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Day Trip to Stradbroke Island (aka Straddie)

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Part of the fun of the Yow Conference circuit in Australia is the days in between sessions. We were slated to sail a huge catamaran in the ocean, but the seas were too high. So we refactored with a visit to Stradbroke Island.

Here’s how that went.

Ferry from the mainland to the island on a bus!

A picnic lunch with the fellow geeks and beer.

A walk on the Point Lookout trail

Spectacular cliffs (and a couple of sharks)

Kangaroos in the wild

Gelato in “town,” followed by a dip in the (pretty damn cold) ocean. The swim was wild.

Beaches

Water taxi back to mainland.

The seas were rough on the way back as the sun was setting.

Amy, leader of geeks made us all get wet!

Instigator

A warm shower back at the hotel was welcome indeed!

The Blue Mountains: Katoomba, Australia

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A two hour train ride outside of Sydney, you can find the tourist hamlet of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Tourists have been coming here since the turn of the century (1900). Katoomba itself reminds me of West Virginia in its old coal town turned bust turned tourist vibe. You can now find hipsters and artists in residence.

We took the train out in the morning and spent several hours walking from the train station to a trailhead, down the cliff face, and back up again.

Highlights on the mountain visit include the three sisters, the giant stairway (976 steps!), waterfalls, and the steepest railroad in Australia.

We started our morning at Sydney central

The two hour train ride is a little long. The tourist center by the train station is well worth a visit. That is where we finalized our plan.

8things cafe. Great food and super service

Cassiopia coffee (recommended)

We walked from the station to Echo point (2.3 km).

The Echo Point visitors center

This is where we first caught sight of the famed three sisters. Which we saw many times throughout the day.

Three sisters from Echo Point visitor center

Three sisters from the echo point trail

Three sisters from the trail

Three sisters from just above

Honeycomb cave (at the three sisters)

Three sisters from below on the Federal trail

Three sisters from Scenic World gondola

Here’s what happened in between. After honeycomb cave, we entered the giant stairway. Lots of stairs down (976 in fact). Amy did not do them all.

This is an alternative way to get down the stairs (not recommended by our attorney)

Not here

Here

Flowers and bromiliads

Amy

AMY

A tiny fiddlehead against the mountains

Down

Flowers on the mountain

Looking down 500 feet

The blue mountains

Amy contemplates

Cliff hangers

Amy takes the stairs with a monk

Cliff hangers and rare species

Eventually, we entered the rain forrest at the bottom of the cliff.

The giant stairway is well named. It has been there a while.

Rainforest ecology

Amy rounds the bend

Ferns and trail. The rainforest shift is striking

A very big tree indeed

Katoomba Creek falls

After the falls, we were back in what passes as civilization. Scenic world was first contemplated by coal miners. Just take the train thingy up.

And, why not? Try the cable car too.

We walked back from scenic world (another 2.5km). All told we may have hiked around 5 miles. We deserved a beer.

After a long day hiking, it was high time for a beer!

The 2 hour train ride back to Sydney was slightly too long.

Living Art: The Remarkable Little Paradise Art Lodge. New Zealand

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Highway to Paradise

There are magic places in the world, created under intensity so focused that nature absorbs and reflects the power of the creator. The Little Paradise Art Lodge is one of those places.

Put together over 26 years by a Swiss artist who is both intense and incredibly human at the same time, the grounds are nothing short of remarkable.

We were not able to stay during this trip due to a birthday (paradox) conflict. But we will be back for sure. Even a short visit is highly recommended. We stayed for about an hour, enchanted the entire time.

You’ll be caught in the web little tourist

Enter the property

The lodge itself is hand built in such a quirky and delightful and natural way, it is hard to describe. Primitive, and yet so very planet earth.

Bedroom

Bathroom full of skipping rocks

Hand carved headboard

Living table

A couch fashioned from one piece of poplar

Though the lodge is a sight to see, the six acres of curated gardens are astonishing in their willy-nilly natural order.

We have always talked about a tree house like this

Lawnmower

The artist, touched

Fin

How to Milford Sound: Adventure Day in New Zealand

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New Zealand is a wilderness paradise, and Milford Sound is the best of the best.  We set out to do some water-based adventure on one of our days.  It went something like this.

Milford Sound

We started way early.  So early, in fact, that the only person who had breakfast was me.  The morning rendezvous at the water’s edge was set for 8:00am.   The boat that Descend runs is pulled out of the water to load and unload which is kind of interesting.

The sand flies were out in force in the early morning (and repellent, natural or otherwise, just failed to work).  Nevertheless, we tried on our 8 mil wet suits just by the boat on a tarp laid out over the dusty gravel and hopped on the boat while it was still in the parking lot.  Besides the 4 of us, there were two other divers, one of whom was completing a dry suit certification, and 3 crew members. This was Jack’s first dive!

The water in Milford Sound is cold, so three layers on the torso is mandatory.  We looked like a family of space people.

Underwater, Milford Sound is interesting and unique. Many of the species you can see above 22 meters are usually only found much deeper. Because of the ecology of the sound which includes lots of brackish fresh water from the glaciers, black coral has been thriving for centuries and is a sight to behold.

We completed a first dive near seal rock. I had real trouble with my bouyancy and was (as usual) the first diver up. 8 mil suits are floaty and sinky at the same time and the saw tooth was too much for me to control. Eli spent another 15 minutes below.

Amy and Gary underwater

Eli is the only diver with great form in our family

Next, Jack did an assisted dive.

Then we moved on to a second dive location. Eli dove with the dry suit crowd. I did an assisted dive with an instructor that was just incredible. Nothing like worrying about nothing to preserve air.

We passed by the Stirling waterfall on our way in.

Stirling Falls

Family dive

We just had time for a touristy lunch at the Milford Cafe and a walk by the water before it was time to Sea Kayak. We were a bit concerned about the wind, but in the end showed up to don more “gear belonging to other people.” Our guide Ben was a talkative, high energy guy.

Not our usual clothing

Rosco’s sea kayaks take you out on a power boat and you paddle back home. Our crew included two french canadians. We started just past the waterfall at the “usual spot,” and were soon back at the Stirling Falls with time to kayak under them.

Oh, and all of this happened on Thanksgiving day. Our “turkey” dinner was postponed until 10pm when we had lemon, butter, and garlic chicken at Knobs Flat.

Tanzania with African Environments: Seven Remarkable Things

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We’ve been talking about making a trip to Africa for twenty years, and we finally did it. We visited Tanzania for a private safari with the African Environments company from August 31st to September 14th. Our very high expectations were exceeded on every front. If you are thinking about going to Africa, do what we did!

On the first day off the plane, we were blown away by the wildlife that we saw during a first short game drive on the way to camp. Seriously. During our trip, we took thousands of pictures and saw every animal you might imagine seeing, up close and personal.

So how do you even begin to share an experience like that without boring someone to death? Chop the trip up into bite size chunks? Divide by animal groupings? Cross cut through the trip?? OK, we can do that.

This is posting one. In this posting, we’ll focus on seven remarkable things.

Yeah, everything was remarkable. But we set the bar way high for this posting. If we had an experience that even the guides who do this every day found special, then it made its way onto this list of remarkable things.  Honestly.  Remarkable.

In a nutshell here’s what we’ll cover. In addition to seeing four world class Tanzanian national parks with all of the associated animals and scenery, we got to see these remarkable things:

  1. Albino baboons (2) in Arusha
  2. Elephants fighting in Lake Manyara
  3. Black rhinos mating in Ngorongoro
  4. Daily visits with a pair of mating lions less than 1km from our camp in the Serengeti
  5. A cheetah climb a tree (twice)
  6. Bushmen eat a big male vervet monkey during a hunt we participated in
  7. Lions hunting in Tarangire

Even one of these things would have been a highlight. Together, they simply blew our socks off.

We’ll post another couple of contextual pictures and videos with each remarkable thing so you get a feel for the places we were. All in all, there are 68 pieces of media in this posting.

Off we go.

 

1. Albino baboons

Our first camp was in Arusha national park.  On our drive in from the airport on the first day, we saw lots of animals, including two albino baboons.

Albino baboon in Arusha national park

 

Albino baboon in Arusha national park

 

A second albino baboon in Arusha national park

 

Albino baboon with a baby

Arusha is a rain forest up high and shrouded in fog in places, verdant and wet with strangler figs and other interesting flora.

 

Incidentally, this lunch setup is indicative of the kind of hospitality that the African Environments people provide by default.

 

Amy in a fig tree way up high

We hiked 15km in Arusha, sometimes bushwhacking through the forest.

 

2. Elephants fighting

The second national park we visited was Lake Manyara. This park as a much different feel than Arusha and is definitely more crowded. We visited for lunch and an afternoon game drive. We saw our first elephants here.

We even saw an elephant fight.

We can’t say for sure, but it looks like one of these elephants broke a tusk. All of this happened within 40 feet of our vehicle.

This old man seemed un-phased when we drove within a foot of him

 

3. Black rhinos mating in Ngorongoro

When we arrived in Ngorongoro, we were running late. But a stop by the overlook at the top of the entrance road was in order. Remarkably we spotted a rare black rhino from the overlook. That was only a taste of things to come.

We were greeted at our camp by the Massai.

 

Hovering in the air is a thing the Massai do

 

Sunsets and sunrises in Africa are not to be missed

The next day, we spotted a group of three black rhinos. Two of them were mating. One of our guides later told us that he had only seen something like this once in twenty years.

That is three black rhinos across the body of water. Two of them are mating.

 

More rhino mating.

We also saw some lions in Ngorongoro. They did not seem to mind the humans (as long as the humans were in trucks). One of them was so close that we could reach out the window and touch it. Doing so was not advised.

 

This lion likes trucks more than the other lions

 

Another fantastic lunch by the hippos

 

Our friend Kambatai

 

3. A pair of mating lions

On our way in to the Serengeti base camp we were running behind (because pole pole!). About 1km outside of camp was a pair of lions who were off from the pride mating. This ritual can last up to 21 days. We saw this same pair 3 more times on the way in and out of camp. The most memorable time was the first.

The sun set while we watched the lions 50 feet from our car.

African sunset. Look carefully to see the lions.

 

This lion pair stayed very close to base camp for days

 

This picture gives you some idea of where the lions were in relation to our vehicle

Of course the Serengeti was full of animals.

And the animals were this close

We set out from base camp for three days of walking in the bush. Amy and I were accompanied by our guide James and a hilarious ranger named Safe. Both Safe and James were armed. All together, we walked 36km in the Serengeti.

On foot in the serengeti (being armed is not an option)

 

Temporary home on the African plains

 

Sunset by campfire

 

Amy climbs a Kopfe

 

 

4. A cheetah climb a tree

Even driving around between parks is a treat. On our way to see the bushmen, we drove through one of the most remarkable areas and were lucky enough to spot a cheetah climbing a tree. Our intrepid guide Denis, who is known for palling around with cheetahs, said this is remarkable. Cheetahs do not climb trees.

BTW, this is Denis Mollel, the best guide in Africa.

Denis Mollel, our intrepid guide for 15 days

On the way to that impossible sight, we watched this huge male lion on his way to water.

 

Meh, humans.

 

This female cheetah was nursing cubs and very hungry

 

She climbed a tree to look around for a meal

 

Cheetah in a tree

 

Cheetahs do not climb trees

 

 

Amy has way better pictures of all of these remarkable things

 

5. Bushmen eat a monkey

One of our most memorable and treasured experiences in Africa involved visiting the Bushmen. We spent time hanging out with the men from the (temporary) village in our camp, around the fire and under a huge baobab tree. We also went hunting. All told we walked/ran/chased 20km with the bushmen.

Our hunt was a big success from the Bushman perspective. We came home with a mongoose, 4 small monkeys, and the remaining haunch of a big male vervet monkey. The bushmen live the same way they did 10,000 years ago, venerating the sun, and waking up every day to see what they can find to eat.

We came home with the arrowhead from the hunt.

Walking to camp with the Bushmen

 

Arrowheads

 

Amy by the fire.

 

Hunting

 

How to carry home a monkey

 

Drinking directly from a stream

 

Shooting (mostly up). The bushmen are fantastic shots

 

After the big male

Once the vervet was cornered high up in a coconut palm, getting him down was a thing. The hunt paused for an hour while the monkey was finally targeted. Julian, the chief, shot him directly through the heart about 60 feet up. The bushmen were psyched and decided to eat the monkey directly on the spot.

Lunch

 

The monkey “cooks.” Every single bit was consumed.

Everyone always asks us if we ate the monkey. Of course we didn’t! Bush meat is riddled with parasites and things that we Americans (even if we’re from Tennessee) can’t eat. They did offer us the liver, though, just for the record.

Later that evening after returning to camp, we went to the lake to see the sun go down. Sharing our pictures with the Bushmen was really fun.

Talking about the hunt

 

Humans bonding

The next morning, before we departed, the bushmen danced and sang for us.

 

Friends

 

7. Lions hunting in Tarangire

Our final national park was Tarangire. This park was arid (we visited during the dry season), though there were waterholes and a river. As always, we saw lots and lots of animals: wildebeast, giraffe, zebra, elephants, lions, jackals, dik dik, water buffalo, cheetah, and more. We stayed at a tent resort with a lodge and running water.

Our guide Denis once again showed his remarkable understanding of the creatures we were observing. We found this female lion and her three cubs.

Lioness

 

Three cubs

 

Lots of other trucks gathered around us. Another female (with a radio collar) walked right by us. Denis said, “Now we will be patient and have some coffee. Pole pole.” He knew the lions were going to hunt. We watched and waited for 45 minutes. All of the others left, off to see zebras or something.

Then it was time to zoom off to another location to catch the hunt itself just around the bend of the river. “Let’s go there,” said Denis. And we were off.

Instead of taking pictures or video of the resulting hunt, I watched it happen in real time. Amy has some fantastic video that she will share later (I know, this is like an Uncle Wiggly story).

After we got to our observation post, we watched the lions emerge from the bush and slink down the riverbed. A large herd of wildebeest and zebras was completely unaware of their approach. Finally, the lead lion took off running and spooked the herd just as she arrived in their midsts. Dust! Chaos! Confusion! Sadly for the lion, nobody was taken down and the hunt ended as 80% do, with no prey.

Incredible to watch.

Later that evening we returned to find the same lions. They climbed a tree beside us and together we watched the sun go down.

What we look like on safari (binoculars and cameras)

The trusty Landcruiser

Those were the seven most remarkable things we saw on our trip to Africa. Of course we saw many other sights. An awesome experience to be sure.  Our planet is an incredible place.

Sunset with baobabs

 

Fin

Green Turtle Cay: Turtles, Sharks and Pristine Beaches

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Our previous visit to Green Turtle Cay in Abaco, Bahamas was 28 years ago as honeymoon phase 2. Arriving in Green Turtle Cay after spending two weeks in the Ecuadorian rain forest with the Cofan Indians was interesting to say the least.

The island looks and feels pretty much the same as it did in 1990 with the exception of more fancy houses (one of which we rented) and a paved main road. Before 2016, the main road was still a packed sand and concrete filled holes one laner. Now it is a wide, freshly-paved expanse.  Also, the New Plymouth Inn is no longer. Ah progress.

Our house was called Bannanaquit, which everyone on the island has a slightly different opinion about how to pronounce. The consensus seems to average out around “quit” versus “keet.” Great house with a beautiful pool situated smack dab in the middle of the two island nexuses.

Here are some pictures and videos from our trip.

Amy’s socks, specially designed for flying

Some unsolicited travel advice: avoid Silver Airways if you can. Their ops and maintenance needs serious work. We flew into Marsh Harbor and got an (expensive) cab up to the ferry. The ferry is super quick.

The ferry

Arrival means beach. Bita bay is great. Clear water, good snorkeling, and its own small coral barrier.

 

We built a bar. It was good.

The Bananquit home bar

When on Green Turtle, the best place for breakfast (bar none) is the liquor store. Really. We went twice.

Liquor store for breakfast?

Liquor store for breakfast

Go diving with Brendal. The diving off Green Turtle is pretty good, but the fish that Brendal has trained are remarkable. Ever seen a pet grouper? How about a school of fish waiting patiently for you to turn over rocks exposing worms. Brendal is a fun guy and an expert diver. (Thanks to Bebe Jacque for sharing bits from her gopro.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charter a boat

We chartered a boat one day, did some fishing then had one of the best wildlife experiences in our lives swimming with the turtles, nurse sharks, and sting rays. About 15 years ago, an enterprising boat captain started conditioning the wildlife inhabiting one of the bays to like humans. The result makes a great experience.

Amy meets the turtle

 

 

Do some nothing.

Amy

Sunset up north

We’ll be back in another 28 years!

Eagles and Econolines: The Shenandoah River in July

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Back in May we paid a visit to the eagles lining the Shenandoah just north of our house. They’ve all grown up and are now flying around. On our latest trip down the river (it flows north, so just how to put that is kinda tricky), we saw 7 eagles. A few of them were captured on film.

The day itself was majestic and crystal clear.

The Shenandoah River

All of the eagles’ nests we know how to find along the route (three) were empty this trip, but there were lots of eagles flying around up and down the river.

spot the eagle

the view

spot the eagle

Oh and we ran across an Econoline 360 too. No doubt left by the big 2018 flood. This is perfect for our friend TC Boyle.

Econoline in the river

Amy paddled over to check it out

But really, the eagles.

turns out there were two in this tree

fly away

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