UNESCO adds Everglades, Madagascar rain forests to endangered list

Yesterday we told you how the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, aka UNESCO, had granted several new sites “World Heritage” status at their recent meeting held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. That same group also moved two other sites to their endangered list in a move that typically serves as a warning about the future health of those locations.

Returning to the endangered list this year is the Florida Everglades, which were first cited back in 1993 and remained on the list until 1997 due to damage sustained during Hurricane Andrew. The sub-tropical wilderness is the largest of its kind in the United States, but is degrading rapidly, thanks to the loss of more than 60% of its water inflow. The committee also noted that increased levels of pollution is causing the water in the Everglades to become toxic, killing, or driving off, large numbers of marine life that once lived in the area as well.

Also added to the endangered list this year are the rain forests of Atsinanana, located in Madagascar. In this case, the World Heritage Committee cited the illegal logging operations that continue to go on there, as well as the hunting of an endangered species of lemurs, as causes for concern for the future of that natural environment.

Being put on the endangered list is not necessarily a bad thing for these World Heritage Sites. In the past, such a designation has brought a great deal of attention and focus to the problems at those locations, allowing governments to clean them up and keep them better protected for future generations to enjoy as well. Hopefully that will be the case in both of these cases as well.

[Photo credit: Moni3 via WikiMedia Commons]

The Spice Isle: Grenada moves on past Hurricane Ivan

I didn’t know a lot about Grenada before visiting recently, but one name was familiar to me: Ivan — the hurricane that came through with force in 2004. So once I got there, I wanted to find out two things: what’s it like during a hurricane? And how does the country look now, five years later?

You first have to realize — the hurricane was a fluke. The reason some residents were actually excited to see a hurricane in person was because hurricanes come so infrequently and Ivan would be their first. (The previous one was Janet in 1955.) Located 12 degrees above the equator, in the southeast part of the Caribbean, Grenada sits outside the hurricane belt.

By all accounts from the stories I heard, “Ivan the Terrible” was a rager. News had been as moody and unreliable as the hurricane itself – first saying that it was coming, then saying it wasn’t – before Ivan struck soon after. Winds blew 130 mph strong, making it a category 3 storm, as it made its way to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Florida. 28 people in Grenada were killed, 18,000 people were homeless, and 90% of the buildings were damaged and 30% were destroyed.

All important things to realize. But even more, from what I’ve seen and heard, Grenada should be known for overcoming these things as much as enduring them.
The people have proved themselves to be resilient. During the storm, many held tight in their own homes, and others took refuge in shelters like churches, all while roofs were being torn off and water was coming in. With 90% of the buildings damaged and 30% destroyed, the people pulled together — cohabitating in the homes that were intact, and helping to re-build together the ones that weren’t. A man who was lucky enough to not have to repair his roof told me “everybody had to do SOME construction.”

One quote on a wall near the northern town of Sauteurs caught my eye: “God has not promised to keep us from life’s storms, but he has promised to keep us through them.” It’s hard to believe, but these folks had a repeat performance soon after. Hurricane Emily came through in July 2005 — a mere 10 months after Ivan.

No one’s going to say that the hurricane was a blessing, considering all of the damage, but it’s because of that damage that building codes have improved. Schools – which had been in need of rebuilding – have also been improved. The tourism industry was rebuilt (often better than before, like the amazing Spice Island Resort on Grand Anse Beach) — though I’m happy to hear that nothing can be built higher than 3 stories. A new National Stadium, home to cricket and soccer matches, was built to replace the destroyed one.

Only a few repairs will have to take longer, even after five years. The 128-year-old Church of the Immaculate Conception is still roofless, while the congregation continues to raise funds for construction.

I’ve been told that NADMA (National Disaster Management Agency) became better trained and equipped with proactive education and response systems.

The land itself has gotten to work repairing itself — although it takes more time than anything else. From my untrained eye, I was struck by the thick vegetation — fronds and branches, growing from all of the indentations and slopes of the country’s inland mountainscape. But I was told that for all of the places that I saw green, it was equally as gray after the hurricane — where winds stripped trees and shrubs down to the bark itself. Because the hurricane wiped out most of the country’s nutmeg livelihood, more wind-resistant nutmeg trees were planted.

These folks may now be well prepared for another hurricane, but let’s hope they’re not put to the test again anytime soon.

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.

The Spice Isle: Where trails are paved with nutmeg shells

“You can use it for tea” he says after picking the small leaf and handing it to me to smell.

There doesn’t seem to be anything that Telfor Bedeau doesn’t know about Grenada’s plants. In the past 50 yards alone, he’s pointed out trees that would’ve gone unnoticed as anything other than anonymous tropical trees. But now they’re recognized as some of my favorite things in the world: guava, mango, cinnamon. I’m already imagining my next supermarket trip back home going a little differently.

Telfor would be considered spry for any age, but especially since he just turned 70. He celebrated the day by doing what he seems to do (and love) best: hiking up to the top of Grenada’s highest peak, Mount Saint Catharine (2,757 feet).

It was his 157th time.

Known as the “Indiana Jones of Grenada,” he reached the milestone of having hiked 10,000 miles throughout Grenada in 2005. Guiding since 1990, he hikes in jellies (plastic sandals) while everybody else on the trail relies on treaded sneakers and walking sticks. He’s easy to extend a smile to everyone, and a hand to anyone who needs one.

It’s not that I’m writing this to flatter him — there’s little chance that he’ll read this, since he doesn’t use a computer or have email. No doubt it contributes to his youthful appearance. That and all the hiking. And the fact that his diet solely consists of raw fruits and vegetables.

So it was with intrigue –- both in my hiking guide Telfor and the trail –- that I hiked to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park.

%Gallery-77232%It’s a manageable walk — about 45 minutes one-way. If it’s considered tricky at all, it’s because of the ramped up mud- and slick-factor after a rain shower (and it is home to a rain forest, after all).

After paying EC$5 fee (per person) because the trail is on private property, we descend between plantations that are growing food I’m just getting to know for the first time, like callaloo and sorrel. We continue down steeper terrain where steps are made of large rocks, or clay that’s reinforced by bamboo (which also grows along the trail and creaks in the wind at intervals). The path meanders through lush greenery of all shapes and heights –- ferns, banana trees, strangler figs, palm trees.

Telfor takes a swipe at a vine stock with his machete, to show me its hollow core. “It’ll grow back,” he explains. Such is the nature of these quick-growing plants here — the first to sprout after Hurricane Ivan.

Areas that are muddy are mulched by nutmeg shells — an ingenious use of the island’s abundant throw-away. (You can even catch a subtle whiff of fragrance after the shells break underfoot.)

After rock-hopping across a river, we reach the two cascades of water, each falling into its own pool. There’s room for lounging along the side, but most people seem to head straight into the waterfall of the upper pool. My preferred vantage point: mid-way in the upper pool, looking up at the steep cliffs on either side, covered in a mix of big-leafed, exotic greenery.

The return trip is the same route back. In this direction, you’ll likely use the walking stick (on loan from the start) to help with the upward climb, rather than to navigate slippery sections downhill. I figure that the slower uphill pace gives me more time to look for the rain forest’s mona monkeys and armadillos, but no such sightings.

If you want to replicate the Seven Sisters hike on your own, you can reach it by hiring a car or joining a tour. Or you can specifically hire Telfor as a guide for the day (US$40 for 1 person, $30/each for 2 people, $25 for 3+ people, regardless of how long the day is. Phone: 473.442.6200).

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.

Costa Rica: Jungle for The Masses

Costa Rica has done a great job marketing itself as an eco-tourism country. It has been generally good to the rain forests. The country is beautiful, well-developed and super-easy to travel around.

The jungle of the Manuel Antonio park in Quepos, on the Pacific Coast, is breathtaking. It is, however, wide open to the tourists and therefore you are getting the clinically clean, safe, Disneyworld-version of the rain forest: sidewalks, safety signs, guides with telescopes and all that. No, I am not complaining. I guess that’s what you get when you want to prevent the rain forest from being cut down in order to grow coffee. So, once you can get past the Disney-quality of it, please do invest in a jungle guide (he will not come dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume, I swear). For an untrained eye, it is hard to see any animals, aside from the monkeys.

The park fee allows you to access the private beach within the park, which is small, clean and very romantic. Keep in mind that the Pacific beaches in Costa Rica are typically black, not like the white Caribbean beaches.

Speaking of coffee – make sure to stop by in Cafe Milagro in Quepos for a cup of freshly roasted, locally grown coffee. Yum.