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Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth Orbital photo of Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth. Capsica: Valiha
by Chris Wayan, 2012


Map of central Kifura and the huge Isle  of Valiha, on Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth.

Introduction - Touring - North to South - The Mountaintops

On Capsican maps, Valiha looks amazingly like Madagascar. Part of that's just size and location--Valiha's a big island east of the rather African continent of Kifura. The similar size and shape hide geological differences: Madagascar's a formidable chunk of land jutting high above the Indian seabasin, but drop Valiha into the Indian Ocean and it'd almost disappear: only the highest of its volcanic would poke their summits above water. Mere islets. Only because Capsica's seas are so shallow does the Valiha tectonic platelet form an island at all.

Despite its shape, Valiha isn't Madagascar's geographical clone either. Or if it is, some fool installed it backwards: the mountains here hug the west coast, leaving a long slope to the east, the opposite of Madagascar.

That has consequences: at this latitude, most rains sweep in from the southeast. Madagascar has a narrow jungle along its wet east coast and a broad drier western slope. On more arid Capsica, Valiha's broad side faces the rains. Biomass is much higher than Madagascar, or mainland Kifura for that matter, due only to orientation!

Geography matters.

Introduction - Touring - North to South - The Mountaintops

Roughing in a tour for Earth tourists was easy this time--there's only one route that has any hope of not cooking you all. We'll enter from the Numith Mountains of eastern Kifura, head south down the island's spine, and fly back to Kifura.

Capsicans have the option of flying east to the equatorial Arch, and on to the gigantic Martian volcanoes of the Ekurre Peninsula, but you don't. It's both too hot and too long--a full day or two over water, and no cool heights to rest on for a day after that, in the mountains of the central Arch--well inland. Not gonna happen.

Map of Valiha, a Madagascar-sized island off eastern Kifura, a large equatorial continent on Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth.
Map of Valiha, a Madagascar-sized island off eastern Kifura, a large equatorial continent on Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth.

Introduction - Touring - North to South - The Mountaintops

You come in tired and sweaty--hours in the air. The indigo sea gradually shallows, turning turquoise, feathered with purple and brown pseudokelp forests.

Land. A sweep of rippling lavender slopes: hotgrass nodding in wind. Herds of... what? Deer-size, as far as you can tell. Something startles a group of a hundred or two; they leap and take wing, diving and dodging like a shimmery school of deer-fish. Or is that too poetic? Pigeon-cows, then.

Ahead, the pale savanna rises to ruddier highlands. Head for those. They darken to plum mixed with olive then spangles of green as you climb. Blue skies around you, here on the narrow dry side; but clouds crown the summits.

Go for the highest, Mt Elotho; the extra work now will be worth it in a cooler campsite. But it is work; no easy updrafts here. You're on the lee side of the mountains, and tradewinds sweep downslope. Updrafts rise from the scorching coastal flats, but it's 55°C down there (131°F); you need the peaks. Find a high meadow near the summit of Mt Elotho and land.

Seek shade. Rest, try to sleep, but I wouldn't recommend camping here long. You won't truly recover from your strait-crossing here. It's 40°C (104°F) at night, and that's as cool as it ever gets. We're just not high enough--just 2800 m (9,200'). Push on. Try to ride the east faces of the mountains; they're windward.

By afternoon you've reached the North-Central Group, the highest and coolest peaks on Valiha. Rest up here! The best you'll get. One night it actually drops to 30°C (86°F). Ahhhh.

As I said, this isn't a Madagascar clone; it got installed backwards. So the broad plains and slopes to your left are red white and plum-purple: flocks of cumulus wander over dense tropical forest, crimson in sun, cloudshadowed to plum. Even from the summit-crater of Mien Tholus, at 4500 m (14,750'), the jungle extends to the horizon, lost in cloud. But to your right is pink to lavender savanna clotted and ribboned with rose-colored groves and broken by brown and gold rock outcrops--vaguely African. But this slightly off-color Africa is really quite narrow; that dim turquoise strip on the horizon is the sea you crossed.

Here's where native Capsicans often peel off east on the Ekurre Flyway: northeast along a mountain spur--high and cool enough so even you could get near the coast. But then the flyway hops along the low, equatorial Kuisha Islands--far too hot and humid for you. If you could survive two days of that, and another of low coastal hills on The Arch, you could reach the almost bearable heights around the rim of the Arch's central rift. Cross that (against the wind, as this whole detour has been--good luck!) and a few more days of steamy ridge-running, and you'd reach the gigantic Martian volcanoes of the Ekurre Peninsula, with heights so cool they could be Earth. But you wouldn't make it. The sea-passage is just too hot for too long. Your only survivable way lies south.

Ahead to the south lies olive cloudforest-clad ridges just half your height. White banners straggle west through gaps. These lower transverse ridges of the Central Narrows, between Merendang Bay and the Gulf of Panas, are an uncomfortable stretch for you. ('Uncomfortable' is my euphemism for 40-45° heat (104-113°F) and high humidity). That silver to your left is broad Merendang Bay. Here at the island's narrow waist, storms off Merendang sweep right through the gaps you must traverse, so the land's red and cloud-dappled shore to shore. Had the same ridges been oriented north-south, your travels would be higher, cooler, and drier--easier all round--but the west would be dry. Orientation again... Map of Valiha, a Madagascar-sized island off eastern Kifura, a large equatorial continent on Capsica, a small world hotter and drier than Earth.

Things improve for you on day four; you reach the long cool wedge of the Shundo Mountains. True green again, days no higher than 40°C (104°F) and nights below 35°C (95°F). Relief! Rest up and enjoy it. Sit in a creek. But beware what's below you to the west now. The southern highlands you're perching on are more continuous than the cones and ridges you've been hopping between. They cast a substantial rainshadow on the west coast; pale pink to tans, golds, chocolate browns... It almost looks Terran down there. But that's just because it's near-desert, the first you've seen! Too dry for the rhodophores that make most Capsican lowlands look so alien. This seems Terran, but the heat down there's fatal.

So be absolutely sure of your wings and your water supply as you prepare for the long flight back over Sho Strait to Kifura. Stay high, ride those thermals driven by the fierce heat below. For you, narrow Sho Strait is irrelevant--the real strait is of heat not water, and much wider. Head up the hot, humid eastern spurs of Mt Roldai in the Numith Range, south of the Slump. It doesn't matter which spur you follow--all roads lead to Roldai. It's a real giant, 7 km high (23,000'). You can't miss it and you won't want to; its high cool shoulders are a gentle, Polynesian refuge to you, after weeks of sweltering heat on Valiha.

Introduction - Touring - North to South - The Mountaintops

Quite Earthlike tropical groves and meadows. Rain-bearing cloudlayers in the Capsican tropics climb well above Earth's; high-altitude equatorial deserts are rare, appearing only above 6-7 km. Why? Four factors all conspire to give Capsican highlands more rain:

  1. warm air (higher carrying capacity for moisture)
  2. denser air (ditto; and easier on animal life too)
  3. lower gravity (pressure drops off slower, so dense air extends higher)
  4. orbital eccentricity (gives even the equator a distinct summer in which thunderstorms can climb high indeed)
So these peaks you're restricted to aren't desert islands (mostly) above the clouds. At least if you're a plant! But they are zoological deserts. Large animal life is sparse in the heights. High-altitude plants aren't rare or inedible. Yes, chlorofers and rhodofers use different enzymes and pigments, but both store energy as fats and sugars equally accessible to Capsican digestion (even yours). But to Capsicans, with their ovenlike body temperatures, it's bone-chilling cold atop the heights; they burn more energy foraging than they gain. At the poles, some animals have evolved massive insulation; but these tropical highlands are volcanic, recent, and small. Maybe in a few million years...
Map of Capsica, a hot planet.
Nohaa Island Ralopa Islands Arctic Is. off Bel Notahi Peninsula Eastern Bel Fulisse Peninsula NW Bel (upper right) SW Bel, deserts Chai Cape Corona Kurai Peninsula Hi and Vepra Yaku and Az Isle of Goret The Eel Prath Peninsula Kifura Isle of Valiha Ri Kshen Isles Tlasi Caldera in NE Arch Arch: NE Mt Artho, NE Arch Arch, dry central Arch, north coast Arch: tropical west Ekurre Range Arch: east down to canal Arch: right, canal down to volcano South Pole Giant World Map

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