Category Archives: Steve

How the EU Works

With apologies to the original author, but I don’t know the provenance of this piece. All I know is that it conforms to my understanding (and experience) of how the European Union works, it explains it in language we can all understand, and (irony and pathos aside) it’s very funny.

Subject: How the EU works

The deputy chairman of a local resident’s association offered to help us understand how the EU works and he wrote the note below using a Cheral Residents’ Association analogy to explain the processes.  The explanation of how the EC works is greatly simplified in order to render it understandable even to the few deluded Bremainians in the association..

Once upon a time, a man moved into a house.

He kept a few chickens. His next door neighbour made jam.

After a while, they got chatting over the fence & he gave her a box of eggs which she accepted. Out of  kindness, she gave him a jar of her homemade jam in return. This became a regular thing.  It was a trade between them & they got on fine for years without need for anything in writing.

But nearby they have a bossy neighbour called Mr Pluncker who wants to control everyone.  He runs the local resident’s association that has high membership fees.

He tells them both they will benefit if they join the resident’s association because it will enable them to meet more of their neighbours & network so they may be able to sell more eggs & jam to their neighbours.

So they join. It has seven other members at the time. This all worked OK. But, after a while, the resident’s association committee started giving them advice on how to run their own households.

Then some affordable housing was built nearby with poor and formerly homeless people moving in.  They are allowed to join the resident’s association, but instead of having to pay a membership fee, being poor,  they actually get paid to join.

After a few years, the membership expanded to 28 households. 

Half of them were poor households and benefitted from free membership.  Some of the poorer ones even received money from the association each year.

After a while, the resident’s association committee started getting bored & wanted more power to do something ‘exciting’ & ‘visionary’ & ‘bold’.  So they gave a few of the poor countries Wonga & QuickQuid type loans, on which the association got a hidden commission, as a nice little earner, from kindly Mr  Goldman and his partner Mr Sachs. They had a bank in the town and were good friends of  Mr Pluncker. You see, the resident’s association doesn’t actually have that much money, so it has to borrow the money to lend to the poor residents. 

The man with the chickens also had a large pond with lovely koi carp that breed & he used to sell the fish. But the association took a vote & decided he should let the other residents, especially the poor ones, come & take out 80% of his fish so they too could sell them.  Of course, he voted against this but got outvoted. But this was all perfectly fine because the decision followed the democratic process. 

The bossy neighbour Mr Pluncker who runs the association then started telling residents how they should run their households. He even made it a condition of their loans saying “If you don’t do as I say then the loans will stop & I’ll have your car off you”.

This rule secretly got extended to all residents. When they sign their annual subscription fee it’s written in the small print that ”No single member of the association will be permitted to make any decisions on how to run their own households without a vote being taken on it”

The idea was sold to the residents on the basis that they will all get to vote on whether they’re permitted to do this or that in their own house, so it’s all completely democratic. 

Furthermore, each member is told – ”New rules on how you are to run your household will be generated for you at monthly intervals & you must obey them. You will, of course, be given a chance to vote on the new rules as this is a democracy’’ 

The reality of this wonderful new democracy is that 84% of individual residents get out-voted by sheer force of numbers. Meaning that whatever was right & appropriate for one household and was probably not right & not appropriate for another but it gets approved anyway; no exceptions were allowed.  Every household had to do exactly the same as the other households thanks the democratic ‘community method’ and something that Mr Pluncker called “acquis communautaire” just to make things even more confusing for the residents and everyone else.

But no matter. Everything is voted on so it’s all perfectly democratic.

Residents are also told they must leave their front doors unlocked so other members can wander into their house & stay as long as they wish. The poor people and those who are “vulnerable” (which means most of them) especially love this.

Some residents wonder where their money is going.  But when they ask to see the association accounts they are always refused. And they begin to wonder how Mr Pluncker the chairman of the resident’s association ever got voted in by the committee. Turns out he was the only candidate in a secret ballot.

Half of the residents think this is perfectly OK. Frankly they’re a rather timid & pathetic lot and they believe Mr Pluncker and his friends who warn them that if they were to leave the association it would be A LEAP IN THE DARK.  They’d be ostracised by their neighbours & wouldn’t know what to do or how to run their households. 

In fact, after so many years of being told what to do, they’ve lost all confidence that they could ever run their households again. 

So they just go along with everything without complaining. 

Besides, the poor ones have little choice.  The association now holds their purse strings.

When any neighbours suggest they might all be better off leaving the association, they get called “racist anti-European xenophobes” meaning they must have a morbid fear & loathing of their neighbours in wanting to leave. 

The motto of the new democratic residents association is ‘Pay & Obey’.

And no, they didn’t all live happily ever after……..

And neither will we if end up voting to stay in this dysfunctional and undemocratic organisation!

 

Creating A Travel Guide With WikiPedia

An original version of  this post was published in January 2013, but I thought it was worth updating and re-posting, having just created a travel guide for our forthcoming cruise from Miami to San Francisco, via the Panama Canal.

A much-overlooked but useful feature of Wikipedia is the “Create A BooK” tool. This enables you to source useful reference information from Wikipedia’s pages into your own personalised book, that you can either download for a free as a PDF or in open document format.

Alternatively for a small charge, you can have it professionally typeset and bound. Why would you want to do this you may ask? Well, for me it was the desire to have my own personalised reference guide for the places I am visiting on my trip (cruise) from Miami, via the Panama Canal, Central America, and finishing in San Francisco.

For my guide I’ve sourced information about the places I’m visiting, the indigenous peoples, the animals and wildlife, the climate, the languages and much more. All neatly indexed and collated with photos, text and hyperlinks. If travel is not your thing, you could maybe create a book about your favourite music, composer or a specific professional interest. If you’d like to give it a go, read on.

How to Create A Book Using Wikipedia

Search, browse and navigate to the Wikipedia article of your choice. On the left hand side, near the bottom is the create a book menu. It includes two items – Add wiki page and Books help.

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Start adding the pages to your book by clicking the Add wiki page link on the relevant Wikipedia pages you want to include. The number of pages in the book gets automatically updated in the menu on the left. Two additional menu items ““ Show book (with a page counter) and Suggest Pages appear in the menu. This latter option triggers Wikipedia’s automated search engine that looks for similar content to that which you’ve previously searched. I’ve found this to be quite useful once I’ve finished looking up all the places we are going to visit on this trip since it might trigger a few more ideas, e.g. languages and local dialects.

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You can also add an entire category within which the relevant page falls with just a single click. You can find the category hierarchy at the end of the article page.

Add The Title Of Your Book

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With all pages added, click the Show book button to review your book. Here it is possible to add a book title (and a subtitle) and change the ordering of the wiki pages of the book through drag and drop. Unwanted pages can be dumped by a simple click of the “dustbin” icon. New chapters can be included using the Create chapter link.

Many advanced functions like adding a particular revision or saving a book and improving the layout can be achieved through a combination of advanced functions. The Help page details those steps.

Download Or Order A Printed Copy

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Voila! You have just “written” your first book with the help of Wikipedia. Now, the finished book can be downloaded in PDF or OpenDocument format or ordered as a bound book. To download in the format of your choice, select the format from the dropdown and click theDownload button. To order the book as a bound book, click the Order book from PediaPressbutton.

Wikipedia’s built-in rendering engine assembles the pages, grabs the images and parses them before they are passed on to the user in the final downloadable format. In its final format my 14 Wikipedia pages transformed into a 65MB file downloaded as a 155 page PDF book. The end result was good, with neat alignments of photos and text. It is worth remembering that one Wikipedia page can scroll downwards into multiple physical printed pages, and hence why my 14 Wikipedia pages translated into 155 printed pages.

If you take the PediaPress option as I have done, you’ll pay for typesetting, layout and binding. Cost will depend on whether you want colour (I did) or black and white, and if you want a hard or paperback cover.  I was pleased with the end result (see photo) and will be using this as my everyday companion during this holiday.

Palms in paradise

Christmas & New Year Cruise 2015/6

 

Magellan

Aboard the Cruise & Maritime ship “Magellan“.

This was a first experience of being away for Christmas and the New Year. It was an amazing time, taking in the Christmas market at Antwerp, Christmas dinner at sea at the Captain’s table, and seeing the New Year in at Madeira where we were anchored in the harbour to watch the amazing fireworks. Definitely a Christmas and New Year to remember.

The only downside was the rough crossing of the bay of Biscay, where we experienced force 9 winds and waves of up to 12 metres on the journey back to the UK. Many passengers and some crew were quite ill. I guess my time in the Royal Navy stood me in good stead since I wasn’t affected, and neither were Linda (wife) or daughter (Rebecca) who has perhaps inherited the sea-faring blood!

Itinerary:

  • Tuesday 22/12/2015 – London Tilbury
  • Wednesday 23/12/2015 – Antwerp
  • Thursday 24/12/2015 – At Sea
  • Friday 25/12/2015 – Christmas at Sea
  • Saturday 26/12/2015 – Gibraltar
  • Sunday 27/12/2015 – At Sea
  • Monday 28/12/2015 – Arecife, Lanzarote
  • Tuesday 29/12/2015 – Santa Cruz, Tenerife
  • Wednesday 30/12/2015 – Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
  • Thursday 31/12/2015 Funchai, Madeira
  • Friday 01/01/2016 – At Sea
  • Saturday 02/01/2016 – Lisbon, Portugal
  • Sunday 03/01/2016 – At Sea
  • Monday 04/01/2016 – At Sea
  • Tuesday 05/01/2016 – Tilbury

Google Map

Photos

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More Photos at Flickr.com

Queen Mary 2 – a taste of luxury

Queen Mary 2

Cruise on the QM2, New York To London, 29th October 2015 to 6th November 2015

 

Lynda (wife) and I made a conscious decision early in our cruising career to opt for smaller ships, e.g. less than 1,500 passengers, because we preferred a more personal experience. I guess the foundation for this ‘cruising template’ was established from our very first cruise, on the Royal Clipper, which had a complement of 227 passengers and 106 crew. Almost a 2:1 ratio of passengers to crew. However, I’ve always wanted to sample the luxury of a Cunard “Queen” cruise, even those these were much bigger ships than we would normally seek out for our holidays. As it happened, Cunard were offering a great deal for their “Festival of Jazz” cruise, sailing from New York to Southhampton on 29th October 2015. There was also the bonus that one of Lynda’s favourite singers and songwriters, Gregory Porter, would be performing  during the cruise. So, decision made, we booked this Festival of Jazz cruise on the Queen Mary 2.

It may seem an odd thing to do, but we flew out to New York on the morning of 29th October, arriving JFK in the afternoon for a transfer to Brooklyn Harbour where the QM2 was berthed, setting sail at 6pm for a 6-day east-bound journey across the Atlantic back to the UK. If nothing else, it made an interesting contrast between the speed and convenience of air travel, with its 3-hour airport security check-in process, plastic meals and variable in-flight entertainment, vs. the relaxed atmosphere on the QM2, 5-star dining every day and a choice of three or four live shows every day. If you’re not in any particular hurry to get anywhere (and we weren’t), then this is surely the way to travel.New York At Night

The first thing that struck us about the QM2 – apart from its luxurious decor and massive open spaces, was that surely there can’t be 2,500 passengers on board. Maybe they didn’t get it fully booked. In actual fact, we learnt that the ship was indeed fully booked and there were no empty cabins. This feeling of space, the lack of queues and absence of crowds, is partly due to the size of the ship (until recently the longest ship in the world) but mainly due to the massive variety of places to eat, drink and relax. In our six days on board we never managed to visit every bar, or every restaurant.  Dining ranged from pub grub (in a facsimile of an English country pub) to pizza and fast-food restaurants, to 7-course fine dining. There was also a choice of several theatres for live shows and lectures. There was even a planetarium!

And so we had a leisurely and luxurious 6-day cruise across the Atlantic, on a liner actually designed and built for transatlantic crossing. Admittedly the weather was pretty good all the way across, but the fact that the liner cut through the waves rather than ride over them made for a very calm journey.  Unless you were actually looking out to sea you would hardly know you were moving, and even more remarkable, we were averaging 28.5 knots for the whole journey (most cruise ships will average about 15 knots – but then again, QM2 is a liner, not a cruise ship).

I won’t go into graphic detail about the daily schedule, the food, the entertainment, the formal evenings, the guest speakers, the Maquarade Ball , the casino, watching the glorious sunrises and sunsets, or the many other things that kept us occupied on our journey. I’ll just note the stand-out events:

  • Seeing New York City all lit up on the first evening as we set sail, with great views of Long Island, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
  • My first view of the magnificent One World Trade Center  (previously known as Freedom Tower), with its silver-mirror-like exterior and close-up views of  the fully illuminated Statue of Liberty.
  • The two lectures from guest speaker Dr Robert Thirsk, Canadian astronaut who spent 6 months on the International Space Station, speaking about the effects that space and lack of gravity have on the human body.
  • The two lectures by retired airline pilot Captain Howard Deck (learning how to fly).
  • The planetarium.
  • An evening of fine dining in the Todd English restaurant.
  • Relaxing on the promenade deck just watching the sea.
  • A very brief glimpse of a whale breaching around 2-3 miles off the starboard bow.
  • The evening jazz performance by Blue Note Jazz and Gregory Porter.
  • Lynda chatting to Gregory Porter and getting his autograph.
  • All of the live shows by the Royal Cunard Singers and Dancers.
  • Comedian Rondell Sheridon
  • Big Band night
  • The Galley Tour.
  • The classical concert by international pianist Marco Fatichenti.
  • The Halloween party and Masquarade Ball
  • All of the food
  • The Dixieland jazz band led by Bill Gibson

Overall it was a great way to spend 6 days at sea, in fact it was a shame it had to come to an end when we finally docked at Southampton on the 5th January. We’re still still a bit sceptical about going on large cruise ships, but we’d have no hesitation about going on the QM2 again, or for that matter, the Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth, which all have similar standards. So much to do, so little time to do it!

Photos

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More Photos on Flickr.

Bridgetown, Barbados – and farewell to the West Indies!

We arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados on Saturday 2nd February. This is our last port of call in the West Indies before starting our homeward leg across the vast Atlantic. After Barbados we can look forward to (!) five days at sea before arriving at Horta in the Azores.

Known for its beaches and cricket, Barbados is one of the mots popular islands in the West Indies. British influence is everywhere, from place names to Anglican Parish Churches. The legal and political system is very much based on that of Britain; judges wear robes and wigs, cricket is a national passion, they drive on the correct (left) side of the road, and the epithet “Little England” is often used.

The Portuguese came to Barbados en route to Brazil and named it “Los Barbados” (bearded-ones) after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance. The first English settlers arrived in 1627 and within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton pltantations. Sugar cane was introduced and a market for slaves who came from Afica.

After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the excellent education system. Barbados remained a British colony until 1961, gaining full independence in 1966.

Bridgetown is the capital, and home of the Kensington Oval, which was the venue for the 2007 Cricket World Cup final. South of the city is the historic Garrison area, where the British once maintained the Caribbean military headquarters. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Outside the main entrance to the cruise terminal is a village made up of historic chattel houses (colourful movable houses which were standard housing for plantation workers after emancipation). These small, brightly painted houses are now filled with art, handicrafts and souvenirs.

We decided to go on the “Discover Barbados” tour, which took in the Highland Adventure Centre, at an elevation of over 1000ft, overlooking the Atlantic. We then descended to the East Coast with its rugged landscape and pounding Atlantic surf to reach Bathsheba – a popular beach resort. We then headed to St John’s Church, situated on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The original church was built in 1660, but mostly destroyed by a hurricane in 1831. The present church was rebuilt in 1836. A feature of the church was the pulpit, which was made of six different types of wood: Ebony, Locust, Mahogany, Manchineel, Oak and Pine. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

And so we finally departed the West Indies on the evening of Saturday 2nd February. Strangely enough, our cruise director thought a themed evening of County & Western music was most apt for our last evening in the Caribbean. Surreal or what?!

We now have five days at sea to look forward to before reaching Horta in the Azores. Homeward bound!

East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean
East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean

 

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 

Chattel House
Chattel House

Granada, “Spice of the Caribbean”, and spicy gossip!

Continuing my travelogue of our epic cruise from Tilbury, to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores (and ultimately back to Tilbury).

I should be writing about our experience in Granada, where we arrived on the morning of Wednesday 30th January after two days at sea from our previous stop, Ile du Salut. But before I describe our visit to Granada, I thought I should say something about the growing number of incidents that have spiced up our days (excuse pun) on board our cruise ship, the Marco Polo. I guess one should expect a few issues and problems when over 700 passengers are confined together in a fairly limited space for a period of 6 weeks, but even I’ve been surprised by some of the things that I’ve seen or heard. I should perhaps note there is a degree of hearsay and anecdotal “evidence” in what follows, with occasional circumstantial evidence that might give credence to some of the gossip.

The first incident relates to the ship’s doctor. People on cruises fall ill, as a result of either a pre-existing condition or as a reaction to the food, or sea-sickness or whatever. We also have a fairly ‘aged’ demographic on board, so the doctor has been kept fairly busy. It takes a while before you see a trend, but I noticed after a couple of weeks into the cruise that there were a growing number of passengers walking around with bandages on their arms. This was followed by stories of medical bills running into several thousand pounds. A visit to the doctor (it is alleged) would result in a charge of £400 before any treatment. The standard treatment seems to be anti-biotics, invariably delivered intravenously (hence the bandages on the arms), which would then rack-up costs of over £1000 per day. One passenger (it is alleged) had a medical bill of over £7000. There was speculation that a letter had been written to the Daily Telegraph by a passenger describing one such case – though I have not so far been able to locate this letter. A number of passengers have corroborated the high medical bills, which has caused some consternation about the perils of falling ill, and what precisely is covered by travel insurance. Suffice to say, I move around the ship very carefully – can’t afford to have an accident!

We’ve seen one passenger leave the ship semi-concious on a stretcher – without returning. Goodness knows what their medical bill looks like – or maybe they saw it and hence the stretcher!

Then there was the arrest and detention of a passenger during our stay in the Amazon, specifically our stop at Manaus. For anyone familiar with cruising, you will know that all passports are given up to the ship’s administration, who liaise with the appropriate immigration authorities for each of the countries visited. We had Brazilian immigration staff permanently on board throughout our stay in the Amazon, and they found “a person of interest” to them during their audit of the passports. The said person (a lady) was detained as soon as she set foot ashore – allegedly on a fraud charge – and she hasn’t been seen since. 

There was some speculation about the removal of a passenger following our visit to Boca da Valeria on the grounds of suspected pedophilia. However, there’s no real evidence to support this.

There has been more than one fracas in the dining areas, one of which I personally witnessed where two men squared up to each other about who had the rights of ownership of a particular table. It was just handbags at 10 paces, but possibly indicative of the increasingly fractious nature of some people now that we’re 4 weeks into the cruise. Will there be an actual physical assault before the cruise is over? Watch this space!

And then there are the seemingly growing number of passengers who will complain about everything and anything – the music is too loud/not loud enough/don’t want a radio/want a radio, it’s too hot/too cold/too wet etc. One lady complained of poor service in the restaurant because the waiter hadn’t cut her food up for her. It takes all sorts.

Anyway, about Granada. Granada the largest island in the Grenadines; smaller islands are Carriacou, Petit Martinique, Ronde Island, Caille Island, Diamond Island, Large Island, Saline Island, and Frigate Island. Sighted by Columbus in 1498 (though he didn’t actually make land) and named by Spanish sailors after the city of Granada in Andalucia, the island remained uncolonised for over 150 years. The island changed hands between the British and the French until 1783, after which it remained British. 

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The islands are of volcanic origin with extremely rich soil. Grenada’s interior is very mountainous with Mount St. Catherine being the highest at 840 m. It is a leading producer of several different spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels and especially nutmeg, providing 20% of the world supply, are all major exports. The nutmeg on the nation’s flag represents the economic crop of Grenada; the nation is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg (after Indonesia).

The culture is a fusion of Africa, East Indian, French and British practices. They drive on the left (as all ‘proper’ countries do) and their national sport is cricket.

The capital is St George’s, which has a very picturesque harbour and lots of colonial architecture, such as the Georgian York House (the Houses of Parliament). Only two miles to the south of St George’s is the beautiful Grand Anse Beach, a stunning stretch of immaculate white sand. 

We took advantage of the “Rhum Runner”, a sort of motorised platform complete with steel band and bar serving bottomless rum punch. This did a cruise around St George’s harbour before heading out past Grand Anse Beach on the way to Mourne Rouge beach. We had about 1.5 hours to swim and snorkel at the beach, with the staff of Rhum Runner continuing to serve us with lashings of rum punch. On the return journey the party continued with a limbo dance challenge and dancing to the steel band. Yes, we had a good time, and it’s a pity we couldn’t have stayed longer in Granada, but our ship has a schedule and we sailed at 10pm to our next destination – Kingstown, St Vincent.

St George’s Harbour, Granada
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St George’s Harbour, Granada
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Limbo dancing on the Rhum Runner
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Lynda joins the steel band!
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Iles du Salut, French Guiana (Devil’s Island..and Papillon has gone!)

We made a brief (half-day) stop at the Iles du Salut on Monday 28th January.The Îles du Salut (in English: Islands of Health, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland) are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 11 km off the coast of French Guiana in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Île du Diable, the most famous due to the political imprisonment there of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, is better known to many people as Devil’s Island. The islands were part of a penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The main part of the penal colony was a labour camp stretched along the border with Dutch Guiana, which today is Surinam. 

Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. 

Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. 

Île du Diable was for political prisoners including the aforementioned Captain Alfred Dreyfus.This penal colony for the very worst criminals of France was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoner upon prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill many others, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. This system was gradually phased out and has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination. The islands were featured in the novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon, which was also made into a film, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. 

While the prison system was in use (1852–1953) inmates included political prisoners (such as 239 republicans who opposed Napoleon III’s coup d’état in 1851) and the most hardened of thieves and murderers. The vast majority of the more than 80,000 prisoners sent to the Devil’s Island Prison System never made it back to France. Many died due to disease and harsh conditions. Sanitary systems were limited, and the region was mosquito-infested, with endemic tropical diseases. The only exit from the island prisons was by water, and few convicts escaped.

Near the cells was a place for the guillotine for particularly recalcitrant prisoners; when it was used, all prisoners were forced to watch. Head of the executed prisoners were kept on display until the 1960’s.

On 30 May 1854, France passed a new law of forced residency; it required convicts to stay in French Guiana after completion of sentence for a time equal to their forced labour time. If the original sentence exceeded eight years they were forced to stay as residents for the remainder of their lives and were provided land to settle on. 

In 1938 the penal system was strongly criticised in Rene Belbenoit’s book Dry Guillotine. Shortly after the release of Belbenoit’s book, which aroused public outrage about the conditions, the French government announced plans to close the prisons. The outbreak of World War II delayed this operation but, from 1946 until 1953, one by one the prisons were closed. 

In 1965 the French government transferred the responsibility for most of the islands to its newly founded Guiana Space Centre. The islands are under the trajectory of the space rockets launched from the Centre eastward, toward the sea (to geostationary orbit). They must be evacuated during each launch. The islands host a variety of measurement apparatus for space launches.

Next stop on our epic journey – Grenada in the Southern Grenadines, West Indies.

(Some material sourced from Wikipedia)

Devil’s Island viewed from Iles Royale 

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Solitary Confinement Cell Block
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Lynda in Solitary Confinement Cell (peace at last!)
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An Agouti
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Letter from the Amazon: Santana and Macapá


From Evernote:

Letter from the Amazon: Santana and Macapá

This was our last stop on the "Amazon leg" of our cruise. After this we travel to the West Indies, and then home.

Macapá is the capital of Amapá region which stretches from the Amazon delta to the borders of Guiana and Suriname.  The city has no highway connections with other capitals in Brazil. It is only accessible by boat or by air. Amapá is the best preserved state in Brazil as less than 1% of it has been deforested. 

Macapá is the only city to lie at the point where the Amazon meets the sea, and is situated right on the equator, which divides the north and south sections of the city. This is marked by the Marco Zero Monument, a large sundial located at the northern mouth of the Amazon.

We didn’t actually visit the city of Macapá, which is a fairly long  taxi or bus ride from the port of Santana, where we were docked. The pictures below are taken from the deck of our ship in Santana.

This is our last port of call in the Amazon. We next visit Iles du Salute – Devil’s Island, made famous in the film Papillon – off the coast of French Guiana and then onto the West Indies.

View across the Amazon from the port of Santana

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Heading out of the Amazon, on the way to Iles du Salute

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A grey dolphin (or as much of it as I could photo!)
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Letter from the Amazon: Alter do Chao, Brazil


From Evernote:

Letter from the Amazon: Alter do Chao, Brazil

We arrived at Alto do Chao on Thursday 24th January. The rustic beach community of Alto do Chao lies on the bank of the Tapojas river, upstream from Santaram. It’s a small village with a population of about 2,500 who depend on fishing, handicrafts and – more recently – tourism for their livelihood. With the increasing number of visitors making trips along the Amazon River, the village is fast becoming a well-known international destination.

The beaches of Rio Tapajos are pockets of paradise and better still, completely mosquito-free! Alto do Chao lies at the entrance to a picturesque lagoon, ‘Lago Verde’ (Green Lake), whose waters change colour from blue to green during the day. The waters here are crystal clear, unlike the brown, sandy waters we’ve become used to on the River Amazon. A sandbar forms a picturesque white-sand island, know as ‘Ilha do Amor’, or ‘island of love’. Apparently at low water levels – between June and December – you can wade across to the island, where there are a number of small beach-front bars selling the local beer and snacks. This being January the water was too high to wade across and we had pay to use one of the row-boat water taxis that ferry people backwards and forwards to the island.

We had a relaxing day here on a virtually deserted beach, enjoying a lunch of garlic prawns and fried fish, washed down with a couple of ice-cool beers at a dining table that was literally on the edge of the lagoon, with the waters of the lagoon gently lapping at our feet. Paradise? Well it can’t get much better than this!

Next stop – our last in the Amazon before sailing for Iles du Salut (Devil’s Island) – is at Macapá, on 25th January.

Seeking a quite spot on the congested beach on the ‘Ilha do Amor’
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Looking out at the lagoon as we enjoy lunch. It’s a tough life!

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A rare picture of us together – thanks to the passer-by!

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Letter From The Amazon: Parintins and the Boi-Bumba Festival

Letter From The Amazon: Parintins and the Boi-Bumba Festival

We arrived at Parintins on Wednesday 23rd January. Parintins is situated on the southern bank of the Amazon River in the largest river archipelago of the mid-Amazon, on the boundary of the states of Amazona and Para. It is a small town dating back almost 200 years, with a rich Indian heritage.

Between November to January the town becomes an island (Tupinambarana) due to the low water level. There are no roads to Parintins – you either need to sail there or fly! In fact the principle types of transportation are donkeys, carts and motor-cyles.

There are few notable sights, but there are several local markets including a floating market along the waterfront. The town’s main income is derived from cattle farming and the export of wood and minerals, but it’s main claim to fame is the tourism pilgrimage each June to the Boi-Bumba festival. We were privileged to have had a special performance to coincide with the visit of our ship. Arguably the highlight of our tour so far!

The Boi-Bumba Festival

Parintins is not a common tourist destination, except at the end of June for the famous annual folklore festival. The town divides into two competing teams: Caprichoso – blue, and Garantido – red, and wearing spectacular costumes the populace re-enacys the story of Bumbodromo – of Pai Francisco and his wife who steal the prize bull from the landowner they work for, and kill it.

When the landowner realises this he threatens to kill them unless they manage to resurrect his bull by midnight. The couple employ the talents of a shaman, a priest and an African pai santo who manage to resuscitate the animal, thus saving Pai Francisco.

This is the setting in fact for an official competition between the bois-bumbas. The performance usually lasts around six hours (we were limited to a one hour segment), and each team is judged by a panel of judges for the elaborateness and expressiveness of its dance, its costumes and body painting, and its music and supporters. The Bumbodromo Stadium is the location for the main festival in June, which lasts for three days. The stadium has a capacity for 35,000 spectators. Around the town, shop and house facades are painted red or blue, according to the owner’s preference for each of the bulls/taems. Even Coca-Cola signs can be seen painted in blue!

We enjoyed a liberal and free supply of the local rum and sugar-caine drink (I think I may have had a few too many) during the performance, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!

Our next stop is Alto do Chao, a rustic beach community, on Thursday 24th January.

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