Tonga Shipwreck Discovered, Believed To Be Pirate Treasure Ship

scuba diving A recent discovery made by divers in Tonga could hold a missing puzzle piece to an age-old mystery. A local diver in the Ha’apai group of islands last month found wreckage believed to be a pirate vessel containing treasure that sank in 1806.

The Port-au-Prince, a British privateer, was attacked by local warriors after arriving in Tonga, with King Finau ‘Ulukalala II ordering the crew to be massacred. However, the Tongans saved most of the iron and cannon on board before the king ordered the ship to be scuttled.

“It is believed that a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold is resting with the wreck, along with a number of silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices,” tourism ministry spokeswoman Sandra Fifita told news.com.au.

As of now, divers are thoroughly mapping out the underwater location. According to diver Darren Rice, who has visited the site, if it is the Port-au-Prince then it’s the most important shipwreck in Tonga’s history. Moreover, while the treasure will be buried now and difficult to get to, divers are positive it is there.

[image via Jessica Festa]

Haiti: the rocky road to recovery

HaitiHaiti was hit by a massive earthquake a little over two years ago, flattening homes, school buildings, and businesses; pretty much transforming the entire city of Port Au Prince into rubble. Relief efforts came and continue by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) as nearly $5 billion in aid was promised and is being spent. But while there are ongoing success stories, half a million people are still living in camps they took refuge in right after the earthquake and they are not happy about it.

“The humanitarian response was so appreciated that few could have predicted two years later the long and deep thread of anger toward NGOs that now runs through Haitian society,” wrote Marjorie Valbrun, a Haitian-American journalist in the Sacramento Bee.

It was the topic of special television broadcasts. Cruise lines delivered supplies. Aid poured in. But was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Western Hemisphere, killing 316,000 people, and much work remains to be done.

Haiti’s crippling bureaucracy alone makes rebuilding a slow process and cause for anger by displaced Haitians but even foreign aid workers are easy targets for resentment.

“Aid workers live in nice houses, ride in air-conditioned SUVs and frequent trendy nightclubs while Haitians live in tents or shacks.” says Barbara Shelly who visited Haiti with a church group last summer and witnessed some of the hostility.

Haitian perception is that aid money is making others rich while they suffer. There is good reason to believe they may be right. Shelly’s research revealed that U.S. for-profit companies received more than 80 percent of the Haiti contracts awarded and less than 3 percent of the funds went to Haitian companies.

“Even before the quake, Haitians had a healthy suspicion of foreigners coming in “to help” or to “keep the peace,” which usually meant imposing military rule,” said Shelly.

On the success-story side, there have been some good, solid efforts to aid Haiti too recently.

Last weekend, a gala dinner organized by Cinema for Peace to benefit Haiti, tapped long-time humanitarian Sean Penn, founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization and newly-appointed ambassador at large of Haiti along with Indy band Arcade Fire and others to raise more money.

Arcade Fire, led by Win Butler and his Haitian wife, Régine Chassagne, have been donating a few dollars from every concert ticket to Haitian relief efforts reports the New York Times.

“We’re just a stupid indie rock band from Montreal, and just from that initiative, we’ve been able to raise millions of dollars,” Butler said. “It’s really a mistake to think of Haiti as a place where an earthquake happened to it.”

“The earthquake really revealed what was happening there,”said Butler …which pretty much nails it.

Haiti was in trouble before the earthquake. But ongoing efforts by long-time supporters of Haiti seem to be making a difference and look to be a key factor in long-term recovery.

  • The American Red Cross is helping people rebuild their homes and lives and is improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • World Vision is helping the country respond to new emergencies including hurricanes and the cholera outbreak.
  • Royal Caribbean continues to employ Haitian workers at it’s private destination of Labadee in Haiti, has built a school for children and continues to bring supplies when ships come calling.

That’s three organizations making a difference but probably not the answer for those who choose to give. At that gala dinner, Arcade Fire’s Butler called on the crowd to collaborate in offering help.

“Everyone just talk to each other,” he said, “and try to magnify each others’ efforts.”

That might very well be a key to Haiti’s long-term recovery. It sure can’t hurt.



Volunteer to Teach English in Haiti

Flickr photo by newbeatphoto

World’s worst places: Top 10 places you do not want to visit in 2012

Update: Check out the World’s Worst Places of 2013 here

What comes to mind when you think of the world’s worst place? While it is easy to complain about rural Wal-marts, La Guardia, Applebee’s, and any government office with motor vehicle in its title, none of those places escalate the game from nuisance to immediate danger. All of them can be horrible, yes, but a threatened existence they do not pose.

The places on this list are the bad places. Some have run out of hope. Others have fought war for so long it is the new normal. Most are exceptionally dangerous and heartbreaking. And while none of them are fighting for write-ups by travel bloggers or inspiring travel with the NetJet set, some of these locations may someday be on the travel map. After all, it was not long ago that current hot-spots like Cambodia and Croatia would have made such a list.

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world's worst places

10. Harare, Zimbabwe
Recently voted by the Economist as the world’s worst city to live in, Harare is a unique study in failed fiscal policy. The once acceptable city fell into disrepair during Zimbabwe’s severe bouts with hyperinflation and corruption. The troubles began in the early 21st century when Zimbabwe’s inflation rate increased to 112.1%. Sounds terrible right? As it turns out, those were the sunny days. In 2008, the inflation rate peaked at 231,150,000% per annum. In U.S. terms, this means that if you deposited $10,000, it would be worth about 4 thousandths of a U.S. cent in one years time. That sucks. (For the record, 10,000USD = 46.720 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars in 2009.)

This sort of economic arrangement allowed Harare to fail. There are not enough printers in Zimbabwe to print enough of its Z100 Billion notes, and when a loaf of bread costs trillions, doom is soon to follow. Unemployment grew to 80% and many services faltered. Today, foreign currencies have been adopted but the damage has been done. Much of Harare is in disrepair, and few foreign companies care to directly invest in the troubled city. That said, it is probably the safest place on this list to visit with flights direct from London on the national carrier – Air Zimbabwe.

world's worst places

9. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
The lone entry from Oceania is the ultra-diverse Port Moresby of Papua New Guinea. PNG is home to over 820 languages – more than any other country in the world. As such, its capital Port Moresby boasts a diverse crew of opportunists and island cultures. It was recently voted by the Economist as the 137th out of 140 places in the livable cities index, making it a tough place to get by.

Rapes, Murders, and HIV are just a few of the daily tragedies that befall this enclave at the edge of the map. Here, even riding in cars is a dangerous activity. Gangs called Raskols are known to rob vehicles transporting foreigners at gunpoint.

Port Moresby is best used as a temporary gateway to nearby dive sites and for flights to PNG’s jungle interior and its solitary treks. Reaching Port Moresby is easy from Australia on PNG’s national carrier Air Niugini.

world's worst places

8. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
37 years ago, Ali and Foreman traded blows in one of boxing’s most historic matches. The match took place in Kinshasa. At the time, the country was known as Zaire, and the future looked hopeful for the mineral-rich nation. But as is common in 20th century African history, corruption at the top derailed the future. The country became a model for African kleptocracy as President Mobutu matched Zaire’s national debt with deposits into his personal bank account in Switzerland – to a tune of 4 billion (1980) U.S. dollars. He was forced to flee in the late nineties.

By 1998, the Congo region was engaged in the Second Congo War – the most deadly military conflict since World War II. In the end, over 5 million perished, and to this day the mineral-rich country has a per capita (nominal) GDP of about $186.

Chinese foreign direct investment has allowed Kinshasa to grow into a more reasonable place over the last decade, though it is not yet ready for its tourist close-up. Violence and political instability still ravage the second most populated city in Africa. It has come a long way from the time of Mr. Kurtz, but the heart of Africa is still an exceptionally complicated place. Just a month ago during the presidential election, thousands fled Kinshasa in anticipation of violence, and tanks rolled in to police the streets.

Tens of thousands of orphaned street children call the slums of Kinshasa home and are also routinely accused of witchcraft by locals. Carjackings are one of the more common types of tourist robbery, especially outside of the city center. And one more thing, photography is illegal.

Reaching Kinshasa is easy from Paris on Air France.

world's worst places

7. Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rocinha is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. While its infrastructure exceeds that of lesser favelas and its view of Rio is truly breathtaking, it is also home to several hundred thousand Brazilians packed onto a steep hillside. It is a playground for modern day little Li’l Zes.

With one of the highest murder rates in the world, Brazil has been cracking down on violence in anticipation of hosting both the Olympics and World Cup. In fact, local authorities have effectively declared war on this slum in an effort to clean it up and push out the drug cartels, and just a few months ago, Rocinha was occupied by the military and police forces. Their aim is to restore government control in the sprawling favela. While progress has no doubt been made, when visiting Rio (which is generally safe), it is wise to avoid favelas unless accompanied by a local guide.

world's worst places

6. Sana’a, Yemen
“Just off the horn of Africa…” is a common statement that generally precedes a story about modern piracy. And just on the other side of the dangerous Gulf of Aden where such piracy goes down is treacherous Yemen – a land frozen in time.

It is a time machine to the modern edge of the Islamic dark ages. On one hand this brings old world Arabian architecture and cultures of antiquity, but on the other, it brings out Islamic fanaticism. It is a place of child brides and a training ground for Al Qaeda. Men walk around freely with weapons per their religious rights, and these weapons range from the ubiquitous Jambiya to battle-worn Kalashnikovs. Sana’a is old, dangerous, and has its share of political unrest. As a westerner, you can keep your travel plans safer by avoiding Yemen.

The tragic thing about Yemen is that it possesses such beautiful sights. It has unbelievable Red Sea beaches, Socotra Island (Similar to the Galapagos and on my own personal travel shortlist), and old forts amid craggy mountains.

Reaching Sana’a, Yemen is possible from Dubai, Doha, London, and Sharjah.

world's worst places

5. West Point, Monrovia, Liberia
Clean water, electricity, basic services – all things we take for granted in the West. In the West Point area of Monrovia, a city named for James Monroe, these are luxuries. West Point, a peninsular slum jutting out into the Atlantic, is home to a special breed of disgusting squalor. Home to 75,000 Monrovians, it is one of Africa’s most notorious and crowded slums. Cholera is at an epidemic level, drug use is rampant, teenage prostitution is a commonality, and toilets are scarce. In fact, since it costs money to use neighborhood toilets, many Monrovians in West Point just crap in the streets or on the beach.

Vice did a great series on Liberia a few years ago. In the series, they meet with with an ex-war leader known as General Butt Naked – the commander of a group of child soldiers called the Butt Naked Brigade. He earned this name by charging into battle wearing only sneakers and his AK-47. Aside from sacrificing humans and partaking in cannibalism, he also regularly communicated with the devil. Today, he is a minister.

Delta flies from Atlanta to Monrovia, Liberia.

world's worst places

4. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Just as turbulence occurs where hot and cold air meet, similarly a point of human turbulence occurs in this nasty city where Mexico meets the United States. Drug violence, government incompetence, and poverty mix to form what has been called the murder capital of the world (this dishonor has since been ceded to Honduras). As drug wars continue to rage, Juarez continues to be a dangerous place. The drug cartels continue to fight for one of the most valuable things in the world – access to the United States narcotics market.

Neighboring El Paso, oddly, has one of the lowest murder rates in the United States. In fact, among major cities, El Paso is tied with Lincoln, Nebraska for having the lowest murder rate in the United States. It is indeed strange to have such a dichotomy separated by a river.

Flying to Juarez from a number of cities is easy, but don’t do it. Go to Cancun and fist pump instead.

world's worst places

3. Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Take one of the most damned places on the planet, knock the hell out of it with an earthquake, and you get the worst of Haiti – Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince is generally a place of ephemeral hope and naked truths, and at its most rotten corner is this heartbreaking slum.

Cite Soleil is one of the largest slums in the northern hemisphere. It is a place where what you see is what you get, and what you see is abject third world poverty. The slum is void of sewers, schools, electricity, or healthcare facilities. It is the kind of place where relief workers are swallowed whole by the earth. In 2007, UN peacekeepers attempted to access the neighborhood and were welcomed with gunfire.

On top of this, many dangerous gang members escaped prison during the earthquake of 2010 and have returned to this crumbling slum. Reach PAP, Haiti from Miami on Insel Air.

world's worst places

2. Kandahar, Afghanistan
Surrounded by gorgeous mountains, it is a tragedy that Kandahar is so awfully dangerous. A one time trading center and strategic foothold, Kandahar is a victim of its perfect location between the world’s of East and West. It has been a point of interest since Alexander the Great stumbled upon it in the 4th century BC. For centuries, traders passed through this city when traveling between Asia and Europe. As result, wars have also passed through and control has changed hands over its centuries of existence, from Mongols to Arabs to Brits and beyond.

Kidnappings, suicide bombings, and other criminal activities have turned it into an absolute monster of a destination. War has a way of creating this sort of general lawlessness. Having a 28% national literacy rate does not help matters.

As a weird footnote, Kandahar has an Armani Hotel, though it is not licensed by Giorgio. Its TGI Fridays, once a bastion of Americana and cheese sticks in Afghanistan, has allegedly been shut down. One can reach Kandahar from Dubai on Ariana Afghan Airlines. During Taliban rule, Osama bin Laden used this airline for Al Qaeda operations including the smuggling of guns, money, and opium. Today, sanctions have been lifted against the troubled national carrier.

world's worst places

1. Mogadishu, Somalia
Still crazy after all these years, “Mog” has perhaps the most terrifying disclaimer (ever) hovering above its entry on wikitravel. It states, “Mogadishu is regarded as the most lawless and dangerous city on Earth and is currently experiencing a major food and refugee crisis. It is not safe for leisure or tourism. If you are planning a visit for international aid work, etc, you will need expert advice and planning.”

Civil War has raged for decades, and the government controls only a few blocks of the city. It is a base for modern pirates, the backdrop for the true story surrounding Black Hawk Down, and it is said that machine guns are frequently used by drivers to negotiate through car traffic. It is a land without law, a soulless place at the edge of Africa. Much of it bears more resemblance to the last level in an especially difficult video game than to life on Earth. It is more modern warfare than modern world.

Oddly enough, several supermodels were born in Mogadishu including Iman and Yasmin Warsame – a footnote of beauty for an ugly place. Flights to Mog can be booked on Jubba Airways from Jeddah and Dubai. Good luck with that. Seriously though, if you decide to go, be sure to wear a bulletproof vest and hire a small army of Ethiopian soldiers.

Haiti’s first airport hotel set to open in 2012

Recovery continues in the Caribbean island of Haiti as the first airport hotel readies to break ground later this year.

The $33 million project near the Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport will feature 240-rooms, offer restaurants, a fitness center, swimming pool, spa facilities and lounges. According to Luxuo, the hotel is designed with “a distinct Creole feel.”

Much of Port-au-Prince was destroyed following the earthquake on Jan. 12, including many hotels, and the airport was closed to commercial flights. Rebuilding continues throughout Haiti and Port-au-Prince in an effort to improve the economy and position Haiti for long-term recovery.

The airport hotel is scheduled to open in 2012.

Cockpit Chronicles: Haiti after Hanna

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston.

New on the schedule for us this month is a two-day trip to Miami. The first day is rather easy with just one leg from Boston to Miami. The second day involves a trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, then back to Miami and up to Boston.

We’re required to sign in for our trip in the pilot operations room at least one hour before departure time. That give us enough time to check the weather, pull up paperwork and check our mailbox. Even though we ‘sign in’ an hour before, we don’t get paid until we’re pushing back from the gate.

Our pilot operations is a place where you’ll regularly run into captains and co-pilots who you may have flown with on a different airplane and hadn’t seen in years. I ran into my longtime friend Russ on this morning’s trip. Russ and I worked in a hobby shop together in Seattle when we were both in high school, so it’s always nice to visit with him. He’s currently an MD-80 first officer (co-pilot).
While walking to the gate later, I saw Russ checking over his Super 80 at the gate with the sun coming up behind our airplane. I just had to take a moment to capture this shot.

A few minutes later I was inspecting the tires of the 757 we would be flying to Miami. Russ’s flight began to taxi past the tail of our airplane so I pulled the camera from my pocket and snapped him going by. It’s a pain to get up at 2:30 in the morning to go to work but I always enjoy the sunrise at Logan and sights like this:

The morning departure to Miami was uneventful. The original captain was sick, so they called out a reserve captain to cover the trip. He would fly down to Miami with me before getting on an airplane to deadhead back to Boston.

So I was on my own for the layover, but fortunately my friend Dave from Ohio would also be staying at the hotel by the beach. We decided to meet up with the rest of his crew for dinner.

One of the pilots knew a great Cuban seafood place up the street. He didn’t steer us wrong, as the food was fantastic. We sampled appetizers that were rather good before eating the main course of sole, which we were able to inspect before ordering.

It was great to catch up with Dave and meet the other co-pilot on his trip, Joe, who plans to begin commuting from Anchorage, my home town, to Chicago soon. That’s a commute I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I can understand the draw for some to live up in Alaska. For Joe, it allows him to be closer to his sport fishing business outside of Anchorage.

That’s one of the advantages this job provides; the ability to live just about anywhere and commute to and from your base free of charge. The only cost is the extra time you’ll spend on an airplane each month.

Dinner was great and I hope to go back there on the next layover.

I met the next captain at the gate the next morning for our flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was a Miami-based pilot who was called out on reserve to continue the trip with me. Occasionally, when one pilot calls in sick, the trip is covered by more than one pilot from different bases.

The weather was nice as we were descending over Haiti, and I was interested to see if the effects of Hurricane Hanna could be seen from the air.

The town of Genaives was the hardest hit and it’s easy to see from these pictures. This is just north of Port-au-Prince as we were coming through 20,000 feet.

What looks like a river flowing out to sea below…

…well, there’s a town in the middle of that river.

Just past Genaives, we were cleared to 10,000 feet, which takes you right by some ‘naked’ mountains which are a big part of the reason for the flooding that occurs in Haiti.

No country in the western hemisphere has had worse fortune than Haiti. They just can’t seem to get a break, and their plight hasn’t adequately captured the attention of the rest of the world.

I’m constantly amazed at how friendly the Haitian passengers and ground crew are. And you won’t find a cabin of nicer dressed people than the Port-au-Prince passengers.

On approach we flew over a U.S. Navy ship which was full of supplies that were being delivered to Genaives. Two of the helicopters based on the ship were idling on the ramp when we parked, and a third one landed by the time we were loaded again for our return back to Miami.

I’ve been flying to Port-Au-Prince for years now and I don’t really feel like I’ve actually been to the country. Arriving at the airport, doing a walk-around inspection and then departing an hour later doesn’t really count, does it?

I even arrived on the day Port-au-Prince was under a coup, but it was impossible to tell from the activities at the airport. Here’s a gallery I made up from that trip:

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As I flew back to Miami and then Boston, I couldn’t help think of the challenges for those living in Haiti. If they’re not trying to survive a political uprising, then they’re likely dealing with the aftermath of a major hurricane.

While I can’t say I’ve really been to the city of Port-au-Prince, flying international trips like this has given me a perspective that wasn’t possible when I was working the transcon flight from Boston to Seattle years ago.

We may not get a chance to fly to Haiti for some time, since the airline has canceled the PAP trip that has been flown lately by Boston crews, and I’m not sure if we’ll see the trip come back anytime soon.

Here’s hoping things look a little better for Haiti if and when we go back.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Bosto
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