Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Olympia and Delfi

Today's main classical place was Olympia, home of the Ancient Greek Games and from where the Olympic torch is lit every four year before travelling around the world to its new host nation. The first Olympics with the flame wS Hitler's Germany!

An image of the wrestlers pavillion.

We found an olive branch wreath on the ground, so all took turns wearing it. Olive wreaths were presented to the winners.

The workshop in which Psaides worked to created a 20 meter high statue of Zeus was built in pieces in this area. Soon after the disciples came to Greece, the worshop was converted into a small community church. The slate plinths were carved with the Christian symbol, the cross to protect the bascillica.

The first temple built on the site was in fact not to the god Zeus, but the goddess, Hera.

The entrance to the stadium allowed the athletes to present themselves to the audience. They had to pass through this tunnel into the space behind.

Here is our tour group of four starting at the starting line, depicted by the marble lines beneath our feet. At the other end there is another marble line shoeing the end. The ancient games took place over five days. A truce was declared amongst all the Greek tribes for two months in order to allow the athletes to travel to and from the centre in peace as well as training and cempetition time.

These sculptures were on the facia end of the temple to Zeus. Built in marble.

Nike, the god of victory, once very colourful with blue tunic and red belt.

We crossed the Gulf of Corinth on this beautifully designed bridge, a collaboration between a Greek and Dutch consortium. The bridge is designed with expansion in mind. The gulf of Corinth lies on a tetatonic fault line and the span increases by 15mm per year, so the bridge is designed and built to be able to expand over time.

This afternoon we arrived at Delfi, navel of the world. This is the view from our hotel window.

And lastly we walked the streets of this beautifully quaint town.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Corinth and Mycenai

Oh! We weren't sure if we could do this Classical tour because Peter felt so unwell. But here we are, Peter still feeling dizzy and weak, but not as bad! So with stick in hand, he does what he can and I sprint ahead!

The Corinthian Canal originally began as a road dug deep through the hill to pull the Ancient Greek ships across the ismuth of the Penapolopian(?) Peninsula to mainland Greece. This saved an arduous sail right around the peninsula to reach safe harbours. This ancient road was later dug out by heavy machinery to create the canal we see today, to assist in the safe passage of ships from one side of Greece to the other. Made before the Suez Canal!

The theatre ampitheatre at the health resort of Asclepius. The theatre of Epidauros is the most perfect and reniwned monument od its kind. It combines perfect accoustics with symmetrical proportions. The theatre was an important part of the healing process. Patients needed to be well in mind and body and the Greek Tragedies and comedies were believed to help in the process of curing the mind.
The museum here holds Archaic and Roman sculptures as well as medical instruments and votives, many of which resemble what we still use today!

Napflios was the first Capital of Greece, surrounded by forts and castles from the medieval period and beautiful houses and government buildings.

Piraeus and Sifnos

Flying from Panama City to Frankfurt was with Lufthanza, but this became Sun Alliance, when we arrived at the airport. The flight from Frankfurt was then with another subsidury group. Apparently the planes during the off-peak season for tourism are run by other smaller companies, not Lufthanza, who pull their own aircraft out from the skies for annual major maintenance. The air cinditioning was on "dry" mode, so it didn't matter how much water you drank your nasel passages and throat dried up completely.
Peter has surcumbed to something that has made him dizzy and weak. He sounds nasally, but can breathe easily!?!?
This meant that in Piraerus, we asked to a very late check out at 3:00pm, to give Peter enough time to recouperate enough to get on the ferry to Sifnos.
Unemployment in Greece is extremely high after the Greek economic collapse. We found ourselves escorted to the port by a Masadonian gentleman, who insisted on showing where to go, for the price of a beer.
We caught the fast ferry to Sifnos with a transfer to the hotel. The owners were away so the mother and father stepped into the breach. They spoke not a word of English and we speak not a word of Greek.
In the morning, we wanted to ask how much a taxi would cost to take us for a tour of the island in the afternoon as Peter felt too ill to walk or to go in the morning.
So now we had a confusion between languages. "Nai" in Greek means "yes" in English, "ataxi" in Greek means "all is ok" in English.
So can you guess what happened?
There was a knock on our door some half an hour later, with a taxi service waiting for us. Peter answered the door and promptly collapsed on the doorstep. There was much agitated talk in Greek, none of which we understood, except the word, "taxi".
Later, I went down to reception again with iTranslate on the ipad to try to make out hosts understand what was required. Obviously iTranslate converts literally and therefore makes no sense to the Greek ear. So after much gesticulaion and indignant cries, I was finally transferred on the telephone to the taxi driver who did speak some English, but was eventually beaten by too many words. The result was that I ended up speaking with a woman, Emmanuella", with a very English acent, who translated both us and the taxi driver to each other.
Emmanuella was coming back from a memorial funeral service in the taxi when I rang it.
We asked about a tour around the island in the taxi. Yes it was possible, would we mind if Emmanuella came with Nikki, the taxi driver, as she was on her way home from the village above Kamares, where we were staying?
Emmanuella, turns out to be the volunteer hiking guide for Sifnos, speaking atvleast 4 languages. She was born on Alexandria, Egypt of Greek, Sifnos parents. She is delightful and guided us for the remainder of our stay.
We dined on the best that Sifnos has to offer (the island boasts to be the birthplace of the very best Greek chefs). The food was deligous and beautifully fresh!

Flight over the European Alps.

We arrived in the dark and were not aware of the dramatic landscape of Sifnos until the next morning, when we awaoke to this. A view from our hotel window!

Our room is the top story.

Emmanuella guided us on a walk through historic Kastro. As you can see the houses are joined, one on top of the other. They form the outer protection and inner protection walls for the village - Protection against pirates. The village was constructed in 6 and 7C DC, using materials from the ancient Greek temples. So here you will find ancient sarcophoses and marble columns used in the construction of everyday houses. Amazing and sad. The ancient Greek temples were covered by churches and chapels of Orthodox Greek religion. So nothing remains of anything ancient Greek. Surprisingly the ancient pre-Ancient Greek, Mycenean ruins still exist, dating back to the 12C BC!

The beautiful church of Chapel of The Martyrs. In the winter time, the sea surrounds this chapel!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Delightful - what surprise, we find that we love it here!

A tour of Mierflores on the Panama Canal. Wow what a feat of engineering.
I have always wanted to come here, ever since we left Uganda, and Mum and Dad said that we would return there, through the Panama Canal.
And now I'm here, 52 years later.

The gates in photos above are still working, over a hundred years after they were built. In 2016 two new lanes were built allowing the canal to take super tankers and vessels. We watched a tanker pass through the two gates at Mierflores. Boats have to be lifted 26 metres in irder to get them over the ismuth.
The first attempt by the French was based on the Suez Canal design. But the French hadn't considered the nature of the topography or the fact that they were trying to build over basalt and a fault line.
The second attempt was made by the USA and the design was based around a lock system that allowed the ships to be lifted and then lowered through the canal system. It takes approximately eight hours for a ship to be able to pass through the entire system, ie from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa.
At the Pacific side (Mierflores) there are two gates, then a large man-made lake which snakes through hills until you reach the highest point where there is one gate. At the Atlantic side there are three more gates. The old design uses an enormous quantity of water to operate. The gates are hydronically operated. On each side of the vessel; two on each side and one on each side at the back are electronic "mules". These mules do not pull the boat through, merely prevent the vessel from touching the sides. A Panamanian pilot is required by regulation and he directs the boat on its entire journey through the canal. Boats are charged a toll for utilising the canal and this is based on tonnage.
The record for the least tonnage was, Richard Bonnington (I think), who was duly weighed and charged the princely sum of .36 cents. Of course he had to have a pilot accompany him through the canal. He also had escorts with revolvers in case there were crocodiles. It took him eight days to swim it, stopping at night.
The electricity for the whole canal operation all comes from a thermal power station built in the area.
The history of the construction and final ownership of the canal is astounding. The canal really has been the catalyst for Panama to become one of the most economically wealthy and pollitically stable country in all of Latin America.
The Panamanians are very proud of their struggle to gain independence from Spain, France, Columbia and USA, who either governed Panama or owned the entire canal - 80 kilometers long by 16 kilometers wide. The width kept expanding with the Americans, especially during WW1 and WW2. Many treaties were made with the different authorities, and over time and with people power these treaties were slowly reversed. The Panamanians recognise that people from all over the world were involved in this mega project and with this in mind believe this canal belongs to the world.
Two dictatorships in Panama have altered the political destiny for this country. After the brutal dictatorship of Noriega and after the USA stepped into capture him, Panamainians voted for a democracy, where no leader can be elected in succession. The term of office is for five years. They also disbanded their army.
Panama City had two old centres. The first was built in the early 1500's by the Spanish. The Spanish burned this to the ground, when the city became an undefendable target for pirates seeking to steal the gold from them coming in from Peru.
The second city, a walled city called Casco, is a UNESCO World Heritage area. Totally unique in that the foundations are protected by law, but as an owner you can choose any kind of architectural style as long as the records show that the building had at some time been that style.

First old city.

This one is for Zalea. The founder of Jazz Latin America.

As you can see there are examples od American, Jamaican, Spanish, French architectures.
And finally, we stayed in a newly renovated apartment hotel, Las Clemantinas. We had a bedroom with bathroom, huge living/dining room, kitchen and balcony overlooking the street.

Last night as we returned to our apartment, we heard a church service happening. We looked outside to see a loudspeaker set up in the street, the squatters from the building next door sitting in rows of plastic chairs. Hymns were sung, a sermon preached, prayers said and a reading from the bible, just on the street.
Now we are waiting in the airport lounge for our flight to Athens. We have had the best time in Central America. It is many thanks to the very kind people we have met, that we say goodbye to these amazing countries.

Journey to Panama

I must tell you about our last afternoon and night at El Romanso. After lunch we were chatting to some British visitors when the troupe of Howler Monkeys passed in front of the restaurant to eat Cecropia leaves. The male appeared first, follwed by four or five females , most with young.
The youngsters were happily copying mum, eating the leaves and generally wandering around the tree. One tiny female leapt to a nearby branch which promptly broke, plunging her to the forest floor. We all watched in horrified silence. Just as she was about the hit the ground she managed to grab a protruding branch from a bush near the ground. Here she sat, for some time, looking dazed. None of the adults above gave her much notice except to note that she had fallen.
Well she tried every which way to try to climb back up the Cecropia tree, including climbing up the structure beneath the balcony on ehich we all now stood. Her little arms were to small to get around the tree to climb up it and the closest bush's branches to weak to hold her weight. None of the other monkeys paid her any attention. She tried for at twenty minutes. The staff thought she was about 3 months old.
She started to get desperate, especially when it started to rain. Then she just sat on top of the bush and cried.

Calling out for her mother when it started to rain.
At this point, mum decided that urgent action was required. So she tried to come down the tree to rescue her baby. She tried several times, but was defeated by the girth of the tree. We all watched fascinated by what she would work out as the rescue response. Then the mother sat very still at the lowest fork of the Cecropia tree and eyed every possible rescue route. The only way was down the tree trunk. So with that, she wrapped her tail around the trunk, desperately trying to grip with her claws she rushed down the tree, slipping slightly and calling to the baby. When she almost reach the baby, the mother shot out an arm, grabbed baby and pushed her onto her back, then madly scrambled back up the tree. Baby was very traumatised and required a soothing hug and suckle from mum, who then removed both of them to the safety of a nearby palm tree.
David Attenborough, eat your heart out!
The rain then turned into a tropical thunderstorm which continued all afternoon, which was still happening went we went to dinner in the evening. During the course of the evening, there was quite a strong earth tremor, which shook the restaurant building and which lasted for maybe 10 seconds. Suddenly there was growling above our heads. A White-nose Coati, appeared in the roof space and started threatening us. Our guess is that he had taken shelter her from the very heavy rain and that the tremor had awoken him. He of course blamed us for the disturbance of his rest.
Up at 4.00am in the morning after a restless night, during which the rainstorm continued with much thunder and lightning. The flight on a single engine propeller plane was smooth and uneventful.
At San, Jose, Costa Rica, we changed to a much bigger aircraft for our flight to Panama.
We arrived near Tocumal International Airport on time, but were not allowed to land. A severe weather alert had forced the officials to close the airport. So with this we circle around for over an hour, flying in and out of the storm. The flight was very rough and the circling most disconcerting.
Eventually we were given permission to land on the rain drenched runway. Strangely there way no bay for us and the pilot ended up parking the plane near some disused luggage carriers!
It was vgreat to be met at the airport by our friendly guide, Fabio.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

El Romanso

The drive to El Romanso took far longer than expected. Heavy traffic and severe damage to the road, with road works everywhere. Our driver Ernesto was very patient and stopped in many places to allow us to take photos of the beautiful scenery.

And birds....

Scarlet Macaws.
The camera was having problems again with condensation. No matter how often I wiped the lense, this was the best shot I coulg get!
Eventually we reached Peurto Jemenez, where we were picked up by a driver from El Romanso, in a four wheel drive Landcruiser.
Three wet water river crossings was the reason for the Landcruiser. We saw more animals (not birds) on the road into El Romanso than we had seen anywhere else. Edwin stopped to allow us to take many photos. Squirrel Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Howler monkeys.

Two Screech Owls, iguanas, other birds.
El Romanso is located on the Osa Peninsular. Nearby is the Cotaverde National Park. This area is reputed to be the best place in Costa Rica to see animals.
We are here for four nights. And have chosen to stay put in the hotel and its grounds to recouperate from all the previous travel and rush.
In just the first two days we saw White-nosed Coatis, White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Agooti, Scarlet Macaws, Toucans, Puff Bird, Roadside Hawk, Masked Owl, Red-headed Manakin and many other birds.

White-faced Capuchin.
On day two we walked one of the paths through the jungle. There are two suspension bridges on the propert, from which you can see over the canopy and into the stream below.

On this walk, a troupe of Howler Monkeys passed over our heads in the canopy above.
Our room is delightful.

A house really, with verandah, lounge chairs and a hammock outside.

No glass windows, only wire netting and wooden shutters to allow the sea breezes to flow through.

A king-size bed with inside and outside bathroom; separate toilet. Very cool and airy, very comfortable.

El Romanso is situated about 250 meters from the Pacific Ocean, but about 300 meters above sea level. So as you can imagine the path leading to the beach is VERY steep.

Dining room and swimming pool area face the sea and are completely open. The dining room is a bamboo structure built into the forest overlooking the canopy. A beautiful setting.
The lodge prides itself on its ecological sustainability. It has reached the highest possible grading for eco-tourism in Costa Rica. Very strenuous regulations are applied to the ratings. So this is no mean feat! Even the linen is sun-dried! In an area that receives 8 meters of rain a year, and with 98% humidity, I don't know how this is achieved! As we stay, a consultant has come to advise the hotel and staff on the most ecologically sustainable cleaning and washing products to be used in the laundry. Already the soaps provided for guests are 100% biodigradable and fully organic as are the floor cleaners etc.
Yesterday we ventured down to the sea.

As stated before, very steep. From the hotel you cannot see the waves, although it is so close.
The beach is black, volcanic sand, lined with palm trees and native red hibiscus.
On the beach a fresh water stream runs into the sea. Further upstream there is pool below the fresh water cascades. Here we saw cat prints, quite large, but failed to see the ocelot that had made the prints. The prints looked very recent but...... unfortunately not a cat to be seen. We were told that ocelots are very fond of turtle eggs and often dig up the nests. This would indeed explain why the tracks went around in circles.
It took 25 minutes approximately to get down to the beach and very tough going on Peter's knees. A short walk along the beach before we had to return to the hotel for a scheduled telephone call with Nigel and Mum.
We gave ourselves a good hour to get back as we had been advised that the walk back would take at least 40 minutes. Peter almost sprinted up the hill, with me following much more slowly behind. It was hot and humid. We were saturated with sweat by the time we reached the hotel. So much so that, we had to rinse all of the clothes we were wearing, including undies. Peter wished that he had walked up without shirt, because this now meant we had to dry two of his shirts, in 98% humidity. It looks like we will be taking wet clothes to Panama!
For the past two days it has rained and mist has settled in right up to the edge of the dining area. Indeed the mist has drifted in whilst we've been eating.
This has been a great place to relax and gather energy again for our next frantically busy next leg of the journey. We have slept to the sounds of rain in the roof, crickets and frogs in the forest and the crashing of waves on the beach below - wonderful!