Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Must-See Video About Venezuelan Student Protests

This speaks for itself.

Here's more on the video and protests:

The Guardian: ShortCutsBlog, February 17, 2014
Andreina Nash, a 21-year-old student, has brought the plight of student protesters in Venezuela to global attention – with a short film she made in a day

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cronyism in Venezuela and Costa Rica

…And in Really Bizarre News
By Jamie Douglas

Friends and fiends, some of the following may leave you wondering about reality, but I swear on the latest edition of Granma, that it is all true.

The Chávez Family in Caracas

According to the official news out of Venezuela, the Maximum Lider of that sad Bolivarian nation, Hugo Chávez died on March 3, 2013. But according to the people who were to embalm him for posterity, he had expired some time before that, as his organs had been rendered unsuitable for display-quality embalming due to decomposition.

Meanwhile, of course, the nation had to continue to be governed. Enter the infamous and (deliberately) incompetent bus driver Nicolas Maduro, who was handpicked by Chávez while he still had some marbles.

One would think that two of the Chávez family’s daughters would have vacated the premises in a dignified manner to relocate to one of the Chávez’s many country estates. After all, while the nation was suffering through one of its worst crises – shortages of food, inflation and the crumbling of its infrastructure – Hugo Chávez managed to steal at least a billion dollars, according to the Criminal Justice International Associates, while diverting another 100 billion dollars to cronies and criminal enterprises.

Perhaps the biggest blow to the Carcass in Caracas was that he was transported to his final resting place in an imperialist yanqui Cadillac. (A pretty old one I must say)

OK, so we know that Hugo has been dead for about a year. Now, we can report that two of his daughters have refused to surrender the presidential palace and are throwing wild and crazy parties there on a continuous basis, denying the new puppet president access to his (birth) right. Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela Chávez continue to occupy "La Casona" in Caracas, throwing big parties for their inner circle, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and continuing to live the corrupt lifestyle they were endowed with by their father.

Maybe it is time to remind them what happened to the Ceausescu family in Romania. Eventually, the people who have been screwed out of their heritage for so long will rise – and that could turn out very badly for Rosa and María.

The Chinchilla Family in Costa Rica

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s lame duck president, Laura Chinchilla, must be getting ready to follow many of her predecessors into the corrupt nation’s penal system, probably along with a good number of her family members. This time, it involves the disastrous highway that was built along the Rio San Juan, along the border with Nicaragua. Not only was this highway built along the banks of the river, where the soft soil has already caused millions of dollars in erosion and cost overruns, but the whole project was built without any competitive bidding by a Chinchilla-family-owned outfit that had never before done anything of such magnitude.

It will eventually also be revealed what her secret trips to Colombia and Peru were about, when she just commandeered a corporate jet. (Cocaine maybe?)

But in Costa Rica, it is almost established custom for out-of-office politicians to meet in prison, where they have very comfortable accommodations. And when they are released, they still have all the loot, possibly moving to Panama where the administration of President Martinelli has held on to their ill-gotten gains for a small fee.

Jamie Douglas
At Large in South America

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Australia – For Expats and Visitors

By Jamie Douglas

Australia for expats

Australia has been the dream destination for people all over the world, representing something that the United States once was: the land of freedom, wide-open spaces and unlimited opportunity.

Well, things have changed a bit since the 1950s and 60s, when Australia had still adhered strictly to a “White Australia” policy. That racist policy was officially established when Australia became a federation in 1901 and pretty much favored Anglo-Saxons, making migration to the continent very difficult even for Italian, Greek and Slavic people. Apparently, they failed to take into account the tragic fact that the British stole the entire continent from the Aborigines who had made it their home for at least 60,000 years.

After the federation was formed, one of the first acts was to pass the “Immigration Restriction Act.” It was not until 1975 that the laws were changed to allow for a multicultural nation to prosper.

Little did the Aussies realize that this multiculturalism would bring in masses of people from the Orient, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and more. The new arrivals, for the most part, did not want to assimilate, with the immigrants from Pakistan, in particular, keeping to the tradition of oppressing their women. Not very may new arrivals adopted the Anglican Church as their house of worship, instead, building mosques and living in Islamic enclaves,  rejecting the cherished Australian way of life, which includes mass consumption of beer (not Fosters, which is scorned), a healthy amount of hard liquor and all assorted hard drugs.

Gaining residency on the isolated continent has become a process of insanely bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through. And you better have a job waiting for you and register with the police, telling them where you live, who lives with you, all of your personal data (numbers) where you work, etc...

And as part of their social program, they have an inordinate amount of police, who can come to your house anytime they want. All major areas are completely under live video surveillance – sort of like in the USA, but not as intrusive as in the UK.

If you are a retiree, they definitely don’t want you because you may become a burden as you age, even if you have a decent stash of retirement funds.

What they are looking for are young and strong bodies – male and female – to work in and around the remote mines in the outback (lesbians and gays gladly accepted): miners, mechanics, heavy machinery operators, truck drivers, cooks, etc. McDonald’s pays $35 per hour, and regular miners and truck drivers make $85 per hour, with generous raises, if they sign up for a second year. They have regular breaks about every two weeks, when they are flown to Perth or Melbourne, where they just drink and drink and drink and, of course, chase every skirt. The best way to get one of those jobs is to go to the mine of your choice and apply. If you have a pulse, you are hired. Then, the mining company will use their inside track to get you legal residency almost immediately.

Australia for visitors

Australia is a drinking nation with a work problem. Almost the entire population lives within 50 miles of an ocean – the Pacific, Indian and Great Southern – or the Coral Sea in the north.

The southeastern part of the continent is home to Sydney and its suburbs, but not far away are the Blue Mountains and the quaint, small city of Katoomba, where those expensive cockatoos fly freely and take pleasure in waking you at dawn. And not far from there are the Jenolan Caves . You can drive there. Or better yet, take a train from Sydney’s Central Station.

Australia is blessed with two transcontinental railroads: The Indian Pacific connects Sydney with Perth, with a few-hour layover in Adelaide. The entire trip takes four days and three nights. Then there is the Ghan, which goes from Adelaide to Darwin – the southern coast to the Northern Territory. Leaving Adelaide either way, heading north on the Ghan or west to Perth, you will get to experience the desolation of the outback, also referred to in places as the Nullarbor, or “no trees.” The nearest town from Cook to the mining town of Kalgoorlie is 775 km. The train stops in Cook for a couple of hours – but beware. They have recorded temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit regularly. But this humongous woman who is famous all across Australia for her obesity sells candy, snacks and cold drinks to the passengers on the train, which stops by four times a week. She apparently makes enough to sustain herself.

If you go to Australia, even as a tourist, go to the Sydney Hostel by the central train station and get yourself a Hostelling International Card, and your train ride will be half-price. My recommendation is to leave Sydney and get off in Adelaide, spend a few days in this splendid city, and then take the Ghan round-trip to Darwin. Now, I know it’s costly, but remember: You are just spending your kids’ inheritance. After returning to Adelaide, be sure to visit the Central Market, and after perusing the wonders there, exit out the back of the building, where you will find the best Italian restaurant I have found so far – sidewalk seating, weather permitting.

Perhaps the most touristy place in all of Oz is the Gold Coast, which stretches north of Sydney. It’s overbuilt and overcrowded – much worse than Miami Beach or Uruguay’s famous Punta del Este. But if you want to go to the amazing Great Barrier Reef, you have to go there.

Farther north, you start running into the dreaded man-eating crocs. They are very aggressive, and they love pets and children.

So yeah, Australia is a lovely place, kind of over-policed but no more than England, Switzerland or Singapore. It is very expensive to visit and you should be prepared to spend many thousands of US dollars to really explore the place – much of which will be spent on transportation between widespread locations. But it is a great country, with huge areas to discover.

Just beware of navigating the outback – it has taken many an adventurer! Hire a guide, but ask around first if he has ever lost anyone.

Jamie Douglas
At large in the universe

[Photo by Jamie Douglas]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Circumnavigation of Uruguay

By Jamie Douglas

Most of my readers no doubt are aware that Uruguay is an autonomous country lodged between the butt cheeks of Argentina and Brazil. But many of you may not realize that the country is literally surrounded by water. There is 660 km of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the Río de la Plata estuary, and thence up the Río Uruguay to Brazil, and from there heading southeast along the Brazilian border to Chuy and Barra del Chuy on the Atlantic Ocean coastline.

Along the Brazilian border there are miles upon miles of rivers separating the two nations, with the major towns from west to east being Bella Unión, Artigas, Rivera, Río Branco and, after the border passes through Laguna Merín, you finally end up in Chuy, 985 km from the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguay triple border.

Should you feel adventurous, you can circumnavigate the entire country on mostly good roads. (Please invite me along!)

You might first visit the well-preserved historic old town of Colonia del Sacramento, and after a couple of days of marveling at the beauty of this lovely UNESCO Heritage Site, head north through Mercedes, Paysandú and Salto, where you can relax in hot springs that have existed for centuries.

After your soak, head west to Artigas, where you are likely to run into some of the finest amethyst the world has to offer. Now comes the relatively uninhabited stretch to Rivera, then down to Vichadero and onto a dirt road to Melo. A disclosure here: My editor/wife and I were in Tacuarembó , which is in the interior of the country south of Rivera, a couple of years ago; and when we mentioned that we were going to book passage to Melo, people looked at us very strangely and wanted to know why we wanted to go there. They stated that there was nothing there, nothing to do, and the road was terrible. We believed them and returned to Montevideo, instead – the road from Paysandú to Tacuarembó was bad enough! After settling in La Paloma, we made new friends with our neighbors who had just moved from Melo. They assured us that it was not worth the time or energy to visit.

If you are truly adventurous, you can go from Melo to the border-crossing town of Río Branco and then head to Treinta y Tres, the city named after Uruguay’s 33 Founding Fathers, before making your way on backroads to Chuy. Alternatively, you could go straight to Treinta y Tres via highway. You will be well off the beaten path, either way.

The Beaches of Rocha

The department of Rocha reaches along the Atlantic Coast from the Brazilian border all the way to the department of Maldonado, almost to Punta del Este, the “Miami Beach” of Uruguay. It is a 200-mile stretch of uninterrupted sandy beaches, lagoons and rather primitive villages with inexpensive cabins right on the beach. After Barra del Chuy, you will come to a string of charming little place: La Coronilla, Santa Theresa National Park, Punta del Diablo, Aguas Dulces, Punta Castillos, Punta Aguada and Cabo Polonio National Park, where you have to park your car and take a giant WWII-era six-wheel-drive monster truck out to the cape.

Cabo Polonio has recently been designated a national park, and new construction is prohibited. But there is an abundance of illegally built houses (?) covering the sand dunes, some of them very rustic, ramshackle huts, while others are quite nice. Accommodations even in the high season (December through early March) are easy to get and are relatively economical. There is no electricity except for the lighthouse, and water has to be trucked in, so it is very limited.

There are several decent restaurants and a “supermarket” for your convenience, stocking everything you might need to cook your own food. An overabundant choice of wine and beer is also available in mass quantities.

Further south is a real town – with paved roads and all. La Pedrera is famous for its carnival and is a favorite with the young crowd, while La Paloma a few kilometers farther to the south has a little more of a family vibe.

La Paloma is a small city with about 3,000 year-round inhabitants (including us!), paved streets, running water and really expensive electricity. We have untold numbers of restaurants during the season and about a half dozen or so that stay open out of season.
During the high season, La Paloma serves as a vacation destination for about 30,000 people, and the beaches get quite crowded. Our Argentinean friends drive on residential streets as if they are on the highway – they are reckless and arrogant, just like they drive in Argentina.

Between La Paloma and Punta del Este, you have to briefly return to the main highway (Route 9) for a few kilometers until you come to a turnoff about 20 km from Rocha that will take you to the coastal highway to Punta José Ignacio, Punta Manantiales, La Barra and finally to Punta del Este. From there, many small roads branch off that follow the coast back to Montevideo that will take you along the brown, muddy waters of the Río de la Plata – or, you can take the Ruta Interbalnearia, the “inter-resort” toll road.

Enjoy the ride, and remember that the entire Atlantic coastline is one giant sand dune that is ecologically very sensitive. Tread lightly please!

Jamie Douglas
At large in Uruguay

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.

News from Around the Hemisphere, Jan 15, 2014 (reposted from original location)

article from January 15, 2014
By Jamie Douglas

First off, an apology to my readers: I have not been writing as often as I would like, as I am not well... but not ill enough to refrain from occasionally spouting my opinions and pointing out interesting facts.

Mexico’s continuing problems

Poor Mexico! After the recent elections, there was hope that the violence would subside somewhat, but it is only getting worse in the states that have been flashpoints in the unfortunate war on drugs, which has cost over 100,000 lives over the past few years – one of which is the state of Michoacán, where I used to reside until I went to buy the newspaper for my morning coffee at Pátzcuaro restaurant where expats, artists and criminals alike would mingle.

Since that morning eight years ago, when I was shocked to see photos of 22 mutilated corpses on the back pages of La Voz de Michoacán, things have gotten progressively worse. In a recent article in Proceso [spanish], it is revealed that the Knights Templar, successors to the Zeta crime syndicate, have now entered politics on behalf of the PRI, the hyper-corrupt Mexican political party that bled the country dry for generations. After a brief respite, the PRI is back in power, with a little help from their usual election fraud along with the Knights Templar, who have become an economic force to contend with, as they have made hundreds of millions of dollars running the port of Lázaro Cárdenas and illegally mining iron ore.

As a result of long-standing collusion between the local, state and federal government and the cartels, Michoacán has come close to being an ungovernable failed state, and the neighboring states up and down the Pacific coast may follow.

When will the powers that be realize that the unfortunate war on drugs had the same results as the prohibition in the United States did? It enabled criminal elements to take over the country with diluted and dangerous unregulated alcohol, corrupting most major police forces by flooding them with money.

Panama and Nicaragua race for a wider canal across the isthmus

In 2006, Panama’s then-president Martin Torrijos announced a plan to expand the Panama Canal so it could accommodate today’s VLCCs. He boldly stated that this project would turn Panama into a first-world country. Perhaps he did not anticipate all of the corruption that would inevitably follow this proposal. Perhaps he underestimated the larceny of the Martinelli administration. But one thing is glaringly obvious: The conglomerate that bid on the work grossly underestimated the cost and time for building this ambitious project – and therein lies the current problem. The Panama Canal Authority is refusing to pay for the cost overruns and has threatened to take over the project by force mejeure.

Regardless of what will happen in this chapter of Panama Canal history, Panama will not be a first-world nation until it rids itself of all the scams that are at home there, including the banking and real estate sectors, much of which is run by American and Canadian expats, con men and women and convicted criminals trying to sell anything they can think of.

Meanwhile, a Chinese investor has put together a consortium of wealthy business people from China to build a canal clear across the isthmus in Nicaragua. This project is slated to begin in December of this year; and if successfully completed, it will be quite a thorn in the side of the Panama Canal Authority. But with the enormous nature of the project, one should not hold their breath. China may be riding high at the moment, but nothing lasts forever. The Chinese economy is already feeling the pain of the costs of their armed forces and high-speed rail networks.

I wonder why Mexico has not pursued the logical choice of building a trans-isthmus canal from Tehuantepec to the Caribbean. Perhaps the cost and logistics are too prohibitive, along with the opposition of the indigenous people.

Venezuela and crime

Venezuela’s sweetheart, actress and former Miss Universe Monica Spear, and her husband, Thomas Berry, were brutally murdered a few days ago when their car broke down. Their little 5-year-old daughter was also shot but survived.

Venezuela is a spectacular nation, blessed with abundant natural resources and stunning beauty. From Angel Falls to the Caribbean islands, nature has blessed this nation with abundant and fertile lands, not to mention the crude oil reserves in Lake Maracaibo and the gold in the ground.

Unfortunately, the riches of the nation have been distributed unequally to the point of forcing many into a life of serious crime. The homicide rate is near the top of world statistics, and the prisons are overflowing. The staggering amount and wide distribution of serious crimes is affecting everyone from the very poor to the very rich. Ironically, Monica Spear and her family moved to Miami out of fear for their safety. Nearing the end of a holiday vacation, fate caught up with them.

If there is one good thing that can be said about it, it is the fact that thousands of people came to her funeral and thousands more protested the senseless violence the Bolivarian nation is confronting.

And now the weather

After an early spring followed by another cold front, the Southern Cone countries of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have been hit with several waves of severe weather, which included some of the most intense lightning and thunder this observer has ever witnessed.

Torrential rains in Brazil took their toll in human lives, and Uruguay also had several casualties, including a police officer who was killed in downtown Montevideo when hit by a swinging door he was trying to secure during one of the storms, which packed winds of up to 100 km/h.

Argentina also suffered one of the worst heat waves in their recorded history that was compounded by the failure of the electric grid in Buenos Aires, causing brownouts, blackouts and several heat-related casualties. The worst incident happened in the small beach town of Villa Gesell, where four youngsters were killed on the beach by lightning and another 22 injured. The tragedy happened so quickly that the victims never had a chance to escape.

I will not opine on the cause of all this severe weather, from the polar vortex to the unseasonably severe cold in Antarctica that caused an Australian tour boat to get stuck in the pack ice, forcing other important scientific programs to be interrupted when several additional ships had to be sent to their rescue. The Australian organizer of the trip defended his expedition as having valid scientific value by explaining that the lay observers on the ship were qualified to make observations of the current conditions in the region.

Antarctica, being the last frontier on this planet, has been exploited for high-end tourism for several years, and this latest problem is no different from any other for-profit organized tour.

Jamie Douglas
At large in Uruguay

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.