I finally got around to listening to Dan Carlin’s podcast titled Common Sense #270 – Poking the Bear which was published last week. It gets off to a slow start, but I think he does a great job of portraying the larger scope and the lead up which brings us to the situation today around Russia, Ukraine, and the USA. I highly recommend taking a listen if you are interested in learning more about the current environment and motivations.
DER SPIEGEL has a good overview of some of the results published recently regarding the DNA analysis of a body found in Montana on private land. Its location means it is one of the only sets of remains which have been permitted to be tested:
The characteristic fluting of the stone weapons serve as archaeological evidence that the boy, who died some 12,600 years ago, came from the Clovis culture. It was one of the earliest New World groups, disappearing mysteriously a few centuries after the child’s burial in present day Montana. …Now a team of scientists led by the Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev has analyzed the boy’s origins and discovered that he descends from a Siberian tribe with roots tracing back to Europe. Some of the boy’s ancestors are likely even to have lived in present-day Germany. Their findings go even further: More than 80 percent of all native peoples in the Americas — from the Alaska’s Aleuts to the Maya of Yucatan to the Aymaras along the Andes — are descended from Montana boy’s lineage.
The article also touches on some of the concerns in the native community around DNA testing – there is no appetite for being linked to Europe populations, and very real concerns that DNA testing could be used in tribal disputes over who shares in the economic bounty from casinos that operate on the sovereign reservations.
While visiting the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy (aka St Barts, aka St Barth) by ship we were told by our friends that they had explored an abandoned house years ago in the Anse a Colombier area of St Barth. When we arrived in the bay we could see the house structures were still there and we were keen to check it out. I packed my camera in a dry bag and we made our way to shore.
On the shore one could see that there at some point had been a nice cement construction of a wave break and stairs down to the ocean. Following those stairs up we came to a fence, which was easily bypassed. Wandering through the overgrown bush we eventually came to the top of the hill and saw the top of wave shaped roof. It was clear that nature had mostly taken over, but other areas were in pretty good shape – including a road to the property which seemed to be maintained.
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The patio at one point must have had an amazing view, but the vegetation meant standing on your toes to see the view of Colombier beach. What I assume was the main living room had outdoor furniture packed up inside, as if it was ready to be put out after a rain storm. Strangely there was a new looking outdoor play set for kids, perhaps caretakers had set something up for keeping their kids happy while they worked?
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Following the road leading from the front of the house down the other side of the hill we came to what looked to be a boathouse at some point in time. On the other side of the ridge was the strange lighthouse/guesthouse structure. It was in quite bad shape and the wood structure was heavily weathered. Three active bee hives sat on the structures patio, so someone has clearly been visiting. There were also a number of what looked to be fruit trees, though it wasn’t clear if they were leftovers from the occupants or new with the beekeeper.
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When we returned home my thoughts turned to the house again. Clearly someone had spent a tremendous amount of money on the property, and it was in an incredibly desirable location. After researching further on the internet I eventually linked the house to David Rockefeller. There is a fair bit of speculation on what exactly happened, but the following is the best I could piece together through various sources:
The Colombier/Rockefeller land was purchased in the mid 60′s by David Rockefeller after seeing it from a sailboat. David Rockefeller built the house and guesthouse (the lighthouse structure) with designs from his cousin architect Nelson W. Aldrich in a “Caribbean parabolic” style. There were no services so the property was built to be self sufficient. In 1983 the house was sold to a NY developer named Jim Harrison. Harrison planned to build 24 houses but was subsequently denied building permits after a long court battle involving Mr Daniel Blanchard (served as mayor of the island for almost 15 years). The legal battle ended 1990 and Mr Harrison put the property for sale early 1991. It was sold in 1996 to the present owner Mr Horn. Mr Horn is getting older so there is much speculation about its sale to the many billionaires (like Roman Abramovich) who frequent the island and bay.
The home was also profiled in a 1983 Architectural Digest, and additional information about it is included in the article text:
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I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned buildings and towns. Some are more interesting than others, when it is clear that significant time and money was spent. It is a bit like dismantling a failed relationship, what changed so that the fate shifted to neglect? Clearly in this case the building was sold and expected to be bulldozed, instead it is still there. There are more photos of the property which are not included above, Click here to see all photos for the abandoned Rockefeller House on Saint Barthélemy Island
Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, Guadalupe Valley. Just a few of the Baja, Mexico destinations which used to be easy and popular day trips from San Diego. In the space of a few years major changes completely changed tourism near the border. The first was increased security at the border by the Department of Homeland Security. The pool of available tourists was dramatically lowered by requiring passports to cross into the USA from Mexico as roughly 1/3rd of Americans hold a passport (though growing). This increased security also lead to an increase in border wait times. Instead of spending an hour or perhaps two at the worst waiting at the border, there began to be an increase in three and four hour waits. The second major impact to cross border tourism was an outburst of drug war related violence. Though mostly targeted towards narcos and those working with them, this bloody war spilled over in several cases and fed fear and general distrust of Tijuana and other border cities.
Though the narco violence subsided in this area years ago, memories take much longer to dissipate. Given time things are starting to turn around. Without the corruption of short term (and usually debauched) cash along Revolución, Tijuana and others have looked inward to reinvent themselves. This change over the last few years has lead to them becoming a bit of a destination for foodies and culture lovers – attracting the like of Bourdain and others to explore the new Baja.
We used to visit the coast of Baja (Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, and occasionally Guadalupe or even further south like Bahia de los Angeles) on a regular basis, going down for lunch and shopping before returning for the day. With the border waits we had fallen out of the habit some time ago and had yet to pick it back up again – We finally got around to visiting one of our old standards with family on Sunday, lunch in Puerto Nuevo. The toll road was washed out so we spent time on the free road driving down. I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the route was four lanes wide and in excellent shape. The shops along the road were in mixed shape – some still seeming to be going strong, others didn’t seem to have made it through the drought. We spoke with a few shopkeepers who said business had been slowly picking up and they were hopeful for the future. I think we will be picking our habit back up – Baja offers some excellent opportunities for day trips.
Princess Juliana International Airport SXM (aka Sint Maarten International Airport) has a runway which approaches over the ocean. The end of the runway is several feet from a short and steep beach, Maho. This combination leads to a lot of plane watching as the lumbering giants pass very close to the beach before touching down. We spent a few hours here at Sunset, where in between caribbean music sets from a local band they play air traffic controller traffic. The above photos and video are from my phone, I’ll update later with ones taken from my SLR.
We have been here for less than a day but I thought I would write some first impressions to look back and likely see how wrong I was. Like most nations in the area, development has been a it ramshackle – beautiful in some spots and seeming lacking proper sewer lines in others. The weather has been lovely thus far, a nice temperature and humidity.
We were eaten up by mosquitoes at dinner last night, which makes one worry about chickungunya – apparently making the rounds. Time will tell how large a threat it is, for now we will stay vigilant with insect repellent.
I’ve enjoyed touring Scottish distilleries as well as wineries around the world, but had never visited any American distilleries. We thought that this needed to change and found ourselves in Kentucky late September 2013 to visit some parts of the Bourbon Trail. We based ourselves in Louisville and visited five distilleries over the course of a few days – here are my thoughts on each of them.
Buffalo Trace makes a wide variety of bourbon with several different lines represented. Their budget Buffalo Trace is excellent value, typically close to $20/bottle. Things get a bit more expensive from there, with Eagle Rare and Blanton’s being the more premium versions, and then quickly escalate into ridiculous collector prices with their antique collections of Sazerac, Wller, Eagle Rare, Staggg, and Handy Sazerac. However, even those can’t touch the ultra ridiculous frenzy over the ever elusive Pappy Van Winkle.
Located in Frankfort, the small capitol of Kentucky, the Buffalo Trace distillery is somewhat off on its own from some of the other large distilleries. Distilling began on the grounds sometime before 1773, so in addition to being picturesque, the area has a lot of history. Buffalo Trace’s tours are all free, which is pretty amazing when one considers each of their many tours per day finish with generous pours of their white dog, base bourbon lines, and sweets. Our tour guide was a second generation worker and had a genuine love for the company and its history. The only negative thing I could cite them for was a video included on the tour which was a little too long & marketing heavy. Note that the default tour does not go behind the scenes to the mash or other areas – in order to see those areas one has to sign up with those specific tours in advance, which is highly recommended. This was one of my favorite spots to visit, as the grounds were lovely to walk around and the staff extremely friendly.
Though Woodford Reserve releases limited editions they are mostly known for their base bourbon, Woodford Reserve, or the more premium version, Master’s Collection. Woodford is a relatively new brand (1996) on a very old site. Located just south of Versailles, distilling started on site around 1780 and the main stone distillery building was built in 1838. Though a well known brand I was surprised to see just how small these facilities were – the fermenters, bottling and storage is all housed within the older historic stone buildings. Woodfords tour was the most organized we went on – a bus ride down and headsets to hear the guide, however the tour also costs $7. Disappointingly the tour only includes a taste of their main line – Woodford Reserve. Though one can can talk up some of the gift shop folks for a taste of the double oaked if they display enough interest and seem like buyers, it would have been nice to try some of their other items not easily available, like their recent foray into malt whiskys. This site is one of the prettiest that we visited, and is a worth a visit to see the landscape and distillery alone.
Four Roses has been around as a brand since 1888 and the mission style distillery building was completed in 1910. Four Roses has had a bit of a roller coaster ride over the years – very popular the 1930s-1950s, the brand and product diminished in quality up until being revitalized over the last decade or so. I was excited to visit the Four Roses distillery as their single barrel bourbon holds a special place in my heart. Though the tour was free, and the pours (almost too) generous, unfortunately this didn’t keep a special spot in my heart. Their use of multiple yeast strains is interesting, but the the Four Roses facilities are industrial feeling and the tour started with a marketing video. The experience simply wasn’t able to full compete with some of the others we visited.
Willett Distillery reminded me of a winery in Napa valley – aesthetically pleasing, artisanal, and focused on visitors a key driver of sales. Home to a gorgeous pot-still and a pretty view, the distillery has plans to open a B&B on site and I’m sure they will do well for themselves. The tour has a small fee associated with it, but I thought it was well done and worth the fee. The tour finishes with a taste of their standard bourbon (which I’m not the biggest fan of, though their bottle is very pretty), in addition to what ever other lines they have available. I tried several different kinds and brought home two bottles of their 4 year old rye which I was very impressed with. Note that their facilities are fairly new here – if you see the Bourbon family tree you will notice that their line is associated with other producers for the older varieties. Time will tell what older spirits from their wonderful new pot-still actually taste like.
We had a short visit to the new Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distilleries. I wasn’t particularly impressed, but I can’t say I gave them a full chance either as we did not take the full tour. It seemed a bit overly commercial for my liking, kind of like a booze Disneyland. The prison style metal warehouses surrounding the facility did little to encourage any generous thoughts of craftsmanship, though I’m sure that is completely unfair and unjustified on my part. While I’m not a huge fan of many of their brands, Josh tried a number of their older releases of Elijah Craig and came away impressed enough to buy a bottle. Long story short, don’t just take my word for it.
Final Thoughts on the Bourbon Trail
I didn’t know quite what to expect for our tour of bourbon country, but I came away quite satisfied with the trip. It seems that even though plenty of cash has flowed into the industry it has not significantly corrupted it; the bulk of the people working that we met are genuinely passionate about their craft, and they enjoy sharing that passion with visitors. If you are in the area and have even the slightest interest in spirits, I highly recommend taking at least one tour.