Category Archives: travel

July 24th July: Nerja caves

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The cool, still quietness of a cave really makes you reflect upon how our how our ancestors pace of life was likely to have been.

I went to see the infamous Nerja caves today with my Dad, and what an incredible experience, one that every one of all ages should have the pleasure of experiencing. Recent dating tests on the superlative paintings in the Upper Gallery of the Caves of Nerja, in Málaga, Spain, have confirmed that they are indeed the OLDEST PAINTINGS in the world made by humans.

Moreover, these remarkable relics of the past , dated between 42,000-45,000 years old are the first to have been painted by Neanderthals, our closely related cousins. We drove there ourselves via the main A7 road towards Malaga and Almeria, google can pretty much give you a direct route to the village there and having recently built a new section of the motorway, it’s a smoother drive than ever and the coaches aren’t that cheap, at 23€ without a tour and 29€ with one. If you can rent out a car then it would be worth it, but if you wish to have a tour then the best package is with “Viajes maxy excursions and sightseeing.”

The sights to the quaint little town of Nerja are about 1 hour 20 from Mijas. What a joy to see the Spanish scrubland and agricultural scenes on the way. I happened to catch a ride early in the morning at 8:40am by the Galp petrol station with my Dad, as I had stayed with a friend at Los Alamos.

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The journey…

We set off early to avoid the searing Spanish sun and heat wave which was forecasted prior to our journey. The journey itself was a very easy and relaxing one, (apart from the fact I wasn’t driving!) and the scenery was rather pleasant to look at. I must admit, the fog cover and arid scenery made an impression on me, and since a young child I have been use to the rather dry-looking Mediterranean scrub; a very stark contrast to the UK which is primarily green and seemingly enveloped in a shroud of mist that makes everything look like it has been painted with watercolours. Petrol to Nerja from Mijas or Fuengirola would roughly cost you around 17€.

Shopping…

The souvenirs are relatively cheaper in Nerja and Maro than at the cave itself, with postcards (cheapest 0.25€), decorative plates (3.00€), pieces of polished crystal (2.00€), fake dinosaur eggs (don’t ask me why), and much more.

The shops in Nerja were actually really beautiful, with many artisan and hand-crafted jewellery with exquisite designs. Many organic and natural looking shaped pieces. Cool and in-style cotton clothing also adorned the shops as well as the in-fashion Bermuda loose trousers with quirky patterning, I have recently acquired such a pair from the Fuengirola market.

I happened to come across a beautiful Native American Indian shop, with stunning pieces of jewellery, small carved animal necklaces of turquoise, bone and silver. The Native Americans, to the utter disbelief of the Europeans, never used gold in their designs, but silver was prominently crafted into all sorts. Dream catchers dangled from the ceiling and traditional Native American Indian music emanated from the speaker, I remember recalling that I had that very same CD! In the end I bought a dream catcher necklace and a lovely horse key ring for my Mum. Such clean streets and brightly coloured doors and flowerpots, this town clearly take pride as a top Spanish tourist destination. The Plaza there had spectacular views of the Nerja beaches below, with beautiful arches and palm lined walking areas. There’s even a life size statue of the old king Filipe, couldn’t resist a photo!

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IMG_1809If beaches is your thing and not delving into the depths of a dark and damp cave, then the Nerja beaches wont disappoint.  This is the El Playazo beach that lies to the West, with superlative aquamarine waters and white sandy stretches of sand; it has been awarded the Blue Flag by the European Union who have recognised its pristine condition, unlike the more popular Costa Del Sol.IMG_1812

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We then had lunch in the rather un-scenic and dusty car park, and headed off towards the caves, located only 3km from the Nerja town. We parked for free just outside the main car park which is to walk through the Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama nature reserve, so if you want to avoid costly parking charges its best to park here. Saw a really quirky van that had been vandalized with “Can’t park here…this is bat country!”

You see what bat people do to your cars at night!

We headed over to the ticket office and purchased our tickets for a 9€, then descended into the dark, musty entrance of the cave.

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Guides to the area (above) and (below) the car park you have to pay for!

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Although the air almost instantaneously changed to a heavy, dank quality, the coolness and quiet of this natural wonder was very welcoming, also having escaped the 36 degree heat. We entered the various different chambers that crossed under the National Park, vast ceilings were adorned with varying sized stalactites which had taken hundreds of thousands of years to form.

IMG_2003Just a small section of one of the stunning stalactites protruding fro the ceiling. Please note, when planning to take photos here, if you have an SLR or compact, PLEASE bring a tripod, I shot everything with ISO 3200+,  you are not allowed to use flash rather annoyingly and so the stability brought by your trusty tripod will allow you to capture the colossal columns and cave formations.IMG_1989

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The stalagmites pointed towards the ceiling towards their creators, forming unusual shapes and with several different shades of green and beige. The series of colossal caverns stretch for almost FIVE kilometres and are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a gigantic 32 metre high column measuring 13 metres by 7 metres at its base seen below.

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The Cuevas de Nerja have been open to the public since 1960, having been discovered by five local Maro boys who happened across this “Cueva de marvillas”. It was declared as Project of Cultural and its geological, biological and archaeological importance continues to fascinate and enthral thousands of visitors annually. Every year in July, the International Music and Dance Festival takes place in the Caves which is apparently a truly amazing experience, we happened to have visited on that very day! But unfortunately it was late in the evening and only really accessible to visitors who happened to live nearby or have a hotel to return to.

The tour itself takes around 45 minutes and apart from escaping the mid-day heat, is a truly remarkable experience, more so if you’re into caving and speleology. They even have a speleo activity/adventure for the more keen visitors where they get access to the restricted pats of the cave, called Galerías Altas y Nuevas (High and New Galleries). The Rooms of Columnas de Hércules (Hercules´Pillars), Inmensidad (Inmensity), La Galería de los Niveles (Levels Gallery) and La Sala de la Lanza (Lance Room) are ventured into and an extra booking and registration are required for visiting. I didn’t have time myself, but looks really worth it if you’re planning on spending the whole day there, and you’re with a fit group of willing friends.

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Just when my eyes had accustomed to the everlasting darkness of the caverns, and its welcoming coolness, no sooner we had then left the cave and the light came flooding into my retina. Back into the sun and heat. The gift shop was funky, with some rather cute canvas bag with bats printed on.

We then drove up to Frijilliana. This quaint little village in Southern Spain, is seemingly perched precariously on the edge of the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda mountains. Rather similar to Mijas, the stunning backdrop provides breath-taking views, with reminiscing remnants of its rich history. The Moors once ruled here, as well as across the region on Andalucía. The Arab population played a prominent part in history, and have left behind reminders of their fascinating and rich culture  in the form of food and architecture, to be seen everywhere you look. The hill pictures above, overlooking Frigiliana was the scene for the final battle for the Moors of Axarquia. Many moors who didn’t want to suffer defeat threw themselves to their deaths from the summit rather unremittingly, so peace is only recent in these parts. Indeed in terms of geological formation, its history has been quite active, with the African plate colliding into the European.

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The Sephardic Jews were in large number until their expulsion by the Christians in the 15th century, they refer to the Iberian peninsula Jews who descended from the Near East i.e. those from western Asia, the Ottoman Empire. The Christians, of course, which reside here still to this day.

After a good sightseeing of the village, we drove back home, exhausted but exhilarated after and exciting day of caving.

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“The cool, still quietness of a cave really makes you reflect upon how our how our ancestors pace of life was likely to have been”

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21st July Dolphin tour, Fuengirola

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Stepped foot on my first boat today! Finally decided to go on the boat trip with Costasol Cruceros, Fuengirola, to go and see wild dolphins, as well as sandfish, turtles and other cetaceans. I was feeling lucky that day and the weather forecast was pretty good (24-33 degrees), with calmish winds of less than 20km/hr. Got my tickets by the port and went with my sister and little niece towards the port, located near the Fuengirola markets (see map), feeling rather exited! Fuengirola is a large Spanish town located within the Costa Del sol, and stretches 8km along the densely populated coastline, hugging its well visited beaches.

Many come for the shopping, sun and Sangria (pardon the personification!) and there are market days on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday where you can get all sorts, from fake Luis Viton an Gucci bags, to boohoo leggings, crystals, Beats headphones and Nike shorts. The boat itself was rather small, in total I it would fit around 60 people. I sat at the front of the hull, to be sure of getting the best photo! Met a really fascinating woman from London, who was immediately friendly and welcoming.

Apparently, she had been the previous week with no success, and had got her second ticket half price and wanted to try her luck again. She had also swam with wild dolphins in Egypt, with the permission of the locals who only permitted her to allow the dolphins to approach her. The Skipper was busy getting the anchor whilst the captain communicated on his radio, to what I presume were local fishermen, and the engine roared to life- we were off! The harbour itself was remarkably calm, but as we got further out, it was slightly choppy…

But it was great fun!

It really was interesting talking to the kind elderly lady, really well travelled and smart. I took some panoramic shots of the vast Mijas mountain ranges and the busy coast line as we sailed further out. Tiny dotted beach towels added a splash of colour to the otherwise arid time landscape. The sun was beginning to arch hiGHEr into the sky, and reflected brilliantly off the surface of the Mediterranean sea. Polarized sun glasses are definitely a good option, helps to cut out the reflections and see what lies beneath the waves.

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I noticed some other passengers had Canon cameras (naturally, the best!) On our way out I spotted a sand fish! I think I was the only one to spot it right beneath the boat, initially I thought it was a shark, but the guide asked me to describe it and corrected me. It had a dorsal fin and was grey-yellowish colour with a creamy underbelly, and roughly 1 metre long. *Just adding this in: apparently within this week, Spanish news reporters have documented sightings of a shark near Fuengirola, so perhaps I was not mistaken by the sighting! Feeling lucky, I kept scanning the waves for a small dorsal fin, everything to me, after a fishy encounter, seemed to be dolphin-like! I remembered how confident I became after about 40 minutes into the trip, then I had to open my big mouth and then I genuinely felt a little sea sick….

The woman was very reassuring though and kept me occupied by re-counting fascinating stories. I decided to try out my amazon.co.uk sea sick bands, which really worked! Try them yourself if you get a little queasy. They’re basically like arm bands but have pressure balls for the acupuncture points on your wrists. We eventually approached another boat with rather a lot of seagulls, eager to snatch up any discards. This, I was assured by the Captain, would bring in the Bottle-nosed dolphins who peered at the sea with his rather large “bins”. Then, to our astonishment after a reported sighting through the binoculars, a streamline shape rippled through the azure waters, revealing that notorious dolphin dorsal fin! We all gasped with excitement as the beautiful animal breeched once more, and we all furiously clicked away with our cameras. I did too but did not look through the lens (as you can probably make out from the photo below!) and wanted to watch this stunning creature with my own eyes.

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I am often torn between marvelling at the wonders of that natural world with just my eyes or from behind a camera. I think it’s something all photographers face and sometime, I feel it’s best to let your eyes to the focusing and your emotions be the sensor and memory card- you can capture moments in your in and heart forever by just observing the natural world. But nevertheless, I still snapped away! It breeched about 3 times, then another larger individual came up alongside the boat (6 metres away), and came out the water a little more. It was really breath-taking, seeing such a wild animal coming close to us. I remember going to Selwo Marina last summer to look at the captive dolphins, and it saddened me deeply to see how distressed they can get as well as develop stereotypical behaviour. However I did actually see two of them mate, so they did show some relatively normal behaviour at least. But nothing compares to seeing them in the wild, free of human intervention in terms of training them to do meaningless tricks for tourists to glee at. It is much more incredible to view them in their natural environment with less intervention from human activities. Then it just melted away into the waves, and disappeared as if it had never been there. It was a brief but nonetheless exciting encounter with a Bottlenose, however our time at sea was up and the boat turned back and speedily darted across the dark Prussian blue sea.

What a trip! On the way back I took some shots of the coast, spectacular views. It really was worth it for €15, roughly £13.30 for 1 hour 30 minutes (conversion rate at the present moment: 1.25). The name of the company is Costa Cruceros and the service was excellent. I admit, if you really want to get good sightings, Gibraltar is probably your best bet, you can even get sightings of Orca! But for first timers like me, it’s a brilliant, I would highly recommend this trip! Please leave any comments below if you want any tips on how to get there from the airport via train or coach, I would be happy to help!

 

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River filming and solitary bees

Took the camera down to get some river shots to add to the doc which was rather refreshing. On my way down the road I also thought I could include the bones that the eagles incessantly drop and eat the marrow from the scattered remnants of old and sick goats that died on their last “paseo” across the vast Mijas mountain ranges.

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I have never found out which are the ones that do such a thing, what a shot that would make! Many raptors do this: gaining access to the nutritious marrow which is often the only scraps left from an otherwise arid landscape. Also some scenes of a rather impressive algarroba tree.

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By the time I got the river, it was still rather stifling hot at 6pm, so I rapped up with a couple of river scenes and did a piece to camera on solitary bees. Originally I was going to one on ants, but seeing that they moved around at an impossible speed, I decided an over-worked bee would be slightly easier but no less interesting. The poor insect clearly had seen better days, it had literally worked itself into this state, as a solitary worker bee.

Me presenting bee

Most people have the perception that these ancient insects are primarily social, however, over 90% are solitary bees! The females will find crevices and cracks to construct underground nests, where they will lay their eggs. The food provided to the offspring in the form of pollen and nectar (the only diet of the bee’s having evolved down a different dietary route from their carnivorous ancestors, wasps). This food is gathered, but after no care is given after laying the eggs- unlike in the social colonies. The three social groups include bumble bees, honey bees and the stingless bees. They all exhibit eusocial behaviour, that is, they show the highest level of organization of animal sociality,  defined by cooperative brood care (including brood care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labour into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. The division of labour creates specialized behavioural groups within an animal society which are sometimes called castes . Eusociality is distinguished from all other social systems because individuals of at least one caste usually lose the ability to perform at least one behaviour characteristic of individuals in another caste.

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I noticed that the goat farmer had marked out all of his land with a pathetic little fence, and in doing so, taking a bit of our own land in the process. He was growing some rather withered looking melons and other unidentifiable crops. What a waste of land!

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He had entirely destroyed the back of the river, along with it all the vital berry bushes and habitat for nesting birds such as the stunning Nightingale and ground nesting birds such as they grey partridge. I actually heard a partridge on my way back up, no luck in seeing it though. All in all, quite a fun experience and got some good footage to edit, it’s a wrap!

 

Interview with Dr George Mc Gavin

Dr George McGavin interview about new BBC series, Monkey Planet!

​February 15th, 2014

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I had a very special guest interview with entomologist, lecturer writer, presenter and intrepid explorer Dr George McGavin! Was so excited to be able to speak to him as a huge fan of all his”Lost Land Series,” The Dark and Prehistoric autopsy. I had a bit of a hiccup when calling him via skype, as our sound system wasnt working and we couldn´t hear him! Thankfully our station manager saved the day and fixed the problem! We chatted about his two new series coming out soon, one next week about dissection on BBC 4 where we can “get up close and personal” with the human body and a very exciting 3 part series on Primates called Monkey planet that he was particularly excited about. He tells me about dissected and the incredibly talented Tom Yendell who paints with his feet and the incredible dexterity of the human hand in climbers. It´s rather good timing too as in animal physiology class I had to dissect a chicken the day after! I admit, it is pretty gory at first, but when you see how remarkble the internal organs, capilliaries, veins, muscle, bones and brain are, you begin to appreciate how complex life is. For his incredible Monkey Planet series, he travelled to Japan, to the Jigokundani Yaen-Koen monkey park to meet some rather precocious and pampered primatesand then to Thailand to meet another group who become particularly fond of his hair! He takes a look at the remarkable lives of primates (the prosimians and simians). Make sure you tune in to watch Monkey Planet on BBC one airing in April, its got some remarkable behaviour that has never been filmed before which is unbelievably exciting so we will keep everyone in Leeds posted on our website that and your fascinating two part series on Dissection starts next week so make sure you watch it!