16 September 2011

Polar Bear Safety Lecture

When I took this picture in Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Salbard Archipelago I was standing on a carpet of fine gravel with the cold wind trying to pick out the wrinkles in my face. At the same time I was desperately trying to listen to one of the expedition team telling us what to do if we encounter a Polar Bear. I couldn’t help thinking there was one behind every rock and at the same time they must have been hungry because nothing, absolutely nothing is growing here.
The rather unconventional health and safety lecture is a rite of passage for all visitors who come to Spitsbergen and you are constantly reminded wherever you travel here that we humans are merely guests in this the kingdom of the world’s largest land carnivore.
I’m pleased to say that in many ways the bears’ lives are put before ours as there are series of strategies from shouting to large “flash/bang” flares designed to frighten the bear off, the high powered rifles carried by the guides would  only be used as a last resort.
It's a fact of life that as 'soft'  Polar expedition cruising increases the wildlife will come under more pressure but this seems to be kept to an absolute minimum as all cruise operators have to sign up to Antarctic and Arctic codes of practice. Visits here are a wondereful thing as it brings home to people the need to protect these stunning areas.
The good thing about Polar cruising is that the season is so short and numbers limited as to how many people can be where, also the winter gives the land a chance to carry on with its natural rhythms.

8 September 2011


Coming home I saw the wheels of this wood cutter’s home made cart. They are held together by wire and seem to have originated from some Victorian contraption. Some poor people turn to crime or wait for hand outs while others like this guy make an effort to earn money.

The wood he cuts is either cut up to make fires to cook food or warm people and some of the straight bits would be used to build and reinforce shacks. I suppose if the cart was being pulled by an animal someone would have complained to the animal rights people. Human rights and human dignity are sometimes just overlooked. South Africa is a sometimes shocking mix of first and third world (and probably second and fourth world too).

1 September 2011

Electric Cars

Five years or so ago, I thought that my next car would be an electric. But now that a wave of them are about to come on to the market, I’m not so sure. Last week, I went down to our local motor association where a new 100% electric vehicle – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV pictured above – was on display.

From the outside, the i-MiEV – which is expected to retail for about $33,000 in Alberta, Canada – doesn’t look terribly big. But without a bulky engine taking up space and the wheels right out to the corners, the interior feels as big as some of the small to mid-sized conventional cars on the market.

The car is powered by a 330-volt lithium ion battery located under its floor. It can be charged either from a quick charge station or from a household outlet. It will take about six hours to charge from a 220-volt outlet, or 22.5 hours from a 110-volt outlet.

With a top speed of 130 km/h, it certainly goes as fast as I would want to go. The problem is it only goes for 135 kilometers on a single charge. When I expressed my dismay to the product demonstrator, he was quick to say that, for the time being, it was really only practical as an additional car to tootle around town to do the shopping. And I thought we were trying to cut down on the number of vehicles on the road! Also, if the extra electricity needed to power electric cars isn’t generated from renewable energy, then CO2 emissions will go up, not down.

Oh well, I love my VW anyway.