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Abyssia: Cayman and Albatrosia Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Pacifica on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge. Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Atlantis on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge.

by Chris Wayan, 2010

for William Beebe and Otis Barton, first voyagers into the abyss

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Introduction - Cayman - Albatrosia - Malpelo - People

This page briefly tours these two great islands west of Atlantis. Both islands are quite narrow, never more than 200 km wide (125 mi), and often less than 50 (30 mi); but each is well over 1000 km long.

Map of Cayman, a rugged island west of Atlantis, and Albatrosia, still further west, on Abyssia, an alternate Earth where up is down and down is up.
CAYMAN is the upside-down equivalent of our Cayman Trench in the Caribbean. It's larger than Java, smaller than England. Cayman is very rugged, with several peaks up to 2600 m (8300'), rivaling the Puerto Rico Range on the Atlantean mainland to the east; high enough for a little snow in winter, even at this balmy latitude. The climate's distinctly drier than our Caribbean, since upwind of Cayman lies Atlantis's southwestern desert.

ALBATROSIA, to the southwest, is much lower; this island corresponds to the Middle American Trench, part of our Pacific Rim trench system, like the Andean Islands to the south. Since it's beyond the Atlantean rainshadow (storms can blow in from two oceans) it's noticeably rainier than Cayman.

MALPELO is a much smaller island to the south; while distant, it is part of the same trench-and-ridge structure forming Albatrosia, so I've grouped it here. It has nowhere else to fit.

Low orbital photo of Cayman (a rugged island west of Atlantis) and Albatrosia (still further west) on Abyssia, an alternate Earth where up is down and down is up.

Introduction - Cayman - Albatrosia - Malpelo - People

Map of Cayman, a rugged island west of Atlantis on Abyssia, an alternate Earth where up is down and down is up.


This island off Atlantis, just south of the Cuba Trench, is 1200 km (750 mi) long, as big as our Cuba. But very different--much of Cuba's low, but Cayman's a rugged, twisted mass of ridges, geologically complex; quakes are common. So are volcanoes.

The rugged peaks of the Sierra Maestra rise up to 2600 m (8300'), third highest range in the hemisphere. The Sierra is an extension of the Puerto Rico Range on the Atlantean mainland; and like it, is high enough for some snow in winter. In the east and center, the high country is broken, sky-islands dissected by deep twisting canyons.

Past Cape Rosalind and around Misteriosa Sound, Cayman's spine sags and frays even more, into freestanding peaks (some still nearly 2 km high) lapped by sounds or low alluvial plains. A bit more Cuban (with Swan Island standing in for the Isle of Youth I guess), but still... not much.
Steep coast, rock arch; tribute to 'McWay Rocks', a print by Tom Killion, by Wayan. Click to enlarge.
Steep southeast coast of Cayman, faux print by Wayan 2017
after 'McWay Rocks, Big Sur' (2013), a print by Tom Killion

The climate's drier than our Caribbean, too, since Atlantis's southwestern deserts lie upwind. No hurricanes come from the east! Still, storms from the north and south give most of the island adequate rain. And the Sierra Maestra Range is high enough to snag clouds and rain, even from weaker weatherfronts. They'd cast a rainshadow to the southwest if Cayman had a southwest, but the narrow island angles so the long south coast is sunny yet catches light rains much of the year, rather like Honolulu: rainbows every afternoon. The north shore is shady, misty and lush green.

Unlike most of Abyssia, where coastal water's shallow and full of coral reefs, Cayman's shores drop off sharply, especially in the north and east. Coastal cliffs are common. Both north and south coasts rise from trenches 5 km deep, though the northern, the Cayman Trench, is better defined--a straight gash of midnight blue severing Cayman from Pickle Bank.

Pickle Bank, a broad reef complex the size of Taiwan, is more typical of Abyssian coastal waters--a shallow turquoise tangle of coral reefs. Fine fishing, but the locals will have to return to Cayman for fresh water; the Banks have a few slender islets built up enough for palm trees, but none with pools or springs.

Introduction - Cayman - Albatrosia - Malpelo - People

Albatrosia is over 1000 km west of Cayman, some 2000 west of Atlantis. Albatrosia is much lower than Cayman; this long slender island corresponds to the Middle American Trench, part of our Pacific Rim trench system, like the Andean Islands to the south. Since it's beyond the Atlantean rainshadow (storms can blow in from two oceans) it's also noticeably rainier than Cayman.

Albatrosia is quite narrow, never more than 100 km wide, and often less than 50 (60-30 mi). Yet it's fully 2000 km long (1250 mi). It's named for the Albatross Ridge, a scarp system running thousands of km south from the long island's northwest end. It was that or name it Middle American Island. Clumsy.

The southwest coast is fairly dry. The central hills, from 1000 to 1700 m high (33-5400') block much rain from the east. Globally, deserts are rare. Except for Pacifica, Abyssia's scattered lands are maritime, and most mountains are too low to cast strong rainshadows. That's true here: the southwest shore of Albatrosia is in a high pressure zone prone to deserts--if the land were continental or directly downwind of a desert. But thousands of miles of ocean generate rain, even if winds are weak much of the year. So this shore has savanna and open woods of little trees that bloom in a good year and turn brown in a bad. Still, there are creeks from the hills; enough for irrigation. A tiny strip of dry Mediterranean climate, basically. Map of Albatrosia, a long slender island equivalent to our Middle American Trench, on Abyssia, an alternate Earth where up is down and down is up.

Maybe the land is a bit grudging, but the sea is rich; off Cape Paramount, a huge arc of reefs and shallows curves south then east for 2000 km : the Colón Reefs, larger than our Great Barrier Reef. Not the largest on Abyssia, a world abounding in coral; but big.

The east coast, in contrast, is lush throughout. Storms off the American Sea roll in unobstructed. Few coral reefs here, for this shore drops off quickly into very deep water indeed: the Mexican Trench. Its lowest point, the Orizaba Deep, is nearly 11 km down, one of the deepest spots in the hemisphere, rivaling our own Mariana Trench.

Though albatrosses certainly frequent the island (its central ridge, running across the prevailing winds, creates a ridable updraft 2000 km long, a bird-freeway) its name comes not directly from great-winged birds but from Albatross Trench, running south from its western tip (just off the left side of the map); the trench's east wall is an impressive underwater escarpment at least a kilometer high. In our world, it's the equally little-known (because equally hidden undersea) but geologically spectacular Albatross Ridge (best seen in the companion globe to Abyssia, Siphonia).

Introduction - Cayman - Albatrosia - Malpelo - People

Malpelo Island is far southeast of Albatrosia, midway between C. Cocos and the Andean Archipelago, the big southern sister(s) of Albatrosia. Reefs link Malpelo to both; they're all part of the same Pacific Rim trench/ridge complex. Its equivalent on Earth is a small arcuate trench south of Panama. Malpelo is perhaps 75 km long and 25 wide (45 by 15 mi); it's close to the equator, rainy most of the year, and covered in dense forest. Yeah, our world's closest equivalent, the Galapagos, are pretty dry; but they're in the rainshadow of the Andes, a little item absent on Abyssia. A closer analogy would be Panama. So stock up on fruit and fresh water, all you mariners! And possibly rum, in those coastal towns. Or possibly lose a few things to pirates. This is a Caribbean isle, after all. Just... there aren't any more. Island of the Caribbean? Doesn't have the same ring.

Poor old Malpelo! Single for life.

Map of Cayman, a rugged island west of Atlantis, and Albatrosia, still further west, on Abyssia, an alternate Earth where up is down and down is up.
I was bluffing, you know. My atlases all disagree on this little trench's depth and shape, so the geography is quite cloudy. Some of my sources would have me create a mere reef or bank here--no true land at all--some, a low, C-shaped atoll; a few, more substantial mountains. Oh well, those hills are probably wrapped in endlessly drizzling clouds, anyway. As bad as cartographic doubt, and wetter, too. Stick to getting robbed in the coastal towns, they're sunnier.

And yes, Malpelo means Bad Hair--presumably the discoverer of the nearby Terran islet (a bit southeast of this Abyssian Malpelo, but close) was having a bad-hair day--all that brine, I guess--"water, water everywhere, and never a drop to rinse" as Coleridge so quaintly observed.

Introduction - Cayman - Albatrosia - Malpelo - Peoples

Biologically as well as geologically, Cayman and Albatrosia are quite distinct.

Cayman, near Atlantis, has biological variations on Atlantean themes; it's not that far offshore, and its mountains offer habitat much like Atlantis's western mountains, savannas and deserts, heartland of the leptaurs. Cayman will definitely be settled by these amiable omnivorous catlike people. They may not love to swim, but they're perfectly competent sailors.

A leptaur, a centauroid cat native to Atlantis on Abyssia, swimming; paintsketch by Wayan.
Head of an albatross-like but intelligent seabird native to Albatrosia. Sketch by Wayan. Click to enlarge.


But Albatrosia's a very different story. Deep isolation has made Albatrosia (like the Andean Archipelago to the south) a laboratory for speciation. The best Terran analogies are New Zealand and Madagascar. Albatrosia is a largely avian world, dominated by huge flightless birds, all of them endemic. Large land animals from other continents could not swim or drift here; it's simply too far. Storm-blown birds, though... and without large land predators, flightlessness is likely to result. And as on Madagascar and New Zealand, gigantism. If a bird doesn't need to stay light, why not grow big?

Now, two factors have so far blocked Terran birds from achieving civilization despite high intelligence and socialization: small size, and lack of hands. Flight limits absolute size, and thus brainweight. Wings are specialized limbs, hand-feet are awkward, and so are beaks.

But the big flightless species that tend to evolve on the most isolated of Abyssia's scattered landmasses lack both these limitations:

  1. HANDS: "Bird" means something a little different on Abyssia. Avians, like most vertebrates here, are variants on a basic six-limbed body plan; it's insects that have four. Thus, nearly all birds have small (but not vestigial) forelimbs tucked under wings or folded over their breasts; limbs typically evolved to snatch insects, groom feathers, pick fruit, carry nesting materials... and wield tools.
  2. SIZE: On Albatrosia, with no large land mammals--no predators at all to flee--flightless, giant albatrosses evolved. Now even Terran albatrosses, restricted in size by the harsh demands of long-distance flight, are highly intelligent and extremely long-lived. They were ideal candidates for personhood--quite as good as apes. Indeed, they may rival apes in intelligence, despite their small size. On Albatrosia, with that restriction taken off, and hands to act and build, directed by that intelligence...
It may be that deepwater ships never discover Albatrosia; instead, it's quite possible that ships from Albatrosia discover... the world.
Line drawing of a gentlemanly Dodo with hands of mysterious origin; by John Tenniel, from ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Not that this should surprise you. Abyssia, by its premise, is an upside-down, looking-glass, Alice sort of place. The dodo shall inherit the earth.

Map of Abyssia, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOURS: this route snakes around Abyssia's major lands - Lena Is. (brr!) - Greek Is. - Atlantis - Azorea - Cayman and Albatrosia - Andean Is. - Scotia Is. - Morningtonia - Agassiz - South Pacifica - East Pacifica - Hawaiian Sea - Pacifica Desert - Filipinia - Banda Is. - Vityaz Archipelago - Tasman Is. - The Bight - Whartonia - Chagosia - Somalia - Mascarenia and Crozetia - Weddellia - Argentia - Pernambuco - Angolia - Tristania - Agulhas group

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