Sunday, 27 July 2008

Tequila! It makes me happy

This week´s biggest travel story is that I went to Tequila! It is a little bit north of Guadalajara, and is the place where the popular drink is named after. There´s lots of touristy stuff related to this - including ridiculous looking vehicles to take people on tours, ranging from trains to barrels in shape. I didn´t go on them. What I did do though is take a tour of the first (and still functioning) Jose Cuervo factory, and also go to the Tequila museum where the above photo was taken. So much tequila, and no way of getting at it...

Tequila is produced only in certain regions around the country (by law) where the Blue Agave plant can be cultivated properly. The Blue Agave looks like a cactus, but is really a bulb, in the lily family. After 6 to 12 years of growth it is mature enough to be cut out of the ground and cut up as shown above. All the spikey bits are chopped off, and then the heart is cut in half for the baking. The heart is basically all starch, but once baked it becomes sugary sweet, like sugar cane.

After it becomes sugary sweet like sugar cane it is fermented, then distilled twice. It is then aged, either for a short time in lightly charred oak barrels (no more than a month) to make silver tequila, or up to three or more years in heavily charred oak barrels to make amber stuff, of the kind you would only drink straight.

After the tour of the factory I was (because I paid enough money - not that much though as Mexico is cheap) given a lesson on how the Tequila Masters taste Tequila. So don´t try and pull one over me - I know my stuff now. And I also now have developed a taste for Tequila, which was never there before. Damn capitilist pigs with their tours making me like Tequila.

The rest of the week I´ve been hanging with my sister really, and her boyfriend. That is because tomorrow I head to the beach (called San Blás) for a few days, returning on Thursday and flying to Canada on Friday. So don´t be surprised if you don´t here from me for a week. Tequila sunrise here I come!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Hmmm... toxic gas eh?

In April I blogged about a protest action against the spraying of Methyl Bromide in Wellington to fumigate logs (and of course, in other places around the country) due to the potentially severe impacts the gas can have on the health of those living around the ports where it is sprayed, and the impacts the gas has on the environment. Well, after protests by the Greens, lead by Sue Kedgley and Steffan Browning, it seems the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) will finally be re-considering its usage - though judging by past decisions it is hard to say whether they will take the environmental and health impacts seriously or not.

After the first stage of the review (approximately 18 months) then you will be able to make your submission about what you think. Meanwhile, whilst they are spraying, I suggest you wear similar apparatus around affected areas - especially close to ports - to that modelled by my model (and childhood teddy bear) above.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Olympic´s Legacy (Banners)

Speaking of events in Wellington coming up that I can´t attend (like in my last post), here´s another one. It´s about the Bejing Olympics, which are coming up very very soon, and there will be a lot of noise being made about China´s human right record.

So, in my place please consider attending the SIGN THE OLYMPIC LEGACY BANNERS event, 12pm - 2pm Tuesday 29 July, Manners Mall, Wellington. They will be hand delivered to the Chinese Embassy 3-4pm.

Just reading another recent example of what the oppressive regime in China might try and get up to while the Olympics are on (TV Signal Cut Under Pressure From Chinese Regime - Epoch Times). It will be very interesting to watch what happens, and fingers crossed this focussed campaign on Chinese human rights will help make a positive difference - combatting the net negative effect the Olympics have had on Chinese human rights so far as they try and "clean up" any dissent before the world´s media decends on China in earnest.

Launches, links and Little Bushmen

Meanwhile, back at the campaigny ranch, some developments in the basework of my online campaign and the youth campaign in general.

Firstly, I am now on the Green Party website, with my candidate bio. So check that out, if you wanna find out a few more details about me and why I´m running as a candidate this election. Also, my Facebook page is getting more and more stuff on it, so check that out too if you haven´t already.

As for the Green Party youth campaign - which I will be heavily involved in upon my return to New Zealand on 5 September - it is about to kick off, and in style. Put August 1 in your diary, as it is the launch of the Young Greens Election Campaign, starting at the Wellington Opera at 6:30pm and then continuing with the Phoenix Foundation and Little Bushmen gig at 8:00pm. The gig side of things is also on Facebook. I wish I could be there, but Mexico´s pretty cool too. Attending will be Young Green and highly ranked awesome candidate Gareth Hughes, and MPs Co-Leader Russel Norman and Metiria Turei.

So with enough links to keep you occupied for a while, I will leave you there. But seriously, the gig should be good - and a may or may not be making some sort of a special appearance maybe perhaps.

The news has broken

In one of my most recent posts from yesterday the breaking news was that I was going to the beach today. Well, to explain why I´m still posting, and not sitting on the beach: I´m not at the beach. I decided things would work out better if I go on Sunday. So I´m in Guadalajara this week, then off to the beach, and the day I get back is the day before I leave for Canada.

There´s your broken news.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Should you give money to beggars?

For this week´s poll another issue more focussed on developing nations.

In the last three months I have seen more beggars and street people than I have in my whole life. I must say, I think it was worst in Brazil, where they have serious inequality issues, though Mexico, especially Mexico City (when compared with Guadalajara) has its fair share. So, should you give them money when they hold out their hand in desperation?

Some things to think about. There are many enterprising people in the countries where I´ve been, earning money how they can, given their situation (educationally and so on). There are so many shoe-shiners, food stalls, CD stalls, newspaper stands and people selling things on the metro and busses, all doing what they can to make money. Not an ideal situation, but teach a man to fish... you know how the saying goes. Perhaps money is better spent on good projects, rather than just handing out money to the individual, so that these people can become self-dependant. A tough thing to think about though when you are confronted by those looks - looks you don´t want to have to get used to.

Another thing, from the point of view of a visitor. One example that illustrates this point well is when I was asked for money by a kid in Sao Paulo who looked perfectly clean, healthy and well-fed. Tourists are seen as a way to make money, nothing else, and people in certain areas have been trained to approach them to make money - whether by selling them something or just begging. Again, not a nice situation, and how can you tell whether the person needs the money more than the next?

Furthermore, how can you tell what they are going to spend the money on? A good case example was Salvador in Brazil. There is a horrible problem with crack there from what I heard, and you can definitely see it in the eyes and health of some of the street people. If you just hand them money, are you simply supporting their crack problem? With structured programs at least you can tell what you are putting your money towards. The other option is, of course, giving them food (and watching them eat it, incase they swap that for drugs, which is not unheard of according to Lonely Planet).

Then there is judging it on their situation. In Mexico City I saw a few people holding out drug perscriptions for them or their children which they claimed they couldn´t afford to fill. There are also many old and disabled people who possibly wouldn´t be able to get employment, and if they can´t get a benefit they have no other choice. Compare this to people who look more like they can make money themselves. However, many street people have problems greater than meets the eye - mental problems, drug problems. But of course these people are probably better in some sort of care to help them get better.

So should you give beggars money directly? A head versus heart question, especially when the situation is infront of your eyes. Or should you just save your money and time for trustable programs, and political action, even though you know that they wont reach every individual, and every situation, and wont help the person in front of you right then, and maybe ever. Being one person, where are you best to place your eggs ( if you indeed want to give any away). So have a think, and move your mouse to the right to vote now.

Developing nations and sustainability

With the latest poll result for this week in, it appears my blog readers who decided to vote agree with my opinion. Yes, everyone does need to play their part in becoming more sustainable. The living world is in a dire state, and as we just continue to produce so much pollution and waste and use up so many resources, things have now reached tipping point. So rich and poor nations alike need to do a lot more, no matter what the state of their population´s living conditions are. Environmental wellbeing and quality of life go hand in hand.

A good example of environmental health and human health from developing nations is a major thing that I didn´t touch on in my last post on the issue. Water quality. Besides the undrinkable tapwater of everywhere I´ve been (which creates extra waste in the form of many plastic drinking bottles), in the Amazon you could clearly see one of the major reasons why the water is so sick. Sewage; raw and untreated. Unfortunately there didn´t seem to be any adequate sewage facilities at all for the people who lived along the Amazon. I saw long drops that were actually a very short drop, straight into the river below. The numbers of people who live along this river can be having no small impact on the health of it, and therefore no small impact on themselves. Perhaps one example of a simple sustainable development for them is composting toilets - dealing with the sewage, and providing the locals with fertiliser for their food crops.

Which brings me to another point in this complex issue. Developed nations, being disproporionately responsible for the pressing current environmental issues such as climate change, have something they can do to help the future of all humanity. Help developing nations develop sustainably by sharing sustainable technology they have developed - which will improve the quality of life for everyone involved.

There are of course many other issues to work through, from liability of developed nations, to the best way to share technology and transform the global economy. The greatest issues of our time, but with care we have the ability to improve the quality of life of everyone and become more sustainble and equal. But the urgency of the situation can not be exaggerated, especially not by scientists who almost unanimously agree it is very urgent. And if we do nothing, who will loose out the most? The poor, of course, especially in poor nations.

Latest photos and breaking news-style update

Here are some photos of Mexico City. In my last few days there I did some walking and shopping, taking advantage of the cheap Mexican-made clothing available (not sure about the working conditions, but atleast their locally made. I´m hoping the conditions aren´t too bad). Of particular note was the Mueseum of Modern Art. There were two really good exhibitions on - one was an overview of some of their collection of Mexican modern artists, and the other was of a painter called Remedios Varo. Her paintings were enchanting, and I highly recommend you check them out if you are interested in philosphy, dream theory, literature and art. So basically check them out, they´re awesome.

On the Friday night I attended the McCoy Tyner Trio + 1 (Ravi Coultrane) performance I had stayed to see. The venue was really nice - the seats were around tables where drinks and food were served before, during and after the performance. A great place for jazz. And the jazz was good too, of course, what with jazz greats playing it and all. Unfortunately everyone except for Coultrane were old, so the performance was only just over an hour, which was a little disappointing. I was also hoping for some latin-style jazz, but none of that either. Still, it was good to see them play. The audience enjoyed it too (though they obviously also wanted more). The audience was very European - not everyone could afford the 1000 peso (NZ$120) ticket price.

The above photo is of a blessing ceremony in the main square, the Zócalo, in Mexico City.

This is me at Teotihuacán on top of the Pyramid for the Sun, which is taller than the Pyramid for the Moon, behind me. The climb was very steep - stair technology has come a long way in the last few thousand years.

This is a section of the main mural in the National (Presidential) Palace on the Zócalo by Diego Rivera. It depicts a history of Mexico, and in the centre of this photo you can see Rivera´s sometimes wife Frida Kahlo. She is beneath the socialist movement section of the mural, showing that she was an important part of the grass roots of the moment, amongst all the other ordinary people.

This is one of the many benches to be found near the Angel of Independence statue, all very original and different, with varying degrees of comfort for the sitter.

My next movement is probably tomorrow, but as this is breaking news, I don´t have all the details at hand right at this moment. I am heading to the beach, probably a small town called San Blas, and will be there for maybe three full days before coming back to Guadalajara to spend the rest of my days in Mexico (about six by that point). So wish me luck.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

That bloody squirrel...

So back on the road again with my travels, though less travels this time, and more roads. Mexico City from Guadalajara was my last destination and, well, I´m still here. I´ve taken some nice photos too, but they will have to wait a few more days.

My travels here started with my sister and her boyfriend. We left on Thursday night for a Friday morning arrival, and our feet barely touched the ground between then and their departure on Sunday for better(/worse) things ie work.

We arrived, negotiated the packed rush hour metro with oversized bags (by no means feat, which included a few angry locals) and arrived at our hostel. We dropped off our bags, and then were on to it, fitting in as much Mexico City as we could.

Day 1: We started with breakfast, then moved on to nearby and massive Chapultepec Park. Walked a little bit, then continued on down the massive boulevard, past some Paris-esque roundabouts to the Berlin-esque Angel of Independence statue - a stunningly gold topless angel on a big concrete post. From there we Metro-ed to the Zócalo, a Madrid-esque square, surrounded by some old Government buildings, and some old places of worship. These included a tilting cathedral (due to the sinking nature of Mexico City - very common to see them spilling in all directions) and some remains of the city the Spaniards crushed in order to make way for Mexico City. Then onwards on our madness after lunch to Léon Trotsky´s old pad. He was exiled from Russia after being wanted for opposition to the Stálin regime. He eventually ended up in Mexico, working hard on political stuff with people like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and then was assasinated in his own house on the second attempt by some other artists. From there we went to the nearby "Blue House" where Frida Kahlo spent many of her later years. It had many paintings and artifacts of herself and husband Diego Rivera.

Day 2: North, to Teotihuacán, the well preserved ruins of the massive city present during the Mexican classical period. It includes two massive pyramids for the Sun and the Moon, as well as many other fascinating features. I got sunburnt, expecting rain as it is the rainy season. On the way back we dropped by a cathedral for the Virgin Guadalupe (the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary) and saw a 15 year old girl having her birthday celebrated in front of many onlookers. Fifteen is a big age for girls here, and is thus treated. Every year over three days in October about eight million Mexicans drop by the cathedral too as part of some sort of pilgrimage.

Day 3: After a couple of unmentionable incidents the night before (incidentally a Saturday night) I met my sister and co. outside Chapultepec Castle. It is now a museum, but was previously home to Maximillian, some Austro-Hungarian guy who wanted to rule over Mexico. He was suitably removed in due course. Half the museum is for special exhibits - we saw some Buddhist stuff there. Then it was bye times, and I continued my perusement that afternoon, this time of the fascinating and huge Museum of Anthropology, which is nearby-ish.

So I was on my own (except for the friends I had at the hostel where I was staying) in a massive city once more (previously being in Sao Paulo. Both cities are roughly 20 million, give or take a few mil, and ensuring it is known that Mexico City is generally considered larger).

On the Monday I slept in, then took another walk around the Historical Centre, starting again at the Zócalo, but this time taking things more slowly. I went into the Presidential Palace, which is on the Zócalo, and as far as I know houses the Executive Wing of the Mexican Government. There were some amazing Diego Rivera murals on the walls. Then I went into the leaning Cathedral I also mentioned before, and prayed that it didn´t fall and my head, nor on the heads of all those also inside. I then walked some more, and ended up in the Legislative Chamber of the Mexican Government in a different part of town, not completely by accident. At the musuem in the same building I asked if I could see it. Through shaky English they thought I said "sanitários" (toilets) rather than "Senators", so on my way we took a detour to the bathroom. We eventually worked it out, but I am still undecided whether there´s much of a difference. Needless to say one of the rooms was cleaner, but that could be because the Representatives or "Deputies" are on summer holidays at the moment.

Yesterday I did more walking. I walked around the Pink Zone (Zona Rosa), which is a cultured area with many shops and cafés. There is also a Ripley´s Museum of believe-it-or-nots, and a wax museum, but I decided against paying for those. Instead I bought a stack of CDs, to help me nurse my squirrel wounds.

Oh yeah, that bloody squirrel. A few seconds on his part for a wasted morning on mine. Bastard. All I was doing was innocently sitting in Chapultepec Park after lunch (and before my Zona Rosa experience) eating some scrumptious popcorn from one of the literally hundreds of vendors in the park. Then that bloody squirrel came up to me. I had noticed the squirrels before, and how I thought they were unusually brave when it came to approaching humans for food. Indeed, I had observed one not less than half an hour ago eating right out of the palm of someone´s hand. Still, I thought if I ignored that bloody squirrel it would eventually go away. Meanwhile, somehow a crowd of expectant summer-holidaying families had gathered around me, expecting a show I guess of me feeding that bloody squirrel. But I wasn´t going to give in. Then, out of nowhere, from its perch beside me, that bloody squirrel leaped onto my partially-exposed leg, and then off again, as in some futile attempt to get at the scrumptious popcorn (even though I had accidentally dropped some by my feet that it could have easily gone for, had it a brain larger than a nut). And with that, that bloody squirrel left me with some scratch marks, and a morning mission today. After negotiating the mainly Spanish-speaking health system here I am left with a sore arm, but reassurance that I will get neither rabies nor tetanus. Incidentally, squirrels don´t transmit rabies to humans, but nevertheless you should wash any wound for atleast five minutes in soapy water before disinfecting it with some alcohol-based solution. And also, tentanus injections are free, even for foreigners.

Next major stop is an awesome jazz gig this Friday night, which I am very excited about (also in Mexico City, hence why I´m stuck here). It is featuring jazz piano Great McCoy Tyner, and also Ravi Coultrane. Then on Saturday back to Guadalajara, where I will probably go from to a beach town nearby (so to speak) sometime next week.

Hasta luego!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Announcing my candidacy

The other thing I promised to tell you about in a previous post was how I was keeping myself busy in Guadalajara. Most of the time, hangin´with my sister of course, but the rest of the time I was on the internet, catching up with emails and the state of the world. Although I would have liked to have done this on some big American talkshow, this will have to do for now.

I am announcing that I am running for Parliament in 2008 for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand as a list only candidate.

More to come on this in due course, but in the meantime you can become a supporter of me on Facebook. The page is still in its infancy, but sign up now to become one of my first supporters! Then you can keep up to date with further developments in the 2008 election campaign.

As always I´ll keep you posted, and talk more in future about why I´m running.

My next move

So I don´t leave you in the dark about my next move, and so you don´t wonder why I´ve had a posting frenzy and then gone quiet I again, here is my next move:

I´m going to Mexico City tonight with my sister and her boyfriend. They are staying their until Sunday afternoon, but I am staying longer. Not sure how much longer, but after Mexico City I will probably travel elsewhere before returning "home" to Guadalajara. Perhaps Guanajuato is on the horizon.

So that´s my next move, and I´ll blog about it in due course my avid readers.

Should developing nations be doing more to become sustainable?

As promised yesterday, getting back into the issues with a new poll (finally). This weeks is about developing nations.

Over the last two and a half months travelling around Latin America I have seen first hand what some (admittedly overall realitively wealthy) developing nations are like in regards to the environment. Brazil, for example, has a reasonably strong Green Party, and is a world leader in production of ethanol-based "biofuels", or "agrifuels" as the European Greens insist they are called. However, it is also one of the worst offenders in deforestation in the world, behind, only, perhaps, Indonesia (if memory serves me correctly). Although there were signs of an increasing environmental awareness (demonstrated by some advertisements playing up on people´s want to do something for the environment), there were many signs that Brazil was far behind my experiences in New Zealand, which I believe still has a long way to go as well. Plastic was one of the things that pained me most. Plastic bags handed out with everything, even if you were buying a single bottle of water. I learnt pretty quickly how to say "No bag thanks" in Portuguese. I also endured very strange looks from a supermarket bag-packer when I gave her my own reuseable bag (yes, you should take them travelling too). They also use plastic cups for everything, including beer, and piles paper napkins at all but maybe the fanciest restuarants (I´m assuming, as I never went to one that fancy). There were streets that looked like rubbish tips, and especially in busy cities, people handing you fliers at every corner. Furthermore, a city like Sao Paulo had public transport, it seemed, more out of necessity, rather than out of a Government preference for the more sustainable option. Cycling is a bit of a death-wish, and cars always have priority over pedestrians. You often need to be fast to cross the road.

Brazil is similar to Venezuela and Mexico from what I´ve seen. Except cars are bigger in Venezuela and Mexico, presumably because the two countries have lots of oil. Speaking of oil, and turning to other developing nations, the US Government in particular is pointing at countries like India and China for their skyrocketing emissions when nations are debating what to do about lowering emissions. They are also being partially blamed for record-high oil prices due to their increasing thirst.

The argument over consumption of oil though boils down to an important point. Developing nations are still significantly (and very significantly in many cases) poorer than developed nations, and as such have a lot more poverty. Lower incomes = a lesser impact on the environment through less use and wastage of resources. So even if attitudes to the environment are probably overall behind (though not necessarily that far behind) developed nation´s attitudes towards the environment, per capita developed nations still have far less of an impact on the environment than developed nations. Their priorities lie with economic growth far ahead of environmental protection. Shouldn´t they be allowed to develop so they are on par with developed nations, and can the world cope with the increased use of resources? Do developed nations have any liability for the damage already done, and to help distribute resources more fairly?

These are some of the issues in a very complex one. So with the above (and more) in mind, please vote in this weeks poll.

(The photo with this post was taken in the Gran Sabana, Venezuela. It is a national park in which only indigenous people are allowed to live, and was outside a settlement that tourists have to walk through to get to one of the many waterfalls in the areas. It is a sign meant to demonstrate how long it takes different types of rubbish to break down.)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

While I´m at it...

...I thought I might finally continue with the tradition that I started when I started this blog, and get the whole poll thing rollin´. So this is my last poll. It had the longest ever running time of about a month, and, well, the people (15) have spoken. I am loved. And, authentically, the stuff at the bottom of the poll is in Spanish as I am in a Spanish-speaking country. Nice. Next poll up soon.

Travel musings. Yes, I´ve had a lot of time to think lately

I think, after so long travelling and just recounting my journey, it´s about time for some philosophical musings, if you will.

So it seems I´m anti-tour. I went on the 42 day Rio to Caracas tour two months ago with that mindset, and still appear to have it. Once you have a position it´s sometimes hard to change it. So why do I take this position?

Firstly, I guess, I´ve grown up with romantic ideas of what travelling really should be. Hitchhiking, roughing it on a very tight budget, stretching out of your comfort zone to make you quite a lot more tough and worldly in your outlook. But, because of it all, having great experiences and doing amazing things. Perhaps more like Motorcycle Diaries. Quite far from what I did, and far from the norm of travelling in this age. The world is much smaller now.

Touring is very padded, even on the cheapest and most basic ones like I did. Everingthing is pre-organised for you, so the sense of adventure is diminished. And you can do things for cheaper, but you would end up taking a lot longer going to the places you can on a tour because you´re more or less making it up as you go. Tours give you a lot more security (especially for a young, lonesome traveller as myself), but you can easily end up hangin´with all the whities, rather than adventuring out as much. However, that can happen anyway I suppose, at a hostel. But at least your not stuck with the same people if you don´t want to be or don´t like them. Then again, it´s up to you what you do, and I made some great friends on my tour. I found, though, that tours seem more based on going to the destinations, doing the best activities and quickly moving on. This can get tiring and old after a while.

And now, to step back further. Travel. What´s that all about. Seeing amazing new things, meeting new people, getting to know new cultures. Excellent times, and very addictive. Also, in these busy times, taking a break to recharge one´s batteries.

At the start of my tour I started reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder (and highly recommend it). But it put me to shame. It is a real life account of a doctor called Paul Farmer who has devoted his life to curing patients in very poor countries, and trying to stop the inequalities that make countries like Haiti (his true home) so poor, when the US is so grossly wealthy. It made me resolve that future travel I want to do with more purpose. I like to have concrete reasons for going to places. These range from helping local people to going to Global Green congresses, to seeing family. So I guess on this current trip I´ve had the latter two purposes, among others.

But that leads into the fact that travel is very resource intensive by it´s nature. Carbon emissions are a big one, even if you do a lot of land based travel whilst at your destination. (Incidentally I looked into travelling by cargo ship, which produces far far less carbon emissions, from Canada to NZ on my way back, and it turns out it is much more expensive than flying, even though/because it takes like a month). Other things range from food-related waste if you eat out a lot, and room cleaning if you´re shifting hotels a lot. It depends how you travel. It´s also a very difficult balance to strike between helping local communities with your business, and ruining their local environment with your waste and travel, even if it is unintentional. It´s important to remember, especially as a New Zealander, that you have a magnificent backyard, and an excellent way to clense the soul is to use that backyard sustainably. It is far better for the environment, and get´s you closer in touch with what you loose out on living in the city (ie. go tramping!).

So, before this gets too long, I will sum up this mish-mash of thoughts. Not many people have the money to travel internationally, and there aren´t enough resources in this world to sustain the current style of travel. So if you´re lucky enough to do it, enjoy it as I am, but don´t forget the true cost, and be conscious of trying to travel as lightly as possible. Also learn from it, use it to develop your worldview. There are many other reasons to travel, other than just to see things and do activities, you just have to find them, and judge their merits for yourself.

I´m having a great time and learning about what developing nations are like. New Zealand is still very much my home, but maybe next time I travel I´ll be doing it very differently.

(The picture with this post was taken between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches in Rio de Janeiro. Although it looks like it´s raining in the background, it was a very sunny day. That´s smog).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The last hurrah

For the last hurrah of the tour I was on (for a total of 42 days in the end) we went to the beach. It was on the Carribean coast, and was very nice. Above is sunset after we arrived on the doorstep of our hotel.

The town we stayed in was called Santa Fe (unrelated its namesake "venue" in Wellington). It was another small finishing village with the familiar story of people from the outside discovering how nice it is, and then tourist numbers gradually growing. The tourist industry is still in its infancy though, with only a few hotels and restuarants. This means it still has the remote charm, and is still very cheap. Our hotel even came with lots of little crabs walking around the rooms.

With the one full day we had there myself and several others went on a snorkelling trip. It was a great day, and only cost about NZ$15 each. Fantastic. It was on a local fisherman´s boat, who seemed to do both snorkelling trips and fishing, though not at the same time.

Firstly we went to the snorkelling spot, which was a shallow reef between two islands. The water was very clear, and there was a rocky outpost with an abandoned building on it. After getting used to the breathing apparatus arrangement I saw colourful fish of all sizes (though not too big), and coral of all shapes. Then, on the way back to the boat I struck it lucky. A little octopus on the sand at the bottom, oozing it´s way along. Even the GAP tour guide (that had accompanied us the whole trip) who was from Venezuela and had done a lot of snorkling in his time had never seen one.

After snorkling we went for some more creature-spotting. We saw some smelling sea birds on a large rock, and then continued to some more open seas. I was distracted watching some birds diving, when there was some "ooohs" and "aaaahs" coming from my fellow passengers. What could possibly be so enchanting? Dolphins! A group of them, some big, some small. They were leaping out of the water and performing syncronised swimming for us. The little ones even made it all the way out of the water. We got pretty close to them several times, and they looked white as they dived underwater. Man dolphins are cool.

After all the excitement we made it to the above beach. The red boat is ours (not the fancy white one). There we had a nice lunch - I had calamari - and then sat away the rest of the day, looking at crabs and iguanas. Then it was back after a great day, and such a damn good price.

The next day we left for our final destination - Caracas. There we had our last supper as a big group (though we had already left two behind at Santa Fe) and attempted unsuccessfully to attend a volleyball game between, ironically, Brazil and Venezuela. Brazil won. The next morning our "dad"/tour guide was gone, and slowly all the others followed. I stayed one more night, with a group of four others (and luckily I managed to change my flight to 30 June as my leaving day to Mexico, otherwise I would have been stuck alone for a couple days. Although my impressions were different, many people said Caracas can be a bit of an "ass crack"; very dangerous at times. Where we went in Caracas there was always a good atmosphere though, but a lack of alcohol outlets - due to the fact we were in town. Just bars and stuff).

So the tour was over, and to my new good friends I said goodbye. It was a damn good experience, and I got to go to many places I otherwise wouldn´t have made it to on my own, with no local knowledge and very very little language. I still don´t like tours however. I felt too isolated from the local culture, as it was so much easier just to hang out in the group. Some of the other things felt too padded too. There are other reasons, but I will go into them in more detail in a future post. Although I will try and avoid tours in future, I had a damn good time and am glad I did it.

That concludes that section of my trip - a little late, but now it is done. I have had a good week in Guadalajara, Mexico hangin´with my sis, and keeping myself busy with other things. But more on those later...

Friday, 4 July 2008

The falling angels and sandalias

I hope you enjoyed the pretty pictures of my last post – and so I’ve included some more for your viewing pleasure. Above is the “Angel Falls”. It is the highest free-falling waterfall in the world at 976m, with an uninterrupted drop of 807m.

From the last place I blogged about, Ciudad Bolivar, I forked out a pretty decent sized wad of cash to get on a small plane for an hour. Twas quite fun, with beautiful views of rivers, trees and mountains. After a sharply-banked turn we landed safely in Canaima, a small town that seems to be half tourist resort now.

In Canaima airport we were met by our guide – Freddie, though of course he had a real name, which was in his native tongue. It meant something about running with fire. He took us to the lodge in which we weren’t to stay that night, then we were lead to a motorised canoe. (Oh joy. More pain in the backside from hours of hard seats). The five people (including myself) from my tour were joined by an Italian, Brazilian and Columbian couple. We were all there to brave the rain and high prices to see the natural beauty of the area, climaxing with the incredible “Angel Falls”.

At first it wasn’t raining, but the changeable skies of the start of the wet season were looking ominous. Four hours in a canoe. After walking around the rapids, and stopping for lunch and a swim, it started raining pretty much straight away. It rained hard, and barely stopped. My new jacket, for a second time (the first being in the Amazon) was proven to be not so waterproof – though it was a lot of rain. There were many rapids along the way too, which were difficult to navigate, and made us wet anyway. Between the clouds we got peeks of the beauty of the area – massive cliffs with hundreds of waterfalls. And just as we were near our camp, the clouds parted. We saw the side of the “Angel Falls”, and then it was gone again.

We arrived at our “cabin” to discover someone had forgotten to put in walls and decent toilets. This was no matter, but I wouldn’t call it a cabin, unlike he who sold us the tour. We ate like kings and associated important people, and slept in hammocks.

The next morning we awoke with the sun. That’s right, sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Down by the water you could see a golden “Angel Falls”, lit up by the sun. After breakfast we climbed to the viewing point, and already they were being hidden intermittently by clouds. It was very beautiful and spiritual to be next to such an awe inspiring sight.

The guide told us how the “discovery” of “Angel Falls” by Jimmie Angel about 80 years ago had ruined things for his people. They have their own name for the Falls, and a legend about how they were formed. They are very important and spiritual for the people in the area.

After the morning of awe (and luck at clouds not ruining our experience) we were back in the ass-wrenching canoe for our downstream travels. Though it seems to be nice when we got up, sure enough it was raining again by the time we were on the river again. Wet for the second time.

We got back near Canaima, and did the other highlight of the trip. We crossed the top of a waterfall so that we could go behind it on the way back. It was pounding next to us, in our hovel in the rocks that allowed us to walk through. Then we were back to the beautiful lagoon, which is fed by a steady diet of waterfall (above), to go back the next day.

And where do the sandalias fit in? Well, day two was a dark day for jandals (or flip flops for those who don’t speak kiwi). Firstly, in a river crossing, one of the fellow tour people lost her jandal. The river fed straight into the main river, and we got into the boat straight afterwards, so the guide got us to have a look for it. It was to no avail, and the others in the boat sang out “sandalia!” to mourn the loss of an old friend. Then, another sandalia deathtrap. The waterfall crossing. I had taken mine off, but the person in front of me left hers on. Just then, a cry for help – another jandal sailing away! Quick witted and heroic, I did the only thing a man could do, and dived for it. Splashing water and manly movements ended in probably one of the greatest rescues this summer, and you wont find this one in cinemas. But after the struggle was over, I turned around, and what should I see, but one of me sandalias sailing down the waterfall. “Noooooooooooooooooo!” I screamed. Somehow I let this one slip out of my fingers, and it was gone. May God have mercy on my sole, and all right-footed jandals.

Disclaimer: The above story about sandalias may have been edited for dramatic effect.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Latest photos!

After a bit of a gap I'm back in the saddle, and have some photos related to previous posts to share. I am now safely in Guadalajara, Mexico, and in due course I will update you about the last ten days or so. But first:

Above is someone throwing Amozonian locals clothing from the river boat that took us from Belem to Manuas.
A picture of me (because aparently I need to prove I was there) with giant lily pads in the Amazon Jungle, off the Rio Negro.
Rocks in Venezuela's Gran Sabana, with Nipple Mountain and a table top mountain behind.
An incidental frog in Canaima, near Angel Falls.