Monday, January 24, 2011

Australia Photos

Check out the photo album for our trip to Australia and New Zealand at this link below:
Australia Photo Album

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back to the beginning

We arrived back in Sydney yesterday, Thursday. The flight from Auckland tired us out and upon arriving in Sydney all we accomplished was getting something to eat and having a nap. While in Auckland we watched a few movies, travelled around the city on the bus, ate at variety of vegetarian restaurants, checked out the interesting cafe/bike/motorcycle shop; Deus Machina, lounged at Parnell Baths Pool, and took a a ferry to Waiheke Island and spent the day in the beach. A highlight of the trip was going to dinner and coffee with a dear friend, Sue and visiting with her awesome family.

I also finished reading a second book; That Bird has my Wings: An Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row. It was an extremely profound and engaging book. It detailed the many life sufferings of the author, Jarvis Masters, and how he eventually ended up on death row. There is an active Free Jarvis campaign fighting for a new trial.

Today we made it to Bondi Beach after figuring out the public bus. Then we walked along the ocean walk way for about 4 kms to get to Clovelly Beach, which is narrow small rocky bay which is supposed to have good snorkeling. I say 'supposed to' because once we got there we discovered both of our snorkeling masks were broken and we were unable to snorkel. The shallow area was jam packed with families and further out was too rough so we decided to not swim either. We walked back along the walkway to another beach, Bronte, where we intended to swim around in the more gentle surf. We were pleased to see that water was not very busy. As we started to make our way into the water we realized why; the shore contained multiple blue bottle jelly fish. We retreated back and found our way to our hotel on the public bus. We figure there must be some cosmic reason that we were not meant to snorkel on this trip.

Tonight we plan on spotting possums in the park, and walking down to this terrific vegetarian restaurant: Yulli's Bar. Tomorrow we head home!

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections on the Queensland flood

We are now sitting at the airport, 6 hours early for our flight to Auckland, New Zealand. We wanted to ensure we made it as many roads are damaged. The taxi driver was amazing, weaving through the streets to get to the airport. Everyone is the region is impacted by the flood in some way, and no doubt he or someone he cares about are impacted significantly. In all of this, he still went to work ensuring people are able to get around.

Thankfully the Brisbane river peaked this morning about a meter lower than initially expected. However it still caused extensive flooding and damage in the CBD (central business district) area a few blocks from where we were staying. In the west end, the lovely museums we visited only days before are surrounded by water. The floating walk way along the river had to be destroyed to ensure it did not join the debris in the river and damage things down stream. An entire restaurant was ripped from the embankment and was destroyed.

The murky waters hide other dangers as well from raw sewage, debris, and potentially snakes. Other areas outside of Brisbane are equally or more significantly affected and some are still facing increasing water levels. In this environment, brave search and rescue teams have the horrific task of searching for bodies in submerged cars, houses and waterways. Last I heard, the death toll is currently at 13 with many more missing.

I am so saddened for all the losses of human and animal life, property, infrastructure, land and so on. The photos, video and stories are heart breaking. The clean up and rebuilding will take a long time and my thoughts continue to be with the people of Australia.

I am also so profoundly amazed at the stories of survival and bravery and the amazing way in which people are pulling together to assist each other. Everyone can learn from their example and show greater kindness to their friends, family, neighbors and strangers in good times and bad.

"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can." — Dalai Lama XIV

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Leaving Brisbane

After much contemplation we are going to leave Brisbane tomorrow, January 13, 2011. The impacts if the flooding are expected to get worse in our area.

We have been following the flooding issue online and we are so impressed with the kind and helpful nature of Australian people rallying together to help each other. From volunteering to fill sand bags, to offering places to stay, offering to take care of pets, donations etc. We were unsuccessful in finding options to volunteer within walking distance of where we are.

We will leave for the airport in the morning and will fly out later in the day to Auckland, New Zealand. We will stay there until January 20, 2011 when we return to Sydney for 2 nights and then we fly home. Our thoughts are with the people of Australia during this difficult time. For those who would like to make a financial donation click on The Premiers Flood Relief Appeal to make an online donation.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Waiting out the storm in Brisbane

As I am sure many of you have heard, Brisbane city and surrounding areas are experiencing flooding and heavy rain. Different areas are impacted more than others. We are in the down town area of Brisbane and thankfully on a hill, about 4 blocks from the river. This is a map of the area: Brisbane City Map, we are on ann street and wharf. We have heard that we may may lose power tomorrow for a while as a safety precaution. We are fine, and our thoughts are with all those experiencing loss during this tragedy. We are waiting out the storm and at this point, and plan to remain until our flight to Sydney on January 20, 2011.

Near us the river is very high with trees and debris floating down the river. There was even a jetty that tore away from it's anchor and floated past us. We managed to get lots of food and water and have filled the laundry room sink with water just in case. Most businesses in the area are closed with a few grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants remaining open. The streets are eerily quiet with a few cars and people walking around. The grocery stores we visited have run out of, or low on, some items such as fruits, vegetables, bread, milk, eggs, and perishable items.

We were able to help one small business unload some sand bags to protect their cafe in case the water rose higher. We wish there was a way to volunteer to help on a regular basis.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The only thing worse than waking up at 4:30am...

...Is waking up at 3:00am thinking it's 4:30am and the gates to Uluru don't open until 5:00am. At least we figured it out before we left the hotel. We were also very fortunate to run into "Animal" a praying mantis on our way out. We think of praying mantises as our critter since we have seen one on every single major trip since Egypt. When we were in Egypt I spotted a praying mantis in the desert by a small town. I tried to communicate with two locals to inquire what a praying mantis is in Arabic. It was not working so I finally said "what is his name?" The two men exchanged confused looks and had a long conversation among themselves. One of them finally turned to me and said slowly, "in Egypt we call him Animal." I am sure they now think there is some odd Canadian who names every insect. Since then we call praying mantises "Animal." Some websites indicate that a praying mantis is a symbol of stillness and mindfulness which fits for me as I feel most mindful when traveling.

So after such an auspicious start we headed to Uluru. We began the hike at just after 5am with reasonable temperatures in the twenties. It was mesmerizing to hike alongside this amazing geological formation while the sun slowly started to rise. Uluru really looks other-worldly to me, like it came here from another galaxy as a giant asteroid. Along the hike we came across two wild dogs which I am sure were at least part dingo. We enjoyed the serenading birds as they awoke to the sun. The entire hike was 10 kms and at the end the temperature had climbed to a far more sweaty +33C. It was terrific to accomplish the hike in such a powerful place. And I was the only person rocking the flip flops on the hike. Of corse they are the awesome Keen flip flops which performed well, but I think next time I'd bring some running shoes with all this walking!

Tomorrow we head to Brisbane.

Ps Jason insists inquiring minds want to know: the toilets appear to flush straight down and gas costs $1.67 a liter.

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Grow an extra row

Yesterday I finished the terrific book; "Deep down things: the earth in celebration and dismay." It has Buddhist themes but I think is very accessible to all readers. The author did a good job providing an brief overview of the intersections between ecology and The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path. He told many stories of our interdependence with the earth and all creatures and the ways in which we harm and help, and new ways of considering things. He pointed out in one circumstance where poison was used to kill of mosquitos in response to West Nile disease, but it killed off the critters that fed of the mosquitos as well, and introduced toxins into the environment, resulting in more harm in the long term.

One story that really struck me was of his childhood and the family gardens and farms. There were ongoing problems with rabbits eating the vegetables and many tactics were tried from dogs, poison, traps etc. He pointed out that other things got caught and poisoned as well (such as dogs). Still the rabbits persisted and the methods of attempted removal brought more suffering. Finally the solution that worked was to grow an extra row or so of the rabbits favorite leafy vegetable on the edge of the garden. The author described that by including the rabbit he was no longer 'other' and that everyone was satisfied.

Imagine if we all embraced opportunities to "grow an extra row" not only for those we care about but those unknown or even those who have done something harmful. It has left me thinking of opportunities in 2011 to grow an extra row or two.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Adventures in the Outback

We made it to Uluru area yesterday. Jason describes our hotel area as post-apocalyptic, which makes sense given the harsh desert climate and the piles of vegetation and leaf debris around. It just looks like the day after the world ended. As well, I am disturbed by the large numbers of roaches/beetles and bugs twitching on their backsides with legs flailing. I finally may have figured it out after attempting to right one of these little guys and he kept flipping over. I can only assume it is the effects of toxic pesticides. Sigh. I also can't help but contemplate the impact of the overuse of pesticides in our food, homes and gardens, on our own well being and that of the planet. I also wonder if pesticides are potentially one factor in colony collapse disorder among bees, the critter essential for pollinating our food supply. It is much better to buy organic, use natural repellants, use natural household cleaners, and preventative measures, where ever possible. (for example India taught us to never keep unsealed food in the room).

Now the flies have tried every ounce of my Buddhist patience and I briefly pondered breaking the First Precept (do not kill), as hundreds of flies dive bombed me trying to get into every facial orifice. But I found sanctuary in a fly head net, which envelopes your entire head and neck in a fine mesh and conveniently fits under your hat. It's not attractive but it works. Of course one sneaky fellow got under the net on a water break, that was fun trying to get him out with out inviting in all his cousins.

I met the worst of the flies in our 2.6 km hike at the Kata Tjuta which is a collection of 36 giant rock monoliths. Now a 2.6 km hike does not seem like much but imagine doing it in a 35+ sauna (with flies all over your sweltering head net). It was a gorgeous view with incredible outback flora. There are a lot more trees than I expected. I've seen a few small lizards, giant grasshoppers, and some lovely birds. I hope to see some larger critters like kangaroos as well.

"You can tell I'm signaling because my windshield wipers are going" ... Or how Jason keeps mixing up the wipers and signal controls in the right side drive car. I also find it odd that in a highly tourist area, with warning signs about driving on the left side, and giant arrows painted on the highway in case you forget, that there would be, not one, but two traffic circles with in a few kms of each other. I imagine some planner sitting back with binoculars laughing at th tourists trying to maneuver through. So far Jason has only driven on the wrong side of the road once.

Tonight we went to Uluru to watch it at sunset. Jason successfully drove on the wrong side of the road in the dark as well!

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last night in Sydney

For new years eve we watched fire works at the harbor. It was super packed and they closed down all the roads leading the the viewing areas.

Yesterday we went to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, by far the best museum we have been to in Sydney. We saw some of the amazing Terra Cotta Warriors from China. They were quite life like and included two near full size horses. It is quite an example of artistic skill, ego, as well as cruelty since the artisans were apparently sealed into the tomb with their creations. The museum was vast and included other exhibitions of contemporary art, Indigenous art, historical items etc. I regretted not seeing the terra cotta army while in China so it was great to see some of them at the museum, While at the museum cafe we were entertained by two lorakeet birds that descended upon the table next to us and feasted on a piece of cake. I wish I had ordered cake.

We walked 6.6 kms round trip to get to a vegetarian restaurant, Badde Manors, which was well worth the trek. I also discovered that I apparently do like sherbet which is great news since I've cut out dairy.

Today we just walked around to Hyde Park and the Botanical Gardens, again and watched the cute flying fox bats. We ended the night with dinner at an Indian Restaurant. Tomorrow we fly out to Uluru airport and then drive our rental car to the hotel. I am totally looking forward to seeing a perentie lizard, second largest lizard to the Komodo dragon. I am also stoked to check out the astronomical marvels, interesting critters and plants, and walking around Uluru rock (the indigenous people of they area request that you do not climb it, which I will of course respect. Not to mention climbing in 38+ degrees might kill me). This part of the trip promises to be a science nerd's dream!

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