Handrail Pool

Posted in Travel on December 24, 2011 by scotttraveler

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Handrail Pool

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Wicked Travel

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2011 by scotttraveler


Our Adventure tours Perth to Exmouth tour was a 7 day round trip; 5 days up and 2 days back.  On the road driving north it seemed that we stopped at every location of interest and heading back to Perth it was mostly driving.  We stopped only at a petting zoo, the Hutt River Province and an overnight at a farm home-stay.  I had originally intended to depart the tour in Exmouth after 5 days, do some traveling on my own and then rejoin a different bus with our operator back to Perth.  As I told my plans to Andrea, I learned that she had planned almost the same.  Interestingly, we were flying back to Sydney within one day of each other and we agreed to continue travelling together.

You never know who you’ll meet on the road, the friendships that you will make, romances that may blossom and adventures that will unfold.  I had really come to admire Andrea and appreciate her company.  We seemed to be hitting it off like two old friends who had known each other for years.  We discussed where we might go for the next week and several options came to mind.

In a little store in Exmouth we saw some postcards of beautiful desert canyon scenes – waterfalls and pools that snaked through rugged canyons.  We looked on the back and kept seeing “Kirijini National Park.”  As Andrea was looking at one of the post cards, another traveler commented that it was an amazing place – he gave it a strong recommendation and said that if we had time we should visit.  We inquired a bit and found out that it was about a 10 or 12 hour drive from Exmouth.  We began discussing renting a car and making the drive and soon our talk turned into plans.

Should we rent a car and stay in hotels or hire camping gear?  They do rent tents, kitchen kits, sleeping bags – pretty much everything that you need.  With all of this we could drive by car and still stay at camp grounds if we chose.  We made a few calls and found that the local car rental agency was renting Wicked Camper-vans for $100 a day (including insurance bond).  We had seen Wicked Vans all over the west coast; they were painted up in all sorts of obnoxious graffiti and silly stickers.  The little vans came equipped with sleeping mats, storage space, cooking stove(s), dishes and eating utensils, cups and even a little sink for washing dishes.  We had seen some of the Wicked Camper-vans and I was a bit reluctant as some had some really obnoxious writing and slogans on them.  But we couldn’t beat the price so we put in a reservation and made a drive out to see which van we might get.

We arrived a little before the car rental shop opened and saw that they had a ferocious guard dog.  Of course, Andrea had to give him a pet and say “hello” (photo above).  She is quite the animal lover and I always find it so endearing when she looks at animals with such love and affection.  Later in the day, she spotted a flock of cockatoos and she walked over to say hello to them.  They let her get quite close and looked at her, with heads sideways and one eyeball staring curiously.  I’m always amazed at how smart the cockatoos and parrots are.

We turned over our drivers licenses, filled out some paperwork and then took possession of our van.  It was quite a sight – graffiti all over it, funny stickers – but best of all, a fully contained transportation & lodging vehicle.  It took a little while to get used to the van.  While inside it was like a regular car, but whenever I came back from a gas station or restaurant, the site of it startled me a bit.  But the convenience and the price couldn’t be beat and I slowly grew fond of this crazy looking camper-van.

As we prepared to depart Exmouth for Karijini, we stopped for gas.  I shot this pic of Andrea as she filled the tank.  Another thing to get used to is fighting a woman for the gas pump; Australian Women are fiercely independent – quite a break from Texas girls.

The bed of the van had a raised plywood floor; under this false floor were storage spaces where we could store our luggage, ice chest, lawn chairs and propane stove.  At night, with all of the gear under the floor, we would lay the bed cushions inside the van and sleep in it like a little motor home.    In the back, a little sink drew water from a jug that we refilled at gas stations and rest stops.  The drain went right through the bottom of the truck and emptied below the van.

In the photo below you can see the kitchen sink and water reservoir.  Over to the left, you can see the raised floor that makes for storage and a bed (mattress on top).  Off to the side of the truck you can see the propane stove; we had two of them and each had a cooking head attached.  We boiled water in our pots, cooked pasta, made coffee and even made pancakes with bacon for breakfast.  I was really impressed with the little van.  It drove great, had everything we needed and was surprisingly comfortable.  It even came with a pair of lawn chairs!

The Wicked Travel Company is quite cheeky as you can tell by the stickers below.  These stickers were all over the van and I’ll let them speak for themselves.  The Wicked Company had some great travel deals.  Later, I would use them on Australia’s eastern coast to save on hotels and bus tickets.

Inside the van, each of the previous passengers had “signed” their name and the dates and locations of the places that they visited.  There were quite a few trips across Australia, some around the coast, some right through the interior.  We saw “dead kangaroo” hash mark counts, “number of rivers crossed” (numbered 70 or 80) and all sorts of backpacker “wisdom” and clichés.

Once we got on the road we were both ear to ear smiles.  We had our own traveling hotel, a fridge full of food and beer, a full gas tank and hundreds of kilometers of beautiful red Australian desert ahead of us.  We took turns driving and took photos during the drive and at many of the dozen stops we made to look at the local wildlife.

I’ve always loved a good road trip.  I looked out at the road that stretched ahead and I knew that this trip would be a journey to remember.

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Baby Joey

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by scotttraveler

The night before we left Coral Bay, some other travelers saw that a kangaroo had been hit by a car. When they approached, they could see that the mother was dead but the baby was still alive; its little head was sticking out of the pouch!  They secured the baby and brought it back to the lodge.

Kim, one of the  tour guides, knew just what to do. She wrapped the little Joey (as I’d later learned that bay kangaroos are called) tightly in a towel and covered his head up. You are supposed to cover them up so that they don’t see too much and aren’t overly traumatized. The baby Joey took some water from a dropper and went to sleep.

The next morning (above), it was quite curious and kept poking its head out of the towel as if it wanted to see what was going on. I grabbed my camera to get some shots and I was quite surprised as the little creature exhibited none of the characteristics that I expected. Rather than a quiet little “soft” creature, this Joey was more like a lizard that had popped from one of the pods on the movie Alien. It had a whip like tail that seemed to have a mind of its own that occasionally snaked out above the Joey’s head and slithered around like an alien reptile tentacle. The Joey hissed with a sound that sounded more like an extraterrestrial than a marsupial.

Of course there was a huge gaggle of tourists (us) crowding around trying to get a look at the little pouch-dweller. Andrea was worried that he would become too traumatized and might not survive the ordeal. In the photo above you can see him fighting to get free of the towel that Kim was holding him in; he probably wanted to get down and bound away. Unfortunately, without his mother’s milk he wouldn’t last for very long and would likely succumb to a predator animal.

Later, we learned that Kim dropped him off at a the Greenough Wildlife and Bird Park – a designated stop on the bus ride back to Perth. From last check, this little guy is living the life of luxury at the animal park. In the photo below he finally calmed down a bit and relaxed so that we could capture his photo.

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On animals and vegetarianism

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2011 by scotttraveler

If you looked back on your life you could probably find a half-dozen pivotal moments, moments, when your outlook on life changed.  Perhaps it was a revelation about religion or politics or a near encounter with death or the loss of a loved one.  Trying times in our lives try our souls and the values that make us think and reflect on what is right and wrong, what is important to cherish and what holds the most value in our lives.

On my last overseas work assignment I saw a familiar face on the cover of a hard-cover book.  The photo was of Alan Alda who played Hawkeye on the long-running television show M*A*S*H.  The book, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, was a humorous look at Alda’s life, on Hollywood and about life values and pivotal moments.  I’d always been a fan of Alda as he is quite intelligent, articulate and seems to act and speak with great conviction; I’ve always admired someone who fights for what they believe in.

In the book, Alda discusses how – during his life as he matured – he modified his understanding of listening to someone.  He said that in order to properly listen to someone you don’t just hear what they have to say, think about it and then respond.  He said that to truly listen to someone, you have to open yourself in such a way that you are willing to let them change you – to let their opinion change your opinion.  When you are willing to be changed when you listen to someone you step outside of your predisposed beliefs and condition and actually hear and empathize with what they are saying.  It was a remarkable concept and I have kept it in mind since I’ve read the book.

During my trip from Perth to Exmouth and back, I had occasion to meet a wonderful woman named Andrea.  She is a vegetarian and we talked and talked at great length about the subject of vegetarianism – specifically: eating animals.  I’d never given the subject much thought; I’ve always considered vegetarians a bit crazy and thought that they were over blowing the whole issue.  I thought about what Alda had said and as she spoke so passionately about cruelty to animals, I listened and for the first time, I actually began to think about the issue.

Interestingly, it took years of debate before I began to even look at the plight of the Palestinians.  I’d been raised to believe – as have most Americans – that they are terrorists from birth.  It took quite a bit of research on my own to find out what I’d been told by friends in the Middle East during my work there.  Perhaps if I’d read Alda’s book earlier I would have had a more open mind on the subject.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a vegetarian but in listening to Andrea’s arguments I could begin to understand the criticism of the food industry and how it handles animals. 

Andrea shared with me so many examples about how cows and pigs are intelligent creatures, how they are on par with dogs in how they look, listen and feel.  Her comments about studies that mapped cow’s brain activity showed that they experience fear and one begins to wonder that if we are going to make food out of them, why make them suffer needlessly?  No one would tolerate the sounds of a screaming dog, why should they tolerate those from a cow, pig or chicken?

In an interesting twist of fate, when I was in Perth at my hotel I saw a documentary about Australia’s role in the beef slaughter houses operating in Indonesia.  Some appalling treatment was videotaped and the meat industry and Australian government is getting a lot of criticism.  In one particular video six or seven bulls were slaughtered – but all in the same room and within sight of each other.  As the bulls were killed and slaughtered one by one, the remaining bulls became more and more frightened until the last bull was shaking like a leaf.  I’d never seen a cow in fear but this bull was clearly scared out of his mind.  I thought what a cruel torture it must have been for him to watch his mates be killed, cut up and then knowing that he would be next.  He clearly knew what was going on and it was painful to watch his misery.

I suppose that most of us (meat-eaters) conveniently ignore the subject of animal cruelty because it is uncomfortable to think about.  I’ve hunted and I can’t imagine torturing an animal that you intend to eat.  Why should I buy food that has been tortured?  I began to ask if I had any responsibility to know where my food comes from.  If I buy meat that was tortured am I implicit in their torture by merely being willfully ignorant?  I’ve made the argument that Americans must take some responsibility for the actions our government takes overseas; it is irresponsible to be willfully ignorant when the actions of our nation may cause other people to suffer.

And in an even stranger twist of fate, I just saw the movie Never Let Me Go.  The movie is about donor-clones who grow from childhood to become young adults and then they have their organs harvested.  It was a painful movie to watch and was masterfully written and directed.  I don’t think that it would be easy to watch this movie and feel no emotion.  I thought about the bull that was harvested for his meat and drew the parallel with these beautiful young adults who were also being harvested.  I don’t think I’d be able to accept an organ from one of them – and surely that would be to save my life.  I don’t need beef to save my life, there are veggie alternatives.

I know that I’ll at least make the effort to make better meat purchases.  I’d like to know that the animals I’m eating were killed ethically and didn’t suffer needlessly.  An easy choice is to buy free range eggs versus those laid in wire cages. 

While we traveled together, Andrea pointed out this animal and that.  I had always seen animals but I have never looked at them like this before – as sentient beings that had a life of their own.  We saw so many wonderful animals on this trip and I’ll write more about them in later posts.  In the photo above, Andrea captured a photo of a little Gecko who was sunning himself on the chase lounge chair at our hotel pool in Coral Bay.  He sure seemed comfortable and content there as he warmed himself.  In the photo below, as we walked home from dinner one night in Exmouth, I spotted a tiny frog on the ground and Andrea picked him up for a quick photo.  She always gets so excited when she sees animals and her enthusiasm is contagious – and it rubbed off on me a bit.

Our meeting, Alan Alda’s book, the news stories about the beef trade in Indonesia and the movie Never Let Me Go had a significant impact on my thinking.  And like some other life changing events I can’t help but think about these chance events and how they will change my life in the future.

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Point Maud

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2011 by scotttraveler

Just north of Coral Bay a small bit of land sticks out like a finger into the sea.  About a two mile walk along the sea shore, Pt. Maud is a crescent-shaped outcrop of land that seemed like a good hike.  We looked at the map and saw that about half way to Pt. Maud is a shark nursery and even though it wasn’t shark hatching month it seemed like it would be a nice hike.

The map seemed like it was about 2 or 3 miles one way and we headed out along the beach from Coral Bay.  Along the way we saw quite a few tidal pools and hundreds of little crabs.  We climbed up along the bluff that runs parallel to the beach and I captured a photo looking towards Coral Bay (above) and a photo looking north towards Pt. Maud (below).

As we neared the shark sanctuary, we could see that it was a small bay that was protected by some rocks with shallow water.  A large population of seagulls had inhabited the bay but we didn’t see any sharks.  In the first part of the walk much of the beach was covered by rocky boulders and we could walk relatively easy but as we neared the shark bay (and after we passed it), the sand became like mud and we sank up to our ankles in it.  If you take this hike, I recommend that you bring sandals or some other shoes that can be removed easily; we walked barefoot quite a bit and I don’t think that shoes would stay on in this wet-sandy muck.  In the photo below, you can see the inlet to the shark sanctuary and the finger of land that makes up Pt. Maud extending off to the left over the horizon.

In springtime, baby sharks hatch here and learn their swimming and hunting skills.  If you climb up on the bluff you can see them swimming around in the shallow water.

The appeal of Pt. Maud, and why I would recommend this hike/day trip to others is that the beach is completely unspoiled and almost untouched by humans.  In a relatively short hike from Coral Bay you can get to an area where you won’t see many people and the beach was just loaded with shells.  I had never seen so many shells in my life – and like a little kid, I ran around picking up the best that I could find.  There aren’t really any shells on the beaches around Los Angeles – the millions of tourists pick those beaches clean each day.  We saw big and little shells, sea sponges, sand dollars & shells of all sizes.  Interestingly, the sand dollars here are not flat like in America, they are rounded and Andrea said that they aren’t called sand dollars in Australia, I can see why, they look more like sand shell puffs.

It was obvious that this outcropping of land was sort-of-a catch-net for the ocean and all sorts of debris washed ashore including the aforementioned shells, bits of kelp and plant life.  But the entire area was pristine; I didn’t see any trash or beer bottles or tin cans.  All we saw were tens of thousands of beautiful shells and we had quite a fun time picking through them looking for some that were just “perfect” in size and color.

The next day we had sore arches as we used foot muscles that don’t normally get used; pulling your foot out of knee-deep soft sandy-mud isn’t something that you do every day!  It was a beautiful hike and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Coral Bay. 

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Ningaloo Reef Diving

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , on May 20, 2011 by scotttraveler

In the four or five days that we spent in Coral Bay, we must have gone snorkeling most every day. From our hotel the beach was a short 5 minute walk and once you cleared Coral Bay for Paradise Beach, you pretty much had the whole place to yourself. Offshore the bottom of the ocean was covered in sand and continued out for about 50 yards before you hit the reef. Each day as we swam out to the reef we would see some sand rays and I began to notice this little fellow (above). He stood out because he was quite distinguishable with his missing tail. And after we had fed the Snapper some snails on the first day, they continued following us for the rest of the time that we were here; they tagged along like little puppies, watching as we swam, hoping for an additional snack.

From the shoreline the water grew gradually deeper until it was about 4 meters (12’) at the start of the coral reef. The reef was quite thick and extended out to about a mile offshore where the heavy ocean waves broke creating massive white-wash and waves. Most of the snorkelers just swam in this deeper water and looked down at the reef but after the second day I realized that if you continued swimming further and further out to sea the water became more and more shallow until the reef was just two or three feet under the water. In this shallow water the colors of the reef were bright and vivid and I swam around happily for hours on end watching the fish as they swam between the fingers of reef.

The varieties of coral that we saw were endless; red coral, yellow and blue, tall stag coral, fire coral and crazy looking mushroom and dome corals. I didn’t see too many large fish or sharks inside of this protected coral bay but there were plenty of little fish to keep the eyes entertained.

As I look back on my photos I realize that they don’t nearly capture how beautiful this reef was and I didn’t hardly capture all of the things that I saw. I spent too little time photographing and spent much more time swimming and enjoying the fish and the reef. As I think back to Coral Bay and its Ningaloo Reef I have the fondest memories and I would recommend a visit to anyone traveling on the Western Australian coast.

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Australian money

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2011 by scotttraveler

Maybe I should have titled this post “plastic money” because that is exactly what the Australian paper money is made out of – Plastic!  When you hold it in your hand it has about the consistency of a grocery store plastic bag but a bit thicker.   After you handle some of this “plastic money” for a while you begin to realize the utility of it: it is almost indestructible.  I’ve run some of these bills through the wash and they come out no worse than a credit card.  You can fold the bills, get them wet, crumple them and they bounce back like brand new.  I’ve even tried to tear a bill with no luck; the bill stretches a bit and then snaps back to its original form.

In the photo above I have (I think) the front of the bills; the Queen shows on the 5 dollar bill.  The photo below has the backs of the bills.  Who all these people are – I have no idea.  If you are Australian and you know anything about any of these people, do leave a message and share with us.

The bills are slightly different in size – the $5 is the smallest and each subsequent denomination is larger in size.  The colors are quite bright and reminded me of Monopoly money.  It didn’t spend like Monopoly money though, a $5 note costs $5.50 American and the prices were higher than in most parts of America.

Sadly, Australia ditched their $1 note to “save money” because notes wear out faster than coins and the $1 note wears out the fastest.  It makes sense as they are the smallest denomination and are handled the most.  But I believe that the $1 note was ditched before Australia switched to bullet-proof plastic money.  Plastic money would have probably lasted as long as  the coins.  Recently, I saw another plan by the USgov.gov to replace the $1 note with $1 coins because the notes wear out so fast.  Hello US Treasury!  Switch to plastic notes, they’ll be digging these things up 10,000 years from now and they’ll look as good as the day they were printed.  I think that plastic $1 notes are a lot easier to carry than a pocket full of $1 coins.

By the end of the week I’d have maybe $12 or $14 in coins in my pocket; I should go to the chiropractor as my pocket full of coins made me lean over to one side and threw my back out of alignment.  Coins are a pain in the arse and getting rid of $1 bills is a bad idea.

The Aussie coins above, you start to notice a trend; on the front side of each coin is the Queen’s profile.  I recently saw a British comedian who was speaking at an engagement when the Queen was in attendance, he looked up at her balcony box, pondered for a second and then said, “That’s right, I need to get to the Post Office to buy some stamps.”

The coins – if I remember correctly, from left to right, the $2 coin, $1, .50 cent, .20 cent, .10 cent, and last on the right is the $.05 cent coin.  Strangely, the $2 coin is half the weight of the $1 coin and I would regularly try to pay a $2 coin for a $1 check.  Maybe the $2 was invented later and they were trying to save production costs and weight?

I would often call the .05 cent piece a “nickel” and the .10 cent piece a “dime,” to the odd looks of Australians.  “A dime?  That’s a ten cent piece.”  Geez, its a lot faster to say dime or nickel than five-cent-piece or ten-cent-piece.  A got a lot of ribbing for using the terms “nickel” and “dime,” and inevitably we would end up talking about coins, their size and weight.  I was critical that the size of the $2 coin was smaller than the $1 coin and I was ribbed back a few times that our nickel is bigger than our penny and dime.  A few times we talked about other countries that used $1 and $2 coins – including Canada who affectionately call their dollar coins the “Looney” and the “Tooney.”

I told some Australians that the Canucks call their dollar and two dollar coins the Looney and Tooney and no one believed me!  They asked for an explanation and I told them that the Canadian $1 coin has a Loon bird on it (hence the “Looney”) and the two dollar coin was then nick-named the “Looney.”  None of the believed me and it wasn’t until Andrea and I were in Vancouver was I able to get her to believe that the Canadians had nick-names for their dollar coins.

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