Monthly Archives: January 2009

Go Oman!

Posted by on January 19, 2009

I picked the right day to come to Oman. The night I arrived Oman beat Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Nations Cup in Soccer. The last two days everyone has been going nuts, wearing Omani flags and scarves, driving around with cars decked out in red, white and green, honking and cheering.

I’m typing this at an internet cafe in Muscat as I wait for the bus to take me to Nizwa. I’m beginning to think that renting a car might have been a smarter option. Gas is really cheap, and all the road signs are in English as well as Arabic. I might do that in Nizwa still. The early bus to Nizwa left at 8am and I showed up at 9:30am not knowing the bus schedule. The next bus leaves at 2:30pm, so I sit and wait.

I wasn’t really planning on visiting Oman, but I’m glad I did.


On some related news from places I’ve been before, officials in Japan have closed the Tsukiji Fish Market to tourists for a month. Having been to the Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m amazed at some of the things people were doing. I was hyper aware of the fact that I was in the middle of an active market where people were earning a living. It is really no different than being on the floor of a stock exchange….except it is fish. You have to get up really early to visit the fish market, and if you are drunk at 5am, you have issues.

On a personal level, must say I was glad to hear no Americans were involved.

You can read more about my experience at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Fraser Island

Posted by on January 18, 2009

World Heritage Site #36: Fraser Island

Fraser Island: My 36th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for Fraser Island:

Fraser Island, also known by its Aboriginal name of K’gari, lies along the eastern coast of Australia. The property covers 181,851 hectares and includes all of Fraser Island and several small islands off the island’s west coast. It is the world’s largest sand island, offering an outstanding example of ongoing biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes. The development of rainforest vegetation on coastal dune systems at the scale found on Fraser Island is unique, plus the island boasts the world’s largest unconfined aquifer on a sand island.

The property has exceptional natural beauty with over 250 kilometers of clear sandy beaches with long, uninterrupted sweeps of ocean beach, strikingly colored sand cliffs, and spectacular blowouts. Inland from the beach are majestic remnants of tall rainforest growing on sandy dunes and half of the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes.

Fraser Island is a very popular stop on the route from Sydney or Brisbane to Cairns. As the largest sand island in the world, all the vehicles which operate on the island have to be 4-wheel drive. This includes tour buses. The island is a popular location for overnight camping and independent exploration. I ended up taking an organized tour which, in hindsight, I sort of regret doing. It would have been more fun to just rent a jeep and drive on the beach.

The most notable fauna on the island are the dingos. The Fraser Island dingos are considered the most “authentic” in all Australia as they have been protected from interbreeding. While they normally cause no problems, they are dangerous and only a few years ago a pack of dingos killed a 9-year-old boy on the island.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:09 am

Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

Posted by on January 17, 2009

World Heritage Site #35: Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

Gondwana Rainforests of Australia: My 35th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia:

The Gondwana Rainforests contains the largest and most significant remaining stands of subtropical rainforest and Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei) cool temperate rainforests in the world, the largest and most significant areas of warm temperate rainforest and one of only two remaining large areas of Araucarian rainforest in Australia.

Questions related to the small size of some of the component parts of the property, and the distance between the sites for the long-term conservation and continuation of natural biological processes of the values for which the property was inscribed have been raised. However, noting that the serial sites are in reasonable proximity and are joined by corridors of semi-natural habitats and buffers, compensation for small size and scattered fragments is being made through intensive management consistent with approved management plans and policy.

Since inscription, there have been significant additions to the protected area estate in both New South Wales and Queensland in the region encompassing the Gondwana Rainforests. These areas have undergone a rigorous assessment to determine their suitability for inclusion in the property and a significant extension of the property is planned as indicated by the addition of the property extension to Australia’s Tentative List in May 2010. In relation to ongoing evolution, the level of legislative protection provided for World Heritage properties will minimize direct human influence and enable the continuation of natural biological processes.

Unlike most World Heritage sites, the Gondwana Rainforests isn’t one particular place, rather it is a huge expanse of forest that covers much of southern Queensland. It covers multiple national parks, so there are multiple options on where you can visit.

I visited Springbrook National Park just outside of Gold Coast, Queensland. From the hills, I could see the Gold Coast skyline and the ocean beyond. Springbrook is an easy drive from Gold Coast or Brisbane. I was there on a school holiday and the park was packed. In addition to some stunning waterfalls, there is an overlook where you can view the plains of New South Wales.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:09 am

Oh, Man! First Thoughts On Oman.

Posted by on January 17, 2009

Going from Dubai to Muscat isn’t just crossing a border and moving a few hundred kilometers, it is going back in time 100 years. This is not to imply that Muscat is backwards. They have every modern amenity and an excellent infrastructure. However, you get the feel that you are really in an old port city when you are here. It is especially pronoucned after coming from Dubai.

In Dubai, you could be fooled into thinking you weren’t in a desert. The area is flat and until you get out of the city, you forget where you are. In Muscat there is no doubt; rocky hills all over the city. The harbor area is surrounded by rocky hills, which must have made for an excellent defense in an earlier age. It is easy to see why a city was built here.

Life seems a lot slower here. Men playing cards on the sidewalk and just shooting the breeze. I think there is a big soccer match tonight. Lots of Omani flags are flying.

My plan is to stay in Muscat for about 2 or 3 days then head inland to Nizwa to visit some nearby World Heritage Sites. Then I’ll head back to Muscat to fly to Doha, Qatar, probably via Abu Dhabi.

Oh, the internet here seems much better than Dubai, which I really find surprising.

You Say Dubai, I Say Hello

Posted by on January 16, 2009

I’m off to Muscat, Oman in about an hour. I take a bus which will leave Dubai at 7:30am and arrive in Muscat in 1:30pm. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the time on the bus to write up some of my thoughts on Dubai…..or I might just sleep.

My current plan is to spend about 3 days in Muscat then head inland to Nizwa for a few days, visit some of the World Heritage sites there, then return to Muscat for a flight to Qatar.

I’m hoping the internet connectivity in Oman is better, but somehow I really doubt it. I’m again in a position where I’m carrying too many books with me. There are no hostels in this part of the world, so no place to exchange books.

I hate leaving this early in the morning, but I hate arriving when it is dark even more, so it is worth it I guess.

Tasmanian Wilderness

Posted by on January 16, 2009

World Heritage Site #34: Tasmanian Wilderness

Tasmanian Wilderness: My 34th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Tasmanian Wilderness:

In a region that has been subjected to severe glaciation, these parks and reserves, with their steep gorges, covering an area of over 1 million ha, constitute one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. Remains found in limestone caves attest to the human occupation of the area for more than 20,000 years.

Despite the popularity of Australia as a tourist destination, many people never get to Tasmania, which might be the most unspoiled and beautiful place in the entire country. You can find some of the largest trees in the world (giant eucalyptus) and most unique animals on Earth (Tasmanian Devil).

From an ecotourism standpoint, Tasmania might be the best place to visit in all of Australia.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:17 am

Sydney Opera House

Posted by on January 15, 2009

World Heritage Site #33: Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House: My 33rd UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Sydney Opera House:

The Sydney Opera House constitutes a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Its significance is based on its unparalleled design and construction; its exceptional engineering achievements and technological innovation and its position as a world-famous icon of architecture. It is a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on the emergent architecture of the late 20th century. Utzon’s original design concept and his unique approach to building gave impetus to a collective creativity of architects, engineers. and builders. Ove Arup’s engineering achievements helped make Utzon’s vision a reality. The design represents an extraordinary interpretation and response to the setting in Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Opera House is also of outstanding universal value for its achievements in structural engineering and building technology. The building is a great artistic monument and an icon, accessible to society at large.

OK, I get it. I understand that the Sydney Opera House is the symbol of Sydney, if not of all Australia. However, I’m not sure that any 30-year-old building should really be declared a monument of human culture which should be preserved. It really isn’t even that impressive close-up.

You can hear my thoughts on the Opera House on this episode of the podcast.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 20, 2017 @ 3:07 am

Greater Blue Mountains Area

Posted by on January 14, 2009

World Heritage Site #32: Greater Blue Mountains Area

Greater Blue Mountains Area: My 32nd UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Greater Blue Mountains Area:

The Greater Blue Mountains Area (GBMA) is a deeply incised sandstone tableland that encompasses 1.03 million hectares of eucalypt-dominated landscape just inland from Sydney, Australia’s largest city, in south-eastern Australia. Spread across eight adjacent conservation reserves, it constitutes one of the largest and most intact tracts of protected bushland in Australia. It also supports an exceptional representation of the taxonomic, physiognomic and ecological diversity that eucalypts have developed: an outstanding illustration of the evolution of plant life. A number of rare and endemic taxa, including relict flora such as the Wollemi pine, also occur here. Ongoing research continues to reveal the rich scientific value of the area as more species are discovered.

The geology and geomorphology of the property, which includes 300-metre cliffs, slot canyons, and waterfalls, provides the physical conditions and visual backdrop to support these outstanding biological values. The property includes large areas of accessible wilderness in close proximity to 4.5 million people. Its exceptional biodiversity values are complemented by numerous others, including indigenous and post-European-settlement cultural values, geodiversity, water production, wilderness, recreation and natural beauty.

Katoomba and the Blue Mountains National Park is about an hour outside of Sydney. The amazing thing about Katoomba is that the town is located right on the rim of a canyon, which is one or the largest canyons in the world. You can literally walk through town and look out over the edge of the canyon.

The most prominent feature in Katoomba is the Three Sisters (shown above). In addition to the Three Sisters, you can take cable car rides to the bottom of the canyon where are the walking trails, several waterfalls, as well as hiking trails near the canyon rim.

The Blue Mountains is a must see for anyone visiting Sydney. You can easily take a train or drive to Katoomba from Sydney for a day trip.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 10, 2017 @ 12:09 am

2008 Travel Year in Review: Part 2

Posted by on January 14, 2009

Read part 1 of my 2008 travel round-up here

July

Landscape of Coober Pedy, South Australia

Landscape of Coober Pedy, South Australia

July marked my last month in Australia. I flew from Perth to Adelaide. After weeks of driving across Western Australia, the thought of more driving didn’t appeal to me. Adelaide was overcast and cold the entire time I was there, but I did get to visit the central market and Chinatown, both of which were the best I experienced in Australia.

From there I went north by bus to Coober Pedy, the interesting community in the middle of the outback that makes its living off opal mining. From there I went north to Alice Springs where I visited Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and Kings Canyon.

I ended my Australian adventure where it began, in Darwin, and from there flew to Singapore.

August

Stamford Raffels Statue in Singapore

Stamford Raffels Statue in Singapore

In Singapore I was able to meet my old college roommate David Bickford, who is currently a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Singapore. He was only the second person I’ve seen since I’ve left the United States that I knew before I left. I hadn’t seen Dave since the early 90s, so it was nice to catch up.

While he was doing profession things during the day, I was able to explore Singapore, which I had last visited back in 1999.

I also took a week and went to the Indonesian island of Bintan where I rented a bungalow near the beach for $10/night and edited video.

Returning to Singapore I took the train to Kuala Lumpur and then to Penang. I was stuck in Penang for several days as I waited for protesters to open up the Phuket, Thailand airport.

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

September

Most of September was spent in Thailand. My goal in Phuket was to do some diving and get my PADI Rescue Diver certification. I enrolled in a course at SeaBee’s Diving in Phuket and got certified. If you are in trouble while diving with me, I’m your hookup.

October

Cow in Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

Cow in Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

I started October by visiting the temples of Angkor. It was a really amazing experience. I took several days photographing most of the temples in the Angkor complex, including many of the smaller outlying temples. I also took the day trip from hell to visit the Preah Vihear temple on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Preah Vihear was the scene of fighting between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in the months before, and weeks after I visited.

I also visited the floating villages of Tonle Sap and took the boat from Sieam Reap to Phnom Penh, where I paid homage to the victims of the Killing Fields. The last few days of the month I took the bus across the border into Vietnam and into Saigon.

November

Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam


All of November was in Vietnam. I started the month in Saigon where I had to purchase a new laptop. My old MacBook Pro was on its last legs. From there I took the bus on Mui Ne which is on the Pacific Ocean an enjoyed cheap, fresh seafood every night. From there I went into the central Vietnam rainy season in Nha Trang, where it rained non stop. A very long overnight bus ride took me to Hoi An just outside of Da Nang where I visited the Hoi An Ancient City and My Son Sanctuary World Heritage sites. I then spent a few days in the former royal capital of Hue before one final marathon bus ride to Hanoi.

December

December was a busy month. I started by visiting the beautiful islands of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. I returned to Hanoi to fly to Luang Prabang, Laos where I was able to visit the temples of this World Heritage City and take part in the morning alms giving ritual where the locals give food and rice to monks. I then took a bus to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, where I took advantage of the excellent open airs BBQs on the Mekong River. I then went to Udon Thani, Thailand, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and ended up back in Bangkok, where I rang in the New Year.

Willandra Lakes Region

Posted by on January 13, 2009

World Heritage Site #30: Willandra Lakes Region

Willandra Lakes Region: My 31st UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Willandra Lakes Region:

The Willandra Lakes Region, in the semi-arid zone in southwest New South Wales (NSW), contains a relict lake system whose sediments, geomorphology and soils contain an outstanding record of a low-altitude, non-glaciated Pleistocene landscape. It also contains an outstanding record of the glacial-interglacial climatic oscillations of the late Pleistocene, particularly over the last 100,000 years. Ceasing to function as a lake ecosystem some 18,500 years ago, Willandra Lakes provides excellent conditions to document life in the Pleistocene epoch, the period when humans evolved into their present form.

The undisturbed stratigraphic context provides outstanding evidence for the economic life of Homo sapiens sapiens to be reconstructed. Archaeological remains such as hearths, stone tools, and shell middens show a remarkable adaptation to local resources and a fascinating interaction between human culture and the changing natural environment. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

Willandra contains some of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens outside Africa. The evidence of occupation deposits establishes that humans had dispersed as far as Australia by 42,000 years ago. Sites also illustrate human burials that are of great antiquity, such as a cremation dating to around 40,000 years BP, the oldest ritual cremation site in the world, and traces of complex plant-food gathering systems that date back before 18,000 years BP associated with grindstones to produce flour from wild grass seeds, at much the same time as their use in the Middle East. Pigments were transported to these lakeshores before 42,000 years BP. Evidence from this region has allowed the typology of early Australian stone tools to be defined.

Since inscription, the discovery of the human fossil trackways, aged between 19,000 and 23,000 years BP, have added to the understanding of how early humans interacted with their environment.

If the Royal Exhibition Building was the most disappointing World Heritage site, then Mungo National Park in the Willandra Lakes Region was one of the most surprising. I really had no idea what to expect when I visited Mungo because it isn’t one of the more popular tourist destinations in Australia. It is out of the way located in the corner of NSW where it meets Victoria and South Australia.

It is about an hour drive from Mildura, Victoria through an unpaved desert. When I was there the temperature was 40C (104F) in the sun. The flies were terrible but disappeared once the sun went below the horizon. Our guide for the day was Graham Clarke, who was an aboriginal from the area who actually quasi-famous. He was the outback spokesperson of the year and I’ve seen him on some TV commercials for Australia.

Mungo is a dried lake bed, which used to be a watering hole during the last ice age. It was also a camp for human beings about 20-40,000 years ago. It is some of the earliest fossil evidence of modern homo Saipan. They have also found some evidence of ritual human cremation.

Just walking around we were able to find the bones of wombats in the sand that were tens of thousands of years old.

If you ever get the chance, take the time to visit Mungo National Park.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Mar 9, 2017 @ 11:54 pm