Monthly Archives: June 2008

Margaret River Runs Deep

Posted by on June 27, 2008

I’m sitting in a bar in Margaret River, Western Australia enjoying the only free wifi I’ve found in Australia outside of the Cairns International Terminal. That is not an exaggeration in the slightest. This is the only place in the entire country.

I’ve come to Margaret River with a single objective, which I haven’t achieved yet and I’m not going to leave here until it is done. If I have to stay a few more days, then so be it. Its a very nice town. If I have to compare it to anyplace I’ve been before, I’d have to say it is like Door County, Wisconsin. Lots of small shops, nice restaurants, and rather touristy (but not in a big way). It is the low season for tourists so finding a table or a room isn’t too hard.

The hostel I’m staying at is surprisingly full, however. It is full of 20-somethings who are here to prune in the vineyards. I’ve noticed that Australian agriculture relies somewhat heavily on the young European tourist crowd to work a lot of its field work. I saw the same thing in Mildura, where there were tons of Europeans who would do day labor in local fields picking fruit. I’m told if you work for three months, you can get an extension on your visa for an additional year.

The weather here is cool and rainy. Nonetheless, people here are still surfing. This is about as winter as it gets here. For someone who has tried to avoid winter, I’m experiencing my third one since my trip started.

My stomach ache has returned. It isn’t something with my body. It is definitely something with my digestion. It happens when I eat certain foods, but I’ve never been able to put a finger on what exactly causes it. I get a sharp pain in my abdomen, which I’m assuming is caused by a gas build up in my stomach, because I have to burp all the time when it happens. When it is really bad, the pressure can cause pains in my back. It eventually passes as the food moves out of my stomach. It isn’t in intestinal thing either, it is definitely in my stomach.

I’ve been pretty productive the last few days, taking advantage of the free wifi at this bar. I’ve processed and uploaded almost all of my photos from the Darwin-Perth drive. I’ve added about 160 photos to the Western Australia collection, including some photos of humpback whales I saw in Exmouth (or at least their back and tails). I always let my photos pile up and always have to catch up in a marathon Photoshop session.

Seven Wonders of America

Posted by on June 25, 2008

When the New Seven Wonders of the World came out, I added my two cents. I have even done the Seven Wonders of the Philippines. (and will be soon coming out with the wonders of Japan and Australia). I recently (as in a few minutes ago) found out the Good Morning America came out with the Seven Wonders of America.

I couldn’t resist.

Here is the list they came up with:

7) New York City
6) Golden Gate Bridge
5) Saturn V Rocket
4) The Badlands (South Dakota)
3) Grand Canyon
2) Arctic National Wildlife Preserve
1) National Mall (Washington DC)

New York City???? (that should be said in the same voice as the El Paso Salsa commercials) If New York as an entity gets to be included, why not San Francisco? Why do they just get a bridge? My guess is they couldn’t choose between the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Time Square, so they just lumped them all together. I agree that New York should probably be represented on such a list, but putting the whole city on it really is sort of cheap.

Golden Gate Bridge I really can’t argue with this. It isn’t the longest bridge in the world anymore, but it is was the first of its type and is still a huge icon for the Bay Area and all of California.

Saturn V Rocket My biggest argument against this is that I didn’t think of it. Usually you think of places or buildings. The Saturn V is pretty damn cool, but the only Saturn V which currently exists is a shell sitting on the ground in Huntsville, Alabama. If you are going to include vague non-place type things, I’d just include the entire Apollo program. If you wanted to make it a place, perhaps include the Kennedy Space Center or the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (which is technically included in #1 on the GMA list).

The Badlands I’ve been to the Badlands several times. I like the Badlands. However, it doesn’t belong on this list. I can’t say I’d rate it over half a dozen other national parks, including: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Volcanoes, Everglades, Zion, Arches, Arcadia, Denali, or even Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota. Hell, I’d put the Black Hills ahead of it for the Seven Wonders of South Dakota.

Grand Canyon Duh. This is probably the most significant natural feature in the US. It should probably be #1.

Arctic National Wildlife Preserve If it weren’t for the oil drilling controversy, there is no way in hell this would be #2. No way. I won’t deny that there is some sort of grandeur to the place, but that doesn’t mean it should be put at #2. Hell, even the National Park Service hasn’t given it National Park status. It lacks the geologic and historical significance of Yellowstone or Yosemite, neither of which are on the list.

National Mall I can’t argue with this being on the list, but I really don’t see it being #1. You can easily spend several days exploring what amounts to less than one square mile in Washington. If you walk a bit farther, you can see even more. If you had to make a list of things people should see in the US, this would have to be on the list.

Here are some things I’d put a short list if I were coming up with a Seven Wonders of America:

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park I’ve been there twice, neither time was lava flowing on the surface. It is flowing now :(
  • Independence Hall/Monticello/Historic Boston I’d have something regarding the Revolution on the list. The American War for Independence is a pretty significant event in world history. It was the first act of rebellion against a colonial power and set the stage for much of what happened later in history.
  • Gettysburg Probably the most significant battle in the Civil War. I suppose one can argue that an empty field isn’t really a wonder, however.
  • Yellowstone and Yosemite That these were left off the list is a travesty.
  • Redwood National and State Parks The redwood forests are the most impressive forests in the world. I’d also include Sequoia National Park and Muir Woods
  • Death Valley It’s Death Valley.
  • Las Vegas If you are going to put an entire city on the list, put Las Vegas. There is no place in the world like Las Vegas. Not even close. Even Macau, which is probably the closest thing to Vegas, is nothing like Vegas. Vegas is uniquely American. Vegas could never have arisen anywhere but the US.
  • Denali The highest point in North America, Mount McKinley is actually one of the largest mountains in the world when measured from base to peak.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park This will probably take most people by surprise, but it is one of my favorite spots in the world. I love the Great Plains and I love this park.
  • Carlsbad Caverns The biggest cave system in the world.
  • The Interstate Highway System The more I travel, the more I come to appreciate this as really the most impressive building accomplishment of the United States.

In the big, global scheme of things, the United States is a very young country and we don’t have a lot of history compared to other places. Most of the things I’d put on the list are natural in nature, not historic.

What would you put on the short list?

Reflections on Papua New Guinea

Posted by on June 23, 2008

On the dive boat in Kimbe Bay

On the dive boat in Kimbe Bay

This isn’t going to be one coherent article. There are too many things to say and I have too many observations to try and make it one flowing story. Instead, I’m just going to try and break everything up in small chunks of thoughts. I don’t have a lot of photos from PNG either, because while I was there I was either on a boat, underwater, or it was raining.
  • I feel bad about how I approached going to PNG. There is so much bad press given to the country that I think it influenced my plans for visiting. The Top 10 Hells on Earth list that came out is, in hindsight, pretty absurd. Anything which puts Oklahoma City as worse than Baghdad or Chernobyl should be rejected at face. Port Moresby is a dump, there is no doubt about that. But Port Moresby isn’t a reflection of PNG anymore than Detroit is a reflection of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I spoke with several ex-pats who have been living in PNG for decades about the bad press which Port Moresby has gotten and some of the things I’ve read. They all thought it was silly. You should be alert when visiting Port Moresby, but you don’t have to be under armed guard at all times. Everyone I met was very nice, even when they had to cancel a flight I had leaving Kimbe.
  • Sign in Pidgin

    Sign in Pidgin

  • Hotel rooms in Port Moresby are expensive. Very expensive for what you get. You can expect to pay over $200 a night for a simple hotel room. Rooms in the city are booked full almost every night. The high commodity prices right now have spurred a boom in commodity prices. My flights in and out were packed mostly with Australian and Chinese businessmen.
  • PNG is poor. Of that there is no doubt, however no one seems to be going hungry. PNG is mostly a rural country. Outside of Port Moresby, there are no really big cities in the country (and Port Moresby isn’t really that big). Unlike many of the Pacific countries I’ve visited, PNG is self sufficient in food. This is due to having plenty of arable land unlike most Pacific countries, and the fact that agriculture has been practiced in PNG for thousands of years. (When Europeans arrived in PNG they found the locals growing sweet potatos, which are native to South America. They have no idea how they got there.)
  • The island where we had lunch while diving

    The island where we had lunch while diving

  • I’ve noticed a big difference between poor countries. Many of the places in the Pacific I’ve see you see lots of idle people. People sitting around doing nothing. I saw lots of idleness in PNG. In places like the Philippines or Indonesia, you can see poverty, but you don’t see as much idleness. People are doing stuff, hustling and trying to get by. Mostly this happens when people move from the country to the city and there is nothing for them to do. There are no jobs and there is no land to farm. This is the reason behind so many of the problems in Port Moresby. Idle hands really are the devils playground.
  • I have been to many places in the Pacific where WWII battles took place: Guadalcanal, Guam, Saipan. However, the history was probably more palpable in New Britain than it was anywhere else. I saw a sunken Japanese Zero while I was diving. Pretty much every airport and landing strip in the country was originally built during the war. I’ve been told it isn’t too hard to find planes and other artifacts out in the forest. The Papua New Guinea campaign looms much larger in Australian history than in US history, even though most of the heavy lifting was done by American troops. I learned quite a bit by listening to some locals tell stories during dinner.
  • The water in Kimbe Bay, where I went diving, was very warm. Not only is the bay naturally warm, but it is in the middle of an El Nino. When I dove, my dive computer showed the water temperature around 30C (about 85F). The only evidence of coral bleaching I’ve seen on my trip was in Kimbe Bay. There wasn’t a lot, but there was some.
  • One of the most spectacular things I’ve seen on my trip so far was a tree on a palm oil plantation on New Britain. The tree was filled with lightening bugs, and all the lightening bugs were blinking in unison. There were so many bugs in the tree that it looked like the kind of trees you see in mall parking lots during Christmas filled with white lights…. except these were blinking. I’m not sure I could have taken a photo of it that did it justice even if I had my camera with me.
  • View from my room, 20 min from Port Moresby

    View from my room, 20 min from Port Moresby

  • Just a week after I left New Britian, the volcano near Rabaul erupted. Rabaul was covered with several feet of ash in 1994. The entire city had to be moved. All of Kimbe Bay was ringed with cinder cones. I’ve never seen a place with so many. If you were out on the bay and looked around, you could see a dozen small volcanoes.
  • There are over 800 active, living languages in PNG. This is not an exaggeration. I asked the locals I met what languages they spoke, and they all spoke their village language, pidgin, and English. Pidgin is more widespread than English and some remote villages have very few pidgin speakers. Literally, villages just a few miles apart can speak languages intelligible to each other. I met some Americans at the airport who have lived in PNG for 10 years with an organization trying to translate the bible into every language in PNG. Personally, I’d just translate it into pidgin and teach everyone pidgin. Seems a lot simpler. I’ve encountered people who work, worked, or had parents who worked for such organization who try to translate the bible into ever smaller languages. I guess they are trying to complete the set.
  • I very much want to go back to PNG. Almost every place I’ve been I have a list of things I’d go see if I ever returned. I think the list for PNG is the biggest one I have. I very much would like to go back to see the highlands, which is a culture which seems very different from what I saw on New Britain. If anyone in the future who is thinking of visiting PNG should read this article, don’t be afraid. Avoid Port Moresby, but there isn’t anything to see or do there anyhow.

Feeling like 953,988 bucks*

Posted by on June 22, 2008

My cold is over. My stomach ache is gone, I got a haircut and I feel a lot better. Tomorrow I’m leaving Perth and taking a bus/train combo down to the town of Margaret River. Margaret River is about as far South West as you can possible get in Australia. In Margaret River, I will be as far from home as I will probably ever be on my trip; about 10,750 miles (17,200km) from Minneapolis. The antipodal point of Minneapolis is in the Indian Ocean, so this is the closest piece of inhabited land to it.

My trip to Margaret River is for a particular purpose, of which I’ve determined that come hell or high water I am going to accomplish. The podcast has changed some of the priorities of what I see and do while traveling. Much of my travels have been your typical run of the mill “go to X and see Y” variety. I’ve done a lot of things from bungee jumping to swimming with whale sharks, but I haven’t gone out of my way to meet particular people or see particular events. I’m going to start to do that and I’m going to start with this trip to Margaret River. If all goes well, you’ll see the results in a week or two.

I should also make note of the new video by “Where The Hell Is Matt”. He’s the guy who put the video on YouTube of him dancing all over the world. He has a new video up which he has spent the last 14 months working on. I subscribe to his blog and it seems like much of his last year has been traveling for the purpose of making the video, rather than his original video which was just a side project of his travels. I found it interesting because I’ve been to some of the exact spots which he danced. (In particular, the spot in Tonga where he got hit by waves. This is a photo I took at the Tonga blowholes). I get a lot of reactions from people in the vein of “oh, just like that dancing guy”, so I figured I should let everyone know about it.

*The US equivalent of $1m Australian dollars at current exchange rates

Still in Perth

Posted by on June 20, 2008

I’m still in Perth. The last week I haven’t given much attention to the website. The change in temperature here has caused me to come down with a very bad cold. Also, I’ve had a horrible stomach ache over the last few days. I have three posts ready to go which have been sitting, ready to go, but I just haven’t done the last finishing bits on them.

I finally got my podcast up on iTunes. If you have iTunes on your computer, you can subscribe to the podcast by clicking here. When it becomes available, it will automatically be in your iTunes player.

I’m going to be moving south a bit before I head to Uluru. I’m going to take the bus tomorrow and go visit the Margaret River Valley south of Perth. They have a species of Eucalyptus here, which is second only to the ones found in Tasmania. They also have a very large forest walk up in the canopy of the trees. I will also visit some of the wineries in the area.

I think I’m suffering from Australia fatigue. I’m wanting to move quickly through the remaining parts of the country. When all is said and done, I can honestly say I’ve explored the hell out of this country. I’m ready and anxious to move on to SE Asia.

Kakadu National Park

Posted by on June 10, 2008

Sunset over Kakadu

Sunset over Kakadu

In the United States, there three parks which are considered to be the crown jewels in the National Parks system: Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. If you had to make a similar list for Australia, I don’t know what two of the parks would be, one one of them would have to be Kakadu.

Kakadu is an enormous park. It is one of the largest national parks in the world, over twice the size of Yellowstone and is larger than New Jersey or the nation of Israel. Of the 850 UNESCO World Heritage sites, only 25 are recognized for both natural and cultural significance, and Kakadu is one of them.

Even if you have never heard of Kakadu, you have probably seen it on TV. Kakadu is where many of the ‘outback’ scenes in Crocodile Dundee were shot and was often frequented by Steve Irwin.

There is no one single thing in Kakadu. The park has wetlands with a wide diversity of bird life, several rivers with crocodiles, rock escarpments, part of the coast on the Arafura Sea, and savanna. Kakadu has over 280 bird species, 60 mammal species, and 1,600 plant species.

The Nabulwinjbulwinj is a creature which would abduct women by throwing yams at their head.

The Nabulwinjbulwinj is a creature which would abduct women by throwing yams at their head.

My trip to Kakadu began as almost all trips to Kakadu do: from Darwin. Kakadu within driving distance to Darwin and there are day tours you can take from the city. While there isn’t a lot you can see just taking a day trip, it is doable. Driving distance is about two hours, depending on where you go in the park. There are only two main roads in the park which are paved and a small number of spur roads to various sights. Everything else requires a 4-wheel drive (which I didn’t have). Most of the unpaved roads are not accessible during the wet season which is about October to March. I was there in May, which seemed to be the perfect time to go. Conditions were dry enough that most roads were open, yet not so dry that everything was brown.

Fire plays an important part of things in the park (and for most of Australia for that matter). While I was there I saw many brush fires in the park, all of which were started on purpose. They tend to start fires early in the dry season when the grass still has some moisture so the fires don’t get out of hand, least you have a bigger fire later in the year when conditions are really dry. Many of the plants require fire to germinate. In fact, there is one species of kite (a bird) which catches prey has it flees fire. It has learned to pick up burning sticks and embers and to drop them on unburnt brush to spread fire to flush out more animals.

CRIKEY! Look at the size of that croc! He's looking for bush tucker!

CRIKEY! Look at the size of that croc! He's looking for bush tucker!

My first day in the park I visited Ubirr, which is noted for its Aboriginal rock art work. The Aboriginal presence in the area extends back over 20,000 years (I’ve heard estimates of 40,000 years, which would put it on a par with the evidence of human settlement I saw in Mungo National Park). There are several locations in Kakadu of well preserved examples of Aboriginal art work, some of which is older than the cave paintings found in Lascaux, France. Unlike Lascaux, the art in Kakadu isn’t in a cave and is very accessible.

I arrived at Ubirr about two hours before sunset and managed to climb up the large outcrop to watch the sun set over the nearby wetlands. It was something like you’d see in a documentary about the African savanna, except there were no lions, zebras or elephants. A large number of tourists arrived just before sunset, so it must be one of the big stops for tour groups in the park.

I stayed overnight in Kakadu in my camper, and the next day I headed out early to explore some more of the park. One of the most prominent features in Kakadu is Jimjim Falls. Unfortunately, the road there was the only one I saw that was closed in the park, so I couldn’t take a trip in a 4-wheel drive out there.

The avian life in Kakadu is diverse and amazing.

The avian life in Kakadu is diverse and amazing.

My first stop was at Anbangbang, which is another rock art site south of Ubirr. The geologist in me noticed a difference in the rocks between the two locations. Ubirr was a fine grained sandstone, where as Anbangbang was a very course conglomerate. The art work was surprisingly sophisticated for something done thousands of year ago. All of the art was done in sheltered areas under rock overhangs. In nearly all of the locations, you could also see holes worn into the stone, where food was prepared.

The last big thing I did was to take a boat trip on the South Alligator river. (There are no alligators in Kakadu, only crocodiles, but the first Europeans to go there didn’t know the difference). The water levels on the river vary dramatically depending on the time of year you are there. The guide we had said that just two weeks before hand, all the trees in the area had been about half way submerged, so the water had gone more than a meter.

Kakadu is one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Australia

Kakadu is one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Australia

Again, the time of the visit was almost perfect. The water wasn’t so high that it was just a giant lake, but it wasn’t so low that it was dried out. There was plenty of grass around and many of the bird species were giving birth. There were birds all over the place. I wish I had taken notes during the trip, but I was too busy taking photos (and after many attempts in many places, I can say with authority I suck at taking bird photos).

The big feature of the tour, and of the entire park itself, were the crocodiles. We saw three crocs during the 90-minutes of the tour, including one very large male sunning himself on bank of the river. Everywhere in Kakadu, on every body of water, you can see warning signs about crocs. Don’t swim, don’t fish, don’t clean fish, don’t stop, don’t do anything, please stay the hell away from the water. Crocs are dangerous, but so long as you don’t do anything stupid, they aren’t a problem. I heard a news report while in Australia that local Australians are attacked at higher rates than tourists, usually because they don’t tend to take warnings as seriously. In 2002 a German tourist was killed by a croc in Kakadu.

If a person was going to Australia and could only see one thing, I think I’d have to recommend Kakadu. It is probably the quintessential Australian experience where you can see most of the things which makes Australia, Australia.

5,445 Kilometers

Posted by on June 8, 2008

Route through West Australia

Route through West Australia

That’s 3,383 miles to those of you in the U.S. of A.

Since I left Darwin, I’ve been to three World Heritage Sites, seen all manner of Australian road-kill, been next to wild crocodiles, whale sharks, humpback whales, venomous sea snakes. and have gained a very deep appreciation for just how big and empty Western Australia truly is.

..and I only drove around the edge.

I’ve done my share of driving, but never anything like this. I can’t think of many places in the US where you can drive in this sort of desolation for this long. Perhaps parts of Nevada or West Texas. Eventually you will hit a farm or a town or something. North West Australia is just empty. I’m not sure if there are many places on Earth where you can make a drive like that. There are places more empty perhaps, but there are no roads or gas stations.

Now that I’m in Perth, I can say for certain it really is the only thing going in the entire state. I’ve met several people from Perth on my travels and they all have the same complaint. It is a long flight to anywhere. Even domestic flights from Perth take forever. In terms of distance, unless I go to Antarctica or some uninhabited islands in the Indian Ocean, this is the farthest point I’ll be from where I started my trip back in the US. Almost 11,000 miles (17,500 km). The total distance I’ve driven in Australia is probably around 10,000 km.

My goal for the next few days is to park my ass in Perth, get through all my photos (I finally got PNG done), catch up on the movies I’ve missed, and write up all the articles I’ve been meaning to write and dribble them out on the website over the next few weeks. Then I’ll fly to Uluru, because there is no way in hell I’m going to drive there.