Frustrations

In all travel there comes a day that does not go as smoothly as other days. This day was one of those.

Because Uluru is so far away from the populated areas of Australia, we had to fly to Sydney, but the airlines do not provide convenient schedules for this remote pick up. We got to sleep in a little later, but then we had to check out of our hotel by 10:00. We also had to change our carrier to Virgin Australia which had a departure time of 12:05.

We got to the airport super early, and then we had to stand in line forever. Mind you, this is a small airport. Security was tight. I got the wand for the first time. Then we sat some more. 12:05 passed us by. Finally we started to board, but once again, it was slow going. No lunch.

The airplane was old from what I could tell. Once we got aloft, we got our snacks, and most of us were pretty hungry. Well, let’s just say, it wasn’t a well thought out snack. We had barbecued chick peas (hard to describe–little sticks) and a savory muffin. The muffin was cold and dry. (They could have at least warmed it up and given us some butter or spreadable cheese.) Just carbohydrates. No fruit or cookies or cheese or peanut butter. I spilled my tea, but the flight attendants were so busy talking in the back of the plane, I received no help. It was a sorry flight, but at least Garrett had chocolate licorice for us to nibble on.

After we landed in Sydney around 4:30 (in the Uluru time zone),  we exited the plane from the back and climbed down the stairs to the tarmac. A woman in front of me was struggling walking. Then when we got to the terminal, we had several more flights of stairs. No help for her, but, as I later learned, we should have exited the normal way from the front of the plane avoiding all the steps. What a crew!

The weather in Sydney is cooler, and it was overcast. Our bus driver got us to The Grace Hotel on narrow streets. Then Brent, the tour director, told us that he had had a sort of nasty encounter with the restaurant that he usually takes his tour groups to in Sydney. (He thinks it might be under new ownership as he has had no trouble in the past. ) So the bus took us to the wharf in Sydney, and we all got off and found our own places to eat tonight.

I was looking forward to a cup of tea, a short blog, and a little relaxation. So, to make a long story short, when I tried to connect to the internet with my iPhone and iPad, nothing happened. Hotel staff  tried to help. I ended up in the lobby in my pajamas (covered up) with the very kind manager. “Wait until tomorrow,” he said. So I went up to Garrett and Carol’s room and Garrett started trouble shooting with me. Endless tries to get it working. Carol was exhausted and  balled herself up into a sleepy mound. Finally after the last hotel staff guy came up, I realized it was time to call it quits. Garrett, just for a try, pulled out his old iPad, and it connected! Then miraculously mine did too along with the iPhone. What devil was inside of my devices for two + hours tonight!

So my relaxing evening was anything but. I’m posting a few photos. Tomorrow will be a big day. Three tours- one of the city, one of the opera house, and one of the harbor. And oh yes, our guide says, “You’ll probably have time for a half hour of shopping at the end of the day!” Oh, goodie.

Judy wanted me to post of photo of The Grace Hotel. Her little granddaughter is named Grace.

 

 

Palya Uluru

I have a few more photos to post because we went out to Uluru last night for the Sounds of Silence dinner. We dined under the stars of the Outback in perfectly warm weather with all our friends and the flies and other insects. It was a once in a lifetime kind of experience. This experience cost $195 per person, but it was included in our tour package; otherwise, it would be a shocking cost for dinner!

We watched mother Uluru redden slightly in the sunset. I took a lot of pictures, however, of child Kata Tjuta because the sun was setting behind her. Upon arrival, we were served champagne and given Aussie appetizers including kangaroo and crocodile. (Apparently Australia is the only country where people eat the national symbol.) A didgeridoo player filled the evening with Aboriginal music, and later some dancers performed a hunting dance. I took many photos of the sunset at that time. It came at 7:19 pm.

As it turns out, Gary, our solid scientific guy, has an imaginative streak. As we were watching the sunset over child Kata Tjuta, he said that the rock looked like a man lying down-head, big lips, belly, and feet. If you look at my photos of Kata Tjuta perhaps you can see this, too.

Then we walked down a lighted path to tables set with china and linens and electric candles. As the light dimmed, we watched the stars pop out as we chose food from the buffet.

Later an astronomer came, and the lights were put out. It was dark and beautiful and the stars overhead were truly the jewels of heaven. We saw the Milky Way so clearly, and the Southern Cross and Orion, and several more. I tried to capture that moment with my camera, but it didn’t work, so it will have to always be a wonderful memory. I always try to remember that Judy says we can’t capture everything, and that sometimes we just need to enjoy the moment. This was truly one of those times. Magic.

One last reflection: Aboriginal art is pointillistic, dot painting. They use the points of satay sticks to make dots of different colors to form patterns. Yesterday I made the connection of those dots to scenes in nature. I saw a painting that I could not photograph that looked like the topography of the land, and last night when I looked at the stars in the Outback, I could see where the points of light for artistic expression come for these ancient peoples-nothing less than the Milky Way casting its starry glow over the face of Mother Nature.

Palya is a word around here that means hello, thank-you, goodbye and anything else in between.

Palya sacred Uluru!

In the middle of nowhere

I didn’t think I’d have Internet in this remote, no-man’s land, but I do. You never know.

This morning was brutal. We had a 4:30 wake-up call. Then we met in the lobby at 5:30, and were on board our flight to Ayers Rock or Uluru by 7:00.

Garrett had arranged for the three of us to sit together, but somehow things got fouled up, and I was seated away from him and Carol. But, it turned out great anyway. I was seated in a row with a friendly Aussie nurse, Robin. Once she figured out I was one of the many tourists on the plane, she talked my ear off the whole way.

Robin  was coming to Uluru with her colleagues for a nursing retreat on how to treat burns . She was born in the Outback on a farm, and so she has great respect for this place. She finally had me sit by the window, so I could just enjoy the magnificent landscape of this huge, non-populated area of Australia. We talked about Australia and the US. The time flew by. Then I asked her my big question. “Can you really put a bit of termites’ nest in water and drink it to take away stomach pain?” She said it was absolutely true. We became mates.

Upon landing, we boarded our bus for the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Aboriginal Cultural Center. The Anangu Aborigines manage this land, and so much of it has been declared sacred. Photography is restricted in many areas, so I have no photos of the Cultural Center. Inside the center, however, the stories of these Aborigines was a highlight. Our guide, Toni, said that the Aborigines are the oldest people on earth, and so they look at us as being young and not having understanding about life. As a storyteller what this means is that you have to reach a certain level of understanding before you are allowed to tell a story. Their stories teach lessons and ensure that this culture is preserved.

After the lunch, we headed out to Uluru/Ayers Rock itself. This sandstone monolith sits 348 meters above ground, but most of it is underground. You can see by the pictures what a stunning site it is. The colors of this landscape are so vibrant, and, apparently this year, the area has had a lot of rain for the first time in many years, so there is more green to set off the red and ochre earth.

This Rock is sacred to the Aborigines, and  apparently back in the 1960s, it became a popular tourist destination. People came in buses. Hotels sprang up next to the rock, and people climbed all over it. When this area became a national park with Aboriginal oversight in the early 1970s, tourist facilities were removed. Yulara, the town we are staying in tonight, was then established along with the airport.

No one is allowed to climb on the rock anymore except for the the Aborigines who climb on the rock for specials ceremonies. Once again, as we drove around the rock, we were not allowed to take photos of the rock in certain places. Sadly the side that contains a set of holes clustered together and looks like a brain was restricted. You also cannot remov any small rocks or anything else from the rock. It apparently brings bad luck. The park facility has many rocks that people have taken and now understand that was a bad thing to do.

We walked out to Uluru with the guide, Toni. She showed us a watering hole and also a family cave with Aboriginal story paintings. In the photo I posted look carefully for white lines. These lines represent the coming of non-Aboriginal people and are part of a story that we were mostly too young to hear by Aboriginal standards.

We checked into our hotel around 3:00 and will soon be meeting to go out to Uluru tonight for dinner and star-gazing. Surely it will be a most special evening. It’s 98 degrees here  and 34 degrees back home in Renton.

Mosquito Update: I bet you thought I forgot my mosquito updates. I actually haven’t, but I wanted to wait until I found a good new tidbit of information. My flying mate, Robin, told me that female mosquitoes identify their prey by smelling the carbon dioxide left from human breath. I hadn’t heard that before, but look at faces covered by nets. They were basically to keep off the flies and mosquitos.

Didgeridoo Part 2

Isn’t that title something! I love to make things rhyme.

Remember that I said I would post Garrett’s photos of the fire making at Tjapukai Center when they came? Unbelievably they showed up this afternoon at Ayers Rock Resort. I nearly fell over. One of the emails with the attached photos took nearly all day to arrive. I’m not sure when Garrett sent the second one.

Here are Garrett’s photos. Garrett and Carol had a front row center seat; never mind the ants crawling all over the steps behind us!

A Didgeridoo Day

A beautiful sunset started a hot day in the tropics. I know you are at the edge of your seats because you want to know about whether it rained in the rainforest. I’m happy to say that it didn’t today. We had a nearly perfect day for touristing.

First on the schedule was a bus ride after breakfast out to Freshwater, a train station on the Kuranda railway. The Kuranda railway cuts directly through a rainforest, and rises from sea level to 326 meters high. It was built between 1882 and 1891 and has 15 handmade tunnels and 37 bridges. The 41 of us all piled into one train car were impressed by the engineering skill and hard labor it took to build this rail line.

Next we went to Kuranda for some light shopping and lunch. It was here that our fearless eater, Gary, dined on kangaroo pot pie. I ordered some chicken satay that turned out to be some kind of dreadful mystery meat. We did discover later that people could not order the crocodile because the restaurant was out. That piece of information, of course, got my mind to working, and we all started to wonder about my so-called “chicken”satay.

In the afternoon, we took a leisurely ride in the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway gondola right over the top of the rainforest. I do not like gondolas and crossing over high terrain. Even though the Skyrail has a perfect safety record, I had to shut my eyes for much of the trip. Luckily the others were not to squeamish and enjoyed the ride. I peeked occasionally, and it was truly interesting. Such thick vegetation and beautiful country. One peek gave me a lovely glance of the Coral Sea. The others admired the view of Barron Falls, but I couldn’t quite open my eyes for that wonder.

Brent was really marching us to a schedule today because we had to get to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park by 2:00. The staff treated us to Aboriginal storytelling, dancing, and phenomenal didgeridoo playing. I have never really appreciated the didgeridoo before, but the player explained how he blows out continuously into the instrument while breathing through his nose. I took some video which I can post later with a good internet connection. He also played the didgeridoo to simulate different animals like the kangaroo, kookaburra, and others. Members of our group also got to try spear throwing and boomerang tossing.

What I learned about the Aboriginal people from a lecture. The diversity of Aborigines is declining. Nearly 2,000 Aboriginal languages have been reduced to around 500. The Aboriginal peoples are among the oldest in the world. They were treated shamefully by many European settlers, and now only about 2% of all aboriginal peoples have pure blood. The lecturer said that his father is Dutch and his mother is full-blooded Aboriginal. And then our speaker supplied this tidbit. In order to cure stomach upset, do it the Aboriginal way. Go out into the forest or some other area, and find a termite nest. Take a small piece of the nest, maybe a quarter teaspoon or slightly more and mix it in water, and then drink the nasty stuff. “You will be cured quickly,” our lecturer assured us?

Garrett has a few beautiful photos which I will have to post later. He emailed them to me, but the internet is worse than usual tonight, and I have struggled to upload my own photos. His never arrived, so we’ll have to work on another solution to transfer his photos to me

Our bus driver today told us about the Freckled Flying Fox fruit bats of Cairns. They have been here for thousands of years, and, despite the development of hotels and the downtown area, they continue to live here. What I thought were birds turned out to be these bats. They are fat and sassy, and they have set up nursery trees to raise their young. You may have noticed that I haven’t complained about the mosquitoes yet in Cairns. Well, these bats keep those pests in check. They are creepy, but they serve a wonderful purpose in nature.

Carol is a real trooper. She made it through the entire day without complaint even though we all knew that the hard seats in the train and the gondola were not easy on her back. We also did quite a bit of walking. Wendy Wisconsin, the nurse, is still very helpful. Just a fanciful thought: I wonder what our Aboriginal medicine man would have prescribed for Carol!

Tomorrow we will be awakened at 4:30 to prepare to board a 7:00 flight to Ayers Rock. There are few transportation options, so taking this early flight is necessary. We are moving from the wet side, as the aboriginal people say, to the dry side. And it will be hot. Brent told us to pack our umbrellas away.

If I cannot post tomorrow, it will be because I’m in the middle of nowhere. Literally! Get on Google Earth and go from Cairns to Ayers Rock  you’ll see what I mean.

The Gifts from the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven heritage sites in the world. Today, we got to explore its wonder.

After a lovely breakfast buffet, we headed out at 7:40 to walk several blocks to the pier to catch our catamaran, Ocean Spirit. On the way, we rented beach towels for $4 a piece. Brent Rupiper, our tour guide, knew exactly where we could comfortably seat ourselves so that we could enjoy our entire day. We sat with Roger and Joyce #2. It turns out that Roger attended Bethel College and knows Butch Gering, Beverly Kison, and some of the other Mennonite people from Ritzville.

The catamaran ride was about an hour and 45 minutes, 43 kilometers from Cairns. We took a semi-submersible once we reached our destination at Michaelmas Cay, a narrow strip of sand only about three meters above ocean level and surrounded by a fringing Reef. It is  national park. The semi-submersible allowed us to go into the coral beds without having to snorkel.

Coral is actually comprised of living creatures even though it looks plant like. The guide explained that much of the coral was bleaching out. This happens when the ocean water temperature rises to high level. The algae that the coral needs for sustenance leaves because the water is too hot. Without the algae, the coral gets hungry and starts to lose its color and dies. Apparently this year has been especially brutal for bleaching in the Great Coral Reef. Here is a link to a newly published article from Popular Science explaining the consequences.

The Great Coral Reef, as we learned from the guide, is 2,300 kilometers long going down the northeastern coast of Australia. It is made up of about 2,900 individual reefs like the one at Michaelmas Cay.

We had lunch onboard the catamaran, and then it was off to snorkeling. Australia is well known for its vicious stinging creatures with deadly venom. So not wanting to accidentally touch something dangerous, we pulled ourselves slowly into our black Lycra body suits. You can’t possibly imagine what a sight that was with so many of us sporting our “retired” bodies, but I spared you a commemorative photo by talking Joyce #2 into not snapping a picture of us in our body suits.

We took a boat out to the Cay, and got into the water. It was warm,  maybe 90 degrees F. In fact, I think it was warmer than the swimming pool yesterday. Judy, Gary, Carol, and Garrett went out snorkeling further than I wanted to go, so I kept some of the 23 bird species on the Cay company. They were noisy and active. Later Gary and Garrett went diving. The underwater photos that I’m posting, were all taken by Gary with his waterproof camera. He took some gorgeous photos. They all enjoyed their time among the coral, jelly fish, giant clams, and lovely tropical fish and turtles

On our return, Carol had an unfortunate slip on the stairs. She seems to be okay, but it was pretty scary. She may have bruised her back, so she is currently resting and taking pain medication. Luckily, Wendy, whom we sat with last night is a nurse, and she helped Carol immediately.

The weather today was very warm, and it rained. For me, it was a wonderful experience to sit in the warm Pacific water in my black Lycra suit and feel the rain washing the salt water from my face.

Tomorrow we’re headed for the rainforest in Kuranda. Do you think it will rain?

The Ocean Spirit Catamaran leaving Cairns
The Ocean Spirit Catamaran leaving Cairns
Garnet and Carol on the Ocean Spirit 2/25/2017
Garnet and Carol on the Ocean Spirit 2/25/2017
The white strip in the background is Michaelmas Cay
The white strip in the background is Michaelmas Cay
Gary and Judy, forefront. Garrett and Carol in the background. Roger and Joyce #2
Gary and Judy, forefront. Garrett and Carol in the background. Roger and Joyce #2
Our tour director, Brent Rupiper
Our tour director, Brent Rupiper
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Sea Turtle-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Sea Turtle-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Jelly Fish-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Jelly Fish-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Fish-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Fish-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Giant Clam-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Staghorn Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Staghorn Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
The divers
The divers
Staghorn Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Staghorn Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Brain Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Brain Coral-The Great Barrier Reef 2-25-2017 Photographer:Gary Wagenblast
Plate Coral-photo taken from inside semi-submersible
Plate Coral-photo taken from inside semi-submersible

What day is this?

Well, we five are all here in Cairns (pronounced almost Like Cannes in France), Australia safe and sound. It was a really long journey. The photo of the five of us is at LAX after we met and while we were still feeling pretty chipper. Of course, our “chipperness”  declined as the hours literally flew by, but we all maintained our good spirits. After all, this is a trip to Australia and New Zealand. I’m making a guess that we were in transit on Qantas around 24 hours. Home to LAX. LAX to Brisbane. Brisbane to Cairns.

Flights out of LAX were delayed on Wednesday evening. We were at least an hour late, taking off after midnight on February 23. And that seems to be the only small time we can claim for February 23. This day vanished into the International Date Line even while we were dining on tortelini salad and Indian butter chicken. Look at Carol eating her passion fruit-coconut dessert.

Of course, the LAX delay made us late into Brisbane, so Qantas decided to hold the Cairns-bound plane for us, while we trotted through Customs with all our big, heavy bags. All I can say is, “Whew! We made it!”

The flights went well. We had individual screens and movies and other entertainment to choose from to help the hours pass. We were actually flying most of the way at night, so each of us tried to sleep in our own way.

We are meeting other people on the Rupiper Tour, 41 in all counting Brent Rupiper, the guide. Many are from the Mid West. Many are also farmers like my brother, as his wife, Carol, noted. Garrett said that he wasn’t at all surprised as this tour company advertised the tour in Successful Farming. Everyone is friendly, and older. I guess it’s the retired folks who can travel in February and have the money to do it. There are three Joyces on the tour, and at least two couples with the names of Joyce and Jim.

I met one of the Jim-Joyce couples from Iowa on the shuttle bus at LAX  I was having trouble carrying my new, big, super-duper London Fog suitcase and my carry-on together. So very heavy. Then I saw Jim and Joyce just rolling their suitcases with the carry-ons on top. I couldn’t believe it! It was a miracle. My suitcase does exactly the same thing. How could I have missed this before?

Cairns is a beautiful coastal city on the northeast coast of Australia. It was 27 degrees Celsius when we landed, and it was raining. We were greeted with some real steam heat; my glasses fogged right up.

Tomorrow we are going to the Great Barrier Reef by boat. Can you believe it? I just keep pinching myself–Australia!

I’m crossing my fingers that this will publish. The wifi is so-so