Sources:

Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-guatemala-fuego-volcano-erupts.html

Steel, M. (2016, September 20). Travels in Geology: Guatemala’s Volcan Pacaya: A feast for the senses. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/travels-geology-guatemalas-volcan-pacaya-feast-senses

Warring, G. (1983). Thermal Springs of the United States and Other Countries, a Summary (Geological Survey Professional Paper, pp. 1-400, Rep. No. 492). Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

Wnuk, K., & Wauthier, C. (2016). Temporal Evolution of Magma Sources and Surface Deformation at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala Revealed by InSAR (Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

other useful source:

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pacaya+volcano+guatemala

 

Of Communists and Kings: Rules for Feeling History in Romania

romania

Of Communists and Kings:

Rules for Feeling History In Romania

H. Bradford
12.21.18


One of the most interesting things to observe when I travel to “dark” places is how people behave.  Of course, almost everything in the world has “dark” history, but there are some places in which the dark histories are well known and less contested.  Some examples that come to mind are Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, etc.  These are places that most of mainstream society would view as having dark histories.  Interpretations of these histories may vary, but most U.S. citizens, for instance, would feel the need to be reverent or well-behaved while visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.  Indeed, while visiting this memorial, I found that the the mood was sober and quiet among American tourists.  The tourists were more subdued in ritualistic thoughtfulness.  So too, tourists at Auschwitz were generally quiet, subdued, and again, ritually thoughtful.  Tourists who deviate from this norm are sometimes shamed, as in the case of Yolocaust, a photography project wherein Jewish artist Shahak Shapira altered tourist selfie photos, placing them in historical Holocaust images.  Holocaust history is certainly contested, but at least in mainstream Western society it is acknowledged as real and horrific, even if specific Western complicity in persecution of Jews or failure to act against these atrocities may not be part of that narrative.  In both of these examples, most tourists follow social scripts of how to behave and express emotion.  These norms are called “feeling rules” a sociological concept developed by Arlie Hochschild.  There are socially prescribed ways to express feelings at work, school, weddings, funerals, parties, and the many other facets of life.  Tourists also follow unwritten social guidelines of how to express emotion.  The variation in these rules offers some insight to how history is interpreted.  For instance, in September I paid a visit to Primaverii Palace, a residence of the Ceausescu family. The following day, I visited two Romanian castles, Bran Castle and Peles Castle.  The tourists acted very differently at each of these sites.

Image result for yolocaust

An image from the Yolocaust photo series, which was used to draw attention to tourist behaviors at Holocaust memorials/historical sites.  The site was later taken down and tourists featured in the images often removed their selfies and apologized after being shamed by the project.


Primaverii Palace was one of over 80 residences of the Ceausescu family.  The house contains the bedrooms of the Ceausescu children, gifts from foreign dignitaries, a sauna, indoor swimming pool, articles of clothing, a private movie theater, and family photographs.  Tourists were very quiet in the house and there was a marked absence of laughter, joking, admiration of the tilework or decor, or anything that might come off as overtly positive. Why? Well, the house belonged to a dead communist dictator who lived well while the people of Romania were cold and hungry.  The house is not meant to be admired, it is meant to be a symbol of the contradictions and failures of communism, wherein those connected to state power enjoyed luxury while the masses lived leanly. The house represents the dark history of oppression. Of course, the mansion itself is fairly modest, as far as mansions go.  I have visited many larger, more ornate mansions belonging to capitalists. However, these mansions are de-politicized. The inequality associated with capitalism is normal and expected. Therefore, visitors to THOSE mansions do not have to be quiet and respectful.  They can be wowed by the woodwork or the gardens. Any Western visitor to the Ceausescu mansion  with an inkling of Romanian history and iota of respect for the suffering of others, will probably behave respectfully at the mansion. The mansion is political. There are many reasons for this. One, Romania’s experience with communism is not “old” history. It happened within the lifetime and memory of many visitors, who like myself, may have seen images such as emaciated Romanian orphans on the news after the collapse of Romanian communism.  Two, communist dictatorship is almost incontestably viewed as bad. There are few Western sympathizers with Ceausescu. I myself am a revolutionary socialists and while I can explain why things went so awry in the Soviet Union and subsequent communist countries, I have no affinity or apology for the Ceausescus. Communist Romania, like North Korea or Cambodia under Pol-Pot, is a country with what Goffman called a spoiled identity. In Goffman’s case, the term was applied to stigmatized individuals, but I would extend this concept to the notion that an entire countries can be stigmatized by the brutality of their government and resulting ostracism and isolation from the West.  For political reasons, communist labelled countries are more stigmatized than similarly brutal of regimes that were supported by capitalist powers. A person who supports a particularly brutal regime, even critically, faces the risk of having their own identity spoiled by associating themselves with human rights violations and state repression. Thus, the feeling rules while visiting the home of a communist leader dictate that one should treat the visit with the respect owed to those who suffered under communism. Failure to do so might imply support of state repression or insensitivity to victims of communism, both of which threaten to spoil a tourist’s identity in the eyes of other tourists.

Image may contain: 1 person, tree, house, sky, plant and outdoor

Primaverii Palace


This respect and quiet were not expected at the two castles that I visited.  Peles Castle was an expansive estate tucked in the Carpathian Mountains. It was shrouded in a misty forest of dark pines.  The immediate reaction of the tourists is that it looked like a fairy tale. Inside, the castle was richly decorated with gold leaf and walnut, for a rustic look.  The castles contains 30 toilets and 170 rooms. In contrast, Ceausescu’s palace contained 80 rooms. The castle was built by Carol I, though really it was “built” by nameless laborers who made the furniture, rugs, rooms, stairways, gardens, plumbing, electricity, and so on.  The grandeur of a castle is not framed as an expression of the oppression of others. The castle is apolitical. Yet, visitors could be quiet and thoughtful as they consider the inequality of wealth under feudalism and capitalism or the thousands of workers whose labor is rendered invisible in the splendor of the castle.  How did Romanians live under the rule of Carol I and his successors? What wars were they sent to fight in? For what purpose? Where did all of Carol I’s wealth come from? A king should very well be as loathed as any communist dictator. Kings represent a system of benefits based upon heredity. Carol I was from the German Hohenzollern family and when he came to power in Romania in 1866, 38% of the arable land was owned by 2000 individual landowners.  Serfdom was abolished in 1746 in Wallachia and 1749 in Moldavia. In Transylvania in 1848, landlords tried to privatize wood, which had been traditionally an item of the commons which peasants could use for building, fires, charcoal, barrels, etc. In this sense, Romania was in a process of transitioning to capitalism, though still mostly rural and agrarian. Under Carol I’s rule, Romania was a constitutional monarchy, but the king maintained the power to dissolve the parliament, controlled the military, make treaties, appoint ministers and government personnel, approve laws, etc.  There is nothing progressive about monarchy, which concentrates state power among wealthy men whose qualification to rule is hereditary. Yet, on Trip Advisor, the castle is described as charming, wonderful, historic, a gem, fabulous, and beautiful. It could just as easily be described as an icon for the oppression of women (who were not allowed to be monarchical rulers and even ruling class women were breeders at best) or an atrocious waste of resources that could have gone towards the benefit of Romanian peasants. The castle itself was built by 400 workers, by some accounts (it seems that a cursory internet search doesn’t yield a wealth of information on the actual working conditions or workers who built the castle) and that these workers spoke up to 14 languages.  Workers included some imported skilled laborers, but also Albanians, Turks, and Romani who were presumably less skilled or at least not noted as skilled in the scant descriptions of the workers. Considering the long history of oppression and marginalization in Romanian society, it is hard to imagine that Romani workers were anything but hyper-exploited. Slavery was abolished in Romania between the 1840s and 1850s and Roma made up the vast majority of Romanian slaves. In 1859 there were 250,000 emancipated slaves in Romania. Thus, when construction of Peles castle began in 1873, Roma laborers would have less than two decades of freedom from six hundred years of slavery. The castle, therefore, might also be looked upon as a monument to the oppression of Roma. Of course, tourists do not see this when they see the castle.  There are no feeling rules that dictate quiet contemplation or soberness. Monarchy is taken for granted unless notoriously cruel (such as King Leopold II of Belgium) and there is a sense that monarchs can be good, bad, or neutral unlike communist dictators which tend to be framed as some shade of bad. Perhaps these feeling rules would be different in a different era wherein the struggle against monarchy or the spread of capitalism was still in its infancy or this history was more contemporary. Unfortunately, monarchy is depoliticized, so visitors to Peles or that matter Versailles or Russia’s Winter Palace, are unlikely to seethe with anger at the excesses of monarchs, take joy in the violent mass uprisings against such inequalities, or quietly reflect on the lot of peasants or those less fortunate.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sky, tree and outdoor

Peles Castle


Finally, I visited Bran Castle.  The mood here was different from Peles castle and from the Ceausescu mansion.  It was one of whim, fantasy, and dubious history. Although Bran castle has little to do with the history of Vlad the Impaler or vampires, it was marketed as Dracula’s castle, where one could purchase an array of Dracula themed souvenirs and foods.  A tourist could even take a Dracula tour or attend a large Halloween party hosted there each year. The castle is famous because it is similar to the castle described by Bram Stoker in Dracula. While the story of Carol I is made bland by the slow taming of monarchy, Vlad the Impaler was a thoroughly brutal ruler who by some historical accounts killed 90% of the boyars to replace them by a new ruling class that would be loyal to him, abused and murdered his mistresses, and impaled over 20,000 Turks at the Night Attack at Targoviste.  It is debatable if his cruelty was uniquely terrible by the moral standards of monarchs of the 1400s. Because his atrocities are several hundred years old, he is a character that can be looked upon with dark fascination or even historical neutrality. Unlike Ceausescu, who is very real, Vlad the Impaler, although historical, is mythological in his association with vampirism. Thus, a visit to Bran Castle (which was not associated with him) is not governed by feeling rules that require respect for death and suffering.  In contrast, the castle is marketed to celebrate death, the supernatural, and spookiness. If anything, the castle is disappointingly normal in that it really doesn’t have a particularly dark history, as far as castles go. Again, the celebration of Dracula and Vlad the Impaler represents an extreme depoliticization of the excesses of monarchy. One of the only overtly political marker in the castle is the story of various Romanian monarchs and how the castle was appropriated by the communist state. After the collapse of communism, Bran castle was returned to the Romanian royal family (who had been exiled in 1948).  This is supposed to be viewed as right and just. The right of monarchs to the property is not questioned and is simply a matter of the order of things. The remnant Hapsburgs who own the castle have since refurbished it and opened it to the public. Their generosity and stewardship is to be celebrated.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, sky, outdoor and nature


In a world where tourists should feel reflective and subdued in the face of communist atrocities, I feel that the same standards should be applied to those of feudalism and capitalism.  The double standard seems disingenuous, as if suffering matters, then all suffering is worth consideration. The world is imbued with inequality, injustice, and pain. In some cases, this is obvious to a tourist.  This has to do with how history is understood and felt. The rules of feeling and understanding history are political. I have visited many castles, but in almost all of them, the suffering is invisible and there is no questioning of inequality or wealth.  A castle is often nothing more than a pretty object to be stunned by. When it isn’t, it is perhaps a ruin or a damp remnant of some fantastic and distant time. Politics should be returned to these buildings so that tourists can remain alert for the contradictions and misery making inequalities of the world.  Excess and luxury should be fought against, whether it is the excess of communist rulers or the excess of kings. Both represent the theft of wealth from the land and from labor and lives of ordinary people. Almost everything should make us angry, disgusted, or sad. At the very least, feeling rules should be considered as they indicate norms of historical interpretation.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, cloud and outdoor

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Glacier Hike

Anxious Adventuring_Glacier Hike

Anxious Adventuring: Glacier Hike

H. Bradford

10/18/18

Iceland offers an endless array of opportunities for adventure.  Unfortunately, I only had a few days in Iceland, so I had to prioritize what I wanted to see.  I packed a lot into each day but had to determine what I would do on my final day in the country.  I narrowed it down to something related to volcanoes (such as lava tube exploring) or glaciers.  In the end, I chose a glacial activity since volcanoes will be around for a while but glaciers are in critical global decline.  Hence, I decided to go on a southern coast day tour of Iceland which included a glacier hike.  The tour company that I used for the day trip was Gray Line, but there are many day trip tour companies in Iceland.  The glacier that I visited was Solheimajokull, which is part of Mýrdalsjökull an ice cap that sits on top of the Katla volcano.  I was informed by the guide that as a result of climate change, there will not be any glaciers in Iceland in 100- 150 years.  Visitors to Solheimajokull can see how much the glacier has retreated in just the last ten years and it was melting as we walked on it.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

 


I was not particularly anxious about the glacier hike, even though I have never been on a glacier before.  My primary concerns were that it was going to be cold, slippery, and physically challenging.  About five people from our larger South Coast tour opted for the hike, with the vast majority continuing on for more sedate adventures.  When we arrived, we were outfitted with a harness, crampons, and ice axe.  The instructions did not feel quite as intense as the snorkeling instructions at Silfra.  We were told not to shuffle our feet, to trust the crampons, and how to hold the ice axe in a stable manner (i.e. not impale ourselves or others).  With those instructions, we set off towards the glacier.  It was about a fifteen minute hike from the parking lot to the beginning of the glacier.  Once we were close enough, we strapped crampons onto our boots.  Thus, a person would obviously want to pack hiking boots for this particular adventure (though, I believe they can also be rented).

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor


The first part of the glacial hike involved climbing up and down small hills.  In some parts, there were makeshift steps carved into the ice and snow.  Other parts required straddling small rivers of melting water and stepping over minor crevices.  From a cardio perspective, this was sometimes a little challenging, or at least got my heart rate up.  This is important to note because I was worried that the glacier would be cold.  After all, it is ice.  However, the giant mounds of ice broke up the wind and I actually felt pretty warm once I got moving.  I quickly shed layers and realized that I was wearing too much (fleece lined water resistant pants with leggings underneath and two sweaters + a jacket and wool headband).  On the other hand, I was not wearing a water proof jacket.  So, I got soggy as it rained for most of the hike.  When we stopped to look at the scenery, I became cold and tried to put on layers again.  Rain jackets can be rented for about $10 before the hike commences, which would have been a smart idea.  However, at the beginning of the hike, there was only a small drizzle, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.  Based upon this experience, I would suggest that the cold is not the major weather condition to worry about- rather rain, sweat, and moisture in general.

Image may contain: one or more people, mountain, outdoor and nature


When we reached the glacial plateau, we stopped to take in the scenery and got a closer look at some larger holes in the glacier.  We used a rope to lean in for a safe view of a large moulin, or a circular shaft in the ice carved by water.  There was time for photos and the guide taught us a little about glaciers.  After about 20 minutes of hanging out, we turned back…down.  This was where things went down hill for me.  I came upon a gentle, but icy slope that I didn’t feel comfortable going down.  I had a hard time trusting that my feet were not going to slip or that I would not simply tumble forward.  I hesitated, got a little stuck, and stumbled a little.  I didn’t fall or even loose my balance, but it was enough to make the guide uneasy and keep me towards the front of the group.  Yep, so like the snorkeling adventure, I got to be the guide’s sidekick.  From then on, I felt very self-conscious and over-thought each step.  I did my best not to shuffle, so I over exaggerated my steps.  At one point, I lost my balance for a moment- but immediately caught myself without incident, falling, or any stumbling.  However, since the nearest hospital was over an hour away and the guide mentioned that people had died hiking on the glacier, I remained haunted by a mistrust of my feet and sense of balance.  Like anything, over thinking can be paralyzing.  In the end, I never fell or came close to falling, but I definitely felt happy when it was over.  Unlike the snorkeling, I ended with a diminished sense of self confidence.  I mean really….why can’t I trust my feet?!!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

 


The glacial hike, like the snorkeling, is a beginner’s adventure- and as such, most anyone of reasonable health and balance should be able to complete the hike without incident.  Since I often hike or go for long walks, I didn’t enter the activity with much anxiety.  Really, it was not until the hike back (with more walking down hill) that I felt uneasy about the activity.  I am not sure what I could have done differently, except maybe to make sure the crampons were more secure on my boots- since they seemed a little too loose on the way back.  Once I started thinking too hard about each step, I seemed more prone to faltering- but- it was impossible NOT to think of each step since I didn’t want to stumble!  Overall, I would say the hike was worth it.  The three hour activity passed quickly and it was pretty neat to traverse a glacier.  While there probably isn’t much I can do to overcome my discomfort of going down slopes, at least I learned how to better prepare for such a hike in terms of what to wear.   I felt disappointed with myself for not being better at descending from the glacial plateau.  On the other hand, only five people out of over 25 people on the larger tour, went on the glacial hike…so I can be happy that I at least tried it!  I feel fortunate to have the privilege of visiting a glacier, as future generations are unlikely to have this opportunity if the necessary changes to our economic system are not made soon.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

Post Navigation