Bhutan #8 : Sosokha and Legends of a Divine Madman

After a rather uncomfortable afternoon and evening, I was feeling much better by the next morning and ready to join in more exploration of the scenic Punakha Valley.  We planned to travel south along the Mo Chhu to the fertile Lobesa farmlands and make a stop at the village of Sosokha.  This village makes the most of the tourism and souveneir trade associated with the ‘Divine Madman’, Lama Drukpa Kunley.  The phallic symbolism, so prevalent in rural Bhutan, grew up around the legends associated with this rather wayward monk’s life in the 1500s.  The Chimi Lakhang Temple, built in his honour in the 1500s, is a 25 minute walk through rice fields from the village.

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P1000339  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000339 © DY of jtdytravels

On the drive south, we passed by the beautiful Punakha Dzong and were promised a visit there on the way back.  I just hoped the weather would hold.  The forecast threatened rain and this was one place in Bhutan that we did not want to miss out on or, indeed, have our visit spoiled by rain.  But the itinerary, as planned, had to be adhered to, no matter what… that’s the nature of group tours, is it not?

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P1000454  ©  DY of jtdytravels

P1000454 © DY of jtdytravels

However, we did demand that the bus at least stop at the entrance to the Dzong when we noticed a group of women singing.  Sometimes you just have to take the moment when it presents itself!  And this is where we heard the Talo singers performing those special songs from Talo which, by centuries old tradition, could, until recently, only be heard at the Talo Festival in March.  The songs were, in my view, quite durgy, but they are obviously of great import to the locals.

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P1000458  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000458 © DY of jtdytravels

Hanging over a fence watching the ladies sing, were a group of locals.  Now I don’t know, and I shouldn’t make assumptions, but it appears from their faces that they are perhaps not too pleased, or at least surprised, that these songs are being performed outside of Talo and outside of Festival time.  Or maybe they were just listening intently to the words which, of course, I didn’t understand.  Whatever …, there’s not a lot of smiling.

This was just one of those small moments of happen-stance that can occur when travelling if we are willing and able to stop and take in what is actually happening around us and not just follow the scripted itinerary.

Our next stop was Sosokha.  And before we go on with the photos, let me warn you that it can be somewhat embarrassing, for those of us who live outside of Bhutan, to walk into a village such as this where every house, restaurant, cafe and shop is painted with a large and quite explicit phallic symbol.  They are just a fact of life here.  Bhutanese tradition has it that these symbols will drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.

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P1000465  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000465 © DY of jtdytravels

Various paintings and window decorations, including a phallic symbol, are common on village houses such as this one in rural Sosokha.  However, this symbol is now not often seen on modern houses in the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu.  That’s perhaps just another aspect of this country becoming more in tune with the outside world.  And this symbolism is not generally part of the decorations on most monasteries and dzongs which are revered as places of worship.  But, just about everywhere else in Bhutan… yes, it’s a big and very obvious feature.  Some are ‘gift-wrapped’ with bows and the like, others a little less ornate but most seem to arise to the occasion!

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P1000461  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000461 © DY of jtdytravels

A local cafe, suitably embellished.  No malicious gossip here, please.  Although, what we can gossip about are the myths and legends that underpin how this symbol became such an important part of Bhutanese custom.

Oral history in Bhutan infers that the phallus was an integral part of an unorthodox form of animistic and shamanistic religion called Bon which existed in Bhutan before Buddhism became the state religion.

And although there are many legends, myths and stories surrounding the use of this symbol, most of them refer to Lama Drukpa Kunley, a monk who lived in the late 1400s and early 15oos.  Referred to as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman”, he was known for his bizarre lifestyle and total lack of inhibition and for his ‘shock-treatment’ ways of teaching.  He’s said to have used poetry, song, dance, humour, drink, and, not least, sex to teach his contemporaries the great lessons of life. He was a great seducer of women and apparently sired many children across the countryside, although he was never married.  I’m not sure how he would be viewed today in a time when monks have adopted a celibate lifestyle!

According to some, the mere mention of Drukpa Kunley will, ‘invariably, draw a mischievous smile on the face of most Bhutanese men and a red tinge in the face of many Bhutanese maidens’.  He is possibly partly responsible for the very strongly male dominated Bhutanese society, something which may change with the modernisation of the country.  (By the way, the current changes in Bhutan are termed modernisation NOT westernisation… there is a difference!)

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Book Cover

Book Cover

Above is a photo of the cover of a book about the life of Drukpa Kunley.  He was, it seems, a relentless critic of the common man, be that man a monk or a farmer.  He mocked both secular and religious establishments, was not bound by commonly held views of morality and conventionalism, and spoke out against what he saw as the narrow-mindedness of people who do little more in life than ‘stake out and defend their own insular existence’.  He now has legendary status.

Our walk from this village of Sosokha would take us through farmlands to Chimi Lakhang Temple, the so called ‘Temple of Fertility’, which is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley.

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P1000469  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000469 © DY of jtdytravels

On that walk, I was reminded very strongly of the paintings of Monet!

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P1000470 © DY of jtdytravels

But a slight turn in direction and I was firmly back in Bhutan!

Mountains, rice fields, a chorten and prayer flags – all so very Bhutanese.

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P1000471  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1000471 © DY of jtdytravels

Along the way, we came upon this test field of the various varieties of rice already released in Bhutan.  Research into rice growing and improved farming techniques is one of the key on-going programs in Bhutan today.

According to a report on the economic impact assessment of the rice research program in Bhutan,  D. PEMA CHOEPHYEL, Director of the Council for Research and Extension in Bhutan, states that rice is “indispensable in the Bhutanese diet and culture; without rice, hunger remains insatiable and divine offerings stay unfulfilled.  In the good old times, there was enough rice for every-one, even a little extra for trading with neighbouring Tibet.  Now, Bhutan needs to import (some) milled rice annually.  The situation would have been worse if not for the national rice research and development program.

The remarkable journey of rice research in Bhutan began in 1984… and has… come a long way, starting from scratch to now building a redoubtable national research system that has started paying rich dividends.  This report attempts to document the impact in the country.  As uncovered in the study, we are proud to note that rice production has been increasing steadily over the years, improved rice technologies have led to an increase in national rice output, farmers have been adopting improved technologies with high net returns, and household food security has improved markedly.”

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P1000472  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000472 © DY of jtdytravels

A view back to the village across the rice farms.

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P1000473 © DY of jtdytravels

Closer to the temple, we came across a handicraft shop, selling, amongst other souvenirs, various representations of the famous phallic symbol.  Many Bhutanese tourists as well as international visitors, come to this temple.  It is one of the most visited temples in all of Bhutan so the people of the village do a good trade.  I wonder what the mad monk would think of this use of his name and his lifestyle for commercial gain.

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P1000474  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000474 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual when travelling, I looked for something suitable to hang on our Christmas tree.

I decided on one of these small dolls.

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P1000477 © DY of jtdytravels

Although archery is the main traditional sport of Bhutan, Khuru is another popular game played with the aim of striking a small target.  Unlike archery, Khuru requires only a relatively simple kit of darts and target and can be enjoyed in any village field.  We stopped for awhile to watch a group of young men show off their skill at this sport.

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P1000478 © DY of jtdytravels

The dart has to be thrown over a long distance at a very small target.

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P1000480 © DY of jtdytravels

As we neared the Temple, a group of monks approached us.

They wore the typical red robes of Bhutanese monks.

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Black Chorten at …. (photo from web)

Chimi Lakhang Temple (photo from web)

The Chimi Lakhang (or ‘No Dog’) Temple was built late in the 1500s, in honour of the mad monk. Legend has it that Lama Drukpa Kunley earned this honour by subduing a demoness at Dochu La.  She, it is said, had been demonising the locals and he probably subdued her in his usual seductive way, using his ‘flaming thunderbolt of infinite wisdom”… now there’s a fancy euphemism for you if ever I heard one!  He then killed the demoness, who by then, legend affirms, had taken the form of a dog.  After saying “No Dog”, he then buried the remains of the dog under a mound on, presumably, this hill. And then he’s said to have built the black chorten seen on the right in the photo. 

This temple is also referred to as the ‘Temple of Fertility’ and infertile couples come from all over Bhutan to receive a blessing to help them conceive a child.  Since the mad monk was known for his uncontrolled lust and womanising, one of his greatest gifts to countless beneficiaries of his lust was: children; the gift was life itself.

And there you have it, a couple of  legends associated with this temple.

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P1000483  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000483 © DY of jtdytravels

Nowadays, the monastery associated with the temple, is a place of education for young boys since monasteries are one of the best ways for poor people to have their boys educated in Bhutan.  The boys don’t have to stay as monks once educated but they can choose to stay on if they so wish.  I wonder what the future holds for these two?

And just before we leave this famous temple with its various legends,

here’s your flower for today…

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P1000482  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000482 © DY of jtdytravels

… a beautiful waterlily in a pond by the temple.

Now you didn’t expect that, did you?

more anon

David

All photography © copyright David Young

Thanks to Jennie for the research for this story

More of our travels stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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Fiji #4 : Blue Lagoon, Nabukeru Village and School

For many, the words ‘Blue Lagoon’ conjure up memories of a 1980 film of that name which starred Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins and Leo McKern. In the film, two children are shipwrecked on a tropical island in the South Pacific and, on this trip, we visited the location of that film – and it is blue!

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P1130753  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

This was the northernmost part of our trip to the Yasawan Islands. Here,the waters are crystal clear.

We were certainly not the first to see this beautiful part of the Yasawan Islands of Fiji.  In a diary kept by Captain William Bligh, he of the Bounty mutiny fame, there’s an entry for Thursday 7th May 1779.  The Bounty mutineers had cast Bligh and nineteen of his men adrift in a small 23 foot boat. As they sailed by these islands, they were spotted by two sailing canoes manned by rather large, rather fierce looking Fijians. With good judgement, Bligh and his men immediately manned the oars, to add extra power to that provided by the small sails, in order to make a speedy exit from the encounter. The Fijian canoes soon lost interest in the chase and headed back to land. Bligh and his men went on to complete one of history’s most epic sea voyages – a distance of 3,618 miles from Tofua (in Tonga) to Timor.

Earlier, the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, made first European contact with some Fiji Islands in 1643. He reported hazardous reefs and so ships kept away from this area until 1774 when Captain James Cook arrived on the Lau group of islands, to the east of the main island. He reported fierce warriors. But it was Bligh’s notes of 1799 that were the only guides to sailing within the Fiji Islands until 1845, when the US Navy published a navigation chart of the islands.

Fortunately we didn’t have to worry about navigation. We had a very seaworthy ship, an experienced captain who had good navigation maps and instruments. Our only concern was to enjoy the adventure.

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P1130760  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

While some of our group set off to snorkel, a few of us were landed on the small beaches within the lagoon to explore the rocky foreshore. The water was warm – just over 30 degrees – good for swimming.

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P1050071  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

As the tide recedes, sand beaches are revealed under these rugged rock faces.

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P1050072  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

The rocks are all part of Sawa-i-Lau,

a limestone mass rising 1,000 feet above the sea.

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P1050073  ©   DY  of  jtdytravels

There are many myths and legends about Sawa-i-Lau. One tells of the death of a giant eagle that lived right on top of the rock. The eagles favourite food was virgins which it took from nearby villages. One time, the husband-to-be of the hapless virgin determined to free her before she was eaten by the eagle.  He climbed to the top of the rock. A fight ensued. As he grabbed the eagle around the wings, they both lost their balance and fell to the base of the rock where both man and eagle died. That’s one version of the story. Others believe that the eagle just ran out of virgins to eat and starved to death!

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P1130761  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Some of the group climbed up the steps to explore the Sawa-I-Lau caves.

It’s possible to swim in the caves, the first one being easily accessible.

But the inner caves are very dark and the pools there are extremely deep.

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DSCF1332  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

David snorkelled with a group on the reef

but my very itchy bites prevented me from joining him in the water.

It was most frustrating as I do love to snorkel.

I had to settle for viewing the coral and the fish from the glass bottomed boat.

It’s not the same – but I did at least have that option! So not to grumble.

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DSCF1276  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

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DSCF1305  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

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P1130748  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

Beyond the reef, on the other side of the lagoon is Nabukeru ( pronounced Nambookeroo – the b is pronounced as mB). This is the home village of my young friend, Siti, whom you met in my first Fiji story. Unfortunately we didn’t go into his village this time. It had been hit very hard by the cyclone. Five houses were washed into the sea and those families now share a home with others.  This village is not ready to receive visiting tourists again yet.

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P1130754  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Although we couldn’t visit this time, David’s sister and brother in law, were able to visit. They have become honorary members of this village over twenty odd years of visiting and helping the people here.  They discovered that the cyclone had devastated the vegetable gardens and torn the coconuts off the trees. The government had provided some initial food aid but that was now so depleted that the people were virtually living on the fish they caught in the lagoon. These village people will never ask for help but I’m glad we found out about their plight and were able to send some food to them when we got back to Lautoka. Then, with generous donations from several Rotarians in Melbourne, another lot of food was sent soon afterwards which will be shared amongst these northern isolated villages, all of them hit hard by the cyclone.  These villages are many hours by boat from Lautoka on the main island and have little money to buy food anyway. It will be a couple more months before their vegetables grow and are ready for harvest.

We really don’t know how lucky we are in Australia. Even after devastating floods, cyclones, fires and drought, there are community aid groups to provide immediate and ongoing help and support, shops are not too far from home or a plane drops of food to those who live in the isolation of the outback.

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P1130757  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Another result of isolation is the fact that medical help is so far away.  To ease this situation, a group of Rotarians and friends have joined together to build a nurse’s centre here on this beach at Nabukeru. Nothing is there as yet, but we hope that it will be built and operational by the end of the year.  The government of Fiji have agreed to supply the nurse and some supplies, if the village people build the clinic and support and aid the nurse. It’s an exciting venture and much needed. I’m glad to be involved.

We are building this nurse’s outpost with the help of Australian Rotarians and a group called ”Spirit of Sharing’. The aim of SOS is to share goods from Australia like beds and mattresses, school needs and desks, and sporting equipment with our Fijian neighbours. So often what is no longer needed in a more wealthy country like ours can be of immense help to others. It’s a matter of sharing.

The Australian-based charity ‘Spirit of Sharing” was founded by Peter Cole, from Victoria. The idea came to him while he was visiting FijI in 2000 and saw children kicking a coconut for a football.  Surely, he thought, in this day and age, that was not good enough. What else did they need?

The SOS website is  www.spiritofsharing.com.au

Not all projects of SOS are up on this website but some completed in 2010 are.  Since that time, much has been done to develop this concept of sharing.  If you want to know more and think you can help with monetary donations or donations of goods, new or in very good condition, Peter can be contacted on:

Peter Cole – Founder, The Spirit Of Sharing
PO BOX 139, Ferntree Gully, Victoria,
Australia, Vic, 3156
Email: petercole99@hotmail.com

www.spiritofsharing.com.au

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P1130756  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

A little further along the shores of the island is the Ratu Namasi Memorial School, established in 1949. It serves both Nabukeru village and another nearby village. The school motto is a good one:

Learn to Love, Love to Learn

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P1130768  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Here groups of children sang traditional songs for us to enjoy.

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P1050052  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

Once again David took some delightful portraits, this time of the boys.

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P1050061  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

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After the concert the pupils showed us around the school and we left our gifts of pencils, pens, books etc. Some of the younger ones had waited on the verandah to meet with us and have some fun.

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P1050069  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the children and head back to the ship

The ‘MV Reef Endeavour’ lay waiting for us in the waters of the “Blue Lagoon”.

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P1130785  ©  JT of jtdytravels

We had a good view of the other side of Sawa-i-Lau as we left the lagoon.

Our next destination was the village of Matacawa Levu.

And that’s where we’ll be in the next episode.

Jennie

All photography ©  JT and DY  of jtdytravels

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Fiji # 3: Gunu Village, Naviti Island

 Gunu Village, tucked away in a wide bay at the top of Naviti Island, was the first of the isolated island villages that we visited on this trip.   Like most Yasawan villages, it is only accessible by boat.

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P1130680  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Backed by a line of steep hills, the village is almost invisible on the shoreline.

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P1130681  ©  Jt of jtdytravels

As we sailed closer, the village seemed to emerge from the trees.

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P1130720  ©  JT of jtdytravels

On shore, our crew prepared the lovu for our evening meal –

a traditional Fijian ‘feast’ of  fish, pork and vegetables cooked on hot rocks covered by sand.

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P1130682  ©  JT of jtdytravels

While they did that, we made our way through the village.

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P1130688  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Nothing is wasted when it comes to building shelters.

The cooking area is outside on the left behind the small boy.

I wondered about the old wheelchair by the front door.

The terrain of sand and grass paths is not very conducive to wheelchair mobility.

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P1130687  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This was an innovated use of clam shells as building material.

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P1040974  ©  JT of jtdytravels

This little fellow’s extended tummy was a reminder to me that too many little ones die too young in these isolated villages, far from medical help and often from nutritious food.

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P1130705   ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Some very old trees on the shore line framed our ship, the MV Reef Endeavour.

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P1130689   ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The left side branches from this gnarled and twisted tree had not survived the wrath of Cyclone Evan which hit these islands of Fiji in December 2012.  Note that David is wearing a sulu, a material wrap, as he enters the village. Fijian village culture requires that the shoulders and knees are to be covered and no hats are to be worn.  It’s always so important to respect the wishes of the hosts when we are guests.

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P1040992  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

The foreshore of the village with a rainbow was very picturesque. But you can see how the whole top section of this old tree has been broken off by the winds.

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P1130704  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While many island homes are now built of concrete blocks with tin roofs, this is one of the traditional houses using coconut as the main building material and thatching for the roof.  But there is a modern touch with the solar panel on a pole (right) that provides electricity – a very new addition in the village.

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P1130700  ©  JT of jtdytravels

Church is a very important part of the life of these villagers. Many are Methodist.

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P1130714  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

While most of the dead are buried in a village cemetery outside the village, Pastors and Village Chiefs are sometimes buried in a place of honour in front of the church.

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P1130710  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

There are not many flowers grown in a village like this, but these adorned the special graves.

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P1040971  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

This is a typical view in this village –

a small tin roofed dwelling, a new solar panel and trees that have been broken by the cyclone.

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P1130712  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Another view of dwellings that have been restored after the cyclone.

These houses are beside an open area that is used as the rugby field… rugby is the sport of choice!

Note again, that each house has a solar energy panel. These were provided by AusAID.

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P1130702  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Gunu village was given support after the cyclone through the  Pacific Community-focused Integrated Disaster Risk Reduction or PCIDRR for short!  According to its web site PCIDRR is “a community based disaster risk reduction (DRR) initiative, funded by theAustralian Government Aid program, AusAID, and implemented through the National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA) and the church networks in the four countries in which it is implemented – Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga. Its goal is to create safer Pacific island communities, more resilient  to disasters, so that people may achieve sustainable livelihoods and have more control over their lives.”

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P1130697  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

Apart from the church, the village also has a community hall where the villagers can get together and where they can entertain guests like us.

The ‘shell and craft’ market is always a feature of a village visit.

And the smiles are free!

David took some beautiful portraits of some of the younger members of the village community.

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As the light began to fade, the crew unwrapped the lovu and prepared our dinner to be eaten in the community hall. Personally I have a real issue with this way of ship’s passengers being fed in the village. The meal is not shared with the village people. Although the food is provided by the ship and cooked and served by the crew, and the village is paid for our visit, to me there is something wrong about eating in front of others, especially when the village people are poor and when food is so scarce on these islands.

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P1130731  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

Inside the hall, before we ate, there was the traditional Kava welcoming ceremony with the men of the village. Later the floor was cleared and the village people sang and performed traditional dances for our enjoyment – always a lot of fun.  They then invited the visitors to join them on the dance floor before we wended our way back through the village to the beach to be taken back to the ship.

These village visits are indeed a highlight of a Captain Cook Fiji cruise.

Jennie

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Switzerland, Thunersee

Our cruise along the length of the Thunersee proved again the usefulness of our First Class Swiss Travel Pass. It allowed us to go upstairs on the schiff and so to have a better view of the scenery passing us by. Also, the boat was very crowded on a busy summer’s day and those of us upstairs didn’t have the crush of people getting on and off the boat at each village dock. The Swiss annual holidays had begun, the sun was shining as it hadn’t done for a month and the Swiss were out in force to enjoy it while it lasted. We had our own table upstairs and were able to wander out onto the deck or back inside at will instead of trying to find a good viewing space on the crowded lower deck.

We had a table on this schiff because this was a luncheon cruise… and we learned a valuable lesson about ordering food in Switzerland… one that I had forgotten. What we ordered was a fresh garden salad to come at the same time as our cooked fish meal of fresh local perch, ‘eglifilet’.  We got the salad OK but the fish did not come and we gradually realised from watching others that the fish would not arrive UNTIL we had eaten our salad. Just like in the US, salad comes first.  So – not until our empty salad plate had been returned to the kitchen was our fish cooked!

I noted that many passengers had the same idea of ordering ‘egli’  for lunch. This delicious white fish dish is served simply with boiled, herbed potatoes and is a well known Swiss specialty.  It’s always been a favourite of mine. But I did wonder just how many fish were needed to supply so many well filled dishes of fish fillets.  I was assured that the fillets come from a fairly large fish that flourishes in the calm and vegetation rich waters in Switzerland’s clean lakes, brooks, rivers, and mountain streams. It  begins life as a ‘vegetarian’ but as an adult, it’s a ferocious carnivore.

“Schloss Schadau” on the banks of the lake at Thun.

While waiting for our meal, we watched the scenery slip by – and saw others enjoying meals in restaurants along the foreshore. One such place was “Schloss Schadau”. This castle, built between 1847 and 1854, now belongs to the city of Thun. It has a fine restaurant where people can enjoy wonderful scenery as well as fine food. It also houses the Swiss Gastronomy Museum said, in the brochure, to contain a ‘trove’ of cultural relics, interesting cooking devices (some now used again in modern cooking) and unusual recipes. Could be interesting!

One of those moments you just have to photograph!

Cruising further down the lake across this stunning blue water, we noticed these young sailors under tow. They not only made a great photo but they also reminded me of  many years of small boat sailing in Australia with Em when we enjoyed teaching young people the art and joy of ‘messing about in boats.”  On this day the lake was very calm – not enough breeze to fill these small sails. But it’s not always so. When the wind funnels through between these hills, small boat sailing can be quite exciting to say the least. And that water is cold, very cold; so it’s best not to capsize!

This is a very deep lake with steep slopes down to the water.I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage vineyards here.

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Getting home up steep slopes like these keeps one very fit! I know. To get home to our house in the village of Walchwil required just such a steep uphill walk especially as our car was garaged down by the lake. Unlike Walchwil, this village has not been spoiled by modern architecture – there’s not a flat roof in sight. And that’s probably because this is an area where snow lies thick in winter. It’s a dormitory area for the many ski slopes around here.

The mountains of the Bernese Oberland loom over the hills beside the lake.

The area between Thunersee and the mighty mountains of the Monch, the Eiger and the Jungfrau was a favourite ski area of ours; Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Wengen, Grindlewald… all of them just over that hill. And it’s a fantastic place to hike in the spring and summer when the wild flowers are out. And in the autumn, this area is sublime in its beauty. Wonderful memories.

Another example of Swiss engineering.

Em and I often travelled these roads, carved through rock faces which drop straight down into the lake. Cruising on the lake is so much more relaxing!

The schiff calls in at the tiniest of villages like this one. They are often the starting points for walking tracks in the hills.  Hikers get off the schiff to walk to the next village – village people get on to cross the lake – it’s all part of the great Swiss transport service.

A tiny ‘beach’ and well patronised restaurant at the end of the lake.

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Paragliders take to the air from the hills behind the lake.

Watching these paragliders float through the air while we waited for our next train at Interlaken station made me think that perhaps we all need to dare to dream,  dare to do, dare to take opportunities that come our way, in order to help make our lives rich and rewarding. These are  tandem flights – a professional taking a ‘dreamer’  with them, someone who has dared to dream of floating way, way above the stunning scenery below.

While a desire to paraglide has never been a dream of mine, this trip back to Switzerland reminded me of two young people who dared to dream and have goals for their careers – and we went about achieving those goals, worked hard, had fulfilling lives and were not left wondering ‘what if!’ I guess it’s one reason why, now that I’m retired, I’m still so passionate about encouraging young people to dare to dream, to take opportunities and work to achieve their goals.

The next train cut short my thoughts. We climbed on board and proceeded onwards with our day, visiting yet more places that brought back a flood of memories of so many days spent in this wonderful Swiss countryside… for Switzerland became like a second home to Em and to me… a place we returned year after year for both work and for holidays… and it was so good to come back yet again.

Photography © JT of jtdytravels

Greenland, Helicopter Ride to the Glaciers, 16 August 2012

 

Finally – it was the day for the much anticipated helicopter ride to a glacier!  Some light cloud came in early in the morning which could have dampened the enjoyment somewhat, or even caused the cancellation of the flight.  Thankfully the cloud lifted mid-morning leaving us with another crystal-clear Greenland day.  The flight to the glacier was brilliant.  Toby said that our group was his first for the season that had been able to do everything on their itinerary without substantial changes due to the weather closing in.  Lucky us!  I was rugged up and ready to fly!

Yours truly – Tasiilaq in the background     (P1010355 © DY of jtdytravels)

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How could one not enjoy this!      (P1010370 © DY of jtdytravels)

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A mass of Crevasses criss-crossing glaciers      ( P1010369 © DY of jtdytravels)

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One of the views from our landing spot     (P1010373 © DY of jtdytravels)

We landed on a gravelly knoll in the middle of a large ice cap which gave a great panorama of a number of glaciers and we looked down on the fjord we had travelled by boat on the 15th.

Float ice making its way down ‘our’ fjord    (P1010371 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Our 1980 built Bell 212 Helicopter    (P1010374 © DY of jtdytravels)

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On top of the world! (P1010385 © DY of jtdytravels)

Here I was, seemingly on top of the world, literally and figuratively. I was in ‘seventh heaven’! It was warm with not a skerrick of a breeze.  Just another perfect day in the natural paradise of Greenland.  We had 40 minutes to wander around and take in the breathtaking views before the return flight.

Stunning views    (P1010403 © DY of jtdytravels)

And as usual, I looked down as well as out and found some small plants surviving even up here on the ‘top of the world’.

Such tiny beauties! [Silene acaulis] (P1010377 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Even the dried flowers of Silene are attractive  [Silene acaulis]  (P1010391 © DY of jtdytravels )

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Tough conditions, tough plant!  (P1010402 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Lichen and Birch (P1010395 © DY of jtdytravels)

Much too soon for me, it was time to get on board for the flight back. There’s never enough time to explore.

Pilots get ready to take off again    (P1010405  © DY of jtdytravels)

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After takeoff – closer view of a glacier    (P1010408 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Surface of a glacier    (P1010409 © DY of jtdytravels)

Skimming over a glacier’s surface, the world was suddenly all in black and white and greys – not a colour to be seen.

Back up to the sweeping big picture    (P1010411 © DY of jtdytravels)

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An impressive last view    (P1010412 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Out across the Fiords again    (P1010414 © DY of jtdytravels)

It was amazing to look down from on high onto the ice flows.  I looked down from the helicopter at small chunks of ice which, I knew from experience, were really large icebergs (some six stories high) when seen up close in a small boat.

Over the hills, back towards Tasiilaq  (P1010416 © DY of jtdytravels)

And so back to Tasiilaq and the end of another magical Greenland experience… I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of just how spectacular it was.

Preparing to leave Greenland    (P1010423  © DY of jtdytravels)

In fact this was our last Greenland experience.  We had lunch at the hotel, picked up our gear and then had to wait for the helicopter to finish an emergency evacuation job.  Then it was free to take us to the airport for a mid afternoon flight back to Reykjavik in Iceland.  And from there, our next destination was  to be The Faroes.  More of that anon   D

ALL PHOTOGRAPHY COPYRIGHT  © DY of jtdytravels

Greenland, Fjord Cruise continued, 15th August 2012

It was time to continue our cruise along the fjords. We climbed back on board the boat, again having to scramble over rocks to do so.  Once on board we still had to risk life and limb as we manoeuvred along the side of the boat to the greater safety of the partially open deck at the stern of the craft.  We set off now for the real concentration of ice. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride as I just let some of the passing scenes flow by – just as I saw them.

Reflections (P1010293 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Reflections (P1010297 © DY of jtdytravels)

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( P1010298 © DY of jtdytravels )

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( P1010304 © DY of jtdytravels )

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( P1010315 © DY of jtdytravels)

After successfully navigating the close ice flows, we had our lunch – lovely fresh white bread, a dark grainy rye bread, cheese and a couple of different meats.  Tea, coffee and soft drink washed it all down.  If there was still room, there were chocolate biscuits and a delicious marzipan infused cake to tempt us.  I gave in, just this once.  And I had seconds!

( P1010319 © DY of jtdytravels )

This translucent iceberg had done a ‘tumble turn’  and now looked like a modern abstract piece of crystal.

Ice arches! ( P1010323 © DY of jtdytravels )

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Back into more open waters ( P1010337 © DY of jtdytravels )

It was marvellous being on the water in such good conditions.  For a tour based on islands, this was only the second time we had been on the water (except for the canal cruise in Copenhagen).  Islanders, everywhere, are so dependent on the water that surrounds them that I think more should be made of this on an island visiting tour.  Get out on a fishing boat or travel with the locals on an inter-island ferry and see and feel how the locals exist.  Still, this day was a magic experience and there were still more stunning views to come.

( P1010346 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Yes – they are big! ( P1010347 © DY of jtdytravels )

It was most pleasant weaving in and out of drifting ice and getting up fairly close and personal with much, much larger icebergs that dwarfed us and our small boat – awe-inspiring is the word.

(P1010349 © DY of jtdytravels )

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Tasiilaq – view from my room ( P1010351 © DY of jtdytravels )

I had mixed feelings when we arrived back in Tasiilaq. I didn’t want the magic to end but, although it had been such a fantastic, enjoyable day, it  had been somewhat tiring.  I was rather glad to get back to my room and THAT view – a shower, a meal and bed. And there was another thrilling day to come – a helicopter ride over and onto glaciers.    D

ALL PHOTOGRAPHY COPYRIGHT  © DY of jtdytravels

Greenland, Tasiilaq, 14th August 2012

After our magic cruise amongst islands and icebergs, it was a smooth journey up the fjord to  the small settlement of Tasiilaq… our home for the next two nights.

The Court Boat in Tasiilaq Harbour ( P1010033  © DY of jtdytravels )

In the small harbour there was a largish, for this part of the world, orange-red boat.   This, we were told,was the Court Boat.  It visits once a year when anybody who has committed a crime is brought before a judge to answer for his, or her, misdemeanour(s).  There is a jail on the other side of the island in Nuuk, the capita, 900km away.  It would seem that September is the appropriate month to commit a crime as it will be 11 months before the ship calls again!  However, Tasiilaq only has a population of 1930 (in 2010) so everybody knows what everybody else is doing, therefore nobody is game to put a foot out of place.

View of Tesiilaq from my room (P1010060    © DY of jtdytravels)

We stayed in the Hotel Angmagssalik, a long low, deep blue-painted, wooden building which is stretched across one of the hills that back the all important port.  A hotel vehicle met us to take us, and our bags, up the steep hill to our lodgings.  We were given our room keys, and had time to dump our bags before there was a walking tour of the town.

The museum and old house   ( P1010045    © DY of jtdytravels)

Our first stop in Tasiilaq was up to the local museum – we only just made it as it closed within the half hour.  It’s a quaint place set up in the town’s first church.  Various artefacts, photos etc. make up the displays.

Out the front of the museum is a reconstructed semi-buried house of the kind that was in use up until around 30-40 years ago.  It is constructed of timber and has a sod roof.  This ‘display’ home is about 5-6m square and would accommodate around four families, maybe 25 individuals, in very primitive conditions.  Cooking, and the melting of snow for water, was done with whale oil, which also provided the lighting.  Each family group would have their own cooking place.  The whole family slept on a raised platform, the underneath being used for storage.  Seal skins were used for blankets.  There were sheets of newspaper stuck to the walls which was said to help with insulation.  Just how much benefit a sheet of newspaper would be in a frozen climate where the sea freezes over for around 6 months of the year beggars the imagination!  I’m afraid I enjoy our under-floor heating and other mod-cons.  Of course, now the locals here do to!  They live in well heated timber house that are brought in flat-packed from Denmark.

However, there is no sewerage system except for the ‘honey’ cart that comes around up to three times a week depending on how much you are prepared to pay and that perhaps also depends on, I guess, how big your family is!

Canon outside museum   ( P1010040  © DY of jtdytravels )

Also outside the museum are three small canon.  These still work and are fired on three occasions each year.  The first firing takes place when the first supply ship arrives after the long winter when the sea is frozen over, the second firing takes place on the National Day and the last firing for the year takes place as the last ship for the season leaves.

There are two supermarkets, both owned by the same company.  These sell everything, including rifles which were on display, albeit chained up, along side other household items.  A twelve year old is entitled to own a gun as they are such a necessary part of one’s existence in this land (there is a dead polar bear on the outskirts of town). There are no banks but there are ATM’s in the supermarkets, a hospital, school, new church and a pizza shop that was opened last year when the community brought a guy out from Sardinia to run it.  He’s since gone home, couldn’t stand the conditions (don’t blame him!), but the pizzas keep rolling out, made now by a local!  There is to all intents and purposes no employment in town.  Subsistence hunting, mainly seals, keeps the community going.  Tourism numbers are steadily growing.

Huskies in the cotton grass   ( P1010054   © DY of jtdytravels)

There are huskies everywhere, with all but the youngest chained up.  Appears that once a dog reaches six months old it must be chained up, or it is shot.  Every family needs numerous dogs as dog hauled sleighs are the usual way of getting around during the winter months.

There were a couple of covered up Skidoos.  Of course, they are pretty much useless during the summer months.  These can only be afforded by the wealthiest people in town, which includes in its ranks, the ‘honey’ cart man!

I had the horrible thought that these huskies would whine all night, but thankfully, it appears we are not near a full moon.  However last night the sun set at 20h01, with a long twilight that followed.  The blessed thing got back up at the ungodly hour of 03h04, and we are nearly 2 months passed the summer solstice.

Arctic Cottongrass [Eriophorum scheuchzeri]  (P1010051 © DY of jtdytravels)

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A carpet of Harebells – what a sight. ( P1010067  © DY of jtdytravels)

A couple of the group joined me after dinner for a walk up the Valley of Flowers. And, yes, there were many flowers, especially harebells. I had never seen a carpet of harebells before . Usually we get excited when we see a small group. Here there were hundreds.

Common Harebells [ Campanula rotundifolia ] (P1010096 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The small lake in late light ( P1010104 © DY of jtdytravels)

We walked for a couple of kilometres up the valley to a small lake, so still and peaceful in the evening light.

The cemetery at Tasiilaq ( P1010114 © DY of jtdytravels)

On our way we passed the town cemetery complete with plain white wooden crosses and loads of plastic flowers.  The degree of fading obviously indicated how long ago the dearly departed, departed.

???? ( P1010076  © DY of jtdytravels)

There were some nice patches of wild flowers as well.  These cheered me up somewhat even when I didn’t know what they were. Any suggestions welcome!

River Beauty [Chamerion latifolium] (P1010073 © DY of jtdytravels)

I did know this one – well named River Beauty as it is indeed a beautiful flower and I saw it growing near water. It’s other common name is Broad Leaved Willow Herb.

Alpine Lady’s Mantle [Alchemilla alpina] ( P1010072  © DY of jtdytravels)

J had asked me to look for this special northern Alchemilla with its deeply divided leaves and white leaf edges. I was pleased that I found it for her. She has a great affection for Alchemilla – this one a wild flower of northern climes.

Alpine Hawkweed [ Hieracium alpinum ] (P1010115  © DY of jtdytravels)

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Common Harebells in late light (P1010116 © DY of jtdytravels)

The walk back to Tasiilaq (P1010109 © DY of jtdytravels)

After our walk, it was time to fully inspect the spartan, but adequate rooms. I removed the ‘stuffing’ from the doona cover, a process I need to go through in every hotel.  I opened the window as well, to make the room bearable. And then I explored the shower.  At first glance, the plumbing could have been a trial, but the taps to the shower turned out to be quite simple to operate and very adequate.  How nice that shower was, and sleep came quickly after a perfect day.  D

 

ALL PHOTOGRAPHY COPYRIGHT  © DY of jtdytravels

Iceland, Reykjavik City Tour, 13th August 2012

Today was the day for a Reykjavik city tour.  The city is not an old city with lots of old buildings, tombs or the like.  This is partly because the Icelanders built stone and thatch or sod roofed dwellings.  These, we were told, had a life of around 35-40 years after which they started to fall apart.  Once this started to happen it was easier to build a new one rather than repair the old one.

The oldest building in Reykjavik is wooden and was built in the late 1800’s.  With a distinct lack of forest trees on the island today, most buildings are corrugated iron clad or cement block in construction.  Many are painted white, cream or varying shades of grey.

View over part of Reykjavik, Iceland  (P1000855 © DY of jtdytravel)

Buildings often have blue, green, red or grey painted roofs.  Collectively, they present a much cheerier landscape than the rather dull greys of the Shetlands and Orkneys.

We saw the President’s residence. He has just been re-elected for the 5th, 4 year term by an overwhelming majority.

An old stone church   (P1000856 © DY of jtdytravels)

This old stone church is near the front entrance to the President’s home.

Hallgrimskirkja from the Perian Complex  (P1000852 © DY of jtdytravels)

There are a couple of really very striking modern buildings around town including the main Lutheran church.  This church has dramatic, clean lines and is stark but beautiful in its simplicity.

The imposing Hallgrimskirkja  (P1000827 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Another view of Hallgrimskirkja and a planter tub  (P1000828 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The front facade of Hallgrimskirkja  (P1000832 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Looking towards the main entrance door and organ loft  (P1000843 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The simple alter  (P1000840 © DY of jtdytravels)

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A side aisle  (P1000837 © DY of jtdytravels)

The clean architectural lines make for some interesting patterns.

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One of two icons towards the front of the cathedral  (P1000841 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The other icon  (P1000842 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Some of the only colour in the Cathedral  (P1000844 © DY of jtdytravels)

The city centre is also interesting with its corrugated iron clad buildings, many painted in strong colours.  The docks and harbour are an important part of the city because the island has always depended on the sea for fishing and the transport of goods. It was good to wander around even though it was a showery day – but with a coat and hat, it was not unacceptable for getting around.

We ate dinner at a restaurant at the Hilton which is just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It was a beautiful meal which was served by an attentive staff which obviously appreciated their surrounds and took pride in their jobs.  Whether this is because of training or not, I don’t know.  It is so different from the Grand Hotel Reykjavik, which is grand only by name.  The staff was sloppy, don’t clear plates or replenish coffee pots as they empty.  Chairs are not placed neatly at tables and one chair I can see from my window has been lying on its side since I arrived 3 days ago.

There are only 2 of 3 soap dispensers working in my bathroom, one bracket is there but nothing on it, and the spare toilet paper holder fell off the wall yesterday.  On returning to my room yesterday afternoon, it had been picked up but just placed on a ledge.  I wonder how long before it will be reattached to its rightful place?  Attention to detail is all it takes – and a pride in your work.  Perhaps I’m getting picky, but when you are paying for the ‘best available’…

I decided I would opt out of the afternoon’s activities. The flu/cold that took over the African bus had caught up with me – or was it the overly hot buildings and vehicles in Iceland, compared to the cold outside, that caused my demise?!  Hot and sweaty one minute, then quite cold the next- it was not good for my constitution.  D

Iceland, Golden Circle Tour, 12th August 2012

Our all day Golden Circle tour was a drive of around 350km – a long but, what turned out to be, a very interesting day. On this drive we only touched the bottom SE corner of the island of Iceland which has a total area of 103,000 square kilometres – that’s a bit under half the size of the State of Victoria.

Unproductive land, Bláskógabygg, Iceland  (P1000745 © DY of jtdytravels)

The day began with not a lot to see. Much of the land we passed through was totally unproductive – weeds and not much more grow here in the short growing season.

  View in Bláskógabygg area , Iceland  (P1000770 © DY of jtdytravels)

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The original Geyser  (P1000717 © DY of jtdytravels)

My interest level changed quite dramatically when we stopped off to inspect some geysers. The Icelandic word ‘geysir’ has been adopted into English as the word used for ‘a hot spring in which the water intermittently boils, sending a column of water and steam into the air’.

Litli Geysir  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)
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More spectacular is the Geysir Strokkur  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)

The hot springs have been harnessed to provide inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity.

Small waterfall with salmon race  (P1000706 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Gullfoss Waterfall  (P1000733 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Gullfoss waterfall is quite impressive. Some of the rivers and waterfalls are used to provide hydroelectric power.  But this falls was designated a nature reserve in 1979 and so is now a protected the area allowing access to the public.

 Subsistence farming  (P1000705 © DY of jtdytravels)

Harsh conditions make growing anything almost impossible. The soil is poor, the climate is unforgiving and volcanic eruptions have devastated the country on a number of occasions.  Subsistence farming has been the only way this society has survived.

The volcano crater lake, Kerid  (P10006721 © DY of jtdytravels)

As if volcanic activity was not enough to put up with, the weather is a bit daunting as well. During the summer, temperatures can range between 10 to 13ºC.  In the warmer south, a top temperature of 30.5ºC has been recorded.  I don’t want to think about winter when the sun only just rises above the horizon for a matter of minutes during the shortest days.  Temperatures of -25 to -30ºC are normal for winter in the north whilst the coldest temperature ever recorded is -39.7º – and this is in a country where the North Atlantic Current moderates the climate!

Tough Icelandic horses  (P1000804 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Arctic fox was the only mammal on the island when humans first arrived. (The chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in AD874 and became the first permanent Norse settler.)  Occasionally bats have been seen when they are blown off course by strong winds and polar bears sometimes arrive from Greenland.  Neither have ever been known to breed on the island.

The gentle face belies the tough horse beneath  (P1000812 © DY of jtdytravels)

Both domestic and pest animals now inhabit the island.  The sturdy Icelandic horse, Icelandic sheep and the Icelandic Sheepdog are welcome as are goats, chickens, and cattle. However, as in most countries, mice and rabbits are not so welcome.

Mink and reindeer are hunted and many seabirds make the island home.  Puffins, skuas and kittiwakes are a very important part of the island’s wildlife.

We had much still to see on this long day of exploration – next musings for more.    D

The Shetlands, Mainland (South) 7th August 2012

I woke early to a bright and sunny morning, just like the last one – a bit of a rarity in these parts.  Whilst others still slept, I decided to go for a walk into the town. A good decision.

Commercial Road, Lerwick (P1000393 © DY of jtdytravels)

The name Lerwick is an Old Norse word which means bay of clay. This is ‘new’ Lerwick. Much of the town was burned to the ground in 1702 by the French fleet… some war or other!   But Lerwick goes back in history much further than that.

There ‘s evidence of habitation in the area dating back 3,000 years.  The first settlement to be known as Lerwick was founded in the 17th century as a herring and white fish seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet.  The village was just a collection of old wooden huts that were burned to the ground in the 17th Century by the residents of Scalloway, the capital of the Shetlands at the time. Why? Because they didn’t like the drunken and immoral activities of the fishermen and sailors who lived there.  Weren’t seaports ever thus?

Lerwick port    (P1000398 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even today, the port of Lerwick is very important, a hub of activity that was just beginning as I wandered there exploring in the early morning.

Rugged scenery is all around (P1000427 © DY of jtdytravels)

After breakfast, we headed off on a South Mainland excursion where we enjoyed seeing some more of the rugged coastline.

Sheer cliffs provide sea birds with nesting sites (P1000449 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Rhinanthus sp.  Rattlepod (P1000435 © DY of jtdytravels)

There are no prizes for guessing how this lovely wildflower got it’s name!

These Shetland ponies were very interested in the driver’s offerings
(P1000439 © DY of jtdytravels

The Shetland Islands are well known as the home of the small, shaggy Shetland Pony. This breed was first recorded in the Court Books of Shetland in 1603.  For its size it is the strongest of all breeds of horse.

Old wooden boats at the Shetland Museum (P1000462 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back in town we visited the Shetland Museum.  It contained a good collection of artefacts and photos… no photos to be taken by me though.  Outside some wooden boats of the type common to the area, were beached.

And that’s where the day sort of petered out for me!  While the others explored the town and/ or shopped, I caught up with rest, writing and reading. Since I had begun my day very early – the sun is up at some ungodly hour here in the northern hemisphere in summer – I had already explored the town and I did not need to shop! I’m not into retail therapy.

In the evening, after dinner, we were to be entertained by one of The Shetlands well known ‘story tellers’. But, unfortunately he died some time between being booked for the ‘gig’ and the evening in question. Someone else had been substituted, but I opted out of that one.

One of our small group had begun ‘pressing the wrong buttons’ for me. I know that doesn’t happen often with me, but sometimes….  So I was in ‘time on my own’ mood.  Anyway, I wanted to download, check and sort my photos before we set off on the next leg of our Viking Island adventure, to The Orkney Islands.   D