AT THE CLINIC

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer
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The Independent Travel
THAR SHE BLOWS, ME HEARTIES!

Having been lucky enough to do some whale-watching on an excursion from the Canary islands, we would like to do more. Can you tell us where are the best places, and any firms that specialise in this kind of wildlife holiday?

D Scott

Reading

Jill Crawshaw replies: Best spots for watching the planet's largest mammals include off Baja California from January through March for Humpbacks; off the Atlantic Coast of North America between June and August for Minke whales; Killer whales can usually be spotted off Norway from October until January; and Right whales from South Africa's Cape Coast during September and October.

It is important to choose your departure date carefully to catch migration patterns, and even if you don't wish to participate in a tour firm's escorted holiday, it is a good idea to note down their itineraries and the times they've chosen as the best times to view.

The pioneer of exclusive whale-watching tours from the UK is Discover The World (01737 218800) which runs trips worldwide; among its shortest tours is a three night break during October and November to Norway with five hour whale-watching excursions each day. The cost of pounds 675 includes flights, accommodation and some meals.

There are several tours to Iceland, where a special three night "Midnight Sea Whale-Watch" in June includes lectures from world authority Vassili Papastavrou, and other experts. Trips out to sea are in Icelandic oak- built fishing vessels, and the types of whale holidaymakers can hope to see include Minke whales, Humpback and Giant Fin whales. This trip costs pounds 675.

Among longer and more expensive trips is a two week holiday to the Azores where just over a decade ago they were still hunting whales, but are now finding whale-watching trips to be a more reliable and less controversial source of income. The whale-watching is based on the island of Pico, but the tour includes trips to three other islands. May to September are the best times to see Sperm, Bearded and Pilot whales. The cost of this trip is pounds 1,295.

In North America, a nine- day trip in August and September to the Bay of Fundy and Nova Scotia to see rare northern Right whales costs pounds 1,022, and a similar length trip to New England and California costs pounds 1,398 and pounds 1,598 respectively. An exciting adventure kayaking with 45 foot Grey whales off Baja California's Mexican coast costs pounds 1,496. The 800 mile Baja peninsula is the site of one of the world's largest whale nurseries, home every winter to the Grey whales which gather there to mate and calve after a 500 mile journey from the Bering Sea.

Other firms also organise special whale-watching trips including Inntravel (01653 628811) which runs whale safaris in the Arctic Circle during the summer, as does Specialised Tours (01342 712785). Trips include visits to the Whale Research Centre at Ardenes, and costs for a week are from around pounds 795 upwards, to include flights and accommodation.

All Canada Travel (01502 565825) offers whale-watching off British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia. A 13-day self-drive Pacific whale-watching tour, starting and finishing in Vancouver, and taking in cruises through the Gulf Islands and Straits of Georgia costs from pounds 633 (flights extra), and the company will also arrange two to four night independent tours which can be added to other Canadian holidays.

One of the most comprehensive wildlife holiday specialists Naturetrek (01962 733051) has added a new tour to Canada this year, between 19 September and 5 October. "The Great Whales and Fall Migration in Eastern Canada", visiting Saguennay Marine Park, one of the few places where it is possible to see four different species of whale, the Beluga, Minke, Fin and Blue. The cost is pounds 2,590 all inclusive.

Finally, the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito) (0181 607 9080) publish a free Directory of Real Holidays which lists special interest holidays including firms offering whale-watching opportunities.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer, and broadcaster.

WILL MY STOMACH EVER RECOVER?

I came back from a trip around India about six months ago and almost as soon as I got back I immediately had quite a severe spell of diarrhoea. With hindsight however, it does now seem as though my stomach (and its movements) have never been quite the same since. Is it possible that I have suffered some permanent damage? Is there anything I can do?.

Dave Green

London

Dr Larry Goodyer replies: There are a number of reasons for prolonged diarrhoea, and without a more full description it is difficult to identify the exact problem in your case.

Many travellers abroad will experience a spell of diarrhoea lasting on average between two and three days. A more chronic diarrhoea will last longer than 10 days, so it may be useful to examine the possible causes of this.

In about five per cent of cases the diarrhoea in travellers may be due to a dysentery or giardia infection. Amoebic dysentery is characterised by the passing of a painful diarrhoea in which there may be blood or mucus. It can last for many months, sometimes reoccurring after treatment if the parasites have not been eliminated from the gut.

In the case of giardia infection, where there is frothy foul-smelling diarrhoea and the presence of excessive flatulence. Again the symptoms are of quite long duration.

India is a destination where the risk from dysentery is significant, so this problem should be considered. Another possibility is "post-infective diarrhoea syndrome", where following a severe bout of acute diarrhoea, such as you have described, it can take up to three months for things to return to normal even though no infective organism is present. I always advise travellers to seek medical help if the diarrhoea lasts more than ten days, and particularly if blood is presents in the stools.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.

I WANT TO GO TO MALAGA, BUT I DON'T WANT TO FLY

Help me find a route to Spain for one passenger who does not like flying and one with ME, plus an eight-year-old child. We're travelling from Brighton to Malaga in May and we need the journey to be as restful and cheap as possible, but don't want to fly.

Deborah Price East Sussex

The travel editor replies: I have to admit that travelling all the way to Malaga by train from the UK is unlikely to be either restful or cheap. Going by bus is likely to be the most suitable. If you really want a ferry-rail combination, the most restful route is probably as follows: you can travel on P&O Ferries (tel: 0990 980980) from Portsmouth to Bilbao on one of the twice weekly crossings; the journey takes 35 hours. The passenger-only return price in May ranges from pounds 100 to pounds 115, though you then have to consider the cost of a sleeping berth, which will be an extra pounds 30 per person each way, in a 4-berth compartment.

Unfortunately P&O does not sell combined ferry-rail tickets for this route and so you will have to book the onward train ticket from Bilbao to Malaga separately, another 13-hour journey. Reservations for travel on Spanish trains can be booked in advance from the UK through Ultima Travel (tel: 0151 339 6171); a return ticket costs pounds 95.78 to which you will have to add the price of couchettes which are about pounds 15 per person each way.

A much better idea in your case is to take a bus with Eurolines (tel: 0990 808080) which will take you from London Victoria directly to Malaga in about 36 hours. A return ticket costs about pounds 140 per adult, and a bit less for a child.

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