Nature’s simmering anger

The famous arch at Cabo

There had been reports in Cabo San Lucas, on the Western peninsula of Mexico, that a hurricane known as ‘Odile’ was approaching. On a Sunday morning, having had three days of beautiful weather and relaxation, we awoke to an unusual sight from the balcony window – there was no ‘loose’ item in view. Every sunlounger, table and umbrella had been taken away. The storm was coming, at this time category 3, and strong winds were expected.

However, given recent reports that the hurricane would pass by at a distance, the effect anticipated was one of inconvenience and light damage. The sky looked cloudy, but not unusually so (to a British man…) and the sea, whilst whipped into a foam of waves and surge, was not threatening to breach further inland. The morning passed without incident.

It was around 1pm, sat in the garden area of the local spa, that the World began to change. One drop of rain was followed by three, and then without a seconds warning a tumult of water began to pour from an instantly blackened sky. The wind, previously no more than a breeze, rapidly gained tempo and within seconds chaos ensued. Such was the power of the storm that the rain was not actually able to hit the ground, but rather was whipped vertically back up into the air by the wind, thrown horizontally and swirled like a vortex. Within two minutes of the rain and the wind, all power went down and we were plunged into an unseasonal darkness. It was time to flee.

Taking shelter in a large auditorium only provided temporary reprieve – the ceiling began to collapse piece by piece as the winds began to reach their 135mph, now category 4, speed. Water began to pour with a disconcerting consistency through the now exposed holes in the roof, and with that we fled down into the staff kitchens below the resort. It was here that, with the howling sounds of destruction all around us, we waited out the storm, water dripping through the floors of the rooms above into the underground staff complex below. People were panicked, people were scared, and perhaps most terrifyingly people had no control over what was happening anymore.

Emerging 24 hours later was akin to the opening scenes of the movie ‘28 Days Later’ – an eerie stillness and quiet belied the sight of roof tiles strewn across the ground, uprooted trees, broken windows and scattered possessions. The Sea of Cortez, well known for its clarity by scuba divers, was entirely brown to the horizon. There was no power, no communications, no roads to transport supplies or messages. After five days of sitting and waiting, the Mexican military began to evacuate individuals to anywhere they could possibly find them space, looting and rioting inevitably following the storm with food and water in short supply. Fires burned in previously populated areas. Life will return to normal in Cabo, but not for many months, possibly years.

Travellers see many incredible sights, and often find themselves awestruck at what nature has crafted. Let us not forget, however, that nature’s palate often includes the deep red colour of raw power and destruction, and She is still perfectly capable of using it.

The destriction wrought by Odile

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Captivated by Lake Louise, Canada

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It was, in the truest sense of the word, awesome. A mottled, deep brown mass of instinctive apex predator. It wasn’t the sight I had expected in the lead up to the reputedly pristine beauty of Lake Louise but here, within 10 metres of us, stalked a grizzly bear. His shaggy fur and familiar face, combined with his slow lumber and apparent disregard for the world around him almost lulled me in to a false sense of security – despite its massive size and incredible power, the grizzly somehow was more inspirational than fearful. Or perhaps that was just the effect that hiking and camping across the Canadian rockies has on a traveller – an inspiring sense of awe in everything.

His massive, clawed paws padded laboriously along the roadside, lazily stopping every now and again to pick at a bunch of wildflowers, his food of choice it would appear. And then he was gone, trudging into the thicket, his dark brown body soon disappearing into the deep, leafy shade. The few 4x4s that were passing just at the right two minutes began to dissipate, and we ourselves pressed on towards the lake, and climb, ahead.

It is truly, truly impossible to describe the sheer beauty of lake Louise. It sits, sapphire blue, in the midst of a perfect valley. It’s backdrop is a range of snow-covered mountains rising out of lush, green forests. Flawlessly mountains towering overhead are mirrored perfectly in the glassy surface of the water, the odd canoe bobs restfully on its banks, content to sit unused amidst such wonders. The water, whilst inviting, is ice cold, a reflection of the frozen peaks standing along the banks. An eagle calls it’s appreciation as it takes flight nearby, as though it appreciates the privilege. Following its flight with my wide eyes, it soars past a peak which juts out before the rest, a ledge which would, if climbed, offer a perfect vista. Our guide informs us we can reach it.

The entire route was little more than seven kilometres, rising to about 2,300 metres above sea level. It led past “Mirror Lake”, and the equally beautiful Lake Agnes, before the steepest climb began to reach the viewpoint, known as the ‘Big Beehive’. The route to mirror lake was easily managed, the reward being far too generous for the effort required to get there, with the now much nearer mountains mirrored exactly in the small, pristine lake. Lake Agnes held it’s own charms, sitting in a natural ‘bowl’ in the curvature of the mountains, with a river cascading away down a drop off and flowing freely into the forests below. Half melted ice dotted the surface, giving the lake the appearance of frosted glass, an effect that was accentuated as we began the now punishingly steep climb up along the side of the mountain face lining Lake Agnes. Soon all we could see was rock, and ice.

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Then, spectacularly revealed to us as we rounded the final bend, the entire world opened up in before us. The horizon curved, the clouds within reach. Below, the vast oblong of Lake Louise stood in all her azure beauty, all the detail visible closer up replaced by one strikingly bold, utterly natural blue. Endless forest tore away from her into the distance, only stopping at the Rockies many miles away. Nature was putting on a spectacular display, unlike any image any artist or photographer could caputure. The purity of the air, the vastness of the landscape and the sheerness of the drop below was invigorating. We sat, marvelling, hanging our legs over the edge of the cliff, in silence. There was nothing to say. Lake Louise had cast her spell over more hapless visitors, and had nestled her way into their hearts forever. Words cannot describe her. Beautiful.

The endless ocean – Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

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The sky was an unbelievable blue. It was both warm and cold, there was little wind. Overhead, the sun was utterly spectacular. An other-wordly halo of light ringed around the yellow star like an infinite rainbow, a sight that defied any and all logic, both magical and incomprehensible. The ground crunched underfoot, everything was so dry. There was a sense of something unusual in the air. The ruins of abandoned, rusted trains stood all around us, not another sight for miles. It was … enigmatic.

In the altiplano of Bolivia, pressing up against Chile in the southwest and Argentina in the south, lay the Salar de Uyuni. Three and a half thousand metres above sea level, spanning four thousand square miles, at no point varying in altitude by more than a metre, vast and empty, solitary, cold – here the great salt flats of Bolivia, the world’s largest, kiss the endless horizon in all directions. We stood on the brink of a harsh and seemingly lifeless world, white like a blank canvass, as though God had forgotten to create in this land, and we were unsure of what to expect. Stepping into the awaiting 4×4, sunglasses on to avoid being blinded, we began to move out.

As snow-capped mountains became vaguely discernable on the horizon, the South American Andes in miniature, we pulled up aside a crop of towering cacti, some over a thousand years old, which stood atop a large mound of salt and got out to gather our bearings. Clambering to the top, along the perfectly hexagonal cracks running across the metres-thick crust of salt underfoot, a brief gust of wind dared to disrupt the pervasive stillness and ruffled the spines of the cacti which groaned unappreciatively. We looked out over a vast expanse of crystal whiteness, the occasional dirty line created by a vehicle ruining the otherwise perfect uniformity of the colour, the odd mound of salt laying unattending, harvested from the salar, ready to be transported. A pure, endless white surrounded us, small specks on the land, all around an absolute silence, no birds in the air, no background noise, nothing at all. We stood in the graveyard of ancient lakes without any sense of perspective, or reference. It was discomforting. It was stunning. We pressed on.

Only a short drive onwards, the world suddenly exploded into unbelievable colour. The salar was not a lifeless, empty desert as the previous day had suggested. Before us stood a lake, a lake unlike any other I had ever seen, a lake which was crowded with life. We stood agast as hundreds upon hundreds of bright pink flamingos waded through the water, gaggling amongst themselves, utterly inconceivable. As we looked harder, an almost more startling realisation dawned upon us – not only was it the flamingos that were creating the striking colour, but the water itself was an intense, bright red. This was the laguna colorado, stained bloodred by algae in the water. Having seen nothing but white upon white for the last 24 hours, to suddenly see the world coloured such a vivid red was almost unsettling, but truly awe-inspiring, an experience truly unique to the Bolivian salar, quite incomprehensibly remarkable. The world had never been harder to believe.

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