Saturday, 26 December 2015

Almost Christmas at Easter.

Easter Island - one of the world's most remote inhabited islands.
Arrival on Easter Island (RAPA NUI) Wednesday December 16th

What an incredible Island!  All over the place you find ceremonial platforms (ahu), the famous statues (moai), petroglyphs (rock carvings) and archaeological structures.  No matter where you go you must be careful not to damage the land around.

Teddy, one of our teenage travellers, being watched from afar.
Practically the entire island is a National Park so upon arrival at the airport the best thing to do is to buy a ticket for the duration of the stay on the island.  This ticket allows unlimited entrance for five days.

A 1st view of Mercury - a light circle above the Moai
The island is volcanic and is made up of a submarine mountain range.  The highest peak is at 3,000 metres from the sea floor. Over a period of several millions of years a number of volcanic eruptions created the island as it is today.

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The first human occupation began around 12 centuries ago (circa 900).   Although the history is controversial it seems that the island was first colonised by a group of villagers from a Polynesian island led by Hotu Matu’a, an ancestor of the Rapa Nui people.    The date of this expedition is estimated at around the 8th century although some say that the beginning of the colonisation was the 13th century.  The different archaeological, anthropological, linguistic and genetic studies tend to confirm the origin of the people as Polynesian although it is not possible to ignore the link with South America.

Our bike lover Edmond on finding a steed: happy days
Within a few centuries the population of the island had grown considerably and was divided into ten tribes (mata). They were organised in a similar way to Polynesia involving strips of land running from the coast to the interior.  The shoreline was reserved for ceremonial centres. The common families lived in the inside of the island where they planted their crops and bred animals.

For hundreds of years the religious belief of worshipping ancestors was manifested in the carving of moai (statues) and the constructions of ahu (ceremonial platforms).  When the different tribes were at war they toppled over the enemies moai (ranging from 2.5 metres to 21 metres high) to weaken them.  All over the island we see these fallen statues.

Hello? Is anyone coming back?
The hundreds of Easter Island Moais were carved out of volcanic stone at Rano Raraku, with about 300 statues still scattered around the quarry like goods in a shop, waiting to be bought. As with the Egyptian pyramids and Inca temples, there are many theories about how these statues were moved to their resting places all over the island.

We visited one of the volcanoes, Rano Kau. The crater is filled with water about 11 metres deep. Most of the remaining natural flora can be found here, since the rest of the island has been destroyed over the centuries.  Reeds and other aquatic plants, that don’t exist anywhere else on the island, grow here, and the microclimate allows orchids and other tropical plants to grow in relative peace.  After visiting the crater, we walked up to the ceremonial village of Orango, where opposing tribes met once a year for the birdman ceremony.  Each tribe chose a man (the hopu of the chief) to climb down a 300 metre cliff to the sea and then swim out to a small island a kilometre away. The men had to wait on the island until the first sterns arrived on the islands.   The aim was to take a sterns egg and carry it back to the mainland.  The chief of the tribe whose hopu “won” the race became the tangata-manu (birdman) and was considered sacred for one year where he lived in reclusion.   The last competition of this kind took place around 1867.

Where one might wait for the first Stern's egg
The island was “discovered” by the Dutch in the early 1700s, and has had many visitors since then, some welcome, most not. Visitors brought smallpox and other European diseases that have near decimated the population. Peruvians enslaved over half the population at one time and carried them to the South American mainland, Americans have shot natives willy-nilly and British have stolen some of the most spectaular Moais for Queen Victoria.  These statues have never been returned and are now found in British museums.  Chile later annexed the Island and it remains under Chilean control to this day as a Protectorate.   Purely from a personal point of view, this is somewhat of a pity, for it seems that industrial relations in Chile are somewhat different to those we find in Europe. LAN Chile ground staff went on an “Indefinite” strike on 17th December and the  prospect of us leaving the island on the 21st as planned is still quite bleak at time of writing (20th). “Oh No! Stuck on Easter Island indefinitely, what a pity you poor dears.” We hear you cry. Okay, Okay, it’s not that bad, but we do have a blog to write in a few days and are beginning to run out of things to say about the place. Mmmmmmm, perhaps we might write an in-depth account of the Easter Island Hula Dance and the attributes necessary to expertly perform one? Just watch out - it may take the form of a Limerick….

Thursday, 24 December 2015

An Anglo-Irish accord goes travelling (or traveling, if you prefer).

Winter in an English garden (much the same as Ireland but neater)

This blog was written by Andrew Rankin, the Anglo element of this accord, on December 20th 2015. (The Irish element is Barbara Mulcahy, offspring of Risteárd).

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

How exciting it is to be on the verge of a great adventure. I sit, on an unusually warm December morning with daffodils poking their noses out of the ground, thinking about what the next week holds.  We depart on Thursday evening for Christchurch, for te whenua o te kapua roa ma or ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ and meet with the other group of travellers who will arrive via Auckland, Tahiti, Easter Island and Peru.  The joy and excitement of reunion and chatter about recent adventures is to be eagerly anticipated and as Johnson says, to see how reality has tempered the imagination.

Where we shall spend Christmas day. 
On Thursday evening the AIEG (Anglo-Irish Expeditionary Group) leaves Heathrow at 2035 aboard Singapore Airlines flight number SQ319  for Singapore;  after a two hour stop over we then board SQ297 for the flight to Christchurch where we arrive late morning on St Stephen’s Day.  One of the wonderful aspects of travel in an aircraft is the comparatively short length of times it takes to arrive, in our case, the other side of the world – a mere 12000 miles in just  24 hours flying time.  To arrive in a country that is in the middle of its summer – the light, the sun, the warmth but perhaps my imagination will be regulated by reality in no uncertain terms as regards the warmth aspect.  Yet, Christchurch lies at 43.5° South compared to Dublin at 53° North or London 51° North so it is to be hoped that there is some warmth in the sun.

On December 30th the AIEG meets with the IFEG (Irish French Expeditionary Group) in Christchurch where the latter group will collect their campervans and then off we travel in a convoi exceptionnel to Akoroa to spend a few days over New Year. And then the adventure begins to be blogged about in the coming weeks.

Don't be fooled by the cosy neatness - the results of  tortured reflection.
Packing.  People approach this matter in their different ways.  Some have already packed, unpacked, repacked, reflected on the repacking, unpacked, more reflection and repacked whilst others have yet to locate the suitcase.  Each unto his or her own but I do wonder if, as with a best selling book this Christmas about log stacking, it is possible to gain an insight into a personality by the preferred packing procedure.  But one sometimes forgets a) they have kitchen sinks in New Zealand and b) they also have shops.  Prior to the departure of the IFEG for Peru, messages were exchanged concerning ‘Top Tips for Packing’.  For example, always pack a plug board.  Whereas our forefathers travelled with pens and paper, the modern traveller is accompanied by phones, computers, ‘tabloids’, cameras - all of which require power.  When travelling with anything that requires a battery, turn the batteries around so the torch or clock won’t accidently turn on and waste battery life.  Never fold clothes – roll them up and in case you don’t believe me, you can always find the many YouTube clips that exist on the subject.

The essential item (a passport is handy too).
But above all remember Johnson’s words.  I’m sure that everyone has their imaginary construct of the South Island just as we have our imaginary Easter Island or Machu Pichu.  Yet some of the party will have had their imagination tempered by their reality, their experience and this is the joy of travelling.

To end this blog, I like this from Jules Verne:
“Ah! Young people, travel if you can, and if you cannot - travel all the same!”

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Around the world in 54 days.

Stage 1 - Madrid - Cusco - Matchu Pichu.

Written on the plane from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island on December 16th

Two families, three Continents, four adults, five children (16, 15, 14, 12 and 10) and a six pack of beer. What more do we need to write a holiday blog? Did we forget a 'one' somewhere? Yes, one blog written by our father for almost three years and read by the most discerning of audiences. Thanks Dad for lending us your Blogspace for the next few weeks with the hope of maintaining your standards.    

Our Blogs will describe a two month “Around the World in 54 days” trip. Hugh and Martha had been planning it for years and Edmond and myself (Tina), jumped on board in February 2015. A trip that would take the adults away from busy day jobs and the children out of school to, perhaps, learn something useful about our planet. There was a great sense of excitement when Hugh, Martha, Liam, John and Rachael from Dublin, and Edmond, myself,  Edouard (Teddy) and Lucy from France hooked up in Madrid airport on  December 8th.

Cusco Airport - one of the most challenging in the world.
From Madrid to Lima, then Cusco; Capital of the Quechan Incas. Aim one of the holiday was trek the Inca Trail for four days to Machu Picchu, “lost city” of the Incas, rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Why the Inca trail? We have no idea; it just sounded like something that one should do on a World tour.

Cusco is a typical Spanish colonial city, but at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. If you live there for long, you develop big lungs and lots of red blood cells. You also don’t tend to mess up your lungs, and less than 5 percent of the population smoke. We acclimatised for a day by wandering around the stalls and the San Pedro market place. The locals were friendly and helpful and our teenagers thought they were ‘givin’ it away’ in the markets.  I didn’t have any opinion on this since I spent the two days in bed with serious altitude sickness.

At 06.00 on December 11th, we were picked up by Martin, our head guide and Hugo, our driver.  We set off for kilometre 82, a two-hour bus drive to the starting point for the Inca Trail. Green countryside, mountains high and low and the glaciers of the Andes, now rapidly retreating due to global warming (Gosh! Won’t Dad be pleased with us for getting both smoking and global warming into the first stages of our Blog!).   We were all ready to go now and delighted to be away. After stopping in a village to pick up ponchos (a supposed must for the rainy season), coca sweets and lots of water we did the last part of the bus trip and arrived at KM 80 around 10. There we met the rest of the supporting team; 14 porters, Chef and assistant chef.  They were busy getting all the gear together for our four days.  The porters all carry around 30 kg in weight and are incredible athletes.  Once ready they went ahead to the entrance of the 42 km hike we were to undertake. We also had backpacks with essentials for the day: water, passports, sun glasses, sun cream and cameras.  It was a magnificent day and the sun was blazing from the sky.

The guide had told us that the first day was “relatively flat” and easy and only 8 kilometres so after the first checkpoint we set off.  We quickly realised that Quechan “relatively flat” was an over-statement.  When we stopped for lunch after about 2 hours   we were puffed.  Lucky we didn’t know what lay ahead!!  The porters had set up lunch and the food was simple and delicious.  Over the four days we discovered many varieties of corn and potatoes but other vegetables too like yucca and quinuio.  We ate trout and chicken and lots of rice.  We walked uphill for another two hours after lunch and between breaths were able to admire the scenery.  At this altitude it is difficult to recover quickly so an even pace is required and slow deep breathing.  When we reached our first camp we were very happy, but tired.  After a good dinner and early to bed (around 8 pm) we spent our first night camping.  It was a real first for some of the party and Martha discovered a new passion (not!).  We were at an altitude of 2,925 metres.

What goes up must come down.
The next day we were up and on our way at 6 am.  This was to be the tough day.  We trekked uphill for hours to reach the “dead woman’s pass” (Warmiwanisca).  The pass is called like this because of the shape of the mountain that looks like a lady lying down.  We felt it was more appropriate to call it like this because of the difficulty in reaching it!   What an achievement for everyone to get there with John and Liam leading up front, Teddy and Lucy behind them and Rachaelita as she was known to the guides doing a great job with her mum and dad to get there.  Edmond and myself were the sweepers along with Edward our protector.  It was a spectacular scene at the top of the pass and we stopped for a while and had our second group photo.  We were at 4,215 metres and it was just amazing.    We weren’t the only group trekking but there were rarely moments when all groups were together so when we were walking we could be on our own in contemplation of the beautiful surroundings.  From there we started downhill.  Luckily we had taken walking poles which helped in the uphill and downhill moments (actually there was practically no flat ground).   After an hour or so of downhill we reached our second camp.  The showering facilities and toilets left a lot to be desired.  Some braved the cold-water showers whilst others preferred to rinse their faces in the spring water running by. Another lovely dinner and bed just in time for a thunderstorm to cool us down. We were at an altitude of 3,520 metres now.

A little rest.
Day three was to be our longest day.  Up at five and on the way at six.  We climbed uphill for two hours, then descended to phuyupatamarta (high clouds) for lunch (altitude 3,510 metres); the views were stunning.   After lunch we started a steep one kilometer descent, with steep drops and bamboo forests above and below. Martin and Edward’s knowledge of Quechan history, culture and the local fauna was phenomenal. The group had formed an excellent solidarity.  When it was difficult, someone was always there to encourage and help.   After a very long day we stopped at our last camping space on the side of a mountain.  The terraces had been built by the Incas to protect the mountain from subsiding but also for cultivating their vegetables and foods.  We had a festive evening to celebrate Tina's 55th birthday.  The Chef had even prepared a cake!  These guys were amazing.   We then had a short ceremony with the porters where we all introduced ourselves by name and we presented them with the tips we had prepared in advance. After admiring the constellations we were all in bed around 8 as the night would be short.

Last day and we were awoken at 3.30 to pack up and let the porters set off.  They had to get down to the local train by 5 am and had no time to lose.  We walked a little to the next check-point where we waited until 5.  We finally had the opportunity of wearing our ponchos for about half an hour as it was raining when we got up.  The only “daytime” rain we experienced over the four days.  Once through the checkpoint we had a one hour walk to reach the Sun Gate.  From the sun gate our hope was to see the clouds lift from below in order to spot the Machu Picchu site.  We waited and waited.  There was no point going down to MP until the fog lifted as we would not see much anyway.  At 8 am exactly there was a sudden lift in the fog and there beyond we gasped at the site of this most famous Inca City.  Within three or four seconds the fog descended again!  We had had a glimpse of our destination.  We set off and when we finally reached the site we were overcome somewhat by the crowds of visitors arriving by bus. We had experienced the open air and few people for four days and this was a shock to the system.  However once we had gone through to the site there was a dispersion of the crowds and we were back in our little group again.  The sun was bursting from the sky and reverberating from the lego like stones of the walls and the buildings of the City.  It was fascinating to hear about all the different areas (sun dial, astronomical basins, the condor carved out in stone, the solstice windows and more) but at the end of this long four days it was tough to stay out in the sun.  We arranged that the guide would finish our tour after 2 hours because of the heat and fatigue.   It was truly amazing.

Worth the wait.
We had set out to “do” machu picchu but in fact it was much more than that.  The four days trekking to get to machu picchu was a physical and mental challenge.  It was a great reward to visit but it was the four day experience that was most important.  This trek was a wonderful way to allow the group to bond for the two months that lay ahead.

After one night in Cusco we set off for Easter Island via Lima and Santiago.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


In March 2013 I read ‘Dublin Architectural Development – 1800-1925’ by Michael J. McDermott.  It was in the library of the Royal Dublin Society.  I was very impressed by the description of Dublin’s history, its development over the many centuries and its great attraction, not only to its own people but to the many visitors who visit this city and its countryside.  I was prompted to write an essay describing the material in the book and this I had completed by mid March 2013. 

Later in the same month, I had read a history of Lloyd George, ‘Tempestuous Journey – Lloyd George: His Life and Times’ by Frank Own.   He was born in Wales and joined the legal profession.  He was very supportive of Home Rule in Ireland when he was a young man and he was totally opposed to the war in South Africa at the turn of the century.

From Travels with my girls blog - Jan 16th 2015
It was this book which stimulated my idea of writing regular abstracts about books which I am likely to read and to recall other circumstances in my life which might be of interest to myself and to my family and others. 

Since the month of April 2013 I have regularly written a short essay and published it on my blog. (For those interested, the word blog is not contained in my Random House dictionary of English language, published in 1967.) 

Up to this date in December 2015 I have written 140 blogs.  My youngest daughter Lisa has been acting as my editor.  She arranges the sending of each abstract to those who are on my ‘Blog list’, as I call it.  The number of those receiving the essays on their emails now number about 200 but I believe that I have over 15,000 ‘hits’.  Lisa is an important component of my blog.  She keeps the language in order and is careful about grammar and other aspects of correct communication!  She is sometimes helped by her assistant, another daughter Barbara, who is now doing all my secretarial work because of my inability to cope with the computer because of my current age of 93 year and loss of sight. 

Initially my blogs were based on books I had read but they were soon used for the purpose in dealing with factors raised by other matters that came to my mind.  I continue to publish weekly and regularly. It has been very interesting and stimulating for me to keep my mind on current events and to retain an active memory of previous events which are worth recording and which I may easily have forgotten.

Much of the subjects dealt with have of course dealt with Ireland but there is a broad interest in all world events.  I have enjoyed the process with varying degrees of satisfaction.  It occurs to me that it is a habit which might become a family one and which might be continued permanently by families where one has access to many members of the different generations, for example, my own, my children and their children too.  It should be possible to appoint some member of the extended family who would be responsible for the editorial job and continuation of the blog process.  Who knows, a blog of this sort might provide a family history which could be of great long-term interest to following generations?

Who needs clothes when you have shoes and maps?
I have now decided to cease my regular weekly blog for the next eight weeks whilst eleven of my extended family will be away in South America and the islands of the Pacific and in the south island of New Zealand.  They will be away during the months of December and January.  The members of the family will undertake the process of producing a weekly blog which will be sent to Lisa and which will keep us all informed of the joys and possible tribulations of their trip.  In the meantime, I shall be completing my book – Survival of Humanity and hopefully I will publish it shortly after my family have returned.  I will watch and read their stories with interest and hopefully they will have my high standards!