31 Mar 2012

Page vs Screen: Game of Thrones

Last year around this time I wrote a "Book Report" post on the first four books in the series Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin (I just noticed I never wrote the book report for book 5 Dance With Dragnos last summer, darn!), with some video clips from the soon to be aired HBO TV show embedded. It was pretty obvious I was excited about the new TV series... and it definitely lived up to any expectations I had for it! So much so that I ordered the first season on BluRay as soon as it was available, and then had a nice little Game of Thrones marathon two weeks ago! Since then I've been rushing to finish re-reading the first book so I could write this post before season 2 premières! (I read it in 2 days the first time around, but now am busier plus I no longer have the drive to keep reading into night to find out "what happens next") :p

To be more precise this post should be titled "A Game of Thrones vs Game of Thrones s1", but, same difference! I took a lot of notes while re-watching the first season, plus added elements as I continued through the book, and it hasn't been easy bringing a semblance of order to the chaos of my thoughts, so I hope things are understandable! Here goes nothing... (Warning! Spoilers for s1 of Game of Thrones)

29 Mar 2012

Hiking the Snow Well route from Ibi to Alcoy

I believe I mentioned last Fall that the Diputación (Provincial Government in Alicante aka representation of the National Gvmt) organises hikes on Sundays... They fill up a bus, and since it's subsidised it's quite a bit cheaper than other groups that take you out by bus... which means there's a very high demand to get a spot! In fact, if you don't send in your e-mail requesting a spot for a Sunday hike at precisely 9 a.m. the previous Monday... then forget about it! I tried 3-4 times between last Spring and Fall and only got in once! So when I saw that they were starting up again this past weekend, I set an alarm on my cellphone to go off last Monday at 8h55 to remind me to go into my e-mail draft folder and get ready to send the e-mail (already prepared with the necessary attachments) as soon as the clock struck 9! And 10' later I had an answer confirming I had scored a spot for myself and a friend, YAY! :o)

The group in charge of the Spring hikes is quite a bit more hard core than the one in the Fall. Those were all "easy" to "moderate". The hikes programmed for this next month are all "difficult"! Sadly because of budget cuts (damn never-ending crisis!) only 5 outings have been authorised (i.e. financed), which is a pity because the guides were telling us they had put together a fascinating programme which would have involved crossing the whole Province of Alicante, from north to south, in 20 days of 5-6h hikes! Now there's something I would love to do! But it wasn't meant to be... another year perhaps? 

So they just kept 5 hikes from their original list, and last Sunday (Mar 25) was a 16.4 km (10.2mi) hike from the town of Ibi to the town of Alcoy, crossing the mountain that separates the two (which meant a climb of about 554m - 1818ft - followed by a descent of 740m - 2428ft -). We pretty much followed the PR-26 from Ibi to the summit of the Menejador, in the Natural Park of the Font Roja, and then followed the PR-160 down towards Alcoy until we reached the river Polop, which we followed until the Vía Verde de Alcoy and walked along that until we got into town. I wasn't able to find a map online with this exact route charted, so I adapted one (all hail powerpoint!). The purple arrows show the way! ;o)

I'm not a morning person, so getting up (indecently) early to go on all these Sunday hikes hasn't been easy... and it was a lot harder last Sunday because we lost an hour the night before! Oh well, at least when we started out from Ibi at 9h30 we had gorgeous blue skies and warm sunshine. :o)

26 Mar 2012

Historic Dive Into The Ocean's Deepest Depths

Have you heard the news? Check this out!!!

There's a more complete video on the National Geographic website, but try as I might I can't seem to be able to embed it!

James Cameron is now the third person (and the only one to have done it solo) to have reached the Ocean's deepest point in the Mariana Trench! I first happened upon the story via the fabulous site io9, and while reading the story I just linked to, what particularly hit me was the fact that humans have only visited the bottom of the Mariana Trench ONCE, in 1960 (there have also been two unmanned trips)! To think, we've sent more ships to the moon than we have to explore the ocean's depths...

You can find out more about the amazing National Geographic DeepSea Challenge at their website:

"We know less about the deepest points on our planet than we do about the surface of Mars. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team is dedicated to advancing the world’s understanding of our ocean’s vast range of biological and geological phenomena. The historic expedition to the Mariana Trench’s lowest point, the Challenger Deep, which lies 6.83 miles (10.99 kilometers) below the ocean surface, is the first extensive scientific exploration in a manned submersible of the deepest spot on Earth. Piloting the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, which is outfitted for scientific exploration, James Cameron will conduct tests, collect samples, and document the experience in the high-resolution 3-D for which he’s known globally."

I for one look forward to seeing more footage of the dive and reading about any possible life he might have seen down there! :o)

20 Mar 2012

When hiking turns into mountain climbing: up the Maigmo, Alicante's "balcony"

I still can't seem to get these hiking posts up within a couple of days of the actual hike! Part of the problem is timing... I get home Sunday evening exhausted, and then Monday I have to start preparing the week's classes and I don't have much time for the blog until Friday comes round... Add to that the many photos to sort through, choose the ones for the Facebook album (and narrate them in Spanish) and try and reduce the selection as much as possible so I can tell the story I want to tell here on the blog. And then edit them... and then write... I've got to try and streamline the process (perhaps taking fewer photos would help!)

So this is last Sunday's hike, March 11th. Our destination: the Maigmó, one of the closest mountains to the city of Alicante (I can see it out my back window, would have added a picture but it's been hidden by clouds for 2 days now!), and part of the mountains that create a climate barrier between the very dry (and brown) coast and the more humid and green interior. It's also the only area in the Province I'd been hiking around before I started doing these hikes last Fall. I've gone several times with a friend and our dogs to an area on the interior face of the Maigmó known as Planisses, nice fields and forests with lots of paths for some good hiking (just don't get lost, not many markings to guide you!). The dogs love it! And it's only about 1/2h from home. :o)

There are quite a few weekend/summer homes in the area. We parked near one and then hit the trails through the pine forest and shrubbery, which I noticed was quite a bit browner than other years I've been in the area (this winter has been the driest in decades!).

15 Mar 2012

Live stranding and rescue of 30 dolphins on a Brazilian beach!

Have you heard about this???

From the YouTube page: "About 30 Dolphins stranded and saved by local people at Arraial do Cabo (Brazil) in the morning at 8:00 AM on March 5th 2012."


12 Mar 2012

6500 Steps into Hell (part 2)

Continuing the tale of the amazing March 4th hike along the PR-CV 147 around the Barranco del Infierno a.k.a. "Hell's Ravine". Where did I leave off? Oh yeah! We'd climbed up some of those 6500 ancient steps and spent some time goofing around with the cameras in a daisy-filled field of flowery almond trees! In other words we were pretty much at point 3 on this map:

Now, that would have been a lovely place for lunch... but as you can see we weren't even halfway around the route so decided to continue on until we reached the next spring. As I mentioned in the first half of this tale, once we'd reached the top of the ravine (nice steep climb with lots of steps) I was thinking the hike wasn't nearly as tough as I'd been led to believe, figuring that we'd probably follow a road or path or something up top to get back to the village of Fleix where we'd left the cars... Ummm... NOPE! I hadn't seen that map above (it's a shot from the end of the trek) or I would have known that the route involved climbing in and out of THREE RAVINES! So that's how they made it to 6500 steps... OUCH! And here's a pretty good view of the next two (right before we start climbing down the 2nd).

10 Mar 2012

The Road to Hell is Paved with 6500 steps

I was hesitating between that title and "6500 steps into History", but couldn't resist the word play on the name! What name? El Barranco del Infierno, which pretty much translates as "Hell's Ravine"! :D

Yellow=PRCV147, with Ravine in centre
Although we didn't really do "Hell's Ravine" itself (you have to have the necessary equipment + quite a bit of canyoning experience to do that!), we did the PR-CV 147 which basically does a big loop around the part of the ravine know as the Barranco del Infierno. But when you go hiking there you usually call it by that name instead of its code, or its other nickname La Catedral del Senderista ("the Hiker's Cathedral"). With a nickname like that you just know this is going to be one spectacular hike (it's considered one of the "must do" hikes in the Province of Alicante), and it sure as hell didn't disappoint! Of course this means I took waaaaay too many photos... over 300! Which I knocked down to 210 after deleting fuzzies, repeats etc, and I managed to only put up 170 in my FB album, but try as I might I can't seem to bring it down to a reasonable number to properly illustrate the hike blog... so I guess I'll just have to divide this hike in two posts! It's that or not show you any of the almond and cherry blossoms (and goofing around, lol!) I know you're dying to see... :p

So last Sunday (March 4th) we got together in "petit comité", hopped into two cars, and set out to do this gruelling (distance ~15km -9.32mi- with a total climb of  ~750m -2460ft-) but magnificent hike. We totally lucked out with the weather! Sunny and warm (18ºC ~ 64.4ºF), but not hot, with a light breeze from time to time to help cool us off. In fact, we started off from the town of Fleix in t-shirts! (well, some of us did)

Just outside of Fleix we came across their old "lavadero" (village public laundry area). A beautifully conserved structure:

A few metres past the lavadero... and it was time to start tackling those 6500+ steps!

3 Mar 2012

Up the Montcabrer: the ice, snow, mud and thumbs.

I can't quite seem to catch up with these hiking posts! I guess in a way I should be grateful I had a rough night last Saturday and decided at the last minute not to go hiking on Sunday 'cause that way I'm able to post this before another hike (tomorrow) gets added to the waiting list... :p

This is a tale of climbing a mountain. On a gloriously sunny Sunday. With ice and snow. Saved from breaking anything thanks to trekking poles and thyme bushes. But still managed to find myself with my ass covered in mud... and ended up with sprained thumbs! ;o)

2 Mar 2012

Monthly Movies: Feb'12

It's "hurry up and catch all the Oscar nominees before the big day" month! :p
Or at least it was supposed to be... but some of the ones I was missing had already come and gone (Tinker, Tailor...), others only hit the screens here on Oscar weekend (Hugo, My Week With Marylin...) so I didn't really have time to get to them! Oh well, short month - short movie list. 

Well now, that was interesting! I went in (my Dad's choice of movie) knowing absolutely nothing about this movie other than Brad Pitt got a Best Actor Oscar nomination for it (imho a well deserved nomination!). Voilà! The sum of my knowledge before it started. Which is probably a good thing because had I known just a little bit more I probably would have said "no thanks" since a movie about baseball and statistics would have held no interest for me beyond Brad Pitt's performance and seeing as how I had no choice but to see it in Spanish (wasn't one of the few we've been getting un-dubbed) I would have chosen to wait for the dvd. And I would have missed out, because that was one damn fine movie! Great performance, yes sir, but also a fascinating story and look into an aspect of a sport that I knew next to nothing about! Who knew player's stats could be given so much meaning and brought to life in such an interesting manner? And based on a true story... the ending surprised me! I expected Pitt's character to make a money/prestige-based choice which he didn't. Anyhow, really like this film! :o)
Addendum: just my rotten luck! One week after seeing this the Yelmo went ahead and released it in VOS (i.e. English w/ Spanish subtitles) as well! I guess I should have waited... oh well! :p

Wow! Way to tug on the heart strings Spielberg + John Williams (beautiful musical score)! I have vague memories of reading this book as a kid, must have gotten it from the library though 'cause I searched through the bookshelves at home, and it's not with our childhood books (although there are tons of other "horsey" books). I thought it was a beautiful tale, full of moments of magic, heartbreak and thrills. I particularly loved the dialogue between the two enemy soldiers as they worked with those wire clippers... Lovely, epic movie. :o)

Wow, I can't believe I didn't notice the first time around just how much this movie was skewed to a younger audience compared to the original trilogy! Between the Gungans and the battle droids ("roger, roger")... yikes! Could they be any more annoying?! I guess the first time out I just let myself be overwhelmed by the fact that I was getting more Star Wars (to say I'm a fan would be a major understatement... you should see my bookshelves... lol!) plus the amazing special effects, the gorgeous soundtrack and Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor. ;o) And I like Natalie Portman as Padmé, but not so much when she's all decked out as Queen Amidala (and speaking in that stilted voice and language). Plus I got a hoot out of seeing R2-D2 and C3PO and loved the fact that I could pick out key musical cues from the original trilogy in various parts of the soundtrack.
In any case, Gungan and droid shuddering aside, I quite enjoyed watching it again on the BIG screen (some movies were just meant to be seen big), and I thought the 3D transfer was fantastic! I was just as moved as the first time while watching the climactic fight between Darth Maul and Obi Wan and Qui Gon, with the mesmerising Choir of the Fates singing in the background (brilliant John Williams!). I'd say it's worth going if you're a fan, or if you have younglings you would like to properly introduce to the world of Star Wars. And you're willing to ignore the cringe-inducing Gungans.