Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Day 10 - Sun 30 November - Cruise Galapagos...

It was the toughest night thus far with one roller almost upending me out of bed. By morning time we had entered a cove though so the boat was calmer. The cove was part of Floreana Island.

After breakfast we took a panga ride to Post Office Bay, a historic site that recalled the days of the whalers coming to the Galapagos for tortoises and water supplies.

First we zoomed along the coast line spotting blue-footed boobies nesting, sea lions playing and climbing trees (no, really), and herons fishing.

Back on the beach we wrote postcards to me, my mum and dad, Stu's mum and dad and Emma and posted them stampless in the beach drop box. Let's see if/when they arrive courtesy of strangers.
We picked up four cards that had been left there for someone in Pimlico, Stevenage and a couple in Essex.

After lunch and a siesta we visited Champion Islet for some more snorkelling and then a short walk.
The snorkelling wasn't the best we'd done as it was of the beach and the water was a little cloudy. We did see a sea turtle though and huge schools of fish and an electric pink and blue fish (whose name I've forgotten).

During our walk we saw flamingos. Did you know the Spanish word for flamingo is 'flamenco'? Hence the flamenco dance steps copy the pink bird's mating dance. Bio-mimicry - man copying nature.

Talking of Spanish... Galapagos is so named because the Spanish word for saddle is 'galapagos' and the giant tortoise's shells look like saddles. There you go fact fiends.

Anyway, back to our walk. Champion Islet itself was amazing, on one side the beach was impregnated with green semi precious stones - green ones - the same ones found on Mars - which helped NASA prove that there was once water on the red planet as the formation of these crystals requires water.

On the other side of the beach was a large sea turtle nesting site. We saw the tracks where the pregnant females had dragged themselves up onto the beach and the sandy mounds where the eggs were current incubating their 120 day stint. The tracks leading up the beach had the telltale caterpillar structures the legs make with a wide central flat smooth area as the tails were fatter due to the eggs inside the females body. The tracks were narrower on the way down after the eggs had been laid.
We also saw a female sea turtle being mounted by a male just of the shoreline. A number of other males were trying to dislodge him and her struggles to come up for air were slightly distressing. She was then attempting to come ashore to lay her eggs leaving her suitors behind. Incredible to witness.
Champion Islet was truly a magical place.

Back on the boat one last time we had our farewell cocktail on the sundeck followed by the disembarkation briefing followed by dinner.

We then settled our account: $287.05 for bar and gift shop bill + $286 tips to be shared between the 42-man crew, naturalists and bar staff.

Packed and in bed by 10pm it had been a long but satisfying day.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Day 9 - Sat 29 November - Cruise Galapagos...

The rocking of the boat continued - due to adverse weather and tides - which meant the night cruise was slower than expected so we arrived at Santa Cruz Island later than planned.

The day ashore was to have included a cycle ride but that had to be cancelled. Still, it didn't take anything away from the day as we were there to see giant tortoises!

First we visited the Charles Darwin Station to see the tortoises: one year old ones, some two year old ones, a few 60 year old ones and also a couple of 120 year old ones. Sadly Lonesome George had passed away a couple of years earlier but old timer Super Diago was still around. He had fathered 10,000+ offspring - the dirty dog.

All the tortoises were kept in corrals and had numbers painted on their backs to identify them. The numbers themselves were of different colors to indicate which island they had been removed form as eggs.

Once their habitat is cleared from non-native species they were all going to be reintroduced back to their original islands. A process that would continue until they all have  healthy tortoise populations. The target date to do this by is 2050.

The main non-native species being targeted to be cleared are goats and rats.

Pirates had originally put goats on the islands to breed so they had food sources when they stopped by. Goats are omnivores and had numbered 40,000+ so were eating the tortoises out of house and home. The plan was get rid of them all. Relocation was too expensive so a cull was ordered. A single shot to the head. All were shot at a cost of $20m (10x the original estimate) from helicopters using hired snipers from Australia. Female goats were tethered to stakes and when the males appeared they were gunned down en masse.

Next for eradication were the rats. They had come off passing ships and were eating the tortoise eggs so they had to go too.

The rats were all poisoned by the park rangers. Unfortunately the iguanas also ate the poison so the Galapagos hawks - who dined on both the rats and the iguanas - got doubly poisoned and died in vast numbers. So along with the tortoise breeding program there is now a hawk breeding program too. Sigh.

For lunch we headed to a farm which incidentally has a few pet giant tortoises in their gardens. Then to visited an enormous underground lava tube - 400m long and about 5m wide and high. Impressive!

Finally we visited an area that had wild giant tortoises roaming wild. They were very amazing. Some were wallowing in mud, others grazing on grass and but all seemed happy to pose for photographs.  If you got to close though they let out lots of air and retreated back into their shells. It was very special to see them.

The swell was still high when we returned to the ship which made for a hairy transfer back to the ship I can tell you.

In the evening after dinner we were treated to a Galapagean band complete with pan pipes and three local dancing girls. Charmingly quaint.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 8 - Fri 28 November - Cruise Galapagos...

This was going to be a full and fun packed day.

Stu and I woke up early and stole up on deck at 4:30am to watch the night sky as the ship cruised along. With no light pollution we could make out millions of twinkling stars and the speckled expanse that is the Milky Way. It was magical.

We then sneaked back to bed for a short lie in.

The wake up call came at 5:45am and we were breakfasted and out on a boat ride by 7am. We saw more pelicans, penguins, sea-lions, swimming iguanas, and blue-footed boobies diving into the sea fishing. The sea was a bit choppy but that gave me the chance to practice my Hawaii 5-0 theme tune. Which never got tired.

We then motored into the Tagus Cove, alighted and climbed the wooden steps up to the edge of the crater rim of the volcano. The ground was mostly dark ash and there were petrified white trees everywhere. We saw lizards, mocking birds and dragons flies en route. The crater itself was actually full of greenish water. It was called Darwin's Lake. The surface was 2 metres above sea level but the bottom of the lake was 20 metres deep making it 18 metres below sea level. The salinity of the lake was very high and the height difference between sea and lake was actually due to osmosis through the porous ash bridge. Fascinating.

While we were on shore we missed the a pod of dolphins and an orca passing the boat. D'oh!

And muggins here slipped down the scree hurting my wrist. D'oh!

After returning to the boat to change into our wet-suits we headed back out into the Tagus Cove again to do some deep water snorkeling. We saw sea turtles, star fish, sea anemones, hundreds of brightly coloured fish and - best of all - swam with a very friendly sea lion. He even posed for pictures with me and came up to my mask to take a good look. When he bounced his nose on my mask it gave me quite a shock I can tell you! I laughed so much a swallowed a bucket of sea water. The highlight of the trip thus far. By far.

Back on the boat for lunch we had a briefing about the next day, lunch itself and a siesta while the boat re-positioned itself. Then we donned our wet-suits once again and took the pangas to Urbina Bay where we did some beach snorkeling off an ash beach. We saw sea turtles and penguins but the water was rather cloudy so not much else.

After that we went for an exploring tour of the island where Dennis did his amazing finch calling (the finch whisperer?) and we saw a poison apple tree, Galapagos cotton and empty tortoise burrows. The rangers had collected the tortoise eggs for their breeding program. More on that later.

Back in the ship for dinner the wind had picked up and we were a-rocking and a-rolling. This continued and increased as the night went on - waking us up frequently.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 7 - Thurs 27 November - Cruise Galapagos...

Overnight we sailed to Isabela Island, the largest of the group. The one that looks like a seaside riding a fish.

Stu and I got up early to watch the sunrise as the boat crossed the equator. Fabulous.
After breakfast we got kitted out with wetsuits and snorkeling gear. Very fetching if a little... er... snug.

We then enjoyed an hour long boat tour of Punta Vicente Roca spotting penguins, marine iguanas, sealions, fur seals, more blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants.
After that did an hour of deep water snorkelling seeing mating seaturtles, sealions and penguins swimming and hundreds of brightly coloured fish. It was simply amazing.

In the afternoon, we explored Punta Espinoza on the Island of Fernandina, the youngest island and the most volcanically active of the islands. The landscape was weird - blackened lava fields with mangroves by the shoreline, large red rock lined crevices containing ferns, the small odd lava tube and water filled crators.

One of the mangrove lagoons was home to some sea turtles which we saw swimming about majestically.

We saw massive colonies of marine iguanas on the rocks, red crabs, sealions, pelicans, more flightless cormorants and a Galapagos hawk eating an iguana. Spectacular.

Back on board we enjoyed a well earned complimentary dinner complimented by a bottle of complimentary wine from one of our rooms.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Day 6 - Wed 26 November - Join the Cruise...

Next we were off to the Galapagos Islands - what we expected to be the highlight of our trip. We weren't disappointed.

These islands are a unique living museum of evolutionary change and provide the chance to get to know a variety of exotic species endemic to this Archipelago. They are the perfect setting for witnessing the evolutionary changes which have led to a new understanding of life on earth. Animals unafraid of man, and so different from any others found elsewhere, make visitors wonder about their own existence on our planet. Among the animals found are the different species of giant Galapagos Tortoises that gave the islands their name, a variety of birds and marine mammals such as iguanas, sea lions, dolphins and whales, as well as a great number of fish. Among the flora, the most distinctive are mangroves and the endemic cacti.

Our flight to the Galapagos Islands was a two stage affair - the first was to pick up more passengers on the mainland at Guayaquil, the second took us the 735 miles straight out to sea.

Once landed on one of the islands, Baltra, we witnessed our suitcases being sniffed by dogs looking for fruit and then we transferred by first minibus and then panga (a flat bottomed rubberized launch) to join the MV Santa Cruz for our five-night cruise.

The boat was a 95 capacity high-end ship with all mod cons. In fact our upper deck cabin was large, comfortable and well worth the slightly extra £95 we paid for 'Darwin Elite'. Floor to ceiling windows gave us a spectacular views of the sea throughout the voyage. We also got given a goodie bag which contained a sun hat, snorkel and book. Our package also included free soft drinks, turn-down service, better bedding, free wet-suit hire, a free bottle of wine and a free beer with every dinner. Nice.

The crew were very friendly and after a buffet lunch transferred us by panga to visit North Seymour Island.

Dennis was to be our guide for this and almost every other trip during our cruise. He was a local chap and knew the place like the back of his hand taking us to all the special places and giving us the inside info.

On North Seymour Island we spent three wonderful hours trailing through a magnificent barren landscape of brown volcanic rock and petrified silver trees to get right up and personal with (i.e. a couple of feet away from) nesting blue-footed boobies, sunbathing marine iguanas, mating frigates with their puffed out red chests, and suckling sealions. The sealion pups were utterly adorable. It was a life changing experience.

After sunset and back on board we had a fire drill followed by a four course dinner and then an early night exhausted from the marvels of the day.

We were going to enjoy this trip.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Day 5 - Tues 25 November - Cuzco to Quito...

Ridiculously early wake-up call at 4am before a flight to Lima (Stu got hauled away by the cops at Cuzco airport but that's another story) and then an onward flight to Quito in Ecuador for an overnight stay at the Grand Mercure Alameda Hotel.

Unfortunately our guide Ana wasn't there to meet us at Quito airport so we had to get a taxi into town. We then had a quiet night nursing a Dry Martini in the hotel bar and eating a rather over sided rack of lamb in the restaurant.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Day 4 - Mon 24 November - Machu Picchu...

An even earlier start (5:30am wake-up call) and we boarded the minibus which took us on a two hour journey even higher into the mountains before descending to pick up the Perurail train to take us 99 mins along the valley to Aguas Calientes.

From here, small buses drove us up the steep slopes to the ruined town of Machu Picchu (2,500m altitude). Wow! It was everything we thought it would be. And more.

We spent the afternoon exploring the magnificent Inca site before returning via a so-so pizzeria in the town down below back to Cuzco the same way we had come.

Oh and let's not forget the impromptu fashion show on the train MCed by the Devil. Ok. Let's!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 3 - Sun 23 November - Cuzco...

Up at the crack of dawn with a 6 am wake-up call we headed to the airport for our flight into the Andes.

Peru has three famous cash crops... coffee, chocolate and cocaine. The nearest we got to the latter was a cup of tea made from the coco leaves at the airport. So please excuse the wobbly handwriting.
The flight to Cuzco (3,400m altitude) was pretty smooth with some spectacular vistas of the Andes en route. I took some lovely snaps out of the airplane window.

We were met by locally born guide Romulo and transferred to the Eco Inn Hotel for a two-night stay. After a brief lunch in the next door restaurant we had an afternoon tour of the historic centre of Cuzco starting at 2pm. This included the fantastic Cuzco cathedral and the Inca sites of Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, Kenko and PucaPucara.

Jetlag, dehydration, lack of coffee and altitude sickness all conspired to give us spinning heads, wobbly legs and migraines so an early night was on the cards. I kept waking up during the night with my heart racing and with a pounding headache.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Day 2 - Sat 22 November - Lima...

We landed in Lima at 7am - pretty exhausted. Having battled Peruvian immigration and baggage reclaim we were met by an agent (Milly) from South American Tours (Voyage Jules Verne partner in the area) who arranged for us to be transferred to the Hotel Jose Antonio in the Miraflores area of Lima for one night with breakfast. In fact we sneaked in another breakfast upon arrival which was pretty tasty.

We also met up with our traveling companions for the trip - Richard, Lynn, Suzanne, Ulla and Lizabeth.

With a few hours to kill Stuart and I headed out to explore. We went down to the ocean, walked along to a new shopping mail, returned along the precipitous walk to Lovers Park and then headed inland to the Chocolate museum where we had a lovely tour - and some great tastings.

Our little excursion taught us that Peruvians love their fast food, drive like maniacs and put Chocolate in any and everything. Oh and you can get really bad sun burn ever when it's overcast. Ouch!
In the afternoon there was a city tour of Lima which included the impressive buildings of the Plaza de Armas Square, the UNESCO World Heritage 17th-century church of San Francisco with its dusty library and piles of 200 years of blackened bones in the crypt and the Larco Herrera Museum (fascinating history of Peru, great art and erotic drinking vases).

In the evening we ate a traditional beef  'lomo' dish in the hotel restaurant with some pretty terrible wine and had an early night.

We were here!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Day 1 - Fri 21 November - London to Lima...

Off on our South American adventure we headed for Heathrow for our first evening flight.

We had thirteen flights - twenty-six takeoffs and landings in the next seventeen days. First stop was Madrid for a connection to Lima, Peru.

This first Iberia flight was fine but suffered as they all do from a basic lack of service, uncomfortable seats and indifferent trolly dollies.

The second overnight long haul was much better though. It was a code share with LAN Airways (a new one on us) and the service was great, the food good and the seats comfortable. Even if (or maybe because) the plane seemed to have flown in from the 1960s. We were to come to appreciate LAN more and more as our trip progressed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Putting the Van back into Arsenal...

On Sunday morning I found myself driving a Zipcar van over the concourse round the Emirates Stadium. We were picking up some stuff to take the Islington recycling centre for a mate. Exciting!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Scottsboro Boys...

Last night Stuart and I went to see The Scottsboro Boys at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

This Young Vic production had been such a hit that it had transferred up West. And deservedly so. It was powerful, disturbing, entertaining and dazzling. Everything, in fact, you might expect from the writers of the edgy musicals Cabaret and Chicago - the wonderful John Kander and Fred Ebb.

As with those other two shows the humour here is brutal. And it needs to be as the dreadful story unfoldes of nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. Told through the medium of minstrels this civil rights musical exposes and lampoons racist bigotry. But for all it's humour it rarely makes you smile. It's savage and sad. The humour is black in many senses of the word.

We witness the frame-up, the all-white jury, the rushed trials, the attempted lynching, and hear the angry mob.

Powerful stuff, challenging. And a great night out.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

John Waters...

Last night Stu and I went to see John Waters - film-maker, author, wit, raconteur and trash king - at the Royal Festival Hall.

We were treated to ninety minutes of stories in his own inimitable style. It was always fun, occasionally saucy and never far from outrageous. Blossoms, blouses, and dolphins will never have the same meaning again.

He told about his favourite newspaper headline (after Ike Turner died): "Ike Beats Tina - To Death"

If you get a change to go see him. Go!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Here Lies Love...

So taken was I with seeing Here Lies Love at the Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank the other week I went back again on Friday. And Saturday.

This time I was in the pit so dancing (and occasionally singing) along with the show. I loved it even more second time around and by the third time even some of the technical staff had begun to recognise me!

David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim have written a genius disco musical and I hope after it's sold out run transfers to the West End.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Tara Hugo...

Last Thursday night Paul and I went to see Tara Hugo perform Philip Glass songs at St George's Bristol.

Beautiful venue, beautiful voice, beautiful music.

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Last night Darren, Stuart and I went to see JOHN at the Lyttelton Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

A co-production with DV8 Physical Theatre the fascinating story was of a man John - a verbatim piece telling us of his abusive father, his chaotic and frankly shocking family life, his descent into a life of shagging, unplanned kids, drug abuse, crime, the courts, and eventually prison. And then his release on probation and discovery of his awakening sexuality.

The wooden set constantly rotated, as doors were opened and closed to John.

Where the piece perhaps lost it's focus a bit was when it broadened out to let us hear from the customers and owners of a gay male sauna that John frequented. This was in itself a fascinating topic of how the hunt for sex is more exciting than the actual encounter and deserved a show all of its own - but we wanted to hear more from John and his story by this point.

That said, the show was a superb exploration of first a life of abuse, then institutionalisation and then eventually the search for some kind of intimacy. It was in turns funny, moving, preachy, tragic and beautifully performed.


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tim Cook...

Apple's CEO Tim Cook has announced he is gay. Samsung's CEO is expected to announce tomorrow he is waaay gayer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Fear of Flying / It's Not About You!...

I'm going on an airplane soon. A few times within a short period in fact. But I'm afraid of flying.

So why is it when you tell people that you are afraid of flying they immediately proceed to tell you THEIR worse near-death experience on a plane. What is wrong with people? It seems it's humanly impossible to do anything else. "My worse flight was when we hit turbulence and almost crashed.." "One time we almost hit another plane mid-air" "When we were flying back from holiday the plane dropped a thousand feet and we were lifted out of our seats"
Well, guess what? It's not about you, you FUCKTARD! SHUT THE FUCK UP! It's not a competition! You are making things worse.
If little Johnny was going in for an operation would you tell him how unsafe operations are and what percentage of people die on the operating table?
"Oh no, your mum is feeling unwell? So sorry to hear that... My friend's mum was felling unwell last year and within a week she was dead"
"Oh so sorry to hear your leg is playing up. Does it hurt?... I had that too a few days ago and the doctors said I nearly lost it"
"Going to the moon you say? Tomorrow?... My sister went to the moon, twice - and almost died - both times"
(OK, see if YOU can stop yourself. Hard, isn't it?)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Arsenal 3 - 0 Burnley...

On Saturday Paul and I went to the Emirates Stadium to see the in-form Arsenal FC take on the out-of-form Burnley FC.

The boys made hard work of it in the first half but came good after the break recording our second successive league win for the first time this season as Burnley's woes continued.

Alexis Sánchez was the man of the match scoring at 70′ and 90′. Callum Chambers got his first Arsenal goal after 72′. And Theo Walcott made a well return as a sub after ten months out injured. So all in all int was a great afternoon's footie.