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Panglao Paradise

Panglao was the best island I visited in the Philippines.

Why?

Fewer tourists and the local lifestyle did not appear to have changed as a result of them. A lot of rainforest was intact, though it was rapidly being sold off and cut down and stone houses were springing up. There were still some traditional ones made of bamboo, flax and rattan.

The hotel I stayed in there was the best – Mithi Resort and Spa, a peaceful secluded spot right next to the sea, with a small private beach, incredible snorkelling and luxury accommodation. It was so popular that the standard room had sold out when I paid for it, but the upgrade was worth it. Although I had not paid for a sea view I could see it from my balcony. The staff were so attentive and friendly.

I got there from Cebu by taking an Ocean Jet ferry to Tagbilaran and then the hotel picked me up and drove me over the bridge. It took a few hours.

I made the most of my time there. I found a great private driver hire company, Valleroso and Ralle. You gave them your itinerary and the driver would take you wherever you wanted for a reasonable price, just £30 a day. I asked different companies on Facebook (their companies are all run from social media) until I got the best price, as I was on a budget and kept going over it.

At 10am (I am not a fan of early starts) I went first to the Hinagdanan cave. It was not worth the visit, being small and already busy with tourists.You literally just stand on a ledge once you descended, there is nowhere to go.

The water looked a bit dirty too, I could see grease on it. The tide was out, so we could not enjoy the water. I saw a much better cave in Bohol where you can swim. I will write a post on that soon.

We went to the Blood Compact monument near the port. This commemorated the moment when the local tribe signed a peace deal with the Spanish, drinking drops of each other’s blood in wine in the traditional Cebuano style.

Next up was the pentagonal Spanish watch tower, built so the new settlers could be alert to local attack on all sides, and a church with a pretty painted ceiling.

I was able to get cash out at an ATM without being charged. They had a guard for safety, although the driver told me that they rarely had crime. Everyone knew each other.

I had read about a restaurant with panoramic views on social media, appropriately called Le Panorama, over on Bohol. I went there for lunch and had the best fresh prawns I had ever tasted, in a very tasty tomato sauce, with rice. It was midday but being on holiday, I had to wash it down with a pina colada!

After lunch I had asked the company where a good beach was that locals used, I avoided Alona beach as I had heard that it was packed with tourists and had litter. I won’t name the beach as it is secret, so it doesn’t deteriorate too.

There were palm trees all the way along the shore, only two other tourists and lots of locals fishing in one corner, swimming and snorkelling. One of them came up to me and said I should stay at his brother’s apartments and like everyone around there, said I should live on the island.

On the way back I wanted to try some traditional food so I stopped at a street stall selling fried chicken. I hadn’t seen any cafes or restaurants. The islanders seemed to eat at home. I asked for two pieces. The man went to the back of the stall and started hacking up chicken. People around gawped, even looking back from their scooters. I asked my guide what he was doing and he said “you wanted two chickens didn’t you?”.

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May 19, 2020 · 9:54 pm

The Philippines – Cebu City

En route – Singapore Airport’s Butterfly House

It was my first holiday alone and I was nervous. Would I be safe?

I’d survived the 20 hour flight, thanks to a Singapore Airlines voucher giving me a free shower, like the relief of a wash after a festival.

Cebu City is a bustling, chaotic, hot, noisy, dusty city of around 100,000 people packed into a small space.

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My Grab app would not give me an option to hail a taxi so I got a metered one. “Make sure the meter is running when you get in” Lonely Planet advised, so I checked.

The driver, Marlin, had a side business as a tour guide. He put the price up by 200 pesos (about £3). When I asked why he said “I haven’t changed the sign yet.” He had two children, a girl of 4 and a boy age 14. The girl had been a surprise and he was still paying off the emergency caesarian.

Rows of cars trailed as far as the eye could see until the early hours. My tour guide dropped me off at 5pm and didn’t get home at midnight, on Valentines Day.

He was back to pick me up at 9am “no problem with traffic this morning, I come straight here!”.

It was cheaper than official tours and more flexible. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I could have lunch with him at McDonalds or nothing, as we didn’t have enough time, so I passed. After the 20 hour plane journey I still couldn’t stomach a burger.

Grey oblong concrete blocks rose into the sky, but they weren’t very high. It was an urban jungle.

There were only some skyscrapers in the Central Business District, and a mall which only took cash. Fortunately the restaurants outside it took card payments, as you got charged for withdrawals unless you used the HSBC ATM kiosk at the back round the corner.

There were no lanes on the roads and scooters, bikes and rickshaws were weaving around and jeepneys which are open air vans, their buses.

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We drove first to the Taoist temple, built in 1967 in one of the wealthiest areas, the gated hilltop community of Beverly Hills. Surrounded by the first bit of greenery I saw, skyscraper fingers framed the horizon. There were pagodas, dragons on the roofs and fountains. I admired the painted ceilings in the tranquillity.

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We then went to the city’s museum, a former American jail. It explained the history of Cebu and the islands, from the original bamboo and flax huts and reliance on fishing, to a failed invasion of Cebu by the Portuguese who were beaten by machetes, and then the Spanish in 1521, who decided to have an artillery attack from the boat before coming ashore and taking over with the famous Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese national, as their captain.

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They brought Catholicism and they are said to have found a figure of the baby Jesus, the “Santo Nino” and that this kept them safe. The five walled watch tower on Panglao and the fort of San Pedro did as well. Eventually the Philippines wanted independence from Spain and there were frequent uprisings. In this climate the Americans came and conquered the islands with the help of the rebels, in 1901 after a two year war. But hopes of independence were dashed as the Americans took over. 

The island nation then fell to the Japanese in December 1941, who established strict military rule in which anyone carrying local banned currency was killed. But the money continued to be used in the black market. Notices were put up everywhere warning of heavy physical punishment for any disobedience. Some locals were put in Prisoner Of War camps and there was a shirt there from someone that had worked in it for five months without being given another. They were beaten regularly by the fearsome Kempe-tei, the prison guards. The Americans helped the guerilla Filipinos once more, and this time The Philippines were granted independence, in 1946.

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There was a chronological trail of artefacts, from Japanese guns to a ceremonial Afghan sword bought from merchants.

I realised I’d been about two hours and felt guilty, it must be hot waiting in that car. The driver was cross, “you take too much time, we late now, you must go faster”.

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We stopped at the Basilica, a church with a piece of cross in it apparently from Magellan’s voyage, but I couldn’t find it! I saw the replica, which was enclosed in a stone dome with a nice painted ceiling. Then I queued up to see the holy relic, the Santo Nino, said to be found by the Spanish when they first landed and which brought good luck to the locals, as they all kissed and touched the glass, muttering and crossing themselves. There was a prayer area outside with stone carvings of what I had just seen and the arrival of the Spanish.

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I then visited a recent towering monument built in the 1990s, showing the settlement story, mostly with figures and with some boats and buildings. The Santo Nino was there as it is in every historical depiction.

Down the road on the right was the oldest house. We had been by the oldest street, a wide road with grey concrete blocks on either side. It was one of the ugliest cities I had seen, but the pleasant kind people I met made up for it. I got approached repeatedly by the same man to buy plastic pearls. Once in the house I was given a tour in English. It had been bought from the Filipinos by Chinese merchants in the 1600s. They had decorated the house with jade ornaments and intricately patterned blue and white vases. It had then stayed in the family for generations. The house was made of thick wooden beams and it was cooler than outside but still warm and airless.

Outside a father and son were playing a duet on a small harp and ukelele. The boy was about four and had obviously had a lot of practice.

I went to another old house, Casa Gorado. I am not sure how old as I was concentrating on the animation on the board in front, which showed how the Spanish had moved the Cebuanos up the hill away from the fishing by the coast, to land that they could not farm because the soil was unsuitable. They could grow corn though. The Spanish arrived in 1565, setting fire to a village and blasting another with cannons. Then Chinese merchants began to settle in the 1600s and they were allocated a part of town near the Cebuanos, but they were only allowed to trade if the changed their surname to a Spanish one and converted to Catholicism.

We finished the tour with the San Pedro fort. It looked grand from the outside but once in it was just the wall and nothing much was left. It isn’t worth visiting, but it is a good stop if you want to be near the port, as you go up the drive and right and it is down the road a short distance on foot.

My taxi driver decided to be honest and stick to his original price, so I paid him the inflated amount he first quoted in appreciation. I navigated the poorly signed full port and off I went over a smooth sea to Tagbilaran…

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My First Pandemic

coronavirus

scientificanimations.com

If you want a break from continuous Covid-19, I have an article coming soon about my Philippines adventures. The photos and memories are an escape from the chaos.

The threat emerged in China. It was awful but far away.

“Don’t go” my aunt begged. But there were few cases in the Philippines. I was going via Singapore. People had spread it at their airport and a London airport shortly before I arrived back, but it was not a common event.

Someone on the plane has a fever.

A poster at a bus stop, beside a nurse who was coughing profusely.

We were hovering over Heathrow when cabin crew marched quickly up the plane, one wheeling a suitcase. There was a flurry of activity up the aisles and a curtain was yanked shut.

“Just to let you know, someone on the plane has a fever” announced the captain. There was stifled anxiety and a father was explaining the situation to his child.

We landed and a health visitor distributed forms. Unlike the cabin crew, reassuringly, he was not wearing a mask, just gloves. Waiting outside the plane a medical professional stood wide-eyed, wearing a hazmat outfit with a clear visor covering her face.

Days passed and I heard nothing, so I forgot about the pesky plague.

Then it came to Italy and coronavirus contaminated my newsfeed.

I’ve got a temperature.

My boyfriend had gone skiing in the North Italian Alps in February and there was a good offer for the Austrian mountains, in Tirol.

“Do you need another ski holiday?”

“It’s not for long” he replied.

I said goodbye on the 1st of March.

“I’ve got a temperature so I’ve come back from work early” the text read, on Wednesday 11th.

He phoned NHS111.

“You haven’t been to an affected area so you don’t need a test” they responded. No mention of infection control.

The first UK nationals returning with the virus had been on holiday to Europe. A friend who had dared to enjoy the Sagrada Familia and Sangria in Barcelona was now cuddling her cat in bed.

sagrada familia

We never get ill. Not like this.

Worried, I text my boyfriend. “What are your symptoms?”

“Headache, aches, sore throat, cough and my chest feels tight”.

“You must isolate.”

“I’ll go back to work when I’m feeling better.”

Day 3:

“How are you?”

“Temp going up and down now. Woke up last night with the heat, had some really weird dreams. It’s strange how a fever affects you.”

loo roll lockdown

On Saturday 14th March the panic started.

It was day 4 of my boyfriend’s fever but it was finally dropping. I wanted to be sure.

I desperately visited every shop in a five mile radius.

Boots nearby? sold out.

Boots in town? sold out.

Superdrug? sold out.

Argos? sold out.

John Lewis? didn’t sell them.

Online? sold out all over England.

This could have put his life in danger. Why were they so selfish? Why didn’t they have thermometers? Why didn’t we have thermometers?

Because we never get ill. Not like this.

The media started announcing a daily coronavirus count. There would be bulk-buying. But to my surprise it was business as usual in the pharmacy that morning. There was still a sense of calm. Everything was in stock apart from most of the paracetamol. I bought two lots of products to ease flu. One for me, one for my boyfriend.

A man in the queue turned and looked at my basket, whispered to his wife and walked to the side to wait for his prescription, staring at me nervously as I purchased the items.

“Is this just for you?” the retailer asked.

“No, it’s for someone else as well” I said smiling, as the shop went silent and people gawped.

I was in Waitrose looking for snacks. The bread shelf was empty. The flour shelf (to make bread) was nearly empty. The pasta shelf? empty. The soap shelf? empty. The medicine shelf? empty. The Vitamin C shelf? empty. The toilet roll shelf? empty. Why? “Well at least there’s still beer” someone joked.

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A nurse was crying in her car after trying to get food. She has now come down with it too, possibly. My brother came back from an A and E shift in Wales to find his supermarket almost empty. My sister found the same in London.

I was going to see a friend that night when she messaged. “Sorry, I have discussed it and we don’t think it’s a good idea”, explaining that her boyfriend had asthma and sending a link to government advice on social distancing. I don’t know when I can visit her again.

Some people have had to make the heartbreaking decision not to see grandparents,parents, partners or even their own children.star wars corona 2

Only £94 sick pay.

The Prime Minister’s announcement came on Sunday 15th. All those with symptoms were to isolate for seven days. My boyfriend now needed to stay home for another four days.

“Great, that’s only £94 sick pay.”

“Think of the vulnerable and older people you’ll be protecting.”

I went swimming with a friend and we went in the steam room, with no steam. I had not wanted to go in but there was only one other person.

My friend is a cancer survivor and had been told she was “medium” risk. She has now received a letter telling her she was one of the 1.5 million English nationals that could end up in hospital from the virus. She had been out on the town until midnight, should she worry about it? she asked. No, I replied. Better to go out now than at the peak of the epidemic in mid-April or May. I sent her a flowers and wine delivery with some of the last Merlot left in the city. Yesterday I won the last sour cream in my neighbourhood and last week I bought the last two packets of chicken in the supermarket. Yet I was frustrated one day when I forgot to buy the vegetables for dinner and couldn’t make another trip for a single cabbage.

Her colleagues got coronavirus taking blood.

I later read that the virus was easily spread in Chinese gyms. But again the source was not revealed, so could not be verified. Fake news and “medical” advice began to infect social media, including gargling with salt water for “protection” and holding your breath for ten seconds meant you had “virus-free” lungs. You could “wash the virus away from your lungs” by drinking tea and “kill the virus” by sunbathing.

I informed my friend that the “e-mail circulated in a hospital” was  actually government guidelines with a smattering of lunacy.

The only way to avoid contagion is to keep your distance and wash your hands.

But the public think that does not apply if you are outdoors, so now, as of Monday 23rd we are all on lockdown and gatherings of more than two people are banned. Countryside car parks are shut and the roads are almost empty, perfect for cycling. Meanwhile, our heroic key workers are keeping the country going, including my siblings. My sister worked on the “front line” for two weeks without adequate Personal Protective Equipment and four staff at her hospital tragically died. Her colleague got coronavirus taking blood with only gloves on, and survived.

My brother got infected from his girlfriend who worked on a coronavirus ward. Luckily they got off with a cough and fatigue.

From day 4 onwards my boyfriend started to get better.  His sore throat eased and he no longer had a temperature.

A week later, his only irritation was an inflamed nose and a reduced sense of smell. His housemates did not get infected as he kept his distance, wiping kitchen and bathroom surfaces after touching them.

The Guardian has recently reported that around 70% of infectious people have few or no symptoms. With that figure it is easy to understand why numbers are increasing rapidly. This is from a reputable source, a microbiology professor.

Help others more and read the news less.

Now, every time I get home I wash my hands and wipe down anything I have touched before that. I have even started spraying my shopping in case it has been touched by someone who has coughed coronavirus onto their hands. It is so unlikely, but why take that chance.

People suffering from anxiety have told me that the worry around them has made theirs worse.

The most effective way I have found of dealing with the apocalypse is to help others and to read the news less.

One useful story referred to Mutual Aid groups mobilising volunteers on social media. I joined one and bought some items for a local family.

Do you think she’ll get worse?

A family of four was isolating due to their daughter having a cough. She would give me money. I gave her my details for an online transfer instead. The money could have the virus on it. “I will stand three steps away” I replied.

There was the patter of little feet running to the door. A toddler peered up at me with bright eyes.

“She doesn’t seem to have a temperature” I remarked.

“No, she just has a cough” her mother replied.

“She probably doesn’t have it then” I said, hoping to reassure her.

“But children aren’t as badly affected are they.”

“Well no, that’s true.”

“Do you think she’ll get worse?” she asked.

“No, if she’s only got a cough she should be ok, and like you say, children aren’t as badly affected.”

“Will I get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if I get it? Will I get it worse?”

“Well have you got a good immune system?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any underlying health conditions?”

“No.”

“You should be fine then.”

She thanked me and I left, assuring her that I’d message her if I needed anything. I delivered more bread and milk a few days later.

A board read “GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

Last weekend we went on a walk with my boyfriend’s mother. As we expect that he is immune, we were not worried about him spreading it. He will not be able to see them now until the non-essential travel ban is lifted. Roadblocks have begun to spring up on local motorways.

A fast-tracked emergency bill is ensuring that new infection control laws can be enforced.

Walk with Jonny's mum

The beautiful Pigeon Tower above Upper Rivington Reservoir in Lancashire. Copyright literarylydi

I tried to keep my distance from in case I was asymptomatic (infectious but with no symptoms). We also tried to create some distance with groups walking past. It was only a problem if they coughed or sneezed the virus, but better safe than sorry. Irritatingly we ended up sandwiched in between groups of people and sharing narrow paths with them.

No one was willing to keep their distance. We wiped our hands before eating and at the car before we went home, as we had been touching gates.

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That land is now shut.

On the way home in the Peak District, we saw a board that read

“GO HOME, COUNTRYSIDE OUT OF BOUNDS.”

The streets were nearly empty and older people were all inside, isolating for 3 months.

At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

But there were people sitting in parks, walking and cycling. I doubt we will see icecream vans for a long time, maybe not even in the warmer months.

I have been watching “Summer of Rockets” on the BBC recently and it has reminded me that things could be worse. At least we don’t live in fear of nuclear attack.

Audio poems are soothing, those who are creative can find comfort in the arts. Those who are practical are doing more D.I.Y, the drilling disturbing my work. But at least I could cook myself lunch and spend the rest of the break shooting hoops.

There are entertaining videos and memes doing the rounds. An unemployed sports commentator has done commentary for everyday events, such as the “South East halloumi-buying champions” frequenting Waitrose.

There was a video of the actor Antony Hopkins playing the piano with his cat on his lap.

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Classic FM/Instagram / @AnthonyHopkins

I have also found it helpful to try not talking about it, to absorb yourself in escapist programmes and do what you can, instead of fretting about what you can’t.

No, we can’t go to schools, universities, gyms, pubs, clubs, cafes, clothes shops or restaurants (as of Saturday). We might not be able to see our family, friends or colleagues in person, maybe even our children.

But we can see them online, as long as the Internet withstands the increased demand.

We can do so many things in our homes or individually to entertain ourselves and exercise, so we must enjoy that.

Stay three steps away from others, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands when you get home.

The poem If by Rudyard Kipling is good to keep in mind: “if you can keep your head, when all about you. Are losing theirs[…]you’ll be a Man, my son”.

My favourite is Warning, by Jenny Joseph.

As they said in another war: “Keep calm and carry on.”

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Philippines Planning

 

Writing without inspiration is like chips without vinegar. Pointless.Loboc-River-Cruise

I haven’t been writing for some time due to a lack of inspiration, probably because of work sapping creative energy.

I only usually post on here when I am inspired as I think it improves the quality of my material.

The less I work, the more inspired I get. Hundreds of years ago artists had the time and luxury to express themselves thanks to their wealthy patrons. Now you have to squeeze out your craft whilst doing your day job, or live in penury unless you are really lucky. So when I retire, if I can ever afford to or if I must due to ill health, I will finally be able to finish writing that novel.

I am not inspired now but I do not want to neglect you readers, as I usually have an offering each month. I write not for the figures, but because I must.

Inspiration is a peculiar beast. When you want it you can’t find it. But when you are in that flow state you have to harness it and make the most of it.

After pitching my novel idea for a documentary, audience and in front of a panel of literary agents and publishers, I was so motivated that I rewrote my entire 16 chapters.

I will not tell you about the plot because hopefully one day you will read it and find out for yourselves. But that is a long way away because I do about a page a year, if that. Again I can only attend to that when I am inspired. I never know when I will get that creative spark, or how long it will last.

We nearly died

Writing without inspiration is like chips without vinegar. Pointless. And that isn’t even a good analogy because my brain is currently tired after a long trip back from my boyfriend’s parents’, in which we nearly died because someone moved into our lane instead of going off at the wrong junction. Luckily my boyfriend has speedy reactions.

Bohol

Bohol’s “chocolate” hills

Anyway, the Philippines. I am going solo in 2020.

I have never been on holiday by myself before.

Mum’s reaction was “you’ll get raped and murdered”, so if I live to tell the tale, I will let you know.

Why did I choose it? Because it’s one of the cheapest holiday destinations with beaches, it will be warm and it isn’t Europe, so if Brexit makes things expensive it does not matter.

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It ended up being more pricey than expected because I hadn’t factored in hotels (£60-70 a night) and the amount of taxis, car hire and ferries I will need to get about. I would love to be sustainable but unfortunately their buses takes twice as long as a car.

I arrive in Cebu city, across to Bohol and then down to Siquior. The Philippines has more than 7000 islands so there were plenty to choose from.

Did you hear about the British man and his wife that got abducted whilst sunbathing on a beach? and returned after a gun battle? That’s the island below where I’ll be staying. That is obviously a no-go zone according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The places I am visiting are not marked as risky. Not yet.

I managed to get vaccines of Hepatitis A, diptheria, tetatnus and polio this month and previously tuberculosis, measles, mumps and rubella ones. So at least I won’t die of those.

Possible hazards other than rape and murder include earthquakes, tsunami, kidnapping, mugging, typhoid, cholera, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, dengue fever, rabies, and an aquatic parasite that lives in snails and under human skin.

More minor hazards include missing the last ferry or what happened in Vietnam, where a taxi driver refused to let us out until we had paid more than the meter.

Wish me luck.

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Rapa Nui – An Isolated Island

Rano Raku mine2

I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world. Nowhere was as uniquely beautiful as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.

The tiny spec on the world map was finally discovered by the Dutch in 1722.

Named after the day of its discovery, the island may have been spotted as early as 1686, by Captain Davis, an English explorer.

Originally named “Davis” island, this was the land mass the Dutch were seeking. It was later visited briefly by James Cook in 1744. He soon continued on his way, declaring that the island had nothing substantial to offer. He noted that there weren’t any trees or animals and few birds. You can read the fascinating diary of the experience here.

indigenous statue

The indigenous people would have looked something like this.

Some twenty years before, the Dutch had killed 12 islanders for coming too close. Perhaps when Cook visited, the natives thought that appeasing these powerful people would enable survival, so they hoisted a bunch of bananas up to the boat as a peace offering.

Polynesian painting

Those courageous seafarers must have been glad to arrive – Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Accessible from just Tahiti or Chile, it is a five hour flight. The tiny airport usually operates one flight each day. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, a journey by boat takes a week and only two operate annually.

We flew business class because it was the same price as standard and it was a pleasant experience, with fully extendable seats. Our flight was as cheap as it gets at £400 return, as we went out of season in June when it is cooler and wetter. However, it was still warm, with temperatures between 18-20 degrees celcius. We were lucky enough not to get rain during the day. 

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Winter is the best season to visit, as there were only a few small groups of tourists at key sites and it did not seem to get hot enough for there to be any mosquitoes.

fisherman

The fish was lovely and fresh, with a choice of large tuna, reinata and merluza to name a few, along with squid, prawns and other crustaceans.

beach

On the last day we swam in the sea, which was luke warm and very pleasant. The island only has one sandy beach and you can admire a row of “moai” statues as you swim. This area of the Pacific must be one of the least polluted in the world, owing to its isolation.

The best way to see the statues is to cycle. This means you can go at your own pace and avoid any pesky tour buses. Most of the sites close at 4pm. We hired electric bikes from a great shop off the main street for about 17 000 pesos, £20 a day. Don’t bother with the bike shops on the main street, most of them are broken and you get ripped off.

Beach statues

All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

It was this isolation that caused at least three near extinctions of its indigenous population. The Polynesians are believed to have arrived in 700-800 A.D and settled there permanently 100-200 years later. They are believed to have travelled thousands of miles, from the Marquesa Islands.

Those ancient voyagers looked for islands after studying the migration patterns and habits of birds and then navigated using the position of stars. With their large double-hulled wooden canoes, they travelled with basic foodstuffs to help them farm the new land. From 1000-1100 A.D. they also brought sweet potato, perhaps from contact with South America.

painted moai

Copyright literarylydi

Its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. From the 1400s, the island was so successfully cultivated and well-populated that the tribes started building the famous megaliths with smooth expressionless faces. To this day, no one knows what they symbolise. They have a dramatic and haunting beauty. They tower above you, silently watching over the farmed fields, undulating hills and red rocky cliffs. Built from around 1400 until 1650, they have watched generation after generation flourish and fail.

Rano Raku mine3

Archaeologists found that the islanders all worked together to build and enlarge them, until the tallest statue reached over 20 metres high. They called them moai, which means to exist, and each one is carved with slightly different features. Perhaps they were self portraits of their chiefs. This would explain why only one group of statues face outwards to the sea, the last group to be built. The Rapa Nui tribes had realised that they needed protection from outsiders. The joint effort to build them must have encouraged peace and harmony between the tribes, essential when resources and land were scarce. But the islanders paid a high price for this dedication – they had cut down all their tall trees for monument transportation.

moai facing sea

Popular myth tells a story of self-sabotage, where the people cut down all the trees and then starved, as they had nothing to build or cook with. However, a recent study refutes this. Scientific analysis such as carbon dating showed that the islanders ate a diet rich in fish and that they knew how to sustainably manage their environment, even though the soil was poor. The study’s authors suggest that it was the island’s visitors who were to blame for the lack of trees, as rats could have wiped out the remaining slow-growing palm trees. They had to import them from Tahiti in the 1960s.

beach3

As the islanders could no longer transport their impressive monoliths, they started a new “Bird Man” cult. There is a cave on the island that is faintly painted with bands of colour, honouring their new belief system. They would have competitions to get bird eggs, often laid in precarious places on the cliffs. This shows that they were using initiative to survive.

tribal face

Legend has it that deforestation led to starvation and even resorted to cannibalism in the late 1700s. This myth has also been debunked with evidence that the population used innovative techniques to ensure that they could continue growing crops in the dryer soil.

In 1862 outsiders once again brought death and despair. A ship from Peru took half the island there as slaves, some 1 500 men. Disease was rife, and eventually 100 were allowed to return, after pressure from the English and French. However, smallpox spread during the return voyage, and the 15 survivors spread this disease to the remaining islanders, most of whom died.

Those who survived were then forced to give up their indigenous beliefs and convert to Catholicism, which was completed in 1866. In 1870, a French explorer arrived, Dutroux Bornier. He was detested by the inhabitants and most left with a missionary for a nearby island, Mangareva. It was only after he was killed that some returned.

After these waves of foreign interference, just over 100 of the original islanders remained in 1877.

In 1888 the Rapa Nui King was given a deed to sign, giving the Chilean government control of the island. The document was translated for the indigenous people to mean “protection” and “friendship”. Sensing deceit, the King Atamu Tekena bent to the ground and took a handful of dirt in one hand and a handful of grass in the other. He gave the Chilean representative grass and kept the dirt. The land would always belong to his people.

Almost 80 years passed before the Chilean government recognised the indigenous population as Chilean citizens, following a rebellion. In 2014 they submitted a petition for independence which they continue to pursue. Tensions between Chileans and Polynesians was evident in an eco hotel development on the coast, which had graffiti on its fence and black flags obstructing the view.

Easter-Islands

Polynesian descendants look after the moai statue sites, ensuring that their spiritual past is respected. They now have a flag which was first flown in 2006, a red “Reimiro” ornament that was worn by chiefs and others of high status.

Now the population is back to its original size of around 7,000, almost all concentrated in the small settlement of Hanga Roa.

Sadly, locals appear to be making the myth of self-sabotage a reality. It takes three hours to walk to the other side of the island, yet everyone goes everywhere in battered Nissan pick ups and Jeeps. With these excessive and unnecessary emissions, they are contributing to climate change which could eventually submerge the whole island. It has already resulted in coastal erosion which threatens the existence of the mighty Moai statues.

To this day, outsiders continue to damage the island. Seas of selfie-sticks, star jumps and shouting ruin the quiet reflective impact of the moai and some even risk damaging them in their vain pursuit of the “perfect” picture. 

Hundreds of years ago, Easter Island needed protection from visitors bringing death and disease, leading to the creation of the only set of Moai to face the sea.

Now the island is under threat once more.

 

moai by the sea

sunset statues

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm

My First Ski Holiday

After crashing into a fence in training, I was careful in The Alps. We went to a place called Tignes near Val D’Isere. We flew into Geneva airport and got a taxi from there, which was more convenient than landing in France due to timings.

There were six of us, two of us being beginners who were technically intermediate, having done the day course. But we didn’t feel at that level. We stopped at Geneva airport where the prices made us wince. I paid about £5 for some Burger King chips. It was very clean, with adverts for watches, investments and diamonds. The people there were smartly dressed and coiffured. The average salary is 6160 Swiss Francs per month (£4319), with only 3.5% unemployment but it has been argued that living costs in Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – average 4000 Swiss Francs per month.

The drive was long and we dozed as day became night and the hills became mountains which grew until they were snow-capped and touched the sky.

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We finally arrived at our “Bonjour bonjour” chalet 1550m up in the Alps. It was in a little chalet village and did not look like much from the outside. We had a hard time finding it as it was not clearly marked. I was jealous of one nearby with a ground floor swimming pool.

But it was lovely inside, with soft carpets a wooden communal dining area, a homely glow and young, enthusiastic and welcoming chalet staff.

They had kept dinner back for us and so we had a late meal which was delicious, including a creamy courgette soup (with cream, thyme and coriander) and a salted caramel pie, all cooked in the kitchen next door by a gourmet chef.

I kept a diary of my ski learning and experiences.

Day 1

On the first day I was too tired to write in it, flopping down after lessons on the green (beginner) slope. The instructor found out whether I was suitable for the intermediate class by taking me to the top of a small slope which looked incredibly steep as a newcomer. I am not good with heights but I was determined to work with it. I lost it though and shrieked and told him he was not to let go of my hands. He did and skied backwards as I rocked clumsily down in the biggest snowplough I could manage (your skis are in a triangle shape with the narrow bit at the back or a backwards pizza slice). I spent most of the day getting to grips with the fear enough to learn and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow after another wonderful meal.

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Day 2

We started our lesson with the sun peeping over the peak. Our instructor was called Christophe, a calm patient teacher who couldn’t stop grinning at my Franglais (English with a bit of French). He was observing at this stage mostly so I spoke French to get more tips, as he didn’t always understand our English. It was a lot about getting balance with your feet and leaning forward, knees bent, turning with your legs rather than the upper body. Christophe had us circling ski poles around us as we went down to remember to focus our weight on our feet and move with our legs. As he said, “it’s all in ze ‘ips”. What follows is from my diary:

“Today we did more work on the green slope with parallel and snowplough turns. I was told to relax the upper body and turn from the hips. I did a blue run and chairlift for the first time.”

blue blue 3The slope starts where the first dot is on the left.

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Chairlifts and steep hills

The chairlift was a bit scary but I soon got used to it. It swept you off your feet so you had to bend your knees ready and watch it. It felt quite exposed. Also after spending the first day on the nursery slope the blue one looked awfully steep and it was quite intimmidating heading towards the bottom in order to turn. At some point you get used to it and launch yourself down it, knowing that the worst that could happen is probably that you’ll slide to a stop.

Back to my diary:

“In the morning I had a bruised leg from the awful boots (Head) the day before. It hurt a lot and I had to take unofficial breaks. But by lunch they were fine. I got a bit of friction burn on my left foot. I got new boots from the hire company yesterday night and they were lovely and padded, very comfortable. I think the make was Dalbello, an Italian company specialising in ski equipment. They retail at around £200.”

My boyfriend had brought his own boots so he was ok. It’s mostly a problem for newcomers to the sport. Apparently you get used to the pain.

“I also got a new hat as the other one was too big. This one is a good fit. I love that my skis match my slope onesie.

For lunch I had a lovely pizza with cream in, squares of prosciutto-style beef and rocket on top. The food here is fantastic and they serve American size portions. I had it with a piña colada cocktail for the pain around my ankles, the boots squeezing the sore muscles from before. It was cheaper than a vodka and lemonade and much more tasty, although cocktails here are nothing compared to back home. Needless to say I felt nothing in the afternoon.

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my massive pizza and cocktail and Andrew

I couldn’t go back to the chalet on a blue run as I forgot my lift pass. Then we tried to go from half-way down via a bus. But when I got my skis on and headed down the hill I lost my courage and started snowploughing really slowly. I got picked up by ‘securité du piste’ as it was the end of the day, the light was fading and he wanted to close the piste. He pointed at me and said “béginneur, béginneur”. “Non non!” I insisted “je suis intermédiate!”. He was having none of it and wouldn’t go until I got on the back of his snowmobile. I stomped over in a huff and we were off, whizzing down narrow mountain tracks. This was actually quite fun so I didn’t mind in the end.

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11073571_10101900839855469_4445226531970279845_nI also bought Voltaren (we call it Voltarel) gel and paracetamol. I would recommend it for skiing as it works quickly to tackle pain and inflammation and can relieve it at least half the day. Be careful not to overdo it though, it is possible to overdose with it, as Andrew reminded me when I was putting it on every hour. Andrew got his boots changed too as a bit of his snapped off. I had no blisters or falls today. I had one fall yesterday trying to parallel turn. I keep doing a snowplough with my weaker foot. The chalet has a hot tub which we are looking forward to using.

Last night we went to Knights – a lovely local pub. I felt sorry for the empty one next door. They had table football and a snooker table there unlike Knights but there were just two people and some sorrowful staff.

The mountains are truly beautiful with breathtaking scenery, especially when the sun shines on them and the snow glistens and sparkles. The taxi driver “Renault” said that there had been 11 metres last year but there was only 1.85 this year. Perhaps it is global warming.”

 Day 3

“I am elated after going down the blue run I didn’t manage yesterday. My boyfriend kindly joined me as I am not sure I would have gone by myself. He said he may accompany me a bit every day. It had a 45° slope which was not very wide, so it was easy to pick up speed. Either side of it were flat narrow runs. We passed a nice icicle cave.

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We got back in time for cake at the chalet and this time we managed to use the hot tub before dinner.

For lunch I had a steak sandwich and chips. Lunches here average €15 but this was only €9 so it seemed like a bargain at a “Fast-Food” restaurant. Skiing went much better, mostly because the pain went after lunch following repeated Voltaren applications. My bruised ankle and sprained ankle muscle were agony yesterday and this morning.”

Day 4

“It is sad that tomorrow is our last day of lessons. We have had a great time. Today I went from the top of the mountain to the bottom on a blue run, right down from Le Lac to the chalet at Les Brèvieres (via a chair lift to get to the top). It was the most terrifying experience and the scariest day. Going down to the chalet involved a lot of hills, often one after the other. My boyfriend said more experienced skiers liked them for speed. They whipped past me and my boyfriend went off piste as he got bored but he got chased by a dog near a village and struggled to ski away as it was flat. I screamed most of the way down. I also fell at the bottom but it was a smooth “elegant” fall. I was going fast and lost my balance a little. One ski wobbled and I crashed into a barrier for the first time since doing the intermediate bit of a day course at Castleford. It was a snow wall, so it didn’t hurt. In the lesson we went down our steepest hill yet.

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Terrifying ski lift. This does not quite convey the height.

Day 5

Today involved a lot of hills. Steep hills, the like of which I had never gone down before. It was terrifying but you felt you had achieved something. We had our last taxi drive with Renault. He had nicknamed me “Jambon” as I said I had sore “jambons” instead of “jambes” – legs. We had our last lesson with Christophe. He was great but I needed more intensive instruction. Doing better parallel turns would have prevented pain in my ankle and shins from brake turns, where you dig your skis in on a turn to slow down. I was fully bending my knees to brake turn, meaning that my knee that I had not had leg support on ached with the strain. I was prudent enough to buy knee supports from Boots for the trip which helped avoid this. I think they were about £20 each but definitely worth it. Someone also recommended glucosamine supplements. However my (former) doctor dad says that you don’t absorb vitamins from pills because they need to be combined with minerals and co-factors to be absorbed and these get removed in the synthesising process to make them into tablets.

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Run down to the chalet from the mountain top.

I stopped about four times doing the run from Val Claret to the chalet yesterday. The sight of the slope disappearing in front was too much. You could not see how steep it was on the other side. With Christophe we did our steepest run yet. I had made friends with another learner, Angelica, who was so fearless that she had been moved up from beginners. An instructor told me that 80% of skiing is confidence. Angelica is a singer and her husband Peter works in I.T. She is from Colombia and he is from Belgium and they met in London.

It turns out we are both scared of heights so we help each other out. Peter accompanied me 1601002_10101895959909919_5853577083654662311_ndown from Le Lac yesterday, kindly encouraging and praising me. He is a snowboarder and is so good that he was chatting to Angelica whilst boarding, when we were on a chairlift dangling above a death drop. Angelica has an 18 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. She speaks Spanish, so I have been able to practice that as well as my French.

We had a lovely lunch in Tovière, a gondola ride up from Le Lac (the French call them bubble lifts). Le Lac was where we  had our lessons until yesterday when we moved to a Val D’Isère slope. The torture boots were not as bad today. The first two days were agony. On Wednesday the pain went after lunch. The alcohol that lunchtime helped lower inhibitions meaning I skied better, as you need to be relaxed to have flexible knees which can take bumps in the snow. Just one drink, you do not want to lose your balance.

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Lunch was the best today. Main meals were reasonable for here, at €13-25. It was in a big wooden hut. You picked what you wanted from salads, chocolate mousse, tarts dripping with fresh fruit, mille feuille (a dessert with layers of light pastry and layers of cream/custard filling). I had egg and ham with chips as it was the cheapest option at €12.50, following a heated discussion with my boyfriend regarding my spending binges on drugs and alcohol (see Day 2).

The delight of this was that the chef would ask you what you wanted and cook it on the spot while you waited behind him. Angelica gave me relationship advice over lunch, reminding me to have my own life and to let my boyfriend have his, to let him look at other women and appreciate them with him. She also said one baby was 3kg and her oldest 5kg and that she only had two hour labours and delivered both naturally. Peter said there was a lot of blood. I said I was quite happy to wait 10 years for that as seeing placentas and their delivery on television had put a stop to another episode of broodiness.

The restaurant filled up from 12.30 and the room also filled up with smoke from the chef who was clearly under pressure. It was probably coming out of his ears too. It was nice to get out to the clear crisp mountain air again.

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Then the afternoon was spent dangling over the mountain in a metal frame and hurtling painfully down hills on two pieces of plastic. I felt like I was bungee jumping without a harness or rope on the lifts. It was thrilling though. I stopped halfway down on one slope, started crying and saying I could not do it. I stopped at the top of most hills. The heaped-up powder made for a bumpy ride. All in all a great end to the lessons.

All this week the sun has shone and it has been clear. Tomorrow it will snow 30cm or so and we are going to go swimming if we cannot ski. My boyfriend wants to go down a glacier again, he seems quite excited about that. He has been supportive, inclusive and lovely, it has been so nice. Apart from a few tantrums we have been fine.

Trouble and Tantrums

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Christophe

I had one when after practicing for an hour, I could not parallel turn as one foot snowploughed and then I fell because of it. My boyfriend had skied to the side, sat down and just watched silently as I struggled to stand and fell again. It is very difficult to get up on your skis, you have to bend your legs to one side and try and take the skis off with your hands which requires some force. I got angry and threw down the skis, kicked off my boots and shouted at him to help and not just stare. Andrew, seeing a situation, swooped by to calm things. He has been a good Samaritan with that and lending money when my boyfriend did not give me any for the next day.

Then my boyfriend had a massive sulk because after getting him to retrieve my helmet (I was limping) having struggled to find it with no offer of help, my skis disappeared. I had left them to one side of the tourist centre with my poles when I had gone on a quest to find the helmet.  It had turned out that the company advertised as being on the ground floor (Ecole du Ski) that we wanted were based inside another company’s shop (Skiset). All I had to go on was an arrow 10929953_10101900818802659_7137242760941157693_npointing down agonising narrow winding stairs to a confusing rabbit warren of shops. After seeing that my skis were then gone, I went into the tourist centre and luckily they knew that the police had taken some. I did not know if they were mine. More painful steps followed as I hobbled down. The police looked down their noses at us. They would not show me the skis until I had described the colour. In my panic I spoke Franglais – ‘bleu, blanche et green’ without realising.

They showed me them and did not appear to believe me when I said yes. Then they got me to describe the poles before producing them. I do not know the French for those, so I resorted to mime and English (like a typical 10376722_10101900820414429_7835497072131890154_nEnglish tourist abroad). When I went in saying ‘je cherche pour mes skis et poles’ they did not understand. I had to rephrase ‘J’ai oublié mes skis’ as I could not remember the word for lost (perdu). Lost I certainly was. Luckily they understood my boyfriend’s English. Taped to my skis was someone else’s lift pass that I and the police assumed was mine (I had forgotten where mine was). They pointed to it. It is worth over £100.

My boyfriend was exasperated. He sulked and spoke angrily to me until I cried. I was tired – it is hard to sleep when you have achy shoulders and are hot. We were now late and had no way of getting back other than a €30 taxi which Andrew kindly paid for. It was just down the hill, a mere 10 minute ski down.

On Thursday I then tried to use the out of date lift pass the police gave me to use for a chair lift but could not – mine was on my bedside talbe in the chalet. So my boyfriend had another strop, saying ‘this keeps happening doesn’t it, you should’ve put it somewhere safe like I told you to.’ But since those fiascoes we have been getting along really well. Rose Heart (4)Maybe it helps that he can see how I am working with intense fear to get down the mountain. We understand each other so well. I have never known a boyfriend so well, but then I have never been with anyone else more than two years. We have  a heart duvet and lamps in our room like a honeymoon suite, so I call it the love shack. The boys have gone to the local pub tonight but I am too tired and the cocktails there are even more awful than on the slopes, so I am keeping it girly painting my nails. Tomorrow we will have more fun at 2600 metres in Tovière…

Day 6

“This morning I asked the boys whether they had talked about football, Top Gear (as the show is no more due to its presenter punching a producer I should explain that this is a mindless car show) or ladies on their night out (all of which they had before). Apparently the topics were the state of the economy, politics and whether there was a year 0. Well it was a partial Durham University reunion.”

I did not get time to do any more on my diary but I went down an even steeper hill and my first red slope. When I say “went down” I mean on my bottom, front and stepping. I skied a little. I cried and panicked as I started down a hill that seemed to have no end. My boyfriend was exasperated once more as I sat down and slid down in protest but was extremely patient considering it took a long time to get me down. A lady from the chalet stopped to comfort me, saying she was the same at first and telling me it wasn’t that bad. I unclipped my boots, applied a liberal amount of Voltarel, popped a paracetamol and then decided I would just throw myself down and hope for the best as I was getting bored.

I was sorry to leave Tignes but would be happy to return and I will ski again once I can afford to. I have an even more expensive holiday to save for this year…

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