A guide who loves his country: Barbados.

Bridgetown, Barbados

Bridgetown, Barbados

We unabashedly take tours when we are in a new place.  But a great tour guide can make all the difference.  We’ve had some good guides and some duds.  Ronnie Carrington on Barbados was a great one.

Good tour guides must like what they are doing.  Like teachers, preachers and politicians, they like to inform people.

A good tour guide needs to know what they are talking about and needs to be well rehearsed.

But a great tour guide needs to love their subject.

Mr. Carrington’s tour is called The Barbados Photo-Adventure Tour.  My fellow participants had everything from very sophisticated cameras to cell phones, and their photographic experience reflected the same disparity.

Repeating images

Repeating images

I would call myself an advanced amateur;  I know a little about composition, less about shutter speeds and aperture, and nothing about white balance.  I fit right in.  With all the inexperienced people in the group he had to help, the tour was not one for someone looking for sophisticated pointers.

But it was clear he loved Barbados.

Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island.  Discovered in the 15th century by the Spanish, it remained uninhabited until the British took control in the early 17th century.  It has been British ever since.

Barbados is an independent country within the British Commonwealth.  The Barbados Parliament is the 3rd oldest parliamentary body in the English-speaking world.



The country provides free education and health care.  University education was free to those who qualified until 2014 when it became too expensive.  Now students pay 20% of the cost.  As a result, Barbados has a very high literacy rate and the second highest percentage of centenarians in the world [Japan is first.].

There is also strong land use control; a plantation owner is likely to wait a couple of years to convert his property from agricultural use, and his non-agriculture uses still will be limited.  For example, lot sizes may be restricted.

The country has 166 square miles.  It is not volcanic like its neighbors to the northwest. Six-sevenths of the island is relatively flat coral and limestone; the eastern seventh is a ridge of sandstone and clay pushed up at the meeting of tectonic plates.  Reminded of the original countryside, settlers called the eastern portion Scotland.

Five Hundred sugar plantations once produced over 300,000 tons a year.  Now, just 40 produce around 12,000 tons, mostly to make Barbados rum.

Until slavery was abolished in 1834, slaves lived in little villages around the plantations.  Later, they could own their houses but not the land, so they built movable houses on stone foundations.  The houses were wood buildings with steep roofs.  The style came to be known as “chattel houses.”  In English common law, chattel means movable property.  Eventually, government assistance enabled people to buy the land under their homes.

There is a strong tradition to avoid debt, so often a house is not painted [paint is expensive].  A house may remain unfinished for years until the owner gets sufficient funds to complete it.

Pride, in self and country, would seem to be the watchword.  Pleasant people living in a lovely patchwork of fields and tree-lined gorges interspersed with small villages all on an island graced by balmy tree winds — it justifies their pride.

Click on photos to enlarge.

For more about Ronnie Carrington go to http://ronniecarrington.com

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My bodyguards: Castries, St. Lucia

Castries in the early morning.

Castries in the early morning.

A rheumatoid arthritis flare kept Alie on the ship when we arrived at St. Lucia.  We had been there before.  So, I just decided just to walk around a bit.  Several people seemed to feel they needed to be my “bodyguards.”

The portion of Castries’ city market closest to the dock primarily sells items to tourists.  Further in,  items are more aimed at locals.

Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame was transporting breadfruit, so when a woman told me I was looking at breadfruit, I asked her how to cook it.

We had a nice conversation, and as I was about to leave, she warned me several times to be careful because there are “many robbers.”

Alie and I prefer back roads.  When walking, I like to get away from the main avenues and tourist areas too.

As I continued to stroll, a workman at a school called out to me.  We talked for a while, and he invited me inside to look at a typical class.  Then as I left, he said I should head back the way I came.  But I told him I planned to go a little further up the street, so he left the school and walked with me to the 1894 Holy Trinity Anglican/Episcopal Church.

As we left the church grounds, he called over a police woman and spoke to her.  She soon joined me as I walked down the street.  Her strategy was not to warn me that I might be in danger wandering alone but to suggest I really might be interested in seeing their Cathedral.  She gave me very specific directions how to get there.

It seemed the least I could do for all these nice people was visit the Cathedral.

Derek Walcott Square is next to the Cathedral.  Derek Walcott was a poet, painter and playwright born on St. Lucia in 1930 who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

I asked a fellow on the street about the huge tree at one end, and he told me the name translates to “massive tree.”  Maybe he was joking.

After I left the Cathedral, a massive young fellow sitting in a doorway said hello.  We exchanged pleasantries.  He looked like someone people had been warning me about.

He reached out his hand, perhaps wondering if this white-bearded man would take it.  I did.  We shook hands and talked for a while longer.  As I left, we exchanged a fist bump.

It was nice the people I met seemed concerned for my safety.  They weren’t wrong.  The U.S. State Department says “Crimes…do occur” and warns you not to leave valuables unattended anywhere. The listed crimes range from petty to violent.   Nonetheless, rule four above is to let curiosity replace fear.  So I should probably add — and keep aware.

The beautiful people of St. Lucia

The beautiful people of St. Lucia

Click on photos to enlarge

7 things to do on St. Lucia:

  1. Walk and shop at the local markets in Castries.
  2. Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries.
  3. Visit Magriot Bay; James A. Michener called it the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean.
  4. Visit one of the twenty Marine Protected Areas.
  5. Visit historic Soufriẻre.
  6. See the Pitons.
  7. Enjoy one of St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches.


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A stop at Dominica, not the Domenican Republic

Roseau from Morne Bruce

Roseau from Morne Bruce

Dominica is not The Dominican Republic. I admit I confused them before our visit.  The Commonwealth of Dominica is an island with a population of about 80,000.  The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and has about ten million people.

Dominica was the last Caribbean island colonized by Europeans.  Perhaps as a result, a few thousand indigenous Kalinago people still live in eight small villages on the east coast. Disease, slavery and genocide wiped out most First Americans on other islands.  Simply because they exist, the Kalinago Territory is worth a visit the next time any of us head that direction.

The French settled the island in the 16th Century.  The British took control in the late 18th. The English abolished slavery in 1833.  A monument to emancipation is near the President’s offices in the capital, Roseau.

The  English also started a botanical garden in 1889.  The garden was severely damaged by Hurricane David in 1959, and one can still see the remains of a bus crushed by a falling African Baobab tree.  Fortunately, no one was in the bus.

Listening to the guide on our more fortunate tour bus, I learned I was mispronouncing the name.  It wasn’t “dough MIN ee ka.”  She called it “dahm in EÉK uh” with the accent on the third syllable. [The accent in the Dominican Republic is on the second syllable.]

Roseau has 17,000 people.  Being part of the British Commonwealth, they drive on the left side [as do the folks on Tortola in last week’s post].

Dominica is an independent republic with a President, Prime Minister and Parliament.  Mary Eugenia Charles was prime minister from July 1989 until June 1995, their longest-serving prime minister and the first woman to hold that position in the Caribbean.

Steep hills and mountains rise from the Caribbean shore.  The tallest is 4947 feet high.  These central mountains catch moisture and are covered in lush rainforest.  There are 365 rivers, one for each day of the year.

It was an agricultural country raising sugar, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, pineapples and citrus.  It still raises some of everything except sugar.  Falling banana prices, however, have caused them to try to grow tourism.

My tour took me to little Hibiscus Falls and to the gardens. The country has three national parks including one that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is still a relatively poor country, but I enjoyed walking the streets of Roseau.  It seemed just about every building held a small shop, and vendors had set up tables under umbrellas in front of many.  The shops were often little more than shelves along the walls with an odd assortment of whatever they could find to sell.  There were also a couple small “supermarkets,” some hotels I would be reluctant to enter and some restaurants.  Fort Young, however, has been converted into a very nice looking hotel.

Despite the relative poverty, cars, vans and small buses were everywhere.  But Dominica has not caught on to using license plates as a source of revenue or advertising.  The plates are just plain black with a few letters and numbers, a rather refeshing change from our home state of Florida and its multiplicity of causes and slogans.


Click on photos to enlarge.

On our next visit, I plan to see the Kalinago Territory.

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Tortola, British Virgin Islands, evokes pleasant memories.

It has been written that individuals are just a bunch of memories captured in a body.  As we sailed through North Sound and Drake’s Anchorage past Virgin Gordo just before dawn this January, my mind was flooded with memories of our many trips to the British Virgin Islands in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Like everywhere, there have been changes, but it is still a magical place.

A new cruise ship pier at Road Town, Tortola, the capital of the Islands, was dedicated in February 2016.  But Road Town’s population is still only about 17,000, and the whole island has only about 24,000 people.

Dutch settlers called the island “Ter Tholen” after an island in the Netherlands and it was corrupted to Tortola, Spanish for turtle, after the British took control.

Tortola is the largest of 60 islands that make up the British Virgin Islands.  All are volcanic except Anagada which is flat coral.  Because it is low, it is hard to see, and the reef has many shipwrecks.

Tortola once had sugar plantations, but then fishing became the main source of income. Now tourism is the largest industry.  There is very little farming, but one still sees the ubiquitous Caribbean chickens and goats.

There have been improvements over the last five decades.  Where water on Tortola was once drawn from wells, and cisterns collected rainwater, now desalinization supplements the cisterns.

Air conditioning is often an after-thought.  People catch the tropical breezes through open shutters and jalousie windows which also protect from showers.  Many houses have balconies.

We drove towards the highest point on the island, Sage National Park at 1715 feet.  On the way, we passed Cane Garden Bay mentioned in Jimmy Buffet’s song Mañana.

We had many good memories of the B.V.I., and now we have more.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Helping people get enough to eat: ECHO, North Fort Myers, Florida

002Close to a billion people around the world do not get enough food.  “Seventy-five percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animal species. ”  So reads a sign at ECHO, in North Fort Myers, FL.  Furthermore, it is pointed out that many of the poorest people around the world live on soil or in climates ill-suited for those plant and  animal species.

For generations, missionaries worked with small farmers around the world, but they lacked someone to provide them technical backup, and they lacked a central clearing house to exchange ideas.

Created in the 1970s as a way to help the people of Haiti, ECHO evolved into an organization that creates partnerships around the world to educate and share technologies, techniques, plants and seeds with small-scale farmers and urban gardeners.

They once sent students to Haiti.  Now they bring college graduate interns to Fort Myers to get practical education before going to these poor countries.  The interns are responsible for managing the North Fort Myers farm and seed-bank, giving tours, and responding to requests for seeds.  Their work is supplemented by a growing army of volunteers.

The farm has six agricultural “zones” that replicate climate zones in tropical lowlands, tropical highlands, monsoon areas, semi-arid areas, the rainforest, and the urban garden.

Not all plants grow well in all areas.  Furthermore, sometimes people don’t recognize the value of the plants that grow where they live.  ECHO, working with its partners on the ground in these communities, identifies promising food plants.  They grow these plants on their farm and distribute the seeds.

Uneducated farmers will eat all their harvest or use hybrid seeds that produce new seeds that are infertile.  ECHO’s partners teach them which seeds to use and how to store a portion of their harvest for the next season.

They also develop ways for farmers to use local materials to irrigate and fertilize their land and protect it from insects and other predators.  They use “primitive” materials to create useful technologies.

Not everything works.  Danielle, our guide, said “ECHO fails so the farmers will succeed.”  Feedback is important.  They learn from the farmers in the field what works.  For instance, a single carambola fruit may produce seeds that create seven different varieties of carambola, but only one of those may be really useful for long-term agriculture.

Agricultural development workers come from around the world spending time at the farm and its library of over 4000 books and pamphlets, meeting with others and attending seminars.

ECHO began to publish its findings in 1982 and sent them to 32 interested individuals; their annual report says ECHO Development Notes now goes out to over 3500 people in 180 countries.

Tours are available of the farm.  Cousin Doug, a semi-retired pastor from a “mega church,” is now involved in “planting” churches around the world.  When he and his wife Jane visited, we were fortunate to be given a guided tour by staff member Amy and Danielle, a staff member who had served in Africa.  All four of us came away fascinated by what ECHO is achieving.

ECHO is a faith-based organization that serves people of all faiths.  To learn more, visit echonet.orgCharity Navigator gives ECHO four stars with the top rating in every category.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Was it environmental destruction, construction or just change? Cape Coral, FL.

002Even environmental carelessness can turn out all right.  In 1957, two New York brothers bought 103 square miles of native Florida scrubland.

They then proceeded to bulldoze almost everything off the land.  They sheared off the brush.  They removed the palmettos.  They cut down the pines, mangroves and palms.

Their next step was to dig over 400 miles of canals.  The excavated rock and sand was piled in between the canals in order to raise lots high enough above the water to sell.

005They called it Cape Coral.  The first building in the new community was a sales office.  A high pressure sales program marketed to Americans, Germans, Italians and other Europeans.  It was affordable waterfront land.  They even had their own airstrip both to bring in customers and to show potential customers their lots.  [That is your lot right down there.]

A 1959 water-view lot (on a canal) cost $990. A riverfront lot cost $3330.  At full build-out, the community was expected to have a population of 450,000.

008The brothers promised new residents every amenity — until those amenities became too expensive for the brothers to maintain.  They sold out in 1970.  The company that bought it went bankrupt in 1975.  The brothers were subsequently convicted for selling underwater lots in another community.

When we first saw the city in 1992, we were astounded at the barrenness.  There were miles and miles of empty treeless lots.  There were fewer than 75,000 people, and most were concentrated in one area at the far south near a bridge to more balanced communities.

003But every cloud has a silver lining.  A small little owl, endangered in some jurisdictions, threatened in others and considered a “species of concern” in Florida, liked it.  These little guys, burrowing owls, are usually less than ten inches tall [25.5 cm] and weigh less than 10 ounces [284 grams].

As their name implies, they like to live in burrows in the ground.  When you are short and live in a hole in the ground, you can’t see much to hunt when you come out of your hole.  More importantly, if there are a lot of trees and brush around, you can’t see the guys out there hunting you.

014Once distributed widely throughout the United States, burrowing owls have been on the decline as their homes were farmed or built over.  Then they discovered Cape Coral.  To a burrowing owl, this new barren landscape was paradise.

Their wild west relatives live in abandoned burrows of other animals.  Cape Coral owls, true to the tradition of Florida developers, dig their own burrows.

Humans are closing in.

Humans are closing in.

They start mating around May and their chicks are gone by October.  During that time, Cape Coral protects their nests from human home builders.

An estimated 1000 nesting pairs live in Cape Coral, more than any other place in Florida.  They attract photographers from all over the world.  The 15th annual Burrowing Owl Festival will be held 25 February 2017.


001Ironically, recent decades have shown it is not a bad place for humans either.  There is now a book: Lies That Came True: The Amazing Creation of Cape Coral, Florida.  The city’s population more than doubled in the last twenty years.  Businesses were created.  Residents planted shrubs and treesThe city landscaped medians.  Those $3300 riverfront lots now cost over a million dollars.

Forbes recently ranked Cape Coral/Fort Myers [its neighbor across the river] as the fastest growing city in the United States.

But as the city builds out, the environment is changing again.  Once again it is becoming crowded for these little guys.  Fortunately, this time someone cares.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Take a look at the “alphabetical index” at the top of the page.   I have added  hyperlinks.  Now you can find locations and just click on them to go to the relevant post.  

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Birds in our backyard – Cape Coral, Florida

Wood Stork

The wood stork is ugly on the ground but beautiful when he flies.

Last week I wrote of the danger of becoming blasé about our surroundings. But I have yet to become indifferent to the birds we see here.

Florida residents refer to people who come to visit in the winter as “snowbirds.”   So many come, the county population goes up by a third.  We have visitors from the U.S.A.’s North.  We have people from many other countries including a large influx from Canada and Germany.  We have so many Germans here, we have our own Oktoberfest.

He can't read.

He can’t read; he leaves a mess.

The “snowbirds” create traffic congestion, but we try not to complain.   Snowbirds pay sales and other taxes keeping Florida’s overall tax burden relatively low.

But the real snowbirds are birds.  Some stay all winter.  Some just pass through.  Some, like a flock of wood storks, have only been coming to our pond the last couple of years.  Others, like the anhinga, were here long before we moved in.

We are not “birders.”  We tend to refer to most birds with the term “LBB.”   An LBB is a little brown bird — even if the bird is not brown.

We like seeing all our winter visitors every year, even those who bring traffic.

Click on photos to enlarge.

In an attempt to make the “alphabetical index” at the top of the page more useful, I have added  hyperlinks.  Now you can find locations and just click on them to go to the relevant post.  

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