Bolivia Salt Flats

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The reason for visiting Bolivia is the salt flats near Uyuni. Visit them during the rainy season and you end up with pristine pictures of mirror reflections. And very wet feet.

Visit during the dry season and you end up with endless vistas of white against a blue sky and sun so blinding you can’t actually see anything without glasses.

The views are so blinding that without a filter on a lens, you have to guess where the horizon lies and end up with ridiculously wonky photographs.

The tourist routine is fairly straightforward: fly down to Uyuni early in the morning an collect a four wheel drive jeep to take it out onto the “lake” of salt. Around the start point, the tracks of the cars are obvious.

But that soon changes. It becomes almost impossible to gauge distance as everything tends to blur into the white and of course at that altitude the sun is strong and blinding.

Originally a sea, the tectonic upheavals lifted it high and dry. Overtime the rains arrive, they effectively lift a layer of salt to the surface such that at it’s thickest, the rock salt is now almost 5m thick.

Underneath, there are rivers of cold water that occasionally bubble to the surface

Around the edge are the “islands” with the island of the moon in the middle.

Originally there would have been small farmers of the salt but mostly these have been replaced by companies on a more industrial scale. A few small holders remain, mainly for the tourist trade.

And there are the businesses that cut rock salt from the surface to make bricks for the various salt hotels set up for tourists.

The surface of the plain is broken into geometric patterns where the crystalline rock salt has come together over time.

Close to, the surface is a funny mix of almost cubes.

As well as the salt itself, we headed towards the main island, the volcano.

Climbing just slightly, and slowly because this is at very high altitude, we reach a series of caves where over the generations people have left their dead to mummify over time, essentially desiccating very very slowly because of the salt.

There were both male and female adults, plus some very forlorn corpses of babies.

Looking back down at the salt, it almost looks like clouds with mountains peaking up from below.

And down at the bottom, flamingoes and llamas.

And some small collections of salt for the locals.

Towards sunset and we head towards the centre to try to catch the changing colour of the plain.

And all totally silent.

For the next day we headed to some caves on the other side of the salt plain, where the petrified remains of coral caves have been discovered.

It is one of the freakiest places I’ve been inside, like walking around inside an insect or maybe an alien’s nest and just expecting any minute that something horrid will jump out and eat you.

And the around the corner to another set of burial caves and that strange mix of catholicism and something altogether older and darker.

The wild vicuna most certainly regarded us as interlopers.

And it’s difficult to imagine how they might survive in such a harsh environment.

In the middle of the plain is the island of the moon, with cacti taller than a man.

The only building material is the “wood” of these huge cacti, dried out and cut into planks.

It is almost impossible to capture the scale of the place, even knowing that the view below includes jeeps, something just refuses to accept they can be that tiny.

And lying above it all, that blue blue sky.

Butternut Squash with Coconut

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It started out with the best of intentions. There is only one rule in our house when it comes to food cupboards: if you finish it, you must add it to the shopping list for the week. The coconut cream should have been sitting in the cupboard waiting.

Of course it was nowhere to be found. Neither was the coriander leaf & the ginger looked a bit past it’s best.  I couldn’t find a chilli either.

But all of this seemed eminently do-able, except for the coconut cream. In the end I used yoghurt as a substitute with added desiccated coconut. It all tasted a bit too acidic so I added 2 tsp sugar to compensate. In reality though it all ended up tasting good, next time I’ll use coconut cream, and so should you.

baked pumpkin and spiced chickpeas.
  • 1 butternut squash quartered and deseeded
  • oil, butter, salt and pepper to bake
  • 2 sticks lemongrass, chopped
  • 1 medium green chilli, 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 30g coriander leaf, parsley
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1inch ginger
  • 80g coconut cream
  • 1tbsp oil
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Slice 750g of pumpkin, or other autumn squash, into thick segments, then scrape away any seeds and fibres. Place the slices on a baking tray, trickle lightly with groundnut oil and dot generously with butter. Season with black pepper and salt then bake for a good 45 minutes or so, until the flesh is deep gold.

While the pumpkin bakes, whizz the following (or their substitutes) in a food processor: 2 sticks of lemongrass, cut into short pieces, 1 medium-sized green chilli of moderate heat, 30g of coriander leaves and stems, the grated zest of 1 lime, 2 cloves of garlic, ½ tsp of salt, a small lump of ginger and 80g of coconut cream. Pour in enough groundnut oil to make a soft paste.

Rinse a 400g can of chickpeas under running water. Tip them into a small saucepan with some oil, then add the spice paste (you may not need all of it) and warm gently over a moderate heat. When the chickpeas are hot, fold a handful of torn coriander leaves through it, divide between two plates and serve with the slices of roasted pumpkin.

The length of time a slice of squash or pumpkin takes to cook depends on the variety. Some, such as the firm fleshed Crown Prince, take longer than the softer textured varieties. Roast them for a good half hour to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with a little butter or oil until they are tender and translucent. They will hold in good condition while you warm the chickpeas and spice paste.

You can use rice, quinoa or other varieties of bean instead of the chickpeas. Introduce a little coconut milk into the spice paste so it becomes more of a sauce. Spoon it over the pumpkin as you serve.

Trump – Feck Off

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So let’s get this straight, not content with suggesting people carrying torches and marching shouting anti-semitic chants were “good folk” the president of the US has started re-tweeting racists on-line.

He’s retweeted video clips from a neo-nazi group in the UK involved in the murder of Jo Cox, one of our MPs. & I’m left trying to imagine the outrage if our leader re-tweeted the words of someone who had killed a US senator

When called on this behaviour he’s doubled down and criticised our PM.


Not content with doubling down on being a nazi, he’s also supported Roy Moore alleged child abuser. Just a reminder of the form he has when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse:

Donald Trump’s official position, as his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders recently clarified in a White House press briefing, is that the 20 women accusing him of assault and harassment are lying. Trump has also suggested some were not attractive enough for him to want to sexually assault.

As the conversation around sexual conduct continues to evolve, and new abusers are revealed, here are the cases against the president.

“He was like an octopus … His hands were everywhere.”Jessica Leeds

Leeds alleges Trump groped grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. Source: The New York Times

“I referred to this as a ‘rape’, but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”Ivana Trump

In a divorce deposition, Trump’s first wife used “rape” to describe an incident that transpired between them. After a settlement was reached, and the rape allegation became public in a 1993 book, Ivana softened the claim. As part of her nondisclosure agreement, she is not allowed to discuss her marriage to Trump without his permission. Source: Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J Trump

“He pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress again.”Jill Harth

A former business partner, Harth alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips and groped her breasts and grabbed her genitals, in what she referred to in a 1997 lawsuit as “attempted rape”. On a previous occasion, she alleges, he groped her under the table during dinner with colleagues at the Plaza Hotel. Source: The Guardian

“He did touch my vagina through my underwear.”Kristen Anderson

Anderson alleges Trump put his hand up her skirt and touched her genitals through her underwear. Source: The Washington Post

“[Trump] stuck his head right underneath their skirts.”Lisa Boyne

Boyne alleges Trump insisted the female models walk across the table and that he looked up their skirts, commenting on whether they were wearing underwear and their genitalia. Source: The Huffington Post

“He took my hand, and grabbed me, and went for the lips.”Cathy Heller

Heller alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the lips in public. Source: The Guardian

“He kissed me directly on the lips.”Temple Taggart

The former Miss Utah alleges Trump forcibly kissed her on the mouth on two occassions, including the first time she met him. Source: The New York Times

“I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a man in here.'”Mariah Billado

The former Miss Vermont Teen USA and other unnamed accusers allege Trump walked into the dressing room unannounced while teen beauty queens aged 15 to 19 were naked. Source: BuzzFeed

“Then his hand touched the right side of my breast. I was in shock.”Karena Virginia

Virginia alleges Trump grabbed her arm and touched her breast. Source: Gloria Allred press event

“The time that he walked through the dressing rooms was really shocking. We were all naked.”Bridget Sullivan

The former Miss New Hampshire alleges Trump walked in to the dressing room unannounced while contestants were naked. Source: BuzzFeed

“Our first introduction to him was when we were at the dress rehearsal and half-naked changing into our bikinis.”Tasha Dixon

The former Miss Arizona alleges Trump entered dressing rooms while her fellow contestants were “half-naked”. Source: CBS News

“All of a sudden I felt a grab, a little nudge.”Melinda McGillivray

McGillivray alleges Trump grabbed her buttock in a pavilion behind the main house in the middle of a group of people. Source: Palm Beach Post

“I was thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to hug me’, but when he pulled my face in and gave me a smooch. I was like ‘Oh – kay.’”Jennifer Murphy

The former contestant on The Apprentice alleges Trump forcibly kissed her after a job interview.

“[Trump] kissed me directly on the mouth.”Rachel Crooks

Crooks alleges Trump kissed her forcibly on the lips. Source: New York Times

“I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”Natasha Stoynoff

Stoynoff alleges Trump forcibly kissed her. Source: People

“Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt.”Ninni Laaksonen

The former Miss Finland alleges Trump grabbed her buttocks during a photoshoot before an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Source: Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat

“When we entered the room he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each of us on the lips without asking for permission.”Jessica Drake

Drake alleges Trump forcibly kissed her and two female friends on the lips and when rebuffed, pursued her, asking: “How much?” Source: Gloria Allred press event

“He would step in front of each girl and look you over from head to toe like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects, that we were not people.”Samantha Holvey

The former Miss North Carolina alleges Trump would barge into the pageant dressing room and inspected women like “meat”. Source: CNN

“He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.”Summer Zervos

The former contestant on The Apprentice has accused Trump of groping and kissing her on two occasions. She has filed a defamation claim against the now-president. Source: Gloria Allred press event

“He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.”Cassandra Searles

The former Miss Washington 2013 alleges in a comment on Facebook that Trump repeatedly grabbed her buttocks and invited her to his hotel room. Source: Facebook, via Yahoo News

Uyuni: The Train Graveyard

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Some time ago, salt from the flats was shipped out of Uyuni by rail and when eventually that stopped, the trains were just abandoned and scavenged for scraps.

In a part of the world so incredibly dry, even the rust is slow moving so people are left with a train playground to scramble around.

The trains almost fall over yet somehow hold to their tracks.

And sooner or later the graffiti artists arrive.

The salt “farmers” have largely been replaced by bigger commercial concerns though one or two remain for the tourists.

Mostly though Uyuni is an opportunity to pick up your driver and guide, an orientate yourself to the astonishing salty flats.

Vast white plains of nothing, under the brightest of lights and bluest of skies, too painful to look at without decent sunglasses.

Lentil & Radicchio Salad

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Lokking for a salad for an evening playing bridge (a tart plus a couple of substantial salads gets us through an evening) and I found an Ottolenghi recipe that worked well served at room temperature.

Manuka honey is rather expensive, so you can substitute it with another good, strong honey. Radicchio’s bitterness balances the rich sweetness of the honey, but if it’s not your thing, leave it out. Serves four.

200g puy lentils
2 bay leaves
100g manuka honey
¼ tsp flaked chilli
½ tsp ground turmeric
Salt and black pepper
About 1 tsp water
3 tbsp red-wine vinegar
90ml olive oil
100g walnuts
½ medium-size radicchio
60g pecorino fiore sardo, or other mature ewe’s or goat’s cheese
20g each roughly chopped basil, dill and parsley

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Put the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water, add the bay leaves and simmer for 15 minutes, until tender.

While the lentils cook, prepare the walnuts. In a bowl, combine half the honey, the chilli, turmeric and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and add enough water to create a thick paste.

Drain the lentils and return to the pan. Whisk together the vinegar, half the oil, the remaining honey, half a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper until the honey dissolves. Stir into the lentils while they’re still hot, then leave to cool a little. Discard the bay leaves.

Add the walnuts to the honey/chilli paste and stir to coat. Spread on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring once, until crunchy and dry, but still sticky.

Pour the remaining oil into a medium frying pan and place on high heat. Cut the radicchio into eight wedges and place these in the hot oil, sprinkling them with a little salt. Cook for a minute on each side, then transfer into a large bowl.

Add the lentils, walnuts, sliced pecorino and herbs. Stir gently, taste and season accordingly. Serve warmish or at room temperature.

La Paz, Bolivia

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The cathedral of San Francisco was right next to our hotel and backed onto the Witches Market, so our walking tour of the city was remarkably concise, useful at this altitude.

San Francisco, La Paz

La Paz sits in the bowl of a valley with the cheaper suburbs up above on the surrounding hills. It means that there’s a lot of walking up and down, and given how high we were, it makes for quite a slow tour.

Government Buildings La Paz

There were two separate protests on at the time we visited, street vendors complaining about the suggestion they might need to register and pay a fee per stall and most of a village down south come to town to complain about a corrupt mayor.

But also there were just a range of people trying to go about their everyday business.

1960s bus La Paz

Street Scene la Paz

Another city, another museum thoughts one focused essentially dealt with textiles, pottery and masks/feather decorations.

Textile Museum La Paz

Hat for aliens – misshapen heads for the hierarchy

There is something vaguely magical about a national museum that seems focused on wooly hats!

Festival masks

There were a small but significant number of African slaves imported into Bolivia and the minority group has a difficult representation within the festival masks ranging from villainous to laughable, but rarely heroic.

The pottery exhibition was very reminiscent of the museum in Cuzco.

Ceramics, la Paz

But uniquely there were also some extraordinary feather decorations from belts to headressses.

Feather decorations, la Paz museum

And bizarrely ending with a display of home-made violins.

After the museum we headed back towards the hotel, in a large circuit that came across a protest from two separate groups: local (women) market traders and protesters from a distant district complaining about a corrupt mayor.

Before heading over to the market, through the various everyday lighting stalls to the “medical” llama foetuses etc.

All the way to the ladies selling coca leaves.

By the end of the holiday we were positively relaxed in la Paz (just so long as we were allowed to take our time walking uphill) but it was definitely one of the most idiosyncratic places I’ve ever been.


Basic Pasta

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Pasta with tomatoes and chilli

The key to success here is cooking the arrabiata sauce low and slow – a little patience will transform a dish you thought you knew into something far superior. Be sure to use whole rather than chopped tomatoes.

An arrabbiata sauce – AKA tomatoes, garlic and chilli. Simple, satisfying, cheap.

Serves 4
400g dried pasta
500g tinned whole plum tomatoes
190ml olive oil, plus a glug
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (more if you want)
½ tsp caster sugar
Salt and pepper

1 Strain the tinned tomatoes through a colander (the juice tends to be acidic and makes the sauce too wet – set aside for another use).

2 Heat a glug of olive oil on a low-to-medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the garlic and chilli and fry until just starting to change colour, then add the strained tomatoes and stir. After 5 minutes, turn the heat down to low, add the 190ml olive oil and the sugar and simmer for 2 hours. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn’t catch. Taste and check for seasoning, You can store this sauce in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

3 Bring lots of water to a rolling boil in a large pan and add plenty of salt – it should taste like mild sea water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

4 When the pasta is cooked, add a splash of pasta cooking water to the pan of tomato sauce and put the sauce on a low heat. Remove the pasta from the water and add it to the pan of sauce – keep the cooking water. Vigorously toss the pasta in the pan for at least 30 seconds to work the gluten, adding a splash more starchy cooking water if it starts to dry up. Continue tossing the pasta until the sauce emulsifies to a viscous sauce. Serve immediately.

Pasta with Marmite

This Anna Del Conte creation makes perfect sense: the marriage of pasta, fat, and two hits of umami, Marmite and parmesan. Adjust the quantities to your taste.

Serves 2
200g pasta
30g butter
1 heaped tsp Marmite
Grated parmesan, to serve
Black pepper

1 Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of generously salted boiling water, according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Just before you drain it, reserve a cupful of the cooking water. As the pasta drains in the colander, set to work on the sauce.

2 Melt the butter (in the same pan that you cooked the pasta in) with the Marmite and pour in the reserved pasta cooking water, then tip the drained pasta back into the pan. Toss it around to coat the pasta completely, then transfer to bowls or plates, cover with a healthy mound of parmesan and a grinding of black pepper, with more of both on the side.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

It is said spaghetti alla puttanesca (the last word translates as “in the style of a lady of the night”) originated in Naples. One story goes that it takes as long to cook the dish as it does the lady to take care of her clients. Either way, it has all the heritage of southern Italian cooking: chilli, tomato and olive oil. For me, the spicier the better, with as much dried chilli (or pepperoncini) as you can take.

Serves 4
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped
400g tin of tomatoes
Salt and pepper
375g spaghetti or linguine
2 tsp small capers
A pinch of chilli flakes
10 black olives, chopped
12 white marinated anchovies
Flat-leaf parsley to garnish

1 In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil, add the onion and garlic and sauté without letting them colour.

2 Add the tinned tomatoes, season with freshly milled salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes, until it becomes a nice thick sauce.

3 Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water, according to the packet instructions (normally about 12 minutes) until al dente.

4 While the pasta is cooking, add the capers, chilli and black olives to the tomato sauce.

5 Drain the pasta well, toss in with the sauce and finish with the anchovies and chopped flat-leaf parsley. Finally, check the seasoning and serve.

Spaghetti with lemon, parsley, garlic and chilli

How much you make of this is of course entirely up to you, depending on how many somersaults you want to happen in your mouth. However you make it, it is an invigorating yet comforting meal.

Serves 4
2 large unwaxed lemons
A big handful of flat-leaf parsley
500g spaghetti
6 tbsp olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
A small dried chilli or pinch of red chilli flakes

1 Grate the zest from the lemon and very finely chop the parsley, then mix the two together and set aside.

2 Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a fast boil, stir, then add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, very finely chop the garlic and chilli.

3 In a large frying pan, gently warm the olive oil, garlic and chilli over a low flame until fragrant – do not let it burn. Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain it – or better still, use a sieve or tongs to lift the spaghetti and just a little residual water into the frying pan. Stir, add the lemon and parsley, a pinch of salt and, if you like, a squeeze of lemon. Stir again, divide between plates and eat immediately.


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The problem with ordering your bulbs early is that when they finally arrive, you’ve forgotten what you planned to do with them all. This is somewhat compounded by waiting for six new bare root roses to be delivered so I could plant them all up in the new bed.

In theory this new bed comprises:

  • a row (or two) or blue iris, primarily Yosemite star, just planted with some stragglers from pots and described as “Yosemite Star. Blended blue wisteria self. Ruffled. Mid to late season ie. around May Strongly remontant throughout summer and autumn. Ht. 90cm“, and behind;
  •  one row of white David Austin shrub roses, Susan Williams-Ellis described as “extremely healthy with an exceptionally long flowering season. Charming, pure white, rosette-shaped flowers of Old Rose beauty. Strong Old Rose fragrance. Exceptionally long flowering season (June-August). Extremely tough, healthy and hardy.” growing to a height of around 90cm (3ft)

Plus whatever bulbs I fancy planting in amongst them.

Apparently, bearded Irises must enjoy full sun and sharp drainage. They disdain the miseries of shade and clay. Interplant Bearded Irises with plants with scanty foliage: alpine pinks, late flowering alliums….

I have already received and planted up some crocus, white muscari, small repeat tulips ( saxatilis bakery) along underneath a hedge, but set the alliums (Mount Everest X 10, Allium aflatunese ‘Purple Sensation’ X 10) and fritellaria (X50) to one side.

Now I have a mammoth bulb session ahead of me with these plus tulips, gladioli (The Bride) and some scilla siberica (X75).

Type:                            Name:          Flowers:                               Thoughts:

  • Gladioli  x50  – The Bride   – May              -60cm   – roses
  • Allium    x10      Mt Everest-June/July   -90cm   – roses
  • Tulip     x25 Angels Wish    -May               – 60cm  – White new bed
  • Tulip     x25 Queen Night  -May                – 60cm  – Black, new bed
  • Tulip     x20 Survivor            -May                – 60cm  -pink,    new bed
  • Tulip    x 40 Shirley               – April               -50cm  – White new bed
  • Tulip      x35 Angelique        -Apr                 -45cm   – Pink    new bed
  • scilla       x75      Alba               -Mar/Apr     – 6cm     – in front of iris
  • Fritellaria x50 Alba               – Apr/May    – 30cm – in amongst of iris

  • Tulip     x25 Queen Night  -May                – 60cm  – Black, back bed
  • Allium    x10      Afflat.           – May/June  -80cm  – back bed roses
  • Tulip      x35 Angelique        -Apr                 -45cm   – front garden
  • Tulip     x25 Angels Wish    -May               – 60cm  – White for shade
  • Tulip     x10 Apeldoorn       -May                – 60cm  – Scarlet, front bed

rose&2alliums pattern

x    //    x     //   x    //   x   //    x    //    x

I’m going to treat the gladioli like summer flowering tulips, planting the corms deep (10cm) to try to reduce the need to stake. They arrive before the roses with the iris so I’m thinking I’ll plant them as a dos between roses and iris and see what happens.

Whose problem?

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In America domestic Violence Awareness Month is drawing to a close.  The Violence Policy Center has just released its annual report on domestic violence homicides. According to the report, about three women are murdered every day in the United States by an intimate partner, which means that during the month of October, at least 93 women lost their lives to domestic violence.

Many of them were murdered after they left, and yet the most common response to abused women is “Why don’t you just leave?” We rarely ask “Why did he do it?” or even “How did we not stop this?”

I recently read an article from a campaigner describing a trip to work with the school system on a program to address teen dating violence. When they arrived at the hotel, they were wearing a pin with photos of the three DV homicide victims North Carolina man Alan Gates had killed (including his daughter).

There were two women behind the desk. The younger woman, who checked me in, asked me if the people on the pin were family members. They told her no, they were victims of a domestic violence triple homicide. She said that her sister was in an abusive marriage. She told me that she had lost a cousin to DV, and that she had experienced it but had managed to get away. Now, she said, she wanted to help her sister escape.

As they were talking, the other woman behind the desk, who was probably in her 60s, listened. The more they talked, the more she leaned in.

She finally said, “I wish I could have found help like this when it happened to me and to my best friend.”

She explained that she grew up in Boston, in a very Catholic Irish family. She was being horribly abused by her husband, and her best friend, who lived in the apartment next door, was being abused by her husband. When she tried to talk about it with her father, he told her that if she broke her vows, he would disown her. Her priest said he would excommunicate her.

She and her friend developed a knock on the wall so that when one of them was about to be beaten, the other one would come get the kids out of the apartment.

They both worked at a hotel in Boston, and they took the bus together to work every day. Finally, they both decided they’d had it, so they stood up for themselves and separated from their husbands. The woman behind the desk told me that she decided she’d rather run the risk of losing her relationship with her father (which she did) than continue to live with the violence.

Shortly after she and her friend left, they were riding to work one morning. Her friend’s estranged husband was waiting at the bus stop. When it stopped, he immediately got on the bus and shot and killed her, right in front of everyone, including the woman I was now talking with.

This is one story of hundreds. Each one of these homicides (or homicide/suicides) represents a massive failure of the systems that could have stopped abusers in their tracks, but sadly, too many states and communities routinely turn their collective backs on their chief source of intelligence: the victim.

Women can predict, with frightening clarity, what the abuser is capable of, and yet often little is done to stop the murderous trajectory.

But many communities across the country have begun to come up with some innovative ways to identify dangerous abusers and place appropriate sanctions on them.

  • The Pitt County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina has implemented a pretrial release program for domestic violence offenders. The sheriff’s department attaches GPS monitoring devices in certain cases, and multiple, strict requirements are placed on them upon release. Law enforcement officers are highly trained, and the sanctions are strictly enforced. If the abuser violates any of the conditions, he is charged (at the very least) with witness intimidation and his bond is significantly increased.
  • The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, created the Domestic Violence High Risk Team model that brings together community partners (domestic violence advocates, police, probation and corrections officials, health care professionals, prosecutors) and uses the DA-LE (Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement) and the Danger Assessment Tool developed by Jacquelyn Campbell at Johns Hopkins University, to determine which abusers have the potential for lethal violence.
  • Law enforcement agencies across the country have started using a tool called the LAP (Lethality Assessment Protocol), a specialized version of the Danger Assessment, just for first responders, to make determinations on the scene with the domestic violence victim and get her immediately connected with supportive advocacy services, including shelter and help with orders of protection.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department has developed a program called DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) that sends out two patrol cars to domestic violence calls. The first officers to arrive secure the scene; the second car includes two more officers and domestic violence prevention advocates who start working immediately with the victim. California also has court commissioners on call 24/7 so that officers can get orders of protection issued immediately.
  • In North Carolina, the High Point Police Department has started a program for domestic violence offenders called the Focused Deterrence Program. It was first used to reduce gang violence. “What’s most interesting about the focused deterrence–based High Point model is its emphasis on uncompromising accountability for the offender,” said Susan Scrupski, executive producer of the documentary High Point 10-79. “This philosophy is shared throughout all levels of law enforcement, judicial system, and the local domestic violence prevention program. The message is amplified and reinforced by family social services programs as well as the general public itself. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

It is encouraging to see these and other innovative domestic violence homicide prevention initiatives start up across the country, but any new law or program is only as good as those in charge of their implementation and enforcement. And of course, funding is critical. Domestic violence is a costly crime, not just in terms of the amount of money spent reacting to it, but also in how it disastrously rearranges families for generations.

By members of the criminal justice community need to remember that the victim is the chief source of intelligence while also remembering that domestic violence is a crime that involves a pattern of behavior, homicides and felony-level assaults can be stopped.

By placing the focus where it belongs — on the offender — a crime that has been deeply misunderstood for hundreds of years will finally be appropriately addressed. Abusers choose to be controlling, coercive, abusive, and violent. Domestic violence victims and survivors should not be required to upend their lives, and the lives of their children, to avoid this intimate terrorism.

Lake Titicaca: Peru & Bolivia

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Puno from Lake Titicaca

We have seen a number of floating villages now, notably on Tonle Sap but in many ways this was both the prettiest and the saddest.

Lake Titicaca

Th islands are built of reeds that grow within the lake and must be constantly renewed and replaced.

Floating Village, Lake Titicaca

The islands are tethered in case of storms and parked up separate to their original family groups. The communities would originally have used boats made from reeds also but now use modern boats with engines. Paying for the fuel for these takes hard currency, which is where their barter system with the mainland falls down and tourism cash steps forward.

Running Errands, Titicaca
Tourist Boat, Titicaca

Each island comprises a group of friends, grouped together to make a living. Each vies for the attention of any new tourist group and each responsible tour guide will try to share out the tourists between the islands.

Once there you get an explanation of how the islands are put together, before being presented with some crafts, usually woven, that are for sale. As always it’s better to buy something than simply donate money.

On our trip we met up with a relatively young group. Although education is compulsory to around 16, most kids marry young and have children so Norma aged 19 with her 1 year old Elizabetta was not that unusual.

Norma & Elisabetta

With the money from tourism these people would not survive. The lifestyle out on the islands is not “real” in that sense and very different to the living communities deep on Tonle Sap who rarely saw tourists.

Ladies who boat, Titicaca

The villagers can live long lives though they tend to be vulnerable to arthritis and chest infections from living so close to the water. Obviously living so exposed to the sun tends to increase the chance of skin cancers also.

But it is a persistent life choice for much of the community, maybe in part because they are not as well educated or well accepted by the people living on the mainland.

After visiting the floating islands we made the trip to Bolivia crossing the border near the lake and visiting a couple of islands on the way.

It is remarkably difficult to remember that you are essentially on the top of the world, very high up, given how flat it all looks. For someone from the UK, altitude inevitably involves high mountains and valleys, not plains.

Views around Titicaca

Our first stop across the border was Copacabana where a festival was underway with both the local priest and shaman busy blessing cars for the year.

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca

The Virgin of the church, who was “black” ie. looked more like an indigenous person than most of the statues, is one of the more popular so the church was busy.

Though not as busy as a very jolly, quite young looking priest.

Priest blessing the cars, Copacabana, Lake Titicaca

From there we headed out to the islands of the Moon and Sun to see some ruins and have a bite to eat.

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca

Pre-Inca ruins, Island of the Moon, Titicaca

These islands are said to be where the original Incas came from and where they made a pilgrimage to each year.

Catamaran, Titicaca
Inca, Spring of Life Island of the Sun

Hmm. Not so sure the spring of life was that exciting, certainly not as exciting as crossing over to the mainland on the barge.

Catching the barge towards la paz

After a long and tiresome ride complete with detour to avoid an angry protesting mob on the motorway, we arrived in La Paz.

La Paz

Unlike European towns, the best housing is at the bottom of the valley to avoid altitude rather than the top, to catch the breeze and avoid pollution. We headed down.

All about me!