Apr 13, 2012 in Chile
After four nights of this shift, one had been completely lost and three partially lost to bad weather. The fifth was my first night as a trained night astronomer. Crunch time. Would I mess it up? Would I break the telescope? Fortunately it turned out I wouldn’t, because the night was also completely lost, with thick clouds and high humidity ruining any chance of doing any astronomy. I was slightly relieved. I went out on to the telescope platform a few times. Lightning was flickering some way inland, but I assumed the storm would not come out our way. Since I moved to Chile in September 2011, I had hardly seen any rain at all. There was an evening of drizzle in October, and I felt a few spots, literally no more than 10 or so, in January. Otherwise, nothing, and my English soul was in need of watering. But up here in the Atacama, I didn’t think it was going to get any. So when I went out on to the platform again at 5am and actually felt spots of rain, I didn’t really believe it was rain. I just thought it was extreme humidity. We gave up a [...]
Nov 27, 2011 in Chile
As I checked out of my hostel, they asked me if I was on my way to Bolivia. I wished I was. Sadly my direction now was south, and I caught the bus to Calama instead of heading up into the Altiplano. San Pedro is among some of the most incredible scenery in the Atacama. On my first journey here from Calama six years ago, I was blown away by the outrageous desert, and since then I had travelled this road another five times. Today it was my seventh trip along the road, and it seemed even wilder and even more incredible than before. I had the seat at the front of the bus, and I spent the whole hour and a half just staring out and enjoying the expansive views of the driest place on Earth.
Nov 26, 2011 in Chile
We headed back down from Chajnantor, exhausted by the altitude but impressed by the place. We stopped at the base camp and were shown around the antenna constructions, but I was not really concentrating very much – I had a slight headache that might have been altitude-related, or might have been because I hadn’t had any coffee for almost seven hours. So I followed the group around the facilities but didn’t really take any of it in. The next day a group of us went on a trip to see some of the salt lakes in the desert near San Pedro. We headed to Laguna Chaxa, where flamingoes paddled in the shallow waters. The scenery was breathtaking, with the salt plains, lakes, volcanoes and deep blue sky all looking otherworldly. I’d crossed the Salar de Uyuni six years ago, and it was flat, white and it tasted of salt. The Salar de Atacama was different – rumpled and dirty grey and apparently containing all sorts of things like arsenic and lithium. I didn’t try tasting it.
Nov 25, 2011 in Chile
Near to ALMA is APEX, a single dish radio telescope built as a precursor to the main array, to establish that the site was excellent and to test the technology to be used. We drove over to APEX, and I felt a little more clear-headed. Here, we were slightly higher than ALMA and had amazing views over the plateau. Near to APEX, the last of the winter snows were melting away. In places like this, snow melts in strange ways, turning into strange formations called penitentes, serrated peaks and valleys waving across the red desert landscape. We walked among the penitentes, which were about half as high as we were. The vandalistic among us tried pushing them over; some fell very easily, others were on more solid foundations.
Nov 25, 2011 in Chile
ALMA is the cutting edge of astronomy. Currently being built on the breathless heights of the Llano de Chajnantor, 5100m above sea level in the Atacama, it will consist of 66 12-metre radio telescopes all operating together to perceive detail smaller and fainter than has ever been possible before. I was hoping that at some point during my time in Chile, I’d get a chance to visit the observatory. The chance came much sooner than expected – a trip was arranged as part of a meeting in Chile of all the fellows from ESO’s headquarters in both Germany and here. We all travelled up to the north, spending a night in San Pedro de Atacama before heading up to Chajnantor the next day. It was my third visit to San Pedro. It was strange to be back again, six years after I first arrived there half way through my epic journey around South America. The small dusty town has changed quite a lot since then, with power 24 hours, and cash machines that work. In 2005 I’d had to borrow money to get a bus to Calama to get money out. On the day of the visit, we drove from [...]
Nov 02, 2011 in Chile
Apparently when the first site tests were being carried out at Paranal, almost thirty years ago, the dryness was so extreme that it was sometimes thought that the instrument measuring the humidity was stuck on zero. As soon as you arrive there you feel like the moisture is being sucked out of you and into the endless desert. The desert is almost completely barren; red rocky terrain as far as you can see with no hint of green anywhere. It’s not a place where human being should live. But it’s amazing for astronomy. The sky is almost always clear, the atmosphere is very stable, and it’s a better place to observe the night sky than almost anywhere else on Earth.
Nov 01, 2011 in Chile
Part of my job here in Chile is to assist in the running of the world’s premier visible light observatory, the Very Large Telescope. A couple of days ago I made my first journey here from Santiago, flying up to Antofagasta and getting a bus from there up into the savagely dry Atacama desert, to the observatory at Cerro Paranal. What a place Paranal is. I’ve been to several observatories but none have been anything like this. The residencia is an awesome piece of architecture, the scale of the operation is immense, the level of activity is impressive, and the unbelievably harsh desert is terrifyingly beautiful. I will be coming here about once a month for the next three years so perhaps I will get bored of it. But on this first visit, I’m feeling impressed.
Jan 06, 2010 in Chile and Peru 2009
I headed to the airport at 5.30am. Only when I got there did I realise that my flight was not non-stop but would actually involve three legs, touching down in Iquique and Copiapó. I knew that between Copiapó and Santiago we’d fly over La Silla, and I wanted to look out for it. We flew over central Iquique, and I looked down nostalgically at the places I’d been a few days earlier. Then it was mostly cloudy from Iquique to Copiapó as the morning fog rolled in off the Pacific. I started dozing just after we left Copiapó, and soon fell fast asleep. Suddenly I woke, infuriated with myself because I was sure we must have passed La Silla. I looked out of the window over the incredible expanse of the Atacama, and right below me, as clear as anything, were the domes of the observatory. It was good to see them again.
Jan 05, 2010 in Chile and Peru 2009
I went on a day trip to Parque Nacional Lauca. The journey would take me from sea level to 4,500m in just a few hours, which was certainly going to be a major mistake, more or less guaranteed to give me altitude sickness. But I wanted to see the Altiplano wilderness and this was my only way of getting to the park. So at 7am I got on the bus and we headed inland. We stopped at some places en route. The first was Poconchile, a small town not far from Arica. The cemetery there is famous for its decorated grave markings, and we stopped for a look. It reminded me a lot of the Arctic cemeteries I’d seen in Greenland a few months earlier. In both places, the graves surrounded by savage lands made the place feel like it was on the very limits of where human beings could thrive.
Dec 28, 2009 in Chile and Peru 2009
I headed back to San Pedro. The scenery here was really mind-blowing, with the horizon fringed by giant volcanoes and in the foreground, the wild rock formations of the Valle de la Luna. Sometimes these volcanoes erupt; Lascar had erupted only a few years earlier, and Putana was smoking. I hoped that one day I’d be able to come here and see an eruption. In the evening I cycled out to the Valle de la Muerte, much closer to San Pedro than the Valle de la Luna. I stood on a hilltop looking out over the surroundings, as a strong evening wind blew down the valley. Night fell, and I cycled back into town. It had been a tiring day, and in normal circumstances I might have slept late the next morning. But I had to be up at 3.30am, because I would be returning to El Tatio.
Dec 28, 2009 in Chile and Peru 2009
I’d been to San Pedro before. It’s nice enough despite being amazingly touristy. All backpackers in Chile come here at some point on their journeys, and I was no different. I wanted to see some of the desert sights here again before pushing on further north. I’d cycled in the desert last time, and I decided to do the same again now. I don’t really like riding bikes that aren’t mine, but the flat-pedalled, slightly too small machine that I hired would suffice for a few tens of miles anyway. I headed out into the desert. I cycled to the Valle de la Luna. Most people come here at sunset; I arrived in the powerful heat of midday. The advantage was that I had the place entirely to myself; the disadvantage was sunburn so bad that it was visible for weeks. But that would only affect me later. On the day, I enjoyed it. I walked down some canyons, up some rock formations, and over some sand dunes. I spent a while in the silent desert setting up my camera to take photos of me cycling by. And eventually I reached Las Tres Marias, a strange rock formation quite a [...]
Dec 26, 2009 in Chile and Peru 2009
I was heading for San Pedro de Atacama. I had a few hours to kill before the bus left, and I didn’t feel too keen to spend them in La Serena. I wanted to go to Vicuña, a village nearby, but the buses there didn’t seem to follow any timetable. I decided that if one came in the next 15 minutes, I’d go. 10 minutes later, one came into the station, so I got on and headed out. An hour later I was in peaceful Vicuña, where the pace of life seemed very slow. It was a hot, hot day. I sat in the main square for a little while, watching things happen. A small child drove by in a powerful-looking kart – it must have been a great Christmas for him. It was heading towards midday, and the sun was beating down fiercely. I foolishly decided I fancied a walk up into the hills, bought myself an ice cream and some water, and headed out of town on a path leading to a viewpoint. It was thirsty work, but it didn’t take me very long to get up to a nice viewpoint. I could see here that Vicuña was [...]
Mar 21, 2009 in United States 2009
After the conference I had two days to spare in southern Arizona. It was hot, sunny and dry and London seemed like a very long way away. You can’t do much in Tucson without a car, but luckily a friend had been observing at the nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory and had a motor. He’d just finished his observing run, and we headed out into the desert. Our destination was Chiricahua National Monument. 90 miles from Tucson, out of the yellow desert, a green range of hills rises, and in these hills are hundreds of stone pillars. We set off onto the trails. It was a little bit cooler in these hills than it had been back in Tucson, but still fairly punishing. Near to the car park there were quite a few people on the trails, many of whom did not look very much like hikers at all and occupied most of the width of the narrow paths. As we got further away, there were fewer and fewer people, and the wilderness was spectacular. After a few hours we reached a turnoff for ‘Inspiration Point’. I was initially not too fussed, as we’d already covered a lot of ground [...]
Dec 16, 2005 in South America 2005
The early start was not too brutal – I slept well even in the thin air, and woke feeling fine at 5.30am. The others felt better too, and more up for a day of sightseeing than they had been yesterday. The lake, so red the previous day, was now more or less all blue. We breakfasted on mate de coca, crusty bread and scrambled flamingo eggs and left Laguna Colorada at 7am. Our first stop was a group of stones sculpted into weird and wonderful shapes by the winds of the high Altiplano. The centrepiece is the Arbol de Piedra, a stone ‘tree’ which stands on an implausibly thin base and looks as if it could be toppled with a light push. A few other vehicles were there, and a few people were trying to topple it, but all found it impossible. We spent half an hour or so scrambling over the rocks, looking around at the desert and the mountains and the wilderness, before setting off. There were no roads here, just dusty tracks which we almost seemed to glide along in the 4WD. Victor had a CD of reggaeton music, and was becoming worryingly fond of one particular [...]
Dec 12, 2005 in South America 2005
In an ideal world, after a day of cycling in the desert I’d have had a lie-in to recover. But I’d booked myself onto a trip to El Tatio, northern Chile’s most famous geyser field, and for reasons I really can’t begin to understand, these geysers only erupt for a couple of hours after sunrise. This meant that seeing them required a 4am start. My guide book said that the lights of San Pedro were off between midnight and dawn, so I thought I might see some good skies, but they’ve obviously got some better electricity since the book was published, and I waited for my minibus under a lit streetlight. The bus arrived shortly after 4, and we drove off into the night. After about half an hour we stopped to have a look at the sky, and it was absolutely stunning. It was absolutely filled with stars, and the Milky Way blazed overhead. I dozed during the rest of the journey. The air was getting thinner and colder, and even though I’d been at about 2000m above sea level for almost a week, the sudden rush to over 4,000m was quite taxing. As dawn began to break, we [...]
Dec 11, 2005 in South America 2005
I stocked up on more cakes from the cafe across the road before leaving Calama to go to San Pedro de Atacama. The bus journey took us through some forbidding Atacama scenery, rocky canyons and exposed plains and barely a speck of green in sight, and it seemed amazing to me that people could make a journey like this, through some of the harshest terrain in the world, by bus. My fellow passengers were mostly locals and I looked around at them, feeling some kind of envy that they lived in this remarkable place. I arrived in San Pedro in the early afternoon, and the sun beat down on the low whitewashed buildings which glared fiercely. I found a hostel and checked in, and wandered around the tiny village, quickly exploring more or less all of it. It was clearly a town that lived off tourism, but it didn’t seem as in-your-face about it as El Calafate or Pucón had been. El Calafate seemed to be built with wealthy visitors in mind, while Pucón was a middle-class Chilean sort of place, but San Pedro was definitely about backpackers. It made for a sociable time but I never much like places [...]
Dec 08, 2005 in South America 2005
I got a bus from Santiago to Antofagasta, 1100km north and sandwiched between the Atacama Desert and the Pacific Ocean. During the evening, at a stop somewhere in Chile’s wine-growing country, a man got on the bus selling small cakes, and I tried to buy a couple, but I didn’t quite catch what the price was and tried to pay with a note that was ridiculously too large for the transaction. He didn’t even try to explain – he just snatched back his cakes, threw my note back at me and stormed off the bus. Luckily, a friendly girl sat across the aisle from me shared her cakes with me, and told me that trying to pay for 50 peso cakes with a 5,000 peso note was not a good thing to do. We stopped at La Serena at midnight, and then I slept until dawn. When I woke, it was like I was in a bus on the surface of the moon – we were in the Atacama. Not a single living thing could be seen in the harsh grey rocky desert, and we were surrounded by brown hills which looked like lumps of plasticine dropped from a great [...]
Nov 26, 2001 in Australia 2001
I walked to Central Station in a good mood. I was looking forward to a good journey, and it would take 24 hours to cover the thousand-odd miles to Adelaide. As I settled into the blissfully cool air conditioned carriage, I looked at the spare seat next to me and thought it would be great if a cute girl happened to be booked onto that seat. As I thought this, a cute girl appeared at the end of the carriage, walked down and took the seat next to me. As we rumbled out of Central station, we started talking. The train clacked along slowly, the engines struggling to haul the great body of the train up out of Sydney and into the Blue Mountains. After a few hours we’d crossed the Great Dividing Range, and we accelerated down into the endless plains of New South Wales. By nightfall me and the girl were still talking, although we were both English so we hadn’t found out each other’s names yet. When we woke up in the morning we were in the red deserts of New South Wales, not far from Broken Hill. I looked out the window and saw two kangaroos [...]
Jun 28, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
We made an early start the next day, all four of us hoping to be 250 miles away in Livingstone by the evening. We walked the long walk back to the road, arriving not long after nine. As we knew it would be, the road was absolutely quiet, so we sat down with our bags and taught Susan and Remco to play Shithead, the greatest card game of all time. After nearly an hour, we heard a vehicle in the distance and leapt up. We were in luck – it stopped for us, and asked where we going. We were in enormous luck – it was going all the way to Livingstone. We negotiated our fare and jumped in the back. It was a truck, in untypically good condition, and the only snag was that the back was very small, and already contained fifteen pumpkins and three sacks of maize. With a very tight squeeze we fitted four people and four backpacks in with them, and we were off. Three of us could lean against the back of the cab, but I was the unlucky one who had to sit on the back of the truck. The road was bumpy [...]
Jun 22, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
Tired but happy, we rose early the next morning to make our exit from Zambezi and get on with the trip. We walked to the bus station and found the Solwezi bus loading up. We planned to get this bus to a town called Mumbeji, from where we would hitch a lift to Lukulu, further downriver, but the bus looked like it was going nowhere fast. We asked the driver when it would be leaving. “Oh, about 10.30 I think”, he replied. It was nearly 11am already. We gave up on the bus and decided to start hitching, asking the bus to pick us up if we hadn’t got a lift when it passed by. To our shame it passed by only about 20 minutes later, and we were off. I was thankful, so thankful that unlike Martin and many others on the bus, we had only two hours until Mumbeji. The journey went OK, with a minor interruption when a goat which had been on the roof fell off and ran into the bush. John was particularly startled by this as it fell past his window. All the passengers trooped off to search for the hapless creature, recovering it [...]
Jun 21, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
Eclipse day. During the night, I had a succession of horrible dreams in which I was in Cornwall again, watching the clouds cover up the crescent sun, or I was waking up in Zambia to find that it was cloudy. And when I woke some time before sunrise I thought my worst nightmares were coming true. I looked out the window to see dull grey skies casting a lifeless light over the land, and my heart leapt into my mouth. Surely this was all wrong! It took a while to realise that this was just the very early pre-dawn light making things look odd, and as the sky tinged blue with the oncoming day I relaxed, just a little bit. We got up and went down to the river to watch the sun rise. Two years earlier I’d watched the Sun rise over pools of mist from a Cornish hilltop, and I’d listened to Mute by Porcupine Tree. I did the same here on the banks of the Zambezi as I watched the sun sliding inexorably towards its rendezvous with the moon, lurking unseen next to it in the sky. There was not even a hint of a cloud in [...]
Jun 20, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
Day 7. One day before eclipse day. We were recovered enough to contemplate travel, and we decided we would go to Chinyingi. It seemed amazing to me that between source and sea there were just four bridges across the Zambezi. Chinyingi was the uppermost of them. We headed to the bus station to see if by some miracle there was a bus heading in that direction, but there wasn’t. Instead of a bus, we found Catherine, a bank worker who we had met in Solwezi. She had thought she wouldn’t be able to get time off work to come and see the eclipse, but it turned out she had managed it, and so here she was in the path of totality. Like us, she could not believe what an experience the journey to here had been. Unlike us, poor woman, she would be returning the same way after the eclipse. Catherine wanted to head to Chavuma, to meet up with Rune, and as Chinyingi is on the way to there, we invited her along with us. In the absence of buses, hitching is the way to head north from Zambezi, but hitching in Zambia always involves a contribution to petrol [...]
Jun 19, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
I could have slept for at least a week, but we were woken early by Martin, who was keen for us to see the sights. And oh, what a sight when we pulled back the curtains to see the river winding towards us from Angola, dazzling under the bright sun. Though we were weary and battered, we managed to get up and go for a stagger around Zambezi. The town stood on thick sand, the northern fringes of the Kalahari desert, so walking around was hard work, but we managed it. Soon enough we found our way to a bar, and decided to stop for a while. It was the Riverside Club, which as we were to discover over the next few days, is one of the best places in the world to spend an evening. Still shellshocked from our overnight odyssey, we sat there for some time, drinking cold drinks and watching the river go by. Rune, who had travelled with us from Solwezi, was intending to go on to Chavuma, right up on the border with Angola, so after a bone-soothing few hours at the Riverside, we wandered off with him to find out about transport in that [...]
Jun 18, 2001 in Southern Africa 2001
The semi-mythical bus from here to Zambezi turned out to be a real thing, which left at 9am on Monday morning, so we spent the weekend in Solwezi. On Friday night we went into town, and discovered nshima, the staple food of Southern Africa. It’s a kind of maize porridge, served with either meat, chicken or fish, and you eat it with your fingers. We also discovered how overwhelmingly friendly Zambians are, and being typically restrained Englishmen, I think we came across as slightly unfriendly. ‘Are you scared of me?’ asked one very drunk guy in the bar. During the weekend we met many local people. Joe and Chris, who owned the motel we were staying in, turned out to be grandsons of the local chief. We met many members of their family, and we were invited to go to visit the chief with them. But sadly their Saturday evening lasted most of Sunday as well, and they were in no fit state to visit royalty, so we had to give it a miss. We also met Daniel and Clifford, two eccentric characters with a hand puppet, who demanded that we take photographs of them, before accompanying us into town [...]
Aug 04, 1998 in Australia 1998
Alice Springs is a curious little town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. On a map of Australia it looks as if it’s right next to Ayer’s Rock, but in fact it’s about 300 miles away. If you drew a circle 600 miles across centred on Alice Springs, about 10,000 people would live within it. If you did the same thing in London, you’d encompass about 60 million people. We spent a couple of days in this outpost, and I enjoyed the frontier feeling. We wandered up Anzac Hill and looked over the town to the Heavitree Gap. Beyond the Gap you could travel through empty desert all the way to Ceduna on the South Australian coast. At the other end of town from Anzac Hill was Billy Goat Hill. This was off-limits to all except aborigines, being a sacred place to them. The sad state of urban aborigines was clear to see near Billy Goat Hill, as there were always a number of miserable-looking people there clutching bottles. It rained while we were in Alice Springs. This only happens once or twice a month, and after the shower had passed, the concrete paths near our hotel became covered in [...]
Aug 03, 1998 in Australia 1998
Kata Tjuta is a collection of giant red rocks about 20 miles from Uluru. The tallest rocks are taller than Uluru but Kata Tjuta is far less well know. I hadn’t heard of it before we arrived in Yulara. We headed out there to have a look around, and did an excellent walk through the rocks. We passed through the Valley of the Winds, and the six of us were the only people in sight in the vastness of the landscape. I felt like we were walking on the surface of Mars. Although it was winter, and bitterly cold at night, temperatures were high enough in the day for us to feel pretty exhausted by the end of our circuit. We’d only taken two small bottles of water, and signs at the start of the trail made it clear that in summer, that would have been a lethal error.
Aug 01, 1998 in Australia 1998
The darkness of the skies over Uluru was incredible. Even from the cities, the Milky Way was impressively bright, but out here in the desert it looked like it was painted on the sky. I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing – from the northern hemisphere we can only ever see the outer parts of our galaxy, but from the south, you can look right towards the centre, and our views completely pale in comparison. I walked a little way out into the desert outside Yulara to try to photograph the river of stars. I didn’t spend too long out there in the end – it was getting very cold very quickly, and I was still traumatised by my close encounter with a huntsman spider in Adelaide. I could hear a lot of noises of things moving about in the spinifex. When I thought I heard something running across the ground near my feet, I hurriedly packed up and headed back to Yulara.
Jul 31, 1998 in Australia 1998
We went out to a viewing point near the rock one evening at sunset. It was extremely touristy, and there were people nearby drinking champagne, which I thought was a bit over the top. But the sunset was more impressive than I thought it would be, with the rock turning some remarkable colours as the shadow of the Earth crept up on it.
Jul 30, 1998 in Australia 1998
We didn’t even know helicopter flights were an option here before we arrived, but when we found out we could do them, we didn’t hesitate. It was a spectacular fifteen minutes – we flew high over the rock, and it was the best possible way to appreciate what an astonishing place we were in. Everything was flat, red and barren, and the only things in the whole landscape that stood out were Uluru and Kata Tjuta.
Jul 29, 1998 in Australia 1998
We spent a few days in Adelaide staying with relatives. I had a terrifyingly close encounter with a huntsman spider while we were there, which left me on edge for days afterwards. A day out touring South Australian vineyards helped me to relax again, as did wandering along the shores of the Southern Ocean at Hallett Cove, watching porpoises swimming just off shore. After that, we set off on another epic journey, this time by bus to Yulara, a couple of miles from Uluru. “Don’t worry if you feel a sudden huge thump in the middle of the night”, said the driver as we pulled out of Glendambo at nightfall. “That’ll just be us hitting a kangaroo”. We passed through the Woomera Prohibited Area during the night, and at 6am we found ourselves in Yulara. It was freezing cold, and frost glittered in the morning sun. Later that day, we walked out to a viewpoint near the town. All around was flat, the horizon never-ending, except for the solitary form of the famous bright red rock. It’s such a famous object that it’s almost hard to believe it’s actually real, but there it was.
Jul 27, 1998 in Australia 1998
To get from Perth to Adelaide we took the train. Not just any old train, though – this is one of the great train journeys, taking nearly two days to cross the fearsomely empty expanse of the Nullarbor Plain. We rumbled out of East Perth station in the early afternoon, and until nightfall we wound our way through some fairly green countryside. At 11pm we arrived in Kalgoorlie, and in the morning we were deep into the desert. The line was a single track, and so the train would occasionally stop in the middle of nowhere to let something else pass. An announcement was made that getting off the train at any point like this would be a seriously bad idea. “If you get left behind”, said the announcer, “you will die.” It was strange to think that I was able to traverse such lethal terrain in a comfortable train. On the second day we travelled along the longest straight stretch of track in the world, three hundred miles without a single bend. It was monotonous enough for me; I wondered how the drivers did it without going insane. I thought we might be able to get up some serious [...]
Jul 25, 1998 in Australia 1998
While we were in Perth we visited the Pinnacles Desert. It doesn’t look far on the map but it takes a good few hours to get there. Our trip started with confusion when we turned up for the bus and said there were six of us booked in with the name Wesson. “Six?” said the driver. “I’ve only got two Wessons on the list”. It turned out he had two Wessons, and another six as well – we were not the only Wessons on the bus. It’s not such a common surname, we got talking to the other Wessons, and they stayed in touch with my mum and dad afterwards. We stopped at a town called Cervantes just before we reached the Pinnacles. On a white sandy beach by the Indian Ocean, we could see a storm approaching, and soon the rain was battering down. It passed quickly and we went on to the Pinnacles. They were an impressive sight. A fossilised forest rises from the yellow sand, covering acres and acres of the desert. Some of the pinnacles are small, some huge, and they all looked amazing under the dark stormy skies.