A.J. Walker


El Chichon: The Photos

Was reminiscing about an epic trip to El Chichon in Chiapas back in 1996. I've previously written a travelogue about it: click here. But on reflection whilst talking through the whole thing it became clear that it really warranted some photos to go with it. So, here they are. Titles to follow.

The arriving team of intrepid vulcanologists.

A gentle start towards El Chichon luring us into a false sense of security.

And then the climbs into and out of the ash valleys (which is why need a guide, lest you get trapped up a dead end).

Some of the ash valleys are pretty deep.

A few are wider.

The guide's wee brother acting as a decent scale (well, he would be if I knew how tall he was (not very)).

The hill becomes more climbable as you get closer to the top. You can at least see where you're going (or where you've been).

Kev and me celebrating getting to the top of the volcano (very hot work).

Me spoiling a view of the caldera.

Our lovely guides.

Mark before he descended into the volcano.

The beautiful alkaline lake in the caldera.

Can you spot Kev coming down into the volcano?

By the lake. Looked a nice place tp go paddling but thought better of it.

Sitting down to soak our feet and manage some blisters on our return down the volcano.


Last week I ran a vote for the subject of my next memoir piece where I pitted some of my experiences in the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation versus music festivals and the winner was... 'Glastonburys.' Who needs world travel when you can just pop down to Somerset? Huzzah!

Glasto Vote

Well, I say huzzah! But it's going to be a tough one to write and keep in decent bounds - I've kind of kept the maximum word count at around 2000. Keeping to that with the bands and experiences I've had there will be a test. First thing is to decide what to focus on, because it can't be the music per se, for where would you stop? It's got to be the experiences. My first one was a lovely bewildering episode, the next few were different with the bigger group of people and the last one - when I won two tickets and took a mate - was lovely. However I end up writing it I hope to get it written and up on the site in the next ten days. It's going to be a fun journey.

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In the meantime why not read one of my older pieces, like the Raul vs the Volcano: the El Chichon episode.

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Back at the Dodge1


The Seagull

Today's #VSS365 was #Control so I wrote a wee bit of non-fiction for it referring to this amazing bit of space memorabilia I saw in Karaganda, Kazakhstan:

Back in the early 2000s I did some work on a project in Kazakhstan. It was the cold time of year. They only really have summer and winter on the steppe there. An autumn wardrobe or a spring catalogue would be the biggest of wastes there. Day time temperatures were circa -40C. But to be fair once it's below -20C anything lower doesn't really make much of a difference. If you're out in it and the wind can get to your skin then it feels like razor blades. Moral of the story. Stay in and out of the wind as much as possible.

Anyways, at one point I was in a city called Karaganda in the middle of Kazakhstan. It's an old coal mining area. In fact the original centre of the city has been destroyed following the collapse of the shallow workings there - it really is a bizarre sight. The hotel I was staying in was a grand affair. But no one goes to Karaganda and the only people there were us from the project.

You couldn't make some of this shit up, so I won't. There were about seven different salads on the menu. All consisted of tomato and cucumber and it seemed that the seven salads involved slicing the two ingredients in different creative ways. On the first night we were asked what drinks we would like with our meal. We all chose beer. The two waiters and then a third person came into the corner as they had a conflab. They came back. 'How many beers will you be wanting during and after the meal?' I think we settled around five or so. 'Okay, can you pay up front for that?' Yep, they had no beer and no money to buy any. Some poor bastard had to go out in the freezing night to get us beer (baring in mind it was -40 day time, it probably was at night too).

When the beer came it was warm. Couldn't chuffing believe it. They said the fridge in the hotel wasn't working very well (which was a worry for any meat based products but was of more concern re the beer). One guy pointed out that maybe they could just fill a couple of buckets with snow and that would do the job. They did, it did.

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Karaganda is in the area of Kazakhstan of the Soviet space base, where the rockets have been sending up satellites and spacemen since the 1950s. And not just men but space women too. The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova who in June 1963 went up from here in Vostok 6 for 71 hours and circled the earth 48 times. The Soviets call sign for her on the flight was Seagull (Chaika) and that was what our hotel was called.

Karaganda 1

What was amazing when I asked about the name at reception was that the space pod that she returned to earth in was in the garden of the hotel. I eventually went to look for myself and ... yep, there it was decaying away. It was tiny from the outside, but when you looked in my god, it was hard to believe any person actually fitted inside it yet alone encircled the earth in the thing. There also appeared to be four Bakelite controls on it. All very Steampunk.

And below the whole thing was a pile of asbestos which was dripping from it. I really hope that by now it has been brought into a museum and/or restored and protected. Here's to the amazing seagull anyway, I'll drink a warm beer to her.


Am Writing/Am I Writing

This morning I managed to scramble out a swift 1450 words to add to the Memoirs piece I had started on Turkmenistan. So 1450 words is good right after a week with barely a jot in the Bullet Journal (yes that is still going)? To be fair it's now a 2300 piece and I'm not at all sure it will hold up that well as it's been written in two ad hoc moments from various smashed jar fragments.

I've printed it off now and will give it a proper read and see about editing it - so don't be surprised if you see another blog saying Turkmenistan memoir finished. It'll be deja vu all over again. Maybe get it down to 2000, then again if it deserves more then really it is more about structure and telling a story. Last week I finished reading a book about writing fast. The key take-home from that was planning the pieces you write. Er the exact opposite of what I've done with this one. Ho hum. You live, you learn, you forget (or ignore).

For the next bit of writing (fiction) I have started planning. We'll see how that goes shortly.

Have to decide too - once I'm happy with the Turkmen story - what Memoir piece to write next. I'm thinking maybe a Russian one given the World Cup coming up there next week.

Expect colourful (okay maybe black and white) views of Moscow, Perm, Vogograd and er... Yefremov.

Zen & The Art Of Typewriter Maintenance

It's hard to believe for any youngsters (and not so youngsters) out there but back when I was at Uni we didn't have many of these computer things (or access to them) and I actually typed my dissertation out on an old typewriter with laborious two finger typing. Some students paid typists to type out their dissertation for them, but I wasn't flush. This means I've not got it to hand other than in hard copy including faded letters where not I've not pressed down hard enough or doubly dark from retyping (not to mention the white flakes of liquid paper/correction fluid). The dissertation even included hand drawn figures.

I'm a faster typer now and these days when I mistype there is not the issue of type-bars sticking and with the magic of computing the letters reorganise themselves into words instead of becoming botched smudges with dots of red from a sticky ribbon.


There was something quite enjoyable about typing on a typewriter though. Can't put my finger on it. Maybe you feel closer to it, having to be in the zone with the ribbon and the type bars, making sure that the type pressure was even and making sure each letter was right. The play of the keyboard and the noise and the return at the end of each line was all part of it. Perhaps typing on a typewriter as opposed to a computer is equivalent to the difference between driving and riding a motorbike. I should reread the first chapter or two of 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. I reckon there must be an equivalent 'Zen & the Art of Typewriter Maintenance' out there.

Contemplating retyping the dissertation onto my computer. Perhaps I'll put it on my website (maybe under the Memoirs pages). Retyping it would make me revisit what I wrote back in the 1980s and discover the things I knew back then about the subject and have long forgotten. Haven't said what it was, have I? Well it was an unusual one and not a subject I've seen much about since (or indeed ever);

'The Origin of the Carbonatite Magma'

Now you know that, I bet you can't wait for it.

Ol Doinyo Lengai
Ol Doinyo Lengai

Carbonatite is a very rare igneous rock and the only currently active volcano with a carbonatite magma is Ol Doinyo Lengai in the African Rift Valley. But hey, if I get around to typing the dissertation up you'll soon know that.

Turkmenistan Photos

Can't believe it is three weeks since I held an online Twitter vote on what Memoirs piece to write next; which is another way of saying er I haven't done it yet. Let's just say one thing and another has got in its way (and I also may have forgotten about it). Anyway the winner was 'Turkmenistan' and I have now started it. Hope to get it finished and up today. In the meantime here are a few shots I took in the country.

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A Government building and the Russian Market in Ashgabat and a bread seller near Guardak, north east Turkmenistan.

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A seed seller and me playing Russian billiards.
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One of the remains at Merv (Mary) on the Silk Road and me near the Afghan border.
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Salt at the Gulf of Karabogaz and a ubiquitous statue of 'Turkmenbashy'.
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An evening of vodka, beer and bbq in Krasnovodsk (Turkmenbashi) by the Caspian and a massive though apparently 'cursed' mosque in Ashgabat.

Camels running near Merv and motorbikes with modified side-cars.
The pontoon bridge over the Amu Darya (aka the Oxus), near Turkmenabat in north east Turkmenistan and a Government building in Ashgabat.

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The 'Arch of Neutrality' or Tower of Power in Ashgabat (complete with rotating gold statue of the first hero of the Turkmen state).


Bario and the Kelabit Highlands

To go with the recently uploaded memoir piece on my trip to Bario in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo (click here to read) are some photos taken there.

View from the Jungle Blue Dreams

The 'road' to the Salt Spring

A dragonfly (or somesuch)

Rice drying by the Longhouse

Thanks to the JBD

The Longhouse

A Pitcher Plant near the road to the salt spring

Low hills around the town

Water Buffalo taking an interest

Bishop's Castle Real Ale Trail

Yeah! Off to Bishop's Castle in a couple of hours for their annual real ale festival. I'm not sure how many times I've been now, but guess this will be my eighth or ninth time. It's my fourth time camping there too so I get to enjoy a relaxed Friday as well as the Saturday. Always enjoy a cool pint in the Three Tuns before the most of the evening in the Vaults for their music (and last year... mucho Jaipur!)


It's usually sunny or at least dry and it's lovely that all (or nearly all) the pubs in the village get involved. Live music, great food options, interesting people, pretty village and lots and lots of real ale choices. What's not to like?

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Some good stories from previous trips, usually painless. The most eventful year involved the hottest day for years several years ago and walking back to our campsite through a
midnight car rally stage - scary! Perhaps that story will make it into one of my Memoirs pieces... I'm over due a new one.

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Even managed to get some writing in first with a quick Microcosms this morning... now where's my tent?


Hot Stuff at El Chichon

Following my first memoir piece last weekend I've gone by to my photos. Unfortunately they were print in an album. Damn that lack of digital copies. Still a quick photo of the photo and they give a flavour to go with the story. God I looked young and hot (in a temperature kind of way).


Walking up one of the ash gullies.


Looking back down the early slopes of El Chichon and all the gullies.


Climbing into our gully. Gotta go down to go up.


Our minor Guide as a scale to the volcanic deposits.


Looking hot and awkward at the top of El Chichon.


Our sweet Guides and me at the top.


The acid lake in the crater.


At the crater lake of El Chichon.


Cooling down in the red stream at the base of El Chichon.


Back at the Dodge. Gatorade and water. Water!!!!!!

The story of the epic trip up, down in and out of
El Chichon is here.


A Globe Trip

London: The Globe Trip

Only had one night there but had a cracking quick trip to London. Had the £10 Virgin tickets to London. The hotel up near Arsenal wasn't up to much but everything else went swimmingly!

The trip started well. A full English in the Shiraz in Liverpool then off to Platform 8 for the Virgin train to London. Ended up sat next to a woman on her way to Zambia for a trip with students from the University of Central Lancashire. Had a nice chin wag about traveling and reading. She was reading Lord of the Rings in paperback.

A guy who got on at Stafford overheard us talking and joined the conversation. Turned out he had some books with him. That he'd written. Cool! And who was he? Leaf Fielding. Okay, I hadn't heard of him either. But that's what Google is for. Flip! Think I'll have to buy that first book now.

I'd booked my ticket for Nell Gwynn at the Globe the previous night and went for the standing option. Glad I did. Standing was fine (no different to going to a gig (including have the issue of tall people in front of you). The play was brilliant laugh out loud fun. It was designed for the Globe originally and it worked fantastically. Didn't know the lead, but she was excellent. A few of the actors I recognised from the telly.


Talking of which I sat next to Mark Rylance in the Swan Bar before the show (yep, Wolf Hall and all). Rubbing shoulders!

On Tuesday it was a quick walk around the Emirates stadium, home of Arsenal. A bit antiseptic as a new build stadium, but worth seeing as it was round the corner from the hotel. Then on for an hour walk around the never to be missed British Museum, before heading to a few pubs... including the oldest surviving pub in London the George Inn (near the Globe actually) and then up to Pimilico for Cask, and to Euston for the Bree Louise and the Euston Tap.


A great trip.

Uploaded some pics onto
Flickr. First time I've Flickred for ages.



Projects 1 and 2 have currently stalled but I think 2 will be starting up properly shortly - watch this space. In the meantime I've decided what Project 4 is (as you can tell the numbering is purely for recording purposes and nothing at all to do with the order the works are to be started or completed).

Those of you in observant mode may have spotted another area of the site for
The Memoirs Pages. Yep, Project 4 is to be memoirs. I've not tried it before. The closest being some travel blogs I have done whilst in country. Writing stories from memory will be a different kettle of wossisname though.

Looking forward to giving it a go. You'll have to tell me what you think. Well, clearly you don't have to. That would be bizarre.