Category Archives: Landscapes

Scotland 2014: Lighthouses, Sheep, and Dead Economists


Yes, I’ve been home from Scotland for a while, but I’ve got a few more batches of pictures to share.

_JD89127

For 190 years, the Eilan Glas lighthouse has sat on the small peninsula off the Isle of Scalpay (a prior lighthouse was on the same spot in the 18th century).  Scalpay is a tiny island recently connected by bridge to the Scottish Isle(s) of Lewis & Harris.  The peninsula it sits on sticks well out into the Minch – the branch of the Atlantic Ocean that goes between the Inner and Outer Hebrides – which is presumably the reason someone thought a lighthouse was needed there in the first place.  In better light, you can see back to the Isle of Skye.

Honestly, it’s probably hard to be more photographically trite than a bunch of cliched pictures of a lighthouse with a sunrise in the background.  But my pre-dawn hike through the sheepfields of Scalpay was a pretty special experience, and – if I may say so myself – these pictures turned out pretty well.  I only got lost (and wet) a little on my two-hour hike — taking the long way — through coastal sheep fields back to my car.

_JD89156

_JD89014.jpg_JD89112.jpg

_JCE6337

 

 

_JD88905

Much of the land in Scotland’s outer islands is part of a Common Grazing system. Local committees generally supervise the land and decide how much livestock each farmer is allowed to graze.

This area of Scotland has lots of sheep, and lots of land dedicated to “common grazing.” In a common grazing system, grazing lands are controlled by the town or by some sort of semi-governmental cooperative, and the individual citizens have some ability to put their livestock on the land for grazing. But nobody owns the grazing land (or maybe everybody sort of does). This is especially interesting (to me) because there is a famous principle of Economics called the “Tragedy of the Commons,” which analyzes the ups and downs of common ownership of resources like this (mostly the downs – thus the term “tragedy”).   The grazing tragedy occurs because every farmer with access to the common grazing land has the incentive to graze as many animals as possible on the seemingly free public land, so the land becomes overgrazed and barren and thus no good for anyone. This rarely happens on privately owned grazing land, because a property owner tends not to spoil his own land. The moral of the story is that when nobody owns the land (or other resource), nobody has a great incentive to care for it.

Solving the “tragedy” can take two seemingly opposite courses: heavy governmental regulation (like the Grazing Committee); or private ownership of the lands. Environmentalists analogize to the concept to argue that something must be done (i.e. regulation) to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the “common” air we breathe and water supplies from which we drink.  Because nobody owns the skies or rivers, people are unfortunately inclined to abuse them absent some government control.  On the other hand, conservatives (more precisely: capitalists) point to the “tragedy” concept to teach that private ownership of resources (where possible) is the best way to ensure that they will be well cared for and preserved. Both these arguments are mostly correct, and that’s why the Tragedy of the Common idea is such an important, interesting concept.

Somehow it’s also interesting that Scotland was also the home of Adam Smith, the 18th Century economist and author of Wealth of Nations. Smith is the one who taught the modern world that a capitalist system – where people act in their own financial interest – generally creates better outcomes for a society because private ownership and profit interests usually lead people to direct resources to their most productive and valuable uses. It’s a little ironic that the odd pocket of common grazing systems persists in the country that is Smith’s homeland. He may be rolling over in his Edinburgh grave.

So if you ever wonder what I think about on a two-hour solo hike through quiet Scottish sheep fields on the way to and from an isolated lighthouse, now you know.

_JD80024.jpg_JD88502.jpg_JD88914.jpg_JD89416.jpg_JD89480.jpg_JD89630.jpg

_JD89630

Sheep graze near Uig Sands on the Isle of Lewis

Scotland 2014: Oban, Staffa and Iona

_JD87291

Dunollie Castle, at the north end of Oban Bay

Scotland’s odd little Inner Hebrides island of Staffa is famous for more than sightseeing.  The 19th Century composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a now-famous overture about it:  the Hebrides Overture (a.k.a. “Fingal’s Cave”).  Too bad there was no orchestra around to play it when I went to visit.  (You can listen to it here if it’s not playing automatically:  http://www.vicenzapuericantores.it/mp3/mendelssohn_hebrides.mp3 ).  The Isle of Staffa is just a few hundred yards across, and is a geological fluke.  It’s a volcanic island with a huge layer of crystalized basalt columns.  Its most famous feature is that sea cave Mendelssohn focused on, now called Fingal’s Cave. It’s about 200 feet deep.

_JD86541

Staffa

 

_JD86541.jpg_JD86562.jpg_JD86589.jpg_JD86818.jpg_JD86852.jpg_JD86863.jpg_JD86977.jpg

The trip back from Staffa consists of an ferry ride to the Isle of Iona, another ferry to the Isle of Mull, a car ride to catch the ferry back to Oban on the mainland.  The church in the pictures is the Iona Abbey, established in 563 A.D. by now-Saint Columba and now a busy pilgrimage destination for folks who (for some reason) want to visit Columba’s grave.  That prominent stone cross, St. Martin’s Cross, is over 1200 years old.  The pretty pictures of the bay and from the ferry are Oban Bay.

_JD85676.jpg_JD87086.jpg_JD87134.jpg_JD87191.jpg_JD87246.jpg_JD87291.jpg

_JD85676

_JD86977

2014-09-26 19.28.14_resized-2

I was lucky to be able to travel Scotland with Jim Richardson and a couple of Scotch natives as guides. Jim is a long-time National Geographic photographer and is their go-to guy for Scotland; he’s been there dozens of times. In fact, the August 2014 edition of NatGeo has one of Jim’s photo essays from Scotland as its cover story. Great to have Jim to show about a dozen of us around  Scotland. That’s Jim in the red jacket waiting on the dock in the picture above (apparently someone from the group was late getting back to the boat . . .)

Scotland 2014: Gylen Castle

_JD86154

The Scottish Isle of Kerrera is just a few hundred yards off the mainland west coast, near the town of Oban in the southern part of the Inner Hebrides.  A few dozen people (one of whom tends to 100 or so pet parrots) live there.  The sightseeing highlight is Gylen Castle, built on the south end of the island in about 1582.

To get to Gylen, you take a short ferry from Oban, then walk about three miles.  The ferry is a small one-car ferry, so you just stand where the one car would normally be.   When you get out near the castle, there’s no visitor center, no admission charge, no security guards or park rangers.  It’s just out there by itself like it has been for the last 500 years.

The castle was built by the MacDougall Clan and used in support of James I – then the king of a united England, Ireland and Scotland.   In the mid 1600s, he was at war with the “Covenanters” (crazy Presbyterians, apparently).  They laid siege to the MacDougall Clan soldiers at Gylen.  Apparently the castle’s defense systems had one big flaw – access to fresh water.  The very thirsty soldiers holed up inside were eventually coaxed into coming out voluntarily, only to be promptly killed by their surrounding attackers.

_JD86317

Gylen wasn’t a true “castle,” but was more of a small watchtower or fort.  Its perch above the waters  was a perfect vantage point to watch for threatening ships entering the Firth of Lorn near Oban.  Now that same perch makes modest Gylen one of Scotland’s most picturesque spots.

_JD86023.jpg_JD86196.jpg_JD86347.jpg_JD85845.jpg_JD86381.jpg_JD86436.jpg

 _JD86053

A Hawaiian Connection: Mahalo, United Airlines

IMG_1712

The view of Honolulu and Waikiki from atop Diamond Head Crater.

On my way home from Australia, my connecting flight was cancelled, leaving me stranded in the middle of the Pacific and halfway home.  Happily, that was Honolulu.  My 2-hour layover became a 26-hour layover, leaving me time for dinner on the beach, a morning run to and up Diamond Head Crater, and an afternoon on Waikiki before heading back to the airport and resuming the trip.  I got just a handful of pictures.  It worked out well, so I’ve decided to wholly forgive (and maybe even THANK?) United Airlines for the screw-up.

At least the botched connection had a huge silver lining.   The airline debacle on the front end of that trip was all downside.  I arrived in Cairns, Australia on a Sunday, and my bicycle (needed for the triathlon I was there to do) arrived four days late, after an unintended (and unattended) tour of Tokyo and Sydney (neither of which were on my travel itinerary).  At least it got there in plenty of time for the race.

_JD83039.jpg_JD83052.jpg_JD83071.jpg20140613_120044.jpgIMG_1690.jpgIMG_1712.jpgIMG_1713.jpgIMG_1723.jpgIMG_1736.jpg

_JD83071

Waikiki Beach, at the Moana Surfrider Hotel

 

 

 

 

The View from Capayque, Bolivia

#3 of several posts (starting here, with more to come) about the tiny Bolivian village of Capayque.  I traveled there with a Methodist mission team from Stillwater Oklahoma that was providing much-needed healthcare and setting up a medical clinic in the town.  

_JD81482

Early morning view to the east from Capayque

Capayque, Bolivia is a small village in the Andes, sitting at about 11,500 feet above sea level, about two-thirds of the way up from the valley way below and the mountaintops looming above.  On the rare day when the place isn’t mostly in or above the clouds, you’ll be staring at a snow-peaked 22,000 foot mountain just to the east.  From Capayque, you can see a half-dozen other (even-smaller) communities on other ridges and across the valley.

_JD81518

_JD80399

The air is very thin at 11,500, so it can be tough to get around — especially for lowlander Gringos unaccustomed to high altitudes.  The temperatures generally stay between 30 and 60 year-round, though it feels much warmer if the high-mountain sun breaks through.  More often than not, you can look down into the valley and see clouds below you.

_JD81477.jpg_JD81462.jpg_JD81482.jpg_JD81363.jpg_JD80358.jpg_JD80399.jpg_JD80360.jpg_JD80368.jpg_JD80371.jpg_JD80375.jpg_JD80597.jpg_JD81369.jpg_JD81378.jpg_JD81518.jpg_JD81588.jpg_JD81761.jpg_JD81740.jpg_JD82213.jpg_JD81532.jpg

As described in a related post, day to day life here isn’t radically different than it probably was 1000 years ago on these same mountains.

Like most of the hillsides anywhere near Lake Titicaca, the surrounding mountains are striped with horizontal terraces – creating flatter step-like areas better for farming.  Many are in current use, but many (perhaps most) look like they were built long ago and haven’t been used in centuries.

The region around Lake Titicaca was part of the ancient empire of Tiwanaku.  The area has been populated and farmed for 3,000 years.  The Tiwanku empire reached its peak around the 8th Century A.D., when the city of Tiwanaku (on the flatter “altiplano” 50 miles south from Capayque) had an as many as 100,000 residents.*  Estimates of the population in the surrounding countryside are varied and controversial, but the startling scope and span of those ancient terraces hints at the existence huge populations – to build and cultivate the terraces themselves, and to create such great demand for food as to make it necessary to farm so much of the hill country.

The Tiwanaku society mostly disappeared around the 12th century — long before Europeans arrived.  It’s likely that whatever was left of it became part of the Inca civilization.

The shots below are from the road to/from Capayque.

_JD82874.jpg_JD82927.jpg_JD82946.jpg_JD89571.jpg_JD89583.jpg_JD89576.jpg_JD82845.jpg

_JD89571