Week 237 October 13, 2018

When I left for yoga on Sunday morning at the start of this week I noticed unusually strong winds and numerous fallen dead ends of redwood branches strewn all over the front walk, the yard, the driveway of our AirBnB and streets in the neighborhood. I was thinking with a smile about nature’s own pruning. When I returned to our AirBnB and was preparing to soon drive to pickup Loren and his mother, Loren called to ask if I smelled smoke? He said there was a lot of smoke and an orange glow visible from his mother’s house, that he and his sister thought came from the area of our AirBnB.

I could see nothing from either the first or second floor, but soon smelled the smoke too. All I could think of was how a fire could easily rage out of control with the continuing strong winds. I threw a few precious belongings together, alerted our hosts, and drove to Loren’s mother’s house. I could see heavy smoke blanketing the flatlands far in the distance as I drove down the steep hills. Fortunately I saw nothing of a fire along my way. When I arrived Loren said his call to 911 assured him that we were simply smelling smoke from the Vacaville fire. Phew. This being the week of the year anniversary of the most destructive fire in California history – the Tubbs or Santa Rosa fire, was all too sobering. Our “Red Flag” area fire warning ended on Monday, but fire season is not over.

It turned out that Loren’s Mom begged off from joining us to see our Golden State Warriors in Open Practice. As Loren and I drove towards the Oracle Arena in Oakland, we saw a fire truck, a fire pickup truck and a fire car exiting the Lake Chabot regional park main entrance. We assumed they had just responded to a false alarm, and I can find nothing about a fire in Castro Valley that day online.

With all that I can now say we had a fun time with attending the Warriors Open Practice! We paid the highly affordable price of $5 per ticket, thanks to another guest at our AirBnB alerting us to the event. This is the start of “The Dubs” last season playing in Oakland, as next year they will play in San Francisco. We were among the first 10,000 people to arrive, meaning we received our complimentary Champs caps. 

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The coaching staff was introduced and brought on the court first, then the team players . 

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The team warmed up and played a little before some of the players were instructed to invite audience members onto the court. They broke into two groups and the losers of the slight competition had to do pushups! Some of the kids were quite talented. But the most amazing to see was the twin boys who were Steph Curry look-alikes. Amazing!

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Then the team shared their initiation of the rookies – each new player must perform a song. The only tune of the ones they sang that Loren and I knew was Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. The rest were more contemporary than we are familiar with. Afterwards we enjoyed taking a couple of photos of our AirBnB friend and her son, and with the twins who were seated near us. 

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On a sad note this week, we learned that our neighbors in San Jose had to put their adored pup down. 

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Other miscellany include the sight on my way to teach the 6am and 7:45am Bikram Yoga classes was that the simple white ghost along the route was lit up colorfully in the dark.

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And, I finally this week had our waterproof camera film developed from our overnights on New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound and live aboard boat at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. 

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We finished our week taking in a performance at the local theater, of Four Men in Paris, featuring aspects of the lives of writers and illustrators James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Oliver Harrington and Richard Wright, all active in the US Civil Rights movement.

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Today we are heading to Monterey overnight to attend the wedding and brunch of a dear friend’s daughter!

Week 220 June 16, 2018

Sorry this is late, I was sure I had clicked on the Publish icon on Saturday… Oh, the jet lag.

We spent our last few days in Australia at the beginning of this week, soaking up sighting more of the incredible wildlife at our mountain cabin respite. The unbelievable bright coloring of one – female or male I know not, of a pair of small birds was most hard to capture as they repeatedly flitted around our car picking off the bugs. I finally was able to catch an image of the actual brilliance, as it was reflected in the car’s mirror! Can you see it? You can click on the image to enlarge it…

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We returned to Cairns for our last two nights, but had not realized how far that is from Yungaburra – our meeting point for the evening and the following early morning tour to Atherton Tablelands to view more flora and fauna. We wanted to see a platypus, among others, for example. Not only was our drive to Yungaburra more than an hour, it was on a long, curvy mountainous road. We enjoyed the ride, but along the way became less and less confident of our success, as sadly the weather had turned inclement. On our own there we managed to visit the Curtain Fig Tree – a most unique formation from the various other Strangler Figs that we had seen in the Daintree, then after a light meal, our guide confirmed by phone that it was unlikely we would see much else. All was well as we were not looking forward to two round trips over that mountain anyway… 

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So we acknowledged our disappointment and enjoyed listening to a classical music station on our much earlier than planned return ride in the dark back to Cairns. And, we did see a little wildlife crossing the road visible by our bright headlights in the dark – a few different small creatures who might have been white tailed rats, mice or some form of marsupial… The closest we came to seeing the nocturnal wombat in all of our time in Australia was of images on road warning signs. I understand that they are about the size and shape of a pig or a hog, but it seems their face is more like that of a cat.

The next day in the wee hours we were up for our flight from Cairns to Sydney where we would have a brief layover before flying on to San Francisco. However, on awakening, we had a text advising us that our second flight was delayed for four hours. We were thankful that the message had not been about our first flight! Flying into Sydney in the early morning offered more and different views of the Harbor Bridge, which made the Opera House seem absolutely teeny from this angle, and, nearby downtown skyscrapers. 

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The airline provided vouchers to spend however we liked inside the airport eateries or shops to compensate for our delay. But, what would you do with four unexpected hours back in Sydney? Loren chose to stay inside the airport, while I chose to see the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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Before my return train to the airport I was rewarded with another different view of the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. Distance can make such a difference in perception of the sizes of things!

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We flew on QANTAS whose tagline is Spirit of Australia and with its creative kangaroo logo displayed on the tail fin. Onboard I watched Quest a newly released documentary about a family in North Philadelphia doing their best to make a positive difference in their community. I appreciated learning how Quest’s mother had taught him, “Instead of doing something destructive, do something constructive.” 

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We left Sydney to arrive in San Francisco on the same date but a day later, because of crossing the International dateline. In other words, we left on Monday, June 11 at 5pm, flew for 13 hours to arrive in San Francisco on Monday, June 11 at noon. It was fun but strange to experience the same day twice after seeing the sun set on the first one. Though this week has been more than a bit of a challenge with jet lag and waking up ready to start the day in the middle of the night. The day we arrived, we visited Loren’s Mom and sister have spent time with them each day since, visiting and, helping in ways we can.

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While we missed watching with her the four sweep games that our Golden State Warriors played to win their third recent championship over Cleveland, we were in time to enjoy together their victory parade through an exuberant crowd in Oakland the next day. Even though she has already told me twice this week, “You need to continue to travel while you are able,” in making our difficult decision to come home for the time being, I believe that our regret at not being here now would outweigh our regret at giving up our dream, which we hope to have the fortune to resume at a later date.

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In saying we are home, I must clarify that we are not disturbing the tenant who lives in our house. We have rented an AirBnB which is a 10 minute drive from Loren’s Mom’s home. This one is likely the most unique of our home stays, in that it is large enough to offer 9 comfortable bedrooms, where the owners request stays on a minimum of a month. That led me to want to learn the meaning of the term: boarding house. We are not at one because it does not include our meals. So it is more like a rooming house, or a lodging house. And our housemates are quiet and friendly. 

We are enjoying this time to visit family and friends, and see familiar flora and fauna. Yes, those are deer below, seen on the street of our AirBnB. And, I was tickled to spot an image of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia on a delivery vehicle in the Bay Area traffic, which would have been foreign to me had we not been to Spain last summer. This is one example of a host of things I have learned abroad. I would be finished with this thought, except that I must comment more on the local traffic. It can be horrendous, sometimes requiring finding alternative routes unless one should want to sit still for hours… Enough said, except today I noticed the lettering on a route directional sign that I read with great interest: Fast, until I realized it was simply a faded sign pointing out East.

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This coming week Loren and I are looking forward to visiting with some of the members of my family in California before I fly to New York mid-week for a very special someone’s High School graduation. I will conclude with another inquisitive observation based on our travels – how come American supermarkets refrigerate eggs while the rest of the world sells them from room temperature shelves? 

 

Week 219 June 9, 2018

We started this week overnight on a boat at the Great Barrier Reef. It was most surreal and memorable to see in person. The boat docked at three viewing spots: Saxon Reef/Twin Peeks, Norman Fingers, and Hastings, over the 2 days. Loren and I went out on four of the seven snorkeling opportunities, and I took the glass bottom boat option twice while Loren passed the second time to have more time to snorkel. Loren and I were called to the side before we ever entered the water – first to confirm that we are in the 61-70 age bracket, then to give us bright orange snorkeling gear and slim red life jackets so the sighters would be able to keep more of an eye on us, due to a new legal age requirement. That was a good thing for me because I am such a poor swimmer that after being out only a few minutes on each of my first three snorkels, I returned to the boat… 

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When the photographer asked me about coming back in after my first time, she called for a Snorkel Guide among the crew to lead me with a life preserver. That was awesome. Back on the boat our captain pointed out a sea turtle swimming by – it came up for air, looked at us, dunked under, swam further, came up for air, looked at us, dunked under, swam further, came up for air, looked at us, then swam down and away out of sight. I did not have my camera, but the images remain in my head. On my second snorkel outing I tried a short while and when I returned to the boat my Guide was all set to take me out longer again. That time as we returned to the boat he spotted Frank, the large friendly Wrasse in these waters who the experienced crew said routinely seeks people out. I could not capture its photo but found an image of a similar Wrasse on a ship’s poster.

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During the evening we glimpsed sharks by torch – flashlight, and saw our boat’s night scuba divers thanks to their underwater lights. The next day we saw a large pod of small Pilot Whales pass by our boat. My photos of all these are too small to do justice. On my last snorkel I took the life preserver myself to stay out longer on my own. Then Loren and I rode the transfer boat back with a couple who we had ridden over with, and another new friend. I am grateful for our several snorkel experiences to have seen the coral reef and marine life. 

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We left Cairns – by the way the name is pronounced more like Cans, the next morning in a rental car and headed north. We first stopped at Tjapukai – said Jah-pook-i, to see portrayals of an Aboriginal community. Not only did we learn about ancient cultural practices of preparing foods and using weapons, we also saw a fresh water turtle whose photo I was able to capture. And, the dance performance of traditional practices before a hunt was outstanding. One man played a didgeridoo, another used clap sticks and narrated, while two other performers acted out a Cassowary and a Kangaroo, each with convincing accuracy. It makes this quote from a friend’s email come to life: “The very creation of dance was for rituals and celebrations…” BayAreaDanceWatch

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Continuing north along the east coast of Australia we stopped briefly at Four Mile Beach where we saw our first Kookaburra perched high up on a dead branch just perfect for it. Again heading north we stopped at Mossman Gorge where we had about an hour of hiking through the rainforest at the end of the day. By the time we returned to the car it was dark. We then drove further north, taking the ferry over the Daintree River to wind up at our bungalow accommodation on Thornton Beach. The area is advertised: where the rainforest meets the reef. 

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We stayed about halfway between Cow Bay – cow meaning female Manatee, and, Cape Tribulation. We had three nights here to soak up the beach and rainforest. On the first morning we took an early beach walk and found this view of Thornton Peak – covered in cloud as is usual. Later we went walking more in the rainforest where we saw our first Fan Palms…

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and we walked more on two other beaches, where we were more taken by the artistic sand formations created by Bubble Crab behavior that we had seen in the morning. We also saw several Brush Turkeys both on the beach and in the the rainforest.

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And we were very fortunate to also see a Cassowary youth. This one has not yet grown the unique horn on the crown of its head, the rich powder blue coloring to its face and neck, bright red wattles, nor the entirely black coat that will develop as it matures. It came right over to our car in its curiosity, then jumped back in surprise and meandered away after Loren made a noticeable slight hand movement.  

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In the afternoon we went for Tasting at a tropical fruits farm. We sampled such exotic varieties as baked Breadfruit – the UN has named it the fruit of the future, Custard Apple – my second favorite, Yellow Mangosteen which we learned is a poor cousin to the Purple Mangosteen as much more sour, Passionfruit – the same as at home, Soursop – now used in cancer treatment research, the very sour Davidson Plum, bitter Sapodilla, mushy Yellow Sapote, frozen Black Sapote – supposed to taste like chocolate but one needs to use some imagination, Rollinia – yum, my favorite and somewhat similar to Custard Apple, frozen Jaboticaba – also known as Amazon Tree Grape or Tortoise Shell, the unusual Pangiun Edule or Football Fruit, and, tart Carambola or Star fruit. What an experience! I would show photos of each one cut up, though I prefer to limit the photos in my posts… 

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The next day we visited the Daintree Discovery Centre. Here we walked on multilevel paths to have interesting aerial views of the rainforest from above. Then we hiked the rainforest trail labeled Adventurous at Jindalba and it was challenging. This is where we found several of the Cassowaries favorite large blue seed that had fallen from nearby trees. They are about the size of a small Idaho potato. We also stopped for tropical fruit ice cream – it was actually gelato, sharing a treat of chocolate, coconut, mango, Davidson Plum, and Wattle Seed. This last one was my favorite of the flavors… well, really a tossup between it and the chocolate.

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That evening we had a small boat excursion on the Daintree River to see the flora and fauna before and after sunset. We were treated to two varieties of kingfisher – I snapped a viable photo of this Sacred Kingfisher.

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Again reminiscent of the Everglades here, we learned that Mangrove trees might have buttress, ribbon, stilt, or snorkel or aerial roots, all to allow them to breathe when the annual flood conditions occur. We also saw a Darter – or Anhinga or Snake Bird, and a tree snake. At dusk we saw a Night Heron, a few flocks of egrets flying to their roost, a kite raptor and small bats beginning to be active, oh and the sunset over the river and another view of Thornton Peak. In the dark with our captain’s strong torch we saw several salt water crocodiles, a White Faced Heron, a crab clinging on a leaf, a tree frog, and a whole slew of prawns jumping out of and diving back into the water. Again I could show so many more photos…

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On our last day in the rainforest we treated ourselves to another first – a morning beach massage where the masseuse brought her folding table to the sand. Hearing the waves and feeling the sun while she worked was delightful. The bonus was that she is the best masseuse either of us have ever had – for example she found my pelvis injury which still bothers me – sort of like a headache at the end of a day when we walk a lot. She gave us recommendations for a variety of treatments going forward. Then, before leaving the Daintree, we walked through Marrdja Botanical Rainforest walk, where I took my best photos of Basket Ferns. We finished with a drive to Cape Kimberley and walked out to the beach where we found two Star Fish. 

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Now we have spent three nights respite in the isolated Julatten mountains where we have taken part of our masseuse’s advice to fast for three days. It reminds me of when Loren and I have spent three days fasting on our few Vision Quests in California. One difference is that we have slept on a bed in a cabin instead of under the stars. Another was when we broke our fast briefly to enjoy some of the fresh coconut from one we had brought from the rainforest. It had fallen ripe from a nearby palm tree during my massage. Can you make out its face on the interior nut?

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Australia has some similarities yet also such incredibly different terrain and eco-systems, as well as flora and fauna, from what we are used to at home. On our drive to Julatten near dusk, a marsupial of some form darted across the road and another jumped across a grassy path near our cabin. I think it was too small to be a Wallaby, as it was just a but larger than a jackrabbit. In Julatten there is a delicate yellow bird with a yellowish-green helmet who appeared to gorge on the cactus flower just outside our cabin door. We were also treated to seeing and hearing Laughing Kookaburra – seriously, they sound like monkeys chattering but a bit like human laughter when they announce the dawn or dusk each day. Two or three of them liked to perch on a tree just across the driveway from our cabin.

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We have our last few days in Australia coming up, then will fly from Cairns, Queensland to Sydney in New South Wales, then on to San Francisco, California to spend time with Loren’s Mom. Both flights are on Qantas – which our guide in Darwin explained stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. There is always so much more to learn about our wide world.

 

 

Week 218 June 2, 2018

In a nutshell, this week entailed learning some about Aboriginal culture and seeing cave rock art, as well as seeing so many birds, reptiles, amphibians, waterfalls, sunrises/sunsets, vast outback landscape, and, having opportunities to swim in a multitude of water holes.

Loren and I started the week with a free day in Darwin. We walked the Esplanade, where we saw our first Black Cockatoos in the wild. We also found Darwin’s magnificent Tree of Knowledge.

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With a couple of other travel mate friends we who had made from the Adelaide to Alice Springs part of the tour, I visited the MAGNT museum while Loren repacked for our upcoming second week of touring the outback. Then we watched the sunset from the popular market at Mindil Beach. The market is also where I snapped my first photo of a Galah – also known as a Rose Breasted Cockatoo – I think its wings were clipped as it was a prop for a photographer’s booth… but, I have a much better photo of a Galah in the wild coming up below…

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The next day Loren and I joined our six travel mates from Alice Springs and welcomed six new travel mates with our ebullient guide and his understudy.

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They first took us to an Aboriginal settlement. Here we were told the Dreamtime story of Turtle Woman and her creation of the natural world. Then we were welcomed with a bit of billabong poured over our heads. We were not allowed closer than 5 meters – yards, to the water because crocodiles were believed to be present. Next we were offered an introduction to some of the native trees and their uses, and, had a demonstration of didgeridoos, punishment sticks, and body paints made from natural resources. Last we had a show of spears, and were invited to try. My practice throw landed just short of the wooden kangaroo target, prompting our host to joke that he would want to hunt with me. What an honor!

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Driving to our next destination we saw 2 Emus together in the wild, and were informed how very lucky we were as it is unusual to see them in Kakadu National Park. And, we soon saw our first Salty – saltwater croc, in the Northern Territory. 

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We then had an Aboriginal guide from Arnhem Land take us on a Guluyumbi cruise along East Alligator River. This river was misnamed by a European surveyor who spotted crocodiles. Rather than correct it, those who decided retained the name for historical significance – there are no alligators in Australia. Our guide stopped at one point and gave another demonstration of spear practice. Then we also hiked together to a sacred cave to have an explanation of ancestral Arnhem Land rock art. It has been sad to learn on our Journey how the indigenous in Australia were unrecognized and considered fauna – yes, animals – until as recently as 1967 when they were acknowledged as people. I learned that in their language, Gamak means thank you, and Bobo is bye – see you again.

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The next morning Loren and I opted to take the scenic flight for views over the Arnhem Land’s Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls, Double Falls, gorge and escarpment. It was too dangerous to follow our original itinerary to visit these falls by ATV bus, as the water levels were too high. 

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Afterwards we visited more cave art where I spotted a huge spider in its web. Later we took a group photo beside a termite mound, and, at the end of the day I captured a photo of a Galah posing with its crest raised.

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The next morning at Motorcar Falls Loren took the opportunity to swim, and this is where we saw a long neck turtle. I was unable to snap its photo underwater as the sunlight interfered. I later joined the group for a dip in Gunlom Falls’ pools before we left Kakadu’s taste of the tropics. Here we bade farewell as planned to four of our newest travel mates. The rest of us continued on to Nitmiluk, also and formerly known as Katherine Gorge. In the morning we had a cruise through the Gorge at dawn, which was a spectacular and peaceful time. Here we also saw some fresh water crocodiles.

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Again I joined the group for a dip in the water at Edith Falls’ rock pools, where we saw more unique wildlife. Then we were off to Litchfield National Park and cheerful sunrise.

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We visited the many Litchfield waterholes, creeks, and waterfalls at Buley Rockholes where I swam to sit underneath one of the falls, and, Florence Falls, where I swam out far enough to feel the rush of air and water on my face. We finished our tropics tranquility tour by stopping to see Wangi Falls, where I actually caught a photo of what I believe is a Rainbow Bee-eater in flight.

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Australia’s Northern Territory has often reminded me of parts of Africa as well as Florida’s Everglades for the terrain, humidity and innumerable large birds. The tour most certainly held up to its claim. What is different is that in Australia, I have learned from my newest friends that a Ripper is something big – like a badly scraped knee, and that feeling Pekish means that one is hungry. That last evening our newest two travel mates begged out of our group dinner for their very early morning flight, so that left the original eight of us who had arrived together in Darwin to celebrate our 14 days together of exploring from South Australia’s to the Northern Territory’s raw and rugged natural beauty, in our tail-to-top adventure.

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Now, Loren and I have flown to Cairns, in the state of Queensland, where tomorrow we will spend overnight on a live aboard boat to visit the Great Barrier Reef.