All eyes are on Rio de Janeiro for the coming weeks, and rightly so with the Olympics 2016 currently underway.
One of our daughters is there for work, on the periphery of the Games. I’m pretty sure she’ll be run ragged over the next little while, and have little chance to see many events or Rio itself. She didn’t get to see the opening ceremony.
Fortunately she has a few extra days in Brazil after the Games end. To help her decide how to spend them, I’m going to add a few blog posts from our two recent trips to that vast and amazing country.
I’m going to start with the Pantanal, the world largest tropical wetland, which sprawls across two Brazilian states, as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. It covers an area estimated to be up to 195,000 square kilometres (or 75,000 square miles).
During the rainy season (mostly November to March), water levels in parts of the Pantanal basin rise two to five metres, leaving about 80 per cent of the floodplains submerged.
This wonderful inundation of water helps the Pantanal to support the largest concentration of wildlife in the Americas. The numbers are astounding. It is believed to have 1000 bird species, 400 fish species, 300 mammal species, 480 reptile species and more than 9000 different subspecies of invertebrates. The number of plant life is phenomenal too, with the ecosystem having about 3500 known plant species.
Poor John and I have been lucky enough to visit two parts of the Brazilian Pantanal—first in the south and then seven months later in the north. We reached the Pantanal by road, so had the chance to see many square kilometres of these wetlands. The two areas we visited are 14 hours and 1000+ kilometres (by road) apart.
Both times, the water levels didn’t interrupt our travels. In fact, on the first visit (for Christmas) the rains hadn’t yet arrived.
On one stretch of road, we even rescued a tick-infested anaconda that was languishing in a mud puddle under a bridge. Our guide said the snake would have died had we not moved it to a pool that still held water. The rains were coming soon, so the guide was confident it would survive.
On our second visit, in July, the rivers were running a bit higher and we had more fabulous excursions on foot, on horseback and by boat.
Here is a link to another post on a boating expedition, and I’m adding even more new photos here simply because I think this magnificent wetland should be better known.
I’m sorry that I no longer remember the names of all the birds. Please fill me in, if you know any of them.
And if you need a drink after seeing the close-ups of the lizard, caimans and anaconda, check out my recipe for the amazing Brazilian drink caipirinha.
Have you ever pulled your car or motorcycle into the parking space designated disabled? I can imagine the scenario. It was the only Disabled space in the carpark and right in front of the pharmacy. You had to pick up a prescription and you’d be quick.
I’ve been aware of the sacredness of disabled parking spaces for many decades. My mother had great difficulty walking. Later in her life she relied on a wheelchair for longer outings. We even designed our house at the beach to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
Then in early 2000, Poor John’s Aunt Esther came to live with us. She was 89 at the time. We built a granny flat for her and designed it to be wheelchair-friendly. About 2004, she qualified for a disabled parking permit. She didn’t drive, but I was her chauffeur, and the rules said I could use it only when she was in the car or when I was coming to pick her up.
Esther moved into demented aged care when she was 97. We kept the permit to use when we took her on outings. When she died 10 months later, the permit was returned to the city.
And now I’m getting to the point of this post. I have been stark-raving furious for the last few weeks as I have watched one person repeatedly abuse a disability permit.
Twice a week I drive Rhodanthe (and sometimes Elizabeth) to seniors’ gym class. Rhodanthe is 94 and Elizabeth is 95. Both use walking frames. The disabled parking spaces are about 100 metres from the entrance.
Three weeks ago, I pulled into one of the disabled spaces, and a dark blue BMW pulled in beside me and took the last disabled space.
The windows were tinted so I couldn’t see what the driver was doing, but he/she made no move to get out of the car. I wrangled the walkers out of the back end of the car, and still no driver appeared. We moseyed across the parking lot and up the footpath, and still no driver appeared.
I’m not normally suspicious, but I sensed that the driver didn’t want to be seen walking unaided away from the car. After we got in to the gym, I doubled back and, sure enough, I saw him get out of the car and stride across the carpark, with a briefcase in hand.
Two days later, he was there again. He was pulling into the last disabled space. We moved on a few rows and sat in the car and watched as he got out and strode off with his briefcase.
So I did my job. I didn’t run after him and I don’t leave passive aggressive note, but I did gather evidence.
Even though it was raining, I got a video of him walking away and photos of the car parked in front of the disabled signpost, the disabled permit number and the license plate number.
When I got home, I called the city’s traffic management office and reported all the details. I suggested that a city inspector wait in the carpark between 9:15 and 9:30 on a Tuesday or Thursday, and see for themselves.
Tuesday of last week the BMW wasn’t there, so I assumed success.
But nope. The car was there again on Thursday last week, and Tuesday and Thursday (today) of this week.
I’m going to the carpark tomorrow (Friday) to see if the car is there again. If it is, I will be swinging by the carpark daily and then calling traffic management daily until the behaviour stops. I suspect the permit has been ‘purchased’ on the black market
And if the city can’t/won’t solve the problem, I’ll get the seniors at the gym to beat him to a pulp with their canes. Hey, we’re a tough mob.
P.S. Scroll down through the comments for Derrick’s two stories (quite far apart) about what he saw happen in supermarket carparks. Hilarious, and oh so clever.
Winter finally has its grip on southeast Australia—well to the extent that we have winter.
Tomorrow night the mercury will drop below 0°C (32°F), and it might snow. While that’s almost summery in my home state of Nebraska, in Australia it’s considered near rock bottom on the thermometer.
The last time I experienced really frigid, below-zero temperatures was earlier this year in Alaska. Every time I looked at a thermometer in Fairbanks, the temperature was showing -6°C (21°F) or less.
But the Alaskans were hoping it would get even colder. For them, winter doesn’t seem right unless the temperature hits -50°F (-45°C) for a couple of days. This last northern winter the mercury there never dipped below -29°F. Alaskans know they are experiencing some sort of climate change.
Another concern was the condition of the sculptures at the 2016 World Ice Art Championships put on by Ice Alaska. The annual competition ran for a few weeks with single-block ice sculptures being completed and judged first.
When we arrived in Fairbanks in the first week of March, the first round of judging had taken place and at least one work had melted enough to collapse.
At that time, the ice artists were already at work on their multi-block sculptures. We first saw those completed and judged works about a week later (after our trip to the Arctic Circle).
Some of these pieces were huge, and the first-place winner in the realistic category was the size of a small house. It was a lovely scene of Cinderella descending the stairs to her Prince Charming. Second place went to Goddess of Determination done by artists from Mongolia.
First-place in the abstract category went to Alaskan Tambourine by artists from Russia and the United States. Second-place went to Morning of the Universe by artists from Russia and Mexico.
I was surprised to see how many artists came from countries with little or no snow and ice.
Perhaps they are among they many people who have found their way to Alaska to live.
In the supermarket, I met a fellow who had moved to Fairbanks from Jamaica. And one of our Road Scholar guides was originally from St Lucia in the Caribbean.
Still no result for Australia’s federal election on Saturday. We may have an answer by the end of the week, but who knows. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a memory of a time when Poor John was almost comprised in Africa.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of gripes about Sheraton Hotels. Don’t even ask about the night in 1977 when I tried to check in to an outlet near New York City’s JFK Airport (a freebie because of a delayed flight).
But the Abuja Sheraton changed my opinion forevermore—and in a positive way.
As we trundled through West Africa, we were repeatedly told that in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, we would be able camp for free at the Sheraton Hotel. Yeah, right?
After 13 days of extremely remote overland travel with rough roads, no showers, little water, limited food and lots of bugs, it was hard for us to believe that the Sheraton in Abuja would let us stay. We were completely grubby and smelled even worse.
But welcome us they did. For many years, the Sheraton in Abuja has had a policy of letting overland trucks park ‘out the back’ and letting passengers camp in an area not seen by the paying public. I don’t know if this is still true, but I hope so.
Eighteen months before we arrived, camping ‘out the back’ at the Sheraton meant we’d stay where hotel vehicles were serviced and repaired. We saw that area and it was a real dump. Luckily, this time we were allowed to stay in the proper ‘backyard’.
Another smaller truck was there at the same time as us. They were a British family—mum, dad and three kids—travelling south down the west wide of Africa as far as they could go until it was time to return home for the school year. They were sleeping in and on top of their Bedford truck, which looked like a little brother to ours.
Our actual camping spot for tents was well shielded and behind the toilet/shower block for the swimming pool. No paying guest would have found us unless they were completely bored (or drunk) and went on a complete inspection of the grounds.
So there we were—camping at the Sheraton—so surreal. A few people took up the offer to rent a room at half price, but $162 a night is not my idea of a bargain, so we stayed in our tent.
Those who camped had a lot of freedom. We could use the toilets and showers near the pool—cripes we could even use the pool. On the first day or two, some of our group hogged the pool recliners to the point that we were banned from using them at all. We could also mooch off our travelling companions who did rent rooms. I did a couple of loads of laundry in a bathtub.
The Elephant Bar was also open slather. Ah, the Elephant Bar. It was the main casual bar at the Sheraton. Every afternoon, Happy Hour was awash with cheap drinks, delicious nibbles and hordes of prostitutes.
I can still picture the spindly stilettos, ridiculously short skirts, plunging necklines, garish animal prints, liberal make-up and blatantly entertaining stalking techniques.
Even Poor John was in their sights. He told of the night that he headed out of the Elephant Bar on his way to our tent. A voluptuous prostitute clicked after him on her stilettoes.
His detour into the gents’ toilet by the pool didn’t put her off, and she waited patiently for him to re-emerge. But then, and I mean a big BUT THEN, he turned left out of the toilet and headed around to the tents.
‘Come back, sir,’ she sang out, ‘I am waiting for you.’
‘No,’ he replied, ‘I’m going to my tent.’
Tent life was never on her agenda. I can’t say ‘you should have seen the look of horror on her face’ because I didn’t see it either, but when Poor John tells the story he gets this sort of sheepish grin on his face that says it all. Mostly because he rescued himself.
But don’t ask me about the fellow who had a false eyelash stuck to his forehead the next morning.
Unless you are Australian or living in Australia, you probably didn’t know that our country had its federal election today—sort of like voting for the USA president, yet totally different.
The biggest difference is that our campaign lasted for eight weeks. That was the longest campaign we’ve had in many decades. Most campaigns run for about three weeks.
As I write it is almost 11pm. We don’t yet know all the winners. The results are close. We don’t even know who will govern the country—Liberal or Labor or a hung Parliament (meaning a grouping of those willing to work together).
But we do know the outcome will be fair and a reasonable reflection of what the people want (or think they want).
Let me explain. And I’ll try to keep this simple. Pull me up if I make a mistake or if you have a differing opinion.
Australia has two main seats of government—the House of Representatives (the Lower House) and the Senate (the Upper House).
Australia operates on what is called the Westminster system. Put simply, it means every votes counts.
When I vote for the House of Representatives, I have to number all the candidates in the order of my preference for them. My electorate had four choices, so I numbered the candidates from 1 to 4.
For example, if the person I put at number 1 doesn’t get many votes—certainly not enough to be considered—my vote then spills over to the candidate who my first choice person likes best (so it pays to know who your first-choice person likes most). And so on. My vote might actually end up going to my 4th choice, but only after and because my three previous choices didn’t get enough votes to be considered. This rarely happens, but it can. (It’s more complicated than this, but I hope you get the idea).
An important addition
My friend Carol found a great explanation of how votes are distributed so here it is (it’s also in her comment below):
‘When it comes to the count, all the number “1” votes are added up first, and if any candidate has more the 50 per cent of the votes, they win straight away.
‘If no candidate has more than half of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded, and all the ballot papers that had that candidate as “1” are transferred to the voters’ second preferences.
‘If there’s still no candidate with more than half the votes, the candidate who now has the fewest votes is excluded and the votes are transferred to the next preference shown.
‘This process continues until one candidate has more than half the total number of formal votes and is elected.
‘So if you voted “1” Greens, “2” Nick Xenophon Team, “3” Labor and “4” Coalition, your vote might flow to Labor if Greens and NXT were excluded before anyone had more than half the votes.’
The Senate is a little different. Every state elects 12 senators, while the two territories (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) can elect only two.
Huge numbers of people run for the Senate. My ballot (in New South Wales) was the size of a table runner. Without going into huge detail, I had to number my choices from 1 to 6 above the line (or 1 to 12 below the line). If you are interested, you can look up the intricacies of above and below the line voting.
I won’t say how I voted.
But I will say that I vote in the seat of Gilmore. Poor John and I usually live in the seat of Fenner, but we have a beach house in the seat of Gilmore.
We could vote in Fenner, but it is a seat with such a predictable electoral outcome that we thought we’d put our vote where it might make more difference. Turns out it didn’t make a difference this time, but maybe in future.
But a few comments about Australia’s amazing voting system, and this is from the man who is America’s current ambassador to Australia. Our local radio stationed interviewed him earlier this week. He said there are three things he wants take back to America. They are:
• compulsory voting—Australians over the age of 18 are obliged to vote
• an independent body to draw the electoral boundaries
• a campaign of no more than 60 days.
If electoral practices ultimately change in the USA, maybe it started here.
So how would you change the voting system in your country?
Another important addition
I completely forgot to tell you about the cake stalls and sausage sizzles that are a major part of every Australian election.
Elections are always on a Saturday and most primary schools serve as polling stations. This provides a perfect chance for the P&C (Parents and Citizens) group at a school to fundraise. Mums and dads volunteer to make treats (ingredients have to be listed on the outside of the packaging), butter slices of bread, fry onions and sausages, and collect a fair whack of money for the school coffers.
I was vice president of our local P&C for two years in the late 1980s, which meant I was in charge of fundraising. I twisted a lot of arms those two years and we made a lot of money for frills at the school. I remember neighbour, Peter, taking the challenge to slice something like 10 kilos of onions. He wore goggles to do the job.
So if you’re ever ‘recruited’ to bake or slice or fry for a ‘cake stall’ event, here are two page-32 recipes that should make your task easier.
This is the first time I have ever reblogged a post, but I so very strongly support the sentiment in this one. We travelled extensively in Africa and India. Leopards live on the brink. I took the time to send a message and hope you will do the same.
So Cape Nature is at it again, threatening the life of a leopard. They are planning to remove a leopard for catching penguins in Betty’s Bay, Western Cape!
Please click on this link if you are not sure what or who CapeNature is…. http://www.capenature.co.za/about-us/
This is again a disgraceful action by this conservation agency! What is a leopard suppose to do?
I urge you to please send in your objections to email@example.com
You don’t even need to be a South African citizen to make a difference. Just simply the numbers are needed to illustrate to CapeNature what they are doing is not ethical.
We have been agitating since last week to prevent the demise or removal of a leopard in Betty’s Bay. A flurry of press releases by CapeNature have been aimed at damage control and to deny them wanting to remove the leopard. We had three people connected to…
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How am I going to make dinner over the next three or four weeks?
Let’s get this straight. If you cook dinner for your family every night, you might do the same as me. I switch on the TV about 4:30pm for some distraction, company and entertainment.
For the last three or four weeks, I’ve been watching the 2013 edition of India’s Dancing Superstar. It’s been sensational.
I’ve watched all the auditions (there were hundreds), the narrowing down to 60, and then the further narrowing down to 12. I’ve watched as the judges nurtured and encouraged each and every performer who progressed. For example, there was a dwarf, Vikas Kumar, who has since gone on to make a name for himself in India’s entertainment world.
Then there was the Loyola Dream Team, a group of young men from a private school in Chennai. They got into the top five. One of the judges, the stylish Geeta Kapoor, was especially partial to them, and so was I. They didn’t win, but have since gone on to perform widely in India.
In the end, MJ5 took out the honours, winning the most phoned-in votes from across India. They did a great job and specialised in moon walking, a dance style made popular by Michael Jackson (hence their name of MJ5). They were amazing and innovative, and represented just a small slice of the many dance styles that are practised in India.
In fact, the range of dance styles shown in the competition amazed me because, until the superstar event, my knowledge of Indian dance was limited to traditional and Bollywood productions. By the way, Geeta Kapoor is a Bollywood choreographer.
Luckily, our travels in India have given us the chance to see other styles of traditional dance.
Dancers in India—the Baiga
The first time we saw dancers was near Kanha’s national park, in Madhya Pradesh, and this group was from the Baiga tribe.
We felt lucky to see them: so full of life, colour and movement. While the women and men performed together, they filled different roles. The women danced in a circle or in a line, while the men, for the most part, played the instruments.
I was sad to learn more about the Baiga. They are forest dwellers living mostly in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jhaekhand. They live a semi-nomadic life, and are hunters and woodsmen. They strive to survive on the produce of the forest, and say they don’t plough the earth because it would be like scratching their mother’s breast.
Over the last 50 years and in the name of conservation, many Baiga have been forcefully evicted from their forests. The government has officially ‘reclaimed’ the land to protect tigers and expand national wildlife parks.
Obviously this has been great for the animals and those of us who want to see them in the wild, but I believe it has been problematic for the Baiga communities.
I don’t know if ‘our dancers’ were displaced, but we sure appreciated their performance. Our little group of six was the only audience and we loved every minute.
Oh, and some groups of Baiga women are tattoo experts. I wonder if the group we saw are among the artistes?
Dancers in India—Rajasthan
Our next dance extravaganza came a week later in Rajasthan, near Ranthambore National Park. This performance was organised by the hotel/campground where we were staying, and was performed in the garden near our tents. I think it must be a routine offering, and many hotel guests attended.
There were four musicians and one dancer performing the bhavai style of dance. This style involves a female balancing earthenware or bronze pots on her head as she twists, turns and dances. Our girl balanced a stack of metal pots (aluminium or stainless steel, I think). She was such a sweet thing with a wonderful smile.
It had the feel of a family affair, with dad and sons playing the instruments, and daughter fleshing out the performance with her dancing.
We were happy to support them.
Our next adventures
India seems to be in our blood. The dancing might be too, but don’t expect Poor John to ever admit that he has any interest in dance.
We’re planning another trip to India: this time in the south and starting in early October 2016. It’s for 45 days and has a focus on wildlife—lots of tigers and bears (the lions are further north and west, and we saw them here).
If you’re interested and are good travelling companions (eat anything and okay with budget accommodation), you are most welcome to join this adventure. Two seats left. Let me know and I will send details.
P.S. The trip will travel with 2, but there is room for 4. Oh, and if you love Indian food as much as we do, check out this great recipe for fish in tomato gravy.