Monday, 30 June 2014

In Madrid

Tyrranosaurus Rex

As a Geotourist, perhaps I was just too keen to get to my final destination but, at the Iguazú Falls, I didn’t look for or see any information to guide me on my tour and I can’t remember seeing any interpretative panels - it was just enough to experience the sights, smells and sounds of this spectacular natural phenomenon for myself.

My next experience of Geotourism, in Spain, had another completely different character. Again, a short city based break in Madrid didn’t provide too many opportunities to explore the surrounding mountainous countryside but it was full of geological highlights

Architecture and Sculpture in Madrid

During my first walk around the old city centre, to see some of the city's cultural attractions, I soon noticed that granite can be seen everywhere in Madrid. Although the historic architecture is on a grand scale, it is often austere - due to the intractable nature of granite - but there are many fine details where other stones have been used. One place that I did really want to see for the architecture, as much as for the geology collection, was the Museo Geominero, set in the heart of the Instituto Geológico y Minero de España (IGME)

El Museo Geominero

It comprises a main floor, above which rise three levels of balconied galleries, topped with a spectacular stained glass roof. There are over 5600 minerals and 10,000 fossils on display, together with a relatively small collection of rocks.

Rocks and Minerals in the Museo Geominero

Simply presented in over 250 cabinets, the collection comprises specimens from all over Spain, as well as those from the former Spanish colonies.
Geological sections in stained glass

The real highlight for me was the stained glass borehole logs that you first see when you enter the museum. Recording exploration for potassium salts in Catalonia, the strata are reproduced to scale. Marl, limestone, sandstone, marl slate, salt, carnalite and silvinite are all represented.

The Natural History Museum

A stone's throw away from El Museo Geominero is the Natural History Museum where there is a small but very impressive display of dinosaur and large mammal skeletons, as well as a comparatively small collection of rocks and minerals.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

"Las Cataratas"

The Devil's Throat

The Iguazú Falls is one of the great natural wonders of the world. It marks the point where the Iguaçu River, which meanders westwards across the Paraná Plateau, cuts a gorge through the flood basalts along a series of geological faults, before finally joining the River Paraná – at the triple border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

As a global tourist attraction, it is served by international airports in both Argentina and Brazil, with luxury resorts and hotels dotted around the area. On a modest budget, we travelled 300km on the overnight bus from Asunción to Ciudad del Este, where we were met by our driver. 

The Iguazú Falls in Argentina
His greeting was much warmer than the chilly morning - something that I had not yet experienced in the Paraguayan winter - and for the rest of the day we were accompanied by an overcast sky; however, the lack of sunshine took nothing away from this once in a lifetime experience.

Starting in Argentina, we passed through a forest on a narrow gauge railway that is not too far away from the water’s edge. Alighting from the train, a 1 kilometre long walkway took us to the Devil's Throat.

Before cascading into a gorge, the Iguaçu River spreads out over the impermeable basalt to form a wide, shallow lake, where a series of small rapids reminded me of the scene in the African Queen - a taste of what was to come.

The only waterfall that I had been to before was High Force in England but there are up to 300 individual cascades seen here, depending on the water level in the river. My photographs simply don't do justice to the beauty of this place, nor can they give any impression of the sensations that you feel, all over your body, when standing right next to the Devil's Throat.

The Iguaçu Falls in Brazil
In Brazil, a bus takes to you a drop off point, where a walkway along the river provides a good opportunity to see the distinctive step like topography, where the thick flows of basalt have been eroded away. 

Another walkway takes you down into the gorge, where the air is full of water spray, and from here you get a real feel for the scale and power of the place - I didn't even notice the soaking that I got.

With my trip to Paraguay being mainly city based, apart from the hummingbirds that I saw in gardens everywhere and the mango trees in the streets, I only had a chance to take a close look at the fauna and flora at the zoo and botanical gardens in Asunción. Here, I was extremely surprised to see a great flock of swifts - flying in and out of the waterfalls - and, on the bus back to the visitor centre, I saw a flash of colour on a toucan as it sped by.

Having had my passport stamped many times in the day, my return to Paraguay coincided with an extended passport check. Nothing was said by the driver, but I suspect that a bit of bribery and corruption might have been involved and, with Ciudad del Este not being considered the safest place to explore at night, we were very happy to retire to our hotel for the night.

Scott and Sara in Brazil