Beijing 2008 Torch Relay Truth

31 March, 2008

Beijing 2008 Torch Relay Truth


Cowboys, caiman, capybaras, cows, creeks and Irish beef farmers – it could only be Easter in the Pantanal

25 March, 2008

So we are just back from the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands (at just about 195,000 square kilometres). The Pantanal is a big almost flat spread of land where in the wet season the water level rises three metres flooding the whole area. In the dry season the water disappears and the area becomes a massive dust bowl, so I am glad we visited in the wet season!

The Pantanal wetlands

Looks like land, splashes like water!

The area is 99% privately owned, and almost totally used for beef farming, the area has over 2,500 fazendas (farms) with up to 8 million head of cattle spread over them. Traditionally the favourite cow for this extremely dry or extremely wet landscape has been the Indian Brahman cows, these are hardy beasts, but pretty slow growing and not that meaty, so they have recently started cross breading them with Scottish Angus beasts which are fast growing and meaty to create the Brangus breed which has taken on the best of both breeds, its sturdy, stocky, cooks a good chapatti and is very good with money.

Brangus Cow

A Brangus Cow

So we visited in the wet season, which means that 80% of the land was under water, what looks at first to be dry land is either completely waterlogged mud, or simply just a floating sea of plants in about 2 metres of water, it’s pretty amazing stuff, and a wild life fan, twitcher or nature lovers dream holiday.
For the four days we were there we stayed as guests at Pousada dos Monteiros– a family run working farm which also hosts tourists and introduces them to the Pantanal. To get to the Farm we flew to Campo Grande (1.5 hours from Sao Paulo) where we were picked up by our host Artur. Artur is one of three sons who now run the farms, but as well as that he also hosts the tourists who stay on the farm and he was a great host. So after throwing our stuff in Arturs Hilux we drove 120km north on tarred road, then 100km on dirt road to get to the farm. The drive was an experience in itself, with the roads very rough due to the fact that its the rainy season, so if you ever want to try rally driving in a double cab hilux then this is the destination for you!
Here is a google map showing the location – the farm is in the south of the Pantanal, so you can see the size of the Pantanal spreading out to the north of the Farm:,-55.546875&spn=2.455615,5.141602&z=8

By law in Brazil if you are a farmer, you need to leave 20% of your farm wild, you also cant farm on any river banks, you need to leave them to grow wild. The 20% of your farm that you are leaving wild does not include the area along the river banks, so most farms in the Pantanal are about 30% wild. The way the Pantanal works is that there are many trees and shrubs, but because of the long wet season they only grow on the elevated areas, so you have many small “islands” of trees with large areas of grassland around them, the grass goes underwater, but the trees stick up above the water, so most of the farmers in the Pantanal, don’t clear their paddocks of trees as it seems to anchor the land, so the paddocks are not paddocks like we are used to, they look like lightly forested scrubland with areas of grass and lots of clumps of trees. With so many trees and lots of grass its a great habit for many animals, so the area is literally a riot of animal life, from anacondas, pumas, jaguars, 100’s of varieties of birds, caiman (small alligators), ant eaters, armadillos and all sorts of things in between, then you have the farm animals – its like a mini African safari (only mini as in the size of the animals).

So we arrived at the first of the families three farms, where we were warmly welcomed with a great meal and a cool drink, then some quality time in the hammocks under the giant mango tree:

Cath, Craig and Janine at Hammock Time

Cath, Craig and Janine at Hammock Time

Then we jumped back into the worlds fastet hilux and zoomed to São João Farm where we were staying for the three nights.

Sao Joao Farmstead

Sao Joao Farmstead as the afternoon storm rolls in.

Just in the short drive we had already seen 100’s of animals and birds, after the cityscape of Sao Paulo, it was a reinvigorating change:

Capybara – the world’s largest rodent, a giant guinea pig – or the worlds smallest hippo

Capybara – the world’s largest rodent, a giant guinea pig – or the worlds smallest hippo

Caiman – if only I could get a bit closer…..

Caiman – if only I could get a bit closer…..

So we had an early night and the next day we headed out for a day of safari, driving around the farm and spotting animals, it was great, there was animals everywhere, and thanks to gregs new zoom lens, we were able to get some great snaps.

A bird

A bird (no I don’t know the name, you can tell I ain’t a bird man)

A Rea

A Rea – AKA big fast scary bird

A swamp deer

A swamp deer

A wild piglet

A wild piglet

The deer and piglets are the only animals on the farm that you can legally hunt, if you kill a native animal in Brazil its an automatic jail sentence, they say you are better to kill a person than an animal in brazil as you usually get a shorter jail sentence!

In the afternoon we went for a horse trek around the farm, including crossing some of the deeper parts of the wetlands, as the last time Greg rode on a horse he ended up in an Indian hospital, and with Caths last horse experience also turning into a “man from snowy river” re-enactment and then you throw in the chance of a 6metre anaconda trying to eat your horse, plus of course the ever present piranahas and caimans this little horse ride ended up feeling like a Crocodile Dundee adventure! Luckily our hosts picked the horses perfectly and Greg ended up with a horse so slow he was overtaken by growing grass, and Caths horse had a horse bum fixation so it just loved playing follow the leader!

So the farm runs a massive heard of beef cattle, they have a small dairy herd for their own diary needs, but they are too far away from a major road to sell any dairy products, but thanks to a foot and mouth disease outbreak 400kms away and European food laws, they can’t sell their beef in Europe, where they can earn good prices. Brazil has the largest beef herd in the world, with 180,000,000 cattle, so we had lots of chats with our hosts about Brazilian farming, about how the markets work, how the industry is changing, but mainly about how their efforts to sell beef in Europe are being blocked by the European farmers (specifically the Irish beef industry apparently). You can imagine their surprise when I told them the village that I used to work in had a foot and mouth outbreak only last year, but the area has been opened for selling beef again.

The problem apparently runs something like this, Europe has decided that you can only sell beef in Europe if you can trace the beef back to it source farm, which sounds like a fine idea when you think in terms of small European beef farms on small European paddocks, to show the source of the meat the farmers tag each of their cows with an ear tag. This is a simple task when your heard is from 20 – 100 odd head of beef, like the Irish average (and that’s total stock, including diary, breeding and calves). For a Pantanal farmer the average heard can be 20,000 heads of beef, and instead of living in nice Irish pasture with little or no trees or shrubs in the paddock, the Brazilian beef lives in massive fields full of trees and scrub which cause havoc with the ear tags, the tags catch on tree branches, tearing off and often causing infections in the cattles ears. But the European farming lobby (led by the Irish beef farmers) has said that no beef can be sold in Europe unless its tagged and traceable and the brands that are put on the beef in Brazil, don’t count, it has to be ear tags, which is proving to be a real problem for Brazilian farmers. Europe has recently partly relented and allowed 106 Brazilian farms to export beef to Europe, but only fillet mignon and sirloin steaks – the rest of the cuts of beef are not allowed. So 106 farms out of the estimated 8,000 farms in Brazil are allowed to export two cuts of meat to Europe – not exactly a level playing field, and probably another example of seeing the world with a slightly wider perspective after our time in Latin America.

So enough about the politics of beef, what about the caiman I hear you say! Well the next day was Easter Sunday, so keeping the Whitaker tradition going we got up to watch the “sun dance” at sunrise, quite a sight in a place as beautiful as this:

The sun dances as it rises across the Panatanal

The sun dances as it rises across the Panatanal

So on our second day we went for boat cruise, this is pretty easy given how much water there is around, you just drive 100 metres and launch your boat – just about anywhere, so we went for a ride along the Negra river, which in the dry season is about 10 metres wide, but in the wet season can be up to two kilometres wide, we cruise up the river watching birds, anteaters, Capybara and Caimans feeding in the shallow water, and kept a constant eye out for Piranhas and Anacondas (we didn’t see any unfortunately, or fortunately perhaps)!

At lunch time we stopped on one of the many small islands and made camp, well Artur and Bluey made camp:

Our Island Camp in the Negra River, with Bluey cooking lunch

Our Island Camp in the Negra River, with Bluey cooking lunch

So Craig, Janine, Cath and I went Caiman hunting…. it didn’t take long to find a caiman, in fact there were lots of caiman sunning themselves only 10 metres from our camp! Now a caiman is a small alligator (well upto 2.2 metres is big enough for me) and they have a temperament similar to a dog, don’t bug them and you are fine to stand close, step on their tail, threaten their young, or get too close and they are likely to bite you… ok, let’s hope we don’t stumble upon a caiman nest heh!!!

Which is of course what happened, Greg literally stumbled across a nesting mother with her 12 little ones:

Mum Caiman, watches and waits…

Mum Caiman, watches and waits…

Baby Caiman at play

While baby Caiman at play

Surely it can’t hurt to pick on up can it? Can it?????

Surely it can’t hurt to pick on up can it? Can it?????

Mummy Caiman on the attack

Ok, it can, mummy caiman attacks!

Now do I:
A) stay for another photo,
B) crap myself,
C) run?

Greg chose to run, that was bloody scary….

So lesson learned, don’t get near a mummy caiman, they growl and run really fast when they want to!

Sure the Amazon is the most famous place in Brazil, but it’s going to have to be pretty bloody amazing to beat this place…..

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Buenos Aires, a city so cool, even a cheesy Tango show can’t ruin it.

19 March, 2008

Sorry for the delay in posting, we have our first visitors in town, Craig and Janine have come over for Easter from London, so entertaining my real friends has to take priority over my virtual friends!

So on Wednesday last week, we flew from Santiago to Buenos Aires, only 2 and half hours (yay) and we arrived in BA, Argentina. Now everyone who has been to Latin America raves about BA, so I of course went in with low expectations preparing myself for something of a let down, and initially I was lucky I did, our hotel was crap, a very inauspicious start to our time in Argentina. But on the Thursday morning I walked Cath to work, and my impression started to change, the centre of the city is nice, sure its a bit grungy, but on a LA scale, its pretty nice, wide pedestrian streets, beautiful architecture, and lots of cool shops.

Our first meal was greatly anticipated, we were finally going to get to eat the famous Argentine steak in Argentina! So I course opted for the lamb, having growing up in New Zealand I am still of the firm belief that the king of meats is definitely lamb, good lamb being way better than good steak anyday. And I wasn’t disappointed, the lamb racks (yep they like big serves over here) were awesome, massively awesome and tastefully awesome too.

So Cath went off and did some work and I sat in the hotel trying to get on top of my book – without much success. Cath had a meat-fest work dinner that night with some work mates, and I had room service (more super sized serves of meat of course), now an interesting claim to fame for Argentineans is that they eat their evening meal the latest of any culture in the world, even a business dinner is usually scheduled for 10:30 or later, and in the weekends the restaurants don’t even open till 10:00pm.

Friday after work we checked out of our crap hotel into a really nice hotel, and got ready to go watch Tango!!!!!

Now every country has something that’s its world famous for outside the country, but that maybe not so famous in the country for locals, in New Zealand it’s going to watch a sheep shearing show (wow wee how exciting is that), in Australia it’s going to Australia Zoo to feed a kangaroo (never mind the kangaroos are so overfed they struggle to stand up) in England it’s going to Madam Tussauds world of wax (where American tourists go to have their photos taken beside wax figurines of famous Americans – how English is that)?

So in Argentina the thing that every tourist has to do is go and watch a Tango show!!!!! Cath asked her workmates for some local info, not a single one of the people in her office had ever been to a Tango show, but they tried to help out anyway, booking us into a dinner and show evening at Senor Tango – “the biggest and most famous Tango show in the world” their words not mine.

We got picked up in a shuttle bus and shuttled our way across town to the superdome of tango tackiness. We were quickly seated (with a nice couple from Italy and another from Puerto Rico) and the waiter straight away took great pains to explain that we could pay by visa, mastercard, or usd – straight away we got the panic urge, you know you are in for trouble if the first thing they tell you is how to settle the bill – before you even know what it is your getting.

But being brave and adventurous souls we fought the urge to run and settled our nerves with a bottle or three of cheap wine. The show started off well with a couple of horses (that didn’t even try and tango) and what appeared to be a brief interpretive dance version of the history of Argentina, I am amazed that so many of the first settlers and indigenous tribes women had such massive fake breasts, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!!! Then we got some shorts bursts of very good tango dancing interspersed with a flying plastercast of an accordion player, a 20 minute long accordion solo, some of those annoying blokes with pan pipes playing some of Kenny G’s worst hits, some really badly cooked Argentinean steaks, 2 more minutes of tango dancing, identical twins with large noses belting out some classic Argentinean love songs, a 10 minute piece of soft porn which involved a whole lot of g-string clad dancers writhing all over each other, a 20 minute piano solo, another 2 minutes of tango dancing, then to “finish” the evening off the whole troupe got together on stage and murdered “don’t cry for me Argentina” (now there’s not many times in my life that I wished I was at a Madonna concert, but this was one of them). Then finally it was all over, we jumped in another shuttle bus and headed back to our hotel room for a stiff drink or five. Now I have heard that there are some really good Tango shows in BA, and I really don’t doubt it, we saw loads to beautiful tango dancing in the market on Sunday morning, and friends have been to some nice authentic shows, I think we just ended up in the worst of the lot. Lesson learned…

But apart from that experience our weekend in BA was great, we walked around the old town, ate some giant steaks, spent an afternoon shopping (it’s really really cheap and stylish), visited some old buildings, ate some more steak and spent a morning wandering around an antiques market and watching the world go by.

So our summary of BA was that it’s a great city, what Santiago had in nice, orderly and clean, BA had in funky, dynamic and exciting.

So we are back in Sao Paulo now till Friday when we fly to Campo Grande for four nights in the Pantanal, a massive wetland (195,000 square kilometres (75,000 sq mi), thats about the size of England, Scotland and Wales combined where we are going to do some piranha fishing, try and catch the worlds largest guinea pig the Capybara and try and spot a jaguar.

So till after then, see ya’ll later and hope ya’ll have a cracking good Easter wherever in the world you are!!!!

Chile – land of clean cities full of friendly people with small feet.

13 March, 2008

We arrived in Santiago at 4am in the morning, not a time I am generally at my best, and were whisked straight off to our hotel to catch up on some sleep.

Now the hotels that we stay in on our adventures are divided into two distinct groups – the ones that Caths work pays for, and the ones we pay for, the difference between them is usually three stars – Caths work pays for five stars, we pay for two stars, but we have always used tripadvisor to pick our hotels, and they have never let us down. For anyone who hasn’t used trip advisor, you simply type in your destination and you get the local accommodation options ranked from best to worst based on independent reviews by fellow travellers. Hopefully now we are repaying the goodness of tripadvisor by adding a few hotel reviews of our own!

So our hotel for Santiago was the Ritz Carlton (so yep, Caths work was paying) and it has set a new benchmark for the most amazing hotel we have ever stayed in! Ignoring the obvious things like the opulent luxury and the 1,000,000 staff members at your beck and call, by the far the best thing for us was, upon returning from an evening jog (yes we are still running – when local footpaths allow it) we were met outside the hotel by one of the concierge staff and given a chilled bottle of water and a towel to dry off – now that’s my kind of luxury!

So enough about my rehydration issues, what about Santiago??? – well I can tell you it’s the most “European” city we have visited, clean – like really clean, virtually beggar free (only London levels of begging), no homeless people living under any of the motorway underpasses (normal in Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico), virtually silent (the ever present honking horn is almost nonexistent in Santiago) , the taxis have meters (and they actually use them)– but most amazingly for us, in Santiago drivers stop at Zebra crossings – holy goats beard batman, this is the first place we have seen this in Latin America and when it happened we honestly thought the bloke was just slowing down to ensure he drove over us properly! So big thumbs up for Santiago, in fact people say its the most boring city in Latin America because its so well organised.

Now the stark difference between Santiago and the rest of Latin America begged the question of how Chile has managed to achieve such an organised and orderly city when the rest of Latin America is still just working on it? So we asked a local, in fact we asked several locals, and they all told us the same answer, something along the lines of “our country is modern and organised thanks to the efforts of Augusto Pinochet” now I don’t pretend to know much about Chilean politics, but from what I could recall, he ran the country from 1973 to 1990 and was responsible for massive human rights violations and “disappearing” 1,000s of people, which I of course pointed out to the Chileans, they agreed, not disputing these facts at all, but they did point out that on a LADS (Latin American Dictator Scale) he didn’t kill that many people compared to the other Dictators, and he did turn the country economy around and make it the modern state it is today.

So here is my roughly researched LADS table of Latin American Dictators and their death counts:

The LADS table:





Jorge Rafael Videla



Augusto Pinochet



Luis García Meza Tejada



General Humberto Branco


Mr Pinochet is such a “poor” murderer he barely makes it onto the table of largest murders of the 20th century, only just slipping in at second to last:

I think that our time in Latin America has taught us many things, but one of the most important things it has taught us is perspective – our ideas on “normal” “safe” “friendly” “rich” “poor” even “good” and “bad” are all being challenged in many ways – which is I suppose the best thing about travel!

So enough about politics, what about shoes I hear you ask… well we both tried to buy some new shoes in Chile as things are much cheaper here than they are in Brazil (or anywhere else we have been over here), but unfortunately for us, it appears Chileans are rather small footed (and you know what they say about people with small feet don’t you) , so neither Cath or I have giant feet, however neither of us could find any shoe shops that stocked shoes big enough for us!

So that’s it we are heading to Buenos Aires tonight in the hope of finding new shoes, good steaks and a tango show or two!

See ya


Have we arrived at a bad time? holidaying in a natural disaster zone

11 March, 2008

On Wednesday night we flew from Mexico City to Lima, Peru. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see much of the city, but we headed south Friday afternoon to go and see the Nazca Lines. The Lines were another chapter of “the world’s greatest mysteries” books that Greg spent too much time reading as a kid, so the chance to go and see them was just too good to pass up. They are about 400km south of Lima down the Pacific coast on the famous Pan American highway – which runs of the top to the bottom of the continents. So the first thing you notice leaving Lima is that as soon as you leave the city, its just one big desert, a really really big desert – about 3000km stretching down the west of the continent, the desert is caused by the fact that the Andes hold all the rain on the Eastern side of the ranges, so the western side is as dry as a bone.

Desert near Ica

The desert just south of Lima.

Our destination Friday night was the town of Ica, just 140km north of the actual Nazca lines, In August 2007 Ica was devastated by a 7.9 earthquake which destroyed one quarter of the towns buildings and killed over 400 people. So as we got closer to the town we saw more and more evidence of the destruction, all along the road and down the side streets the destroyed homes and businesses had been graded into neat piles that lined the sides of the road. The earthquake hit the poorest people the hardest, if you have money in Peru you build your house out of bricks and cement, if you can’t afford bricks and mortar you build your house out of Adobe (mud) bricks and hope like hell you’re not home when an earthquake strikes – which is pretty often around that area.

So most of the houses that got destroyed belonged to the poorest of the poor, 100’s of houses have not yet been rebuilt (I suppose when you live hand to mouth, you have to balance a day off work to rebuild your house, against going hungry for the day because you didn’t work for that day) so the families are still living either in the ruins of their house, or in tents and plastic shelters donated by different aid agencies (you can tell the aid agency who donated the plastic as their advertising is plastered all over it).

Earhquake Destruction Ica, Peru

A pile of rubble which was once a family’s house.

So in Ica we stayed at Hotel Austria, hosted by a lovely elderly couple – him an Austrian and her a Peruvian, they were awesome hosts, they quickly rearranged how we spent our time around Nazca, got us a cheaper deal on a day tour, driver and flight and were just magic hosts. If you stay in Ica I can thoroughly recommend their hotel, the place was full to the brim with Japanese Aid workers who are still working to get things back together again after the earthquake. We had a good chat with our hosts and our tour guide the next day about the earthquake and they were both adamant that the only way the town will recover fully is if the tourists come back… Since the earthquake the tourists have almost stopped coming into town, and the local economy is suffering as a result, so we felt that our holidaying was actually doing some good which was nice!

So we woke up really early Saturday morning and were picked up by our tour guide for the day Angel – Angel runs a company called Angel Desert Tours and he was an absolute champ, he speaks more several languages and is a self taught tour guide, and a real enthusiast for life – and anything to do with the South of Peru – again we can heartily recommend him!

So he took us down to the town of Nazca, about one and half hours south of Ica, a great drive – a mix of deserts and lush green valleys.

Valley near Ica, Peru

One of the green valleys full of grapes, asparagus and artichokes

Along the way he filled us up with all the local history, and legends of the area including the stories of the Naca lines, for those of you who didn’t read “world’s greatest mysteries” as a kid, the Nazca lines are a set of massive drawings, geometric shapes and lines drawn into the desert floor from 200BC to 700AD. So of course to see them you need to be in the air, and thats where things got a bit “interesting”….

See we had been out the night before to one of the best and most expensive (read “a little touristy”) restaurants in Ica to sample the local delicacies – in Peru they love a dish called cerviche its made of raw seafood with lime and lemon juice, olive oil, chillis and coriander and another dish of marinated calamari in olive tapenade. At the time it was delicious, but at 3am it suddenly went downhill, Cath was hit with her first real case of South American food poisoning, and it wasn’t pretty, so of course the next morning the thing that Cath most wanted to do was to jump into a small airplane to have a look at drawings in the desert, but of course being the tough chick (sucker) she is, she still did it!

They lines were amazing (i have cranked up the contracts on the photos to make the shapes stick out a bit more):

The Monkey, Nazca

The Monkey

The Spaceman (or Big Eyed God) Nazca

The spaceman

The hummingbird, Nazca

The hummingbird

Lines and Shapes, Nazca

Some of the lines and shapes

The lines cover an area of over 80 square kilometres, and no one is quite sure why they are there, but it seems that its either a massive astronomical calendar kinda like our zodiac, or as I prefer to think a set of landing instructions for visitors from out of space!

After the flight our host told us that earlier in the week our plane had had to make an emergency landing on the Pan American highway – but he assured it that this was just proof of how good our pilot was! Interestingly most of the pilots that fly out of Nazca have made their money and bought their planes by flying special “cargo” from Colombia to the USA – but eventually they get sick of getting shot at and opt for the quiet life flying tourists over the desert!

So after the flight we headed to the oasis of Huacachina an amazing desert oasis near Ica, the oasis complete with a spring, palm trees, restaurants and 100s of dune buggies is surrounded on all sides by 300 metres sand dunes and was a great place to have lunch (well for Greg anyway). Of course because there is so much farming going on in the desert, most of the natural springs in the area have now dried up, including the one that feeds the lake in Huacachina, so its now filled from a man made bore, but it still was a breathtakingly beautiful place:

Huacachina Oasis, Ica

The oasis at Huacachina

After that we headed back to Lima and caught an evening flight to Santiago, Chile, where we are now holed up, but more on the land of “tiny feet” next time!

Remember there’s no such thing as one drink in Mexico….. Aka drunking in Mexico City

5 March, 2008

This is how it was explained to us:

There’s no such thing as one drink, so the first drink never counts,

The second drink only counts for a 1/2 a drink,

The third drink only counts for 3/4 of a drink,

The fourth drink makes it up to one drink,

And as we just learnt the first drink never counts, so you are back to zero drinks again….

This is my kind of country.

We went for dinner with some of Caths’ workmates, we got taken to a very posh Mexican restaurant after work, and our hosts sat us down and then said: right shall we have some tequila?

Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t mind a drink, seven years of living in the world’s largest pub – London means I am quite comfortable with my ability to down a drink or two, but I have never started an evening off with shots of tequila, tequila usually comes (if it ever comes) very, very late at night just before my mind goes blank and I forget where I live.

But being the polite lad that I am I of course said yes to our host and suddenly our table was seemingly covered in shot glasses, one for the tequila and one for the chaser, a very spicy virgin Mary mix of tomato and tobasco sauce. So luckily you don’t have to shoot it, sipping is normal, but at quite a rapid pace.

So you know how the rest of the story goes, one tequila, two tequila, three tequila… floor. Well almost, I explained to our host that I need to have some beer to chase the tequila – and stop my head spinning, three shots of tequila without food when you are on your best behaviour is not a good idea. We talked about tequilas reputation in our country and explained that Jose Cuervo usually appears very late at night, smacks you in the head and ensures you have a killer hangover.

They very amused to hear that we drunk José Cuervo as its considered so crap over here it’s not even stocked in most bars, our host explained that he would be quite happy to use it to wash his car but that was about all.

The tequila we drunk was actually quite nice, but not nice enough that I am a converted tequila drinker, but still it was very nice, a lot smoother than what we are used to, but still lets not joke about it, drinking shots before food is seldom a good idea.

the inside scoop…

4 March, 2008

Well here goes, my first attempt at blogging… unfortunately I don’t have the literary prowess or humour of my husband, so instead I will stick to the serious stuff.

As you all may have heard by now, Venezuela and Equador have sent troops to the border of Colombia. These news story may not have had too much meaning for me a few months ago, but as we had visited Colombia and Venezuela just a week ago, there was a special significance for us.

My impressions of Colombia and specifically Bogota were very positive. Each person that we spoke to during our visit was optimistic, proud of its government actions in responding to FARC, improving education, and building infrastructure in Bogota. The city was clean, working toward building public transport, improving security, yet there was an overhang of fear generated by what FARC may do. By all accounts, FARC started off 50 years ago as an organisation committed to a socialist agenda, but it appears to have lost its way.

Instead it has become an organisation built on drug money, bombings and kidnaps. A true “terrorist” organisation, as opposed to the oft quoted American definition of “terrorism” which somehow always relates to oil supply. FARC continues to torment the Colombian citizens as they try earnestly to improve their standard of living. Colombia has a democratically elected government that is attempting to stabilise the country. Governments before had taken the softly, softly approach to FARC but to no avail. So this government decided to bravely take the tough stance and eliminate them.

You would think that neighbouring countries may indeed support the efforts of a government in this situation. Alas, this is not the case. It appears Mr Chavez has a wider agenda. To see Caracas as it currently is, is a tragedy. Litter, crime, graffiti, abandoned houses and people struggling without supplies such as milk, sugar, and a currency that deteriorates daily … They have a president who EACH day talks randomly for up to 5 hours live on radio and TV stations. When oil is at its highest ever price, it appears there is no public investment of these monies. Instead, he is only interested in becoming the next Latin American Bolivar. He gives money to Equador, Argentina and other Latin American nations to buy their servitude… and in turn, to serve his own power hungry ambitions.

I truly hope that Colombia has the will power to ignore these taunts from Venezuela and that other Latin American nations do not fall fecklessly to the offerings of Chavez. It is a continent made up of many great nations, with huge potential, I sincerely hope this is not the start of something that can only end in tragedy.