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  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010



It has been calculated that every year up to 10,000 steel containers are lost from the decks of cargo ships. The stuff that is lost often finds itself swept along in a grand tour of the world’s oceans thanks to systems of rotating ocean currents known as gyres. Unseen and largely unnoticed by any of us apart from oceanographers and other sea obsessives, these watery highways circulate the flotsam and jetsam of the world in huge, rhythmic circles.

In 1990, for example, around forty thousand pairs of Nike trainers were lost from the Hansa Carrier cargo vessel during a storm off the coast of Alaska. It wasn’t long until they found themselves circulating in the Turtle gyre. Funky little sneakers found there way to the beaches of Vancouver Island and points all down the Western Coasts of America and deep into Polynesia. They travelled at an estimated average speed of 5.5 miles per day in an orbit of around 12, 000 nautical miles.

Seven years later, over 800,000 pieces of Lego – mostly scuba tanks, octopuses and little yellow men – were lost from the Tokio Express cargo ship off Land’s End in Cornwall. This plastic population began to circulate the transatlantic ‘Columbus Gyre’ in a speedy rhythm of over seven miles per day in an orbit of 8,000 nautical miles.

Amazingly, in the year 2000 a freighter dropped a shipment of 17-inch computer monitors, which reappeared — thanks to the Aleut Gyre — on beaches from Oregon to British Columbia, having travelled an orbit of 7,200 nautical miles.

Source: Flotsametrics And The Floating World 
by Curtis Ebbermeyer – Wired Magazine 2009

Illustration: Richard Sanderson

Serenity In Movement

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 September 2010


Serenity In Movement

Serenity In Movement
Turn the wheels of your bike and the world scrolls by in near silence. Legs push, wheels turn. Paddle out into the surf and you engage the forces of the planet.

Movement in the sea is abstracted, freed from solid reference points. In the water, all is constant shift. Step back on dry land and the oceans within you continue to swell and shift and push.

Humans love to move. It’s a planet-gobbling tragedy that we have to process ancient forests to do so, but mechanical movement exploits in us that same deeply encoded desire. Bowling through the middle of Ireland in the Winnebago, the world becomes a panorama that you experience without having to engage. You are of that place and that time but locked into your own. There’s a joy in that too.

On a long haul flight your head presses up to the porthole. Human life, utterly other than your own, scrolls slowly by. 35,000 ft beneath you at five hundred miles per hour the world turns.

Centimetres away from your face the tumultuous forces of physics are creating a miracle. You turn back to your screen and watch a Kylie video.

There is serenity in movement. Just don’t move too quickly too often.


A Spontaneous Meander to the Far Western Frontier

A Spontaneous Meander to the Far Western Frontier
There is a certain irony, and a certain reversed, flipped and twisted symmetry to what we were doing here. This Winnebago Brave, whose carbon guzzling heart and steel and chrome superstructure was wrought deep in the heartland of Industrial America, was, by way of Welsh lanes and Irish carriageways taking a crew of randomly-met souls to the far Western Frontier of the Old World.
The Winnebago company was conceived in the American heartland of Iowa and it marketed motorhomes to the snow birds and the sun seekers that ranged the American continent back in the boom time.

The Winnebago people, meanwhile, were a tribe of people whose home ranged from the flatlands of Iowa north to the lakes of Wisconsin and west to the riverbanks of Nebraska.
The Brave, the Winnebago company’s 1973 entry level job was bedecked in the imagery of the Native Nations. Cherokee and Sioux, Apache and Iroquai. Entire cultures were crystallised in seventies Kitsch – encapsulated by a plate on a bulkhead, offset by Formica cladding and faux Pendleton print rugs. 

And, of course, there was always the humungous refrigerator burbling in the corner.
We’d loaded the Brave with bikes, surfboards and that thing Americans call apparel full of the joys of the early summer. But it wasn’t long before the vagaries of retrospective motoring became apparent.

You couldn’t help but love the way she looked – and the graceful bob and sway and bellow of the Chrysler engine was charming rather than vomit-inducing. It didn’t seem to matter that the burble and brawn was at the cost of a certain efficiency of fuel consumption. Sometimes aesthetics overtakes ethics. If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing in style. And say what you like about the Brave but you had to admit it had style.
Do the maths. We were six people travelling with bikes and surfboards. We’d tried to fit in the canoe but it had been impossible.  A few hundred road miles under the wheels and not a jet engine in sight.

You can bet that the emissions we produced would be a fraction of those belched out by twelve journeys motored by jet engines. In case we needed it, this was more than enough validation for the way of the Winnebago.
And in that way, when Detroit harnessed the identity of the Native Nations, they were doing something honourable at heart.

And so, we thought, were we.

Michael Fordham
Guest editor

MC Mabon


MC Mabon

MC Mabon
MC Mabon (Gruff Meredith and friends) is a Welsh artist/musician who has written and recorded nine albums since 2000. He has also written, collaborated, produced and co-produced with other artists and commissioned music for television and more recently for ‘Separado’ – an internationally released independent film. He has also published a book Dyddiadur Alci Hypocondriac -Y Lolfa – a semi accurate theological diary which included a cd album.

His music can often be heard on the Welsh radio station BBC Radio Cymru and BBC  Radio Wales, as well as BBC Radio One and Two and other mainstream commercial stations.

One hundred and forty-two years after the first Welsh pioneers landed, the MC Mabon group arrived in Patagonia to record ‘Jonez Williamz’, the first commercial Welsh language album to be recorded there.

A great place to be and a great place to record an album. Although there are links with family and friends in Patagonia, as there are for many Welsh people, this was our first visit after years of hearing about and being inspired by the place. It was also quite a refreshing change for the first language Welsh speakers in the group that the lingua franca was either Welsh or Spanish and for probably the first time we found ourselves translating from English into Welsh so that the Welsh and Spanish/Castellano speaking Argentines would understand. It gets complicated!

We recorded as a group but worked with local musicians and instruments to bring in various sounds like Patagonian pan pipes, a guitar made out of an armadillo and whatever and whoever else happened to be around that fancied contributing. We went there with no real preconception of what music people liked or played and found that, as in most places, taste varied and ranged from metal to rap to traditional and beyond.

I asked a Patagonian friend of mine, Walter Brooks, who I had met and worked with in Wales five years earlier to do some Spanish Welsh rapping on the album because he happened to be back in Patagonia at the time. When Greg Haver (who came with us to produce the album) sat down with him in the taverna one night and asked him where he lived, expecting him to say Esquel or Puerto Madryn or Buenos Aires, he was a bit taken aback when Walter said Canton, Cardiff and found out he lived a few streets away from him in the Welsh capital. That’s the kind of modern connection that exists.

Everything isn’t perfect of course. 
The midday sun is hot hot hot – four-hour long siestas are necessary during the day when most shops close before midday and don’t re-open again till late afternoon – frustrating when you need batteries or milk but a fine lesson in adjusting, adapting and doing things differently. Wild dogs are another thing that takes getting used to; they run riot in towns and cities – half wild and snarling, roaming around in packs with no owners or bye-laws keeping them in check. We wrote and recorded one track on the album in tribute to them and called it ‘Perros locos’.

In Argentina and Patagonia especially the spirit of the plain 
still seems alive and the sense of freedom that the Welsh pioneers must have felt is still palpable. In a modern sense this means  no CCTVs, no speed cameras, clean air, the open road, some of the best wines in the world  (with ice), huge stunning steaks, yerba-mate and of course the traditional Welsh tea and cakes, and the welcome and hospitality both of the Argentinean Welsh themselves 
as well as the country in general.

The dream that the founding pioneers dreamt lives on, the cultural and economic links are as strong if not stronger than ever. The Welsh Assembly Government is now encouraging more investment and interlinks between Wales and Patagonia. In 2001 Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales and the first official representative from the Welsh government to visit Patagonia, signed a joint declaration of co-operation with the Governor of Chubut giving a commitment to work together to help strengthen the revival of the Welsh language in Patagonia and to promote opportunities for collaboration between Wales and Chubut in tourism, heritage, economic development and exports.

Is this glacier in denial?


Is this glacier in denial?

Is this glacier in denial?
The Perito Moreno glacier flows out of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third largest reservoir of fresh water in the world. It is 30km long, up to 700m deep and covers 250 sq km. Where it ends, it is around 170m thick, rising 70m above the water.
But the remarkable thing about the glacier is this: it isn’t retreating. It is advancing downhill at the rate of around 2m every day and when it reaches  Lake Argentino it loses, on average, about 2m every day. It’s been pretty much the same length for the last 90 years.
It comes almost as a surprise that it hasn’t been adopted by some oil company mouthpiece as the deep-frozen poster-child for climate-change denial.
(And those guys are doing a great job. Today, only one in three Americans believe that humans are responsible for climate change. In the UK, only 31% of adults believe that global warming is “definitely” a reality, down from 44% in 12 months.)
So why the all-quiet on Perito Moreno? Well, it’s the exception to the rule. It’s one of only three out of forty-eight glaciers in Patagonia that isn’t, like public opinion on climate-change, in retreat.
But, like the rain that falls and freezes on the Andes and settles and compacts and pushes the glaciers ever downhill, the weight of the scientific data remains the same. Global warming is real and man-made and it’s coming our way.
Yes, we’ve just had a really hard winter. But enjoy it while you can.


Making molehills out of mountains

Making molehills out of mountains
Andy Kirkpatrick is a climber who likes a challenge. Specialising in winter expeditions, he has a reputation for taking the long, cold, difficult route. His book Psycho Vertical is all about the thrill and terror of climbing.

They say that the Matterhorn’s beauty comes from its simplicity, matching our ideal image of what a mountain should be.

That if you were to give a pencil and paper to a child and told them to draw a mountain, the Matterhorn is what you would get. Noble, romantic, austere.

But ask that child, once they have turned into a teenager, their head now full of angst, dark music and hormonal funk and the mountain they would conjure up would be far different – a mountain that no one but a teenager could imagine.

Wild beyond reality, impossible in scale, beyond the reasoning of an adult’s sensibilities.

It’s only in the darkest of imaginations that you can create the wonders that are the mountains of Patagonia.

Down there at the end of the world, where legendary giants were said to have walked, stand skyscrapers of granite, a lost vertical world, faces nearly a mile high, hidden in a cloak of storm, wiped by winds that defy measurement. They call them the eaters of men, a scream of stone. 

They are without equal.

If Everest is for rich trophy hunters, then Patagonia is home for the stubborn and stupid.

Because everyone knows that these summits are almost impossible to reach and to climb, it is hard to believe that they even exist above that ravaged forest, beyond the glaciers, up there with the gods.

They are only ever glimpsed like a dream while the endless storm takes a breath. Yet that world is like a window. It lets in possibility.

All you need is a chance to try.

And so climbers come from places with mountains that can be climbed every day and they wait to climb those that may only ever be climbed once a year.

And they wait and wait and wait. And they wait some more, believing that it will be worth it, that they will be lucky.

Some leave, while others leave and return with more bread, more whisky and more patience.

Day after day these hard bodied athletes begin to change, becoming bent like the trees in the wind, experts not of rock and ice but baking and storytelling, of wittling and buying time as they listen – for the pause.

And then it comes, a sound that makes it all worthwhile, even if only because now they will know this is real. Rushing in like a wave leaving the beach.



Thunder and Sunshine


Thunder and Sunshine

Thunder and Sunshine
Alastair Humphreys took four years to cycle around the world, he wanted to take things in, see everything and meet people along the way. This extract from his book Thunder and Sunshine sees him on the journey through Patagonia

Patagonia spans both Argentina and Chile. Mountains plateau and plains taper down to the rocky southern tip. South across the Straits of Magellan is the island of Tierra del Fuego, and at the far tip of that island, Ushuaia, the most southern town on the planet. The names, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, had thrilled and lured me for years. As I stepped off the bus in Ushuaia, I discovered that my yearning for el fin del mundo was not particularly original. A six-foot tall fluffy penguin demanded two pesos to pose for a picture with me to celebrate my arrival among the tourists at the remote end of the world. Ushuaia is a colourful hotchpotch of pink, blue, green and orange corrugated metal buildings in the lee of dark mountains on the tranquil shore of the Beagle Channel.

Tourism flourishes in Ushuaia, but probably not for the guided city tour, highlights of which included the old house of Mr Pastoriza’s, who worked in a sardine canning company. The project failed because the sardines never appeared. Or Mr Solomon’s General Goods store which became famous for the variety of its products, and which closed in 1970. No. People went to enjoy the beautiful ruggedness of Patagonia, to look out to sea, knowing that only Antarctica lay beyond the horizon. I looked in the opposite direction. I looked north, up the road I meant to follow to its very end, in Alaska.

The morning I began riding, I found it even harder than usual to get up. How do you persuade yourself to leave a nice warm sleeping bag and begin cycling, with 17,848 kilometres between you and your destination. All the riding I had done counted for nothing now. I was back at the beginning, a brand new start at the bottom of a continental landmass, whose top was one third of the circumference of the globe away.

I pedalled south out of town, and down to the seashore where the road to Alaska truly began. I looked across the slate-coloured Lapataia Bay. Patches of white snow were on the upper scree slopes of the sharp grey mountains behind me. To welcome me back onto the road, a headwind was brewing. A clean green stream wound through the boggy fields and blended into the clean, pebbly shallows of the bay. My ears were cold and a light mist pearled tiny droplets over my fleece jacket and eyelashes. I stood still and felt small in the silence, and in awe of the phenomenal distance ahead of me. Far away, a chainsaw started up and amplified how quiet the little cove was. The old self-doubt rose through me, but I was determined not to cry. This runaway expedition had dragged me along and stampeded me. I was just managing to cling on. I was going to enjoy this ride up the Americas. I was determined. Come on, Al, let’s go have some fun.

Thunder and Sunshine by Alastair Humphreys is available from www.alastairhumphreys.com




Ei·stedd·fod (i’steðväd), pl. -fods or -fodau (i’steðvädī): A competitive festival of music, literature and poetry in Wales.

Well, that’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about it anyway. But, ask a true Welshman what it means and he’ll show you how it’s much, much more than that.

It’s an event steeped in history, a celebration of real Welsh life. It’s about pride in our nation’s independence, individuality, culture and traditions.

The modern day National Eisteddfod of Wales is a week-long festival held in a giant pink tent, erected on what is known as ‘The Maes’, meaning field in English. The venue changes every year, alternating between locations in north and south Wales.

Conducted entirely in the Welsh language, it is a mixture of singing, dancing, poetry, art, recitals, choirs and Druids (a Druid is a priestly-ish Celtic bard wizard-type character with a big stick).

The festival brings together Welsh people from all over the world, who travel back to the land of their fathers from all continents in order to attend.

Then, following a series of X-Factor-like heats enjoyed by large audiences, prizes are awarded to the best poet, the best choir, the best dancers, etc.

Historical records state that the first ever Eisteddfod was held in Cardigan in 1176, organised by Lord Rhys and held within the walls of the town’s castle.

It was a grand gathering, to which he invited poets and musicians from all over the country. It soon became an annual event, attracting dignitaries and occasionally royalty and is where many of the traditions of the modern day Eisteddfod began.

For instance, a chair at the Lord’s table was awarded to his favourite contestant, a tradition that still remains to this day.

The event was resurrected in 1792 by the academic Iolo Morganwg, who founded The Gorsedd of Bards and held an Eisteddfod at The Ivy Bush Inn, not too far from here in the town of Carmarthen.

The Gorsedd still lead the event to this day, by judging, holding processions on the pavillion and bringing the week’s festivities to a close with the Chairing of the Bard – a ceremony to honour the winning bard or writer. 

The Head of the Gorsedd (or Arch Druid) then escorts the winner around The Maes in the final parade of the week.

These days, similar events called Eisteddfod are held by Welsh communities all over the world, including of course Patagonia (we even heard about one held annually in Alabama).

The 2010 National Eisteddfod will be held in Ebbw Vale, a small town in the valleys of Gwent in South Wales. They last hosted the Eisteddfod in 1958.

In attendance will be a group from The Patagonian Welsh Society, including Pete’s long lost second cousin Rachel and Arturo, our Patagonian guide. 

Well worth a visit, even if you’re not Welsh .

Never forget you're Welsh


Never forget you're Welsh

Never forget you're Welsh
One of the reasons Michael D Jones set up a Welsh colony in Patagonia was to preserve the Welsh lannguage and culture.

The controversial ‘Blue Books’ report of 1847 stated that the moral and material condition of the Welsh people would only improve with the introduction of the English language. This meant that Welsh speaking children were being forced to speak English in schools and, if they did lapse into their mother-tongue, they were punished.

The immigrants aboard the Mimosa believed that a new life in Patagonia would not only be a way out of a life of poverty, but also a way to preserve their identity and language.

As the Welsh population grew and prospered in Patagonia, the area attracted more immigrants from other countries and the colony’s Welsh identity began to be eroded. Many of the institutions which had been established in the early days of the colony, such as the Co-Operative Society, were split into factions by arguments. Fifty years on, the community had began to crumble.

But despite these problems the community still survives. It has recently been the subject of a coordinated attempt by the Argentine government and the National Assembly of Wales to promote and maintain its Welsh identity.

And today, wherever you are in Wales it is compulsory for children between the ages of 5–16 to learn Welsh, at least as a second language.

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