The Reincarnation of the Quagga.

 

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Quagga is the name for a now extinct species similar to the plains Zebra that became extinct in the 19th century. It was found in large numbers in what is now South Africa. Quagga is the Khoi Khoi name for Zebra, the Khoi Khoi being the inhabitants of the southern areas of South Africa originally.

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When settlers came to South Africa in the 17th century the Quagga were hunted in large numbers such that they became extinct in the wild in 1878 and in captivity in 1883. The Quagga had diverged from the Plains Zebra as a species some 250000 years ago.

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In the 1950s the idea was raised that with careful cross breeding of the Plains Zebra it might be possible to recreate the Quagga, although this idea was met with little interest since it was thought that the Quagga and Plains Zebra were unrelated as a species.

 

 

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However in the 1980s, by means of DNA sampling of the skins that remained and that of preserved Quaggas from museums, it came accepted that the species were related and the project to recreate the Quagga coomenced, known as The Quagga Project and based around Cape Town.

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The process is known as “breeding back” and is intended to create the striping patterns of the Quagga from careful breeding, since the technology for cloning using recovered dna does not yet exist, and as such the new off spring look like the Quagga but are genetically different.

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These offspring are known as Rau Quagga, to differentiate them from the Quagga and the Zebra, named after Reinhold Rau who initiated the project. The process has produced a number of generations of offspring and these are beginning to show the markings of the Quagga as it was. This represents a fascinating way to try to rectify some of the wrongs of man to the natural world.

 

Hot Springs – Basuanga Island Philippines

 

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After a 35 minutes ride up into the hills above Basuanga Island in Palawan, you come to the Maquinit hot springs. Maquinit means Mainit, which in turn means hot in the local Tagalog language. And they are hot up to 40 degrees.

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The springs are one of the very few saltwater springs in the world and emerge from beneath an extinct volcano that sits on the island. The salt waters flow through the springs and then into the sea, either directly or through mangrove trees that surround the site.

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The springs are open into the evening so are often visited in the evening to avoid the heat after a long day hiking, diving or island hopping. But, if you can cope with the heat, it can be worth visiting in the day because there is a wonderful view over the sea that you don’t see at night, and you might just have the place to yourself since local people tend to go at weekends or in the evenings.

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The road to the springs winds up through the hills and the springs are not in a village or town. The surrounding natural environment shows beautiful flowers, birds and even some monitor lizards. Although the lizards are shy they have a wonderful pre historic look if you are fortunate enough to see one.

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The pools give you a variety of temperatures up to about 40 degrees. The hot pool is misleadingly comfortable at first touch because of the salt, but it’s certainly hot and you need to be ready for it. The waters are also said to contain spirulina so their medicinal or healing properties are sought after. The dark volcanic rocks of long ago eruptions surround the pools

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The view across the bay is well worth some time to sit take in the scene and reflect, and, having enjoyed the springs, time slows right down as you sit there, although the bumpy ride back to town will soon restore you to reality. As well as its therapeutic qualities it’s a fascinating change from the island and water life of a Philippine journey

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Colourful Travelling

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When I look back at travels I have made, journeys completed, the memories are always associated with colours. A place, some food, a building, nature, all these are associated with deep colours, sharp colours and they reflect the mood of the memory. Even difficult travelling experiences have colours attached to them

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The shades and intensities of the colours may differ from place to place but nonetheless it is colour that guides the mind. At home our own colours surround us every day, and being at home we can to some extent control the colours we see, try to ensure that they are the ones we like most. But somehow the colours never quite seem so intense. It is, I am sure, partly due to over familiarity and partly because our choices are made to create an environment that we feel comfortable in, and can blend into.

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Colour affects the imagination. When we see a building or a town or village in colours that are not familiar we wonder why, and there is a nervous admiration for the bravery of it. The purity of colours in nature can be spellbinding; the mixtures of the colours of nature’s palate surpass anything that an artist can create by mixing. The primary colours are intense sharp and pure.

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Then there is the interaction of nature and its creatures. See a butterfly resting and marvel at its colours and realise that each one of these seemingly random combinations of colour has a reason, a camouflage in the actual environment in which it exists.

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Why does food that is colourful seem to taste more exciting that the staples of life which we need to survive? Even the combinations of colours in a meal in a foreign place make the experience of eating more enervating and satisfying.

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Landscapes that unfold in front of us carry varieties of colours with mountains melting into hills and fields and even to the sea where the contrasts of blues and greens echo the land which houses the seas and oceans.

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Even under the seas and oceans we experience a world of unique colours. Their combinations and the creatures that live their blend in and give wonderful contrasts to the background shades of the undersea world.

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When I was young I was given a box of crayons, the few basic colours, and as time when on I wanted to get a bigger set because it had more colours and shades of those colours. I was no artist but the joy of the varieties of colours inspired me, and now there they are in the journeys I take.

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The Coffee Cooperative – Costa Rica

 

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As well as being famous for its commitment to the ecology, being famous for not having an army, and being famous for volcanoes, Costa Rica is about Coffee. Some of the very best coffee in the world is grown there, and has been grown since the 18th century mostly in the mountains that form a spine through the country.

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Much of the coffee is grown by cooperatives, groups of very small farmers who have been brought together to crate the scale necessary for economic development of coffee. More than 10% of the population belong to cooperatives, and the cooperative are successful not just in providing an income for the members but also in passing residual profits back to develop the communities and the environment and to develop other businesses benefiting the members.

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A day at a coffee coop is a memorable experience and the Coopetarrazu situated in San Marcos de Tarrazu is a great one to go to. It was founded in 1960 and has grown to have more than 3000 members who grow coffee together and sell it to the coop for sale in the market.

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When you come over the mountain into the valley of San Marcos your nostrils are immediately filled with the scent of roasting coffee coming up from roaster in the town below you. Like all agricultural areas it seems a scene of tranquillity but actually a hive of activity.

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Trees planted to give a natural shade and also to give back to the soil shade the rows of coffee bushes. The recycling of everything used in the coffee making process is a priority here including water and the dried husks of the bean.

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Harvesting starts in November and is done by hand by local people and also pickers who cross the border from Nicaragua with their families and are given shelter, pay and assistance in managing their money which has to last them through the year after the picking season. Hard work I can tell you!

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One of the challenges of picking coffee in this area are snakes of which there are a number of venomous species in Costa Rica. One of the ways they are dealt with is to feed the snakes before picking time to make them sleep while the picking goes on.

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The profits left after paying the growers are ploughed back by the cooperative to benefit the members in infrastructure development, ensuring the quality of the soil and even into investing in local businesses like grocery stores or petrol stations to benefit the members.

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“Cupping” tasting the new crop of coffee is an art similar to that of the established wine taster, and while I can know great coffee when I taste it, the varieties of flavours that an experienced person can detect in a cup of coffee is extraordinary.

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We all talk a lot about the benefits of communities and how they should work together, and here you can see that happening. Here the cooperative system has proved itself really successful and a long-term benefit to future prosperity in the area.

Cape Town

 

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In his records of his circumnavigation of the world, Sir Francis Drake described the Cape of Good Hope, where Cape Town rests, as the “fairest cape in the entire circumference of the world”. It is also known as the Cape of Storms so named by the Portuguese explorer Bartolommeo Dias in the 15th Century and was later referred to as The Cape of Good Hope because it was the point at which the sea route to the East opened up. It is part of the Cape of Good Hope national park. Cape Town was originally a supply station for ships travelling from Europe to the East and for this reason was also know as the Tavern of the Seas.

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Today Cape Town is a successful cosmopolitan city; it is the largest by population and the home of South Africa’s Parliament. It has a Mediterranean climate of long warm dry summers and damp cool winters. It has become a major tourist destination as well as a vibrant business centre and a home for some 3m people of various cultures. The city has a wonderful combination of great physical beauty, as well as a lifestyle that is relaxed welcoming and very varied. The streets are varied from traditional zones to the small houses and streets of the Bo Kaap.

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The most famous place in Cape Town is Table Mountain, one of the new7 wonders of the natural world. The city sits in a bowl beneath the mountain that towers over it and you are conscious of it wherever you look. The prevailing winds from the south east mean that the normal city pollutions are blown away and not only is the air cleaner than most cities the quality of the light brings everything around you into the sharpest focus the colours deep and intense.

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Cape Town in famous for its beaches, white sand, blue water, sun and great variety. If you like beaches with people bars and restaurants they are there, but if you like big beaches with few people on them just a few kms brings you to long beaches virtually deserted.

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One of Cape Town’s prides is in its food, of every variety. Seafood fresh from the ocean and the variety of foods representing the different African, Asian and European cultures that make up the city. Like all cities there are two worlds, the one that everyone reads about and the one that locals know so if you know someone that’s the best way to know the city. The food ranges from fine dining to roadside cafes all of which have something to offer.

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The hub of the city for most newcomers starts with the waterfront development at the harbour from where you can visit Robben Island and where you can shop eat and relax to your heart’s content. It’s easy to get stuck there since the centre has everything, but to do so is to miss the other delights.

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In spring, September/October time, a visit to the national park to see the acres of wild flowers is an experience, huge fields of natural varied species. The Cape national part is one of the largest micro ecologies in the world. October is also the time for the annual visit of Southern Right whales who come to the warmer waters of the cape with their young, and as you drive down the coast its special to stop and watch these creatures in the water. The Cape is also home to the Great White shark a protected species in South Africa and the cape is one of the largest breeding grounds in the world for these very formidable creatures. Try cage diving to see the sharks a memorable experience.

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From Cape Town the next destination going south is Antarctica, so its at the very tip of Africa, but distance is relative nowadays and it’s a must see place.

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Wildlife in The Western Cape South Africa

 

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Historically, before European settlers came to the Cape of South Africa, there was abundant wildlife throughout the area, alongside the Khoisan peoples who were hunters and gatherers, and who populated the Cape. When the settlers came, especially the British with their traditions of hunting, much of the wildlife disappeared as a result of hunting. To read accounts of those days and the numbers of animals killed in any one hunt, which would be numbered in hundreds, it is not surprising there was none left.

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Now wildlife animals including the big 5 of Lion Leopard, Elephant Buffalo and Rhino, have retuned to the Cape, brought back there in extensive reserves where breeding programmes abound and the animals roam free. Their threat now is no longer from hunters but from poachers particularly of the rhinos.

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The safari has also returned to the Cape at a number of privately owned game parks like Aquila, Sanbona, Gondwana and Inverdoorn,and others to suit all pockets. All are driving distance from Cape Town and some suit for a day trip, others you can stay and enjoy a more extensive experience; there is a cheetah refuge in the Cape where Cheetahs are rescued and bred.

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An added attraction on some farms is the existence of rock panting from the Khoisan some 100s of years old because, although there are very few of their descendants in the Cape, most Khoisan being found to the North, their heritage and culture are there.

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Seeing these beautiful creatures in the stillness of a picture enables us to see what they are and how they are made, but the picture can never do real justice to the power of these creatures, their places in their environment and the extraordinary variety of nature.

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Everyone has their favourite animal for their own reasons, but the experience of seeing them together is a special one. Its easy to forget that these are wild animals and the wild does not leave them because they are in game parks, but their coexistence with humankind is a positive for us all. We have to look after them.

 

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