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The 12th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Once every three years, the Contracting Parties or member States to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands gather to renew old friendships, cast hostile glances round the hall, and freeze the budget for another triennium.
You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
We've been doing these two-week torture galas for so long they almost seem routine, but we're retired now and shouldn't be doing this anymore! This time, as in Bucharest 2012, Kristin is coming along to help as a volunteer with the Ramsar registration and logistics teams, and I'm helping out as a consultant on Documentation and/or Rapporteuring.
The first days of Ramsar COP12 in Punta del Este
Out of Montevideo in good time, 31 May 2015, bound for Punta del Este, the Ramsar venue
Roadside views out of the bus along the coast
Along the Uruguayan coast 2 hours eastwards from Montevideo
Small-scale free enterprise springs up everywhere (and Pepsi will be there to help)
Farther out along the coast
Punta del Este in the offing -- there was a city and resort here from the early 20th century, but the skyline seems to have sprung up from the 1960s onward, and it's surely Uruguay's pre-eminent vacation resort nowadays (with casinos!).
Oh my! Here we go. The city has fewer than 10,000 permanent residents but rooms for about 20 million at a need.
We're here. The Conrad Hotel (the only Conrad Hotel in South America), a 5-star with a dated grandeur and a very weird design. Ramsar's government and non-governmental organization delegates are sprinkled in hotels and hostels all over town, but we staffers get to stay in the 5-star conference venue itself.
The view further along the beach towards the Punta del Este itself. The Punta part of Punta del Este (on the right) lacks monumental skyscraper hotels because zoning laws prohibit any buildings higher than the 45m lighthouse near the point.
Lots of boardwalks. We're settling in now. Actually we're not; our room's not ready, so I'm wandering around outside and Kristin's gagging down a small lunch in the hotel for US$ 40. We're resolved to seek alternative nourishment (there were plenty of interesting restaurants nearby, and the hotel's horrifically overpriced restaurants were nearly empty every evening, except for the edgy folks with vouchers from the casino).
The Conrad lobby. What now?
How about the casino? And the Enjoy Club? The Poker Room?
Ramsar placards out front of the hotel, along with an upcoming performance of the techno/house DJ Manglus (not his real name)
The "Mediterranean Agora" across the street, a local restaurant hired out by MedWet (the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative) for the duration of COP12 to serve in an assortment of ways as a gathering place for Ramsar participants from the Mediterranean region, and everybody else as well.
MedWet was founded in 1991 and its membership presently consists of 26 countries (all Parties to the Ramsar Convention) plus the Palestinian Authority, as well as a wheelbarrowful of NGOs and intergovernmental organizations. It's offically the first Regional Initiative of the Convention, and since 2002 its headquarters have been hosted by Greece in Athens; in 2013, however, the austerity measures imposed upon Greece by the banking community forced the closure of that facility. More recently, happily, it has been resurrected in the facilities of the biological research station of the Tour du Valat in the Camargue, with its Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory, with grants from French environmental agencies and Luc Hoffmann's MAVA Foundation, and the star former Ramsar Secretary General, Delmar Blasco, has been appointed as the new MedWet Coordinator.
With the help of funding from the French ministry and WWF International (and probably others I don't know about), and the collaboration of local NGOs, the fishing club restaurant has been transformed into a North African setting, and throughout the duration of the COP it hosted, day and night, a full calendar of educational, cultural, and social events.
Some COP12 delegates claimed afterwards that they'd spent more time in the Agora than they did in the COP venue.
We've been scoping out the Agora and now . . . back to the strange-looking Conrad venue, soon to be our working environment. (I still haven't been told what I'm meant to be doing here.)
So this the good news: there will be two of us in the Documentation office, instead of only one over the past 11 meetings of the Conference of the Parties. I'm here as the "Documentation Consultant" to assist my successor as Ramsar Documentation Officer, Edmund Jennings, and we made a very good team. And across the hall of cubicles, we have two rapporteurs this time instead of one. So bring it on!
(But our translation teams have been reduced from three to two translators on site; cost savings. So bring it on, slowly!)
We're on the 8th floor, great views. That's the MedWet Agora and the fishing club next door, near the pier, on the Mansa or 'tame' side of the point, all glorious beaches that are (technically) still facing onto the Río de la Plata.
The Agora on the left, a typical fishing club adjacent to it on the right.
Again from our room, looking across the peninsula at the Brava or 'wild' side, facing the Atlantic Ocean, with fewer placid beaches and multitudes of dead penguins
Punta del Este by night
The grand opening of the Mediterranean Agora, 1 June 2015, hosted by MedWet Coordinator Delmar Blasco (speaking, right), with Adèle Veerabadren representing the French ministry and Christopher Briggs, the present Ramsar Secretary General.
The musical accompaniment
Kristin making the acquaintance of our grand old friend, Spanish translator Juan Carlos Valdovinos, a fabulous deadpan raconteur (and flawless translator; and fine photographer)
Members of the Ramsar family: Dave Pritchard, Marcella Bonells, Manu Kern, and Rob Cadmus
One of our favorite delegates over two decades, Guillermo Lingua of Argentina
Kristin already bonding with Juan Carlos, and making plans for visits to Mallorca in future, and our superfriend Montse, head of the registration teams
The COP plenary sessions are soon to get underway, 3 June 2015.
The exhibitions and lounge area
Not all of the exhibitions are up and running yet
Kristin on the Ramsar information exhibitions in the lobby
The first plenary sessions, with delegates and observers still wandering in
Kristin earning her air fare
Time for a break in the healthful sea air. Or river air rather.
The fishing pier, and the Isla Gorriti in the distance
Kristin earning back our unforeseen expenses from the travel agent
Kristin in discussions with a felt crocodile
A host of very nice 'communications consultants' distributing somethings whilst dressed as crocodiles, penguins, auks, and many other improbable beasts; no one could figure out why they did that. They weren't even protesting anything.
Back to the Agora -- lively fun and lots of old friends, and, given US$ 35 for a hamburger in the Conrad restaurant, a great place for a free food alternative: all typical Mediterranean cuisine.
The festive occasion surrounds two Med-related lectures, one by an Israeli winner of one of the Ramsar Conservation Awards, and the other by Jean Jalbert, director of the Tour du Valat research centre, winner of one of the Ramsar Awards for Merit, speaking about scientific research priorities for Mediterranean wetlands. (No sniggering, for the right audience, like us, it was riveting.)
Jean Jalbert with Ramsar's Tobias Salathé. In the background (right), local chefs are mixing up a huge paella using spices brought in by the Spanish delegate María-José Viñals.
Delmar Blasco, MedWet Coordinator, welcoming the guests to the paella feast, with the MedWet Senior Advisor, Nejib Benessaiah (back to camera), Jane Madgwick, CEO of Wetlands International (red boots), and on the far right, Thymio Papayannis, founder of MedWet
Austrians conversing, and everyone else awaiting the paella
Jean Jalbert with members of our French translation team
A small meeting of nations: Croatia, Macedonia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, and one other
Our old friend Ginette from Québec, French translation team, and our new friend Wendy from Granada, Spanish translator
Uruguay's own exhibition in pride of place in the lobby
Kristin after a few days on the Ramsar exhibition, trying in vain to explain to delegates why it's all in English when French and Spanish are equal languages in the Convention. How'd that happen?
The Exhibitions Area
A few samples: the Ramsar Centre in the Americas, called CREHO, based in Panama (there are other Ramsar Centres in Uganda, Iran, and South Korea)
The National Academy of Sciences of Belarus
The Ramsar authority in the People's Republic of China
Punta del Este by night
The splendid translation teams at La Neuva Avenida restaurant in a rare moment of repose, wonderful old friends and two new ones (from left: Danièle (French), Wendy and Juan Carlos (Spanish), Edmund (my successor as Documentation Officer in the secretariat), Ginette and Christiane (French), and Kristin (Italian, which happily was not required)
Juan Carlos and Edmund trading insights, and Wendy aghast at the size of her dinner. (I had the brótolas sea fish, good.) And we laughed a lot.
And then we got back to work. What a mess it was, too.
and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, .
All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 June 2015.