Chinese Views On The Taj Mahal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA’S ‘SHINE’ NEWS NETWORK)

 

Majestic Taj Mahal, a modern wonder and symbol of love

If Varanasi is a holy city of priests and devotees, Agra is a grand city of the emperors — and you can feel it the moment you get off the train at the Agar Fort station.

The Agar Fort, right next to the railway station, was a military base and royal residence of the Mughal Dynasty emperors until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

The Hall of Public Audience to the right of the pathway through the Lahore Gate was where the emperor would listen to public petitions and meet state officials.

Contrary to the joyful squirrels who littered the ground, the huge pillared hall with the white marble throne in the center backstage gave all the authority and solemnity over its subjects standing down under.

As of today, most of the white marble palaces were built during the reign of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666). However, there were earlier buildings of red sandstone with layers of decorated columns in the inner court, which were also “of great importance to the study of Mughal buildings’ architectural history,” said a teacher to a group of students on the site.

Xu Qin

The Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am) in Agra Fort

Mounted high on a rocky ridge, Fatehpur Sikri, also known as the “City of Victory,” is a palace city built primarily to afford leisure and luxury to its famous residents during the reign of the third Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), Shan Jahan’s grandfather.

The city was built massively and preferably with red sandstone.

The architecture features both the Hindu and Muslim styles, popular in India at the time, with large domes, large halls and colossal gateways.

The Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, along with the imperial complex at Fatehpur Sikri, is said to have the most delicate marble screens in India. It enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478-1572), who foretold the birth of Akbar’s son Jahangir.

Today people are often seen at the tomb praying for child birth blessings. With Sufi singers performing in front of the door to the chamber, visitors come in to pay homage to the saint while tying a thread on the marble screens to seek fulfillment of their wishes.

Standing on top of the palace walls, one can enjoy an aerial view of the green Indian countryside with small homes dotting around the rice fields on the outskirts. It is hard to believe the city, due to a lack of water, was abandoned just a few years after its construction.

Xu Qin

Mounted high on a rocky ridge, Fatehpur Sikri is also known as the “City of Victory.”

Xu Qin

The white marble tomb of Sufi saint Salim Chishti at Fatehpur Sikri

Xu Qin

Standing on top of the palace walls, one can enjoy an aerial view of the green Indian countryside with small homes dotting around the rice fields on the outskirts.

The following morning we got up early as the Taj Mahal was desperately waiting to say hello. Sitting on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, the UNESCO-listed mausoleum is perhaps the finest testament to Mughal architecture.

The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the beautiful Taj Mahal in the memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. According to popular legend, Shah Jahan spotted Mumtaz at the marketplace in his royal complex. It was love at first sight for the two, and he quickly made her his third wife. Mumtaz traveled with Shah Jahan throughout India, as his chief companion and beloved advisor. After bearing him 14 children, Mumtaz died, leaving Shah Jahan devastated.

Taking inspiration from the detailed description of Heaven in the Quran, Shah Jahan started building the Taj Mahal in 1632. To ensure that no one could recreate the Taj Mahal’s beauty, Shah Jahan supposedly severed the hands and gouged the eyes of the artisans and craftsmen after construction was completed in 1647.

Each year, millions of visitors come to the Taj Mahal to appreciate one of the greatest achievements in human history, and the stories of the loving couple flow from everyone’s lips like new gossip.

Looming out like a mirage in the morning fog, the harmony and balance of the Taj Mahal looks astounding from all directions. Inside the building, the marble screens, calligraphy inscriptions and floral inlays were detailed to everyone’s heart content.

Compared to Shah Jahan, those who built the Taj Mahal were classified as the insignificant others, like most of us who were visiting.

As I pressed my finger tip on the wall and felt along the swirling waves of the patterns, I could hear the sound of their chisels: chip-chip, chip-chip…

Xu Qin

Looming out like a mirage in the morning fog, the harmony and balance of the Taj Mahal looks astounding from all directions.

The inside of the Taj Mahal houses the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan

U.S. official says Washington reviewing North Korea travel ban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

Jones/AFP/Getty Images

FOREIGN POLICY

U.S. official says Washington reviewing North Korea travel ban

SEOUL, South Korea — The Trump administration’s special envoy for North Korea said Wednesday that Washington is reviewing easing its travel restrictions to North Korea to facilitate humanitarian shipments as part of efforts to resolve an impasse in nuclear diplomacy.

Stephen Biegun made the comments upon arrival in South Korea for talks on the nuclear negotiations, which have seen little headway since a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, when they issued a vague vow for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing how or when it would occur.

Biegun said his discussions with South Korean officials will be about how to work together to engage with North Korea “in a manner that will help us move forward and move beyond the 70 years of hostility.”

Toward that end, Biegun said he was directed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to review America’s policy on humanitarian assistance provided to North Korea.

“I understand that many humanitarian aid organizations, operating in the DPRK, are concerned that strict enforcement of international sanctions has occasionally impeded the delivery of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Korean people,” Biegun said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He said he’ll sit down with American aid groups early in the new year to discuss how the U.S. government can “better ensure the delivery of appropriate assistance, particularly, through the course of the coming winter.”

“We will also review American citizen travel to DPRK for purposes of facilitating the delivery of aid and ensuring that monitoring in line with international standards can occur,” Biegun said. “I want to be clear — the United States and the United Nations will continue to closely review requests for exemptions and licenses for the delivery of assistance to the DPRK.”

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to Biegun’s comments. Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months, with the two sides at an impasse over next steps following Trump’s meeting with Kim in Singapore and several trips to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The United States wants North Korea to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal, while the North is insisting that sanctions be lifted first. In the meantime, several reports from private analysts have accused North Korea of continuing nuclear and missile development, citing details from commercial satellite imagery.

Biegun said the United States came to have “greater confidence about the safety and security of Americans traveling to the DPRK” after North Korea in November released an American held for an alleged illegal entrance to the country. “The government of the DPRK handled the review of the American citizen’s expulsion expeditiously and with great discretion and sensitivity through diplomatic channels,” he said.

The United States banned its citizens from traveling to North Korea following the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died days after he was released in a coma from North Korea last year following 17 months in captivity.

Warmbier’s death came amid heightened animosity on the Korean Peninsula, with Trump and Kim exchanging crude insults and war threats over North Korea’s series of nuclear and missile tests.

Tensions have gradually eased since early this year, when Kim abruptly reached out to the United States and South Korea with an offer to negotiate away his advancing nuclear arsenal.

Since its entrance to the talks, North Korea has unilaterally dismantled its nuclear testing site and parts of its rocket engine test facility and taken some conciliatory gestures, including the repatriation of three other American detainees ahead of the June summit.

China Is Now Dominate In World Tourism By Land, Air And Sea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SHANGHAI CHINA’S SHINE NEWS AGENCY)

 

Cruising through a stretch of rough seas

SHINE

Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal in Baoshan District

By land, by air and now by sea, the Chinese have come to dominate world tourism. Cruise lines are now capitalizing on that travel bug, despite some rough seas this year.

“China’s cruise industry is on the cusp of rapid growth that has enormous potential,” said Wang Younong, chairman of the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal.

Last year, 18 cruise vessels were operating out of Chinese ports, carrying 2.4 million Chinese passengers. That was up from four vessels and 200,000 passengers in 2012.

Numbers, however, are expected to decrease to 14 vessels and 2 million passengers next year.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd, the second-largest cruise line worldwide, will operate its Spectrum of the Sea and Oasis of the Seas liners in China in the near future. Spectrum of the Seas will be the biggest and most expensive cruise ship in Asia, with industry cutting-edge technologies.

Costa Cruises, an arm of US-based Carnival Corp, plans to bring two tailor-made ships in 2019 and 2020 to China, according to Mario Zanetti, president of Costa Group Asia. The company introduced cruising to China in 2006 and currently holds 26 percent of China’s cruise market.

MSC Cruise, the industry leader in the Mediterranean, South Africa and Brazil, will operate its MSC Bellissima, a cruise ship featuring rich entertainment, in China, and Genting Group will deploy two 204,000-ton cruise ships that can accommodate 9,500 passengers at the Shanghai port in 2021.

The commitments to the China market may be impressive, but there is an underside to the glowing prospects.

US-based Norwegian Cruise Line, a service with a history of more than 50 years, announced that it is withdrawing Norwegian Joy — the first-class cruise ship tailor-made for Chinese passengers — from the market after one year of operation here.

Cheng Juehao, deputy professor at the Shanghai Maritime University and deputy head of the Shanghai International Shipping Institute Cruise Economy Research Center, said some cruise companies may have miscalculated in their strategies for the China market.

“The Chinese cruise market saw soaring growth of similar products by almost all global cruise operators trying to expand their business here,” Cheng said. “In order to compete with each other, ticket prices nose-dived from 20 percent higher than sophisticated markets such as Europe and the United States, to between 30 percent and 40 percent lower.”

Low ticket prices are the results of sales channels, according to Ye Peng, vice director of sales for Costa.

In China, 90 percent of tickets are sold through cruise agents, who buy up all the berths on a ship and then redistribute tickets by various channels. However, in Western markets, 30 percent of tickets are sold through direct sales by cruise lines.

In China, travel agents make only about 6 percent profit from sales of cruise tickets, a much lower percentage than with other travel products.

As a result, some operators are finding it difficult to remain profitable, and the customer experience is being sacrificed to low expenditure.

SHINE

Costa Cruises, an arm of US-based Carnival Corp, entered the Chinese market in 2006 and currently holds 26 percent of the nation’s cruise market.

Industry officials in China said competition is undercutting business performance in the market. Only operators who improve the quality of cruises and cater to the needs of passengers will come out on top.

Zhang Zhendong, general manager of Tianjin International Cruise Home Port, said China’s cruise industry is in a period of transition.

“In 2017, the market entered adjustment phrase that will last until 2020,” he said. “That will be followed by a 10-year golden age of cruising. Next year may see a temporary trough in the market. However, the market is 10 times larger now than it was in 2012, and the compound growth rate is almost 30 percent, which is rare in the world.”

Roger Chen, chairman in China for Carnival Corp, said his company remains upbeat on the China cruise market.

“We are here to stay in China,” said Chen, speaking at the 13th China Cruise Shipping Conference and International Expo in Shenzhen earlier this month.

Market fluctuations this year are a bit exaggerated, he said, and it’s natural for any industry to have adjustment periods.

“We are collaborating with China State Shipbuilding Corp to build the largest made-in-China vessel as part of a joint venture, and we will operate this vessel in the Chinese market,” Chen added.

Costa China’s Ye said his company needs to advertise cruises as a lifestyle and spend time and effort building and differentiating its brands.

“When Chinese passengers leave the cruise vessels,” he said, “they often don’t even know the ship’s name. We have to work on the branding of the vessel and providing diversified choices.”

ALL THE THINGS TOURISTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DO IN VENICE ITALY

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ITALY’S QUARTZY NEWS)

 

 

ALL THE THINGS TOURISTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DO IN VENICE

By Rosie Spinks 

Venice has long been known as the sinking city, but only in modern times has it begun sinking under the weight of its tourists. Each day, the UNESCO World Heritage site receives up to 60,000 visitors, resulting in a city that is increasingly becoming devoid of actual Venetians.

While Venice is not the only city grappling with the crisis of over tourism, it is taking a more punitive approach than most in dealing with visitors. Earlier this year, the city began separating tourists from locals during busy periods. And in 2017—in addition to taking steps to divert large cruise ships to a nearby industrial town—the city’s tourism board launched the #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign to remind tourists of everything they can’t do while visiting the fine city. There are even “angels of decorum” employed each summer to ensure the rules are enforced.

This week came news that tourists may soon be banned from engaging in a fairly common activity: sitting. While sitting in and around the famed St. Mark’s Square is already banned, there is a new proposal from mayor Luigi Brugnaro to ban sitting on the ground throughout the city, with offenders facing fines between €50 and €500. The rule will be voted on in October.

If the mere act of resting one’s backside after a long day of sightseeing may be banned, it’s worth asking what else “boorish” visitors—the seemingly preferred adjective of tourism officials—are supposed to avoid. Here is a list of forbidden behaviors in Venice, as well as the fine they incur.

  • Sitting is banned in the following places: “in St. Mark’s Square and in Piazzetta dei Leoncini, beneath the arcades and on the steps of the Procuratie Nuove, the Napoleonic Wing, the Sansovino Library, beneath the arcades of the Ducal Palace, in the impressive entranceway to St. Mark’s Square otherwise known as Piazzetta San Marco and its jetty.” (€200)
  • You can’t idly stand around, even to consume food and drink, unless you are in a restaurant or cafe. (€200)
  • You may not swim or immerse your body parts in any canal, stream, “water spot,” or in St Mark’s Basin. (€450)
  • You can’t litter, although that should be obvious. (€100-200)
  • You may not roam Venice’s historic streets or be in any private or public vehicle “while bare-chested or wearing swimwear.” (€200)
  • You may not scatter food or food waste, even if it’s to feed pigeons. (€50-200)
  • Bicycling is not allowed, “even when led by hand.” (€100)
  • You may not camp, nor lie on benches. And don’t even thinking about standing anywhere in possession of camping equipment, because that is banned too. (€50)

The Great Wall Of China’s Repair Work Is Called “Brutal And Ugly” By Locals

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Chinese outrage over ‘ugly’ restoration of Great Wall

中国”最美野长城”被抹平引发众怒

CHINESE social media users were in an uproar Friday over restoration of a 700-year-old section of the Great Wall that has been covered in concrete, turning it into a smooth, flat-topped path.
Known as one of the most beautiful portions of the “wild”, restored wall, the eight-kilometer (five-mile) Xiaohekou stretch in northeast Liaoning province was built-in 1381 during the Ming Dynasty.
Photos posted online showed that its uneven, crumbling steps and plant growth had been replaced as far as the eye could see with a white, concrete-like cap.
“This looks like the work of a group of people who didn’t even graduate from elementary school,” said one user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. “If this is the result, you might as well have just blown it up.”
“Such brutal treatment of the monuments left behind by our ancestors! How is it that people with low levels of cultural awareness can take on leadership positions?” asked another. “Why don’t we just raise the Forbidden City in Beijing, too?”
Even the deputy director of Liaoning’s department of culture Ding Hui admitted: “The repairs really are quite ugly,” according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The Great Wall is not a single unbroken structure but stretches for thousands of kilometres in sections from China’s east coast to the edge of the Gobi desert.
In places it is so dilapidated that estimates of its total length vary from 9,000 to 21,000 kilometers, depending on whether missing sections are included. Despite its length it is not, as is sometimes claimed, visible from space.
Emergency maintenance was ordered for Xiaohekou in 2012 to “avoid further damage and dissolution” caused by “serious structural problems and issues due to flooding” and was completed in 2014, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said in a statement on its website in response to public and media outcry.
The government body has begun an investigation into the approval, implementation and outcome of the maintenance work, stating that it would deal with work units and personnel found to be at fault severely, “without justifying their mistakes”.
Around 30 percent of China’s Ming-era Great Wall has disappeared over time as adverse natural conditions and reckless human activities — including stealing the bricks to build houses — erode the UNESCO World Heritage site, state media reports said last summer.
Under Chinese regulations people who take bricks from the Great Wall can be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($750), but plant growth on the wall continues to accelerate decay, and tourism, especially to undeveloped sections, continues to severely damage the world’s longest human construction.

EUROPE BY TRAIN: FIVE GREAT ONE-WEEK RAIL TRIP ROUTES

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘ON THE LUCE’ TRAVEL BLOG ON STUMBLE UPON)

 

EUROPE BY TRAIN: FIVE GREAT ONE-WEEK RAIL TRIP ROUTES

Europe by train: Five great one-week rail trip routes

Train travel is one of the best ways to see Europe – the continent’s fairly compact so it’s easy to get around, and you can sit back and soak up the stunning views with a picnic. But if you’re planning a rail trip, most of the suggested itineraries seem to be geared up for Interailers on month-long trips. It doesn’t have to be this way though – you can have a mini European rail adventure too. Pick a region and a few destinations and get planning (the Seat 61 and Deutsche Bahn websites are great for routes and timetables). Or if that sounds too much work, here are five of Europe’s best one-week rail trip ideas to get you started. All of the routes are possible in a week, but if you’ve got more time then you can take things slower and spend more time in each place. The idea isn’t to wear yourself out trying to see everything in every destination, but to take in some of the highlights and get a taste for each place (and if you love it you can always come back!).

Flamsbana scenic railway in Norwegian fjords

The Flåmsbana scenic train in Norway

NORTHERN EUROPE – CANALS AND CHOCOLATE

Start off in Amsterdam and spend a couple of days checking out the city’s canals, cafés and museums. Then take an early train on to the pretty Belgian city of Bruges (3 hours away). Spend the afternoon feasting on local chocolate and beer then next morning climb to the top of the Belfort tower or take a boat trip before catching an afternoon train to Paris (3 hours). You’re totally spoilt for things to do in Paris, so choose a few favourites to do over the next couple of days. Then take the train on to Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur, on the banks of the Rhine (5 hours). Spend the night in Chur then next morning catch the Bernina Express, one of Europe’s most scenic train journeys through spectacular Alpine scenery to Ticino in Italy, where you change to a local train to connect to Milan (total 7 hours). Then spend your last morning shopping and sightseeing in the Italian fashion capital before heading home.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Northen Europe

Though Northern Europe from Amsterdam to Milan

ITALY – PALACES AND PIZZA

Begin your trip with a couple of days in Venice – cruise the Grand Canal, get lost in the backstreets and brave the crowds at St Mark’s Square and the Doges Palace. Then take an early train to Florence (2 hours) and spend the afternoon gallery-hopping. Finish getting your fill of Renaissance art the next morning then take the short journey on to Rome (1.5 hours) for the afternoon. Spend the next day seeing the historical sights of Rome before travelling on to the gritty coastal city of Naples (1 hour 10 mins). Stuff yourself in the home of pizza and if you have time to spare you can catch the Circumvesuviana railway to visit nearby SorrentoHerculaneum or Pompeii. Finish off with a couple of days on the island of Sicily – you can take the train all the way as it travels right on to the ferry for the 30-minute boat trip across the Messina Straits (takes 6 hours 45 mins to Taormina, 7.5 hours to Catania or 9 hours to Palermo).

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Italy

Through Italy from Venice to Sicily

EASTERN EUROPE – CONCERTS AND CAKE

Arrive into the Hungarian capital Budapest for a couple of days soaking up the culture, steaming in the thermal baths and partying in ruin pubs. Then catch a train on to Bratislava in Slovakia (2.5 hours), a compact city on the banks of the Danube. Spend the afternoon and next morning checking the city’s mix of 18th-century and Socialist-era architecture. Then travel on to Vienna in Austria (1 hour by train – or if you fancy a change from rail travel then the two cities are also connected by a boat along the Danube). Visit an ornate palace, catch a Mozart concert at the opera house and fill up on delicious sachertorte at a coffee house. Next travel on to Ljubljana in Slovenia (6 hours) for a couple of days exploring the charming old town, or you’re also only an hour by train from beautiful Lake Bled. Then end your trip in Zagreb, across the border in Croatia (2.5 hours), with a day visiting its museums, galleries and churches.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Eastern Europe

Through Eastern Europe from Budapest to Zagreb

SPAIN & PORTUGAL – PAELLA AND PORT

Start off in the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona and spend a couple of days checking out Gaudi’s handiwork and catching some rays on the beach. Then take an early train down the coast to Valencia (3 hours) where you have the afternoon and next morning to explore the city’s mix of ancient and modern architecture and try a paella where it was first created. Take a short train ride inland to the Spanish capital Madrid in the afternoon (1.5 hours) and spend the next day visiting its parks and galleries. Then catch the Lusitaniaovernight train that evening, leaving Madrid just before 10pm and arriving into Lisbon at 7.30am the next morning. Spend a couple of days in Portugal’s capital spotting street art and feasting on seafood – or you can take a short day trip to the palace at Sintra (30 mins each way). Then finally travel north to Porto (3 hours) to end with a day of port-tasting on the banks of the Duoro.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Spain and Portugal

Through Spain and Portugal from Barcelona to Porto

SCANDINAVIA – FJORDS AND FUNICULARS

Begin your route with a couple of day in the Danish capital Copenhagen – cycle around the cobbled streets and check out the design shops and Michelin-starred restaurants in Nyhavn. Then take the train over the Öresund Link bridge and tunnel into Sweden and on to Stockholm (5 hours). Spend a day exploring the city, from medieval Gamla Stan to the hundreds of islands in the archipelago. Then travel across the border to Norway and Oslo (6.5 hours) where you can get a dose of Scandinavian culture at the city’s museums and art galleries. Take the scenic rail route towards the coast next – first the mainline train to Myrdal (4.5 hours) and then the Flåmsbana mountain railway to Flåm (50 minutes). Spend the night on the edge of the fjords and take a cruise out into the Sognefjord before travelling on to Bergen the next day (2 hours). Finish off with a trip to the fish market and great views from the funicular to Mount Fløyen.

A one-week rail trip itinerary in Scandinavia

Through Scandinavia from Copenhagen to Bergen

So which would be your favourite route? Get lots more inspiration for travel by train in Europe in the On the Luce ‘Rail Travel Ideas Book’, launching early 2018.

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You don't need months to spare to see Europe by train – five of the best mini European rail adventures, with routes in Italy, Scandinavia and more – ontheluce.com

World’s 50 Most Dangerous Countries Revealed For Travelers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘BORED PANDA’ WEBSITE)

 

World’s Most Dangerous Countries Revealed, And It May Change Your Travel Plans

Just like last year, International SOS and Control Risks have released a map that shows just how tourist-friendly all countries are, and it’s worth looking at if you’re planning a trip for 2018 to a place you’ve never been before. After all, we all like coming back from a holiday with all of our limbs and other valuables.

Collecting data from the World Health Organization and other institutions, the interactive ‘Travel Risk Map’ reveals just how risky countries are regarding road safety, security and medical matters. According to The Ipsos Mori Business Resilience Trends Watch 2018, 63% of people think travel-related risks have increased during the past year. In the paper, security threats and natural disasters were cited as main reasons for changed travel plans.

Scroll down to check out how countries rank up against each other and let us know what you think about it in the comment section below!

More info: travelriskmap.com (h/t)

This is how much travelers will be risking their health in 2018 across the globe

And this is how the world looks from a security threat point of view

Finally, road safety

Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

You came to Puerto Rico for the golden sand and sun—gold, you will recall, was also the basis of our first colonizers’ initial attraction. For the endless piña coladas and rum-spiked mysteries. For the colonial charm and quaint, humble lifestyle. Poverty looks so alluring in the Caribbean, what with the bright colors, crystal-clear waters and the backdrop of lush greens—besides, it’s only for a week. Your friends say it’s the hottest Spring Break spot; the newspapers say it’s a debt-ridden disaster; your parents say it’s dangerous and that the water is undrinkable; and the brochures say it’s a (tax) haven, an absolute paradise. So here you are, in your bathing suit and sarong, mojito in hand, ready to focus on your one task for the week: getting a tan.

But it turns out that the sun isn’t nailed onto the sky, and it doesn’t run on one-million 100-watt light bulbs that never fail. The tides rise and the swells are ferocious. Coconuts, palm trees and branches are potential projectiles. And a hurricane is heading straight for your worry-free fantasy.

So you try to catch a flight out of this paradise-turned-inferno, because a hurricane was not on your must-see itinerary. Instead, JetBlue takes you to a hurricane shelter in San Juan, a hot and humid coliseum, where your beach chair is replaced by a cot; your piña colada by a Walgreens water bottle; your dream, by our reality.

The power was out in my house as I imagined the scenario above, which had taken place the day before, right before Irma’s arrival. After Irma’s passing the next morning there were more than a million households without power. The Electric Power Authority (AEE) was predicting the outages would last two to four months, and almost 80,000 households had lost water service as well. Over 6,200 people were in shelters on the northeastern side of the island, and Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry had suffered $30.4 million in losses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Governor Ricardo Rosselló were still evaluating infrastructural and residential damages. And now a powerful new storm was heading our way: María.

Puerto Rico is no stranger to crisis. Before Irma’s rampage through the archipelago, Puerto Rico was already in the midst of one of the most devastating financial and socio-political crises in its recent history, with an unaudited $74 billion debt under its belt, $49 billion in pension obligations, and several decades’ worth of illegal bond issuances and trading related to its status as an overly-advertised tax haven. Neoliberal policies such as draconian budget cuts and extreme austerity measures had already rendered life in Puerto Rico quite precarious. And the whole thing was being overseen and managed simultaneously by Governor Rosselló, an unelected and antidemocratic Fiscal Control Board, and judge Laura Taylor Swain, all of whom were going back and forth on the country’s fiscal management and debt restructuring processes.

But even as Hurricane Irma headed straight towards it, for many outside of the country, Puerto Rico is a mere blip on CNN’s news ticker, an enchanting US-owned island on a tourist brochure, that exotic place where the music video for “Despacito” was filmed (and made all the better by Justin Bieber), a pebble sinking between an ocean and a sea that have seen too much.

But Irma’s passing and aftermath have once again brought to light Puerto Rico’s primordial conundrum: colonialism.

Puerto Rico has been a US colony (the US prefers the euphemistic designations of “commonwealth”, “unincorporated territory” and “free associated state”) for 199 years, a relationship that has led to the country’s being trapped in a steep downward spiral. The current fiscal and socio-political crisis is only one of the side effects of this relationship.

Hurricane Irma’s passing underscored the damage done by the neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the Fiscal Control Board and the crimes committed by corporations taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. For starters, as a result of the massive closure of public schools, only 329 schools across the island were available as hurricane shelters compared with the 372 available during Hurricane Bertha’s passing in 2014.

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure also finds itself in an advanced state of deterioration, including roads, bridges, the University of Puerto Rico and public service buildings all of whom were critically endangered during Irma’s passing. A good part of the country’s “essential infrastructure” is on the coast, making it vulnerable to flooding, high tides and storm surges, especially during hurricanes of Irma’s or Maria’s intensity.

It is notable that much of that infrastructure was built to benefit the tourist industry and mercantile trade with the US, and the US alone. Money invested in infrastructure tends to go towards revitalizing these “essentials”, not to repairing the potholed roads in our communities, remediating asbestos-filled buildings or replacing crumbling light poles at the mercy of hurricane winds. All of this is further proof of our colonial market dependency and the essentially colonial nature of the tourist industry, which caters particularly to PR’s relationship with the US.

Even the disaster declaration signed by the US President authorizing FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico second-rate, allowing only for search and rescue, public health and safety, and debris removal. It didn’t include rebuilding or even restoration of power, and with the current fiscal crisis and the Fiscal Control Board’s silence since Irma’s passing, rebuilding and restructuring will be a tough feat for Puerto Rico given the lack of available resources.

Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico’s Carla Minet said:

The budget cuts, in an already weak economy, will probably make the storm’s social impact worse.

Minet added that a pre-Irma forecast by the Center for a New Economy’s policy director, Sergio M. Marxuach, predicts that the recently approved the Fiscal Plan would result in another lost decade, continued population loss due to migration and lower birth rates, lower employment, less access to public education, pension cuts, worsening health outcomes, higher mortality and lower life expectancy, and, ultimately, higher rates of poverty and inequality. “Now add in the cataclysm of a monster hurricane that the plan never accounted for,” said Minet.

The Fiscal Control Board is likely to use Irma as an excuse to aggressively push the many policies it has in line, such as the privatization of PR’s Electric Power Authority (AEE). Nor would it be surprising if Gov. Rosselló and the Fiscal Control Board used the occasion to dismantle and privatize the University of Puerto Rico, the only public higher education institution in the country, as well as a number of other public institutions that are defenseless against the colonial rule of the Fiscal Control Board and its blatant neoliberal attacks.

Now, barely two weeks after Irma’s passing, we’ve just been hit by another category 5 hurricane, María. This just as some household have just got back their electricity supply, and while others are still living in the dark; while the ground is still strewn with fallen trees and light posts waiting to take on second lives as projectiles; while many, both locals and refugees from neighboring Caribbean islands, are still recovering from the loss of their homes, their entire reality; and while crisis and colonialism continue to hold hands, as they do every day.

And so, you’re sitting in your cot with your straw hat on, hundreds of locals scrambling around you with what’s left of their lives stuffed into a bag or a suitcase, wondering why JetBlue dropped you off here and high-tailed it; why the shelter is so understaffed; why the power went even though it hasn’t yet started raining and not a gusts of wind has blown; why CNN wasn’t covering Irma’s passing over Puerto Rico. “I’m here, send over an Embassy representative for me!” you yell in your mind as you stare at the screen of your almost-dead smartphone. Why, you wonder, has life had been so unfair to you, ruining your longed-for vacation in the Island of enchantment.

Then your thoughts are interrupted as you spot a window and you walk gloomily towards it and look through pigeon-christened glass, and watch as the storm clouds gather and gusts of wind batter a US flag—oh, and a Puerto Rican one too.

7 climbers fall to their deaths in the Alps

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

7 climbers fall to their deaths in the Alps

A view of the Zillertal Valley in the Austrian Alps, near an area where five climbers were killed.

Story highlights

  • Five climbers were killed after falling onto a glacier in the Austrian Alps
  • Two others were killed in Italy climbing in a group roped together

Rome (CNN) Seven climbers fell to their deaths in two separate incidents in the Alps on Sunday, officials said.

Five of the climbers died in the Austrian Alps, Zell am See provincial government chief Martin Reichholf told CNN. Two others were killed as they climbed in a group roped together in the Italian Alps, according to an emergency center there.
Reichholf said there were indications that the climbers were German citizens, adding that details were still emerging.
The climbers in Austria fell around 300 meters (1,000 feet) onto a glacier near the town of Krimml, according to Dr. Egbert Ritter, a trauma surgeon at the AUVA hospital in Salzburg.
Adamello Glacier
Krimml
Map data ©2017 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009), Google, Inst. Geogr. Nacional
A sixth climber — a 60-year-old man — is in intensive care at the hospital, but his injuries are not life-threatening, Ritter said. Six helicopters were at the scene of the accident, he told CNN.
The climbers fell at around 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) about 1.5 kilometers south of a mountain cabin called the Zittauer Hutte at an altitude of around 3,000 meters, he said.

Group roped together

In Italy, a man and woman who appear to be in their mid-30s were killed as they climbed the Adamello glacier in the the Trentino Alto Adige region, according to the emergency rescue center in the town of Trento.
They were part of a group of nine Italians from the city of Brescia. The climbers were connected by three ropesThey fell when those on the lowest rope slipped on the glacier, dragging down others higher up the slope, according to the rescue center.
A further two climbers were seriously injured, including a 14-year-old boy who is being treated in Trento hospital.
Three helicopters were used to rescue the group, officials said.

U.S. State Department Warns Citizens Against Going To Mexico Tourist Locations Because Of Violence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

The U.S. State Department has warned its citizens about traveling to Cancun and Los Cabos, two of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations, after a surge in violence in those regions.

A travel advisory issued Tuesday upgraded the warnings for two states, Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, saying turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime and shootings in which innocent bystanders have been killed.

For years, both regions were largely insulated from the drug war violence that has engulfed other parts of Mexico, but this year they have each seen a major uptick in killings.

There have been deadly gun battles in downtown Cancun, and in January, five people were killed at a nightclub in nearby Playa del Carmen. In Los Cabos, a municipality on the Pacific Coast that includes the cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, three people were shot to death this month at the entrance to a popular beach.

The travel warning could deliver a major blow to Mexico’s $20-billion-a-year tourism industry, which represents about 7% of the country’s gross domestic product..

“This is a very bad news for Mexico,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, director for the Center for U.S.-Mexican studies at UC San Diego, who said recent growth in Mexico’s tourism industry has been a rare bright spot in an economy that quaked after President Trump’s threats to tear up free trade agreements and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the rapid increase in development, especially in Los Cabos, may have helped contribute to the violence, Fernandez de Castro said, as migrants from around the country came to build new hotel rooms and resorts.

“The growth of Los Cabos has been way too accelerated in the last two years,” he said. “It’s creating a little bit of social chaos.”

The State Department’s decision to warn residents about travel to the resort cities “is a reality check for the booming towns and economy of Mexico,” he said.

Mexican officials have gone to lengths to portray the country’s beach resorts as family friendly and safe. Violent incidents “are extremely rare among the millions of international tourists who visit Riviera Maya each year, and the entire tourism industry works to ensure the safety and satisfaction of all visitors,” reads a statement on the website of the Assn. of Riviera Maya Hotels.

.

But 10 years into the country’s military-led drug war, violence is surging across the nation. This year, Mexico is on track to record more homicides than in any year in the last two decades.

Rising demand for heroin in the U.S. and power struggles among the country’s top drug cartels, authorities say, have led to an increase in killings in 27 of Mexico’s 32 states.

In Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located, 169 killings were reported from January to July, more than twice as many as during the same period last year.

In Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas, 232 slayings have been reported this year, nearly four times as many as during the same period last year.

Although tourism from the U.S. dropped off about five years ago during another period of high violence in Mexico, it has substantially recovered, with the number of American visitors increasing 12% from 2015 to 2016, according to the World Tourism Organization. Mexico recently surpassed Turkey to become the eighth most popular travel destination in the world, drawing 35 million international visitors last year.

Tourism officials in the Riviera Maya, the 140-mile-long stretch of Caribbean coastline that includes Cancun as well as Playa del Carmen and Tulum, have already been on the defensive this year after reports that a young woman died after drinking tainted alcohol at a resort.

The State Department also issued a warning in response to those reports, cautioning vacationers to drink alcohol in moderation and seek medical help if they begin to feel ill.

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