Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#915 Whale sharks off Cancun, Mexico

During the summer months, if you travel about an hour's speedboat ride off the coast of Cancun and Isla Mujeres in Mexico, you will come to a place where there are often hundreds of whale sharks swimming. The krill and plankton sits on the surface, and therefore, so do the whale sharks. In an industry highly regulated by the Mexican government, you are permitted to swim with them. Wow! What an amazing experience! They are so large and peaceful, with their wide mouths and swishing tails. They say if you can take a picture of their finger-print side, this unique genetic code can be posted online to tell you where else in the world they have been to.
Isla Mujeres for lunch!

Monday, October 29, 2012

#916 San Blas Islands, Panama

In a hidden corner of Panama, down near the Colombian border on the Caribbean coast lies an archipelago which is quite unique from a political perspective. The San Blas islands are autonomous and pretty much self-ruling despite being part of Panama. Their isolation and lack of valuable resources has meant that throughout history they have been seen as a place of transit rather than somewhere valuable to own in its own right. This has allowed the people of the San Blas to maintain their lifestyle and cultural practices and live similarly to how they have for centuries.
Effectively most islands are windswept sand bars in a picturesque ocean location (100s of them), but the Comarque de Kuna Yala are a proud example of effective indigenous independence, the first of their kind in Latin America. Foreigners (including Panamanians) are not allowed to run businesses here and often foreigners are charged a fee to visit the islands. Subsisting on tropical foods and the abundant marine life, their lifestyles have not changed for decades. 
Diving is forbidden in the Archipelago de San Blas, and other activities are strictly monitored (so no jet skis and cruise ships!). The pretty blue waters with cute yellow starfish and recent sailboat wrecks are a world away from lively Panama City, and disembarking into the jungle is onto a dirt trail up a small creek.

Source: Lonely Planet Central America 7th Edition

A New York Times article on the San Blas:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#917 Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China

In the southern part of Beijing lies a holy religious complex known in English as the Temple of Heaven. A truly spectacular architectural monument of a round building, it is a Taoist monument that was used in religious ceremonies for more than 400 years in both the Ming and Qing dynasties. 
Dating from the early 15th Century, it is a complex that while not large and imposing, has a peaceful space. The decorations in the interior are astoundingly beautiful, and its small size (compared to other Chinese monuments) in no way detracts from its specialness.


Friday, October 26, 2012

#918 Bear's Cave, Romania

In the hills near Chiscau village in Romanian in the Apuseni Mountains lies a cave. This was a cave that is a truly amazing example of a story that can be told (and imagined) from evidence. There are many bones in this cave -- piles of them, in fact. We can tell that the bodies of the owners have been broken apart and that they must have had tragic, difficult, hard-fought deaths. How do we know? Well, the only intact skeleton is that of a bear, and he lies curled up deep within the cave, where his last slumber has been recorded for eternity. He consumed all the other animals in the cave (including other bears, I believe), before eventually succumbing to starvation and dying himself. 

Something cataclysmic happened to trap the animals in the cave and I think its fascinating to imagine the last days of these animals. Terrified cattle or prey knowing that there was nowhere to go, no way of escaping their fate with a hungry bear in the same space. We can truly see the work of the food chain, but I like to imagine what a great scene it would have been while each animal was consumed, one by one!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

#919 Galle, Sri Lanka

Aerial view of Galle from
On the southern coast of Sri Lanka lies the old city of Galle, a quaint walled old city that juts out from the mainland, and is pretty with its white walls and red tiles.
During both the Portuguese and Dutch eras it was an important port and is an excellent legacy of a European built and styled town in Sri Lanka.While it has fallen into disrepair, the grassed banks of the fort walls offer a beautiful view of the ocean and town, which lies at a lower level. Many majestic old trees line the small squares and narrow streets. The little courtyarded houses are a lovely place to stay or stop for lunch.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

#920 Panama Canal, Panama

An astonishing feat of engineering that has changed modern times, the Panama Canal has been owned by three countries, connects two vast countries, has been functioning for almost a century, broke a country in two, and cost untold lives in its difficult construction. It is part of the modern economy ticking away and truly a marvel of human engineering.

It's being expanded and improved in time for its century anniversary. Truly a marvel!
One of the dredging boats that dug the canal.
A view of the construction of the canal from inside the museum.

Looking from the Miraflores locks towards the Pacific Ocean.
Draining the canal.
The many viewers -- a popular tourist attraction!
The modern ships dwarf the Miraflores station. Most ships are now constructed to within centimeters of fitting within the canal.
Miraflores locks.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

#921 Christchurch, New Zealand

My beautiful home port, Christchurch! While I am from Queenstown, it is almost impossible to get there without passing through Christchurch, the nearest international airport. It is also the biggest city on the South Island, so like a capital in some ways. 
Modeled on traditional English cities, when sitting on the banks of the Avon river it is easy to imagine oneself on a different continent. The calm placid river winds through flat Christchurch, with charming trees shadowing the banks while ducks float by.

When I was a child, the highlights of Christchurch were going to Orana Wildlife Park (which I think still exists), trying to catch a glimpse of the Wizard giving one of his nutty speeches, wandering the beautiful old former University of Canterbury campus (which housed the Arts Center), in particular the excellent market. We watched the Wild Things performed in an excellent small theatre -- in fact, all my early experiences of theatre occurred here. As Queenstown's theatre didn't really have much selection, we went to movies in the theatre or at the bigger Hoyts up the road, and later on, climbed the steep steps of the internet cafe that was on the corner. I loved driving past the Edmond's factory, and I even bloodied my nose in the parking lot of the cheap hotel we always stayed at -- wish I could remember the name.

We would drive out to the beach or up into the hills for a view from the extinct volcano. It was a long straight road over the Canterbury plains, with farms and tree breaks and more traffic! Often, we were on our way to Hamner Springs, but Christchurch was the closest place to shop and I loved the shops there!

In February 2011 a powerful earthquake hit Christchurch and they were wracked by many aftershocks and the trauma of liquefaction, homes declared condemned, the loss of their beloved cathedral, and lives lost or forever altered.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#922 Paphos, Cyprus

Known in old as Kouklia, it was the supposed place of Aphrodite's birth. Paphos is on the southern coast of Cyprus, near the western end of the island in the middle of the hub of British (and other) tourists. Including sites of both Old and New Paphos (old and new already existed in the time of Seneca!), it was an important administrative center until the middle ages. The archaeological sites are impressive, and include the Odeon Ampitheatre, three temples built on a rise, the Tombs of the Kings, spectacular mosaics and a castle closer to town.

The Tombs of the Kings, in a beautiful ocean-side location, are reminiscent of Petra and other subterranean cities, wtih huge temples carved out of the solid rock. Many date back to the 4th Century BCE, but no kings were actually buried here (they were so named because they were so impressive). With Doric columns, frescoes, they are a pretty area that has been visited by many over the centuries.