Charles Soord's Diary


Monday, February 4, 2008 Thursday, February 7, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008 Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008 Saturday, May 31, 2008
Saturday, June 1, 2008 Monday, June 2, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008 Friday, June 6, 2008
Saturday, June 7, 2008 Sunday, June 8, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008 Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Thursday, June 12, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008  

Monday, February 4, 2008 My name is Charlie Soord. I work as an Alcoa Business System (ABS) and learning consultant for the Mining Group located at the Huntly Mine in Western Australia.
 
I received the offer from Alcoa and Earthwatch to participate in a project called the Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic in early June. I was pretty surprised when I received the email, as I was not confident about being accepted.
 
I had no idea what the project was about. I quickly hit the web link provided to find out more information. I had a quick glance over the 30-page expedition briefing, and it appeared to be a very interesting and challenging project. I printed all the information to take home and show the family.

Thursday, February 7, 2008 I discussed the Earthwatch project with my family, and they were just as excited as I was. I think they would have liked to have been a part of the project as well. I’m looking forward to organizing the travel arrangements and may consider extending the trip to look around Europe.
 
I have been reading quite a bit about the Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic. I found the project to be very interesting. The history goes back to the early 1980s, when Josef Krecek, who is the lead scientist of our group, started his association with the Jizera Mountains of northern Bohemia. The devastation of the forest caused by air pollution and forestry practices was very extensive. Josef appears to be a real champion in the struggle to bring this issue out in the open.

Thursday, April 10, 2008 I have managed to finalize all my travel arrangements now. This was an interesting process.

The travel arrangements to Prague were relatively straightforward. I was able to get a Qantas flight to Frankfurt via Singapore and then a flight from Frankfurt to Prague. It looks like I am in for a long flight. It should take about 21 hours, including layovers.

I am planning to stay a few extra days in Prague to take in the sights. I am looking forward to exploring the many historical sites of this very old European city. I will also take the opportunity to travel to Southampton in the United Kingdom to catch up with family for about a week. I could not believe the amount of airlines available to travel in Europe at very reasonable cost. I wish we had this choice when flying out of Perth.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 I have started training for the work that lies ahead in my Earthwatch project. I have just completed an 80-kilometer (50-mile) walk through the southwest of Western Australia on the Bibbulmun Track with my wife, Sue. This was a great way to improve our fitness.

We spent four days and three nights out on the track, which is just less than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) in length and runs from Perth to Albany. We have almost completed two thirds of the track over the past 10 years.

All I have to do is maintain my fitness between now and when I leave. Approximately four-and-a-bit weeks to go, and I am starting to get a bit excited about the adventure now. I keep coming across by accident articles in the local newspaper and programs on television about the Czech Republic, which I find quite bizarre, as I am about to visit this interesting country.

Friday, May 30, 2008 Well, I have finally arrived in Prague. I left Perth at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday the 29th and arrived in Prague at 4 p.m. Perth time (10 a.m. Prague time) today. It would be fair to say that I have had enough of plane trips and airport lounges for the moment.

The accommodation is very basic but tidy, being a student hostel for Charles University. It appears that I may be the first arrival of our team. When I look out the window of my fourth-floor room, I can see a lot of very well-kept old buildings. A tram has just gone past. It looks like I might be in for a noisy night.

I have been able to contact my wife and let her know that I am here in one piece. I am going to grab my backpack and walk around the block to see what is happening. The accommodation is very close to the old Prague Castle, which looks like a good place to explore tomorrow.

I have asked the hostel receptionist about a good place for dinner tonight. She recommended a place around the corner that has a good sample of local cuisine.

I have purchased a good location map and have started planning tomorrow’s sightseeing activities. I have until 5:30 p.m., when our team meets for the first time in the hostel’s main foyer.

Saturday, May 31, 2008 I have just completed my first full day in the wonderful city of Prague. Last night, I tried the local cuisine for dinner. It was roast duck, stewed cabbage, and dumplings. Very tasty.

I had an early start today and visited Prague Castle. It is the largest continuous castle in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an amazing place! The architecture is something to see. Apparently, this castle has a 1,000-year history. Due to my early start, I virtually had the place to myself, but by around 11 a.m., you could not move for the large tour groups cramming into the place. Time to move on.

I walked over the Charles Bridge for the first time—another amazing place with great views of the river and Prague Castle. There were lots of people on the bridge in the midday sun (28° Celsius—82° Fahrenheit—with about 80% humidity). I jumped on a tram and headed to an area near St. Wenceslas Church for some quick shopping.

I finally met my fellow Earthwatch members in the foyer of the hostel at 5:30 p.m. Everybody seems great, and we all struck a good rapport very quickly. I also met the principal investigator for the project, Josef Krecek, and his wife. They are a very nice couple.

We all headed off to dinner and sampled some more local cuisine. After dinner, we walked over the Charles Bridge to St. Francis of Assisi Church to listen to some baroque music. The church was incredible, with a huge 65-meter-high (213-foot-high) dome and large statues. The interior ceilings of the church are covered in large frescos, and the detail was amazing.

The musicians were very good. We had a female mezzo-soprano, a trumpet player, and an organist. The acoustics in the church were like nothing I have ever heard. 

Josef, the new the curator of the church, was able to give us a guided tour when the 150-plus audience had left. We went behind the scenes where the priests and choir prepare for their service. We were also able to see the large pipe organ, upon which Mozart finished one of his famous concertos. The curator started up the organ for anybody who wanted to have a play. Amazing.

Well, this big day is finally over.

Saturday, June 1, 2008 We just completed day one on the project. The day started with breakfast at the hostel in Prague with some of the team members I had met the previous day. This was a great opportunity to find out more about the team members’ backgrounds. Our team was quite diverse. We had six Americans, one Englishwoman, and, of course, me from Australia. 
 
Once breakfast was finished, we had the morning to ourselves. We planned to meet at 12 noon and start traveling to the mountain region. This gave me an opportunity to do some last-minute sightseeing and finish packing my gear for the trip.
 
We all met at noon at the hostel for the trip to the mountains. The minibus journey enabled me to see the Czech countryside for the first time. My first impressions were how green and open the place was.
 
We drove for about an hour and had lunch at a roadside restaurant in a nice village. Once again, we sampled the local cuisine, which was great.
 
Next to our restaurant, there was a very old church, where apparently Good King Wenceslas was killed on September 20, 929. I am amazed that everywhere I have been so far, some interesting historical event has happened. The church was locked, so we could not go inside. Then a woman with a key to the church came out from one of the nearby buildings and let us in for a look around. Truly amazing.
 
After the break for lunch, we were back on the road to the mountain region. Josef asked if we would like to have a look at a medieval castle. The name of the castle is Frydstenjn, and it goes back to the 14th century. We climbed the castle tower and were able to see the countryside for kilometers. 
 
After another hour in the minibus, we arrived at our accommodation for the project. The name of this place was Penzion Statek U Rajtru in the town of Bedrichov. This building was an old farmhouse, converted into an accommodation villa for the ski season. We were all very impressed with the standard of our accommodation.
 
After we settled in, we had dinner at a local restaurant called the Red Devil. This would be the restaurant that we would be using for all our dinners while staying at the Penzion Statek U Rajtru. Once again, we were subjected to the fantastic local cuisine.
 
After dinner, we met in the dinning room of the Penzion Statek U Rajtru, where Josef gave us an overview of the project and what our major tasks would be. They include taking water samples from streams and reservoirs, observing the quantity of  fish life in the stream zones, and collecting data on the health of trees from designated plots of forest throughout the mountain region.
 
Josef then gave us an overview of Czech history, which was very interesting and a good way to finish off our first day in the mountain region.

Monday, June 2, 2008 Our first day in the field started with breakfast at 8 a.m. The breakfast consisted of all the usual ingredients, such as cereal, yogurt, toast, and tea/coffee. The unusual items for me were the ham, cheese, and salad, including radish.
 
After a briefing for about 15 minutes that covered the location and tasks for the day, we had an explanation and detailed demonstration on how to perform the field experiments. Josef indicated that we would also receive further instruction in the field.
 
On the way to our first field location, we stopped at the city of Liberec. We had about half an hour to walk around the city and take in the great sites it had to offer.
 
After Liberec, we drove to the location of Oldrichov in the forest to start our field experiments. We broke up into two groups. I was with Margaret and Dan, and we were allocated a V-notch weir from which to collect data.
 
A V-notch weir is a structure consisting of an obstruction, such as a dam or bulkhead, placed across an open channel with a specially shaped opening, or notch. The obstruction is this case is a steel plate with a large “V” cut into it. The stream flows into the weir, which serves as a catchment area, and then through the V-notch. Once the stream flows over the V-notch, it continues on its natural path.
 
The dimensions of this stream’s V-notch weir were approximately 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters (4.9 feet by 8.2 feet). The weir’s construction consisted of a concrete floor with brick walls.
 
Our task was to calculate the volume of the solid material trapped in the weir, such as leaf material and gravel, and then determine the flow rate of the stream. This was achieved by:
  • Draining the weir by diverting the stream away from the V-notch weir. This removed all the water from the weir and left any solid materials behind;
  • Calculating the volume of the layers of material left behind. This was achieved by calculating the surface area of each layer of material and then the average depth of each layer. Once the volume of a layer of material was determined, the layer was removed by shovel, exposing the next level. The volume of the next layer was then calculated; and
  • Determining the stream flow using an electronic device in the V-notch weir that measured the height of the water flowing over the V-notch over a considerable period of time. This electronic device was built into the wall of the V-notch weir’s walls.
 
The purpose of this exercise was to determine if any forest clearing activities upstream had caused an increase in sediment levels in the stream. This activity had been completed many times before by other Earthwatch groups, so the data collected over this long period should be a good indication of the health of the stream.
 
We left the area of Oldrichov at about 4 p.m. and went to visit the forestry officer responsible for the area we were working in. Josef had to translate for him as he told us about the forest in general. The general tree species are birch and Norwegian spruce. The one comment from the officer that interested us was that there was no issue of fire in the forest. We had some people from California, and of course, I was from Australia, where fire in our forests is a big problem.
 
We returned to our accommodation, where it was time for dinner. We had about a 10-minute walk through the fields to our restaurant. After dinner, we reviewed and organized all the data collected in the field. This would be used to compare with the data collected by previous Earthwatch groups.
 
With assistance from Josef, we performed some calculations on the stream flow rates and volume of sediment in the V-notch weir. We then briefly discussed the location of the work to be performed for the next day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 We started the day with a drive to the mountains to look at the forest regrowth areas. The trees on top of the mountains appeared to be affected by air pollution the most. With the decline of the pollution over the last few years, the trees are recovering. This is only after replanting has occurred. They have tried different species, like Colorado blue spruce, that can handle the pollution better, but the thinking now is to plant the native species, such as beech, mountain ash, and birch.
 
We moved to a new area at Jizerka and started to collect data from previously identified plots. We broke up into two groups. One group worked on measuring tree height and canopy spread of a 30-by-30-meter (100-by-100-foot) block of trees that was previously monitored.
 
The second group, which I was in, was involved in:
  • Taking a grass sample by selecting a representative grassy area, placing a 25-by-25-centimeter (10-by-10-inches) steel frame on the ground, and measuring the average height of the grass. We then cut all the grass off with scissors and collected the grass sample.
  • Placing a probe in the identified area and measuring the pH and moisture content. The PH varied around 6 and moisture around 70% to 90%.
  • Taking a core sample of the soil, about 25 centimeters in depth.
 
The purpose of this exercise is to measure any significant changes in soil pH and moisture content to establish if the grasslands’ type and density are impacting the development of the forest. This plot has been continually monitored, so any significant changes could be identified.
 
We completed these experiments on 12 stations, 100 meters (328 feet) apart on a profile, which started on the low lands and went up the side of a large hill.
 
After completing the day’s work, we went for another drive around this mountain region, taking in the incredible views of the surrounding areas.
 
After dinner, we collated all the data collected in the field today. Each night, the volunteers were invited to talk about their work, previous holidays, or any other Earthwatch projects they had been on. John and Jody from America gave an interesting presentation on their previous Earthwatch and volunteer experiences, which covered Italy, South America, and Africa.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 Due to the bad weather, we stayed at the lodge and processed the grass and soil samples that were collected the previous day.
 
For the grasses, this entailed sorting the grass into types of grass, moss, and dead material. Depending on the sample size, this could take up to an hour to complete.
Two groups of four completed this task.
 
Once the grass/moss were segregated and bagged, we would determine the area of each glass type as per the 25-by-25-centimeter square. This involved taking four samples from each grass/fungi type and placing them on a scanner to determine their area in millimeters squared. This would then be applied to the rest of the samples to determine their coverage.
 
We then worked on the soil samples by washing all the dirt away. This would take several washes to complete. Once the washing process was complete, the root material was inspected and contaminants removed, such as wood and stones. The root material was then bagged. This was to determine the root mass of the sample, and then the root-to-surface material ratio.
 
We also again met Suzanna, Josef’s wife, who visited us with a group of students and scientists. They were going to collect fish and water samples in the area. 
 
We had a break before dinner, and Suzanna joined us for the meal. She provided us with more history of this particular region and discussed the impact of the communist era on their lifestyle in the Czech Republic.
 
When we returned from dinner, we continued with the second part of John and Jody’s presentation on their volunteer and Earthwatch experiences.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 On the way to our next data collection site, we all visited an old viaduct used to transport timber down to the river. The system still works but is not in use anymore. This is a pretty good indication of the amount of logging that occurred in this area over 30-plus years ago.
 
We arrived at a reservoir called V.J. Bedrichov to continue collecting data at several predetermined sites. We split into three groups. One group was to collect more data on an existing plot of trees. Group two would take a small boat on the reservoir to collect water samples. The group I was in would walk around the reservoir and collect data from the streams that feed into the reservoir.
 
The purpose of this work is to monitor the quality and volume of the water in the streams that flow into the reservoir. The streams provide a good indication of what is happening to the environment upstream. As the forest recovers in the mountain areas, it is hoped that an improvement in the water quality will be seen. The amount of fish present in the streams is also a good indicator of the quality of the water.
 
The process of collecting data from the streams involved taking a water sample, taking measurements to calculate the velocity of the stream, taking the water temperature, and observing the number of fish present. We had seven streams to sample but could only complete four streams, as three were dry.
 
When our entire group had finish collecting data, we had lunch and moved on to another reservoir called V. N. Josefuv Dul, which is the largest reservoir in the region. This time, I was out in the boat with John and Suzanna. 
 
We completed many tasks, such as:
  • Collecting information, such as water temperature and pH, on a vertical water profile of the reservoir. This was achieved by taking, at one meter intervals, a water sample reading to a depth of 33 meters (108 feet). This involved lowering by rope an electronic probe to the required depth;
  • Collecting water samples at pre-determined intervals. We would lower a device that you could open and take a water sample at any depth you liked;
  • Performing a water clarity test. This was achieved by lowering a white disk of a set size into the water. When you could not see the edges of the disk, we would take a depth measurement; and
  • Collecting micro-organisms. This was achieved by placing two nets with both a 50 and 200 micro filter attached and sampling the water at a depth of 25 meters (82 feet).
 
When we finished, we all made our way back for dinner. This was a big day, and I was pretty tired. After dinner, we had a presentation from Helen on her Earthwatch experience of monitoring large turtles. We finished the night with a presentation from Suzanna on her background and work she has been completing in the area.

Friday, June 6, 2008 After breakfast, we headed out to visit another reservoir called V. N. Sous, which was located near the town of Desna. Once again, we broke up into three groups. One group was going to collect water samples from the reservoir as before, group two would be collecting water samples from the streams that feed into the reservoir, and the group I was in would work on a 30-meter-by-30-meter (98-foot-by-98-foot) plot of trees.
 
Our group consisted of John, Jody, Helen, and me. Our tasks were to measure:
  • Individual tree conductivity by sticking a forked probe into the tree and running a small electric current through the probe. The measure of resistance gave you an indication of the health of the tree. The higher the reading, the healthier the tree;
  • The circumference of the trees at a predetermined height to establish the rate of growth;
  • The height of the trees using trigonometry, also to establish the rate of growth; and
  • The amount of tree canopy coverage and ground sunlight exposure by observing through a specially designed instrument. We measured whether you could see the sky or tree canopy by looking vertically up, or shade or sunlight on the ground by looking vertically down. This was achieved by using a special instrument with a series of mirrors. These observations were made over a five-meter-by-five-meter (16.4-foot-by16.4-foot) grid. This would enable you to determine the canopy coverage and the effect of the canopy coverage on ground cover.
 
After all the groups had completed their tasks, we had lunch and then visited the site of another reservoir. This reservoir was constructed by creating an earthen wall. Unfortunately for the residents who lived downstream of the reservoir, the earthen wall collapsed around the early 1900s and killed more than 50 villagers.
 
We then moved off to Liberec to spend about an hour looking around this historic city.  This was a great time just to relax, make a phone call home, and sit in a sidewalk restaurant in the main city square and take in the sights.
 
We returned to our pension (accommodations) and then went to dinner. Once again, we collated our data that we collected earlier in the day.

Saturday, June 7, 2008 We returned to the first area we visited for the project—near the V-notch weir close to the town of Oldrichov.
 
Our group of three moved to a new plot of 165-year-old beech trees. We set up our usual 30-meter-by-30-meter plot using the existing boundary markers and started collecting data on tree height, canopy coverage, and light intensity.
 
Near where we were collecting data, there were small fortifications (pillboxes) left over from World War II. Josef indicated they were built by the Czech government as a defensive line. He also indicated they were not very successful, as the country was invaded.
 
We had lunch and returned to the pension to collate the day’s data. This involved entering data into computers, calculating the height of the trees with the help of a computer program, and weighing the dry root samples collected on our first day.
 
After completing this task, it was my turn to give a presentation to the group. I had three topics that I was going to discuss. I had some PowerPoint slides on the bauxite mine where I work and some photos of my Kokoda Track and Everest Base Camp walks.
 
After my presentation, we were invited to have a Czech barbeque. This involved placing a large smoked sausage over an open fire using a large fork. This was not an easy task, as you could easily burn you sausage if you were not careful.
 
I must admit the sausages tasted great with local bread and mustard. They were so good, I devoured three of them. This was a good time for the group to get together and have a good time. We all had a laugh cooking the sausages over the open fire to the amusement of the team’s support staff and the owners of the pension.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 We are halfway through our project now, so what better way to celebrate than to have the day off. We had a late start to breakfast, around 9 a.m., and then we met as a group and worked out what we would like to do for the day.

Josef suggested we visit the medieval Frydlant Castle located in northern Bohemia in the region of the Jizera Mountains. This castle is amazing and was first mentioned as far back as 1278. Over the years, many families have taken ownership of the castle and made significant additions to its main structure.

We joined an organized tour of the castle, which lasted about two and a half hours. The tour started in the very old parts of the castle and then worked its way through to the newer extensions. The only tour we could go on was in German, which made the tour guide’s commentary very interesting (we were given a tour guide sheet in English).

After the castle tour, we went for a drive around the countryside near the Polish border. We had lunch on a roadside hill with a great view of the Polish power stations, which in the past were one of the major causes of pollution in the Jizera Mountains. These power stations have now been cleaned up and emit less toxic emissions.

We spent the afternoon in the city of Liberec. We had a choice of places to visit—the zoo, the main museum, and the botanical gardens. I choose to visit the museum, which was an interesting place. I had enough time to see the exhibits on the Czech fauna and flora. After the museum, we ended up in a street-side café and sampled the local pivo (beer), which was a great way to spend the afternoon.

We finished the evening back at the pension with a presentation from Shelia, who’s from England, on her fundraising trip to Ethiopia for the Red Cross. It was a trip of a lifetime for her, walking through the highlands of Ethiopia in an attempt to climb one of the highest mountains in that country.

Monday, June 9, 2008 After breakfast, we headed out to an area near Oldrichov that we had visited before. We went to an existing plot that is covered in Norwegian spruce. These trees did not appear to be very old—somewhere between 10 to 15 years old. This plot had been monitored by previous Earthwatch groups, and Helen, Carrie, and I teamed up to start collecting data.

We identified the boundary of the plot by laying out a line of rope between the corners. We then measured the height of trees using a specially designed measuring pole, which had telescopic sections that you could raise up or down. We raised the sections of the pole to the height of the tree and read the scale in centimeters on the pole. We then measured the canopy spread of each tree. This was achieved by taking two horizontal measurements (at 90 degrees) of the spread of the canopy. We also had to make a determination on whether the tree was healthy or unhealthy. This was based on the tree’s appearance.

The purpose of the exercise was to determine the extent of the trees’ growth, as well as to monitor the number of trees present in the plot. The change in canopy coverage by the trees will also impact the ground cover. The ground in this area was very uneven and waterlogged, and this made the task of collecting measurements on these trees quite difficult.

We did not finish collecting all the tree data, as there were a lot of trees on this plot. Another one of our groups was completing a similar exercise on another tree plot close by. The third group was checking a series of rain gauges located on a nearby hill.

On the way home to the pension, we stopped at an old village called Christanoff that was famous for glass manufacturing. A well-known family in the glass industry called Riedel that went back to 1678 owned the factory in the area. Unfortunately, only one building is left of the glass factory and village due to a large fire destroying almost everything. This building has been converted into a small museum, which depicts the history of the glass manufacturing by this family.

After dinner, it was Carrie’s turn to give a presentation on her previous Earthwatch experiences monitoring butterflies in Vietnam and Japan. This proved to be a very interesting presentation, as the pictures of the butterflies were incredible. The many different colors and the size of some of the butterflies were like nothing I have seen before. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 When we finished breakfast, we headed out to revisit the area around the largest reservoir that was called V. N.Josefuv Dul. We started work on a previously monitored plot of trees that had about 60 mature trees. The trees were clearly numbered, so they were easily identified. Our team for the morning consisted of Carrie, John, and me.

We collected data by measuring the following:
  • Soil pH and moisture content;
  • Tree conductivity using the tree probe;
  • Height of trees using trigonometry; and
  • Circumference at a defined point.
 
The other groups were sampling some more streams that drained into the reservoir and taking more water samples from the reservoir by using the small boat. We finished collecting data around 12:30 p.m. and met up with the other groups at the main reservoir wall.

We were given the opportunity to look inside the workings of this large wall. This entailed going down a large vertical stairway for about 25 meters (82 feet) and then descending a large ramp to the drainage tunnel, which was about 100 meters (328 feet) long. We were under the water by about 35 meters (115 feet).

The drainage tunnel, which has a constant temperature of 5° Celsius (41° Fahrenheit), allows the engineers to measure water seepage. It was very interesting to see the inside workings of the reservoir.

We returned to the pension to collate the day’s data and then went to an early dinner. The reason for the early dinner was to attend the opera at Liberec Theatre, which is the oldest opera theater in the Czech Republic. The opera was called “Simon Boccanegra” by Verdi and lasted for about three hours.

This was a great experience for me, as this was the first time I had watched an opera in full. The theater was truly amazing, and you appeared to be very close the performers. The interior was very ornate, and the ceiling was covered in frescos. This all added to create an incredible atmosphere for the opera.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 This would be our last day in the field. I cannot believe the time has passed so quickly.

We had one small job to finish off, and that was collecting data on a plot of trees (Norwegian spruce) near Jizerka. Our team was the same as before—Helen, Carrie, and me. This made the task easier, as we knew what trees were left to measure to finish off this plot.

We ended up taking the measurements of another 90 trees, which made a grand total of 200 trees in this plot. The weather was overcast and quite cool, which made this work enjoyable. The other group was working on a similar plot of Norwegian spruce some 200 meters (656 feet) away. All the groups finished their work around 1 p.m.

After completing our fieldwork, we decided on the way back to our pension to climb one of the highest mountains in the Czech Republic. Called Jizera, it is 1,122 meters (3,681 feet) high. The highest mountain is Smrk, which is 1,124 meters (3,688 feet) high—only two meters higher than Jizera.

To access Jizera Mountain, we had to walk up a track for about one kilometer (0.6 miles), which was not too difficult. As we walked along this track, we could see heaps of large dead trees that were killed when the air pollution (acid rain) was at its peak. It was an eerie sight to see all these dead trees, and it gave you a good idea of the extent of the damage to the forest in these higher areas.

To reach the top of the mountain, we had to negotiate some metal ladders, which added to the thrill of reaching the top. The view from the top was amazing. We could see some of the reservoirs in the distance that we had been working on. The wind was blowing strongly, so we took some photos of the views and of ourselves to record the event.

We returned to the pension and then went to dinner at our usual restaurant. The meal was very interesting. We had cabbage soup followed by fried potato and a mixture of vegetables and meat. The desert was great—a large chocolate cake.

After dinner, we collated the day’s data. It was Dan’s, my fellow Alcoan’s, turn to deliver his presentation. Dan showed some interesting slides of his hometown of Evansville Indiana, and of the American Midwest.

Thursday, June 12, 2008 Now that all the field activities were completed, we had a late start to the day. Breakfast was about 9 a.m.

Josef had some work to do in the morning and asked if we would like to visit some glassmaking factories in the area. The first factory we visited was like something I had never seen before. It was a factory that made Christmas decorations.

What was special about this place was all the decorations were handmade. At the start of the process, the glass balls are hand-blown and then dipped in a silver solution. They are then individually hand painted and packed for export all over the world.

I was lucky enough to have a go at hand blowing a glass ball, which was a great experience even though the shape I ended up with did not resemble a ball.

We were able to visit the retail shop of this factory and purchase some of these amazing decorations. I cannot get over the detail on the decorations. They were too good to put on a Christmas tree. We then moved on to another glass shop, which was selling heavier solid glass items, such as figurines.

We returned to the pension for the last time and loaded up our cases for the trip to Prague. We said our goodbyes and thanks to the pension owners. In front of us we had a two- to three-hour trip back to our accommodations at the Charles University hostel.

We had the evening to ourselves, so Dan and I decided to visit a restaurant that we had eaten at as a team on our first night in Prague. I am glad I had Dan with me, because I could not find the location of this great restaurant.

As usual, the meal was great. We stuck to the local cuisine and the local pivo (beer). We were halfway through our meal when Sheila walked past, and she came over and joined us. We all made our way back to the hostel for a well-earned night’s sleep. 

Friday, June 13, 2008 We had the day off to do as we wished, and we had arranged to meet in a restaurant on the old town side of the Charles Bridge for our farewell dinner.

I spent the day looking around the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. This enabled me to get a good feel for the city and set me up for the extra days I had in Prague after the project had finished.

We all met at the St Francis of Assisi Church, where we listened to the baroque concert on day one of our project. We headed off to the restaurant to sample some more local cuisine.

It was somewhat of a sad occasion, as this would be the last time we were all together. We had all worked well as a team, and everybody made an effort to make the project a success.

Josef and Susanna thanked us for our friendship and enthusiasm in this project. We all shared a glass of champagne and wished each other all the best in the future. I decided some time ago to present a small gift to all the team members—something unique from Australia. I decided to give everyone an Australian-embossed stubby holder (can holder) made from swimsuit material. I must admit I was really surprised at how well it went down with everybody.

For me, this Earthwatch project in the Czech Republic was a great experience for many reasons. To visit a country that was not really on my radar as a place to see, and be overwhelmed with its history and cultural experiences, is one of the highlights of my travel adventures to date. I will definitely revisit Prague, which I believe is the most beautiful and romantic city I have seen. I would also like to share this experience with my wife, Sue.

The Earthwatch project itself gave me good insight into the damage that can be caused by mankind to our environment. This can be turned around by people such as Josef and Susanna, who have championed the cause to bring back the health of the Jizera Mountains. I have been very privileged to work with these people and cannot thank them enough for a great Earthwatch experience. This positive experience will ensure that I will go on another Earthwatch project.

Working with a great group of people from all over the world has also been a memorable experience. To share all of our travel and work experiences together was great. I hope we can all keep in contact in some way.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Alcoa for giving me an opportunity to take part in this Earthwatch experience.

Earthwatch Institute


Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.
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Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic


Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.
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