A Travellerspoint blog

Stranded for a while...

Nature's reminder

storm 17 °C

We command electricity, bend light, develop new apps faster than bees make honey, can analyse the shit out of the tiniest molecule, but never is a reminder more welcome that we do not and will not control the elements.

Tuesday morn (the day after Boxing Day) in Sao Antonio, capital city of Principe. We stroll through the colonial colours of slanted, half windowed, shabby remains that the locals call home - many welcome us by sight of the white man, 'Jam-es, Jam-es'; then follows a lengthy but endearing hand shake, kiss, hand hold, big smile and conversation in clumsy but impressive ex-pat Portuguese.

After typical African hanging around time - standing, sweating on the side of the road for nearly an hour after our agreed meeting time (positively appreciating the slow life), we clamber, shoeless but with enthusiasm into the local fisherman's boat.

Only today, having already left shore for a multiple hour round trip scanning for turtles and fish with the 'conservation' team, would a tropical storm be less than ideal. On cue, 'muito chuva' down poured from the grey dark sky above, like a dirty carpet wafting its debri in our fresh faces. Our only shelter was a diving fin held like a flimsy fan against our grimacing wet skin.

Relentless. More. Still more... 'Muito chuva!'

We powered on, bouncing the waves, ploughing into driving rain. The coastline swayed in and out of misty vision as clouds combed the jungle tops and swamped our reference points.

Taking refuge on a deserted beach, untouched by tourists and only known or used by a handful of hardy fisherman, was the right choice, however, it opened up an adventure we hadn't planned for.

More rain. 'Muito chuva!'

We tried to stiff-upper-lip it under a giant native tree; we cowered behind beached volcanic rocks and hid our lunch bag under an old fishing boat, but realism and nature both claimed the upper hand. Lightening was spearing the ocean while tremendous thunderous rumbles echoed all around. The sky was in control.

Five minutes later we found ourselves in the tiny mud and stone built home of Pettie, a 55 year old, 6 foot bean pole of a local fisherman who so generously welcomed us straight into his living quarters of 1.5m squared darkness. Pots, pans were stacked on a wooden top next to a stone pile that guarded a fire pit in a pitch black corner. Small wooden stools were found for us to squat on in the sandy mud while pigs and dogs scuffed around wanting a piece of the action. Birds, kept and grown for food, hopped around like pets, aimlessly ignorant to their fate.

And there we sat in this shack-house pitched on a beach with wooden slats and stones wedged together. Maybe for an hour, we watched the rain pelt, the mountains sink behind greyness and yet conversation flowed. How many people in the village? Who's related to who? Who's got the biggest feet? How to count from 1-20 In English. How to say the alphabet in Portuguese. Where the women and children were? How many pigs? Which dogs bite?

It's amazing what international relations can be woven in adversity; a lesson in politics I wasn't expecting!

And then, after my behind had become numb, Lucas, the boat 'commander' decided we could make a break for it. The other boat handler emerged from the sea, obviously having not needed shelter, with four octopuses on a spear. Resourceful these Africans.

So we started our goodbyes - the lingering handshake, mouth movements, smiles, thanks, more thanks and more handshakes. But these were sincerely well meant. We were undeniably grateful for the three square foot of muddy shelter Peetie had given up for us: we broke his stool with our white bottoms, barged into his kitchen unannounced, hammered him with questions, winced when his scabby dogs came near us... And then left.

Today's storm was never going to stop for us, but without it we wouldn't have met Peetie and forged memories, appreciation and respect for a kind of humanity that's sadly rare in our world today.

Thank you nature. Thank you Africa.

Posted by namirem 14:57 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged nature beach storm island fisherman Comments (0)

A Tropical Christmas Eve

Bombom island paradise in the South Atlantic

sunny 29 °C

image.jpegFive days ago I was squelching through black puddles after dark rain on the London streets, wrapped up in winter layers, racing though life's to do list: school work, marking, Christmas presents, packing, cleaning, correspondence, washing...

It's now Christmas Eve and after 4 flights of varying degrees of success and comfort (delays, discomfort, lost baggage, intriguing conversations) I find myself soaked in coco butter, with a resting heart rate slower than any day I can remember in recent months, looking out onto the infinite ocean on the remote but special island of Principe.

Africa.

I remember you.

The mixed but pleasant and nostalgic aroma of heat, jungle and humidity all in one.

The air is clean, the smiles are big, the sea is a greeny-sea grey and a constant refreshment to my very recent indoors lifestyle.

Days are timeless.

My brother's little African friend of 12 knocked on the door this morning beaming with measured and shy excitement at 'feliz natal'. Yes I remember you Africa; anything is possible - a respectful friendship between a grown, worldly man and an African bush boy. This is what Christmas is about.

Welcome to Bombom.

Posted by namirem 09:36 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged christmas sao tomé Comments (0)

Falling out of travel mode and back into society

Can you see the wood for the trees still? No-one said it would be easy...

semi-overcast

‘Endless infinity’, ‘brain fizzing’, ‘liberating’, ‘trapping’, ‘overloaded’, ‘distracted’, ‘overstimulated’… were just some of the words filtering into my ear while wondering across Blackfriars bridge, listening to the last episode of Radio 4’s Making News. I stopped suddenly. I realised I fell into Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes)’s category of people who are waking up and ‘having a look at Twitter before I’ve even got the sand out of [my] eyes”. The horror!

The Slippery Slope

Just six months ago, I was living on a desert island in the Seychelles with no phone, internet or indeed desire for either. How have I allowed this transformation and new dependency on our “world of relentless white noise”?

I listened more intently on my new smartphone (unnecessary purchase), increasingly agreeing with Steve Richard’s take on our deafening, addictive, overwhelming, constant bombardment and “endless infinity of news’.

We’re all addicts

I nodded my head at the image of us as ‘lab rats’, whose addiction to staying informed used to be satisfied with a single daily dose of ‘contained and structured’ bulletins (thank you Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart), but who are now hooked up to “one of those pumps you get when you’re terminally ill” with news “dripping into us in an analgesic flow”.

Charlie Beckett’s extreme notion of news as “almost environmental…a bit like the air that we breathe or a resource like water” rings worryingly true.

How have we allowed this augmentation of something so fundamentally superfluous to human survival overtake real life needs? 783 million people in the world do not have access to safe water yet some of us choose to check Facebook rather than take on fluids. How hydrated are you right now?

It’s physically and logistically impossible to stay abreast of the daily ‘Twitter storms’, the 180 new tweets I’ve received while writing this paragraph, the hundreds of news stories that have been uploaded in the last 5 minutes and the radio that’s broadcasting into my ears right now? If we can’t stay on top of these, never mind research balanced opinion around them, how can we reliably have an accurate grasp of the world as a whole?

Citizen journalism

As ‘Making News’ suggests, we are all ‘newsmakers’(great), 'rise up the citizen journalist’, but we also all select which other newsmakers we want to connect with. Isn’t this so tailored it’s skewed? Aren’t we just ‘news morphers’, adding opinion, insight and suggestion to our own personalised ‘drip feed’ and calling that ‘news’. Citizen journalism may be the sign of a true democracy but are we actually making news?

Working the system

Steve Richard’s thought that news is a “constrained and still wild force from which there is no escape” leaves me feeling uncomfortable and despondent. We’re not having to survive a ‘direwolf’ attack here; let’s not victimise ourselves.

We do have a choice. Yes we are privileged to have such gadgetry that delivers infinite information in infinite ways, but we are also blessed with rational thought, the ability to form opinion, reflect and select.

Long life travel writing and thinking, away from the 'white noise'!

Limiting Twitter feeds, shaving a few minutes off social media snuggle time, picking up a hard copy once in a while and actually switching off the drip to allow our brain to sift and analyse those 140 characters and form actual opinion will at least allow us to grab a drink of water! Opting out seems to be the answer to more accurately ’opt in'. It might also end up in an intelligent conversation or two…Even better, it might encourage us to get back on that plane and find the woods and the trees once more...

Posted by namirem 03:30 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged people city news coming_home Comments (1)

Bobby’s, fairy terns and frigates

Taking flight in the Indian Ocean

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Not a ‘twitcher’ historically, I could take birds or leave them but a few days on ‘Bird Island’ and I couldn’t put my camera down - I clocked up more in-flight, nesting, taking off, fishing, perching and squawking pics than I have sunsets and snow scenes! Fluffy, groomed, quirky, clever, elegant, ordered, noisy, predatory, territorial, watchful and graceful above all.
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Posted by namirem 01:25 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

Wrinkled fascination

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Giant tortoises must have been small once, though it’s hard to believe from their solid meter-length carcass housing that great plodding body, tree trunk legs and wide-wrinkly neck. Truth is they’re a probable 70-150 years old at this size. Crouching until my knees ached I just watched and took the opportunity to get up close to these slow, steady and entertaining creatures who are lucky enough to wonder free on the Seychelles islands.
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They’re definitely not in a rush for anything but they know what they want. Often solitary, grazing contently on grass they break the monotony by moving just a footstep away - slowly lifting one leg then the other and turning their incredible head, neck and body to follow it round. In twos they might try a spot of head nuzzling, take on some water refreshment or just wallow in the shade. Hard life.
Deep grunts and sighs indicate, for me, some deep rooted personality in these ancestors of the tropics. These sounds echo around the small island communities and become much more rampant in breeding season – think ‘e-oring’ donkey in pain! Although it looks tough and weathered their shell is actually rather sensitive between the patterned tiles until the tortoise has grown to full size; from the tiny 6 month old I am holding here on Cousin island you can only imagine how long this growth spurt takes.
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Wrinkled at birth, wrinkled in their prime – there’s something jurassic yet delicate about these giants.

Posted by namirem 00:32 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

A Curieuse Dive

Coral Garden Grows

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I never thought I’d revisit the sweet shop of tropical delights found in the aptly named ‘coral garden’ dive site just off my first 'Curieuse' island home in the Seychelles.

Leaning over the side of Dexter, face in water, bum in air, checking for correct location lead by dodgy GPS added to my mix of excitement and nostalgia at literally having done a lap around the world and back again to this special km2 little haven two years after my first discovery here.

Bang on – long spot, blue lined and bengal snappers schooled before us as if they’d been waiting on parade for our return. Diligently there they were lined up boasting the same pristine bright yellow and white decoration, perfection and character. How happy was I to return to this secret spot and be welcomed by what until yesterday was just a dive memory of being surrounded by these little beauties.
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Just the two of us feasted on 50 minutes of fish city ‘joy’, escapism and faith in some aspect of nature conservation to be appreciating a reef still very much alive and abundant 2 years on.

African coral cod, hawksbill turtle, saddleback and longnose butterflies, paddletail snappers and a fusilier barrel role to finish...ahhh.

Long may this garden grow – an ‘optimist in paradise’ today Mr Jones!
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Posted by namirem 21:48 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

No parents but plenty of spirit

sunny 34 °C

Growing up on the beach front one of the most idyllic islands in the world with a vast open readymade water playground would surely be any child's dream, but this can't possibly come close to compensating for starting out in life with no family.
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The orphans of the Seychelles are a lesson to us all in coping with what cards we are dealt in life. Some arrive as young as 6 months old at the Presidents Village and know of no other home for the first 18 years of their lives. Some are shy, some are cheeky, some are smiley, and some just like spending their days doing back flips in the sand, but behind their big brown eyes and scrawny bodies must lie some fear of the unknown or just blessed ignorance of the wider world they have been born into.

Regardless of the individual stories behind their fate the clear appreciation and laughs from these kids as a result of just a little individual attention and an afternoon playing in the water was enough to humble even the hardest of hearts. Just a few hours spent splashing around in the sea and actually interacting with these children as real human beings brought some of the biggest smiles and squeals and pure enjoyment I bet many of us (worldy adults) have lapped up in a long time.
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They might be children of the Seychelles but these children are not naturally children of the sea as many of their care givers lack their own experience and competence in the water - perhaps they themselves as children never had an early introduction to the water and so don't have the confidence to take the next generation into the unknown.

At GVI, living just a few minutes from the Presidents Village, it is the least we can do to once a week bag up all our snorkel gear and introduce these parentless youngsters to the wonders of their beautiful ocean world.

As we coaxed tiny feet into size two fins and showed them how to fit their own mask there were hops and jumps and shouts of excitement in Creole splattering across the beach. Encouraging them to then walk backwards and 'slowly' down to the water's edge was more than entertaining as many just bounded in tumbling on top of each other and themselves, right foot tripping over left and nose diving into the sand until they eventually just 'sploshed' into the edge of the cooling sea.

Seemingly fearless at first it became clear not many had real faith in their swimming ability. We held them up in the waist deep water, wizzed them around and up in the air and rescued them from bobbing underneath the surface relieved when they kept on popping up again with wide and infectious innocent grins.

Half breastroke, half doggy paddle, masks on, masks off, snorkels abandoned in favour of jumping off the big boys' shoulders, scraps over the body boards – as these little ones clung to us for a rest and a breath between splashes the hugs and love passed between us (privileged young adults and a bunch of local orphan kids) was illuminating; was two hours really up already!
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Grins as wide as shark jaws, eyes bright with excitement and enjoyment, eyelashes dripping with the sea and little bodies just freely playing in their own backyard - it was more than a special afternoon.

The orphan children of the Seychelles thank you for your support in whatever way you can - http://www.justgiving.com/capternay2012
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Be content with what you have. If only we could. Try it.

Posted by namirem 23:23 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

Plankton pulling, dolphin spotting and manta swimming

Been a pretty full week - scorching temps and open seas calm as a rain puddle bring mega fauna records in Bai Ternay!

sunny 33 °C

Double sun cream layers applied we set off on the weekly turtle snorkel to local beach inlets to look for nests and turtle tracks. With nesting season upon us we made sure known nests were still ok and hadn't fallen to local poachers and then jumped aboard to navigate the flat blue horizon out to our five sites for collecting plankton samples for local Seychelles whale shark research.
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Now it may sounds like a doddle but pulling an 8ft net with 10kg weight tied to the end of it on a 40metre length rope in the open ocean is not for weaklings. The pulling competition commenced with girls battling over 1 minute 30 times and boys pushing their limit to break 40 secs. Of course some 2 and 3 minters joined in the fun!
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Meanwhile however, calm waters appeared a little less calm in the distance - is it birds, feeding fish, or just a shadow? Wait for it... yes a pod of juvenile dolphins not only were making their way towards us but jumping in and out the water while doing so. Glorious, stunning performances danced around us and in we dived - some of us bagging that lifelong ambition to be actually in the water with these wild mesmerising creatures, coming eye to eye with the top tier of marine intelligence and enjoying their playfulness and wild spirit as they darted around us before heading back out beyond our visibility. Wow.
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Circus tricks over we returned to capturing plankton, studying these tiny tiny little wriggly creatures in our plastic beakers and wondering how something so enormous as a whale shark (at 8m plus) can really survive on such a small dinner plate.

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Those that didn't catch a glimpse that day however were more than rewarded with our first glimpse of a huge manta ray just off Secret Beach minutes after our survey dive. What is that dark shape moving just beneath the surface next to the boat. 'Get in Em - jump in!' my skipper shouted to me 'Is it a manta?'. I literally leaped in blind with no fins and half a mask falling off my head - (good job this dark shape wasn't anything more seriously big and beastly or bitey!)... I could see at least a 3 metre body span, the familiar ray movement fanning through the water and a long tail, but it took a few more seconds for me to really see the mouth and the trademark Manta 'jaw'. I didn't even need to shout anything - just lifted my head out of the water to breathe, turned to 20 expectant faces on the boat and gave my scuba 'ok' hand signal - boom, 20 bodies immediately lept into the water! It was as big as I've ever seen a manta before - just gliding about at around 6m depth...and I trailed it from the surface for a good 100m. I was simply enjoying one thing in one beautiful moment of life, unaware of anything or anyone else for that minute, what a joy and a pleasure to be with this beast in it's ocean home. We are small, and really quite insignificant - these are times to enjoy and appreciate the bigger ecosystem around us.
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Bring on the manta season Seychelles!

Posted by namirem 23:00 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

Sharky waters

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With talk of dark visibility, remote ocean location and lurking sharks looming out of crevices I admit I was a little apprehensive but very much excited about a day off dive out at Stork Patch – one of the best dive sites on Mahe island, Seychelles. The boys were throwing comments around about squeezing plastic bottles to attract the big beasts and revving up the anti for an epic sighting out in the deep, off the south coast of the island. The grey rainy skies didn’t help as the boat tossed over the rough water out beyond the land masses.

But, we flung ourselves off the boat and in the first minute we were down to 15 and then 20m meters in the middle of pure blue shark waters – about 10 white tipped reef sharks were there to greet us, bingo! There they were just cruising on the sandy bed in and around us! Awe struck we just watched and appreciated the majesty and strength in their 1.5-3 m length bodies. They looked strong and at home in their blue abyss darting from left to right, inquisitive and probably hungry, but seemingly content to share their waters with five eager divers. The next 50 minutes was pure joy – just drifting and hovering among a bevy of tropical fish from snappers to groupers, butterflies and angels; two of the biggest lobsters I’ve ever come across in the rock cracks teased their meter long tentacles at us and still the sharks kept playing – every few minutes I caught sight of another beedy eye and white underside maneuvering in the distance and getting closer. We were in their environment and could only sit and watch the underwater world unravel around us.

Suddenly a hundred or more barracuda sprung us from nowhere and took a barrel formation around us – we were caught in the middle of the big boys just circling and circling (I felt like I was filming a ‘blue planet’ documentary)… this was inspiration through a regulator!

You can dive everyday to varying sites but it never gets boring – a new sites means new 'sights' and new appreciation for such colour, vibrant and curious life just out there. Disappointed, ‘hell no’; worth the trip, ‘hell yeah’. Topped off with enormous luminous, alien-shaped squid breezing on through and two octopi flirting through their colour palette, it couldn’t have been a better morning out at sea.

Posted by namirem 06:25 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

When the heavens opened and the vis picked up!

There's something in the water

rain 30 °C

Drifting into consciousness at 5am listening to the tropical downpoor hitting the tin roof and splattering into the mud below I reluctantly crawled out of my cosy mossie net, downed a quick coffee and kitted up for my first dive at 6.45. As the boat pulled out of our secluded bay the rain seemed to be enjoying a lull in its otherwise full schedule, but pearly grey clouds still loomed over us during the journey out to our first survey site - ‘Conception Island North Point’.

There must be something in the water – yes there definitely was – swarms of little stingers ready and waiting as we rolled in and descended into what was otherwise some ‘sweet sweet’ visibility! Perhaps the underwater world senses the heavens falling from the sky; just ten minutes into the dive my buddy Laetitia amazingly spotted a graceful tentacle swirl and we were lucky enough to catch an elegant octopus gliding its way up a rock in the shallows. Orangey-red at this moment, it almost immediately mirrored the grey-brown mottled appearance of the rock surface and morphed itself into a perfectly calm and camouflaged sitting statue for the next five minutes. Not able to leave our fish point count we continued tallying surgeon, angel, snapper, grouper, butterfly and bristletooth fish while sneaking a peek at our eight-legged friend every few seconds until it suavely slid over the edge of the rock out of sight.

An inquisitive bat fish came as close as any fish had dared to me before, almost nibbling my arm and fin like he was trying to introduce himself – I later find out that he was probably just keen for some tasty waste products to come floating by!

The second dive of the day promised even better vis – we could tell from the boat – the coral just looked pristine, shiny-new, somehow brighter and deeper than previous days and we could see for what seemed like miles across the vast Bay Terney reef. It’s days like these when it’s just a race against a 45 bottom time to take in even a fraction of this underwater rainbow of life.

Boom! Spotted my first nudibranch of 2012 in between a couple of rocks – don’t think I’ll ever loose fascination with these plasticine-like illuminous patterned little splodges on the reef. Its lilac blue edges turned into a black and white main body colour decorated with red-orange spots like it was taken straight out of a childrens’ colouring book.

On ascent the most enormous porcupine fish appeared; I could still make it out on our safety stop a good 7m above below – stretching a sizable 60-70cm in length it boasted a big puffed out balloon shaped grey-green body covered in spines and big, narley, unforgettable eyes.
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Elated with two stunning dives under my belt before 9.30am I arrived back on the surface but didn’t make dry land as the heavens continued to throw it down. Of course the van didn’t start so I popped my ‘van jump starting’ cherry (with trailer attachment) and had to leave the engine running while getting soaked for the third time this morning (though this time fully clothed) to load up everyone’s scuba kit.

Barefooting the puddles in camp turned into an exercise in wading through mini rivers; even the resident cows caught a bit of rainy day fever wondering out in front of the van and tossing their heads in response to the crazy insects buzzing around in their element.

The rest of the day consisted of fruit picking, coconut harvesting and cracking, enjoying a huge loopy end-to-end rainbow above camp, studying bar stock-take spreadsheets, reading the new ‘PADI Underwater Journal’ and seeing how much mud we could survive, topped off with good old desert island shepherd’s pie.

Thanks tropical stormy weather for an absurd but totally magnificent day in the Indian Ocean.

Posted by namirem 00:23 Archived in Seychelles Comments (0)

Sweat, Sweetlips and Seybrew

Life underwater is pretty fine

sunny 35 °C

It’s been a year since submersing myself in the great oceans of our world back on the Great Barrier reef and east coast of Australia, but it feels like just a few weeks since I was donning my scuba booties, fins, wetsuit and mask and breathing through a tube attached to a aluminum cylindrical tank. Back in the Indian Ocean, it's feels like home after my first 'toe dipping in these stunning waters' nearly two years ago on neighboring island and research station, Curieuse

Turning to look up through 14m of turquoise ocean, the light of the surface is interrupted by hundreds of jack, trevally and snapper fish all wriggling and finning above my head obviously enjoying a Thursday morning swim-about and feed in the serene tropics off Bay Terney, Mahe Island. Oh, it feels good to be back in the marine world - butterfly fish, angel fish, groupers, sweetlips, surgeons, squirrels, snappers and emperors – all beauties in their own right (except the bumphead parrot which evolution clearly bypassed on beauty day) glide past showing off their pristine tropical colours and patterns on this little secluded reef.

Already a couple of white tips have come out to play, eagle rays are a common greeting in our little paradise bay and even a pod of dolphins appeared and performed a bit of a dance alongside ‘manta’ (our scuba boat) for this morning’s short journey out to the dive site.

In 30+degrees heat I’ve enjoyed my first week back in the tropical sweat pool that is the Seychelles, settled into administering emergency first aid; driving a very non-roadworthy trailer van full of scuba kit; getting up at 6am for the high tide dive; eating porridge and a carb-overload diet of lentils, pasta and potato; living by the sun and climbing under a mossie net under sparkling stars seen only in remote pockets of this planet such as this unique and stunning collection of islands I am lucky enough to call home for the next 10 weeks. If only the fish could also be sure of their home here for the foreseeable future (let's not ignore where our dinner is coming from and Save our Seas)!

Off for a snorkel...

Posted by namirem 00:10 Archived in Seychelles Comments (1)

Back to the office in the ocean

Have you ever heard a giant tortoise having sex..?

sunny 32 °C

Turtles, mantas, whale sharks - all on the wish list for Seychelles take 2! Tales from the tepid waters of the Indian Ocean coming soon... just washing out my snorkel diving.jpg

Posted by namirem 04:28 Archived in Seychelles Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches animals Comments (0)

Sulpaike Salcantay and your 'dancing ladies'

75km of high-peaks, highlights and a journey finale in the Peruvian Andes...

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A 4am start in comfy Cusco was soon quashed into the back of my memory as we set off on a 5 day trek to the famous Machu Picchu valley. Just two hours drive out of civilization I quickly felt small and insignificant among some of the burliest mountains on the continent and landscape which would demand no less than a 10 page pull out in National Geographic. My last Andes trek was destined to be a goodie...
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Having been at altitude in Bolivia for the last 6 weeks I think I took my altitude abilities for granted, while others gasped for air and faltered behind dragging one foot a few millimetres in front of the other (thank you Tupiza, Uyuni and La Paz for the acclimatisation).

Day one took us for 7 hours through lush vegetation, valleys, farmland and picture postcard mountain views until the mighty stark white Mt Humantay revealed itself through the gap between two greener peaks. Before the dipping sun sucked away the last remnant of warmth around 5pm, the moon had risen to meet the dusk beams of light just above the mountain ridge - a sight only to be snapped in a place like this. Camping in Humantay's shady foothill we donned every piece of clothing we had brought, huddled together round hot chocolate and bedded down willing the night to pass at temperatures below -10 degrees.
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However luxurious it is to be awoken by hot liquid being brought to your bedside (er..tent), "Buenos dias, coca tea?" there is nothing, I believe, that takes the sting out of that first toe-dipping moment outside of your sleeping bag when the cold air rushes onto your skin and in between your clothes that have been cosy-ed up for the last 8 hours. Strap on a pair Emily!

After pancakes at dawn and alfresco teeth brushing we set off on day two's gruelling ascent up to the 4600m Salcantay pass (the second largest mountain in the Cusco region). Clouds rolled in behind us flooding the valley we'd just been sleeping in, while sun crept round the mountains ahead of us. One leg then the next, feet heavy with altitude we trudged (crawled) up to the peak literally sucking the oxygen out of the air (you know when you're trying to suck a drink through a straw with all the bits stuck inside...). Bites of banana, nuts, anything calorific was necessary to fuel the exaggerated efforts needed to conquer the thin air, temperature and gradient.
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Giddy with excitement and satisfaction at having reached the pass after 6 hrs of 'up', we relished our 4600m accomplishment and congratulated each other before pulling on layers against the biting cold that immediately started to cling to our sweaty bodies. Meanwhile, our Peruvian guides Oscar and Jorge were busy preparing a traditional Inca ceremony for us with specially picked coca leaves to say thank you to 'Pacha mama' mother earth and to the four mountains that encircled us by means of offerings (rocks we had brought up from the valley below - yes we did opt to carry more weight for this very reason). We were happy to sit in the biting cold on this exposed summit pass in the backdrop of Salcantay's shimmering whiteness to say 'Sulpaike' (thank you in Quechua) to the incredible land we were exploring and leave our mark in this spectacular piece of wilderness.
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Then began the 'down'... woop! Spirits lifted as we walked 3 hours nearer to lunch - snow turned into grass and rock, Humantay and Salcantay slipped out of view, lungs expanded and temperatures rose as once again green valleys rolled out the way before us. After chorizo, potato, rice and salsa followed by yet more coca tea (good for the altitude btw) on the banks of the river, we continued on to camp no. 2 down in the deep valley between Salcantay and Machu Picchu. After freezing temperatures, rock faces, snow peaks and biting altitude it was more than refreshing to walk by the bounty of Andean flowers dotted along the track... none less that the 'mujer bailando' (dancing ladies) in their yellow and red dresses bobbing next to me... love this flora and fauna lark! And, on we danced...
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Day 3 dawned too quickly after a much cosier sleep at a much more civil temperature - coca tea to the tent once again still didn't curb the morning shivers though as I peeled myself out of my sleeping bag. Four hours later, we'd covered an epic distance through the winding river path and sunny vegetation and after another lunch of 'sopa and rice' there was nothing we welcomed more than some natural thermal baths to bathe the sweat from our backs, cracks, feet and head... oooooooo... it was all worth it Salcantay... 'salpaike' once more!
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Campfire, vino tinto, moonlight and laughter christened our last night in the wilderness before trekking out to our final destination in the valley below Machu Picchu on day four. Exhausted, elated, stinky and satisfied we'd conquered the Salcantay pass (all 75k) of it, with a little help from good ol' coca tea, lots of 'papel higenico' for the dodgy tummies, 10 horses, walking sticks, sun shades and an eclectic mix of international humour from the Argentines, Germans, French, Israelis and Swiss contingent...not to mention a bit of Peruvian magic!
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And we weren't disappointed - 6am on day 5 at the gate of Machu Picchu - we entered this sacred historical site with gasps and humbleness. The early morning light struck the old stones and frail ruins with grace as Oscar foretold the story and traditions that make this site one of the most visited and famous Inca legends in the world. Despite a stomach of death and overpowering sleeplessness I dragged myself up my last mountain (the great Mountain Machu Picchu), and dragged I literally was as the energy had been sapped long before, but I was determined and, my god, it was worth it for that last feeling... to be on top of this wonderful world (once more, one more time, but prey I hope not for the last time)...!
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'Salpaike' Machu Picchu, Peru and America del Sur... regresare un dia!:)

Posted by namirem 05:17 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes mountains skylines snow Comments (0)

Ahhh... finally Bolivia´s waters break

(and this one they didn´t have to fight Chile for!)

sunny

Somewhere along the windy road from high happening La Paz my concentration was distracted from trying to prevent the contents of my stomach from making an appearance on the bus to focusing on the increasingly stunning scenes rolling past the window. High rise shanty town dwellings turned into wide open countryside, jugged city streets flattened into green hills, and building vistas made way for the snowy Bolivian Andes once more, including a wopping view of the majestic one and only Mt Potosi, which towers over this northern district of Bolivia at 6000+meters above sea level.
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In between vomit contractions I was already starting to feel the benefits of this clearer air and space, then suddenly after 6 weeks inland enjoying the mountainous greenery and farm communities of this fascinating and welcoming country I found what I had been missing the most until now - WATER, boom! Laid out in front of me this was no disappointment - the largest high altitude mass of water in the world - Lake Titicaca. I would happily support any notion claiming this to be the ocean of Bolivia... blue, blue and more blue spread out to the horizon in every direction. My insides almost sighed with relief - I didn´t realise how much I had missed the water.

Two days trekking the ancient historical Isla del Sol in the middle of Titicaca righted every bone (and parasite) in my body. Home to only a handful of local Bolivians (including a 5-year-old shrewd businessman who rented us a room), an army of donkeys (essential to navigating the super steep rock paths on this idyllic isla) and some rather handsome alpacas, we lapped up some much needed tranquility, freezing temperatures, fresh trucha (always served up with rice AND potatoes which I will never get used to), sunsets fit for a sun god and vistas across Lake Titicaca which were all ours.
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Posted by namirem 10:16 Archived in Bolivia Comments (6)

Riding life on the death road!

Cuidado amigos

all seasons in one day

From snowy peaks high above Bolivia´s crazy (fake) capital, La Paz, we braced ourselves for the challenge - 2 pairs of trousers, thermals, gloves, knee, shin and elbow pads, full face helmet and jacket. After 15 minutes of ´life or death instructions´, warnings and preparations (in Spanish) it was peddle time - though really no peddling was necessary... this was one long road DOWN! Four and a half hours of ´down´ from the barren altitude into Bolivia´s jungle lands over spot holes, bumps, corners and curves, pushing our bikes to max suspension (I picked up some technical lingo).
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We rode through mountain landscape above the clouds and out again into lush vegetation with a 300m drop just a couple of feet away from the narrow track. The more metres we descended the more clothes we shed (the dramatic change in temperature a testament to the distance and speed at which we were travelling).

My life was pushed into an even more tight slice of perspective when the only thing between me and a free fall to a spectacular ending was my own ability to control a pair of rusty handlebars and a velocity on an equally dodgy gradient, for an entire day. While I can ride a bike(!) ´no soy profesional´, and it was all I could do to concentrate on breaking and steering to prevent the potential overshoot on one of the hundreds of ´death´corners, never mind take in the ´estupendo´ vistas laid out in front of me. Sadly there is no escaping the reality and reason behind the name of this epic day of adventure as we passed flowers, wreaths, crosses and words written in memory of the extremely unlucky few who did overshoot for whatever reason and lived their last day flying down this mountain (there are worse ways to go I´m sure but RIP my traveller friends).
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Posted by namirem 10:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

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