Archive for October, 2007

THREE MONTHS DOWN – Entering Malaysia to “KL”

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

EVERYONE here (and even in Fort Smith, just ask your friendly neighborhood reporter) calls their capital city, “KL” with affectioate reverence.

We arrived in Johur Bahru a little after lunch on Tuesday and weren’t due to leave for Kuala Lumpor (KL) until almost midnight. Thus we had several hours with nothing to do but go shopping!!! Luckily this city on the edge of the border with Singapore had some pretty impressive shopping options. The mall we hit had five floors up, a ground floor, and one basement floor. The ground floors are considered G here, and the first floor is pically the second story up. Thus, in our current hotel, while the elevator says floor nineteen, we are actually up on the twentieth story. This mall was huge! It seemed to stretch back into far corners that were not even fathomable from the central court. There were numerous electronic stores offering all sorts of camera equipment, personal audio players, ten tonnes of cell phones, computer gear, console & portable gaming, and of course all kinds of software… And what prices!!! Unbelievable they were… $5000 plus AutoCAD for only $3, and the latest $80 computer games for $5. All vendors assured me that they were perfectly legal legitimate copies, and so I indulged with a few titles that would be handy later once we bought a computer.

We also are fortunate that I had alreaady hacked our two PSP’s with an open version of the operating system. There were tonnes of PSP games for sale as playable image files on large sized DVD as well as UMD’s. The image files allow the games to be played directly from the flash card instead of having to carry the PSP designed UMD around, and having to physically swap them out. Most outlets also sell already hacked PSP consoles for the same equivelent price as what they are sold for in Canada ($200).

Our train ride was not quite as we expected since all of the first class bed suites were sold out. Thus we were stuck with second class beds down a long hallway. It was an OK experience and interesting to experience at least once we figured. The price of the First Class cabins are so disgustingly cheap that they are easily worthwhile though. The second shock came today when we tried to book first class bed cabins to the next town (7 hrs) near Penang and were told that all were long since booked. Even worse though was the fact that the second class lower beds (down the long hall with individual curtains) were booked as well. The upper bunks are slightly less money, but we would have to load our suitcases up there as well as us two Forty year old’s having to clamber up there!

Speaking of bags, we saw another caucasian couple (much younger of course, and no kids) travelling with just a small, carry-on size, hard sided suitcase and a small rucksack each. The contents of these four bags combined would probably have easily fit into Alex’s suitcase I think. Both Claudette and I stared at them in open mouthed wonderment, admiration and not a little jealousy. Clearly they had no electronics, (with associated chargers and converters), mosquito nets, and sleeping bags for hostels, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

The hotel we ended up booking in KL was quite a bit nicer than we could afford, but we didn’t really make arrangements before arriving. The Concord is walking distance to all the major sights right downtown though. It also has very good rates for an upper class type business hotel. We’re paying CAN $100 per night for a very large room on the top floor with a king sized bed (and cots) and it was highly recamended in the Aisia Frommer’s book we have. Hopefully we’ll make up for this higher price in Thailand. Food prices here are quite reasonable though. Rotten Ronnie’s today cost us CAN $15 for lunch and desert for four. Plus it helps a bit that a huge breakfast every morning is included with our room price.

Our first day we went to the KL tower, a single structure similar to (and slightly smaller than) the CN tower for cityscape viewing. It offered a spectacular view all around and we could easily see all of the Petronas twin towers several blocks away. he smog here was noticeable at that height, but we could easily see about 8 km, before it started to become pretty hazy at +10 km. We went yesterday to the twin towers for the free tour of the linking bridge, but the available tickets for the day were sold out long before lunchtime apparently. So, after breakfast today we went right to the ticket booth at the site and only goy 5:15 PM tickets! When we finally made it up the view and feeling was very cool. The “Eye of Malaysia” ferris wheel was a tiny dot in the distance and we quickly realized that it wasn’t worth going to after being in both tall KL landmarks. The Petronas twins are named for the Government owned Multinational oil and gas corporation which operates in Malaysia. Sadly this means that when I would say Pet-ron-as thinking it was some exotic Malay word, I was completely wrong. Turns out that it is Pet-ro-nas, simply derrived from “petrol” like seemingly all other aspects of our world these days.

Compared to the Malaysia & London tourist ferris Wheels, the “Eye of Singapore” was huge though, and sadly wasn’t opened yet when we passed by there. It is larger than London’s and is slated to be open in mid 2000. The KL Tower is the currenty the third tallest tower in the world, after the CN tower in Toronta and one in China. The display downstairs had a very nice gallery and displays on all of the worlds 20 tallest towers. The Petronas twin towers were actually the tallest buildings in the world for several years until Taipe 101 opened a few years back. Now, those crazy, “money growing out of their ears” guys in Dubai are building the hugest of all! It will be open in about 20 months I think I read, and once finished will not only be the tallest building, it will exceed the CN tower as the tallest tower, and also will take the coup de grace over some (unmanned) TV tower in the midwest States somewhere as the tallest manmade structure on the EARTH! While the Taipae building is 101 stories, the Dubai one is about 160!!! These guys don’t want anyone breaking their record anytime soon it would seem.

We killed the day waiting for our free bridge tour with some other errands and attractions. The best was a 30 minute demonstration of Malaysian dancing put on at the Tourism Information center halfway between the twin towers and our hotel. A dozen men and women in extravagantly colorful outfits (which changed multiple times throught) gave wonderful displays of various regional dances. Most were all very lively and upbeat, and Luke even joined them for one dance when audience members were invited up. Sadly, his extreme caucasionness came through loud and clear as they tried to teach him the steps to the national dance in under 300 seconds. At the end the MC invited audience members to come up on stage for pictures with the troup, and said that she would give “The Foreigners” the first opportunity. I nodded yes, and she invited us up immediately. So, I stood up and strted going to the end of the isle only to find that Claudette was sitting there calmly waiting for all the other foreigners to go up first. When I pointed out that we were the only “whity’s” among a packed gallery of about 100 school kids, and other Asian (Chinese, Indians, etc) tourists. She and the kids joined me after Claudette stood up and looked around at the rest of the crowd.

We have to stay one extra day in order to catch the Saturday train to Butterworth (near Penang). Saturday is the only day that there is a daytime train sceduled. Then we plan on spending almost a week luxuriating on the beaches in Penang before heading accross the border to Thailand. We have amost confirmed our GAP tour from Northern Thailand, through Laos and ending in Hanoi on our flight date. We (half of us anyways) just thought it would be easier than stumbling along in a country which isn’t quite touristy and organized with that focus yet.

Singapore!

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

What a huge city/country…

After an eight hour flight (I was expecting something much shorter from my memory of looking at the globe) we arrived to full darkness at 2:00 AM. Speaking of globes… before we left I aked Leesa-Maree to borrow one from school and bring it home to show everyone Canada versus Australia. She managed to find a little tiny one (about 10cm in diameter) that showed political boundaries from a few years ago and had a couple towns marked. Funny enough though, the ONLY town marked in the Northwest Territories was PINE POINT! Very odd of course, since Pine Point has not existed as a town for probably around twenty years! It was a mine town, and one the mine was closed all houses, buildings, power poles were removed when the mine shut down.

Singapore was quite an interesting visit for the few days we were there. Our plane arrived an hour later than scheduled which meant we arrived at the hotel about 1:00 AM! Yes, we were all tired and cranky. The plane was quite nice though… It was a boeing 777 with all the fix’ins. 10 seats accross a row and a fully customizable entertainment console in every seatback. This one was even better that the 747’s though because we could play networked games (checkers, backgammon ect) with each other. Plus these phones could call other passengers, dialled by seat number. What a great way for singles to meet up to possibly join the “MH club”.

The taxi (or “taksi” as they spell it here) system was pretty cool in that everyone lined up at a booth inside and prepaid the fare to whatever part of town you wanted to travel to.Very efficient and saves negotiating with (and/or getting screwed by) the individual drivers. The first thought as we emerged from the aic conditioned terminal building was dealing with the overwhelming heat and humidity. We all agreed that it was just as bad or even worse than Figi. Our second vivid impression of Singapore was while driving from the airport was watching a cab just ahead of us in the adjacent lane at a stoplight. A rear door causually opened and an early 20’s guy began expelling the contents of his stomache on to the pavement. Now, as one might imagine, we were not a little stunned to witness this after hearing so much about spitting in public and posession of gum being illegal in Singapore. Thus we were slightly relived to see that perhaps they weren’t quite as stringent a society as travel reports (both published and verbally from others) had led us to believe.

Our hotel was actually a large hostel complex with larger patio areas in front of each single story, “condo” style unit. There were many people milling around even in the wee hours when we were walking to our room. This unfiled fact would come to haunt us the next night. To check in we were actually dropped off at the wrong part of the resort. The driver had dropped us off at the slightly) nicer part of the resort complex. The night desk clerk there called the other officeo get an electric cart to pick us up.

We slept in the next day, and wandered a few blocks away to semi shopping complex called “Downtown East” for some 11:00 AM fast food breakfast. With a variety of western franchises and some local ones we chose an elaborate buffet place to pig out at. After walking back through to the main complex we decided to hit the waterpark there. It was smaller scale with a slant towards younger families. They did have two water slides which were rather tame with gentle curves compared to West Ed. This place did have a huge tube (8 passengers!) river ride which we had to force Luke to go on and all enjoyed a couple times together. The wave pool was very small, (even slightly smaller than the Millwoods pool) but right beside it was a two person tube half pipe. This was VERY cool! Alex went with me the first time and she was too speechless with fright to even scream!!! Somehow, (under deep coercion and trading a variety of privelidges) I even concvinced Claudette to go with me. Alex forgot to warn her mother NOT to go down first (with her back to the downhill slope and looking up at me) and all Claudette said she saw was my bulk blocking out the sun and sky above her as we went hurtling down at about a 75 degree slope. It is rather difficult to explain but I will try and find a website link.

That night the neighbors partied until a little after 4:00 AM. Worse was the fact that we had an adjoining door though which all noise easily flowed (in fact it semmed as though it might have been amplified!). My loving supportive wife refused to allow me to ask them to tone it down a bit or to even phone the front desk. We asked around the next morning and quickly realized that since most homes here were very small that this was a cheap way for friends and/or family groups to get together for a party. The room next door to us was completely vacant (and unslept in by the looks of it through the open curtains) so everyone just took a cab home when the party wound down. During the day as we had walked through, there were very large groups BBQing with charcoal in front of rooms which we knew could only sleep 4. Now we know better! It also probably didn’t help that we were booked in there during a weekend, never mind the fact that it was a long weekend!

Since we had originally only booked for two nights, when we decided to stay a third night we had to change rooms. Also in this area was a small amusment park called escape. It also had most rides for slightly younger families. Claudette stayed in the room to do some more relaxing while Alex, Luke and I went in the rain to check it out on Sunday night. Most rides were closed during the rain but we went inside to wait anyways. The kids went through the haunted house a few times while I threw some cash away at the typical midway games. I tried one however where I won on the first try (MR2, or about CAN $0.62) of rolling balls down into slots to accumulate a small or large number, but not the range inbetween. Cleary the gods were smiling on me and I scored a huge purple Snuffelupagus. The kids were impressed by it, but insisted on calling it just a plain old elephant. I think it had big sweet droopy eyes just like Snuffy though. Since it was much too large to take with us, I gave it away to the lifegaurd at the pool as we went to check out.

We booked ourselves a mid afternoon train trip to the main Malaysian city (Johor Bahru) just on the other side of the border. This took one hour, and to save a huge amount of money we had to buy tickets to the rest of the way to Kuala Lumpor from within Malaysia. Unfortunately all the first class sleeper cabins were booked, so we were stuck with the second class sleeper hallway. It’s difficult to describe but I shot a few pictures. The carriage is lined with top and bottom bunks with individual curtains.

last bit of differences…

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

It was incredibly difficult spending our last few days in Brisbane with the Dray-ras family knowing that our full six weeks in Oz just “whooshed” by. While we all knew our continued journey would by amazing and have lots of great, new experiences, it was still troublesome building up to a goodbye (for a couple years until they come and hit our Northern climate!). Their kids spent the last two days at home with us fooling around, playing and relaxing which was very nice. Then they dove us to the airport for a last big meal together before we ran off to security just in time to board the plane to Singapore. Robert, Leesie, Riley, & Emile… we’ll miss you guys! and thanks for making our visit down under so hospitable and memorable!!!
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A few last (last for Australia that is) differences in things that struck us are noted below:

Fuel pumps – To fill up vehicles is much slower because there is and less pull distance, and not once have we seen a holding catch. Bummer for us lazy people. The flow still stops as soon as there is the slightest bit of backsplash into the nozzel though.

BBQ’s – One campground we used in the last week had a half grill / half fry plate. The open flame side was filthy though so we bought some gorgeous porterhouse steaks and a brush and received serveral weird looks from others walking by that night. The one REALLY cool thing here is that many public parks have free or low cost ($1 for 20 min) coin operated ones available for use. On one tour boat we took, they BBQ’d on a half ‘n half, but sadly only used the open flame part to warm a large pan of poached fish…

Farm fields – same as Oilberta except the trees are much closer to the road here, and roads tend to be quite a bit windy-er on the secondary highways.

Crib boards – haven’t seen one at all in Oz, never mind a fold up travel board for us as a family

Toilettes dual flush mode – We started noticing this in Latin America but it seems to be practically EVERY single toilette here in Australia. Their are typically two buttons: with with a low volume of water and that doesn’t seem to have excessive force, (for urine). This lighter stage probably uses slightly less water than our usual single flush toilettes in Canada. The other “ferocious mode” lasts about 3-4 seconds longers, seems to have much more water behind it, and has an abundance of pressure that I would expect to force even the biggest of pices of solid human waste down the tubes. If you try and do two stage flushing while sitting down, all of your cheeks are gonna be soaked! Often times you’ll need to wipe the seats of fresh water that splashed up as well. This of course goes hand in hand with:

Water Conservation: For the Alberta government Enviroment departmet (or the GNWT’s for that matter) to talk about water conservation seems completely off track and irrelevant for most of Canada. Here, it is a simple fact of life, and not something to be (even slightly) trifeled (sp?)with. They have increasing levels of severity with all kinds of associated restrictions for each. The Brisbane area has apparently been at level for for well over a year now which means they get penalized havily for any quantity used over a monthly quota. I forget what that number is (I’ll ask Claudette and update this space later) but it was not at all less than the amount that almost all homes in Taloyak used due to in-house water tank deliveries and no underground lines. It was ample for a family of four to live life and do laudry on, but certainly not enough to water lawns or gardens with, (or wash cars ect). Most people here are buying large plastic tanks to drain their gutters into to use outside.

Urinals – have all been troughs since we left Canada. I haven’t seen a single stall porcelin urinal other than passing briefly through LAX way back… The urinal troughs can get quite creative however, from creatively tiled artwork, to stainless steel beamoths that are shiny and blinding to look at (especially when there are skylights above.

Public bathrooms – are seemingly few and far between! Practically no restraunts have them (as is the law in Canada) and we frequently struggeled in small towns to find public facilities. Most often they were in the main town square park or behind the largest pub. When needing to wash up before or after a meal out, waitresses or owners were only too happy to tell us that the nearest sink was “just accross the street, down a block and a half, and then a dogleg left accross the forest over there between those two tall buildings” Rather exasperating…

Eggs – In Latin America and all throughout Australia eggs are not refrigerated. There are sold in stores on a regular shelf and people don’t seem to bother about refridgerating them at home or camping either???? I forgot to ask Leesa-Maree about this…

My Beard – must be weird chemicals in the air here, but on occasion when it grows for a few days, it seems to be bleached considerably from the usual dark brown/black to a much lighter color. Almost grey… very bizzare!

Shopping carts – all four wheels swivel, which makes it seemingly much more awkward to control. Good in tight spaces but terrible for tracking a straight line down the aisles. Even worse is watching customers come out with loaded carts and the entrance ways and parking lots have slopes. A few baby carriages I’ve noticed lately are like this as well.

The Australia Zoo – Irwin central!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

We spent all day Tuesday at the Australia Zoo, and it was SPECTACULAR! Everything was laid out well, and the animals had tonnes of room! (unlike Lucy at Edmonton’s Story Land Valley Zoo). There was (quite understandably) a very strong conservation message at all exhibits and shows, but it was well done. We hit it first thing when the gates opened at nine, and stayed right up until they closed the park at 4:30. The highlights were many of course, and everything, from the displays, to shows, to animals and even the food services were done up very well.

We got lots of pets and cuddles in all types of animals and even paid for a family picture with a super soft (and inherently cuddly) Koala Bear. Many of our zoo visit pictures are uploaded to the website picture gallery now too! We had a wonderful hot day all in all, (drinking tonnes of water naturally) and even shot some pics of the Tasmanian Devil. It was much cuter than I ever would have expected! The staff also took our camera and shot some extreme close-ups of the zoo’s tiger cubs. The croc show was stunning, never minds the snakes… AGH! There was even the most amazing picture or Terry, with her pet cougar, before meeting Steve. We’re talking amazing Farah Fawcett, big, beautiful feathered back hair here; Claudette had the drag me away from the huge wall picture… Mmmmmmm…

Dickie Beach – Last Saltwater swim in Oz

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

We managed to sneak into Brisbane Monday morning and grabbed the Chinese VISA’s without a hitch. After a bookstore stop (for Lonely Planet Asia books) we headed an hour North towards the zoo. Instead of staying inland close to the zoo, we read a brochure that described how the had free shuttle buses that pick visitors up from 6 coastal towns. Claudette and I promptly decided that staying adjacent to the ocean again was a far more interesting option. Sadly though, when we phoned to book spots on the bus, we discovered pickup times were only 10:00 with a half hour drive, whilst the zoo opened at 9:00 AM! We therefore set the alarm and drove ourselves out early to get a full day in there.

We had a wonderful last frolic Monday afternoon, after arriving at our campground early afternoon. We toyed with visiting the zoo for a few hours as well before spending the full day there Tuesday. Instead Claudette and I decided to rent a surfboard, and spend one last afternoon at the beach. The waves were more volatile here than we’d experienced at other beaches and we all took a pounding trying to stand up on that bloody thing again. The wax was poorly done on the board which didn’t give the kids as much grip as they needed. As a result they were sliding off really easily in the heavy waves. My excuse is that the board was just too darn sort for my weight and as a beginner, it was too small to support me. That coupled with the poor waxing meant that I would easily slide off even just ducking under a wave.

The kids built a few sandcastles over the afternoon, which of course were subsequently eaten by the oncoming tide. Alex and Luke still haven’t come to grips with the fact that anything they build in wet sand is gonna be toast in a few hours… Two Aussie kids (a sister & brother about 16 and 13 or so) were playing catch with jellyfish upper body parts that had washed up on the beach. Well, catch is a generous word. They were actually trying to throw the pieces 3-6m and smack each other. It was pretty funny to watch. I couldn’t get the kids to kick the soccer ball around with me much cause they were gravely concerned with building the sand walls higher and thicker to combat the ever encroaching water. Claudette however kicked it around for a bit and we had some great smacks back and forth.

Last week here…

Friday, October 19th, 2007

We are (very sadly!) winding down our Aussie visit. We left the mine after I had a great visit (and an up close tour) with the guys there and went about an hour South before camping. The next night we traveled to Cania Gorge National Park and spent a night in that beautiful spot. It was not unlike even more spectacular ones we have visited in the Rockies before, but still a nice change of scenery for a day. For Friday night we headed East, and almost made it back to the coast. On Saturday or Sunday we are going to try and meet up some friends of Claudette’s girlfriend who live in Mooloolaba, (a little ways North of Brisbane). On Monday we are going to try and sneak back to Brisbane to pick up our passports and Chinese VISA’s, (or to re-apply if there were any problems). Monday afternoon we are heading back North for an hour’s drive to hit the Spectacular “Australia Zoo” on Tuesday. Somehow on Monday we are also going to pack up a schwack of stuff to send home by mail.

The kids (via Luke of course) are making tonnes of friends wherever they go, and there is never a dog at any of our campgrround’s that goes un-pet by Alex Luke (and often me when I go to track them down to come back for bedtime!)

We’ve spent a little bit of time looking into places to stay in Thailand, but if anyone has experience with a great place, or has any other reasonable suggestions feel free to send us a note!

I highly recommend the Whitsundays!!!

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

We are having a great time. We did 2 trips with the “Cruise Whitsundays” company and I would highly recommend both. We put up some of the pictures from Saturday’s trip out to Knuckle Lagoon on the Great Barrier Reef. However you will have to wait and see the pictures from yesterday’s sailing adventures on the “Camira”.

Australia has been so much fun and relaxing, we’ve met some great people from Australia as well as a few Canadians on the cruise yesterday. I was fun comparing notes as to how much Australians are like Canadians. Personally I have felt more at home here than even when we’ve been through the US.

The family has been getting along really well, eventhough our campervan is rcrowded. Alex complains that she has to share the bed with Luke, but there hasn’t been too many fights. My only complaint would be that there has been several nights where it has been very hot in the van. Humid hot with no breeze, but the kids haven’t complained about it too much. A few times we’ve had to have cold showers before going to bed. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for air conditioning.

We are leaving today to go visit a Rio Tinto mine near Clermont which is about 3 or 4 hours south. Hope that all is fine with you. Take care, Claudette

G.B.R. Part II

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

After the caves we drove a few hours North to Airlie Beach. We went again to the outer reef on a super fast and remarkably stable boat. At a 1770 campsite we met up with a couple who worked on that boat who had previously worked up North at a company in Airlie Beach. They both strongly suggested that we use a company called “Cruise Whittsundays” if we wanted do do a similar trip. So, in Airlie Beach we booked another Great Barrier Reef cruise and booked a wickedly fast (and beautiful) sailing cruise for the next day with the same company.

This GBR trip was very similar to the one we had taken from 1770. The main difference was the boat. While the other one was a nice twin hull that rode the rough seas reasonably well, this one had computer controlled anti-rocking mechanical devices built in which made the ride even nicer for the weak stomaches of Rick & Luke. There was also something not easily pinned down that made this cruise seemingly quite better than the previous one from 1770. There was just a stronger seemless integration of how everything ran and the general feelings of confidence and friendly professionalism conveyed. It probably also didn’t hurt that there was a little over 30 crew members for about 86 passengers! The boat usually carries around 340 people but we were lucky enough to have picked a light booking day I guess. I certainly couldn’t complain about any aspect of our tour from 1770, but… if I had to suggest one, then Cruise Whittsundays would be our strong recomendation by the entire family. Of course there was one tiny little incident with the prissy little photograpgher (Antoine I think the whiney little bitches name was), but he got over it after we chatted a bit. Like many tours these days with a situational advantage, they had a good scam of pictures going. At least they generally allow us to purchase copies of the digital pics these days, not like a few years ago when you could only get a crappy print (rarely done with dye-sublimation). Of course you have to pay $20-$30 each for printed photos before you are allowed to pay an extra $5-$10 for a digital copy. Capitalism is certainly alive and well in the tourism industry! They did get some excellent shots us of course! (Which we bought digital copies of and are currently uploading to our galery.

In addition to offering diving they also offered a non-certified “beginner” dive for those 12 and up. Luke was naturally disappointed, and then Claudette was ruled out due to the open heart surgery she had undergone over 33 years ago. Alex and I jumped at the ($120 each) opportunity. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far!!!! The guide tightly clasped each of Alex’s and my hands in hers and after a brief intro off we went! It was very controlled and we didn’t go any deeper than 6m. I used to say that diving was probably no big deal because you get to see the same stuff snorkling… Clearly I was absolutely delusional and was only fooling myself all these years! I sorta wanted to take a diving course before, but it just never worked out with timing and arrangements and stuff. Now I hafta take one as soon as I can. I was a little freaked at first just sitting on the edge of the platform breathing with my head less than one meter submerged. They gave us three or four minutes to get accustomed and during this time slight panic gave way to abject wonderment! Alex REALLY enjoyed her experience as well. (Hopefully she writes about it VERY soon!) Seeing the coral and all sorts of fish and plant organisms close up was phenominally more amazing than snorkeling unfortunately. My first words upon surfacing at the end were, “WOW! I’m gonna go broke doing this now I think!”. That trip is listed at:

http://www.cruisewhitsundays.com/gbra.aspx

On the next day (Sunday) we went on a sailing tour on a stunningly gorgeous ($4.5 million dollar) sailing boat. It was sleek, fast and very comfortable. They just went around a few of the Whitsunday Islands. We did another snorking tour on another reef which was stunning. Then we went to an amazing beach with sand that was 98% pure and actually squeeked when we walked on it. The beach was about 7km long, stunningly beautiful (along with all the Assuie & German bikini’s of course) and we smam, relaxed and frolicked for an hour or so. After heading back to the sailboat we had a magnificent BBQ meal (they had been feeding us snacks all day long previously as well of course). Then the free booze was available and Claudette heartily indulged (for both of us) on the couple hour sailing trip back to port. That tour is:

http://www.cruisewhitsundays.com/camira.aspx

The Caves

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2007

After leaving 1770 we headed North a few hors to a town called “The Caves”. Here there is privately owned land with a series of spectacular DRY caves on it. They had been running tourists through this area for well over two hundred years now, and they even had a little campground beside the reception. We got there in the late afternoon and only planned on staying one night. So the next morning we woke up planning to take the tour, then check out and head North. The “basic” one hour tour was so incredible and enjoyable that we needed more! The “intro” tour (as we now call it) is suitable for all ages, (babies in strollers to 100+ year olds) and has a couple sections of stairs, some handrails and has switchable illumination all the way along. The sights and inside views were amazing and we barely had to crouch slightly in one or two spots. During this tour our guide alluded to a slightly more complex “Adventure Tour”.

It took some convincing on the part of Luke, Alex and myself; but eventually Claudette consented to staying an extra night, and staying for a second, longer adventure cave tour in the afternoon. She went along because the guide insisted on having two other s for safety. Claudette went on the understanding that she would NOT be crawling and that she would be taking the easy way around whereever possible. It was along some of the same portions of routes as before, but there were crawl holes and thin passages to go through. The first few were pretty cool and we got a little dirty slithering around. Then the guide sent us (kids and I only) into one set that had a small entryway, and larger cavern inside with lots of short dead end passages and only one way out via a boost into a hole in the ceiling. The kids had a tremendous time excitely going too and fro, here and there looking for the way out. The guide had told me approximately where to look so I let the kids explore all of the other options first with their flashlights darting around all over the place in front of them. Eventually I gave them a little boost at the spot and jumped in myself to find the passage back to Claudette and the Guide waiting for us in the main cavern.

After that we (the three us only of course) went in to “The Whale’s Belly”, a spot where the original guides kids used to crawl into and hide scaring original tourists by making screaming sounds and crazy noises. There was a crack in the Whale’s Belly which allowed sounds to get out into the main cavern. Getting in entailed going up a fairly steep incline, which quickly went down at a similarly steep incline for a few meters. To continue on out of this spot was a very tight squeeze wiggling around through a passage called the “Nutcracker”. There was a small (large fist sized) outcrop right in the middle which affects most men’s ability to safely navigate this particular twisty, 35 degree incline passage. Luke and then Alex both bot through without too much problem. I was forwarned that all adults would have to have their arms straight out ahead of them to narrow up the shoulders to even have a hope in hell of worming through. I got lodged partway into the passage, (right at the nutcracker) and quickly determined that it would take considerable effort (and maybe about 20 minutes!!) to finish getting through the 5m or so long passage. Suddenly a thought flashed into my head that expending such effort would no longer be fun, and I wormed my way back down into the whale’s belly. Backing out from that point to the main cavern was no easy feat, but I managed to scramble up the steep slope backwards to ensure that I would land feet first into the cavern where I had begun. The guide was quite shocked that I was already out, since most people who chicken out tended to come out the wrong way (head first), and wait for help from a few others on the outside.

After that she took us to a couple spots that only the kids could do while we watched from either end. I took some spectacular photos and a bit of video using the light and the enhanced night mode at different times. One other favorite part of all of us was the cathedral. This was one cavern with stunning vaulted ceilings and a bunch of pews brought in for weekly church services. They also book weddings and all sorts of other meetings and socials in there. She told us that there was a two year waiting list of weddings and other bookings! On the first tour she asked for volunteers to sing and Luke went up to the front and gave us all a beautiful low key rendition of “Put A Little Love in Your Heart” to a round of wild applause from everyone at the end.

The caves tour was an absolute highlight for Australia and for Luke and probably Alex, almost of the entire trip so far. A website with further information is: http://www.showcaves.com/english/au/showcaves/Capricorn.html

A few more Canuck – Aussie differences

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Some odd meandering thoughts that have struck me in the last few weeks…

But first: H A P P Y 4 0 th L E E S A – M A R E E ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Welcome to the status of: OLD….

Ketchup – doesn’t really exist here. Not only is it called something different (tomatoe sauce) it is not physically like the North American “anticipation” (old Heinz commercial reference) that we North Americans are used to. It is much runnier and a little less sweet, and a tiny bit more tangy. Claudette forced us all to eat at Rotten Ronnies one day, and the only good thing about it was the (presumably) imported heinz McDonald’s labeled ketchup! It was nummy! (the only food part there that was any good at least). As an aside, Luke has a new saying besides “Rotten Ronnies” that I love. It’s sung to the tune of the current McD’s commercials: “Bah, dah, dup, bah… BLECH!”

Intenet WIFI – is way more locked up (encrypted) here in Australia than I’m used to in residential and even shiopping areas of Canada. In South America every tourist town had govt. supplied free WIFI hotspots, (usually in all the main squares and parks) fro the tourists. Not here in a civilized capitalist pig Western country, nope! There’s all kinds of hotspots but they all cost mucho dinero. Even in the South American main (non-tourist) cities I would find lots of open routers that we could use the phone on. I’ve spent a few hours walking around a few neighborhoods here looking for open connections to no avail. The only free spot I’ve found so far was at a little stip mall, near a (very yummy) bakery.

Pickup trucks – are practically non-existant! I mean really barely any at all. There are a few Toyota small sized work trucks around, and a very few little Ford’s, but of of these are actually slightly smaller than the Tacoma. The ford is just like a baby little Ford courier my Dad used to have in about 1972. As far as full size (1/2 ton, 3/4 ton or even 1 ton) pickups go there just aren’t any that we’ve seen on the roads. Conversely of course there are sport utility vehicles in massive abundance. They in fact are everywhere and I would say that over 80% have snorkles. This is so cool! Even though barely one in fifty would probably actually go in water deeper than 10cm, the fact that they can is just so exciting! If I had a snorkle vehicle at home we would be the envy of the whole town just based on cool factor. Shame we can’t even think about affording that kind of vehicle…

Toyota – vehicles are in massive abundance here and Latin America. They are just everywhere. As good as everyone know they are in Canada, people just tend to get sucked in by the hype and baloney of Fiord, GM, and Dodge I guess. The prices of toyota compared to the domestic three are starting to get much closer though, and that coupled with how incredibly well Toyota (or Mazda, or Nissan, or whatever other Aisian car company) vehicles last now certainly makes them a much more clear choice. Anyways, don’t feel bady for Toyata because they are incredibly successful in many other parts of the world it seems. Hyndi was another very common vehicle that we saw all ovver the place in Latin America that hasn’t seemed to have broken onto Aussie shores much yet.

BBQ’s – I’ve mentioned previously a few times, but there is an exception at this campground we’re at in Airlie Beach. They have the standard huge flat flame fired frying pan units, but they also have one consumer type unit with a grill that allows the flames to lick and caress your food. Good for them! I say…

The GREAT BARRIER REEF!

Friday, October 12th, 2007

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9
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We stopped at a very quaint (as a matter of fact, one could call it quintessentially “Quaint”) town called SEVENTEEN SEVENTY. It was fairly smallish, and was obviously only recently (in the last decade or so) developed. The beach was quite nice, but had very small waves. The town (Hamlet really) is named for the year that Captain Cook first hit Queensland (his second landfall in Australia). They’re VERY prowd of that fact too! Just down the road from our campsite were a couple of tours for the area. One was a Great Barrier reef day tour which we did on our second day there. The other was an amphibious vehicle tour accross the bay, down the beach, accross a couple more seawater creeks, and up to the state’s first lighthouse. These (wonderful) local people were fanatical about their local lighthouse restoration, beleive me! The tour itself was pretty cool. It was a larger, US military amphibious vehicle which held about 30 tourists in the 5 ton cargo area. We put a couple pics up at the . The lighthouse was fun, and pretty standard, but the stories of the caretakers and community around it from 200 years ago were fabulous. Alex even bought one of the “stories” books about the area to read.

One other cool part of this Amphib. tour was a stop at an otherwise impossible to reach sand dune for some sand boarding. This was great for two reasons: (1) it’s a mega tonne of fun! (2) we had lost the disc with the pictures and video from the previous sandboarding tour we had taken. This was a little bit of a smaller hill than the previous one we went on and they used wave boogie boards instead of a wood laminate board (similar to a snowboard) that the other tour used. This one would actually end up in the water normally, but since we were at low tide, we just slid accross the mud. I set the distance record for that day on my first trip at which Alex and Luke were pretty proud. Since we have to walk UP! the hill, I only planned on going once (lazy old fart, I know…) but some y little 15 year old beat me and gave a very smug look afterwards. Thus, there I was once again trudging up the sandy hill (literally three steps forward and sliding two back!) to teach the little twirp a lesson. His rides were still not as smooth as I knew I could go, (thus gaining more distance) plus he had taken at least six or seven runs to beat my one. To much wild cheering from most of my family, (and a couple other 40 year old guys who also didn’t care for the attitude of the young whipper-snapper) I had a fairly nice run and sailed past the kid’s mark. I gave him a look that let him know how upset I’d be if he beat my mark again and made me scale that defying mound of desolate sand. He didn’t appear to care and tried a couple more times in earnest, yet unsuccessfully before it was time to leave.

The next day we finally got to go out to “The Reef”. It was the Southern portion, and the company screamed us out there in an hour and a half on a dual hull, 100 seat comfortable boat. Once in their “lease” area, there was an anchored pontoon platform at which the main boat, two glass bottomed boats, and a semi submersible docked, and the snorkling and diving tours left from. It was very well organized, and our day was very full. The snorkling was similar to what we experienced in the Galapagos, (which is of course to say absolutely phenominal!) but the Great Barrier Reef is just so much more vast. And this is just the local area we were in I’m refering to. The ability to thread their/our way in and around passages of reef in the glass bottomed boats, the semi-submersible or snorkling was mind boggling and very formidable (and REALLY cool!).

The trip out there wasn’t so much fun for Luke’s and my weaker stomaches, but we were ged up. When we had a bit further North to Airlie Beach we plan on taking another similar day tour as well as visiting a Rio Tinto Coal mine in the area.

G’day!

Friday, October 12th, 2007

We are still in Australia. We leave soon (I think). Since I last wrote, we have seen some of the great barrior reef and done some caving( I think it is actually called spelunking or something like that, must have been a guy named George Spelunk :D) The great barrior reef was really cool but the part we saw was kinda disapionting. We didn’t see alot of anything or alot of bright colours. I think we all really preferred caving! It was way fun, first we did a tour were we walked around and she was telling us how these brides, lond ago would get married in the church(which I’ll tell you about in a sec) and they had to go this long long way, in knee deep guano (bat poop). and People would also go to sunday mass , what you would do is pay for it on saturday(which cost an arm and a leg!) then on sunday you would get up really early get into your best clothes and take a 3 hour horse and wagon ride, then walk in knee deep guano( which I forgot to tell you was filled with all sorts of bugs, roaches, worms and maggots, just to name a few :D) in there best clothes and get all sorts of stuff in their shoes! Then they would sit through mass which was about 3 hours with stuff moving around in thier shoes! Then they would tromp through the guano again and get even more stuff in their shoes! Afterwards there was a picnic and many people would use it as an excuse to sneek of and empty there shoes then, take the 3 hour ride back home. It was very popular aparently.
There church was so so pretty there had speakers set up so we sat in there and Luke sang, (he sang put a little love in your heart by the way)and we listened to a song and had a light show. I was very cool. Then there was some bridges and a very ziggy zaggy passage way that we had to exit out of. Our guide had to let us out in the light becaus it had rained that morning so it it was kinda slippery (there was many sighs of relief when she told us this!)
I have found the perfect sport for lots of kids! Adventure caving! Thats what we did once we finished the tour of the cave. We all liked the cave so much that is what we decideed to do. All you do is you get a guide and they tour you around the cave leading you to many spots where you do something like belly crawl into a pocket then look around and try and get out! My favorite was called the whales belly, and what we did was we got boosted into a wiggle hole then are in a big space enough for 5 adults. then you have to get another boost and you go into this spot where you crawl on your belly and get into another space big enough for 2 adult and you have to crawl out of the whales blow hole it was awesome fun! my dad had to turn around. Me and Luke made it through every single one! My dad didn’t do 2 and my mom did 1 I think. Another fun one was kids only. I was the smallest one and I was this crack in a rock only just big enough for me! you had to climb up it but there was only one hard spot which is hard to get your leg through. I manged to go up twice and down once before we had to go. Anyone under 9 would not have a single trouble!!
Bye bye!!!!!
Alex

Great New Friends and A Shorter Aussie Itinerary

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

We just spent three tremendous days in Brisbane lounging around, visiting and relaxing. Every day the kids played a variety of games from fort building, lego or treasure hunting (complete with custom maps in bottles!). Dinners were wonderful with Leesa-Maree’s spectacular seafood spread, one night of Dim Sum and the last consisting of amazingly juicy T-bones cooked over flame on a BBQ. Leesa was intreiged she said by my previous blog comments about all of the BBQ’s having flat pans that just fry everything. Even their own BBQ was a half combo pan & grill. The issue most Aussie’s consider is how to clean the dam grill afterwards. They personally took it out after every meal and scrubbed it with soap and water. I suggested the filthy(er) North American method of just burning the crap off for an extra ten minutes before the next meal, and then using the BBQ brush to rub off the crisp remaining pieces of carbon (formerly meat) from the grill. Any which way, they can now use the second half of the BBQ without tinfoil and have the juices of the meat locked in by searing. Mmmmm, Mmmmm, great! Other than just eating we of course spent every evening right up my alley of either playing 80’s music trivia games, watching 80’s music videos or just chatting about 80’s music while playing with all of their neat new computer gadgets. This was naturally coupled with a few bottles of wine or beer once the kids were setteled in.

For some crazy reason, Robert & Leesa-Maree invited us back right before we leave Brisbane to spend our last few nights with them. This is an option all four of us are very delighted to plan for! We (the four adults) all are “mostly” about the same age, have enormously compatible personalities, and have very closely alligned parenting ideals. Now we just have to figure out how to lure them to Canada for a few weeks in 2009!!! The only bad part of Brisbane was having to deal with the Chinese Consulate there to get our travel VISA’s. They were astoundingly rude, and as abslutely as unhelpful as I think they could possibly have been. I’ll save intricate details for “stories over beer” time with everyone, but it was a very unpleasant two mornings. (Yes, I had to go there twice…)

This afternoon before supper at the campground Claudette and I reveiwed our Australia itinerary with a calendar and decided to make some extensive revisions. Mainly, we are no longer going to go all the way to Cairns. We want to be able to spend a few days (read: two nights to four nights) at a place before moving on. Thus our schedule simply doesn’t allow us to travel all the way up. Instead we are going to go as far as Airlie Beach (between MacKay and Townsville). This is near the bottom of, but still close to the Great Barrier Reef. From that area we will take some snorkling tours out to the reef and some local islands which are supposed to be very nice as well. We have heard from many fellow campers over the last three weeks about the Town of “1770” and so are heading there tomorrow night for a few days. After that we’ll go to Airlie and take in their sights. On our way back down I am going to try and visit a Rio Tinto mine, and then we’ll visit some friends of Claudette’s girlfriend in Mooloolaba before going to check out “The Australia Zoo”. After seeing this new National icon, we’ll be back in Brisbane and getting ready to fly to Singapore, (while likely making more pirate maps, drinking more red wine, and listening to even more 80’s music!).

We don’t have South Asia planned out very well yet. So far we have a place booked in Singapore (almost as expensive as Sydney!) for two nights while we work on getting Laos & Vietnam VISA’s. We’re still toying with possibly visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia after hearing so many good things about it. We haven’t confirmed any dates with Grandma Vi for meeting up yet either…

Loving Australia!!!

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Well, as you can tell from reading Rick and Alex’s entries, we are just having a blast in Australia. We’ve met some great people, and had some great wine. It’s been just the best prevention for any homesickness. Luke has made friends in almost ever campground we’ve stayed in, and usually their has been a friend for Alex too (even a few boys).

I am loving some of the different words Australian use and may just have to keep using them. Especially “feral” which is used like we would use the word “bad” and the word “dear” which is used to mean expensive.

Anyway, I know this is a quick note but we are leaving Brisbane today. So we are packing up after making ourselves at home with friends we made, Robert, Leesa-Maree and their kids, Riley & Emile for the last 3 days.

Glad everyone is enjoying our blogs. Take care, Claudette

Brisbane is probably a nice place, but…

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

We’re having so much fun visiting and staying with a family here that we haven’t had time to check out the City at all. OK, that’s only a half truth I suppose. We met up with a couple a few campgrounds (and a few hundred KM) ago who graciously invited us to stay at their place when passing through Brisbane. We got here yesterday and pretty much feel like long lost friends! My trip to the Chinese embassy this morning into the city was a big bust, since they were closed for a holiday. For lunch we all went out for Dim Sum (sp?) and then computer accessories shopping, (for Robert, not us). The remainder of the evening we spent with another two neighbors, all kinds of visiting amongst four or five (or six?) bottels of wine and capped the evening off with an extensive (well, a dozen or so) review of their huge 80’s music video collection. It’s just like being at home! Spectacular eating, drinking and socializing with friends…

On Thursday morning I’ll try the consulate for VISA’s again, and then we’ll probably just slough around for the afternoon. On Friday we’ll either go for a day tour of the local bay, or (if it’s booked up) we’ll head up North a bit to the Australia Zoo. After spending a day at the zoo we’ll continue North, inland, to Cairns to take a Great Barrier Reef tour and then start slowly working our way back to Brisbane on the coast. Although… It’s very tempting just to stay in Brisbane for a few more weeks!