Flybe Collapse

So this morning I woke up to the news that Flybe, the biggest European regional airline operating out of Exeter, has collapsed and are ceasing services immediately. This means my flight for next week isn’t going to be operating, neither is the flight that I had literally booked just yesterday for next month! I’ve instructed my bank to submit two chargeback claims, but who knows whether I’ll get those costs reimberused. I also had to buy a new ticket for next week, so in 24 hours I was down more than £600.

More importantly, this means that from now on getting to and from Amsterdam will be a lot harder than it was before. Until another airline starts operating flights on this route, I’m going to have to flight out from Bristol. There is a bus that goes from Exeter to Bristol airport, but that will eat into an hour or two on each end of my visit to Amsterdam.

Before, I had arranged with my work to give me the Friday afternoon off without having to eat into my vacation time. This would allow me to come into work in the morning, hop into a taxi at noon and make my early afternoon flight. Now, with an extra 2 hours of travel time, I’ll likely not be able to do that, and I doubt my employers will be accommodating enough to allow me to skip all of Friday just so that I can make an early afternoon flight. I’ll see what the commute to the airport will be like next week.

On the way back, I’ll have another extra couple of hours, which means I’ll have to catch an earlier flight than normally. Before, I would take a mid-evening flight, usually around 21:00, and I’d arrive home between 22:00 and 23:00. Now I’ll have to get an late afternoon flight, which means gaming will be jeopardised. I’m hoping to find that the total travel time back isn’t too bad, and I can get a slightly later flight next time which means I won’t have to worry about compromising my gaming time.

I guess that it was quite fortunate that we’ve had such a wonderful connection the last few years.

Life is Pretty Good

As we’re rolling into March I find that I’m further settling into my work rather well. It’s been a good few months for my professional self esteem because the change of scenery has allowed me to realise what it is that I can offer to a company, how fast I pick things up and make it my own, and how well I can be up and running and contributing. I’m learning a lot, which is very nice.

Having said that, things have not been without its struggles. My biggest support at work recently departed the company, which is a real shame, since I think they had a lot to offer, professionally but also as a friend and I fear that we’ll lose touch. The company is also quite a bit bigger and quite a bit more political. The culture is different, too, which I have to get used to.

I do miss Amsterdam a little bit, or rather, the life that I had there. The contrast between the workweek and the weekend is much less extreme here, and I’ve found that I miss that. Work days are quiet and comfortable, and weekend days are usually quite similar. I don’t have that many friends yet here, and those people that I’m friendly with are considerably more settled down than my friends in Amsterdam.

But, flying back once a month for a weekend of fun has been going well. I’ve agreed with my work that I can depart midway on Friday to go to the airport, giving me another evening to go and see people and act like a moron, without jeopardising my ability to have a fun D&D session on Sunday.

My relationship with Joasia has flourished, I think. Initially, being apart as much as we were helped make it really special when we saw each other again. But now, I feel like we’re both at an age where it’s just really nice to be able to rely on each other’s presence. Perhaps even learn how to take each other’s presence for granted just the tiniest bit.

The only thing that’s still not well for me is my lower back. It’s gotten considerably worse after coming back from Brazil, at a time I was hoping that the extended break would get rid of the tension in my back, but going back to work has made it worse, not better. The last week or so things have been a little better. I’ve stopped going to BJJ and I haven’t been running, trying to give my back a break. It’s making me anxious, though. I’m trying to watch my diet a bit so that I don’t get too heavy in the meantime. It’s been three weeks since I went training and hopefully it won’t be much longer.

Urinal Cakes

A while ago, I saw a video online of a drunk man at one of those metal, men’s room urinals shaped like a trough. He was so drunk that he thought it was the sink where you could wash your hands. He couldn’t figure out how to turn on the tap, so in frustration he used what he thought was water at the bottom of the urinal to wash his hands, using the urinal cakes as soap.

I think about that man a lot. I always feel as if I’m only two steps removed from being that man.

Chapada Diamantina

This year, Joasia and I returned to Brazil to spend time with her brother and his family. He recently welcomed a baby boy, which was a perfect excuse to go and visit for the holidays. When we visited in 2015, we took Joasia’s parents with us and decided to split off from the group and go for a week eco-tourism in Bonito in the south. We had a great time trekking through the jungle, bathing under waterfalls and swimming down rivers. So much so that we decided to do something like that again.

Upon arrival in Brazil, we took a flight from São Paulo to Lençóis in the middle of the state of Bahia. This is an old mining town of eight thousand people, close to Chapada Diamantina, a national park filled with forests, rivers, caves and waterfalls. We had a spectacular time, doing an excursion each day; some of them easy, and some of them quite challenging.

The challenge was ramped up due to the heat. With it being the start of summer in Brazil, temperatures in Lençóis were expected to go northward of 35 degrees Celsius. This meant breaking several of my own rules in order to prevent me from dying of a heat stroke; wearing shorts and wearing a hat.

The temperature was a big difference with Bonito, which was also warm, but not like Lençóis. Guides sometimes spoke English, and the organisation who organised our excursions made sure that our guides could communicate with us, which made things much easier than in Bonito, where we were often left to other people in our group that could translate for us, which wasn’t always the case.

Another thing which was a significant difference was the poverty; apparently the northern states, like Bahia, are less prosperous than the southern ones, and while in Lençóis itself it wasn’t that apparent, apart from a general “frontier town” feel that lacked basic infrastructure and facilities (like proper waste management), but the poverty ramped up quickly in the (even) more rural parts around the area.

I found that there were many buildings that had been built and simply never finished completely. Building materials scattered around, waiting to be used, sometimes for weeks, months or years. One of our guides, Indio, said that this was often due to funding running out, usually due to a lack of contingency planning, foolish optimism, or misappropriation. For instance, a little, two-storey house with a beautiful façade, which lacked even a roof for the second floor, effectively making it a single-storey house.

Another annoyance which my Teutonic brain couldn’t comprehend was that lots of the dirty roads around the small villages were so poorly maintained that we saw lots of cars changing tires alongside the road due to punctures from the sharp rocks. If I were living in one of these villages I would get some people together and literally sweep the roads and clear them of rocks. It would save everyone a ton in car repairs.

In order to keep my frustration at this at a minimum I have told myself that there is likely a very good reason why they don’t that I can’t think of.

Chapada Diamantina was also much drier than Bonito, which meant there was less jungle vegetation and more so-called “Atlantic forest” and savannah vegetation. The soil had this deep, dark red colour, which reminded me of clay and ceramics. Salamanders were everywhere, hunting flies, or baking in the scorching sun. And yet, most days started off cloudy, which quite a few mornings seeing rain showers. There were many rivers, pools, lakes and waterfalls. The vegetation around those was immediate bright green and lush, more jungle like.

The landscape was dotted with “chapadas”, which are hills and mountains with a ramp on one side, a plateau on top, with a sheer, sudden drop on the other side. These created large, beautiful valleys, full of small trails to hike, rivers to follow and waterfalls to explore. We did rather pedestrian excursions most of the time, with a few challenges to our legs and lungs at times, but the real pros did multi-day treks lasting three, four and sometimes five days, camping in the wild or sleeping in abandoned houses that used to belong to the miners.

Until the mid-eighties, the area was a wealthy mining area, looking mostly for diamonds. The techniques used in the mining industry was polluting the ground water so much, spoiling drinking water all the way to Salvador on the coast to the east, that mining was mostly prohibited and the remainder heavily restricted. The are became poor overnight as they lost their entire source of incoming. Soon, a large part was designated a national park, which meant no development of any kind could take place. Some villages, like Lençóis were so historic that they were given dispensation, but all other areas became depopulated as people (were) moved away. Around the park, areas were designated as “protected for preservation of nature” which meant development was allowed but restricted.

Pretty quickly the people in the area started to find new ways of generating incoming, tourism being the biggest of them. They are proud of the beautiful sites they have to offer. A lot of them were very special, too special to really capture in photos properly.