January 24, 2013
Climbing the Parador de Navas last week, I felt it happen—a ping of pain in the rear of my leg, four inches above the heel. An ache set in as we crawled to the top of the pass, and I knew it was back—my recurring Achilles tendonitis. I spent a week in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 16 months ago lying in a hostel bed, reading, typing, visiting the local gym, sitting on benches, eying the distant Rhodope Mountains and waiting for a similar Achilles strain to heal up—and I know the boredom that can arrive with athletic injuries. But this time, I have limped into Quito, Ecuador, a fast and modern hub of sophisticated people, energy and activity. Boredom should not be an issue here. Mangoes may cost $2 a piece from sidewalk vendors—a harsh reminder for the hungry cyclist that he is no longer in the boondocks. But there is life beyond cheap mangoes, and it can be found in Quito’s clean public parks, brewpubs, wine bars, bicycle shops, historic center and so much more. Here are a few things to do that can keep one entertained in this highest (when measured from the Earth’s center) of big cities.
Sample Local Microbrews I have no love for Peruvian wine—and as an alternative, my brother and I have taken to the abundant if boring South American lagers available in every corner grocery store. Thing is, I have no love for cheap lagers, either. So when I learned that two brewpubs operated within blocks of the Hostal del Piamonte, where I have been icing and elevating my leg, I ran for them. Limped, anyway. At Cherusker German Brewery, we found a club-like scene with leather sofas and a rustic brick interior—and four beers on tap. That could leave many an American beer nerd thirsting for more options, but in Ecuador, the chance to drink a Belgian-style dubbel and a dark, smoky stout provided much needed respite from lesser beers. After one round, we walked north several blocks to sample the other city brewpub, Turtle’s Head Pub and Microbrewery. A pilsener, a Scottish amber and a stout made up the extent of the house-made beers. The amber was malty, thick and chewy, the stout creamy, smooth and sweet.
Hunt for Espresso Machines Each time we emerged from the desert or jungle into a village in the past three weeks, we listened for that sweet song of the espresso machine. One time I even asked the villagers, “Please, for mercy, is there an espresso machine in this town?” I was thirsty and desperate and hopeful, and the town’s main street boasted some relatively upscale establishments. Several men gathered around me, all frowning and shaking their heads in befuddlement. “Say, Fred, what’s this kid talking about, what with machines that make coffee and all?” “Beats me, Leroy. Does he think he’s arrived in the future?” I even made the whooshing-hissing noise that coffee drinkers so love to hear at 7 a.m.—but the men shook their heads. “Let’s go! His mind is gone.” They had not heard of an espresso machine. But Quito is fast, smart, slick, modern. In hundreds of bars, cafés and eateries, espresso machines hiss like the finest apparatuses of Europe. Cafe lattes arrive with hearts and mountains shaped into the foamy milk, and espresso comes in cups like thimbles, as smart and sophisticated as coffees enjoyed in the bistros of Paris. Top recommendation: Este Cafe, on Juan León Mera street.
Work Out on the Exercise Bars in Parque El Ejido As we rode into the center of Quito on our first day, I had my eyes peeled for that sure signature of any modern metropolis undergoing swift and progressive social development: outdoor exercise bars at the public park. After checking into our hostel, we walked several blocks back to Parque El Ejido, where we had seen among the people and the trees some playground-type structures that looked very promising. Sure enough, we found them—a rock-solid, two-tiered set of pull-up bars in the shade of the trees. A security guard (they stand around every corner and behind every tree in Ecuador) paced slowly around the jungle gym while Andrew and I got to work. My brother, ten pounds lighter than he’d been in Lima, started with an all-time best set of 20. I did only 17—but, really, who’s counting? See you at the bar. Note: The same park comes alive with scores of market vendors and thousands of visitors each Sunday. It’s a good time, but you’d better get your bar time in early, before the kids arrive.
Stalk the Aisles of the English Bookshop Quito is great—but if you need to get away fast, step into the compact, book-stuffed space of the English Bookshop, in La Mariscal. Owned by London native Mark Halton, the store—at Calama and Diego de Almagro streets—provides a refuge of wisdom and intelligentsia for English speakers craving some bookish conversation and quiet time. The shop is crammed with used quality literature (well, there’s also some sci-fi, but never mind), plus a selection of Ecuador travel guides for rent.
Enjoy the City’s Many Miles of Bike Paths Quito bears many marks of a sophisticated hub of culture and style—enthusiastic brewpubs, art museums, numerous sporting goods stores and air-conditioned supermarkets. What more could one want? Bike paths, of course. Leading through the city are miles and miles of them—two-directional lanes separated by barriers from the auto traffic and leading to all corners of the city. But bike paths can always use improvement. In Lima, for instance, the hip locals dump heaps of trash in the bike lanes and set the rubbish on fire. In Quito, businessmen who haven’t ridden a bicycle since they were 8 years old use the lanes as personal sidewalks, and at intersections pedestrians gather in the bike lane as they wait for the light to change. No—not all Ecuadorians are totally wise yet to the concept of the separated, designated bike lane. But parts of Quito are almost as cool and edgy as Amsterdam or Portland, and locals will catch on.
Ride the Gondola to Cruz Loma Lookout Taking a ride on a gondola is a bitter pill to swallow for a proud cyclist with a leg injury. But the TelefériQo Cruz Loma chairlift, beginning at the western edge of Quito, ascends 2,700 feet in eight minutes, taking passengers to the best vista point in the region—Cruz Loma, near the top of Mount Pichincha. The cost is about $9, with discounts for privileged locals and even the option to bring a bicycle to the top and ride the trails back down to the city. Sounds like a blast—but I’ll wait until I can make the entire journey by my own strength.
Get Screened for Malaria at a Local Medical Clinic If you’ve got the shakes, the shivers, nausea, achy joints, stomach troubles or a headache and have traveled in malaria hot zones anytime from a week to a year prior, you had better get checked out. That’s the logic we followed when Andrew came down with sluggishness and other flu-like symptoms on our second day in Quito. We decided that if his condition persisted in the morning, we would go to the hospital. He woke up in a sweat, and off we went on a new adventure. The Clinica de San Francisco was just four blocks away from us, and by 9 a.m. Andrew was having blood drawn and his internal organs examined by stethoscope. The doctor said that Andrew’s relatively mild symptoms did not appear to be malaria-related, but Plasmodium falciparum is a disease to be taken very seriously. The most deadly type of malaria, it is especially dangerous if not identified and treated within 24 hours of the first visible symptoms. The doctor said the test results would be e-mailed within three working days—plus two weekend days. Isn’t that cutting it close, we asked? Don’t worry, the doctor answered; Andrew does not have malaria. We hope so.
And Keep That Leg Elevated
January 17, 2013
Symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea usually kick in an hour after the victim gets on the bus, I told my brother Andrew. He was eagerly attacking his first cooked meal in a week—a fillet of fish and fried potatoes from a small seaside restaurant in Tortugas. “It does’t matter when you get on the bus,” I elaborated. ”It’s an hour after you get on the bus.”
But he never got sick. In spite of numerous warnings from experienced travelers and stodgy medical doctors that street food, cooked food or any items that have been exposed to tap water, dirt or insects should not be eaten in Peru, we have both retained stalwart health since we began expanding our diet after a week of eating mostly fresh fruit. We started with chicha—Andean corn beer, which comes in several colors—and enjoyed its tart, fizzy bite in the town square of Huarmey. In the northern town of Tumbes we bought a hunk of local cow cheese. It was hard and aged, and it frankly left us hankering for a piece of cheese fresher and creamier, yet the fat and protein were a welcomed change. We look forward to buying more. We eyed the street vendors selling hard-boiled quail eggs for days, and now we have incorporated them into our diet. We have begun eating, as well, fresh corn—lumpy, stocky cobs sold for a few cents by street vendors working gas-powered grills. Andrew, thinking big again in the town of Puerto Pizarro, bought a whole rotisserie chicken with a three-pound bag of cooked rice and monestra (stewed beans) for 20 soles—about $8—and devoured most of the bird in less than 30 minutes. We haven’t gotten to Peru’s famous ceviche yet, though we will.
And while so much savory, hot food, heavy in oils and protein, has been a happy change for us, I have to admit I’d still rather hold out for fresh and exotic fruits. I told this to a French woman we recently met on a beach near Tumbes. She flatly said I was not experiencing Peru. “Like heck I’m not! I’m riding a bike through Peru and eating locally grown specialties,” I said. “How Peruvian is that? I was in France last year cycling. I never ate foie gras or escargots but I shopped at markets and made my own meals and got a great taste of the country.” I just don’t believe that one must have a restaurant staff tiptoe around you every day at feeding time to truly experience place and culture.
Rather, I find the outdoor markets of Peru to be endlessly entertaining galas of color, smells and flavors. Foreigners can expect to find new and unusual items at almost each visit—some variety of passion fruit, avocados the size of footballs, sapotes, mameys, guaba fruits like giant bean pods or sugar cane juice. Notably, Andrew has overdosed on cherimoyas and now grows nauseous every time I start talking about them. He even observed quite astutely during his final cherimoya meal—won’t touch them now—that the fruits smell sweetly like our chain grease. Yum.
But if cherimoyas turn a man’s stomach, the markets themselves are still a joy to browse. Aside from the food we take away, I also enjoy interacting with the vendors—asking names of fruits, exaggerating my surprise at the size of an avocado, asking for prices and holding out for the next stall, where the lucumas just might be ripe (most are sold three days before ripeness). Perhaps especially, I relish the power of leaving no long-awaited meal to chance—because a burning appetite for calories is nothing to waste at the end of each day. I ride my bicycle with potent visions of tropical fruit heaps luring me forward, and though a few hard-boiled eggs might tide me over until the marketplace, I will let no street vendor on the edge of town spoil my glorious meal of victory. The roving ceviche carts and meat grills are colorful pieces of street scenery, and we are enjoying some hot, savory food each day—as several readers advised we do—but eating a creamy cherimoya, a sweet and starchy lucuma or a pineapple with flesh as white and sweet as sugar could be the truest taste of Peru.
I’m usually forgiving of harsh wine while traveling. After all, just about anything from a bottle that gives a bite is appreciated late at night in a tent. But we are losing our patience with Peruvian wine. We had a bottle our first night at the Sol de Santa Rosa campground, on the bumpy road to Canta. It was a Miranda Cahuayo Semi Dry. I set aside my cherimoya to pop the cork—and the smell attacked me instantly. We had already been warned that Peruvian wine was bad, but we had disregarded the advice as the nonsense of a wine snob. But the wine was truly intolerable, smelling and tasting like rancid grease and spoiled raspberries slurried into a bucket of muddy charcoal dust. We tried again the next night with a Peruvian red whose name I neglected to record. Another disappointment—a wine so sweet and pungent that we couldn’t drink it. We vowed then to buy only wines from Chile, Argentina or other reputable producers. But the next night we got duped by a bottle with “Santiago” printed prominently on the label. A closer look during dinner revealed it was a Peruvian wine made of Concord grapes. We crossed our fingers and pulled the cork. It was a sweet, oily-tasting juice, like antifreeze. I’ve made wine in a plastic jug strapped to the back of my bike that was better. Grumbling, we poured it down the drain. A valid critic gives his subject many chances before making a conclusive statement—but how many chances must we give Peruvian wine? If someone could direct me straight to the good stuff—heck, just drinkable would be a start—I’d be grateful and would try again. But for now, we are afraid to buy another bottle.
What else can one drink in Peru? Cheap lagers are available at most grocery stores, but the main national brands taste like the cheap beer from anywhere else. There is also pisco, if you like distilled spirits. Pisco is Peru’s rendition of brandy and is often marketed by grape variety and frequently carries a nice scent of the starting grape itself—surprising for a liquid that has traveled through the tubes and chambers of a commercial still. But in a hot desert after a long day of cycling, sometimes the best drink is water.
We have both gotten sick. We should have known. Book-smart medical doctors and experienced travelers warned us that eating street food or nearly anything out of a kitchen here was liable to make us run for the bathroom. Shows what they know—the bus had no bathroom. We’re going back to cherimoyas.
January 15, 2013
Virtually nothing lives in much of the dusty, rocky sweeps of desert along Peru’s coast. But as evident as the mere absence of life is the prominent mark of death along the sides of the Pan-American Highway—hand-built crosses occurring almost as regularly as the kilometer markers themselves. They stand coldly in the sand bearing the names and dates of death of accident victims. The crosses are too numerous to count, but there are certainly thousands of them. That this highway is so stained by blood doesn’t surprise us. The truck traffic is heavy and aggressive, buses race wildly north and south lest they reach their destination late by a few minutes and cars honk first and brake later. These reckless vehicles share the road—well, they use the same road, anyway—as three-wheeled moto-taxis, donkey-drawn carts, motor bikers, pedestrians and a few cyclists. We move to the gravel shoulder when we hear large vehicles approaching from behind, for if the abundance of roadside death memorials tells us anything it’s that no drivers on the Pan-American should be fully trusted. In one village, I saw a cross scrawled with a death date just two months prior. Two-hundred meters away was another marking a fatal accident last April. The heavy presence of death, it seems, never quite leaves this place.
Just ten kilometers north of the town of Casma we passed a small woven-bamboo shack with an open side facing the road. Inside were more than a dozen crosses. Each person, it appeared, had died on the same day—August 13, 2005. Some later research revealed that this was the date of a horrific bus-truck collision involving some local commercial fishermen and a vehicle carrying flammable liquids. The crash resulted in an explosion, and 14 people died.
Just several kilometers later I caught a glimpse of something more ghastly on the west side of the highway. I turned around and crossed over and leaned my bike on the dune and stared. It was a human skeleton, bones splintered and smashed and roughly assembled before a crude headstone stuck in the sand. Beside the bleached bones lay the greater portion of the person’s skull, accompanied by a tangle of long brown hair. Andrew had also turned around by now and come back to join me. After a few moments we took several photos, then left to hunt up dinner and a place to sleep in Casma. We asked a local man about the two sites. He said the first was the memorial to a crash three years ago in which 24 people died in an explosion—not quite accurate, but the same general story we gleaned off the Internet. And the skeleton? He shrugged. Probably some crazy person. “Do the police not care or come and collect the body when vagrants die?” I asked. Again he shrugged and said that authorities tend not to bother here with accidents or deaths that go unreported. Still, we wondered why the bones were so broken to pieces (both of the lower legs were entirely snapped, and the back of the skull was knocked out) and, of course, who had taken the effort to assemble the remains as we found them.
Though the crosses along this roadway serve as a constant reminder of what bad driving can do, many, many people both on the Pan-American and on city streets drive recklessly, brazenly shirking basic courtesy and caution. We frequently must stop in the middle of intersections for drivers who refuse to yield in making left turns. The “right hook” is another popular move, by which motorists cut sharply in front of us, then make a quick right, forcing a complete stop on our part and often leaving us in a choke of dust. The honking is incessant—though not solely an act of aggression: laying down the horn in another’s ear also seems to be the way that gentlemen say hello in Peru. Still, the rude racket does little to calm our nerves. Within the towns, three-wheeled moto-taxis swarm like bees. They leap over speed bumps and push through the narrow walkways of outdoor markets. Their horns make strange beeping-bleeping noises, and they zip about with a curious insect-like demeanor. Moto-taxis have been the culprits in vehicle-pedestrian deaths, though on the open road (in the places where they are permitted) they hug the shoulders, like us, and are as vulnerable as we are to the giants of the highway. Sadly—or maddeningly—most accidents here could probably be avoided. One article names human error as the cause of 83 percent of Peruvian auto accidents. According to the same story, 3,243 people died in Peru in vehicle accidents in 2009, with more than 43,000 people injured. Another article reports that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among children ages 5 to 14, and second among people 15 to 44.
We took a bus from Chimbote to Chiclayo. I have never been particularly frightened during bus rides—but this was no ordinary bus ride. We were seated in the upper deck in the front row, which gave us a prime view of the highway madness that unfurled before us. Our driver was an efficient man, concerned with each half second that went by. He swerved into oncoming traffic to overtake slower vehicles and gain a few seconds of time. He ran smaller cars off the road and angrily blared his horn to show who was boss. While we momentarily tailgaited a slow and lumbering gravel truck, waiting for an opening, another bus passed us and the truck—and had a very close call with an oncoming tanker, probably carrying flammable liquids. Horns blared north and south as the tanker took to the shoulder. Andrew and I covered our eyes and watched through our fingers. A moment later, we overtook the same bus. Beside us was a buoyant, spirited man bouncing his little boy on his knee as the desert highway blew past. What a ride! Night came, and each oncoming car became just a pair of blinding headlights. Our only consolation came from knowing that if we did connect with a sedan or pickup, this bus would smash it to pieces. Flying past us regularly were the roadside crosses, illuminated in the bus’s headlights but having no obvious effect on our driver’s actions.
We reached our destination at 9 p.m.—right on schedule—and we couldn’t complain about that. Or could we?
December 27, 2012
As we approach 2013, the possibility of entering a sealed aircraft, buckling up and exiting the atmosphere in the name of leisure is no longer science fiction. Rather, space tourism is so close to reality that talks of orbital hotels and space property rights are underway, a space runway has been built, a touristic spacecraft from Virgin Galactic is ready, and hundreds of wealthy travelers have prepaid for their seats at $200,000 a head. While the starting price of a space ticket is for now only an option for the extremely rich, analysts say that streamlining of costs and energy outputs, and bringing large numbers of tourists into orbit at once, will eventually make orbital holidays relatively affordable and, possibly, an option for the masses.
In many ways, space travel closely resembles prior phases of human exploration. Five centuries ago, government-funded vessels from Spain traveled across the Atlantic to the New World. Later, common citizens began to make the same trip, and the trans-Atlantic voyage would become a rather routine errand, for better or for worse. Powerful new nations were consequently born. In 1803, Lewis and Clark, working for the U.S. government, embarked on a scientific and cultural exploration of western North America. Their effort opened the West to millions of settlers—for better or for worse. Now, government space exploration has been a reality for more than 50 years—and it may be inevitable that the general public will follow. Proponents of space travel believe that bringing masses of paying passengers into space—and carrying them in reusable launch vehicles—will make space travel cheap enough to become a feasible everyday activity. This will facilitate research endeavors, and space explorers will likely make great discoveries as they move outward into this next, if not final, frontier. Space travel advocates believe that valuable resources—especially minerals, like gold and platinum, and solar power—could be accessed through missions into the wider reaches of our solar system. Further into an imagined future is the prospect of establishing permanent colonies for human habitation far away from Earth.
But as the industry gears up to go, critics are asking why we must tap into other worlds’ resource banks, why we must endanger the lives of astronauts, and why we should spend money on science-fiction-like undertakings while poverty, pollution, inequality, starvation and extinctions are rampant on Earth. A major concern addresses the pollutants that a space tourism industry could introduce to the Earth’s already strained atmosphere. In October 2010, Scientific American‘s John Matson wrote an article titled “What will space tourism mean for climate change?” He wrote that a mature space tourism industry, consisting of 1,000 flights per year, would spew about 600 metric tons of soot into the atmosphere each year—in addition to greenhouse gases produced during takeoff. Over a period of decades, this soot, seemingly negligible on an annual basis, would produce “a persistent and asymmetric cloud over the Northern Hemisphere that could impact atmospheric circulation and regional temperatures far more than the greenhouse gases released into the stratosphere by those same flights.”
Proponents of space travel are ready with their defense. In a 2009 report produced by Space Future, a company committed to “opening space to the public,” there are virtually no reasons for concern about realizing space travel. The authors, Patrick Collins (owner of Space Future) and Adriano Autino (founder of another space travel promoter Space Renaissance International), acknowledged that space tourism would incur small environmental costs to our planet mainly in its beginning stages. As efficiency increased, however, space travel would begin acting almost as a panacea for all of our planet’s ills. They write that in light of current and increasingly frequent “resource wars” between nations, “…opening access to the unlimited resources of near-Earth space could clearly facilitate world peace and security.” They also believe that space travel will generate valuable educational, cultural and emotional benefits.
Space Renaissance International has published a “manifesto” outlining the arguments for why we should travel beyond the gravity and atmosphere of Earth. The document begins, “If we, the seven billion people that make up 21st century humanity, want our civilisation to keep growing and improving, we must…”
But why must our species continue to advance? Do we really want to keep growing? I believe that the physical limitations and boundaries of our planet, if not insurmountable by our technology, might be worth respecting. I also believe we should employ our brilliance as a species in figuring out how to live sustainably on this planet, and I would argue that it’s not our business to plunder the natural resources of any other worlds unless we can at least learn to manage and preserve our own—a challenge at which we are failing. But Space Future, Space Renaissance International and other advocates of space tourism believe that we should now be tapping the energy and mineral resources of space precisely because we have failed to properly use and preserve our own. Deep space exploration may be inevitable, as it seems that the human will to conquer or discover eventually overpowers all obstacles and mysteries.
As long as the choice is mine, I’ll remain on Earth. But market research surveys have indicated that many people in certain countries—especially, it seems, Japan—would enjoy a vacation spent in space. Would you?
If you’re bent on going, reserve your spot. Just be sure you’ve got a window seat—and that it isn’t over the wing.
December 20, 2012
Tomorrow, a person standing anywhere along the Tropic of Capricorn can look up when the clock strikes noon and observe that the Sun is hovering directly overhead. That means easy sunburns and the start of summer to our friends in Sydney, Santiago, Cape Town and Auckland, for December 21 is the southern summer solstice.
But north of the Equator, we’re about to face-off with the shortest and darkest day of the year—our winter solstice. Where I live, in San Francisco, at about 37 degrees north latitude, the Sun will hit its meager noontime zenith at just 30 degrees above the southern horizon. And farther north, in Glasgow, at 56 degrees latitude, the situation is grimmer; the Sun will scrape out seven hours of daylight while peaking at noon only 11 degrees above the horizon. And in Fairbanks, at 65 degrees north latitude, the outlook for the solstice is truly bleak—for the Sun will barely make an appearance at all, rising to no higher than two degrees above the southern horizon and providing less than four hours of dusky daylight before dipping again behind the Earth.
For ancient people, this dark time of year, of shortening days and a sinking sun, was a gloomy one, posing the greatest threat of freezing or famine—especially in high-latitude locations. But the solstice, though the shortest, darkest day of all, also marked the turnaround toward spring and summer. Thus, December 21 and December 22 (the exact solstice date varies year by year) were days to rejoice. Many people around the world—especially, it seems, in Egypt and Europe—built temples and monuments in recognition of the winter solstice. They aligned these structures to face, frame or otherwise “welcome” the rising Sun as it emerged from the horizon, and today viewers may still see the beautiful visual effects these ancient architects created using Sun and stone. Following are several places to see the solstice in action.
England, Glastonbury Tor: At 51 degrees north latitude, Glastonbury Tor is a man-made mound in southern England that historians believe was built to celebrate the Sun and the path it takes through the sky. On the winter solstice, a person standing on the nearby Windmill Hill can watch as the rising Sun appears to roll along the slope of the mound from base to top, where the ruins of St. Michael’s Church still stand.
Mexico, Chichen Itza: Three months ago, I discussed the importance of this ancient Mayan site as it relates to the equinoxes—on which two days a shadow, cast down the stairway of the Kukulcán pyramid in the late afternoon, creates the spectacular image of an undulating serpent. On the winter solstice, the Sun itself is the star of the occasion, rising at dawn (it always does, doesn’t it?) and lifting upward along the edge of the pyramid. To a person facing the western side of the monument, the rising Sun appears to roll up the pyramid’s edge before lifting off into the tropical deep-winter sky.
Egypt, Karnak Temple: On December 21, viewers inside the Karnak Temple can see the Sun rise dramatically in the entryway, between the high walls of the ancient monument. For a few moments, the Sun’s rays gleam through the pillars and chambers—including the Sanctuary of Amun—before the event passes, and morning commences on this shortest day of the year. Arnak is just one of many sites like it in Egypt. A survey of 650 Egyptian temples, conducted by scientist Juan Belmonte of the Canaries Astrophysical Institute, has led to the conclusion that most of the sites were built in recognition of celestial events—especially sunrise on the equinoxes and solstices.
England, Stonehenge: The makers of England’s most famous rockpile certainly had something special in mind when they arranged the giant slabs as they did, but the site remains a mystery. Some people today believe the winter solstice sunset inspired the arrangement of the stones, but overall, evidence is spotty that the huge slabs of Stonehenge are aligned to celestial events. Nonetheless, Stonehenge fanatics want in on the party. Last winter, 5,000 people visited Stonehenge on the solstice, and many are expected tomorrow—though officials have voiced concern over the impending crowds. And as if crashing the winter solstice party wasn’t enough, pagans and partiers from miles around convene at Stonehenge for the summer solstice, too. In 2011, 18,000 of them hooted and hollered as the Sun rose just before 5 a.m., and 14,000 returned for the same occasion in 2012. This website concedes that the builders of Stonehenge did not likely have any summer solstice symbolism in mind.
New Zealand, Aotearoa Stonehenge: New Zealand is a modern austral society with ancient roots in the boreal world, and so what the Kiwis may lack in paleoarchitecture they may simply build anew out of wood, wire and concrete. So was born Aotearoa Stonehenge near Wellington, a modern interpretation of the original Stonehenge. Designed specifically to accommodate the site’s latitude and longitude, the circular arrangement includes 24 pillars that create windows through which visitors may watch the appearance of important stars and constellations of the southern sky as they rise from the horizon. Additionally, a 16-foot-tall obelisk points toward the celestial south pole. The structure was built by volunteers with the Phoenix Astronomical Society, who toiled for 11,000 hours over 18 months to complete the job. The henge was finished in 2005 and already has become a noted site for seeing the sunrise on the austral summer solstice.
The end of the world? The solstice of 2012 will be a particularly exciting one since the day also happens to be the scheduled end of the world, according to many spiritualists—especially those fixated on interpretations of the Mayan calendar. But scientists with NASA have publicly countered, announcing that there is no evidence of impending doom. The United States Geological Survey also concluded in a recent blog article that the world will go on after tomorrow’s solstice. Phew!