Thursday, June 28, 2012

San Francisco

Well I got lucky and made the second flight from Sydney to LA. It was quite a panic as I got my boarding pass at 12:45 and the flight was scheduled to leave at 1:05pm and I still had to go through immigration and customs. I was the second to last person on the plane, sitting in economy beside this poor young guy that was soooo sick (coughing and sneezing). I immediately pulled out my drug bag and offered him an assortment of my cold and flu medication ( I have been so fortunate not to get sick). I did not sleep much on the way home and arrived in LA at 9:30 am (flight is 14 hours). In my panic to make the flight I emailed Michelle to ask her to change my Southwest Airline flight from LA to San Fran as I would not make the flight I booked as I did not get on the first plane out of Sydney.

When I arrived in LA my name was called over the loud speaker - I knew this was not a good thing and I was informed one of my bags was still on vacation in Sydney. So I waited for my other bag, well apparently it decided to go business class so it took some searching to find it as it was not on the luggage belt with the other economy bags!

I checked in at Southwest Airlines and found out Michelle had to pay an extra $100 to change my flight and had booked me on the 5:10pm flight but because she paid the extra I was able to change to an earlier flight 3:25(all other flights were booked). I enjoyed my first starbucks in a while and made my way to the gate. At the gate there was an announcement that the 3:25 flight was overbooked and was anyone willing to give up their seat for a $100 travel credit. I thought what the hell and volunteered but not only did I get a $100 credit, I got a credit for the entire cost of the flight as well in all a $289 credit (not bad for an hour and half wait).

Yesterday and today I spent with Hannah - she has a fever and has been vomiting to a trip to the doctors to find out the poor dear has strep throat but she is now on and antibiotic so hopefully will be herself in the next couple of days.

A few updates:

1. If you remember back to my issue with groupon - well I did not give up and after many calls while I was in Australia I finally got to talk to someone who was less than helpful. I have ended up with a groupon credit for half the value of what I paid for the voucher and I can use the credit in Canada. I will not bore you with the details but it is suffice to say this company seriously needs customer service training. They admitted they really don't know anything about the accommodation from other countries that they advertise - they take the word of the people who are advertising? They made no apologies for not contacting me and me chasing them down. Guess this is why there is a class action suit against them in the USA.

2. On my day with crocodile Dundee posting there are 4 videos - only two of them you will be able to play as I have not figured out how to remove the other two videos that say private when you try to view - still figuring out the new blogging program.

3. I hope everyone had enjoyed reading about my travels - in the last six months I have travelled all but 3 weeks, taken 46 different flights on 10 different airlines and I have travelled over 118,000 kilometers. This has been an opportunity of a lifetime and full of memories I will always cherish. Not to mention the number of completed ticks I now have on my bucket list.

In late September I am planning a trip to Britain and recently I put down on deposit on a South African safari next May - so this is not the end of my travels and there will be more blogs to come!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Darwin - a day with Crocodile Dundee

Sean suggested while in Darwin I should take the Wallaroo croc tour which he and Michelle took in 2008. What he did not tell me is that I would be spending the day with crocodile Dundee.

yes that is raw pork in his hand

Pat (tour guide) is a native of the northern territories - he grew up in a family of 28 because his parents fostered children including a number of aboriginals. He is a bush man that feels more at home with nature than with people (although you would never know this as he is quite the talker and full of interesting stories). He has lived a great part of his life living in the bush and sleeping on the ground - he told us the first time he went to a hotel he couldn't get to sleep in the bed so he tried the floor and then finally got to sleep on the outside balcony. He was a wealth of knowledge including telling us about the soldiers in WWII defending this region and surviving the living conditions in extreme natural elements.

The day started by being picked up at 7am. First stop was the termite mounds - some of these mounds are 6 meters high with another 12 meters of the mound underground. Termites feed on dead plant material mostly wood. Therefore most of the trees in the northern territories are hollow and the aborginies use the hollow trees to make the didgeridoo musical instrument. There are 23 species of termites in this area (we observed the catherdral and magnetic termites). Termites live about 30 years in very organized colonies generally with a population of several hundred thousand divided into groups (workers and soldiers).

The sculptured termite mounds sometimes have elaborate and distinctive forms - tall wedge-shaped mounds with the long axis oriented approximately north–south. This orientation has been experimentally shown to assist thermoregulation. The column of hot air rising in the aboveground mounds helps drive air circulation currents inside the subterranean network. The structure of these mounds can be quite complex.

Next we went to the Litchfield National Park to take a look at a couple of spectacular waterfalls with sink holes where we took a swim. These fresh water bodies can be home to fresh water crocodiles which are apparently quite harmless to humans - luckily we did not see any and did not have to test this theory! While we were enjoying a swim Pat prepared a lovely picnic buffet sandwich spread for our lunch.

As we walked through the park Pat pointed out some of the local inhabitants such as green ants - explaining their benefit to the environment. Green ant workers hunt and kill insects that are potentially harmful plant pests - in some areas where citrus fruits are grown these ants are used as a pest control.

Pat also explained about the controlled burning practices in the northern territories. The frequency and severity of the fires in grass and open bushland areas can be reduced by carrying out controlled burning earlier in the dry season, when there is less fuel on the ground. Driving through the park we observed areas where burning had been undertaken in the last few days.

Next we were off to the river to find salt water crocodiles. These are the ones that are likely to eat you - Pat has been bitten by a croc. Crocodiles do not have diseases they are extremely healthy and do not get sick. If they loose a leg or arm in a fight their blood automatically clots so they do not bleed to death and they do not get infections. Scientist are looking at crocodiles to help develop a new type of penicillin. These crocodiles are between 4-7 meters long. Crocodiles have strong jaws and do not chew their food but swallow in large chunks which are broken down in the stomach. It is estimated that crocodiles live for 70 - 100 years. Once on the river it was not long before a crocodile was following the boat. Crocodile Pat began to feed the croc - at one point there were six crocs near us and we interacted (well crocodile Pat did) with three. I took the photos below as well as capturing a couple of videos I hope you will enjoy and get a feel for what it was like looking at these creatures so closely.






We spotted a baby crocodile which is unusual but I was not quick enough to get a picture. However I was able to get pictures of other wildlife such as jaberoos (species of water bird) and hawks.


On the tour I met three sisters from tasmania (Kerry, Jenni and Robin). We seemed to instantly bond and it was great to share the day with them.

After the crocs we headed for an place where we could watch the sunset while we satisfied our palates with delicious king prawns complimented by champagne! All supplied by Pat.

My view on the ride back sitting in the front of the van.

Throughout the day Pat told us many different stories especially about the aboriginal people to help us better understand their culture. The one that sticks in my mind is one which shows how cultural differences can lead to confrontation and misunderstanding. In our culture when a family member dies we are granted 2 or 3 days compassionate leave from work to attend the funeral etc. In the aboriginal culture when a person dies the burial process can take 2 - 3 years before the body is returned and buried wherever the person came from. During this period family members are expected to be with the body and help with the process. So when an aborignal asks an employer for leave to attend a family funeral they are asking for something quite different than our culture would expect. In a lot of cases employers do not realize this - they grant the leave thinking it is for 2-3 days and when the person does not show up after that period of time the employer gets very frustrated. Pat said often the aborignal people will come back after the burial process is completed (2-3 years later) looking to go back to work only to find they no longer have a job.

Instead of going back to my budget accommodation immediately jenni, Kerry, robin and I went to a park on the water by their hotel to enjoy the remaining prawns and a few drinks - I won't mention the part where we got busted by security for drinking outside! I headed back to my accommodation around 11pm only to be greeted by fire trucks and the hotel had been evacuated! OMG my passport is in my room! Luckily it was only a case of a fire extinguisher being set off - got into my room at midnight and I was to meet Kerry for breakfast the next morning. It was a very long but extremely enjoyable day - crocodile Pat was the best tour guide and his knowledge and love of the area helped make the day so enjoyable and informative. Kerry, Jenni and Robin were a pleasure to share the day with and I hope to see them in tasmania early next year.

I am hoping to get a flight out of Sydney om June 26th but it looks pretty grim at the moment - keep your fingers crossed for me as I have to make it to San Fran before the 29th to look after Hannah while Sean and Michelle are in Europe.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Great Barrier Reef - underwater pictures

As promised here are some of the pictures i took while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef!

Attempt at taking a selfy underwater!



Sunday, June 24, 2012


Arrived safely in australia's most northern city of Darwin capital of the Northern Territories located on the Timor Sea. Darwin has a population of 127,000 and a tropical climate with a wet and dry season. The weather now is in the mid to high twenties and it is the high season for tourist as it is not the wet season nor the summer temp of the high thirties with high humidity. In the 1800's Darwin grew because of the gold rush. Today this area of Australia is where most of the mining (uranium, cobalt etc) is located and because the income is high here it is very expensive. It was very difficult finding accommodation under $300 per night. However I did find the Value Inn - the name says it all. One side of the parking lot is the backpackers building and the other is the hotel (if you can call it that). It is located in the middle of Darwin which is good to be close to everything but it is surrounded by backpacker hotels which means there is a lot of noise (luckily I can sleep in spite of the noise). The room is small and minimal but clean - it cost $120 a night (in Asia it would have cost $20 maybe). There are lots of backpacker accommodation in Darwin which is great because there are lots of young people visiting from all over the world.

The first night I walked to the Mindil Beach Market where I got to watch another amazing northern Australian sunset. The numerous food stalls sold everything from crocodile to vietnamese Pho soup to food from Sri Lanka - the difficulty was making a choice so I had spicy calamari and a mango shake. Then I watched the entertainment, browsed the stalls, made a few purchases of course and walked back to my accommodation.

OIn addition to mining the northern territories grow numerous varieties of fruit including 28 varieties of mangos. This area use to be a large producer of bananas, however someone brought in some seeds from asia and did not declare them. The growth of these seeds spread a disease to the banana plantations and all the banana plants had to be destroyed to avoid spreading the disease to the banana plants in Queensland. End of growing bananas in the northern territories - guess this is why Australian customs are so strict about what you bring into the country.

The beaches may be lovely here and the water looks inviting but there are boxed jelly fish so no one swims in the ocean around Darwin.

Purple are box jellyfish

There is also a huge alcohol problem in the northern territories - which has led to an increase in rape and domestic violence. Some communities are prohibited from selling alcohol which has created an illegal industry where people bring truck loads of alcohol into these communities and sell beer for $250 to $500 a case - however get caught and it is a $78,000 fine! When you purchase alcohol you have to show your driver's license no matter how old you are. The license is swiped through a special scanner to see if you have a DUI or have been banned from any license premises in the state - this prevents those who have been banned from one establishment just going to another.

The city of Darwin has been rebuilt twice - once due to Japanese air raids and once due to cyclone Tracy in 1974. Darwin now has a lovely wharf area and an esplanade to enjoy. So you may not be able to go in the ocean but there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy looking and walking along it!

Walking along the beach I came across some and array of colored rocks in the sand to practice my photography skills.
Something I did not know was that Darwin was bombed by the Japanese. In 1942 just Ten weeks after pearl harbour the same Japanese fleet invaded Darwin harbour (this year was the 60th anniversary). More bombs were dropped on Darwin harbour than pearl harbour. All civilians were removed from this area and it became the first line of defense against Japanese invasion. Given the terrain and extreme weather conditions in this area you can only imagine how difficult it was for these soldiers. To this day there is still some artillery buried in the land outside Darwin as it all has not been accounted for!