AROUND THE WORLD IN 173 DAYS Maria Hutchins
I thought it would be nice to keep people up to date and keep my internet time to a minimum as we went along our trip. It turns out you can spend hours in an internet café if you write personal notes to everyone in your addressbook. So instead, I sent out bulk mail. I have a daily journal as well and perhaps I will add more details to these notes in time. So enjoy, put your material goods in storage, and get traveling!
Wed, 25 Jul 2001 01:21:13 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: SFO->LONDON UNITED #930 21JUL 12:20-6:25am 22JUL SUNDAY
Sorry about bulk mailing, but I don't have the luxury of unlimited time on a home computer for the next 6 months. :)
Dominic and I arrived safely in London last Sunday after a nine-hour, uneventful flight. In about a day we were mostly over jet lag. On our first day, my cousin took us the an old pub on the river Thames called The Dove in Hammersmith. We walked around the area where my grandparents grew up and Matt pointed out the Fuller Brewery, apparently the place of employment for some of our relatives a few generations back.
We've been easing into holiday mode after a stressful week of packing before we left. Our house as been rented out, so we had to pack up and store our personal items. We have too many personal items, but managed to haul away a few carloads to Goodwill. Adding to the stress was a car crash which thankfully did not injure anyone. Dominic fell asleep at the wheel coming home from SF and was woken up by the airbag upon impact with another car. The Saturn was totalled, but other than that all is well. We've put all that behind us now and will try not to think about it until we return.
Monday we went to the Science museum in London, of course. Many changes have been made since I was there as a kid and even in the past couple years. There is now an IMAX theater and a Wellcome wing which has all the latest technology stuff. If you are in London, you have to go to this museum. We also went to the 'Launch Pad', a place for kids to explore science. Mostly it was a room with barley grains flung everywhere from the central contraption allowing kids to move the grains from A->B->C, etc.
We also lazed about in Hyde Park and along the Thames across from Big Ben. We've had some great hot weather here. Looks like rain today, so we may go to the new Tate Modern (art gallery).
Last night we had dinner with my other 2 cousins, Jo & Chloe and caught up with their news. We ate Haggis prepared by my cousin's girlfriend who used to live in Scotland. It was actually quite good. You just have to try not to think about what it is you are eating. I only ate the pork one, I'm avoiding beef while here in the UK. I haven't noticed much about the Foot & Mouth outbreak...except I keep thinking I smell disinfectant everywhere.
Next we go to Ireland and Scotland before heading off to Italy on the 24th.
Hope all is well with everyone!
Wed, 22 Aug 2001 08:30:39 -0700 (PDT)
It is hard to believe we have been traveling a month! Friday we leave for Italy.
We crossed over to Dublin on the high speed ferry and then spent a week with my host family there (from when I studied in Ireland for a year). It was good to see everyone and look around my old stomping grounds. We rented a car for 4 days to drive to Killarny, Co. Kerry. A drive you think would take 2 hours, but because of the roads and no bypasses, it takes 5.5 hours. We stayed at the Gap of Dunloe, right near the highest peak in Ireland. We did some hiking and hoped for good weather. The first hike clouded up on us really quickly and we had to use a compass to find the way down. Dominic also grabbed a sheep by its horn to pull it out of the bog. The next sunny day we hiked up to the saddle before the highest peak, an area called something like the devil's backbone. Basically you are climbing up a rocky river-like place.
We booked a tour with Irish Cycling Safaris and went around Co. Clare next. It was a week tour that started and ended in Ennis. We had a couple days of sun and some light rain. One day the wind was so bad in the morning that I was blown UP the hill. It was beautiful scenery and we had a great group traveling with us. There was even a dolphin swimming with people at Fanore beach.
After Ireland we flew to Glasgow and made our quest to Islay (Eye-la) for some choice single malt whiskys.
It's amazing that there are 7 distilleries on an island of about 3,500 people. The peat they malt the barley with is what makes the difference. Still not a whisky lover though. We wandered around this island and saw much of its wildlife. Many deer, hedgehogs, pheasants and barnacle geese at the right time of year.
Now we've been having a great time with my family in the Surrey/Hampshire area. Picked berries today.
Bye for now!
Tue, 4 Sep 2001 10:10:44 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: LONDON->ROME 24AUG
It has been a few weeks since I have been at a computer to type. Please excuse the typos. These keyboards are all mixed up.
We arrived in Rome and picked up our Fiat Punto to follow dominic's cousin to Villetta Barrea, the village in Abruzzo where his grandpa moved from in 1925. We've just heard the story of how Domenico Giampaolo met Alessandra back then as told by Zia Rosa. He was a very good stone mason and was building the Roman roads. Alessandra was the daughter of a merchant who supplied foodstuffs to the workers. The large piece of land where the family lives in Rome was purchased for Alessandra and her new husband by her father back in 1925 or so. At the time it was a real deal, out in the countryside of Rome. Now Rome has grown up around it. They are right by Appia Antica and St. Sabastian.
Enough of the family history. We went to V.B. and hiked around a lot. Went up Marscicano and other hills to look for animals. We saw some chamois (wild deer-like goats??) and heard their whistle call.
Dominic's cousin Vincenzo and his girlfriend took us to her family's summer place in Alba Adriatico. It is a nice small resort town. The whole coastline is filled with these hotels on beaches with umbrellas and deck chairs. We had 'staked' out our piece of beach for 2 days and swam in the Adriatic. The water was very warm! One evening it was windy and rainy, but the waves were good, so we tried some body surfing. It was a lot of fun. We are getting used to this no breakfast, big lunch and siesta, and late dinner thing.
Today we drove to Venice and manage not to get killed. The roads are entertaining. Just one more lane for traffic would be nice :) That is on the AutoStrada. On the small mountain roads we were early enough that it wasn't a problem. I just don't know how they got those one lane roads there. Lots of dynamite I guess. Venice is really great because there are no cars here!! We take the vaporetto boats like a bus around to where we want to go. It's a little rainy, so we ducked into this internet cafe. We plan on doing some more sight seeing for a couple of days and then back to the wilds. Maybe we will go to the film festival going on here now.
Thursday we will go to the Dolomites to do more mountain preparation for Nepal. Then we go to Florence to hang out with Dominic's (English-speaking) friend there. My Italian language comprehension is improving, but I am still handicapped because I can't form sentences. The radio is definetly too fast for me to understand. I did find 107.0 playing NPR with Bob Edwards, so that was a bit of language relief. Dominic put up with (not-his-favorite) NPR because he heard that HP bought Compaq. Pretty much out of the news here.
After Florence it's to Rome and maybe a side trip to Napoli before we leave on the 17th to Nepal. Well, I better do some web-surfing to find out what has been happening.
Hope everyone is doing well!
Tue, 18 Sep 2001 03:44:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Welcome to Asia
Hello from Kathmandu!
We had a long flight (9h55min) to Bangkok and then another 3 hour flight here. Our trekking company met us at the chaotic airport and we tumbled through the bumpy roads to the Thamel district.
I think you have to experience first hand what the city is like. Legless beggars, con-artists, kids selling stuff. Saw a dead rat, but then again, we saw one of those in Rome.
Later the tour organizer is meeting us at our hotel to go over when we leave, etc.
We're not in Kansas anymore!
Hope all is well back home!
Maria & Dominic
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2001 08:39:41 -0700 (PDT)
To: "mom" & "dad"
I've read something that the Nepalese carpets that you can get in San Francisco work out to be cheaper than buying them here after the shipping costs are added. The dyes used for the yarns are washed off in rivers and have been linked to birth defects. But it is a source of income for them. I don't think flaunting money is a problem. People in the city have pretty nice clothes in general and few people look like they are starving since this is an agricultural country. Many don't eat meat mostly for religious reasons.
We took another rickshaw tonight and Dominic asked if he could cycle it. So that lasted a bit until he ran the cart into a light post. No injuries thoughpeople or rickshaw. One thing is that they are really skilled at the job they do.
Bargaining is a way of life here. The high season is in Oct, so it is easier to get the prices down. But on some streets they ask way to much. I bought a cotton skirt today that started at 950 rupees and I got them down to 250. Its probably only worth about 100 rupees. You have to look at restaurant prices and the hourly wage to decide how much prices should be. All you do is walk out the door and they call you back. Two places we went for trek stuff they didn't call us back, and that is how you find the limits.
Anyway, our trek is basically the same as original plans, but the opposite direction. Then the 14-18th we are in Bardia (to see the dolphins and the tigers) then we are in Kathmandu at the International Guest house again until Oct. 20th. Then we either figure our another trek to do or go to Thailand for a week before Bali. Have to see how busy the flights are.
Trek Schedule (Monterosa Treks):
Tomorrow we fly to Nepalgunj.
22nd- Nepalgunj flight to Jhuphal and trek to Dunai.
23rd- Dunai to Shahar Tara
24th- to Kanigaon
25th to Lahini
26th to Nyaur
27th to Do Tarap
28th to rest
29th to Mondo
30th to pelungtang
Oct 1 to Khark
2nd Dajok Tang
3 Roman Village
4 Phuksundo lake
6 Ringmo - Kagmara Base Camp
7 over Kagmara pass to base camp
Of course things may change a bit depending on some timing issues and routes. But that looks like the way we are going. Our guide and cook took the 16 hour bus to Nepalgunj at 3pm today. We fly together to Juphal and pick up about 8 porters.
Today we went to the "monkey temple". It's about 30 min up hill from out guest house. The proper name is Swayambutha. It is where the Buddists believe this dome rose out of the earth and the Hindus built a temple. Hinduism and buddism are interlinked here. Many people practice both. The cool thing was the Tibetan monks up there chanting, probably for world peace. They had the deep horns and drums, pretty cool. Anyone can go in and join them, whereas many Hindu temples are off limits because we are without caste.
Saw a mini-demonstration of students sitting in a road by the university yesterday. The Maoists called off schools for a week. We walked by quickly but the whole thing was peaceful and didn't amount to much.
Well, we better go and get ready for our trek. We have to pack things into a duffel bag. Oh, in Bardia we are going to stay at Forest Hideaway, but there is no electricity and probably no phones work there.
Talk to you when we get back around the 18th or so.
Fri, 12 Oct 2001 05:16:48 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Dolpo, Nepal Trek update
We survived our 23 day trek through the Himalayas. It started with a flight to Nepalgunj, a swampy town on the border with India. We stayed at Hotel Batika, where we are also staying again tonight. Ummm, I think you have to be here to really feel what it is like. On our first arrival here, we thought we were at the end of the earth. Boy, were we wrong.
Next we took a tiny airplane to Juphal (near Dunai) where we started hiking. Don't bother looking up too many of these names on maps, most maps are not labeled correctly and you just have to know where to go. Our guide was very good at getting us around, organizing porters and paying them enough so the Maoists left us mostly alone.
The first days of our trek were very easy, but bit by bit we gained altitude until we were something like 3800meters by Dho Tarap. Dho Tarap is an interesting place. It is practically Tibetan in culture. We talked to an interesting monk at the gompa (monastery) there. There is a school called the Crystal Mountain School which seems to be doing a good job, considering it really is in the middle of nowhere. It's funded by a French organization which is probably a worthwhile group to donate money to. Anyway, along the way to Dho Tarap we encountered villagers who just don't see too many other people, let alone westerners. They also think that we will have miracle cures for their baby's burned bottom, etc. and some beg for medicine. The kids mostly ask for pens. Luckily in Dho Tarap they hope to have this traditional Tibetian medicine hospital up by next Sept. The monk showed us all his herbs and special cures. He has this encyclopedia of plants and minerals which are useful, but it wasn't in English, so I only recognized the photos. Also part of these cures is more spiritual and he showed us these human skulls that are used to mix potions in. That was pretty freaky.
The scenery was beautiful and we didn't get too sick or have bad blisters. We walked a lot! The days were organized so we could acclimatize, but the worst night for me was at 4700meter camp. It was very cold. Dominic went running up extra peaks and I was still climbing up to the pass. I will have to wait to see his photos. The first big pass, Numa La, you could see a 8100meter peak from. Now that is high! Everything else around was 4000-5000m and it just shot up like a giant snowflower.
There is so much more to tell, but I am afraid the power will go out again as it often does in this town. Power is not an issue for all but the first and last villages we hiked through. There is no power except the occasional solar panel that typically runs one fluorescent lamp. People really live off the land and we saw many yaks, sheep, cows, waterbuffalo, goats and chickens. Concerns of the rest of the world are not a top priority of most of the villagers we encountered. Some with radios were, however, keeping up with the news. We listen to BBC and Voice of America on shortwave.
Phoksumdo Lake was unique in its turquois color. Cold though. The rivers are also fairly chilly, but you have to wash somewhere.
So that is a taste of what we saw on our trek. Now tomorrow we go to Bardia in search of Tigers. At least we will get an elephant ride and see some rhinos. The 18th we are back at the International Guest House in Kathmandu and then it's on to Bangkok.
Hope everyone is doing well!
Thu, 15 Nov 2001 00:21:35 -0800 (PST)
Subject: KATHMANDU->BANGKOK ->DENPASSAR,BALI
I guess I am a bit behind on my trip updates...so here goes.
In the Jungle...
When I last wrote, we were in the border town, Nepalgunj enroute to Royal Bardia National Park (formerly Royal Bardia Hunting Preserve, i.e. the king and friends could shoot as many tigers as they liked.) This park is not a popular tourist place. But it is the jungle and there are wild animals around. The first day I was ill (probably from drinking some fresh cow's milk in Juphal - we ran out of dry milk and a porter took the trouble to get some milk. Remember to boil fresh milk in Nepal!). Anyway, Dominic went on the early morning hike while I slept in the mud and straw hut we called home. I had the lizards and rats to keep me company (they were just the other side of the plastic roof liner and kept to themselves, mostly).
Dominic was very lucky and saw one of the 10 leopards in the ~900 sq. km park. It was about 15 min into their walk and by the river they spotted the spotted one drinking. You can see the photo he snagged at our website (http://www.nobius.org/~dbg/trip-photos).
The next few days we did the standard jungle things including a boat float down the Karnali to look for the gangetic dolphins. No luck there as it was early in the season for them. We did see a lot of unusual birds, monkeys (rhesus and languer), and river otters. We also saw many animal tracks when we docked on the sandy banks. There were tracks of rhino + baby, wild elephant, and tiger. Our ride back to our hut was a long ox-cart trip on a newly "paved" road. Their idea of paving the road after the rainy season is to take large river rocks and dump them along the mud roads. We were part of the flattening system.
When we took an elephant ride we couldn't go to the interesting section where the tall grasses were because that morning 3 male wild elephants were in the area and the working elephants are female. On a later walk we did see fresh "evidence" that the elephants were near. But in the jungle, animals can be right next to you and you'd never know.
After our jungle experience, it was back to Kathmandu. There were many more tourists than when we were last there. But fewer than last year because of all the trip cancellations. We visited more temples, ate more interesting food, and recovered some more from our trekking.
The next part of our plan was originally to do some more trekking or something in Nepal.
KATHMANDU->BANGKOK 30OCT BANGKOK->DENPASAR, BALI 31OCT
But we were a little tired of all the "imitation" western food and goods in Kathmandu and my knee wasn't ready for another trek. So we cut Nepal short 10 days and flew to Thailand early for a little plushness.
The taxi drive from the airport was almost like being in the Bay Area. Real highways with overpasses. No cows, water buffalo, yak or other animals to avoid in the road. Good food here we come! Bangkok is a good deal for western tourists. If you want to, you can spend very little and stay in something adequate. We wanted to stay somewhere nicer since we had been camping for about a month. Back home we would never stay at a place as plush as The Peninsula, Bangkok...but in Thailand it's about the price of a Best Western in New York. And well worth every Baht! Dominic had the gym practically to himself and could cycle his heart out. I had one of 3 swimming pools to myself and they even turned the underwater lights on for me at night. Cheap labor costs of course mean that things like a Thai massage and beauty treatments are a bargain. We both thought the Thai massage was a little rough. I needed another massage after that pummeling. We spent a few days in Bangkok going to some temples (the giant solid gold buddah) and finding good Thai food. Then we flew down to Phuket to get to our next stop: Krabi.
The tourist info touts tell you it is 5 hours by bus to Krabi and much quicker by ferry (and you have to go through Phuket). The airport is a ways away from Phuket and we had no interest going in the opposite direction there. It is overrun with tourist and has a bit of a shady reputation. We decided to take the standard local bus to Krabi anyway. It is not something they make easy for tourists. We took a shuttle to a standard bus stop on the side of the road and then waited. Touts at the stop were trying to get us to charter their car there. One nice woman flagged down the bus for us (she overheard where we wanted to go). The bus stop/shelter was across the street from where the bus actually stops. Monsoon rains started to pour and we had to hop across 4 lanes of traffic and the median with our luggage (most of which we left at the Bangkok airport). It was worth our trouble. We were the only westerners on the air-conditioned bus and it cost us 2$ each for a 2.5 hour ride instead of the $20 ride on a shuttle that we were told takes 5 hours. Basically, never believe what people tell you at information desks in Thailand. The other observation we made in both Thailand and Bali is that you can pay as much or as little as you want for basically the same thing. It's just a matter of how long it takes to find what you are looking for or how willing you are to bargain with people that name a 5x price first to see if you are a sucker to pay it or not.
Once at the bus station, we were swamped with travel organizers selling their resorts. We went with a tuk-tuk driver who said he'd take us all around until we were happy with a place. He tried to cheat us by changing the agreement mid-ride, but Dominic was tired of being ripped off and in the end paid the guy what was fair although not as much as he had demanded in the middle of nowhere.
We stayed at the Andaman Holiday resort, popular with Scandinavians. It's about 15 min from Ao Nang beach. The temperature was around 85, somewhat steamy with a nice sea breeze. The Andaman sea is like bath water. We took our diving course right at the resort. Dominic and I are now PADI certified open-water divers. It was 1.5 days of class and 2.5 days of practical with a nice dive at Phi Phi (pee pee) island. Our instructor was an ex-chef from Germany who lived in Rome. He was really good and Dominic and I were the only 2 in the class. Diving is a lot easier than you think and you can never look at snorkeling the same again. Snorkeling is like looking at a square inch of some giant painting. We saw the whole painting at 18 meters. Most of the time we were at about 12-14 meters. It is amazing how you don't realize it is that far down. We saw clown fish and sea anenomes in the wild. We used gauges to monitor our depth and air supply. By the end it was a time factor not low air supply that limited our dives (i.e. we were breathing deeply and relaxed). You have to stay within limits so your blood nitrogen doesn't get too high.
After our seaside retreat, we were off to Ubud, Bali via Bangkok for some cultural experiences. Both Bali and Thailand are places we'd like to return to. There is a lot more to see and do than we had time for. We stayed at the Honeymoon Guesthouse upon recommendation of a friend who used to live near Ubud. The place is very reasonable and well-run by an Australian woman, Janet, who married a Balinese man 3 decades ago. Later on we took a cooking class with her which was well worth it. She explained a lot of cultural aspects through her experiences as it related to the cuisine. She also has 2 restaurants in the area, Casa Luna and Indus. The food is excellent. We were thinking that with all her success, she must live in one of the fancy palaces overlooking the terraced rice paddies. But Balinese people are steeped in tradition and cultural rules. When you build a house, a coconut and some offerings are buried under the foundation. I forget how this all relates to their Hinduism (the coconut represents you), but basically, you can't just sell the house and move up. She also has four children and each of their placentas are buried in the garden under these large boulders. This somehow looks after the children, but it is the parents' lifelong duty to place daily offerings at these monuments (consisting of some rice/food, flowers, water, incense, etc. in a little hand-made palm leaf basket or tray). So actually where we were staying was right within her family complex. It is a nice place and has a great pool where you can cool off in their beautiful gardens. Typically each family complex is a walled-in property with specific buildings and open-air alters. There is an order in which you build each and the orientation with respect to N, S, E, W is defined.
Besides staying in a place where we were introduced to the culture, a friend of our friend Linda was also eager to show us around. We phoned Gantas in the town of Mas (famous for wood carving) and he was happy to take us around. First he showed us photos of all his talents. He is a rice farmer, dancer, carver, gamelan player.... a man of many talents. Then we went to a local cock-fight. I didn't really watch much of it, but the men really get into the betting and the ceremony of it. This event coincides with temple festivals (which are an on-going thing on the island. Temples are about as frequent as bus stops and each has a birthday or special date when festivals occur). He also took us to his cousin's wood carving gallery. You would need a large home to display some of the artwork there. A couple days later he took us to hear his gamelan group (Balinese xylophone bell choir) at the celebration of a newly remodeled temple. No one knows how old it is. Very. We had wandered into some full-moon festivals in Ubud but felt a bit in the way. In Mas as a guest of Gantas, we were almost part of what was going on. He dressed us up in temple garb (something they all take very seriously: sarong, sash, and headwear for men). The girls brought us coconut rice and kopi (like turkish coffee). At first you think there is no order to what is going on...songs are played and musicans smoke or drink kopi between. Then a priest-like guy starts into the ceremony around a symbolic statue of the temple. There are many offerings carried on the heads of women and girls and they all circle around. Of course we probably would have understood more with a understanding of the language. The celebration was certainly different from religions familiar to most of us.
The countryside is beautiful in Bali. We walked some through the steamy rice paddies. One day we rented a motorbike and went up to lake Batur and over to the sea. It was pretty sketchy on some of the corners, but we survived. We passed another 2 temple celebrations/processions along the way.
Food in Bali is very good. You don't see the Balinese sitting together at a specific mealtime talking because this is another religious event and silence is required. But that didn't stop us from enjoying many nice meals. Arie's Warung by the soccer field is a tasty place to go. Arie is a real character...he brings out 3 guidebooks which recommend him...and guestbooks with tourists singing praises to his food. And it is very good. The Jackfruit curry could be mistaken for meat. It is just a little hole in the wall restaurant, but one of the gems we didn't find until our last day. After eating our way through Bali in 6 days, we were to say goodbye to Asia and on to Australia. We changed flights in Singapore and all the techno-stuff in the airport mall was enticing enough for us (Dominic) to try to add a stop-over there. Unfortunately we couldn't, so another trip we will have to stop. We arrived in Brisbane, Australia on Nov. 7th and I guess I will continue with the update later.
Hope everyone is doing well.
Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 19:48:51 -0800 (PST)
Subject: AUSTRALIA: Brisbane- North
"Beautiful one day, perfect the next." Or so the motto for this part of Australia goes. While it is beautiful here, the rain has started a bit early for the season. So far we have managed to follow the rain as we drove up along the east coast here. We have had rain _every_ day until today. Our summer time in Ireland was sunnier! Brisbane is a nice place, Australia's most "livable" (and 3rd largest) city. We re-acclimatized to the 'Western' world here for a few days. It's so nice to hear people speaking English, even if it is still not always clear what they are saying (Aussie speak). We went to the Lone Pine reserve to see some of the native animals. Got to hug a koala (see www.nobius.org/~dbg/trip-photos).
I also fed some very tame kangaroos and wallabies. After a couple of days in Brisbane we headed south to Lamington National Park. It was a pretty cool rainforest and we saw and heard kookaburra and various colorful birds. We also saw a couple pandemelons (sort of a mini kangaroo). But there were leeches on the trail and I had to hike with an umbrella ... buckets poured down. We did see the Antartic Beech trees that are only found there.
Next we drove back through Brisbane and on to Noosaville. Noosa, etc. kind of reminds me of areas of Florida I wouldn't want to visit. But because we had stopped in Brissie (Brisbane as the Aussies "ie" everything) to purchase a tent for Hinchenbrook Island, we didn't get as far north as we wanted on the first day. It is interesting that as we go _North_ we are heading to the tropics. That and the fact that we are expecting Fall and are getting Spring is a bit upsidedown.
Bundaberg/Bargara was our next stop. We found a great place with a kitchen and got to cook for ourselves. Of course it rained. "First rain we've had this season." This was to become a familiar phrase over the next week. We also got to see the first turtle of the season lay her eggs at Mon Repos. This is a very well done sea turtle rookery. Our turtle was a loggerhead about 1 meter long. We watched under torrents of rain as she laid 120 eggs. Then after burying them, she raced back to the Coral Sea. We helped to move these eggs up further to a safer nest. Only 1/1000 of the little guys will survive to adulthood. She will come back and lay a few more clutches this season. Everyone got pretty wet despite raingear and umbrellas. But having this National Geographic experience was worth it.
Serina / Grasstree Beach was our next stop where we stayed two nights in a holiday apt. The beach was deserted. Nice for walks, but the box jellyfish and rain prevented us from any swimming. We again cooked for ourselves and had a good time. We wandered into the town of Mackay (Grasstree Beach is a 2 shop town). We have been up along the Great Barrier Reef since Bundaberg, but unless you are on a boat, you aren't going to see much. Our next night we stayed in Eungella Nationall Park, the best place to view platypus in their natural setting. And sure enough, within 5 min along the river, we saw one several times. We hiked along this river and I got more leeches stuck to my ankles. Dominic didn't get any this time, no matter if he led or followed. Leeches are no fun, but at least they were tiny ones. We stood at the platypus lookout in the rain and waited to see another 2 chewing food at the surface. They are quite shy. Heard some LOUD cockatiels (_flocks_ of yellow-headed white ones). There were also 3 tame kangaroos where we stayed ... kind of like the deer of Australia.
Now we are going out to the Whitsunday islands. We are in Airlie Beach waiting for our ship to sail ("The Romance" diving sailboat). We'll be going to the outer reef for 3 days and 3 nights. We should get about 5 dives in. The weather has finally cleared up for us (although yesterday was their first drop of rain in 6 months!).
More when we get back!
Subject: AUSTRALIA: Great Barrier Reef -> Sydney
Hello again! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!
We had a great time diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Let me start by saying there are dive trips and then there are DIVE trips. As novice divers, we didn't know the extremes in trip quality until now.
From Airlie Beach we took the Romance (a steel-hulled workhorse cramped sort of sail boat that runs the motor for all but 1 hour of sail time) out to Hook Island and then Bait Reef. The diving was great, don't get me wrong. We saw a 1.5 meter reef shark a few meters away and Dominic caught a photo of it with the strobe camera he rented. I wasn't really scared but I wasn't about to persue it as Dominic did. The evening before I went on a guided night dive and we were warned about what the sharks will do. If you shine the light on their eyes, they will charge. Luckily at night we only saw orange-eyed shrimp and hunting tevallys (BIG fish).
Here is the bit-o-advice for anyone doing a scuba trip: Don't go on one that claims to be a sail AND dive boat. Any good real sail boat won't let the clunking of airtanks on its precious deck. Also, go to the harbor and look on board the boat you'll take. The crew was nice and the other travelers were nice. Airlie Beach is geared for the backpacker and has many cheap boat trips. But they were consistently running out of buffet food for us 16 passengers, there were only 2 toilets, and the AC was broken so many had to try to sleep on deck. We did get to watch the Leonoid meteor shower at its peak. It was like being attacked from Mars- the whole sky lit up.
For about the same price as the above 3 day trip, we went on Reef Encounter from Cairns and had a completely different experience. Reef Encounter is a mini-"Love Boat"-type boat that is fully air-conditioned and very comfortable except for one particular set of stairs (see below). The crew and service was extremely professional. Again, the diving on Hastings, Saxon, and Norman Reefs was great. We saw a spotted ray, turtles, about ten buffalo parrotfish, and lion fish. We also saw another shark and got that dive on video (for 35$US they would do a personal video for you). The night dives were also better. We saw lobster, crabs and the bioluminescent plankton. But I think the best upgrade on this trip was our "cabin". On the "Romance" we had bunk-beds in a space, not a real room. On Reef Encounter we had a double bed and a room bigger than some of the motels and hostels we'd been in. Plus we had our own complete bathroom. This boat only takes around 55 passengers, so it is not too huge. They are also very efficient with getting the divers out in the water. There was a dive platform on hydraulics at the back of the boat. Live and learn. Next time I think we will go to Cod Hole further north to dive.
In between dive trips we hiked (mostly in overcast or steamy rain) on Hinchinbrook Island with the crocodiles (salties). We took the bus to Cardwell where we departed for a 3-day backpack trip with our new tent. We kept mostly dry and the rain stopped when reached camps. No leeches on this island and only 40 people allowed at a time. We only saw the signs warning you not to swim because of the "salties", but it was better that way since the males get aggressive during mating season. Also some beaches had the deadly box jellyfish washed ashore. We did swim in the refreshing pools on the island. One had crayfish and another some strange curious trout-like fish. The water did feel good after sweating through the rainforest.
After a trip to the Cairns base hospital, we were off to Sydney. On Reef Encounter I slipped up the stairs which had a sharp metal knurling on it. I think the impact of the fall (actually 2 falls in one) split a fairly deep incision next to my shinbone. A doctor that happened to be on board was going to stitch it, but they didn't have the equipment. So 8 hours later I got to the hospital where they just steri-stripped it together.
In Sydney we took the advice of some fellow travelers and stayed in the Southern Cross Towers apartments. We had the chance to cook for ourselves again. It was nice to have a "home' for a few days. We were really impressed with Sydney. Its even nicer than San Francisco, although bigger. It was a nice cooler temperature (about 70 °F) and no more humidity like in the tropics. We did the standard tourist things... museums, the tower, Manly beach, and opera house. The opera house is a lot smaller than it looks in photos. The Royal Botanical Gardens were really nice. In the trees there were "flying foxes". We had dinner at Bondi Beach. Bondi Beach isn't as big as I thought it was supposed to be. But it was a nice place, despite the rain. We rented a car one day and drove to the Blue mountains for a bike ride. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon, but greener and more colorful, noisy birds.
Now we are on the North Island of New Zealand since December 3rd. But more on this part of the trip later. I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the holiday season! It sure is strange to be wearing shorts and see Christmas lights everywhere.
Wed, 16 Jan 2002 22:13:02 -0800 (PST)
Subject: New Zealand-> Cook Islands -> home!
Hello again! happy holidays and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
Where was I when I last wrote? I think it must have been at the end of Australia. Sorry about the long email, but we saved the best for last.
Back on December 3rd we left Sydney and arrived in Auckland where the agricultural security people actually came into the plane and sprayed. We saturated for five minutes in the de-buging juice and then we allowed to leave the plane. I guess they have found some insects that are a threat to one of their major industries: agriculture. I doubt the mesures are very preventative. At customs you must declare every little bio thing, so they go through your stuff and wash boots. Second country where my boots got a free cleaning :)
We decided we had had enough city days and drove directly to Taupo (3 hours south). Trout fishing capitol. Land of hotsprings. The road signs over bridges say: "watch out for steam". We stopped at a bright aqua blue river near Huka falls. The first thing we did was take a hike along this river and then we tried to dip our feet in where everyone was soaking in thermal springs. I don't know what their skin was made of, but that water was HOT!! We tried to sit nearer the cold river water, but I had to keep stirring the hot water around me so I wouldn't burn. There are some interesting plants and microbes around this area and the posted signs tell you not to submerge your head. I doubt anyone could bear the heat anyway.
The next day we went to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to see the Yellowstone-like activity. It was a pretty cool (actually hot) place. There were so many interesting colors that our camera just couldn't capture. We did sit by the mud pots and wait for a good bubbling image. We continued on our tourist trail and went to the award-winning Tamaki Village. It is a reconstruction of a Maori village. We didn't go for the evening feast, so we had the place to ourselves. Our guides were proud of their heritage and gave a good tour. There are currently 600,000 kiwis who claim Maori heritage compared to a est. population of a few million before the Europeans came. Dominic reminded our guides that early Maoris wiped out the peaceful Moriori inhabitants of NZ back when they first settled. New Zealand has a rich and interesting history which we began to learn on our travels.
From Taupo we drove to Hawkes' Bay: wine country. We hadn't sampled many of the Australian wines, so we took our time to explore the flavors of this area. We stayed near the foot of Te Mata peak (http://www.temata.hb.co.nz/legend.html). Te Mata is also the name of one of the older wineries and makes very good wines. We settled into our motel and cooked some nice feasts. The nice thing about motels in Australia and NZ is that there typically is a kitchen complete with kitchenware. We almost started to feel at home at each place we stayed. Our food supplies box grew as we collected interesting ingredients and spices.
We drove up the coast to Gibson and stopped at the beach for a walk when the rain stopped. There just happened to be a flock of gannets (sea bird) diving into the ocean. They continued this fishing for about 30 min. It was a pretty incredible site. The rain was following us at this point, so we did a little wet-weather hiking and then drove on to Mount Managui the next day. Here again there were thermal baths. We had a nice mineral bath soak to warm up and relax after our hike. Ah, the rough life.
We spent a couple days in Auckland before flying to Christchurch. Two redeming features of Auckland were Ponsonby Pies and the Auckland Museum. Auckland is a bit of a sprawling mess as a city. With two harbors full of potential, they still managed not to manage zoning. Beautiful Victorian homes are right next to cylindrical apartment high rises. But the savory Ponsonby pies were the best. The museum had exhibits on the natural history of NZ, polynesian, Maori, and current day culture of NZ. We learned a lot while it rained outside. For instance, did you know that there were hardly any Korean immigrants in New Zealand before the early 1990s? A government ad campaign claimed NZ as "the last green paradise on earth" or something like that. Now there are around 10,000 Korean-New Zealanders in the Auckland area.
We fell in love with Christchurch. It reminded us of England a lot. There is a hugh Botanical Gardens in the center of town along with several playing fields. There is so much beautiful scenery in NZ. Dominic was keeping an eye on the weather and the immediate few days were more likely to be clear, so we packed up to go backpacking in Arthur's Pass. First lesson in hiking the kiwi way: you cross a lot of rivers. I guess they just hike in wet boots. There are huts along the way that you can book and dry out in. We were in a tent, so at every gushing river, it was off with the boots. It probably added an hour to our hike. The first day was fairly sunny and we had a good time despite the icy rivers. Some people were running the trail. There was a coast-to-coast race coming up and people were training. These trails were definitely boot material, but here were these tough kiwis, slogging through rivers in teh sneakers. I guess the fastest time for this leg of the course is 2.5 hours. Walking takes 9 hours, so I don't know how they do it. Our next day started out foggy and mucky. The keas (cheeky alpine parrots) called to us and kept us company for some of the trail. We radioed to the ranger at Goat's Pass hut to see how the weather was going to be. Apparently good where we were heading, so we climbed up and over to the next valley. This was off-roading it. New Zealand is great. There aren't a lot of strict rules about things, especially when it comes to utilizing the great outdoors. It would have been nice to have a trail up this mountain, but we managed our way up, clinging from one grass tussock to the next tussock.
This was the closest to rock climbing that I have been, only there were no rocks, just inconvenient vegetation mixed in with the rope-like grass. Did I mention this was a pretty steep climb? Dominic has a habit of leading me up to the highest peaks in the area. This was only a 800meter climb, but the lack of trail made it take a while. The view of blue blue lakes from the top was worth it. Plus we got to slide down scree and some snow on the other side. We camped in the middle of the trail because that was the only flat spot and we were too tired to hike further. The hike out the next day was fun except for the part where I got soaked face-first in a boggy bit. Luckily the sun was on our side and it was warm. Picking out the trail along the river basically meant walking _in_ the river for quite a ways. We tried to avoid this, but our boots were wet and it was actually easier. Not all hikes in NZ are like this we discovered. But there are practically no other people on these partial-trail trails. It was a good trip.
We also did a trip to see Mount Aspiring. That trail was full of sheep, but also a nice wilderness of solitude (except for biting black flies).
One of the highlights of the NZ trip was the glaciers. We did a heli-hike on the Fox Glacier which was unlike anything I've done. The 10min heli ride takes you to the fastest moving glacier (5 meters per day) where you then walk around for 2 hours. You can walk through some of the ice caves, but these form and collapse on a daily basis. I think there are some good photos on our website now http://www.nobius.org/~dbg/trip-photos
Just before the glacier trip we relaxed in Hokitika. We talked with the locals in this small coastal town and just did nothing for a day. But the next day we went caving complete with a wetsuit and raft. There wasn't that much rafting, but it was underground. The glowworms on the cave ceilings are well worth the trip.
We also liked our stay in Wanaka. We were on a sheep farm overlooking mountains and a lake. Certainly one of the nicest farm views I've seen. It is about 2 hours from Queenstown, but much nicer. Queenstown is about like any ski village anywhere. We also stayed in Arrowtown which is an old gold mining town and has some more character. The only high-adventure thing we did (don't forget bungee jumping was invented here) was the luge. It's this plastic sled that you can get going pretty fast down a curvy cement trail. It was actually more tame than it looked.
Our excitement in Queenstown was going to see Lord of the Rings. It was only the first week and we were the early birds (10am show). The movie was very well done (if you haven't already seen it). Every newspaper was quite proud of the fact that it was a New Zealand production. The scenery is as amazing as it looks in the movie.
For Christmas we had booked this little cottage B&B for 5 days in the countryside near Te Anau (www.christiescottage.co.nz). I highly recommend it! The Christie family is very lucky to live on a gorgeous farm surrounded by mountains. They had a tame lamb, Elliot, who was more like a dog. The first two days there we lazed about in our sunny cottage and cooked some interesting meals and baked bread. You start to miss the things you can do at home. On Christmas day we joined our hosts for desserts. Marie made a traditional New Zealand Pavlova (a marshmallow-like meringue crust piled high with whipped cream and raspberries). The kiwis are very proud of their documented invention of this dessert and it is yummy.
It rained when we hiked in the Fiordlands, but was still a good time. In the evenings we just walked around the countryside and experienced some amazing sunsets--at 9pm! We took a little trip out on Milford Sound. There they have a floating underwater observatory where we saw black coral among other interesting fiord life. The tannins draining off the hills with the fresh water can create a murky layer up to 6 meters deep. We were there during a "dry" spell, so the fresh layer was only 1 meter. If you go to Milford sound, you will get wet. We also saw several dusky dolphins cavorting alongside the ferry.
After spending our first "summer" Christmas in New Zealand, it was time to move on to the final leg of our adventure, the Cook Islands. The Cooks are their own country which is protected by NZ. It was quite a bit warmer than the south island of New Zealand. We flew into Rarotonga and spent our time relaxing at Muri Beach and watching the ever changing sky. There had just been a big cyclone on Raro a few weeks before we arrived. While we were there, Tonga got hit with another, so we were getting the side effects of their cyclone. Dominic wasn't too happy when there was no blue sky, but he kept cycling around the island to improve on his time (1hour 5min?). Rarotonga is surrounded by a reef. Where we were it was a short walk or swim out to it. The 'lagoon' isn't very deep and that's why it is so turquois. We did some snorkeling in the lagoon, but decided to wait until the waters calmed down before scubaing outside the reef.
We tried our hand at deep-sea fishing...It starts right outside the reef where the deep sea starts straight away at 12,000 feet. Interestingly, the bad weather seemed to hover over the island, while out at sea, it was perfectly clear.
On New Year's all the restaurants of interest were booked up, so we made some pasta at "home". Our landlady Gwen (an Iowan escapee), invited us to spend new year's next door at her place. I brought over a freshly baked foccacia bread. We had all the baking supplies from NZ still. Dough rises fast in the tropics. You have to scare off the geckos though. Speaking of wildlife, I also had to shoo away a crab that had climbed into our little pole house.
At the New Year's party, we met the two other couples staying at Gwen's other rental units and then a lot of the local expat. crew. There were many kiwis. We also met the country's biologist, Gerald, who knows all about the plants and animals found in the Cooks. He was quite interesting to talk to. There isn't really money to do the kind of record keeping they need to, so even if locals take data, a lot of it gets lost. But they do what they can.
The highlight of New Year's Eve was a spectacular clear sky and bright stars followed by the full moon rise framed through the coconut trees of the islet in the lagoon. It was the best moon rise I've seen!
Because of the rainy weather on Rarotonga (nothing worse than continuous rain in paradise), Dominic wanted to go home early. Part of the agreement to do this was only if we would at least go to another island for a few days. We booked the residents' flight to Aitutaki (the cheaper fare is only available once you are in the Cook Islands).
We were really glad we went to Aitutaki because it was so much nicer than Rarotonga AND the weather was great. There are only around 3,000 people on Aitutaki, so everyone knows everyone. People are really friendly and stop to talk to you. We stayed at a small place called Are Tamanu. The photos on our website should give you an idea of how relaxing it was there. Strategically placed hammocks are essential. The snorkeling right out in front was great. I found a large porcupine fish a few times. We borrowed one of the boats and rowed out to the reef. We were quite a bit further from the reef than in Raro. We "parked" on some rocks (no anchor) and walked the rest of the way out to the incoming surf. There were lots of pink corals and sea urchins to watch out for. It was pretty interesting because it was sort of like tide pools, but not. We also did a scuba dive outside the reef. It was incredible. Not so much in the fish or coral, but the vast openess of the dive site. The visibility was close to 40 meters. It was like diving in an amphitheater. You could look down and see deep blue going down for another 12,000 feet. We did see a majestic eagle ray flying above us. This was our deepest dive yet at 28.4 meters.
Besides water activities we also did some exploring by bike and foot. Dominic would go running and I followed by bike. Along the way I would gather fresh mangos and starfruit. We also saw a lot of land crabs in one area. It was a 20min walk to the island's highest point. It is amazing to look out over all the land and then see only beautiful blue ocean for miles around. I just wonder how the first people landing on these islands could do it so alone. I guess they had their pigs, goats, and chickens to keep them company. These animals still wander around as they please.
Aitutaki was a nice ending to our long months of travel. It was sunny and warm. Everyone was very friendly. We just relaxed and watched many sunsets & sunrises for entertainment.
On our flight back home we got on 4 different planes. From Raro we had a stop in Tahiti at midnight. It looked like a much busier place and not necessarily any nicer than the Cooks. But I was more interested in sleeping at that point. We made it back to Mountain View safe and sound. There was a bit of culture shock when we changed terminals in LA. Bigger cars, buildings, and more security measures. On the flight to Aitutaki there wasn't even a metal detector.
Our renter has moved out and there wasn't too much damage to the house. Just 6 months of neglected gardening...although it did get watered. We have the computers up and running and I am starting my job search. Somehow it seems more exciting to plan our next lap around the planet. Maybe another time.
I hope you had an restful holiday and are enjoying a peaceful new year!
Our website is www.nobius.org/~dbg/trip-photos
some other interesting travelers we met along the way:
www.kamagogo.com (we went diving together in Koh Phi Phi)
www.3-d-s.com (shows photos of our cooking class in Bali)
www.beinghuman.com (they were starting in the opposite direction at the end of our trek)