Red Tide along the Florida Gulf Coast

Wildlife along the Florida Gulf Coast has taken a hit from something called the Red Tide.

I have been holidaying at Longboat Key for 35 years and periodically there is a surge in an algae called Karenia brevis that is in the gulf water for a few days or a couple of weeks then goes away. The alga affects fish by secreting a toxin that attacks their neurological system and gills and it kills a lot of them but the outbreaks are brief and the Gulf fauna recovers quickly.

This year, however, a bloom that started in July has continued unabated ravaging fish and wildlife along the coast from Fort Myers to north of Tampa. Fish have been washing up on the beach in large numbers and the dead sealife has also included sea turtles, dolphins and manatee. I am told that in August the problem was severe and that dead fish littered the beach and the water which turns orange with the bloom. For humans, the problem is mainly respiratory. Apparently swimming in the water contaminated by Red Tide is not a health risk other than causing skin and eye irritation for some.

The Red Tide gets its name from the color it gives to the water when it blooms.

This week we have noticed a lot of dead fish on the beach even the tide goes out, fewer schools of fish in the water, no seagulls or terns and only a couple of egrets. The birds must have moved away because there are no fish in the shallow water to hunt. An occasional pelican flies along the shore but they don’t dive to snare fish like usual. The seabirds have been replaced by flocks of turkey vultures that soar in the wind currents above the beach or pick away at the dead fish littering the shoreline.

Vultures have replaced seagulls along the shore.

There are even fewer tourists than usual and I have read that the tourist industry along the coast has been significantly affected.

Our holiday this week was not changed in any significant way by the persistent Red Tide bloom. On days when the water was stirred up by waves it took on the color of tea rather than its usual clear teal green. You could tell as you walked along the beach the places where the Red Tide was more active (areas of high concentration tend to move along the shoreline) because it would cause a runny nose and a dry tickle in the throat that turned to cough.

Fewer tourists and almost no seabirds along the coast this November.

Why is it worse this year? Apparently there was a lot of rain earlier in the season and the heavier run off into the rivers that flow into the gulf brought with it pollution and eutrophication that acted to fertilize the algae. This, combined with an unusually warm season and warmer gulf water temperatures, added a bonus for abundant algal growth. Yes, effects of climate change and human pollution combined.

It will take a while for the wildlife along the gulf to recover but recover it will. One wonders, however, if – or, more appropriately, how and when – the conditions that disrupt the environment will increase as our weather patterns change in response to climate change.

I will be back to Longboat Key at the end of December and will be anxious to see if things are resolving.

Italia 2018 – Part 1 – San Michele

I’ve spent the last few days visiting with friends Luca, Gloria, and Enrico in San Michele, Italy – not too far from Bologna and Modena. The district, Reggio Emilia, is famous for Ferrari and Pavarotti and balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese, among other things.

I first met Luca and Gloria rather serendipitously online in 1999 when I was working in Bosnia and ICQ was the online chat programme that was popular then. We have seen each other several times in several places over those 19 years. I first met Enrico when he was 3 months old. Now look at him!

It’s always wonderful to spend time with them and to have the opportunity to experience Italy with my Italian family. Gracie, amici.

Here are a few photos of my time there.

Centre of Modena. The reflection in the pool of water caught my eye.

I always enjoy a hike up the hill behind San Michele for a “divine” view of the surrounding countryside and the town below.

The historic covered bridge, an icon in Pavia, near Milano.

The courtyard of the Castello Visconteo in Pavia

Downtown San Michele. Not a metropolis.

I revel all week in Gloria’s cooking. This is a ricotta and chocolate cheesecake/pie. Delizioso.

Baltic cruise

In May of this year, I took a 12 night Holland America Baltic cruise on the 1600-passenger ship Rotterdam and it was a great opportunity to visit several cities that have been on my bucket list. The cruise left from Rotterdam, Holland and visited Copenhagen, Tallinn, Berlin, St Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm. I took hundreds of photos and it has taken me this long to whittle them down to one per stop for this blog article.

I will post one representative photo and a short comment about each city.

Copenhagen, Denmark was clean and bright and one thing that struck me as unusual was that people just left their bicycles (and they use them a lot) unlocked without fear of having them stolen. This says a lot about the people who live there, don’t you think?

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Tallinn, Estonia was a delightful small city to roam in or climb the streets up to the top of the hill for a great view. It would be an ideal place just to hang out for a week, soaking up the ambiance, reading books and drinking coffee.

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Tallin, Estonia

Berlin, Germany was a 2 hour drive from where we docked but well worth the effort. A vibrant city with lots of parks and trees and recent history. The city is very open about acknowledging with a certain amount of shame, but more determination not to have it ever happen there again, the horrors and trauma of WW2 and the Nazi regime.

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Berlin, Germany

St Petersburg, Russia was certainly interesting visually but the glitz became almost too much. Much of St Petersburg (previously Leningrad) was destroyed during WW2 so, although the buildings like the Palaces and the Hermitage were impressive, they really were reconstructions, not the originals. Ostentatious comes to mind.

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St Petersburg, Russia

Helsinki, Finland seemed a bit drab after St Petersburg. Russians go there to shop. I spent the day there taking a ferry to a nearby island where there were no cars and lots of opportunity to walk near the sea. A refreshing change and I actually walked over 20 kilometres that day, not something you might expect on a cruise vacation.

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Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm, Sweden was a photographer’s delight. The old town on the island was very wanderable with colorful alleyways and streets at every turn. The city also has a lot of canals and waterways that made a hop-on-hop-off boat trip a must.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Rotterdam, Holland, where the cruise both started and ended, strikes me as a city with a shipping port/industrial past that is gradually gentrifying and becoming an interesting destination, not far from Delft and The Hague as well.

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Rotterdam, Holland

Taking a cruise like this is an excellent way of seeing these spots. It is so good to have all your things in one place for the trip and have a “hotel” room that moves with you.

Where would I return? I would gladly go back to spend a few days in Berlin. Lots of culture, history, museums, parks, restaurants, coffee shops. And Stockholm was also somewhere I could hang out for a few days.

 

Playing with some of my vacation photos

I may have had a bit too much time on the plane to fiddle with my phone. I came across a photography app that I had never used there called “Warmlight” and started fiddling with it and some of my photos from my recent trip to Europe.

I do prefer my photos to be clear and bright and honest but some of these treatments are appealing as well, just for a change. What do you think?

Street crossing, St.Petersburg, Russia.

Seagull,Tallin, Estonia

Photo shoot in front of the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen Denmark

Nyhavn Copenhagen, Denmark.  Looking the other way from the bridge.

Rooftop at the Citadel, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Grabbing s beer in Tallinn, Estonia.

Some of the Peterhof Fountains in St Petersburg, Russia.

Cranes along the docks at Helsinki, Finland.

Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland.

Windmill, Rotterdam, Holland.

Canal in Delfshaven district of Rotterdam, Holland.

Street in Gamla Stan – old town, Stockholm, Sweden.

Across the tracks in the new Rotterdam Central Station.

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Escalator up from the bowels of the St Petersburg, Russia subway.

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Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium.

A stroll through Mbita town

I really enjoy strolling through Mbita town on the shore of Lake Victoria.  I have visited Mbita, Kenya about a dozen times in as many years.  As you can see from the photos, I am the only muzungu for miles around.  I get many greetings and stop to talk with vendors or pikipiki drivers.  I feel very safe and welcomed.  I love the vibrant color that surrounds me there.  The town also has special signficance for me which I will note at the end of this post.

The photos can speak for themselves.

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Below is one other reminder of my special connection to this town. In the middle of the local hospital grounds, now behind some trees, is a water tank bearing my name.  It was the first infrastructure project that I tackled in Kenya in 2005 and the benefits it gave to this clinic led me to establish the CanAssist African Relief Trust in 2008.  Since that time, CanAssist has provided more than a million dollars of infrastructure support to communities throughout East Africa.  Little did I know, in 2005, what a profound effect that water tank in Mbita town would have on my life for the next several years.

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Ramula Shopping Centre – photo gallery

 

Situated right on the Equator, Ramula is a colorful, little, rural Kenyan trading centre that  I love to wander around and take photos.  So much character. Friendly people living what appears to be simple lives but that are really quite complex given the challenges they face getting from day to day.

Here some photos of some of the shops that operate in this rural Kenyan “shopping centre.

 

This dilapidated van has been sitting here for the last five years, looking like this. In front of the “Palace” kinyozi (barber) hardware and beauty salon.

This fellow makes wooden tables, doors and cabinets using all hand tools. I contracted him to make a crib out of cyoress wood for little Heather Maddie at a cost of 6000KES ( $80 Can)

I asked these guys who were the other nine of the top ten.  There were no others.  Guess that makes this one number one.

The fellow hidden in this kiosk cage also can make deposits and give money from your Equity Bank account.  In his spare time he does construction and cuts hair.

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This is where the fellow above gives haircuts.  The little sticker in the upper corner says “Trust in God”.  Advice for clients who may not feel his skills are up to par?

And for the ladies…

 

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The Place Pub, complete with smoking zone outside.

Will I become a cruisaholic?

The idea of a cruise as a holiday never appealed to me in the past and it was on a bit of a whim that a friend and I took an Alaska cruise in May.  It was such a good holiday that to escape the cold January Canadian winter weather I signed up for a week on the Holland America ship, Rotterdam, sailing to four ports in the Gulf of Mexico.  I now find myself wondering what cruise is next!

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I took the Gulf of Mexico cruise on my own and, although the single supplement is often double the shared twin price with most cruise lines, the holiday is an excellent choice for a solo traveler.  IMG_6165 3I enjoyed having my own cabin with lots of space and privacy but I could also readily immerse myself in the other activities either on ship or at a port, where there was ample opportunity to chat and get to know other travelers, all of whom are in a friendly holiday mood.
I love being able to unpack at the first of the holiday and have my hotel room (and food and transport) move with me throughout the week, avoiding the hassle of checking in to new digs every night. Our Alaska cruise visited three ports during the week, all with the opportunity to explore on land for the day. The Gulf of Mexico cruise had four stops at Key West, Roatan, a little port in Guatemala and Costa Maya Mexico. In all those ports I was able to wander, go to a tropical beach and even snorkel.

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img_6659I was worried before I went on the first cruise that I would feel claustrophobic ( I remember a holiday in Bermuda in 1986 when I thought the island wasn’t big enough for me – more a function of my being able to sit still than the island) but the ship is like a small city with a large theatre, casino, several lounges with live music in the evenings, a gym, two pools and three hot tubs and a sun deck. I was easily able to get in my 10,500 steps, even on days we were at sea. In the week I walked 78 km and climbed 188 flights of stairs!

Then there is the food. Lots of it and good quality. My preference was to eat in the Lido Restaurant – with a huge selection served up cafeteria-style – but there was the opportunity to also to indulge in even more upscale service in the fine dining room. I managed to restrict my weight gain to about 2 pounds on the last cruise by insuring that I was physically active every day and limiting my desserts to one a day. See the quick “cruise” past the dinner offerings in the Lido restaurant on the 8th floor of the ship in the video below.

 

I had less luck limiting my Martini consumption as I ended up meeting a couple from Oklahoma at the Mix Bar every night at 6 when the bartender offered up three different martinis every night for $4 each.

As you can see, I am hooked on this kind of vacation, whether I do it with a friend or on my own. I will append videos with photos of both cruises. Where will I cruise next? Stay tuned, already working on that.