Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Is The Water Safe To Drink?

One of the most frequently asked questions that I am asked about travel is, 'Is It Safe To Drink The Water In . . . ' followed by the name of the country, be it Borneo, Portugal, Chile, China, Haiti, Ethiopia, Thailand etc. And most often, what the asker would like to know is 'Will drinking the local water make me sick?'

And most often, I refer them to a page on my main site ( travel medications ) about why and how to get bottled water when you travel. The focus is on safe drinking water, or 'potable' water. And in many parts of the world, it is in short supply.

Yet an article in the current National Geographic magazine about the acute water shortage in Australia brought home the fact that not only is potable water a concern worldwide, but also that we all should be concerned about the world's water supply over all.

This brought to mind my post in June 2006, in which I blogged about tubs versus showers in hotels, and how I much preferred a nice soak at the end of a long travel day. Now, nearly three years later, it hit me: In a world where the water supply is increasing capricious, long soaks in a bath tub may become a thing of the past. And how totally selfish and shortsighted I was being, and how much I had missed seeing the big picture. It's not a 'lack of amenities' issue -- it's a water issue. DOH!

More and more, hotels are choosing to leave out the tub when renovating rooms, save for a few tubs appreciated by those traveling with children, or for those travelers who cannot stand in a shower. Instead, hotels are opting to install mainly shower stalls: Showers use less water than tubs and that saves money on their water bills; and forgoing the tub saves money on fixtures. While this may be a little self-serving, or just good business practice on the part of the hotels, it also helps to save our water supply.

And this global water shortage didn't happen over night. On one of my earliest trips to Australia (2000), I spent a few days on my friends' farm on the Great Dividing Range, near Crookwell, NSW. And one of the first lessons they taught me was how to shower and flush using the least amount of precious water.

So when I saw a picture in the current National Geographic of a family of three, all three of them in one shower stall, their feet in plastic buckets to catch the grey-water runoff, I thought of my friends. When I read the article about how lack of water is forcing Australian farmers off the farm -- farms they cannot sell without a water supply -- it mirrored my friend's own For Sale farm. And when it's personal, the water crisis takes on new meaning.

That Australia permitted farming in drought-prone areas, and allowed water-intensive rice crops, and diverted large rivers to serve same, etc. is a whole other issue.

That rivers are flooding parts of the US and Canada, and such floods will be a threat for some weeks to come, and that cyclones bring floods to Queensland are part and parcel of overall climate change: Water where it's not needed, and no water where it is. And sometimes, where it IS, it's polluted. And that is our own fault.

We cannot reverse this trend overnight, but we should be starting now to adapt and prepare our lives for a world with a short supply of water.

If you live in a place that has abundant potable water right out of the tap, guard it carefully. Don't think of conserving water as a hardship: Be grateful that you have such a precious commodity at your disposal and treat it as such.

When you travel, be aware that in many countries, running water is a very expensive and exclusive luxury. In places such as the Algarve in Portugal and Mexico, when you encounter low flush, two-button toilets, with a basket for waste paper, use them. If you travel to places like Haiti or Ethiopia, don't expect a daily shower. Save that luxury for when you return home.

And so, the question 'Is the water safe to drink?' is really 'Is there any water to drink?' Already, in many parts of the world, the answer is no.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tweet This - Twitter That - Unhub it all!

I've been exploring the wonderful world of Twitter and Tweets for the past week, and yesterday, I learned about a new application to combine all our online presences: Unhub.com . Here's how it came about.

For many months now, I've largely ignored the Twitterati: Can you wonder why, based on the text on the Twitter home page? Do my friends and family really need to know each time I have a coffee, or what I eat for dinner, or any of the humdrum details of my day to day life? I think not. I hope not. That's what Facebook is for :-) but I rarely update my status there, either. But there is only so much drivel we can take.

And yet, this past week, I thought I'd see what Twitter could do for me. I set up a Twitter account, and found a wonderful network of travel writers, website owners, and travel news in the process. And with a 140-character limit on tweets, brevity is King!

Twitter Home Page
Here's the home page: Easy enough to set up an account. Then you start searching for other Twitterers you'd like to Follow.

Search Twitter
If you have a Facebook account, you will be familiar with Find Friends searches. As Facebook does, so Twitter will search your own online email accounts and identify contacts who are already on Twitter. Click on their Twitter name, and you can check the little 'follow' box. Then, whenever they make a post, their message will appear in your Twitter page when you are logged in.

I spent a happy few days playing around with this. I added some to Follow, and soon others were Following me. Of course, not all my Follows are in my own email contact list: some I searched out, to see what they tweeted and if it was useful to me: Matt Cutts (Google engineer), Google, and a host of travel writer colleagues are a great help; Others, who posted too many Tweets about subjects of little interest / use to me, I soon Unfollowed.

A few spammers - gosh they try everything, don't they? When someone follows you, Twitter sends you an email to let you know. You can then go see who they are, and what they have to offer. If you know them. or check out their website and like them, you can click the Follow button. The spammers who Follow you usually have only one posted update, and it's the usual Buy This, Get This etc that you find in your email spam. These Twitterers do not last more than a day - and all you have to do is Block them.

If you have a website or a blog, you can post it in your Twitter Profile and make it easy for new Followers to find your site(s). But if you have more than one site/blog, and a Facebook, YouTube, Myspace or a presence on any of the myriad social networking sites or photo sharing sites, it can be overwhelming to list them all. If you use a signature file at the bottom of your email, a long list of websites can set off spam blockers.

And so it was, yesterday, that I learned of a new app for combining all your online sites into one neat link: Enter unhub.com . Here's the resulting page when I use this 'UNiversal HUB' to list all my sites as one link so visitors to select which site they want.

Unhub Home Page
As with Twitter, unhub.com is pretty intuitive. I had a popup blocker setting I wasn't aware of, and so I had a glitch the first time I tried to set up my account, but the Help link helped sort it out fast. Then I added my links to various sites (except Facebook profile), and selected the Tweetree page link as my Home page. You can set your unhub home page to be any of your links.
Unhub Home Page
The menu / banner across the top shows all your other links. Choose from the drop down menu on the Account tab, and then My Links in the menu, and add away!

Writing this post has taken far longer than it would take to set up a Twitter account and an Unhub account, but there you have it!

Now, I think I will see if Oprah is on Twitter!

Oh my! Just searched Oprah and 23 results came back, with only one showing the official Oprah site: http://twitter.com/OfficialOprah with only two posts. Hmmmm - won't follow that one yet.

There's http://twitter.com/O_Magazine , which looks like it's her. The one below it claims over 5,000 followers, with no posts and no info. Suspicious for sure. Maybe I'll try http://twitter.com/BarackObama instead. The thing with following someone, you can read their Tweets first, to see if they interest you.

Maybe I will stick to my travel writing colleagues: Just today, Michael in Bangkok RT (re-tweeted) a good Twitter site Travel Safety. Now how handy is this???

More info at unhub.com and Twitter.com

Friday, March 13, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt Hong Kong China ~ Easter Brunch Port Credit Canada More Signs of Spring!

A few more signs of the Easter (read: Spring) Season in today's mail:

From Hong Kong, a reminder of the annual Easter egg hunt and from right here in Port Credit, Ontario, of the annual Easter Sunday Brunch at TEN Restaurant.

First, news from Hong Kong Tourism Board :
Over the Easter weekend, families will descend on Discovery Bay for the ever-popular Easter Egg Treasure Hunt. Some 20,000 eggs will be buried on Tai Pak Beach, including the prize eggs that entitle finders to some great prizes. So hit the beach or the nearby Fun Fair, and don’t forget your camera. Those who prefer treasure hunting of a different sort should check out various shopping malls in town, which will be offering a range of holiday promotions.

More info (choose your language) at HKTB.com Hong Kong has no low season so book hotels, etc well in advance. And if you are transiting via Hong Kong over a holiday, make allowances for even more traffic and possible closures. Hong Kong also celebrates other western holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, New Years, Mother's Day.

And Easter Brunch info from TEN Restaurant and Wine Bar in Port Credit. Here's the poster.

As I get more info on other restos' Easter Sunday Brunch in Mississauga, I'll post it here.

March 14 2009 ~ Waterside Inn Breakwater Restaurant

For more info see my web site page Ten and Breakwater Restaurant
For more pics and info, see my website page Hong Kong
Earlier post re: Signs of Spring

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

CheapTravel Via Amazing Race to Uruguay and Argentina

The Amazing Race (TAR) reruns are currently being shown on OLN (Outdoor LIfe Network) here in Canada, and even though I have watched faithfully each season, missing episodes only when I have been traveling, I am really enjoying watching the reruns. From the premiere in September 2001, up to and including the current Season 14, I have been stuck in front of the television, refusing all calls during the hour long show.

Right now, we just finished Season 4 reruns, and are a few episodes into Season 5 (Charla and Mirna season: TAR fans will never forget that team!)

La Mano ~ Hand in the Sand ~ Punta Del Este Uruguay TAR Season 5
When I first watched this season 5 episode, I had not yet visited South America. Last night, when the teams headed to Punta Del Este, Uruguay, I was reliving my own trip there.

The marina, the hand-in-the-sand (says Phil Keoghan, TAR host: a sculpture of the last thing you see before a person drowns), the marina, the streets, the signs on the freeway. Ah! The ultimate in cheap travel!

Casa Pueblo Uruguay ~ Hotel, art gallery overlooking Rio De La Plata
Casapueblo was the pit stop on the last Uruguay leg. I didn't stay here, myself. I just spent some time in the galleries and shops, and admiring views of the Rio de la Plata from the terraces. Next time, though, I will plan to stay here. Casa Pueblo itself is fabulous, and sunsets from the terrace are supposed to be amazing!

Avenida 9 de Julio ~ Widest Street in the World ~ Buenos Aires Argentina
From Casapueblo, teams left at night to head west into Montevideo, the capital, to a disco filled with soap suds and tipsy dancers, then make their way further west, to the ferry at Colonia, to cross into Argentina. On The Amazing Race, editing brings down huge chunks of travel into less than an hour.

The ferry crossing from Colonia (Buquebus) to Buenos Aires takes about 3 hours. The drive to Colonia from Montevideo, close to the same. I had planned to take this same crossing but instead took the hydrofoil from Buenos Aires to direct to Montevideo. Even so, it was a three hour crossing of the 210 km (130 miles) wide Rio de la Plata. (I flew back.)

What I really enjoyed seeing was how the friendly Uruguayans went out of their way to help Charla and Mirna, even holding the ferry departure until the two latecomers could board, offering them sips of yerba mate. I had similar experiences in Uruguay, with total strangers offering aid, going that extra mile, and watching out for one another. Uruguayans have to be among the nicest people in the world! (Move over, Canadians!)

Gaucho BBQ and Tango Show ~ Estancia Santa Susana
While the teams in Season 5 did the tango thing at a different club than did I, the experience seemed the same. The gaucho tours are well worth it, IMHO, with good food and interesting shows, and congenial tour companions. I can hardly wait to see where they head to tonight!

In Season 4, rerun last month, the teams were on Borneo! I was beside myself seeing all the old familiar places that I had not yet traveled to when this season first showed. Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Sandakan, Poring Hot Springs canopy walk.

And so, in a houseful of travelers who all love The Amazing Race, we take turns talking over the announcer, saying, "Oh! I was there! I did that!" and thoroughly enjoying ourselves reliving our trips. That we've mostly forgotten the teams and the outcomes of these early seasons only adds to the newness and fun of watching them all over again. Only, the second time around, we pay a lot more attention the the background shots than we do to the teams. :-)

Update : Now watching TAR 7 Santiago Chile, Argentina, Rob and Amber series

For more pics and info on these and other TAR destinations, see my travel site.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

End of Winter in Canada ~ Snow Bank Litter, Snow Melt Run Off, Swans Return, Ice Cream Store Opens for Summer Season, and Daylight Savings Time Begins

On a walk into Port Credit today, I could see signs of the end of winter in Canada. Some are pretty and some are pretty awful, and some are downright tasty! Yesterday's record high temperatures -- 18 C (64 F) have been replaced with today's 6 C (43 F) and pouring rain.

Credit River Winter in Canada Thaw Snow Melt
The blue green Credit River runs brown with the dirt and debris from the snow melt run off, but the returning swans don't seem to mind. The rising temperatures start the maple sap flowing and soon it's maple syrup time in eastern Canada.

Swans Under Lakeshore Road Bridge
There's usually some grain left out for the returning swans (and those that never left) across the Credit River from here, but passersby continue to throw stale bread into the water. Thankfully, most of it sinks before the hungry birds can eat it.

Mississauga Library's Snow Pile O'Garbage
While pristine snow looks lovely in and of itself, it also covers a multitude of litter sins, and the icy snow banks that take so long to thaw hold fast to the winter's litter. though this would appear to be a pile of dirt and litter, it is actually embedded in thick ice, and not going anywhere anytime soon.

Scoops Port Credit Ice Cream shop
I know it's spring when Scoops Ice Cream Store in Port Credit opens for the summer season. Scoops is a darling shop! A model train runs on a track that circles the ceiling, and if you ask nicely, the staff may do a demonstration run.

Another sure sign winter in Canada is almost done it that tonight, Daylight Savings Time begins. Spring forward, Everyone!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Great Barrier Reef Island Caretaker Best Job in the World

The short list (well, top 50) is out for the Best Job in the World, and seven Canadians made the cut. Now, we have until the end of the month to cast our votes for our favorite applicant.

So far this morning, I have seen 3 of the Canadians interviewed on CBC, and every one of them sounds like a winner to me. I'll have to check out the candidates from the other countries listed.

While it's tempting for Canadians to apply for work in such a warm, exotic place when there's snow and cold in much of Canada this winter and most would likely take the job for room and board only, it does pay over $100,000 per year! But me? (Not that it would be -- I don't scuba dive, speak multiple languages, swim any great distances, or wish to get out of my home and native land.) I'd think twice.

What would give me pause for relocating full time to an island on the Great Barrier Reef would be the wildlife -- insects of all sorts, and so on. I can't find the name of the island(s) to check it out, but perhaps they are free of such annoyances as huntsmen spiders and assorted snakes.

Green Island offshore Cairns Queensland
When last I was in Australia, I took a boat tour from Cairns to Green Island for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling, and just lazing around. There's a hotel on Green Island, and it would be a great spot to spend a few days. On such a short visit, I encountered no unwelcome wildlife. It's when the sun goes down that it gets interesting.

Reef Life View from glass Bottom Boat Green Island
The trip from Cairns to dock on Green Island takes about 45 minutes, and the crossing can be a bit choppy, especially if storms are offshore. And while snorkeling close to islands is fairly tame, there are still annoyances like marine stingers and sharks.

But take a boat trip out to one of the man made, deep water viewing platforms for an all day reef experience, and it's a little more adventurous, according to Bill Bryson, in his wonderful book about Australia (In a Sunburned Country), who tells of several harrowing or fatal experiences.

One that sticks with me is the phenomenon of 'floaters'. Apparently, and this is not a direct quote, some people, finding themselves face down in several hundred feet of water, freak out at the abyss and have a heart attack. Since they are in a group of people similarly floating face down with snorkel gear, no one notices their distress (or worse) until everyone else gets back on the platform. All, that is, except the one left floating.

It's precisely these kind of stories that make Far North Queensland such an alluring travel destination -- the element of danger in paradise. Kudos to Tourism Queensland for launching such a fantastic PR initiative while getting the largest possible pool of talent for the best job in the world. And now, I am off to research who gets my vote!

More info:
Short List of 50 Applicants
SnapshotJourneys Queensland