Tag: Current Affairs

A moment on The Bridge

A moment on The Bridge

This post covers a tragic and very sad event that took place on the Golden Gate Bridge which some readers may find distressing.

There are uplifting reasons to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. To marvel close up at the engineering. To gaze across at the San Francisco skyline. To take that widely-shared selfie.

Another reason is to take your own life.

At regular intervals there are notices encouraging potential jumpers to press a button and talk to a counsellor. Yet, despite campaigns going back decades, there is still no protective fence preventing anyone pulling themselves up over the four-foot high barrier.

At the mid-point, Hilary marches on ahead whilst Roger and Stephanie (Hilary’s sister who has flown out to join us) turn back. Passing her, Roger notices the lone young woman standing by the barrier looking out into the distance, but there is nothing to directly suggest what will happen seconds later.

A cry.

Her body is directly below us floating away into the bay. Only an English couple on bikes and a young girl from the Philippines had actually seen her go over. It has all happened so quickly. All of us shaken, waving hopelessly to a tourist boat some way off.

So sad.

Bridge Protection Officers on the scene in minutes say it happens “Too often”. A flare is launched to track the current.

Roger picks up the woman’s black backpack left on the walkway; it’s completely empty except for some face cream. An Officer implies she wore it to blend in, “They often make many visits to work out how to avoid detection”.

IMG_4635
The black backpack – where the young woman left it before she jumped

Asked by Roger and Stephanie why there was no protection fence, the Officer says matter of factly “There are agreed plans to put a steel netting out on either side, but the money is still not fully available yet. It will cost millions.”

On Wikipedia a graph indicates around 30-40 people jump from the bridge each year. Surviving is very, very rare.

As she floats away, we see no attempt to retrieve the young woman. The girl from the Philippines cries on Roger’s shoulder “I was the last person she looked at”.

IMG_4633

500m straws every day

500m straws every day

St Francisville is a seriously upmarket artsy town. The place to enjoy drinks at the Magnolia Café.

With the lemonade and water (served with Hilary’s coffee) we got two of the 500 million straws that are provided every day in the States.

And they are used just once. Then disposed to landfill or perhaps worst to the rivers and oceans. What a waste.

You can read more about The Last Plastic Straw campaign here.

Ecuador at a defining moment

Ecuador at a defining moment

Back in Quito, as we went round the Presidential Palace (very underdressed!) the incumbent Rafael Correa was working away in his office. Unbelievably – given our European security sensitivities  – just down the corridor from us.

Unable to serve another term, Correa will be replaced on April 2nd when the country votes in the presidential run-off. It’s a defining moment for the country whose economy has crash-dived on the back of falling oil prices.

Leading in the polls is Lenín Moreno who offers continuity; many we spoke to fear this will lead to Ecuador becoming another Venezuela. Meanwhile Guillermo Lasso promises to put the economy first, reduce the state and align the country more with the West.

Should Lasso win – Wikileak’s Julian Assange might be booted out of the Ecuadorian London embassy sometime soon. But don’t expect that to happen. The ruling PAIS Alliance party have distributed a lot of money to the poor, built miles of roads, hired more civil servants than really needed and might even tamper with the vote.

At the Itaipu Dam

img_9509
Construction of the hydroelectric site started in 1971 with the first power generated in 1984

We took a free tour around the Itaipu Dam built on the Parana River between Paraguay and Brazil. It was a massive joint venture between the two countries; both at the time headed up by dictators.

China’s Three Gorges Dam has greater potential capacity to generate electricity but because the Parana River has less seasonal flow differences, Itaipu usually produces more electricity each year; much to the Paraguayans delight!

In a promotional video we learnt of the CO2 saved, but we weren’t told of the loss of the Guaira Falls – the world’s biggest by flow until they went under the Itaipu reservoir.

img_3842
The Itaipu Dam provides 75% of Paraguay’s needs and 17% of Brazil’s. It cost $19bn to construct and employs 3,000 people.

Ciudad del Este – smugglers’ town

Our base for visiting the area, Ciudad del Este founded in 1957 – when the bridge to Brazil was built – is the second largest city in Paraguay with a population of over 300,000. What’s amazing is the fact that Forbes lists it as the third largest commercial city in the world between 1990 and 2002.

That’s partly because of the proximity of the Itaipu Dam, but also due to smuggling which is estimated as five times the size of the Paraguayan economy. And every day thousands of Brazilians use the Friendship Bridge to come shopping; spending $1bn+ per annum on cheaper goods.

The city is a melting pot with large populations of Taiwanese, Iranians, Koreans and Lebanese. Street stalls occupy every square inch of space selling all sorts of things under the sun. Ten minutes of walking in this town and we are exhausted by the noise, fumes and visual assault on our senses. Hilary termed it ‘a s*** hole’.

Moving to Ushuaia

Argentinians are moving south to Ushuaia attracted by a booming tourist economy and tax breaks. These are the economic migrants of the region and their entrepreneurial “gold rush” spirit extends to unofficially clearing the forests to build their homes.

For us this was in microcosm the development of a shanty town –  or villas miseria as they are known here – so your bloggers were keen to take a closer look. Ok, it was messy, ramshackle and a blight on the view from the cruise ships but far from the “roads running in shit” we were told about by the man who worked at our hostel.

In fact even without town planners and officialdom the township seemed to work. Families were establishing new homes with power cables strung across trees and newish cars parked up on the dusty paths.

Remembering the young conscripts

Surrounding Ushuaia’s Islas Malvinas monument is a display of large black and white photographs from the 1982 war. In one (shown above) an Argentinian conscript turns to the camera with bewilderment and fear in his young eyes.

It’s profoundly sad to remember such loss of life whatever the causes and whatever the justifications, especially such a recent war in a city that was so affected; the doomed ARA General Belgrano sailed from here.

Signs throughout Argentina reinforce the country’s continued belief in the justification of their sovereignty case, but it’s good to read of the more positive diplomatic relations between the new Argentinian and British governments and certainly we have not experienced anything but a warm welcome here.

Christmas presepe

img_8257
Here in Bologna at the Abbazia di Santo Stefano

It’s been a pleasure to see the presepe (nativity scenes) throughout our travels in Italy; in public spaces, shop windows and most unexpectantly in our accommodation. Far, far more than you would see back in Britain.

St Francis of Assisi apparently created the first nativity scene in 1223, attempting to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ – rather than secular materialism and gift giving. Not sure that succeeded in the long-term but at least Italy is trying its best to keep the Christian spirit alive. With trucks being driven into Christmas markets not so far away surely that’s not a bad thing.

Throughout Europe there has been calls to remove nativity scenes from schools and other public places – by secularists, other religions, the ‘easily offended’ and the diversity brigade. The battle for the soul of Europe in miniature.

“No” vote in Referendum

img_7476

We spent yesterday asking Sicilians which way they were voting. Nearly everyone said “No” and made some negative comment about the government.

So the scale of the referendum “No” vote came as little surprise to us. 60% voted “No”, in a high turnout. Matteo Renzi, the PM has resigned.

Just as in Britain there’s a feeling here that politicians are only interested in themselves. People want change and they are taking it out on anyone who is failing to listen and deliver. This was as much a referendum about Matteo Renzi, the government and the state of Europe, as about the question on the ballot paper.

US Election result

img_0026Roger got up at 4am to discover the US election was going Trump’s way.

Hilary decided to stay in bed….

We are staying in Urbino for 3 nights. This wonderful hilltop city is the perfect place to celebrate the rise of western civilisation. The opposite seems the case today.

But ‘Trump’s Wall’ is not a new idea. We’ve been building walls for centuries to keep people out as this photo shows.

The only hope is that when in power Trump won’t feel the need to be as outrageous as the things he’s said. And  – since Obama said we would be last in the queue – ironically the UK could be in a better position for a trade deal with the USA.