It seems a bit disingenuous to write about the joys of
travel during the current coronavirus scare, when people are afraid to pass
through airports or be entombed in airplanes with hundreds of unknown people
from all around the world. Even those who would dare those risks are
reconsidering travel plans when the very real possibility of quarantine looms
large. No one wants to spend weeks in a windowless cruise ship cabin.
(Shudder.) My own friends and family are canceling or postponing trips for
Perhaps the airlines are starting to feel the pinch, as a note just popped up to say that Air Canada and WestJet will waive fees to change flights if you go ahead and book flights now (between March 4 and March 31 for AC and between March 3 and March 17 for WestJet). I’m guessing new bookings have plummeted to zero and they are desperate to get some cash flowing in. I suggest that ALL airlines and ALL hotels/accommodations follow suit or they will be completely shut down for the next few months, until the health situation stabilizes. No one is going to be crazy enough to book travel as long as there’s a good chance they will lose their money if they have to cancel.
Meantime, what I want to know is how will the airlines and hotels accommodate people who booked months ago and are scheduled to travel soon? Has anyone heard anything from them beyond “Tough luck”? I even wonder if travel insurance companies are going to cover any of this. (Doubtful.)
The Salton Sea is a strange and disquieting place located in the arid Colorado Desert of southern California. It is a lake, not a sea, and its surface currently lies about 71.9 m (236.0 ft) below sea level. The “sea” was formed in 1905 when engineers mucking around with the Colorado River and irrigation issues made a boo-boo that resulted in the river flowing into the Salton Basin for two years. Since there was no outflow, a large freshwater lake formed.
Lying in the midst of a desert climate with warmth and
sunshine much of the year, the Salton Sea, as it came to be known, became a
magnet for funseekers. Resort towns popped up along its shores, hitting their
heyday in the 1950s.
Over the years, however, as the lake evaporated, turned more
and more salty, and became increasingly polluted from agricultural runoff, the
resorts faded away.
“Many of the species of fish that lived in the sea have been killed off by the combination of pollutants, salt levels, and algal blooms. Dead fish have been known to wash up in mass quantities on the beaches. The smell of the lake, combined with the stench of the decaying fish, also contributed to the decline of the tourist industry around the Salton Sea.” (Wikipedia)
Today, the area is scattered with the remnants of abandoned settlements.
It is the closest thing to an apocalyptic landscape that I’ve ever seen.
Recently, the US House of Representatives passed a bill in
support of allotting $30 million “for projects that would address the
environmental and health crisis at the Salton Sea.”
The question is, what are they going to do with that money?
I wonder if they even have a clue.
It’s a tricky situation. Technically, the lake doesn’t belong there at all. It’s the result of an environmental catastrophe. However, it has now been there for over a hundred years and nature abhors a vacuum, so it has become a vital resource for birds in an otherwise waterless landscape. Amazingly, birds can survive in this bleak habitat; so much so that the Salton Sea is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Which is how I came to be there, checking out the burrowing owls and other intriguing species. People also continue to live around the lake.
If the powers that be allow things to continue as they are
going—“let nature take its course”—the lake will eventually become so poisonous
that nothing will be able to live there. Millions of birds will lose their
resting, feeding, and breeding grounds. After that, it will dry up completely,
forming a toxic dust bowl that could sicken anything that stills lives in the
vicinity, animal or human.
If, on the other hand, they decide to preserve the lake, it
would be a massive undertaking. California already has chronic water shortages.
Where would the water to save the lake come from? And if they somehow found
that water, how would they solve the problem of pollution from agricultural
What would be the ultimate goal? To recreate the Salton
Sea’s glory days, when tourists water skied and swam, and a commercial fishery
existed? Or to maintain the area as a nature park, inhospitable to humans, but
a haven for wildlife? Do they turn the clock back 10 years? 20? 60?
What should be done for the people who live there?
Relocation? Welfare? Publicly funded communities?
How do you “fix” something when you know it’s definitely
“wrong,” but you don’t know what “right” is?
There are several documentaries on the Salton Sea but I’ve only seen one of them: Bombay Beach (2011), an experimental style film heavy on the bizarre ambience of the place.
It’s obviously time for this dedicated traveller-journalist to return to Ecuador for an on-the-spot, in-the-field report on a breaking story of massive international importance: a new type of chocolate has been developed.
This is not just a flavoured, coloured chocolate derivative. Apparently, the rosy confection actually originates with a new type of cocoa bean, which, from the photos, is also pretty in pink.
According to the Callebaut website: “Ruby offers an intense sensorial delight, a totally new taste experience: neither bitter, milky or sweet, but a tension of fresh berry fruitiness and luscious smoothness….Ruby chocolate contains no berries, berry flavor or colorings.”
The special beans are currently being grown in Ivory Coast, Brazil, and Ecuador. Sounds like a good excuse for a trip.
Although it’s now 20 years old, Steve Howell’s Where to Watch Birds in Mexico is still the go-to guide for travelling birders in that country, but with the information that dated, readers need to take it with a grain of salt and a spirit of adventure.
Setting out to find the well-known Vigia Chico road that Howell profiles in his book, we consulted a more recent online source for updates and managed to find the location. The paved road goes a bit farther now, but it still turns into rutted hardpan/mud pretty quickly.
We didn’t see a lot of birds, but I put that down to arriving mid-morning.
However, two things birders should note about this famous spot:
1. The road is nearly impassable to regular cars with normal clearance. There are almost continuous deep gullies and holes with large rocks sticking up. We bottomed out over and over until we gave up at around km 4. So either bring a high-clearance vehicle or plan to walk.
2. I was standing at roadside, camera in hand, when a local came chugging up on a motorcycle. I called out Buenos dios as I do to everyone who passes, but instead of answering with a smile and going on, he stopped and approached us.
He let out a torrent of Spanish, from which I gathered he was saying photography on the road was prohibited. But somehow, if I paid a “fee” I could take my photos.
Knowing it is a public road, but not wanting to argue, I just said, Photographs are prohibited? Okay, no photographs. And I put my camera away. Of course, I got another flood of Spanish explaining about the fee, but I simply stuck to I understand, no photographs.
After seeing we were not going to pay, he climbed on his bike and roared away.
So I just wanted to warn other birders that this con artist has gotten wise to birders who want to use that road.
I’d also be very curious to know if anyone else has run into this?
“According to a recent report…in the end of January 2019 five thieves approached a truck parked along Chile’s 5 South freeway…, tied up the driver and stole the truck along with 22,500 kilograms of salmon valued at…US$305,000.”
“Well, I used to be a farmer and I made a living fine I had a little patch of poppies along the border line But times went bad and though I tried the cops were always there Then soldiers came and took my land and told me fair is fair
I looked for every kind of job, the answer always no “Hire you now?” they laughed, “We just let twenty go!” The government they promised me a measly little sum But I’ve got too much pride to end up just another bum
Then I thought, Who needs their charity? I’m going to be a FISH PIRATE on the highways of Chile!”
Note: In order for this immortal ditty to rhyme, you need to mispronounce Chile as if it is the bean-based food chili.
Spots are the name of the game for members of the Nazareth Baptist Shembe Church in South Africa, whose traditional costumes include leopard skin capes. With millions of followers of the faith, a single Shembe gathering can put thousands of the animal pelts on view. Such popularity is bad news for the cats, who would much prefer the skins stay with the original owners.
Panthera, an organization dedicated to the conservation of the world’s wild cats, has stepped in with Furs for Life, a project to supply low-cost faux fur capes to those who use them in cultural practices. After five years of effort in promoting the switch, the 21st-century twist on this old fashion statement now sees about 50 percent of ceremony participants draped in fake spots, amounting to about 18,000 leopard lives saved.
If your idea of a tasty treat is chowing down on some nice, crunchy grubs, you’re in luck. A recent study by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency testing for Salmonella and E. coli in edible insect products from online retailers and Canadian retailers didn’t find those harmful microorganisms in yummy products such as dried whole insects, insect powder, and insect-containing snacks (e.g., chips, crackers, and cookies).
According to the 2018-10-03 CFIA Food Safety Testing Bulletin, the presence or absence of Salmonella and E. coli “is an indicator of the overall sanitation conditions throughout the food production chain….Salmonella spp. and generic E. coli were not found in any of the samples analysed and therefore it appears that the edible insects have been produced under sanitary conditions.”
Whew! That’s a load off my mind. I mean, unsanitary bugs, eeee, yuck! Who needs ‘em?!
Travellers to Canada can now indulge in local culinary delights such as Nanaimo Bugs, Cricket Poutine, and Cedar-planked Salmon Flies* with no qualms whatsoever.
Note that while the Canadian study does not indicate the safety of eating bugs elsewhere, the bulletin does state: “…most of the popular edible insects around the world have a history of safe use for human consumption.”
Generally, I’m not much of a foodie. “Fill my tummy and don’t make me sick” is usually all I hope for from travel meals.
Chocolate, however, is another thing altogether. I will go significantly out of my way to track down a new chocolate experience. The chocolate buffet in Bangkok did not disappoint, featuring a variety of tasty non-chocolate savouries as well as a staggering array of chocolate-based cakes, pastries, confections, and drinks. I snapped this photo of the “tasting trolley,” which offers only pure chocolate in its many varieties, from single-source darks to premium whites and every shade in between. A polite gentleman stands in attendance to dish out as many and as much of each as you might desire. Or he will blend your choices into custom-made hot chocolate.
Here’s the tragedy: having stuffed myself shamelessly on the other options, I actually could not try one bite off the trolley. I stared at it with unbridled lust while the nice gentleman stood poised with his spoon, ready to serve, and I couldn’t do it. I knew that if I indulged in “just one little bite,” like the man in the Monty Python sketch I would explode. Not a pretty picture.
On the up side, I now have a very good reason to return to Bangkok someday.
Gotta love those crafty Germans! They have their priorities right: celebrate the many colours and varieties of Ritter Sport chocolate bars on a stairway trod by tens of thousands daily. How could one climb this stairway to Heaven without coming away with a sinful craving for chocolate? I had to run right out and find my favourite flavour (hazelnut rum raisin). And no, I’m not getting a lucrative endorsement from Ritter Sport. (If someone from the company reads this and wants to offer me one, please do!)
Having the ad painted on stairs in a railway station fits perfectly into the Ritter Sport’s branding as a yummy snack “on the go.” Why not grab one before you’re stuck on the train for an hour? It will make the trip more pleasant!
In researching this in-depth article, I discovered that Ritter was founded in 1912 and has 33 regular varieties of the Sport bar, 5 organic varieties, and a few “limited edition” flavours that come and go.
The brand eschews the usual rectangular chocolate bar shape for a distinctive, solid-feeling square, leading to their motto: “Qualität im Quadrat” (Quality in a Square). They have their own museum, the Sammlung Marli Hoppe-Ritter, described as an “homage to the square,” which consists of nearly 600 square paintings, objects, sculptures and graphic works, all housed in a square, blocky building. Naturally.
Have you smiled at some very clever, nonintrusive advertising that still gets its point across? Share in a comment.
I’m on the email list for special deals from Princess Cruises. Yes, call me a cockeyed optimist, but aside from the allure of actually getting a “special deal,” I consider it my duty to keep on top of travel stuff like this on behalf of you, my faithful readers.
A few days ago, I received a message titled “Our thanks to you: exclusive Canadian fares.” Hmmm…well, at least the prices were expressed in Canadian dollars. Among the featured deals was this one:
Okay, I thought, I’ll bite. $779 Cdn isn’t bad. I clicked. But instead of getting more info on this deal, I linked through to this:
Whoa. Even for a princess, that’s a hefty price for 7 days of unlimited buffet food. For over $30,000, I must be buying the bludy glacier, eh? The odd part is that the name of cruise, itinerary, name of ship, and sailing date are all exactly the same. Only the price is different.
I subsequently tried the link several more times to make sure the first one wasn’t some kind of glitch, but no, I got the same result each time.
I sent Princess a message pointing out the problem like an über-responsible consumer would do. No acknowledgement, no response, no thank-you note from them.
So…was it the old bait and switch? Do they really think that discount-seeking cheapskates like me are potential purchasers of a $27,869 (plus a mere $7,000 in “additional fees”) cruise? Or was it just an idiotic error that they are too embarrassed to admit? Only Her Highness knows for sure.
Note: When I tried the link several days later, it was fixed. So someone somewhere said “Oops!”