Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photo of the Week: Kaietuer Falls, Guyana

I took this picture from the edge of Kiaetuer Falls - the drop from here is straight down 741 feet (250 meters). On average there are 30,000 gallons of water being shot over every second. Swifts nest in the fall's overhang and at sunset you can watch them dart in and out of the water; stretching away from the falls are swaths of virgin, misty and surreal Amazon Jungle. This is, by far, the most stunning waterfall I have ever seen anywhere, ever.

To get to the falls you have to either hike five days through untamed tropical forest (a dream trip of mine) or do what I did and fly in a chartered 5-seater airplane. I flew in with my father and a two-person documentary film team. The only reason I had the guts to go and stand on this ledge was that the documentary cameraman stood in the same spot and filmed the falls gushing for several minutes.

When my father saw him there he yelled to the other documentary partner, "That guy's got balls!"

To which she responded, "He's got three!"

Yet after the guy had been there awhile it looked pretty safe and not so scary so I slowly inched out to where he had been standing. The water was only up to my ankles and the current at the far side here wasn't strong. I held out my camera to the edge and *snap*.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Decrease Your Travel Footprint With One Gadget

"What's that funny looking contraption with all the hoses?"
"It's a water filter so I don't have to buy bottled water."
OK, I'd seen other people toting around these complicated looking things but they always looked like so much work. I flashed back to childhood backpacking trips where I had to spend seemingly hours filtering stream water. When I'm on the road researching a guidebook I just don't have time for that. Still chatting for a few hours with this dread-locked hippy on a long haul Malaysian bus ride really got me thinking; when I got back home post-trip I started searching the Internet for an easy, packable water filter. What I found has dramatically decreased my footprint as a traveler and has become as important to my packing list as my toothbrush.

The Steripen is not a classic pump and filter water purifier, instead it zaps with UV light to stop the bad-guy microbes from reading DNA. If microbes can't read DNA, they can't reproduce in your gut or cause you any problems. It runs on two AA batteries that provide enough power to purify 200 liters of water. I have a model that's about three years old now - it's about the size of a medium banana and weighs next to nothing. I t slips in my purse, daypack or just about anything. To make the thing work you simply dunk it a liter or half-liter of water, press a button once or twice depending on how much water you're purifying and stir for about 40 seconds till the light goes off. I love that it also works on ice cubes in your drink so I know longer have to suffer through luke warm beverages in hot dodgy countries - just dunk the Steripen right in your glass.

The first time I took my Steripen on the road was on an eight-week trip to Thailand. I used it everywhere, filling my water bottle from the tap and zapping it as I needed it. The only time I had to buy water was on Ko Yao Noi where the tap water was brackish and tasted so disgusting I broke down and bought bottled water instead. Over the eight weeks I had no tummy troubles at all - a record for me. Now my Steripen has been with me to some ten countries and it's still kicking. When I arrive late at night to say, a hotel in Sulawesi, I don't have to worry about having a bottle of water because I can just purify my own. I no longer have to save that last little bit at the bottom of the bottle to brush my teeth with even though I'm thristy - no I have as much water as I want with my Steripen. I bring it on hikes so I don't have to carry a ton of water and was even consoled by it when I recently went through a cyclone knowing that even if the water cut out, I could drink from a puddle with my Steripen.

Now they are coming out with a "Travel Mini" even smaller than my model. Unfortunately I have no need to buy one since my old stalwart seems immortal. And no, I'm not getting paid by Steripen to write this - they have no clue who I am. I just love, love, love this gadget.

Check out their website at www.steripen.com

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jam Session at the Tahiti Immigration Office

This photo was taken by my friend Fletcher Irwin when he stopped by the Papeete Immigration office at noon on a Thursday. He got his visa and hung out and drank beer and played music with these guys for about four hours. Paradise.

Recipe: Easy French Chocolate Fondant

Ah the French, they do marvelous things with chocolate. And not just chocolate either - I have learned countless easy but flashy looking French cooking techniques since I've been here in Polynesia and I now devoutly kneel before the wisdom of French food savvy. Today is my daughter's 14th birthday (ouch!) and she's asked me to make one of her favorite cakes in my recipe arsenal, Chocolate Fondant, a rich gooey cake kind of like chocolate brownies but more sophisticated. This recipe was given to me by a Parisian friend and even manages to wow my French dinner guests. Keep it a secret that it's so ridiculously easy to make.

The trick to this cake is to not over-cook it and not to skimp on the butter.

Easy French Chocolate Fondant

• 50g (1/2 cup) plain flour
• 200g (7/8th cup) butter
• 200g (7/8th cup) sugar
• 200g (7 oz) dark chocolate
• 4 eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla, strong coffee or orange zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 200 C (about 390 F or gas mark 7). With a whisk mix together the sugar and eggs. Add the flour and mix till smooth. Put the butter in a 9-inch round (or equivalent) pan and put it in the heating oven till the butter has just melted. Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a bain marie (a pot floating in a slightly bigger pot of boiling water). Make sure no water splashes into the chocolate. Take the melted butter in the pan out of the oven, add the melted chocolate to the butter in the pan, mix till smooth then add the egg, sugar and flour mixture. If you are adding vanilla, coffee or orange zest for a more complex flavor, add them now. Again, mix till smooth. Put the batter-filled the pan back in the oven and cook for 7-10 minutes. The center should look slightly uncooked - if it looks cooked you've left it in too long. The fondant is best eaten cold to slightly warm and is great with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Photo note: I'm not a professional food blogger so my photo isn't as flashy as you'll find on many food sites but, believe me, the recipe is just as good.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Diner Dansant - How Tahiti Iti Rocks Out on a Saturday Night

To say that the nightlife is dead here in Tahiti Iti is a gross understatement. Fortunately every couple months or so someone throws a Diner Dansant (a diner and dance night)and everyone within a 25 km radius throw on their flashiest duds and come out to get their groove on. Last night my Tahitian dance school put on their annual Diner Dansant at the beautiful, waterfront Restaurant de Musée Gauguin and over 500 people turned up - it rocked.
A Tahitian Diner Dansant is unlike any other party I've ever been to anywhere. Everyone from age seven to 75 come out for the fun and all laugh and dance with each other till the wee hours of the morn. It's a small-town feel and everyone knows each other or at least looks familiar. I ended up dancing with a bunch of my kid's school teachers.
Alcohol flows freely but there's an air of class to these events so they rarely get messy. Last night started with a delicious Chinese-style sit down meal, which was followed by a dance performance by the best, youngest and most beautiful of the school's dancers. I've written before about my passion for Tahitian dance but now that I'm taking dance classes my enthusiasm for the art is sky-rocketing. Imagine eating Chinese braised duck and poisson cru while watching tanned buff men in palm frond loin cloths waggling their knees with the most gorgeous long-haired Tahitian girls shaking their hips a million miles an hour. It's graceful, it's by far the sexiest thing you'll ever see and yet somehow it remains surprisingly wholesome.
In fact the whole night was wholesome despite the drunken revelry. In Tahiti, couples waltz dancing reigns even with the youngest crowds and it's nearly always danced to a live group playing cheesy synthesized fox-trot renditions of everything from Tahitian classics to (I kid you not) the "Hokey Pokey" and "When the Saints Come Marching In." I've always considered myself a pretty decent dancer but here in Polynesia I am at the bottom of the barrel. There's some second rhythm that Tahitians hear that I can't catch and the whole swiveling and swirling of bodies along with the quick waltz step makes it all confusingly end up somewhere between a super steamy salsa dance and ballroom dancing. Every now and then I get a cavalier (dance partner) who brings out the best in me but usually they give up on me after one dance. Luckily my husband is closer to my level so we just sway back and forth in awe of everyone else. Everyone on the dance floor is smiling, laughing, sweating in the heat and no one cares how bad we dance - they are just happy we're out on the floor enjoying the evening with them.

Note: We forgot the camera last night so for the first time I'm using a stock photo! It's from the US Tahiti Tourism website.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to Prepare for Natural Disasters Abroad

It's hard to tell if there are more natural disasters these days or if it's just that the information age has let the news of them run wild. From January's Haitian earthquake catastrophe to the floods at Machu Picchu and Southeast Asia's 2004 tsunami, we are constantly reminded that no matter how well humans appear to dominate the earth, it is undeniably the earth that dominates us. Last week I was caught in cyclone Oli here in Tahiti and I am awed and humbled by how helpless I felt during the storm. I also realize how completely unprepared I was for a cyclone even though I have lived in this country for fifteen years. So what to do when a natural catastrophe happens while you're traveling or are in a foreign country? To make myself feel better and to spread the word, I have compiled these tips:

1) Research. Read up on your destination and find out what risks are present. If you're going to a place that's in an earthquake zone, know what to do in case of an earthquake. Will you be in a tsunami zone, visiting during cyclone season or be near an active volcano? There are lots of great tips online and you can educate yourself with the basics of what to do in a worst-case-scenario in well under an hour. Knowledge is power but it can also save your ass.

2) Know where to get in-country information. During cyclone Oli we had no electricity and no cell phone reception. The only means of getting information was by radio. If you're going to a risk area, consider carrying a small battery powered radio (it's great to listen to local radio in foreign countries anyway!). During cyclone Oil I had to listen to my car radio. If you don't speak the local language then at least keep some phone numbers handy such as your embassy or crisis hotlines - if the phones go out these obviously won't help but it can't hurt to have them. The most up to date information on the Internet during a crisis is often on Twitter. If you're lucky to have Internet, figure out the trending topic abbreviation of whatever you're in for and follow it diligently.

3) Pay attention. Many countries now have much more advanced crisis systems than they used to. In Southern Thailand for example there are well-marked tsunami evacuation routes everywhere. Look at these and make a mental note where they are, kind of like checking out where the nearest emergency exit is on an airplane. In your hotel, does that sturdy table look like a good place to crawl under in case of an earthquake? Does the bathroom have the least windows and could you pull the bed's mattress over yourself if a cyclone blew the roof off? All this takes little energy but could potentially save your life at times when you might not be thinking straight.

4) Insurance. Having travel insurance that can help you be evacuated to receive proper medical care can be very reassuring. In most cases you will not be reimbursed for cancelled flights due to weather and even most cruises have a clause that they can change their itineraries die to unseen circumstances without offering a refund. Buying your travel with a credit card (especially American Express) or through a travel agent can also increase your chances of getting money back after a natural catastrophe. Always read the fine print.

It's not fun to be paranoid but it's even less fun to get the daylights scared out of you or worse, hurt or killed. A small amount of effort can really go a long way and is well-worth the time.

For more information on my experiences during Cyclone Oli see my posts on awaiting the storm and after the storm.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cyclone Oli Hits Tahiti

Between 9pm Wednesday night and 10am Thursday morning Tahitian authorities banned driving on Tahiti and Moorea in anticipation of Cyclone Oli. Winds built up consistently throughout Wednesday but the storm hit us full force in the pitch black of night. It was terrifying. I had my kids in my bed with me in my room on the protected side of the house but none of us slept. Between the storm's noise, the stress and the heat, it was impossible. I found myself getting up several times to check on how the doors were holding and to check on my cats and dogs. The cats actually made a bigger mess and ruckus inside the house than the storm but the major damage to us was in the yard where several of my trees blew over.

The winds seemed just as strong by daylight but the news on RFO (Radio France Overseas)assured us the worse had passed. We went out and shot this video at around 8am.

Despite what a shambles French Polynesia's politics are in right now, the country was superbly organized when dealing with Cyclone Oli. RFO broadcasted 24 hours a day keeping everyone up to date, hotlines were installed and a few thousand people were evacuated from their homes. The worst news I heard was that some people on Tahiti's east coast were afraid to evacuate because a group of young people were going around and robbing people's vacated homes. How evil is that? But overall people helped each other out and there was an extremely strong sense of community during the crisis.

EDT (Electricite de Tahiti) were also heroes and spent over 10 hours into the middle of the night repairing the electric poles that had been taken down by trees in my small community of a few hundred people. There was still a lot of wind into the night last night (I had another tree get blown over - a 5m high soursop tree - after I shot this video) but now at 5am on Friday, it's dead calm. The storm hit the Austral Islands last night with estimated wind speeds of up to 250 km/hr and 9 meter ocean swell. My thoughts have been with them all night and I have not yet heard news of the dammage.

Once again iMovie is blocking me from adding subtitles so you'll have to make do with my translations below.

White pickup truck scene:
There are cops down there so you'll get a ticket if they catch you driving. [note: the fine was 16,100 CFP, about US$185]
And there's no store, it's closed so don't bother.

Interview with Lesta:
Lesta: No we didn't sleep, we stayed up. At about 3am I found my boat on top of my greenhouse, my vanilla greenhouse. It went up like that on to my greenhouse.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cyclone Oli On It's Way to Teahupoo

At around 2pm today February 3rd, Tahiti was put on red alert for approaching Cyclone Oli. We've been on orange alert since yesterday and the weather has been degrading since early this morning so this is no surprise. The storm is supposed to pass about 200 to 250 km to the south of us and we are to expect winds around 110km or upward. I'm on the west side of Tahiti Iti where we are getting good gusts of west wind but are fortunately protected from the huge north swells that have flooded the Papeete waterfront and are causing damage on the east coast. Here is a video of the not-so-calm before the storm.

I can't figure out how to get subtitles on my movie program (sorry I'm in the middle of a cyclone!) so here is a short summary of what Finne (who I interview) says:
Apparently the news says it's going to gain force later and tonight it'll be 150km/hr and at 150 km/hr everything is going to blow away.
Celeste: And here in Teahupoo do you think it will be bad?
Finne: Yeah. The wind is coming from the west so we're going to be right in the middle of it.

Wind blows.

Finne: It's the strongest when it comes from the valley.
Celeste: And is that gust coming from the valley?
Finne: Yes!


Related Posts with Thumbnails