Monthly Archives: February 2008

Man Without A Passport

Posted by on February 25, 2008

Well, I managed to get my passport submitted and put in the queue. Going to the consulate was like my previous trips to US Embassies, which is to say it was a very weird experience.

First, the whole “appointment” thing was a total farce. It turns out the system ended up making my appointment at the Sydney Consulate. When I showed up they just waved me through anyhow, which made me wonder what the point was of the whole process of having to register days in advance on the web.

Going to the consulate was like going to the airport. I had to go through a metal detector and put my stuff through an x-ray machine (including taking off my shoes), and to wear a bar-code tag on my shirt, got escorted to an elevator which only went to the 6th floor where the consulate is. When I got up, they scanned my bar code, made me go through another metal detector and finally dumped me in a room……which was exactly the same as going to the DMV. I had to take a number and wait in line. There was no interview.

While I was waiting for my number, they showed some video on the process of getting a US visa and a “Hooray for America” video which looked like it could have been shown at the American Pavilion at Epcot Center.

The thing which always weirds me out when you have to go to any sort of Federal building is the photo of the President hanging on the wall. I don’t know when the tradition started, but it strikes me as very…….Soviet. I don’t know why the US does it. The only place where I’ve seen photos of political leaders hanging on the walls were in Brunei, Tonga and Sarawak; all of which had monarchies. If anyone knows the laws, rules or traditions around why American federal office buildings have a photo of the president on the wall, I’d love to know more.

I’ve completed most of what I set out to do in Melbourne. The passport is in the works. I got a new bag. I got most of the fixes to my website completed (although there are still a bunch to go). I should be leaving Melbourne in a few day, but I do have to be back here on March 7 to pick up my new passport. I think I’ll go visit Tasmania and maybe Adelaide before I come back and drive up the East coast.

The Seven Wonders of the Philippines

Posted by on February 24, 2008

Rice Terraces in fog

Rice Terraces in fog

Rice Terraces of Banaue
The Rice Terraces of Banaue are perhaps the most well know attraction in the Philippines, and no list of the Seven Wonders of the Philippines would be complete without them.. Located in central Luzon, they have been carved by local Ifugao people over the last 3,000 thousand years. When you visit, you can see terraces still being built today. The locals often describe the terraces as the largest man made structure created without forced labor. If each terrace were laid end to end, they would stretch almost 14,000 miles. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and placed on the endangered list in 2001.


Photo by Lexxmax

Tubbataha Reef
Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha Reef is one of the largest and best preserved reef systems in the world. Actually composed to two atolls, Tubbataha is far removed from any human settlement, it is a 92 mile boat trip from the city of Puerto Princessa. The marine park covers over 968 km² and is home to over 300 coral species and 400 fish species, rivaling the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef. The few pieces of atoll which are above water are also home to a large number of seabirds. It was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1993.

Chocolate Hills:

Public Domain Image from Wikipedia

Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are located on the Island of Bohol. They are over 1,200 hills, covering over 50 km² and get their name because the grass which covers the hills turns brown during the dry season. The hills are almost all conical in shape and made of limestone. Many people have believed that they were human creations. Geologists are not entirely sure how they were created. Theories include erosion of limestone, volcanic uplift, and accretion of limestone around basalt fragments from a volcanic eruption. The government of the Philippines has declared it one of their flagship tourist destinations. The Chocolate Hills are so central to the people of Bohol, they appear on the flag of the province.


Taal Volcano: Image by Johs Bousel

Taal Volcano
Taal volcano has a unique distinction in the world. It contains the largest island, inside of a lake, which is on an island, which is inside a lake, which is on an island. (got that?) Taal is a very active volcano which has killed over 5,000 people in recorded history. It has been named one of 16 decade volcanoes in the world worthy of special study. Inside the Taal caldera is Lake Tall, which is a 25km across. The lake is know for its high sulfur content and is also home to many endemic species of freshwater fish. Taal is only 50km from the city of Manila.

Mayon Volcano:

Mayon Volcano: Image by Kool.Angot

Mayon Volcano
Mayon volcano is perhaps the most perfectly shaped conic volcano in the world. It has been called by some the “Filipino Mount Fuji”. Located in south east Luzon, it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted close to 50 times since the year 1600, with the most recent eruption occurring in 2006. 77 people were killed in an eruption in 1993 and 75,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes during an eruption in 1984. It rises 2462 m over Legazpi City in the province of Albay.

Underground River

Underground River of Puerto Princessa

Underground River of Puerto Princessa
The Underground River is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site, but was named as one of the Earth’s New7Wonders of Nature. The Underground River is the longest subterranean river in the world, extending 8.2km underground. Over 2km is accessible to the public. The surrounding National Park includes many species including monitor lizards, the blue-naped parrot and macaque monkeys. The park is located 50km north of the city of Puerto Princessa on the island of Palawan.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

Boracay is a small island approximately 200 miles south of Manila and is very close to the major island of Panay. Its white sand beaches and direct flights from all over Asia, have made it one of the Philippines most popular tourist destinations. White Beach is the longest beach on Boracay and extends 4 km on west side of the islands.

Honorable Mention

El Nido
Located on the northern tip of the island of Palawan, El Nido is known for its distinctive limestone islands and inlets. El Nido consistently scores high in surveys of top eco-tourist destinations in the world. Forbes magazine rated the wreck dives off the island of Coron as some one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. Archeological evidence of human habitation dating back 22,000 years has also been found in El Nido.

The Province of Batanes is the northern most, and smallest province in the Philippines. It is located almost halfway between is island of Luzon and Taiwan. The culture of the Ivatan people is unique in the Philippines. Crime in Batanes is almost unknown as many police officials have complained of nothing to do with zero crimes reported and no one in the jails.

Mall of Asia
It may be surprising to some, but one of the largest malls in the world is in Manila. The SM Mall of Asia is third largest mall in the world in terms of gross leaseable area, surpassed only by two malls in China (neither of which is anywhere near capacity). The Mall of Asia consists of four separate buildings connected by open air walkways. It is 50% larger than the Mall of America and 10% larger than the West Edmonton Mall. It addition to the standard mall fare, it also is host to an Olympic sized ice skating rink.

Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt

Melbourne Happenings

Posted by on February 21, 2008

Botanical Garden, Melbourne

Botanical Garden, Melbourne

I’ve been pretty busy the last two days. I got my camera sensor cleaned today. I also picked out some bags I’m going to buy and replace all the bags I’m currently using. I’m getting moving all my camera gear to a smaller bag and getting a real backpack.

I finally got an appointment at the embassy on the 25th. I’ll go, but I’m not holding my breath.

All my photos from Borneo through East Timor are now processed and up on Flickr.

I’m now starting to do more serious planning for the invasion of the rest of the country. I think the first stop from Melbourne will be Tasmania. I just need to figure out if I should rent a car before or after Tasmania.

I know the updates have been pretty infrequent, but it should pay off in the long run.

I’m getting sort of antsy being in one spot for so long, but I can’t really move until I get my mail sent from the US and at least get the passport process started.

I’m really looking forward to driving. I haven’t really driven a car for any length of time since June. I had some short rentals in Japan and Fiji, but those were only for two days each. I’ll be doing at LOT of driving in Australia which really doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve always enjoyed road trips and having a car gives you much more freedom than you have if you are reliant on public transportation.

Getting Things Done

Posted by on February 18, 2008

After a marathon session yesterday, I got through processing all my photos. However, the Internet connection here has been down for most of two days. I get 5-10 minutes of a slow connection here and there, but that’s it. So today, I’m sitting on about 200 photos which I have to upload to Flickr. I’m feeling sort of ripped off that I had to pay for wireless here (and it costs more than using one of their computers. I don’t understand that one) and I haven’t been able to really use it the last three days.

Now I can now start, you know, going out and actually seeing Melbourne and posting some of the articles I’ve been sitting on for the last month.

I did get an automated reply from the Consulate. The automated reply took four days and told me it would take 5 business days to reply to my email. Clearly, there is no sort of incentive pay in the state department. For all I know, the date for an appointment is even further out. Factor in the email response time, and it take two weeks just to get an appointment to start the process of renewing a passport.

I took time in Melbourne to get this done. I really hope I don’t have to sit in a city for two weeks to wait for my passport somewhere else now.

Now I can look into replacing my bags. My current bag set up is horrible and something needs to be done.

I also need to start thinking of actually exploring Australia. Getting a car, mapping a real route, and having a plan.