Saturday, December 19, 2009

Itinerary for Europe in the Spring

On April 13, 2010, we fly from San Francisco, via Boston, then direct to Sao Miguel Island in the Azores, to continue exploring the "water line" along the 38th parallel. From the Azores, we will fly to Lisbon, Portugal on April 16, then drive south to reconnect with the latitude line at Sines. Several RAMSAR sites-- wetlands of international significance--are along that stretch of Atlantic coastline. Moving eastward across the Alentejo province will bring us to the Guadiana River, where a massive dam forms the largest reservoir in Europe, the Barragem do Alqueva. The nearby town of Moura is also host to the biggest photovoltaic solar generating plant in the world.

Exiting Portugal, we will enter Spain's Extremadura province, the home of several of the conquistadors who found familiar conditions in the dry harshness of the New World's desert lands. For example, Jerez de los Caballeros, in Badajoz, was the birthplace of Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Hernando de Soto. Our route intersects with Cordoba, Andalucia, and the Guadalquivir River, and then passes through the southeastern province of Murcia. Spain's recent approach to water supply issues has them planning 21 desalination plants; the one now being constructed in Torrevieja will be Europe's largest. We hope to see how well Spain is meeting its professed goal of using renewable energy to meet the large energy demands of these desal plants.

Reaching Sicily from Spain may involve round-about flights through Barcelona and Rome. If we find ourselves in Barcelona, the Maritime Museum and Aquarium there offer opportunities to learn more about the Mediterranean Sea. Alternatively, we may ride a ferry to Spain's Balearic islands of Ibiza and Formentera. By April 28, we expect to be in Sicily. The 38th parallel line runs along the north coast, from Palermo to Messina. Sicily has serious water supply issues to investigate, but another goal is to help out with the annual survey of migrating raptors at the Strait of Messina, where birds moving between Africa and Europe make their landfall on the southern tip of Italy.

Leaving Italy, we will travel by ferry to Greece on May 2. Zakynthos, west of the Peloponnesian coast, is one of a handful of Mediterranean islands where beaches serve as nesting sites for endangered loggerhead turtles. We will arrive a few weeks too early for the breeding season, but hope to meet with the local Archelon Sea Turtle Protection Society representatives to learn about their challenges and efforts where human activity on the beaches is the biggest threat to the nesting turtles. There are more RAMSAR wetlands on the west coast of Peloponnesia, south of Patra. And north of the Gulf of Patra is Greece's largest lake, Trichonis, being considered for inclusion in the Living Lakes network (Mono Lake is included). Reaching Athens, we will explore the history of water supply for that metropolis from the reservoir at Marathon (26 miles north, of course), and then cross over to the island of Evia. There, at Lake Dystos, local farmers once tried to fill in the lake to create more farmland, but it today remains an important wetland area for birds and yet another RAMSAR site.

Our route takes us by ferry across the Aegean Sea to the island of Samos, where, in the 6th century BC, a tunnel through a mountain was bored to carry water from the west side to the drier east side of the island--an amazing engineering feat in that ancient time.

On to Turkey, where the ancient city of Ephesus is on our latitude-line route. Cappadocia and salt lakes await us in the center of the country, and then the Anatolia region, and the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Turkey has built dozens of large dams there. The Ilisu dam, on the Tigris, is now under construction, but is very controversial, as villages and the town of Hasankeyf will be flooded, displacing tens of thousands of residents and covering archaeological sites that include some of the earliest known human settlements. Turkey's dams on these rivers have also heightened tensions downstream, where Syria and Iraq worry about how much water will still enter those countries. We will, finally, visit the large, saline Lake Van in eastern Turkey to finish this leg of our around-the-world travels.

We expect to be back in California about May 21, then will organize our travels in Asia, which will happen in September and October, 2010.