M is for Mangroves


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Fishing in the Mangroves near Portland Bight

Mangrove swamps are probably not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about the Jamaican coastline, which is famous for its long stretches of idyllic sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But, they are very much part of the Caribbean.  In Jamaica, mangroves swamps or forests are present all over the island, with the highest concentration on the South coast, probably because it is the least developed.

Swirling with bugs, the murky waters of mangroves aren’t always the most attractive places for tourists to visit, but they are extremely important to local ecosystems in so many ways.  Mangroves protect the coastline from erosion, provide habitats and nurseries for wildlife, and food sources for birds and fish.  If sustainably managed, there’s plenty to go around, and they provide a livelihood for fishermen too.  I personally love visiting them just to see the wildlife.  (Though the thought of crocodiles lurking somewhere does freak me out a bit.)

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Buggy haven for life

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Yet, as in many other places, Jamaican mangroves are under peril from a plethora of threats.  Most commonly, they are cleared for construction projects including housing and hotels;  I have personally seen dredgers in action, pulling up the mangrove roots in preparation for the expansion of a new upscale resort near Montego Bay.   In poor areas the trees are harvested as a source of charcoal production.   Near Kingston particularly, pollutants from factories and farming create a toxic environment that kills the resident wildlife and oil pollution kills the mangrove’s roots.   As mangroves deteriorate, remaining coastlines become more vulnerable to other threats such as hurricanes.  The knock-on impact of all of this is devastating to the mangrove’s delicate ecostructure and, unfortunately, their fate reminds me in so many ways of coral reefs.

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The distinctive roots of mangrove trees rise above the waterline.  Mangrove roots need oxygen so they grow vertically to ensure they get their fill.

Some of my favourite days here have been watching the birds and fish surprise me, and trying to capture them with my camera.  Here are a few favourites:

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WPC: Earth Education


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When I think about Earth Day, my strongest memories come from our time in Nepal and the opportunity I had to connect with many Nepali schools on the subject of the environment. In Nepal something like 40% of its population is under the age of 25. In recent years, private schools have sprung up all over Kathmandu in response to this rise in the youth population and the exceedingly poor education offered in public schools. Some private schools are better than others, but some are outstanding, offering education in English and Nepali, and include environmental issues in their curriculum. After the economic growth of the last twenty years, so many developing countries are now knee deep in trash and pollution, and there is a whole generation of young people who think that trashed filled rivers and polluted air are normal.  Kathmandu is no exception.  Education in understanding how to preserve the environment and build a more ecologically-friendly city is an important start to raising environmentally aware adults of the future.

I visited many of schools while I was there, learning about their eco-clubs and recycling efforts, participating in environmental projects with them and teaching “upcycling” as a creative way of making use of waste.  Of course, through necessity, poor countries know more about upcycling than their first world counterparts, but plastic particularly is seen as just trash that needs to be burnt.

Above:  Learning how to make useful items out of plastic bottles.  I showed them a technique on how make storage containers and vases and then challenged them to come up with their own ideas.

Above:  An Eco Club exhibit at a school outside of Kathmandu.  The kids came up with allsorts of decorative and practical ideas.

Lastly, one organization collected clean wrappers from packaged food and trained women how to weave them into recyclable products such as colourful baskets and bags, which were sold to tourists to create a livelihood project in the local community.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/earth-2017/

 

L is for Lighting Up


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I often like to walk around our neighbourhood. “Up the hill and down the hill”, I call it, as reference to a way of getting my walking time done. When I first arrived, I tried to find a route to do my usual loop configuration and it failed miserably,  as the traffic after work made walking unsafe on busy streets without sidewalks. Once I figured out that a simple “there and back” walk on quieter roads would be more successful, the evening walks took shape. I am constantly warned that walking anywhere in this city, at any time, is a danger, yet I continue to do so because I feel largely safe walking where I do.

I see other regular exercisers too: the friendly rasta guy, the group of chatty moms, and solo joggers who come and go. They say good evening, I smile back and–with some basic awareness and precautions– things feel pretty safe.

The streets near our home have some beautiful houses with gardeners, guards and housekeepers who take care of them.  In the evening when I am usually walking uphill, its the time when the household staff and construction workers are heading downhill to the bus.  Most of them are smoking a little ganja on their way down to relax and change focus, I’m sure. Its a very subtle thing. Often I don’t see anything in their hands, but the joint is there, cupped away from the breeze. Its only when they pass by that my nose follows the drift of smoke and I head up into their trails which can take minutes to disperse.  On one guy’s tail is another and the next ganja cloud. Some days its like Woodstock heading up that hill!  I don’t mind the smell and it does leave a chill vibe in the air.  At the end of the day we all need to do a little chilling out, right?!

 

 

WPC: Surprise Poetry!


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I love discovering lonely places.  One day, out hiking on our Greek island, we stumbled upon an abandoned home.   It still had some furniture and signs of earlier life, although it was quickly becoming derelict. As we briefly poked around, I was delighted to make the surprise discovery of a poem that was painted on the living room wall behind the sofa:

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The Greek was way beyond my level, so I asked a Greek friend to translate.  She tells me that the poem is by a famous Greek poet called Kostis Palama and translates roughly as follows:

Let other faraway travelers search for the magical edelweiss on the highest mountains of the Alps

Unmoving spirit, that every April you grace me in my village garden

Oh, lakes and fjords, and western palaces, temples, and ports

Northern lights, tropical blossoms, and meadows

Wonders of the art, and unbelievable beauties of the world

I only love this small little island and always keep its image in my eyes.

I love the idea of someone passing their days in this once-pretty home.  They sat on that wooden sofa, looking out to sea, and loving their “small, little island.”  It made me sad to see that its day had passed.

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For this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, Surprise: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/surprise-2/

 

 

K is for Kingston


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Yes, K has to be for Kingston.

I have no clear memory of what I expected of the city before I moved here.  Arriving in a new place, knowing its going to be home from now on, I look around with fresh eyes and wonder when I will ever start thinking of all the sights as normal? The people, the streets, the noise, the traffic….figuring out where you are.  Processing it all takes a while and there is no defining moment when the new becomes normal, it just sort of sneaks up on you.

As our time here comes to an end, and by way of reflection, I asked myself some questions.  Mainly I was looking for something new to say that I haven’t already covered earlier.

What were my first impressions?  This one’s easy.  I did a post on it earlier.  I remember thinking how calm and clean Kingston was after Kathmandu. I also didn’t expect it to be so green. Looking down on the city from high up, buildings are nestled between trees and it all looks quite charming.  The northern suburbs especially, where the birds and flowers make the city look pretty attractive. I enjoy looking out to the mountains also, which are mostly visible with dramatic clouds. Compared to the chaos of Manila and Kathmandu, the roads seem relatively orderly, there are traffic lights and drains that work.

What did I like most about living here?  From my first few months to my last few, my favourite things haven’t really changed.  I love the greenery and the mountains, walking around Mona, and sitting in my screen porch writing and listening to the wind blow through the palm leaves.  I can add that I have made friends with Jamaican colleagues, who have been some of the kindest people with a great sense of humour.  Jamaicans know how to laugh!  I’ve also read and learnt about the Caribbean and its history, and –wow– does it have some history, although there is little left to see these days.

What did I dislike most about living here? I have felt trapped and dependent on others my whole stay.  The dangers of crime, vulnerability of being a foreigner, health issues, lack of realistic transportation options and not being able to go out at night have made exploring the city close to impossible for me.  And there just isn’t that much to do for the unconnected in Kingston.  Colleagues with small children have loved it here, as its a great outdoor city and there are nice beaches less than an hour away.  But I’m so ready for a safer city with a public transportation system and urban events that will make it easier to meet people.  I’m looking at you Belgrade!

What do you think you’ll take away from your time here? In each new place we have lived, each comes with its own challenges and benefits.  And I’ve always believed its up to me to figure how to make the best of it.  We chose this life to experience the change and learn from each new place and, perhaps, leave it a little better (however small) than when we arrived.  This time,  its got me.  I don’t truly know what my takeaway from Kingston will be.  Right now it just feels like its an acceptance of “you can’t win them all.”   Hopefully time will teach me there’s something more.

So, I’ll just end with a few random photos of Kingston not covered elsewhere:

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Curlers!  Many Jamaican ladies have no problem going out while they are still fixin’ their hair.  Always makes me smile!

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Street scene near Papine.

 

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A post-apocalptic scene from the downtown.

 

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View from the Northern suburbs of Kingston way out to the Port.

 

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And finally…From the dock of a cruise ship out to the “giraffes” of the dock that I see from pretty much anywhere in Kingston.   Kingston port is still an important harbour in the Carribean and the heart and soul of this island’s economy.

WPC: Home Sweet (Secure) Home


Here in Kingston, home security is a big deal. For some it comes from bars on windows, alarms, and security guards, for others that’s not an option.  Corrugated tin sheets are the de facto security source for those that can’t afford them, but they’re sometimes a work of art in themselves:

This week’s entry for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/security/

90 Days – Heading into Summer


inner peace So, it took a while to settle here in Kingston.  I haven’t been very patient with the resettlement process or the daily realities,  or optimistic about building a more interesting life here for quite a while. And as complaining posts don’t make very good reading, my blog and the impetus to write went silent.  But after the first disastrous year things have gotten better. We settled into a limited daily routine with occasional trips out to Negril, looked forward to friends and family visits, and the weeks have ticked by.  Now here we are at the beginning of April and the countdown to departure begins.

Its become a familiar routine now of checklist items: how to sell the car and buy a new one, when to schedule the pack out and airline tickets, and a million other details. There’s also a separate list of things that you want to do one last time before you go. In Manila we scheduled repeat trips to favourite places or tried to squeeze in a last chance visit to somewhere we’ve never been. In Kathmandu, I planned a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to Bhutan, a short trip to Delhi, one more visit down to Pokhara, and another to my beloved Sapana Lodge in Chitwan. Unfortunately, these never happened because of the earthquake and our departure routines were almost bulldozed by the realities of the disaster.

Then there’s things you have to buy: handicrafts or items unique to the place that will shortly stop being home.   Its sort of a bittersweet ritual of remembering and appreciating your time, and how the 90/60/30 day post tradition started on the blog back in 2013.  It would be easy to overlook the tradition this time around because my checklist is short.  But we do have two more Negril visits planned and then there’s the embroidery project, which in itself is a opportunity to explore a positive takeaway from our time here.  ( I’ve done a cushion embroidery project in three previous countries where we have lived.) Its a tricky assignment to pick a design that fulfills a number of requirements: I need to find the design aesthetically pleasing.  It needs to be not too easy or difficult for my skill level, and it has to represent a positive aspect of my stay.  Also it has to be a personal experience from that place, not just something generally representative.  After much hunting for fruit, tropical foliage and rasta designs (that don’t exist), I was drawn to various birds as a subject.  Jamaica has a lot of wonderful, exotic birds, but I finally I settled on this pelican design.

I hesitated at first, as working in multiple shades of grey can be a bit monotonous.  But he has character and enough colour variation to make it interesting, and he makes me think of our regular walks around Mona Reservoir, which has been a real lifesaver for us. I doubt I’ll finish him before we leave, or even before we get to Serbia, but he’s arrived and on his way to being part of my small collection and Mr Pelican will keep me company in airports lounges and economy seats this summer.

WPC: Rice Paddy Harvest (Dense)


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From tending the nursery rice paddies shown here in the background….

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…to the thick, verdant harvest…

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….its back-breaking work.

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I loved meeting with this friendly Nepalese family and the lush, dense paddies outside of Kathmandu.

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Happy Memories!

For this week’s Photo Challenge, Dense: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/dense/

J is for Jump!


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Rick’s Cafe and Bar is a pretty famous attraction in Negril. They’ve been around since 1974,  when I suspect that they were once truly a local, kicked-back kind of place.  Now it is a large affair with a big bar/restaurant, a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor tables, and cabanas for rent. There’s a retail store with “Thanks for Making it Rick’s” t-shirts and various paraphernalia for sale. It’s really quite the slick operation.

Its attraction is the beautiful cliff-side location with sweeping big-sky views out to the wide, blue Caribbean. 35 feet below its cliff top locale, the rocks form a deep, protective pool that has become a favourite place for cliff jumpers. Catamarans leave daily from nearby tourist resorts with onboard bars and pulsing music,  arriving at Rick’s before sundown.   Everyone can watch the divers and the brave can try it themselves. Its a big party with live music, drinks and a spectacular sunset.   However, we have never seen it, as we are not fans of crowds and loud music, but when we discovered that they opened at 12pm for lunch, we decided to go take a look. It was very hot and quiet, but its easy to hang out in the large, shaded bar area with a red stripe and watch.  A small group of lunch time guests paced below us, as they worked on steeling their nerves for the jump.

Some got to the edge of the higher jump and make the leap before they’ve had too much time to think about it.  Others stared down at the water for endless minutes before they turned back and decided to take the safer jump from the lower platform. With an audience casually sitting around watching you fight your fears, it takes some nerve either way.  I took plenty of photos and enjoyed watching the show.

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This guy was the staff superstar diver.  With lots of trapeze artist panache, he greeted his audience and announced his dive…

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Everyone watched and waited.

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And off he went on his first jump.

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For a $20 tip, he also jumps for this high rickedy chair on a poll.  It adds about another 12-20 ft.  Yikes!

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…and then a second jump to show everyone who’s boss…

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…and then the jumpers had their go.

The first time we went, I have to admit it was an entertaining visit and and we have since taken friends and family on subsequent trips. I can imagine its lots of fun if you are young and love a party scene.  However, I did wonder about the safety of having alcohol and cliff jumping going on in the same place.   I know there have been quite a few serious incidents in recent years. Yes, there are signs warning that cliff jumping is dangerous, warning that divers do so at their own risk, and absolving Rick’s of any responsibility. However, I can’t imagine that signs like that would hold water in US courts.   Although they say there are trained life guards and security people watching, there aren’t many safety rails and I can’t imagine that every drunk who is suddenly emboldened to do something crazy will be spotted in time.   As the mother of a young adult of similar age, its all a bit scary really.

WPC: Green Lizards!


Florida’s Keys have great lizards and most of them are green, camouflaging into the equally impressive flora. Here’s a few we spotted hiding in plain sight:

Just for contrast, here is a truly impressive orange one that was just hanging out on the tree above my head….until I finally spotted him!

In response to this week’s photo challenge:  https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/it-is-easy-being-green/