Monday, January 13, 2014

FutureLearn

As I've had a fair bit of free time between work projects I decided that rather than just enjoying the island life I should also put some of that time to good use, so today I start my first course with FutureLearn.  FutureLearn is a private initiative owned by the Open University whose stated aim is "is to connect learners from all over the world with high quality educators, and with each other".  It is just starting out and provides almost forty free little mini courses  (you can pay for a physical certificate of completion at the end if you wish) in a good number of areas ranging from Shakespeare to human anatomy to business.

So far I have signed up for four five (just added another while checking to see how many courses they offer) courses between now and April with each course taking between two to four hours and week and lasting for between two and eight weeks.  The first is an eight week course called Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions, by the University of Exeter.

The other three four courses are:
Fairness and Nature: When Worlds Collide, by the University of Leeds
Make an Impact: Sustainability for Professionals, by the University of Bath
Exploring Our Oceans, by the University of Southampton
Moons, by the Open University

As mentioned the first course starts today so I will keep the blog updated on how they are going.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Salazie!

There are three spectacular "cirques" on the island, I've been to Cilaos a few times but in the almost two and a half years we have been here I hadn't been to either Salazie or Mafate.  So with Aurelie and the kids being away I thought I take the time to visit them starting yesterday with Salazie.

It's on the far (eastern) side of the island so it took a few hours to drive.  The eastern side of the island is the least developed coastal part of the island.  It  has a big Indian influence and it shows, at one point I passed what I took to be a Hindu offering/shrine? on the roadside as well as some men in full traditional garb. 

Hindu roadside offering
Salazie is reached by an occasionally knuckle whitening winding road and is the wettest of the cirques.  In the aftermath of the cyclone Bejisa you could really see what that means, there were lots of spectacular waterfalls (some pouring onto the road!) and there had been a lot of slope failures that were still in the process of being cleared up (at one point I saw a helicopter carrying out a cliff face inspection above where a landslide had occured, looked like fun!).

Helicoptering engineering 
Unfortunately when I got to the end of the line (literally, the road ends) at Hell Bourg (a lovely little village) the clouds really closed in reducing visibility to a hundred meters or so and the rain started in earnest so I didn't get to take many photos.  Still the image of the deep green mountain slopes draped in the mist was otherworldly and a little eerie and will stay with me!

Hell town (Hell Bourg) town square!
So next week I'm planning to take a little visit to Cirque de Mafate, this one will be a little different as there are no roads, foot access only!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cyclone Bejisa

So cyclone Bejisa has been and gone. I've been in big storms before, giant electrical storms in Africa, the monsoon in SE Asia but I think that this was my first experience within cyclone.  

Euronews report on the cyclone

We are just to the right of the eye!
It first rain and light winds arrived on Thursday morning (the 2nd of January), building up through out the day to the afternoon until we had high winds and very heavy rain.  The power went early in the day as expected, like I guess most people here we have "cyclone stores", torches (with plenty of batteries), candles, fresh water, etc. so I wasn't worried by that.

video
The view from our veranda, facing the direction of the cyclone, early on Thursday afternoon

video
The view from our bedroom window in the lee of the storm, again early on Thursday afternoon

By late afternoon though all was calm and quiet and just a little bit eerie, it really was the eye of the storm! Soon enough, just about dusk, the storm picked up again, building up through the night to what seemed to me a good bit stronger than during the day. The house that we live in has thick wooden shutters for all of the windows and doors and as I sat in our fortified house with the two cats, reading in the dark with my headlamp, I could hear the occasional crash or thud as something carried by the wind hit the house, exciting times!

By morning there was still waves of heavy rain and high winds but the worst had passed and it slackened as the morning went on.  

We got off lightly without much damage to the garden and none to the house.  Some of our neighbors lost numerous big boughs of their trees, in our case it was a fair few litchi branches along with most of the rest of the litchis (which will be a bit of an issue as there is a sea of them in the garden mixed in with leaves and they will stink and attract mosquitoes as they rot!), most of the avocados and a big bunch of coconuts that were all blown down.  So Friday morning, in between showers, I got to work clearing up the debris, which I've spent a fair bit of the last two days doing, not finished yet mind you.

Power came back on last night and we still have no running water (and when it does come back we''ll have to rely on bottled water for a while as the public supply usually gets contaminated after heavy rains) but I'm sure that'll be back fairly soon (a shower would be nice since I've been working in the garden with 30c heat and very high humidity, it's a good thing that Aurelie and the kids are in France!).

I did learn a few lessons for our next cyclone: 

If Aurelie and the kids are here we will need more lights.  By myself I only used my trusty headlamp (I did light some candles in the living room but after a while realised that I wasn't using them so I blew them out) but if the kids are here we will need more lanterns for them (currently we only have one).  

Get the gas bottle for our cooking hobs replaced, we are only on our second gas bottle in two years so it must be nearing empty, it didn't run out but if it had I wouldn't have been able to cook and that would have made me sad!

Get some way of charging electronics without mains power.  With the power out I had no land line and the iphone isn't noted for it's battery longevity (plus virtually all my books here are on my ipad).  I'm thinking a Power Pot X http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/david-toledo/the-powerpot-x-most-reliable-10-watt-portable-gene

All in all not a bad first cyclone and I did quite enjoy it.  It's not something to take lightly though and not everyone was so lucky, fifteen people were injured and one or two killed on the Island.  I was lucky enough to have everything (mostly) prepared and be in a (mostly) well constructed, safe, house.