The ancient Polynesians worshiped a pantheon of gods, who had more mana than any human. The most important were Tangaroa (the creator and god of the oceans), and Oro, or Tu (the god of war), who demanded human sacrifices. The most fascinating figure in Polynesian mythology was Maui, a Krishna- or Prometheus-like figure who caught the sun with a cord to give its fire to the world. He lifted the firmament to prevent it from crushing mankind, fished the islands out of the ocean with a hook, and was killed trying to gain the prize of immortality for humanity. Also worth noting is Hina, the heroine who fled to the moon to avoid incest with her brother, and so the sound of her tapa beater wouldn’t bother anyone. Tane (the god of light) and Rongo (the god of agriculture and peace) were other important gods. This polytheism, which may have disseminated from Raiatea in the Society Islands, was most important in Eastern Polynesia. The Arioi confraternity, centered in Raiatea and thought to be possessed by the gods, traveled about putting on dramatic representations of the myths.
A visit to the Cayman Turtle Farm, a commercial tourist attraction on Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Islands, gives you the opportunity to abuse a captive wild animal, eat turtle meat (a banned product in the rest of the world), actively prevent the conservation of an endangered species, and maybe even get E. Coli or salmonella.
The Cayman Turtle Farm states that it has a dual purpose - first and foremost to farm the endangered green sea turtle for sale as meat, and secondarily to repopulate the species. Sadly it is incapable of doing either: sales of the meat have fallen by more than half since 2007 as the Caymanian population consigns this practice to the past, and the farm’s treatment of these magnificent turtles is a direct contradiction of their conservation mandate.
Despite professing to be a conservation facility, the CTF houses more than 7,000 of these endangered turtles and for the past five years has released only a shameful average of 27 per year. Of all the tagged turtles that have been released by the farm in the past 30 years, only 11 have returned to nest on Caymanian beaches. Furthermore, the deteriorating condition of the turtles actually deters conservation, as they cannot be released into the wild carrying the diseases and genetic abnormalities caused by intensive breeding. And their claims that the sale of turtle meat deters poaching from the wild is dubious at best. The price of turtle meat from the farm is the highest by far of any form of meat on the island, and a poached turtle is still free. The turtles are frequently wounded or ill due to the severe overcrowding (turtles are a solitary species) yet go without even routine veterinary care, which explains why 2,299 turtles have died at the farm in the short window of 2007-2011 alone.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals in Washington, DC, has spent the past year investigating this farm and has accumulated a significant amount of evidence on the facility. Unfortunately, not only are these endangered species being kept in filthy conditions which lead to disease, genetic mutation, and captivity stress including cannibalism, but the water in which tourists regularly swim, stand, and reach into to handle the turtles has tested positive for E.Coli, salmonella, and vibrio vulnificus. The farm proudly markets their “touch tanks” as an opportunity for tourists to enjoy getting close to the turtles but the handling is a significant stressor for the turtles and passes diseases between the animals and the tourists. The Purell and hand-washing stations (new, since this information became public) are not sufficient to kill the bacteria found in the water.
WSPA has taken their evidence and concerns directly to the farm but sadly to no avail; the CTF refuses to consider any meaningful changes. This despite the fact that 87% of tourists polled said they would not participate in an activity if knew that animals were being abused. Until the Cayman Turtle Farm transitions their operation to a legitimate conservation and education center, which could still be enjoyed by tourists without farming the animals for slaughter, it’s inadvisable to visit the this shoddy facility. Instead, try snorkeling or diving so that you can see these magnificent animals in the wild, as they are meant to be.
My first visit to Cuba was almost 38 years ago. I arrived at Jose Marti International Airport, Havana, in December, 1974, after backpacking around South America and the Caribbean for over a year. I had landed a job with a Canadian tour company, and over the following winter seasons I served as a destination representative for Unitours (Canada) Limited at resorts on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines), Playa Jibacoa, and Playa Varadero. In 1979 I traded babysitting Canadian tourists for a career as a guidebook writer. In June 1979 the first edition of South Pacific Handbook was published, co-authored by Bill Dalton and myself. After that, Bill returned to writing about Indonesia and I carried on with seven editions of South Pacific, nine of Moon Fiji, seven of Moon Tahiti, and three of Micronesia.
I didn`t return to Cuba until 1992 when the country`s socialist revolution appeared to be on its last legs. Fortunately for Fidel, the United States Government propped up Cuban communism with their self-defeating trade embargo which kept Cuba free of American influence and the Castros in power. The early 1990s were difficult times for Cubans and I shared the food and transportation difficulties the local population was facing. In 1996 I was back researching the first edition of Lonely Planet Cuba, published in January 1997. I also researched and wrote the second edition (July 2000), after which Lonely Planet decided they didn`t need me anymore. Many of my photos from those years are still freely accessible on Cuba Pictures.
Today Cuba is a booming travel destination with cheap holidays available to numerous resort destinations. Almost three million Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans visit Cuba each year. Only Americans are largely absent, although a few intrepid US blockade runners arrive via Cancun, Nassau, and other discreet gateways. The Cuban Government treats US passport holders the same as anyone else and it is Washington which is restricting the personal freedom of its own citizens. The lack of Americans is a boon to other nationalities. Hotel rooms in Cuba are at a premium, and if Americans were competing for the same beds, the situation would be dire. So enjoy Cuba now, while you can, before Obama finally gets smart and unleashes the Miami hordes.
American travel agents are not usually interested in booking small family pensions in French Polynesia. International resorts are more their style: Easy to arrange and the commissions are good. This is rather a pity as the pensions put you in touch with local life and allow you be about the only tourist in the atoll. A reader, Elisabeth Kingwill, recently used Moon Tahiti on a trip around the Tuamotu Islands and sent me feedback on her experiences.
On Manihi atoll Elisabeth stayed at Pearl Village Manihi, a pleasant 10-minute walk from Turipaoa village and the pass. The pension opened in 2010 and consists of four well-constructed cottages, each with a king size plus a single bed, bath with cold water shower, and a small TV. The units face a small private marina and the snorkeling here as well as along the coral rocks just outside the marina is not bad. However, during windy conditions the visibility can be poor due to the sandy bottom. Pearl Village’s owner John Drollet and his assistant Stevie can take you drift snorkeling through the pass or to an uninhabited motu. Bonito fishing outside the lagoon is also possible. All excursions were included in the CFP 20,000 per couple per night. Madame Drollet is a competent cook who will prepare a different dish each night of your stay (breakfast and dinner are also included). For lunch there’s a “Snack” in the village selling casse-croute sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs. You can email Pearl Village Manihi at firstname.lastname@example.org
The highlight of Elisabeth’s atoll adventure was Tetamanu Village on Fakarava atoll. It’s in a dream location with authentic palm-thatched fare right on the south pass. Watching the tide roar in and out like a wild river is mesmerizing. Black tip sharks, giant morays, Napoleon wrasses, and lots of other fish can be easily observed, not only while snorkeling but also from the piers and restaurant. Scuba divers swim with hundreds of sharks in the pass. The dive shop Tetamanu Diving by Eleuthera between the cabins and the restaurant provides good quality diving equipment and a very competent divemaster.
On Tikehau atoll, scenic Relais Royal Tikehau is an ideal spot to recover from a long trip. This small pension sits on its own private motu nestled between a lovely beach and a shallow hoa (reef channel), just a five-minute boat ride from the village. The food is good and ample, and the owner Monique is helpful. The three family-operated pensions just mentioned are only examples of what awaits you in the Tuamotu Islands. Many more are listed in Moon Tahiti.
Australia is a vast, diverse, and beautiful country, but it’s easy to get sucked into the tourist traps around Sydney and the Gold Coast. These make for an unforgettable holiday, but if you’re looking for something a little bit different from your trip Down Under, then throw away the tourist brochure and explore Australia’s lesser-known delights.
Western Australia: Even for most Australians, or certainly the ones who live in the metropolitan hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, a trip to Western Australia is an adventure into the heartland of the country’s wild outback. From the Pinnacles Desert to the Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia has it all: sculpted landscapes and geological wonders, lush, green forests and hundreds of miles of wild, dramatic coastline. The native flora and fauna, from the clusters of red and green kangaroo paw to quokkas and kookaburras, bring this incredibly territory to life. A rich source of Aboriginal culture, it provides a window to Australia’s ancient past — take a tour of indigenous lands and learn about the Dreaming, the mythical framework of creation that guides Aboriginal spirituality.
Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland: A green, thriving, natural sanctuary in the middle of Queensland’s semi-arid central region, Garnarvon Gorge is a spectacular spot well off the tourist track. Distinguished by white sandstone cliffs surrounded by lush forest and carved through with boulder-strewn creeks, the park is ideal for trail walks of various lengths. On the road between Emerald and Roma, and sufficiently distant from the nearest petrol station to make filling up the tank a necessity, Carnarvon Gorge is one of those places that feels completely free from the march of progress — an oasis of natural beauty and harmony. Full of rare plant and insect species, and over 170 different types of bird, it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in Australia’s myriad wildlife. There are plenty of echoes of the humans who inhabited the gorge over the centuries. Aboriginal rock art, including freehand paintings and engravings, mark the sandstone as reminders of their intense spiritual connection to the land.
River Red Gum National Park: Home to huge families of kangaroos and koalas, this stunning national park is an outdoor enthusiasts idea of heaven. Located on the New South Wales and Victoria border, it’s a magnet for campers, kayakers and mountain bikers, but there’s plenty of park to go round.
Tasmania: By the time travelers from Europe arrive in Australia, a trip to Tasmania probably feels like a plane journey too far. But it’s more than worth it. Blessed with miles of pristine coastline and natural wilderness, it also enjoys milder temperatures than the mainland. Tasmania’s biggest city Hobart boasts some of the oldest and most beautiful architecture in Australia, all of it framed by the impressive backdrop of Mt Wellington.
Kakadu National Park: Located in the Northern Territory, Kakadu is unusual in that it’s a World Heritage site for both natural and cultural reasons. One of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, it’s home to the ancient Bininj and Mugguy people, and also a habitat for an array of birds, fish, reptiles and salt water crocodiles.
Ever since the father of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, made the Galapagos famous, this remote wilderness has been on travelers “to do” lists and today a host of vessels make the 600-mile crossing from South America in serious style. Sailing yachts such as the SS Mary Anne offer billowing white sails, coils of rope on deck, and old-fashioned luxury. With just a handful of rooms on board, the guests’ experience is exclusive, and they get to explore the wonders of the Galapagos without the crowds.
Each island has its own characteristics, and while none of them are lush (in fact, many of the Galapagos islands resemble your image of the surface of the moon), they are bursting with unusual wildlife. Isolated from the mainland for millions of years, and until recently supporting very few humans, the animals here have never been hunted and are therefore quite accepting of human presence. It’s a weird but amazing sensation to be eyed up by these creatures as if you were simply another one of them.
Behold the giant tortoise and laugh at the blue-footed booby birds. Snorkel with tame and curious penguins, sea lions, and stingrays, and grab some amazing shots of the lava lizards and contemplative marine iguanas before they swim away. On the island of Isabella there is a volcano you can climb, and on Santa Cruz you can spend some time exploring the Charles Darwin Research Station, where scores of biologists continue the work Darwin himself began nearly 200 years ago.
There are some stunning accommodation options onshore. Splash out under canvas in ultra-luxury tents set on raised platforms or bathe in a gorgeous infinity pool after a day’s exploring. It’s easy to combine your Galapagos trip with some time in Ecuador– the country of your cruise’s arrival and departure. Exsus Luxury Holidays can take you there.
I receive quite a few emails from people who will be visiting Easter Island by cruise ship inquiring about day tours. The sales teams aboard these vessels routinely gouge their passengers for land tours. One reader of this blog recently reported that he was being asked US$219 for the cheapest three-hour island tour during his ship’s one-day stop at Hanga Roa.
Well, it is possible to avoid the inflated prices charged for tours booked aboard ship by contacting local companies such as Easter Island Spirit or Rapa Nui Travel and asking them to organize your sightseeing while in port. Not only will the price by lower but your group will be much smaller. It’s important to arrange this well in advance as every tour bus seat on the island will be occupied while your ship is in port.
If you can’t or don’t wish to make such arrangements, your next best option is taking a taxi from town to the Orongo archaeological site at the summit of Rao Kao. This might cost anywhere from US$10 to US$20 one way for the car, depending on your bargaining ability and knowledge of Spanish. You can easily walk back down to town in under an hour after seeing the sights on the volcano. Better yet, consider hiring a taxi for the day. I think $100 would be fair for five or six hours, and split between three or four people, it will be inexpensive. But you’ll need to do your homework as the driver won’t speak English. Make a point form list of what you want to see and show it to the driver. Make sure everything is clearly understood including the price, time you’ll be with him, etc. Some tips on how what to expect are in my Hiking Guide to Easter Island.
When budgeting keep in mind that a US$60 national park admission fee is collected at Orongo, entry to Rano Raraku included. On cruise ship days taxi drivers also try to cash in on visitors by asking as much as US$50 for the ride to Orongo or US$200 for a one-day island tour. And if you’ll be transiting Santiago International Airport you’ll be taxed US$140 if you’re American, US$132 if you’re Canadian, or US$95 if you’re Australian, in cash (collected only once per passport). Bring money.