Although I'm not Catholic, I am very pleased to hear that the Vatican has elected a pope from South America. It's long overdue. The continent provides 40% of the world's Catholics, and no one institution has had such an influence over this continent. At one stage (1609-1768), it even presided over a utopian state, here in Paraguay (pictured) managed by the Jesuits.
This is Kapadokya or Cappadocia (in Turkey), where for thousands of years, whole cities have been built undergound. All this burrowing needs some explaining.
Like so much that is beautiful, it began with extraordinary violence. At first, the brutality was geological. About seventy million years ago, Mt Erciyes exploded, along with two other volcanoes. They smothered the land first in shortbread (properly known as ‘tuff’) and then a wafer-thin coating of basalt.
For years, it was hard to get to Costa Rica's easterly province, Talamanca. Along its long, sandy, coconutted shore, there are few villages. Before the road came, the only people who’d lived here were BríBri Indians and a few turtle-hunters, who’d wandered over from Jamaica many generations ago. Caught between the jungle and riptides, most people had settled down to a life of ease.
Hotels you'll never forget, good or bad. Here are five of my favourites:
1. The Amanjiwo, Borobudur (see photo). I stayed here whilst doing an article on Java for The Daily Telegraph. It was probably the most luxurious billet I've ever been given. This room had its own pool, and all sorts of gizmos. There was ever a set of watercolours in case the mood took you.
This is Karanambo, deep in the interior of Guyana. It's been home to the McTurk family since 1922. Back then, the Rupununi was still an odd place to settle. It took as long to get to Georgetown as it took for Townies to get to London. There was no doctor, no government, and still a handful of tribes who’d shower you in arrows. But Tiny McTurk didn’t seem to mind.
Revolution ranch. This is Pirara in the Rupununi (Guyana). When Evelyn Waugh called by, in 1933, here was ‘one of the most imposing and important houses in the district.’ He described a schoolroom, fruit trees and a compendious library with books on every conceivable subject ‘much ravaged by ants’.
The world's first wildlife park. This is Walton Hall, near Wakefield in Yorkshire. It was the home of Charles Waterton (1780-1865), whose family had a plantation in British Guiana. The plantation is still there today, now the village of Walton Hall (on the Essequibo Coast), but Charles wasn't interested in it.
A Parliament of Ants. This is the great Dutch hall on Flag Island in the Essequibo River, established in 1744. It has tall, shuttered windows, the bell-tower of a church and the body of a warehouse. Aside from forts, it's probably the oldest building in Guyana. Inside there's a large expanse of flagstones, a cluster of well-laureled tombs, and a colony of bats.
The forgotten garden. This is Mabaruma, in north-west Guyana, which was built high above the forest on an enormous hillock of green. Up here, running along the ridge, is an avenue of stately rubber trees, and a pleasing sprawl of orchards, paddocks, tiny wooden farms, and tobacco-coloured cows.
Four-star reptile haunt. This is Caiman House, in Yurupakari (Guyana). It was originally built by a herpetologist (one who studies reptiles), and it's a bit like Fort Apache, behind an enormous stockade. Inside, there's a grand, red library, finished in hardwood, and, all day, it cheeps with computers and children (who come here to study) .