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.
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.
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.
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 AscensionIsland 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.
Weekly air service to AscensionIsland 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-AscensionIsland-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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 NervionRiver ; 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 NervionRiver . 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.
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.
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 thesummit. 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 thesummit 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 thesummit 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 thesummit 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 thesummit of Britton Hill is pleasant. From there Barbara and I could look down (ever so slightly) on the nearby fields.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
"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. MountainousMadeiraIsland, 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. PortoSantoIsland, 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 MonteChurch 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.
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.