Days 10 & 11 in Australia: Wrapping up trip with more of Sydney

15 Feb

Time to get my bag packed for flight back home to the States on Monday. Meantime, here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve been up to these last two days:

Headed out reasonably early on Saturday morning to check out the Taronga Zoo. Evan though I was inside by 10:20, I was too late to sign up for the the koala close-up experience. Dang it! The rest of the zoo, particularly the Australian-animals section was pretty cool: finally got to see kangaroos and wallabies and emus — and even the deadly cassowary! The zoo’s setting looking out over the harbor and the city is pretty spectacular.

Later that afternoon I saw a cool Chuck Close exhibition and did some gift shopping in a neighborhood called The Rocks.

Saturday night I went to a soccer match between Sydney and Melbourne. It ended in a 3-3 draw, but at least there was a decent amount of scoring. The hard-core supporters were pretty loud.

Sunday morning was beautiful and I took the train/bus out to do the Bondi-Coogee Beach walk. This is a famous walk connecting a series of very picturesque beaches and towns. I spent part of the time dunking myself in a saltwater pool. I think this will have been the last warm sunny day for me for awhile.

Catch ya stateside!

I did get to see a koala pretty close, but it was sleeping, of course.

I did get to see a koala pretty close, but it was sleeping, of course.

My little kangeroo friends. These are red kangs.

My little kangeroo friends. These are red kangs.

The deadly -- and prehistoric-looking -- cassowary. Beware!

The deadly — and prehistoric-looking — cassowary. Beware!

This Tasmanian devil was not spinning around very fast.

This Tasmanian devil was not spinning around very fast.

The wonderful view of Sydney from inside the zoo.

The wonderful view of Sydney from inside the zoo.

The crowd files in for the soccer match between rivals Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.

The crowd files in for the soccer match between rivals Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.

The supporters' section is celebrating something.

The supporters’ section is celebrating something.

A like game action shot.

A like game action shot.

Famous Bondi Beach. I think half of Sydney was there since it was such a nice summer Sunday.

Famous Bondi Beach. I think half of Sydney was there since it was such a nice summer Sunday.

Beautifull waterfront on the beach walk.

Beautifull waterfront on the beach walk.

The saltwater pool at Clovelly Beach where I submersed myself for a while.

The saltwater pool at Clovelly Beach where I submersed myself for a while.

Days 8 & 9 in Australia: Getting to know Sydney

13 Feb

I’m using AirBnB for my room in Sydney’s Redfern neighborhood. I can either walk to where I need to go or catch a train at a station across the street. Great transport options here.

In my first two days here I have:

  • Visited the Contemporary Art Museum.
  • Explored the Rocks area, the city’s oldest buildings.
  • Had a fantastic dinner at a Korean-Australian fusion restaurant called Moon Park — crab to die for.
  • Visited China Town.
  • Crowded in with the other tourists at the Darling Harbor area. Quite the scene.
  • And taken the famous ferry ride to the beach town of Manly. This was the highlight of the Sydney portion of the trip so far.

Pictures of some of the above here now. Reminder: Click to enlarge.

Sydney's Darling Harbor on a sultry summer night.

Sydney’s Darling Harbor on a sultry summer night.

From one of the platforms at Redfern Station, I can see the building where I'm staying -- the Water Tower Building -- in the background.

From one of the platforms at Redfern Station, I can see the building where I’m staying — the Water Tower Building — in the background.

The iconice cityscape of Sydney as seen from the Manly ferry.

The iconice cityscape of Sydney as seen from the Manly ferry.

Beautiful colors at Manly Cove.

Beautiful colors at Manly Cove.

Another bay near Manly.

Another bay near Manly.

Encountered this footlong beast blocking my hiking trail.

Encountered this footlong beast blocking my hiking trail.

And this guy, about 3 inches across, had strung a web above the hiking trail. I ducked and carefully made it through.

And this guy, about 3 inches across, had strung a web above the hiking trail. I ducked and carefully made it through.

At the main Manly Beach, surfing and skateboarding competitions were under way. And a band played in the distance here. Paid $14 AUS for a pint of microbrew in Manly. Wow.

At the main Manly Beach, surfing and skateboarding competitions were under way. And a band played in the distance here. Paid $14 AUS for a pint of microbrew in Manly. Wow.

Days 5, 6 and 7 in Australia: Dingos on the prowl

11 Feb

This is long because it covers 2.5 days. Scroll down to the amazing pictures if you want the short version.

“Tom” drove up to the backpackers’ motel at 5:30 am. There were to be 17 of us in total, including 15 travelers and Tom’s assistant Chantal. Tom looks like those Australians you see backpacking in Europe: Scraggly blond hair, sunburnt nose and a bushman’s hat that has been around the Outlook block a time or two.

This is our guide, Tom Tom.

This is our guide, Tom Tom.

Our group of travelers hailed from all over the world, but I was the only American.

Our group of travelers hailed from all over the world, but I was the only American.

Our first hike -- this one in 100-degree midday heat -- ended up here: the edge of King's Canyon.

Our first hike — this one in 100-degree midday heat — ended up here: the edge of King’s Canyon.

Collecting firewood was a dirty job -- check out the soot on the face of the girl on the right.

Collecting firewood was a dirty job — check out the soot on the face of the girl on the right.

Tom gets the fire going at our fish camp. The dingos were not deterred.

Tom gets the fire going at our bush camp. The dingos were not deterred.

The morning of the second day started with this hike. The sign up ahead warns about the trail being closed if the temperature rises to over 97 degrees. This is about where I turned back because I was not feeling well.

The morning of the second day started with this hike. The sign up ahead warns about the trail being closed if the temperature rises to over 97 degrees. This is about where I turned back because I was not feeling well.

The domes of Kata Tjuta from afar.

The domes of Kata Tjuta from afar.

Yup, that's me with Uluru in the background.

Yup, that’s me with Uluru in the background.

The sunset viewing area was crazy, with varying levels of comfort. We were not the group with the champagne flutes.

The sunset viewing area was crazy, with varying levels of comfort. We were not the group with the champagne flutes.

The colors of sunset.

The colors of sunset.

And a few short hours later, the colors of sunrise.

And a few short hours later, the colors of sunrise.

The sun rises to promise another sweltering day.

The sun rises to promise another sweltering day.

I walked around the entire base of Uluru - about 5.5 miles. Imcredible colors.

I walked around the entire base of Uluru – about 5.5 miles. Imcredible colors.

Another beautiful shot from the base of Uluru.

Another beautiful shot from the base of Uluru.

It was quite a diverse of old and young from the following countries: Russia, Britain, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Taiwan, S. Korea and Spain. I was the only Yank. Of course over three days we got to know folks and it was great camaraderie.

The first day was a lot of driving, as we had to get from Alice Springs to a place called Curtin Station, which is in turn a couple of hours from the main attraction: Uluru. Fortunately Tom kept a great playlist and had it set to have different types of songs for different moods.

At noon on the first day we arrived at King’s Canyon. We hiked the 2 miles to the canyon in essentially 100-degree heat. Tom inspected our bags before hitting the trail to ensure that everyone had at least 3 liters of water. That’s a lot of water. But if you were to do this and not drink, you could die. Tom was fond of pointing out all the things that could kill us. It became a kind of punchline for the 3 days.

The Canyon itself was a bit underwhelming, but the colors of the rocks were amazing.

This is a good time to mention that a single $8 AUS purchase I made proved indispensible on this trip – a head net for flies. They don’t bite, but damn are they annoying. People without nets were constantly waving their hands in front of their faces.

We were back on the road again and soon Tom had us collecting firewood off the side of the road. Watch out for snakes because … “You could die and we’d all be sad.” It was hard, dirty work and people were fairly well hot and exhausted.

After a stop to get cool drinks, we headed for our camp for the night. This was a private and very primitive bush camp. A large fire pit, place to lay out our “swags,” and a pit toilet. Tom got the fire going for purposes of cooking part of it on the coals. We certainly didn’t need it for warmth. I looked over to a little hill nearby to see a small dingo checking us out. Tom threw a rock near it to scare it away.

Cold beers and stew behind us, it was time to watch the sky, the amazing Outback sky with absolutely no light or air pollution of any kind. My photography attempts failed. But yeah it was pretty amazing. Especially when you lie back on your swag and stare up at that immensity.

A swag is essentially a bedroll for sleeping on the ground, without a tent. You throw a sleeping bag on top of it. It was so warm though, that I probably didn’t get to sleep for hours.

After you set up your swag, you have to prepare for the critters. For the dingos, make sure you have rocks handy to scare them off. For the snakes, use the handle end of a shovel to dig a little gully all around your swag. They won’t cross the trench. For the spiders and scorpions, you sprinkle salt in the trench. Works like a charm.

It didn’t wake me up, but reportedly one member of our group, Jessica, saved us all by actually hitting the approaching dingo with a rock. Jessica, dingo slayer.

We work up at first light on the second day, packed things up and hit the road quickly to hit a hike at Kata Tjuta, a formation similar to Ulrulu and spiritually as important to the Aborigines.

Right about here though was when my digestive track decided to take me down. I’ll spare you the details, but after about a mile of a hilly hike I had to return to base. Simply no energy. I took some pills and hoped for the best. With that midday heat, though, I was about ready to pass out.

I ate like a bird for lunch and dinner, and that seemed to help a bit. We went to the Aboriginal cultural center, and did a short walk at Uluru’s base where Tom told us some the legends of the place. Cool stuff. There is certainly an aura about the place.

Next up was the sunset viewing space. Quite the spectacle.

That night we rolled out the swags again at a place that had showers. For the love of God, wonderful showers. Our van was getting stinky!

Tom had us up in predawn darkness for day 3 so that we could head over to the same spot as last night to watch the sunrise. It was amazing that the sun rose just the left of the Rock as were seeing it.

I was feeling better this morning, so I opted to join most of our group in doing the full base walk. This is 5.5 mile hike that takes you all the way around the base of Uluru. I was tire at the end, but felt way better than the day before.

Tom then played sad music as he took me and 4 others to the Ayers Rock airport — the rest were going back to Alice Springs.

All in all it was an adventure: met some cool folks, saw some amazing scenery, did things like sleeping under the stars that I’ll probably never get a chance to do again.

As I write this I’m flying over to Sydney. And now my stomach issues are flaring up again. Gahhh.

P.S. – I believe a dingo could indeed eat a baby.

As usual, click the pics above to make them larger.

 

 

Day 4 in Australia: Heading to the Red Center

8 Feb

I caught a 9:45 am flight out of Melbourne to Alice Springs, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the continent. Got off the plane and onto the tarmac and the heat just about knocked me down. Holy crap!

This is the desert interior. Home of aborigines and white folks dumb enough to brave the heat. I walked from my hotel room into town, maybe 20 minutes, and I was wiped. Had some lunch and then walked back and took a cold shower.

This heat thing is probably going to be the biggest challenge for me over the next 2.5 days. At 5:30 am tomorrow the tour van comes to pick me up and the Outback adventure begins. Day 1 includes a 3-hour midday desert hike — I know, insane. If I don’t post again and never make it back to Seattle, you’ll know why.

The┬ásky is amazing here though. Can’t wait to see the stars from remote campsite tomorrow night — if I’m alive.

This evening I walked down the street to a sports park and watched part of a cricket match. I still don’t know what’s going on. Looks like baseball, of course, so it was highly boring. And to think that some types of cricket matches can go on for days.

Some pics from today. As usual, click them to make them larger.

 

Australia Days 2 and 3: Melbourne city and the cricket grounds

7 Feb Street art is celebrated in Melbourne. This is a pretty cool painting of an aboriginal girl.

Wow, a busy couple of days in Melbourne. Skip to the pix below for details, but basically I:

– Went on a four-hour long walking tour of downtown.
– Explored the Docklands area.
– Visited the Royal Botanical Garden.
– Took a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
– Spent an afternoon down at St. Kilda Beach.

Overall impressions: Folks are friendly and it’s a pretty cool city. Where are they hiding the homeless? I never saw any.

The restored Forum Theater in downtown Melbourne. It was the first stop on the walking tour.

The restored Forum Theater in downtown Melbourne. It was the first stop on the walking tour.

Street art is celebrated in Melbourne. This is a pretty cool painting of an aboriginal girl.

Street art is celebrated in Melbourne. This is a pretty cool painting of an aboriginal girl.

Our tour guide, Clive, bounced us around all over downtown. This is the public market. Enjoyed sharing lunch with Clive after the tour was over.

Our tour guide, Clive, bounced us around all over downtown. This is the public market. Enjoyed sharing lunch with Clive after the tour was over.

This is the Docklands area on the west side of downtown. In the background is Etihad Stadium, the venue for Aussie Rules Football.

This is the Docklands area on the west side of downtown. In the background is Etihad Stadium, the venue for Aussie Rules Football.

Between the docks: what looked to be a million jellyfish. No swimming here!

Between the docks: what looked to be a million jellyfish. No swimming here!

Did you know there are 700 different kinds of eucalyptis trees? Learned that at the National Botanical Park.

Did you know there are 700 different kinds of eucalyptis trees? Learned that at the National Botanical Park.

Lovely vistas in the botanical park.

Lovely vistas in the botanical park.

More from inside the botanical park.

More from inside the botanical park.

On the right is Brian, our guide for the tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. We were down on the 'pitch' at that moment.

On the right is Brian, our guide for the tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. We were down on the ‘pitch’ at that moment.

The pitch of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

The pitch of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

More from the tour.

More from the tour.

Brian shows us the whiteboard the coachs use for strategy sessions.

Brian shows us the whiteboard the coachs use for strategy sessions.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, St kilda Beach was busy. The water was cool at first, but then really refreshing.

On a hot Saturday afternoon, St kilda Beach was busy. The water was cool at first, but then really refreshing.

Close-up of a water lily at the botanical garden.

Close-up of a water lily at the botanical garden.

Day 1 in Australia: Getting settled – and sauced – in Melbourne

5 Feb My lunch of chicken parmigiana with sides. The one beer and lunch added up to $28 U.S. No doubt food and beer will end up costing me almost double what it does back home.

The flight from LAX to Melbourne was about as comfortable as it could be for such an inherently grueling experience. Tailwinds cut it to a breezy 14:20 of air time. I watched two movies I’d meaning to see: “Nightcrawler” and “Nebraska.” I chatted with my seatmates — a couple of Aussie college girls who’d been over in Costa Rica doing volunteer week.

An airporter bus followed by a tram ride got me to the city’s Northcote neighborhood. I’m staying in a house via AirBnB. The host was working but had left instrux for letting myself in. Nice big house in a regentrified area now sporting “Organic Mexican” resturants and plenty of hipster dreads.

I dropped my stuff and headed out on “get to know you” walking tour of the environs. It was a lovely and virtually cloudless afternoon, with temps in the upper 70s. Will be 80s to 90 the next couple of days.

By late in the afternoon my host, Andrew, had arrived home from work. We split one of the craft beers I had picked up out on the patio, which is situated a few feet from his chooks (chickens) and a rangy pumpkin plant that looks like it’s trying to overrun the entire back yard.

Andrew then dragged me along (sarcasm) to a microbrewery in Clifton Hill and a beergarden in Carlton. Was great hearing about the history of the area from him.

We followed a couple of hours of drinking with a visit to the neighborhood “chipper” – fish and chips. I will say that although pricy, the food has been of quite high quality.

I took another walk after that, finishing up as night fell. I crashed by 9:15, but succeeded in my goal of staying up all day to get into right cycle after a crazy travel day.

Click on photos to see much larger versions.

The dining room and view out to the verdant back yard of the house I'm staying in in Melbourne's Northcote neighborhood.

The dining room and view out to the verdant back yard of the house I’m staying in in Melbourne’s Northcote neighborhood.

This is High Street, the main drag of the neighborhood I'm staying in.

This is High Street, the main drag of the neighborhood I’m staying in.

Walking up High Street, this gives you an idea how far I am from Melbourne's downtown core.

Walking up High Street, this gives you an idea how far I am from Melbourne’s downtown core.

1788 was the year the whites came ashore in Australia.

1788 was the year the whites came ashore in Australia.

My first pint in Australia - a Cavalier Brewing Pale Ale. Quite good.

My first pint in Australia – a Cavalier Brewing Pale Ale. Quite good.

My lunch of chicken parmigiana with sides. The one beer and lunch added up to $28 U.S. No doubt food and beer will end up costing me almost double what it does back home.

My lunch of chicken parmigiana with sides. The one beer and lunch added up to $28 U.S. No doubt food and beer will end up costing me almost double what it does back home.

Cat with rainbow beams shooting from eyes.

Cat with rainbow beams shooting from eyes.

Yet another sign acknowledging the original land owners.

Yet another sign acknowledging the original land owners.

Love this ornate top to a house.

Love this ornate top to a house.

These rainbow Lorikeets are all over the place, whole flocks of them.

These rainbow Lorikeets are all over the place, whole flocks of them.

Grafittii art is all the rage here, and some of it's pretty decent.

Grafittii art is all the rage here, and some of it’s pretty decent.

Headed to Australia in February

21 Jan

Posts coming in February about my visit to Melbourne, the Red Center and Sydney.

Headed to Colombia in February

3 Jan

I’ll be escaping the Seattle winter rains and heading for equatorial South America in mid-February. I’ll be visiting three spots in Colombia:

La_CandelariaBogota

The capital city sits at an altitude of 8,600 feet, so it won’t be very warm. It’s a huge city, with a population of 8.8 million people. Highlights of my 2-and-a-half days there: The Gold Museum and possibly going to a soccer match.

Cartagena

800px-CartagenaNext I fly an hour or so north to the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena. This place is going to be hot and likely quite photogenic. The walled colonial city is filled with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets and boisterous restaurant crowds spilling out into the squares. Here’s the B&B I’m hoping to stay at for four nights. A little further away, the waterfront is a wall of apartment towers.

San Andres Island

800px-SanAndres-Island-ViewI had never heard of this place until I started doing research about Colombia. The island, a 90-minute flight west from Cartegena, is politically part of Colombia, but is actually much closer to the coast of Nicaragua. If the pictures and stories are for real, the dazzling blue waters around this place ought to offer fantastic snorkeling. The B&B I’ve booked looks like a fun place, away from any really touristy areas.

Oh and if you’re wondering about Colombia’s reputation for violence and drup cartels, well, they say that’s all changed — at least in the areas I’m headed to. Head out into the more remote jungles and all bets are off!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.