Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Hare, and there

So, I break off from sorting out the airing cupboard (how come there are so many pillowcases in there? Do they breed?) to view a big motor yacht gliding into Oneroa Bay, and straight away get a connection with a couple of boats of quite a different sort (but one exactly the same age), plus Prince Andrew, a round-the-world sailor, and Bluff.

First, the boat: 58m long, and now called the Dancing Hare, it was built in 1986 for the Saudi businessman cousin of recently murdered (and dismembered) journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It was later bought by media mogul Robert Maxwell, who named it Lady Ghislaine after his daughter. He disappeared off the yacht near the Canaries in 1991 when big trouble was looming for him - jumped, pushed, fell while peeing in the nude? - and his (or maybe not his...) body was later found floating in the sea. Nobody's telling who currently owns or is using the boat, but it's been hanging around NZ for a few months now.

It's an obvious link from the yacht to Maxwell's daughter Ghislaine, and then from her to Jeffrey Epstein - was it suicide? or murder? - and from both of them to Prince Andrew. Now that's a story we're all going to be horribly fascinated to follow, when they finally get around to the trial. But, the royal non-sweater with a sailing ship? And all of this with me?

Right. Back in - also - 1986, when I was living in England, our loose group of regulars at the White Hart Inn got involved in organising fun events to raise money for the pet charity of one member, Liz (whose handmade Christmas tree decoration present to me I packed away today for another year). The aim of the Jubilee Sailing Trust is to enable the physically handicapped to enjoy sailing on the ocean, in the company of able-bodied people. We helped raise money to build a sail training ship, the STS Lord Nelson, a three-masted barque, and were then invited to attend the naming ceremony in Southampton in July. The Patron of the organisation was Prince Andrew, but the person performing the actual naming was Miss Sarah Ferguson - as she still was, just, their ill-fated wedding coming a fortnight later.

It was all very grand - I wore a hat! - with band, anthem, prayers, Rule Britannia and so on, and then after the naming ceremony there was a lunch at long tables, and the host on ours was Sir Alec Rose. He was knighted - despite not being the first - for doing a solo circumnavigation of the world by sail. That was back in 1967 in the 11m Lively Lady, during which he had to call in at Bluff, way down south, to do some unplanned mast repairs. His previous port of call, incidentally, had been Melbourne, where PM Harold Holt came to see him sail in, and who later that day went swimming and disappeared, presumed drowned. Bit of a theme here, eh?

Even 20 years later, Sir Alec was lapping up any adulation that might come his way, and made sure to tell us all about his adventure - but he was jolly enough, I suppose. Preferable to seedy Andrew and his mates, anyway. And the whole connection is certainly a lot more interesting than tidying bed linen.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Yebo, Phinda!

Dutifully watching the TV news last night, it was a novelty, though not a relief, when the gloomy focus moved away from Covid, prison riot, road toll etc to Africa. Not just Africa, but South Africa. And not just South Africa, but Phinda Game Reserve, where I've been. Twice.

The topic was the poaching of pangolins - inoffensive, cute little creatures covered in scales which the Chinese, despite being clever in so many other fields, insist are a vital ingredient in traditional medicine. Like rhino horn, it's just keratin, same as fingernails, and just as inert and useless; but so convinced are the Chinese, and so eager to acquire it, that the poor pangolin is the most poached animal in the entire world.

One ranger interviewed reckoned that the weight of the annual haul of rhino horn, elephant tusk and lion bone, horrific though it is, would have to be multiplied hundreds of times to equal the tonnage of pangolin scales. Incredible, and so sad. I'm guessing it helps that they're so much easier to catch than the other animals. I'm also pretty certain that, with tourism currently so diminished, there are a lot of unemployed people out there busily poaching for an alternative income.

Rescued pangolins, which survive, are released to safety in places like &Beyond's Phinda, a private game reserve where they are very energetic about protecting endangered species. It's a lovely place, with a choice of six environmentally different lodges (mountain, grassland, forest, rock), all of them gorgeous, luxurious and staffed by real enthusiasts. I had such a wonderful time there, and got so close to the animals - bumping along behind cheetah running down a nyala, being looked at by a lion walking right past the open Landcruiser where I was sitting, rushing in reverse away from a black rhino that was pawing the dust before it launched into a charge. 

I didn't see any pangolins though. Sounds like that's getting even more unlikely, now.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Kia ora, 2021. Haere mai.

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2021: odd-numbered years have always been better for me, so let's keep that custom going, eh? 

Aiming to be relentlessly positive, the current pandemic set-up is precisely the sort of scenario that this blog is designed for: all about being reminded of past travels, and not, as most travel blogs are, about current exploration and experiences. Not that there won't be a few of those too - necessarily domestic, but none the worse for that as (our national smugness currently reaching, er, epidemic levels) most of the world would have to agree.

So, onwards and upwards, right?


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