Monthly Archives: November 2009

Win a copy of National Geographic’s THE DARWIN EXPERIENCE: The Story of the Man and His Theory of Evolution

Posted by on November 14, 2009

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species. To celebrate, National Geographic has released The Darwin Experience: The Story of the Man and His Theory of Evolution.

From the publisher’s description:

Celebrating both the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the electrifying publication of On the Origin of Species, here’s the story of the man and the theory that opened a new chapter in the history of science—transformed into an engaging interactive experience that invites readers to unfold natural selection, evolution, and their challenging implications just as Darwin’s contemporaries did a century and a half ago.

The year 2009 will definitely be Darwin-centric, with major museum exhibitions, international symposiums, and much more, all scheduled to commemorate the double anniversary of a great scientist and the opening volleys of a controversy that still sparks debate and curiosity. Combining science, travel, culture, and history, this book is an elegant, richly illustrated volume that offers not just hundreds of full-color photographs but also a trove of removable facsimile documents that bring the subject alive.

These fascinatingly diverse memorabilia include letters, maps, photographs, sketches, newspaper articles, and more, providing telling glimpses of Darwin’s life as never before, from his early expedition aboard the Beagle to his meticulous, seemingly arcane research in the Galápagos Islands to the practical observations and theoretical conclusions that won him a pivotal place in the history of science.

I’ll be giving away three copies of The Darwin Experience: The Story of the Man and His Theory of Evolution. All you have to do is tell me what this most amazing thing you’ve seen in the natural world: animal, vegetable or mineral.

The contest will be ending on November 21 and I will randomly select three entries.

Aboard the Crown Princess – Day 4, Grand Cayman Island

Posted by on November 13, 2009

Welcome to Grand Cayman

Welcome to Grand Cayman

We finally got to visit a real port of call, Grand Cayman Island. Given the problems with the weather, there were five boats in the port at Grand Cayman. Three Carnival ships, the Crown Princess and a Celebrity ship. My shore excursion was SCUBA diving, which is something I haven’t done since I dove the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria in March. I signed up for the only certified dive option which was available, so I had no idea what sort of dive we’d be doing.

Considering there were five ships in port, you wouldn’t have guessed it from the crowd on shore. It didn’t seem that busy and the dive boat was only half full. In fact the dive sites we visited didn’t have any other boats nearby.

The first dive was sort of lame. The location wasn’t anything special, they limited us to 30 minutes and a depth of 80 feet (24m). The water temperature was 85F (30C) and was some of the warmest water I’ve ever dived in. The reason why the dives were so short and shallow was because of constraints, as told to us by the dive masters, by the cruise ships. Lesson: don’t use a cruise ship for a dive holiday. If you really want to dive, go on a liveaboard.

The second dive was sort of odd. With most multi-tank dives I’ve done, you have lunch on the boat while you do your mandatory surface interval. (When diving, you have to decompress for a certain length of time depending on how deep and long your previous dive was). Our second dive was 20 minutes after our first dive. We went to a place called “Stingray City” which was only at a depth of about 15-20 feet, which explained the short surface interval.

Swimming with stingrays was surreal. Yes, these are the same things which killed Steve Irwin, but they aren’t really dangerous. The accident he had was really just a freak occurrence. The stingrays in this area are so used to people they will swim all over you. The females were about 4-5ft across. We had a tube of squid for feeding them, which was also weird. Their mouths are more like vacuum cleaners. They will suck stuff out of your hand. Just after feeding one, it moved up my arm and sucked my forearm. It hurt like hell and left me with a massive hickey. Stingrays freak me out.

We were dumped off in Georgetown with a few hours left before we had to get back on the boat so I had lunch at a local place, avoiding the Hard Rock Cafe and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D Hotel Francois

Executive Chef Giuseppe and Maitre D' Hotel Francois

Back on the boat, it was our day to eat at the chef’s table. I thought that dinner I had on Monday would be the best meal I’d have on the boat. I was wrong. The dinner started out with a tour of the galley (kitchen). We had to put on lab coats and wash our hands before the tour. The kitchen was surprisingly clean and orderly. I’ve never worked in food services, so it was all new to me. In the kitchen we were given several small appetizers: a crab and avocado salad, a truffle tart, caviar on sour cream and a small pancake, and a small cheese tart. This was served with champaign.

At the table, the food just kept coming. We had a risotto dish, an amazing flaming meat main course, bloody mary sorbet with vodka, and an over the top plated desert of spun sugar and chocolate. The executive chef did the tour and also came out to the table several times, as well as the head pastry chef. We were also given signed copies of the cookbook made by the executive chef. This meal was on a par with meals I’ve had which cost several hundred dollars.

The Chef’s Table experience is available to anyone for $75, which I honestly think is a deal compared to what you’ll pay for shore excursions, which usually run over $100. If I had to choose, I’d walk around for a day in a port and not pay for a shore excursion and put down the money for the Chef’s Table. It is worth it.