A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 19 - Canada, Alaska and Climate Change

By Neil

semi-overcast 17 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

“And then the Bear bit my face.”

“What happened then?” said the aghast woman on the bus.

“Well, I’d broken both of my hands trying to fight the bear off, so I was pretty defenceless. Then the bear started to bury me”, said the rugged looking man sitting behind us on the bus from Victoria to Campbell River, Vancouver Island, Canada.

Nikki doesn’t like spiders. No, it’s more like a phobia. A big phobia.

Nikki doesn’t like bears either. She’s convinced that, given half a chance, they’ll eat your face off. I told her that when we’re in British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska, that all of the Bears were on holiday in Alberta.

And now here we are, on our first bus in British Columbia, and there’s a bloke saying, not only that he’d seen a bear, not only that he’d been attacked by a bear, but that he’d been bitten on the face by a bear! Not only that, but the bear had then tried to bury him to eat him later!

A friendly bear

“What happened then?” asked the wide-eyed woman.

“The bear cubs started calling and the bear walked away”.

Nik and I didn’t discuss anything about the conversation until we got off the bus.

“Did you hear that conversation behind us on the bus?” asked Nik.

“Yes” I said. “But that was in the past and the bears are all on holiday now”.

Nik didn’t look convinced.


Beautiful British Columbia (BC)

Vancouver Island.

After a brief overnight stop, we left Seattle via a 3 hour ferry ride to Victoria, Vancouver Island. Even from afar it was extraordinarily beautiful. If there was one common theme in our discussions with people about places we “had to go to” on the trip, it was that Canada is awesome. And, well, look at this:

On the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Another thing we found was that BC is very big, and to get to Anchorage in time for our flight Russia, we were going to have to travel fast.

Map of British Colombia (where we visited Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert), Yukon (where we visited Whitehorse and Dawson City) (Both Provinces are in Canada), and Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

Hence, we bypassed Vancouver and went straight to Vancouver Island. We had time for lunch…

Praise the Lord! Lunch in “The Empress Hotel”. We’re back in a land where the Head of State is the British Monarch. “The Empress” referred to is Queen Victoria who was also the Empress of India… (see the photos on the wall behind me…)

This was the first time I’d been in Canada since 1986 (discounting an overnight stop in 1992). I’m sure that the next gap won’t be 31 years. Apart from being stunningly scenic, there is also a great chilled out vibe with the Canadians, and a similar sense of humour (well, at least they get ours).

After a brief stop for lunch in Victoria, we caught the bus straight up to Campbell River for a couple of nights. From there we took a day trip across on the ferry to Quadra Island. It really was very pretty, especially the secluded beaches of driftwood and pebbles that we found after hiking over the island to the eastern shore.

Quadra Island, looking towards to British Colombian mainland

Bald Eagle on Quadra Island.

Deer on Quadra Island, wandering in someone’s front yard.

We then took another bus ride north to Port Hardy, from where we planned to catch the overnight ferry to Prince Rupert. It was here that I had to admit that maybe, just maybe, I might have been telling a bit of a fib about the bears.

We decided to go hiking along the estuary near the town. All very civilised and quite populated. Nothing to worry about, right? Then, it kind of started with an information sign that said “You’re in bear country”. Then it continued with this:

It’s possible that there may be bears in Canada.

A bit more cautiously we kept walking, both thinking “yes, but not really”. Then we saw a tell-tale sign on the trail and we looked at each other and said “Um, is that bear poo?”. Now I’m no First Nations tracker or anything, but it looked pretty fresh to me.

As it had started to rain, we took shelter under a bush shelter with Les, a Scottish Canadian.

“Are you worried about the bears?” we asked.

“No, but I do carry a whistle now after I met one on this track last year. Oh, talking of which, there she is over there”, he said, pointing to a black bear about 100 metres away.

It’s possible that the black blob in the middle of this picture, close to the water, could be a black bear.

Only 10 minutes before the bear had been on the path we’d been walking on, leaving her mark. It started raining and, discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to retreat to the hotel … in Les’ car…

It was at this point, that we started thinking about the little jaunt that we were on.

At Port Hardy we had got to a latitude of 51 degrees north. The last time we were this far from the equator was in January when we were on the Navimag ferry in Chile travelling north between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt.

Neil and Nikki in the Americas!

We had started on 26th December 2016 from Adelaide, Australia. We’d flown to Ushuaia, Argentina (54 degrees latitude south), and taken the ship Australis down to Cape Horn (at 56 degrees south). It felt like there was a nice symmetry of south and north as we fast approached the end of our time in the Americas.

It was now time to take the ferry up from Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert (54 degrees north), on the British Columbia mainland. It was a 20 hour trip and it lived up to it’s reputation as being one of the most scenic trips in the world, through the Inside Passage. After preparing for a night sleeping in the bleachers, we even managed to score a cabin for night – luxury!

Looking out the back of the Ferry from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada

Sunset from the ferry travelling from Port Hardy, Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada.

Prince Rupert, Stewart and the Salmon Glacier (BC)

Whilst we have tried to travel as much as possible by land, the trip from Prince Rupert to Whitehorse in the Yukon was the choice between doing 42 hours straight on a bus, or a 5 hour flight. We decided to go for the 5 hour flight. This also gave us the opportunity to rent a 4 Wheel Drive in Prince Rupert to go and see the Salmon Glacier, close to the town of Stewart, BC. We’d been lucky enough to meet up with a German/Swiss bloke and an English woman on the ferry who wanted to go to the glacier too, so they joined us for the road trip.

Both the road trip and Stewart itself were awesome. We stopped at the Bear Glacier for photos and, well, for bears on the way too….

Bears on the way to Stewart, BC, Canada.

The Salmon Glacier is biggest glacier you can see from the road in Canada. Well, a windy snow-covered dirt track. In order to get to the Glacier from Stewart, you have to cross the border briefly into the US at the tiny ‘ghost town’ of Hyder. After 20 or so kilometres you’re back in Canada and winding your way up the mountainside toward the glacier. It was easy enough to drive across the border into Hyder, but the Canadians took crossing back in pretty seriously – even though there is only one road in/out and we had waved at them on the way through only hours before!

The Salmon Glacier, BC, Canada. With Nikki and Neil!

A Little Bit on Climate Change

It was at this point that the subject of climate change came to the fore.

I can’t copy the images because of copyright, but the link to the webpage is in the public domain (http://www.explorenorth.com/library/roads/images/salmon_glacier-retreat-1975-2015.html)

The retreat of the Salmon Glacier shown in the images from 1975 and 2015 above is stark.

The last Ice Age finished about 12,000 years ago, and since then the glaciers have been retreating. The rate of change as planetary CO2 has been rapidly rising, has increased markedly. This was to be first of several tangible signs of climate change that we would see in the far north on this trip.

The Yukon (Whitehorse and Dawson City)

The flight from Prince Rupert to Whitehorse was via Vancouver, but was painless.

Whitehorse is in the Yukon and is at 60 degrees latitude north. We were now at the furthest we had been from the equator on this trip. The Yukon is roughly the same size as the Australian State of Victoria, which has a population of 5 million. The Yukon has a population of 34,000, of whom 26,000 live in the capital Whitehorse!

The first thing about Whitehorse is it’s the first place I’ve been to that has stuffed duelling mountain caribou in the airport….

Stuffed Duelling Mountain Caribou at the Whitehorse airport…

Whitehorse was only an overnight stop but, my lord, the Yukon Brewing Company do a fine job! And this is what an Elk looks like:

An Elk

And it tasted very good.

An Elk Burger…….

There is one part of me that looks at the beautiful Elk above and thinks well, it’s beautiful. But hunting has been part of the way of life up here for thousands of years and well…

The bus journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City (at 64 degrees north) was, once again picturesque.

Dawson City went off like a frog in a sock in 1896 when gold was found at Bonanza Creek. The population of Dawson City, now 1,400, was between 30,000 and 40,000 at the peak of the goldrush. Bonanza Creek flows into the Klondike River and the gold rush became known as the Klondike Gold Rush. As with all gold rushes going on at the time it was, so to speak, a flash in the pan and by 1898 the population was falling like a stone.

However, Dawson City is fabulous. It was incredibly well preserved and all new buildings have to be built to the 1905 building standards (well, for external appearance anyway). We found a beautiful organic café in town using local produce. The owner had built the café himself from scratch - including cutting down the trees, and dragging them to the site of his cafe. This is just one example of the very proud local and slow food movement that seemed to be a part of Dawson. It was certainly a tourist town, but there was also lots of young people, great food and beer and a vibe that was unexpected in this remote location.

Street views of Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

For the first time since we were in Brazil and saw the Rio Negro (Black River) joining the Rio Amazonia (Amazon River), we once again witnessed the meeting of two different rivers, where the waters did not mix for many kilometres. In the photo below you can see the very noticeable “split” when the Klondike (black) and the Yukon river (brown) meet.

Yukon - Klondike River Colour -2

Yukon - Klondike River Colour -2

Photos showing the Klondike River (black) meeting up with the Yukon River (brown) at Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.

Interestingly, when we left from Oakland railway station, they had a place next to it called “London Square” named after Jack London (1876 to 1916).

Jack London wrote, in particular, “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”, two books that I devoured when I was in my pre-teenage years.
Jack London went up to Dawson City in 1897 and stayed for about 12 months before returning to San Francisco after suffering from scurvy. But the 12 months or so that he spent in Dawson City were the inspiration for many of his books.

The pictures so far do not represent, if you like, the real Dawson City. I find it difficult to really comprehend that the rivers you saw above were frozen only 7 weeks before we arrived.

The Frozen Yukon River. It is frozen for about 8 months of the year.

The sign on the Yukon River that is connected up to sensors to give the time that the river first starts moving.

There are sensors on the river that measure when the ice starts to move each year. This is where, once again, we see the effect of the increasing rate of climate change because the date of the first ice move has been recorded each year since 1896. In summary, 8 of the 10 times that the “first move” has occurred in April have been in the last 30 years. In 2016 the “first move” was a full 5 days earlier than it had been in any year since 1896.

Date of the first moving of the Yukon River at Dawson City, Yukon between 1896 and 2016. In 2016 it was the earliest first moving of the Yukon river by 5 days, 23rd April.

Of course, the other point of interest is the sunrise (3.48 am) and the sunset (12.58 am) in Dawson City. Just in case you’re like me and weren’t 100% sure on why the days get longer and shorter, look at this:


In short, the earth is not perpendicular to the sun, it is non-perpendicular by 23.5 degrees.


Canadian Politics

The Frogs and the bloody Poms. Good Lord, are they always in a bun fight?

I mentioned in a few previous blogs that the Poms (Prisoners of Mother England, a derogatory term for the British), the Frogs (a term of adoration for our French friends), and the Spanish (a term meaning “Please can you bring me some of your excellent shaved ham, and a gin and tonic”), got into a bit of argy bargy in about 1756 to 1763 in an imaginatively called “7 year war”. The Brits must have done reasonably well out of all this, because in the Treaty of Paris, Spain and England swapped Florida for Cuba, and France gave up Louisiana to the Spanish.

Also, at that point, there was a lot of fuss over beavers. Beaver hats were all the rage in Europe and there were a lot of beavers in Canada. The French were there in force, and the Brits were too. The French were in Quebec, the Brits were elsewhere in Canada. The French gave up Quebec as part of the 7 year war.

However, les Francias in Quebec thought “Merde!”, and have been battling ever since for political, if not national, independence.

So political leadership in Canada is a tad tricky. But, when they were looking for a leader in 1968 and the son of a French Canadian father and a Scottish/French Canadian mother wanted to be Prime Minister, well, Bob’s your Uncle. And he was completely bi-lingual. And had a French surname. He was ahead of the pack. His name was Pierre Trudeau.

Three years later in 1971, he had a son called Justin Trudeau who in 2015 became the Prime Minister of Canada.

So now we get on to the whole “My political leader is hunkier/betterer than yours”.

Canada Wins.

There have been two recent incidents of an overload of Canadian official and news websites; once was the Canadian immigration website when the present US President won the election, and the other was when a picture emerged of a bare-chested Justin Trudeau emerged on the internet.

Photo of the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau at a charity boxing competition in 2012 that emerged in 2015 and caused meltdown of a number of Canadian websites…

That is all fluff and junk until you consider that Trudeau is, in my view, among the best leaders in power at present. Why?
- He has equal numbers of men and women on his cabinet (and they are not all sitting in the front row!)

The Canadian cabinet of Justin Trudeau.

- He (knock me over with a feather!) appointed a military person to be the minister of defence,

Harjit Sajjin – Canadian Minister of Defence – 2015 to present

- A doctor to be minister of health, etc.

Dr Jane Philpott – Canadian Minister of Health – 2015 to present

- He welcomed the first Syrian refugees to Canada personally

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcoming the first Syrian refugees at Toronto airport. “Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of the terminal as permanent residents of Canada”, he said.

- He went to visit them again after they’d been in the country for a year
- And, in my view, very importantly, doesn’t need to put his ego on the table during negotiations.

In short, he rocks.

Overland from Dawson City to Alaska

John, the bloke driving the shuttle van taking us from Dawson City to Fairbanks, said the road up to the Canadian/American border was his favourite in the world. It is called the ‘Top of the World Highway’, winding along ridgetops for hundreds of kilometres, allowing a view to distant mountain ranges and river gorges. Bloody interesting bloke by the way. A kayak rowing fisherman who spent decades in the logging industry, as well as 11 years in a Buddhist retreat….

To sound like a broken record, it was very pretty.

View on the way from Dawson City, Yukon, Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. The second photo shows the devastated pine forests after a bushfire a number of years ago that wiped out the spruce forest for thousands of hectares. Unfortunately they do not regenerate and other species are replacing them.

We arrived in Fairbanks on the 19th of June, which is only 2 days before the summer solstice and there was a festival on in the town to celebrate. We had a wander and lovely dinner in town and then went off to bed, in the day light. Nikki got up to take this photo of sunset/rise at 1.30 am. This was as dark as it got that night – a combination of fiery sunset and bright summer evening!

Photograph taken at 1.30 am from the hotel window in Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks is the furthest north we go on our trip, at 64 degrees 50 minutes north.

Finally, onto the last part of our travel in the Americas; the train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Twelve hours, including travelling through Denali National Park, the location of North America’s highest mountain at 6,190 (20,156 feet) – called Denali or Mount McKinley.

Views on the train ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska.

Anchorage is the largest city in the largest state in America (Alaska is 1.7 million square kms, or a quarter the size of Australia).

And I’m afraid that my fibbing about bears came to the fore again:

Er, maybe there are bears in Alaska..

And we heard about a tragic theft in Dawson City. The Downtown Hotel Sourdough Saloon is world famous for its “Sourtoe Cocktail” that contains a real human toe. You don’t eat the toe, I hasten to add. Infact there’s a $2,500 fine if you do, but there is a toe in the glass and you are meant to ‘kiss’ it when you drink the cocktail. Anyway, this happened:

The actual human toe from the “Sourtoe Cocktail” in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, has been stolen!

Yep, we’re not in Melbourne any more…..


The end of the Americas

So here are the statistics:

179 days

18 countries

9 time zones

61,140 km’s (4,627 km’s by boat, 2,577 km’s by train, 25,361 km’s by Bus/ car, and 28, 576 km’s by plane (of which 16,075 km’s was getting to Ushuaia, Argentina from Australia).

It’s been amazing. And so, we say goodbye to the Americas. And hello to Russia. We are very excited.

We’re starting our Russian adventure here:

The Russian Far East in the context of Russia as a whole.

Or more precisely, we’re taking an expedition ship called the “Spirit of Enderby” up the Kamchatka Coast to Anadyr:

Route we’ll be taking on the expedition ship, the Spirit of Enderby.

The Spirit of Enderby, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russian Far East.

So, let me say: Dasvidanya y spasiba….. Goodbye and thank you……

For now at least…..


Posted by capetocape2017 16:14 Archived in Canada Tagged alaska politics canada canadian british columbia change bears climate justin yukon refugees trudeau Comments (1)

Chapter 18 - The United States of America

By Neil

sunny 25 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

California – The economic powerhouse

The USA. After 5 months in non-English speaking countries, it was the small things we appreciated, like understanding the announcements at the train station and being certain what we had ordered for lunch. And by the way, the first place we went when we got off the train? A sushi restaurant! Bliss after 5 months!

And we arrived into the 7th biggest economy in the world. California.

The most significant impression that I got from our stay in the USA was the economic, intellectual, and entrepreneurial powerhouse that is California. No country is perfect. But there are some things America is not only doing right, but better than anywhere else on earth. I am talking about innovation, development of ideas and entrepreneurship.

One of my favourite things about the Cape to Cape Big Trip, is learning about the countries that we are travelling through. California is the home of Tesla, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Oracle, Intel and many others. All of these are great examples of entrepreneurial and money generating powerhouses. Not forgetting that Microsoft and Boeing are up the road in Washington state.

I’ll give the example of a bloke we met in California. This bloke has a degree and a PhD. He works for a foundation that is investigating a disease. The Foundation is funded by an entrepreneur/philanthropist. There is a team of about 90 people working for the foundation and 600 contracted to it. One of the areas they are investigating is the changes that happen to proteins when the disease develops. They are then designing molecules to block the formation of these proteins. There are thousands of permutations and combinations. The job of the bloke we met is to manage the development of the information system used to analyse the results of the tests.

The intellectual firepower in this team and the entrepreneurial/philanthropic funding of the effort maybe not unique to California, but are perhaps rare elsewhere.

The high quality (and yes, expensive) education system and the American “can do” culture seem to be a huge part of this. And perhaps it is also the extraordinary salaries the unbalance American society, but which attract the most talented and innovative people to this area.

Then again, I reckon, you just can’t go past the beauty and climate of the place.

View down the beach from Encinitas, just north of San Diego, California.

The climate; not too hot, not too cold. Plus, of course, there is the Vibe, man.


Trump versus Keating.

So, travelling through the USA my literary companion has been Bill Bryson’s book about Australia called “In a sunburned country”. It is rather fabulous and, whilst the US Presidents might get quite a bit of press they are nowhere near as colourful as the Aussie Prime Ministers (of course, anachronistically, the Australian Head of State is still Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth).

Let’s take this bloke:

Harold Holt Australian Prime Minister – 1966-1967.

Now the Yanks have lost a couple of Presidents, but did they ever really lose one, never to be found? And because he went swimming?

Cheviot Beach, Victoria, Australia.

There he was, Australia’s Prime Minister in 1967, Harold Holt, having a day out with his girlfriend (don’t know where his wife was) when he decided to go for a swim at Cheviot Beach, Victoria, Australia. Two minutes later, got caught in a rip and was never found. Oops.

Still the Aussie’s commemorated him appropriately.

The Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool

Yes, we named a swimming pool after him….

American Presidents are famous for many things, but the Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke? Firstly he held the world record for the fastest downing of a yard of ale:

Bob Hawke – Australia’s Prime Minister (1983- 1991) – who once held the record for the fastest downing of a yard of ale (1.4 litres or 2.5 pints). He did it in under 12 seconds.

And then in 1983, Australia won the Americas Cup from America (it’s a sailing race). Bob Hawke, wearing this rather understated jacket famously said “Any boss who sacks a worker for not coming to work today is a Bum!”. Now that’s bloody classy.

Bob Hawke – in his Americas Cup Jacket when Australia won the Americas Cup in 1983

However, both of these magnificent examples of Aussie leadership pale in comparison to The Honourable Paul Keating, Prime Minster of Australia from 1991 to 1996.

The Honourable Paul Keating, Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996

He was, is, possibly the most sharp witted, and humorous Australian politician ever. Here are just some of the absolute pearlers that came from him.

About John Hewson, the leader of the opposition:

• He’s like a shiver waiting for a spine
• Debating with him is like being flogged by a warm lettuce
• A feral abacus
• The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly (after Hewson asked him why he wouldn’t call an early election)

On Andrew Peacock (when asked if he thought Andrew Peacock would become the leader of the opposition again):

• A souffle doesn’t rise twice

On Wilson Tuckey:

• He’d be flat out counting past ten

And about John Howard:

• He’s like a lizard on a rock, alive but looking dead
• A desiccated coconut
• What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.
• …the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition…
• But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.
• From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him (speaking of his 1986 leadership)
• I’m not like the leader of the Opposition. I didn’t slither out of the Cabinet Room like a mangy maggot….

Which brings me around to the present President of the USA.

When I was at school there were bullies. The way to minimise the activity of a bully was to ignore them. To remove, if you like, their oxygen.

We were in San Francisco when the President announced the withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 147 countries have so far ratified the agreement. The President's move is isolationist. The world will continue to work on addressing the climate challenge. California, New York and Washington will continue to work on addressing climate change. The US Government will not be at the table. Unfortunate, but frankly not critical to the success of this accord.

I have completely lost interest in the present President of the USA. The world will continue on. The best way to deal with a bully is to ignore them. To remove the oxygen. To fight hard against the silly decisions, but to get on with life.

The best headline I saw was in the New York Times after the Paris Agreement, “China steps into the void left by the US Withdrawal”. That, I think, says it all.


Friends, Romans, and Trains.

After travelling 22,000 km’s by bus, and 3,500 km’s by boat to get from Cape Horn to Tijuana, we were very pleased to be able to travel by train up the west coast of the USA. Train travel is just so much more civilised. You can move around, go to the restaurant car, sit at tables, even take a shower.

Back in the 1820’s when I was University, I did a “thin sandwich” course; ie the first year was in the University, and the second, third, and fourth years were 6 months in the University, and 6 months in industry. For me that meant 6 months in Frankfurt in 1984, 6 months in Lyon in 1985, and 6 months in Toronto in 1986. Yes, it was a cool course, as was coming out tri-lingual.

In 1984 I met a bloke called Alex. The last time I saw him was during my first year travelling in 1992. It was time to catch up again. It was a little off putting to do the sums and work out that we’d met a third of a century ago and the last time we met was a quarter of a century ago. He now lives just outside of San Diego and it was great to meet again; talk about life, the universe, and everything.

Alex and Neil – Encinitas Beach, north of San Diego, California.

Nik and I then travelled from San Diego to Los Angeles by train. The first train that we’d taken on the trip. It is called the “Surf Liner” and it was amazing. So amazing and so overwhelmed were we not to be on a bus playing power ballads that we in fact that we didn’t get any photos. But here is the route we took between San Diego and Los Angeles:


There is a panoramic roof viewing car:


And the views of the coast are spectacular:


And then I take you back to 1986 in the ongoing history of my life where I met up with a guy called Ian in Toronto. In the late 80's we went on to create legends of Dionysian revelry everywhere from Canada to Europe. Life, marriage and kids then intervened for both of us, and we were now catching up again after 12 years. Interestingly, when we got together this year in Long Beach, our memories were sort of the same, but not exactly. For example, I have no memory of the goat on the train between Munich and Athens. Ian has no memory of the bottle of Johnny Walker Whisky on the same train. That may be because we started the trip with a full bottle and halfway through it was empty….. It may be because we made the trip when the train travelled through a country called Yugoslavia…

Ian, Diane, Nik and me at a restaurant in Long Beach, California.


We may have created some more legends of somewhat more subdued revelry this time, but we are certainly not going to leave it another dozen years before we catch up again!

Whilst I have been to San Francisco a couple of times before, I’d never done much of the tourist scene. So Nik and I took the train, the Coast Starlight from LA to San Francisco and it was very picturesque.


San Francisco is a great town.

San Francisco tram.

We went out to Alcatraz, the jail in the middle of San Francisco harbour.


I got put in jail. Again.


Then it was on a bus from San Francisco, 3 hours up north to a town called Ukiah where Nik’s Aunt Zoy and her wife Katherine live. It was a wonderful stay and the coast line in northern California is truly stunning.

Nik with Aunt Zoy and Katherine + the Lucy the dog by the mouth of the river Navarro

Then a fantastic walk along the boardwalk at MacKerricher State Park

Photos from the cliff top walk at MacKerricher State Park


This is the path of the train we took up the west coast.

The path of the Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Seattle

The last part of the trip was the 24 hour train ride from Oakland to Seattle. But before boarding in Oakland, it was time for oysters and ribs! After 3 days of being 'happily' nearly vegetarian with Nik, Zoy and Katherine - Yum!


This time, instead of following the coast, the train went inland up over the mountains in northern California and Oregon. Once again, it was a wonderfully relaxing journey - we felt so spoilt after the hard toil on buses down south!


After 5 months, our first view of snow capped mountains and snow on the ground. And all this from the civilisation of the train with showers, a restaurant car and observation car !

So the USA. From a latitude of 31 degrees north to 41 degrees north in 2 weeks. Now it was time to move onto British Columbia and Yukon in Canada prior to continuing to Alaska…


Posted by capetocape2017 13:29 Archived in USA Tagged california train us australian president prime ministers Comments (1)

Chapter 17 - Mexico

By Nikki (in italics) and Neil

sunny 30 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Frida Kahlo

Frida with Picasso earrings (Nicholas Murray)

Neil asked me to open this blog by talking about Frida Kahlo and why she, and her art, are so important to me. When thinking about female role models, Frida stands out both as a woman who I admire and an acclaimed female international artist, of which there are too few (‘acclaimed female international artist’, not highly talented and underappreciated female artists, of course). Frida was an incredibly strong and independent woman. She was a feminist, political activist, sexual libertarian and refused to be held back by social mores of the day.

Marxism will give health to the sick (Frida Kahlo - 1954) – Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City

Frida knew her own mind, lived it and painted it. She suffered from significant emotional and physical trauma throughout her life, including polio that left one leg shorter than the other, a horrendous motor accident which required years of rehabilitation and left her in pain for her entire life and prevented her from having children and a tumultuous relationship with her twice husband Diego Rivera. She was a prolific artist and her strength lay in her ability to lay her raw emotions on canvas. She did not view them as weaknesses to be hidden, but the reality of her life which she expressed with heartrending honesty, particularly in her self-portraits.

Frida Kahlo Museum – Mexico City

The first time I saw an original Frida painting, I cried. And it was no different going to see her house and studio in Mexico City. It was quite emotional. Most of Casa Azul has been left exactly as when Frida died in 1954, including her bedroom, where she spent much time recuperating from her accident and many operations, her studio and kitchen. In her bedroom is the four poster bed with a mirror on the roof that she used to paint her self-portraits, along with her body casts that she wore to straighten her spine, painted in her own hand. There are disappointingly few of Frida’s original works in the museum as many of them are in private collections or in touring exhibits. However, spending time in the beautiful house that was such an important part of her life, including looking through her and Diego’s library, was a very special insight into her life.

Frida’s studio, with her original easel, wheelchair, mirror and paints. Her library and extensive collection of prehispanic art where also a part of the collection.

Frida in her studio (Fritz Henle- 1943)

Frida and Diego’s kitchen

Frida’s four post bed surrounded by her personal belongings. Her death mask lays upon the bed and her ashes in a toad shaped (for Diego) urn on the dressing table. Frida was 47 when she died.


The ancient cultures and original inhabitants of Mexico

In 1517, it is estimated that there were 25 million Mayan, Aztec and other indigenous cultures living in Mexico. 100 years after the Spanish arrived in 1519, this had dropped by 96% to only 1 million due to a mixture of disease, starvation, and war. These were sophisticated cultures whose power and control over central, eastern and southern Mexico had ebbed and flowed for thousands of years.

The level of civilisation that the Aztecs/Mayans achieved between 900 BC and around 1600 AD was amazing; the architecture, the engineering, the astrology.

We started our exploration of indigenous cultures in Mexico in Tulum on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

Tulum has a stunning setting on the coast.

Photos of Tulum, Mexico

Tulum is believed to be an important site for the Diving or Descending God.

Temple of the Descending God

On the way to Tulum we stopped off at Bacalar which deserves much more than the 12 hours that we stayed there.

Bacalar, Mexico is very beautiful.

After Cuba, we moved west to Merida, stopping at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Kabah along the way. Chichen Itza is by far the most iconic and visited ruins in Mexico. Initially settled as pure Mayan site, overtime there was a slow infiltration of the Toltec culture which resulted in its famous and unique architecture. It is a large complex with the central El Castillo temple that has appeared in numerous movies, adverts and calendars…

El Castilla at Chichen Itza

Australia Man at Chichen Itza

Although Chichen Itza was very grand, the hawkers, volume of tourists and state of many of the minor ruins meant that it was not easy to get a connection with significance of the site. Uxmal on the other hand was much quieter and in extraordinary condition. We were free to wander in among the structures, climbing up for the view of the surrounding forest. It is estimated that only 20% of the total site has been excavated and that the rolling hills seen from on high are further temples currently hidden under the foliage. First settled in 600AD, Uxmal was abandoned in 900AD, supposedly due to extreme drought conditions. The unusual oval Casa Adivino (constructed of 5 separate layers), the strangely named but incredibly well preserved Nun’s Quadrangle and the Palacio de Gobernador were all highlights.

Casa Adivino - Uxmal

Palacio de Gobernardo - Uxmal

I would say that my favourite of all of the Mayan sites in Mexico was Palenque. This site is hidden away in the rainforest of south eastern Chiapas, in surroundings not unlike Tikal in Guatemala. The site was fist inhabited around 100BC until 700AD. Neil had a cold for our stay in Palenque and I caught a minibus out to the ruins by myself and spent 4 wonderful hours wandering through the rainforest, constantly amazed each new temple or secluded forest grove that I happened upon. The site was lush and green, with howler monkeys serenading from the forest (if you have ever heard a howler monkey, you’ll know how peaceful that is!). It was absolutely beautiful.

Palenque – wandering through the rainforest, this is the first sight that you have of the ruins in the morning sun…

The Plaza of the Cross – Palenque

The main temple at Palenque

Lastly, and maybe most interestingly is the Templo Mayor site right in the centre of Mexico City. Templo Mayor was a part of the sacred area of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. After the city was decimated by the Spanish, it was largely forgotten as modern Mexico City began to sprawl over the area. It was not until 1978 when amazing Aztec carvings were uncovered by electricity workers, that efforts were made to excavate the site. The temple is only one of perhaps 75-80 buildings which included other pyramids, ornamental walls, gathering places and shops that sit under central Mexico City. To stand in the middle of a bustling city with a population greater than Australia, looking over Aztec ruins is quite astounding! The attached Templo Mayor museum gives a great overview of the history of the Tenochtitlan.

The archaeological site of Templo Mayor in the middle of Mexico City

The major museum in Mexico City is certainly the world class Museum of Anthropologia. In this striking building is the most comprehensive collection of Aztec, Mayan and other artefacts in the country, including from all of the sites that we had visited. With amazing reconstructions of the temples we had visited it was the first time we could really appreciate what those site would have looked like and provided a real appreciation for these complex cultures. The museum is an absolute must if you ever have the opportunity.

Museo Antropologia – Mexico City.

An Olmec Head – the oldest known prehispanic culture known in Mexico.


Expat Mexicans, the Wall, and Trump

The USA has a population of about 322 million people. Of these, about 56.5 million people are of Latino/ Hispanic descent (17.5%). 2/3rds (35.8 million people) of the Latino/ Hispanic people can be classified as Mexican Americans. That’s a lot ! Particularly when you consider that the present population of Mexico is 122 million people. Whilst Mexican Americans make up 11% of the US population, they do not live uniformly across the US. They are concentrated in the lands that were, until about 1848 were part of Mexico, ie California (31% of Californians are Mexican Americans), Arizona (26%), New Mexico (29%), and Texas (32%).

Part of the story that makes this particularly interesting to me is the US relatives of my sons; Alex and Michael are part of the 20.7 million Americans of Latino/ Hispanic descent from their Guatemalan grandmother.

The other part that, as a political junkie, I find very interesting, is, of the 56.5 million “Latino’s” in the US, how many of them are citizens ? ie, how many can vote ? Well, it’s about 45 million. So the Latino voting block in the US is massive. And if the undocumented Latino’s were made citizens, this could change the political landscape in the US. Interestingly, the addressing of the issue of undocumented citizens is not, of course, a new issue. Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986 which granted citizenship to Mexican nationals living and working in the US without documentation was just one of the attempts at moving forward.

Of course, there were lots of comments made by the present President against Mexico during the election campaign. Mainly in connection with illegal Mexicans in the USA, the wall, and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).

If one looks at tactics used by politicians to gain or maintain power, one of the most significant and often used, is Create an Enemy or Create a Scapegoat/ Someone to blame. The present President used this tactic very effectively during his campaign. All of Americas problems are due to the Mexicans/ Chinese/ Free Trade/ Health Care/ etc, etc.

It is interesting how the President has backtracked on NAFTA.

With the wall, it appeared the now President used the comment by Mark Twain. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. Let’s look at the facts about the wall and illegal immigration.

First of all what is the estimation of people illegally crossing the border ? It is estimated that in 2015 the number crossing the Mexican American land border was 674,000. By the way, the estimate of people entering legally by air or sea and overstaying their visas is 527,000.

So of course, the President made it appear that this problem was massive, and nothing has already been done.

Except this:

The existing wall between the USA and Mexico – 650 miles of 1,989 miles

So, the “Wall” story is really just a load of Hogwash.

Nik and I decided that we wanted to get a better feel for the whole border issue and hence decided to do a land crossing of the Mexico/ USA border. So we went to the biggest of the them all, the crossing at Tijuana. It’s estimated that 1,000,000 people per week cross the border at Tijuana. It’s quite big.

The busiest border crossing in the world; the USA and Mexico at Tijuana. 1 million people per week.

For us, with our backpacks, it was all reasonably painless and took 30 minutes.


Murder rate/ Safety/ Drugs

So the statistics are really bad. In calendar 2016:
- 16,000 people were murdered in Afghanistan
- 17,000 people were murdered in Iraq, but
- 23,000 people were murdered in Mexico.

Oh My God ! That means if you go to Mexico, you’re gonna die ! Er, no.

In Brazil, we needed to be really careful about safety. Don’t carry a bag. Always lock up your money belt. Don’t wear jewellery/ watches. Stick to the tourist areas. Don’t carry much money. Don’t take your phone out, etc. We met people that had been robbed (when they didn’t follow the rules mentioned….).

In Mexico, it’s just not like that. We were careful, but almost always felt safe.

However, the Drug Cartels are engaged in some very bloody wars. But it is localised. The Drug Cartel areas of the Drug towns are dangerous. That murder figure means there is 1 murder for every 5,300 people per year. Honduras was 1 murder for every 1,000 people per year, but the higher population in Mexico means a higher number of people murdered.

So, don’t believe everything you read.

That said, Nikki and I did, in Mexico, make use of “Nikki’s Maxim”, ie “If we’re gonna die, we fly”. The north of Mexico can be a bit hairy, so we flew from Mexico City to Tijuana. Why Tijuana ? See the part above about the wall and the present President.


Power Ballads

Ah, you love ‘em ! Tell me you don’t ! Some of those fabulous songs from the 70’s. “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen, “Without You” by Harry Nillson. However, in Central America and Mexico, the people are addicted to them. Just the outfits are fabulous. What about Luis Miguel ?


And his fabulous song “Somos Novios” (“We’re together”) with Amando Manzanero.


And then there are the times when we get the Latino equivalent of this:

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton who sang that beautiful 1982 song, “Islands in the Stream” with the bizarre second line.
The first line is “Baby when I met you there was peace unknown” (that’s ok)
The Second line is “I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb” (??? What the ? How on earth do “get” a woman with a fine tooth comb ? Do I want to know ? What were the Bee Gees (who wrote the song) thinking ?)

I’ve done a bit of a google and asked our Mexican Amiga and the best I can come up with is Amando Manzanero featuring Lisset with their song “Nada Personal” (“Nothing Personal”). The link is here. And, just look at that moustache. Marvellous.




Talking of outfits, we were taken by our Mexico City Amiga (friend) to see a Mariachi band. What I loved is the guitars.

We have a five string guitar:

Wow ! I need to get me a pair of strides like that ! Plus he’s playing a funky 5 string guitar.

Then a great bass guitar:

And how about this little axe ?

Then there is the whole Mariachi band !

Mariachi Band in Mexico City

But in addition, there are 10 sting mandolins, 12 string mandolins, 6 string acoustics that are like half of a regular 12 string. It’s all very cool.



So, now you have had enough of Neil’s self-indulgence, here are some more photos from our time in Mexico, in case you haven’t seen them on Facebook…

The square at the Dominican Monastery, Oaxaca. The cultural museum and ethnobotanical gardens were the most beautiful we had seen on the trip.

The Ethnobotanical gardens in Oaxaca

The History of Mexico (Diego Rivera) – Palacio National, Mexico City

View of Bellas Artes from Torre LatinoAmericana, Mexico City.


Onto the north.

And so, after 22 weeks, 150 days after we left Australia, we returned to an English speaking country. Well sort of. The Americans still can’t spell colour correctly, or pronounce the letter “Z”, but with a bit of training, I think they can be turned around. Our American friends just need to realise that getting rid of the Monarchy as the Head of State over a disagreement about a cup of tea, was a tad hasty. Look what’s happened now. Surely just a small amendment to the constitution getting rid of the President and reinstating the Queen would be a fine idea.

All we have to do now is get from 32 degrees north, 117 degrees west (Tijuana), to 62 Degrees north and 149 degrees west, at Anchorage in time for the Summer Solstice Festival on 21st June. Sunset will be at 11.43 pm, and sunrise at 4.20 am. Now that is cool.


Posted by capetocape2017 17:36 Archived in Mexico Tagged illegal wall power mayan mexican immigration aztec frida kahlo ballads Comments (0)

Chapter 16 - Cuba

By Neil

sunny 31 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Fasslane, Scotland - 1962

Chief Petty Officer Brian William Cooke, Royal Navy, of Her Majesties Ship Anzio, a submarine support vessel, was on “20 minute sailing alert”.

Good Lord ! Who is that handsome fellow ? I do believe it's CPO Cooke, RN

HMS Anzio needed to be ready to sail in 20 minutes due to a small issue on the other side of the world in a little place called Cuba. The alert status meant that the crew slept on board, including CPO Cooke. At that stage, he and my mother, Betty, had a 3 month old son, my elder brother Stephen.

On October 15th 1962, an American U2 sky plane had discovered that medium range nuclear weapons had been installed by the Russians in Cuba. Why was this a big deal ? Look at the map.

Map showing just how close Cuba is to Florida

The deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba in 1962.

The hands on the Doomsday Clock, the virtual clock operated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board since 1947, used to show how close the world is to a nuclear (and now climate) holocaust, were at 7 minutes to midnight, with midnight indicating the start of the holocaust.

The Doomsday Clock is now at 2.5 minutes to midnight - mainly due to climate issues.

The US President, John F Kennedy started an arms blockade on Cuba on 23rd October 1962, stating that the nuclear missiles must be removed from Cuba. The Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev said “Nyet. Buggery offski”. Both sides had their hands on the big red button and in a very tense 24 hour period, nuclear war was a very real reality.

This stand off, eventually resolved on 28th October 1962, was called the Cuban Missile Crisis and is commonly believed to be the closest the world has come, so far, to nuclear war.

As an aside, the Russians had tried to keep the installation of nuclear missiles on Cuba secret, so much so that they didn't even tell their own military the truth about where they were going and why. They even kitted out the soldiers being sent to Cuba with cold weather gear and called the program “Operation Anadyr” (Anadyr is in the Russian Far East and we're going there in 2 months time) to keep the secret as long as possible.


Cuba. Blimey. Where to start ? There is only one place to start.

Fidel Castro – 13th August 1926 – 25th November 2016

Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution, overthrowing the heavily US aligned Batista dictatorship. Along with Che Guevara and Fidel's brother Raul, they started an uprising (which nearly failed on numerous occasions) which eventually toppled Batista and saw Fidel become leader of Cuba on 1st January 1959. He remained President of Cuba until 2006, when he handed over power to his brother Raul Castro, who remains President today.

After all I’ve written about the battle between America and Russia for supremacy of influence control in South and Central America, Cuba was our chance to really see what happens when America has no influence. And the country is communist. It was an eye opener.


The first thing about Cuba, is that there are no, zero, none at all, safety concerns. Someone said, if you wanted to, you could sleep on the streets and be safe. This caused us to sit up and take notice. Particularly having been so alert and so careful for all of the previous 16 weeks (except French Guiana).


It’s free and it is very good. Many people have university degrees, some times many. The literacy rate is 99.98%.


It’s free for everyone, and it is of a reasonable quality. Michael Moore, the American film producer has a fabulous segment in his film “Sicko” where he takes people injured in the 9/11 attacks on New York, and who’ve been denied medical care in the USA, to Cuba and they get treated. Free.


Er, you can vote for anyone as long as his first name is Raul and his surname is Castro.

Free Speech and Free Press:

There isn’t free speech and there isn’t a free press. Apparently the Communist Party still have a delegate in each residential building or complex.

Car Ownership.

In the US, car ownership is about 850 cars per 1,000 people. In Cuba, it is 38. It was only in 2011 that the private sale of cars was legalized. The government also recently stated it would allow the public to purchase cars without a government permit (previously rarely granted) although with a 400% mark up on the cars, this reform has not in fact had much impact for most Cubans.

Business ownership:

Until recent reforms, all business was government owned. It is only in the last few years as Raul has allowed a raft of reforms to stimulate the economy that small and medium size enterprises have been legalized. And this has change has been very slow, mainly starting with hostels, restaurants and and taxis.

Equality of Income:

This is, to me, where Fidel, if he was alive, and Raul, in his place, have limited the opportunities of their people. That’s being kind. Yes, there is equality of income in Cuba. Everyone is dirt poor. The annual income is US$240. Per year. For everyone. Well done Fidel. Good job Raul.

Humans are naturally industrious. They want a good life. They want to work hard. They want their children to be able to have a better life than them. They want to be able to do good things. All of this is not allowed in Cuba. The people’s ability to use their great education is severely limited. There are no jobs to be had, no matter how highly qualified you are.

There is, of course, a balance needed in equality of incomes; America has gone too far in the inequality. In my view, Australia is ok, but the Scandinavians have got it just about right.


A positive outcome of socialism in Cuba, is that equality extends across society in terms of race and colour and there is extremely little, if any racism.

This is very unlike the rest of Central and South America where the equality disparity is significant between the main groups; Latino’s (people of Spanish descent), Indio’s (indigenous people), and black (people of slave descent).

Cuban life

Don’t get me wrong, there are cool aspects of Cuba, like the cars. They are, quite simply awesome. Castro placed a ban on the import of all foreign cars for about 40 years, which meant that the Cubans had to keep the old ones going. With a ban on the import of parts as well, this was a real challenge!

Most of the cars are from before 1959. Note that example of fine engineering, a Russian Lada, in this photo.

A Ford Coupe from the 1940’s

A modern Cuban taxi. From what ? The 1930’s ?

Plus the one that Nikki got me a ride in. A 1958 Ford Edsel 400 cubic inch (6.55 litres) V8 petrol.




Yes, yes, yes. The cars are cool, but what about the story of the owners? This bloke is the owner of the Edsel. Trained mechanical engineer. Worked in a factory as an engineer for 20 years until the late 1990’s until the factory closed due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and it's economic support of Cuba. As there was no other work as an engineer, he bought this old Edsel, did it up and it’s now his living. We met a lot of highly qualified people in similar situation. And when we asked it this might change, he said Cuba is like no where else, it is Socialist, and this is what it means to be socialist...

The Music

The music is awesome. And Everywhere. And very high quality. Every restaurant, bar and cafe seems to have a resident band that play through out the day. Everywhere you are, you can hear music.

Band in a bar in Havana.

The buildings are incredibly run down, except in a few places. The Old City has been going through a major regeneration over the last decade or so, with a fund being set up to renovate and revitalize areas that had become very dilapidated. Here is some of the major sights from the Old City:


Ah Fidel
Ah Che


Apart from some nice buildings, above, there is also the statue of a naked woman with a fork and high heels riding a cockerel. It means….. Well, I’ve no idea….


So Havana to me is all about the cars and the music. The food? Well, I’m probably not feeling that charitable due to the food poisoning I got on day 2. Having been on the road for 128 days. I suppose it was inevitable, but….

We did go to some cool restaurants in Havana though, like this one:

Cool restaurant in Havana.

Plus, of course the restaurant that we went to to celebrate me and Nik stepping out together for 10 years!



Cuban Propoganda.....

There is a bit of propaganda, although to be honest not as much as we would have thought. Nik went to the revolutionary museum whilst I was indisposed following a dodgy prawn. There was a cartoon.


The Parade of the Cretins (from left to right):

Bautista: “Thank you cretin for helping us to make the revolution”

Ronald Reagan (dressed as John Wayne): “Thank you cretin for helping us to strengthen the revolution”

George Bush Senior (dressed as Julius Caesar): “Thank you cretin for helping us to consolidate the revolution”

George W Bush (dressed as Schultz from Hogans Heroes (note the upside down book (see note below))): “Thank you for helping us to make Socialism irrevocable”.

(Note, below is the photograph of “Dubya” being informed of the 911 terrorist attacks whilst reading to kids in a school. Take a close look at the book)



After Havana, we got a bus to Trinidad, a town south east of Havana. Trinidad is probably the oldest “intact” colonial town in the America’s. The stand out’s were the group of blokes playing in one of the squares.

The bloke in the middle is playing a Marimbula

A Marimbula. A box with different sized metal to give different bass notes.

Plus of course, the Beatles are really big in Cuba. In Trinidad is “Bar Yesterday”.



Here are scenes from Trinidad:

Trinidad main square

View from the Bell tower.


Donkey in the street in Trinidad. Nikki said it didn’t look happy. My view is that donkey’s are not supposed to look happy. They’re donkey’s. They’re made to look sad….

In the 1820’s, a house was built that is now called Casa Cantero. I’ve lived in houses with high ceiling’s before; 4 metres, 5 metres. But 8 metres?

Now that is an old sewing machine….

If you’re going to display some wine you should display it on a bed…



Aha! Then it was PIG TIME!


Sorry, thought we were talking Pork Spare Ribs slow roasted with a BBQ sauce…. but no, I’m talking about the Bay of Pigs. La Bahia de Cochones. Once again it’s history time. We wanted to get a bit of beach time and Playa Giron, or as its known in the west, the Bay of Pigs, was our destination. It was also the destination of 1,400 CIA trained Cuban exiles in April 1961. The plan was to invade Cuba, wipe out the Cuban air force, whereupon crowds of Cuban rebels would join the invaders and overthrow Castro.

It was, for the Kennedy administration, an unmitigated disaster, from the point of view of not only not overthrowing Castro, but, more seriously, cementing and confirming his revolution. Following the attack, the phrase “Socialismo ou Muerte !”, Socialism or Death, became part of the Cuban vocabulary.

Playa Giron now? It really is a microcosm of Cuba. The beach and the waters are truly beautiful, juxtaposed against socialist failures (see below).


The Scuba diving is awesome (although I didn’t get to do any, unfortunately, I only got to snorkel):

Scuba diving at Playa Giron (not me unfortunately)

What really struck me though, was this:


A resort had been built, maybe 30 years ago in the 1980’s, and it looks like one of those fabulous communist “Look what we can do!” projects that, probably, Castro opened with big ceremony but then the money ran out…

Oh, and the curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron…

The curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron Cuba. Complete with fake red roses. Nice !


The Special Period

Did I mention the average Cuban income per year of US$240 per person per year? I mentioned the battle for influence and control between the USA and Russia earlier on. The Russians, wanting to support this fabulous example of socialism, poured enormous buckets of money into Cuba from 1959 through to when the Soviet Union went belly up in 1989/ 1990. Then, for Cuba, the teat ran dry. And for the Cubans things seriously went bad. Virtually overnight half of the industries closed and the economy shrunk by 60%. Fidel announced a “Special Period in a Time of Peace” and some serious belt tightening went on. I’ll leave you with the biggest “Oh My God!” moment I’ve had since former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott awarded Prince Philip a Knighthood in the Australia Day honors...

Between 1991 and 1994, during the above mentioned "Special Period", the average Cuban lost ONE THIRD OF THEIR BODY WEIGHT ! For me that would drop me from 73 kg’s to 51 kg’s. That’s insane!

I’m really, really glad we went to Cuba. I don’t think it’s really possible to understand the reality of communism without having been there. I’m really looking forward to going to Russia!


Posted by capetocape2017 07:34 Archived in Cuba Tagged of cars che bay fidel pgs Comments (0)

Chapter 15 - Central America - Guatemala

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Onto Guatemala....

Having started in Panama and travelled on to Nicaragua via Costa Rica, it was time to head to Guatemala, via El Salvador and Honduras. We had heard that the Easter week celebrations in Antigua were the best in Central and Latin America. We had to go take a look….


We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala at 7 pm on Easter Saturday. Wow! Antigua is amazing.

Antigua, Guatemala with one of three surrounding volcano’s towering over it.

Antigua was the capital city of Guatemala for 233 years, until 1776 when Guatemala City was given this honor. This change occurred when Antigua was all but wiped off the map due to a natural disaster.

Somewhat surprisingly was not one of the many volcanoes that destroyed the city, but rather an earthquake. The earthquake struck in 1773, leveling the city to such an extent that it took centuries for it to recover. There are still many ruins in the city which have not been repaired or removed from this event! The only original part of the renovated convent we stayed in that remained after the earthquake was this wall:

Looking at the wall of the convent where we were staying. This wall was all that survived of the 1773 earthquake

Antigua – Easter Week – Semana Santa.

Although we arrived right at the tail end of the week, Antigua for Semana Santa is something quite special.

The religious fervour of the groups carrying Easter floats through the streets, and the floats themselves, was moving.

Float of Christ being taken down from the Cross.

The Devotees swinging baskets of scented smoke through the streets.

Resurrected Christ.

The Devotees ahead of the Float.

Following each of the floats was a band that consisted of french horns, trumpets, tubas, trombones, clarinets and drums (snare and bass). The music depended on which part of Easter the float depicted. A sad dirge for the crucifixion, a jolly ditty for the resurrection....

The band that followed each float.

However, the unique part of the Antiguan Semana Santa celebration, is the street “carpets”.


They are made from different coloured sand and sawdust and placed on the streets as an offering in order for the numerous processions to walk over. There are literally hundreds of these that are laid down for the Semana Santa. And they were artistically stunning:




And then, within minutes they are destroyed and swept up into trucks following the processions!

The parade walking over the “carpet”.

The workmen cleaning up the “carpet”

It has to be said that, whilst the religious fervour of the crowd for the resurrection was moving, the actual image of Jesus on the float was a little, er, like Jesus had just popped out of a birthday cake and said “surprise!”, which, I suppose, in a way, he did……



Antigua Town

Antigua is a beautiful colonial town, in a stunning setting at an elevation of 1,500 metres meaning the days are about 25C and the nights are 13 C. Great when you’ve just come from sea level where it had been bloody hot and humid. And Antigua has great food. Our favourite was probably “La Luna de Miel” (The moon of honey), where, rather appropriately for Nikki and I they had a signpost with our starting point of Ushuaia on it, and our finishing point of Cape Horn…..

8,006 km’s from Ushuaia, at the bottom of South America, and 12,670 km’s to Cape Horn.

In the background is the biggest avocado tree we’ve ever seen.

Then again, me being a meat head, the steak at Frida’s Mexican Restaurant was stunning….Nikki had the best guacamole and nachos of the trip there as well!

The placemat at Fridas restaurant, Antigua.

Photo showing some of the food from Antigua.

Antigua is visually stunning…

No fast food, no dogs, and no hand guns !


My Sons, Alex and Michael

As some of you know, Guatemala is particularly interesting for me because Alex and Michael are one quarter Guatemalan. Their maternal grandmother was from Guatemala. Just like the book “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was a history of a town in northern Columbia, the story of my sons’ Guatemalan heritage is a reflection of the history of Central America, with all of its divergent parts, including guerrilla’s, the CIA, an El Salvadorean president, and coffee.

Alex, Michael and me in Buenos Aires in January 2017


Lake Atitlan:

84,000 years ago a bloody great volcano went bang. The caldera is 12 km’s by 5 km’s and is about 4 hours from Antigua (Actually only a 100 km’s. Yes the roads are a bit basic). The 340 metre deep caldera filled with water and formed Lake Atitlan. Other volcano’s formed until you end of with one of the most stunning visual settings in the world.

Looking out over Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

After our fill of Easter in Antigua, we decided to spend a few days relaxing on the lake. We spent our first night in San Pedro la Laguna.

View of Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

Sunset Photo from San Pedro la Laguna

Lake Atitlan from our hotel in San Pedro la Laguna.

Our plan was then to travel to the other towns around the lake by water taxi, and spend 2 nights in Tzununa. However, our first stop was San Juan, a centre for many Mayan artisans, including painters and weavers. On arriving into town, the tuk tuk by chance dropped us off outside the studio of Diego Isaias Hernandez Mendez’s and, well, there was a painting. Nik and I have said a couple of years ago that, whilst we weren’t going to carry around things for a year, if we saw stuff that we just went “Yes, I want that”, then we’d buy it and ship it back. Also, I’ve seen art in the past and loved it, and not bought it, and regretted it. As soon as I saw this, I loved it. It's not to everyone's taste (Nikki said it's going straight to the pool room), but there you go. And it’s my birthday present from Nikki. Thanks!

My painting with the artist, Diego Isaias.


It’s been posted from Mexico. I hope I get to see it again..

Guatemalan textiles

For you “Textile-Holics” out there, it’s over to Nikki:

Lake Atitlan is particularly renowned for weaving and textiles. Each of the villages around the lake have their own techniques, patterns and production. San Juan is particularly noted for its weaving cooperatives where local women come to dye, spin, weave and sell their produce. After rummaging in the Antiguan markets to familiarise myself with the different regions and techniques, I spent a happy couple of hours under a pile of fabric and weaving at Casa Flor Ixcaco, a weaving cooperative for the women in San Juan. The amount of weaving produced in the town is quite astounding, and the great thing about CFI is that each piece identifies the artist who made it and details around the processes and materials used. The fabric is 100% cotton, all locally grown. The cotton is hand dyed using local plants and natural materials, such as eucalyptus, mint, beetroot and various flowers. Many Guatemalan woman wear traditional clothing, which means that it is not produced solely for tourists, although there are beautiful modern designs as well as traditional to chose from.”

Swatches of cloth on the wall of our hotel in Antigua.



We then got on a boat around the lake to La Lguma de Tzununa, a hotel perched up on the hill with this view.


It was a magical view. A magical smokey view. The level of deforestation around the lake was significant, which was not surprising when most of the cooking was done over a wood stove….

However, in all our time on Lake Atitlan was just the relaxing break we needed before our push north....


This Bloke is on a bit of a walk.

So there’s this bloke called Paul Salopek. He thought it would be good to follow the path of humans movement from its’ cradle, thought to be Ethiopia, through to Tierra del Fuego. He called his trek “Out of Eden” and he started in January 2013 and is expecting to finsh in 2020. At present he is walking through Kyrgyzstan.


In Australia, there is, in south western New South Wales, Lake Mungo. In 1969, Jim Bowler found the remains of what became known as Mungo Woman. Mungo Woman’s age was tested to be about 20,000 years old. In 1974, Mungo Man was found and his age was estimated to be 50,0000 years old.

Lake Mungo, New South Wales, Australia, and Mungo Man

It’s believed that human kind did not manage to start “colonising” the Americas until they go across the Bering Strait from Russia during the Last Glacial Event, about 21,000 years ago. They then spread down through to Tierra del Fuego. This could explain why the Mayan ruins are comparatively young when compared with Egypt and India. Talking of Mayan ruins, we went to see one of the best, Tikal in Guatemala.



Tikal, in northern Guatemala, is one of the most significant Mayan sites yet discovered and is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Construction by the Mayan people started around 800 BC and continued up until about 900 AD. The ruins, the size of them, their antiquity is amazing.

Looking out on the central square in Tikal.

We went for the sunrise tour leaving at 3 am. It was worth it for the light, the lack of crowds, and the serenity.

Dawn over Tikal.

Tikal is the only Mayan ruins that are in a rainforest.

Showing the sacrifice stones…. Human Sacrifice that is…



The complex was abandoned in about 900 AD. Why? Well, the theory is that the beautiful Mayans ran out raw materials. Tikal is one of the only major Mayan ruins still located the middle of a rainforest setting. Most have been substantially cleared. The area was also rainforest before the Mayans started building Tikal. To get to the limestone for building material, the Mayans needed to clear the rainforest. To make the limestone mortar, the mayans needed fire. To cook, they needed wood. A bit of a theme? Yes. By the time the complex was home to 100,000 people, it ran out of wood and was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1848 that the Guatemalan government sent out an expedition led by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut to take another look.

By the way, the temples were for astrological observations, not sacrifice. That was done on the rocks down on the ground…..


To Belize and Mexico:

The trip from Flores, the very nice town that is the jumping off point to Tikal, to Chetumal, Mexico, is via another British colonial vestige, Belize. They are part of the Commonwealth and didn’t gain independence from Britain until 1981. It was very weird to get to the border and, for the first time in 16 weeks be asked to speak English again. But only for 5 hours and then it was onto Mexico. The Lonely Planet guide to Central America includes the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, so I will too. But the next blog is going to be from our one week trip to Cuba…..


Posted by capetocape2017 08:21 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake santa semana atitlan tikal antigua Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 19) Page [1] 2 3 4 »