Tuesday, 24 January 2012

IATTOUR January 16-23 Oz Wk 1

IATTOUR January 16-23  Oz Wk 1
Monday: Well January 16th never really happened as soon as we departed Rarotoga, we lost a day and went into the January 17th crossing the dateline.  It was sad to leave the Cook Islands as it is such a spectacular place, but that’s why you travel to find out where you want to return.

Tuesday: Landing in Auckland was like coming home to Vancouver, alternating between drizzle and steady rain and much cooler.  Our stop was short and soon on our way to Brisbane.  It is very nice to have a welcoming party- Tex(f) and Gordon, to us on arrival, taking all the stress and guess work away.  It was great to see them after many years since they came to Canada to see us, along with Alia and Nick.  Brisbane was also raining but much warmer.  The city has grown since I was here 10 years ago, not much seems familiar.

Tex’s had gone all out to get our room ready for our arrival; after a shower we’re almost feeling human again after 2 x 4 hour flights with a 4 hour layover, now add another 4 hours time zone change; our bodies are pretty mixed up.  We get caught up on our lives and families over a few bottles of very nice white wine, followed by some great lasagne.  Tony’s eyes are drooping by 2100hrs and is not long for the world..

Wednesday:  Tex and Gordon took the day off (an exceedingly rare event) and drove us north from Brisbane to visit Steve Irwin’s (he of Animal Planet/Real Croc Hunter fame) Australia Zoo.  What an amazing place—a-not-to-be-missed stop—with acres of natural parkland for a huge variety of animals.  The zones range from local (Saltwater Croc territory) to distant (African savannah—with a Rhino family).  Although Steve passed away a number of years ago, his family—Terry, Bindi and Bob—were there to run and narrate the big Croc Show.  We spent the whole day there, taking in shows (Birds of Prey and Croc feeding), petting Koala, feeding Elephants and exclaiming over the magnificent variety of Australian flowers.  

It was a wonderful day, topped by meeting Tex’s youngest daughter, “Libby” (Olivia) at her nearby “take away” restaurant.  Tex had cooked up a special prank for Libby—involving Tony and I to request $2 worth of chips; the kicker was to ask if there were 50 chips in the basket!  Elaine carried it off with a straight face; Libby looked a bit confused but did not get flustered then her mom Tex popped her head in the shop and shouted Gotcha!

Thursday:  We catch a ride with Tex into town to spend the day in the CBD.  We had arranged to meet up with a previous co-worker of Elaine's from SIDES, Todd Milford who has just moved to Oz for a 3 year lecturing position at Griffin University for lunch.  Todd suggested a Hari Krishna veggie restaurant that he had found on one of his previous wanderings.  It was great to catch up and hear that things are going so well.  His Michelle and daughter Ella will soon be joining him from Victoria.  He is expecting Maryann and Myna to make the trip to visit them soon. 

We spend the late afternoon (at Tex's BeLoved Flowers) admiring Tex's handiwork.  (I am always astounded at her amazing creativity and skill with everything from flower arranging to home decor.)  We were going to head out tomorrow, but elected to stay to have an evening out with Tex and Gordon tomorrow night.

Friday: Even when traveling, you need a day to catch up on laundry, bills, onward travel and so on.  Fortunately we were well situated to get all accomplished.  Had a great evening out to the local RSO club with Tex and Gordon for dinner, music and a few Pokies (Tex was the big winner).

Saturday: Off we go into town with Tex , bags in tow to pick up our rental car and head up to the Sunshine coast.  We manage to survive getting out of Brisbane unscathed and putz along the Sunshine coast communities to see surfers, kite surfers, markets and lots of holidays.  On the way, we catch the end of the famous "Eumundi Market" and speak to a craftsman who is heading off to North America (Saskatoon!) to take part in an artisan's conference.  The evening finds us in a small community called Boreen Point where we find a great little motel walking distance to the lake, bottle shop and take out--a very quiet end to the day. 

Sunday:  Next morning, we head off through to the bottom end of the Great Barrier Reef (Agnes Waters/1770) with a few stops on the way.  One of the small towns we bump into, in this country of sugar cane fields, is Childers--infamous for the fire in the local Backpacker's Inn.  The memorial to the 15 young international travelers is beautiful, as is the surrounding artsy community and the wonderfully friendly people.  Well worth a stop! 

Next to Bundaberg, we stop at the Rum Factory, but elect to give the tour a miss.  We pick up ginger beer at the local  factory and then aim for the coast.  

In a short time, we hit the coast  in the town of 1770 and Agnes Waters.  See the photo above to get the explanation of 1770's name.  We book ourselves for next day's trip to Lady Musgrave Island.  Tony is more than pleased to find that the booking agent is able to pull up his PADI certification from 1978--far surpassing her estimate of 20 years worth of certifications online!  Back at the Motel, we bump into Murray and Heather who are traveling from Winnipeg through Aus, NZ and Thialand for 3-4 months.  Following BBQ and drinks, we all decide to stay another day to enjoy Agnes Water's access to golfing and coral cays.

Monday:  The Catamaran trip to Lady Musgrave (labelled one of the 7 Natural Wonders) headed off at 8:30 so we are there by 7:50ish--very excited!  After a bouncy trip across, we spend the day diving (Tony), hiking on the island (Elaine) and snorkeling (both).  The sea life and the coral are exactly as shown in brochures--bright, beautiful, plentiful--it is a fantastic site!  We are so thrilled with what we are seeing, we are the last people back on the boat.  Good thing the staff carefully do a triple count before we head off.  

we saw a heap of these critters!

Back at the motel, Heather and Murray have had a fabulous day golfing amongst the kangaroos and recommend playing there the next day.  We enjoy a wonderful potluck BBQ and more conversation with them before turning in.

Tuesday:  Well, the skies have opened!  Gordon and Tex warned us that we were visiting during the rainy season and should be careful.  We are heading to Rockhampton, but this caution turns us around and we elect to stop in Bundaberg.  We can't risk being stranded on the Sunshine Coast (like BC's Sunshine Coast at this moment!) when we are due to fly out on Saturday as all road signs warn that "roads flood".  We'll check again in the morning to see what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

IATTOUR Jan 2-16 Pampas to Palms

WARNING..exceedingly wordy account, but we are two weeks out of touch! More photos may be added as we get more time.

During our last week in Buenos Aires we completed a few more checkmarks on our list of things to do and see; and started the drying out process from a month of decadence.   A visit to Chacaritis cemetery made us wonder why Recoleta cemetery gets all the headlines; this place in my opinion has all its grandeur and is about 5x as big—like a city of the dead with different levels of internment.  It owes its origins to a cholera outbreak in the 1800’s which saw the need for this facility.  The cemetery is still active today and we observed a number of internments as we were walking through.

We had been trying to get to the El Zanjon Museo over the last few weeks but have been thwarted by it being closed every time we went by.  Finally we got into the “English” tour (with the museum director guiding) today for an intriguing glimpse of the beginnings of Buenos Aires.  This old grand old house in the middle of San Telmo dates back to earliest days of the city with some of the early underground stream culverts still intact.   The owner of this private facility has painstakingly restored the house to the elegance of its first period of ownership.  

The month in BA has flown by; its time to pack up and bid our San Telmo apartment goodbye.  The owner of the apartment, Eva, made sure that everything was tip top and more, from the Christmas decorations to the bag of yummy homemade empanadas.  We would highly recommend this apartment as a place to stay and explore Buenos Aires, close, safe, comfortable…very good value.  Owing to the quirks of airlines schedules and finding a bargain flight out of South America, we had to move to a hotel for one night. 

As we say goodbye to Eva, we hunt for a taxi; we are approached by a portly middle aged guy who has his cab parked across the street.  When he hears that we are not going to the airport out comes the story about how everything is shut down in BA, nothing is moving; it is dangerous for him and us…however we are free to find another cab against his better judgment….Ha, Ha…we were in a cab and off  to the hotel with nary a problem.  What a laugh.

Bruno from the Montevideo language school tried to hook up with us but was thwarted by our bad internet connection and his tango lesson schedule.  Too bad, maybe we will meet again in Victoria.  We wandered around central BA and got to the bookshop Carmel read about.  Had nice final dinner.

BA airport is not the most stunning example of a modern facility; in fact it is rather lacking.  We had expected a variety of places to grab a bite, there is only 1 restaurant.  The only thing that did not disappoint was the standard airport prices. ouch!  The (10+4hr) flights up to LA via Mexico City with AeroMexico had no untoward delays, mishaps or airplane horror stories…left on time, arrived on time, our bags arrived in Mexico City.  We forgot that Mexico City is high, the temperature on arriving was about 4 deg…too cold for our recent southern acclimation.  After rechecking our bags on the connecting luggage belt, we headed into the main International terminal….a new very modern looking facility with lots of choices; quite a contrast to BA.  We leave Mexico City a bit late, but by airlines standards on time and onto LAX.  US customs is a drag, we are the last out of the queue only to find that Tony’s bag is AWOL.  We go through all the formalities of the lost baggage report with the AeroMexico agent and head off to pick up the rental car.  This was the reason we factored in a buffer couple of days in LA to cover off such contingencies.  We finally get into the hotel in Manhattan Beach to crash for a few hours before a quick foray to the beach and pickup some takeout prior to falling asleep at about 8pm.

We awake in the morning hopeful the AeroMexico faerie has delivered a bag; but no.  The reference number that we were  given on the claim for is not valid using the on-line tracking tool.  Two hours later, we finally track down someone who is able to give us the computer generated tracking number, but there is no new information on the bag.  To cut a long story short, the bag did not show up before we had to go; AeroMexico has no idea where it is, we were given $200 and now have to wait 21 days to see if it might show up before settling a lost bag claim.  We gave them our home address to send the bag home if found as there is no way it would track us to the South Pacific and points onward.

 We did make the most of our visit to LA meeting up with one of our Montevideo language school mates Elizabeth and her partner Steve for lunch in Manhattan Beach.  Nice to see them and get a few tips on the sites.  After lunch we head off for Hollywood to see the strip, “Hollywood” sign.  What a zoo; we do a drive by which about all we are up for this late in the day (missed our nap).  Back to the hotel and a nice Thai dinner at a local place Steve recommended.  The hotel has decent internet so we catch up on some correspondence and calls.

La Brea Tar Ponds

Church of Scientology Winter Wonderland!
By checkout time on Sunday, we finally reach the point of no return with no bag in sight and head out to start buying all the missing bits and pieces for Tony.  Luckily, this is LA, land o plenty, so have no problem getting everything and more.  By the end of the day we end up back at Manhattan Beach finding a geocache to release a bunch of travel bugs.  This task done a nice bench beckons to watch the sunset and pack the new bag before heading to the airport to catch the Air New Zealand flight to Roratonga.

Crazy, as we are waiting around to catch the flight, Elaine hears a familiar voice and is off running to catch up to Barb and Jaak Maggie…what a small world...good friends from Victoria.  Turns out they are on the same flight, but continuing on to Auckland.  We would have visited enroute, but they have treated themselves to Business Class tickets and are being pampered up front.   Needless to say, the Air NZ service even in economy is first rate; would highly recommend this airline.   

We disembark to smell the wonderful aromas of tropical flowers; with a warm breeze tousling our hair…We have arrived in paradise!  What a contrast to BA.   Elaine and Barb pose at the Roratona airport as the Mad Chatter’s Cook Islands chapter.  Barb and Jaak are not allowed out of the arrivals area, so we bid them goodbye.  No shortage of Canadians on this flight down; and guessing a good 1/3 or more.  We have arranged a car rental for the day to pick up supplies and get the lay of the land.  Things are run a bit different in the Cook Islands, there is a car in the parking lot with my name on it, then we have to find where they have stashed the key (back left floor mat if you need to borrow a car here).

With Elaine coaching me to stay on the wrong side of the road, we head out to the rental agency to complete our paperwork.  Still too early to check into the Raina Beach apartment, so we poke around for a bit stopping at various beaches.  Finally, we get into the apartment; how glorious the simple pleasure of a shower to make a person feel human again after another long overnight flight.  We head back into town to pick up supplies; we quickly realize there is a different pricing strategy here, more akin to Inuvik, with fresh milk at $9/1.5l.  Gone is the cheap wine and beer of SA.   We are sad, but find that the local fresh fruit is cheap, abundant and delicious.  Mmmm…fresh Mango, Pawpaw, Coconut, Banana, By the time we return, we have no energy to even contemplate a swim.    We are working with a 7 hour time zone shift from BA, so our bodies are still quite a bit out of whack, we succumb not too long after the sun hits the horizon.

Tuesday sees us getting back on track, although up with the roosters (did we mention the island is overrun with wild chickens with roosters making up more than 50%-really loud) we feel pretty good.  Out for a pre-breakfast stroll on the beach, we watch numerous islanders fishing for breakfast with cast gill nets from shore.  What an idyllic place!  As soon as we finished brekkie, we were off to the beach with mask and snorkel in hand.  STUNNING is the best word to describe diversity of the fish we were swimming through and hard to tear ourselves away even though we were getting baked.  If we had an underwater camera, there would be many more photos. We have a fish card with more than 30 identified including a Devil Ray and the giant clams. A break for lunch, nap, then back snorkeling and into the apartment just before sunset for happy hour, then a bite to eat and fall asleep early.


Wednesday through Sunday repeat Tuesday with a few extras thrown in for good measure.  We brave the island roads with the scooter (traded the car).  We explore the cross island trail, with Wigmore Falls on one end and the Needle in the middle.  The hike up to the Needle is akin to being on a Stairmaster for an hour set on high!  The views from the top were worth the effort.  We had great chats with some fellow Canadians, South Africans and Australians on the hike.

On Thursday evening, we decided to take in one of the Polynesian dinner shows, with amazing drumming and dancing.  Man, those dancers can shake, the women their hips the guys there thighs!  The underground pit BBQ and local veggies/roots was very tasty. I wasn’t too fond of the “Cook Island” draft beer that I ordered.

Cook Island Quilt
It can rain very hard here, we now find out we are in the rainy season.  We were hoping for and did get a few breaks in the weather, but snorkeling continued (at least twice a day) despite the rain.  On Friday, we managed to overdo the snorkeling/sunning and now will pay with peeling backs.  

 On Saturday, we drove into the main market and enjoyed sampling the foods and feasting our eyes on the crafts (not to mention Black Pearls!) with our friends from the hike.  Enjoy a few more photos of our stay on this beautiful island full of very friendly people.

Sunday, we decided that we should probably have budgeted more time in this part of the world.  Very sad to leave!  We spent some time discussing local politics and events with the dynamic owner of the Raina Apartments (June) and visited with friends we met on the flight in.  Finally, we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at the Moana Sands Cafe.  Mmmm...fresh Tuna!  

Up early Monday morning for the ride back to the Airport.  (Warning--be ready if you book a pick up--this ride waits for no one!)   Next report, Australia. 
off we go to Oz