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Afghanistan Visit: 2003-7
2009-10-03 - -"A Sightseeing Tour of Kabul, Afghanistan," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in January 2004

About the size of Texas and with a population of 28,000,000, landlocked Afghanistan lies to the north and west of Pakistan, to the east of Iran and to the south of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Pashto and Dari are the primary languages. Sunni Muslims represent 84% of the population while Shi'a Muslims represent 15% of the population.

Afghanistan has a continental climate with less than a meter of rainfall annually, most of which falls in March. The rest of the water supply comes from melting snow. Much of Afghanistan consists of empty desert or mountain ranges. Only a small portion of the land can be cultivated while the rest is barren. Since the late 1990's the country has been suffering from drought.
Kabul, with a population of some 2,000,000, is the capital of Afghanistan. I made the notes below after visiting Kabul briefly in mid-July 2003.

I departed from Cairo on 12 July 2003 at 6 p.m. on Kuwait Airways, and I arrived in Kabul on 13 July at noon local time, which is 2 1/2 hours ahead of Cairo time in the summer. En route I spent two hours at Kuwait International Airport and eight hours (overnight) at Dubai International Airport. Interestingly, my Ariana Afghan Airlines flight from Dubai to Kabul required only 2 1/2 hours in an aging 727.

Upon arrival in Kabul, which lies at an altitude of 5,900 feet (approx. 1,800 meters), I found an interpreter and a driver with a van and proceeded to the so-called Inter-Continental Hotel which sits on a hill overlooking West Kabul. As I was only allowed to purchase a one way air ticket from Dubai to Kabul in Dubai, my first order of business upon arrival at the hotel was to purchase a Kabul-Dubai air ticket for USD 160 from Ariana Afghan Airlines. I also bought a guidebook on Kabul and some postcards at a bookstore and explored several gift shops. The airline office and the shops were all conveniently located in the lobby of my hotel. Then I went to bed as by then it seemed like I had not slept forever.

For the record, my hotel had at one time actually been an Inter-Continental hotel. Nowadays, it is no longer part of that chain, but it continues to use its old name. At about USD 100 a night for a deluxe room, the hotel offers no air-conditioning; but at least electric fans are provided. This was important in July when daytime temperatures were in the 90s.

On the morning of 14 July I awoke early and met my interpreter and driver for a sightseeing tour of the city. We began with a drive to the Kargha Dam about 20 minutes outside Kabul. Along the shore of the lake is a restaurant set in a grove of pine trees. My interpreter explained that locals sometimes enjoy picnics at this lake on Fridays.

I continued on to West Kabul which had been a residential area at one time. But during the Afghan civil war thousands were forced to flee as rival Mujaheddin militias shelled the various avenues and villas from the surrounding hills. Today West Kabul is all but destroyed.

Stopping by the Kabul Museum, I found painters and plasterers hard at work; so unfortunately there was nothing to be seen. At one time this museum was well-known for its extensive collection which extended from prehistoric times up to the twentieth century. However, during the past decade some 70% of its collection has been pilfered.

Across the street from the Kabul Museum is Darulaman Palace, built in the 1920s by King Amanullah and later used as the Soviet embassy. While fighting from 1992 onward destroyed the palace building, it remains one of the most impressive structures in Kabul.

The Kabul Zoo, which sports two pigs, some bears, a wolf and various other animals and birds, receives about 3,000 visitors a week. Blind in one eye and toothless, the Kabul Zoo's most famous resident, 40-year-old Marjan the lion, a gift from Germany, had managed to survive the intense fighting of the 1990s when the zoo had been in the line of fire of rockets fired from nearby hills. Marjan lost his eye when a Taliban fighter climbed into his cage in late 2001. Starving, Marjan ate the man. But the fellow's brother soon returned to seek revenge by throwing a grenade into Marjan's cage, leaving the lion both blind and lame. Marjan died several weeks later in January 2002.

Next I visited the Babur Gardens. Built in the 1500s under Babur Shah, the great-grandson of Tamerlane, the gardens are contained within a large walled hillside compound. The bullet-pocked tombs of Babur Shah and his wife and family may still be viewed there today. A small marble mosque built by Babur's successor, Shah Jahan, in the middle of the sixteenth century, also survives.

The last Afghan king, Zahir Shah, finally returned to Kabul in April 2002 after 29 years in exile in Italy. King Nadir Shah's Mausoleum is where the recent monarchs of Afghanistan's royal family are buried. A custodian will unlock the royal catacombs under the mausoleum for a small fee. Situated on a hilltop, the mausoleum offers a lovely view over Kabul.

From that same hilltop one can see Bala Hissar, sometimes called the "British fort." This ancient citadel, perhaps dating back as far as the fifth century, was once used by the British as a barracks. As it is surrounded by unexploded ordinance, or "UXO," the fort is currently off limits to tourists. Also visible from this hilltop is the stadium, where nowadays polo is played on Fridays but where, under the Taliban, public executions were staged.

The money market is situated near the dry Kabul River in the city center. As U. S. dollars seemed to be accepted everywhere, I changed only USD 2, for which I received 96 Afghanis. The nearby "Titanic Market," located in the dry bed of the Kabul River, is so named because, when the river occasionally floods, the market sinks. Factory-loomed Iranian carpets are displayed there.

Finally, the Ariana graveyard at Kabul International Airport features trashed aviation memorabilia, mostly from 1960 to 1985. The "collection" also includes airplanes destroyed as recently as 2001 during coalition attacks.

My overall impression of Kabul was that it is still essentially a wasteland. So many buildings have been destroyed in successive conflicts that it is difficult to imagine all of the firepower that had to have been released to do that amount of damage. My recommendation is to wait for at least five years before adding Kabul to your holiday itinerary.


HOW TO GET TO AFGHANISTAN:

Kabul is accessible by air from a number of cities, including Baku, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Islamabad, London and Moscow.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Amazonas, Brazil Visit: 2006-11
2009-10-03 - -"An Amazon Adventure Cruise," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in April 2003

Amazon rainstorm, 29-second video clip


On 1 March 2003 I sailed from Manaus, Brazil to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on the 208-passenger Bahamas-registered cruise ship Seabourn Pride. During the 16-day cruise the Seabourn Pride called at: Brazil's Anavilhanas Archipelago; the towns of Parintins and Santarem along the Amazon; Devil's Island off French Guiana; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands. I will confine my remarks in this article to the Amazon portion of the cruise.

Brazil, the world's fifth largest country, is nearly as large as the continental United States. Brazil shares borders with all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile. It is 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from Brazil's northern border to its southern border, and the distance from east to west is nearly the same. More than half of Brazil's population is under 30 and, collectively, Brazilians represent one of the world's broadest ethnic blends.

The Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana was the first European to explore the Amazon in 1541. He is said to have given the river its name after reporting battles with tribes of female warriors.

The Amazon River is the largest drainage system in the world in terms of both water volume and basin area. The total length of the Amazon from its headwaters in Peru to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean is about 6,400 km (4,000 miles). Although this is slightly shorter than the Nile, it is still equivalent to the distance from Rome to New York City. The westernmost source of the Amazon lies only 160 km (100 miles) from the Pacific Ocean. The system consists of several main waterways and about 1,000 tributaries.

The Amazon Basin, South America's largest lowland, occupies an area of 6 million square km (2.3 million square miles). This is almost twice as large as the basin of the Congo River, the earth's other great equatorial drainage system. Stretching some 2,782 km (1,725) miles from north to south at its widest point, the Amazon basin includes most of Brazil and Peru, major parts of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, and a small portion of Venezuela. About two-thirds of the Amazon's main stream lies within Brazil.

Some 20% of all the fresh water on earth flows through the Amazon. The maximum flood discharge at the mouth of the Amazon is 175,000 cubic meters (6,180,000 cubic feet) per second. This is four times that of the Congo and more than ten times the amount of water carried by the Mississippi. A single day's discharge into the Atlantic is sufficient to supply New York City with a nine-year supply of fresh water. The Amazon's immense volume of fresh water dilutes the ocean's saltiness 161 km (100 miles) from shore.

More than two-thirds of the Amazon basin is covered by an immense rain forest. In fact, the Amazon rain forest, which represents over one-third of the earth's remaining rain forest, also constitutes earth's largest reserve of biological resources. During recent decades deforestation has accelerated due to the development of new highways and airports and the discovery of minerals. The current population of Brazil's Amazon region is some 17 million, or 3.4 inhabitants per square km. 62% of this population lives in urban areas while only 38% lives in rural areas.

In Brazil the name "Solimoes" is used for the Amazon from Iquitos, Peru to the mouth of the Rio Negro. Brazilians use the term "Amazon" (actually "Amazonas" in Portuguese) for the river only from the Rio Negro east to the Atlantic Ocean. Manaus (pronounced "Man-awsh'"), the largest Amazon river city with a population of 1,300,000, is situated near the junction of the brownish-yellow (muddy) Rio Solimoes and the "black" Rio Negro. Interestingly, due to their different densities, velocities and temperatures, these two great rivers flow together for 6 km (4 miles) before mixing. A distinct stripe flows down the center until the two rivers eventually blend into a single uniform color.

Manaus' most famous monument is its opera house, the Teatro Amazonas, which was inaugurated in 1896. Built over a 15-year period during Brazil's late nineteenth century rubber boom from materials imported from Europe, the 681-seat neoclassical opera house was last restored in 1990 and is still in use today. Only the wood for the floors and the chairs came from Brazil, and even that wood was sent to Europe for molding before being returned to the jungle for installation.

Manaus' ingenious floating docks, constructed by a Scottish engineer at the beginning of the twentieth century, rise and fall by up to 10 meters (32 feet) with the Rio Negro's varying water level. At the Museu do Indio in downtown Manaus I viewed artifacts, costumes and weapons from the region's principal tribes. Due to a favorable exchange rate, the museum gift shop offered expertly-woven baskets from as little as USD 3; and I was able to purchase one large basket which stands a full meter high for only USD 9. One of the other highlights of my visit to Manaus was attending the very colorful Carnival parade there.

On the second day of the cruise the Seabourn Pride anchored near the 145-km (90-mile)-long Anavilhanas Archipelago which consists of 400 islands and is situated northwest of Manaus on the Rio Negro. Unlike the muddy Solimoes (Amazon), the Rio Negro flows over a bed of fine sand that is free of sediment. Even though the Rio Negro's water appears black, it is said that its water is purer than tap water found in most urban areas. Also, incredibly, the Rio Negro is free of mosquitoes and many other types of insects. It is thought that the river absorbs plant materials which dissolve and add natural toxins. Though not harmful to fish or jungle animals which drink from the river, the poisons apparently inhibit the reproductive cycles of most insects.

The Anavilhanas Archipelago is a developed jungle resort area. I took the opportunity to tour Ariau Amazon Towers, the largest tree top lodge. Established in 1986 with a mere eight rooms, today the resort boasts a helipad and can accommodate hundreds of guests. Ariau Amazon Towers has been frequented by the likes of Jimmy Carter, Helmut Kohl, King Guftav of Sweden and Susan Sarandon. I was shown the suite once occupied by Bill Gates which, incidentally, was even furnished with a PC and printer!

Because the resort is built at the canopy level, the exotic flora and fauna of the Amazon rain forest are close at hand. Further exposure is also provided to guests through canoe rides in the creeks nearby. The Amazon region is host to 311 species of mammals, 2,600 species of birds and more than 400,000 kinds of insects. At Ariau Amazon Towers I saw and heard monkeys in the canopy as I walked along the resort's high wooden walkways, and both piranha and pink dolphins are said to live in the river there.

Most people picture exotic animals and giant reptiles when they think of the Amazon. While there are many snakes and lizards, the Amazon Basin supports no large herding mammals like those found on the plains of Africa. Monkeys are the most diverse Amazon mammal group. The Brazilian rain forest supports six feline species, including jaguars, of which now only some 15,000 remain. Their biggest threat nowadays is deforestation rather than hunting. Rodents are the most abundant mammals in the Amazon. The Amazon's capybara is the world's largest rodent. The tapir, the largest mammal in the rain forest, grows to be up to 2 meters (6 feet) long. Tapirs feed on fruit and leaves and weigh about 182 kg (400 pounds). Northern Brazil's fish stocks are also abundant. More than 1,500 species have been classified. Some marine biologists estimate that up to 500 additional species may have yet to be discovered.

The Seabourn Pride next called at Parintins, 564 km (350 miles) downstream from Manaus. With a population of 30,000, each June the 200-year-old town hosts a festival similar to Rio's Carnival. Amazonian legends, forest creatures and local and Andean rhythms are incorporated into this bizarre but fascinating spectacle. At the time of the annual festival the population swells more than tenfold as visitors arrive from all over Brazil. A special evening performance by exotic costumed dancers was staged for cruise passengers in the local open air cultural center.

The final port of call on the Amazon was the city of Santarem. There a piranha fishing tour was offered. Piranha were caught and grilled on the spot with manioc flour. In fact, I saw fierce-looking mounted piranha being sold as souvenirs all along the Amazon. However, while piranha do certainly possess sharp teeth, it turns out that they are not nearly as fierce as their Hollywood-inspired reputation suggests. Locals bathe throughout the Amazon Basin alongside piranha without this fish causing them any harm.

The final two days on the Amazon were among the most interesting, even though there were no ports of call. During the first portion of my cruise down the Amazon, the river and its tributaries were all very wide. However, northeast of Santarem as the ship began to weave through narrow channels to reach the Atlantic Ocean, vignettes of local life along the shores of these channels were presented to cruise ship passengers. While the backdrop was always dense rain forest, now I could easily see and photograph local people in their canoes, individual houses, small villages and even sawmills. Finally at Macapa our Amazon River pilot disembarked, and the Seabourn Pride sailed north to the Caribbean.


HOW TO GET TO BRAZIL'S AMAZONAS STATE:

TAM offers daily air service between Miami and Manaus (pronounced "Ma-nawh'" in Portuguese), the capital of Amazonas State.

-Postscript: In November 2006 I sailed on Holland America Line's Prinsendam up the Amazon as far as Parintins which lies just inside the eastern border of Brazil's Amazonas State.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Anatolia (Turkey in Asia) Visit: 2005-2
2009-10-03 - -"Some Tips on Turkey," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in June 2004

For many years Turkey was a perennial favorite among travelers from Egypt. Turkey is close to Egypt and it boasts a number of fascinating sights from various cultures and eras. In addition, inexpensive airfare and accommodation are available, domestic transportation is plentiful and convenient, and there are terrific shopping opportunities!

While Turkey still has a lot going for it, some travelers have shied away from Turkey in recent years. The ongoing dispute with the Kurds, who have long sought greater autonomy, caused only occasional hiccups in foreign tourist arrivals during the 1990s. However, the devastating earthquake of August 1999 gave Turkish tourism a hard punch. And this was later followed by a couple of terrorism incidents which have dealt tourism in Turkey a severe body blow.

But, if you are a contrarian traveler, you might well consider this to be a good time to go!

While those without much time to spare may prefer to concentrate only on Istanbul with its Ottoman-era tourist sites, Turkey has three other well-traveled destinations with special appeal for active tourists. Cappadocia, within driving distance of Ankara in central Turkey, contains elaborate and extensive caves and rock-carved churches. The area immediately north and south of Izmir on Turkey's Aegean coast is well-known for its Roman-era antiquities, including the world-class ruins at Ephesus. Finally, for those summer holiday makers seeking some sun, Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast is famed for its beautiful beaches.

Istanbul, with a population of about 10,000,000 and boasting five palaces and some 20 museums, is overflowing with tourist sites, most of which reflect its former power and wealth as the seat of the Ottoman Empire. The large and ornate buildings give visitors a sense of the greatness of the past. Topkapi Palace, built by Mehmet the Conqueror between 1459 and 1465, served as the sultan's court until 1853. In its heyday the palace housed over 5,000 people.

The Archeological Museum, one of Istanbul's most important museums, contains some outstanding works among the 60,000 exhibits in its Greco-Roman and Near Eastern collections. The best known exhibit is probably the magnificent so-called Alexander sarcophagus from Lebanon which is decorated with images of Alexander the Great. But the treaty of Kadesh, the world's first peace treaty signed between the ancient Egyptians and the Hittites, is also in the museum. Such documents were recorded in that era on clay tablets.

Istanbul is known for the Ayasofia, or Haghia Sophia, one of the world's greatest architectural creations. Built by Justinian in about 535 A. D., the church was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. Now a museum, visitors are awed by the size of the building's interior. Opposite the Ayasofia is Istanbul's most famous place of worship, the Blue Mosque, constructed in the early seventeenth century and characterized by its six minarets and by its interior walls which are covered with beautiful blue tiles manufactured in Iznik. Rumeli Fortress, a half day's boat ride up the Bosphorus from Istanbul, is another popular tourist destination.

It has been suggested that Istanbul's Covered Bazaar, stuffed with over 4,000 stalls and shops, was the world's first mall. While shopping in the bazaar can be a cultural experience, with the mandatory bargaining and tea drinking, nowadays Istanbul also sports huge modern malls which feature fixed prices. Turkey offers terrific bargains on such items as clothing, shoes and leather products of all types; and the country's biggest selection is to be found in Istanbul.

Ankara is the departure point for the region of Cappadocia, a 300 km drive from Ankara's Esenboga Airport. The route is a pleasant one, with snow-capped mountains in the distance and a caravan-serai to visit en route. Cappadocia, lying at an altitude of 1,000 meters, was first explored by a Western visitor only in 1705. The area retains a magical aura due to its mushroom-shaped geological formations created by the erosion of tuff, a soft stone. Some of the dwellings and other monuments date back as far as the third century A. D. Entire underground cities were built when monastic groups fled religious persecution and also later when Byzantines sought refuge from Arab attackers. Today one can still see religious paintings of historical interest which were left by these early troglodytes.

As strange as it may seem today, the western coast of modern-day Turkey was one of the most populated parts of the ancient world. Primarily south of Izmir the Greeks established Ionian cities whose prosperity exceeded that of mainland Greece. Later these same cities were among the richest in the Roman Empire. Today Ephesus is by far the most visited of Turkey's ancient Greek cities. In fact, Ephesus' Temple of Artemis (also known to the Romans as Diana), three times as large as the Parthenon in Athens, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Founded in the tenth century, Ephesus was laid out on a grand scale, and there is still plenty of interest to see today.

Perhaps because of the overwhelming reputation of Ephesus, many tourists give other nearby antiquities short shrift. Ancient Pergamum (modern Bergama) is only a two-hour drive north of Ephesus. Pergamum, which once had a population of 150,000 and was the most magnificent city in Asia Minor, is well worth a day trip. And a second wonderful day trip can be taken south from Kusadasi, the port and beach resort with plenty of hotels only a 20-minute drive from Ephesus. Driving south, one visits three very interesting classical sites. Priene was the first city in the world to be designed in a grid layout. Although now landlocked, the city of Miletus was a great maritime power until the fifth century when the nearby Meander River began to silt up, eliminating Miletus' access to the Aegean Sea. The dimensions of the ruined Temple of Apollo in the city of Didyma are overwhelming. Tourists are guaranteed to be impressed even though just three standing columns and a field of massive marble pieces remain today. The temple, which contained an oracle, was destroyed by the Persians in 494 B. C.

Antalya, the primary tourist city on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, was founded in the second century B. C. and today has a population of nearly 600,000. While primarily known for its beautiful beaches, there are also some antiquities to be seen in the vicinity.

FLIGHTS: Turkish Airlines offers daily service to/from Istanbul, and Egypt Air also flies five times weekly. Flight time is scheduled for just over two hours, and the high season round trip airfare is approximately USD 341 on Turkish Airlines. This fare requires either a minimum stay of three nights or a stay over a Saturday night. The high season round trip airfare is approximately USD 316 on Egypt Air. This fare requires a minimum stay of three nights.

Turkish Airlines departs Cairo daily at 3:45 a.m. and departs Istanbul daily at 11:10 p.m. Egypt Air, on the other hand, departs Cairo at about 3:00 p.m. and departs Istanbul at about 6:20 p.m. on four of the five days it flies.

Connecting flights are available in Istanbul for onward destinations, including Ankara (for Cappadocia), Izmir (for Ephesus and other Greek- and Roman-era ruins) and Antalya (for the beach). Although the flight times of Turkish Airlines are less convenient, that airline offers round trip airfare to any city in Turkey via Istanbul for only about USD 70 in extra airfare and taxes.

ACCOMMODATION: In the summer season a double room with breakfast at a 3-star hotel in Istanbul begins from about USD 35, and a double room with breakfast at a 4-star hotel in Istanbul begins from about USD 55. A double room with breakfast at a 5-star hotel in Istanbul runs upward from about USD 70 during the summer season.

VISAS: Tourist visas currently run USD 30 for British citizens, USD 20 for U. S. citizens and USD 48 for Canadians. A support letter from an applicant's employer is requested by the Turkish consulate if visas are obtained in Cairo. Many nationalities can also purchase visas upon arrival at Istanbul International Airport.

TURKEY'S CLIMATE IN GENERAL: The very best time to visit Turkey is April through June when it is warm and dry and there are still green landscapes after the winter rains. The second best time to visit is September through October when it is warm and dry and there are brown landscapes after the dry summer. The third best time to visit is July and August when it is hot, dry and dusty. This is also the peak season for tourism from Europe, so tourist hotels and flights are most crowded then. During the remainder of the year Turkey is cold and wet.

ISTANBUL CLIMATE: The best time to visit Istanbul is April through mid-September when it is dry and hot. July and August are the hottest months, with afternoon temperatures of 28 C./82 F. In that region the best beach weather is June through September. During the period from November through February Istanbul is wet and cool.

IZMIR AND ANTALYA CLIMATE: For the Aegean (Izmir) and Mediterranean (Antalya) coasts the best time to visit is April through October when it is hot and dry. The water temperature remains above 16 C./60 F., even during the winter. But it is beach weather only from April through October. While during the period from November through March it is mild and wet, the south coast is protected by mountains from the cold winds which blow from the north. Thus temperatures are mild there, averaging 14 C.-17 C./57 F.-63 F. in the afternoons. The western, or Aegean, coast averages 2 C./4 F. cooler than the southern, or Mediterranean, coast.

CAPPADOCIA AND ANKARA CLIMATE: The Anatolian Plateau features very warm and dry summers from June through August. On the other hand, April, May and September are pleasantly warm. However, there can be occasional thunderstorms during this period; and evenings can be chilly. The winter season from November to March is cold and wet, with some snow. The eastern half of the Anatolian Plateau is colder and receives more snow than the western half. The snow can lie on the ground for up to four months.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Ascension Island Visit: 2001-3
2009-10-03 - "Ascension Island," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2006

Discovered in 1501 by the Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova Castella, today Ascension Island is a dependency of the British overseas territory of St. Helena, which lies about 1,280 km (800 miles) to the southeast. The 91 square kilometer (35 square mile) island of Ascension lies just west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 1,600 km (1,000 miles) from West Africa. The top of a volcanic peak, most of the island consists of basalt lava flows and cinder cones, of which there are at least 44. Governed by a resident British administrator, Ascension supports a population of some 1,100 people, most of whom are workers from St. Helena.

Rugged and dry,
Ascension was of little interest to the East Indies fleets. The island only acquired significance when in 1815 Britain sent a garrision to Ascension to prevent the island from being used in any attempt to rescue Napoleon from his exile on St. Helena.

In succeeding years
Ascension was used for resupplying ships used for suppressing slavery along the coast of West Africa. Then in 1898 a submarine telegraph cable was laid from England to South Africa via Ascension. During World War II the U. S. constructed Wideawake Airfield. Following the war, Ascension was used exclusively by Cable and Wireless. Later, beginning in 1957, Ascension again proved useful to the U. S., which employed the island in connection with the testing of missiles launched from Florida. In 1965 NASA began building a tracking station on Ascension, and in 1966 the BBC built a shortwave relay facility for broadcasts aimed at both Africa and South America.

From 1982
Ascension became a staging post for the British Task Force in connection with the Falklands War, and RAF Vulcan bombers were deployed at Wideawake Airfield. Not only were the jets which fired the opening shots of the Falklands War launched from Ascension, but Wideawake became the world's busiest airfield for awhile during the conflict. Furthermore, Ascension once boasted the world's longest runway. In fact, the island still serves as an emergency landing spot for the space shuttle. Wideawake Airfield is jointly administered by the U. S. and the U. K.

Today the European Space Agency also maintains a tracking station on
Ascension. This facility is used to track Ariane 5 rockets after they have been launched in French Guiana. Also, interestingly, Ascension is the location of one of the three ground antennas which are used to operate the widely-used Global Positioning System for navigation. (The other two ground antennae are situated on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and on Diego Garcia Atoll in the Indian Ocean.)

Like many small islands,
Ascension's main export is postage stamps. Stamps were first issued for the island in 1922.

The pier, where cruise ship passengers come ashore in tenders, is located in Georgetown, the capital of
Ascension which is home to over 500 people. Adjacent to the pier are stretches of beautiful white sandy beach. Georgetown is the location of a cinder golf course. The post office, police station and Cable and Wireless office are also in the capital.

The farm is located on 859-meter-high (2,817-foot-high) Green Mountain,
Ascension's highest peak. The fields there were once used to supply the island with fresh produce. Nowadays holiday flats on the mountain can be rented by locals for weekend use. There are artificial forests of bamboo and pine near the summit of Green Mountain, which is normally covered by clouds.

PRACTICALITIES:

Weekly air service to
Ascension Island is available on Royal Air Force-run aircraft from Brize Norton Airbase in Oxfordshire and also from Mt. Pleasant in the Falkland Islands. Round trip individual adult airfare from the U. K. to Ascension begins at sterling 1,009. See www.ascension-flights.com.

The 128-passenger Royal Mail Ship St. Helena cruises on the Portland-Tenerife-Ascension Island-St. Helena Island-Walvis Bay, Namibia-Cape Town route. See www.rms-st-helena.com for details of prices and schedules.

Visitors to
Ascension require written permission from the Administrator. Information on how to obtain this permit and other important visitor information is posted online at www.ascension-island.gov.ac/visitors.htm.

Both hotel accommodation and car rental are available on the
island.

Note : I landed on Ascension Island in March 2001 during a transatlantic crossing on Silversea Cruises' Silver Shadow. I also circumnavigated Ascension in November 2006 when I returned to the island on another transatlantic crossing on Holland America Line's Prinsendam. Unfortunately on that second call sea conditions did not permit a landing.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
20 June 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Barbados Visit: -


Botswana Visit: 2004-9
2009-10-03 - -"A Photo Safari Adventure: Following Wild Dogs in Botswana," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in October 2004

"'Whiskey delta' on Hyena Alley," whispered Andre, our photo safari guide, into his two-way radio. "We're following nine adults!"

Although he could boast 17 years of experience in animal conservation and guiding in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, 41-year-old South African-born Andre Joubert was as excited as were we early on the morning of September 10, 2004.

After a three-month absence, a pack of African wild dogs had returned to the flood plain around Zibalianja Camp near the Selinda Spillway, on the eastern edge of northern Botswana's game-rich Okavango Delta.

The 15,000-square-km Okavango Delta is well-known to informed African safari enthusiasts. Seasonal flood waters rising in Angola flow south into arid Botswana, creating the world's largest oasis. This unique ecosystem plays host to a large variety of African game animals and birds. Since good game sighting opportunities attract tourists, the Delta is also home to a great many safari lodges and camps. Until June 2004, guides from Zibalianja Camp ("Zib") and neighboring Selinda Camp had frequently sighted wild dogs, which are also called "Cape hunting dogs" or "painted dogs." In fact, Zibalianja means "place of the wild dog" in the local Sesubiya tongue. However, as the flood plain had dried up and the game had thinned, the pack had moved away. Working co-operatively to bring down small animals such as impala, packs of wild dogs typically hunt over extensive and ever-shifting territories.

Our photo game drive had begun uneventfully that morning. We had photographed some elephants standing among trees on the flood plain as we had driven away from Zib. Then Andre spotted the footprints of a leopard which had crossed the dirt jeep track during the night. In following those leopard tracks, we came upon a sub-group of nine wild dogs hunting in tall grass. Strung out in a long line while attempting to flush out game, the dogs employed their seemingly oversized ears to their best advantage, listening carefully for the sound of potential prey or for a call from another member of the pack.

As we followed behind the dogs in our open Land Cruiser, we were joined by other vehicles from Zib and Selinda camps, whose guides had all heard Andrew's radio announcement of the sighting. It soon became apparent that the dogs were returning from a morning hunt to the pack's den, which was now situated above the flood plain on a tree-shaded mound.

After parking our Land Cruiser and studying the dogs' activities at the den over a period of 45 minutes, we counted 16 month-old pups and 14 adults. In each pack of wild dogs it is customary for the alpha male to mate with only a single alpha female. In this case it was apparent that the alpha female's litter had been comprised of 16 healthy pups.

Our two-week African safari had commenced in Zambia, where we visited both South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park before flying via Lusaka to Livingstone, Zambia to view the magnificent and mighty Victoria Falls. There, adventurous tourists can choose to overfly one of the world's natural wonders in a small airplane, by helicopter or even in an ultralight. World-class white water rafting is also offered on the Zambezi River.

In years past more exciting adventure activities at Victoria Falls had been available from the Zimbabwe side than from Zambia. However, with Zimbabwe's growing political isolation and increasing economic difficulties, many tourists to Victoria Falls now prefer to stay at Livingstone on the Zambian side. The multitude of activities and breadth of accommodation currently on offer in Zambia are a reflection of the recent surge in tourism to that country.

From Livingstone we flew in a five-seat single-engine charter aircraft just across the border to Kasane, Botswana. After quickly clearing Botswana immigration formalities in Kasane, we continued in our light aircraft directly to a small dirt airstrip midway between the safari camps of Zib and Selinda. As we descended to land, we photographed hippos, elephants and herds of various antelopes, all of which were clearly visible on the plain below.

Intimate Zibalianja Camp, only a 15-minute drive from the airstrip and unusual in catering for a maximum of only six guests, features a unique bar overlooking a nearby water hole. The camp's four twin-bedded safari tents, raised on wooden platforms, are equipped with solar lighting. Each tent has a shaded cover as well as a mosquito net with zipper. Solar power allows for hot showers, and a modern bathroom with flush toilet is attached to each tent. There are wonderful views of the surrounding plain from the raised viewing deck. All meals and laundry service are included.

Daily activities include an early morning game drive followed by brunch. After relaxing around camp during the day, one's late afternoon game drive gradually turns into an evening drive when a strong hand-held spotlight is used for game spotting on the return to camp. Finally, a communal dinner is topped off by drinks around a campfire. Accompanied game walks, seasonal fishing in Zibalianja Lagoon and participation in monthly full moon night game counts are also possible. Wild dog, elephant, hippo, leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, red
lechwe, zebra, wildebeest, sable and other plains game have all been sighted at Zib and Selinda.

PRACTICALITIES AND SUGGESTIONS:

Botswana is unique in offering a combination of excellent game, small camps and open vehicles for game drives. In addition, a visit to nearby Victoria Falls can be combined easily with a Botswana safari. Beginning in November 2004, nonstop flights from Cape Town to Maun, Botswana will permit direct access to northern Botswana, eliminating the need to change aircraft in Johannesburg. Maun is the departure point for most small aircraft flights to the many safari camps located all across the Okavango Delta.

An ideal, if high budget, southern African experience might consist of a visit to Victoria Falls plus stays at both a wet camp (for canoeing) and a dry camp (for game viewing in vehicles) in the Okavango Delta, followed by four nights in Cape Town. South Africa's so-called "Mother City" should be savored for a minimum of three full days in order to include a visit to the nearby Cape Point Nature Reserve, the wine country surrounding Stellenbosch and Paarl, and Cape Town's own highlights. The latter include Table Mountain, Robben Island and the many shopping opportunities at the Waterfront and Greenmarket Square.

The Southern Hemisphere winter months of April through October are the best time to visit the Okavango Delta. September is an excellent month as then the grasses are low, making game viewing easy. During the period from November through March, when there is rain and the grass is high, the Okavango Delta boasts a profusion of bird life.

In early October 2004 round trip airfare from Cairo to Cape Town on Kenya Airways was approx. USD 838. Round trip airfare from Cape Town to Maun, Botswana is expected to be approx. USD 580. Consider asking your travel agent to construct a safari package which includes three nights of accommodation at Zibalianja Camp plus airfare from Maun to Zib and then from Zib onward to Livingstone, Zambia in order to view Victoria Falls. If your budget allows it, since Kenya Airways also services Lusaka, Zambia, open jaw international airfare could be arranged, as follows: Cairo-Nairobi-Johannnesburg-Cape Town plus Livingstone-Lusaka-Nairobi-Cairo. Frequent commuter-type scheduled charters operate between Livingstone, Zambia (at Victoria Falls) and Lusaka.

Scheduled air service to Botswana exists from most of its neighboring countries. See Air Botswana's route map at www.airbotswana.co.bw.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




British Indian Ocean Territory Visit: 2002-7
2009-10-03 - HOW TO GET TO BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY:

British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) is most easily reached by yacht charter from the Maldives. However, some travelers have also sailed to BIOT by yacht charter from the Seychelles. The sailing time to BIOT from Seychelles is substantially longer than what is required from Gan (Addu Atoll) in the Maldives.


MY VISIT TO BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY:

"A Travelers Century Club Expedition to Remote British Indian Ocean Territory," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in December 2002

Membership in the Travelers Century Club (TCC), organized in Los Angeles in 1954 by a group of the worlds most widely traveled people, is limited to those who have visited 100 or more of the 317 destinations on the clubs list.

One of the most remote of those destinations is British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Formerly called the Oil Islands (oil refers to copra, or coconut oil, rather than to petroleum), BIOT consists of the Chagos Archipelago. Lying south of the Republic of the Maldives, BIOT consists of a number of atolls, the most southerly and the best known of which is Diego Garcia, where some of the U. S. aircraft employed in Afghanistan were based. In the northern reaches of BIOT are the Salomon Islands, which I visited by yacht 21-22 July 2002.

Our yacht charter was organized by club member Charles Veley who was attempting to visit the entire TCC list within a period of 15 months. Charles, in his mid-30s, also planned to be the youngest person to visit every destination on the TCC list. Charles had already found two others to share the steep yacht charter expenses, Jeff Shea and Ben Fogle. Jeff is another TCC member who is also an accomplished mountain climber. Ben Fogle, while not a TCC member, is a BBC travel show presenter who is writing a book on far-flung British overseas territories. (There may also eventually be a parallel BBC television program.)

On 17 July I flew Emirates from Cairo to the Maldives via Dubai. Upon arrival on the morning of 18 July I hopped a motorized ferry from the airport island across to Male, the capital, which is situated on a nearby island. Then early on the morning of 19 July we flew to Gan in a 15-passenger twin engine plane.

Upon arrival at Gan the four of us were met by two sedan cars which carried us a short distance to a spot where we could board a small motorboat to go out to our 94-foot sailing yacht, the Dream Voyager. Due to the peculiar geography of the Maldives, which consists of many small atolls, cars are rather uncommon. But during the British presence at Gan between 1957 and 1976 some 10 miles of road had been built at Addu Atoll by joining together several adjacent islands with causeways.

After customs clearance we finally set sail on the evening of 19 July in Dream Voyager south from Addu Atoll en route to the Salomon Islands in BIOT. We were sailing against a strong southeasterly wind, and the water was choppy. Although I was wearing an ear patch, I didn't feel like eating much for dinner. But I definitely felt better after losing lunch later that evening.

Our accommodations on the air-conditioned Dream Voyager were excellent. Each of us had his own bedroom with private sink, shower and toilet. The yacht carried a crew of eight, including an international captain. Due to Maldives maritime regulations, one captain had been required for the domestic journey from Male, from where the yacht had originally sailed with crew only; and we required a second captain for our international journey which began at Gan.

We sailed south all day on 20 July. Then on the morning of 21 July land was sighted. We could see the low-lying Salomon Islands atoll on the horizon. All of the islands are covered with a dense forest of coconut palms. About two hours later we sailed into the horseshoe-shaped atoll which opens to the north. We then turned right and dropped anchor off Boddam Island, one of ten islands in the atoll. The crossing had taken us about 40 hours.

The atolls of what is now BIOT used to fall under the political control of Mauritius. Then in the early 1970s the various islands were sterilized. The people living on Boddam Island and on other atolls in the Chagos Archipelago - about 2,000 in total - were "compensated" and shipped off to Mauritius. I heard that the dogs living on one of the islands were all gassed. BIOT was declared to be an independent political entity in 1972. The sterilization procedures apparently fulfilled the terms of an agreement under which the U. S. in 1972 took over Diego Garcia from the U. K. on a long-term lease. The British coast guard still patrols the waters of BIOT, and U. S. military personnel occupy only the large atoll of Diego Garcia with its air base in the far south.

The "Ilois," people who had been removed from the Chagos Archipelago, recently won a court case against the U. K. This court decision will allow them to return to their former homes on Boddam Island and elsewhere in BIOT. We heard that a boat carrying a few of these islanders would soon be arriving in the Salomon Islands in order to check out the current situation there.

We landed on a pristine sandy beach on the northeast side of the still uninhabited Boddam Island on the morning of 21 July. Before I left Cairo I had commissioned the painting of a cloth banner which read, "Travelers Century Club - BIOT 2002." After taking photos of ourselves holding that banner, we began to explore, traversing the width of the island on a well-marked path. The western side of Boddam - without the protection of the atoll - offered rougher water and a much narrower beach with both sand and rocks.

Boddam Island contains the remains of a copra plantation. The old warehouse is connected to the dock bynarrow gauge railway tracks. The cement and coral walls of the buildings remain but some of the roofs have decayed. One of the old building stones bore the inscription, "Cowen - England." There is also a graveyard where headstones bear inscriptions dating back to the 1800s.

There are a church and a number of residential buildings. The latter, made of corrugated metal, still stand with their roofs intact. The interiors of some of the buildings have been spray painted with the names of yachts and yachters who have visited in recent years. One such yachter graffito, for instance, reads, "Against all odds - Andy & Margaux, Australia 2001 - Love to live, live to love."

We overnighted off Boddam Island along with a dozen or so other yachts which were anchored in the Salomons. This atoll serves as a way station for yachts crossing the Indian Ocean. For a $70 fee yachts are allowed to anchor for several months. Having chatted with a few of the yachters on Boddam, we learned that some yachters sail to BIOT, stay up to six months, and then simply return again after resupplying in Malaysia or Thailand. With E-mail available nowadays via short wave, yachters can easily stay in touch with the outside world even from somewhere as remote as BIOT.

Yachters sometimes congregate on Boddam Island in the evening in order to barbecue and socialize, and perhaps once a month the British coast guard sponsors a barbecue for all yachters present. There is a volleyball court, a swing made from rope and a half of a coconut shell and even a picnic table.

Although fishing is allowed in BIOT, diving is not. Regulations are enforced by and yacht fees are collected by the British coast guard which calls in at the Salomon Islands from time to time. We felt fortunate that Andy, a coast guard official, called on us the morning of 22 July because he stamped our passports!

Andy clearly was not looking for trouble when he boarded our yacht. He commented that, if we had any dive tanks on board, he didn't want to see them. I believe that anyone who had dived in the Salomon Islands would have said that it was the most fantastic dive he had ever taken since the water was so very clear.

After disembarking from our yacht, Andy returned to his coast guard vessel and sailed out of the Salomon Islands atoll in search of commercial vessels fishing in BIOT waters. He was also charged with inspecting these vessels.

On the afternoon of 22 July we rode our yacht's small motorboat from our anchorage near Boddam Island around the rest of the atoll. After landing on Takamaka Island we saw a ray swimming in the crystal clear water. Before returning to our own yacht across the lagoon, we halted to swim and snorkel at the site where another yacht had recently sunk. The sunken yacht's two white masts rose at an awkward angle out of the blue green waters of the Salomon Islands lagoon. We could see that a PC and other personal belongings were still aboard the sunken yacht, which bore a hole in its fiberglass hull.

Arriving back on the Dream Voyager, we found a Frenchman and his daughter from another yacht on board our own yacht sipping tea with our crew. They related to us the story of the sinking of the yacht in the lagoon two weeks previously. The family which owned it was then still in the lagoon, living aboard another boat with some friends.

The prevailing southeasterly wind assisted us on our northbound journey from the Salomon Islands in BIOT to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, so the return sailing took only about 38 hours. Upon arrival at Gan on the morning of 24 July, Maldives immigr


Bulgaria Visit: -

California Visit: -

Cayman Islands Visit: -

Chile (mainland) Visit: -

Crimea Visit: -


Easter Island Visit: 2003-2
2009-10-03 - -"A Visit to Easter Island, 'Navel of the World,'" written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2004

On 25 January 2003 I sailed from Valparaiso, Chile to Papeete, Tahiti on the 513-passenger German-registered cruise ship MS Deutschland. During the 16-day cruise the Deutschland called at Chile's Robinson Crusoe Island, Easter Island and Pitcairn Island as well as Fakarava and Moorea in French Polynesia. On 1 February I toured Easter Island for the third time in 2 1/2 years! Cruise ships often call at both Pitcairn Island and Easter Island when sailing between Tahiti and South America's west coast ports. So it was due to my interest in trying to land at Pitcairn Island that I also happen to have visited Easter Island on cruises in both 2000 and 2002.

Easter Island is some 3,600 km west of Chile. Pitcairn Island, 1,900 km distant, is its nearest inhabited neighbor to the east. Triangular in shape and hilly, with a maximum altitude of 600 meters, Easter Island is 23 km long, 11 km wide and has an area of 163 square km (63 square miles). Easter Island, with an extinct volcano at each corner, was formed by a series of separate underwater volcanic eruptions.

Dutch admiral Jakob Roggeveen, who discovered the island on Easter Sunday in 1722 and spent only a single day there, described a population which worshiped huge standing statues with fires while they prostrated themselves to the rising sun. The island was also visited by an expedition sent by the Spanish viceroy of Peru, which spent four days on the island in 1770. This expedition reported that the local population of 3,000 had its own form of script. It appears that a civil war may have taken place prior to the visit of Captain James Cook in 1774. Cook found only 700 poverty-stricken men and fewer than 30 women on the island. He wrote that most of the statues had been overturned and were no longer venerated.

In 1864 a French Catholic missionary, the first European to settle on Easter Island, converted the population to Christianity. Settlers from Tahiti began to raise sheep on the island in 1870. In 1888 the island was annexed by Chile. Easter Island was administered by the Chilean navy for 11 years from 1954, but since 1965 Easter Island has had a civilian governor.

The population was decimated to a low of 111 in 1877 by Peruvian slavers, smallpox, tuberculosis and emigration. Today's population of about 3,000, living in the town of Hanga Roa on the sheltered west coast, has been augmented by emigrants from the Chilean mainland. Tourism, the mainstay of the modern economy, began with commercial air service in 1967. Nowadays about half a dozen cruise ships also call at Easter Island annually. Chile has declared the entire island a historic monument.

Polynesian culture was able to spread across the Pacific within the great triangle formed by New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island due to the fact that Polynesian mariners had devised ways to navigate in small boats between very widely-dispersed islands. Also known as Rapa Nui, its Polynesian name, Easter Island was probably colonized by mariners from the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia in about 400 AD. The oldest ceremonial altars and statues are similar to those found in the Marquesas. However, later development of the tall gaunt statues with elongated faces and ears for which Easter Island is famous is unique to Easter Island. Mysterious "rongorongo" hieroglyphs found on the island have never been deciphered. Curiously, the first inhabitants called their island "Navel of the World."

It is thought that five clans on Easter Island, each of which had its own lands, attempted to display their strength through the construction of complex monuments of ancestor worship. Incredibly, over the centuries about 1,200 monolithic stone statues were quarried at Rano Raraku, on the sides of an extinct volcano. The statues were then transported to their various resting sites on the periphery of the island, perhaps by means of wooden rollers. (A 1986 experiment showed that it was also possible for 15 men to move a medium-sized statue in an upright position by means of ropes.) Each statue originally wore a red topknot which was quarried at another location distant from Rano Raraku. In addition, large round pebbles laid out in long rows in front of the statues were all gathered from one particular beach. Virtually all of the statues faced inward so as to watch over the clans' ancestral lands.

The remarkable monoliths, carved from tuff, a soft volcanic stone, range in height from 3 to 12 meters. Some weigh more than 45,500 kg (50 tons). The largest weighs 74,500 kg (82 tons) and wore a topknot weighing 10,000 kg (11 tons). It has been theorized that the engineers, quarrymen and sculptors were paid from surplus agricultural production by the families which commissioned the statues. After about 1400 AD the quarrying slowed and then eventually ceased. This might have been due to deforestation caused by production of rollers which in turn led to soil infertility. Heavy cropping may have contributed too. Today Easter Island is mostly grassland aside from some introduced eucalyptus trees. It is still possible to see the remains of hillside trails created by sheep which were ranched on the island for a century until the mid-1980s.

Another interesting but later phenomenon is the birdman cult. In an annual ceremony young men raced down steep volcanic cliffs and swam to three small islets offshore to try to obtain the first egg laid by the sooty tern, a migratory seabird which still nests there. The chief of the clan of the winner of this race was named Bird Man. This position apparently allowed that elder to govern Easter Island for the next year.

In addition to the obvious Polynesian cultural borrowings, some strong arguments can also be made for influences from South America to the east. In particular, the stone work on one of the ceremonial altars and at the ceremonial village of Orongo are similar to masonry in South America. Also, the early Easter Island statues bear characteristics reminiscent of pre-Inca monuments.

As Easter Island has no cruise ship dock, the Deutschland stayed at anchor; and I rode ashore in the morning on the ship's tender. Riding horses were available for rent at the small dock. But to see the most in a short amount of time, a vehicle is best. My day tour began with a drive up the steep slope of Rano Kau, the largest volcano, to the ceremonial village of Orongo which consists of low stone buildings associated with the Bird Man cult. Petroglyphs there show a creature which is half man and half bird. From Orongo I could look out to sea toward the nearby islets where the annual Bird Man competition was held. From this same vantage point I could also see the fresh water lake in the crater far below which provides sufficient drinking water for the entire island.

I drove back down the slope of Rano Kau and then continued around the airport, the original runway of which was lengthened by NASA for use as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle. Beyond the small town of Hanga Roa I reached the ceremonial altar known as Ahu Ko Te Riku. Not only is the statue here one of the few to again wear its original red topknot, but this is the only statue which currently contains eyes. It was only in the 1990s when a single eye-shaped coral piece was unearthed that archeologists realized that all of the statues originally had eyes carved from white coral. The pupils were made of dark stone.

From there I drove to the volcanic crater Rano Raraku where all of the statues were quarried. Some statues still recline in situ, only partially excavated. Many others lie abandoned nearby, having broken at the very beginning of their separate journeys to the various clans' lands around the island.

The quarrying at Rano Raraku took place with basalt picks both inside and outside of that lake-filled crater. Today statues stand buried near the quarry site at random depths and at random angles. Some statues are buried by silt to their abdomens or waists, some to their necks and still others to their chins. Nearly all of the statues are cut off at waist level. On only one of the remaining statues are stubby legs carved on its sides. Interestingly, one statue has a three-masted sailing ship inscribed on its chest. This artwork must have been added sometime after the arrival of the first Europeans in the eighteenth century.

My next stop was the largest ceremonial altar, Ahu Tongariki, where 15 statues stand on the same platform facing inward from the sea. In 1960 a tsunami caused by an earthquake near the coast of Chile swept all 15 statues off their platform, hurling some of these huge stone megaliths hundreds of meters inland. My guide explained that a Japanese owner of a crane company had donated one of his cranes for use in restoring this altar after returning home from a visit to Easter Island.

The final destination on my tour was Anakena, Easter Island's only true sand beach where the ceremonial altar Ahu Nau Nau contains half a dozen statues, four of which wear red topknots. A plaque at Anakena records the visit by Thor Heyerdahl to this site in the mid-1950s. After a picnic lunch I returned to the town of Hanga Roa to try to see the museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed due to the 10-day-long Semana Rapa Nui, a festival with dancing, singing, tattooing and body-painting plus horse racing and swimming competitions, which was due to commence that evening.


HOW TO GET TO EASTER ISLAND:

LAN Airlines offers frequent air service to Easter Island from both Santiago, Chile and Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. Cruise ships occasionally call at Easter Island also.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Egypt (non-Sinai) Visit: 2009-10
2009-10-03 - "A Suez Canal Transit," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in October 2008

During the quarter of a century that I have lived in Egypt I have driven along the highway that runs parallel to the Suez Canal several times while taking day trips to Port Said. I have seen large and small ships steaming through the Great Bitter Lake when on holiday near Fayid. I once crossed the canal on a small car ferry when returning to Cairo from El Arish; and of course I have driven through the 1.63-km (1-mile)-long Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the canal many, many times en route to and from various Sinai beach resorts. (I haven't had a chance yet to drive over the canal at El Qantara on the beautiful Mubarak Peace Bridge which opened in October 2001. This, the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, which was built with Japanese assistance, has a clearance of 70 meters or 230 feet.)

I have always been intrigued to see vessels plying the Suez Canal. Indeed, the ship convoys often appeared to be floating across the desert as if by magic if I was situated far enough away from the canal at the time of sighting. So I'm sure no one will be surprised when I admit that I have long wondered how a local resident could sail through the canal.

Unfortunately, I never found an answer to that question. However, in the autumn of 2004 and again in the spring of 2008 I was able to join two international cruises which included Suez Canal transits. In November 2004 I sailed south from Alexandria to Mombasa, Kenya on the 10,000-ton, 208-passenger Seabourn Spirit; and in May 2008 I sailed north during an Africa circumnavigation cruise on Holland America Line's 38,000-ton, 793-passenger Prinsendam.

The Suez Canal was constructed by forced labor at a cost of USD 100 million over a 10 1/2-year period by Ferdinand de Lesseps' Universal Company for the Suez Maritime Canal, which was formed in 1858. The canal was opened on November 17, 1869 by the French Empress Eugenie. 163 km (101 miles) long and 600 meters (1,968 feet) wide in its narrowest stretch, the canal links the Mediterranean at Port Said to the Red Sea at Suez. With an average transit time of 15 hours, the canal saves ships 11,829 km (7,350 miles) compared to the circumnavigation of Africa.

The Suez Canal, which has no locks, accommodates about 50 ships daily and is capable of handling up to 80 ships in a single day. The current maximum draft allowed is 16 meters (53 feet), and modifications now underway should increase this to 22 meters (72 feet). While ships which displace up to 150,000 tons can now transit the canal, after 2010 fully-laden supertankers will also be able to pass. At present supertankers have the option of transferring a portion of their cargo onto an Egyptian boat and then reloading after their canal transit.

Incredibly, the average toll is USD 205,000. So it is difficult to imagine what the cost must be to operate a supertanker all the way around the Cape of Good Hope. No wonder supertankers would bother to offload and reload cargo in order to transit the canal! In 2005 some 18,193 vessels, or about 7.5% of worldwide shipping, crossed through the Suez Canal. Transit fees routinely total well over USD 3 billion.

While only a single shipping lane exists in the canal, there are two major turnouts for passing. Typically three convoys transit the canal daily. The initial southbound convoy departs Port Said and proceeds as far as the Great Bitter Lake south of Ismailia. There the convoy awaits the northbound convoy before continuing south to Suez. The second southbound convoy is passed by the northbound convoy in the bypass at El Ballah between Ismailia and El Qantara. In order to reduce erosion, transit speeds are held to about 8 knots or some 15 km (9 miles) per hour.

Both of my Suez Canal transits were a little unusual. The journey begins very early in the morning no matter which direction one's ship is traveling. In 2004 Seabourn Spirit got the usual pre-dawn start from Port Said. But our southbound transit time was greatly increased due to a reported minor ship collision in the northbound convoy. The ensuing delay caused us to be sidelined in the Great Bitter Lake for a number of extra hours, and we only exited the canal at Suez very late that night.

On the other hand, in 2008 the captain of the Prinsendam was contacted by Suez Canal Authority officials a couple of hours early, at about 4 AM, and told to proceed as the lead ship in that day's northbound convoy. As the captain thought it best to avoid making a public announcement on board at that early hour, by the time most passengers awoke, expecting to see Suez from their balconies, our ship was already sailing in the Little Bitter Lake.

As is the case on Nile cruises, passengers who transit the Suez Canal will glimpse many interesting vignettes of local life. The bad news is that, while lying at anchor, the local flies are nothing short of murderous!

Unfortunately there is still no way for locals to enjoy a simple transit of the Suez Canal. Only those willing to consider taking a full cruise will ever have the unique opportunity to experience a Suez Canal transit.
Suez Canal panorama showing El Ballah Bypass, 60-second video clip

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
6 October 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com


England Visit: 2003-7
2009-12-26 - "Viewing HMS Bounty Artifacts on a Day Trip from London to Greenwich, England," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in June 2005

Maritime buffs can enjoy an interesting day trip from London to the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, which offers a number of attractions. Greenwich, literally the "green village," contains crooked lanes, bric-a-brac shops and bustling antique and flea markets. HMAS (Her Majesty's Armed Ship) Bounty and Pitcairn Island enthusiasts will be drawn in particular to the National Maritime Museum (NMM) and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG).

The NMM (http:\\www.nmm.ac.uk) is a state-of-the-art facility with fascinating displays on Britain's maritime past, present and future. Founded in 1934, this is the world's largest nautical museum, with a collection of over two million items. Its 20 galleries display some of the finest objects, covering many aspects of ships, seafaring and marine affairs. The museum is housed in historic buildings which were formerly a school for the sons of seamen.

A number of artifacts from the Bounty are showcased in the Trade and Empire gallery, including a coconut shell, a horn cup and a small weight used to measure out portions of food. Presumably these instruments were used by William Bligh and his loyalists on their lengthy longboat voyage. A worm-eaten piece of wood from the Bounty's rudder is displayed as are a corkscrew and a pipe said to have belonged to Bligh. A braided grey lock of mutineer John Adams' hair several inches long is also exhibited. Adjacent to that is John Adams' original grave marker from Pitcairn Island. John Adams was the last of the mutineers to die on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.

Although one of the museum's most fascinating Bounty-related items is not on display, it can be viewed easily upon application to the NMM's Caird Library. This library contains a copy of "The Log of HMS Bounty 1787-1789" by William Bligh. The volume in the museum is number 236 of a limited edition of 500 copies published in 1975 by Genesis Publications of Surrey, England. The book is a photographic reproduction of the original handwritten document which is held at the Public Records Office in Kew, England. Upon opening the Bounty log to page 248, visitors can read Bligh's own longhand account of the events of the mutiny on 28 April 1989.

Just across the park and up a small hill is the ROG (http://www.nmm.ac.uk/site/navId/005000002002),
which was founded in 1675 by King Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The original purpose of the ROG was to provide accurate charts of the stars in order to improve navigation. Today this institution is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the prime meridian (longitude 0 degrees).

GMT, of course, is the basis of standard time throughout the world. The Shepherd gate clock at the ROG, installed in 1852 and still functioning, was the first public clock to display GMT. The ROG's red rooftop ball has dropped daily at precisely 1 p.m. since 1833. This used to assist mariners on the Thames to set their chronometers.

The prime meridian is the zero point which has been used in the calculation of terrestrial longitudes since 1884. Visitors may have their photographs taken at the meridian line while straddling two hemispheres.

On exhibit at the ROG are the four well-known marine timekeepers completed by John Harrison between 1735 and 1759. In addition, Larcum Kendall's second timekeeper is on display. This chronometer, known as K2, was built in 1771. A simplified and cheaper version of Harrison's H4 timekeeper, which itself dates to 1759, K2 was used by Captain Phipps on his Arctic voyage of discovery in 1773 and was later issued to William Bligh for use on the Bounty.

The Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site also includes some other places of general interest. The seventeenth-century Palladian Queen's House was England's first purely classical building. Designed by Inigo Jones in 1616 as a retreat for Anne of Denmark, queen to James I, the building was refurbished in 2001 and now provides well-lit galleries. The Queen's House contains the Tulip Stairs which date to 1635. This was Britain's first centrally unsupported spiral stairway.

The outstanding painted hall and chapel of the nearby Old Royal Naval College, originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1695 to house naval pensioners, are also open to the public. The buildings, which became the Royal Naval College in 1873, are said to be a Baroque masterpiece.

The hauntingly beautiful and much-visited Cutty Sark, launched in 1869 and the last of the China tea clipper ships, has been in dry dock at Greenwich Pier since 1954. Nearby, also in dry dock is Gipsy Moth IV, in which Sir Francis Chichester circumnavigated the world in 119 days in 1967.

Those who collect maritime history books will appreciate the existence of a nautical bookstore in Greenwich. Those not tempted by nautical books may enjoy browsing instead in one of Greenwich's four interesting bargain bookstores where every title is marked down to only Sterling 2.00.

Greenwich can be reached easily by riverboat in about an hour from Embankment Pier, Tower Millennium Pier, Waterloo Millennium Pier or Westminster Millennium Pier, all in central London. This has been called the best boat ride in London. Even Henry VIII arrived in Greenwich by boat on one of his hunting expeditions. Today visitors ride by the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the recently-developed Docklands area. Three miles downstream the Thames erupts into one of the most sublime sights of English architecture. Minutes later the masts and rigging of the Cutty Sark finally come into view.

And yet a day trip from London to Greenwich can be quite inexpensive. A round trip boat ticket is about Sterling 6.00 ($10.25). Or, for only Sterling 4.10 ($7.00), visitors to London may purchase a Day Travelcard valid for unlimited travel on the underground, buses and the modern Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in zones one and two. This pass may be purchased at certain main underground stations only after 9:30 a.m., and it is valid until 4:30 a.m. the following day.

More expensive versions of the Day Travelcard exist for those requiring travel in additional zones and/or travel on multiple days. The Travelcard is also sold at Heathrow Airport's tube stations after 9:30 a.m. Incidentally, holders of a Travelcard are entitled to one-third off the price of most riverboat services.

Visitors will find it convenient to change from the Jubilee Line of the underground to the DLR at Canary Wharf where only a short walk is required. It is best to alight from the DLR at the "Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich" station. Signs are posted to the various attractions in Greenwich. Admission is free to both the NMM and the ROG. Restaurants and sandwich shops in the compact area of maritime Greenwich enable visitors to spend an entire day there, including a lovely indoor lunch or a picnic outdoors in the park or near the pier.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:

For nearly 40 years I have been fascinated by the Mutiny on the Bounty saga and by Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific where the mutineers fled. In the early 1960s as a young teenager I read the Nordhoff and Hall Bounty Trilogy and then began collecting Pitcairn Island postage stamps. Recently I realized that it would be very easy for me to view some of the original artifacts relating to the Bounty saga. After visiting Greenwich, England in July 2003 I wrote the short article above.

I realize that most other people will not have the same level of interest as I have in the Bounty and in Pitcairn Island. Nevertheless I hope that this article may stimulate others to realize that, similarly, it might not be so difficult for them to visit locations or museums which may hold original artifacts relating to a topic which may be of interest to them.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
5 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Euskadi (Basque Country) Visit: 2005-3
2009-10-03 - "The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in July 2005

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, opened in Bilbao , Spain in 1997. This institution, now an icon for Bilbao's progress, helped to spur a cultural renaissance and surge in tourism to the city.

Although the museum's impressive collection includes a broad spectrum of modern and contemporary art, it is the innovative building itself which is the city's stunning architectural jewel. Centered around an atrium that is 164 feet (50 meters) high are 19 galleries plus an auditorium, a restaurant and offices. The museum's floor area is 260,000 square feet (24,000 square meters), nearly half of which is exhibition space. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao also includes the world's largest exhibition hall, some 422 feet (130 meters) long.

Architect Frank Gehry was faced with some difficult design problems. On one side of the museum site in central Bilbao is the Nervion River ; on this side the site is 52 feet (16 meters) below the level of the rest of the city. On another end is a bridge which serves as one of the city's major access routes. Yet Gehry managed to overcome these issues successfully, integrating his avant garde building into the city's urban fabric.

The museum building is an unorthodox combination of connected shapes. The beautiful titanium exterior panels, 0.2 inch (0.5 mm) thick, give the surface a certain tactile feel. It has even been said that this extraordinary building constitutes a novel form of architecture!

Bilbao is Spain's fourth largest city; its metropolitan area contains roughly half of northern Spain's Basque population. Bilbao has served as the industrial and financial center of the Basque homeland since the mid-nineteenth century. In that era iron ore mined in northern Spain allowed the development of heavy industry in the city along Bilbao's Nervion River . Prior to that, in the medieval era, Bilbao was a major fishing port; and it also handled much of the export of Spanish wool. Today Bilbao's economy revolves instead around modern manufacturing and financial services. After undergoing extensive urban renewal in the latter part of the twentieth century, Bilbao is now Spain's most forward-looking city.



HOW TO GET TO EUSKADI (BASQUE COUNTRY):

Bilbao International Airport, the largest in Euskadi, receives flights from cities in Spain, France, England, etc.


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Fernando de Noronha Visit: 2001-3
2009-10-03 - "A Cruise to Some Little-Known Brazilian Islands: Fernando de Noronha and St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2005

St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, Brazilian equatorial islands, 33-second video clip
Masked booby flying in the South Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, 120-second video clip


In March 2005 I sailed on the 382-passenger Silversea cruise ship MV Silver Shadow from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Lisbon, Portugal. In the Western Hemisphere my cruise ship was to call at the ports of Salvador and Natal in northeastern Brazil as well as the small Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, which lies at latitude 3.85 S. and longitude 32.42 W., some 214 miles (345 km) off the coast of Brazil. In the Eastern Hemisphere my repositioning cruise was also to include calls at the following ports: Dakar, Senegal; Tenerife, Canary Islands; and Funchal, Madeira.

For the first six days the Silver Shadow kept to the published cruise itinerary. But on March 13 at 7 a.m. when the ship arrived at Fernando de Noronha we encountered a six-foot (two-meter) northeasterly swell.

The smaller Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship MV Bremen, which had been lying at anchor off Fernando de Noronha since the previous day, was able to disembark its passengers onto the island on the morning of March 13 via the fleet of inflatable Zodiacs which it carries on board.

Unfortunately, however, the six-foot (two-meter) swell was sufficient to prevent Silver Shadow passengers from disembarking safely into the ship's tenders or onto a trawler. Many of the ship's 284 passengers (the vessel was only three-quarters full) had signed up for three-hour "Archipelago by Trawler" excursions that were to have included an opportunity for swimming. These tours had to be cancelled.

Rather than commencing disembarkation procedures, the Silver Shadow instead made a two-hour counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island. Captain Emanuele Chiesa also announced that, in consolation, he would deviate from the planned transatlantic route in order to view the seldom-visited mid-Atlantic rocks of St. Peter and St. Paul at about 9 a.m. on the morning of March 14.

Of course most passengers were disappointed not to be able to set foot on Fernando de Noronha. However, I had already flown to Fernando de Noronha in February 2001 prior to a previous cruise I had taken on MV Silver Shadow from Rio de Janeiro on Cape Town via Ascension and St. Helena in March 2001. So I was not as disturbed as were the other passengers; and, in fact, I welcomed the opportunity to trade a second visit to Fernando de Noronha for a chance to sail by and photograph St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks.

Originally called Ilha da Quaresma, or Lent Island, Fernando de Noronha was probably first sighted by the Portuguese expedition to Brazil led by Fernao de Loronha in 1501-1502. However, as Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled to Brazil with a Portuguese expedition in 1503, was the first person to describe the archipelago, he is often credited with its discovery.

Between 1534 and 1737 Fernando de Noronha changed hands between the English, French, Dutch and Portuguese a number of times. Finally in about 1770 Vila dos Remedios, the first permanent Portuguese settlement, was established. Brazil's independence in the nineteenth century had little impact on the archipelago. In the first half of the twentieth century the English, the French and the Italians all had some involvement with the island in connection with transatlantic cable communications. The island also served as a prison for many years.

The U. S. built an airfield on Fernando de Noronha during World War II. This was one of a chain of airfields which stretched from Florida all the way to Egypt via South America and Central Africa. Aircraft were flown from the U. S. to North Africa by this circuitous route in order to support the Allied war effort. U. S. troops remained on the island from 1942 to 1945. Later, NASA maintained a missile tracking station there from 1957 to 1962.

Of the 21 islands in the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, only the main island is inhabited. The total land area of the archipelago is 10 square miles (26 square km); and the highest peak, Morro do Pico, reaches 1,053 feet (321 meters). There is a permanent population of about 1,300. The few historical sites of interest to the tourist include a Portuguese-built fort and a church in the hamlet of Vila dos Remedios. Nowadays there is daily air service to Fernando de Noronha (airport code FEN) from Recife, Brazil via Boeing 737 jet.

During the five centuries since its discovery, some 95% of Fernando de Noronha's native vegetation and trees was destroyed. The marine national park which was declared in 1989 set aside about 70% of the archipelago as a sanctuary. Today Fernando de Noronha is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to the existence of the marine national park, cruise ships such as Silver Shadow now can only lie at anchor off the northwest coast of the island.

No more than 480 tourists are allowed on the island at any one time. An environmental preservation tax is imposed on island visitors by the state government. Interestingly, this tax escalates the longer one remains on the island!

With an average annual water temperature of 75 F. (24 C.) and underwater visibility of up to 131 feet (40 meters), diving has become Fernando de Noronha's primary tourist attraction. The archipelago boasts white sandy beaches lapped by waters untainted by silt from Brazilian rivers. There are 230 species of fish and 15 varieties of coral in the archipelago. Dolphins, stingrays, whales, five types of sharks and two species of marine tortoise all inhabit the archipelago.

Twenty-four species of marine birds are also to be found. I was captivated by the scores of masked boobies (Sula dactylatra) which followed the Silver Shadow on March 13 as the ship circumnavigated and then sailed away from Fernando de Noronha.

The family Sulidae contains nine species of boobies and gannets. Both boobies and gannets are conspicuous at sea due to their large size, high flight and spectacular diving habits. Both boobies and gannets have long pointed bills, webbed feet and pointed wings. Although resembling a gannet superficially, the masked booby's head is completely white and the coloration resembles a black face mask. In addition, the masked booby is broader than the gannet, and there is a more extensive trailing edge to the wings of the former.

Early mariners, who found that boobies exhibited no fear of humans, killed them easily for food. Because these birds appeared tame, they were called boobies after the Spanish word bobo which means "stupid."

With a length of 34 inches (86 cm) and a width of 60 inches (152 cm), the masked booby is the largest and heaviest of the boobies. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region by John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., published in New York in 1994 by Alfred A. Knopf, the masked booby is "a stocky white seabird with a black tail, black tips and trailing edges to the wings." It bears a pinkish or orange bill; and during the breeding season the booby exhibits a patch of bare, bluish skin at the base of the bill.

Preferring deep water for fishing, the booby executes near-vertical plunge-dives in search of flying fish and/or squid. In fact, boobies are seldom found in regions where flying fish and squid are not plentiful. I found that a booby would often let out a squawk similar to that of a duck prior to plunging deep into the Atlantic as if it were a vertical torpedo. Other boobies, upon hearing the squawking, would plunge into the ocean nearby. Peter Harrison in Seabirds of the World A Photographic Guide, published in London in 1996 by Christopher Helm Ltd., mentions that the masked booby, which is pantropical, is a colonial breeder on islands, including the south Atlantic islands of Fernando de Noronha and Ascension Island where it normally lays two chalky, pale blue eggs in a shallow depression.

The Field Guide to the Birds of North America, third edition, published in Washington, DC in 1999 by the National Geographic Society, points out that the masked booby breeds as far north as Florida's Dry Tortugas. This booby is also sighted rarely in the Gulf Stream as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The bird is seen only occasionally in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer. The masked booby is loosely gregarious at sea but is said not to follow ships usually. In fact, the many masked boobies which accompanied us on March 13 were no longer in evidence the following day.

At 9 a.m. on March 14 the Silver Shadow arrived one mile (1.6 km) off St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, which lie at latitude 0.93 N. and longitude 29.35 W., more than 496 miles (800 km) off the coast of Brazil. These equatorial Brazilian islands, composed of mylonitic peridotite, are of volcanic origin. The island group, some 820 feet (250 meters) wide and with a maximum height of 64 feet (19.5 meters), is the peak of a submarine mountain which extends 13,123 feet (4,000 meters) down to the sea bed below.

St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks are of interest primarily because they are so far offshore in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. These isolated islands represent one of the very few places where a mid-oceanic ridge attains a height which is above sea level. In effect, these mid-Atlantic rocks serve as an oasis for marine life within an otherwise deep water environment.

There is no source of fresh water on the rocks other than rain, and the islands themselves are devoid of vegetation with the exception of two types of algae. But the marine flora and fauna provide a significant food source for the seabirds which reside and breed there. A 1971 biological survey by Smith et al.* showed that the brown booby (Sula leucogaster), the brown noddy (Anous stolidus) and the black noddy (Anous minutus) all breed on these rocks and that these birds' eggs are sometimes eaten by crabs (Grapsus grapsus), which occur there in large numbers. Incidentally, all three of these birds are also said to breed on Ascension Island.

While it appears that scientists, amateur radio enthusiasts and Brazilian military personnel may have been the only visitors to St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks in recent years, interestingly, these isolated islands were also visited by Charles Darwin in HMS Beagle in 1860 and by H. N. Moseley in HMS Challenger in 1879. Both naturalists reported seeing vast numbers of sea birds during those nineteenth century calls. However, multitudes of sea birds are no longer in evidence today. This may be due to human interference on the islands. A lighthouse, a radio tower, a house and a shed have been constructed on one of the islands. There is also a wooden stairway running down to a small dock area.

The decline in bird life may also be due to extensive fishing in the area by boats from Brazil. During my short visit I spotted three fishing boats working off these rocks. Captain Chiese of the Silver Shadow remarked that he was surprised to see such small fishing boats operating so far from the continent of South America.

* Additional internet reference used in preparation of this article:
www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt1318_full.html


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Florida Visit: 2007-3
2009-10-03 - "The Summit," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in March 2007

Summiting this mountain had been one of my top goals for the last two years. Yet my fiance Barbara and I had severe doubts. Totally inexperienced at mountain climbing, we wondered if we could physically summon up the strength and the stamina to climb such a world-class peak.

Several weeks of planning were necessary to help ensure the ultimate success of our mountaineering expedition 2-3 March 2007. Seats had to be reserved on a critical morning flight on 2 March, the day prior to our attempt on the summit. We also had to secure transportation from the airport to our base camp which, luckily, we were able to reach with no mishap early on the evening of 2 March. All that maneuvering put us in place for our attempt on the summit early on 3 March. Yet we slept fitfully at base camp on the night of 2 March. Although weather conditions appeared to be favorable, we both knew that anything could go wrong, especially at such an altitude.

After so much anticipation, we felt very relieved when we actually set foot on the summit late on the morning of 3 March. After all, we had traveled a full 250 km (155 miles) from base camp that day.

We had taken a morning flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Jacksonville, Florida. Our vehicle was an Avis rental car. Our base camp was a Holiday Inn in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee; and the summit was that of Britton Hill, the highest point in Florida!

Britton Hill is situated in Lakewood Park, west of Paxton in Florida's Walton County. Part of the string of rolling hills which runs along the northern edge of Florida's panhandle, this hill is only about 2 km (1 mile) from the Alabama border. In fact, Florida's Britton Hill, with an elevation of only 105 meters (345 feet) above sea level, claims the dubious distinction of being the lowest state high point in any of the fifty U. S. states!

Varying in width from 48 km to 81 km (from 30 miles to 50 miles), the Florida Uplands extend some 444 km (275 miles) from west to east and then stretch south into the central Florida peninsula. This hilly region is characterized by its red clay soil and by both hardwood and softwood forests.

Lakewood Park, apparently named for the former postmistress of the nearby village, is adjacent to a county road. It is only a short distance off US Highway 331, a major route between Montgomery, Alabama and Panama City, Florida, a beach resort on the Gulf of Mexico. Signs near Paxton, Florida, located just south of the Alabama border, announce the existence of Lakewood Park. This Walton County park boasts not only picnic tables and restrooms but also a granite summit marker.

Historians say that in 1818 Andrew Jackson, before he became president, camped for several weeks on a nearby lake (now called Lake Jackson) while on a campaign to fight Indians in the region of Pensacola. Local lore also has it that the floors of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City were made from the wood of long-leaf yellow pine trees felled in the area.

Florida's 170,383 square km (65,785 square miles) make it the twenty-second largest U. S. state. However, since the mean elevation of the entire state is only about 30 meters (100 feet), Florida doesn't offer much in the way of mountain vistas. Nevertheless, the view from the summit of Britton Hill is pleasant. From there Barbara and I could look down (ever so slightly) on the nearby fields.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



French Guiana Visit: -


Georgia, State Visit: 2007-5
2009-10-03 - "A Day in Atlanta," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in July 2006

My fiance Barbara and I had been talking about visiting Atlanta again ever since the new Georgia Aquarium opened to much hoopla in late November 2005. Finally, on 9 May 2007 while I was on holiday in the U. S., we were able to take advantage of a special airfare of only USD 109 per person to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta round trip.

In Atlanta Barbara and I enjoyed an incredibly full day of sightseeing, returning home late the same night. In a day that began in Ft. Lauderdale before dawn, we were able to take tours of the spectacular Georgia Aquarium and the nearby CNN studios. In addition, before heading home we visited Atlanta's acclaimed High Museum of Fine Art and ate dinner at Mary Mac's Tea Room, an Atlanta institution for over 60 years. Future visitors to Atlanta will also be able to include a visit to the World of Coca-Cola which opened on a site adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium on 23 May 2007.

Upon arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Barbara and I rented a car for the day. However, a cheaper option would have been to ride Atlanta's Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA), which is convenient because it extends all the way out to the airport. MARTA is the ninth-largest rapid-transit system in the U. S.; and, interestingly, it is the largest U. S. rapid-transit agency which does not receive state operational funding. The Georgia Aquarium is only a 15-minute walk across Centennial Olympic Park from the CNN/Georgia World Congress Center MARTA stop.

Until the new three-story aquarium in the Dubai Mall opens in 2008, downtown Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium, with more than 100,000 marine animals of 500 different species living in over 30 million liters (8 million U. S. gallons) of water, is currently the largest aquarium in the world by far. In fact, the Georgia Aquarium is 60% larger than Chicago's Shedd Aquarium with its 19 million liters (5 million U. S. gallons) of water and 20,000 marine animals.

Although the Georgia Aquarium's adult admission is quite expensive at USD 24 per person, it is worth every penny. A gift to the people of Georgia from Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who personally provided funding of USD 250 million for the project and then solicited additional corporate contributions to cover cost overruns caused by subsequent design upgrades, the aquarium welcomed its five millionth visitor on 23 May 2007. Among the most remarkable specimens may be the aquarium's four beluga whales and its three whale sharks, the only whale sharks maintained in an aquarium outside of Asia.

The aquatic animals are exhibited in five different and massive environments. "Ocean Voyager" includes whale sharks and nearly 100,000 fish in the museum's largest single tank, a 30-meter (100-foot) underwater tunnel, and the world's second-largest viewing window. "Cold Water Quest" highlights polar mammals and beluga whales, while California sea lions, African ("jackass") penguins and Japanese spider crabs are also included in this exhibit. "Tropical Diver" features a display of live coral and other curious aquatic life forms. The child-oriented "Georgia Explorer" environment features touch tanks for sharks and rays and contains life forms from Gray's Reef, a national marine sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. Finally, "River Scout" boasts an overhead river where fish from North America can be viewed from underneath. Piranha and electric fish are also on display here.

In addition to being a major new attraction for Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium is also tasked with important environmental and conservation missions, working to help save endangered species through programs of education and research. Atlanta's two male Beluga whales were rescued from a Mexico City amusement park, for instance. The Georgia Aquarium boasts three full-time veterinarians as well as a staff of university students from the nearby University of Georgia. The medical needs of the aquatic animals are handled from a USD 5 million on-site hospital, which is also used to conduct research. Special facilities such as these can be viewed only on one of the hour-long small group behind-the-scenes guided tours which the aquarium offers for USD 50 per person.

More information about the Georgia Aquarium can be found online at http://www.georgiaaquarium.org. Visitors to Atlanta should also note the existence of several joint tickets which allow entry to both the aquarium and another attraction such as Zoo Atlanta or Stone Mountain Park. These joint tickets are described in full at http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/visitUs/specialoffers.aspx.

For expatriates and others living outside the U. S. who rely on CNN as a major daily news source, a tour of CNN's state-of-the-art studios at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta can be a fascinating experience. Visitors are able to view the various active studios from elevated glassed-in galleries but do not have direct access to the studio floors. The USD 12 one-hour tour highlights the history of the studios responsible for bringing 24/7 news to over a billion people around the world. Due to strong demand, tour tickets should be purchased online in advance at http://edition.cnn.com/tour/atlanta/index.html.

Founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, today the High Museum of Fine Art boasts a permanent collection in excess of 11,000 works of art. While the collection is strong in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art, it also houses an interesting collection of African masks and sculptures. Special exhibitions at the museum are often the result of strong partnerships with the Louvre, the Brooklyn Museum, and other institutions. Information about the museum is available online at http://www.high.org. Adult admission is USD 15.

The World of Coca-Cola, which recently re-opened on a site adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium, features the world's largest Coke memorabilia collection, a functioning bottling line that produces commemorative 8-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola, a tasting experience for over 70 different Coke products, and a pop culture gallery featuring works of art by artists such as Andy Warhol. Details are available online at http://www.woccatlanta.com. Adult admission is USD 14 online and USD 15 at the door.

Mary Mac's Tea Room was founded in 1945 by Mary McKinsey. Once but one out of a dozen and a half such tea rooms in "intown" Atlanta, today Mary Mac's Tea Room is the sole surviving tea room. Noted for its hospitality and reasonable prices, the restaurant, with its period decor, is said to feature Southern cooking almost identical to what was served over sixty years ago. The restaurant menu and other specifics are available online at http://www.marymacs.com.


16 short video clips of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta:

Beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 32-second video clip
Beluga whale at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 37-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 48-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 35-second video clip
African (jackass) penguins at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 9-second video clip

Southern sea otter sucking paw at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 34-second video clip
Southern sea otters at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 17-second video clip
Southern sea otter with girl at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 31-second video clip
Jellyfish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 34-second video clip
Jellyfish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 31-second video clip

Australian leafy sea dragons at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 43-second video clip
Colorful tropical fish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 21-second video clip
Colorful tropical fish at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 65-second video clip
Bonnethead shark and cownose rays at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 28-second video clip
Asian small-clawed otter at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 28-second video clip

Diver at Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, 32-second video clip


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
20 June 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Greece (other) Visit: 2007-5
2009-10-03 - "Greece's Corinth Canal," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in November 2007

On the afternoon of 24 May 2007 I was a passenger on the 208-passenger, 10,000-ton Seabourn Spirit when that vessel made a transit of the 3.9-mile (6.3-km)-long Corinth Canal from west to east. Seabourn Spirit is 439 feet (134 meters) long and 63 feet (19.2 meters) wide.

The Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Aegean Sea's Saronic Gulf. Cutting through the sandy alluvial soil of the Isthmus of Corinth, the canal separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland. In effect, the canal creates an island out of the Peloponnesus.

The Corinth Canal, only 68.9 feet (21 meters) wide and 26 feet (8 meters) deep, was constructed between 1881 and 1893. First the two ends were dug by a French firm. Then, after that company went bankrupt, a Greek contractor completed the work. The opening of the Corinth Canal a mere two dozen years after the opening of the Suez Canal helped to propel the Greek port of Piraeus into a major Mediterranean port. However, the expected windfall from canal tolls never materialized. In this age of supertankers, the Corinth Canal bears an anachronistic charm.

Because of the dangers faced by ancient mariners in their small boats, the idea of a canal across the narrow Ismthus of Corinth arose thousands of years ago. The first to attempt the construction of a canal was Periander, the seventh-century ruler of Corinth. Although Periander failed to dig much, he did improve upon the previous method of hauling small craft across the isthmus. That method involved pulling boats over large wooden rollers. Under Periander a stone trackway was built on which wheeled, flat vehicles could be used to pull boats. In fact, that system of portage remained in use until the twelfth century, and traces of the trackway can still be seen today near the canal's western end.

Roman Emperor Julius Caeser, who ruled from 48 to 44 B. C., also planned to build a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth. However, Caesar, of course, was assassinated. Later, in 54-68 A. D., the infamous Roman Emperor Nero actually participated in a ground-breaking ceremony for a canal using a golden pick, and six thousand Judean slaves began the excavation. But Nero, too, died shortly thereafter and the project was then abandoned until the late nineteenth century.

Small ships coming from the Western Mediterranean or from the Adriatic which are bound for the Eastern Mediterranean or the Black Sea find the Corinth Canal useful. Although ships narrow enough to utilize the canal can shave 248 miles (400 kilometers) off their journey, most of the 12,000 annual canal transits are now made for touristic purposes. Interestingly, the ships transiting the canal hail from more than 50 different countries.

Two sightseeing options are available to those not able to sail on a cruise ship through the Corinth Canal. The canal can be viewed safely from the sidewalk of a highway bridge over the canal within a short distance of the town of Corinth. Also, according to www.periandros.gr, the web site of the company which has a 30-year management contract for the canal, a 75-minute canal sightseeing cruise operates daily at 10 AM. This web site also features a toll calculator for ships. The calculation of tolls is based on a vessel's flag, the type of vessel, its port of origin, and its previous and next port in addition to the net tonnage.

On line at www.eptours.com/T0711-corinth.htm readers will find links to three video clips showing my canal transit. Seabourn Spirit is seen being pulled by a tugboat, surrounded by the canal's very steep walls, which are 170 feet (52 meters) high. One video clip shows a movable bridge and the control tower at the eastern end of the canal. In addition, in that clip the current appears to flow from east to west through the canal. The difference between high and low water levels in the canal is approximately two feet (60 cm).

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Greenland Visit: 2003-8
2009-10-03 - " A Cruise to Greenland," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in August 2004

Greenland is the largest island in the world. Although it has an area of 2.2 million square km, only 410,000 square km is not ice-covered. In fact, the Greenland ice sheet is the second largest in the world. The average ice thickness is 1,500 meters, and the ice sheet constitutes 10% of the world's fresh water. If Greenland's ice cap were to melt, sea level would rise by seven meters!

Greenland's first Stone Age inhabitants migrated from North America nearly 5,000 years ago. The Thule, who were closely related to the Inuit, arrived later in about 900 A. D., and Inuit migration continued until the late nineteenth century. Norse settlements were begun in 985 A. D. and lasted until the middle of the fifteenth century. European whalers visited Greenland from the sixteenth century onward, and a Norwegian priest settled there in 1721. Because the priest had received official Danish support for his expedition, his arrival ushered in a colonial era that lasted some two and a half centuries. A 1953 constitution granted Greenland home rule under Danish sovereignty. Essentially Greenland then became a province of Denmark.

Approximately 56,000 people live in Greenland. Of this total, some 49,000 were born there. Over 75% of the population lives in towns, of which Nuuk on Greenland's west coast is the largest. The central portion of western Greenland is the most densely populated. There 60% of the people swell in the six largest towns. The remainder live a rural existence in about 120 trading posts and sheep stations.

Sheep farming is practiced in the South. Fishing, however, is the major industry; and the cold-water prawn is the most important fishing product. Greenland halibut is also significant. Prawns constitute 64% of Greenland's exports. Halibut, crab and cod make up most of the remainder.

In August 2003 I sailed on Holland America Lines' MS Rotterdam from Rotterdam the New York City via Greenland. The Rotterdam sailed through beautiful Prins Christian Sund (Prince Christian Sound) and then called at the town of Qaqortoq on Greenland's southwest coast.

In southern Greenland there is a network of channels and fjords stretching 450 km. Prins Christian Sund, one of these channels, is navigable only from the middle of summer until late autumn. This remote area offers spectacular scenery. Glaciers, waterfalls, 1400-meter-high granite peaks and icebergs can all be seen. Prins Christian Sund is 58 km long and only 480 meters wide at its narrowest point. By comparison, the length of the Rotterdam is 237 meters.

Qaqortog, the largest town is southern Greenland with a population of 3,600, is situated in the area where Norsemen settled in the tenth century. Is is unclear why Norse settlement in Greenland failed by the fifteenth century. However, Norse ruins can still be seen today 15 km from town. Qaqortoq was founded in 1775 by a Norwegian trader. The town was originally named Junianehab after Danish Queen Juliana Marie. Julianehab became the largest trading post in southern Greenland, and it maintains that distinction today. The oldest standing house was built in 1797.

As is the case with all towns in Greenland, Qaqortoq has no road connections with any other city. Instead, the inhabitants of Qaqortoq use ferries and helicopters for public transportation. Because the harbor in Qaqortoq is small, the Rotterdam sat at anchor and passengers were taken ashore by the ship's tenders.

Qaqortoq is an academic center, with both a vocational school and a commercial college which, interestingly, offers a course in tourism. In addition, a nearby agricultural research station trains sheep farmers and operates an experimental farm.

It was interesting to walk in the center of Qaqortoq where several wooden and stone houses date back to the nineteenth century. A decade ago 18 Scandinavian sculptors created works of art on solid rock faces and on boulders lying around town. Today 24 sculptures exist. Too, Qaqortoq boasts Greenland's only fountain. Built in 1928, this sits in a town square. Finally, there is a small museum.

HOW TO GET TO GREENLAND:

Greenland can be reached by air from a number of cities, including: Baltimore, MD, USA; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Reykjavik, Iceland. In the summer cruise ships regularly call at ports in southern Greenland also.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Haiti Visit: -


Hong Kong Visit: 2006-1
2009-10-03 - "Fascinating Hong Kong," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in April 2006

Hong Kong offers a bit of sightseeing and shopping within its 1,049 square km, and it is a perfect jumping-off point for China.

A ride up the Peak, whether by tram or by bus, is a must for every tourist. In good weather the view from the top is incredible. Hong Kong Harbor and several of the outlying islands are all clearly visible. The Peak itself is an exclusive residential suburb which boasts a number of mansions. There is also a scenic shopping mall there called Peak Tower. In order to withstand high winds, only one-third of this structure was built above ground. The Peak Tower is 400 meters above the harbor.

Below the Peak is Central, the crowded downtown district where many banks, office skyscrapers, and shops are located. On the back side of Hong Kong Island is Aberdeen, home to houseboats and floating restaurants. Farther on is the trendy beach at Repulse Bay and then Stanley Market where bargain hunters can haggle for deals.

Kowloon, on the mainland directly opposite Hong Kong Island, is also a bustling district. Kowloon's busiest area is known as Tsimshatsui. Here traffic is thick and the neon is always bright. Luxury cruise ships large and small dock at Kowloon's Ocean Terminal. Nearby is the Peninsula Hotel, one of the finest in the world. The Peninsula opened in the 1920s and today provides what is perhaps the most opulent accommodation in Hong Kong. Just a block away is the Star Ferry dock. The Star Ferry connects Kowloon with Hong Kong Island. Ferries depart every few minutes and the fare is nominal.

While Cantonese food predominates in Hong Kong, the choice of restaurants is tremendous. Similarly, there is much variety in terms of entertainment; and Chinese art and antiquities are seen in many shops.

While shopping is good in Hong Kong, the best prices are probably to be found at Shenzhen, located 35 km away in China proper, just across the Shenzhen River from Hong Kong. There a five-story shopping center bursts with many types of fashions and accessories and also a few electronics items. Shenzhen can be reached by rail in just 45 minutes from Kowloon. Then one simply walks across the border via covered bridge to the shipping center, which is not far from the immigration building. A Chinese tourist visa is required in order to cross this border.

Another popular day trip is to Macao, which was one of the first European settlements in East Asia. The hydrofoil from Hong Kong to Macao takes just 75 minutes, while the same trip by ferry can last up to three hours. The sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Portuguese architecture in Macao's baroque churches and old mansions is striking. The cobbled streets also serve to remind the visitor that he is experiencing a bit of southern Europe in China!

PRACTICALITIES:

The very best time to visit Hong Kong, Macao and China's southeastern provinces is during the period between mid-September and the end of December. During this season the weather is mild and it is dry. In October, November and December the humidity is less than in September.

The next best time to visit this region is March and April. Then it is warm and there is only a bit of rain. The rainy season, when it is also hot and sticky, lasts from May until early September.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

5 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Hubei Visit: 2004-3
2009-12-26 - "A Yangtze River Cruise," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2004

China's Yangtze River is the world's third longest river after the Nile and the Amazon. With a total length of 3,434 miles (5,526 km), the Yangtze rises in the highlands of Tibet and runs the width of China, flowing into the East China Sea near Shanghai. The Yangtze River Valley is famous for its landscapes which include spectacular gorges and steep mountains.

Traditionally Yangtze River cruise passengers were able to observe scenes of rural village life along the river's narrow cliff-lined course as well as some of China's cultural and natural treasures. While the recent construction of the 1.5-mile-long (2.395-kilometer-long) Three Gorges Dam has meant that many villages along the Yangtze are currently in the process of being inundated, travelers will still find it interesting to view the riverside inhabitants' transition to new housing. Too, the rising waters have actually served to ease navigation through the narrowest of the Yangtze River gorges; and the most important cultural relics and antiquities are being moved or otherwise protected.

Construction of the Three Gorges Dam, China's largest construction project since the building of the Great Wall, began at Sandouping along the Yangtze River in December 1993. Closure of two-thirds of the river was achieved in November 1997. Then in June 2003 total river closure was finally completed, so the reservoir finally began to fill and electricity generation also commenced.

The world's largest hydroelectric power plant with twenty-six 700-megawatt (MW) turbines, the Three Gorges Dam will have a total electrical generating capacity of 18,200 MW, equivalent to that of 18 nuclear reactors. The output of the Three Gorges Dam will be 44% greater than the output of Brazil's Itaipu Dam, which contains eighteen 700-MW turbines. Itaipu is the world's second largest dam. When it is completed in 2009, the Three Gorges Dam is slated to provide 84.8 billion kilowatt hours per year, or nearly 10% of China's energy requirements.

Additional reasons for dam construction include navigation, irrigation and flood control. Historically the Yangtze has flooded about once every decade, and more than a million people died in these devastating floods in the twentieth century alone.

The magnitude of the USD 30 billion Three Gorges Dam project is overwhelming. When completed, this dam will have required double the concrete used to construct Brazil's Itaipu Dam. It will also create a 5,000,000,000,000-gallon (18,927,000,000,000-liter) reservoir some 385 miles (620 km) long. The total rise in water level behind the dam will be 361 feet (110 meters) by 2009. This new lake will displace some 1.5 million people. While it lies near a fault zone, the Chinese claim that the Three Gorges Dam is being built to withstand an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

Yangtze River cruises operate between Chongqing (Chungking) in the west and either Yichang or Wuhan in the east.

During World War II Chongqing served as the capital of China. Then Chongqing also played host to the American volunteer air corps known as the Flying Tigers. Today the port city of Chongqing is China&'s largest inland metropolis and the most important industrial city in southwestern China. Chongqing is 1,490 miles (2,398 kilometers) upstream from Shanghai and 660 miles (1,062 kilometers) from Beijing.

East of Chongqing near Fengdu is the Snow Jade Cave formed from karst, a limestone which is easily eroded. Created 50,000 years ago but only recently discovered by local farmers, the cave was opened to the public in late 2003. The Snow Jade Cave has a total length of one mile (1.6 kilometers).

Further downstream near Zhongxian is the Shibaozhai ("Precious Stone Fortress") Temple. This 12-story architectural gem dating back to the eighteenth century was originally built atop a 721-foot (220-meter) cliff. A wooden pavilion with stair access was added in 1819 and a further three stories were completed in 1956. When the filling of the reservoir has been completed in 2009 this temple will be preserved on a small island of its own by a coffer dam.

For most travelers the highlights of a Yangtze River cruise are the famed three gorges which are situated in a 118-mile (189-kilometer) stretch between Chongqing and Yichang. The 5-mile-long (8-kilometer-long) Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of the three, is known for the mists which swirl around its limestone peaks. Prior to the recent rise of the waters, the 25-mile-long (40-kilometer-long) Qutang Gorge, hemmed in by high cliffs, was no more than 500 feet (152 meters) wide. The Wu Gorge, sometimes said to be the most beautiful, also offers scenes of green mist-shrouded mountains. So sheer are the cliffs that legend has it that the sun never penetrates. The 47-mile-long (75-kilometer-long) Xi Ling Gorge, longest and historically the most dangerous of the three, is noted for its caves and rock formations. This latter gorge is bisected by the Three Gorges Dam.

Aside from the three gorges on the Yangtze River itself, there are also three breathtaking lesser gorges on the Daning River, a Yangtze tributary. A day trip up the Daning in a sampan is perhaps the most romantic and beautiful of any of the excursions offered during a Yangtze River cruise. Steep mountains rise on both sides of the clear Daning River, and the gorges are separated by lush terraced fields. Two ancient hanging coffins may also be seen there high up on the cliffs.

Yangtze River cruises must now transit the Three Gorges Dam, which contains the world's largest ship locks. The double five-stage locks are each 256 yards (280 meters) long, 31 yards (34 meters) wide and 4.6 yards (5 meters) deep. Many boats can fit easily into each lock concurrently. After transiting the locks the river boats stop and a very interesting tour is given of the Three Gorges Dam project.

Some Yangtze River cruises end at Yichang. However, mine continued downstream for two additional days along the Yangtze plain. In Jingzhou (Jiangling) a very touching tour was organized to a primary school. Jingzhou was the capital of China some 2,500 years ago, and remains of the old city wall can still be seen today.

My cruise concluded in the metropolis of Wuhan, a major industrial center and transportation hub. Wuhan is roughly midway between Beijing in the north and Guangzhou (Canton) in the south. It is also midway between Chongqing in the west and Shanghai in the east.

In Wuhan I toured the Hubei Provincial Museum. Most of the museum's contents were unearthed in a single tomb in 1978. The tomb, dating to 433 B. C., contained the world's heaviest musical instrument, which is on display in the museum. Weighing 5,525 pounds (2,506 kilograms), that set of 65 bells covers 5 1/2 octaves.

Inevitably some aspects of a Yangtze River cruise experience have been altered by the Three Gorges Dam. But the gorges themselves with their impressive landscapes remain natural wonders which will continue to draw cruise visitors long after the dam's completion in 2009.

The absolute best time for a Yangtse River cruise is in the early spring. Heat, humidity and rainfall conspire to make travel less pleasant during the period from May through October. And fog can sometimes frustrate photographers from October through March.

Flying time from Cairo to Beijing is upwards of 19 hours. Singapore Airlines, for instance, provides an excellent and comfortable air service via Dubai and Singapore. Round trip basic airfares begin from EGP 4,264 plus taxes. Since the cheapest air seats are always limited, it is advisable to reserve early. Here in Egypt air reservations on most airlines may be booked up to 11 months in advance. Also, a tourist visa is required in order to visit China; and China tourist visa issuance in Cairo normally requires a minimum of one week.

First-time visitors to China should give consideration to combining a Yangtze River cruise with a visit to Beijing, Xian and/or Shanghai. Beijing offers world-class sightseeing in the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square. Xian's incredible 7,000 terra cotta warriors are now world famous. Shanghai, China's largest city and the world's third largest container port, has long been open to Western influences. In particular, it is interesting to view the various architectural styles - Renaissance, Gothic and art nouveau - along the Bund, Shanghai's elegant corniche.

If you've enjoyed cruises on the Nile and on Lake Nasser in the past, why not try a Yangtze River cruise next?


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Iceland Visit: -


Italy (mainland) Visit: 2007-6
2009-10-03 - "Italy's Amalfi Coast," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in December 2007

The Amalfi Coast on the southern part of the Sorrento Peninsula is one of the prettiest areas in Italy. The Amalfi Drive, hugging the coast of the Campania region along the Gulf of Salerno, has been called Italy's most romantic road. This narrow, winding cliff-hanging byway, in places carved right out of the side of the mountain, is a challenge to navigate. However, those traversing the Amalfi Drive are rewarded with spectacular views of small coves and of boats bobbing in the azure sea far below. Amalfi and Positano are the two most popular spots along the Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi, 61 km (38 miles) east of Sorrento and with a population of only 5,500, is the largest town on this coast. Dramatically situated at the mouth of a ravine under towering 1,315-meter (4,312-foot) Mt. Cerreto, the burg is sandwiched between tall cliffs and a rocky coastline broken occasionally by coves with sandy beaches.

Amalfi's rich history is not evident from what tourists see today. Incredibly, this small town was once the capital of the seafaring Republic of Amalfi, one of the great maritime powers. From the ninth to the eleventh century Amalfi rivaled Venice and Genoa for influence in the Mediterranean.

The first mention of Amalfi dates from the sixth century, and a circular maritime trade with the East developed soon thereafter. Grain, slaves, salt and timber were traded to Egypt and Syria for gold dinars. These coins were then paid to the Byzantines for silk which was in turn sold back in Europe. Independent from the seventh century until 1075, Amalfi reached the height of its power in about 1000 when it boasted a population of 70,000. Not only was the ship compass introduced to Europe in 1302 by Flavio Gioia, an Amalfi native, but Amalfi's maritime code was used in the Mediterranean until 1570.

Positano, a picturesque seaport of 3,900 lying 17 km (11 miles) west of Amalfi, was part of the maritime Republic of Amalfi in the tenth century. However, Positano's apogee came much later. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ships from Positano carried silk, spices and wood to the Middle East. The subsequent decline of Positano's prosperity coincided with the rise of steamships in the mid-nineteenth century. As much as three-quarters of the town's population of 8,000 immigrated to the United States, with the majority going to New York. Interestingly, one of the tough tasks that faced later mayors of Positano was finding enough burial plots for those very emigrees, many of whom wanted to be buried back in their birthplace.

Positano, little more than a sleepy fishing village in the early twentieth century, was discovered after World War II when American troops, stationed in nearby Salerno, began taking holidays there. In the 1950s writers such as John Steinbeck and Tennessee Williams and painters such as Paul Klee were drawn to Positano. In the 1960s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones composed the lyrics to their song Midnight Rambler while on holiday in Positano. The rest, as they say, is history. Today tourism is the major industry, and the town is simply besieged by Europeans and North Americans during the summer. Positano is now among Europe's most chic destinations.

Sorrento, on the Gulf of Naples, is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. With a population of 17,000, Sorrento lies at the western end of the Amalfi Drive. It can be reached easily by train, bus, ferry or hydrofoil from Naples, only 50 km (30 miles) away, or by ferry or hydrofoil from the Isle of Capri. Local coastal ferries operate along the Amalfi Coast between Sorrento in the west and Salerno in the east. In summer there are also ferry and hydrofoil services between Amalfi, Positano and Capri and between Amalfi, Positano and Naples.


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi

Egypt Panorama Tours

Cairo, Egypt
1 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Jamaica Visit: -


Jordan Visit: 2004-11
2009-10-12 - "Jordan," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2005

While Jordan is a country for all seasons, it is most often visited during spring and fall, between the temperature extremes of winter and summer. The best weather is in April and October, while winter snows are not unknown in Jordan.

Amman, the capital, boasts a Roman amphitheater and a museum. The so-called Kings' Highway, a well-paved but winding road, makes for an interesting full-day drive between Amman and Petra, Jordan's primary tourist attraction. Heading south, Madaba is the first stop. A church there contains the oldest known map of Palestine, which is depicted in mosaic on the floor. Farther along, the Biblical site of Mt. Nebo features lovely examples of mosaics in its small museum. There is also a fabulous overlook of the Dead Sea, situated far below in the Wadi Araba. The final tourist site on the Kings' Highway is Kerak, where there is a well-preserved Crusader-era castle. Tourists then sleep at Petra and begin their sightseeing there the following morning.

Settled by the Nabataeans in about 500 B. C., rock-carved Petra was the capital of a mighty empire which at times stretched as far north as Damascus. It is thought that the Nabataeans extracted transit fees from passing trade caravans. Whatever the case, Petra grew rich as a trading metropolis, reaching its zenith around the time of Christ. In 106 A. D. Trajan incorporated the Nabataean kingdom into the Roman empire as the province of Arabia Petraea. Petra's decline began in the third century, and then it was forgotten from the Middle Ages until being rediscovered by the Swiss adventurer Burckhardt in 1812.

The height of the siq, a gorge several miles long which forms the entrance to Petra, is as much as 300 meters. Yet in some places it is only a few meters wide. Many tourists elect to ride horses or horse carriages through the siq while others walk. At the end of the siq, visitors suddenly come upon the remarkable pink sandstone facade of the so-called Treasury, probably dedicated to one of the Nabataean kings. The theatre and a great number of tombs carved from the pink rock are to be seen farther down the widening gorge. The trail continues into the former town center, which contains the remains of a triumphal arch, a palace, temples and various dwellings.

Had Petra never existed, the magnificent Roman-era ruins at Jerash, situated an hour north of Amman, would probably be more well-known than they are today. As it is, Jerash is Jordan's second most important tourist site. Founded in the fourth century B. C., Jerash's golden age began after the city was captured by Pompey in 63 B. C. Much construction was undertaken in the first and second centuries A. D. Jerash reached the height of its power during the third century A. D. after the fall of Palmyra, its rival to the north in present-day Syria. Later Jerash was sacked by the Persians in 614 A. D. and again by the Arabs in 635 A. D. The city boasted a 1900-meter-long main street, and many of the first- and second-century Ionic and Corinthian columns which formerly lined that street have been preserved. An amphitheater and a forum also existed in addition to temples dedicated to Zeus and Artemis.

A long weekend in Jordan is a wonderful escape for those who enjoy viewing antiquities. While pleasant, the beach hotels in Aqaba, Jordan's Red Sea port adjacent to Eilat, Israel, offer little to those living in Egypt who have access to Sinai's well-developed beach resorts. On the other hand, one special highlight in Jordan is the Dead Sea where, in addition to enjoying traditional spa activities, tourists can experience the unique sensation of floating in the world's most buoyant water!

Current round trip airfare from Cairo to Amman, including taxes, is approximately 2,160 Egyptian pounds on Royal Jordanian and approximately 2,200 Egyptian pounds on Egypt Air, with no minimum stay. Egypt Air flies once daily between the two capitals, and Royal Jordanian flies either once or twice daily. Confusingly, the air schedules are not the same every day for either airline. There is a cash departure tax of 5 Jordanian dinars (equivalent to about 41 Egyptian pounds) upon departure from Amman's Queen Alia International Airport. As of 6 October 2009 USD 1.00 = 5.515 Egyptian pounds.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
6 October 2009
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com


Juan Fernandez Islands Visit: -


Kenya Visit: 2009-2
2009-12-26 - Note that two articles are included below.

"The Ins and Outs of Kenya Safaris: Everything You Always Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in August 2006

Kenya is far and away the most popular safari destination from Cairo. Many expatriates in Egypt opt to capitalize on their close proximity to East Africa by taking a safari and/or a beach holiday there.

GETTING THERE: The best airfare to Nairobi is obtained by flying the same airline round trip. Egypt Air flies nonstop to Nairobi three or four times a week, while Kenya Airways operates daily flights to Nairobi weekly via Khartoum where there is usually a 45-minute stop in transit. (Disembarkation at Khartoum is allowed only for those passengers ending their journey there.) Both airlines offer overnight southbound flights from Cairo to Nairobi. While Egypt Air's nonstop flights would at first glance appear to be more convenient, Kenya Airways offers three big advantages. On most days Kenya Airways provides an early evening northbound return flight while Egypt Air departs Nairobi in the morning. Thus Kenya Airways passengers avoid the expense of a final hotel night in Nairobi. In addition, Kenya Airways passengers don't have to suffer the inconvenience of rising early on the final morning in order to depart from their hotel in downtown Nairobi at 2:45 a.m. to drive to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for an Egypt Air return flight to Cairo departing at about 5:00 a.m. Finally, because Egypt Air does not fly to any destination in Kenya other than Nairobi, Kenya Airways offers the cheapest airfare to Mombasa and elsewhere on the Kenya coast (and, for that matter, to Zanzibar for anyone wishing to combine a safari with a visit to that lovely and unique spice island).

THE SAFARI: A Kenya safari holiday is normally six nights or longer in duration and includes a visit to at least two game reserves and a lake resort in the Great Rift Valley. Other options include a visit to one of the tree hotels near Mt. Kenya, an overnight in Nairobi and/or a visit to Mombasa, Malindi or Lamu on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. In addition, of course, a visit to Kenya may be combined easily with a beach holiday in the Seychelles or with a visit to another African destination served by Kenya Airways (Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, etc.)

Both lodge accommodation and luxury tents are available in Kenya. Luxury tented accommodation, which costs no less than staying in a lodge, features all of the facilities of a regular hotel room, including furniture, shower and flush toilet. A much less expensive option is a basic tented group camping safari. While the animals are the same no matter where one sleeps, anyone who elects to combine two of the shorter group camping safaris (rather than taking one longer group camping safari) will need to spend an extra hotel night in Nairobi in order to connect.

Whether one stays in lodges or tents, the normal safari routine generally includes three game drives in each game reserve. Morning game drives are taken after an early breakfast, and afternoon game drives are taken around 4 p.m. The drives typically last anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on one's mood and one's luck. The animals tend to be active, drinking and feeding, in the morning and late afternoon. In the middle of the day, while the animals are asleep, visitors relax or take a dip in the pool.

THE GAME RESERVES:

Masai Mara is considered to be Kenya's premier game reserve. A rolling grassland beautiful to behold, the Mara plays host to the great migration every summer when millions of animals, chief among them wildebeeste, migrate north across Tanzania's Serengeti plain into Kenya's Masai Mara. There is still game aplenty after the animals have returned to the Serengeti by early autumn. A visit to Masai Mara is usually combined with a visit to either Amboseli Game Reserve or Samburu Game Reserve.

Amboseli is situated in what was a dry lake bed until the El Nino/La Nina phenomena of the 1990s. The wildlife inhabiting this reserve seeks sustenance near several small streams which run through it. The primary attraction of Amboseli is its proximity to 19,340-foot (6,447-meter) Mt. Kilimanjaro which lies just across the border in Tanzania. With luck, visitors are able to photograph game animals with the mountain as a backdrop. The long rainy season stretches from mid-March until mid-June while the short rains occur from mid-November until early December. The sun normally reappears right after each short downpour.

Samburu, on the other hand, is somewhat drier than Masai Mara although it too is rich in game. In fact, Samburu boasts some species of animals seldom seen outside Kenya's North. These include the gerenuk (a long-necked gazelle which feeds while standing up on its hind legs), the reticulated giraffe and Grevy's zebra with its thin stripes. The primary attraction of Samburu for many, however, is leopard. In Samburu several of the lodges bait leopard in the evening; so, with luck, visitors can watch the nighttime predator come to feast on scraps of meat under floodlights.

A Kenya safari also includes a visit to one of the lake resorts in the Great Rift Valley since it is too far to drive comfortably between any two of the three game reserves in a single day. Lake Nakuru, for instance, is famous for its flamingos and pelicans. A rhino sanctuary has also been established there. Nowadays this may be the only opportunity for tourists to view rhino in Kenya.

OTHER OPTIONS IN KENYA: So called because they are in essence hotels on stilts, the three tree hotels - The Ark, Mountain Lodge and Treetops - all offer the opportunity to view mountain, forest and nighttime animals as opposed to the plains game seen in the large open parks. The tree hotels are all situated in forests in the vicinity of Mt. Kenya north of Nairobi, and the game viewing routine is the same at them all. Visitors arrive for lunch, perhaps rest briefly in the afternoon, and then before and after dinner until well into the night feast their eyes on the sights and sounds of the various species as they come to drink from the water hole in front of the lodge. Viewing is done from one's bedroom, open balconies, glassed rooms or from an underground blind. It is necessary to bring along warm clothing for a stay at a tree hotel as well as high speed film in order to photograph at night under the floodlights. If one hasn't seen all of the species by bedtime, he can notify the game spotter who will buzz one's room if that leopard does turn up at 3 a.m.! To minimize noise, children less than about seven years of age are not allowed at the tree hotels.

Nairobi, with a population of about two million, offers some excellent shopping. Tourists will find distinctive wood carvings and woven purse baskets for sale at rest stops along the highways in Kenya. Similar items can be found at gift shops at the lodges in the parks, but they will be more expensive there. If one doesn't see what one wants in the bush, it is likely to be found in Nairobi. There one can buy everything from a safari suit to camera lenses. One should be cautioned, however, that Nairobi continues to have a street crime problem. Daytime incidents consist mainly of purse snatching, and it is not advisable to walk any great distance on Nairobi's streets at night. If one elects to overnight in Nairobi, he should consider taking a taxi when going out to eat at one of the city's excellent Indian, seafood or other fine restaurants.

Resort hotels stretch along Kenya's coast both north and south of the island of Mombasa. Diani Beach, Mombasa's best, is a magnificent five-mile stretch of white sand on Mombasa's South Coast. Malindi, further to the north, is a much smaller resort. Lamu, a coastal island far to the north, is a unique destination reminiscent of Zanzibar. Kenya resorts offer the full range of facilities for water sports and diving.

WHEN TO GO: The absolute best time to visit Kenya is July-September when the migration is at its peak in Masai Mara. But the game is generally excellent in Kenya even if one cannot travel when the migration is on. Travelers from Egypt tend to visit Kenya from Christmas through March, typically during school holidays.

The other major consideration is climate. Game is easiest to spot during the dry seasons as then the animals can only find water in certain places. The long rainy season stretches from late March until early June while the short rains occur from mid-November until early December. Rain usually occurs in short downpours after which the sun reappears.

Contrarian travelers may benefit by traveling in the long rainy season. During these months there are fewer tourists and less dust. In addition, from April through June lodging rates are usually discounted up to 15%. During the rainy seasons one would expect to encounter all of the animal species but perhaps lesser numbers of each.

Sitting astride the equator which passes north of Nairobi, the temperature in Kenya does not change much over the course of the year. Rather, temperature is a function of altitude. For instance, because Nairobi and Masai Mara are a mile high, they offer a combination of warm days (when short sleeves and short pants are appropriate) and cool nights (when a sweater or a light jacket is appropriate).

Nairobi's average high temperature varies between 81 F./27 C. (March) and 73 F./23 C. (July-August). Nairobi's average low temperature varies between 55 F./13 C. (January-February) and 59 F./15 C. (April-May). Average rainfall in Nairobi varies from 1 inch/3 cm (July-September) to 8 inches/20 cm (April).

VISAS AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS: Citizens of the U. K., the U. S., Canada, Egypt and most other countries require tourist visas to visit Kenya. It is recommended that tourists to Kenya be up-to-date in their yellow fever vaccination. In addition, a prophylactic for malaria should be commenced at least one week prior to arrival in Kenya and should be continued for four weeks after returning. The web site of the U. S. Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, is an excellent resource regarding health requirements for all international travel.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com

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"Lamu, A Unique Island off Kenya's Northern Coast," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in April 2005

The town of Lamu is situated on a 19-km (12-mile)-long island of the same name off the northern coast of Kenya only 100 km (62 miles) south of the Somali border. Because Lamu's traditional way of life is still intact, visitors might well experience a bit of culture shock when arriving in this remote spot by air from modern Nairobi or Mombasa.

Lamu's only vehicle belongs to the district commissioner. Donkeys, of which the island boasts hundreds, are the mainstay of the local transportation system. Lamu is an Islamic community with religious schools teaching Arabic and with several dozen mosques. Typically local women are seen clad in black robes; and they often keep their faces covered in public.

It is impossible for visitors not to be aware of Lamu's deep sense of history. The settlement was known to the Greeks as Azania as early as the second century. Later, from the ninth century, Persian and Arab traders settled there, helping to form a unique Swahili Arab-African religious community, the culture and way of life of which appear to be much the same today.

Originally one of the East African trading ports from which slaves, ivory and rhino horn were exported, the first written mention of Lamu was in the fifteenth century. However, most of the buildings still standing in Lamu's historical core today date only from the eighteenth century. During this period Lamu flourished from the export of ivory, mangrove poles, oil seeds, various grains and both cowrie and tortoise shells. The Lamu dhows which sailed east to Arabia and India returned home with silks, spices and porcelain. Lamu continued to prosper into the nineteenth century under the protection of Oman. It was the sultan of Oman who built Lamu's fort in 1820.

The ending of the slave trade in the 1870s reduced the cheap labor on which Lamu's prosperity had depended. Also, Mombasa and Zanzibar began to grow in importance at about that same time. So toward the end of the nineteenth century Lamu fell into decline. Perhaps because it was isolated from modern technology and materialism during the first half of the twentieth century, Lamu was finally discovered as a tourist destination in the early 1960s.

Today the story of Lamu is to be seen in the old buildings which line its narrow, cool and quiet streets. Lamu's traditional eighteenth century coral stone Swahili courtyard houses are richly decorated inside. The House Museum, restored by the National Museums of Kenya, provides a fine example of intricately-carved wall niches and ceilings. The Lamu Museum, formerly the house of the British district commissioner, is another tourist highlight, providing a good introduction to the town and to the tribes which live opposite Lamu on the Kenya mainland.

Lamu Town faces nearby Manda Island where the air strip is situated. Because most visitors arrive by air, their first view of Lamu is from the water. This is appropriate since Lamu's modern economy is based, aside from tourism and forestry (mangrove pole cutting), on shipping, fishing and boat building.

Two fine 4-star hotels are located in Shela, a suburb which is a 15-minute boat ride or a 45-minute walk away from downtown Lamu. Lesser quality accommodation is available in downtown Lamu itself. Lamu is known for Maulidi, the celebration of the Prophet's birthday. During this week there are religious festivities, feasting and dancing. But during the festival hotel accommodation is at a premium.

While most visitors to Kenya rightly focus on game viewing, unique Lamu, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also well worth a visit.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Kosovo Visit: 2003-5
2009-12-26 - -"A Visit to Kosovo," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in November 2003

This month I have penned a few words about my short visit to Pristina, Kosovo 7-9 May 2003. I flew inexpensively from Cairo to Pristina on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. Nothing can really compensate for the 8-hour layover in Istanbul on the northbound trip after not having slept the previous night unless perhaps one uses those hours in downtown Istanbul en route. But at least the experience is made all the more pleasant by Istanbul's wonderful new airport terminal.

The rich agricultural lands near Pristina have been tilled continuously for some 6,000 years. The Roman town of Ulpiana was built there upon an earlier settlement. This was later fortified by Justinian in 518. The present name of the city has evolved from "Justiniana" to "Istriana" to Pri + Istrina," today pronounced "Prish-tee'-na."

With a population of some 600,000 in 1999, Pristina occupies a central point on the Kosovo plain. Pristina is surrounded by low hills, and from the outskirts of town one can see snow-covered mountains in the distance. Pristina contains a central core with some Ottoman buildings. There are mosques built in the Turkish architectural tradition and a nineteenth century Ottoman clock tower. Unfortunately the small collection of the Pristina Museum happened to be closed during the week of my visit. The museum is said to contain only a few objects now as the large archeological collection was looted by Serbian troops in 1999.

In that same year the central post office and police headquarters were both destroyed by NATO cruise missiles, probably fired from ships in the Adriatic. A high rise building which contained the various Kosovo ministries was also devastated by the shock wave emanating from the nearby missile strike on the central post office. Four years later, the rubble in that high rise was being stripped out by a European Union aid project so that the building could be reconstructed and re-used eventually.

Today Kosovo is administered by the United Nations. The acronyms UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) and KFOR (United Nations Kosovo Forces) are to be seen on buildings and vehicles all over Pristina. Specifically, the United Nations is responsible for provision of assistance to Kosovo in the fields of police and justice and also in civil administration. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provides assistance in transitional planning. The European Union is charged with providing assistance to Kosovo in economic reconstruction.

In Pristina I was the guest of a friend who works in the reconstruction of public utilities. As one might expect, there is some frustration felt between the various power spheres involved in development in Kosovo. Such frustrations probably largely escape the public eye.

In May 2003 my friend commented to me that the joke in the development community in Kosovo was that only if the United States really wanted to hurt Iraq would the U. S. allow the United Nations to become involved in reconstruction there. Contrary to world opinion, expatriates involved in the Kosovo aid effort feel that in general the United Nations is too bureaucratic and unfocused. In addition, too often the U. N. lacks an exit strategy.

Prior to the recent conflict, Kosovo constituted an autonomous region of Yugoslavia. Currently administrated by the United Nations, Kosovo is not a country as such. This is important for such development issues as privatization which is all the rage nowadays, especially in Eastern Europe. If Kosovo is not a country, what will guarantee the rights of potential investors? Who would want to risk investing his capital in Kosovo if it is not a country?

On another level, on the street in Pristina one can buy current popular music CDs for only 1.50 euros each and the latest computer software such as Windows XP, Encarta 2003, Photoshop 7.0 and McAfee Anti-virus 2003 for only 2.50 euros each. The men selling these CDs explain that these programs are imported from Russia, Bulgaria and Greece. One's initial reaction is that this is theft of intellectual property. However, it may be the case that at the moment there is no law on the books which prohibits such activity. After all, Kosovo's laws are still in the process of codification.

During my short visit to Pristina I also took an interesting excursion to the nearby town of Gracanica where there is a church built in 1321 by King Milutin of Serbia. Originally there was a monastery too, but today only the church remains. The church contains a series of frescoes which is said to be a masterpiece of medieval art. Grananica is only a 15-minute drive from downtown Pristina, and a taxi will take a tourist there and back for as little as 15 euros.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Libya Visit: 2004-11
2009-12-26 - -"Libya Tours: The Good News and the Bad News (And How to Lessen the Latter)," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in January 2005

IMPORTANT UPDATE: IN LATE 2005 LIBYA CEASED GIVING TOURIST VISAS TO AMERICANS. THE SOLE EXCEPTION WAS DURING THE SOLAR ECLIPSE IN EARLY 2006. AS OF 3 JANUARY 2008 THE VISA SITUATION REMAINS UNCHANGED. HOWEVER, NON-AMERICANS ARE NOT AFFECTED AND MAY TRAVEL TO LIBYA AS PER THE ARTICLE BELOW.

WHY VISIT LIBYA?

After being all-but-closed to international tourism for a number of years, Libya has now opened its doors again to American and other tourists. Since the limited number of hotel rooms is currently constricting tourist arrivals, now is a great time to visit Libya's amazing antiquities before mass tourism takes hold.


THE GOOD NEWS: LIBYA HAS FASCINATING ROMAN RUINS

Nearby Libya offers "world-class" (1) Roman-era ruins at Leptis Magna and Sabratha near Tripoli, the capital, and (2) Greek-era ruins at Cyrene near Benghazi, the second-largest city.

Tripoli itself contains an interesting archeological and historical museum, and there is an old-style market (souk) in the medina nearby.

Beyond that, Libya's desert oases boast a rich historical and archeological heritage.

That's the good news.


THE BAD NEWS: A LIBYA TOUR SEEMS EXPENSIVE

The bad news is that, at least at first glance, tour prices for Libya appear to be expensive. In part, this is because tour prices include so many items which would not be prepaid normally unless you were, say, going on safari.

This situation arises because no one (except perhaps a diplomat?) is able to obtain a tourist visa to visit Libya by walking into the Embassy of Libya in Cairo and simply applying for one. A visa for a non-diplomat is only issued to a person who has been "invited" by a tour operator in Libya. The activities of the tourist then become the legal responsibility of the tour operator while that tourist remains in Libya.

This being the case, tour operators require that tourists reserve and prepay a complete "land package" consisting of (a) round trip airport transfers, (b) a full tour program with a private vehicle and driver plus a guide who speaks the tourist's native language, (c) hotel accommodation, and (d) all meals. Once such a complete land package is prepaid, the tour operator in Libya then arranges to "invite" the tourist to Libya.

A few of the more savvy travel agencies shortcut the visa procedure by working with a tour operator in Tripoli who arranges for tourist visas to be made available upon arrival at Tripoli International Airport. Prior to departure a fax is provided to the client. This fax must be shown to the airline as evidence that a visa will be waiting for him/her upon arrival in Tripoli. Without such evidence of visa upon arrival, the client will be denied boarding by the airline in Cairo.


WAYS TO MINIMIZE THE PRICE OF A LIBYA TOUR

LAND PACKAGE:

Tour pricing can be minimized by reducing the number of days spent in Libya. One can see plenty in only a two-day visit, for instance. The interesting national museum (with archeological, historical and cultural exhibits) and nearby market in Tripoli can be seen on the morning of the first day; and the Roman-era ruins at Sabratha, 60 minutes west of Tripoli, can be visited after lunch that same day. The second day should be devoted to the extensive Roman-era ruins at Leptis Magna, 90 minutes east of Tripoli. There are clean tourist restaurants conveniently situated near Sabratha and Leptis Magna where one can eat the lunch which will be included in your package.

Tour pricing can also be minimized by staying in lesser quality accommodations than you might normally prefer. A few of the 3-star hotels in Tripoli are as clean as the 4-star hotels. Because Tripoli's sole 5-star hotel is so very expensive, almost all travelers' options for accommodation will be limited to 3-star and 4-star hotels anyway.

Finding friends who would like to tour Libya with you will reduce pricing substantially. For example, two people traveling alone can expect to reduce their tour price by about USD 400 per person by finding just one other couple with whom to travel.


AIRFARE:

Egypt Air is probably the better of the two airlines flying to Libya; but Egypt Air flies between Cairo and Tripoli in both directions in the middle of the night, which is inconvenient. Also, Egypt Air's airfares are related to one's length of stay. So for a short stay Egypt Air is substantially more expensive than Libyan Arab Airlines, the other carrier. Egypt Air's round trip airfares vary from approx. USD 363 for a stay with a minimum of six nights to approx. USD 597 for a stay with a minimum of two nights or less. Libyan Arab Airlines, on the other hand, offers a round trip airfare of approx. USD 334 no matter how long the stay. Ask your travel agent for more information about the various airfares available.

HOW TO GET TO LIBYA:

Tripoli International Airport is Libya's largest. Libya may also be accessed via land from Tunisia or Egypt or via ferry from Malta. Travelers are required to pre-arrange tours and accommodation via a travel agent prior to Libya tourist visa issuance.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Madeira Visit: 2005-3
2009-12-29 - "Madeira Island, Portugal," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in December 2006

Meaning "wood" in Portuguese,
Madeira constitutes an autonomous region of Portugal and is thus a part of the European Union. The island lies 863 km (535 miles) from Lisbon and 774 km (480 miles) from the Azores but only 580 km (360 miles) from the coast of Africa and 387 km (240 miles) from the Spanish island of Tenerife .

Madeira , consisting of two main islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, was settled by Portugal from 1420 onward. Mountainous Madeira Island , the largest island in the archipelago, is 57 km (30 miles) long by as much as 22 km (13 miles) wide. Its mountains average about 1,220 meters (4,000 feet) but they range all the way up to 1862 meters (6,107 feet), with many deep ravines running out to the coast. Madeira has little in the way of good beaches. Porto Santo Island , on the other hand, is much smaller than Madeira but it has an excellent 9 km-long ( 5.6-mile-long) beach. Madeira and Porto Santo are the only two inhabited islands in the archipelago. Of the total population of some 250,000, only about 5,000 live on Porto Santo.

Sugar cane was one of the earliest crops grown in the archipelago. By 1514 some 5,000 permanent inhabitants were farming on
Madeira . Funchal, with its pretty tile roofs, has always been the main port and capital. With a population of 150,000 inhabitants, Funchal, perhaps named for fennel ("funcho" in Portuguese) which grew wild there, is situated in a beautiful natural amphitheatre. Sacked by the French in 1566, Funchal was not returned to Portugal until 1662. In 1801 and in 1807 an English fleet temporarily took over Funchal.

Tourism to
Madeira began in the 1890s and it was at this time that the British began arriving in numbers to reside. Today tourism constitutes 20% of Madeira 's GDP. Visitors come mostly from the European Union -- from Germany , the U. K. and Portugal in particular. March and April are the peak tourist months in spite of the fact that the best time to visit is during the dry season from May through September.

The highlight of many a tourist's visit to
Madeira is riding a cable car from Funchal up to Monte and then being pushed 2 km (1.2 miles) back down toward Funchal in a wicker toboggan sledge mounted on two wooden runners. It is thought that Funchal's two-seat wicker toboggan sledges were developed around 1850 for the very practical reason of speeding transport into town. Today's tourists can still thrill to this adrenaline-raising but very safe experience where speeds of up to 48 km (30-miles) per hour can be achieved. The downhill journey from Nossa Senhora do Monte Church requires about 10 minutes. Each sledge is pushed down narrow, winding asphalt streets by two local men dressed in traditional white cotton clothing and a straw hat. When the sledge attains sufficient speed, the local men jump on the back and steer by using the soles of their rubber boots as brakes.

PRACTICALITIES:

The most frequent air service into Funchal is on Air
Portugal from Lisbon . Lisbon in turn can be accessed via any northern European airline or, alternatively, on Iberia via Madrid or Barcelona .

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours Cairo, Egypt
5 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Maldives Visit: 2003-7
2009-12-29 - -"Diving in the Maldives," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in November 2002

The Republic of Maldives (pronounced "Mahl'-deevz"), which is situated in the Indian Ocean south of India, consists of some 1,200 small islands grouped into 19 atolls which stretch 750 km/465 miles from north to south. Most of the country lies north of the equator. In addition to the 90 islands occupied only by tourist resorts (one resort per island), over 200 other islands are inhabited by citizens of the Maldives . Male (pronounced "Mah'-lee"), the capital, occupies a separate island, and Hulhule International Airport is on yet another island only 2 km/1 mile from Male.

The low-lying islands of the Maldives consist of coral which has been built up over thousands of years on the peaks of submerged volcanos. Barrier reefs surround and protect these islands. The atolls of the Maldives boast gorgeous white sandy beaches and clear lagoons. Many islands, including most of those occupied by tourist resorts, are just tiny palm-covered coral sandbanks, around which you can walk in less than half an hour.


Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the economy of the Maldives , which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Tourists usually have no awareness that much of the population lives at a subsistence level. This is due to the fact that the only Maldivians with whom tourists generally come into contact are those working on the tourist resort islands and at the airport. It is not easy for tourists to visit the non-resort islands as doing so requires a special government permit.

Why choose the Maldives for your diving holiday? Most of the Indian Ocean 's 700 species of fish have been seen by divers in the Maldives . And even as a snorkeler with goggle and fins you can very easily swim up to and admire incredibly colored reef fish and coral gardens.


Also, access to the Maldives is generally hassle-free as many nationalities are given a free one month visitor permit upon arrival at Hulhule International Airport .


Furthermore, there is frequent air service to Male in the Maldives on Emirates via Dubai . Qatar Airways also offers service to Male via Doha . For those who would like to explore Qatar briefly without the hassle of obtaining a visa, this latter routing involves a forced 24-hour stay on the return to Cairo with accommodation in Doha at the airline's own expense. For both airlines the cheapest seats normally fill up very far in advance of Christmas, Easter/spring break periods and Islamic holidays. So do plan extremely far ahead in order to minimize airfare. Airline booking computers can accept reservations at least 11 months in advance.


Those dive enthusiasts who prefer to spend a week on a live-aboard dive boat will be glad to know that they can be accommodated in the Maldives . However, since 90% of visitors to the Maldives spend dive holidays on one of the well-equipped resort islands, it is more likely that you will be a resort-based diver or snorkeler. What are the factors to consider when choosing a dive resort in the Maldives ?


First, since you must transfer round trip from the airport to your resort, the distance from the airport island to the island on which your resort is located is important. Unless you are willing to spring for expensive transfers by seaplane or by helicopter, then the farther away your resort, the longer you will need to ride in a speedboat (or, for closer resorts, a "dhoni" which is a motorized sailboat). Transfers to some of the more distant resorts can involve speedboat rides of several hours each way.

The second factor is the quality of the resort's accommodation and meals. This is often but not always reflected in the price per night. Since each resort island contains nothing else but a resort, it is unlikely that your meals will be taken anywhere other than at your resort. Half board (breakfast and dinner) is allowed at some resorts while full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is compulsory at other resorts. Some resorts are also sold on an "all-inclusive" basis, which includes most water sports.


Third, consider the size of the resort (the number of beds) and the various facilities offered. Some of the larger resorts even offer such facilities as tennis courts.


Finally, you might also consider the likely nationalities of the your fellow guests. Resorts in the Maldives cater primarily to European clientele - especially to the German, Italian, British and French markets. If you possess foreign language skills, then you might feel more comfortable with guests of one nationality than with another.


In addition to selecting your resort, you will also want to give some thought as to what season you wish to visit. The Maldives has two distinct climatic seasons. The high season, when the winds blow from the northeast and resort prices are generally at their highest, lasts from December through March. February is the driest and also the busiest month. The low season, when the winds blow from the southwest, lasts from late April through October. During this season there are stronger winds and some storms, especially in June. But note that there can be considerable variations.


Temperatures in the Maldives range between 24 C./75 F. and 33 C./91 F. year-round, and the humidity is rather high.

The Maldives is an Islamic nation. However, while it is forbidden to import alcoholic beverages into the country, beer, wine and mixed drinks are readily available for purchase at all resorts. If you do arrive at Hulhule International Airport with a bottle of alcohol in your possession, it will be confiscated and then returned to you upon your departure from the country!



Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Mali Visit: 2008-1
2009-12-29 - "The Road to Timbuktu," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2008

Inaccessible Timbuktu served as a siren for European travelers for centuries. Between 1588 and 1880 some four dozen Europeans attempted to reach the fabled city. However, only four succeeded. The Scotsman Major Alexander Gordon Laing was the first to reach Timbuktu, in 1826. Laing remained for six weeks but was murdered by Tuareg in the Sahara on his homeward journey, only two days north of town. The Frenchman Rene Caillie, who only set off posing as a Muslim only after first having studied Arabic in Senegal, reached Timbuktu in 1828. Caillie became the first European to visit Timbuktu and then return to Europe successfully. The German Heinrich Barth arrived in 1853 disguised as a Tuareg during the course of his five-year exploration of the Sahara. After a stay of nearly a year, Barth also managed to return to Europe via caravan. The fourth explorer, the Austrian Oscar Lenz, arrived in 1880.

Founded in the eleventh century by Tuareg nomads, Timbuktu's strategic location in present-day Mali south of the Sahara near the northern bend of the Niger River facilitated its growth into an important commercial center. At the southern end of the trans-Saharan camel caravan route leading up to the Mediterranean, Timbuktu prospered greatly from trade. Gold, slaves, ivory, kola nuts and ostrich feathers from the south were exchanged for salt, cloth, copper, tin and horses from the north. In 1494 the traveler Leo Africanus noted that the many doctors, judges and imams residing in Timbuktu were well-maintained by the Songhai king. By the middle of the sixteenth century Timbuktu's population burgeoned under Songhai rule, and the rich city could boast of having 150 Islamic schools with many thousands of students from all over West Africa. The 1591 invasion by a musket-equipped Moroccan mercenary army signaled the beginning of Timbuktu's decline. At about this same time European ships began to arrive off the West African coast, destroying the centuries-old trans-Saharan trade monopoly. Drought, famine and unstable government then became a way of life until the French took control three centuries later, in 1894. However, by that time Tikmbuktu's glory days were long over and the city's significance on the world stage was but a historical footnote. Today it is tourism on which Timbuktu manages to survive.

I traveled from Cairo to Timbuktu in January 2008, flying first to Bamako, the capital of Mali, on comfortable Kenya Airways 737 jets via Nairobi. After an overnight in Bamako so I could tour the market and the excellent national museum, I continued on Air Malienne, a domestic airline which wet leases its sole prop jet with an English-speaking crew from a South African charter carrier. The airport at Timbuktu with its new terminal building is not far from town, so it didn't take long to reach the sandy streets of the old city, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1992.

Three of the oldest mosques in West Africa are in Timbuktu. The most ancient of these mud-brick structures is the Dyingerey Ber Mosque, built in 1325 by an Andalusian architect by order of the Malian king, Kankan Moussa, after his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Dyingerey Ber Mosque is currently being renovated with the assistance of the Agha Khan Cultural Trust. Sidi Yahiya Mosque and the Sankore Mosque were constructed during the fifteenth century. The latter housed Timbuktu's well-known Sankore University, one of the largest educational institutions in the Muslim world during the sixteenth century. Today the houses where the most famous European explorers stayed are all identified by prominent plaques. While the former residences of Laing and Caillie cannot be entered and not much remains of the house of Lenz, Barth's home is now a small museum. Timbuktu is also known for its ancient Islamic manuscript collections. The Ahmed Baba Center for Historical Research contains over 15,000 such manuscripts, the oldest of which, a document of Islamic law, dates to 1204! There are also some collections of early Islamic manuscripts in Timbuktu which remain in private hands.

Mali, the largest country in West Africa with 1.2 million square km, has more to offer the traveler than just Timbuktu. For most tourists the road to Timbuktu also passes through Djenne and "Dogon Country," both of which can be reached from the river port of Mopti, also served by Air Malienne. In fact, a pinasse (boat) tour of Mopti, situated on the Bani River near its junction with the Niger River, shouldn't be missed. In Mopti it is fascinating to view the busy riverbanks and the other pinasses which contain all manner of cargos, including live animals, firewood, dried fish, and even large salt slabs that have been transported up the Niger from Timbuktu!

Picturesque Djenne, founded in the thirteenth century on an island in the Bani River, once rivaled Timbuktu; and the political fortunes of the two cities ran in parallel. Djenne was designated a World Heritage Site in 1988. Today, with a population of 10,000, Djenne is known for its colorful Monday market and for its very impressive mosque. The Djenne Mosque was constructed in 1907 on the site of another mosque dating back to the thirteenth century. Featuring three minarets, the Djenne Mosque, raised some three meters above the ground level of the market which it faces, is the world's largest mud building!

In spite of Timbuktu's world-wide name recognition, it is so-called "Dogon Country" which is the most-visited area of Mali. Some 400,000 Dogon tribesmen today cultivate millet, rice, sorghum and onions and raise their livestock on the 4,000 square km of plains and plateau which surround the 200-km-long Bandiagara Escarpment. These are said to be the ancestors of people who had arrived there by at least the fifteenth century. Traditionally the Dogon people built cliff villages for defensive purposes. Today, however, many Dogon also live in villages on the Dogon Plateau.

The village of Sangha, where there is a simple but clean hotel, makes an excellent base for exploring Dogon Plateau villages such as Songo and one or more of the cliff villages such as Banani constructed at the base of the Bandiagara Escarpment. Dogon villages are composed of clusters of buildings organized by clan. The buildings include houses made of mud and rock, raised granaries with conical straw roofs, and storerooms. Each village also contains a low-roofed, nine-pillared open meeting room for village elders as well as shrines and other unique structures. The spiritual beliefs and symbolism of the animistic Dogon culture are unique, and local guides help to explain the various complicated Dogon circumcision, cult and death rituals. Village inhabitants attempt to sell homemade artifacts such as masks, wooden doors and jewelry to tourists during their visit.

Colorful and rich in history, Mali, one of West Africa's most interesting destinations, is more accessible than one might think. Bamako, the capital, is now easy to reach by air from Cairo. In addition, Mali boasts excellent two-lane highways with little traffic; and domestic air service is available nearly every day to both Timbuktu and Mopti, the jumping-off point for Djenne and the fascinating Dogon Country.

11 Mali video clips (none of which is from Timbuktu, unfortunately):

View of a pinasse (boat) on the Bani River at Mopti, Mali, 21-second video clip 21-second video clip
View from a pinasse (boat) on the Niger River at Mopti, Mali, 62-second video clip
Pinasse (boat) on Bani River near Mopti, Mali #1, 24-second video clip
Pinasse (boat) on Bani River near Mopti, Mali #2, 12-second video clip
Bani River fishermen near Mopti, Mali, 38-second video clip
Djenne, Mali car ferry #1, 19-second video clip
Djenne, Mali car ferry #2, 21-second video clip
Djenne, Mali car ferry #3, 19-second video clip
Boat on Bani River at Djenne, Mali, 23-second video clip
Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali, 31-second video clip
View over Dogon village of Songo in central Mali, 16-second video clip



Malta Visit: 2008-5
2009-12-29 -

"Malta, a Jewel in the Mediterranean," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2009

Strategic Malta is situated in the Mediterranean Sea 93 km (58 miles) south of Sicily and 300 km (186 miles) north of Libya.  A member of the European Union since 1994, this tiny republic consists of three limestone islands:  246-square-km (94-square-mile) Malta, 61-square-km (24-square-mile) Gozo, and 3-square-km (1-square-mile) Comino.  The sprawling capital of Valletta and most of the national population of 403,000 are located on the island of Malta, which measures 27 km (17 miles) by 14.5 km (9 miles).  On the other hand, Gozo's population is only 31,000; and a mere eight people reside on Comino. 

Because barren Malta boasts no mountains, lakes or rivers, half of its fresh water requirements must be supplied through reverse osmosis.  Malta's two official languages are the Semitic Malti and English.  The latter is a reflection of the British presence in Malta from 1798 to 1979. 

Malta was first populated about 5000 B. C.  Between 3600 B. C. and 2,500 B. C. a number of stone temples were constructed, about two dozen of which still survive.  Malta was a Phoenician colony between 800 B. C. and 218 B. C.  Then, after the fall of Carthage, these islands were controlled by Rome.  The Arabs ruled from 870 A. D. until their expulsion in 1090 by King Roger of Sicily.  The Knights of St. John arrived in 1530 and remained for 268 years.  Napoleon held Malta for a two-year period from 1798.  This was followed by British rule until late in the twentieth century. 

The most famous event in Malta's history is the Great Siege of 1565 when an Ottoman fleet appeared carrying 30,000 men.  After a bloody three-month siege, relief finally arrived from Sicily; so the Ottomans withdrew.  Malta also suffered five months of severe bombing in 1942.

At the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta's rich and fascinating history is a big draw for tourists.  The sunny climate is another factor which has contributed to the creation of a substantial tourism industry.  Over a million tourists visit Malta annually, and tourism represents up to 40% of Malta's gross national product.  Probably best known for its spectacular Grand Harbor, Malta's other top tourist sites include:  the baroque St. John's Co-cathedral constructed in 1573; the Grand Master's Palace built in 1571; star-shaped Fort St. Elmo at the mouth of the harbor; and the waterfront district of Vittoriosa.  Casa Rocca Piccola in downtown Valletta is also well worth a visit.  Constructed in the 1580s for the Knights of St. John, its current owner is a member of the de Piro Family.  The house may be viewed only by guided tour.

In the interior of Malta is the medieval walled village of Mdina, which today has a population of only 400.  Mdina's primary attraction is the baroque St. Paul's Cathedral built between 1697 and 1702.

Since flying time from Cairo is only two hours, Malta is ideal for a 3-day or 4-day getaway.  It is best to visit during the dry season months of April, May, June, September and October.  July and August are also good, although it is hotter then.  From November through February is the rainy season, with most precipitation falling in December and January.  Round trip airfare from Cairo to Malta on Egypt Air is EGP 2,500.  Egypt Air flies both ways on Thursday and Sunday.  Travel on any other day of the week requires a change of aircraft in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.  Travelers with a full week to spare should consider combining Malta with nearby Sicily.  Round trip ferries between Malta and Sicily begin from about Euro 100. 

Sailaway from Malta's Grand Harbor, 112-second video clip
 

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 May 2009
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Manitoba Visit: 2005-10
2009-12-29 - -"Visiting the Polar Bear Capital of the World, Churchill, Manitoba," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in November 2005

Bear with me," joked "Stu" Kelsey, our driver/guide, as he slowed to navigate a rocky patch on the unpaved track leading from Churchill, Manitoba to the shore of Hudson Bay. We were sitting comfortably in a massive 48-seat, butane-heated tundra buggy while en route to view the annual autumn polar bear migration. After spending one night at the gateway city of Winnipeg on 21 October, we had flown north on a 40-seat Hawker Siddeley prop jet from Winnipeg to Churchill early the next morning.

Billed as the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, with a population of 1,500, is accessible both by air and via the Hudson Bay Railway. The 1,000-mile/1,600-km-long rail line was completed across the permafrost in 1929 by a crew of 3,000. Today, because the 36-hour train journey consumes a full two nights and one day in each direction, many tourists feel that the 2 3/4-hour, 650-mile/1,045-km one-way flight is a more desirable transportation option.

Discovered in 1619 and the site of a Hudson's Bay Company fort constructed in 1688, Churchill grew into a fur-trading port. Then, after construction of the railway some 75 years ago, much of the wheat grown in Saskatchewan and Manitoba was exported via the port of Churchill to Europe, Africa and beyond. In fact, Churchill was once one of the largest grain-exporting ports in the world. Nowadays, tourism plays a significant role in the economy since Churchill lies astride a polar bear migration route.

During the 45 minutes that it took Stu to drive our tundra buggy from Churchill out to the shore of Hudson Bay, he conveyed much information about polar bears to the participants in our group tour.

The Latin name of the polar bear is Ursus maritimus or "sea bear." The youngest of eight bear species, the polar bear is thought to have evolved some 200,000 years ago from the brown bear. The world's largest land predator, the powerful and heavily-insulated polar bear is well-adapted for Arctic survival. The adult male polar bear can weigh from 775 to 1,500 pounds (352 to 682 kg) and reach a length of 6 feet to 10 feet ( 1.8 to 3.0 m). The adult female polar bear is smaller, weighing from 330 to 550 pounds (150 to 250 kg) and reaching a length of 5 feet to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.5 m).

Polar bears range across the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia where they hunt the ringed seal, the most common seal in the Arctic. It is estimated that the current world polar bear population is about 25,000.
Polar bears have an excellent sense of smell and also keen senses of hearing and eyesight. Their small ears and small tail help prevent heat loss.

Polar bears are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim as far as 60 miles (96 km) without resting. In fact, the bears' massive forepaws, measuring up to a foot in diameter, are partially webbed to assist in swimming. Polar bears' fat layer, some 3 to 4 1/2 inches (8 to 11 cm) thick, both provides insulation against the cold and increases buoyancy in the water.

Female polar bears normally give birth to two cubs. While mating occurs in the spring, delayed implantation doesn't take place until the fall which is also when the female bear digs her maternity den in a snow bank. Infant polar bears, covered with white hair, typically weigh only a pound ( 0.5 kg) or so and measure from 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 cm). But, when the mother and cubs leave their den in March, the cubs weigh up to 30 pounds ( 13.6 kg) and have thick fur.

Polar bear cubs nurse for at least 20 months. During this period they must learn from their mothers how to patiently await the return of a seal to its breathing hole in the ice. In lower Arctic regions mothers wean their cubs as they approach the age of two. On the other hand, in higher Arctic regions where conditions are more difficult, mothers care for their cubs for a third year.

Starvation is believed to be the leading cause of death for sub-adults, those bears which have not yet reached maturity at age five or six. But those polar bears which do survive to adulthood have learned to hunt well. The annual mortality rate of adult bears is only 5% annually. Polar bears, whose sole enemy is man, generally live 15 to 18 years in the wild.

After fasting for several months on land following the mid-July break up of ice on Hudson Bay, polar bears begin migrating back to the shore of Hudson Bay in late September. More bears continue to arrive during October and early November. This is the best season for close-up viewing of polar bears near the shore in the vicinity of Churchill. With their natural sense of curiosity, the bears generally will not flee a slow-approaching tundra buggy; and, in fact, sometimes they will even lean up on a tundra buggy to try to sniff the occupants! In November when the ice finally forms again on Hudson Bay, the bears go out to hunt for ringed seals, their main prey. At that point polar bear viewing can only be done at a great distance with binoculars as the tundra buggies cannot follow the bears out onto the ice.

Fifteen polar bears were spotted during the two full-day tundra buggy drives our tour group took near Churchill. This figure double-counts bears seen on both days. Toward the end of our tour Stu advised us that, although normally he would have expected us to see more than 15 bears, we were lucky because we had witnessed interesting interactions between some of the bears. In particular, we had been fortunate to see one group of three sub-adult males mock wrestling with one another for an extended period. Kelsey referred to these bears as "the Scrappy Brothers" or "the Scrappies." Sometimes these wrestling bears even stood up on their hind legs briefly while trying to bite and paw one another.

We also saw polar bears sun themselves while lying around on kelp beds. In fact, sometimes they even gnawed on the kelp itself. We watched as one polar bear swam out into Hudson Bay. Unusually, that bear captured a duck, which was consumed on the spot.

Polar bears which happen to wander into the town of Churchill are darted, put into wheeled tubular cages fitted with trailer hitches, and then held in an old aircraft hangar for up to a month until they are transported back out onto the tundra far from town. While in captivity in what is known locally as the " polar bear jail", the animals are given access to water or snow but not to food. The idea behind this form of tough love is to provide the bears with a negative memory of their contact with man so that they will not be inclined to return.

In addition to bears, our tour group spotted caribou, Arctic hare, snowy owl, ptarmigan and raven on the tundra in the vicinity of Churchill. Stu said that our caribou sighting was only the second of the season.

The cheapest weekend polar bear adventure package is priced at about USD 1,400 per person in double and features round trip airfare between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba, two days of sightseeing in a tundra buggy with lunch, and one night at a hotel in Churchill. With the meals in Churchill which are not included in the package, additional pre- and post-tour hotel accommodation and meals in Winnipeg plus round trip airfare from the U. S., the total price of a polar bear adventure tour is likely to run to USD 2,000 or more from the U. S.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Mississippi Visit: 2005-4
2009-12-29 - -"A Mississippi River Steamboat Cruise," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in June 2005

At one point in yesteryear's era of grandeur and elegance over 1,200 steamboats plied the great rivers of America's heartland. In April 2005 I enjoyed a three-day cruise on the Mississippi River on one of America's only three remaining overnight steamboats.

From the river bank the luxurious American Queen resembles a white, six-deck wedding cake. Operated by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company which can trace its roots back to 1890, the vessel, 418 feet long, 95 feet wide and with a draft of ten feet, is listed by Guinness World Records as the largest steamboat ever constructed.

Costing USD$65,000,000 to build in 1995, the American Queen carries 436 passengers and a crew of 160. With 222 staterooms and two elevators, this steamboat is very senior-friendly. The steamboat has a large red wooden paddlewheel in the stern which is powered by a steam engine (salvaged from another vessel and purchased at auction) built half a century ago. Supplemental power is supplied by two diesel outboard motors. On my cruise the speed while traveling up the Mississippi was only eight miles an hour. However, while cruising downstream, the speed picked up to twelve miles an hour! At these speeds it was enjoyable to relax in a chair on the deck in front of one's stateroom and soak in the scenery as it slowly crept by.

The atmosphere of the American Queen transports its passengers back to the nineteenth century, an era of extravagance when steamboating was at the height of its popularity. The grand staircase, ornate chandeliers, grand dining room and elegant staterooms uphold the best traditions of the steamboat era when passengers were drawn from afar to experience the luxury and excitement of river travel.

The American Queen's Grand Saloon was inspired by small opera houses and by Ford's Theatre, the Washington, D. C. institution where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The ladies' parlor, the chart room and the gentlemen's card room all feature original antiques as do the staterooms themselves. The Engine Room Bar is also decorated in a style appropriate to the period. The boat even boasts a calliope.

During my Mississippi cruise I was entertained by music typical of the river (including the song "Ol' Man River"), authentic Cajun music, Gospel music and even a Beatles show! A Cajun comic came aboard; and there was Mardi Gras revelry, which was appropriate since the cruise began and ended in New Orleans.

From New Orleans, with its world-renowned Creole and Cajun cuisine, ornate French quarter architecture and legendary jazz music, I cruised north to Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana. Just adjacent to our dock in Baton Rouge was the U. S. S. Kidd, a restored World War II destroyer. En route one morning I disembarked from the American Queen where it had tied up below a grass-covered levee. Walking over the levee and down a shady oak-lined path, I toured the picturesque Oak Alley Plantation, said to be one of the most photographed locations in the South. The plantation's great house was completed in 1939.

Themed river cruises are quite popular on the many of the seven-day or longer itineraries of the American Queen and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company's other two steamboats, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen. Passengers are drawn by musical themes (Bluegrass Jamboree, Legends of the 1950s, Big Band, etc.) and historical themes (Civil War, Legends of American History, World War II Remembrance and Veterans' Reunion, etc.). Seasonal themes (Gardens of the South, Kentucky Derby, Fall Foliage, etc.) and miscellaneous themes (Golf, Patchwork, Wine and Food, etc.) are also favorites.

A fun and relaxing river cruise on a paddlewheel steamboat is a unique experience. It is a marvelous way to relive America's nineteenth-century past while savoring the legendary luxury and excitement of river travel.


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Monaco Visit: 2008-6
2009-12-30 - "Miniscule Monaco," written by Ted Cookson for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt in September 2006

Covering less than two square kilometers (half a square mile), this principality is nothing if not picturesque. Playground of the rich and famous, Monaco owes its existence to the elegant Monte Carlo Casino, the principality's primary tourist attraction. The casino was built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, the architect who also designed the Paris Opera. Nowadays the casino's ornate nineteenth-century decor can be savored by anyone at least 21 years old who is willing to don a jacket, show his passport, and pay an admission fee.

The capital of the principality, also called Monaco, sits some 180 meters (585 feet) above sea level on a kilometer-long rock. The Palais Princier (Prince's Palace), located in the medieval-looking Old Town on the Rock of Monaco, may be toured during the summer only. A changing of the guard ceremony takes place outside the palace daily at 11:55 a.m. Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace are both entombed in the nearby Cathedrale de Monaco. The Musee Oceanographique (the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium), also a scientific research institute long directed by Jacques Cousteau, is well worth a visit. The museum building itself has a classical facade, and the exotic species it contains are interesting. The museum was begun by the current prince's great-grandfather, the scholar-prince Albert I, who was an explorer with a strong interest in marine biology.

The Exhibition of the Prince of Monaco's Private Collection of Classic Cars boasts over one hundred very fancy vehicles. Containing everything from carriages dating back to the 1880s to the vehicle which won the first Grand Prix de Monaco in 1929 to the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud which transported Prince Rainier and Princess Grace on the day of their wedding, this museum will appeal to automobile enthusiasts.

Perhaps the most unique attraction in the principality is the Exotic Garden of Monaco. This cactus garden is accessed by paths which snake down the edge of a steep cliff. In the winter the African crassulas and aloes blossom, while during the spring and summer the cacti are at their best. The Exotic Garden contains over a thousand plants gathered from arid regions the world over, including the American Southwest, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Far East. The garden's panoramic views of Monaco and the French and Italian Riviera are a bonus.

The Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology, established in 1902 by Prince Albert I, was opened in the Exotic Garden in 1955. The museum contains prehistoric remains excavated in Monaco. Nearby is the large natural Observatory Cave. Human and animal remains were discovered in this cave, which was inhabited over 200,000 years ago.

Monaco offers several other museums too. A naval museum contains models of ships. The Musee des Timbres et des Monnaies (Stamp and Coin Museum) displays rare stamps from the prince's collection plus coins, notes and medals dating back to 1640. The rather unusual "national museum" features the world's most complete collection of mechanical dolls. Most of the 2,000 or so objects in the national museum are from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

PRACTICALITIES:

From September through November the temperature in Monaco is warm, although afternoon temperatures decrease by November. Visitors should expect daytime rainstorms, especially in October and November. From December through February the weather is mild and wet, with daytime rainstorms, especially in December. From March through May Monaco is mild to warm with occasional rain. From June through August the weather is dry and hot. Although rain is rare in the summer, there can be an occasional rainstorm. In the summer the temperature of the Mediterranean rises to 20 C./68 F. in June, 21 C./70 F. in July, 23 C./73 F. in August, and 21 C./70 F. in September.

In July 2006 round trip airfare from Cairo to Nice, France was approximately USD 770 on Air France via Paris and on Alitalia via Milan. Monaco, which makes a lovely day trip from Nice, is 15 minutes from Nice Airport via helicopter or about 30 minutes from downtown Nice by train. To conserve space, Monaco's very modern train station is situated in a tunnel.

HOW TO GET TO MONACO:

Monaco is served by Nice International Airport. The principality is only a 15-minute helicopter flight or a 30-minute train ride from Nice.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Montserrat Visit: -

Nakhichevan Visit: -

New York Visit: -

Newfoundland Visit: -


Norfolk Island Visit: 2003-9
2009-12-30 - "Norfolk Island," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in June 2006

People sometimes ask me which is my favorite place in the world. Without hesitation I usually reply that Norfolk Island is my favorite spot. Not only is the island extremely scenic, but its history is fascinating, being intertwined with the Mutiny on the Bounty saga.

Situated between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, beautiful 34.6-kilometer-square (13.3-mile-square) Norfolk Island is a self-governing territory of Australia. In the fifteenth century Polynesian settlers remained on the island for perhaps a century and then departed mysteriously. Banana trees, stone tools and the Polynesian rat provide evidence for their presence.

Captain James Cook, the European discoverer of Norfolk Island, landed on the island in 1774 during his second voyage to the South Pacific. Cook was under the impression that the native Norfolk Island pine trees would provide excellent masts for ships of the Royal Navy, and he thought that the island's flax plants would yield material for ships' sails. Unfortunately, history proved Cook wrong. The Norfolk Island pines had too many knots to make strong masts, and it was too difficult to prepare the flax plants for manufacturing.

In order to foil possible French settlement of Norfolk Island, the island's first European settlers were sent in March 1788. This was only three months after the British settlement of Australia in January 1788. The original party of 15 convicts and seven free men was later supplemented with additional convicts, and the island's grain and vegetables were sent back to Sydney in order to relieve the conditions of starvation there.

By 1792, after successive waves of convict setlement on Norfolk Island, the island's population exceeded 1,000. Some of these were convicts who elected to stay on as free farmers after serving out their sentences. However, due to its remoteness and the absence of a safe harbor, almost all of the population was transferred to Tasmania by 1813.

In 1825 Norfolk Island was repopulated with convicts who had been convicted of further crimes after arriving in Australia. During this 30-year second penal settlement, Norfolk Island's remoteness was viewed as a plus as Norfolk was then the ultimate punishment short only of death. Living and working conditions were horrifying, food was scarce, and even trivial infractions were punished excessively. The last convicts were transported to Tasmania finally in May 1855.

Little more than a year later, June 1856 marked the arrival of the residents of an overpopulated Pitcairn Island. All were descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives. Although some of these families elected to return to Pitcairn in 1858 and 1863, even today roughly half of Norfolk's population of about 1,900 is descended from those Pitcairn Island immigrants. Norfolk Island's population also grew in the nineteenth century as whalers stayed on when their ships called at the island to resuppply.

The New Zealand army garrisoned Norfolk Island during World War II, and an airbase was built on the island. Fortunately, Norfolk was never attacked during the war.

Norfolk Island has been self-governing since 1979. Australia controls the island's foreign affairs. Sponsorship by a current resident is necessary in order to obtain residency. Alternatively, one can apply for residency by investing in an island business. Although the government is run from Kingston, Burnt Pine is the main commercial center. Education is available only through secondary school.

English is the main language on Norfolk. However, the islanders also speak Norfuk, which is a Creole consisting of eighteenth-century English and the Tahitian language.

There is air service to Norfolk Island from Sydney, Brisbane, Newcastle and Auckland. Some 80 km (50 miles) of roads exist on Norfolk. A number of interesting historical and cultural tours are run by local tour operators. Most visitors arrive from Australia and New Zealand on one-week package tours. The importation of fresh fruit and vegetables to Norfolk Island is prohibited. Also, interestingly, non-Australian visitors who come to Norfolk Island from Australia require a multiple entry visa in order to return to Australia!


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 June 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




North Vietnam Visit: 2006-1
2009-12-30 - "Exotic Vietnam," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2006

Exotic Vietnam with its beautiful topography, unique sights, friendly people and excellent shopping, makes for a very interesting tourist destination. As large as the U. S. states of Virginia , North Carolina and South Carolina combined, Vietnam offers many different types of terrain. There are mountains, dense jungles, coastal plains and also river delta. One of the thinnest countries in the world, Vietnam is 2,600 km long; but the width varies between only 60 km and 200 km, except in the far north where it is much wider.

Most tourists will be interested in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in the South, Hanoi in the North, and the central region containing the seaport of Danang, the historical capital of Hue and the charming town of Hoi An. In addition, the Central Highlands may be of interest to those with additional time; and beautiful Halong Bay in the North will be viewed by those arriving in Vietnam via ship.

Vibrant Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and one of the most thriving cities in Southeast Asia, was built on a bend in the Saigon River. With a population of nearly seven million, 300-year-old Ho Chi Minh City is the nation's economic heart.

At one time on a par with Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City has been called the Paris of the East. Today it boasts colorful markets where everything from French baguettes to lacquer boxes is sold. Waves of motorbikes flow past the city's French-built architectural landmarks such as the neo-Classical Notre Dame Cathedral, completed in 1880, and the French-era municipal theatre and city hall.

Fortunately, the sights of central Saigon can be reached on foot in less than half an hour from any of the hotels in the city center. The tourist circuit usually includes Reunification Hall (formerly the presidential palace before the 1975 fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese), the Rex Hotel (frequented by American soldiers prior to "liberation"), the historical museum, the central market, Cholon (Chinatown), the war remnants museum (housed in the building formerly occupied by the U. S. Information Service), and one or more of the city's 200 pagodas.

At Cu Chi, 70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, there is a network of more than 200 km of man-made tunnels which once allowed the Viet Cong to wage war on Saigon. This is a popular half-day excursion. These fascinating passages, enlarged in places after the Vietnam War to accommodate the larger bodies of foreign tourists, contained underground hospitals, kitchens, sleeping and living quarters and arms storage centers.

Hanoi, the charming and laid-back capital city with its tree-lined boulevards, elegant squares, old colonial-era buildings, lakes, and parks, was built on the Red River about 100 km inland from the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. Tourist highlights include the Temple of Literature (founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucious), the old, so-called French Quarter in central Hanoi with its maze of narrow alleys, Hoa Lo Prison (also known as the "Hanoi Hilton" which once housed U. S. prisoners of war, including U. S. Senator John McCain), Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and museum (including his modest house and the former presidential palace in which he refused to live), and national museums for history and the arts.

Danang, Hue and Hoi An are clustered in the central region of Vietnam. It is logical to break one's air journey at Danang when flying between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Danang, a major seaport and Vietnam's fourth largest city, is known for Marble Mountain, China Beach and the Cham Museum. Marble Mountain is the collective name by which five nearby limestone crags with marble outcrops are known. China Beach, 1 km from Marble Mountain and but one of Vietnam's many fine white sandy beaches, was a popular American R & R destination during the Vietnam War. The Cham Museum, constructed in Danang by the French in 1916, contains art and architecture from the Cham Dynasty of the second century A. D.

Hue, Vietnam's capital between 1802 and 1945, is located on the Perfume River some 108 km north of Danang and 100 km south of the Seventeenth Parallel which once separated North Vietnam from South Vietnam. Although invaded by the French and the Japanese and then later bombed by the U. S. in 1968, many tombs and other historical monuments still remain in and around the former Imperial City.

Historic Hoi An, 32 km south of Danang, has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. This small and intimate town can be explored easily on foot. Originally settled by Chinese and Japanese merchants in the sixteenth century, Portuguese and Dutch ships also called there. However, by the end of the nineteenth century Danang finally eclipsed Hoi An in importance as the river which runs through Hoi An began to silt up. The Japanese covered bridge, dating to the sixteenth century, is Hoi An's most-photographed monument.

For those with additional time, the Central Highlands will also beckon. This lush area offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Vietnam. The French used this region as a hill station due to its favorable climate with warm days and cool nights. Interestingly, this region is home to as many as 35 of only 50 or so ethnic groups that exist in all of Vietnam .

Finally, those lucky enough to visit Vietnam via ship (and those willing to undertake a long day trip from Hanoi) are likely to encounter the scenic turquoise waters of Halong Bay near the port of Haiphong in the North. Over 3,000 limestone islets dot the bay. Some islets have miniscule beaches and some have spectacular caves and grottoes. Most islets are covered with lush vegetation. It has been said that Halong Bay, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, is the most beautiful location in all of Vietnam .

PRACTICALITIES:

In Cairo the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will only issue 14-day single-entry tourist visas. Tourists requiring a longer period of stay must request an extension after arrival in Vietnam.

Another important concern is that Vietnam tourist visas are issued in Cairo strictly no more than 15 days prior to entry into Vietnam. Because of this restriction, travelers planning multi-country itineraries may be forced to spend time in Vietnam prior to touring other countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, travelers should give consideration to combining a visit to Thailand and/or Angkor Wat in Cambodia with their trip to Vietnam. Air routings to Vietnam typically include Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is between December and April. This is the dry season, although there is still occasional rain even then. April is the hottest and most humid month. The wet season runs from May to November, with the wettest period lasting from June to September.

The best time to visit Hanoi is during the dry season between late September and December or else in March and April. January and February are cool and drizzly. May to September is the rainy season when the heat can be oppressive.

The best time to visit the Central Highlands is from December to February, and the very best time to visit Danang and Hue on the coast is in April. Danang and Hue are deluged by the southwest monsoon in October while the northeast monsoon affects the central coast from December to February.


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Northwest Territories Visit: 2008-8
2009-12-30 - On 21 August 2008 I drove a rental car some 345 km round trip from Fort Nelson (which lies at mile 300 on the Alaska Highway) in northeastern British Columbia up the excellent Liard Highway to the border with the Northwest Territories. Below is a link to the 56-second video clip I took at the Sixtieth Parallel. As this video clip begins we are looking from the BC/NWT border along the paved highway back into BC. Then the camera swings counter-clockwise approx. 250 degrees. You will notice that at this point the highway turns from good blacktop pavement into a good gravel road. There is an official welcome sign into the NWT another 1/2 km along the highway. That white sign is just barely visible in the far distance in the video clip. I wanted to film at this point where the road surface changes. Incidentally, my car was rented from National Car Rental at the Shell station in "downtown" Fort Nelson. The cheapest rate was CAD 70 per day plus taxes and CAD 0.40 per km with no free kms! Round trip driving time from Fort Nelson was about four hours, including many stops for photos along the way. The Liard Highway is signposted for 80 km/hour but no one I saw was driving that slow. On the Liard Highway itself I passed only nine vehicles while heading north and eighteen vehicles when returning south.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mOfw8pcev4

.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Nova Scotia Visit: -


Ogasawara Visit: 2002-4
2009-12-30 - HOW TO GET TO OGASAWARA:

The detailed information below, compiled by Ted Cookson in May 2002, was submitted twice to the Travelers Century Club but never published by that organizaiton as "trip notes," presumably because of the inclusion of a travel agent's name and contact information. However, a point was made of including that data specifically since the only way to reach the Ogasawara Islands by public transportation is via ferry from Tokyo, Japan. Because the ferry operates on an irregular schedule and often sails fully-booked, it would be very difficult for those not familiar with the Japanese language to determine the schedule and to make firm round trip reservations by themselves. Thus a knowledgeable travel agent at home with a reliable correspondent agent in Japan is essential in planning a trip to this destination. Expect to pay a travel agent service fee as the ferry is not commissionable to your home travel agent.


MY VISIT TO OGASAWARA:

On 27 April 2002 upon arrival via United Airlines at Tokyo's Narita Airport terminal one I purchased a one way ticket for the Skyliner express train on the Keisei Line to Nippori Station in downtown Tokyo . The Skyliner, which offers only reserved seating, stopped at Narita Airport terminal two and at the nearby town of Narita en route to Nippori Station, where I disembarked. Travel time was 55 minutes. (The travel time for a similar limited express service is 70 minutes. But, interestingly, the fare for the limited express is only about half that of the Skyliner service (1,000 yen or about USD 8 versus 1,920 yen or about USD 15. I actually rode the limited express on my return trip and it was just fine. The seats were like on a New York subway car.) At Narita Airport I found the Japanese rail vending machines to be incomprehensible, so I bought my ticket at the window instead. The clerk who sold me a Skyliner ticket also sold me an onward one way rail ticket within Tokyo (160 yen) and gave me a useful Tokyo "tourist map" which showed the transit network. Incidentally, the exchange rate at Narita Airport was USD 1.00 = 125 yen on 27 April 2002.

At Nippori I disembarked from the Skyliner and changed from the Keisei Line, which was elevated there, to the elevated JR Yamanote Line, which I rode nine stops to reach Hamamatsucho Station. As a check, Tokyo Station is the sixth stop. It was an easy quarter of a mile walk (less than 10 minutes) to Tokyo's Takeshiba (Ferry) Passenger Terminal (TPT) from Hamamatsucho Station. There is an even closer elevated monorail stop called Takeshiba Station, but this is on a line which is not likely to be as convenient for someone coming from downtown Tokyo , and it requires two changes to reach this stop if coming from Narita Airport .

Several high rise buildings are situated near TPT. These include Tokyo Bay Intercontinental Hotel. However, the (Bayside) Azur Takeshiba Hotel where I stayed (12,705 yen or approx. USD 102/night including taxes for a single without breakfast; my room was spotless but tiny and featured no English TV stations; the reception desk is on the fourth floor), is a better landmark because it bears the word "Azur" high on its side. This can be seen from quite a distance, though not immediately when one exits from Hamamatsucho Station. The Azur Takeshiba is adjacent to TPT, separated only by a small semi-circular plaza in the middle of which is an old wooden sailing ship's mast (there is no ship - just the mast).

TPT is at ground level. But it is hidden under the elevated promenade along Takeshiba Pier. TPT is between the Azur Takeshiba Hotel and the Tokyo Bay Intercontinental Hotel. There is one office building between TPT and the Tokyo Bay Intercontinental Hotel.

In order to receive my one way ferry ticket from Tokyo to Chichi-jima, I had to hand my exchange order (the Japanese language travel document which I was carrying and which resembled an air ticket printed on cardboard stock) to the clerk at window number 8 in Takeshiba Passenger Terminal. This was not allowed until less than two hours prior to departure.

There is an information office at TPT, but not every person working in the office speaks English. Interestingly, one gentleman who spoke no English could write a few words of English - enough, in fact, so that I could figure out what time boarding would take place. (He wrote, "On ship 9:10 a.m.") Boarding commenced about 45 minutes prior to departure. The line formed out in the plaza. I unwittingly "took cuts" as boarding began by entering the line directly through the left-hand exit of the TPT rather than going out to the plaza first to get in line. No one seemed to notice or care, probably because I was one of about 10 non-Japanese passengers to board. Most of those other foreigners appeared to be boyfriends or girlfriends of Japanese passengers.

Incidentally, there are plenty of vending machines in the TPT and also a change machine. There are well-marked toilets too. I didn't use it, but there is even an office where one can check baggage which is then be loaded onto the ferry and delivered back upon arrival at Chichi-jima.

The ferry, Ogasawara Maru, 6,700 tons and holding several containers and hundreds of passengers (perhaps 500 passengers?? - this is just a guess), departed from Tokyo exactly on time at 10:00 a.m.; and it was comp0letely full on 28 April 2002 due to the Japanese Golden Week holiday. I chose this departure date as the ferry would spend only 5 1/2 hours on the island of Chichi-jima (part of the Ogasawara island group) before returning to Tokyo . However, I understand that the normal ferry schedule would require one to stay on Chichi-jima for some three or four nights rather than just half a day, while the ferry continued on to other islands, including the nearby Haha-jima. The ferry doesn't operate on the same schedule week after week. The schedules are announced far in advance but bookings are allowed only six months in advance.

On board the ferry, vending machines offer Ramen noodles and many types of soda pop plus beer and water. There is a change machine. There is also a cold water fountain from which one can easily refill a mineral water bottle. There are a restaurant and a snack bar too, each of which has limited hours and serves Japanese food. The reception desk sells various junk foods plus postcards and other souvenirs. Finally, there is a small room with four video arcade-type game machines.

While rather expensive cabin accommodation is available, I chose the much cheaper dormitory-style accommodation. Even this ran about USD 360 round trip. There were several second class dorms which accommodated about 100 passengers each and several others which held about 16 passengers. These were spread over the lower three decks. Place numbers are handed out in the order of boarding. But the first aboard do not necessary receive the "best" places. I was the first person in second class to board leaving Tokyo and I got a place next to a wall (which I thought was best) in a 16 passenger room. But I was also the first person in second class to board leaving Chichi-jima and I got a place exactly in the middle of a 100-passenger room. (Only one dorm room was utilized on the return as there weren't that many passengers.)

Dormitory-style accommodation meant sleeping in an assigned place on the floor which had wall-to-wall carpeting. Etiquette requires one's shoes to be taken off before stepping on the carpeting. A blue woollen blanket was provided to sleep on and an orange woollen blanket was provided to pull over oneself. Sleeping on the floor was not really that uncomfortable as the blankets were quite thick.

I had been worried about smoking. I guess there must have been a no smoking sign posted in Japanese because no one smoked in the dormitories. However, everywhere else outside the dorms was fair game for smoking, and the smoke there was pretty thick.

There were TVs with Japanese programming in the various dormitory rooms. Movies were dubbed into Japanese (one, "Space Cowboys," was in English with Japanese subtitles). One TV channel even offered a map with up-to-date trip details (weather, speed, distance still to travel, etc.) in the same vein as is found on airlines.

As there are extremely few seats available on the ferry outside the dormitories, most people slept or read in their dorm places on the floor.

There is a small white map taped to the gray metal side of the large double-sided TV display in the reception area which shows the ferry schedule in relation to the various islands near which the route passes. Even though one might not know the name of the island (as only Japanese characters are shown), one would still know what time to watch for an island on the horizon. Perhaps half a dozen islands can be seen along the route. But the most interesting part of the route is the transit through Tokyo Bay itself. This takes some 2 1/2 or 3 hours, and the very active Haneda Airport and the very active port of Yokohama are both seen.

Once the ferry is outside Tokyo Bay the water quickly becomes rougher. I strongly recommend wearing an ear patch, which worked well for me. There is a lot of sea spray once outside Tokyo Bay; so if one spends much time on deck, he can probably expect to get at least a little damp.

There is an information office in the ferry terminal upon arrival at Chichi-jima, and baggage can be stowed there. This office also offers free Ogasawara rubber date stamps which one can use on his passport to mark entry and exit. Beware the date on the exit stamp, however. It is always kept one week ahead of the current date. The apparent assumption is that everyone stays on the island for one week.

Upon arrival at Chichi-jima, my 297th TCC destination, I walked to the left through the long park with lovely grass and trees. Perhaps a third of a mile away is a nice museum in the visitor's center. One can just follow the paved path and the signs will lead him to the museum. The actual entrance of the muesum is a little hard to find, but it's there. The museum attendant spoke excellent English.

I wound up having a lovely picnic in the park which is in back of a lovely protected white sandy beach.

A short walk in the opposite direction (to the right) from the ferry terminal is a marine research aquarium, but I couldn't figure out how to get in. I hung around long enough to see some Japanese also walk away without getting in. Around the bay in that same direction is a place where sea turtles are raised. I had no transportation and so I didn't try to see it.

On my return ferry there were perhaps only 100 passengers. The same routine applied in terms of trading my exchange order for a boarding pass at the window in the passenger terminal. This was allowed two hours prior to departure, but boarding was allowed only 20 minutes prior to the 5:00 p.m. departure.

On leaving Chichi-jima, four smaller boats sailed with us until the edge of the harbor. As most passengers on the ferry had just spent a week or more diving and/or fishing at one of the local resorts, I imagine that each boat was from a different resort. The staff were on board the boats waving goodbye. Surprisingly, at the harbor's edge two men and one women dived off one of the boats as a farewell gesture!

The trip from Tokyo to Chichi-jima was 25 1/2 hours as scheduled. The return trip was 25 hours and 10 minutes. The museum attendant in Chichi-jima told me that on its inaugural run the ferry apparently ran flat out from Tokyho and arrived in Chichi-jima 3 hours early.

After my trip to Ogasawara I stayed at the Holiday Inn Tobu Narita Airport which was 11,550 yen or approx. USD 102 including taxes and service for a single without breakfast. This hotel featured CNN and airport transfers.

My travel agent, Barbara Stein of Post Haste Travel Virtuoso, 4415 Sheridan St., Hollywood, FL 33021-3513 (tels. 1-800-881-7690, 1-954-966-7690, fax 1-954-966-7706), arranged my entire trip. Her e-mail contacts are barbara@posthastetravel.com and barbarastein@gmail.com, and her web page is www.barbarastein.biz. .


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Oregon Visit: 2009-12
2009-12-30 - "Oregon, Land of Contrasts," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in March 2008

The northwestern U. S. state of Oregon is the nation's tenth-largest, with an area of 251,419 square km (97,073 square miles). Sandwiched between California, Idaho, Washington, and the Pacific Ocean, Oregon contains four main geographical regions. From west to east, those regions are: the Pacific coast and the adjacent Coast Range; the fertile Willamette Valley; the beautiful Cascade Range and the much drier high desert plateau of Eastern Oregon.

The 583-kilometer-long (362-mile-long) Oregon coast includes rain forest, sand dunes and high basalt cliffs. The principal feature of the south coast is its evergreen forests. The largest stretch of oceanfront dunes in the U. S. lies along the south coast between Coos Bay and Florence. In the far north, Astoria, Lewis and Clark's destination on the Pacific, could be considered to be the oldest U. S. town west of Missouri. Altitudes in the Coast Range typically vary between 610 meters (2,000 feet) and 914 meters (3,000 feet). Mary's Peak, 19 km (12 miles) southwest of Corvallis, is the highest peak of the Coast Range with an altitude of 1,249 (4,097 feet).

The width of the fertile Willamette Valley ("Wil-a'-met" with the stress being on the middle syllable where the "a" is pronounced like the "a" in "fat"), stretching 193 km (120 miles) from south of Portland to below Eugene, varies from 40 to 64 km (25 to 40 miles). Settlers from the East began to arrive in this valley of plenty via the 3,219-kilometer-long (2,000-mile-long) Oregon Trail in the mid-nineteenth century, and this part of Oregon has always been the state's population center. Both Salem, the capital and third-largest city, and Eugene, the second largest city, are located in the Willamette Valley.

Portland, with a population of some 537,000, is situated near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Oregon's largest city by far and also its commercial center, the metropolis was named after Portland, Maine in 1844 by the winner of a coin toss. (The other pioneer wanted to name the city after Boston, Massachusetts.) Portland's location has always enabled it to serve as an outlet to the sea for the Willamette Valley's agricultural produce as well as timber from Oregon's extensive forests. Over two-thirds of Oregon's population lives in Portland or within 48 km (30 miles) of the city.

The 25-million-year-old Cascade Range runs from north to south some 161 to 241 km (100 to 150 miles) from the ocean. These mountains separate Oregon's wet western section from its dry eastern half. The western slopes of the Cascades can attract up to 381 cm (150 inches) of rain and snow annually whereas those living east of the Cascades enjoy a mere 12 inches of precipitation annually and about 200 days a year of sunshine. Mt. Hood, Oregon's highest peak at 3,424 meters (11,235 feet), is the world's second-most-climbed glacier-covered peak. Incidentally, Mt. Hood was named for the British admiral who presided over the Mutiny on the Bounty trials. Four of Oregon's other Cascade peaks exceed 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) in height.

Eastern Oregon, lying in the rain shadow created by the Cascades, can be scorching by day and yet cool at night. It is a land of lava beds, livestock and fossils. Although less than 13% of Oregon's population lives east of the Cascades, parts of eastern Oregon are growing by leaps and bounds. During the 1980s and 1990s the population of Bend doubled to 60,000. Known for its skiing and other outdoor activities, Bend is often cited as being one of the best small American cities in which to live.

Oregon also boasts some superlatives. For instance, Crater Lake in south central Oregon is North America's deepest lake. Hells Canyon, created by the Snake River along Oregon's northeastern border with Idaho and averaging 2,012 meters (6,600 feet) in depth, is the world's deepest river-carved gorge.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
20 February 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Para State Visit: -


Peru Visit: 2007-3
2009-12-30 - "A Flight Over Peru's Nazca Lines," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in October 2007

On 25 March 2007 when my cruise ship, the 2,600-passenger Golden Princess, docked in San Martin, south of Lima, Peru , I paid USD 309 to take a seven-hour group shore excursion which included a flight over southern Peru's mysterious Nazca Lines.

The Nazca Lines, credited to the Nazca Culture which thrived in southern Peru between 200 B. C. and 700 A. D., consist of geoglyphs (trapezoids, circles, spirals, triangles and straight lines) and biomorphs (images of people, animals, birds, fish, lizards, insects and perhaps even flowers). These geoglyphs and biomorphs are distributed over an area of some 200 square miles (500 square km) on the high, dry Nazca Plateau. This region of Peru is one of the world's most arid; and, in fact, both the lack of rainfall and the lack of wind in the area have helped to preserve the figures.

The Nazca figures were created by excavating iron oxide-covered gravel from the plain. The exposed, lighter-colored soil underneath contrasts with the darker color on the surface. Because the giant figures are unrecognizable to anyone standing on the surface of the earth, naturally speculation has arisen as to the abilities and intentions of those who created them. While it has been proven that a primitive culture could have created the Nazca Lines easily using simple tools and surveying techniques, the question as to why they were created remains a mystery.

Many varied theories have been proposed, including the following: (1) that Nazca was a giant astronomical calendar; (2) that Nazca was related to the flow of water from the nearby mountains to and through the plain; (3) that the Nazca figures were the tracks for races among men; (4) that the Nazca figures represent the patterns and yarns of the weaving done by the local culture; (5) that Nazca represents a map of the Tiahuanaco Empire; (6) that Nazca is a response to an unusual period when there were multiple solar eclipses; and, perhaps most famously, (7) that Nazca was the work of aliens or, at least, that the inhabitants of Nazca used hot air balloons to view these figures from the air.

Our chartered single-engine Aero Condor Grand Caravan propeller-driven aircraft flew south 85 miles (137 km) to the Nazca Lines from the commercial airport at Ica, Peru. Ica, which was in the headlines worldwide after suffering a severe earthquake in mid-August 2007, is situated some 50 miles (80 km) from the port of San Martin. Although the total round trip flight required about 80 minutes, most of that time was necessary in order to travel back and forth from Ica.

Over Nazca itself I found it very difficult to take either still photos or video clips due to the pilot's continuous extreme aerial maneuvering and my lack of familiarity with the placement of the images on the plain itself. Also, unusually, my stomach became a bit upset due to the pilot's excessive banking. Luckily, however, I did not actually have to make use of the flight sickness bags which were available on the plane.

While I am glad I took the tour, I now wish that I had concentrated simply on viewing the Nazca Lines rather than on trying to photograph them from the continuously-banking aircraft. My group tour also included a visit to the regional archeological museum at Ica, which features artifacts and mummies from the Paracas, Nazca and Ica cultures.

Online at www.eptours.com/T0710-nazca.htm readers will find links to three video clips which depict some of the dozen or so images I spotted from the plane. In addition to some 900 geoglyphs, the Nazca Plain is said to contain about 70 biomorphs. Not only is one of the figures 1,000 feet (300 meters) long, but one of the straight lines is 9 miles (14.5 km) long! For additional information on the Nazca Lines, refer to www.unmuseum.org/nazca.htm.

3 short video clips of the Nazca Lines:

Hummingbird on Nazca Plain in southern Peru, 20-second video clip
Parrot on Nazca Plain in southern Peru, 30-second video clip
Spirals and trapezoids on Nazca Plain in southern Peru, 8-second video clip

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
10 October 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Pitcairn Island Visit: 2003-2
2009-12-30 - HOW TO GET TO PITCAIRN ISLAND:

Normally about half a dozen cruise ships call at Pitcairn annually. However, only occasionally do any of these cruise ships ever land passengers on the island. When this does happen, it is almost always one of the islanders' longboats which is used to transport people ashore. Yacht charters to Pitcairn are possible from Mangareva in French Polynesia. These charters can be arranged via an agent in the U. S. Finally, supply vessels visit Pitcairn on an irregular basis, either from Mangareva or once in awhile from New Zealand. It might be possible to purchase passage on one of these sailings.


MY VISIT TO PITCAIRN ISLAND:

"A Visit to Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2003

On 25 January 2003 I sailed from Valparaiso, Chile to Papeete, Tahiti on the 513-passenger German-registered cruise ship MS Deutschland. During the 16-day cruise the Deutschland called at Chile's Robinson Crusoe Island, Easter Island and Pitcairn Island as well as Fakarava and Moorea in French Polynesia. On 4 February I landed at Pitcairn in smooth seas and got to explore that island for half a day.

I had first attempted to land at Pitcairn during a previous cruise on the Deutschland in August 2000. However, that attempt was frustrated by a 3-meter sea swell. No passengers were allowed to disembark from the Deutschland that time. Then in November 2002 during a second Pitcairn attempt aboard the Seven Seas Navigator I did manage to land. But because passengers were recalled to the ship after only 20 minutes, I never had a chance to explore anything but Pitcairn's dock area.

I have been fascinated by faraway Pitcairn Island for nearly 40 years. In the early 1960s as a young teenager I read Nordhoff and Hall's Bounty Trilogy novels (Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea and Pitcairn's Island) and began collecting Pitcairn Island postage stamps.

One of the most remote of the world's inhabited islands, Pitcairn lies in the South Pacific Ocean roughly midway between Tahiti and Easter Island. Pitcairn Island is 4,155 nautical miles (nm) southwest of Los Angeles, 3,504 nm northwest of Santiago, Chile and 3,314 nm northeast of Wellington, New Zealand. Pitcairn is 11,281 nm from Cairo.

Pitcairn was discovered in 1767 by a midshipman named Pitcairn aboard HMS Swallow, but the island was not settled until 1790 when Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers arrived aboard the Bounty. In a tale immortalized on film by Clark Gable and Charles Laughton (1934), Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard (1962) and Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins (1984), Fletcher Christian seized the Bounty from Captain William Bligh and eventually steered it to Pitcairn Island.

The Bounty had sailed from England in 1787 on a mission to gather breadfruit trees in Polynesia and transport them to the British West Indies where, it was thought, breadfruit would provide a new, cheap source of food for slaves on the sugar plantations. After ten months and 27,000 nm of sailing, the Bounty finally arrived in Tahiti. During the five months which the ship remained in Tahiti while young breadfruit trees were cultivated, many of the crew became captivated by the local women.

The famous mutiny on the Bounty took place some 3 1/2 weeks into the sail from Tahiti westward toward the West Indies. Bligh and 18 loyal crew were set adrift in a longboat. Against all odds nearly all of these men eventually reached Dutch-held Timor (Indonesia) after a 3,600-nm open boat voyage. Meanwhile, Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers returned to Tahiti for their women. After leaving behind at Tahiti 16 men who wished to remain, nine mutineers and their women plus nine other Polynesian men and women roamed the Pacific for several months in search of an island on which they could hide. Eventually Fletcher Christian sailed the Bounty to Pitcairn which, fortunately, had been charted incorrectly by 200 miles. There the Bounty was burned to hide all evidence of the mutineers' arrival.

Most of the 50 current inhabitants of Pitcairn are descendants of the original Bounty mutineers and the Polynesians who accompanied them. Some of the others are descendants of shipwrecked sailors who decided to remain on the island and marry.

The Pitcairn Islands, which consist of Pitcairn plus the uninhabited Henderson, Oeno and Ducie, are today administered as a British colony via an administrative headquarters in New Zealand. Pitcairn's island council handles such local affairs as island maintenance, postal and medical services and communications. Pitcairn's chief source of income derives from the sale of postage stamps to collectors.

About one mile wide and two miles long, Pitcairn is of volcanic origin. The highest point on the island is some 1,100 feet. The land is hilly but fertile; and the islanders grow sweet potatoes, yams, pineapples, cabbages, beans, tomatoes, citrus and bananas. There are no farm animals, although poultry and wild goats exist on the island.

Pitcairn is completely surrounded by steep, rocky cliffs. There is only one small harbor, at Bounty Bay. Access to this harbor is via longboat operated by the islanders. A longboat carries about two dozen passengers on an open deck. Even in calm seas getting into and out of a Pitcairn longboat while it is alongside a cruise ship can be challenging. The longboat bobs up and down with the waves, so the timing of one's step is everything. On my previous landing at Pitcairn I had to climb down a rope ladder and then jump "blind" into a longboat when instructed to do so by the crew. Luckily this time the Deutschland employed an external stairway. But even the slight sea swell still made the step into the longboat an exciting one.

Upon landing on the island, I first had my photograph taken in front of the "Welcome to Pitcairn Island" sign above the boathouse. The next order of business was climbing the so-called Hill of Difficulty to reach the small settlement of Adamstown, named for the last surviving mutineer. One of the Bounty anchors is displayed in the small town square. Facing the square are the post office, the courthouse, the museum, the library and a Seventh Day Adventist church. In the church is one of the original Bounty bibles.

I was fortunate to be offered a tour of the entire island in an open all-terrain vehicle. The first stop was on a hilltop called Ship Landing Point overlooking Bounty Bay from where I could view Adamstown. Above the settlement is a large cave where Fletcher Christian maintained a watch out over the sea.

Then we drove to St. Paul's Point. Directly below, islanders can enjoy an ocean swim in a pool which is afforded protection by large boulders. On the way we passed a very steep trail leading to "Down Rope." There on the cliff face are inscribed Polynesian petroglyphs. From these markings and a few stone tools found on the island it is known that Polynesians visited Pitcairn long before the arrival of the Bounty mutineers.

My tour continued to Tautama where I saw wild goats grazing. Then we drove to Taro Ground where the radio station is situated. Ham radio enthusiasts from around the world are ever eager to make contact with remote Pitcairn. We went on to the highest point on the island, and from there we drove down Garnet's Ridge back to Adamstown. On the way I took in views of beautiful uninhabited "Tedside." This term is apparently a corruption of the phrase "the other side."

Back in Adamstown, I visited the schoolhouse. A school teacher from New Zealand is posted to the island on a two-year contract. I also saw the unoccupied and delapidated house of Thursday October Christian, Fletcher Christian's first son, who died in 1866. Nearby is the cemetery which contains gravestones dating back to the nineteenth century.

On the way back to the longboat I stopped at The Edge which overlooks Bounty Bay. There rests the anchor of the Acadia, one of the many ships which has foundered in the Pitcairn Islands over the years. The Acadia ran aground at Ducie Island in 1881. The anchor was raised and carried to Pitcairn in 1990.

While I had been exploring Pitcairn during the morning, about 35 islanders had come aboard the Deutschland to sell their wooden handicrafts, woven baskets, T-shirts and postage stamps. So after a quick lunch I shopped for wooden turtles, my favorite Pitcairn handicraft. I also purchased a large model of a Pitcairn longboat.

During afternoon tea three of the islanders were interviewed in the ship's auditorium. Then it was time for the Pitcairners to bid us goodbye. As they sailed away in their longboat, the islanders looked up at the ship's passengers crowded along the railings and sang us a farewell song.

For further information about the Mutiny on the Bounty saga and about Pitcairn Island, visit www.lareau.org, which contains many useful links. The U. S. Pitcairn Islands Study Group (PISG) publishes an interesting quarterly log while the U. K. PISG chapter publishes a very informative semi-annual log. Refer to www.pisg.org for contact information. Those fascinated by the Pitcairn story will also be interested in Norfolk Island, situated between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. Because Pitcairn's inhabitants were evacuated to Norfolk (but some later returned to Pitcairn), the islands' histories are intertwined. .


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com





Portugal Visit: 2006-9
2009-12-30 -


"A Day Trip through Portugal's Western Algarve," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2008

Faro Airport, 6 km (4 miles) west of central Faro, is the gateway to Portugal's Algarve region for most international travelers. In fact, most visitors proceed directly to their resort accommodations east or west of Faro by rental car, completely bypassing the city of Faro, which is the most populated town in the Algarve and its capital.

Many holiday villages are clustered around quaint Albufeira, which is situated near excellent beaches northwest of Faro. Albufeira is one of the Algarve's largest and most popular resort destinations.

An excellent day trip through the western part of the Algarve can be made by car using Albufeira as a base. The circuit includes the Moorish capital of Silves, the historic Sagres where Prince Henry the Navigator once dwelled, nearby Cape Vincent, and the small port of Lagos founded by the Phoenicians.

Silves, situated in the hills 18 km (11 miles) northeast of the port of Portimao, was the grand home of the Moorish kings who ruled the province of Al-Gharb which, incidentally, means "the West" in Arabic. Silves' picturesque medieval Moorish castle is the largest in the Algarve. Today a gigantic Crusader statue standing just outside the castle serves to remind that this fortress was sacked by Crusaders in 1189. Wonderful views of the surrounding countryside can be had from the walls of the castle, which still dominates Silves today. The town also boasts a Gothic cathedral built on the site of an old mosque. The streets of Silves are still laid out just as they were in the medieval medina.

It was at Sagres in the fifteenth century that Prince Henry the Navigator established his navigation school at which Magellan, Cabral and da Gama all studied. Today Prince Henry's fortaleza is the principal tourist site at Sagres. A fifteenth-century stone wind compass 43 meters (140 feet) in diameter dominates the entrance to the fortress, and there are spectacular sea views over the tall cliffs from the long walkway along the ancient walls. Interestingly, within the fortress, the altar of the sixteenth-century Church of Our Lady of Grace depicts Saint Vincent holding a ship.

Cape Vincent, Portugal's westernmost promontory, has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In Classical times the cape was thought to be sacred. After the remains of Saint Vincent were brought there following the Arab invasion, Cape Vincent drew pilgrims for centuries. Today this spectacular but windy western promontory sports only a lighthouse, a tiny tourist market, and few fishermen trying their luck.

En route back to Albufeira is the fishing town of Lagos whose natural harbor attracted the Phoenicians. Later the Moors settled in Lagos until the town was retaken by Christian forces in 1241. Prince Henry used Lagos as a base for his African trade. In fact, Europe's first slave market was in Lagos. Today the town is known mainly for its nearby cliffs, coves and beautiful beaches and for the convenient motorway which now connects it with Lisbon, Faro and even with Spain.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
8 February 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Quintana Roo Visit: -


Reunion Island Visit: 2008-4
2009-05-21 -

"Reunion Island, Secret of the Indian Ocean," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in June 2009

 

Reunion, an overseas department of France, is situated some 800 km (500 miles) east of Madagascar and 200 km (130 miles) southwest of Mauritius.  With a length of 63 km (39 miles), a width of 45 km (28 miles) wide, and an area of 2,512 square km (970 square miles), Reunion was visited by the Portuguese in 1635 and then first occupied by the French from 1642 to 1649.  Although under British control from 1810 to 1815, immigration from France over the succeeding two centuries plus immigration of Africans, Indians, Chinese and Malays has given rise to a mix of ethnicities on the island.     

My last visit to Reunion was by cruise ship in April 2008.  I had reserved a Hertz rental van which the firm had agreed via email to deliver at the port.  Although Hertz kept reassuring me by phone that the van was on the way and would arrive shortly, after an hour and 45 minutes of waiting I finally gave up and hired a taxi van for 200 euros to take our party of six on a six-hour circular drive around the beautiful verdant island. 

From the port at La Possession on Reunion's west coast we drove past the many beach resorts which stretch south from St. Paul 45 km (28 miles) to St. Louis.  The best sandy beaches are on the west coast of the island.  Although we didn't have time that day to make the side trip from St. Louis into the center of the island to view Cirque de Cilaos, luckily I had done that on a previous visit.  Reunion boasts three cirques, which are spectacular calderas in the interior of the island formed long ago by collapsing underground lava chambers.  Eventually deep canyons were eroded from these amphitheaters out to the sea.  The roads into the cirques wind through these canyons up to grand vistas of volcanic peaks and forested ravines.  The 37-km (22-mile) road from the coast at St. Louis up to Cilaos boasts over 400 bends.  Cilaos, situated at a height of 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) and with a population of 6,000, was developed as a spa in the late nineteenth century.  On 15-16 March 1952 1,870 mm (73.6 inches) of rainfall fell at Cilaos.  This is the world record for the most rainfall ever recorded in a 24-hour period!  Tourists with enough time should attempt to view or visit all three of Reunion's cirques.

From St. Pierre south of St. Louis we headed inland, driving up to Reunion's High Plains which lie at about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) and which separate the island's cirques from its volcano.  As we climbed, the temperature became much more comfortable.  The highlight of our day trip to Reunion was the lunar-like crater of Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world's most active and yet most accessible volcanos.  This shield volcano has erupted more than 100 times since 1640.  The lava flow from Piton de la Fournaise is roughly three million cubic meters (about 4 million cubic yards) per day!   Piton de la Fournaise is similar to the volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii in that they are all located above hot spots in the earth's crust.

Following our visit to the volcano, we stopped at the Nez de Boeuf viewpoint over the spectacular canyon of the Riviere des Remparts.  A popular ten-hour walk leads from this point down the steep cliff and onward by trail through a national forest to the town of St. Joseph on the south coast.  Then, after crossing through Reunion's interior, we descended to St. Benoit on the island's east coast and then continued north to the capital of St. Denis.  Founded in 1668, St. Denis was named for a ship which had sunk there.  With a population of 140,000, St. Denis, constructed on a grid pattern along the north coast, has a few buildings  interesting for their architecture as well as a pretty seaside park.

Although the population of Reunion is over 800,000, about half of the inhabitants actually live in France.  Nevertheless, interestingly, there are some 340,000 automobiles on Reunion!  Needless to say, the road system is excellent, and there is a motorway which wraps around a fair amount of the island's coastline.

Reunion is not usually thought of as a dive destination.  However, the island's west coast boasts some colorful and even stunning diving sites offering a wide array of tropical fish.  In October and November pelagic species such as barracuda and tuna are also in evidence.  The Indian Ocean waters surrounding Reunion are warmest (28 C./82 F.) between October and April.  At the other extreme, water temperatures drop to 21 C./70 F. in August.  Divers will want to avoid the height of the cyclone season, which is in February and March.  (Cyclones may arise anytime from December through March.)  Reunion's hot and rainy summer stretches from December until April while the cool and dry winter lasts from the end of April until October.  Reunion attracts the most tourists from late June until early September but there are also tourists aplenty from October until early January.  

 

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 May 2009
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Saudi Arabia Visit: -


Sichuan Visit: 2004-3
2009-12-26 - "A Yangtze River Cruise," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2004

China's Yangtze River is the world's third longest river after the Nile and the Amazon. With a total length of 3,434 miles (5,526 km), the Yangtze rises in the highlands of Tibet and runs the width of China, flowing into the East China Sea near Shanghai. The Yangtze River Valley is famous for its landscapes which include spectacular gorges and steep mountains.

Traditionally Yangtze River cruise passengers were able to observe scenes of rural village life along the river's narrow cliff-lined course as well as some of China's cultural and natural treasures. While the recent construction of the 1.5-mile-long (2,395-kilometer-long) Three Gorges Dam has meant that many villages along the Yangtze are currently in the process of being inundated, travelers will still find it interesting to view the riverside inhabitants' transition to new housing. Too, the rising waters have actually served to ease navigation through the narrowest of the Yangtze River gorges; and the most important cultural relics and antiquities are being moved or otherwise protected.

Construction of the Three Gorges Dam, China's largest construction project since the building of the Great Wall, began at Sandouping along the Yangtze River in December 1993. Closure of two-thirds of the river was achieved in November 1997. Then in June 2003 total river closure was finally completed, so the reservoir finally began to fill and electricity generation also commenced.

The world's largest hydroelectric power plant with twenty-six 700-megawatt (MW) turbines, the Three Gorges Dam will have a total electrical generating capacity of 18,200 MW, equivalent to that of 18 nuclear reactors. The output of the Three Gorges Dam will be 44% greater than the output of Brazil's Itaipu Dam, which contains eighteen 700-MW turbines. Itaipu is the world's second largest dam. When it is completed in 2009, the Three Gorges Dam is slated to provide 84.8 billion kilowatt hours per year, or nearly 10% of China's energy requirements.

Additional reasons for dam construction include navigation, irrigation and flood control. Historically the Yangtze has flooded about once every decade, and more than a million people died in these devastating floods in the twentieth century alone.

The magnitude of the USD 30 billion Three Gorges Dam project is overwhelming. When completed, this dam will have required double the concrete used to construct Brazil's Itaipu Dam. It will also create a 5,000,000,000,000-gallon (18,927,000,000,000-liter) reservoir some 385 miles (620 km) long. The total rise in water level behind the dam will be 361 feet (110 meters) by 2009. This new lake will displace some 1.5 million people. While it lies near a fault zone, the Chinese claim that the Three Gorges Dam is being built to withstand an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

Yangtze River cruises operate between Chongqing (Chungking) in the west and either Yichang or Wuhan in the east.

During World War II Chongqing served as the capital of China. Then Chongqing also played host to the American volunteer air corps known as the Flying Tigers. Today the port city of Chongqing is China's largest inland metropolis and the most important industrial city in southwestern China. Chongqing is 1,490 miles (2,398 kilometers) upstream from Shanghai and 660 miles (1,062 kilometers) from Beijing.

East of Chongqing near Fengdu is the Snow Jade Cave formed from karst, a limestone which is easily eroded. Created 50,000 years ago but only recently discovered by local farmers, the cave was opened to the public in late 2003. The Snow Jade Cave has a total length of one mile (1.6 kilometers).

Further downstream near Zhongxian is the Shibaozhai ("Precious Stone Fortress") Temple. This 12-story architectural gem dating back to the eighteenth century was originally built atop a 721-foot (220-meter) cliff. A wooden pavilion with stair access was added in 1819 and a further three stories were completed in 1956. When the filling of the reservoir has been completed in 2009 this temple will be preserved on a small island of its own by a coffer dam.

For most travelers the highlights of a Yangtze River cruise are the famed three gorges which are situated in a 118-mile (189-kilometer) stretch between Chongqing and Yichang. The 5-mile-long (8-kilometer-long) Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of the three, is known for the mists which swirl around its limestone peaks. Prior to the recent rise of the waters, the 25-mile-long (40-kilometer-long) Qutang Gorge, hemmed in by high cliffs, was no more than 500 feet (152 meters) wide. The Wu Gorge, sometimes said to be the most beautiful, also offers scenes of green mist-shrouded mountains. So sheer are the cliffs that legend has it that the sun never penetrates. The 47-mile-long (75-kilometer-long) Xi Ling Gorge, longest and historically the most dangerous of the three, is noted for its caves and rock formations. This latter gorge is bisected by the Three Gorges Dam.

Aside from the three gorges on the Yangtze River itself, there are also three breathtaking lesser gorges on the Daning River, a Yangtze tributary. A day trip up the Daning in a sampan is perhaps the most romantic and beautiful of any of the excursions offered during a Yangtze River cruise. Steep mountains rise on both sides of the clear Daning River, and the gorges are separated by lush terraced fields. Two ancient hanging coffins may also be seen there high up on the cliffs.

Yangtze River cruises must now transit the Three Gorges Dam, which contains the world's largest ship locks. The double five-stage locks are each 256 yards (280 meters) long, 31 yards (34 meters) wide and 4.6 yards (5 meters) deep. Many boats can fit easily into each lock concurrently. After transiting the locks the river boats stop and a very interesting tour is given of the Three Gorges Dam project.

Some Yangtze River cruises end at Yichang. However, mine continued downstream for two additional days along the Yangtze plain. In Jingzhou (Jiangling) a very touching tour was organized to a primary school. Jingzhou was the capital of China some 2,500 years ago, and remains of the old city wall can still be seen today.

My cruise concluded in the metropolis of Wuhan, a major industrial center and transportation hub. Wuhan is roughly midway between Beijing in the north and Guangzhou (Canton) in the south. It is also midway between Chongqing in the west and Shanghai in the east.

In Wuhan I toured the Hubei Provincial Museum. Most of the museum's contents were unearthed in a single tomb in 1978. The tomb, dating to 433 B. C., contained the world's heaviest musical instrument, which is on display in the museum. Weighing 5,525 pounds (2,506 kilograms), that set of 65 bells covers 5 1/2 octaves.

Inevitably some aspects of a Yangtze River cruise experience have been altered by the Three Gorges Dam. But the gorges themselves with their impressive landscapes remain natural wonders which will continue to draw cruise visitors long after the dam's completion in 2009.

The absolute best time for a Yangtse River cruise is in the early spring. Heat, humidity and rainfall conspire to make travel less pleasant during the period from May through October. And fog can sometimes frustrate photographers from October through March.

Flying time from Cairo to Beijing is upwards of 19 hours. Singapore Airlines, for instance, provides an excellent and comfortable air service via Dubai and Singapore. Round trip basic airfares begin from EGP 4,264 plus taxes. Since the cheapest air seats are always limited, it is advisable to reserve early. Here in Egypt air reservations on most airlines may be booked up to 11 months in advance. Also, a tourist visa is required in order to visit China; and China tourist visa issuance in Cairo normally requires a minimum of one week.

First-time visitors to China should give consideration to combining a Yangtze River cruise with a visit to Beijing, Xian and/or Shanghai. Beijing offers world-class sightseeing in the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and Tian'anmen Square. Xian's incredible 7,000 terra cotta warriors are now world famous. Shanghai, China's largest city and the world's third largest container port, has long been open to Western influences. In particular, it is interesting to view the various architectural styles - Renaissance, Gothic and art nouveau - along the Bund, Shanghai's elegant corniche.

If you've enjoyed cruises on the Nile and on Lake Nasser in the past, why not try a Yangtze River cruise next?


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Sicily Visit: -

Sinai Peninsula Visit: -


Singapore Visit: 2009-5
2009-12-30 - -"Singapore's Unique Changi Airport," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in October 2002

Have you ever considered which international airport is your favorite? My choice without question is Singapore's Changi Airport . All else being equal, when flying to Asia I always prefer to spend my transit time at Changi.

First of all, if your itinerary includes a layover in Singapore of at least 5 hours, you may sign up for one of two free 2-hour tours of Singapore offered 8 times daily. You may choose between a scenic Singapore River tour featuring a ride on a traditional bumboat and a tour to the resort island of Sentosa which includes time enough for a short walk along a white sandy beach! The first tours begin at 10:00 a.m. and the other 7 tours are scheduled hourly from 1 p.m. onward. Airport tour counters open for registration at 8:30 a.m. Tours cannot be pre-booked. It's strictly first come, first served.

Sports fans may prefer to amuse themselves in terminal two's sports arena where ESPN, Star Sports and Super Sports are projected onto 42-inch flat screen plasma TV's. Sony Playstations and Dreamcast game stations are available for free too. And a display showcase of autographed sports memorabilia includes Tiger Woods' golf gloves, Ajax Amsterdam's soccer jersey, Shaquille O'Neal's basketball jersey, Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves and Wayne Gretzky's hockey T-shirt.


You can enjoy a workout and shower for about ten Singapore dollars (S$10). For a bit extra shorts, shoes and a T-shirt can be provided. If you prefer terminal one's rooftop swimming pool (about S$10), then do bring along your own swimsuit. A one hour aromatic massage, available at either terminal for S$68, should leave you refreshed for your next flight. On the other hand, terminal two's Shower, Fitness and Lifestyle Center will provide either a half hour head and shoulder massage or a half hour of foot reflexology for S$38. Beds are available for napping at S$30 for 3 hours. Transit hotels in either terminal offer a sauna (about S$10), a jacuzzi or simply a hot shower (about S$5). Other services include haircuts, shampoos, facials, manicures and pedicures.


Are you an internet freak? Internet access PC's are available in both terminals at S$2 per 15 minutes. Internet access is free from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Also available are infrared internet data access kiosks (the first of their kind in the world), ethernet LAN network access, wireless LAN and old-fashioned dial-up access.


News hungry? Flat screen plasma TV's in both terminals project BBC World, CNN, CNBC and Channel News Asia plus Reuters financial information. Just plop yourself down in one of the comfy padded chairs.


Thirsty for big screen action? There is a free movie theatre in terminal two with a 100-inch back projection screen. This theatre, which is an exact replica of downtown cinemas, screens Star Movies 24 hours a day.


Or how about an airport nature trail? Nature lovers may stroll through cactus, bamboo and helliconia gardens at terminal one and orchid, sunflower and palm and fern gardens at terminal two. Terminal two also boasts ponds of koi, said to be the most colorful and expensive of freshwater fish.


Shoppers will be glad to know that Changi boasts more than 80 shops. Airport prices are guaranteed to be no higher than in the same shops downtown. Furthermore, a 30-day "no questions asked" money back guarantee is offered by all shops.


Changi Airport's other transit facilities include the following: parents' rooms; children's playgrounds (for ages 1 to 12); multi-religious prayer rooms; open air areas including gardens and of course the previously mentioned swimming pool; transit hotels; designated air-conditioned and outdoor smoking areas; special television viewing areas for the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel and Star Movies; money changers (which have the commission embedded in the rates posted); left luggage facilities; Singapore Telecom postal and telecommunications facilities (all local calls made from the departure/transit lounges are free); pharmacies; food courts; and a 7-Eleven minimart in terminal two which is open on a 24-hour basis.


If you are planning to stay over in Singapore , you can even check in and arrange seating for your onward or return flight on a number of air carriers, including Singapore Airlines, by phone from your hotel or on the internet. Then when you arrive at Changi you simply collect your boarding pass and deposit your luggage at dedicated counters. This translates into less time spent in queues.


Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines both use Changi's terminal two. All of the Gulf-based carriers flying to Singapore operate from Changi's terminal one.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Society Islands Visit: -


Somalia (Other) Visit: 2003-4
2009-12-30 - "A Travelers' Century Club-Inspired 'Fly Through' of Somalia," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in September 2003

Dust off your atlas!

I returned to Cairo on the morning of 8 April 2003 after a 4-day/5-night trip to Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. The entire trip was centered around a Somalia "fly through" from Nairobi to Djibouti on 5 April. The "fly through" finally allowed me to complete my Travelers' Century Club (TCC) collection of 52 destinations in Africa. Organized in Los Angeles in 1954 by a group of the world’s most widely-traveled people, the TCC maintains a list of 317 countries and places.

Actually, I had visited Somalia previously. I had flown to Hargeisa in northern Somalia (and also to Djibouti and North Yemen) in January 1985. While working in Riyadh I had managed to obtain a Somalia tourist visa. But to do so I had had to phone the Somali consul in Jeddah and chat him up on a number of occasions over a period of several months. Finally, when I learned that the consul planned to visit Riyadh on business, I sent some toys for his kids to his hotel. With that gift I finally struck gold. The consul then relented and granted me a tourist visa to Somalia.

The reason for my April visit to Somalia was that in 1999 the TCC finally recognized that the northern Somali province had split away from Somalia to become the independent republic of Somaliland. (The North, calling itself Somaliland since the early 1990’s, is the former British Somaliland, the capital of which is Hargeisa. Unfortunately for Somaliland it is not yet recognized officially by any other country!) That meant that I had to undertake a trip to Mogadishu or to one of the other cities in the South in order to be able to include Somalia in my TCC destination count again. My earlier visit to Hargeisa counted only for Somaliland after the breakaway.

So on the night of 3 April I flew from Cairo to Nairobi via Khartoum on Kenya Airways. I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Nairobi’s premier Indian restaurant on 4 April. Then early on Saturday morning I checked in at Unit One of Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for my 8-hour Daallo Airlines flight from Nairobi to Djibouti via Mogadishu and Galckayo (pronounced “Gal-keye’-oh”) in Somalia and Hargeisa in Somaliland.

For many Westerners the names "Mogadishu" and "Somalia" conjure up visions of the extremely bloody movie "Black Hawk Down." I had seen the first half of that movie myself last year but had had to walk out before it was over after the constant gore finally became unbearable.

In fact, I had written off the possibility of visiting Somalia during the past few years for the obvious security reasons. But then I learned about the existence of Daallo Airlines (www.daallo.com), which serves Somalia using Djibouti as a hub, from several fellow TCC members. One flew Daallo to Mogadishu disguised in Arab garb. Another fearlessly flew to Mogadishu with his wife and child! And two others flew to Mogadishu with only a minor hitch. They were taken aside and isolated from the other passengers on their aircraft after the crew realized that, as loudly-conversing Westerners, they were beginning to receive threatening glances from some of the Somalis on board.

I realized that if these people had all been able to fly into Somalia and live to tell me about it later, then I should be able to get in and out safely too. Also, I thought the time was especially ripe now since Somalia peace talks have been ongoing in Kenya since late last year.

Still, there was always some doubt about safety in my mind. So it was with some relief that I found that I was not the only Caucasian checking in at Nairobi. As it turned out, four other Westerners were on my flight, including one other American! Two of the four - a Spaniard and an Aussie - were AID workers, and the American was probably either an AID worker or an architect since he was carrying blueprints. I never spoke with the fourth who, judging from his accent, was probably from eastern Europe.

The Daallo aircraft was an aging Ilyushin-18 four-engine turboprop which had apparently done time in Thailand, judging from the script used for the on board signs. The plane was manned by a six-person Russian crew - a pilot, a navigator, two mechanics, a fellow whom I think was a security guard since I never saw him do anything other than stand around, and a stewardess who spoke limited but functional English ("soft drink - take!").

With about 80 seats, the aircraft featured - in typical Russian style - a curtained "V. I. P." section in the rear with a dozen seats and, I think, the only passenger toilet on board. The large toilet compartment, which reeked of the blue liquid chemicals flowing in the seatless toilet bowl, served a dual purpose. First and foremost, it was indeed a toilet. But it was also used to store crates of soft drinks manufactured in Jeddah.

Acting protectively, one of the two Somali stewards managed to steer three of the Westerners, including me, into the back VIP compartment as we boarded. Two of the other Westerners sat up front with the other Somalis.

It was a 2-hour flight from mile-high Nairobi northeast to Mogadishu's sea level "Km 50 Airport," situated 50 km, or 30 miles, from town. Sandwiches from Nairobi and soda pop were served for breakfast. I was probably the only passenger who realized that the soda pop had come from our toilet. Not long before we arrived at Mogadishu it was easy to spot the meandering Juba River, the main river in southern Somalia, through the aircraft's large round windows.

The landing after noon on the smooth dirt strip at Km 50 Airport was an exciting one. Our experienced Russian pilot brought the plane in for a perfect three-point landing. The four props stirred up lots of dust, obscuring the sage brush which covered the flat terrain outside. We taxied over to a large cement slab on the far side of the strip opposite some small nondescript single-story structures. At any other world airport these structures would have been called a terminal building. But here there was nothing so formal as that.

After the engines had been turned off, our on board Russian maintenance team climbed right down the stairs and began to change one of our ten extremely worn aircraft tires. Luckily, all spares were carried with us.

I saw no guns at all in Somalia. There was no obvious armed security. One man dressed in military fatigues did shoo away two kids who wandered up to the aircraft stairs at one point. But he did nothing to control the crowd of perhaps 50 Somalis who gathered in the shade of the aircraft's belly and under the wide wings. These were disembarking passengers as well as both greeters and stragglers who had wandered over from the direction of the low buildings across the airstrip.

Baggage from Nairobi was offloaded by hand down a simple ladder and onto a pickup truck, and boarding passengers' baggage was similarly hoisted up by hand into the baggage compartment.

I asked a Somali bystander if he could sell me some local currency, and he directed me to a young man in a pickup who flashed a thick wad of Somali 1,000-shilling notes. As a souvenir, I purchased 1,700 Somali shillings for one U. S. dollar.

After smelling gasoline blowing in the warm wind under the plane, I glanced up and noticed that jet fuel was leaking in steady drips onto the ground from the fuel tank in our right wing. Since the maintenance crew was paying no attention to the dripping, I figured that it was just par for the course. At least no one was smoking close to the plane.

The blueprint-toting American on board actually disembarked at Mogadishu. He had been accompanied from Nairobi by a well-dressed Somali man. During the flight I had overheard the Somali instruct the American to proceed directly to the car that would be awaiting them upon arrival. The Somali said that he would handle the formalities for both of them.

After nearly an hour on the ground at Mogadishu we lumbered up into the warm skies again, this time more full, with 67 passengers on board. Lunch, served with plastic silverware, was pasta smothered in Unknown Sauce (was that meat in the sauce or not?). I think lunch may also have been catered in Nairobi. But the pasta made me think of Somalia's Italian colonial heritage, and I wondered how much that heritage must have influenced the national diet. After an hour and a half of flying over parched, wadi-pocked terrain, we landed on the paved airstrip near Galckayo, located on the edge of the Ogaden Desert just south of the joint in Somalia's great geographical dog leg.

I also disembarked at Galckayo. While I was staring at the bald aircraft tires, one of the Russian maintenance men walked by, smiled and apologized, in his thickly-accented and broken English, "Crazy country, Somalia - NOT Russia!," as if to acknowledge that the tires of this aircraft would not have been quite so bald had it been operating back home. Fortunately there was no further changing of tires at Galckayo as it was by then mid-afternoon and quite warm out. Since the dripping fuel was no longer a novelty, I didn't linger long in the hot shade of the aircraft but elected to return to my smelly seat near the V. I. P. compartment toilet. There was a breeze blowing in the airplane's doorway, at least.

I didn't overhear the passenger count for the next leg. But many passengers did disembark at Galckayo. It was another hour of flying northwest to Hargeisa in the former British Somaliland. The small terminal at Hargeisa with its stubby control tower proclaiming the altitude in feet is another remnant of the colonial era. In Hargeisa I asked the Daallo ground handler for help in buying some local currency. He directed me to an old man who led me through a crowd to a bank window in the side of the terminal building. I purchased 3,500 Somaliland shillings for one U. S. dollar before reboarding the plane. And these bills were crisp and new as opposed to the fingered Somalia bills I'd gotten at Mogadishu.

For the final half hour flight there were only two passengers. No passengers boarded in Hargeisa for the last short hop over to Djibouti on the coast. Landing at Djibouti at 5:30 p.m., an airport bus carried the two of us over to the terminal. I cleared immigration and took a taxi to the Djibouti Sheraton four miles away. The driver, with whom I conversed in Arabic, pointed out the French military barracks as well as a small American military presence.

Due to thin air schedules I had spent four nights in Djibouti in 1985, so I didn't feel a pressing need to play tourist there again this time. Djibouti is a poor, sanitized French-speaking Arabia wannabe which can exist primarily because of French foreign aid. Instead I soaked up the local color on the Preferred Floor of the Djibouti Sheraton for two days, finishing Paul Theroux's latest African travel tale, Dark Star Safari, and keeping up with events in Iraq on the 18 satellite channels piped into the room. This hotel property had really been upgraded since I last stayed there in 1985. What I couldn't figure out was why many of the rooms on my floor were occupied by German-speaking soldiers. Perhaps there were military training exercises in the Djibouti desert.

On Monday night I flew back to Cairo on the Ethiopian Airlines red eye service via Addis Ababa and Khartoum. The brand new air terminal in Addis is marvelous compared to the run-down old terminal which is now scheduled to be converted for use with domestic flights.

Interestingly, I had been required to obtain a visa for Djibouti in Cairo prior to departure. But, had I wished to remain in Somalia, no visa would have been required since Somalia is not a functioning country. It's still just a collection of warlords.


HOW TO GET TO SOMALIA:

Daallo Airlines (www.daallo.com) is the primary airline serving Somalia.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



South Island Visit: -


South Vietnam Visit: 2009-5
2009-12-30 -
"Exotic Vietnam," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2006

Exotic Vietnam with its beautiful topography, unique sights, friendly people and excellent shopping, makes for a very interesting tourist destination. As large as the U. S. states of Virginia , North Carolina and South Carolina combined, Vietnam offers many different types of terrain. There are mountains, dense jungles, coastal plains and also river delta. One of the thinnest countries in the world, Vietnam is 2,600 km long; but the width varies between only 60 km and 200 km, except in the far north where it is much wider.

Most tourists will be interested in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in the South, Hanoi in the North, and the central region containing the seaport of Danang, the historical capital of Hue and the charming town of Hoi An. In addition, the Central Highlands may be of interest to those with additional time; and beautiful Halong Bay in the North will be viewed by those arriving in Vietnam via ship.

Vibrant Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam and one of the most thriving cities in Southeast Asia, was built on a bend in the Saigon River. With a population of nearly seven million, 300-year-old Ho Chi Minh City is the nation's economic heart.

At one time on a par with Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City has been called the Paris of the East. Today it boasts colorful markets where everything from French baguettes to lacquer boxes is sold. Waves of motorbikes flow past the city's French-built architectural landmarks such as the neo-Classical Notre Dame Cathedral, completed in 1880, and the French-era municipal theatre and city hall.

Fortunately, the sights of central Saigon can be reached on foot in less than half an hour from any of the hotels in the city center. The tourist circuit usually includes Reunification Hall (formerly the presidential palace before the 1975 fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese), the Rex Hotel (frequented by American soldiers prior to "liberation"), the historical museum, the central market, Cholon (Chinatown), the war remnants museum (housed in the building formerly occupied by the U. S. Information Service), and one or more of the city's 200 pagodas.

At Cu Chi, 70 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, there is a network of more than 200 km of man-made tunnels which once allowed the Viet Cong to wage war on Saigon. This is a popular half-day excursion. These fascinating passages, enlarged in places after the Vietnam War to accommodate the larger bodies of foreign tourists, contained underground hospitals, kitchens, sleeping and living quarters and arms storage centers.

Hanoi, the charming and laid-back capital city with its tree-lined boulevards, elegant squares, old colonial-era buildings, lakes, and parks, was built on the Red River about 100 km inland from the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. Tourist highlights include the Temple of Literature (founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucious), the old, so-called French Quarter in central Hanoi with its maze of narrow alleys, Hoa Lo Prison (also known as the "Hanoi Hilton" which once housed U. S. prisoners of war, including U. S. Senator John McCain), Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and museum (including his modest house and the former presidential palace in which he refused to live), and national museums for history and the arts.

Danang, Hue and Hoi An are clustered in the central region of Vietnam. It is logical to break one's air journey at Danang when flying between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Danang, a major seaport and Vietnam's fourth largest city, is known for Marble Mountain, China Beach and the Cham Museum. Marble Mountain is the collective name by which five nearby limestone crags with marble outcrops are known. China Beach, 1 km from Marble Mountain and but one of Vietnam's many fine white sandy beaches, was a popular American R & R destination during the Vietnam War. The Cham Museum, constructed in Danang by the French in 1916, contains art and architecture from the Cham Dynasty of the second century A. D.

Hue, Vietnam's capital between 1802 and 1945, is located on the Perfume River some 108 km north of Danang and 100 km south of the Seventeenth Parallel which once separated North Vietnam from South Vietnam. Although invaded by the French and the Japanese and then later bombed by the U. S. in 1968, many tombs and other historical monuments still remain in and around the former Imperial City.

Historic Hoi An, 32 km south of Danang, has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. This small and intimate town can be explored easily on foot. Originally settled by Chinese and Japanese merchants in the sixteenth century, Portuguese and Dutch ships also called there. However, by the end of the nineteenth century Danang finally eclipsed Hoi An in importance as the river which runs through Hoi An began to silt up. The Japanese covered bridge, dating to the sixteenth century, is Hoi An's most-photographed monument.

For those with additional time, the Central Highlands will also beckon. This lush area offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Vietnam. The French used this region as a hill station due to its favorable climate with warm days and cool nights. Interestingly, this region is home to as many as 35 of only 50 or so ethnic groups that exist in all of Vietnam .

Finally, those lucky enough to visit Vietnam via ship (and those willing to undertake a long day trip from Hanoi) are likely to encounter the scenic turquoise waters of Halong Bay near the port of Haiphong in the North. Over 3,000 limestone islets dot the bay. Some islets have miniscule beaches and some have spectacular caves and grottoes. Most islets are covered with lush vegetation. It has been said that Halong Bay, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, is the most beautiful location in all of Vietnam .

PRACTICALITIES:

In Cairo the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will only issue 14-day single-entry tourist visas. Tourists requiring a longer period of stay must request an extension after arrival in Vietnam.

Another important concern is that Vietnam tourist visas are issued in Cairo strictly no more than 15 days prior to entry into Vietnam . Because of this restriction, travelers planning multi-country itineraries may be forced to spend time in Vietnam prior to touring other countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, travelers should give consideration to combining a visit to Thailand and/or Angkor Wat in Cambodia with their trip to Vietnam. Air routings to Vietnam typically include Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is between December and April. This is the dry season, although there is still occasional rain even then. April is the hottest and most humid month. The wet season runs from May to November, with the wettest period lasting from June to September.

The best time to visit Hanoi is during the dry season between late September and December or else in March and April. January and February are cool and drizzly. May to September is the rainy season when the heat can be oppressive.

The best time to visit the Central Highlands is from December to February, and the very best time to visit Danang and Hue on the coast is in April. Danang and Hue are deluged by the southwest monsoon in October while the northeast monsoon affects the central coast from December to February.


Ted Cookson

Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt

8 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Sovereign Military Order of Malta Visit: 2007-6
2007-07-01 - HOW TO GET TO THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY ORDER OF MALTA:

The post office of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), which may be the only part of this institution open to the public, is situated at 68 Via Bocca di Leone in downtown Rome. This is only a short walk from the Spanish Steps, near which is the "Piazza di Spagna" Line A metro (subway) stop. Via Bocca di Leone is a short pedestrian street, only about three blocks long, off Via Condotti which originates near the Spanish Steps. Note that the building numbers on Via Bocca di Leone run up one side of the street and then continue back down the other side of the same street! The SMOM post office is less than one block from Via Condotti. When walking from Via Condotti to the post office, the latter will be on your right. The telephone is +39.06.67581.211 and the fax is +39.06.6783934. The e-mail address is postemagistrali@orderofmalta.org. The following Rome buses come near Via Bocca di Leone: 52, 53, 61, 71, 80, 85, 119. 160 and 850.


MY VISIT TO THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY ORDER OF MALTA:

I visited the post office of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta on 1 June 2007. The post office is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Postage stamps may be purchased at the SMOM post office and letters may be mailed. However, bring your own envelopes as no postal stationery is sold there.

There is one other important matter of which to be aware. Because the SMOM is not a member of the Universal Postal Union, at the SMOM post office it is only possible to mail envelopes to those (30-odd?) countries which have bilateral postal conventions with the SMOM post office. Italy and Canada both recognize the SMOM post office, for instance, whereas the U. S. does not! Therefore one cannot post a letter to the U. S. using only SMOM stamps.

Refer to http://www.orderofmalta.org/contatto.asp?idlingua=5 and http://www.herrickstamp.com/View_story.cfm?file=Groves+May.htm for additional information.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 June 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




St. Helena Visit: 2006-11
2009-12-30 - HO TO GET TO ST. HELENA ISLAND:

The long-discussed new airport on St. Helena is not likely to be operational before 2012, and cruise ships call at the island only occasionally. The only regular transportation to St. Helena is via the 129-passenger RMS St. Helena operated by Andrew Weir Shipping. One may fly from the U. K. to Ascension Island and then sail on the RMS St. Helena from Ascension to St. Helena, or one may cruise to St. Helena from: Cape Town, South Africa; Luderitz, Namibia (occasionally); Walvis Bay, Namibia; Portland, England; or Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. RMS St. Helena schedule and pricing details are available at www.rms-st-helena.com. Weekly air service to Ascension Island is provided on Royal Air Force aircraft from Brize Norton Airbase in Oxfordshire and also from Mt. Pleasant in the Falkland Islands. In March 2007 round trip individual adult airfare from the U. K. to Ascension began at sterling 1,009. See www.ascension-flights.com for further details.


MY VISIT TO ST. HELENA ISLAND:

"St. Helena Sightseeing and a Surprise," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in December 2006

With Captain Christopher Turner at the helm, Holland America Line's elegant MS Prinsendam slowly approached the anchorage in James Bay off the north coast of the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic on the morning of 14 November 2006 after a 66-hour crossing from Luderitz, Namibia. As it eased to a stop and dropped anchor, the 38,000-ton Prinsendam passed the much smaller, 6,700-ton RMS St. Helena, which already lay at anchor closer to shore. The royal mail ship is the only vessel which regularly links the British overseas territories of St. Helena and Ascension with Walvis Bay, Namibia and Cape Town.

Discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova and briefly occupied twice by the Dutch during the seventeenth century, St. Helena has been in English possession continuously since 1673. At that time the English East India Company used the island as a stop on the voyage to India via the Cape of Good Hope. In 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte was brought to St. Helena and detained there until his death in 1821. The island was also used for the detention of some 5,000 Boer prisoners during the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902. The economy of St. Helena prospered when the island was used as a port of call for ships plying the route to India and the Cape Colonies. However, the construction of the Suez Canal reduced the frequency of such long sea voyages. Since World War II the prosperity of the island has continued to decrease. However, there are now plans afoot to build an airport on St. Helena in order to help boost the island's economy. Currently it is hoped that the new airport will open by 2012.

At 10 a.m. the Prinsendam, Holland America's oldest (built in 1988) and smallest (793 passengers) liner, commenced tender operations from the ship to the Jamestown wharf. Our touring party that day consisted of a dozen Americans. Most members of our group had embarked in Lisbon on 17 October for the entire 46-day "Taste of Two Continents" cruise to Ft. Lauderdale via Cape Town. Prior to St. Helena the Prinsendam had called at a dozen ports in ten African countries from Morocco to South Africa.

After stepping ashore at the Jamestown pier our party was met by Tracey Corker. Tracey and her amiable father Colin operate Corkers Tourist Services. Colin's father had imported one of the first vehicles into St. Helena in the early 1930s. That 1929 Chevrolet Charrabanc, an open touring car which had been manufactured for export in the U. S. with right-hand drive, is still in good running order today; and it can hold up to 16 passengers. Our party had pre-arranged a full-day island tour in Colin's unique green car which is well known on the island. Colin's father had installed a convertible cover for use in rainy weather. The occasional heavy mist we experienced in the uplands that day, said to be unusual for St. Helena in late spring, made use of the convertible cover necessary for awhile.

Our St. Helena sightseeing tour began with a group photo in the Chevy Charrabanc on Main Street in Jamestown. Then, with Colin at the wheel, we proceeded to drive up Side Path, the steep single-lane switchback road carved into the eastern side of the narrow ravine in which Jamestown is located. Colin kept the throttle in low gear for the entire uphill climb as the road rises nearly 600 meters (2,000 feet) in only about 3 km (2 miles).

Our first lengthy stop was made about half an hour later near Napoleon's fenced but inscriptionless tomb. After a 10-minute walk down a wide path we reached the spot at the head of Sane Valley where Napoleon had originally been interred at his death in 1821 after six years in residence on the island. Napoleon's remains were removed to Paris in 1840. I found that the tomb site had been much improved since my first visit to St. Helena in March 2001. Whereas previously a simple grassy area had surrounded the tomb, now there is a well-manicured garden off to one side. The French tricolor continues to fly from a short flagpole near the guard's kiosk. This spot and Longwood House, our next stop, were ceded to France in 1858.

The grounds of Longwood House, Napoleon's residence on St. Helena, were as beautiful as ever. Napoleon's sunken garden pathways, on which he could stroll without being seen from afar, remain in evidence. However, I found that Longwood House had been changed in one important respect since my last visit. While the entrance on the east side of the building is unchanged, the exit is no longer through the long green trellis on the same side. Now visitors can only leave via a gift shop on the north side of the house. The gift shop, which bears the sign of Hutt's Gate Store on the wall behind the counter, offers every sort of Napoleon-related souvenir imaginable, from T-shirts to fridge magnets. But, since Longwood House still has no entrance fee, one can hardly complain. Non-flash photography is allowed in the house but video photography is not.

From Longwood House we returned back to the island's circular road. En route we passed Hutt's Gate Store. Once an inn frequented by Napoleon's guards, Colin mentioned that currently the store is up for auction.

The interior one-third of St. Helena is foliated and resembles England. Southeast trade winds carry mists which shroud the highest slopes and help create lush uplands. During our tour around the island Colin pointed out a couple of disused flax mills. The flax industry was established on St. Helena in the early years of the twentieth century. New Zealand flax, said to grow best on St. Helena's highest ground, was baled and exported to England and South Africa where it was made into hemp. However, the flax industry collapsed in the mid-1960s when the British General Post Office began to employ nylon rather than hemp manufactured from St. Helena-grown flax.

As the afternoon wore on, our party paused en route at the Solomon & Co. shop at Silver Hill for some refreshments of candy and cookies. Fifteen minutes later we passed Sandy Bay, which forms part of a large sunken crater. Unfortunately foggy conditions made it difficult to discern Lot and Lot's Wife, two giant basalt pillars which jut up from the lunar landscape in the south of the island. The beautiful vistas of the blue sea beyond the island's arid coast were also obscured by the fog and mist. During our tour Colin pointed out three new senior citizens' residences which have been constructed by the government in recent years at various places around the island.

Later we passed St. Paul's Cathedral. St. Helena is a bishopric in the province of the Church of South Africa, and most of St. Helena's remaining inhabitants are Anglican. Since winning the right of abode in the United Kingdom the island's population has shrunk somewhat. Colin thought that the current population is probably in the range of 3,500 whereas St. Helena's population had been as high as 6,000 in the past.

Our next stop was at Plantation House, the home of St. Helena 's governors since 1792. While it is thought that several other houses preceded the current house, the locations of these earlier houses are unknown. The first such governor's house may have been built of wood as early as 1673. The present site of Plantation House was provided by the East India Company.

Plantation House's Georgian facade faces onto a wide fenced lawn which is home to at least five giant tortoises ranging in weight from 55 kg. (121 pounds) to approximately 200 kg. (440 pounds). We photographed Jonathan, the Seychelles tortoise who was brought to St. Helena as a mature adult in 1882. Based on the assumption that a tortoise is mature when it is about 50 years of age, Jonathan's current age has been estimated at approximately 174. Jonathan is said to be the oldest known member of his species, Testudinipae cytodira . Jonathan lives on the grounds along with David, Emma, Fredricka andMyrtle. These other four giant tortoises have joined Jonathan on the lawn of Plantation House only since the late 1960s. While occasionally eggs are laid by the female tortoises, none has ever produced offspring.

From Plantation House we drove down to the Jamestown suburb long known at Half Tree Hollow. Colin mentioned that nowadays locals most often refer to this area as Three Tanks after the three red water tanks currently in use there. From that point we continued down to Ladder Hill in order to photograph Jamestown far below. Jacob's Ladder, with 699 almost-vertical steps, is said to be the longest staircase in the world. It was built by the Royal Engineers in 1829 to link Jamestown with High Knoll Fort, situated on the cliff above.

Our party's island tour concluded in front of the post office on Main Street in Jamestown; and it was there and then that I had long planned a special surprise for Barbara Stein, my significant other of nine years. Barbara and I have considered ourselves a couple almost since we met when we sat next to each other on a bus during a travel agents' tour of Iran in 1997. As avid and frequent travelers to exotic places, Barbara and I have often joked privately of marrying at the South Pole. But we both knew that in reality only a winning lottery ticket ever would have made that possible. We also knew that, because a wedding far from the U. S. would make it difficult for friends and family to attend, South Florida is the most logical place for the wedding itself.

During the spring of 2006 it occurred to me that the only way to add an exotic geographical component to our marriage would be for me to propose to Barbara at some distant locale. Since our Holland America Lisbon-to-Ft. Lauderdale cruise via Cape Town had been anticipated since mid-2005, I determined to propose to Barbara on November 14 on the steps of the main post office in Jamestown. Because I wanted to surprise her, I told Barbara nothing about the engagement ring I had made for her in Cairo in the summer of 2006. However, I did inform our friends who were to tour with us in St . Helena. Unbeknownst to me, they proceeded to purchase and then sneak two bottles of champagne, plastic cups, and confetti along on the tour that day.

At the end of our island tour I assembled our party of 12 for a group photo on the steps of the Jamestown post office. Afterward I employed the ruse of asking Barbara to pose with me for a separate photo in order to separate her from the rest of the group. It was then that I got down on my knee on the step of the post office and slipped an alexandrite engagement ring onto her finger, asking if she would marry me in November 2007. Uncharacteristically, a flabbergasted Barbara appeared to find herself at a complete loss for words. However, she soon gave me a positive response; and then bubbly was poured for all. As it was late in the day and there were no customers, even the three ladies working in the main post office, all of whom had been watching from behind the counter inside, joined us in celebrating!

Before leaving the premises I posted a couple of dozen postcards at the post office. I was told that my cards would be carried on the RMS St. Helena , which was scheduled to depart on 15 November for Cape Town. A notice outside the post office cautioned that 14 November was the deadline for posting surface mail to the U. K. before Christmas.

For the convenience of cruise passengers, on 16 November the St. Helena Development Agency sponsored a trade fair. Over a dozen vendors set up stands in the small park between the moat and the side of the Castle, just to the east of the Archway at the entrance to Jamestown. Items offered for sale included the following: locally-produced Tungi wine; locally-grown coffee; canned tuna fish from the St. Helena Cannery; embroidery and crocheted articles; tea towels; shoulder bags; shopping bags; aprons; T-shirts; caps; mugs; calendars; cookbooks; jams; pressed flower pictures; woodcraft items; post cards; a DVD about the island; and a CD by a local artist.

After our eight-hour call at St. Helena the Prinsendam continued on to Ascension Island and four Brazilian ports plus Barbados and the Bahamas before finishing the cruise in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Unfortunately on 16 November a heavy swell and strong winds made tendering into Georgetown too dangerous. So instead Captain Turner elected to circumnavigate Ascension before MS Prinsendam proceeded on the 73-hour passage to Fortaleza, Brazil.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com





St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks Visit: 2005-3
2009-12-30 - "A Cruise to Some Little-Known Brazilian Islands: Fernando de Noronha and St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks,"
written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in May 2005

St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, Brazilian equatorial islands, 33-second video clip
Masked booby flying in the South Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, 120-second video clip


In March 2005 I sailed on the 382-passenger Silversea cruise ship MV Silver Shadow from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Lisbon, Portugal. In the Western Hemisphere my cruise ship was to call at the ports of Salvador and Natal in northeastern Brazil as well as the small Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, which lies at latitude 3.85 S. and longitude 32.42 W., some 214 miles (345 km) off the coast of Brazil. In the Eastern Hemisphere my repositioning cruise was also to include calls at the following ports: Dakar, Senegal; Tenerife, Canary Islands; and Funchal, Madeira.

For the first six days the Silver Shadow kept to the published cruise itinerary. But on March 13 at 7 a.m. when the ship arrived at Fernando de Noronha we encountered a six-foot (two-meter) northeasterly swell.

The smaller Hapag-Lloyd cruise ship MV Bremen, which had been lying at anchor off Fernando de Noronha since the previous day, was able to disembark its passengers onto the island on the morning of March 13 via the fleet of inflatable Zodiacs which it carries on board.

Unfortunately, however, the six-foot (two-meter) swell was sufficient to prevent Silver Shadow passengers from disembarking safely into the ship's tenders or onto a trawler. Many of the ship's 284 passengers (the vessel was only three-quarters full) had signed up for three-hour "Archipelago by Trawler" excursions that were to have included an opportunity for swimming. These tours had to be cancelled.

Rather than commencing disembarkation procedures, the Silver Shadow instead made a two-hour counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island. Captain Emanuele Chiesa also announced that, in consolation, he would deviate from the planned transatlantic route in order to view the seldom-visited mid-Atlantic rocks of St. Peter and St. Paul at about 9 a.m. on the morning of March 14.

Of course most passengers were disappointed not to be able to set foot on Fernando de Noronha. However, I had already flown to Fernando de Noronha in February 2001 prior to a previous cruise I had taken on MV Silver Shadow from Rio de Janeiro on Cape Town via Ascension and St. Helena in March 2001. So I was not as disturbed as were the other passengers; and, in fact, I welcomed the opportunity to trade a second visit to Fernando de Noronha for a chance to sail by and photograph St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks.

Originally called Ilha da Quaresma, or Lent Island, Fernando de Noronha was probably first sighted by the Portuguese expedition to Brazil led by Fernao de Loronha in 1501-1502. However, as Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled to Brazil with a Portuguese expedition in 1503, was the first person to describe the archipelago, he is often credited with its discovery.

Between 1534 and 1737 Fernando de Noronha changed hands between the English, French, Dutch and Portuguese a number of times. Finally in about 1770 Vila dos Remedios, the first permanent Portuguese settlement, was established. Brazil's independence in the nineteenth century had little impact on the archipelago. In the first half of the twentieth century the English, the French and the Italians all had some involvement with the island in connection with transatlantic cable communications. The island also served as a prison for many years.

The U. S. built an airfield on Fernando de Noronha during World War II. This was one of a chain of airfields which stretched from Florida all the way to Egypt via South America and Central Africa. Aircraft were flown from the U. S. to North Africa by this circuitous route in order to support the Allied war effort. U. S. troops remained on the island from 1942 to 1945. Later, NASA maintained a missile tracking station there from 1957 to 1962.

Of the 21 islands in the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, only the main island is inhabited. The total land area of the archipelago is 10 square miles (26 square km); and the highest peak, Morro do Pico, reaches 1,053 feet (321 meters). There is a permanent population of about 1,300. The few historical sites of interest to the tourist include a Portuguese-built fort and a church in the hamlet of Vila dos Remedios. Nowadays there is daily air service to Fernando de Noronha (airport code FEN) from Recife, Brazil via Boeing 737 jet.

During the five centuries since its discovery, some 95% of Fernando de Noronha's native vegetation and trees was destroyed. The marine national park which was declared in 1989 set aside about 70% of the archipelago as a sanctuary. Today Fernando de Noronha is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to the existence of the marine national park, cruise ships such as Silver Shadow now can only lie at anchor off the northwest coast of the island.

No more than 480 tourists are allowed on the island at any one time. An environmental preservation tax is imposed on island visitors by the state government. Interestingly, this tax escalates the longer one remains on the island!

With an average annual water temperature of 75 F. (24 C.) and underwater visibility of up to 131 feet (40 meters), diving has become Fernando de Noronha's primary tourist attraction. The archipelago boasts white sandy beaches lapped by waters untainted by silt from Brazilian rivers. There are 230 species of fish and 15 varieties of coral in the archipelago. Dolphins, stingrays, whales, five types of sharks and two species of marine tortoise all inhabit the archipelago.

Twenty-four species of marine birds are also to be found. I was captivated by the scores of masked boobies (Sula dactylatra) which followed the Silver Shadow on March 13 as the ship circumnavigated and then sailed away from Fernando de Noronha.

The family Sulidae contains nine species of boobies and gannets. Both boobies and gannets are conspicuous at sea due to their large size, high flight and spectacular diving habits. Both boobies and gannets have long pointed bills, webbed feet and pointed wings. Although resembling a gannet superficially, the masked booby's head is completely white and the coloration resembles a black face mask. In addition, the masked booby is broader than the gannet, and there is a more extensive trailing edge to the wings of the former.

Early mariners, who found that boobies exhibited no fear of humans, killed them easily for food. Because these birds appeared tame, they were called boobies after the Spanish word bobo which means "stupid."

With a length of 34 inches (86 cm) and a width of 60 inches (152 cm), the masked booby is the largest and heaviest of the boobies. According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region by John Bull and John Farrand, Jr., published in New York in 1994 by Alfred A. Knopf, the masked booby is "a stocky white seabird with a black tail, black tips and trailing edges to the wings." It bears a pinkish or orange bill; and during the breeding season the booby exhibits a patch of bare, bluish skin at the base of the bill.

Preferring deep water for fishing, the booby executes near-vertical plunge-dives in search of flying fish and/or squid. In fact, boobies are seldom found in regions where flying fish and squid are not plentiful. I found that a booby would often let out a squawk similar to that of a duck prior to plunging deep into the Atlantic as if it were a vertical torpedo. Other boobies, upon hearing the squawking, would plunge into the ocean nearby. Peter Harrison in Seabirds of the World A Photographic Guide, published in London in 1996 by Christopher Helm Ltd., mentions that the masked booby, which is pantropical, is a colonial breeder on islands, including the south Atlantic islands of Fernando de Noronha and Ascension Island where it normally lays two chalky, pale blue eggs in a shallow depression.

The Field Guide to the Birds of North America, third edition, published in Washington, DC in 1999 by the National Geographic Society, points out that the masked booby breeds as far north as Florida's Dry Tortugas. This booby is also sighted rarely in the Gulf Stream as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The bird is seen only occasionally in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer. The masked booby is loosely gregarious at sea but is said not to follow ships usually. In fact, the many masked boobies which accompanied us on March 13 were no longer in evidence the following day.

At 9 a.m. on March 14 the Silver Shadow arrived one mile (1.6 km) off St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, which lie at latitude 0.93 N. and longitude 29.35 W., more than 496 miles (800 km) off the coast of Brazil. These equatorial Brazilian islands, composed of mylonitic peridotite, are of volcanic origin. The island group, some 820 feet (250 meters) wide and with a maximum height of 64 feet (19.5 meters), is the peak of a submarine mountain which extends 13,123 feet (4,000 meters) down to the sea bed below.

St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks are of interest primarily because they are so far offshore in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. These isolated islands represent one of the very few places where a mid-oceanic ridge attains a height which is above sea level. In effect, these mid-Atlantic rocks serve as an oasis for marine life within an otherwise deep water environment.

There is no source of fresh water on the rocks other than rain, and the islands themselves are devoid of vegetation with the exception of two types of algae. But the marine flora and fauna provide a significant food source for the seabirds which reside and breed there. A 1971 biological survey by Smith et al.* showed that the brown booby (Sula leucogaster), the brown noddy (Anous stolidus) and the black noddy (Anous minutus) all breed on these rocks and that these birds' eggs are sometimes eaten by crabs (Grapsus grapsus), which occur there in large numbers. Incidentally, all three of these birds are also said to breed on Ascension Island.

While it appears that scientists, amateur radio enthusiasts and Brazilian military personnel may have been the only visitors to St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks in recent years, interestingly, these isolated islands were also visited by Charles Darwin in HMS Beagle in 1860 and by H. N. Moseley in HMS Challenger in 1879. Both naturalists reported seeing vast numbers of sea birds during those nineteenth century calls. However, multitudes of sea birds are no longer in evidence today. This may be due to human interference on the islands. A lighthouse, a radio tower, a house and a shed have been constructed on one of the islands. There is also a wooden stairway running down to a small dock area.

The decline in bird life may also be due to extensive fishing in the area by boats from Brazil. During my short visit I spotted three fishing boats working off these rocks. Captain Chiese of the Silver Shadow remarked that he was surprised to see such small fishing boats operating so far from the continent of South America.

* Additional internet reference used in preparation of this article:
www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt1318_full.html




Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com





Tanzania (Mainland) Visit: 1985-1
2009-12-30 - Tanzania: A Unique Safari Destination," written for the expatriate community in Cairo , Egypt by Ted Cookson in October 2005

East Africa is popular among safari enthusiasts from Egypt. While Kenya might be one of the first safari destinations which comes to mind for many, there are good reasons why consideration should also be given to neighboring Tanzania .


WHY TAKE A SAFARI IN
NORTHERN TANZANIA RATHER THAN IN KENYA ?

Tanzania , with a less-developed tourist infrastructure than Kenya , boasts fewer tourists than does Kenya. In addition, due to the wildlife migration in the Serengeti, from October through early July there is more game in Serengeti National Park , Tanzania 's share of the Serengeti Plain , than there is in Masai Mara National Park , which is the northern tip of the Serengeti lying in Kenya .

While the game species to be seen in northern
Tanzania and southern Kenya are similar, there is one overwhelming reason for choosing Tanzania for one's safari; and that is Ngorongoro Crater, which is unique in having a captive wildlife population year-round. The remnant of a collapsed volcano which may have rivaled Kilimanjaro in height, the crater is between 16 km and 19 km wide and has an area of 265 square km. The rim of Ngorongoro Crater lies 610 meters above the crater floor. Some 30,000 animals live in the crater, including lion, elephant, buffalo, Thompson's gazelle, wildebeest and zebra. The best seasons for visiting Ngorongoro Crater are December-February and June-July.

The other popular game reserves on northern
Tanzania 's safari circuit are Serengeti National Park , Lake Manyara and, to a lesser extent, Tarangire National Park .

Serengeti, established in 1951, is the second largest (after Selou) but most famous of
Tanzania 's national parks. Serengeti is best known for the annual migration which occurs across its plains. This phenomenon involves many thousands of game animals.

The major attraction of
Lake Manyara , established in 1960 and lying in the Great Rift Valley , is its lions which sleep in the trees! While not everyone is lucky enough to witness this, Manyara is rich enough in elephants, hippos, plains game and bird life that no tourist is likely to go away complaining.

The best time to visit the much less-touristed Tarangire, established in 1970, is during the dry season from July to September. During that time the game is heavily concentrated along the river for which the park is named.


WHY TAKE A SAFARI IN
KENYA RATHER THAN IN NORTHERN TANZANIA ?

If a safari will fall in the period from late July until October, then the best game viewing experience is quite likely to be in
Kenya 's Masai Mara National Park where the wildebeest migration is then massed.

Those taking a safari in
Kenya or in northern Tanzania generally fly from Cairo directly to Nairobi 's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport . There is an inexpensive shuttle bus service which carries passengers daily from downtown Nairobi to Arusha , Tanzania . The shuttle bus takes about five hours each way. It is from Arusha that safaris in northern Tanzania actually begin. If a safari is taken in Kenya rather than in Tanzania , some ten hours of shuttle bus riding can be avoided.

Although Ethiopian Airlines flies from
Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport , about an hour west of Arusha, air schedules usually necessitate an overnight in Addis Ababa . For travelers who would like to spend a day or so in the Ethiopian capital, this might have some appeal. But for those who just want to get to their Tanzania safari as efficiently as possible, a Kenya Airways or Egypt Air flight to Nairobi will be the first choice, followed by the five-hour shuttle ride from Nairobi to Arusha.

The quality of the asphalt surfacing on
Kenya 's road network deteriorates rapidly the farther away from Nairobi one travels; and in general Kenya 's roads are not that great. However, the roads in Tanzania are even worse. Since the mid-1990s the quality of northern Tanzania 's road network, which was not as good as Kenya 's to begin with, has deteriorated even further. Now it is recommended that those who can afford it drive the northern Tanzania safari circuit one way only (from Arusha via Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti) and then fly back from Serengeti to Arusha. From there they can take the shuttle bus back to Nairobi .


SIMILARITIES BETWEEN
NORTHERN TANZANIA AND KENYA

Northern Tanzania and Kenya share the same climate, with a monsoon season from mid-March through mid-June and also a short rainy season which typically falls in late November and early December.

Northern Tanzania and Kenya also share the same culture, with cattle-tending Masai tribes living in villages scattered along both sides of the border.

Those travelers who elect to combine a visit to the beach with their safari may do so whether they take their safari in northern
Tanzania or in Kenya . The Kenya beach resorts of Mombasa , Malindi and Lamu can be reached by air from Nairobi ; and the Tanzania beach resort of Zanzibar with its pristine white sandy beaches, spice fields, and famed Islamic stone architecture in its city core can be accessed via direct flights either from Arusha or from Nairobi .

Similarly, those who elect to combine a climb of 5,895-meter-high
Mt. Kilimanjaro with their safari may elect to do their game viewing in either northern Tanzania or in Kenya .


PRACTICALITIES

The cheapest current round trip airfares from
Cairo to Nairobi are approximately EGP 3,400 on Kenya Airways and approximately EGP 3,000 on Egypt Air. Kenya Airways flies daily to Nairobi versus only three times a week for Egypt Air. Because Kenya Airways offers more convenient flight times, travelers can avoid spending a final night in Nairobi . The net result is that Kenya Airways is usually preferred.

Many people wonder how much
Tanzania safaris cost. Inexpensive 5-night/6-day private Tanzania camping safari land packages typically run from USD 595 per person when six people share a safari van up to USD 925 per person when only two people share the van. 5-night/6-day group Tanzania lodge-based safari land packages typically run from USD 1,335 to USD 1,500 per person, depending on the month of travel. 6-night/7-day climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro typically run from USD 865 per person when there are six people in the climbing group up to USD 950 per person when there are only two people in the group.

Other important considerations for a
Tanzania safari include tourist visas for both Kenya and Tanzania . Travelers' yellow fever vaccinations must be up-to-date in order to re-enter Egypt after returning from East Africa , and a malaria prophylactic should be begun one week prior to the safari. Visit the U. S. Centers for Disease Control web site, www.cdc.gov/travel, for full details on health requirements.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
5 January 2008
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Tristan da Cunha Visit: 2004-1
2009-12-30 - "A Cruise to Tristan da Cunha Island in the South Atlantic 15-28 January 2004 via the RMS St. Helena" written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2004.

PART ONE:

The British island of Tristan da Cunha ("TDC"), 1,750 miles (2,816 km) southwest of Cape Town and 1,450 miles (2,333 km) southwest of St. Helena Island, is the most remote inhabited island in the world. Roughly midway between Cape Town and Montevideo and situated just east of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, TDC rises spectacularly some 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) from the seabed; and its peak, snow-covered during the Southern Hemisphere winter, lies 6,760 feet (2,060 meters) above sea level.

Discovered by the Portuguese admiral Tristao da Cunha in 1506, TDC has been inhabited almost continuously since 1810 due to the activities of sealers who operated in the South Atlantic during the nineteenth century. A small British garrison was also placed on the island during the early years of Napoleon?s captivity on ?nearby? St. Helena.

The correct pronunciation of the Portuguese admiral's name is "tristan da koon'yah." However, the modern-day inhabitants pronounce the name of their island "tristan da koo'nah."

I have been fascinated by the geography and history of remote TDC since
I began collecting stamps as a young teenager in the early 1960?s. In 1999 I joined the St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society. But it was my passion to complete the list of 317 world destinations compiled by the 1,500-member Travelers' Century Club of Los Angeles which recently drove me to take a 13-day cruise round trip from Cape Town to TDC on a luxury cargo vessel, the Royal Mail Ship St. Helena (?RMS?).

Launched in 1989 by HRH The Prince Andrew, the RMS was the first vessel to be purpose-built for the shipping service to U. K.?s South Atlantic islands of St. Helena, Ascension and TDC. In addition, it was the first passenger ship to be constructed in Britain since the QE2 had been built two decades earlier.

As we sailed out of Cape Town Harbor, the view from the deck of the RMS was stunning. Cape Town, with dramatic Table Mountain behind, is the most beautiful port in the world. Half way to Cape Point, the RMS turned abruptly and headed toward TDC which lay about 1,748 miles (2,812 km) to the west.

TDC, a dependency of St. Helena, is administered by the governor of that island, to whom a permanent administrator on TDC reports. The current governor, H. E. David Hollamby, was also on board the RMS for its final round trip sailing to TDC. Although the RMS has a capacity of 128 passengers, only 57 were on board for this cruise, along with 56 crew members. And the RMS was carrying only 38 metric tons of cargo to TDC even though the ship has a cargo capacity of 2,030 metric tons. Sadly, Governor Hollamby said that it had become impossible to justify the expense of the annual RMS voyage to TDC when usage was so low.

Due to rain and clouds on the morning of 21 January, TDC could not be seen until the RMS was only about two miles (3 km) away! Africa Pilot, published by the U. K. Hydrographic Office, says that TDC, at 37 degrees, 7 minutes S., 12 degrees 18 minutes W., is a "truncated cone about 6 miles in diameter with its sides rising at an angle of about 45 degrees to a central peak 2,060 meters in height. The sides of the island consist of walls of inaccessible cliffs from 300 meters to 610 meters in height which rise, except on its northwest side, directly from the sea. On this side there is, in front of the cliffs, a comparatively low grassy slope from 30 meters to 60 meters high which terminates in Herald Point, the northwest extremity of the island. The sides of the mountain mass as far as the central dome are covered with brushwood intermixed with ferns and long grass. But above 1500 meters, coinciding with the normal upper level of clouds, the mountains consist of loose stones and volcanic rubble with occasional rocks and boulders."

The RMS dropped anchor off Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, TDC's only settlement. Formerly called Somerset, Edinburgh had been renamed after the 1867 visit of HRH The Prince Albert, second son of Queen Victoria. Interestingly, the current Duke of Edinburgh, HRH The Prince Philip, also visited TDC. The population of Edinburgh is 285.

Upon our arrival, some of the crew began fishing off the poop deck for yellowfish and five fingers using hooks and lines with bait; and it seemed as if they were pulling in one fish after the next. As soon as one fish was snagged, hauled in and placed in a plastic sack, each fisherman re-baited and awaited the next bite, which didn't take long. The waters off TDC are simply teeming with fish.

The first boat out to the RMS carried the administrator, the island?s only policeman and three immigration officials who sat at a table in the main lounge where passengers who wished to go ashore paid a Sterling 15 (USD 28) landing fee. Passports were stamped using a rubber stamp with a design showing a yellow-nosed albatross (known locally as a "mollymauk"), the silhouette of the island and the British crown along with the words, "Tristan da Cunha - South Atlantic."

Governor Hollamby's official party was in the first boat to go ashore. I was in the first of two other passenger boats after that. The use of a rope ladder and safety harness off the RMS in a heavy swell made it very slow going. Passengers had been warned how dangerous it can be to disembark and embark using the rope ladder as one?s foot can be crushed between the RMS and one of the small boats. During the past 20 years no passenger injuries had ever resulted from the use of a rope ladder on the RMS at TDC. But in 2003 one crew member did break his foot.

Edinburgh's shallow Calshot Harbor was named after the former Royal Air Force station near Southampton where the Tristanians had lived for about a year following their evacuation after a volcanic eruption on TDC in 1961. Calshot Harbor's two jetties had been sturdily constructed of double-ended anchor-shaped concrete blocks.

Removing the life vest I had worn ashore in the boat, I walked up the paved road to the often-photographed sign which reads, "Welcome to the Remotest Island - Tristan da Cunha - South Atlantic." Adjacent to that sign is a marker which points the direction and mileage to various points around the globe: Nightingale Island is 22 miles (35 km) away, the Falkland Islands are 2,166 miles (3,485 km) away and London is 5,337 miles (8,587 km) away.

After visiting the post office, I walked to the three-room museum and handicraft center. The museum featured a copy of the flag of Jonathan Lambert, an American who had declared himself emperor of the "Islands of Refreshment" (TDC) in 1811. The ensign of the Duke of Edinburgh, which last flew at TDC during the January 1957 royal visit of HRH The Prince Philip, was also displayed. In addition, a cannon ball and various old rusted implements were shown. In another room unique TDC wingless moths were displayed as were various geological specimens, a TDC crayfish (fishing for crayfish, or rock lobster, is the mainstay of the economy) and even the head of a rare Tasman whale which had once beached in the TDC Archipelago. In that same room was a photocopy obtained from the British Museum of TDC's original constitution which dated back to 1817.

Then I went by the Rectory to the Residency, where the administrator resides. There a vintage cannon rests on the well-manicured lawn near the flagpole from which the Union Jack flies.

Behind the Residency is a 9-hole golf course. Apparently a spare set of golf clubs at the Residency can be borrowed, and a certificate is issued to those who have played the course. Blue TDC Golf Club ties were also sold as souvenirs on the island.

As I walked up the paved lane along the side of the Residency, I noticed a number of canvas sailboats which had been tied down there with ropes in order to prevent their being blown about by strong winds.

My next stop was Prince Philip Hall, the community center. The roof of this building was blown off during a hurricane which struck Edinburgh in May 2001. Currently the school hall nearby is used for community gatherings.

I walked through the paved lanes of the settlement past many small houses with lovely flowers in their gardens. The most prominent of the flowers were the hydrangeas. Strolling along, I was struck by the large number of automobiles parked in the driveways. Most vehicles seemed to have 4-wheel drive capability, but I did notice one small sedan car too. Painted bright red, it seemed a bit out of place. There was also a farm tractor with a flatbed trailer in Edinburgh.

Then I crossed a small stream and struck out across a daisy-filled cow pasture toward the lava cone formed by the eruption which began in October 1961. After climbing over a low lava rock wall and skirting a few inquisitive cows grazing in the fields, I hiked up along the grassy ravine adjacent to the volcanic cone, following some well-trodden cow paths. About half way up I turned and took a photograph over the settlement.

From my high vantage point I could also see Edinburgh's small water reservoir to my left at the base of the steep cliffs. The water drunk on TDC is precipitation that has fallen high on the mountain in the form of rain or snow and has filtered down through the basalt, finally emanating from a spring near the settlement. Those who have drunk TDC water say that it has a fine taste.

-------------------

PART TWO:

In January 2004 I enjoyed a unique cruise on the final voyage of the Royal Mail Ship St. Helena (?RMS?) round trip from Cape Town to the remote British island of Tristan da Cunha ("TDC"), roughly midway between Cape Town and Montevideo.

During my eight hours in TDC's only settlement, Edinburgh, which has a population of 285, I wandered into Jane's Café, the island?s only restaurant, where I found a number of other RMS passengers enjoying drinks, sandwiches and dessert. As crayfish (rock lobster) is the mainstay of TDC?s economy, it was not surprising that crayfish sandwiches were sold at the café. Chocolate sponge cake, beer and soft drinks were also available. The proprietress took little notice of me as she continued her knitting. A notice to the island?s 285 residents posted on the cafe's bulletin board by the dental nurse warned that appointments for the upcoming dental visit had to be made at the hospital before 28 January 2004. Outside Jane's Cafe were the only public W. C.?s in Edinburgh.

As I found the door unlocked, I photographed the interior of the empty Roman Catholic Church nearby. Although I had passed the Rectory earlier, I never did find Edinburgh's Anglican Church which is said to contain an old photograph of Queen Victoria.

Continuing my walk, I passed Camogli Hospital. The operating room and the X-ray machine in this facility suffered severe damage in a 2001 hurricane. Nowadays from the outside one would never guess that the hurricane had caused one-quarter of the building to collapse.

At the far end of Edinburgh is a typical British bus stop sign. Walking down the cement road beyond the sign, I found myself at the bottom of a steep, dry ravine. In rainy times I imagined that this gulch must turn into a raging torrent of water, pushing boulders in its path. The road was not paved across the floor of the gulch, but the cement did continue again up the far bank. I continued to the top of the far embankment and saw a wide expanse of grassland ahead. The paved road extended all the way beyond the grassy cinder cone in the distance to the Potato Patches which lie some 2 1/2 miles (4 km) away. There islanders cultivate potatoes and other crops. And I have read that on Friday afternoons a vehicle does in fact take residents from the Edinburgh bus stop to their "weekend homes" in the potato patches!

Then I walked to the school on the opposite side of Edinburgh. Along the way I took photographs of some of the settlement's dogs. Though I passed many dogs today, not a single animal barked at me and only one even came up to sniff me. In the school hall I purchased a first day cover from one of the women selling handicrafts and souvenirs. I also made a donation to the headmistress for the school.

Beyond the school toward the lava flow lie three graveyards surrounded by low lava rock walls. One graveyard is Anglican, another is Roman Catholic and a third is apparently for Freemasons. All graves appeared to be well-tended and most were covered with cut flowers. Outside the lava walls cows grazed lazily in the fields.

As I had heard that rockhopper penguins could sometimes be seen at Pigbite, the beach beyond the 1961 lava flow, I next wandered in that direction. The half hour walk over the lava flow to a beach with large boulders revealed where TDC's outdated heavy equipment and various pieces of scrap metal had been junked. This is also where TDC's garbage is burned.

While I never did find any penguins, my walk over to the beach was an interesting one. On the side of the road in the direction of Edinburgh I noticed huge fissures in the lava. These fissures could only have been created by earthquakes. Then when I reached the far side of the lava flow I saw a small waterfall created by a spring emanating from a point low on the cliff. The wind was gusting strongly as I stepped over a small brook and began to walk across a grassy field. There I was able to photograph a few skuas resting in a depression. The large birds let me approach more closely than I had expected, but eventually they rose and floated away in the wind.

From the beach I returned to Edinburgh. Realizing that I was hungry, I dropped into the local supermarket to purchase a small imported apple for eight pence. The supermarket stocks many types of canned goods and dry goods plus frozen items and even handicrafts, including knitted sweaters. While the fruit and vegetable department was nothing like back home, that was perfectly understandable, considering its location. In general, though, I was surprised at just how much variety was available at the supermarket. Adjacent to it were other stores selling plumbing and electrical goods.

In the early evening a final boat removed all passengers who wished to return to the RMS. I often prefer to be one of the last persons to enter a small boat in order to avoid having to rock and roll while waiting for all the other passengers to board. Consequently, because of my physical position in the boat, sometimes I am one of the first people to disembark.

That was the case this time. When I climbed the rope ladder up into the RMS, the small boat was sitting relatively still in the water. But I had to hang around to wait for my backpack to be lifted up along with all the other loose passenger gear. So I was in a good position to hear the horror stories told by those pale passengers who did not disembark until the very end. Apparently shortly after I climbed the rope ladder the wind had shifted, causing the small boat to begin to flip around fairly violently.

What kind of person would ever consider taking a 13-day round trip cruise from Cape Town to TDC, you might wonder?

The RMS passenger list included Jan and Kirsten, a Norwegian couple who seemed to specialize in traveling to obscure places. Jan showed me his passport which even contained a visa for the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which surrounded by Azerbaijan. This enclave is not on the Travelers' Century Club list and, interestingly, Jan and Kirsten had never even heard of the Travelers' Century Club.

TDC was the 286th Travelers' Century Club destination for George, a retired American doctor. After Cape Town he planned to spend five days on Rodrigues Island, a dependency of Mauritius, before flying home to San Diego via the Kalahari and the Algarve. George was finishing a five-month trip in fulfillment of his quest. And, though we are fellow Travelers' Century Club members, George's quest was much more involved than my own. In addition to traveling to all 317 world destinations on the Travelers' Century Club list, he was also trying to visit all of the world's major natural features such as deserts, etc.

Richard, the only other American on board, planned to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway next year from Moscow to Vladivostok. Like a surprising number of others on board, he was a repeat passenger on the RMS, having previously sailed to St. Helena and Ascension.

Walter, one of a number of Germans on the RMS, was the Hamburg-based producer of the German television crew. He once spent a week filming on Jan Mayen Land, a Norwegian island situated between Spitzbergen and Iceland, and had also traveled to remote parts of Iran and Oman. Incidentally, Walter, who once worked in Cairo as a journalist and is married to a Palestinian, was the only other Arabic speaker on board aside from myself.

Stan, a retired professor of Canadian studies from Fredericton, NB, had been involved with philately since the age of six. His interest in postal history led him to visit some stamp shops in Cape Town prior to the cruise in order to check out their covers.

Others, like South Africans James and Tara, booked at the last minute and benefited from a 50% fare discount.

John, a discriminating traveler from London, planned to take an 80-day round-the-world cruise on the Oriana next year.

There were five Swiss on the RMS. Jean, Yves and Leopoldine, three friends from Geneva, were avid sailors who, in their younger days, used to sail their yacht around Europe at every opportunity. Stefan, from Zurich, was an experienced and sophisticated traveler who had rented a house and car for a week-long holiday in a seaside suburb of Cape Town nearly every Northern Hemisphere winter for the last 15 years. He confided that South Africa represented excellent value for the Swiss.

Stefan's lively and inquisitive friend Yalgin, of Turkish extraction but with a Swiss passport, was interested in odd destinations. Yalgin, who collected airline sickness bags, entertained us at dinner one night with stories about Busingen and Campione d?al Italia, German and Italian enclaves in Switzerland, respectively, and about Samnaun, a Swiss town which must be accessed from Austria as no direct road connection exists with Switzerland.

Dacre, a former pilot for British Airways and later, after retirement, with Singapore Airlines, and his wife Ann were booked on the RMS all the way north to Ascension. Both spent their childhood years in Chile, where they met. Dacre was fascinated by the controls on the bridge, and our captain took special pleasure in explaining the instruments to him. Dacre collected old airline timetables, some of which are apparently very valuable.

The remaining passengers were mostly British but with a number of Germans and South Africans also in evidence. Surprisingly, several elderly British were on the passenger list. Some were traveling alone. Eve mentioned that she had taken the RMS to St. Helena on another occasion and came along on this cruise to TDC as the captain had told her how interesting TDC was.

In spite of their varied travel experiences, most passengers felt that this cruise to Tristan da Cunha on the RMS St. Helena was a unique experience which they will remember for the rest of their lives.




Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Tuamotu Islands Visit: -

Turkish Thrace (Turkey in Europe) Visit: -

Ukraine (Other) Visit: -


Utah Visit: 2007-8
2009-12-30 - "Utah's Five National Parks," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in January 2008

Utah bills itself as "America's national parks capital" in spite of the fact that it possesses fewer national parks than California! Perhaps this is because southern Utah has the greatest concentration of national parks of any U. S. state. Although the very large state of California contains eight national parks while Utah has only five, California's national parks are very widely dispersed. On the other hand, all five of Utah's national parks - Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands - are situated fairly close to one another in the southern part of the state.

This proximity makes it convenient for tourists to visit all five parks in a single trip. Las Vegas, Nevada's McCarran Airport, the world's eleventh busiest, provides a convenient starting and ending point for a circle trip to see southern Utah's amazing natural wonders. Such a round-trip drive could be accomplished in as little as four days. A bonus on the return drive is the north rim of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

Spring and autumn are the best times to visit the national parks in Utah. However, for those unable to avoid the extreme heat and crowds of summer or the frost and snow of winter, Utah's national parks remain open year-round.

Three of Utah's national parks are among the best the U. S. has to offer. Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches are the state's largest tourist attractions, accounting for more than 18 million tourists annually. The other two parks, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands, are much less visited.

235-square-mile (595-square-km) Zion National Park, established in 1919, is known for its impressive cliffs and monolithic rocks. The highlight is 2,400-foot-deep (732-meter-deep) Zion Canyon. In order to eliminate extreme automobile congestion during the summer months, since 2000 the National Park Service has required visitors to ride a shuttle bus along the 6-mile-long (10-km-long) Zion Canyon Scenic Drive which follows the beautiful north fork of the Virgin River. Elevations in the park range from 3,666 feet (1,117 meters) to a mountaintop height of 8,726 feet (2,660 meters). The Kolob Canyons section in the northwestern part of Zion is also well worth a visit. There a much less-visited 5-mile (8-km) drive provides spectacular overlooks of the Finger Canyons.

58-square-mile (146-square-km) Bryce Canyon National Park, originally set aside as a national monument in 1923, consists of a series of amphitheatres formed from pink-colored cliffs. The eroded soft limestone in this area has created a maze of rock spires which radiate warm hues of reds and yellows. These unique geological features originated some 60 million years ago. An 18-mile (29-km) scenic drive south from the 8,000-foot-high (2,438-meter-high) visitor center takes visitors past a number of overlooks. The drive, along which a non-mandatory shuttle bus operates, culminates at Rainbow Point at an altitude of 9,100 feet (2,774 meters).

122-square-mile (310-square-km) Arches National Park, a portion of which was originally set aside as a national monument in 1929, contains over 1,500 arches, many of which are visible from the 18-mile (29-km) paved scenic drive or after a short hike. Elevations in the park range from 3,960 feet (1,207 meters) up to 5,653 feet (1,723 meters).

Capitol Reef National Park boasts beautifully-colored rock formations and impressive cliffs. Parts of this 387-square-mile (979-square km) park were set aside originally as a national monument in 1937. The central feature of Capitol Reef is 1,100-mile-long (1,770-km-long) Waterpocket Fold, whose origin dates back some 70 million years. Visitors often wonder about the origin of the park's name. Early explorers, who found Waterpocket Fold an impediment to travel, compared it to an ocean reef. Furthermore, the park's rounded sandstone hills were likened to the dome of the U. S. capitol in Washington, D. C. Most visitors to Capitol Reef explore only a cross section in the north of the park along the Fremont River Valley and an 11-mile-long (18-km-long) scenic drive south from the visitor center.

Portions of Canyonlands National Park, now 527 square miles (1,365 square km) in size, were first set aside in 1964. The Colorado River and Green River, whose confluence lies deep within the park, divide Canyonlands into three districts while providing ample opportunities for river running. "Islands in the Sky," the most popular district of the park, is a mesa which offers spectacular views over 1,300-foot-high (396-meter-high) cliffs. The less-visited "Needles" district in the southeastern part of the park has paved road access and provides views of canyons, arches and various rock formations. On the other hand, the difficult-to-reach wild country of "The Maze" in the southwestern part of the park is seldom visited by tourists.

A visit to Utah's five national parks provides ample learning opportunities. First and foremost, visitors will be exposed to the unique geology of the region. They will also obtain an introduction to the native flora and fauna. In addition to seeing various types of trees and plants, they are likely to encounter mule deer, chipmunks, and other mammals and many species of birds. The ruins, relics and graffiti left behind both by ancient inhabitants and by more recent Mormon settlers are also evident in many locations in these national parks and throughout southern Utah.


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com





Venezuela Visit: 2008-9
2009-12-30 - "A Long Weekend Escape to Venezuela's Angel Falls," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2009


Early one Friday in September 2008 my fiance Barbara and I flew American Airlines from Miami via San Juan, Puerto Rico to Caracas, Venezuela.  We had arranged to rendezvous at Caracas Airport with two friends who had been traveling in South America earlier in the week.  On Friday and Saturday nights all four of us stayed at a comfortable hotel in downtown Caracas. 

Early on Saturday morning we all flew an Aserca Airlines DC-9 from Caracas to Puerto Ordaz, a major industrial port situated on the Orinoco River in eastern Venezuela.  From there we connected south immediately on a 12-passenger single prop Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft to make two passes by 3,212-foot-high (979-meter-high) Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall. 

As you might imagine, the bottom of Angel Falls, which is a staggering 15 times higher than Niagara Falls, was obscured by clouds.  However, we could clearly see and photograph the top of the falls, with the water falling off the magnificent tepui (plateau) into the clouds below! 

After flying by Angel Falls, we landed on the paved air strip at the nearby hamlet of Canaima.  There we were given a ride on a motorized canoe to visit some other, much smaller but very picturesque waterfalls.  After a wonderful lunch at a tourist lodge, we returned to the Canaima Airport to fly in a 10-passenger twin prop aircraft to Puerto Ordaz.  After a three-hour layover there we returned on the same Aserca Airlines DC-9 aircraft back to Caracas. 

Finally, on Sunday morning Barbara and I flew American Airlines nonstop from Caracas to Miami.  It was a wonderful long weekend adventure, and Angel Falls was truly a wonderful spectacle to behold!

PRACTICALITIES:

Angel Falls is 450 miles (725 km) southeast of Caracas.  The best time to visit is during the wet season, between May and November.  During these months the water volume is greatest.  However, frustratingly, that is also when visibility can be the worst!

For general information on Angels Falls, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_Falls

For the story of how American pilot Jimmy Angel discovered Angel Falls in 1935, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmie_Angel

For information on the world's second-largest power station at Puerto Ordaz, visit http://www.venezuelatuya.com/guayana/ciudadguayanaeng.htm
 

Angel Falls spilling from a tepui into the clouds, 12-second video clip
Our single prop Cessna Grand Caravan landing at airstrip at Canaima, Venezuela near Angel Falls, 52-second video clip
Motorboat ride to waterfalls near Canaima, Venezuela, 35-second video clip
Motorboat ride through jungle between the two waterfalls near Canaima, Venezuela, 63-second video clip
Waterfalls and tourist lodges at Canaima, Venezuela from motorboat, 59-second video clip
Other waterfalls farther away from Canaima, Venezuela from motorboat, 15-second video clip
Our two-prop 10-passenger aircraft landing at airport in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela on return from Canaima, 42-second video clip

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
21 May 2009
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com



Wake Island Visit: 2009-12
2009-12-26 - A "MOST TRAVELED PEOPLE" VISIT TO WAKE ISLAND
by Ted Cookson

Dan Walker quickly descended from the gleaming white Continental Airlines 737-800 in the light rain. After reaching the freshly-laid blacktop on the runway, he turned to the right, walked a short distance, and asked a friend to snap his photo in front of the beige airport terminal building. At 8:39 AM on December 11, 2009 the lanky, six-foot six-inch Walker had become one of a relatively small number of tourists in recent decades to visit Wake Island.

When he is not traveling around the world, Walker, a Canadian living in Costa Rica, heads the Casa Canada Group, an umbrella organization for various companies dealing in investment, company and asset management, and travel as well as the non-profit Association of Residents of Costa Rica.

By participating in this tour operated by Military Historical Tours of Woodbridge, Virginia, the grinning Walker had also become one of only 82 members of Most Traveled People.com (MTP), a free online travel club, to reach Wake Island. Followed by its well over 7,000 members, the club's list, available at www.mosttraveledpeople.com, currently contains 773 destinations worldwide.

What made this tour to Wake Island special was that 24 MTP members living in ten countries participated. Of the top 21 MTP members (at the time of writing there was a tie for number 20), 12 were among the 97 paying passengers on the tour; and 17 of the top 40 MTP members were also there. Some remarked that this might have been the greatest concentration of well-traveled people ever assembled.

Most MTP participants had signed up many months in advance for this seldom-offered one-day Wake Island tour, which was priced at US$1,295 including round trip air from Guam, another American possession situated 2,417 km (1,502 miles) southwest of Wake and 2,507 km (1,558 miles) southeast of Tokyo. In fact, some persistent and patient travelers had even carried over deposits they had made for a longer tour in 2006 which was to have included Wake but which had to be cancelled after powerful Typhoon Ioke devastated Wake Island's air traffic control system in late August of that year.

Lying one-third of the distance from Guam to Hawaii, Wake has been in U. S. hands since it was taken from Spain in 1898 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. President Roosevelt awarded jurisdiction of the atoll to the U. S. Navy in 1934. Shortly thereafter, in 1935, Pan Am established a seaplane refueling station on Wake in order to enable the airline to begin operating its fabled twice-weekly trans-Pacific Clipper flights. The Clippers were amphibious Sikorsky, Boeing, and Martin aircraft that would depart Alameda or San Francisco, California for a 6-day, 60-hour trip to Manila via Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam.

Construction of a naval base on Wake had been underway for eleven months when the Japanese invasion took place on 11 December 1941; and Japanese forces then occupied the atoll for the remainder of the war. The atoll was designated a U. S. national historic landmark in 1985. Today Wake Island is administered by the U. S. Air Force from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Generally there are round trip flights from Honolulu to Wake twice a month. In addition, a supply barge is towed to the island as required.

Our tour of the island included visits to Invasion Beach, the Japanese-built revetments where enemy aircraft were kept, Drifter's Reef which is the current island watering hole, and the airport terminal building containing a U. S. post office, a one-room museum, and a well-stocked gift shop. Four memorials, a chapel and several old bunkers are all situated within a short walk of the terminal building.

Technical Sergeant Tom Czerwinski was one of a dozen or so support staff from the U. S. Air Force and Continental Airlines who accompanied our Military Historical Tours group from Guam. In preparation for our tour, Czerwinski had ridden one of the supply flights over to Wake round trip from Hickam Air Force Base. During the aircraft's two-hour turnaround, he had taken a quick tour of the island himself to ascertain which sites would be of most interest to a group of about 100 tourists. An Air Force medical specialist and a public affairs official also accompanied the group on the day of our visit.

Our local escort, who joined us for the tour in a yellow U. S. school bus and who hailed from Salem, Oregon, had been employed on Wake for a decade as an environmental specialist. Normally his work involved such things as performing bird counts and conserving natural artifacts. Our escort advised that certain areas around the island which are the responsibility of the U. S. Missile Defense Agency are designated as off limits. However, when questioned, he was unable to confirm whether missiles are in fact positioned on Wake at present.

The tour's finale was a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Wake Island. In addition to the large MTP contingent, 42 relatives and descendants of war veterans were in our group. Only two individuals who had fought against the Japanese on Wake participated in the tour. Since Military Historical Tours only operates groups to Wake at irregular intervals every few years, ours might have been the final tour to include those who had seen action on Wake.

At the conclusion of the ceremony all tour participants were wanded and our handbags were searched as we re-entered the airport terminal. After a flyover of Wake at dusk, Continental Captain Tom Campanelli smoothly pointed our aircraft toward the blazing sunset in the southwest for the three hour and seven minute flight back to Guam.

It had been a unique day.



Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
26 December 2009
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com


Western Cape Visit: 2009-1
2009-12-30 - Note that two articles are included below.

"Scenic Cape Town and its Environs," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in February 2006

Called South Africa's "mother city" because it was the first locality to be settled by the Dutch in the last half of the seventeenth century, Cape Town today is simply amazing!

Protected by 1,086-meter-high Table Mountain, Cape Town's city center and its nearest residential suburbs lie in the City Bowl. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, redeveloped in the late 1980s, includes luxury hotels and a lively mall with expensive shops and restaurants which are frequented by both tourists and local residents alike. Nearby is the Two Oceans Aquarium featuring creatures unique to this area near the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans . Catamarans depart from the V & A Waterfront to Robben Island where one can view the very cell in which Nelson Mandela was long incarcerated. The tours, led by former prisoners, often prove to be a very emotional experience. As a bonus, fairy penguins are sometimes glimpsed resting comfortably on Robben Island under the bushes near the catamaran dock.

Table Mountain itself is easily accessible by revolving cableway. However, queues for the cableway can be long. Also, operation of the cableway is stopped whenever there are high winds. Interestingly, tourists in a sometimes windless City Bowl may not be aware that strong winds atop Table Mountain have forced the cableway to close. Therefore one should ring the cableway to check if it is operating before hopping a bus or taxi to the lower cableway station.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, southeast of Table Mountain , contains some 4,500 floral species. This is a lovely venue for a picnic or, for the more adventurous, a hike on the slopes of Table Mountain .

A day trip to Cape Point in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve should begin with a stop at Boulders Beach, just south of Simon's Town, the naval port facing east onto False Bay. The penguin colony there is one of only a very few mainland colonies in the world.

Continuing south and entering the nature reserve, one finds other vehicles slowing and stopping to watch the Cape baboons which boldly clamber onto the cars, begging for food. At Cape Point, the southwesternmost point in Africa , the scenery is remarkably rugged; and the winds can be fierce. A 15-minute hike takes tourists up to the lighthouse. Or, for those who may not be in a hiking mood, a very short funicular railway is also available. For a nominal fee, tourists may pose for a digital photo which is then e-mailed by the photographer as an attachment to a friend back home.

The other "must do" day trip from Cape Town is to the Winelands. Wine has been grown in this region for over three centuries. Winelands tours generally include visits to wineries in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and/or Paarl. But even those who don't drink wine will still enjoy a delightful day, feasting their eyes on some of the beautifully-restored old mansions which are treasures of Cape Dutch architecture. The Winelands offer gorgeous, green grassy landscapes and panoramas with mountains behind. In addition, there are interesting museums nearby.

Hermanus, the self-proclaimed whale capital of the world some 80 km from Cape Town , celebrates the return of the southern right whales each autumn with the Hermanus Whale Festival which is staged in late September and early October. About 1,000 of these large mammals are thought to swim in the waters off the coast of South Africa .

Cape Town is also the jumping-off point for the Garden Route, a scenic coastal drive stretching east from Mossel Bay some 250 km, as far as Storms River in the Tsitsikamina National Park. One can rent a car in Cape Town and drive to the Garden Route via Outshoorn where ostriches are farmed. The rental car can then be returned in George or Port Elizabeth . From either of these cities it is possible to fly back to Cairo via Johannesburg .

PRACTICALITIES:

The best time to visit Cape Town is from October to March -- that is, before, during, or after the Southern Hemisphere summer. During this time of year it is dry and the days are longer. Only 0.6 mm of rain falls per month in January and February, the driest months. During December, the warmest month, the average daily low is 20 C. (68 F.) and the average daily high climbs to 27 C. (80 F.).

However, those considering a visit in December or January would do well to reserve far in advance. Bookings during this school holiday period are normally heavy due to the fact that most tourists in South Africa are in fact locals!

Those who must plan their visit between June and August, the Northern Hemisphere summer, should not fret as Cape Town is worthy of a visit in any season. The mother city's rainiest month is June, with only 93 mm; and the coldest month is July, when the average daily low is a moderate 7 C. (44 F.) and the average daily high reaches 17 C. (62 F.).


Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com


---------------------------------------------------------

"Bushman's Kloof, A Most Unique Resort in South Africa," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt in September 2007


Where can you combine the viewing of 10,000-year-old Bushman rock art and safari game drives while enjoying luxurious accommodation, excellent dining and a spa, all in a single majestic wilderness reserve?

The unique Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, situated in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa's Western Cape Province only 3 1/2 hours northeast of Cape Town, offers all this and more!

Over 130 sites with Bushman rock art are located within Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve. Experienced rangers offer guided walks along rivers and across the veld to view these sites, some of which are among the oldest recorded examples of human art. En route guests can witness the scenic beauty of the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains. Waterfalls, rivers and clear rock pools are set against sandstone sculpted by the winds of many millenia.

Bushmans Kloof boasts 35 species of mammals and 150 species of birds. While there are no large predators on the property, the reserve does offer, for example, gemsbok, Cape Mountain zebra, eland, red hartebeest, springbok and black wildebeest. In addition, occasionally it is possible to see bat-eared fox, Cape fox, porcupine, aardwolf and African wildcat. Birds include malachite kingfisher, black harrier and African fish eagle. Night game drives provide an opportunity to view both the various nocturnal species and the magnificent night sky.

Within the reserve there are over 750 indigenous plant species. In fact, the veld bursts with color between July and October as the spring flowers blossom. Those guests who may wish to explore the outdoors further will enjoy hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, fly fishing, archery and even painting!

The retreat's 16 rooms will accommodate a total of 32 guests. All rooms feature separate bath and shower and also a private patio. Some of the deluxe rooms also include a fireplace. All rooms are air-conditioned and have both under-floor heating and a ceiling fan.

The facilities at Bushmans Kloof include the Homestead and the Heritage Center. The Homestead contains two lounge areas, one of which has a satellite flat screen television. There is also an extensive book and DVD library plus a heated outdoor pool and a gym. In the Heritage Center are San Bushman artifacts such as jewelry, dolls and dancing sticks plus a collection of photographs which show the day-to-day lives of these nomads. Rangers give talks in the Heritage Center about various aspects of the reserve.

Other facilities include: a medicinal herb garden which contains plants used by the San nomads to cure various illnesses; a colorful flower garden which yields a number of different scents; and an organic fruit and vegetable garden, the produce of which is consumed at the resort. Finally, the very interesting gift shop contains a variety of items created by some of the finest artisans in South Africa.

Guests are treated to a profusion of gastronomic creations made from produce harvested daily from organically-cultivated gardens. Aside from various indoor and open-air dining venues at the retreat itself, arrangements can also be made to dine at several breathtaking and romantic locations around the reserve.

Finally, up-market Bushmans Kloof is the ultimate venue for a wedding or a honeymoon. The ceremony and reception can be arranged either indoors or under African skies. What better location to begin a lifetime of memories together?

Bushmans Kloof is malaria-free. During the South African summer from November to March a hat, sunglasses, sunblock and a swimsuit are recommended. Temperatures range from a high of 40 C./104 F. to a low of 20 C./68 F. during this period. During the South African winter from June to August warm clothing is required. Then scarves, gloves, hats and warm jackets are useful during evening nature drives. Temperatures range from a high of 25 C./77 F. to a low of 0 C./32 F. During April, May, September and October temperatures range from a high of 30 C./86 F. to a low of 10 C./50 F. Casual dress is appropriate all year long. Bring comfortable shoes, a camera and binoculars.

Guests at unique Bushmans Kloof can get close to nature in comfort in a land where our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Anyone for a safari with a twist?

PRACTICALITIES: Nowadays Cape Town can be reached using many airlines via Johannesburg. Egypt Air is the only air carrier which flies nonstop from Cairo to Johannesburg. Travelers flying on any other airline will also change planes at that airline's hub, i. e. Nairobi for Kenya Airways, Addis Ababa for Ethiopian Airlines, Dubai for Emirates, Doha for Qatar Airways, etc. The 270 km/167-mile-drive from Cape Town to Bushmans Kloof is scenic, and the route is asphalt all the way except for the final 20 km/12 miles which is a good quality gravel road. Transfers from Cape Town by road or by air can be arranged for those who would prefer not to rent a car.




Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com




Yukon Territory Visit: -


Zambia Visit: 2004-9
2009-12-30 - "Zambia: A New Safari Destination," written for the expatriate community in Cairo, Egypt by Ted Cookson in August 2005

Landlocked Zambia , situated in southeastern Africa north of Zimbabwe , takes its name from the Zambezi River . The Zambezi begins in northeastern Zambia and flows 1,550 miles to the Indian Ocean , forming Zambia's southern border. There, lying astride Zambia and Zimbabwe , lies Victoria Falls , one of Africa's most beautiful and best-known sights.

Zambia was inhabited in prehistoric times. Bantu tribes invaded from the sixteenth century onward. They were followed by Arab slave traders, the Portuguese and other African tribes in the nineteenth century. David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls in 1855. Britain took formal control in 1924 and ruled what was then called Northern Rhodesia until independence in 1964.

As large as France , much of Zambia is a plateau lying at an altitude of 3,000 to 7,000 feet. Zambia's economy is based on copper and cobalt mining. Its capital, Lusaka , was a mere railway station as late as 1905. Today, although it boasts a population of over 1.5 million and has a pleasant climate year-round, Lusaka offers little to international safari enthusiasts who typically use it only as a jumping-off point. Instead, much smaller Livingstone, near Victoria Falls , is considered Zambia's major tourist town.

Zambia has set aside one-third of its territory for the preservation of wildlife through the creation of 19 national parks. A safari in Zambia is different from a safari in East Africa because game walks and night game drives are both permitted in Zambia . Also, the safari vehicle in Zambia is usually open-air rather than a closed van with a pop-up roof as in East Africa . Zambia's four primary tourist attractions are the Luangwa Valley , Kafue National Park , Lower Zambezi National Park and Victoria Falls .

The superb Luangwa Valley , which stretches across the entire length of eastern Zambia , is noted for its rocky escarpments and for the wide, muddy Luangwa River . The combined North and South Luangwa National Parks constitute a vast sanctuary of 3,500 square miles where game is truly abundant. Thornicroft's giraffe is indigenous to South Luangwa , and small herds of Cookson's wildebeest are unique to this park. There is a large concentration of elephant, and black rhino is found in large numbers. In addition to 50 other species of mammals, leopard, lion, hyena and hippo are common; and over 400 bird species have been recorded. North Luangwa National Park is managed as a wilderness area. Yet even in South Luangwa National Park the effects of mass tourism have not been seen. With its small camps and lodges, South Luangwa is one of Africa's premier wildlife destinations.

At roughly half the size of Switzerland , Kafue National Park is one of Africa's largest game reserves. Only a two-hour drive from Lusaka , Kafue is both diverse and well-endowed with game and birds. In fact, Kafue boasts more species of antelope than any other African game park. However, the animals are more difficult to view in Kafue since they are not as habituated to humans as are those animals in South Luangwa .

Lower Zambezi National Park extends for 75 miles along the Zambezi River opposite Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park . With permanent water, there is an abundance of elephant, buffalo and antelope. This in turn attracts lion, leopard and hyena. The Zambezi contains a multitude of fish. Tigerfish are especially popular with anglers. Also, bird life is prolific.

A visit to Victoria Falls can be combined with a safari in Zambia very easily. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls really must be seen to be believed. The Zambezi is more than 1,700 yards wide at the falls, where the water drops 100 yards or more into a narrow chasm. The resulting spray is so great that, when the moon shines, a lunar rainbow is created! Also, the area around Victoria Falls has grown into southern Africa's adventure tourism capital. The activities on offer include white water rafting, canoeing, riverboarding, jet boats, boat cruises, bungee jumping, helicopter flights, microlighting, absailing, horse safaris and even elephant rides!

PRACTICALITIES AND SUGGESTIONS:

The best time to visit the excellent South Luangwa National Park is during the dry season, from June to October. Then the game is concentrated around the remaining water holes. Also, the grasses are shorter during the dry season, which makes wildlife viewing easier.

The best time to visit Victoria Falls is also from June to October. Then the water volume is not at its maximum so there is less mist to obscure the views. During morning and late afternoon the light is best for photography, and don't forget your polarizing filter to capture the rainbows!

Currently the least expensive total round trip airfare on Kenya Airways from Cairo to Lusaka via Nairobi is approximately USD 763. For this fare the minimum stay is six nights and the maximum stay is 30 nights.


HOW TO GET TO ZAMBIA:

Lusaka International Airport is Zambia's largest. Some safari enthusiasts and those only visiting the Victoria Falls area will prefer Livingstone International Airport, which receives regional flights from South Africa and elsewhere.

Ted Cookson
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
Cairo, Egypt
22 April 2007
www.eptours.com
www.tedcookson.com


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