Archive for the ‘A Pattern of Islands (Island stories)’ Category

Sand and sun: World’s 100 best beaches –

January 9, 2014

Hugh Paxton’s blog finds beaches really boring. Having sex on one, while tempting, involves abrasive sand in all sorts of places that don’t need abrasive sand. And in some ghastly cases herds of simpering women appear offering unwanted massages and won’t go away. Or there are sand fleas or big muscular guys who kick sand in your face stimulating puny weaklings like myself to order Mr. Universe work out kits.

Even if you have a beach for yourself – and in Palau I had never-ending stretches of beach shared by myself and my brother, Charles, only us – I thought why? Why is this beach thing so popular?

I’m no Grinch and really enjoy building sand castles. Mine are excellent. A bit of combing the shores looking for dead things and shells and (in the case of Costa Rica finding a pile of shark intestines and assorted viscera, ugh!!! Shark finners leaving their leavings, the bastards) but after thirty minutes of beach paradise I sense an urge to move inland.

Probably I am in a minority.

People seem to like beaches. For better or worse. My friend Robert spent his honeymoon in Sri Lanka and both he and his newly wedded wife were sucked up by a Tsunami. The sea shrank back exposing more beach and wincing coral, flapping fish, general reef disorder, and people rushed to see why. Then the waves came thundering back. People didn’t drown, by and large. They got smashed. Smeared. Thumped by trees. Washed around. I still can’t quite imagine Robert in all that. He was rather a quiet sort of person. I am sure his wife was similar. Both bodies remain at sea.

BLOG ED NOTE: If the sea on your beach suddenly becomes peculiar or slithers away, run like hell! High ground ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! High ground! Your life will depend on it! Tsunamis are not as quick as the media tells you. You can out run them. Just start running as soon as possible!

Over to CNN and beaches!

Democracy and elections in Asia: Two quick case studies – Malaysia and the Philippines

May 9, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s blog wasn’t unsurprised to hear of mass vote rigging in Malaysia’s recent, Sunday (still contested) elections.

The British Empire might have had its faults but at least it had the decency to withdraw when it knew its time was up.

Post independence politicos haven’t quite got the hang of it. So here we have Malaysia still enjoying the same political party coalition ( in power for 56 years already) for more long years. Opposition supporters dressed in mourning protested yesterday. The police had been instructed to arrest all dissenters but decided, wisely, that detaining ten thousand people dressed in funeral garb would put a dent into the visit “Malaysia – Simply Asia” campaign ongoing but boosting up for a next year serious publicity blitz.

Politics in Malaysia are garbled and self-serving at best. When they become silly – arresting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and staging a show trial accusing him of sodomy to take one example – they violate human rights, justice, common sense. Malice and money come into very un-fair play. And Sarawak is STILL chopping down its rainforests! And is STILL controlled by a handful of people who are related to each other and who want more money. Much more.

The other day I was bemused to see a procession of scooters with large signs wobbling in the gusty winds that were sweeping up the rubbish on New Petchaburi Road and flicking it here and there.

The scooter drivers looked both fearful and sheepish. As they stoically ignored the flying debris and endured angry blares of horns from the drivers they were obstructing we tried to work out what this silly and life threatening display was about. It was, we realized, a visit Malaysia promotion. Every scooter was a perilously wobbling mobile billboard. Visit Malaysia. Visit Malaysia. Malaysia, simply Asia!

Like the election results, a joke. And not a very funny one.

But enough of Malaysia. Let us move to a different Asian paradise. The Philippines!

The Philippines are gearing up for elections, too. Mid-term elections. Monday. In what could only be described as a bold attempt to prevent vote buying the authorities have banned people carrying large amounts of money. And buying alcohol. Banks are not allowed to dispense more than 100,000 pesos to their customers. And yes, that wasn’t a typo, you can’t buy beer. Not until the elections are over.

No money. No beer. That’s going to win lots of votes. And if the police arrest malefactors ,as instructed, Manila will have to house several hundred thousand prisoners. That’s just Manila. They’ll also have to keep their eyes open for beer cans popping on the beaches of over 7,000 islands.

That is a joke. And quite a funny one!

Cheers from Bangkok

Some Chinese are stupid bastards: Chinese ship rams coral reef in the Philippines and is full of smuggled pangolins.

April 21, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog ia appalled by the latest Chinese eco crime. It beggars belief.

Scene: A world heritage site, coral abundant,  the Tubbataha reefs. 600 fish species, 360 coral species, eleven species of sharks, sea turtles, a hundred species of birds, thirteen species of whales and dolphins…it doesn’t get much better than Tubbataha.

For some reason ships keep crashing in. Greenpeace – the Rainbow Warrior ran aground due to faulty maps issued by the Philippines govt. They paid the fine, regretted the incident and sailed away to save whales elsewhere. The US minesweeper USS Guardian swept in earlier this year and the anti-US protestor department went into a predictable frenzy. The US did the decent thing, paid compensation and the USS Guardian sailed away to sweep mines elsewhere.

The latest vessel to run aground on Tubbataha is a Chinese fishing boat sailing without charts (and without any fish). The vessel, upon closer inspection turned out not to have just recklessly destroyed corals but to be carrying 1,200 kilos of dead, de-scaled pangolins. These inoffensive scaly South east Asian anteaters are endangered, trade is totally illegal and demand, particularly in China where they are considered by some to be medicinal, continues to boom.

This blog hopes Manila will throw the book at these coral wrecking smugglers. They are guilty as sin.

Thai Days: the tears of a dugong

March 18, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog will be brief and to the point. The whole CITES thing in Bangkok was well attended by eloquent, informed people, politely and diplomatically expressing their anger and concern about the way our species is performing.

Evidence of population collapses piled up, all sorts of population collapses – pangolins, rhinos, freshwater rays, trees. If you took all this stuff to heart it would break your heart.

The point of this blog is the stupidity of this global eco-holocaust.

The driving force is money, but also medicine and vulgar – look at how rich hic burp fart  I am status –

Mr X: I’ve got a bigger polar bear skin rug than you have!

Mr Y: Oh yeah? Check my tiger skin bath mat!  And Mr. Lee of Lee Kee Shipyards, my revered uncle,  has a sun bear providing bile from its gall bladder in his bathroom.

Mr X: Well that’s just ostentatious. I’m planning to re-paper my high rise with thinly sliced ivory studded with pangolin shells.

Mr Z: Guys! Guys! See what I’ve got!

Mr X: It looks like the head of a dugong speared by one of my men in the Andaman sea off Trang in Thailand.

Mr Y: How endangered is it?

Mr Z: Critical. You won’t see another in ten years from now. They’ll be extinct!

Mr X: Stop wasting time! Take it out of that ice cream cooler, give us an ice cream and tell us what this dugong  does.

Mr Z: Its tears are invaluable in a love potion.

Mr X: That has to be a winning formula.



I’ll quit this jokey stuff.

Dugongs off Trang are being deliberately killed for their tears.

Says Ismael  Bensaard , a local dugong watching business pioneer but also a man who really like dugongs, ” Libong is like a capital city for dugongs in the Andaman sea.'”

Libong is his island. It’s Muslim, far south part of Thailand, pristine beaches, not a full moon rave  party venue.

Locals reported a blue whale sighting. I have doubts. Veracity doubts. I cannot conceive a blue whale visiting Trang.

But the dugongs are numerous. For the time being.

“Some people have the superstitious belief that a dugong’s tear is an ingredient in a love potion, or eating dugong meat will give longevity,” says Bensaard. “If the situation continues this way, in 10 years, I think we may no longer see any dugongs in Trang’s sea”.

Makes me weep! I wonder how much my tears are worth.

BLOG ED NOTE: I would have thought tears are quite easy to fake. And quite difficult to extract from the head of a dugong.

HUGH: They’ll fake as many tears as they want and can sell! They need the head as evidence that the tears came from a dugong! Of course nobody can get tears out of a dugong. Where would you start?

BLOG ED: Yes. For once you are likely to be right This whole story sounds improbable.





Visit The Maldives! A paradise where rape victims are flogged and tourists get ripped off!

February 28, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog suggests that anybody considering a holiday in the Maldives changes their plans.

First: It’s ridiculously expensive. Your flight there may seem cheap but once you are in paradise everything comes with a bill from hell.

Second: It couldn’t be described as humane. A 15 year old girl was raped by her step father and was dumb enough to report it. The police investigated and arghhh! discovered that this young hussy had had sex with somebody else. Yes, she’d been raped by step dad, but the court wasn’t bothered about that. She’d had sex with some chap while she was under the legal age of 18.

The Islamist (yes, them again) government found this outrageous behaviour offensive.

What does this 15 year old girl get for her sin?

100 lashes.

I shit you not!

100 lashes.

There are options.

She can be lashed when she reaches the age of eighteen.

Or, if she’d like to be lashed now she can request it.

“The sentence will be enforced immediately if she wants it to be carried out now,” said the court.

Not much news coverage of the rapist. He’s free. No lashings for him.

Maldives. Do you really want to go there?

Hugh in Bangkok

Thai Days: Phuket panic prompted by dead ghost warriors

April 29, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog would like to reassure readers that the resort island of Phuket is NOT about to sink beneath the waves. A rumour started two days ago and swept the island causing panic, a mass exodus and all but deserted beaches. The cause of the rumour? A visit to a spiritualist by two revered female warriors who defended Phuket against Burmese invasion in the late 1700s. Thao Thep Kasat Tri and Thao Sri Sunthon (the revered female warriors) allegedly warned the medium that the island would sink yesterday and that everybody should leave. A lot of people did. The only thing likely to sink in Phuket are tourist numbers and employment figures if there is any more of this superstitious tomfoolery. And the only person who should seriously contemplate leaving is the spiritualist. Before the bar and guesthouse owners get their hands on him.

BLOG ED TRAVEL ADVISORY: A 4.3 Richter scale quake did hit Phuket nearly two weeks ago. Experts predict there will be more (minor) earthquakes over the next two to three months but stress that there is no undue cause for alarm. Thailand has 14 fault lines but these are classified as ‘normal’.

“In the opinion of geologists like us, we consider we have a low earthquake risk from the fault lines.”
Professor Thanawat Jarupongsakui.
(Disaster and Land Information Studies Unit, Chulalongkorn University)

Focus on Plants. First in a series – Plant Neurobiology?

May 30, 2011

“we are just now starting to understand how evolved the communication system of plants really is. Until now, research has been essentially directed to the investigation of the chemical substances used by plants to communicate with each other; I, however, am convinced that plants are also able to use other communication systems.”

                              Professor Mancuso

With this year’s Chelsea Flower Show fresh in our minds – it seems a fine time for some botany, to launch a series that focuses on plants. We all know that animal life is, to a very great extent, dependent upon the plant life that cohabits our world, and indeed makes it habitable for us and most other creatures, but there is a great deal more about the Plant Kingdom to be generally appreciated. It is pretty wonderful.

Starting with plant sensitivity and communications, I would like to introduce the work of  Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso  – the father of plant neurobiology and co-founder of the LINV (the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology). LINV is at the cutting edge of plant science, their BIOKIS experiment rode into orbit on the Space Shuttle Endeavour recently and is currently underway on the international space station under the oversight of Italian ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori.

Though lacking neurons per se, he informs us that plants appear to transmit signals using action potential in the transition zones of their root tips. Prof. Mancuso states with infectious enthusiasm that “each root apex is able to detect and monitor concurrently at least 15 different chemical and physical parameters.” He presents a fascinating comparison of the internet with the root system of a Rye grass plant and reminds us that human network specialists can learn fro the plant world.

Before viewing Professor Mancuso’s presentation, you might wish to read an exclusive and insightful interview with him by Vikas Shah, Our Understanding of Life   on  Thought Economics blog.

Here is Professor Mancuso’s presentation for TED.

A Pattern of Islands: Part something or other in a series (I think it is number 10): Christmas Island. And Crabs!

January 12, 2011

The Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean has attracted media attention recently folowing the shipwreck and subsequent drowning of illegal immigrants and/or genuine asylum seekers being trafficked by human smugglers. Hugh Paxton’s Blog fell in love with Christmas Island and here posts a happier story.

Sort of.


Red Crab, Christmas Island

Red Crab, Christmas Island by H.Paxton


Blog Quiz: A tough one

December 29, 2010

What smells of beer, urine and fishy water, doesn’t need earth, attracts bees and looks beautiful?

Hugh Paxton’s Blog will reward anybody who bothers to respond to this quiz (and provides the right answer) with a helpful recipe.

A Pattern of Islands: Part nine in a series. Big Island

October 11, 2010

All the Hawaiian islands are the peaks of submarine volcanoes. Only one island, however, is still volcanically active — the aptly named Big Island, largest in the 2,400-km-long archipelago and unquestionably the wildest of them all.

Dominating Big Island, at least from the volcanologist’s perspective, is what my guidebook describes as “the most dynamic and unpredictable place you’ll ever visit”: the 975-sq.-km Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here, the cliche has it, you are guaranteed a particularly warm Hawaiian welcome.

The park’s heart is Kilauea (literally “much spewing”), a 1,242-meter shield volcano traditionally revered by Hawaii’s Polynesian settlers as home to the fire goddess, Pele.

Pele, it is claimed, still prowls Kilauea in the guise of a beautiful maiden or a hideous crone. If you encounter either, standard operating procedure is to pelt her with offerings of red ohelo berries. Should you have come unequipped with the fruit of this small Hawaiian shrub (a member of the cranberry family) then you can expect to be cursed and suffer a hideous death.

But I digress. Kilauea is not the largest of Big Island’s fire-breathers. Mauna Loa, the aptly named “long mountain,” is touted as the most massive single object on earth, with a volume of 40,000 cubic km. Mauna Kea, at 4,194 meters, is the island’s highest. For 17 years, though, Kilauea has been providing the most consistent action.

Although Kilauea is known as the “drive-in volcano” because it boasts an 18-km loop road that circles the rim of the caldera (the summit crater), the best way to experience the park is on foot. Before setting off on any of the park’s 240 km of trails, incidentally, check that your chosen trail has not been obliterated. “Destroyed by lava” is a common sign on the island. Trails are no exception.

One trail still intact at time of writing is the Halemaumau trail across the floor of Kilauea’s caldera. Agoraphobics shouldn’t even contemplate this excursion. One feels awfully small down there, and the caldera awfully big. People who don’t like the idea of having perhaps 10 cm of rock crust between them and boiling magma might also reconsider the jaunt. It only takes a couple of hours, but time, as Einstein remarked, is relative. Most folk cross the caldera on a slightly slower version of Dentist’s Waiting Room time. The reward for traversing the barren intimidating waste is an eggy lungful of the hydrogen sulphide that belches out of the dramatic Halemaumau Fire Pit.

Kilauea puts out a generous 2,500 tons of the gas per day, sufficient to fill 100 Goodyear blimps.

And no, if you suddenly bump into something that looks like a Canada goose with particularly leathery feet, you aren’t hallucinating. This inimical area is one of the few remaining homes to the nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose.

Delightful pockets of rain forest dot the park, but 6,500 hectares of lowland and rain forest have been consumed by fire since 1983, much to the detriment of resident honey-creepers, happy-face spiders and Hawaii’s only endemic mammal, the hoary bat.

Suddenly encountering lush, moist greenery echoing with bird song is particularly refreshing after one’s senses have become accustomed to the cheerless grays and blacks of the lava wilderness. Particularly good forest with towering 10-meter tree ferns can be explored around the Thurston Lava Tube and observed in the Huluhulu (meaning “big hairy”) cinder cone.

All life on Hawaii originally arrived from elsewhere, with one species successfully settling, on average, every 50,000 to 100,000 years. Isolated and without competition, many dropped their defenses. Here one can find nettles with no sting and mint with no smell.

Rapid human occupation and introduction of foreign species has overwhelmed many of the islands’ original settlers and sadly some of the birds that one sees have been classed by biologists as the “living dead” — birds that simply cannot be saved and will soon be gone.

The Desolation Trail offers a more optimistic education into nature’s regenerative powers. Here native forest all but obliterated by the ash from a 1959 eruption is vigorously recolonizing lost ground. Two curious phenomena can also be observed here — “Pele’s hair” (whiskery filaments of volcanic stone) and “Pele’s tears” (shiny little tear-shaped stones). Look. Don’t pocket.

Thieves depress the park staff but more importantly bring down Pele’s curse. There have been several instances of tourists mailing illicitly obtained rock souvenirs back to the Big Island after suffering ghastly misfortunes. Chemicals from Kilauea’s emissions form acid rain that scours virtually all life from the bleak south and west of the region known as the Kau Desert. The Footprints Trail into the Kau culminates in a series of depressions that are all that is left of a Hawaiian army overwhelmed by an eruption in 1790. Or so the story goes.

Given the unpredictability of volcanics there is no one place where fireworks are guaranteed but, a strong contender lies at the end of the Chain of Craters Road, where lava routinely pours out of a 10-km lava tube into the sea at a daily average rate of 400,000 cubic meters. Night views vary between muted glows and hell on earth. By day, on good days, one can enjoy the sight of the Pacific exploding into clouds of deadly hydrochloric acid steam.

 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park shouldn’t be done in a day although most visitors to the Big Island seem to try. It is not particularly close to the two main resort towns of Hilo and Kailua. It’s also very big.

Local accommodations include Volcano House, perched precariously on the caldera’s lip. Interestingly, the fire in Volcano House’s hearth has burned constantly since 1877, earning it an entry in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.” Believe it or not, this loyally tended fire on one occasion ungraciously spread beyond the hearth and consumed the entire hotel.

Cheaper and more comfortable bed-and-breakfast accommodations are located in the nearby village of Volcano. Don’t expect night life. Volcano is dormant.

Just outside the park en route from Kailua is the Punalulu Black Sand Beach Park. Don’t miss it. Here, 180-kg green sea turtles display behavior unique to Hawaii. They haul up and bask oblivious to the tourists, who share the beach.

Less of a thrill awaits at the nearby Green Sand Beach, noteworthy for having sand that isn’t very green at all.

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