Saturday, March 22, 2008

Where technology meets tradition

Japan is that place. Although I'm sure the photos don't convey the magnitude, it will give at least the idea that Japan is stunning. This post is just a quickie to give you a short look on some of the things I have been feasting my eyeballs with. Japan has been fantastic.
Octopus yoga (Tsikiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan)

Ginza at night (Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)

A bride and groom. The headdress she's wearing is translated as "covers her horns" (Temple in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan)

Of COURSE Karaoke is popular in Japan, and this is one of the many "themed" karaoke houses. Karaoke can actually be a fairly economical way to drink. For $30 for 3 hours, you sing badly with your pals and get drunk because they keep bringing you beer (Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan)

Hachiko, Japan's most faithful dog (Shibuya station, Tokyo, Japan)

Japan is a land of MANY vending machines. They vend hot and cold bottles of beverages. I thought this one was special because it takes credit cards AND has an LCD panel on the front showing commercials (Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan)

Shops here are so attractive--everything is "just so" (Tokyo, Japan)

Beautiful building with atrium/staircase in the foreground (Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan)

Beautiful tree-lined avenue (Omete-santo, Tokyo, Japan)

Eels! (Tsikiji fish market, Tokyo, Japan)

The backward waterfall (Ginzu, Tokyo, Japan)

Apologies for the VERY POOR QUALITY of this video--even on my micro-tiny monitor on my camera the backward-motion of the waterfall is easily visible, but for some reason google seems to reduce the resolution here to useless. Use your imagination... It really is cool when you can see it!!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Finding Nemo

Since the first moment I learned of the existence of the Great Barrier Reef in school, I always knew I wanted to explore it. I finally got my chance. Unfortunately, the forces of nature did not converge to make the trip perfect.

My Australia plan was to arrive on the 22nd of February, then spend a couple of days in Sydney. After that, I would take a bus (hop-on, hop-off) up the coast, stopping in Brisbane, stopping in the Whitsundays, the Gold Coast, Cape Tribulation, the glass mountains, etc.

However, I realized the world-famous Mardi Gras parade was happening during my stay in Australia. (Mar 1) My original plan had me hundreds of kms up the coast by then, but I felt like I couldn't POSSIBLY miss the opportunity to see Mardi Gras in one of the places in the world most famous for it, so I stayed in Sydney long enough to see the big show.

Because of the time crunch, I had to fly to Cairns from Sydney... But I also saved some money: the bus trip from Sydney to Cairns was about $296AUD and it would have taken about 3 days in total. However, the flights from SYD to CNS were $82AUD. Incredible, eh?

I arrived in Cairns (It is pronounced "Cans") to a torrential downpour--it was coming down HARD. I called my hostel and I waited outside for it to arrive. Because the rain was wind-driven, my luggage and I got wet despite the rain cover over the bus stop. The bus picked me up and away we went to the Cairns Beach Hostel. (Inappropriately named--it is nowhere near the beach!).

I stayed at the Cairns Beach Hostel for 2 nights until my live-aboard trip started. I stayed on a boat called "Ocean Quest" and had 9 dives in 3 days and 2 nights. INCLUDING a night dive.

Despite the constant rain and wind, the rocking of the boat, and the poor visibility, it was a REALLY COOL experience!

On the morning of the 5th, I was picked up at the inappropriately named hostel and taken to the dock in the driving rain to board the SeaQuest catamaran. Aboard SeaQuest, about 1/3 of the passengers were sick from the rough seas. For a while I didn't feel very good either.

From the SeaQuest catamaran, we made two dives, then performed the transfer to the live-aboard boat, called OceanQuest, also a catamaran, a hull design which is ALLEGED to be more stable in stormy conditions. It was hard to tell!

Some of my dive-buddies: Susie (England), Dave (Scotland), and Alexandra (Germany), (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

While on the live-aboard boat, I realized that I had purchased two books to read that had VERY SIMILAR cover photography... Cool, huh? (Cairns, Australia)

The first night dive was canceled because of 30-knot winds. The second night we did go. The horrible photo above (sorry!) shows some of the fear... The gray streaks are SHARKS. And yes, we did GET RIGHT IN and dive with them RIGHT THERE off the back of the boat. Nobody was hurt (neoprene doesn't taste very good to a shark!) (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

One of the beautiful coral formations. Although this photo looks pretty clear, the stormy conditions swept a lot of sand up into the water, and the stormy skies reduced the available light. Luckily the camera had a flash! (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Although difficult to see in this photo, the little spirals (anyone reminded of Madonna in her Blonde Ambition tour??) are called "Christmas Tree Worms". They are really beautiful and fun to play with! Just waving your hand nearby creates a current which causes the worm to immediately disappear into its little tube, as if by magic! (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

Although I REALLY DID FIND NEMO, this is as close a picture as I have to finding it. This is one of the many species of Clownfish (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

This clam was about 1m across. THEY ARE HUGE!!!!! I'm sorry that the intense colors of this giant clam didn't come out, because they are this deep beautiful intense blue (Great Barrier Reef, Australia)

In the "oddly enough" category, my best picture of this type of clams came from JAPAN. Shortly after I arrived in Japan, I went to a pet shop which had some BEAUTIFUL clams for sale. I took a snap, and the colors in this photo are close to what I actually saw in the Great Barrier Reef. This photo was taken 2008 04 11 (Nara, Japan)

The trip was scheduled to have 11 dives. The 1st night dive was canceled, and I skipped one of the other dives because I had some problems with my ears descending on a prior dive. In all, I got in 9 dives. On those dives, I saw a huge variety of sea life (although the photo documentation is incomplete!) including: 5 sea turtles, 3 lion fish, 1 black and white lion fish (pterois), many parrotfish (it was possible to see them actually eating the coral! They actually make a lot of noise when they do it!!), many, many Bannerfish, Angelfish, Butterfly, Trigger, Clown, Blue spotted manta ray, Cuttlefish (one of my favorites!), Tervallies (big and quick-moving. At night, they are attracted by your torch-light and follow you around looking for any little fish you might find for them to munch!), Sea cucumbers, Wrasse, groupers, and blennies. And there's a lot more too. Here is a link to see more pictures: Link_One

Even though I did see a huge variety of fish and coral, I was a little disappointed about the trip: Because of the stormy skies, there wasn't much sun and hence not much light at depth. Also because of the storms and the rough seas, lots of sand was kicked up into the water, resulting in visibility that was at best 7m.

Although I am delighted to say that I have finally been to one of the places I have ALWAYS dreamed about seeing, I will definitely have to plan another trip here, hopefully when the conditions are better and I can see more. Even though I saw a lot, I feel like there is a lot more out there to see!

When I returned to Cairns, I went shopping at Woolworth's (equivalent to Safeway back in the States). While I was looking for my kangaroo steaks (they taste a LITTLE like beef liver!), I found these Japanese girls grabbing things from the meat case and taking pictures. They were amused at the SIZE of the hams. (apparently hams in Japan are tiny!)... They asked to take a picture with me. So, I found something in the meat case that amused me: CAT FOOD! It's called "Fussy Cat", and it sits in the meat case right next to the hamburger and kangaroo steaks! (Cairns, Australia)

In Cairns, there is this beautiful lagoon right on the beach to swim in. It's beautiful. The only sad thing is that they HAD to put a lagoon in on the beach because you usually cannot swim in the ocean water: there are very frequently crocodiles and box jellyfish. (The box jelly is one of the most venomous creatures on this earth!!) (Cairns, Australia)

Goodbye, Cairns! Goodbye Australia! (Cairns, NSW, Australia)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sydney Scenery

I arrived on 2008 February 19--a sunny Friday morning--to Sydney, Australia. It was beautiful weather and I was happy--I was delighted to finally be in an English-as-a-first-language country. I could finally speak freely--without trying to find the simplest way to say things--and be understood. And I could listen easily and understand--without searching my entire (and limited) Spanish vocabulary, then my known greek/latin origin words and prefixes, then carefully scrutinizing body language to try to decipher 50% of the meaning of a sentence.
I took a bus to my hostel (The Blue Parrot) and away I went.
As it turns out, English is NOT the first language of the people of Australia--Austraa-yun is. And they don`t live in Australia--They live in Austray-uh. And while most other English-speaking nations are familiar with MY slang and accent (thank you, Beverly Hills 90210!), I am not necessarily familiar with others. So, I found myself unexpectedly saying, "excuse me" just as many times in Australia because I didn`t understand. So much for sharing a language!
I was in Australia to achieve a dream of mine: to dive on the Great Barrier reef. I also had a sub-dream that it`d be really cool to experience Mardi Gras somewhere really cool, like Rio, or Sydney. It wasn`t my strong intention to be in Sydney for Mardi Gras. In fact, I had planned to take a bus up the coast and see Australia`s Eastern Seaboard (See the Whitsundays, the glass-house mountains, Brisbane, etc).
It just so happened that Mardi Gras was happening in Sydney AND I was able to find a smoking deal on an airfare from Sydney to Cairns (where the diving is)--in fact, the bus trip up the coast would have taken three days and cost nearly THREE TIMES as much money. So it became a no-brainer--I would stay in Sydney long enough to see Mardi Gras, then fly to Cairns, go diving, then off to Japan!
While on the trip to Antarctica, I had the great fortune to meet Judy, a former flight attendant for Qantas, a lover of silliness, and a very smart lady. I called her from Sydney and she allowed me to stay at her place for a few days. Little did I know her house would be a modern-design two-story penthouse overlooking Olympic Park! It ROCKED! Judy was a great host! Along with relaxing on her deck and enjoying the view, she ferried me around town to run errands and see the sights. Our last morning together, I took her out to breakfast and this is a picture of a typical OZ brekky for her: (pork, egg, toast, hashbrown, grilled tomatoes), and I got "The Works" burger. And BOY was it good. Like a typical giant American burger but with pickled beet (the red ones that stain your shirt forever if you get drips on it!) and egg. Delicious! (Sydney, Australia)
Since Judy`s place was so close to the Olympic Park, I had a chance to explore and take a few photos. This fountain was really cool--I especially liked that a lady walked underneath it with her umbrella. Here she can be seen in the distance under the arch with a yellow umbrella (Olympic Park, Sydney, Australia)
It amused me that King`s Cross has a dandelion-fountain just like we do at Phoenix Civic Plaza. Then I found out that OURS is a copy (ouch!) More information here (Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia)
There is lots of modern architecture (drool, drool) in Sydney. This beautiful cable-stay bridge (Anzac) is one of the landmarks (Sydney, Australia)
Curvalicious residential waterfront high-rise buildings, accented by the monorail line (Sydney, Australia)
The view from Victoria Park toward the University of Sydney`s "Great Hall" (Sydney, Australia)

What? Old zebras can`t cross here? (Near the fish market, Sydney, Australia)

One of the typical touristy things to do in Sydney is to climb the harbour bridge. This picture shows the size of the ants (people) climbing the top of the bridge. It is expensive to climb ($172), then, if you want to see the sunrise or sunset, you get hit with a surcharge, THEN don`t you think you`d like to have a photo from the top? They`re betting you are! Because they won`t permit you to take your own camera, either! They have cameras at the top that take your photo, and then you get to pay ridiculous sums of money for it at the end. This is why I didn`t do it. And because I have bad knees :) (Sydney, Australia)
The view near the convention center out onto Darling Harbour. It was a lovely if a bit chilly afternoon, and musicians were playing on the sidewalk, the sky was blue, and couples were falling in love (Sydney, Australia)

During one of the many many many days of bad weather while I was in Sydney, I decided to go to the art museum. I liked this photo because the # is on my table. There`s a guy looking out at the dreary weather more distant, and then what he`s looking at is pictured below (Sydney, Australia)

Gorgeous, aren`t they? (Sydney, Australia)

Harry`s Cafe de Wheels is famous for this: a meat pie with a glob of mashed potatoes on top. There`s a glob of mashed peas on top of that. Then they put a scoop of gravey right in the middle. My American taste buds said, "a bit peppery, but overall bland, and it`s really just all the same texture together--not very interesting"... Note also the umbrella (another day of bad weather!) (Sydney, Australia)

These oddly proportioned beasties (Australian White Ibis) are ubiquitous--they are everywhere and just as obnoxious as pigeons in the US (Hyde Park, Sydney, Australia)
And then of course, there was Mardi Gras!
Baby`s first Mardi Gras! Mardi Gras used to be a lot more crass and lewd than it is today. The fact is, the Mardi Gras parade is a big event and lots of families come see it every year (Sydney, Australia)

I really liked this outfit--All ready to send off in the post! (Wrapped in bubble-wrap) (Sydney, Australia)

No Mardi Gras parade is complete without a herd of Britneys. Included are Insane-Asylum Britney ("I drove me Craaaaa-zy!"), "I like totally didn`t almost drop my baby-y`all"-Britney, Red-Jumpsuit-Britney, and Bald-wielding-an-umbrella Britney among others. The really good stuff you just can`t make up (Sydney, Australia)

During the parade, people in the front row stand. People behind them stand on 1 milk-crate. People behind that stand on two. After the parade is all over, there are HUGE NUMBERS of these milk crates all over the place. This drunken bloke thought it was good fun to stack them up... And about 10 seconds after I took this picture, he ran through them. (Sydney, Australia)

2008 Marked 30 years for Mardi Gras in Sydney. Cheers! (Sydney, Australia)

Initial post date: 2008 04 07 0338

Event date: 2008 03 01 0238