Archive for September, 2007

Two months down!!!!!

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

We called some former Fort Smith friends who now live in Australia the other day. We were getting close to the town that they had moved to almost two years ago and wanted to arrange a beer together. Sadly for us they had moved! And not just a little ways away either… They moved a few thousand km away to Darwin in the “Northern Territory” where we hadn’t really planned on going before. Upon finding this out Claudette and I poured over the maps and made a five week calendar on some paper to calculate dates and distances. Sadly it just worked out to too crazy of a schedule to get up there and back to Brisbane via Cairns by our October 26 departure date.

A FEW MORE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND OBSERVATIONS:

While Oz is half a world away, both peoples seem very similar. We are both generally quite friendly, love to share a good beer with friends, are polite, have a great, easy going nature and are put off by the common arrogance of many Americans. They seem to LOVE! camping and getting away for the weekend as much as we do. The main difference so far with this is the much more elaborate “campgrounds” (read deluxe caravan resorts) they tend to flock to here. I’ll admit though that the only area of Australia we have seen (and are going to be visiting) is up the East coast, which is rather more “touristy” than most other parts of Oz. The real kicker is that all of these campgrounds offer BBQ’s (free or coin operated) but in fact they are not a BBQ as we are used to. Instead there is a flame directed onto a large surface area square skillet with a small vent at the back end for excess heat. In effect we are frying everything, rather than cooking it over open flame. I’m not sure if this is common for people’s home BBQ’s as well, or if it is only representative of campgrounds (for fear of liability of people using open flames or some other such reason???).

Music CD’s are crazy expensive! Most all of them are $30, regardles of being a new release or Fleetwood Mac’s RUMORS. On the other hand, wine is ridiculously cheap!!! In general across the board, I would say that wine is about 2/3 the prices in Canada (after factoring in the 0.9 exchange rate even). Beer is a tiny bit more, or about the same price including the exchange. As a quick example, I bought a bottle of Wolfblass Port for about $8. We don’t even have Wolfblass Port in Fort Smith, but if we did it would certainly be way more than that! Claudette and I have tried about 7 beers so far, (including Grosch, a lightweight waste of time) but I haven’t yet struck upon the perfect replacement fot Sleeman’s Honey Brown that I miss dearly.

As far as WIFI computer security goes, Aussies seem incredibly diligent about securing their networks. Almost to an unprecedented level, most all WIFI broadcasted sites that I’ve polled have been encrypted so far. As a result we’ve had very limited ability to use the WIFI phone here.

One last thing (as would be expected by anyone who knows us) that we noticed at EVERY campground so far, is that we are unequivicably the last ones up in the morning. Now this is not by just an hour or so either… I’m talking about a few hours here! Like, many families are up and around cooking breakies at 6:00 AM, (when I groggily slink to the shared bathroom for a quick P). We started by Claudette (and sometimes Luke or Alex) waking up around 7:00 or 7:30, but in the last week we have all pretty much universally been dragging our butts out of the Van by 9:00 AM, (often in order to pack up and checkout by 10:00!).

IN OTHER NEWS:

We plan on staying in the driveway of a great couple we met camping last weekend when we go to Brisbane in a couple of days. Robert and a couple of the other guys has suggested a few beers to try, and we’ll pick up some more wine and baily’s before heading there. Leesa Maree (I think that’s how she spelled it?) is going to grab a copy of our Ecador DVD showing the coriellis effect experiment since she’s a school teacher. They have two younger kids and are all off on vacation still for another week for when they invited us to stop by on our way through.

Saturday I sang on family karaoke night at the campground we are at. Naturally Claudette wouldn’t be anywhere near where there’s public displays of people being silly & embarrassing. When she found out that Luke was going to sing, and that he had asked me to sing a song as well, she left in a flash out of there, back to our camper van. I didn’t really feel like public singing that night but since Luke asked me with such sweetness in his eyes, I of course went to have a look at the song list. Imagine my delight when I saw “I Will” by The Beatles! I thought, “Wow! Not only will I not suck too badly, but I might nail it well enough to have a chance at the $100 prize for males over the age of 16”. I already had the video camera there to record Luke’s awesome performance, and gave it to Alex to film me. Lo and behold, a great rendition of the song didn’t quite happen and I got hit over the head with a frying pan, (figuratively of course). The version he played for me to sing to was by Allison Kraus, which I had never, ever heard before. Naturally she “made the song her own” and changed the timings and inflections all over the place. (I hope your eyes are filled with tears of both pity for me, and laughter with me as I recount this traumatic and party loney (my kids and some of the crowd cheered me on feverishly at least) devastating experience… )

It really wasn’t fair that so many other (drunken) spouses were there cheering on their (drunken) “partners” of course. So anyways, I sucked, but did my best anyways, and laughed all at the same time. At the end the crowd cheered my effort, and Alex & Luke gave me BIG hugs… Incidentally, Luke won the $100 prize for all kids under 16 for his rendition of THE ARCHIES “Sugar, Sugar”. He makes me proud! Sadly we later found out that it was only a hundred bucks off the next stay at this campground and it was non-transferable. I went to reception to book to stay one extra night than our already planned three nights. Being School holidays in the two surrounding states, all sites were completely booked for the day after. We checked with the manager and since we live in Canader and are probably never coming back, she made the certificate transferable to another family. That way (I suggested to her) they might at least get $50 out of someone else on a two night stay…

Any which way, camping is definitively the way to travel here. We have met so many more people and had great conversations than is even remotely possible in a hotel. I believe the cost savings to be slightly dubious (of camper van & $50-$80/night fees versus rental car and budget hotel stays) but the social benefits are stupendous!

On a very sad note, we have thought of more events that were on the now dead DVD. I had shot a couple stills and a bit of footage of Alex and her friend Jake frolicking on the beach unawares… Also, we went on a sand dune tour and boarded down the sand hill a few times each. It was an absolute BLAST! and we had some great footage and still pictures of that. We will have to send the disk to CBL labs in Ontario and (at about $250 !!!) see if they can recover much of the data. Their website (with some cool pics NOT of us) is:


http://www.portstephens4wd.com.au/

So many firsts!

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Yesterday we have almost completed our firsts! We had already seen our first possum and while we were driving to our next campsite, I spotted our first kangaroos! Notice the I spotted them no one else had beleived me until I forced Luke’s head to turn :). There were only little ones. We saw similar ones later that were the same size and we were told they are about in their teens. I’m not sure if we got any pictures, because the first time we were driving and it was to fast then the next time my dad had killed the the camera and I’m not sure I it got (ummmmm) unkilled.
Two camps ago I took my first surfing lessons and they were so awesome!! I’m still in the early stages but I can manouver on my belly and stand up and balence for a bit (20 seconds Is my record I believe). Now my mom totally has to buy me a surf board! If only I could keep it up! Theres no place to surf in Fort Smith!
Also When I got surfing lesson I saw my first real live Jelly(fish, I’m talking Aussie now!). It is a blue bottle and there tenticles can grow from about 2 inches to 2 metres! For every say 50 meters on the beach there was probably about 30 of them! Luckily this only happens in the summer because the wind blows them in (or something like that).
The only first we have to complete now is seeing a koala. When we first arrived we were told we would see a kangaroo because there is lots of them and they are pests like a black bear (excepts kangaroos aren’t carnivorous, but they have a pretty good kick and an adult could probably break your ribs easily). But koalas are very rare and extremely shy! I only hope we do get to see one that is not in a zoo.
Thats all I have to say we are leaving this camp pretty soon, Bye!!!!

Second Surfing Lesson.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

This morning Alex and I had a second lesson, while Claudette and Luke joined us for their first lesson. It was pretty good, the surf was nice and the water warm. Alex had a bit of a rougher go, bonking herself on the head twice while Luke had fun and made it up a couple times. Claudette demonstrated excellent balance and made it up onto her knees quite a bit and on two legs once too. I continued to struggle with my balance and kept plugging away and trying wave after wave, after wave. Finally one time ZING! I found the sweet spot of my balance and Whoop! I was up. What an exhilerating feeling to ride that baby wave in for a ways!!! Then, after a couple more flops in the water the 90 minute lesson was over. Luckily the instructor had another lesson in a half an hour and encourgaed us to keep using the boards until then. I slammed down every which way ’till Sunday off my board a bunch more times and then, nirvanically (is that a word? Agh, who cares…) I found that sweet spot in my balance of rising from stomache to legs again. Then again! Then AGAIN!!! And once more. I rode four baby waves in a row and quickly began contemplating what kind of work I could do in Australia and how much was it going to cost for the board of my own that I desperately needed to buy…. Hmmmmm, I shall force myself to bear out the remainder of our planned trip and then as quickly as possible find my way back (with or without family ) to bum out the rest of my dwindling years on the beach getting skin cancer with a glorious grin on my face.

Alex plans on trying again. We really, REALLY should have gotten that $85 board at the pawn shop in sydney now. Claudette I’ve told will be trying at least one more lesson. She seemed to agree in a mock obidiant tone, but I think that she really does want to go again herself. Luke I’m not so sure. As everything for ten year olds, I think it was a bit harder and slightly more work than he anticipated. He’ll probably have another go a couple days down the road though… At least he got up on two legs just a couple of waves before I did today!

Today’s Lesson: Taking Things for Granted…

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Last night I volunteered to take one of the kids turns at doing the dishes to make up for being late getting back to the van for supper. It shouldn’t have been too difficult really… We had decided to use paper plates for eating off of so doing “dishes” really mainly consisted of doing the difficult & extensive sausages residue in the stainless steel frying pan and cleaning out the sticky rice pot, (along with a bit of cutlery and a couple of cups). Now, Luke being the enormously social creature that he is had wandered next door to our camping neighbors to introduce himself and chat before eating. Surprisingly, he had lured our typically very shy Alex there as well after supper. A family with four kids (ages ranging from ten to fifteen) were all sitting around with our two lovlies swapping stories of educational and societal differences and just generally having a grand time.

After I finished eating (last of course) I took the frying pan into our ensuite washroom to get that nasty thing soaking in the wonderfully hot water from the tap. Our camper only has cold water (no heater) and in fact it doesn’t even have a grey water tank. The drainage tube from the small sink goes straight down through the undercarriage and simply drains right onto the ground. Luckily the camper rental company had thoughtfully seen fit to include a plastic drainage tub beautifully suited for purposes of draining the sink water NOT onto the ground. So… there I was with the frying pan sitting in the ensuite bathroom sink, plug in and slowly filling up with nice hot water to loosen off that gunk on fried into the molecules of steel of the pan. I then went to quickly run and get the other dishes from the table in the van to bring to wash, (along with some bizzare substance called “dish soap” Claudette insisted??). On my way to the van (all of barely seven meters) I heard Alex’s voice next store at the neighbors campsite. Thus I was struck with the remembrance that Alex was supposed to put the leftovers away and hadn’t yet. She had left the table after eating with a slightly urgent look in her eyes, heading to the washroom. When I reminded her that she needed to get the leftovers done, her sweet thirteen year old, daughterish eyes (only other Fathers could possibly fathom the depth of this rock moving experience) begged for but a moments repreive in the bathroom and then she verbally promised to do them right after she washed her hands. Naturally, being the phenomenally reasonable man that I am, acquiescence was quickly granted.

Now, as I walked back to the camper I recalled that I couldn’t possibly wash the remaining dishes since Alex had not yet removed and put away the said leftover portions. It also became clearer to me how she suddenly overcame her usual desperate shyness to join Luke chatting with the neighbors. In barely a flash of a second after hearing her voice I turned in the direction of the neighbors and noncholantly strode up to the group to ask if my children were bothering anyone. Of course everyone replied to the negative, and that in fact all present were delighted with the regalings of life in Canada’s sub-arctic. They wre a wonderful family and after brief introductions of us adults I joined in the conversation as well leaning on top of their still cooling off BBQ. After a short time (barely ten or fifteen minutes I’m sure!) of comparing societal makeup and some good hardy chuckles at various stories back and forth Luke wandered back to our camp for some reason or another. Very quickly he called back to me saying that “Mom wants you back here right away” in a slightly alarmed voice. Now, it was clear to me that in the verty short time that Luke was gone, he couldn’t possibly have encountered anything to actually be alarmed about. I therefore easily concluded that the agitated tone of his voice must be solely translated from the VERY agitated tone of Claudette’s voice whom he was trying to channel with some urgency. Among the crowd I made light of this of course, and vocally lamented to the other couple that I was shocked my wife couldn’t wait until the darling children were in bed sleeping. Ha, ha, ha… Chuckles all around and then I high tailed my ass back to find my darling wife.

She was not inside of, around, near (or even under!) the campervan. “Ah-hah!” I thought to myself. She must be in the bathroom changing and needs me to fetch some different cloths for her after removing her bathing suit. A perfectly logical and suitable explanation for her transklated agitated tone I voice. No, I really did think so at the time, Honest! Anyways, I turned to the bathroom entrance only to see Claudette with a bizzare look on her face (not angry, which of course under the circumstances is quite remarkable). My wife was standing in about 5 cm of water on the floor, with a pitifully small drain (on a high part of the floor I might add, very shoddy workmanship constructing these bathrooms indeed) looking at me expectantly yet patiently, (not unlike how a mother looks at her son who has skinned his knee several times, and with scabs growing on scabs has just attempted another remarkable feat and failed, thus ripping sections of the old scabs and portions of fresh skin all at the same time). I bleakly suggested that perhaps I should get a mop and clean the flooded bathroom before resuming doing the dishes.

Luckily she had shut off the tap water which I had left running into that nasty little frying pan only a little while ago, while I went to get the remainder of the dishes. I gingerly approached the sink and stared in wonderment (as one stares at their squash or tennis raquet looking for a huge hole after missing an easy shot) looking at that sink withOUT any sort of overflow outlet of any kind apprearing anywhere at all in the clean white bowel of the plugged sink. Now I didn’t blame anyone else of course, but I did desperately wonder in abject bewilderment when our technologically advanced society reverted to making very UNsophisticated sinks bereft of even the tiniest overflow drainage hole for the occaisional idiot who would leave a room with the tap running… (And niot just running of course, but I had it cranked fully eight complete turns around to get the most forceful, hottest water that I could possibly squeeze out of that tap).

And so… I will no longer (at least for the remaining 42 weeks or our trip in foreign lands) take for granted that all sinks have idiot holes (my new technical description) for the occaisional person who might have the absolute bestest intentions, but wander momentarily away from the quickly filling sink and then further become distraced by witty and wonderful conversation from other adults.

The only other footnote (and neat bit of good news) I can offer is that Claudette somehow felt the need to fill my void next door and be social and join in a conversation with others without previous introductions or invitation. I almost feel that my ever so slight blunder then became worthwhile if it can have such a positive effect on my shy little wife as that! Also, I probably don’t need to mention the floor was really dammed clean! after I got finished with it!

Slowly worming our way up the Coast…

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Alex and I had our first (of many to come!) surfing lesson this morning. It was a blast! I’m sure kicking myself for not insisting on buying that $85 surfboard we saw at the pawn shop in Sydney now… Lessons here were quite reasonable at least! Only AUS$50 each for Alex and I compared to US$95 in Costa Rica! On the other hand music CD’s seem to be outrageously priced at a universal AUS $30 here!!! Milk is also AUS$4.30 for a 2L.

Gotta go cook supper, more blabbering later when I get a chance.

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We have been staying at a variety of types of campgrounds with generally nice, but a couple with not so stunning, facilities. Some of them seem to get right carried away with extra-curricular facilities and activities. Of course there are generally extra costs associated with those as well. We are just taking it easy with a few hours of driving on up the coast with typically a two night stay at each campground along the way. Once again we have no capability to put up pictures due to coin operated internet kiosks at the last several campgrounds. On the last disk there wasn’t much worthy of adding to our online picture gallery anyways. Just some so-so shots of the cutest little duckbilled platypus swimming in a tank at the Sydney aquarium. They were pretty cool, but very active and difficult to get a decent picture of.

Pulling into today’s campground we FINALLY saw our first kangaroos! They were grazing on some grass right at the entrance to this RV park. Then later on that night we saw two more little ones right near the shared kitchen about 20m from our van. When I got the camera, the disk wasn’t working!!! So I threw another disk in and shot footage and some stills of the two joeys in the dark. Then I checked into the previous disk. It was completely toast and unrecoverable. I was trying to think of what was on there… We put it in on our second day in Sydney while at the Aquarium. We think that Claudette had mostly shot Alex and I surfing on that disk so far. So, while its disappointing we can live without those pics. Upon investigation Claudette then told me that “Oh, by the way… something happened to the camera when I was filming you two surf the other day….” Oh well, I’m sure we’ll go surfing again and get even better footage then!

It’s easy for mom, she can’t tell left from right!

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

That is what Luke said while we were ajusting to driving on the left side of the road. The absolute first thing he said when we arrived in the taxi. I love Australia so far! When we first arrived it was nice, there was only one taxi driver (I’m comparing it to peru where there was a dirty hand slapping cat fight, except it was men) and it was funny because he said “do you guys need a taxi” and we said “‘yes but we don’t know where to yet”‘ and right away he led us to a big billboard and showed us all the good hotels. We had to phone atleast 9 hotels before we found a vacancy (I’m pretty sure it was summer holidays there plus we were in Sydney, the big city)!

Once we got our campervan, I was happy (no more walking or trains or taking the mono rail).

We have been in 3 camps with our campervan so far. One near the airport, where we didn’t make any friends(we were only there for a day).
The next one was south of Sydney, where we met Courtney and Hayden. Courtney is 12 and Hayden is 9 (And they are both way taller then us well courtney is taller than me but Hayden is only taller then Luke). Then they left, and we met a fam with three kids, Stephanie (7), Claudia (6) and Nathon (4). They were lots of fun to play with (but the next day we left :(!).
Then at our next camp site we go there and find (drum roll) Courtney and Hayden!!! Then Later that day We met Erin (10) and his older brother Jake (13). Me and Jake were really good friends, and me and Erin were really good enimies. Erin would totally devote himself to bugging Luke and Luke wouldn’t do anything so I would wave my hands like a wave and say ‘”Go Away!!!, Go Away!”‘ in a whiny voice and aproach Erin and he would fall to the ground laughing and leave Luke alone. It was very sad, but funny. We all (6 of us) Went exploring the campground at about 8:00 (it was dark) and we went possum hunting. I had never seen one before but we saw about 5. Then the next morning Courtney left:(! Then me and Jake went and wasted like 30 dollars( Australian) at the arcade:)! I found it amazing how Erin could be my biggest enimy one minute and then the next second (when I have money and we are at the arcade) he is my bestest friend in the entire world!! I alomost gave him 2 dollars! I wonder what his parents give him…
Then later that day Jake and Erin Left ( 🙁 🙂 !) Then I was at the pool for a bit and I saw (Drum roll) The family with the three young kids! We played for a bit then later at about 9 we went hunting for possums! We only saw 3 that time. then the next day (Today) we left ( :'(!). Now we are at an internet cafe and next we go to Point stevens then Coffs harber.
Thats all for today(I can’t see into the future)
bye miss everybody lots of love!!
Alex

Old posts and comments…

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

We just arrived in Umina Beach, ( a little South of Newcastle) for two nights at a great campground. We met up with the two Aussie kids that Alex & Luke made friends with at the last place as well. Luke was sure surprised to see them in the pool when he went to check it out.

When I get a chance I often go back and reply to questions people have in the comments with an additional comment. If you commented on or asked about something be sure to check back and review them once in a while. I think that there’s a way to subscribe to a news feed (automatic notification of any updates) for the Blog as well, but I haven’t looked into that myself yet…

I heard there was snow in Smith the other day! Brrrrr… Guess I won’t whine about the +14 to +18 overcast weather we’ve been experiencing the last few days. We bought a boogie board at a pawn shop the other day, and went swiming in the surf (the fridgidly freezing bloody COLD surf that is…) yesterday morning. Well, three of us went, while one watched from shore… It was lots of fun, but we sure can’t wait to get further North where the waters will be even warmer!

Driving Left, and Other Absurdities.

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Australia has been fantastic so far. After two days of adjusting our sleep patterns in the (expensive!) little boutique hotel we picked up our camper van and proceded to a little campground at the South end of Sydney, but still within the city. From there we could still catch the very efficient train/subway system back downtown for a couple more touristy things. We spent one day with a quick guided tour of the opera house (It was amazing and VERY beautiful closeup too!) and then we went on to our scheduled bridgewalk. To spend about two hours climbing the Sydney Harbor bridge, we forked out about $456 for the family. (The Aussie $ is about $0.95 of the CAN $.) Yes, it was a tonne of money but even Claudette agreed that it was an amazing climb and a reasonable price. We weren’t allowed to have a scrap of paper in our pockets much less our own camera, so of course we had to purchase their (extravagantly priced) copies of our family photos. $20 each for digital copies!!!! Holy crap man… Of course the photos are simply amazing themselves so we bought two of the four different poses we took. I have posted these to the picture gallery already but haven’t had a chance to put up an Australia title slide. The pics are huge though in case anyone tries to download them. At about 6MB each they’ll probably take 5-20 each depending upon connection speeds.

Driving on the left side of the road has been quite interesting so far. I started out in the city, and drove most of the highway a couple hours South to our next campground in Kiama, NSW. At a rest stop on the highway I made Claudette switch with me and she did great too. The most common error for both of us so far has been turning on the windshield washers several times in an attempt to engage the signal light, (which of course is on the opposite side of the steering wheel). It’s difficult to focus on traffic and the lane edge on my left side when I’m driving in the right lane, but other than that I think we have both adapted reasonably well. The other main thing that we hadn’t considered before coming here was how the opposite sides of traffic affect our behavior and previously learned patterns as a pedestrian. While it is great to be out of Latin America, and have some rights again, we have to look the opposite direction everytime before crossing a road.

While we quickly noticed the crazy prices in and around Sydney for tourist hotels and restaurants, we quickly adapted by staying at a cheap place and trying to eat at bistros for our first few days in the city. Our budget hotel, was reasonably clean, but we could hear sounds at all hours through the door into the courtyard outside. The bathrooms were also shared & down the hall. All this for $128/night! A restaurant lunch would easily have cost us $60+ although the portions admiteedly were very generous, (such that Claudette, Alex & Luke wouldn’t be able to eat everything, and I would feel bloated if I did). We took to looking for bistros intended for the downtown office workers where the food was very good, fresh, and we could eat as a family for about $25-$35.

We bought the highway travel GPS option with our camper and it is amazingly wonderful. I wouldn’t get one in Oilberta of course, but for driving in a foreign country it is phenomenally worthwhile! Our camper is very small though, and there is much shuffling of gear and suitcases around between day and night time use. I see some others in the campground which are twice or thrice the size and wonder how nice it might be with all that luxurious room. Then I watch them trying to drive these beomoths (only 24′ even) around and back them in to tight places. Then when we finally get to the gas pumps I’m sure we’ll REALLY appreciate having a smaller van. Gas here is about the same as at home. $1.40/L in the city, and $1.20 ish in the outlying areas. We’re told that the prices are pretty much jacked up by 15-20 cents/liter every weekend starting Thursday night, and go back down for Monday morning.

We have no idea where we’re going or what our schedule is for the next week or so. We came South of Sydney first simply because that’s the end of town we were at. The campground we are currently at has a beautiful ocean beach right beside it and a great (unheated) pool as well as very nice laundry and common cooking facilities. We bought a site that has an ensuite bathroom adjacent to the site. It even has a large shower with the toilette and large sink. This costs an extra $20/night, but Claudette wanted to have that luxury a few days every week. Alex & Luke made friends with some Aussie kids last night, but they checked out this morning (Thursday) and moved on. We are going to stay here one or maybe two more nights before heading North, skirting around Sydney on the inland (West) side.

Hello from Downunder!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Yes, I know I haven’t posted a new message in quite a while, although I have to say I have been more faithful in keeping up my journal. Well, we are leaving Sydney this morning. We stayed in a hotel/bed & breakfast for 2 nights and then we picked up our camper van and stayed for 2 nights in a campground near the Sydney Airport so that we could finish seeing the sites in Sydney. Yesterday we did a guided tour around the Sydney Opera House and then we had to run to get to the Bridge Climb Tour that we booked. The SOH was beautiful and very interesting however the bridge climb was the most fun even Luke & I weren’t that freaked out by the heights.

Rick is off at the moment mailing another package home, while I am suppose to be looking for a new campground south of Sydney. I think I’ve found one that the kids will like. (www.eastvanparks.com.au)

Anyway thats all for now. Take care, Claudette

Landed Down Under…

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

After a brutally long day, we saw Sydney from the air. The opera house looked beautiful from the air, and we plan on visiting it tomorrow. Everyone is dog tired adjusting to the time change. Plus it didn’t help much that there was a good assortment of a dozen different movies available on the plane for the last 15 hours to keep us awake all night.

I tried going to the Chinese Embassy to get VISA’s today, but forgot that we had crossed the date line, and it was already Saturaday just befor lunch when we landed. Guess we’ll hit it on Monday. We didn’t have a hotel booked before arriving and scrambled at the airport calling around to actually find a room, but got a basic one in the end. Shared bathroom down the hall, and one double, one single bed in a walkup for $120

I’m off to join the other soundly sleeping James’!

One Month done! Ten to go…

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Some general thoughts on the trip so far…

First and foremost, we are not having problems finding space in our rolling duffels to stuff extra stuff we have… BUT, we are having a very tough time keeping the weight down to the average airline restriction of 50 pounds! Claudette’s and my bags could easily be about 59-62 pounds, but a couple airlines have made us reshuffel the stuff around a bit.

It was refreshing in a small way to be driving late (VERY late) last night to our Los Angeles hotel in North American traffic. Cars were staying between the lines of their lanes. On roads and especially on the freeway, all vehicles were giving each other an abundance of safe distance, instead of riding practically bumper to bumper at every speed, 20 KPH to 90 KPH. People are not nudging their way into the 0.7m space between two other vehicles to force their way into a different lane, (lane of traffic I mean of course, not an actual painted road lane which are almost universally ignored in the four Latin American Countries we have visited). I am absolutely astonished that we did not witness even a single vehicle accident while driving on, or watching traffic on Latin American roads anytime in these past 30 some odd days. This is not to say that we didn’t see some incredibly close calls; we did. But with barely a few centimeter crack between them, we never saw one vehicle come in contact with another. I can only surmise (with my very limited experience, and dubious credentials in these sorts of matters) that all drivers know that each other is driving in a crazy, or rude, or erratic manner (from a Canadian or US perspective) and compensate with a very heightened sense of awareness of all traffic around them. Claudette will be deeply offended by these comments, but I will stand by them.

On the other hand, I have noticed a profound proudness in all Latin Americans we have met. When we have made even the feeblest of efforts to speak Spanish to people they are very receptive to that. Be it the hotel desk clerk, several taxi drivers or store sales people, they are all dying to know how we like their country. They seem to beam with abject glory and huge smiles over any positive comments we make. And they universally seemed to nod their head in lip pursed agreement at any mildly negative comments we have made (such as certain aspects of a slightly lacking transportation infrastructure). Ecuadorians seemed especially pleased when Claudette,the kids or I shared our thoughts on their countries perceived advanced state of building & transportation infrastructure, as well as our perceived observation about the far superior condition of vehicles on their roads. They got downright elated when we mentioned the incredibly low levels of pollution and smog in the cities, especially compared with Peru.

Even our late night hotel check-in manager in Los Angeles (of Argentinian & Peruvian desent) was anxious to hear how we enjoyed all areas of South America. And so, we had an amazing (though thoroughly jam-packed) first month of our odyssey thus far. We were told though that driving in many parts of Asia is very similar to Latin America, (bumper to bumper at all speeds, and constant budding in front of one another). Pollution we also expect to be a major problem in many other countries. We have been warned by a few people especially about the pollution in China, and specifically at its worst in Beijing. This was of course strongly substantiated by an article I just read in a recent WIRED magazine discussing pollution and the upcoming Olympics. We are wondering how poor Jim & Letty have survived the past three years without wearing carbon filtered face masks on a daily basis??? We shall soon enough find out for ourselves of course!

Today is a bit of a down day, catch up on rest, blog & journal entries, and hopefully picture backups & uploading (if I can find a place in LA???). We have two days in Sydney to see stuff before the camper van rental starts, so we will literally hit the ground running! (But only for the first few days Claudette! then you can relax…)

The full story: GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

We spent the day today (Tuesday) touring Quito (about 2.2 million people) today checking out churches, museums and best of all the Equatorial line. It was phenominally cool!!! They had a demonstration of the Coriolis Effect exactly on the line, and then 3 m each side and the water actually drained through a sink straight down, clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Even I (who had taught Alex & Luke about the Coriolis Effect at about ages 7 & 4) had no idea that the results would be so amazingly visible barely 10 feet from the line. I assumed (somehow???) that we would have to travel a couple hundred meters either side to get a distinct difference. Verry, verry cool school lesson… Can’t wait to take the video back and show it in the kids science classes next year…

Tonight I added to the Machu Picchu and the Jungle (first note from Quito) Blog entries the rest of my journal text. I haven’t updated the prices spreadsheet yet, but thought eveyone would love to know that gas on the Galapagos islands and in mainland Quito is abot the same: 35 cents/liter for regular unleaded!!!!! Don’t feel too bad, a guy we met on the boat from the UK says that it is just over CAN$2/litre there….

We fly out of Quito tomorrow to San Jose, then on to LA for a 25 hour stopover…

The full Galapagos logbook entry:

Spectacular Galapagos!

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

We’re still on the islands. With many amazing experiences under our belts after the last few days here. This internet cafe computer on the island won’t read the card with our longer postings on it. When we get back to Quito for a couple days starting tomorrow I’ll update the blog.

We’re all well, having a fantastic time! (Irregardless of 75% of our family violently emptying our stomachs in the first two days from being on the small boat in slightly turbulent waters. The burst blood vessels in my left eye should heal in a few weeks…)

In Quito & the Jungle log.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I left my small USB card reader at the security counter in the Lima airport this AM, so no more transfers until I have a chance to buy another… BIG bummer on that one…

Quito is nice, we only checked in to our hotel this evening at 5:30 and head out again tomorrow at 7:00 AM.

We get to spend a couple more days here when we come back from the Galapagos in five days.

Everyone is well and excited!

The full Jungle stay logbook entry: