exploring the resplendent island

Imagine an art gallery that is just a large dusty room with randomly mounted, rapidly deteriorating paintings of unidentified people and places by nameless artists. Oh, that would be the national art gallery of Sri Lanka. Sure, the country is still recovering from a decades-long civil war and the legacy of colonial occupation, but maybe they should not be describing this as a national gallery until they are able to put more effort into it. At least the security guard wandered over to point out that some of the paintings were of ancient kings and past presidents.

Nevertheless, we spent several relaxing days in Colombo in a very pleasant Airbnb space, walking or catching wild tuk tuk rides to and from supermarkets, historic sites, and a mixed bag of bars. We especially liked a beer house in the old Dutch Hospital complex, and Cloud Red, a bar high atop a hotel not far from our place. The national museum is well worth visiting with it’s extensive collection and well explained history of the “resplendent island”.

We organized a driver to take us to the interior of Sri Lanka, in order to see some of key historic sites outside Colombo, experience the highlands, go on a safari, and spend some time laying in the sun.

Over the next several days we visited five UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the ancient cave temples at Dambulla, the site of a 5th century mountain-top fortress at Sigiriya, the ruins of the 11th century city of Polonnaruwa, the shrine of the Sacred tooth relic in Kandy, and the 17th century Dutch fortification at Galle. Perhaps the most impressive was Sigiriya, partly because it was, after all, on top of a mountain that we had to climb1202 steps in rock, brick, and cast iron stairs bolted to the side of a cliff face to reach. Picture a narrow metal fire escape attached to the side of a twenty-story building! Because it was abandoned centuries ago, the ruins at the top are just traces of foundations and a brick-lined water reservoir (photo above). Certainly the original occupants were safe up here because they could see anyone approaching to attack, but it would be very vulnerable to a well-planned siege.

We also walked through a tea plantation (they call them tea gardens) and visited a tea factory to see how the leaves are dried, ground, sorted, and packaged for bulk export. Workers pick only the top two or three leaves from each bush, but revisit each plant once a week year-round. After 18 years the plants are pulled up and the patch left for a year before new plants are started. Tea is not native to Sri Lanka, but first grown here by the British on an experimental basis in the early 1800s. Many decades later a modest 23 Kg was prepared for export; before long production had increased so dramatically that Ceylon became synonymous with the best tea on the market. Tea still accounts for 17 percent of annual exports.

We stayed near Yala National Park so that we could do a “Jeep” safari (the trucks are actually Indian-made knockoffs). We knew it wouldn’t be as dramatic a day in the bush as we had experienced several times in Africa, but we did expect to enjoy the day. Unfortunately our driver was very uncommunicative, sitting as he was in a closed cab with us in the open back. We also discovered that the safari drivers who take visitors into Yala are the most undisciplined guides we have ever met. At animal sightings they would cut off and block each other off, drive in reverse, and spend a lot of time yelling at each other. And at the park ranger who was trying to bring order to the trucks gathered along the road near a pair of leopards who eventually had enough of the chaos and wandered deep into the bush. To top it off, our driver didn’t deal well with an uneven and rocky section of the road — something snapped under the rear end, rattling loudly on our way out of the park.

Ah, and our last day in Sri Lanka? Poolside at a resort just outside the old Portuguese / Dutch city of Galle. Perfect!

our new favourite beach

The first words out are: What a fabulous beach!!! The sand on Beau Vallon beach, outside the capital city of Victoria, was smooth, cool and wonderful to walk on. The water was not cold, not hot, but just right! We had a fabulous time jumping the waves, floating in the water and soaking up the sun. Of all the beaches we have visited in our travels, this is now number one!

We stayed in an Airbnb a few blocks from the beach, so an easy walk.

Don was a bit under the weather for a day or two, so I went to the local store to buy supplies (we had a full kitchen). I found the store and picked up my basket, browsed and put groceries in. I was looking at a meat product, but couldn’t figure out the price, so I went to the counter to ask the staff… when I got there, he was not there, there was no one there, not a single other person in the store!

I looked around, checked the front door… yep, it was locked. They had closed the store for lunch and obviously did not know I was inside. I found two doors at the back of the store, locked from the inside, but decided not to open them as who knows if an alarm would go off that would have the police running over from the station across the road.

I decided not to panic and had the most leisurely experience of grocery shopping ever (no one to get in the way). When I finished my shopping, I put everything on the counter, picked up the newspaper, relaxed and read until the shamefaced staff came back…

You never know when odd things will happen to you… they were very apologetic as this had never happened to them before… I told them this was the first time I had ever been locked in a store. Don and I have had a good laugh over it!

We spent ten days enjoying the beach, the Boathouse Bar, and cooking in our lovely little apartment.

We then went to Victoria for a few days. On Sunday we walked to “Eden”, it was about 32 degrees that day and the distance was about 5 km. Eden, built by South African investors on reclaimed land, is clearly a place for the ultra rich. They brag that people from 50 countries have bought in. If you’re interested, there are still a few places available, but with rising sea levels we wonder how safe an investment this is.

Eden had one of the only grocery stores open on a Sunday, one of the reasons we walked so far. The other is that it features the only micro brewery in the Seychelles. The beer was okay, expensive, but refreshing. They had only one Lager and a thin “dark” beer. Not our usual micro brew experience.

It was still very hot; when we left the gated community we found the local bus to take us most of the way home. I must say riding the Seychelles transit bus system is a terrifying experience. The drivers go extremely fast, don’t care about others, horns always blaring and they don’t slow in the curves. We took buses several times and each time we were appreciative we stepped off alive.

The Seychelles are lovely and the beach on Beau Vallon was spectacular… we hope all will be good for many years to come.

Happiness!

Deborah

awesome tanzanian safari

We’ve never seen so many big cats. More than 50 lions, cheetahs, and leopards over 6 days. Not to mention scores of elephants, Cape buffalo, and giraffes, and hundreds, probably thousands, of zebra, gazelles, and wildebeests. Oh, and while we’re at it, throw in some jackals, hyenas, scrub hares, mongooses, and countless species of weird and wonderful birds. The Tanzanian “northern circuit” has a lot to offer, and is no poor cousin to Kenya or South Africa when it comes to wildlife viewing.

We were so lucky to have an excellent driver/guide for our Tanzanian safari. Elisante with African Savannah Trekkers took us deep inside Tarangire National Park, along the rim and down across the floor of the massive caldera (crater) within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, out into the vastness of the Serengeti, and over to Manyara Lake National Park to see thousands of flamingos feeding in the lake.

It was very hot and dry, animals were often gathered near rivers and waterholes — with any luck the heavy rains will start in a few days. March and April is a short but important rainy season here. Farmers around Arusha, our launching point, have tilled the soil and are waiting to plant corn and other crops as soon as the rain starts. In the meantime, on safari with the roof up for viewing means within minutes everything inside is covered in a layer of red dust and it is all you can taste. But we so enjoyed the 360 degree view!

Sometimes we would travel for an hour or two across the savannah along dirt tracks, dry grass and solitary trees as far as one could see — and then suddenly, under one of those lone trees would be gathered a family of cheetahs or a pride of lions (including one group of 18 lions and sleeping in the shade except for the rebel sitting in the tree!). Less frequently, someone will have spotted a leopard sleeping in a live or fallen tree, and soon other safari trucks would gather around, everyone hoping the leopard would get up and walk over. Eli was very patient with us; we hung out even after everyone else had given up on one leopard in particular, and sure enough, she stood up, stretched, and walked away for us.

One day out in the Serengeti we came across others watching three young cheetahs resting and playing under a tree not far from the road. In fact there were at least a dozen trucks lined up, but Eli pulled up so that we would have a very clear view of the family; the mom was resting on the other side of the tree. Two of the cheetahs wandered into the middle of all the trucks, but then one seemed to be watching something behind us all. We swung around to see a jackal running parallel to the road and before we knew it the cheetah was dashing up the road ahead of us. We then realized they were chasing a young gazelle and soon all three young cheetahs had joined the chase. Eli quickly repositioned the truck to give us a front row view of the brave little gazelle running back and forth across the road as the cheetahs played cat and mouse with it. Unfortunately, all this commotion attracted the attention of a passing hyena, who dashed past the cheetahs, grabbed the gazelle, and trotted off with lunch.

It was amazing to witness extended families of elephants grazing and drinking water from the river, and so much fun to watch baby elephants playing with each other in the mud. It was awesome to see hundreds and thousands of zebra, gazelles, and wildebeests watching out for each other scattered across the landscape (although we were told the zebras are quite smart, and during migration let the wildebeests cross crocodile-infested waters first!). And so many flamingos!

Save up your shekels and plan now to go on safari in Tanzania, you’ll be glad you did!

wide sandy beaches washed by warm ocean water

If you grew up in the 1960s, Zanzibar was in the realm of the mysterious, exotic, and far away. Various books and movies (perfect example: “Road to Zanzibar”) played with the island’s historic role as a centre for the Arab slave trade and as a major source of spices for Europeans. In fact the “spice islands” were once the world’s main source of clove, but they also now grow and export lemongrass, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, vanilla, chili, and black pepper. Some of our favourites!

But even with all this spice production, it is tourism that is beginning to bring in more foreign currency— people from around the world attracted to soft sandy beaches washed by the warm Indian Ocean, and in some places, enough wind to attract serious kite surfers.

We started with two weeks in Nungwi at the northern end of Zanzibar, in a small beach bungalow just 50 paces from the beach. Breakfast was in a open-air dining area facing the beach and we had exclusive use of beach lounge chairs out on the beach itself. Breakfast featured a huge plate of fresh island fruit and eggs any style – a good start to the day. It was interesting that the bungalows and hotels in Nungwi have attracted Czech and Russian tourists in a big way — we hardly heard any English spoken except when our fellow visitors ordered drinks or meals. Nearby, there are some resorts that cater exclusively to Italians, who were apparently the first to invest in this part of the island.

“Beach boys” as they are called, come by every few minutes offering deals on snorkelling, fishing trips, spice tours, and more, or selling crafts they claim they carved themselves. And then there are the “Maasai boys” from the northern region of Tanzania, dressed in red tartan cloth and carrying sticks or clubs, posing for photos and sometimes selling crafts they also claim to have made. Lastly, women regularly come by offering massages — seems unnecessary when you’re relaxing in the sun and have forgotten all about work and other stresses.

We did head out on a large traditional wooden dhow, although the Yamaha outboard that supplemented the traditional triangle sail would obviously be a 20th century addition! The goal was to snorkel around the Mnemba atoll — we saw lots of small colourful fish and some unusual starfishes, but we’d probably have to be much further out, or join the divers to see more.

Next stop for two weeks was another beach bungalow, this time down the southeast coast near the old fishing village of Jambiani. Once again, our accommodation was 50 paces from the beach, and included breakfast: a plate of fresh fruit, eggs any style, and toast or pancakes. And right out front, beach lounge chairs. The beach here receives much more seaweed than in the north, but staff rake the area out front while locals collect seaweed along the beach — some of it is dried for export but we learned that one type is used in the local manufacture of soap.

A national park just north of here is a refuge for the endangered Red Colobus monkey, found only on Zanzibar — but we were lucky that a family regularly visited our area — once coming down from the trees just long enough for me to get a clear shot of the otherwise energetic baby in the group (below).

A family member begged us to try The Rock, a famous restaurant built on a big chunk of rock that sits out in a small bay a few km north of here (photo above); at high tide you are rowed out. We were able to walk to the front steps and take our seats with a view out to the Indian Ocean. Excellent food and wine, but our favourite dish was the “zanzibar-spiced” vanilla ice cream. Real vanilla. Cumin. Yum, the best ice cream we have ever tasted!

We spent our last couple of days on Zanzibar in Stone Town, briefly a Portuguese mission before the Sultan of Oman decided he wanted Zanzibar for himself. Successive sultans built first a fort then a palace, all from which to control the trade in cloves and other spices, and profit from human misery. Sadly Zanzibar was the last territory under British influence to abolish the slave trade. And although the sultan’s so-called House of Wonders was the first building in Zanzibar to feature electric lights and the first in East Africa to have an elevator, it is now in such a state of disrepair visitors are no longer allowed inside. The Sultanate of Oman is apparently funding the restoration of this building, still the tallest building in Zanzibar. It would be great if the restoration work didn’t stop there — although we enjoyed wandering the ancient alleys of Stone Town, the whole place is one of the dirtiest and most decrepit historic neighbourhoods we have ever visited.

Oh by the way, Farrokh Bulsara was born here. You may know him better as Freddie Mercury, former lead singer for Queen (now deceased). We dropped by the building his family supposedly lived in — there is some debate as to whether this is the right place or not, but a sign and short description of his life is posted by the front door

search for the big 5

In South Africa: Addo Elephant National Park, Kruger National Park, and Balule Private Reserve. In Botswana: Chobe National Park. All absolutely amazing!

In Addo, an hour from Port Elizabeth on the east coast, our first encounter with an elephant was awe inspiring. Our driver, Peter, followed the lone elephant to the watering hole. We watched as this very thirsty elephant drank non stop for more than five minutes.

We drove along the road, following, until he got pissed off at a Warthog that had been running around him. The massive elephant swished him off with his long trunk. He then stopped five metres ahead of us, turned, and gave us the evil eye. He started rolling his head back and forth, while continuing to stare menacingly at us… we realized he was getting very angry and might charge. Peter was about to back up when the elephant suddenly changed direction, urinated, dropped a large amount of dung and with what we imagine was a look of disdain, walked away. Needless to say, we didn’t follow him.

In Kruger National Park, we joyfully spotted four of the Big 5 on our first day out. We observed Elephants, White Rhino, Lions and a Leopard in their natural habitat, from the safety of our 4-wheel drive. We all took turns sitting on the much loved bouncy seats on the third tier in our canvas covered Land Rover. The second morning we spotted a magnificent male lion on a rock overlooking a field of Impala (small, but pretty antelope). The fifth of the Big 5 was a fabulous sighting! A herd of Cape Buffalo crossed the road right in front of us. They are very dangerous creatures, so William, our driver/guide, turned off the 4×4 and we all watched in silence.

There is a huge difference between professional guides (like ours) and the tourists who drive independently through Kruger. One such tourist started honking his car horn at the Cape Buffalo as he seemed to want them to get out of the way, so he could travel on. When there was a small gap between the buffalo, the car sped through. He was fortunate the animals did not attack him. We saw quite a bit of poor tourist behaviour in the park. Shame on them!

Our next safari stop was at the wonderful Naledi Enkoveni (star of the river) Lodge within the Balule Private Reserve. Again, an experienced guide, this time in an uncovered 3 tiered Land Cruiser. The first day there was an exciting afternoon jaunt; Don and I noticed clouds were gathering a long way off to the west.

We were in the upper back of the 4×4 and man did we have to pay attention. We were off-roading to the extreme and had to constantly watch that we were not impaled by tree branches, going ahead and in reverse. Quite the experience!!!!

Our driver spotted a 9-month old lion cub in the bushes, no mom around that we could see. We followed it for a bit at a distance, the cub was trying to hide under bushes from the lightning and thunder that had just started… and then the rains came.

WIth the rain pouring down on us, lightning flashing, and thunder crashing, our driver tried to get us home before worse things could happen. He told us that a few weeks past, they had hail the size of baseballs in the region. Even though we were huddled under the blankets, one of our fellow travellers spotted a male Black Rhino about 10 metres in the bush. We stopped and stared in awe.

Even though the rain was pelting us, lightning was so close we could smell the air burning, and the thunder was booming — we had to stay put. There is an anti-poaching protocol within the safari groups, that if you spot a rhino you stay there until another Jeep arrives. Well, we stayed and stayed and were totally drenched and finally another group arrived. Off we went immediately and when we pulled up to our lodge we were greeted with a shot of Sherry. It tasted fabulous and warmed us up quickly.

The next morning we went out again before breakfast, this time in the sunshine and we spotted and enjoyed watching a Black Rhino mother and her baby walking through the bush!!! It was amazing!

Our last safari, for this blog, was in Chobe National Park in Botswana. We stayed in Jollyboys Hostel in Livingstone, Zambia. Not only did we see Victoria Falls from the Zambia side, we walked into Zimbabwe to see the Falls from that side as well.

Our day long trip into Chobe started with being picked up from our hostel for the hour drive along the Zambezi River, a short 10 minute boat ride across to Zimbabwe, walking 20 metres to cross the Botswana border, and then a 45 minute drive to Chobe National Park. Our morning was spent with four other tourists on a small motorized boat that got us very close to the animals. Maybe too close! As we travelled up the Chobe River we saw hippopotamus in the water, a few over here, a few over there. Suddenly there was movement in the water underneath and our guide swiftly scooted the boat ahead — a hippo was trying to topple us over!

We were also able to get really close to the elephants and watch them mud bathe and swim cross the river in front of us… fabulous! According to our guide, the elephants were gathered in such large numbers because the rains hadn’t come yet (though it was the rainy season) and the Chobe River was the only source of water for miles around. If it had rained, the elephants would have been in other parts of the national park and we wouldn’t have seen so many along one stretch of river.

That afternoon we hopped onto a 4×4 for a land safari. Chobe is the perfect setting for the numerous giraffes, zebras and hundreds of elephants we saw. Our guide told us the zebras hadn’t been spotted for weeks… he said we were very lucky and we felt we definitely were.

We also spotted a lion resting under a tree very close by and we stopped to look and take photos. The most amazing feeling came over me when the lion and I locked eyes. It was me who broke away first… though I am sure it had been at least a 30 second stare!

I feel so fortunate to have had these wildlife experiences and many more, too many to contain in one blog post (our 100th by the way).

So, until next time my dear family, friends and fellow travellers, much happiness to you all!

Deborah

island hopping and walled cities

As we travel, we usually have some sense of what we expect to see and do in the next city or region we’re heading for. But with Crete and then Rhodes, we were just hoping to soak up some Greek island sun and maybe walk some trails. Little did we know that we would end up hiking down a 16 km gorge, wandering through ancient Minoan ruins and buildings built by an order of Knights, and spending time in not one, but two walled cities.

The Samaria Gorge is promoted as the longest gorge hike in Europe. It begins 1230m above sea level, and after 5-1/2 hours of negotiating steep rocky steps and loose gravel trails, hiking along dry creek beds and hopping on stones to cross streams, we made it down to sea level. We’ve done a few 8 to 10 km walks and hikes over the years, so this is a “personal best” when it comes to completing a very challenging hike. We also spotted several wild Kri Kri, a goat-like animal, although the photo above is a tame one that hangs out at one of the rest stations. Confession: we did need the next 24 hours to recover!

Crete has changed hands many times, but there is an enduring mystery around what happened to the once formidable Minoan empire, based on Crete and for centuries very much in control of trade throughout the region. Sometime after 1300 BC, the Minoans simply disappeared. Some historians suggest the collapse of the Minoan empire was the result of a major volcanic eruption and/or tsunami that destroyed their fleet and therefore means of maintaining their rule — others suggest infighting left them vulnerable to attack.

We visited the sites of two massive Minoan palace complexes. Phaistos is a set of hilltop ruins overlooking the Libyan Sea that were excavated and left as they were found, while Knossos was partially “restored” in the 1930’s by an archeologist who had a vivid imagination — signs describe where his ideas (and construction methods) conflict with current understandings of how the buildings were used and by whom.

We also spent a few days just outside the original part of Hereklion, fortified by the Venetians when they took control of the city in 1204. Most of the wall is intact, along with a small fort that protected the harbour. But other than some very old buildings, the oldest part of the city is not unlike the newer parts with trendy restaurants, flashy chain stores and overstocked souvenir shops.

Time to hop islands! Our ferry to Rhodes left at 6 pm and arrived at 2 am — fortunately our host was willing to pick us up at the terminal and make sure we were safely checked in, just inside the walls. In this case, it was an order of knights who built the walls and many of the surviving buildings inside. Rhodes is a remarkably well-preserved (and restored) medieval city. Indeed, there is an area of restaurants and souvenir shops that fills with tourists when there is a cruise ship in port for the day. But not many venture into the massive hospital built by the knights, walk by the inns they stayed in, or tour the very impressive Palace of the Grand Master.

Recalling our time in the Split and Dubrovnik and their “roles” in Game of Thrones, the new Star Wars, and other films, we asked an attendant if any television series or films were ever shot here, but her answer was no. That’s almost too bad. If you ignore the modern lighting and signage, you can easily drift back 600 years and imagine encountering some Knights of St. John, or the Grand Master himself.

here be dragons

Croatia is a new travel destination, perhaps in-part thanks to the ancient palaces and forts that attracted the producers of Game of Thrones and several movies including the upcoming release that continues the Star Wars franchise. But it has a lot going for it — mountains, sandy beaches, relatively low cost transportation options, and a keen interest in attracting tourists. We had a chance to sample bits and pieces — the inland city of Zagreb, the islands down the coast, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and inside and outside the walled city of Dubrovnik.

Our stop in Zagreb was just one dark rainy night, so other than a couple of hours spent in a very old, very smoky bar (not much else was open on a Sunday night!), we didn’t get to fully appreciate the city. But it was the jumping off point for heading to Brac Island (pronounced ‘bratch’) and the small coastal community of Bol. This is a small town that is working the fine line between maintaining it’s sense of community while welcoming tourists visiting by boat for the day or staying for days and weeks at a time. It is perhaps lucky that the docks cannot handle the huge cruise ships that seem to draw the ire of others throughout the Mediterranean.

We’ve been using AirBnb to connect with hosts this trip, and we connected with a great host for our three-week stay in Bol. He picked us up at the airport, showed us where to find groceries and meals around town, and left a fridge full of food to get us started (including a bottle of local brandy!). We walked to the famous Zlatni Rat beach, the most commercialized stretch of sand on the island, but we spent most of our sun-time on a small beach just out of town in the other direction. We also visited one of dozens of military “caves” — huge disguised caverns that were carved out of seaside mountains to hide submarines and small naval vessels during the Second World War. Now mostly used of fisher(men) as a place to tie their boats and mend their nets.

From Bol we were able to explore some of the other islands in the area; Hvar Town on Hvar Island would be worth a return trip some time. It has an ancient hilltop fortification and many other old buildings that would be interesting to explore further.

Okay, now to Game of Thrones. We have not watched this series, but we know many friends and family members do, and to them we say, yes, head for Croatia! Start in Split, the location of Diocletian’s Palace — originally the retirement residence for Roman emperor Diocletian circa 305 AD and best known to GoT fans for a number of important scenes, especially it’s massive cellars (the photo above) — apparently this is where the dragons are kept.

But the real GoT treasure trove is Dubrovnik. This is an amazingly well preserved (and carefully restored following the “Homeland War”) walled city, and the site of many, many scenes in recent seasons. When we wandered within the walls, and over to Fort Lawrence, we encountered many Game of Thrones walking tours — and all the tour guides had photos from the series they could relate to where they were standing, and it was fun to listen in from time to time. “Here’s where the walk of shame scene was filmed”, “This is where the Battle of Blackwater was shot”, replete with references to the house of the undying, Red Fort, and so on. This is Kings’ Landing in person!

Even without the Game of Thrones, it was so much fun to walk the entire 2km along the top of the old walls, and look down on the city inside and the sea and city outside. It was also exciting to take one of Europe’s oldest cable car routes (new cars and cables we were told) to the top of the hill overlooking the walled city and beyond. Near the station at the top is Fort Imperial, originally built for Napoleon when the French held this territory, now a museum describing local resistance to Serbian attacks in 1991 and 1992. Sad to see how destructive humanity can be when there is so much to share and celebrate. Shame on warmongers!

Our favourite little cove near Bol on Brac Island. Stunningly clear water!

A portion of the original wall and a tower, Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

View of Dubrovnik from the top of Srd Mountain.

These steps are often featured in Game of Thrones.



lining up for a harsh lesson

Early Saturday afternoon in Mexico City, and the line up is long. I reluctantly position myself at the end of the line and think to myself, this is going to take longer than I thought. I cast a glance at the people in line, which runs around the corner of the building – lots of teenagers in groups of two, three, four and more, many families, and people of all ages, all anxious to get in. And this is just the line for tickets, there is a second long line to actually get inside. A pop concert? An amusement park? Celebrity appearance?

Nope, I’m in line for the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia — the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. It’s astonishing to see ordinary people lining up, including the aforementioned young people, to venture into a building that describes the Holocaust and the too numerous other genocides that took place in the 20th century. The displays are graphic and unrelenting – everything we need to know about the discrimination and hatred that fueled each and every one of these horrible crimes against humanity.

Oddly, entering the museum involves airport-level security – you hand over all bags and the contents of your pockets before walking through a metal detector. After picking up an audio guide visitors are directed to the line for the elevator to take you to the starting point on the fifth floor. From here you pass through numerous galleries that explain the events that led to the rise of Hitler, the persecution of Jews and others, and the invasion of neighbours that led to World War II. The Final Solution is vividly illustrated through text, photos, and artifacts: on display is one of the rail cars used to ship Jews across Europe to extermination camps.

We’re not let off the hook too soon, however, because the next series of galleries takes visitors into the dark centre of seven genocides with more graphic details and images, and artifacts, including the weapons used by perpetrators and the clothing of victims. Horrifying in every way.

Then comes a series of galleries that explore challenges around immigration and migrant workers, especially those from Central America but mostly on their way to the US, updated with several video screens that show the speech by Trump where he talks about Mexico “not sending their best people” to the USA. A temporary display focuses on high rates of femicide in Mexico and there are many references to the high numbers of people that go missing in Mexico in general. Finally, there are several display areas that promote tolerance, respect for human rights, and taking action to change the world.

Sure, there were a few kids disturbingly taking selfies in front of large photos of concentration camps, but most people, young and old, were respectful and thoughtfully engaged with the exhibitions. I continue to be struck by how many people were in a museum like this on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I’ve visited several human rights museums around the world, and usually there are no line-ups, no crowds, no teenagers. My hope is that the young people working their way through the galleries were impressed in the right way, and will find their way to promoting and living tolerance, social justice, and human rights despite the significant challenges described in this museum.

(Don visited MYT in March, 2017)

art seen in san jose

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In mid-January we had a chance to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. We visited two public art galleries specializing in contemporary art, and later found that not all the art in San Jose is hanging in galleries.

We were staying in the Sabana Norte area, so our first stop was the Muse de Arte Costarricense. We quickly learned the building was once an airport terminal, complete with an ornately decorated room upstairs for visiting diplomats. That explained why the nearby futbol pitches were so flat – that’s where the planes used to land. It also explained the unusual tower emerging from the center of the gallery.

Art exhibitions are housed in what we imagine were originally waiting rooms, refitted of course for displaying Costa Rican paintings and sculptures. When we were there the work of two artists was being featured: large and dramatic wooden figures carved by Manuel Vargas (Estrategias del Recuerdo), and paintings and scaffold-inspired installations produced by Manuel Zumbado (Transversal).

The building itself is a work of art, small panels describe some of the original features of the building, and of course the intricately craved panels in the diplomat’s room are worth a visit themselves. They vividly depict the colonial history of Costa Rica, from “discovery” by Columbus on through to the mid-twentieth century. Behind the building, where airplanes used to pull up to load and unload passengers, is a modest sculpture garden – several large artworks that look rather dated and not nearly as interesting as the artwork on display inside.

After grabbing a coffee downtown, we found the Museo de Arte y Diseno Contemporaneo. It’s located in an historic building that was once part of a massive distillery – other buildings in the compound house cultural offices and various workshop and performing spaces. The featured artist was Salvadorean Simon Vega who offers a fascinating and fantastical exploration of space and tercer mundo — the third world. The exhibition, on three levels, included in intriguing vodka bar, photo-booth beach rover, a submarine-shaped encampment, and an artist’s studio — adorned with hundreds of drawings and artifacts, and loaded with fun and imagination.

From the old distillery we headed for the Mercado Artesenales, a market primarily for tourists. Although most stalls featured the same mass produced goods for tourists as the next, it was still interesting to wander through and pick up a few things for people back home, knowing that the airport souvenir shops have exactly the same items at 10 times the price.

About two blocks up hill heading south, we came across a wall of murals, then another, and around the corner, yet another wall of murals – leading us along old railway tracks and in the direction of the trendy El Escalante neighbourhood. When we were in San Jose two years ago, there was very little street art, just a few tags and stencils, but this was like an explosion of art – some of it possibly commissioned or at least sanctioned, some of it probably produced in the dark. We enjoyed it all!

Oh yes, we also sampled local art in the form of craft beer. Tried a few, our favourite: the Majadera. It is described as a Pale Ale but tasted more like a west coast IPA. Yum!

A sample of the street murals and stencil graffiti art we encountered in San Jose:

sun and sand in puerto viejo

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First off, we wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and an abundant new year!

We have only a few more days to enjoy this lovely, warm and welcoming part of Costa Rica: the Caribbean village of Puerto Viejo. We have really enjoyed the sunshine and the sandy beach, and even though it is technically the rainy season, about 75% of our days have been without rain, or so little rain that we could still spend several hours on the beach each day.

Our vacation rental, Casa Amarilla (Yellow House), is the closet we have stayed to our beloved Cocles Beach. In fact we are an easy 100 metres to the beach.

One of the most disturbing changes we found in Puerto Viejo was that our beach has virtually disappeared. During our past two stays here, October 2012 and late October 2014, we would walk through the jungle, arrive at the entrance to the beach and walk about 50 metres to the right and 100 metres out toward the ocean and put down our blankets. Not this time.

On our first day here, the beach was about 20 metres wide but as high tide approached, the beach did not exist at all.

We talked to a gentleman who has been here every year and he said “have you heard of climate change?”

Of course we have. There was a news report that the area around the North Pole has less ice than previous years, only 80% of the water has frozen as opposed to 90% in past years. The ocean is obviously getting warmer and this is making waves in other parts of the globe, including here. Close to town, some businesses have piled up sandbags to keep the ocean from washing away their beachfront. In other places, we could see that the ground under the trees close to the beach was being washed away by the waves and higher tides and the sand itself was disappearing. We know other beaches around the world are facing similar challenges.

In spite of the high waters, we have enjoyed playing in the water and lying on the beach.

One of our favourite eateries has been the Lazy Mon. It is a hostel with a bar and restaurant in an open area facing the beach. Every night at 5 pm they have musicians entertain their guests. The best performance this visit has been an American musician, Lester Seal from Virginia. He has an incredible voice and a great stage presence.  From lounge lizard music to Jimmy Hendrix, he really holds the crowd!

We walk an average of 6 kms a day and are feeling really good. We expect to walk along the beach and through the jungle to Playa Uva today, about 8 kms south of here. We love to walk along the beach, especially when the water is so warm compared to Vancouver.

Enjoy all the photos Don is posting with this blog… most in the vicinity of Casa Amarilla and Playa Cocles.

So, our dear friends and followers, have a lovely second week of January! Here’s to lots of love, happiness and great health to you!

Deborah