Punta Cana

Punta Cuna


PUNTA CANA is the name of a town and tourist region at the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic,  The region, covering about 420,000 sq.m (approximately 1,100acres), is home to a coastline of sandy white beaches.

In the Province of LA ALTAGRACIA, with a population estimated at 100,000, the region borders the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  To the north, it borders BAVARO & EL CORTECITO Beaches.  It also borders CABEZA de TORO, CABO ENGANO and further west, JUANILLO.
Punta Cano has a tropical climate.  Although it is mildly windy, the ocean I the area is mainly shallow with several natural marine pools in which visitors can bathe.  The weather is fairly constant, with an average temperature of 26degrees C.  The hottest season lasts from April to November, and during the day the temperatures might reach 32degrees C.  From December to March, temperatures during the evening are around 20degrees C.  Very little rain falls around the area, mostly because of the flat landscape.  The summer months tend to be very warm and very humid.
Punta Cana was founded as a tourist resort and tourism still is 100% of the local economy.  Lots of resorts employ the tactics of scaring their visitors from venturing outside by propagating stories of robberies and murder.  These have to be taken with a pinch (or a pound) of salt.  People tend to be very friendly and helpful.  Still flashing jewellery, expensive gadgets or lots of money is not recommended.
There are quite a few interesting places to visit :

Altos de Chavon


(1)  ALTOS de CHAVON : A modern – day artist’s village, resembling a 16th century Mediterranean town.  It is set upon a spectacular hillside cliff overlooking the winding CHAVON RIVER.  It is home to a 5,000-seat amphitheatre, an archaeological museum, craft workshops, artists’ studios and an assortment of galleries and restaurants.


Juanillo beach

(2) JUANILLO :  It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Dominican Republic.  Until a few years ago, it was a very small village of fishermen.  The entire village was purchased as a part of a very large project called CAP CANA.  In return, for giving up their rights to occupancy, the residents were offered alternative housing, money and jobs  While Juanillo was at one time inaccessible to the public, it is now accessible to people staying at one of the Cap Cana Hotels and to property owners within the Cap Cana Project and their guests.

Santa Domingo


(3) SANTA DOMINGO : This is the Europe of the Western Hemisphere.  It has preserved its Colonial Heritage for more than five centuries, and is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


Saona Island


(4) SAONA ISLAND : It is set in the natural reserve of the PARQUE NACIONAL del ESTE.  You can relax on powder-white sans, where palm-studded beaches meet the soft surf of the Caribbean waters and sometimes even dolphins swim alongside your catamarans.


Dolphin Island


(5) DOLPHIN ISLAND :  A short boat ride takes you to a floating platform where visitors can swim with trained dolphins in the sea.  The package includes 15mins of free time with these unique creatures.


Punta Cuna

(6) DOMINICAN ALPS : (near the town of JARABACOA), where 18 waterfalls cascade between chasms of rock to water the rich, fertile earth below.  If you are a white-water fan, the RIO YASQUE is the longest river in the Caribbean and offers challenging kayak or rafting courses like the MIKE TYSON, which features a 12ft vertical drop.
(7) MARINARIUM :  In this water park, you can experience some of the best snorkelling in the area, complete with nurse sharks and sting rays.  Enjoy a COCOLOCO ( 100% pure coconut water) as you cruise along the coast to your final stop ——– a waist-deep natural pool in the sea.
(8) SEAQUARIUM :  You are provided with a diving helmet and allowed to walk the bottom of the clear waters with an unforgettable view of reef and coral life (no certification required)
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Berat

BERAT, the City of a Thousand Windows, in South – Central Albania, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2008).

Berat Albania


The Balkan-style houses  climb up the side of the hill upon which the 13th century BERAT CASTLE is situated.  These houses, belonging to the late 18th and the 19th centuries, typically have two floors with a ground floor mad of stone and a prominent upper floor painted white and roofs covered with red ceramic tiles.  They have large wooden windows which, because of the steepness of the hill and the construction of the houses, appear to be stacked one over the other  This view has earned BERAT, the moniker The City of a Thousand Windows.

The name of the city, in Albanian, is BERAT or BERATI, meaning “White City”.  According to local legend, the TOMORR Mountain, was originally a Giant who fought with another Giant, called SHPIRAG, over a young woman.  They killed each other and the girl drowned in her tears, which then became the OSUM River.  Mount Shpirag, named after the second giant, is on the left bank of the gorge.  Berat is also known to the Albanians as the City of One Above  Another Windows or The City of 2,000 Steps.

Landmarks :

(1) BERAT CASTLE

Berat Castle


The co-existence of religious and cultural communities, over several centuries, is apparent in Berat.  The main entrance, on the north side, is defended by a fortified courtyard and there three smaller entrances.  The fortress of Berat, in its present state, even though considerably damaged, remains a magnificent sight.  The surface that is encompassed made it possible to house a considerable portion of the town’s inhabitants.  The buildings inside the fortress were built during the 13th century and, because of their characteristic architecture, are preserved as cultural monuments.  The population of the fortress was Christian and it had about 20 Churches and only 1 Mosque for the use of the Muslim Garrison (of which there survives only a few ruins and the base of the Minaret).

(2) CHURCH of Saint Mary of BLACHERNAE :

Church of Mary of BLACHERNAE


Dating from the 13th century, it has 16th century mural painting.  In a small tree-planted square, on a hillside in side the walls of the fortress, stands the 14th century CHURCH of the HOLY TRINITY.  It is built in the form of a Cross and has Byzantine Murals.  Outside the ramparts, is the CURCH of SAINT MICHAEL (13th century) which is reached by a steep but perfectly safe path.  Near the entrance, after a guardhouse, is the CHURCH of SAINT THEODORE.  The most interesting is the CATHEDRAL of SAINT NICHOLAS, which has been well-restored and is now a Museum.


Gorica bridge Albania


(3) GORICA BRIDGE , which connects the two parts of Berat, was originally built from wood in 1780 and was rebuilt with stone in the 1920s.  The seven-arch bridge is 423ft long and 17ft wide and is built about 33ft above the average water level.  According to local legend, the original wooden bridge contained a dungeon in which a girl would be incarcerated and starved to appease the spirits responsible for the safety of the bridge.

Ecbatana

Ecbatana


ECBATANA (Old Persian :  HAGGMATANA literally “a place of gathering”. ) was an ancient city in Media in western Iran.  It is believed that Ecbatana is in TAPPE – ye HAGGMATANA ) near HAMADAN.

Excavations at KABOUTAR AHANG have revealed stone-age tools and pottery from 1400 – 1200 BC.  According to Herodotus, Ecbatana was chosen as the Medes’ capital in the late 8th century BC by Deioces.  Under the Persian Kings, Ecbatana, situated at the foot of Mount Alvand (11,716ft) , became a summer residence.  Later, it became the capital of the Parthian Kings, at which time it became their main mint producing drachm, tetra – drachm and assorted bronze denominations.  It is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Ezra 6: 1-3) under the name ACHMETHA.  In 330 BC, Ecbatana was the site of the murder of the Macedonian General PARMENION by order of Alexander the Great.

Ecbatana


The city was surrounded by seven concentric walls.  Itself at an elevation of 6,158ft, the city dominates the wide, fertile plain of the upper QAREH SU River.  A little to the east of Ecbatana is the MUSALLA ( a natural mound ) the debris of which includes the remains of ancient Ecbatana.  The modern city is built partly on this mound.


Ecbatana rug


Modern development is modest.  In summer the pleasant climate makes Ecbatana a resort, but the winters are long and severe.  The EKBATAN DAM (formerly SHAHNAZ DAM ) provides water for the city.  Grain and fruit are grown in abundance, and Ecbatana is an important trade centre on the main Tehran – Baghdad highway.  In the Iranian rug trade, Ecbatana rugs rank second to KERMAN rugs.

Palmerston Island

Palmerston Island


PALMERSTON is an island paradise that will adopt you.  On this fascinating South Pacific island, all 62 residents are related, everyone shares the same surname ——– MARSTERS ——- and can trace their lineage to one British man ——— WILLIAM MARSTERS.

Located between the better-known South Pacific sailing ports of Bora Bora and Niue, Palmerston is the only Cook Island that the prolific explored actually set foot upon, although the clump of fifteen islands are named for him.  Cook dubbed the then-uninhabited atoll PALMERSTON.

Today, it is a postcard -perfect paradise with no bank, store or road.  Islanders have to travel 800km south to the largest island, RAROTONGA,  to find these modern day conveniences.  The island has the largest number of freezers per capita in the southern hemisphere.

Marsters landed on Palmerston in 1883 to set up a COPRA (dried coconut) trade with other Polynesian Islands.  He brought two Polynesian wives from neighbouring PENRHYN, and later married a third lady from the same island, producing an impressive 23 children and 134 grandchildren.  Before he died in 1899, Marsters divided the 2 sq.km atoll into thirds to give each of the three wives and their descendants a share.  The residents still govern themselves based on these hypothetical lines, and cluster their families on their respective chunk of the atoll.  Marriage within a family branch is prohibited.


Palmerston Island beach


White sand  frames the island.  Wind, rain and waves have slowly eroded the atoll, leaving most of it just barely submerged.  The highest point on the entire island is only 6ft high ———- a man-made mound called REFUGE HILL, where the residents cluster during summer cyclones.  Boats are still the only mode of transport to and fro.  A cargo ship from RANGIROA, the largest city in the Cook islands, stops by just three times a year to drop off supplies, loading back up with crates full of flash-frozen parrotfish, Palmerston’s only export.

Palmerston’s residents sometimes hop aboard the cargo ship, squeezing in alongside the freezers, to visit neighbouring islands to catch a flight to New Zealand.  The only other option for leaving the island is to hitchhike on a passing sailboat.  But the window for thumbing a ride is narrow : Yachts only travel through this part of the South Pacific from May through September to avoid cyclones and maximize the trade winds.


Palmerston Island people


Palmerston Island has a tradition of welcoming cruising yachts . When you arrive, you are met by a member of your host family, who will show you where to anchor and give you a lift to the island.  They say they want to think you are part of the family, but it feels more like you are an honoured guest.

There are some shared facilities on Main Street that are for the community.  Then, there is the famous driftwood Church that was damaged in the last hurricane, and it has been replaced with an attractive modern Church.  Marsters’ driftwood house is still behind the church, and gives a feel of the early structures which were built from the timbers of early shipwrecks.  The water catchment is an open community area with two large tanks that collect rainwater from the roof  for the community during droughts.  Most homes have their own water catchments, but after several months they run dry and the community system is used.


Palmerston Island homes


Palmerston is surprisingly civilized for such a remote island.  All homes have electricity from 6 to 12 in the morning and evening, provided by a community generator supplied by the government.  The island pays maintenance and fuel through a charge based on electric meters on each house.  Many houses have TVs and VCRs and movies are a big hit with the locals.  Almost every house has a freezer, though few have refrigerators and some have automatic washing machines.

The freezers are important, because the cash crop of Palmerston  Island is the parrotfish, which is plentiful and safe to eat.  They sell the frozen parrotfish fillets to Rarotonga for $14 NZ a kilo, which is a little over $3US.  It is a lucrative catch, but they have a big problem getting the supply ships to call regularly, thus they have a hard time getting their product to market.

It is a good idea to bring things for the people on the island  ———- clothes, staple foods like rice and flour, VHS movies and educational tapes and toys for the children.  Do not bring alcohol, firearms or ammunition, bud DO BRING fishing tackle and line.

Palmerston is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places on earth.

Svaneti

Svaneti


SVANETI or SVANETIA (SUANIA in ancient sources) is a historic province in Georgia, in the north-western part of the country.  It is inhabited by the SVANS, an ethnic sub-group of Georgians.

Situated on the southern slope of the Central Caucasus Mountains and surrounded by 3,000 – 5,000 metre peaks, Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus.  Four of the ten highest peaks are located in the region.The highest mountain in Georgia, Mount SHKHARA, at 17,059ft, is located in the province.  Prominent peaks include TETNULDI (16,319ft), SHOTA RUSTAVELI (16,273ft), Mount USHBA ( 15,453ft), ALLAMA (14,842ft) as well as LALVERI, LATSGA and others.


Svaneti.jpg


Svaneti has two parts corresponding to two inhabited valleys ; (1) UPPER SVANETI and (2) LOWER SVANETI.  The landscape of Svaneti is dominated by mountains that are separated by deep gorges.  Most of the region which lies below 5,904ft above sea level is covered by mixed and coniferous forests  The forest zone is made up of tree species such as spruce, fir, beech, oak and hornbeam.  Other less common species include chestnut, birch, maple, pine and box.  The zone which extends from 5,904 – 9,840ft above sea level consists of Alpine meadows and grasslands.  Eternal snows and glaciers take over in areas that are over 3,000 metres above sea level.


Svaneti trekking


The climate is humid and is influenced by the air masses coming in from the Black Sea, the region is spared from the extremely cold winter temperatures that are characteristic of high mountains.


Svaneti architecture


Svaneti is known for its architectural treasures and picturesque landscapes.  The famous Svanetian Towers, erected mainly in the 9th – 12th centuries, makes the region” villages more attractive.  In the province are dozens of Georgian Orthodox Churches and various fortified buildings.  The architectural monuments of Upper Svaneti are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites..

Sassi Di Matera

Sassi Di Matera


MATERA is a city and a province in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Matera and the capital of Basilicata from 1663 to 1806.  The town lies in a small canyon carved out by the Gravina (a river)

Known as LA CITTA SOTTERRANEA (the Subterranean City), Matera is well-known for its historical centre called SASSI, considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches.  The city was allegedly founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC, with the name of MATHEOLA after the Consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus.


Matera panoramic view


Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the SASSI di MATERA (meaning ” stones of Matera” ).  The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte ( a human being who inhabits a cave or the area beneath the overhanging rocks of a cliff), and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy.


Sassi Di Matera streets


The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia.  Many of them really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi, a street lies on top of another group of dwellings.  The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as la GRAVINA.  In the 1950s, the Government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi  to areas of the developing modern city.


Matera castle


Until the late 1980s, the Sassi was considered an area of poverty since its dwellings were and in most cases still are, uninhabitable.  The present local administration, however, has become more tourist-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian Government, UNESCO and Hollywood.  Today, there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there.  Matera preserves a large  and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of Rupestrian Churches carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region.  The Churches which are also found in the neighbouring region of Apulia, were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.


Matera cathedral


MATERA CATHEDRAL ( 1268 – 1270) has been dedicated to Santa Maria della Bruna since 1389.  Built in a Romanesque architectural style, the Church has a 52metre tall bell tower, and next to the main gate is a statue of Maria della Bruna, backed by those of Saints Peter and Paul.  The main feature of the façade is the “rose window”, divided by 16 small columns.  The interior is on the Latin Cross Plan, with a nave and 2 aisles.  The decoration is mainly from the 18th century Baroque Restoration, but recently a Byzantine-style 14th century fresco portraying the LAST JUDGMENT  has been discovered.


SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO


Two other important Churches in Matera, both dedicated to the Apostle. Peter, are SAN PIETRO CAVEOSO & SAN PIETRO BARISANO.  San Pietro Barisano was recently restored in a project by the World Monuments Fund, funded by American Express.  The main altar and the interior frescoes were cleaned and missing pieces of moulding, reliefs and other adornments were reconstructed from photographic archives or surrounding fragments.

There are many Churches and Monasteries dating back throughout the history f the Christian Church.  Some are simple caves with a single altar and maybe a fresco, often located on the opposite side of the ravine.  Some are complex cave networks with large underground chambers, thought to have been used for meditation by the monks.


TRAMONTANO CASTLE,Matera was built above a deep ravine, that divides the territory into two areas.  Matera was built such that it is hidden, but made it difficult to provide water supply to its inhabitants.  Early dwellers invested tremendous energy in building cisterns and systems of water channels.


The largest cistern has been found under PIAZZA VITTORIO VENETO, with its solid pillars carved from the rock and a vault height of more than 15metres it is a veritable Water Cathedral, which is navigable by boat.  Like other cisterns in the town, many of these cisterns were turned into houses and other kinds of water-harvesting systems were realized.  Some of these more recent facilities have the shape of houses submerged in the earth.


The TRAMONTANO CASTLE, begun in the early 16th century, is probably the only other structure that is above ground and of any great significance outside the Sassi.  However, the construction remained unfinished after Count Gian Carlo Tramontano’s assassination in the riot of the 29th of December, 1514.  It has three large towers, while 12 were probably included in the original design.  During some restoration work in the main square of the town, workers cane across what was believed to be the main footings of another Castle tower.  However, on further excavation, large Roman cisterns were unearthed.  Whole house structures were discovered where one can see how the people of that era lived.  Found under the main square was a large underground reservoir, complete with columns and a vaulted ceiling.

Because of the ancient primeval-looking scenery in and around the Sassi, it has been used by filmmakers (as the setting for ancient Jerusalem).  Some of the following famous Biblical period motion pictures were filmed in Matera : (1964) The Gospel According To Saint Matthew.—- (1985) King David. —-  (2004) The Passion of the Christ. —— (2005)  Mary.  —– (2006) The Nativity Story.

Crater lake

CRATER LAKE (1,950ft deep) is situated in a 7,700-year-old caldera in the Cascades of south-central Oregon, United States.

crater lake twilight


It is famous for its intense blue colour and the clarity of its water.  The lake is the deepest in the US and, the third and the ninth deepest in the world, depending on whether average or maximum depth is measured.  Though no rivers flow into or out of it, its waters are replaced every 250 years through rain and snowfall.


Crater lake


A post caldera cinder cone forms WIZARD ISLAND.  Crater Lake is also known for the OLD MAN OF THE LAKE, a full-sized tree which is now a stump that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for over a century.  The low temperature of the water has slowed the decomposition of the wood, hence the longevity of the bobbing tree.

There are two islands in Crater Lake  : WIZARD ISLAND, formed from a cinder cone that erupted after Crater lake began to fill with water, and the smaller PHANTOM SHIP, which has seven different trees living on it.  There are also colonies of violet-green swallows and several varieties of wildflowers and lichens living there.


Crater lake top view


While having no indigenous fish populations, the lake was stocked  from 1888 to 1941 with a variety of fish.  Several species have formed self-sustaining populations.  Due to several unique factors, mainly that the lake has no inlets or tributaries, the waters of Crater Lake are some of the purest in the world because of the absence of pollutants.  The lake has relatively high levels of dissolves salts, total alkalinity and conductivity.


crater lake


The Klamath Tribe of Native Americans, who may have witnessed the collapse of Mount Mazama and the formation of Crater Lake, have long regarded the lake as a sacred site.  Their legends tell of a battle between the Sky God (SKELL) and the God of the Underworld (LLAO).  Mount Mazama was destroyed in the battle, creating Crater Lake, called GIIWAS in the Klamath language.  The tribe used Crater Lake in “vision quests”, which often involved  climbing the caldera walls and other dangerous tasks.  Those who were successful in such quests were often regarded as having more spiritual powers.  The tribe still holds Crater lake in high regard as a spiritual site.

Since 2002, one of the State’s regular-issue license plate designs has featured Crater Lake.  The commemorative  Oregon State Quarter, which was released by the US Mint in 2005, features an image of Crater Lake on its reverse.