Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A little link back to the Pacific

In contrast to the humorous vein of this blog I regard this item as serious. For the millions which people in the UK spend on restoring stately homes and such like, recent much more important artefacts are allowed to disappear. However in the USA there are wealthy dedicated people who keep things like this in working order....

Now known as the Commemorative Air Force based in Midland, Texas I got the privilege of sitting in the commander's seat of this B29 for a small donation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Alamo

The Alamo redoute is now surrounded by buildings catering for tourists and a lot of it is extremely tacky. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas do a good job keeping the standards within the site.

I can't help but notice that although Santa Anna was eventually repulsed and the war won, Mexican is the dominant culture here....

Antonio López de Santa Anna himself would be proud of the security man ushering the Gringos.

In the Heat of the Night - actually daytime.

We drive from Fort Davis to San Antonio. On the interstate the food is all chain restaurants and the road is plastered with billboards so we take Route 90 which happens to pass close to the Mexican border at Del Rio. This is through really beautiful country which passes through green mountains and parts which are as flat and deserted as the Nullarbor. There are very small towns with homely cafes which sell genuine food, untainted by the franchise system which destroys all taste and goodness. Along the road we come to a checkpoint where the border patrol are looking for illegals. Sue is driving so we breeze up to the young guy at the stop line. She winds down the window and blighthly announces "We're English!".

"Can I see you passports?"
"They're in the boot".
"They're in the WHAT?".
"Sorry I think you call it the trunk".
"Pull over there marm".
I get out the passports and hand them to one of the now 5 or 6 guys who have surrounded us. They are passed from hand to hand and each page gets a thorough study from each one.
"You travel a lot".
"We're Europeans, it's what we do".
Looking at me "Your passport's not stamped, When did you arrive?".
"18 July in Dallas". I forgot we cleared immo in LA; that was a cause of confusion. But they are right the immo officer stamped Sue's passport but not mine. Not my problem, I point out.
"Just put the numbers into your computer and you will see where we arrived and when".
One of them disappears into the office with our passports.
No point in being other than light-hearted. Conversation continues with the rest of them.
"Where did you come from into the USA?"
"No TA-HI-TI! The country is French Polynesia."
By now I realise they have seen our Libyan visas - hand written in Arabic - in the passports. This might be a long stop.
"Where are you going now?"
"The GPS is set for Holiday Inn, San Antonio but we don't have a reservation".

You remember 'In the Heat of the Night' when Steiger wants to find out where Poitier gets his money.

"What do you do?"
"Nothing I am retired".
"What did you do before that? You was a professor or something?" [priceless!]
"I was an air traffic controller".
"Work for the government for 44 years and you can have a pension like mine".

Not the brightest thing I ever said, but they see the point.
Guy comes back with passports and announces we can go. We are legit!
We say goodbye, "Maybe your detention centre would be more comfortable than the Holiday Inn Express?" "No sir, we have Mexican Mafia in there". Well I am in the hotel now and I am not so sure that's a big difference....

All the while we were watching the line of traffic building up and one guy at the checkpoint waving through all types of vehicles. Documents were only getting a cursory check. He was accompanied by what we thought was a highly-trained sniffer dog. Highly-trained that is, until the dog smells another dog in one of the cars and goes berserk!

We set off down the road impressed by how young they all were.

Crossing the Pecos....

Texan scenery....

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A 4-wheel-drive safari in Texas

With many thanks to Bob who drove the Jeep we had a fascinating 3 hours driving in and out of the canyons of the Sproul Ranch. Now dedicated to tourism and very effective way of placing this region into context. As Europeans it is facile to derive amusement from the fact that US history starts when most of ours ends (OK. '1066 and all that' was a joke book) but the early pioneers did suffer extreme hardship and to be a member of such a family must be a burden to live up to. As a child I read about the Donner Party - a emigrant wagon train group which had to winter in the Rockies and ended up eating each other - but this country has founding stories of biblical texture and some folks here are trying to live up to it.

Anyway here's some photos of the ranch. The green hills are not typical, we are getting more rain than anyone in Texas can reasonably expect.

Zoom well in to see the road-runner.

Bob, Thanks for a good tour.

BTW we ate tonight at the only place in Jeff Davis County allowed to sell alcohol! Talking to visitors from Houston we asked where we should visit next and there reply was San Antonio so tomorrow we are off to the Alomo and the Davy Crockett story.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hobby-Eberly Telescope

Today we got back to astronomy by booking into a hotel in Fort Davis, Texas. A very small town in the Davis Mountains of W Texas. Nearby at 7,000 ft elevation is the Mcdonald Observatory. The drive up is interesting but a wave of thunderstorms is going through the area at the moment. While inside the dome of the 108in telescope it was struck by lightning. No-one flinched; I think we expected it.

It is the home of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope which is unique in the field of telescope design for its size and utility as a spectroscope. I managed to get a picture of the 91-segment 9.2-metre mirror. The light was not good but the mirror is evident because you can see the roof trusses reflected and distorted in the lower part of the image...

The view from the mountain is good too, when the weather co-operates...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Typical day circumnavigating the world

Yesterday went to Asda (or Walmart as they are known here). Bought a 30 dollar kettle to manage the teabags we nicked from the hotel as we are now in territory that drinks carfffeee.

By the way it's getting tedious but here we get detained by everybody. "Love your accent, could talk to you all day!". I try to explain that I am not related to Bob Hoskins.

Today we did Dallas and ticked the box marked 'Kennedy'. The sixth floor of the book depository is an exhibition that just stops short of being macabre. Salutary to drive down the same road and stand near the corner by the window where Oswald did the deed.

Later on had to replace broken sandals, then got three Chinese polo shirts for $19.95. Would you believe a two minute drive from one end of the car-park to the other? I'm not walking in 40degs! Lookup 'Irving Mall' on google maps and you get the idea.

Ah well! laundry done off to Houston tomorrow.

Tahiti to Dallas

Air Tahiti paint the aeroplanes in two tones of blue that parfectly match the sea within the reefs of the islands....

Here's the original colours....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Baby on board

A small guest took up residence in our car on Tahiti. I wonder if it is still there...

Gordon the Gecko.

While driving around Moorea (a really lush beautiful place) we stopped and watched this crab scouring the beach for sraps....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eclipse pictures

This is my best mid-eclipse image....

A patch of thin cloud passed over the sun/moon about half way through and I must say it made an artistic improvement....

The blobs and streaks are just camera artefacts caused by pointing the camera at the sun.

Destination Hao

We fly to Hao in the Tuamotu archipelago. Flying at low level the flight takes two hours and on the way you pass over a couple of other atolls. Of course the flight is full of amateur astronomers with cameras....

I notice the right aileron droop as the pilot struggled to keep the wings level as the cargo shifted.

Actually as we passed over some atolls on the return journey we got better pictures.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eclipse preparations

Just taking advantage of this temporary hotel having a good ethernet in the room but we are sorry for the 5-day hiatus in blogging. We have had a hectic time keeping up with the changes of hotel and logistical business. The travel company had booked our entire stay in the Hilton Hotel in Papeete but it closed for commercial reasons at the end of March. So we have not been able to have continuous occupancy of the replacement. Most luggage has been left in lock-up in Tahiti and we take a limited amount for our camping two days on Hao, Tuamotu. ATR turbo-prop flight, will take a while. Weather looks good; fingers crossed. Will get some pictures on the flight to and from Hao (1,000 kms of sea mainly).

Great to be able to practice the French but the Polynesian language looks to be a real challenge. It puts the achievements of Cook et al in the 18th century in perspective. Negotiating and conferring with the local people without the benefit of a common culture or even an agent who could translate seems to my mind an impossibility but they did it - not without a few misunderstandings though.

Pictures coming soon!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Christchurch to Picton

There are two scenic train journeys on S Island. We did a day return Christchurch to Greymouth across the Southern Alps but the snow was on the upper levels of the hills not down in the valley with the train. But this picture of the stop at Kaikoura on the way north to catch the ferry is the best of all....

There is almost no part of the trip when you cannot see the snow-covered peaks.

The Pleiades and Maori lore

We were too late for the planetarium show at the Wellington observatory but we had time to browse the books and I came across a children's book on Maori lore. In a nutshell the Maori have a lunar calendar and the new year starts on the first new moon after the heliacal rising of the Pleiades. This is from Wikipedia....

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades. When it rises in the north-eastern skies in late May or early June, it signals to Māori that the New Year will begin. In one tradition, Matariki is the mother surrounded by her six daughters, Tupu-a-nuku, Tupu-a-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-a-rangi and Ururangi.

Interesting parallel with ancient Egypt in that they used a southern star, Sirius, to do the same job. The Maori use a northern asterism to do the same job. This is not difficult to rationalise, each culture has picked a feature that is not circumpolar. To do otherwise would not give a heliacal rising date in such an obvious way. There is an astronomy talk in there some where.

The modern observatory is in the same mold as Greenwich or Dunsink. Observations were kept to maintain clocks for sailors using the harbour. Note the slit and upper hatchway in this picture which was for the use of the transit telescope. It was repeated on the north side of the building so a complete hour-angle could be seen at one go.

Sorry to all who are not familiar with the astronomy terms. Google can explain it all.

Cook Strait

Cook Strait separates North and South Islands and is connected by ro-ro ferry. The first bit of the voyage is through narrow passages out to the open sea.

I thought the White Cliffs of Dover were pretty heart-warming to come home to, but this is a bit more picturesque. But the old country does reach out to you; look carefully at this....

The old name is still visible! The 'Pride of Cherbourg'!

I read a long time ago that re-naming a ship was unlucky. Actually it is a common marketing strategy. The history of the Kaitaki is fascinating.

Friday, July 2, 2010

We are officially homesick! There's a Belgian bar in Christchurch.

Never thought about missing home until we saw this....

New Zealand green-lip mussels don't seem quite right and they are the biggest I ever ate, and they cut the head off the beer like Germans, but what the hell, nothing's perfect.