The TTI Exploration Society

A large part of the TTI library is devoted to early travel and exploration literature, and a great many of the books contain beautiful plates and illustrations of exotic and mundane places hundreds of years ago. The TTI management are honouring the memory of these earlier generations of travellers by trying to find the exact spots from which these illustrations were made in order to photograph them. Of course in most cases these will be unidentifiable, but if we have any success a gallery of photos will appear here (sadly we've only just started).

Here are the slides for a silly talk I gave in Cambridge about the Society in May 2005. This contains "The Rules".

An example of a current investigation is the "Quest for Icononzo".


The Quest for Icononzo

How to find a photograph of the Natural Bridges of Icononzo - which 200 years ago were "justly considered, in the country, as among the objects most worthy of the attention of travellers"? Above is a sketch made by the explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, when passing through what is now Colombia in 1801, of just that. I can't find any references to this today : I've asked several Colombians and they deny all knowledge, there's nothing on the internet or in any Colombian guide books that I could find. The Colombians told me that Icononzo is now in a dangerous part of the country where some people had their heads chopped off by nasty guerillas a few years ago. Maybe one day we'll just have to be brave and go and photograph it ourselves (I'm aware this will probably sound hilarious to Colombians). If anybody has any information about the Natural Bridges, or wants to join the expedition, then do let me know. Just for the record - this is what Humboldt saw (according to Humbolt's Travels and Discoveries in South America above).

"Leaving Santa Fe in September, 1801, the attention of the travellers was next arrested by the natural bridges of Icononzo, and from their reports of these specimens of natural architecture we extract the following details.

The valley of Icononzo, or Pandi, is one of the most remarkable in the Andes, not so much for its dimensions, as for the singular form of its rocks, which appear as if they had been cut by the hand of man. Their naked and barren tops present the most picturesque contrast with the tufts of trees and shrubs, which cover the edges of its curious crevice. Through this valley a small torrent, called the Rio de la Summa Paz, has forced a passage; it descends from the easternmost of the three chains into which the Andes are here divided, or that chain which separates the great plains of the Orinoco from the basin of the River Magdalena, and it flows towards the latter. The bed in which this torrent is confined is almost inaccessible; and it could not have been crossed without great difficulty, if Nature had not provided two bridges of rock, which are justly considered, in the country, as among the objects most worthy of the attention of travellers. The name, "Icononzo," is that of an Indian village, which stood at the southern extremity of the valley, and of which a few scattered huts are now the only remains.

It is at about the middle of the valley that the torrent rushes through the deep crevice over which the bridges extend; and the stream here forms two fine water-falls; one on entering the crevice, and the other one escaping from it. At the height of nearly 320 feet, the uppermost bridge crosses the chasm; its length is about 48 feet, and its breadth 40. The rock of which the bridge is formed is very compact; it preserves its natural position, lying in beds nearly horizontal.

Sixty feet lower than this bridge, and very near to it, is the second, crossing the same chasm. Unlike the first, however, it is not one fragment of unbroken and undisturbed strata, but it is composed of three enormous masses of rock, which have accidentally fallen down and met in their descent, so as to support each other, and form an arch, of which the middle mass is the key-stone. In the middle of this second bridge is a large hole about eight yards square, through which the traveller looks down into the abyss beneath, and discerns the torrent flowing, as it were, through a dark cavern, while his ear is assailed by the ceaseless and melancholy noise of the countless troops of nocturnal birds which haunt the chasm. Thousands of these birds were seen flying over the surface of water. Humboldt at first mistook them for gigantic bats, so well known in these equatorial regions. It is impossible to catch them, on account of the depth of the crevice; and the only mode of examining them is by throwing down rockets to light up the side of the chasm. Their plumage is of an uniform brownish grey: according to the Indians, who call them 'cacas', they are of the size of a common fowl, and have curved beaks, with the eye of an owl. Humboldt supposed them to belong to the Caprimulgidae, or goat-suckers."