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Ah Flossie, you break my heart

Hilo, United States

Our last week of true vacation . . . I start work two weeks ago yesterday, we have a wedding this weekend, family visit next week and travel to Seattle after that. This is it, but what better place to spend the last week of true vacation than in Hawaii?

As usual, it has been fantastic here. First of all, a truly comfortable bed to sleep in for the first time in months! And I’ve been taking definite advantage of that by sleeping many hours every night. Other than sleep, we have been doing the normal Hawaii things: a little golf, beach time, pool, croquet, grilling, reading, etc. It has been quite nice. I have also been attempting to catch up on computer-related activities while beginning some of the logistics of moving to a new city. What better place to do it?

The only thing not going as planned is Hurricane Flossie. She started rearing her ugly head yesterday as winds picked up dramatically. They continue today and should bring some rain with them before too long as the Hurricane passes close by the island this afternoon. We are hoping she passes today as planned so that tomorrow and Thursday morning we can enjoy a bit more beach time before boarding our plane back to the continental states.

In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting how incredible the last 3 months have been. I was fortunate enough to visit 7 countries while hanging out with great friends—and all safely. As part of this reflection, I’ve been contemplating some superlatives related to my memories of the trip. Here goes my list so far:

• Favorite city visited: Sydney, Australia
• Best wildlife encounter: Kangaroos in Grampians National Park, Australia
• Best Lodging: Cabin in Grampians National Park
• Most beautiful temple: Borobudur, Indonesia
• Best surfing: Bali, Indonesia
• Hottest city: Bangkok, Thailand
• Best Food: Thai food in Chiang Mai, Thailand, courtesy of none other than world-class Thai chef Sompon Nabnian
• Loudest city: Hanoi, Vietnam
• Best night of drinking: Rice Wine with village family near SaPa, Vietnam
• Most stunning scenery: Halong Bay, Vietnam
• Most painful experience: Mountain biking in Dalat, Vietnam
• Most interesting history: Hearing about Khmer Rouge from Cambodian local
• Most beautiful sunset: Railay Beach
• Best climbing: Railay, Thailand
• Cleanest city: Singapore, Singapore
• Best weather: Darwin, Australia

These are the first to come to mind. Perhaps I will update this blog in the future as I continue to reflect on what an awesome trip it was.

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 14, 2007 from Hilo, United States
from the travel blog: Carl's Circuit
tagged Hawaii

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Hilo, United States

And lastly, Hawaii. What a brilliant last stop! It’s been incredible to do some of our re-immersing in real life from the comfort and luxury of this house. On the up side, we’ve been able to get mostly caught up over the course of a week; on the downside, we’ve only been to the beach and driving range once in 7 days (no full golf rounds), and for our last day (tomorrow) a level 2 hurricane (Flossie) is supposed to hit. Oh well. It was still nice to stave off some of the panic that inevitably awaits after 3 months away from “the real world.”

What a trip it’s been though! Carl’s working on some superlatives, and so far I entirely agree with them. I’ve enjoyed seeing so many beautiful places, and specifically have enjoyed thinking about how different nature’s beauty is in different parts of the world. I’ve also come to appreciate more the value of short-term relationships; many of the people we’ve met I probably won’t see again, but I have really enjoyed our time together all the same.

So what’s next? To Boston for Angie Peluse’s wedding, then to Minneapolis for some time with Carl’s family, and then he drives west to start work! And I head south to begin establishing myself into Chicago. In some ways I can’t believe it’s time for that already; in others, school seems like it was an eon ago and so much has happened in between. I’ve enjoyed this time in part because I know there are good things to come after it, and I am starting to get excited for those next steps, as different as they will be. Onward!

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 14, 2007 from Hilo, United States
from the travel blog: Joc's Journeys
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Visible from Space?

Cairns, Australia

One of the lines they like to tell you when visiting the Great Barrier Reef is that it is the only living organism that can be seen from space. Actually, you hear this often about a lot of things. Turns out it isn’t quite true—lots of things can be seen from space (http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/crew/exp7/luletters/lu_letter5.html).

But anyway, the Reef was amazing in so many ways. The fish life, coral life, colors, etc. It was also a lot of fun to do an introductory dive in the Great Barrier Reef. The day was even more enjoyable because we successfully were able to dive with no accidents and neither of us became sea sick! Woo hoo! I think we would have liked to do it again, but the weather turned nasty with high winds and it would not have been nearly as enjoyable.

Instead, we spent our last few days indulging in other outside activities and enjoying the great weather. We golfed at the Cairns Country Club and climbed/bouldered on some really interesting, sharp volcanic-like rock on Trinity Beach near Cairns. We contemplated driving 250km south to Townsville for a few days of climbing, but opted out of it. In doing research for this though, it looks like there are literally thousands of climbing route options in Queensland that haven’t been fully explored or developed yet. Any climbers out there looking to put your mark on Australian climbing? Queensland may be your place . . .

So, an enjoyable, low-pace last few days in Cairns wrapped up our time not only in Australia, but also abroad. I think almost three months traveling was just what the doctor ordered to recover from school, as I am feeling ready to dig into some work! Crazy, but true.

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 9, 2007 from Cairns, Australia
from the travel blog: Carl's Circuit
tagged Climbing, Diving, Cairns and GreatBarrierReef

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Scuba diving IS fun!

Cairns, Australia

Carl and I spent the day on the Great Barrier Reef doing some introductory scuba dives - GREAT fun! Much better than I expected, actually. We took a shuttle early this morning about an hour north to Port Douglas, and then caught a sizable boat out to the "outer reef", which is supposed to be one of the better (untouched) regions. Neither he nor I had ever done this before, so we went for the heavily shepherded "introductory dives", in which we went down with 1-2 other newbies and 1 instructor, never more than 12m deep. The instructor helped us with our boyancy and monitored our air levels, so we just had to deal with mobility, steady breathing, ear clearing and if necessary mask clearing. Quite manageable, and very cool. I had some very close encounters with a Malabar (?) cod - about 3-4 feet long and fairly big. He came within a foot of my face and stared at me, I think looking for food, because when I held up empty hands, he swooshed off. We also saw some very colorful coral, a pineapple sea cucumber (huge! and aptly named), the Nemo clownfish, and many other amazingly bright creatures that I didn't catch the name of. It was a pretty fantastic day though - a bit windy and therefore cold above deck, but otherwise ok, and the diving was really fantastic! We took an underwater camera down - hopefully some pictures will turn out.

We're still plotting what to do with our last two days Down Under - hopefully some climbing. And then it's off to home soil!

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 6, 2007 from Cairns, Australia
from the travel blog: Joc's Journeys
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T minus one stop!!!

Darwin, Australia

Holy Cow! We're down to just one more stop before we head back to the US - crazy! Carl and I leave Darwin, Australia early tomorrow morning for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, our last stop before departing this part of the world. I haven't checked in since I left Malaysia, and that's just a testament to how great the trip's been! It was fantastic to be reunited with Carl in Thailand. We had a great week climbing and relaxing there (actually extended the trip by a few days). Next was Singapore, which was terrific even though we only were there for 20 hours - what a cool city!!! And then into Darwin, where we rented a "wicked van" (spray painted with numerous irreverent sayings and pictures, $77AUS a day and outfitted to camp out of and sleep in). It served us well, as we cruised through Kakadu and another local park (Litchfield). All beautiful, all great, all fun. Back in the US on the 10th and back with my laptop - will do more pictures and blogging then if not sooner! Hope everyone's well - getting excited to catch up soon!

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 4, 2007 from Darwin, Australia
from the travel blog: Joc's Journeys
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Litchfield and Kakadoodle-do

Darwin, Australia

Returning to Australia was both amazing and shocking. We walked out of the airport to a perfect tropical temperature, no sweltering heat but a great breeze and pleasing aroma. Plus, not one person was in our face trying to sell us a ride or lodging or anything else for that matter. The ease with which we navigated indicated that we had arrived back into a more established, richer culture. The shock came when we were confronted with how much one has to pay for this type of culture. Australia is expensive!

The Economist’s Big Mac Index recently showed that Australia’s currency is about right on the mark—which is entirely impossible. I tend to agree more with a recent McKinsey report stating that the Australian dollar is about 20% overvalued. Even still, I’m not sure this goes far enough . . . The Carl Index (in which the world will soon be placing its trust) indicates that the Australia dollar may be overvalued by as much as 70% compared with the US dollar! As an example, we paid $130 for our first full night of lodging at a place that would go for maybe $60 in the US (in an expensive, more-demand-than-supply type US city). The amount of money we spent on this one room equated to what we spent for a similar style room in Railay Beach for 8 days! (I know this isn’t exactly an equal comparison, but shocking nonetheless). Long story short, I spent as much during our last week in Australia as I did traveling for a month in SE Asia. Australia is expensive!

Ok, with that out of my system, I can now explain how cool the Darwin area is. Darwin itself is an inviting little town that serves well its position as a jump-off point to local National Parks, Kakadu and Litchfield. We spent 2.5 days in Kakadu and 1.5 in Litchfield—both great places. We were warned that Kakadu is a huge park that requires long drives between notable sites and that in August it would be extremely busy because of local holidays. We found the first warning to be right on, but not so much the second. Because of the long drives, we opted to rent a campervan from Wicked Campers, drive at our own pace and stay where we like in lieu of paying for a tour from Darwin. In the end, we were extremely happy with our decision. We saw all the major attractions at Kakadu, including aboriginal paintings, amazing vistas, crocodiles, lots of cool birds, amazing forests and waterfalls with beautiful pools. Theses attractions were a fair bit away from each other and each beckoned for different amounts of time, so it was pleasant to have our own transportation and go at our own pace. Although I expected a Yosemite level of “busy”, including thousands of visitors at each site, we only found a few dozen each place we visited—not bad at all.

From Kakadu, we headed to Litchfield National Park. Along the way we stopped at Robin Falls and climbed for an afternoon. We jumped on half-a-dozen slab-like lead climbs on shoddy rock and had a blast! From there we drove into Litchfield where we found a lot more of the same that we found at Kakadu, except I think the waterfalls and pools were more magnificent (for starters you could swim in them without fear of crocs) and the attractions were much, much, much closer to one another, also convenient. Also, there is a part of the park called the Lost City that contains hundreds of sandstone boulders that makes for great bouldering (it was a lot of fun watching Joc send The Dusty Mutt Traverse, a V1 boulder problem we created).

Darwin and the local parks is a must-see for anyone going to Australia—great, unique scenery and culture.

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 4, 2007 from Darwin, Australia
from the travel blog: Carl's Circuit
tagged Darwin, Kakadu, Litchfield and Crocodiles

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Kakadu & Litchfield Parks - Awesome!

Darwin, Australia

Another retrospective...

We arrived in Darwin, Australia intent on visiting world-famous Kakadu National Park and perhaps other surrounding parks. We hit an immediate hiccup in that it was a school holiday at the time and many Australians were on the road making a similar circuit as we were. As a result, our “play it by ear” plan ran into some availability issues that put us in Darwin itself for an extra day while we waited for a camper van to become available through Wicked Campers. Two days after arriving, however, we were packed into a –crazily-painted converted van packed with groceries and were on our way to the park.

We made good time (4 hours) and arrived just in time to check out some of the Aboriginal (“Traditional Owners”) rock paintings for sunset. True to in-town warnings, there were many people there, but the park was big enough for our experience not to be hampered by the presence of so many others. The artwork was very cool (ranging from 20-years old to thousands of years old), and the vistas were spectacular.

The next day began with a 9am cruise of the yellow river. Although it was pretty pricey ($55/person), it was very cool. Over the course of 2 hours we saw numerous crocs (from a safe distance and the security of a boat), and a lot of neat birds. It was also cool to cruise the floodplains, which are an interesting geological feature in and of themselves.

We spent the rest of the day touring a few of the other sites of the park, including another Aboriginal painting site, a lookout or two, and a long washboarded dirt road out to our camp area. We arrived there just as the sun was setting and booked it up a short hike to some croc-safe pools at the top of a mountain – gorgeous view, and for the small price of hiking back down nearly in the dark, we got a pretty secluded experience.

On the whole I would say Kakadu was very good, though I am infinitely glad we did it on our own power and not with a tour; otherwise, I think it would really have felt like a ton of driving for some good (but not really spectacular) photo points amongst many other tour groups.

Our next stop was Litchfield Park, another park in the area that’s less known world-wide but was supposed to be beautiful. We planned a climbing stop along the way and successfully made an afternoon at Robin Falls, a small turnoff with some beautiful falls and decent slab climbing (and only 1 or 2 other groups there, none of whom were on the wall). It was fun to do a different kind of climbing and a nice way to break up the drive from Kakadu to Litchfield.

The next day we entered Litchfield, which is most known for its many swimming holes. (Litchfield is more or less croc-safe because its water access is not from the ocean). We drove to several beautiful areas, but more or less made a bee line for our target camping area so we could have some down time in the afternoon.

We had planned to camp for the night at a less crowded pool accessible only by four wheel drive (which our little van supposedly had), but hesitated because it turned out the road involved a river crossing that looked fairly formidable, and our van had no snorkel. After carefully measuring our clearance against the .6 meters that the depth stick was registering, we decided to wait to see if others came by, and within minutes a new Nissan arrived and barreled right through it, then hollered from the other side that he would wait to make sure we made it. Note that there was another croc warning sign, which again seemed “unlikely”, but it was interesting to think about what exactly a contingency plan would entail if we got stuck. Carl put the car in gear and powered right through it though! It was very exciting.

The successful crossing led us then to a camping area with only one spot left (we grabbed it, and then shared with another car that came in a little later – we’re such nice people). We packed up our reading materials and hiked out to the local swimming hole, but found it plagued with flies and much colder than others we’d passed, so after a quick dip and courageous (because it was cold; this one was asserted croc free) swim to the falls, we headed back to camp for some bug repellent and dinner.

The drive out the next morning was also exciting because we couldn’t really get the car into 4WD (or we couldn’t be sure that it had worked) and we no longer had an escort for the crossing. We made it, though once on the other side the car wouldn’t go into 2-wheel drive for a while, making horrible grinding noises whenever we changed gears. Thankfully, it worked itself out though, and we proceeded on to our last Litchfield stop: “Lost City.” This place is basically a big boulder field, and we found a nice traverse that kept us busy for a few hours and left us worked and ready to just drive again at the end. We refreshed ourselves at yet another swimming hole on the way out (this one was sort of a terraced stream), and then headed for Darwin again.

Our last night there was rough in we had to return the van in the morning, but our flight was at 6am. So we slept in the parking lot, which I found nerve-wracking because it wasn’t in a great area of town. It worked though: no incidents, and our taxi showed up on schedule at 4:15 to pick us up. Next stop: the Great Barrier Reef!

permalink written by  GoBlue on August 4, 2007 from Darwin, Australia
from the travel blog: Joc's Journeys
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Singapore, Singapore

So, we've been traveling frequently on “discount” airlines. Either there is no such thing as a discount airline or the old adage of getting what you pay for is without a doubt true. I think the truth may be somewhere in between. Joc and I chose to fly Tiger Airways from Krabi, Thailand to Darwin, Australia because it was less than $100 (without taxes and surcharges, of course) to do so. However, this approach required a 24-hour layover in Singapore. No worries. We’ve never been there, so we thought it would be cool to check out a new city for a day.

It really is an amazing city. It is so rich with culture, commerce and history that it was well worth the visit. In our 19 hours in the city, we managed to see a large chunk of it, including the Arab quarters, Little India, Chinatown, the Central Business District (CBD) and the Government district. By the end of our day I was beyond tired from walking, but I am really happy to have seen the colorful neighborhoods, tried some various ethnic foods and somewhat experienced a truly world-class city.

I can clearly see why every Singaporean I’ve ever met is proud of their city state. It is an incredibly clean city with amazing public transportation. It has food from everywhere, business from everywhere and cultures from everywhere. Overall, an impressive place that I highly recommend checking out.

As far as Tiger Airways, they were pretty good as far as discount airlines go. They only charged us for excess baggage upon leaving Singapore, so we got away without paying extra on one-leg. The planes also had enough space and the personnel were friendly.

permalink written by  GoBlue on July 29, 2007 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: Carl's Circuit
tagged Singapore

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Railay--Quite Amazing

Krabi, Thailand

Jocelyn finally finished her self-indulgent trip to Malaysia and joined me in Railay Beach on July 21 for six days of climbing and beach relaxation. It was a great time. In fact, so great we decided to shift all of our plane tickets back two days to spend extra time in Thailand and less time in Cairns at the end of the trip.

So, our planned five days of "hard" climbing turned into six days of "hard" climbing. We actually did climb pretty hard considering neither of us have been climbing much over the last 5 years. We visited 7 walls in six days, climbing approximately 26 5.10s and 5.11s. It was a great time. I don't feel as strong as I once did, but I am inspired to start climbing more again.

Given that climbing was our focus, we also managed to do a few other activities during our off-days, including beach reading (yeah, we both devoured the newly released Harry Potter 7 while in Railay--bought it at the Bangkok airport), kayaking to an island that was probably 1 mile away from our beach (it was a beautiful day with brilliant green water and amazing clouds in the sky), soaking in amazing sunsets (by far the best of the trip) and eating (we ate almost every meal at Mom's Kitchen, a cheap place with great food and an entertaining 50-something, free-spirited Thai women to talk to).

For sure, Railay is a great place to climb/hang out and a great place worth spending 3 weeks.

permalink written by  GoBlue on July 28, 2007 from Krabi, Thailand
from the travel blog: Carl's Circuit
tagged Climbing and Railay

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20-Hour Layover: Singapore!

Singapore, Singapore

Thanks to the fare incentives of Singapore-based Tiger Airways, we had a 20-hour layover in Singapore on our way from Krabi to Darwin, in Australia. We thought we’d check the city out, and were quite glad we did, because it was very cool! Singapore is clean and modern, with a fantastic mix of ethnicities (felt like an Asia melting pot). We spent our one day there doing a walking tour of the city, hitting the Arab, Indian and Chinese quarters, with miscellaneous city architecture in between. (The only downside to the visit was that we came through on a Sunday and much of the city was shut down).

My favorite area by far was the Arab quarter, which was bustling without being overcrowded and had a neat mix of textile stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., all frequented by locals. Even though we were only 2 hours away from breakfast, we tried some Muslim food (advertised as the best in the city), and indeed found it quite tasty. Little India was not quite as quaint, and I was traumatized by a lunch experience in which I think we were “taken” by our waiter and were served about 4 times as much food as we needed for about 4 times the price; couldn’t even make a dent and then had to go to the ATM to cover the bill. Nonetheless, the rest of the walk was enjoyable and interesting and by the end of the day I was back to raving about Singapore.

permalink written by  GoBlue on July 27, 2007 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: Joc's Journeys
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