Skellig Puffins

The Lovable Puffin

Each of the 603 steps between the Skellig Michael dock and the monastery evoked contemplation, caution, wonder and gratitude.

  • Contemplation: how did the monks manage to survive while placing the steps?  It can only be by a careful division of labor once a survival tripod was build.  By tripod I mean the basics food, shelter, warmth.
  • Caution: as with any steps, for a 60+ person I have learned the hard way falls take a long time to recover from.
  • Gratitude: for the opportunity, growth and knowledge afforded by travel.
  • Wonder: every step offered a new vantage and discovery.

Puffins were on my mind for most of the lower steps being immediately at hand, almost underfoot, constantly.  Underfoot, not in a obnoxious way.  Underfoot in being right there, unabashed, going about the business of life.  Pam and I were lucky, Puffin wise, for the weather.  Sensible birds, when the visibility is low Puffins stay close to the burrow, making improvements and socialize with neighbors.

Puffins of Michael Skellig

Bad News: Atlantic Puffin populations are on a precipitous decline across Ireland and British Islands.  There are talks of a population collapse.  Researchers enlisted assistance from wildlife photography enthusiasts with outstanding results released in 2017.  The photographs showed parents returning with less nutritious fish.  The stress on Puffin populations follows the decline of fish stocks from over fishing.  I listed two references at the end of this post.

The disturbing element to our experience was not one of the birds flew in with a catch.  On second thought, this is not unexpected.  Late May the eggs are laid and under incubation.  The individuals in these photographs were feeding only themselves.  If we returned mid-June there would be chicks to feed.

Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin with an inquisitive attitude

Why do we love Puffins?  We see reminders of ourselves.  The expressive large eyes, over a striking beak and there is something expressive about the birds’ body movements.  Don’t you almost know what’s on the mind of this fellow?  “What’s going on, over there?”

Puffins of Michael Skellig
A colony of nesting puffins on a flowering cliff of green.

Puffins are small birds, the size of a human hand.  This colony returned in late March or early April, each breeding pair claiming a nesting site.  The coloring of the beak happens during breeding.  The bird molts while at sea during the winter, the beak and other brightly colored facial characteristics are lost.

Social Puffin
Michael Skellig puffins in social setting on cliff with burrows and flowers.

Puffin sexual differentiation is unique among birds.  The coloring and markings are identical between males and females.  Males are somewhat larger than females is all.

Puffins of Michael Skellig
Soft soil covering the flanks of Skellig Michael is the site of age old Puffin colonies.

Here is Puffin nesting behavior up close.  I did some research on the flowering plants surrounding the burrows and am not sure.  I believe the white flowers are a mixture of Sea Campion and Sea Mayweed.

As far as my photographic technique.  There are two sets of Puffin shots from Skellig Michael.  For the the walk to the top, the monastery site, I used the lighter Sony Alpha A700 dslr with a Sony variable lens, DT 18-200 mm F3.5 – 6.3.  On top, I switched to the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III and, for the descent, fitted a Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L USM lens.

The shot above and following are the Canon, taken on descent.  Prior shots are the Sony, taken on ascent.

Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffin Entering Burrow

Puffins have striking black and white plumage and leg color some describe as “tangerine.”  Tangerine?  I guess.  Here an individual ducks into the burrow.

Puffins of Michael Skellig
A grouping of Michael Skellig puffins, the foremost with an attitude of regard.

I did not spend a great deal of time in any one spot, being time limited and needing to get back to the boat.  Don’t recall very much social interactions between individuals, other than this perching together on the rocks.  The foreground Puffin seems to take the behavior of another bird to task.

Puffins of Michael Skellig
Puffins are capable, if awkward, fliers.
Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”
 
References
Puffins and Technology
Clues to the Puffin Population Decline

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Valparaiso Connections V

A Deeper Understanding

Monuments Then and Now

Trundled along within our bubble, the Mercedes tour bus proceeded up Avenue Montt when Ricardo pointed out this statue for ridicule.  A depiction of the Chilean national bird, the Condor, porteños derisively call it “The Chicken,” and in truth the wingspan is undersized.  From the vantage of the above photograph, the statue form does capture an impression of soaring among the hills of Valparaiso.  Keep in mind, beyond those hills is Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the western hemisphere, home to Condors.  

A reason for writing multiple Varparaiso “connection” posts is to better understand the jumbled impressions from that day.  In a previous post I coined the term Varparasians for natives of the city.    I found in researching this post the residents, as for Buenos Aires, call themselves porteños (people of the port).  This cast iron statue speaks to the contributions of French immigrants to the city and nation.

Gift of the French Colony for the Centennial of Chile – Valparaíso, 1810 – 1910.

Here the view is south towards (what I believe is) Cerro Florida (Florida Hill).  France Avenue continues, beyond the monument, following a steep and winding path up the hills, at the crest intersecting with German Avenue.  Adjacent, on the right, is Park Italia where we’ll visit in part VI.  Above a cast iron basin, at each corner of the commemorative column base is a female mask, above them a gold band inscribed (from the) “The French of Valparaiso” with 1810 – 1910 to denote the centennial.  A condor with outspread wings surmounts the column.

The artist, Nicanor Plaza, born in Santiago, Chile was living in Florence, Italy at the time of this commission.  He was a natural choice for the commission.  Trained in Chile and Paris, Plaza taught for the Academy of Fine Arts of Santiago.  It is of cast iron, produced by the French company Val Osne, an art foundry dating back to 1835.  The owner, Jean Pierre Andre Victor, invented a cast iron ornamental technique originally used to produce street furniture.  

 From 1854 to 1895 immigration from France burgeoned, from a country total of 1,654 to 8,266.  This cohort is credited with developing the vineyards of the Central Valley, still famous today.  The Chilean president Augusto Pinochet descended on his father’s side from an 18th-century French Breton immigrant from Lamballe and his mother was a descendant from 17th century immigrants, partially Basque.  Pinochet’s legacy can only be attributed to himself and the ruling Junta.  What is of concern is (1) Pinochet was protected against prosecution throughout his life. (2)  The same people who protected him still hold power.  A case in point is the Esmeralda, still in service.

The Naval Training Vessel Esmeralda

 I took this photograph at dawn from our stateroom balcony, it is the
Esmeralda, a four-masted  top sail schooner, from Spain, christened May 12, 1953.  From 1973 to 1980 it was a floating torture chamber where up to 100 persons were subjected to hideous treatment by the Pinochet regime.  Protests erupt wherever it docks in a foreign port yet it remains in service.  A relatively small part of the puzzle, yet it serves as an unacknowledged monument to the failure of Chile’s ruling elite to come to terms with the recent past.

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Valparaiso Connections IV

The O’Higgins Carrera Feud

“Valparaiso Connections III” brought us to Pedro Montt Avenue and the building of this imposing façade, Congreso Nacional de Chile (National Congress of Chile).  The very fact it is in Valparaiso is a recollection of the former National Congress, disbanded by the ruling Junta on September 13, 1973.  During the final years the Pinochet dictatorship chose Valparaiso for the site of a new congress building.  The former National Congress building still stands in Santiago, now housing the offices of both houses of congress.

I am fascinated the façade is shared by two founding fathers of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins and José Miguel Carrera.  O’Higgins father never married his mother (in other words, Bernardo was a bastard).  Cared for by his mother’s privileged family, he used his mother’s family name until the death of his father.  Carrera, was also born of privilege, the acknowledge son of his father who attended the best schools, well positioned to lead the movement for Chilean independence.  Benefactors looked after O’Higgins, they sent the seventeen year old to Europe to finish his education.

In the chaos of war, in spite of ill-health and lack of military training, O’Higgins out performed Carrera as an officer through reckless bravery; surviving, he became an admired military leader through this example and ultimate victories. Carrera resented being overtaken (by a bastard), did not respect O’Higgins leadership and the two feuded. O’Higgins became the first head of the independent Chile while Carrera gathered a force.  Exiled in Paraguay, Carrera marched across the intervening wastes battling indigenous forces.  Eventually captured by those loyal to O’Higgins, Carrera suffered a mock trial and execution.

All five of Carrera’s legitimate offspring married and prospered, today his descendants number in the hundreds, being the majority of Chile’s ruling class.  Today, the followers of Carrera (Carreristas) fight for his recognition against the O’Higginistas, who they despise.  The balance is on display on the National Congress façade on Pedro Montt Avenue.  The building is next to Plaza O’Higgins.

Measured by acreage, O’Higgins is far ahead of Carrera.  The following photograph, from my posting “A Far Country VII: View of Tempanos Fjord” is from within Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, the largest protected land in Chile.

A large lake in Patagonia is named after General Carrera.

Valparaiso Connections III

Copper Cable and History

“Valparaiso Connections II” left us with these friendly Valparasians, if such a word can be used to describe residents of the city, chatting on Argentina Avenue.

It was Saturday, the happy occasion of the weekend street fair, kiosks sprouting like mushrooms, thinly attended this early morning.

We did not pause to wander, instead turned up a street known as Pedro Montt, named for a Chilean president of the early 2oth century.  Was we turned, monumental street sculpture, rising from the kiosks, caught my eye.

A creation of the great national artist Mario Irarrzabal, it invokes solidarity through the image of four thick copper cables twisted together to form one, the union that can happen to achieve bigger things.  Opened in 1995, crafted of iron, wood and copper, after Pinochet passed power to a new democratic constitution and still held office as a Senator, protected from extradition, in the National Congress located just to the west of the monument.

The imagery works on multiple levels.  Known as “Copper Cable Monument” or “Copper Column,” the monument also stands for Chilenización del cobre (Chileanization of copper), a movement began during the presidency of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo.  Concluded in the presidency of Salvador Allende, the takeover of foreign owned mines lead to the isolation of Chile and was a component of the support of the USA, via the CIA, for the Pinochet 1973 Chilean coup d’état.  Pinochet retained state control of the mines in the face of strong popular support for the huge contribution to state coffers.  To this day CODELCO (in English National Copper Corporation of Chile) operates as a corporate entity.

As with our guide, Ricardo (“Valparaiso Departure I”) and the companions at the start of today’s post, Irarrzabal was profoundly affected by the Pinochet dictatorship.  Under its influence as well as the sculpture of Easter Island, the artist began work on monumental sculptures.  Pam and I visited one on the other side of the South America “cone,” Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Built from Brava beach at the height of the dictatorship, 1982, of concrete, steel rebar, mesh covered with a corrosion resistant coating, the artist title it “Man Emerging to Life.”  He was a young man at the time, the work built his reputation and he repeated the theme internationally as well as, in 1992, 1,181 miles away the “Hand of the Desert.”  At that time while Chile was emerging from the Pinochet dictatorship the palm as well as fingers are visible.  The “cone” of South American, Chile and Argentina, are encompassed by the left hand of the east, a right hand of the west.

Valparaiso Connections II

the Chilean difference

Ricaro’s name tag reads, “Oceania Cruises, your world, your way.”  I began my two previous blogs with Ricardo, “Valparaiso Separation” and “Valparaiso Connections I.” There’s a lot to be said for the Oceania tours.  Every one lead by a knowledgeable native of the host country, fluent in English, we became familiar, some more than others, with them personally, one non-representative example.  As were progressed down the coast from Iquique to Cape Horn we met a cross section of Chileans.  Unlike other countries, in Chile we met only unsmiling guards on the streets, no protest rallies.


As the tour bus is about to turn down Varparaiso’s Argentina Avenue, here is a flash forward to an elaborate demonstration tableau in the Plaza de Mayo, the Casa Rosada as a backdrop, rose as in the color of bull’s blood used as pigment.  The protest was in support for veterans and causalities of the ill considered 1982 Falklands War.  We zoomed by the Parque De La Memoria, dedicated to the 30,000 people “disappeared” by the same military dictatorship of the Falklands War debacle.

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Our entry to both Valparaiso and Buenos Aires was a cruise over the secret graves of thousands dropped, alive, into the ocean from military aircraft.

What is most chilling is the silence about this throughout our travels in Chile.  No memorials, no protests, silence, only stone faced military guards.

The following is from Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima, beneath which are catacombs piled with disarticulated skeletons buried and cared for in the Catholic tradition .

In Lima’s Plaza de Armas we witnessed this peaceful demonstration by pensioners protesting low payments.  To be honest, around this time, in Chile, there were huge demonstrations, hundreds of thousands in Santiago, about the same issue.

The Lima crowd was peaceful.

Watched by a heavy contingent of armed police supported by large “paddy wagons” to cart people away.  The vehicle marked “Prodegur” (i.e., prosecution) was one of them.  Given the history of government disappearances in the region, how brave the demonstrators must be.

Our vehicle turns onto Argentina Avenue, passing under Spanish Avenue and these supports bruiting the “Patrimony of Humanity” status of Valparaiso.

Turning onto Argentina Avenue, the overpass support columns announce Valparaiso’s status as a World Heritage Site. It is the old city around the port which holds this designation.

Other murals feature the zinc panels of the Old Town and cultural opportunities.  I noticed the pictured flooring is identical that of Hotel Brighton, see “Our Fifteen Minutes of Fame on Conception Hill.”

I wonder how a man of a certain ago scrapes his knees, these appear to be homeless people.

Two men carry on conversation on Avenue Argentina, Valparaiso during the weekend Avenue Argentina street fair.

They gives us big smiles and waves when they spotted me / us.  The people were open and friendly.

Valparaiso Connections I

The Albatross and Valparaiso

We’ll start in the parking lot of the Valparaiso Passenger Terminal, introduced in my last posting, “Valparaiso Old and New”.  The terminal was our first stop in Valparaiso, it services cruise ship passengers, it was in the parking lot we met Ricardo, a guide and city native.  In his late sixties, Ricardo lived through numbing changes:  the political turn left and election of Allende, followed by a military coup d’état (called golpe de estado in Spanish) and rise of a military officer, Pinochet, to dictator.  From the 70’s through 80’s Pinochet ruled, abolishing the congress in Santiago, enjoying ruthless suppression of opponents with the full support and assistance of the military.  In the late 80’s Pinochet allowed a return to democracy, a new constitution with a bi-cameral (two houses) congress in Valparaiso and elected president.  Ricardo was quiet about these times, as are most Chileans and we did not press him.

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The bus passed a carved wooden statue of the albatross, near the terminal entrance.  A bird of the southern ocean, familiar to mariners for the habit of following ships, this aspect of soaring the a familiar posture.

Here is a specimen in this posture following the Regatta on February 22 as we traversed the Southern Atlantic between the Falkands and Punta del Este.  That day, many albatross soared among the 20+ foot waves, the wingtips very close to the water surface.


The day before, February 21, the Regatta approached the southern most point of the western hemisphere, Cape Horn, coming within a mile of the landing point and monument.  At the top you can see the steel sculpture of the outline of an albatross set in a stone plinth.

A cropped version of the above image, the albatross outline is easier to see.  Also visible, at the cliff base, the landing, stairs, a platform painted as a Chilean flag, the railings leading up to the Albatross Monument.

All of this to emphasize the unique position and reason for being of Valparaiso of the eastern South Pacific, made evident by the recurring motif of an albatross soaring among the waves.  This retired anchor, close to the albatross sculpture, on our way to Argentina Avenue and the weekend street fair (to be continued).

Skellig Peek

A Trinity of Skellig Images

Now’s time to share a trinity of images from a morning spent about the Skellig Islands May 2014.

Pam and I have many stories from that day, a favorite is from the parking lot of Portmagee where we met the fast boat to the island. I prepared for the day by making a reservation for our ride. We traveled from Killarney, where an early morning breakfast feast spread by The Killarney Royal Hotel fortified us for the adventure. Throughout our tour, experiencing Ireland was like taking blinders off, this first experience on The Ring of Kerry was no exception, driving on a tight timeline to reach Portmagee with minutes to spare, every turn of the road presented a new delight.

Grateful to have made it to Portmagee, we quickly pulled our kit together. As I closed the bonnet, Pam exclaimed “our umbrellas.” At this point of the story we laugh together. Umbrellas indeed. I had a dim clue of what lay in store for us and insisted the umbrellas be left behind, a counter-intuitive decision for a rainy Irish day the Wild Atlantic Way. Regardless of the time, we needed a bathroom break as there will be no facilities on the fast boat or the World Heritage Site where there is no space for human waste products.

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Skelligs from Valentia Island
I was here perched on a cliff of Valentia Island across from Portmagee looking southwest across Valentia Sound.

The humor is in our welcome aboard the fast boat, like a fishing boat with a small cabin and small deck dominated by the engine hatch. We crowded on, handed a full set of fisherman slickers. This is a heavy coat with hood and pants, all waterproof. Our close timing guaranteed the worse seat, away from the cabin in the open. It was a new experience for us and we felt a sense of dread as the craft left the protection of Valentia Sound into the open Atlantic Ocean.

We faced a west wind, driving 12+ foot waves, as the boat breached each wave the crest went over the cabin in a waterfall of salt water. Up and down, up and down. Thankfully neither of us lost breakfast as some did. I do not have photographs of the trip out or the approach to the island, my equipment was safely packed away.

In the above photograph you see the entire course of our approach to the island, a bit more than 10 (land) miles from Portmagee. We toured Valentia Island that afternoon.

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Skellig Steps
Climbing the side of Skellig Michael, approach to the peak and monastery.

There is a fair climb to the top to view the former monastery buildings. The steps are uneven and, when wet as it was that day, slippery.  I wore a waterproof North Face shell with hood for the low threatening clouds.  There was no rain as such, a constant fog on the top kept all exposed surfaces wet.

From the point on, until the top, was the most exposed and uncomfortable (frightening, chilling…you get the idea).  Spare yourself the experience if you are afraid of open spaces and heights.  Here was a stiff wind blowing from the right, on the left the cliff falls away to the ocean.  Ahead, the path narrows to about 10 inches with a cliff wall on one side, the precipice on the other.  Then come the monastery entrance and rock wall safety.

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Monk Cell
Monk Cell, Grave and Cross

This single image gives a succinct impression of the monastery setting.  The bee hive shaped stone monk cell requires a stooped crawl to enter.  Inside, the space is small and, thankfully, dry.  The structure keeps out the rain and wind, a marvel of stone construction. This cell is off to the side, on a cliff balcony, over the wall an ocean precipice.

My closing advice is to plan your time wisely.  The ship boards in less than an hour, in that time you climb the 700 steps and explore.  There are people all over the place, in waves. To capture the structures without humans, you need to wait until the cohort become bored and leaves.  There will be a space before the next wave of tourists breaks. Leave enough time to descend the steps safely.  People have suffered fatal falls on the steps and cliffs, it is easy to do.  Make your personal safety a priority.

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Around the Kiva

a fascinating lecture

This diverse group of fifty three individuals are gathered around a kiva of the Mesa Verde Cliff palace on a July afternoon.

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Copyright 2021All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Well Ordered

fighting for truth and honesty

a basis for fairness

Pooleys were a firm of mechanical engineers, founded in Liverpool 1790. Shown as Pooley of Liverpool in Heath Mill Lane, Birmingham, the company originally made scale beams, such as shown here, a reminder of the origins of Humberstone.

A demand of the workers was access to a scale to verify company store weights. With this post I close this series of photographs from the Humberstone UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Click any photograph for a larger view and use Ctrl-x to zoom in closer.

Click me for the first post of this series.

References

Websites

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works World Heritage page

The Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works site (Chile), removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger/

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Mother Country

touchstone or Imperialist Tool?

from well watered lands

1872 James Thomas Humberstone founded the Peru Nitrate Company. No, is geography was not deficient, this land was won by Chile from Peru in the War of the Pacific. This rolling stock was delivered from England, where Humberstone was born, in Dover, and worked his early years on railroads, London. At the age of 25, hired by the Tarapaca Nitrate Company, he moved to South American.

Robert Francis Fairlie developed the Fairlie Locomotive.

Click any photograph for a larger view and use Ctrl-x to zoom in closer.

Click me for the first post of this series.

References

Websites

Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works World Heritage page

The Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works site (Chile), removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger/

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved