Monthly Archives: April 2019

Canary Islands, Lanzarote

So to the 4th and final Canary island that I’m visiting on this trip – Lanzarote.

This was the home of a very influential artist called César Manrique and my tour took me to places connected to him. Born o n the island, he developed his artistic nature by moving to New York City during the 60s where he befriended Andy Warhol and mingled with the Pop Artists of the time. At the end of the decade he de ides to come home to the island he loved and merge his love of nature and art. He stayed for the rest of his life.

But besides his artistic abilities he was a forward thinker and wanted to protect his island from the marauding and poorly managed new tourism that was affecting the costa del sol while also understanding that tourism was a valuable source of income for the island especially with the demise of the traditional agricultural crops.

He tried to mix art and nature as attractions for visitors – so keeping the original place of beauty and interest but making it accessible to lots of people without them messing it up.

So with that in mind the first stop was to the cave of Los Jameos del Agua via what is known as a lava field – as Lanzarote is much older than the other islands the vegetation is much greener than elsewhere in the Canaries). The cave is a natural one caused by volcanism that has an underground lagoon and is one of his visions of how to turn volcanic beauty into something visitors can easily visit. It is quite spectacular but hard to photograph. Check out the teeny white crabs on the rocks and there is also another cave converted into an auditorium – apparently amazing acoustics.

My favourite stop was Manrique’s Cactus Garden In Teguise – I’ve always had a thing for cactus – they seem slightly salacious and also you can forget to water them for eons and they still survive and look great!

And he also had a bit of fun with fake cactus motifs and entertaining toilet signs

On to Tahiche – his former home and now a museum. He built it in 9 natural “bubbles” again caused by volcanoes. He then managed to connect the nine bubbles underground and this is what you can see.

Lastly, very close to the ship we went to the castle of San José (which actually used to be a real castle that had fallen into disrepair) where we had the local wine and also saw a small collection of quite good contemporary art. I especially liked the drawings of women ( I’m sure the one on the left is wearing a Kusama scarf?) and the full-size sculptures of horses and men/children in the sea.

Canary Islands, Tenerife

If La Palma was the prettiest and El Hierro was the youngest then Tenerife is the oldest inhabited island in the Canaries and has just under 1 million residents. We docked into Puerto de la Cruz.

Tourism (6 million a year) is the key industry for all the larger islands and as the climate is in the range of 22 to 27 degrees all year round it’s busiest season is northern hemisphere winter when other Europeans are looking to escape the cold in the shortest flight time possible. It is however a year round destination and in summer mainly has visitors from southern Spain trying to escape the 43 degree heat.

Bananas are the main produce but these days generally for local eating only. I remember eating Canary bananas as a child in the UK but due to an EU regulation it was decided that most bananas coming to Europe should be the larger (and far less tasty) ones from South America so while it is still the main crop it has dramatically reduced from its glory days. Now they can only be found in swanky delis.

As it’s all about the impact of the volcano on creating the Canary Islands, I opted to visit El Teide to check out the craters and volcanic scenery. El Teide is actually the highest mountain in Spain and 1200 feet above sea level.

This is the Ucanca Valley in what is the most visited national park in Europe where the original Planet of the Apes was filmed; not to mention 1000 years BC starring Raquel Welch and and the first Clash of the Titans. Most recently Sylvester Stallone just completed filming Rambo 5 (probably not on my list of must sees).
Many Canary pine trees here too and the multitude of pine needles on the forest floor are harvested to make bedding for the animals as they stay under cover rather than in the fields (too little land available for outdoor grazing, they prefer to use what they have to grow things and apparently manure plus pine needles equals a top brand of fertiliser for their land.

En route to El Teide National Park

Vegetation in the lava fields

Movie locations below

We then experienced the stunning effect of being well above the cloud level – beautiful and somewhat humbling.

The guide said you haven’t really been to Tenerife unless you are above the clouds and he was right.

I’ve decided to spend more time here in December so didn’t bother to go into town after this wonderful day. However this statue was by the marina and seemed a much friendlier dolphin than others I’ve met. Nicely blingy too plus can see our ship:)

Canary Islands, El Hierro

This is the smallest (only 6000 inhabitants) youngest and most westerly of the Canaries and the one with the most recent underwater volcanic eruption in 2011/2012 and it’s expected to grow further in size due to expected eruptions in the next 40 years.

There’s not a lot of action here but it is wild and rugged, scenic and very hilly (the locals don’t get out of breath though unlike us wimpy visitors). There is a significant impact of volcanism on the scenery and it feels “wild” in a good way. It also has amazing quality windy roads (positive impact of EU money) but fairly basic housing.

There are up to 30 micro climates on this island And we went through 20 of them – just wait five minutes and it changes.

We headed south from La Caleta Port to Valverde where we enjoyed some beautiful views from the mirador de las playas.

We then headed into the El Pinar forest – full of stunning Canary pines. These are a great natural resource for all the islands as they retain water and so ensure limited forest fire breakouts.

Final stop was the Geoparque – site of prior volcanic eruptions and also where the last big eruption happened just out to sea in 2011/12. People who lived in the area had to be evacuated due to toxic gases. Great museum showing video of what happened as rocks burst up into the surface of the ocean.

The two tunnel like openings are actually natural effect gas chambers caused by the lava when it hits a solid object and goes over the top of it.

A brief drive around the fishing village of La Restinga – world wide famous for its diving apparently but there is little else there to do.

Tourism in El Hierro averages 100 people a day so this is a place for those who like a rugged, scenic, peaceful, slow and alternative lifestyle eg. the island is trying to become self sustainable and a lot of people try to also live off the grid. Not really my thing but always good to experience something different. Gorgeous flora once again.

On the way back to the ship we passed this strange “rubbish” sculpture. It has all sorts of things buried inside it including two cars, a washing machine and tons of general plastic trash. It was commissioned by the local government to remind people about being self sustainable and to avoid waste by using renewable items where possible. Interesting

Canary Islands, La Palma

This is my first visit to a Canary Island and I’d been told it is one of (if not the) prettiest. I was a little sceptical but my expectations were exceeded. I had a lovely day here.

Up for an early start I realised I was now in the Northern hemisphere Spring rather than the Brazilian rain forest or the Caribbean but by 9.30am it was lovely and warm – so what they say about the climate here is true. Very temperate all year round.

My first sight of land this morning.

First stop was Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente – a national park of great beauty up a windy road – that takes you to one of the highest points of this volcanic island in the east. Stunning scenery and a chance to walk after a lot of laziness during the Atlantic crossing. Last eruption was in 1971 but it’s still active. The north of this island is about 1.5 million years old but the south is just 500,000 years due to it only coming into existence following more recent (relatively!) eruptions.

Then we headed back towards the east and stopped at a small farm where they gave us some local jams and hot sauces to try plus the local wine (not bad at all). That amazing tree is a dragon tree.

Then we had a quick visit to the Church of the Virgin of the Snow which is their most famous church here.

And a scenic drive back into the capital – Santa Cruz de la Palma

Not only were the scenic parts of La Palma lovely so was the small town of Santa Cruz which runs one street in from the waterfront. The buildings along the sea have old balconies that are carefully looked after and a brand new man made beach for the local and visitors to enjoy.

And the main road in town – O’Daly Street was an enjoyable place for a wander and some shopping and why are there two doors to number 12? The ship below is a life size replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship that he sails to America on – think I will stick with Seabourn.

Really liked it here. Want to come back. Maybe December. Will wait to decide and check out the others over next few days.

The Caribbean – Trinidad and Tobago (my 103rd country); St Lucia and Barbados

Having left Brazil behind us we had a three day visit to some of the more southerly Caribbean islands.

Firstly Trinidad and Tobago – we visited Tobago which has suffered from prior hurricanes. It is not one of the more attractive islands in this part of the world but we enjoyed our glass bottomed boat trip and I liked the sun shining on the Ocean through the sargasso seaweed.

Then on to St Lucia – last time I visited was in the late 90s and I’ve always rather liked this island as it is very lush with an impressive rain forest area which has protected it from hurricane damage most of the time.

I took the 90 minute aerial tram ride above the forest and really enjoyed learning about the flora and fauna and trying to spot the local birds (pretty tiny!). And the views on the way down were excellent although I could have done without the zip liners squealing away nearby. Tram built by the Austrians in 2006 so felt safe.

A very pretty caterpillar that will apparently become a moth. The prettier the caterpillar the more likely it will be a moth and the more boring it is the more likely it will be a butterfly – so they say. Also managed to catch this hummingbird have feed.

Finally back to Barbados. Some friends from the ship – Peter, Richard and Lucinda and I drove (well Peter did) around the island so we could see the Atlantic and Caribbean sides as well as some of the interior. We ate lunch at The Tides in Holetown where I dined almost a year ago with my friend Beth – it’s still excellent. Thanks Peter and Richard for letting me gate crash your car rental.

Now embarking on a mega 7 day Atlantic crossing so lots of time to plan my forthcoming travels for the rest of the year and beyond …….

French Guiana, Ile St Joseph and Devil’s Island (not quite my 103rd country)

The reason it is not always easy to exactly count a country visited is the varied definitions of “what’s a country”? I use an app called Visited which enables you to pin each country you’ve been to, want to go to and have lived in. They include French Guiana as a country BUT it actually remains part of France at the moment (although they are considering independence – not sure why when they can get oodles of money via the EU but still if that happens I will count it for sure:).

This visit wasn’t to the mainland but to see the three Salvation islands used for the “worst” prisoners and made famous by both Papillon and the Dreyfus Affair.

First stop was to Ile St Joseph where the prisoners who were in solitary confinement were held. This is where Papillon was said to have spent a number of years and the French Foreign legion still have an outpost here – that must be one of the least wanted postings – although no wars at least. Access to this island was by zodiac from our ship. below is what greets you on arrival and is where the FFL are based.

We then walked up stone steps to the remains of the prison areas. On the right is where they were chained to the walls while working.

And these are the cells which had walkways across the top so that the guards could regularly disturb the prisoner’s sleep. Whatever your sentence was you had to spend the same number of years on the island after release as a colonist so pretty rough and if you were sentenced to 8 plus years then you had to stay as a colonist for the rest of your life like Louis Dega (aka Dustin Hoffman) did in the movie.

All in all this was a very bleak place. I had re-watched the original (and very good) Papillon movie the night before so it really got to me. Bad and sad vibes.

We then went on to the main island which overlooks Devil’s Island where Alfred Dreyfus (incorrectly found guilty of selling secrets to the Germans) was held as a political prisoner. He was tried a second time when it was realised he’d been set up and was found guilty again (believed to be anti Semitic both times) but he received a presidential pardon so didn’t have to come back. ) Devil’s island is not accessible but can be seen in behind the non indigenous coconut palms below. More French soldiers lived here on the bigger island – hence the church and lighthouse.

A fair bit of flora and fauna can be seen on the larger island too. The highlight are the very cute capuchin monkeys who look like they are wearing jackets and the agouties (rodents who are prettier than rats!).

Not somewhere I’m likely to visit again but really interesting historically for somewhere so remote.

Brazil, last days in Parintins and cruising the Amazon

Sad to be leaving Brazil after what has been a fab and varied visit. Our last port of call was a place on the Amazon called Parintins which is famous for its boi Bumba dancing – a mix of Afro caribbean and Brazilian exuberance. The cast were fantastic and I loved every minute.

I even found a tiny bit of street art (that reminded me of Vhils from Lisbon) and the pedal bikes here are used as they only have three actual 4 wheel taxis in the town.

Back on board we finally had our “official” and fun event for polliwogs (those who hadn’t crossed the equator by sea before) and once you have “kissed the fish” (kind of like becoming a Newfoundlander) and you’ve been dunked into the pool you become a shellback!

The equator crossing that evening was the 3rd time we’d crossed on this cruise. Here’s the jump from the southern to northern hemisphere recorded for posterity.

And today – as we head back into the Atlantic we celebrated with caviar served by the officers in the pool. (Normally in the surf but obviously there’s none of that here!)

Brazil, Manaus – a once grande dame that’s now a little jaded. Pink dolphins that decide to attack me!

I spent a few days in and around Manaus – which is actually on the Rio Negro which is a very wide offshoot of the Amazon. Something about the ph level of this river makes it highly acid and all I understand about that is they don’t seem to have any mosquitos – and that’s a great thing.

Manaus is a bit of a tired city but with a few old (and to be honest a bit crumbly) buildings. These are the best ones.

In it’s heyday it was a super luxurious place as the rubber barons made a lot of money thanks to lots of rubber trees and slave labour and Mr Goodyear who figured out how to process it. That was all great for the city’s fortunes (if not the slaves) until the Brits came and took the seedlings away so they could propagate them in Malaysia and Indonesia and that was the beginning of the end for Manaus.

It has a main town square (with wave style flooring very reminiscent of Lisbon squares) as well as the fish and handicraft market.

The market also sells a lot of “natural viagra” potions and pills and certainly I saw a lot of people carrying back small packets after visiting there (!) but they all swore they were fresh Brazil nuts!

This part of Brazil is known for its pink dolphins. We headed out 90 minutes down the Rio Negro – first to visit a very small indigenous village – 27 people now but was once part of a rubber plantation – hence the example of tapping the rubber tree below. Also they make hammocks – everyone in Brazil has at least two hammocks and they travel with them everywhere – have hammock will travel!

And then we went to see the so-called friendly pink dolphins. Very pretty but not so friendly in the end – one swung round at me (I think he thought I wanted his fish?!?) and whacked me on the forehead above my right eye. You can see me holding my head just after it happened. I think I will stay on land in future:)

A much safer way to see the dolphins – the pretend ones!

Day 1 – bump on forehead.

Day 2-bruises on eyelid too.

Now at purple colour stage and bored of this look!

Brazil, Manaus – a day and night at the opera – Teatro Amazonas

The very rich rubber barons liked showing off so they thought it would be a fab idea to build an opera house in Manaus – in those days this was truly the middle of the jungle – and even now it must be one of the remotest opera houses anywhere in the world.

Most of the materials were designed and imported from Europe and it is based on the typical design of the time except for the unusual ceramic dome – just to be a bit different

The interior holds 701 people (because the governor’s box held 15)

Note the TA in wrought iron in the windows and the Carrara marble.

…and the ceiling is pretty cool. Not only 4 paintings to do with the arts but if you look at it from below you can see it replicates the base of the Eiffel Tower which the painter has seen partially completed in Paris. Hopefully you can see this below

Upstairs there was a reception room for the extra rich with more beautiful painted ceilings to admire.

I got to see an excellent jazz show there in the evening so we saw the place lit up in all its glory. It was nice that a lot for the locals came to see the show (I think the got free tickets) as well as those of us from the cruise.

Here’s a short video of the jazz guys in action.

Great night out.

Brazil, Santarém

Now we are well into the Amazon. It is very peaceful drifting along this massive river (at some points 80 miles wide!) and then into a narrower channel to reach Micah Lake. Waters are very high now and they are expecting floods soon.

And at some points it is very clear to spot where the river Amazon (brown) and river Tapajao (clear) meet. It can take six hours to cross the river by boat – it’s that wide. Makes the Thames or Yarra look like a tiny stream. No bugs either – we’ve been so lucky with the weather.

And we tried our hand at piranha fishing. I didn’t catch any but others did – results below. As my friends have remarked – no dangling hands in the water here ….