Serengeti sights

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At the end of my last post, I mentioned that I’d be away for a fortnight. And quite a fortnight it was, as we travelled in Tanzania. But I’ve learnt now that travel and blogging don’t really go together, so I gave up trying to do both. Apologies, then, for my silence, which I now make up for by posting a couple of lovely pictures from our holiday. Naturally, in Tanzania, that included a safari, where we were very fortunate to spot a group of about 70 Spaniards. Our guide, Joseph, assured us this was quite rare. I managed to get close enough to take a picture of them in the early evening, when they gather for a cocktail, the females wearing pretty dresses and the males trying to impress them with witty remarks.

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Spaniards, said Joseph, are of the European genus, which includes a multitude of other members, some of them quite uncommon. You’d have to be lucky, for example, to come across a Finn in Serengeti, and in the few days we were there we didn’t see one. But the group of Spaniards, one of the most endearing members of the European family, more than made up for that. Here they are engaged in behaviour typical of the European species, taking pictures of the sunset.

Ambivalence

Shopping centre Mauritius

With Black Friday a distant memory, it’s vital now to keep up the momentum with some serious Christmas shopping. Because let’s face it, unless we each continue to consume a few tons of superfluous goods, not only does life have no purpose, but we won’t be able to continue destroying the planet. I’d never heard of Black Friday until a short time ago. Now, from what I gather, it’s hit the UK big time, triggering a small but welcome movement called Buy Nothing Day. France, being France, will resist, and one part of France Black Friday will never reach is Mayotte, where Friday is prayer day and there’s nothing to buy in any case. There’s a tropical lightness of being in Mayotte that works as a positive detox from the hypermarkets in the Metropole.

Being high-minded and all, I take to heart Gandhi’s commandment to ‘live more simply so that others may simply live.’ That’s one way of putting it. Another is to be honest and admit to embracing one of the rare joys of encroaching age, the right to be a curmudgeonly scrooge. A stance I adopt with delight when it comes to clothes, say, or cars – conveniently, they interest me not in the slightest.

Not so long ago, arriving in Mauritius (by plane, having decided, after much debate, against the rowing boat) where we’d booked (iPad) self-catering accommodation, we wanted some stuff for breakfast. “Try the Super-U,” said the man at the petrol station, so we went along, without much hope because Super-U in the Metropole is generally pretty small and never open on a Sunday afternoon. But this one wasn’t just open, it was massive. And as I scurried gleefully round the aisles, stuffing the basket with Muesli, Weetabix, and dragonfruit, I said to Mrs. B. “Wow, if only we had all this in Mayotte!” I’m with you, Mahatma, honestly. But sometimes, you know, it’s not that simple living simply.

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Pic’n’Post n° 31: What is the picture of?

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What is the picture of?

Guesses came in for last week’s picture from MattDookes, Rosa, Charlie and Maja over at Travelling Rockhopper. Thanks to all for participating! While initially Spain attracted the votes, interest soon shifted to Italy, with both Rosa and Matt homing in on Pitigliano in southern Tuscany. This was indeed the case, and Rosa, who got her answer in first, wins another badge, with Matt (yet again!) a worthy runner-up.
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As Rosa said, apart from the beauty of Pitigilano itself, the area is known for its Etruscan ruins and most impressively, I thought, the ancient pathways, “Vie Cave” or Sunken Roads, carved deep within the rock. Not to mention the profusion of mushrooms sprouting everywhere when we visited in November.

Congratulations, Rosa!

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This week it’s back to What? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

One country, two words

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Well, back again, folks, and nice to be here – I’ve been missin’ ya! OK, I had plenty to keep me busy in the meantime, just looking at everything that’s Madagascar, which is a lot. The picture above is Madagascar, but then again it’s not. It’s just a place to rest after a hot and dusty week on the RN7 – that’s the road from the capital, Tana (Antananarivo), down to Tuléar in the south. It’s a road many people travel, but even so it was hardly overrun by tourists. More’s the pity, you might say, as the country needs all the foreign currency it can get. I could (and no doubt will) write plenty more, but two words will suffice here to convey the overall impression: poverty and friendliness. I’d been three times before, but only to Diego Suarez in the north, and for work, so I hadn’t seen how well those words sum up the whole country. In the first lies a tragic story of corruption, greed and political incompetence; in the second a moving and magnificent reaction of a whole people in the face of hardship. There’s plenty to see in Madagascar, not least a lesson in life.

Pic’n’Post n° 23: What is the picture of?

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What is the picture of?

I thought last week’s picture was difficult, which it may indeed have been, as it attracted just two responses, from Matt at the bookblogger2014 and Thumbup at The Playground. Thanks and congratulations: both were correct, but for the second time, Matt was runner up on the time difference. 

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Many thanks to Rosa for providing this picture of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai. It’s Thumbup’s third win, so she gets a champion’s badge.

Congratulations, Thumbup!

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This week it’s back to What? at the top of this page. Happy guessing!

Pic’n’Post n° 12

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Where was the picture taken?

It may be a bit difficult, so here’s a clue: it’s not just because of the view that people pose in that particular spot.

Many thanks to thumbup as well as Matt from the bookblogger2014 and Clara from expatpartnersurvival for providing guesses for the previous picture, below.

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The winner was thumbup, the first to supply the answer, Venice. Congratulations!

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The rules are as follows:

  1. One guess only
  2. I won’t reply to guesses or give any clues
  3. The answer will be given one week from now
  4. If more than one person guesses correctly, the first to answer is the winner.

Where The Wild Things Are

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Now, most creatures out in the wild scarper smartish before I get a chance to snap them, but this little fellow was extremely patient, allowing me put my camera right up close and take a dozen rubbishy shots before getting one that was decent. He’s a Mascarene grass frog, quite common, but as he doesn’t appear too often on blogs, he was happy enough to wait, though he did get a bit impatient towards the end.

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He lives in Mauritius, but there was more in the Lokobe Reserve in Madagascar, which we visited with our guide, Ismael.

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  • What I thought it was: A big nasty snake.
  • What Ismael said it was: A boa constrictor, not nasty unless you’re a chicken.

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  • What I thought it was: Nothing because I didn’t see it.
  • What Ismael said it was: The Camouflage King, actually a Henkel’s Leaf-Tailed Gecko.

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  • What I thought it was: Another big nasty snake.
  • What Ismael said it was: Just an ordinary grass snake.

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  • What I thought it was: A big nasty spider.
  • What Ismael said it was: A not very nasty but definitely big spider.

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  • What I thought it was: A nasty creepy-crawly thing.
  • What Ismael said it was: A nonvenomous millipede.

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  • What we both said it was: Time for lunch.

To cruise or not to cruise

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Despite its attractions, tourism isn’t a big money spinner in Mayotte, with just over 50,000 visitors a year. A good half of those come out to see relatives working here; pleasure tourism, with close to 12,000, is progressing but remains small. No doubt this is why the arrival of The Silver Whisperer a little while ago had the island’s tourist team on full alert: the 10 hours the passengers spent here had to leave them with nothing but the most magnficent memories. I hope that was the case, as whatever memories they took away came at hefty price – almost $14000 for 17 days,

The sight of the ship incited Mrs. B. to try convincing me yet again that paradise is a cruise ship. I have my doubts, especially as we’re never going to fork out that much. The memory one passenger brought back from a Mediterranean cruise was far from magnificent: “It reminded me of a prison. I had a little cell, they herded me out and said, ‘OK, you go play, stand in line and do this, stand in line and do that, now go eat, come back,’ “. To me, that sounds closer to the mark.

But almost 16 million people went on a cruise last year, so they must be getting something right. Then again, very few of those millions would be grumpy misanthropes like me. The debate continues – all contributions welcome.

Vazaha Homo Decrepitus

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We saw several species of wildlife in Madagascar, but one of the most common was vazaha homo decrepitus. Whereas mzungu, the term for a white person in Mayotte, has no particular connotation, vazaha in Malagasy comes with baggage. Though it can refer to any white person, often it means ‘old (or very old) white man with money, paying for the company (and more) of young Malagasy women.’ Now I’m not young myself, but some of the specimens we saw were as doddery as they come. Muriel, our hotel proprietor, put it rather amusingly:  ‘When they leave France,’ she said, ‘they’re Paul Préboist, and when they get here they’re Paul Newman.’ I didn’t know Paul Préboist, a French actor who died in 1997, but all became clear when I googled him.

Unless the girls are under age (which happens) the issue here is less moral or legal than economic. Due to poor governance and political instability, Madagascar has stagnated for decades, making any specimen of vazaha homo decrepitus a very attractive proposition for a young woman who has nothing to sell but her body. Muriel was in two minds about it. On the one hand her hotel does well, as they congregate there for Sunday lunch, arriving on quads, their hair (when they have any) blowing in the wind. On the other, she said, they often behave towards their companions with detestable arrogance and contempt. Which makes it a human issue too.

The economy of Madagascar being unlikely to change any time soon, one can also look for the positives. For the girls (and their families) a level of financial comfort well above the average. And for the vazaha, when you look at the alternative mode of transport, what could be better than rejuvenation as Paul Newman on a quad?

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As a footnote, and tying in with  my interview of Adam’s Rib, here’s a quote from yesterday’s Guardian about men and women in ancient times, before economic differences upset the apple cart. Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” Link to the full article here.

How many eggs for Mrs. Godzilla?

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We saw a fair selection of wildlife on our recent trip to Madagascar, but one of the most beautiful, and certainly the easiest to photograph, was the Furcifer pardalis, or Panther Chameleon, which loped ponderously across the road like a miniature Godzilla. So ponderously, in fact, that I supposed quite a few get run over, which apparently is indeed the case. They also get picked off by snakes and birds, which led me to wonder, if they want to keep up the numbers, how many eggs do they lay?

We had a couple of guides who disagreed about this. Gauthier said just a couple, Ismael said up to forty – which seemed more logical and turns out to be right. According to the Durrell Organisation website, “At the end of the two to three week gestation period, the female lays a clutch of on average 16 to 20, and up to 40, eggs enclosed in a fibrous envelope that can quickly dry out when exposed to the dry air. The Panther chameleon digs its nest in bare ground to a depth of about 10cm. Once the eggs are laid the soil is replaced; the female then tramples the spot and presses the soil around the eggs. Finally, she covers the spot with dry leaves, sticks or grass. The entire process can take a whole day. The eggs take between six and twelve months to hatch and the newborns then clamber to the surface.”

So there you go. It’s quite an exhausting ordeal for Mrs. Godzilla (the orange one in the photos), who has a shorter lifespan than the male. He just strolls around making sure he’s the centre of attention. A reptilian version of Mick Jagger, if you like.