Saturday, 31 October 2015

Diving in Oman

One of the reasons for our recent trip to Oman was to go scuba diving, as we'd heard good things about the the diving there. We dived at two locations: the Damaniyat Islands and at Qantab.

The former are about 18 km/an hour's boat ride north of Muscat, the capital, and we did two dives each day on two consecutive days there. The area is a protected nature reserve composed of 9 islands and covering about 100 hectares. 

sea star

me, surrounded by teeming fish

crown-of-thorns - deadly for the coral reef


honeycomb moray eel

large nudibranch

a zebra shark 


large mating cuttlefish 



swimming moray eel

another nudibranch


After leaving Muscat we headed to Qantab on the north-east coast, where we did another day's diving, this time with Extra Divers. The diving was pleasant, but the visibility was not as good, and we saw fewer things.



snake eel

moray eel

What was most surprising about the diving in Oman was the tremendous temperature difference between the air/land temperature and the sea. Air temperatures were low to mid 30s°C, but the water temperature was up to 10° or 12°C cooler!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Night visit to Bois Rouge sugar factory

One wet and windy evening recently I found myself on a night visit to the Bois Rouge sugar factory in Saint André, one of only two sugar factories that still operate on Reunion Island.

While the adjacent rum distillery can be visited all year round, the sugar factory can only be toured during the cane harvest season, which runs from June to December.

Bois Rouge receives sugar cane from the whole of the island's east coast, from Sainte Rose to Saint Denis.

As soon as the sugar cane is delivered, the loads are weighed and sampled by an independent technical centre to assess the sugar content.

Weight and richness in sugar are determining factors in fixing the sugar cane buying price.

The unloaded sugar cane then goes into a shredder, a machine composed of 144 hammers mounted on a shaft. The hammers pulverise the cane onto a huge anvil in order to ensure clear passage for the cane fibre into the other machines.

Once the sugar cane juice has been extracted, it is clarified and decanted by being preheated to 105°C, and lime is added to stabilise its pH at 7.5. During the decantation process a flocculant polymer is added to obtain clear juice.

The leftover filtration residues following decantation are known as filter cakes. These cakes are rich in phosphates and are given back to the cane planters who use them as fertiliser.

The clear juice is preheated to 120°C and enters a 6-effect evaporation station. Output steam from the power station is introduced into the first evaporator body. As it passes through the evaporators the clear juice is concentrated into a syrup known locally as Sirop La Cuite.

Next the syrup is crystallised in a cooking vacuum pan. The operators feed in a certain quantity of syrup and then add a few sugar grains in order to set off the crystallisation process. At the end of this process a crystallised mass is obtained, which is continuously mixed enabling the sugar contained in the original liquid to settle on the crystals and ensure greater crystal growth.

A centrifugal process separates the original liquid from the sugar crystals. In order to obtain high-quality crystals superheated water is used to dissolve the envelope of the original liquid surrounding the crystals. Finally, after the centrifugal process the original liquid undergoes two other crystallisation cycles in order to extract as much sucrose as possible.

At the end of the three successive crystallisation, mixing and centrifugation cycles, a liquid called molasses is obtained, which is low in sucrose content. Molasses are transferred to the distillery for rum and alcohol production.

one of the workers

in the control room

Since 1992 in addition to its basic manufacturing process, the Bois Rouge sugar plant has been developing consumer sugar units for brown and refined white sugar.

sugar sample for laboratory testing 

These high added-value products require specific manufacturing processes all the way through the different production stages.

some different types of sugar
- the finished product !

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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Southern Ireland

After leaving Limerick we headed to the north side of the Dingle Peninsula, where we spent a day scuba-diving at Castlegregory (in water at 13°C!).

looking towards our dive site

near our accommodation (Harbour House) at Castlegregory

wild honeysuckle

fruit of wild honeysuckle

cow in a field

Fresh Irish scallops and black pudding

The next day we toured the Peninsula and adjacent Ring of Kerry, a famous panoramic loop. The scenic 456-metre high Conor Pass connects the town of Dingle, on the south-western end of the Dingle Peninsula, with Castlegregory in the north-east, and is one of Ireland's highest Irish mountain passes served by an asphalted road.

Looking north from Conor Pass

near Slea Head, a promontory in the westernmost part of the Peninsula

The Skellig Islands, 12km out into the Atlantic, have a gannet population of 50,000!

seagull with Skellig Islands in the background

The Blasket Islands are Ireland's most westerly. The next stop west is Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Legend has it that inhabitants' homes were decorated by elements from shipwrecks. The last permanent residents left in 1953.

Blasket Islands, off the Kerry coast

Looking towards Blasket Islands


near Dunquin, Dingle Peninsula, the most westernmost part of Europe

west Dingle peninsula

Scariff Island (right) and Deenish Island, off the Kerry coast 

 Heading towards Killarney, we stumbled across a sheepdog display.

Sheepdogs herding flock of sheep

About 18km before reaching Killarney, we stopped off at the scenic point known as Ladies View, whose name apparently stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit.

Ladies View near Killarney

 Near Killarney we visited 15th-century Ross Castle, on the edge of the lake Lough Leane.

Ross Castle 

Priest's Leap is the highest pass in Ireland, crossing from County Cork to County Kerry. The road up is single-track and very steep. The placename stems from an old legend, in which a priest pursued by soldiers escaped by a miraculous leap of his horse from a mountain cliff in the townland of Cummeenshrule into County Cork. 
sheep contemplating the landscape from Priest's Leap

view from Priest's Leap

Kerry/Cork county border

We finished our trip to Ireland in Cork, Ireland's second city. It has a long history of butter making, and in the 1860s it was the world's largest butter market, exporting throughout the British Empire.

Firkin Crane, where the barrels or casks of butter were weighed
(now a dance centre)

The old Butter Exchange

Millennium bridge over the River Lee, Cork

Hurling players practising

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