Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Aboriginal Miles Davis.

He's playing a didgeridoo, but you already knew that, right? Say it three times fast.

Don't Be A Drongo, Mate! (An Australian Tale.)

Woke up at a sparrow's fart in the backpackers, back o' Bourke, hungry for a real bonzer brekky. Found this pub and ordered some real dinkum tucker. The ridgy-didge. Just settled down to my pie floater when here comes this battler, all done up in his bathers, and wants to trade words with my sheila, perving at her with lusty eyes. Piss weak, jumped-up piker he was, and I told him so. I said, "Mate, Buckley's Chance you've got with her." He was either a banana bender or a crow eater, and didn't quite get the message. So I clout him one, a real ripper right across the chin. So knackered he was after my punch, the ocker fell right down.

(Translated: Got up at dawn in a hostel, hungry for a good breakfast. Found a pub and ordered some really good food. I'd just begun eating a meat pie when an overly confident guy in a swimsuit tried to flirt with my wife. I told him he had no chance. He didn't get the hint, so I punched him and he fell down.)

This story is a furphy. (A fiction.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Checking Out Sydney.

We flew from Cairns, Australia to Sydney. Sydney is without a doubt the most beautiful city I've ever seen. As a Californian, it reminds me of both San Diego and San Francisco, but hipper. I took great pains to book us a room at the Australian Hotel in a very cool part of the city called the Rocks. Unfortunately, the people at Lonely Planet's new online booking scheme, "Haystack," totally botched our reservation. So we ended up sleeping in a small, smelly room over an English pub called the Glenmore. Bad, bad idea. Why any sober person would want to spend the night over a pub is a mystery, but it seems to be a very popular style of cheap accommodation here.

Accommodation issues aside, we enjoyed a couple of days in the city. We toured the famous Opera House during the day, then returned for a performance of Brahms by the Sydney Symphony at night. Today, we took the ferry to Manly Beach, which is like Santa Monica, except the water is clean and healthy to swim in. We caught an early evening train to a town called Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains region--so named because the eucalyptus trees here give off an ultra-fine oily mist which, seen from a distance, makes the range appear blue.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Diving With Turtles and Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef.

Ok, to start with, we’re in a new continent: Australia. We flew from Bali to Singapore, to Brisbane and onto Cairns, which is a good launching point for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, which lies off the northeast coast and is composed of over 2000 individual reefs. It is the only sign of life on earth that is visible from the moon.

Budget-wise, Australia is a slap in the face after Southeast Asia; we’ll be pinching pennies from here on. We did some research and booked a multi day “live aboard” scuba diving trip on the Reef Encounter, a 35 meter catamaran. I highly recommend the live aboard experience to anyone interested in serious diving. It affords the opportunity to do several back-to-back dives, as well as night and early morning diving.

A highlight for me was my first night dive. Heather had dove at night once before and found it creepy, so I hired a guide to accompany me. Diving at night is indeed creepy, particularly the first time. You carry an underwater “torch”, a flashlight that gives you a narrow beam of light in a literal “sea” of darkness. It is unnerving, because your field of vision is so abbreviated that you would have no way of seeing a predatory fish if it came at you from below, behind or the side. Exactly the kind of weirdness I crave. Oh, and by the way: at about 40 feet down I spotted a White Tip Shark.

A more ethereal moment came during our last dive when we were cruising along the bottom and looked up to see a giant sea turtle swimming gently a few meters above us, munching on a jelly fish. It was pure magic to inflate our BC (an artificial buoyancy device) and float up so we were eye-level with the creature as it regarded us with sleepy, benevolent eyes.

We have a few more days here in Cairns before we fly down to Sydney.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Palm Reading by Ketut Liyer.

One of my favorite books, Eat Pray Love, a travel memoir by Elizabeth ("Liz") Gilbert, features a medicine man/artist/palm reader who lives in Bali. His name is Ketut Liyer (pictured). Liz spends four months living in Bali and spends much of her time with Ketut. I decided to meet this interesting medicine man myself and have my own palm reading.

When I arrived at his simple home, there were already two families waiting to see him. I watched him take his time with each family -- saying prayers while ringing a bell, consulting his medicine books and providing each family with his care.

Ketut examined my palm and predicted I would live to be 120 years old (yikes that is old!); that I drove too fast in my past life and sometimes I still drive too fast (I admitted this might be true). He said I had one minor car accident in the past and would have another minor accident in the future. He said I would have two marriages and the second one would be deeper. He said I am a "good woman," with a good heart, but sometimes impatient and too emotional – so "have to be careful." He said I have artistic talent as a dancer and would be famous (hard to imagine, even though I love to dance). He said at age 40 I had enough money and at age 45 would be wealthy. (Sounds good to me.) He made some other predictions, that I will keep private for now – but we will see what happens! - Heather

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Exploring Central Bali.

We hired a car and did a private tour of the "Mother" Temple, the Holy Spring Temple, the Elephant Cave and Lake Batur. The Mother Temple, Besakih, showed us another side of Hindu temples from what we saw in India. Under a volcano, Lake Batur was foggy and raining, but cleared briefly enough to permit a couple of photographs. The air is thick here--it's the rainy season, and thus very humid. The locals are hungry for work; they're struggling because the tourist numbers are down. Still they smile, and it's contagious. Tomorrow, I've signed up for a Balinesian cooking class.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hey, Hey We're the Monkeys!

We came to Ubud, the artist colony cum tourist mecca in central Bali. We'll use this town as a base from which to explore the temples and natural beauty of the island during the remainder of our stay here.

Of course our first stop was the Monkey Forest, where I made many new friends. Monkeys are fond of grooming each other, and I was lucky enough to have one pick through my hair to see if I had any lice--as far as I know he didn't find any.

Doin' Hard Time in Jimbaran Bay, Bali.

This was really rough. Two days, 3 nights, at Puri Jimbaran, a resort that comes as close as you can get to paradise. Here we shared drinks and dinner with Julie (pictured) from Belgium.

Our stay was marred only by the dead coral fish washed up on shore--the result of "red tide," a proliferation of toxic plankton. Scientists debate whether the increase in its occurrence is due to global warming, overfishing or pollution. Anyone who doubts the impact of global warming should experience the futility of trying to rescue a slowly dying 7 lb. puffer fish washed up on shore. I'll be looking at purchasing a hybrid car when we get back. Here's an article on the phenomenon. And another one here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Nuglet!

Everyone wish Heather a Happy Birthday! Here she is with the gong I bought her in Hoi An. (Yes . . . she wanted a gong.)

We arrived at the Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) airport this morning all ready to fly to Singapore and on to Bali. But the Singapore Airlines agent refused to ticket us through to Indonesia because both our passports are too full--meaning there are no blank pages available for an Indonesia visa. (There actually are blank pages, but apparently not the right kind of blank pages.) So . . . we're celebrating Heather's birthday with an overnight here in Singapore. We're going to try to get extra pages for our passports from the USA Embassy here tomorrow and continue in our journey to Bali. If we can't get extra pages, then . . . we'll see.

Given the geography we've covered this trip without a single major mishap, there's no way we can gripe too much about this technicality.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hoi An, Vietnam.

We spent a few days in Hue and took a scenic bus ride down the eastern coast of Vietnam to the port city of Hoi An. One of the few places untouched by the Vietnam war, it retains much of its historic charm. Almost as soon as we arrived, we met Corinne and Greg, a charming and intelligent couple from Vancouver, B.C. We broke from our attempts to stick to a vegetarian diet and shared the first of many excellent meals together with them at the Mango Rooms, a local restaurant of some repute.

Duc, the chef, is Vietnamese, but has traveled extensively and his cooking is an inspired fusion of international flavors ranging from New Orleans to Austria. After appetizers which included vegetable spring rolls and eggplant tempura, Heather had seared blue fin tuna over green and yellow tomatoes. I ordered a bowl of thick noodles in the local style with tofu and Cajun spices. Dessert included delicate won tons filled with a little chocolate sauce and fruit and banana with caramelized rum and brown sugar.

We allowed ourselves a few days here, exploring the preserved historic homes, temples and public halls. I persuaded Heather to take a Vietnamese cooking class with me, which included a short cruise up the river, where I caught this fisherman casting his net.

We're wrapping things up here, getting ready for an early flight tomorrow morning to Singapore and on to Bali!