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February 2010 Archives

February 1, 2010

The three peaks, Madeira-style

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Pico Ruivo sounded unmissable. Its summit (1862m/6107ft) is at an impressive height, reached via knife-edge paths and long dark tunnels through the basalt, passing amazing flowers lower down, then centuries-old heather trees and, near the summit, patches of snow. Madeira Explorers even organise a tour that drops you at Pico de Areeiro, lets you climb to Pico Ruivo and then collects you from Achada do Teixera, thus combining Madeira's three highest peaks with a long scenic drive and no backtracking. So I booked with them for Saturday.

Our guide Adriano was excellent, and the group a pleasant bunch of 8 other hikers, all of us going at roughly the same pace. It being January, we were lucky to set off on this itinerary: it has to be rearranged whenever there is too much snow or rockfall. Perhaps it is churlish to report that, as the photo above shows, we were in fairly dense cloud for almost the whole time. Even in poor visibility, you couldn't miss the dramatic skyline and basalt pillars:

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The path was so well engineered as to seem disconcertingly tame, with ropes and cables for protection and little drama even on this exposed rock bridge, with sheer cliffs falling away on both sides:

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The walk featured a lot of steep staircases and we had to cross the odd land-slip along the narrow path: Madeira's heavy rainfall must create huge challenges for path maintenance. I suppose it was the summit that troubled me the most: the vast timber platform seemed at odds with my concept of mountain summit, with a wide boardwalk leading to a further viewpoint. Doubtless it works well for picknicking tourists. However, my smile below reflects the brief break in the cloud that let us glimpse a breathtaking view of the coast from this lofty viewpoint before closing in again. It was almost enough to overcome my reservations.

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February 7, 2010

Today's Politics Show on BBC1

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Keir was on BBC1's Politics Show today, talking about the need for more diversity in Scottish education and commending the East Lothian proposal for Trust schools (promoted today by Cllr David Berry) as a step towards combatting too much uniformity in school governance. He stressed the need for more school autonomy and the vital role of the quality of headteachers in making the most of it.

For a week or however long the BBC retains it, you can watch this on iPlayer here. The ten-minute item on Trust schools was near the end of a show lasting 90 minutes, so you may want to drag the slider to 1 hr 15 min. And I have just realised that iPlayer is the only way you can access any of the other Politics Shows not transmitted in your area, such as the versions for Northern Ireland, Wales, West Midlands or London. So the internet lets you overcome broadcast TV's restrictions of geography as well as schedules.

February 22, 2010

From New Providence Island

The Bahamas have seemed very exotic to me ever since my elder sister Lindsay returned from there as a bronzed, beautiful 18 year old (nearly half a century ago). Knowing that the diving is supposed to be good, I was delighted when Keir suggested a holiday here, and we had a delightful direct flight with BA on Saturday. Thanks to timely online checkin, we had two exit row seats with more legroom than Business Class, and after only 3 movies (Amelia Earhart, An education and Golden 39) we were in Nassau with only a short transfer to the resort.

Sandals is at Cable Beach, near Nassau on New Providence Island. It's an amazing mixture: the down side is the naff pseudo-classical statues and some cringe-worthy (but optional) entertainment, but there is also the stunning natural beauty of its beaches and private island. We also like the simplicity of all-inclusive: if you've finished eating, you need not hang around for the bill, there's no need to carry valuables and no reason not to have another drink.

Anyway, the diving is included! Fortunately I visited the dive shop on arrival and got a place on yesterday's shark dive, an event that runs only if enough experienced divers sign up for it. We were encircled by dozens of Caribbean reef sharks (harmless if treated with respect, but wild animals all the same) and had magical moments watching them at very close quarters. I'll try to update this with a photo: it being my first dive I wasn't carrying my own camera, but Ricardo, the dive photographer, was in action. The water is cold enough that I went into Nassau on the bus today and bought my first wet suit, which should make a big difference for the rest of the week. It was only $10 more expensive than the rental, and can be re-used on my next dive trip in cooler waters. Some women would rather have a mink coat, but I am delighted with this extremely comfortable garment.

February 24, 2010

The lionfish, the wreck and the wardrobe

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Today was my birthday and it's hard to imagine a better start. OK, there was no wardrobe, but there was a wreck and I did find a lionfish. On today's dives I felt really relaxed, truly in my element. (If there is reincarnation I'd like to come back as an otter or dolphin, please.) Thanks to Ricardo Mesa, the talented resort dive photographer, I have my first-ever recognisable photos of myself diving.

I spotted a lionfish lurking on the wreck, and am here pointing it out to my buddy Sean, who hadn't seen one before. They are elegant, extravagant and delicate-looking and deliver a near-lethal sting if you provoke them, so this was close enough:

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We just hung around watching it in fascination. If you are into headgear such as fascinators, could this species be a source of inspiration?

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Finally, also thanks to Ricardo, here's my parting shot from the wreck, which was called the Steel Forest, and lies in about 21m/65ft of water:

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After a peaceful afternoon, we went for a Japanese meal (delicious, cooked and served with theatrical flair by a young Bahamian). Afterwards I got a wonderfully thoughtful present from Keir, who had cunningly concealed it (heaven knows how, my luggage is bursting with dive gear but his seems to contain minimal clothing plus several hardback books of up to 1000 pages each). What a lovely day I've had!

About February 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in February 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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