Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Looking to rent a boat in Amsterdam? Go for Boaty Rent a Boat!

The best way to explore the beautiful canals is to rent your own boat! Boaty Rent a Boat has zero-emission electric boats. In order to explore Amsterdam at your own pace you can rent them for a couple of hours or for a full day. The boats are easy to drive, safe, silent and clean. You will receive a map of the canal district and free route suggestions. It is recommended to make a reservation online. For reservations and additional information, please visit


From Netherlands Board of Tourism, 28th September, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010


Initiation for the young men of the Iatmul tribe in Papua New Guinea is a rite of passage.  Believing that they are descended from a crocodile, they undergo an initiation ritual that involves having crocodile patterns cut into their bodies with ultra sharp blades. John Fearfull, the captain of the “Sepik Spirit”, a riverboat on which I traveled, is one of few white men ever initiated into this tribe.

On a steamy night as the “Sepik Spirit” rocked gently against a pit pit covered riverbank, Fearfull told us of his initiation ordeal. Following a lengthy period of sleep deprivation and numerous painful and frightening rituals – many of which he would not describe because of sworn secrecy – hundreds of incisions made with ultra sharp blades were cut into his body. As the painful ceremony was underway, elders beat garamut drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks elaborately carved to resemble totem animals.

For days afterwards the incisions were scrubbed to open them up, then mud was packed into the cuts to cause infection making the resultant scars more prominent. In Fearfull’s words, “It was a serious commitment for me. I felt strongly about the initiation, I still do, but the cutting and what followed, made for the worst pain I have felt in my entire life. At one point the elders thought I would bleed to death.”

Posted by Anne Gordon on 24th September, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Early morning in Amsterdam on the narrow streets beside the Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal) brings a myriad of cyclists, string bags filled with vegetables dangling from handlebars, shopping baskets overflowing with tulips and goldenrod tossing in the wind. 

Trees smothered with rosettes of pale new leaves line every canal.  On house walls, gnarled quince vines sprinkled with scarlet blossoms beckon passing artists to paint.

Saturday markets are a Dutch tradition and the 'Noordermarkt' in the Jordaan is a favourite.  Here shoppers wander through narrow aisles buying Dutch cheeses, organically grown fruit and vegetables, fresh herbs and flowers.  Early in the day the Vogeltjes market (Bird market) does brisk business selling fantail pigeons and a variety of fancy fowl.

Beside a flower stall, pails of tulips, sky-blue delphiniums, peonies and sunflowers spill in a riot of colour across the sidewalk and nearby a massive Dutch barrel organ belts out traditional organ music whilst its operator works the crowds with upturned hat and winning smile.

Posted by Anne Gordon on the 19th September, 2010.


The polar bear population has dwindled to between 20,000 and 25,000 worldwide and the alarm bell is tolling for their survival.

With the sea ice forming later each year, the bears have to fast up to three weeks longer. Spending less time on the ice means they are unable to hunt and build up the body reserves necessary for the summer months on land. There is a danger according to Lara Hansen, a scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, "that bears could become so thin by 2012 they may no longer be able to reproduce.

Posted by Anne Gordon on 19th September, 2010.


Because of the open border with Kruger National Park, it is highly likely that travelers on a safari to the Sabi Sabi Game Park in South Africa's wilderness will see The Big Five: elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhino.

At sunrise - activities start early in the bush - our party assembled at 5 am in the lodge for a cup of coffee, where a waiter's warning shout sent Vervet monkeys scampering across chairs, up into the rafters and out through the skylight.  The cookie jar, object of their mischief, was sent flying in their haste to escape.

Once settled in the safari vehicle we pushed through dense foliage and emerged to find ourselves surrounded by four huge bull elephants.  They were breakfasting on tree branches.  As we sat silently watching, another Land Rover drew up and stopped on the outer edge of the circle.  Suddenly, the massive head of the closest elephant jerked back.

His trunk swept up and moved like a cobra proving the air about him as he savoured our human smell.  The radio crackled to life and the driver of the second Land Rover said sharply to our ranger, "Watch it Bruce.  That elephant's bad-tempered."  But Bruce was ready.  the angry bull's trunk came down and tucked in close to his chest.

True to form, with tusks raised and ears quivering like giant fans, his massive body started to rock.

Idyllic it may seem within the relatively secure surroundings of the lodge, but in fact when we were at Sabi Sabi there were no fences to keep wild animals at bay.  After dinner we walked back to our cottage along a tree-lined path with lit lanterns dangling from tree branches along the way.  We were escorted by Bruce a tall handsome game ranger with a rifle casually propped on his shoulder. 

One must always be aware of the dangers.  A member of the staff had nearly been blinded by a spitting Mozambique cobra the week before, and hyeanas, tempted by meaty smelling hand prints on the steering wheel of a parked Land Rover, had taken bite-sized chunks out of the tough rubber.  With teeth that can crush buffalo bones the steering wheel had been just another snack.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 19th September, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Scuba diving in a coral sea (and Papua New Guinea is renowned for being a great diving destination with one of the healthiest coral reefs in the world), surfing, kayaking and sport fishing for Giant Trevally, New Guinea Black Bass and Barramundi (not unusual to get a 40 pounder) are all popular pursuits. 

And for those like me, whose face to face confrontation with a shark - even the most docile - would probably bring on a death dealing anxiety attack, there is world class snorkeling where you can venture out as far as, or stay as close to safety as desired.

In the ocean around Papua New Guinea divers and snorkellers can expect to see scorpion fish, sinuous evil-eyed eels peering from cavities in the coral reef, ghost pipefish, tiny sea horses swaying beside sea fans and Eagle Rays advancing like an army of predatory space-age
birds in flight.  In the crystalline turquoise blue of the ocean, schools of barracuda lit by a filtered sun, swirl in massed funnels like crazed tornadoes, while silver tip sharks cruise by, slow and menacing.

From the daintiest sea slugs to the massive proportions of a gliding whale shark as it sups on huge masses of krill each time it opens its mouth, the oceans of Papua New Guinea are the ultimate for the sea adventurer.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 18th September, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010


According to stories that circulate in Kauai today, the Alekoke Fish Pond  was built in one night over 1,000 years ago by the 'Menehune' (little people).  The 'Menehune' were the first inhabitants of the island, later to be conquered by the influx of Polynesians.  They were not necessarily small in stature although that is how they're depicted today, but rather their societal position in the whole scheme of things was of little importance.  Statues of the 'Menehune' are popular take home souvenirs for tourists.

The fair-sized pond that we see in Kauai has a massive lava rock wall five feet thick and 900 feet long.  Small holes were made along its length, providing passageway for tiny fish to enter.  Should they stay and feed, their increased size would soon prevent them leaving.   As the only source of protein for Hawaiians at that time, the fish pond was an invaluable asset.

According to archeologists the structure of the pond is certainly unlike anything built by the native Hawaiians, but there is still the mystery of the 'Menehune'.  No bones of the 'little people' have ever been found and so the Alekoke pond's beginnings remain a mystery.

More to follow on Kauai....

Posted by Anne Gordon on 15th September, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010


I'm off to Kauai, the oldest and one of the smallest islands on the chain of inhabited Hawaiian islands tomorrow, returning on Sunday. Will have lots to relate about 'the world's most beautiful destination' in future posts.

Hanalei Colony Resort, Castle Kiahuna Plantation and the Waimea Plantation Cottages will be my home-away-from-home during my stay.

Planned activities include beach time at Hanalai Bay, a stroll and horse riding (!!) at Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, hiking the Hanakapi'ai Valley, dinner at Merrimans and Mediterranean Gourmet, a tour of Allerton Garden and an evening at the Hanapepe Art Night.

For my 6 companions and I, our last day on the island will be spent individually seeking out Kauai's hidden (and inexpensive) treasures for readers.

Visitors interested in getting the lowdown on any of the above should check back in two weeks for an unbiased report and stunning photography.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 6th September, 2010.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


It's not uncommon to see Scotland's distinctive Highland cattle roaming the hills and fells on the Isle of Skye.  Sporting a range of colours from blonde through rich toffee brown to the black of midnight, their dense shaggy coats are ideal for the island's harsh winters.  An added bonus for this stocky breed when a farm fence is not at hand, are their wide spread horns that enable them to reach normally unreachable itches.

As I stand at a farm fence communing with the more inquisitive members of the herd, a creamy coloured bovine rubs her neck and head along the fence's wiry length.  Peering at me through a tousled fringe, we, human and cow, check each other out. 

They're really quite beautiful.  Names like Morag, Flora and Kelpie reflect true Scottish breeding.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 5th September, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010


On New Ireland off the coast of the main island of Papua New Guinea, Malagan masks are worn by male members of the tribe during the Malagan funerary ceremony.  This ceremony is performed as a means of smoothing the way for the deceased's soul to enter the spirit world and it usually takes place between one and five years after death.  In the past, mourners, prior to the ceremony, painted their bodies black, ate only certain kinds of food, and burned the masks when the ceremony was done.  Today, participants in the Malagan do not grieve for the departed but honour his memory.

The task of making Malagan masks is that of a specially elected Master Carver; an important man in the village who fashions his helmet masks from wood, fibre and mud.  Unlike the more simple variety used in the past, today's creations are infinitely more elaborate as the carvers allow their artistic imaginations to take flight.

Fabian Paino at work
Transporting one home in a suitcase as a souvenir would be a daunting undertaking.  They are delicate, rather large and heavy, weighing in at about 15 kilograms.  Complex in design and painted with bright colours, carvings on the mask depict faces, birds, flowers and feathers.  Each Malagan tells a story, much in the style of totem poles here in North America.

Ben Sisia, Hosea Linge of Libba village and Edward Sali are some of New Ireland's most accomplished carvers; their Malagan masks occasionally fetch thousands of dollars and can be seen in museums worldwide.  The mask featured with this blog and worn by the carver himself is the work of Fabian Paino, an up and coming young carver in Papua New Guinea.

More on Papua New Guinea to follow....

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 5th September, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010



BritRail’s Low Season Passes offer 20% off retail prices and unlimited travel on the national rail network throughout Great Britain - or just England, if your autumn/ winter itinerary can’t also accommodate Scotland and Wales. Low Season fares start at approximately $48CAD per day (based on a Low Season 3 Day BritRail England Consecutive Pass in standard class at 2010 prices) and are valid for travel between November 1st 2010 and February 28th 2011. Take advantage of this great discount by purchasing a BritRail Flexi or Consecutive Pass or BritRail England Flexi or Consecutive Pass anytime before February 15, 2011.

Passengers will surely discover the flexibility that only a BritRail Pass can provide, by hopping on and off the trains and enjoying a number of unforgettable scenic routes; just imagine the view through your window! Plus it’s the most economical and convenient way to explore Britain, thanks to its fast and frequent service and environmentally friendly advantages. To browse the full range of rail passes and tickets offered by ACP Rail visit www.ACPRail.com.

Not to mention, the low season has its other benefits, from big savings on flights and hotel accommodations, to fewer crowds at top tourist attractions. And you can be sure there are tons of cultural and historic highlights not to miss en route in Great Britain; be sure to visit Stonehenge, Edinburgh Castle, the Roman Baths, Leeds Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral and countless other museums, castles, gardens, and more. We recommend the Great British Heritage Pass, as it’s the perfect BritRail Pass companion, offering entry to the above mentioned sights, plus nearly 600 other UK heritage properties – just another way to realize great savings during the low season!