The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.


I’m now in South Greenland, visiting Norse Ruins. I made it out to Eric’s Farm!

For me, part of the allure of the Greenland Norse Ruins is the idea of the “lost colony”.  Eric the Red arrived in 985 and the Norse prospered in Greenland for four centuries, establishing over 200 hundred farms, 7 churches, even a tiny cathedral. Then decline set in and contact slowly faded out. When Denmark tried to re-establish contact in the 1700s, they found only abandoned ruins. What happened? Where did they go? There are plenty of theories, but no-one really knows.

Today I was at the village of Qassiarsuk visiting Eric the Red’s farm of Brattahlíð. It’s a nice piece of green farmland, probably the best in all Greenland. This is where Leif Erikson grew up and there is now an idealized statue of Leif on a hill, staring South-West towards Vinland. The farm site has scattered ruins from the 10th c and also the foundations of a later Norse church.

A discreet distance away is the site of the first tiny church in Greenland, Thjodhild’s church, which (according to the Sagas)  Eric very reluctantly allowed his wife Thjodhild to build, on the condition that he didn’t have to see the stoopid thing from his farm, gods damnit!

Earlier this week I took a boat out to the Hvalsey Church. This is from around 1300 and is by far the best preserved Norse ruin in Greenland. It’s small, but strongly built. I was the only visitor.  I also made a visit to the scattered ruins of the little 12 c. Garðar Cathedral, at Igaliku. Yes, there was an actual Catholic Bishopric here in Norse times!


Hvalsey Church

Garðar Cathedral

Footnote: Some historians argue that Eric’s farm might have been at a slightly different location further down Eric’s Fjord.  Naturally the citizens of Qassiarsuk indignantly reject this ridiculous idea.  After all, they have an actual statue of Leif Erikson!  Fortunately for them, the scholarly consensus, supported by recent archaeological work, still strongly favors Qassiarsuk.

Suriname: Frogs & Toads


Dyeing Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius)

I survived my expedition into the Surinamese Rain Forest, at the Kabalebo Nature Resort.

The best wildlife was definitely the frogs and toads.  I saw several species of tiny poisonous frogs.  How poisonous? “Why, the very touch is death, sir!”  Well maybe not quite.  My guide was willing to handle some of them, although he did wash his hands carefully afterwards, and I had one sitting on my hand for a bit.


Hoogmoed Harlequin Toad (Atelopus hoogmoedi)

Three-Striped Poison Frog (Ameerega trivittata)

I didn’t see very many larger animals.  I did see some combative otters, a blurry glimpse of something my guide assured me was a Capyabara, and glimpses of a Very Giant Anaconda resting in undergrowth on the river bank.  The Very Giant Anaconda was very thick and my guide reckoned it was upwards of 5 meters long and should not be messed with.

Guyana: Kaieteur falls

I’m in Georgetown, Guyana.  I took a Cessna tour out to Kaieteur Falls yesterday.  The falls have a spectacular 226 meters (741 ft) straight drop, with high flow.  We’re heading into the dry season, so the falls are currently at about 40% flow, but they are still seriously impressive.  I also had a short nature walk in the Cloud Forest as part of the tour, which was fun.

The shot above is from the Cessna.  The ground shot (to the right) would be better if I had gone closer to the edge, but the rocks were slippery and I was timid!

I had originally planned to be in Dominica this week, but the Dominica daily Covid-19 numbers were spiking high, while the Guyana numbers were relatively low, so I made a last minute change.

Trinidad: Hanuman Temple

Trinidad is notably multicultural, with a mix of Carib, African, European and Indian influences.   There are  a number of Hindu temples, of which the most striking is the Hanuman Temple, in Carapichaima, about 14 miles SE of Port of Spain.

The temple boasts an imposing 85 foot tall statue of Lord Hanuman.  It is well-executed and extremely striking!  I made a small offering and asked for the god’s guidance and blessings.

New Mexico: Alien Egg Hatchery

New Mexico’s Bisti/De-Na-Zin is a confusing trackless wilderness, but in these days of GPS and downloadable maps, that’s not a big issue.

I saw lots of hoodoos, some petrified wood, many weird rocks.  But the main thing I was looking for was the “Cracked Eggs” aka the “Alien Egg Hatchery“.  This is an area with dozens of odd oval rocks, looking like weird alien eggs, some of which have hatched.  It’s quite cool.

I would like to have brought back an egg and tried to hatch it, but I think the park service would disapprove.

This was my first visit to the Hagia Sophia since it was converted from a  Museum back back into a Mosque in July 2020. It turns out the conversion wasn’t merely some kind of symbolic gesture, but a full conversion to a normal working mosque. (But tourists, both Muslim and others, are still very welcome.)

Like any other mosque, you take your shoes off before entering the now carpeted interior. Both men and women are allowed on the main floor, but the side areas are reserved for women.

One piece of good news is that the restoration scaffolding which had cluttered up the interior for decades is finally gone.  So it’s possible to fully appreciate the vast, uncluttered, interior space under the great dome.  It must have been truly awe inspiring to walk into this immense space in the 6th century, when it was both the greatest Church in Christendom and the largest enclosed space in the world.

The main church axis is slightly misaligned with the direction to Mecca, by roughly 15 degrees. As a result, in the Ottoman era the mihrab was placed off-center in the apse and as part of the new conversion the carpet design contains discreet alignment lines to help the faithful point themselves correctly. (At the moment there are also temporary stickers to mark out social distancing during prayer.)

Fortunately, the Omphalion, the coronation spot of the Emperors, has been left uncarpeted and is protected by guard ropes. So innocent tourists don’t have to worry about accidentally standing on it and committing High Treason. (Although it’s a while since anyone has actually been executed for this. Not even richly deserving small children.)
The Mary and Child mosaic over the apse seems to have been problematic. So, perhaps to avoid any impression that the faithful are praying “to” it, it has been carefully obscured with drapes. You can still see all of it if you move from side to side, but apparently it is sufficiently masked to satisfy religious sensibilities.  (Other religious mosaics on the ground floor have been left undisturbed.)

Right now the upper galleries, which contain some fine mosaics, are closed off for restoration. I hope they reopen soon.